So today was … the first proper day of our Common Decency campaign. Day One. The website had been up on ‘soft release' for about a week, giving us a chance to iron out the inevitable teething problems and make adjustments. Already we’ve had some great feedback, and already a number of people have written to tell us that they were thinking of NOT voting, but on the basis of what they’d seen on CommonDecency, they will now vote.
Today we hit Vauxhall, with pretty much the largest billboard that it’s possible to rent - ‘unveiling' it in front of a tidy knot of press people, photographers and onlookers. A nice crisp morning, it was, and just about warm enough in a brief sunny spell to remove the overcoat to pose for the cameras!
Whether I’m going to be able ‘blog’ all this stuff as the next 40 days go by, I’m not sure. It takes longer to ‘write up’ the events than to live them. But here we are … and I’m grateful for the attention the media are giving us in this opening salvo. The poster hopefully says enough to give passing people a clue as to what we’re about. Enough to awaken their curiosity, enough for them to click on www.CommonDecency.org.uk and delve into what we’re actually proposing. You have to make a judgment, of course, in designing a billboard like this, as to exactly how much information to put on there. You want to grab people’s attention in the few seconds it’s in their eye-line, so it has to be simple, but they need to get a message from it. It’s finding the balance between getting a message across, and cluttering the frame so much that people get confused, or just don’t bother to read it. I designed this one myself, out of necessity, in the short time available, so the comments I’ve had have been encouraging! They did a nice printing job! It will be up there for 2 weeks.
Following the ‘inauguration’ of the billboard, I did some fairly impromptu interviews to a bunch of press folks on the grass. To be honest, I didn’t think I was fully ‘warmed up’, and sometimes felt I wasn’t being clear enough. But I guess we got some points across.
We then zipped over to the BBC studios in Millbank, an untidy heap of seething activity with what must be a hundred separate little studios inside. I was immediately reminded of the time when I was there a couple of years ago to be interviewed on the Badger Cull, and the infamous Owen Paterson, Minister of the Environment at the time (yes, he of the famous gaffe in which he accused the badgers of moving the goalposts!) was in the next room, booked to speak on the same programme. This was one of three occasions when he refused to be interviewed in the same room as me. So we had the somewhat ridiculous situation of both of us appearing on the same segment, talking about the same thing, but linked up from two separate rooms in the same building. It enabled him to pretend I was not there! Maybe he was cowardly, maybe he was prudent … but not long afterwards he was consigned to the scrap-heap by the ruthless Cameron, replaced by a woman, Liz Truss, who, as expected, has turned out to be very much the place-saver, and a rather obvious attempt at grabbing some women voters by having a token extra woman in the cabinet. None of us have bothered to try to speak to her about the badger cull; it can’t make any difference, because it’s obvious that no matter what the outcome of the election, she will soon be in the same virtual dustbin that Paterson currently resides in!
The ‘busy-ness’ of this place can be judged by the fact that, more often than not, when you go there to be interviewed you end up standing in a corridor in front of a lone cameraman with a piece of paper in his hand, carrying note for the questions he will ask. Today was obviously my lucky day, since I was ushered into a lovely shiny-looking studio from which the ‘Daily Politics’ show was being transmitted live. Even so, the ‘green room’ or guest's lounge, was still a corridor! So I still felt at home. Crammed into this corridor waiting for their spot in front of the cameras was an interesting bunch of people. Here’s a chap who, in an extremely smart pinstripe suit, looks a bit like a thinned down version of Matt Lucas. He’s a UKIP candidate. UKIP, I think? Oh Lord. I think … am I going to be pitched against him on TV, like in the past I’ve been pitched against angry shouting farmers, in an attempt to make “exciting TV”? But he immediately strikes me as a very nice chap. Next to him is another chap with a quiet and thoughtful demeanor, which I think I immediately started interpreting in my mind as unfriendliness towards me. But as soon as I introduced myself, he came across with a smile and an unmistakable openness. He turned out to be a candidate for the Green Party. Opposite ends of the political spectrum, right? And obviously, realising who each other were, they both shaped up for fisticuffs – I had to hold them apart – see below.
Peter Reeve - Dr Brian May - Andrew Cooper
Ha ha! Well, as you can see from the pic, just kidding!
We talked in the few moments before we were called to make an appearance (separately, as it happened, although we’d assumed we’d be on together). I outlined the idea of our Common Decency campaign, and both these guys found a lot in it that they approved of. And I listened to their hopes of what they might achieve if they were elected to sit in Parliament – a lot of what they had to say resonated with me. And in just those few moments we realised that in fact we agreed on most of the things that were WRONG with Britain. It might have been surprising to the leaders of both these parties how many shared ideas there were.
