1) My book, "The Breakdown: making sense of politics in a messed up world" is out today!
2) I'll be on Sky News at 9.45 this morning talking all about The Breakdown
3) My family show is at The Underbelly on the Southbank today and tomorrow at 1pm
It's here. 30th May. So much of my life recently has been building up to this. And now it has arrived. My book is officially published.
I started work on this in April last year. In book years that's not huge, but in terms of my life, it's been a lot of work. What have we ended up with? A book I'm incredibly proud of. A book that I hope you will enjoy. A book that maybe, just maybe might move our politics in a more human direction.
So, what's it about? First of all, it's about, well, the breakdown. It's about the way we do politics now. Everyone constantly on broadcast, shouting what they want, not listening to others, because they don't want exactly the same thing. Where scathing put-downs are celebrated above discourse. Where throwing drinks at elected officials rather than engage in debate - and winning the argument - is massive LOLs. This isn't politics, this is playground behaviour.
Forgive me. That all sounds rather negative. This isn't a negative book. This is a book to help us to listen and discuss with each other. The book starts by going through some of the biggest political ideologies in our national consciousness. Which is vital to help understand what people want. The people you disagree with probably don't want to kill the NHS, make you pay 90% tax or steal your children. To understand why you disagree you need to understand the different ways of thinking.
The next section looks at what those ideologies mean in practice. Why is it that some people want low taxes and others want high taxes? What's going on with the trans debate? How did we get into this mess over Brexit? That's why this book isn't for newcomers to politics. It's asking people to put down their own perspective and think about issues a different way. You don't have to be persuaded. You don't have to have a Damascene conversion. But, hopefully, you'll understand things in a different way. In a way that means you can have meaningful conversations with people with whom you disagree.
The final section of the book proper is about change makers. People who have made change - big or small - happen. This is there because making change happen is the reason most of us are into politics. We want to make the world look more like we'd like it to. So I take a look through 6 very different stories. They all have much more in common than you'd think. Much more.
The back of the book is all about the mechanics of how it all works. The differences between government and Parliament. How a law is made. That kind of stuff. If you're a dab hand at this politics lark, it may not be for you, but if you're not sure about the difference between second and third readings, it may be worth flicking through.
Finally, if you have been on this list for a while you'll be used to the way I write. The book is lighthearted and fun. I know not all the topics are bubbling with glee, but it's designed to be an easy read. It's very dangerous to say something is funny. But I think it is.
I'm going to leave you with an extract from the introduction. I hope this sets the tone.
Oh, and absolutely finally this time, if you see it around the place, I'd love it if you sent me pictures. Either tweet us or on this email. I can't quite believe that it's out all over the country. It's really very exciting. Also, if you do buy a copy, I'd love to know what you think.
I'll get a normal email out on Monday about everything happening next week in Parliament.
Have a wonderful weekend,
I'm back out on tour with my fabulous family comedy politics show!
If you live near any of these places, find some children and come along.
In the deepest, darkest depths of history, there was once a time when most families had only one screen in their house. It was in a room where everyone would come together to fight about which of the three, four or five channels they would watch. This forced people into a situation in which they would have to compromise. Imagine the horror.
One consequence of those days, though, was that people used to watch the news together. Possibly because Casualty had just finished and Match of the Day was yet to begin, but still, it happened. And when people watch the news together, it sparks conversation. Of course, nobody ever agrees with their parents, so sometimes those conversations would escalate into arguments. Your views on a particular news story might have been challenged. Maybe you would have changed your mind. Probably not. But at least you’d have heard the other side of the argument.
Jump forward to today. Everyone has their own screen. We all receive our news from our own chosen sources. When we see a story, it is often pre-filtered for our approval (‘You won’t believe what the prime minister has done today . . .’). When we see it, we can share it with our friends who already tend to agree with us. We’re all operating within our own echo chambers, constantly having our views confirmed, applauded, reinforced. Like a sports fan determined to keep their head down so they won’t find out the final score before catching the match highlights, we actively choose not to look at the other side.
Here’s an example. In the run-up to the 2018 local elections, there was much talk that there would be huge Labour gains. This was Corbyn Time. Cometh the hour, cometh the man. High fives all round. All that stuff.
In the event, Labour did make gains of 3 per cent and the Conservatives did make some losses – roughly 3 per cent. But overall, the Conservative vote appeared to have been largely held up by an almost total collapse of the UKIP vote.
When it came to reporting on these figures, though, the echo-chamber effect was very clear. Guido Fawkes reported the results as ‘Bad night for Labour, Tories hold London Councils and make gains across England’. Skwawkbox looked at exactly the same data and led with ‘Labour had its best local election results in London since 1971 – almost fifty years – and its second-best ever.’ How you receive news matters because it shapes your perception of events. It walls you into your box.
The trouble is, we’ve shown that we actually rather like our news in this form. How much easier is it to have everything ready-made for us to enjoy, away from the tempestuous sea of political arguments, where our views might be challenged? We’ve constructed our pillow forts with the greatest of care and attention. We’re safe from any uneasy doubts that might sneak in, any notion that we could be wrong about something.
This is so much the case that there is now an entire industry based on getting you fired up.
Partisan sites like ‘Westmonster’ or ‘The Canary’ exist purely on subscriptions from their audience. Often these sites don’t even try to pretend that they are presenting impartial news. Sure, media outlets, especially newspapers, have always tended to lean one way or the other, but it didn’t used to be quite so in-your-face. It’s like how the Joker sometimes wears make-up to fit in, until suddenly he doesn’t. In our current political climate, the Joker is in full hideous view, asking us ‘Why so serious?’.