Tag Archives: british politics

The Curious American in the news

Hello everyone!

Just a quick update while I work on my first piece. I was on the BBC World Service yesterday talking about crowdfunded journalism, which you can listen to here. Also, the Huffington Post UK did a short feature on me which was published today.

I’ve got two pieces to deliver in the next couple days, as well as one confirmed interview tomorrow. I am, however, still looking for people willing to talk to me. If you or someone you know is in London and would like to discuss the election, the parties, or an issue that’s important to you, please e-mail me at skylar.bakerjordan@gmail.com!

Cheers,

Skylar

The Curious American: Live from London

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You lot really are amazing. What started off as, if I’m being honest, a seemingly naff suggestion by Twitter followers in February has come to fruition. Because of you. I’m sat in London (well, Walthamstow) ahead of the general election, ready to report and analyse my heart out for the next two weeks.

When we started the GoFundMe campaign, the idea was simple: use the ingenious format developed by Humans of New York to cover the British general election. Ask everyday Londoners, and maybe people elsewhere in the country too, what they think in both the run up to and the fallout from 7 May. What is their biggest concern? What do they hope changes? What can Westminster politicians do to improve their lives?

This is still going to happen. But I would like to, on occasion, take it a step further. Instead of just posting a few sentences “in their own words,” with a few people (whom I’ve yet to meet, mind!), I’d like to dig deeper and put their particular lives in the broader context of politics and policy. What do the policies of these parties, and the likely coalition government—whatever that looks like—mean for this person? This is a question I want to ask. Additionally, I’ll offer some of my standard fare, and possibly even return to a cheeky post or two.

While here I’m going to be focusing mainly on The Curious American. I don’t plan on pitching a whole lot anywhere else. Full editorial control is one of the nicest things about having my own platform. It means I can publish things when I want, and given the context, that is more important than ever. So watch this space, because it’s going to be more active than ever before.

And again, that’s all down to you. You all have given me this opportunity. You’ve shown that you believe in me and my work, and that means more than I can ever express. I hope I do you proud.

Before I go to Asda to buy a hair dryer, because daft me left mine in Chicago, there are three people I want to thank in particularly. They have been the ones who truly made this a possibility. Unfortunately, they’ve also made it clear that they wish to remain anonymous. So all I’m going to say is that I am truly humbled by how generous and kind you were, especially since I know you’re sacrificing so much, and not just financially, so that I can pursue my dreams. I am very fortunate to know all three of you.

Everyone else, if you still want to give, I could still use the money. I’m on a shoestring budget here, enough to get around London but that’s about it. I’d love to be able to take a couple day trips, or to even just not have to worry about whether I’m spending too much while I’m out in the field. So there’s still time to get a nice little paragraph like the one before! (And, you know, to help continue to make my reporting a reality.)

I also want to open this up to suggestions. Anything you’d like to see me write about, talk about, or ask about? What kind of content do you want while I’m in London? Maybe something that doesn’t have anything to do with British politics, even. You lot made this happen, so for the next two weeks you lot are driving content. Let me know in the comments below!

x. Skylar

2014 And All That: A primer for the new year

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Right. Where was I? So here we are on Blue Monday, when the festive warmth dissipates and we suddenly realise that, without the intoxicating mix of Christmas lights and liquor, bloody hell, this weather is shit. We also realise that politics is, too.

What did we miss over the holiday season? Nick Griffin went bankrupt, as did Britain (at least according to George Osbourne). Ming Campbell began drafting the coalition divorce decree, whilst apparently most of Sunderland is drafting their own. Michael Gove created an uproar by making the past a topic of present debate. Nigel Farage did the opposite, proving decisively that he’d like the present to feel more like the past.

But while Gove and Farage look backwards, the media pundits and this fledgling blogger are looking forward. The standard prognostications have been made. Iran will take centre stage, Ukip will write the narrative of the European elections, Simon will return to X Factor.

So, joining the chorus of predictions, I offer a few buzzwords you should listen for in 2014.

