boring boring gay marriage

And if a man shall lay down with another man, they shall be forced to consider booking the hotel earlier next time

It’s March 2012 and the biggest, brightest and most contentious political discussion in contemporary Britain is “Should marriage be redefined so as to incorporate anyone who loves anyone else?”. Flying over one highspeed railtrack of comment is the Religious Express (taking in ‘militant atheism’, ‘dangerous secularism’, ‘tetchy Alpha course preachers’, that sort of thing), whilst clickity-clackiting over on the political branch line is the Post-Blairite Social Policy local stopping service. And lo, didst the resulting points problem outside the station inconvenience us all.
The gay marriage debate is so boring. Redefining marriage to incorporate same-sex couples should be no more contentious than redefining junk food to incorporate Innocent smoothies (oh come on, have you seen the sugar content?). What we get instead is a protracted circus of moral handwringing and social commentary straight from the Big Book of the Bleeding Obvious.  Cardinals whinge, social conservatives clear their throats and homosexual couples are cultural vandals smashing bus-stops with SkullCandy headphones
It should come as no surprise that the religious vox-pops sound to me like echoes of an historic age. In centuries gone by, the words from former Archbishops of Canterbury would be treated with absolute respect because in most cases the holders of that position had long since died and their words were coming through the foam-mouthed babbles of Mrs Humendthwump, the poor-house cleaner. As the old joke puts it so clearly, marriage is an institution and I have no desire to be put into one of those. Whether the persons involved are of the same sex or otherwise is of neither great personal concern; nor should it stoke too may fires amongst the sage old voices of the various Churches.

Christians have every reason to walk upon this subject’s ground with care because of the rules and regulations laid down by the teachings on which their belief is based. Same-sex marriage is not explicitly forbidden, leaving many of the on-high pronouncements conclusions of opinion rather than scripture. And these opinions speak in the accent of panic and confusion, of a form of nostalgia. Remember when every man and woman you met in the street were married and every child was looked after and cared for? Happiness in all its forms, and the only way to pronounce ‘homosexual’ was like Norman Evens or Cisse and Ada.

The debate is boring because, broadly speaking, everything which the Moral Compass Corps. attacks is drenched in the same stodgy mess of paranoia, prejudice and judgement. What results from this is the turning of an interesting subject into a dirge; it’s like Homer Simpson doing impression of white-noise. Redefining marriage to include same-sex couples is the natural extension of civil partnerships, which has not caused the country to collapse or existing divorce rates to sky-rocket anymore than they were doing already. I can’t even consider it particularly important if the redefinition happens immediately or after the next election; it’s an inevitable extension of a common sense policy, one of the rare moments when Blairite social tinkering actually did something good.

What is boring is how tired both sides of the argument sound. We all know circumstances, some very close and personal, in which the claim that marriage between a man and woman does not extend very far beyond “a vague commitment” does not match reality. Settling down with someone for the rest of your life can be a decision made beyond religious considerations – it’s stunning that we still have to frame arguments within these constraints.

Being against the redefinition is not the same as being homophobic, of course. But the ballpark as open gate and I can see the usual suspects limbering up to play. Let us try and keep this year’s political debate getting lost in the moral maze; this is not the year to be “social commentaried” to death….

Mercury’s gold (doesn’t always shimmer)

Award ceremonies present quite the uncertain prospect for most observers; the general population either adore or ignore, tabloids subject the most meaningless to disproportionate hyperbole, broadsheets offer disproportionate analysis. It’s not just the self-promoting ridiculousness of them all (although, to paraphrase Sideshow Bob, there is not yet a trinket out there for attempted physics).

If ever there’s a gong show with contentious decisions written all the way across its history like a hipster’s arm, it’s the Mercury Prize for….well….best album? Greatest? Most beloved Alexis Petridis?

This year’s shortlist is the usual eclectic, eccentric muddle of commercial and deliberately obtuse leftfield choices (oooh, jazz, mmmm), makes the already difficult task of comparing different artists collections of work almost laughably impossible. There’s a reason why “What kind of music you into, then?” stops attracting meaningful responses after the age of 15. Unless you’re talking to your gran (Choice quote from my gran, now sadly deceased. “I like that ‘soul music’, but not his face”, she said of the Prodigy album “The Jilted Generation” upon seeing the album art and the words “sole CD” on the price sticker).

Mercury Prizes are subject to more chin-stroking than most because they have always posited the reputation as being above, higher, and somehow plainly more than commercially minded rivals. They are not the brash Brits, they are not the sell-out NME awards. In truth, natch, their position accurately moves around with the whim of the audience they court, one eye on a mature, world-wise audience (Jesus and Mary Chain nominated in 1992, Radiohead in 1997, the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra in 1996), and another on promotion and advertising kudos (Spice Girls in 1997, Mark Morrison in 1996, Sting in 1993, arguably every time post-1997 that Radiohead have ever been nominated.)

