When Greta Scacchi, Terry Gilliam and Emilia Fox posted glamorous photographs of themselves naked – apart from strategically placed fish – to draw attention to the plight of the bluefin tuna, I was one of the cynics. (Can celebrity flesh really save marine life?)
Now I admit defeat. Their online campaign has worked and the World Wide Fund for Nature has announced that the fish is no longer in danger of extinction. In our modern world, online campaigns using shock tactics to capture our attention regularly get results where lobbying, petitions and speeches fail. It’s just a fact of life – and each day brings a fresh deluge of selfies.
Now, young men are posing clutching their crotches (the Feeling Nuts campaign) to draw attention to testicular cancer, and the ice bucket challenge of last summer has been replaced by Unicef’s #WakeUpCall, in which Nigella Lawson, Kelly Brook, Stephen Fry and co post sleepy snaps of themselves in bed… some wearing more make-up than others.
I wish it was possible to raise awareness and funds in another way that wasn’t so self-centred and celebrity focused, but there’s no denying these images encourage others to emulate them and give cash. If portraits can save fish and raise money for cancer, can selfies invigorate democracy?
Last week, I complained about a Labour councillor who regularly posts pictures of her cleavage on Twitter. Maybe I am old-fashioned, but I find it a pretty weird way to draw attention to your policies, although it’s a great way of gaining followers – and it’s not a tactic that other high-profile politicians like Esther McVey, Harriet Harman, Gloria De Piero and Caroline Flint have adopted.
Cleavage aside, what lessons can politicians learn from these successful campaigns? They regularly tweet, but who is listening? Most MPs’ websites are laughable, their observations utterly banal. We don’t care what Ed Balls did on his holiday or how his piano lessons are going. Ukip’s Clacton victory exposes how the mainstream parties need to rethink their language and how they connect with the electorate. One female Ukip voter in the Essex seaside town told the BBC yesterday: “We want to give them [the people in power] a big kick in the bum.”
The responses from Labour and the Conservatives were as oblique as ever, shuffling the deckchairs on Titanic. The Hansard Society estimates that only 12 per cent of under-25s is going to bother to vote next May, and another poll reveals that more than half of those under 21 won’t be voting either – so what does that mean for democracy?
After my comments on television about the relevance of cleavage tweets, I have been trashed on Twitter, accused of being “old” and “ugly” and not in touch with modern feminism. The thing is, I care about democracy so much, I don’t want it to wither and die. I just want politics to be about ideas, not selfies. I want the voting age to be lowered and the Commons filled with young MPs (Andrew Marr said last week he thought no one should be an MP until they were 40 – what utter bilge) and I want passionate debate and straight talking, not buck-passing and fudge.
But how to invigorate the young? The same people who care so much about bluefin tuna, cancer care and female genital mutilation. How timely that Grayson Perry has identified the dominance of the Great White Male – dubbed Default Man – as one of the main stumbling blocks to progress in modern society. Default man dominates politics – even Ukip has no idea how to appeal to women and gay people, and wants to exclude anyone who is HIV positive from entering the UK.
Default man is why the next election is a disaster waiting to happen.
We don’t need quotas, just a better gender balance
While we’re talking about Default Man, the three who present Top Gear obviously have “special skills” which allow them to behave like silly prats while working for the BBC in Argentina and get away with it.
I doubt very much they will face any disciplinary inquiry. And another Default Man, Gregg Wallace, has told an interviewer that he “doesn’t think that two women” could present MasterChef, in spite of being a former greengrocer and having no formal cooking training.
I don’t want a quota system imposed on our broadcasters, because the public would (rightly) complain. But it’s interesting that female presenters don’t generally behave in the loose-mouthed way these Default Men do.
A bunch of Default Men who could step aside in the name of progress and a fairer society are currently sitting in judgement on the rest of us. The Council of Europe has compiled a report listing the number of male and female judges in 45 countries. Our ranking is shocking: about a quarter of judges in the UK are female, compared with between 69 and 77 per cent in Slovenia, Latvia, Romania, Serbia and Hungary.
England and Wales and Scotland are ranked at the bottom along with Armenia and Azerbaijan. As almost half of our solicitors are female, why is this not reflected in the judiciary? Justice minister Shailesh Vara says there is “more to do” to achieve a better gender balance – a bit of an understatement.
Nothing much rotten in the state of Lydon
Back in the 1970s, I interviewed Johnny Rotten a few times and he was always a compelling character. He came to my 50th birthday party and caused some anxiety among the other guests. That’s an indication of his charismatic (and slightly threatening) personality.
Once he turned up at my house for a drink, bringing a crate of beer for himself and a bottle of Veuve Clicquot for me. Norah, his wife of nearly 30 years, doesn’t drink and is passionate about waterskiing. We discussed Japanese gardens and he revealed he regularly read The Economist.
This week, we met again, to discuss his latest memoir Anger Is an Energy. I love John’s description of the music he secretly adored as a teenager, from Marc Bolan to disco. He spent his years in the Sex Pistols trashing other musicians as “boring”. Once you get past the exterior, Mr Lydon talks a lot of sense – begging people to vote and to “take no notice of that so-called comic Russell Brand”. I couldn’t have expressed it better.
A green and pleasant land – without the golf courses
Vince Cable reckons that we would prefer a garden outside our front door to a golf course. Surrey now has more land devoted to golf courses than to housing, and Mr Cable asked recently: “Is a golf course sacred or are there better uses of the land?”
There are 103 clubs in Surrey and 1 per cent of the UK is cultivated for golf courses, an amount I find extraordinary, especially as more are being built all the time. Some towns and cities, like Edinburgh, have dozens of golf courses, and I seem to have walked through most of them, dodging balls.
I loathe the artificial green of the fairways, a hideous corruption of our lovely landscape, tinted a lurid green, with little hillocks that haven’t been formed by nature or the weather, and ugly bunkers of sand. Those sentiments will probably attract even more hate tweets, but I want my countryside to be wild, not manicured. Golf courses are like royal palaces – sacrosanct places where worshippers go to gawp. Mr Cable’s dreams are destined to remain on the drawing board.