1. Intersectionality

Anyone who has ever trolled the internet is familiar with the oft-derided phrase “check your privilege,” and Laurie Penny and Louise Mensch famously debated its usage last year. What most people don’t know is CYP’s provenance. Intersectionality, at its most basic, is a feminist theory that our experiences in this world are dictated by the varying degrees of privilege and disadvantage our many identities bring us. It’s the place where gender meets race, class, sexual orientation, disability, religion and so on. Before 2013, I’d rarely heard the term used outside of a gender studies classroom. With the rising refusal of many on social media to check their privilege, coupled with the emergence of such hashags as #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen, #NotYourAsianSidekick, and #BlackPowerYellowPeril, I expect 2014 is the year intersectionality enters mainstream consciousness.

2. Independence

Scotland will vote on whether it ought to secede from the United Kingdom in September. This alone is enough to propel the word into the public discourse. But the ramifications of Scotland’s vote will have global consequences, from Catalonia to Chechnya. Even Quebec might start looking at nationhood again. Also in the mix is South Sudan, the world’s newest state, which ended the year with the start of one of the world’s bloodiest (and most under reported) internal conflicts, which is sure to raise questions about the stability of any sovereignty movement looking to create a new country. (See: Kurdistan.)

3. Somme

Less a prediction and more an observation, I confess. 2014 marks the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War, and as mentioned above, we’ve already seen politicians trying to capitalise and rewrite history. Expect this to continue throughout the year, with Ukip using it to argue against a pan-European identity, the Tories using it to argue for a British identity, Labour using it to argue in favour of a multicultural identity, and the LibDems throwing their exasperated hands up.

Other words to keep an ear out include libertarian (with the parallels of Ukip to the American Tea Party and US midterm elections), Hillary (will she or won’t she), heterosexism (the presumption everyone is straight, and that being so is the norm), healthy obesity (expect a a heavy debate on weight-pun intended), al Qaeda (it’s been a few years since this was bandied about, but with the recent loss of Fallujah to the terrorist organisation, al Qaeda has proven to still be a threat), Zac Goldsmith (if airport expansion continues the way it’s going, he could throw quite the curve ball to Cameron), the Troubles (the Haass talk broke up with no agreement, meaning questions of the past will continue to plague Northern Ireland’s future), and globalisation (of the economy, the markets, feminism, gay rights).

If the first six days have proven anything, it’s that 2014 will be anything but dull. Watch this space.

All I want for Christmas is views: Skylar’s 2013 Christmas List

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Santa baby, slip a visa under my tree for me. I’ve been an awfully good boy. Santa baby, so hurry down my chimney tonight.

If you think of all the fellas that I haven’t kissed, you’re pretty much left with Ed Balls and Phil from EastEnders, and even that’s questionable considering my blackout night in Soho this summer. But all things considered, I’ve been incredibly well behaved this year, and I think Father Christmas ought to recognise and pay up. So, in the grand tradition of Eartha Kitt, Kelly Clarkson, and the cast of TOWIE, here’s my grown-up Christmas list.

  1. David Cameron to reclaim the middle ground – I supported the Conservatives at the 2010 election because I thought David Cameron was a new type of Tory. Admittedly, it was against every political instinct I had-a lifelong Democrat here in the States, I naturally lean towards the left. Still, I’m shy on socialism, and bought into the One Nation schmalz. Cameron has lurched further to the right than a drunk American driving the M25. Hindsight is 20/20, as they say, and I am now left with nothing but crow for Christmas dinner. It is my hope that in 2014, Mr Cameron will bring back the Tories I believed in four years ago.
  2. BBC America to get its act together – Seriously, how many episodes of Top Gear and Star Trek can one man be expected to suffer through? Their programming is nothing but Jeremy Clarkson and Klingons, two things so similar it often feels like a marathon of pure evil. So many amazing programmes are shown on the BBC in the UK, yet we’re lucky if we get a fortnightly episode of Luther here in the US. Where’s Never Mind the Buzzcocks, Have I Got News For You, and my beloved Hebburn? How am I supposed to get my Chris Ramsey fix. Which reminds me…
  3. Chris Ramsey – in all his Geordie glory. I’d like him wrapped in a pretty bow underneath my tree, where we will pretend to be a Lady Gaga Christmas carol. Woof.