So I felt a dawning of understanding that my theory of ‘Vote for the individual, not the party’ was being vindicated in front of my eyes. That’s not to say that a Party is necessarily a bad thing. It’s a group of people who share some dreams, some principles, who can support each other and develop their ideas into strong initiatives. But perhaps what has gone wrong is that the major British parties have been allowed to grow to grotesque proportions. Once this happened, which ever gang was in power for any period was able to push through their plans almost without reference to what went on in Parliament. They became bullies, and Cameron’s recent clandestine meddling with laws that used to provide moderation and protect the impartiality of the Civil Service will probably be seen by future historians as the most blatant attempt ever by a government to weld itself into an impregnable position … the very death knell of Democracy.
So – in a nutshell – while we will all welcome MP’s representing the major parties into the next Parliament, simply because some of them are very good at what they do, the dream is to see the parties themselves stripped of the power to be bullies. If the composition of the next parliament is a mixed bag, containing a good smattering of representatives of the smaller parties such as the Greens and the NHA party (and yes, probably UKIP, too, in moderation!), the miracle we can hope for is that NO coalition deals are struck, and we get a Prime Minister in number 10 who will stand or fall by how good his policies are, and how far he can command the respect of MP’s from all parties. It’s a ‘Hung Parliament’ – an assembly of individuals who will discuss and vote according to their moral principles and the wishes of the people who put them in the House - you and me, the constituents.
For me, for Common Decency and for these two chaps I just met, this actually could be called a Democracy. For the last 5 years, and probably for some time in the past, we all 3 agree we have NOT been living in a democracy. It’s now time to reclaim it.
So! I went in and did my interview. It’s viewable here:
I sat down alongside, not these two guys, but a man called Alex Robertson, who’s the Director of Communications for the Electoral Commission. He’s been given the job of getting people registered to vote, and is very passionate about succeeding. This fits very much into our agenda, because – as you’ll see if you watch the clip - the pie chart shows us that this coming election could be totally opened up if all those people who didn’t vote last time … THIS TIME actually manage to get to the polling booth. To do so they must first be registered – and this government’s decision to change the method of registration from household to individual has made it highly likely that vast numbers of people including students WILL NOT get to grips with this extra bit of paperwork in time, and hence will lose their right to vote on May 7th (Serendipitous? Who knows). Statistically, it’s certain that if this section of the community does NOT get to vote, it will massively favour Cameron’s elite clique getting back into power – a very depressing thought.
So I’m doing the interview sitting next to a man who is absolutely with us on our first Common Decency aim - to get the non-voters to vote. We supported each other in the short spot on TV, and afterwards we agreed that it would be fitting for us to support each other’s work in the future.
It’s always all over in a flash on TV. I find it a very difficult medium, even after all these years. In truth, although I am not a stranger to TV, I’m not hugely experienced at performing in the ‘chat show’ format, and for some reason it always feels very different from the corresponding radio experience, which I usually enjoy. Somehow there is always more time on the radio to think your way through and cover all aspects. TV often feels a bit like running a gauntlet with people trying to stab you as you pass! This time, however, I felt relatively comfortable with ‘chairwoman’ Jo Coburn who kept a firm grip but allowed everyone a decent say. I brought my favourite PIE CHART along to make the point that really if only everyone voted, Britain could be changed for the better overnight.
After I'd outlined my ‘principles’ of CD, the next person to speak is the chap sitting opposite me - Danny Kruger, who I have just learned is David Cameron’s former speech writer (I don’t have any such luxury!!!). Why he is no longer writing speeches for the PM is not something I will probably ever know, but I was expecting this to be the moment when I got shot down for suggesting that Cameron presides over, and protects, a rotten regime.
To my surprise, Mr Kruger delivers a very complimentary commentary on the Common Decency idea and there are no ‘buts’.
So now the interview is done, over in what seems like 60 seconds, and then my brain goes into post-analysis mode. I start to remember all the things I meant to say, and didn’t. But we all feel it’s a good result. A lot of messages started to come in on text and e-mail from people who have seen the live transmission. I’m seeing people saying on Twitter that they were not going to vote on May 7th, but after visiting the Common Decency website they are now determined to use their vote for change.
