Thursday, 7 February 2013

A Call to arms: Progressivism is not dead

A simple statement, progressivism is not dead.

On Tuesday MPs voted emphatically in favour of legislating on equal marriage for same sex couples. Despite widespread criticism from the incumbant Conservative Party Backbenchers - some of which was truly vile - the Bill passed by a sizable majority. Nadine Dorries MP for example, citing faithfulness during her speech is simply ludicrous; the MP by all accounts is throwing stones from her glass house.

But, i digress, the Bill was passed. Perhaps a defining moment of this Parliament: legislation (that if it gets through the Lords of which there is no guarantee) that addresses one of the many areas of inequality in out society. A piece of legislation that is momentous in allowing same sex couples the share the joyous celebration of love in the form of Marriage. A Bill progressives and reformists can be proud of.

A Bill the Government laid before Parliament. A Bill laid down before Parliament by the Conservative and Liberal Coalition. A Bill passed by Labour.

The defining social Bill of this Parliament was passed by Her Majesty's Opposition, not the incumbent Coalition Government. Conservative members voting against, out numbered those voting in favour. All the Labour MPs voting in favour got this Bill through, and it is important to remember this momentous day as a day Labour took a step towards a fairer Britain.

There is a deep-rooted spine of small "c" conservatism running through the UK. It is by no means as defined as in, say, the American pysche, but we have a tendency to lean to the Right nonetheless. This is why moments such as these matter profoundly in the development of this country into a country with open opportunities for all.

We should not settle with what we have. Plato considered us all to be stuckfast into the castes we're dealt. The Right may well argue that those who "work hard" will be rewarded - a subtle jibe at the working classes aspiring to be middle class - but we all know it is not that simple. Mother has worked hard all of her life, working when she could, between being a single parent; she will always be middle class. We should be working towards bridging the gap that allows all of us to have the same chances the middle and upper classes have.

Michael Gove had a chance to define this Parliaments education policy programme. Rather than addressing the chronic differences between the budgets and by extension opportunities of State and Private Schools. Instead, he went too hard and too fast in trying to remould GCSE's seen as some as too easy. Too easy for whom? Certainly not inner-city schools who have a damaging low number of good teachers. Gove will forever now be branded with the embarrassment of the rejection of his plans by the Education Committee, and his subsequent U-Turn.

This was a characteristically unfair, ill-thought and ill judged Right-wing policy, that the Government should have abandoned far sooner in favour of a reforming policy, opening up the education system for all to do well to all, not adding another tier for the middle-classes to excel in.

If only the ruling few could recognise the minorities who need representing, support and help to at least have the chance to break the mould that Plato would have had them grounded into.

We should be straining every sinew, laboring every lobe of the brain to develop new policies that give everyone the chance to go to University, own their own house, get married to whomever they choose.....

Tuesdays result gives me hope that progressivism is not dead. Come 2015, i'll be voting Labour with the expectation that they are the party to open up the avenues for change and reform, not a party that is making things hard for the "hard working people" they claim to stand up for. I urge you to do the same at the ballot boxes in two and a halfs years time. .

An Open letter to Anne Main MP

Mrs Anne Main                                                                                                                   05/02/13
House of Commons

Dear Mrs Main

I write today with the second reading of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill in mind. I have followed today’s debate with great intrigue, listening where I can to MPs speeches on the issue of equal marriage. Debates such as these make me proud of our Members of Parliament; typically the floor of the House is embarrassingly empty, however today the level of involvement on the floor of the House has made me proud of our democracy, for someone with a fondness of Parliament, it is nice to see MPs and indeed you involved in the debate.

However I am upset to see you voted against the Bill.

I understand the points you made during the debate; you are correct that it featured in neither of the coalition party’s election manifestos hence there is no mandate to legislate on this issue. This does not suggest however that you the elected legislature cannot govern on the issue. Indeed, this is a conscious issue where you the MP must uphold the Burkean (after statesman Edmund Burke) principle of voting in the best interests of your most loyal constitutes of whom you represent.

This is wrong. In entrusting you with the Burkean principles of representation, we the people of St Albans expect more than just a representation of St Albans interests. We expect you to be better, in standing up and arguing for what is fair and is what is right. I find it hard to believe that the UK can denounce countries who murder people for being gay, yet fail to recognise the right of man to love someone of the same sex in the act of marriage.

Indeed, during the debate I was moved by the words of David Lammy MP (Tottenham) who argues that we cannot be “separate and equal.” I refer you to the words of Salmon P. Chase, who in the aftermath of the passing of the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854 said “There can be no Democracy which does not fully maintain the rights of man, as man.” While speaking on an issue of slavery (which has since been abolished in the US gladly) I wonder if his words can indeed be echoed today as well. How can we knowingly walk down the street, shoulder to shoulder, with homosexuals of whom we deny the joyous celebration of love that is marriage between two individuals?

While I respect your views to be your own, I urge you to clarify your position on this issue, and your reasons for voting against the Bill, by releasing a press-release on the issue and perhaps publishing your reasons in the local newspaper so your most loyal constituents can comprehend your reasons in obstructing this progressive piece of legislation. 

Yours Sincerely,

A St Albans constituent

Sunday, 27 January 2013

My Show, Harry's Show, The Miserables.

This is my Show, Harry's Show, The Miserables... It really was nice of Universal Pictures to front the cold hard cash required to put on a film about my good friend Harry, a musical masterpiece marveling his musings on the big screen for all to see. It truly is a dream come true to see his life being put on for millions of people to s... oh, right yes, inside jokes and all that.