    Oh Chris, you're making me blush!

    Oh Chris, you’re making me blush!

  4. A follow from Caroline Kent – Seriously girl, what gives? You’re the funniest Brit I follow. I’m a charming gay American. We’re a match made in Chelsea. I’m not asking you to a slumber party, though if you’re keen, I have a subscription to Netflix, a couple bottles of red and a mani-pedi kit. Just throwing it out there.
  5. Nigella to claim victory on The Taste – I don’t expect Brits to be familiar with this American programme, but think of it as The Great British Bake Off meets the The Voice. Four celebrity chefs mentor contestants and then judge in a blind taste test to see who made the best dish. Nigella finished abysmally in the first series, but considering her recent tribulations, I’d very much like to see her win. There’s no sweeter cook on the planet. Personal life aside, the woman is an amazing chef, and I hope she assembles a terrific team in 2014. I’d like to see her come out on top. Think of how smug she could be the next time she sees that bastard Saatchi. Revenge is a dish best served cold, and knowing Nigella, garnished with strawberries and a chocolate glaze.
  6. For Nicole Scherzinger to come home – Okay, this is more of a selfless wish for y’all, cos we don’t want her, either. Actually, that’s mean. And a lie. For Christ’s sake, anyone who can clap, weep or dance through every single X Factor performance deserves our respect. This is a woman who sees the best in everyone, and we we miss her. Nicole, love, you’ve been in London long enough. Baby, please come home. If not for Christmas, by New Year’s night.

    Nicole, you're my only wish this year.

    Nicole, you’re my only wish this year.

  7. For Simon Cowell to go back to Britain – X Factor USA is an unmitigated disaster. Give up the ghost, buddy.
  8. Tom Daley to live happily ever after – He’s Britain’s sweetheart, isn’t he? Has there ever been a more humble, more honest 19 year old celebrity? I don’t think so. Admittedly, I never gave twinkalicious Tom much thought. But this cheeky little bugger illustrates the straightforward snide I admire about your country. Since he’s come out, Tom has shown, like much of the UK, he’s blessed with the gift of banter. I love it. I want nothing but he best for this kid.
  9. For Christmas crackers to become a thing in America – They seem so fun! I’m still not quite sure how they work, but I want to pull something other than Chris Christie apart and get candy and a glib joke.nochristmascrackers
  10. An England World Cup victory – Relax. It’s a Christmas wish list, not a kidnapper’s list of demands. A boy can dream.

Understanding that postage is expensive and the Atlantic Ocean wide, I will gladly accept cash and gift cards in lieu of any of the above. If you insist on getting me something not on this list, I look best in blue, prefer things not made by little hands, and only wear white gold or platinum.

As I await the arrival of the many presents you’re sure to send, I will wish you all a very merry Christmas. While it’s unlikely I’ll get anything on my list, I hope you get everything on yours.

What do Peter Hitchens and Russell Brand have in common? They both sound like Katy Perry.

Let’s clear one thing up: I’m American, okay? I don’t claim to be anything but. I’m prone to hyperbole. I talk with my hands. I’m loud. I’m crass. And I don’t understand the point of apologising to someone who stepped on my foot, even if it was stuck out halfway across the train carriage. Watch where you’re going, ass.

One thing all Americans do understand, though, is political turmoil. After all, much like iOS7, our government tends to unexpectedly shut down. So you can see where I could possibly understand Russell Brand and Peter Hitchens, arguing from completely opposite political plains, that the government is fundamentally broken and beyond hope. The only thing is, I don’t understand at all. For like listening to a drunk Sarah Palin talking to a stoned George Bush, it’s all just a bunch of babbling with some laughs here and there.