Our slogan comes to mind. With Common Decency, “No Vote is wasted – No seat is safe”
We? We’re a small team on the road today. Me, doing my thing as best I can, but with the essential partnership and support of Anne Brummer. Anne is a phenomenon in herself. Suffused with a kid of energy that never loses its power or its sense of humour, she does the work of at least 20 men. She’s not doing a job - she’s passionately devoted to caring for animals, and has been my educator, my inspiration and indispensable CEO in all the work for animals we’ve done in the last 5 years. Her experience is vast – on the one hand, on the ground caring for literally thousands of orphaned or injured wild creatures in her Harper Asprey Wildlife Rescue and also on the other hand, in the wider yet infinitely (usually) less satisfying world of politics. In which we operate on a daily basis to move Britain away from cruelty in all its horrific forms, from the evils of badger baiting, to fox hunting and stag hunting with packs of hounds, to the merciless and completely misguided slaughter of badgers in the name of eliminating a disease (bTB in farmed cows), to snaring, poisoning, gassing and so many other despicable practices – all unjustifiable, some technically legal, and some not. Anne is always at hand when I’m out campaigning, and we both know that there is actually no dividing line between campaigning for animals, and campaigning for Common Decency. One has led to the other, for us, on a seemingly predestined path. The other encompasses the one. My other companion today is my long-suffering PA, Sara, who covers all the bases of organisation and continuity, sometimes with us, but more often back ‘home’ where she can keep an eye on the overall picture of my insanely complicated life. Because today (and tomorrow) I will be working flat out on Political change, but yesterday I was working in the studio flat out all hours on a brand new track I’m producing for the amazing singer Kerry Ellis, and at the end of the week I will be flat out on either an Astronomical or a Stereoscopic project. Or something else to do with the ever-encompassing arms of Queen, or Queen’s offspring, our Rock Theatre epic, We Will Rock You (a version of which I just helped to open in Hamburg). I love it all, but scheduling is a constant nightmare.
The rest of our day was spent catching up on E-mails, appointments, and plans for our trip to Stroud tomorrow, to support an old friend who is a very constant advocate of animals, David Drew, a Labour MP forced out by a particularly un-empathetic Tory 5 years ago. This is not to say that ALL Tories are lacking in empathy – as I’ll discuss in detail later, some of our best allies are Tories, but it has to be said that, oddly, Eton seems to have a strange and strong effect of dulling men’s sensibilities; and if we succeed in getting a change of Government in May, it will an amazing voyage of discovery to work in animal welfare under a regime that understands the meaning of compassion - and runs on morality rather than money.
Well, my day’s not over yet. The evening show is me being interviewed by Adam Boulton for Sky News. This man is powerful and scary; he has great depth of knowledge in politics – he’s penetrated the guard of EVERY significant politician in the last 15 years or so, and in pure TV technique and skill, he is matchless. He can tear me apart if he wants to.
Well, if you want to see what happened, please click here. He was pretty merciful, I feel! And my Pie chart (a bigger one this time) was once again a big help in getting the ‘get off yer ass and VOTE’ point across. Adam is the kind of guy who will push hard to make sure he gets in all the areas he wants to cover, so I’m conscious that my sentences need to get shorter if I’m going to be able to finish them. It’s not a style I fit into easily. Like I said, I still feel like a novice in TV interviews. I start out on a list for MPs we’re supporting, from memory, and I stumble, putting Adrian Sanders (LibDem) into the Labour Party. I’m sure he’s thrilled (Sorry Adrian!)! It was a momentary slip, because I was heading towards Andrew George, who IS Lib Dem. And my hesitation meant that I never got as far as mentioning Caroline Lucas, who is a vital endorsee (Sorry Caroline!), or indeed Louise Irvine (NHA). So people may have got the impression that I was mainly headed towards the major parties, which is not the case. But I have to take my hat off to Mr Boulton; he is the ultimate professional for this job and I thought he treated me very decently.
OK. Evening writings now done, my mail inbox will now have about 100 new messages. Does it make me feel important?! Ha ha. Maybe it does, but at my age, feeling important is not as important as it once was! My daughter saw the evening clip and says she is proud of me and my little Grandson phoned me specially. So tonight I am, in the immortal words of Machado de Assis, at least, a small winner. In fact, no prize will eclipse this one.
Good Night Folks. Peace to yo’all.
BriHi Common Decency folks ! I can write on here live !
Welcome, finally, to our new site, dedicated to making a massive change to the way our country is run.
I will never be far away from this spot in the next 49 days. Let's do this !!!
Can you see me ?