Observations on The People’s Strictly (featuring Michael Sheen)

people strictly

To briefly segue into the kind of crushing triviality we spend most of the time having a go at other people about indulging in, the telly was on when The People’s Strictly screened last night.

The show takes the BBC’s phenomenally popular Strictly Come Dancing format and radically does away with the celebrity contestants, replacing them with real people who’ve done nice, altruistic things. It’s part of this year’s Red Nose Day campaign, which seeks to raise money for anti-poverty charity Comic Relief.

To get the bunker-busting cynicism out of the way – charity shouldn’t have to exist. To some extent, celeb-festooned fundraising drives like these just act a sort of moral fig-leaf for tax-dodging multimillionaires, helping sticking-plaster problems that, in an egalitarian, millionaire-less society, wouldn’t exist at all. The old Clement Attlee quote springs to mind – “charity is a cold grey loveless thing. If a rich man wants to help the poor, he should pay his taxes gladly, not dole out money at a whim”.

You can parachute Darcey Bussell into sub-Saharan Africa to make her empathy face at impoverished mothers whose children have died as much as you like. Things like that happen thousands of times every day – and without a social turnaround more radical than anything any celebrity Bake Off entrant could stomach, they’ll keep happening again and again and again, even if they’re still doing Red Nose Days in the year 3000.

BUT. It’s still supremely nice to see a programme celebrating selfless, compassionate, ordinary people rather than sociopath businessmen, vain, borderline-rapist footballers, vacant living clotheshorses and overpaid Top 40 warblers – people who dedicate their lives to quietly helping others rather than making millions doing nothing useful. Basically, it’s very pleasing – and so rare these days – to see good things happening to good people, on TV, for everyone to see.

AND. As crotchety far-leftists go, at least, we’re pro-charity. In a very bad world where that celeb-spooking social overhaul is a very long way off, a lot of charities work tirelessly and heroically to help the most vulnerable people on the planet, keeping literally millions alive. We’ve got very little time for the idea that Red Cross aid workers supplying emergency food supplies to famine victims are propping up the status quo – as if leaving them be would somehow provoke a revolution. Starving people don’t do politics – they’re too busy dying.

Incidentally, having just attacked celebrity Bake Off contestants, this one was all over social media this week after giving a righteously angry speech. Welsh actor Michael Sheen was taking part in a St David’s Day event in Tredegar, held to celebrate the legacy of NHS founder Aneurin Bevan, and highlight Coalition attempts to sell off increasingly large chunks of the health service.

Yes, he’s an LA-based probably-millionaire actor who’ll now jet off back to Hollywood and live a cushy elite lifestyle, but how often do you see that level of passion nowadays?

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London Isn’t Very Equal (Part Two) – To Tower Hamlets

London remains scandalously unequal
London remains scandalously unequal

Click here for Part One

From London and its most gentrified and fake, we go the city at its poorest and most raw.

Leaving gentrified Bermondsey, we went to visit another friend. We knew Compadre #2 from school days in Somerset, when she was a warm, caring, alternative type who wrote and sang her own songs. She still is warm, caring and alternative, thankfully, but has chucked in the guitar and the lashings of emo-standard black eyeliner for a job in a small music promotions company.

It’s laughable to look back on now – especially given where we’d just come from – but at school we called her ‘posh’. She lived in a slightly nicer part of town and her dad had a reasonably well-paid job. In truth, they were just about middle class, and probably didn’t bring in a whole lot more than the average household income.

Now she lives in Tower Hamlets, one of the most glaringly unequal parts of the country, let alone London. It’s hugely deprived – 42% of its children are impoverished, the highest proportion anywhere in Britain, and its richest inhabitants live about 11 years longer than its poorest ones. But it’s just a few minutes east of the oligarch’s den itself, the City, and the gleaming phalluses of the bank buildings dominate the horizon. A relatively small number of super-rich residents pull the borough’s average income up to £58,000 a year – the second-highest in the country – and its proximity to the biggest financial hub outside Wall Street gives it an economy worth £68bn. Its house prices have gone up a mind-bending 43% since last year. Continue reading “London Isn’t Very Equal (Part Two) – To Tower Hamlets”