I’ve already taken Hitchens to task over encouraging young Brits to abandon the ship of state, which he reckoned he “ought to be pleased by.” Likewise, the Telegraph Men columnist, Caroline Kent, did a bang up job in her personal blog (which she Tweeted-so I feel alright citing here) of surmising Brand’s articulate but ultimately incoherent argument; “he is basically just spewing the contents page of the Occupy manifesto in people’s faces,” she wrote, adding that it is “hardly groundbreaking stuff.” Hear, hear.

There’s been a lot of commentary on Brand’s Newsnight interview, and I imagine the story has only just gotten its legs. Less has been written about Peter Hitchens’ comments, because let’s face it, the average Brit hardly knows (or cares) who Hitchens is. But what I haven’t seen is anybody linking their dour pessimism together.

Yes, obviously comparing the two is akin to comparing Chantelle Houghton and Katie Hopkins, but I can’t help but to think that there’s a lesson for those living in the Westminster bubble. I mean, after all, it’s not very often that you’ve got the left and the right agreeing, albeit for very different reasons, that things are, on the whole, quite crap. On last Thursday’s Question Time, David Dimbleby deadpanned that anyone conscious knows the British people are disillusioned, and Russell Brand attributes voter apathy to a betrayal by the system.

In his column for politics.co.uk, though, Phil Scullion points out that “voter apathy grows in societies which are well fed, safe and where people feel they are being dealt with by the state in a just and fair manner.” By his estimation, then, people were most content in 2001, the zenith of the Blair premiership, when voter turnout was lower than at any time since full adult suffrage was achieved. However, in the two subsequent general elections, turnout has steadily increased by two to three points. By this logic, though, people are increasingly fed up. So Brand and Hitchens are right.

According to the other star of the week, they are. I don’t want to spend an endless amount of time analyzing Sir John Major’s windfall tax proposal, but his uncharacteristicly candid foray into policy debate is, at the very least, indicative of a wider concern. “If we Tories navel-gaze and only pander to our comfort zone we will never win general elections,” he cautioned, encouraging the Conservatives to look geographically north and economically down to address the concerns of workaday Britain.

Likewise, sitting opposite Peter Hitchens-figuratively and literally-on Question Time last week was Owen Jones. “There’s a huge disconnect with politics and ordinary people,” he said, going to lambast M.P.s for the same things Sir John cautioned his own party over, recounting a conversation he once had with Hazel Blears who allegedly admitted that there was no one in the Brown government interested in housing issues. Like Sir John, Owen recognises that the average Brit feels completely alienated from their own political process and their representatives. He too sees the writing on the wall.

I’ve sung a similar refrain for some time now. A couple months ago I did an analysis of the increasing support for Ukip over the past four years, pointing out that it hit double digits for the first time in April of this year. The question I was most often asked afterward was whether Ukip was chipping away from Tory votes or Labour votes. What’s interesting isn’t my answer, but that the answer most of my inquisitors offered depended on their political persuasion; Labour blames disenchanted Tories for the Ukip rise, and the Tories think Labour’s natural constituency is moving in favour of the nationalists. Recent opinion polls show Labour’s lead narrowing, with the Tories growth marginal, so it looks like the latter is true. At least now. I imagine most of the Tories that will have already defected.

So at least to here, I agree, with both Hitchens and Brand that the British public are forlorn and weary, not of Broken Britain but of the gits in government. What I don’t agree with, though, is their rhetoric. Phil Scullion hit the nail on its succinct head: “the content delivered by Brand is so often empty populism, wrapped in linguistic window dressing.” Likewise, Hitchens’ incendiary comment that young Brits ought to emigrate before it’s too late does nothing other than garner him the ire he feeds upon. In both cases the only purpose served is fueling the flames of their own vanities.

It doesn’t raise the level of political discourse. And it certainly doesn’t offer any real alternatives to the British people. What it does do is pander to the likes of Ukip and the SNP, fringe parties which feign populist (small p) agendas but which ultimately serve nothing more than their own doctrinal desires. It’s all a bit like listening to another American that Brits (especially Russell Brand), love to hate-Katy Perry: autotuned to sound appealing, but when you strip it to its barest, is nothing more than out of tune superficiality.