If you've been comatose for the last 25 years or indeed militantly against musical theater, it is probably not wrong to assume you've heard of Les Misérables or to those in the know, Les Mis... The book by Victor Hugo , the musical that has ran on Broadway for 25 years and now the film, is about a French convict come good Samaritan (Jean Valjean) who breaks parole and is forever escaping the capture of a Policeman (Javert). All this is set against the backdrop of the French Revolution, exciting times. There's a daughter involved and various family/love interests that either help or hinder the hero's cause in some way.

The film took a while to get going in my opinion. It was only really when our timeline of events entered Paris (where both Javert and Valjean are in the autumn years and the daughter Cosette is all grown up) when the cinema sat up out of their chairs: a combination of edge of their seat engagement in the film and also a reflection of the viewers desire to get out their seats and get involved, to join the revolution as it were. From then on it's a mixed bag of camaraderie, honour and heroism which one can't help but be drawn into: either the viewer is rooting for Valjean's cause (an awful injustice on his part) or the viewer is rooting for the young revolutionaries dogged fight against the ruling classes. 
All set during the French Revolution

 It is a musical, and you cannot really avoid that if you're not especially keen on this kind of thing. But honestly this is one of the most thoroughly well put together musicals i have ever seen. Hugh Jackman does perfectly well, as indeed do all  the cast. Russell Crowe has been criticised, but i believe he played the role perfectly, his gruff tone only added to the atmosphere when he and Valjean confront each other. 

I would recommend the film to most, although if you ardently dislike musicals i would avoid this number, near enough every line is sung. 

I can understand if you're not convinced, "It's a musical, it's all singing and dancing, not that keen on said actor" etc etc may well crop up as prejudices about the film, but consider the following: during the film, something incredible happened. People clapped at the end, this isnt something i enjoy, i always feel it a bit awkward but consider this; people clapped during the film as well. In addition, in a big cinema such was the one i was in, a quick glance around and everyone was either mouths open, or had tears running down their faces. Such universal, cinema wide engagement in the film has to count for something, and i can confirm i was caught up in it just as the family were when i went to watch it. Head over to the local movie theater and see if you get caught up in it all as i was. Manly tears were definitely shed.

Do comment, share and follow me on twitter: @alexsmith321 

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Hitman: Absolution

A look back at the games i've played in 2012 (and a little spill over into 2013 in this case!) Hitman: Absolution is probably the best game i have played all year.

Okay, the line-up of games isn't too impressive, nothing worthy enough to make my claim of best game of 2012 at all legitimate, but i've played in 2012: FIFA 2013, Madden 2013, Rugby Challenge, F1 Race Stars, Max Payne 3, Assasin's Creed Revelations (yes, its not the latest in the series but i played it for long enough in 2012 to warrant it a 2012 game!), London 2012 (Olympics), Call of Duty MW3, Sleeping Dogs and finally Hitman.
Agent 47

Yes, it's mostly been sports games, but compared with the "non-sports" games Hitman is the standout.

 The thing about Hitman is something that has been missing from so many games lately: a varied and open ended game which gives the player the choice to make his own choices about how he wants to complete the game. The market is perilously overloaded at the moment with games that signpost the trail for you that it's like you're riding on that Ghost Ride at Alton Towers: You sit in your wagon, you can kill as many or as little as you like but in the end you'll follow the pre-determined track to a pre-determined destination.

Agent 47 dressed to Kill (literal) in a sewer workers uniform
Hitman throws that right out the window. As the title suggests, the bulk of the game is spent killing targets. That's about all you're given in terms of objectives, it's then up to you how you do it. The choices are as good as endless. You can choose to use one of (usually three although up to i'm told ten)  signature kills (which are spectacular) which involve for example, stealing a particular disguise, using it to access a particular room in which there is a particular button and pushing said button can kill the target as the button releases the load suspended on a crane onto the target. This of course has to be done stealthy for it to work, doing so will earn you bonuses.

Alternatively, you can go your own way, use your own weapons, objects or scenery to kill the target.

Hitman performing a signature kill:
poisoning the targets lunch of Sushi
The game is heavily based around stealth, although you can shoot your way through missions, you wont be rewarded as heavily at the end of the mission. The game is best played patiently, using your time to scope out targets, evaluate the setting before infiltrating and executing the mission. If you consider each mission like a mini-movie, you can begin to appreciate the games best parts. Of course in a movie, you need to set the scene (which in this case would be familiarizing yourself with the setting) before identifying characters and identifying a plan of action. This is done either through intuition, or in most cases listening in on other characters (baddies) in the game - "hey, can you believe the load on that crane is suspended like that, that could kill someone" - at which point you need to figure out how to use said scenery to kill the target (making it all look like an accident). Then, you must escape the area unseen. Having gone through all this, each mission is indeed like a little movie, which for me made the game more enjoyable.

The paitence aspect builds atmosphere and suspense. If you're spotted and guards get suspicious you must then wait around in a nearby store cupboard and wait for them to pass, or you wait for your target to get into position. All this steady build up results in unsurprisingly, a game with a long shelf life. With many games featuring the wham bam thank you ma'am approach, this is a welcome change.

I saw the game recently on Amazon for less that £20, which while a couple of months out of date, is an absolute steal. There are a number of other mini and online games after you complete the story to enjoy. Buy this game, and by all means thank me when you've completed it.