Saturday, October 18, 2014

bristol festival of ideas: shami chakrabarti and owen jones

I just love the annual Bristol Festival of Ideas… always challenging and thought-provoking (eg. Richard Holloway’s talk four years ago has had a profound influence on how I see a whole of range of things). Last night, Moira, Gareth, Alan+I went to two talks at @ Bristol: Shami Chakrabarti (director of Liberty, UK’s leading civil rights organisation) and Owen Jones (writer, columnist and commentator)… and they were both simply brilliant.
She’s an incredibly impressive lady. In an hour-long question-and-answer session (which she handled with authority and dignity - as well as demonstrating her vast knowledge and intellect), it perhaps wasn’t surprising that one of the main issues raised was the present UK government’s threat to abandon the Human Rights Act in favour of its own self-styled British Bill of Rights. She talked passionately on the subject and gave example after example of some of the devastating implications of the government’s mooted proposals. Other subjects raised, in a wide-ranging discussion, included the bedroom tax, slavery, the House of Lords, Corporations (eg. TTIP), torture and respect for privacy. The packed audience was completely captivated by her and duly showed their loud and enthusiastic appreciation at the end of the session.
Over the past year or so, I’ve become a great admirer of Owen Jones’s writing (he’s a regular columnist in The Guardian). Yes, he’s left-wing. Yes, he’s young (30). But he’s also incredibly bright… and he talks an awful lot of sense (well, in my view at least). He’s recently written a book – “The Establishment: And How They Get Away with It” – and this formed the basis of the session. He talked for an hour (the first half an hour about the things included in the book and then another 30 minutes of questions-and-answers). He’s a remarkable and very gifted young man. He’s the sort of person who has the ability to express concerns on behalf of many of us who have become disillusioned with “establishment politics”. With certain exceptions, he doesn’t have a particularly high regard for our current batch of politicians (of whatever party)… in a recent article in the Guardian, he described them as “technocratic, rootless, soulless; a professionalised morass of time-servers who see ministerial posts as springboards to nice little earners on corporate boards; manoeuvring constantly not on the basis of political principle but for shameless self-advancement”!
There was nothing particularly startling (or new) in what he said last night (eg. lobbyists who fund the thinktanks that influence the government, or the owners who appoint the editors who set the political agenda, or the tax accountants who get seconded to the civil service that decides how much their clients will pay), it’s just that I found myself agreeing with point after point he was making (and so did the vast majority of the full-house attending last night). His talk was very much a “call to arms” – to scrutinise the powerful (the corporations, the politicians etc) in these austere times and to redress the balance away from the poor, who are all too often (according to politicians and much of the media) blamed for our current financial predicament. Amen to that!
We all need people who make us think, who give us hope, who challenge us… and who encourage us to make our voice heard. Chakrabarti and Jones CERTAINLY did that last night!

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