Famously, now, the judges considered M People’s “Elegant Slumming” over Blur (“Parklife”), the aforementioned Prodigy, and Paul Weller’s “Wild Wood”. Plainly bonkers – it’s not worth saying, really, that track-for-track, Blur kinda just sorta do beat Heather Small into a mush of smug self-help sludge, even accounting for “Trouble in the Message Centre”, which is awful.

Nobody explicitly awarded the Mercury’s with a high pedestal from which to sprinkle “indie” stardust on the chart albums below. Partly the responsibility of the panel itself, mostly due to the journalists it feeds so well, the value of its currency is somewhat euro like in its widely unsustainable level. It has blatantly turned to an unwritten rota from which awards are seen to be fairly handed out, such as occurred in right-on trendy comprehensives at sports days. One year, it’s an obscure winner (Talvin Singh’s “OK” in 1999, which I bought, incidentally), and then follow that up with something a bit more mainstream (2000 was Badly Drawn Boy, beating Leftfield themselves, ironically enough).

“Obscure, mainstream, obscure, mainstream” has turned out to be more of an obvious seating pattern than Tony Blair’s “gay, straight, gay, straight” Cabinet seating arrangements. Bloc Party or KT Tunstall count not win in 2005, for that was an obscure year. The xx triumphed last year, the year of the mainstream, which may seem like a rule proving exception were it not for Speech Debelle triumphing 12 months previously.

Assumption and half-remembered memory has not helped the Mercury’s laudable attempt to move away from being an unofficial badge of approval from ‘proper’ critics. It’s “indie” credentials only grew on the back of its inaugural winners and subsequent follow-up – had Primal Scream (worthy) and Suede (worthy) not succeeded, its value today would be less than a Greek stocktrader.

This year – the year of the Obscure Winner, betting folks – the commentariat have clucked their collective tongues at a somewhat uneven shortlist, from Adele and Elbow to Anna Calvi (and no, I was unable to whistle anything by Gwilym Simcock until I hit YouTube ). Betting money might be going on Adele (she’s no chance). I would suggest Katy B is where the money should be going (she’s the Speech Debelle voting option without the chance of a post-award strop two months later).

To leave, not a Mercury performance but from a nominee which still gets me giddy. Who needs a band? And, yes, Antony and the Johnsons beat her in 2005.

London fascist week

Nick Griffin must think all his birthdays have come at once.

From the first dawn of new year 2009, the mainstream media and blogosphere have united in giving the British National Party the one thing they crave; massive and widespread coverage. For around six months the topic was “How we can stop the BNP being elected to Brussels”. When the North West of England, and Yorkshire & Humber elected one BNP member each, the former being Griffin himself, a brief flurry of discussion later has lead to a new target: the BBC, in allowing Griffin to appear on Question Time, is now in the firing range.

Deluded rent-a-quote Peter Hain, MP for Neath and Welsh Secretary – so in other words, Minister For Having Nothing To Do With How the BBC Conducts Itself – has been ranting like a wind-up toy for weeks about nothing else. He called the BNP “illegal”, which must come as some shock to the Electoral Commission whose Register of Political Parties includes them just as they do almost every other group wishing to stand in elections. In Mr Hain’s imaginarium, the BNP probably do not exist. Or else, perhaps, they do; Griffin is only one below the Archbishop of Canterbury in order of precedence, and Question Time is a CGI-laden one-off event broadcast across all frequencies and watched by literally everyone.

The BBC are completely within their rights to ask Griffin to appear on Question Time, just as they are completely within their rights not to ask a card-carrying member of the Monster Raving Loony Party: much to the annoyance of people like Hain, Nick Griffin has gone and achieved the sort of democratic mandate every trick in the book was supposed to deny. “No Platform” has resulted in dozens of councillors, a GLA member, and 2 MEPs. The one thing which could have stopped the tide of BNP success – face-to-face discussion – was dismissed as being something akin to collusion or agreement.

Allowing Griffin to appear in all his pudgy wonky-eyed glory will “prove the lie” on the strength of his party and their policies. Jack Straw represents Blackburn, so should know a thing or two about the realities of racial relations in a multi-ethnic town. Bonnie Greer has her own perspective on the difficulties – and consequences – of racism far beyond our shores. On any subject other than race – and there’s quite a few news stories circulating at the moment – Griffin will struggle. Anyone who has seen UKIP leader Nigel Farage shoehorn Europe into every single answer he’s asked to provide know how tiring it becomes hearing the subject heave-hoed up the hill each and every time.

Griffin will hang himself with his own words. It’s not as though his other interviews and appearances have ever been successful in reinventing his reputation. Those who wish to deny his voice on QT forget just how many blogs and YouTube appearances the man is getting even as I type. Let democracy and the democratic process actually happen, on a respected and popular television programme, and then react.

There are a lot of extremists on the left-wing who forget that the “spectrum of politics” can so easily be displayed not as a straight-line, but as a circle…