Taking on someone else’s agenda

The 2010 Festival of Politics launched in Edinburgh this week and I’ve been to two of the talks so far.

Tuesday lunchtime went to see “The Politics of Comedy” (Simon Fanshawe; Tommy Sheppard, owner of The Stand comedy club; and The Scotsman comedy critic Kate Copstick) and then on Wednesday lunchtime: “Power of the People” (Mark Thomas, Martin Bell & Annie Lennox).

Picture of Mark Thomas courtesy of The Guardian newspaper

The articulate Mark Thomas

Picture of Annie Lennox, courtesy of Celebuzz.com

The passionate Annie Lennox

Picture of Martin Bell, courtesy of the Daily Mail

The passionate and articulate, but possibly slightly resigned Martin Bell

The Politics of Comedy was a reasonably entertaining talk, though slightly spoiled by Simon’s continuous references to the fact he is gay (can’t we get over this?) and Kate’s frustration with being interrupted by Simon (somehow slightly demeaning to her). So, any insights….? They had talked about television producers placing an increasing number of restrictions on comedians, leaving them little material to play with, apart from the “fluffy stuff”. They also talked about real comedic material coming out of life experience and though there were some interesting young comedians appearing on the scene, they didn’t always have the depth to produce an engaging performance. (This I quite liked given the amount of concern about the aging population, about ageism in general and about the irritating grumbles of late-twenty-somethings that they are old. Hooray for celebrating life experience!)

“Power of the People” was also quite thought provoking, but I wish in a way that it wasn’t Annie Lennox who took on the agenda of more [global] respect for women…. not because I think the topic isn’t valid (very much so!), but just that I’m not convinced these arguments have the same weight when they’re so personally entwined with the individual pushing them…? At least, it would have been nice if Martin Bell or Mark Thomas had contributed more to the role of women in politics, without being prompted by questions from the audience.

As I write this, I’m wondering if I’m being a tad hypocritical. I get fed up with women ranting about inequality and gay men (more so than gay women) going on about being gay…. but then I’m not directly campaigning for either of these causes. I guess I feel that we should have come to a point in the world when gender or sexual orientation is irrelevant with regard to self-promotion. I just want to hear/work with/socialise with people who are interesting, great company and good at what they do. I recognise this view is idealistic, since I still see (and experience) so many examples of inequality. For me the bottom line is that if you’re good … you’re good and it shouldn’t matter a damn whether you’re black, female, working class or gay.

The most frustrating issue to come of “Power of the People” is that they (Lennox, Thomas & Bell) spent most of the panel session stressing that people do have real power, that the politicians are just the rubber stamps at the end of the process. Yet a question by a passionate Zimbabwean at the end of the session, about the denial (by Zimbabwean politicians) of the HIV/Aids epidemic, was firm proof that many so many politicians in so many countries remain a very evident bottleneck to real change.