Being RESPONSIBLE doesn’t have to mean being to BLAME.

I’ve posted a similar blog before, but I fully agree with Chrissie Hynde’s stance on rape/sexual assault.

If I walked down a dark alley playing with my mobile phone, and it got snatched, I would bear an element of responsibility for that theft. It wouldn’t be my FAULT. It’s ALWAYS the fault of the person committing the crime. But it was a crime that could have been preventable if I’d chosen a different route and kept my phone hidden.

It is never a girl’s fault that she gets raped, but a bit of self preservation and responsible behaviour could help to reduce the amount of crimes committed and lives ruined.

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Blame the Tories all you like. Labour has failed Wales, and it’s about time they paid the price here just as in Scotland.

Plaid should take hold of traditional Labour areas in Wales

We’re not even a week after the General Election and already there have been protests against the austerity measures the Conservative government are proposing.

Of course, the debate on austerity is a valid one, with sensible arguments on either side.  But regardless of this, few can dispute that it was a remarkable election which saw the SNP pick up 56 out of 59 of the seats available in Scotland, with swings of up to 35%, largely at the expense of the Labour Party.

It was a shockingly poor General Election for Labour, with them losing many more seats across the UK.  And yet, to me it’s a mystery that Labour still have such a stronghold in Wales.

The decline in coal mining in the 1980s is very much seen as a Conservative legacy which is why they are not exactly the most welcome of parties in the South Wales Valleys.  However, it always surprises me how Labour get off Scot-free (no pun intended)

Yes, the Conservatives were against the vast subsidies afforded to coal mining, an industry which had been in decline since the early part of the 20th century.  The announcement of around 20 pit closures in the mid 1980’s led to the worst industrial action in living memory.

Labour were perceived to be on the side of the predominantly working class population of the Valleys.  In reality, during the 1980s Labour were suffering an identity crisis as they struggled down the long, slow road to the centre ground of New Labour.  During the 1984/85 Miners’ Strike, Neil Kinnock seemed to be more concerned with emulating the outspoken persona adopted by Margaret Thatcher, than to actually speak out in favour of the strikers (he was in fact against the strike action, as it took place without a ballot).

By the time New Labour swept to victory, the party had transformed and the Valleys had all but been forgotten.  After all, with such large majorities in each seat, they were always guaranteed to win.  This should have been their chance to put right their muddled attitude in the 1980s.  The Valleys desperately needed investment, a fresh start.  And yet after 13 years of Labour in power, there was little in the way of investment, with the region seeming more desolate than ever.

This is almost exactly the same scenario as in Scotland.  However, in Scotland the SNP has taken full advantage of Labour’s complacency.  A vote for SNP was not necessarily a vote for independence, it was an anti-Labour vote.

I’m a Conservative voter, so what I’m about to say may be surprising:

I hope that Plaid Cymru become the SNP of Wales over the next few years.  Plaid is the only party that had a strategy for the Valleys in its manifesto, and although I don’t agree with much of their politics, I have to concede that Wales could benefit from having a party fight its corner at a UK level.

Unfortunately, Plaid has a reputation for being too far left, and more preoccupied with issues such as the Welsh language and ultimately independence (an unobtainable target in my opinion).  They are also anti-austerity and I don’t think the UK can continue spending at the level it is right now.  But I think Plaid have a good chance to send a clear message that Wales won’t be taken for granted by Labour or any other political party.

Labour has failed Wales time and time again, and it’s about time they paid the price here just as they have in Scotland.

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Vilifying rapists is all well and good, but is it wrong to suggest that we can learn from the mistakes of victims too?

Ched Evans

Much has been talked about the future career prospects of convicted rapist and footballer Ched Evans, with several clubs showing an interest in signing him until public opinion forced them to reconsider.

Evans was found guilty of raping a 19 year old woman who was intoxicated to the point that she couldn’t remember what had happened when she woke up the next morning.

This debate sends a clear message that what he has done is wrong. And quite rightly so. However, the intensity of the hatred towards him is very blinkered and I can’t help thinking that if a fraction of this energy was spent sending a message to young people about the dangers of drinking too much, more rape would be avoided.

Of course, anyone that dares to suggest the young woman shouldn’t have been so drunk in the first place is accused of being ‘pro-rape’ and other such nonsense.

But it’s true: if the victim had not been so drunk, she wouldn’t have been in such a position.  An insensitive point of view perhaps: no one asks to be raped, and the chances are she will pay for the mistake for the rest of her life. But rather than block out this crucial lesson, if acknowledging it actually helped to prevent future cases of rape, perhaps it’s a point worth considering?

Several months ago I posted a Facebook status about an episode of the BBC’s Crimewatch, whereby a young woman left a nightclub dressed as a naughty school girl, extremely drunk, with no money and a flat mobile phone battery.  She proceeded to walk the two mile journey home, cutting through a particularly rough and isolated area of her hometown, and was attacked in the process.  I pointed out that it probably wasn’t the best of ideas to make that particular journey home, and was subsequently lynched by many of my Facebook friends for daring to suggest ‘she brought it on herself’.  Yes, in an ideal world, she should have been able to have walked where she wanted, in any state of mind.  But we’re not in an ideal world, and an element of self-preservation needs to be adopted in order to avoid the advances of twisted predators.

Vilifying rapists is not going to stop rape occurring. Educating young people on the dangers of drinking too much and putting themselves into risky situations just might.  And if that’s the case, whilst not the most politically correct statement to make, I think it’s one worth making.

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JD Wetherspoon’s limp response to alleged homophobia has lost them my custom

Homophobia is not something that should be taken lightly, and the term is sometimes overused and blown out of proportion when a gay person is refused service at a company, whether it be a bar, hotel or supermarket.

So I looked at the recent reports of Joshua Fox’s experience at a JD Wetherspoon establishment with a very open mind.

Out of all the articles I’ve read about this incident, let me be the first to say that for such a large chain, it would be hard for instances of homophobia to be prevented outright.  Also, we don’t know the exact circumstances or language used on the night in question, and the company and Fox appear to have a separate version of events.

So on reading the initial headlines I was prepared to cut them some slack.  But this position started to change when I read the chain’s response to Fox:

‘Parties of a single sex may be refused entry in order to maintain a balanced and pleasant environment for all customers.

‘This is based on some experiences in which the atmosphere in our pubs has been spoiled due to an unbalanced ratio between men and women.’

Now I have plenty of experience in the licensed trade, and know of many methods by door staff to deter ‘undesirable customers’ from entering.  Many bars have a policy on not allowing ‘large parties of the same sex’ (translation: stag parties) for obvious reasons.  The whole point is to avoid anti-social behaviour and it’s admirable.  But to apply this policy to a ‘party’ of two gay men is stretching it to say the least, and smacks of Wetherspoon clutching at straws.

Unfortunately for the company, one member of this ‘two man same sex party’ was a well known blogger, with thousands of followers on Twitter.  The gay press (who often jump on these stories, occasionally a tad overzealous and without merit) got hold of the story, which was then shared on social media and picked up by mainstream press including Metro and the Daily Mirror.

A spokesperson for Wetherspoon told the Manchester Evening News:

‘Wetherspoon is proud of the fact that its pubs welcome a cross section of customers.

‘We have discussed the incident with the manager who in turn has spoken with door staff and they are adamant that they did not mention the fact relating to mixed couples.

‘We appreciate that this was an upsetting situation for the man involved, however, we reiterate that there was no discrimination towards him.

Ugh, a ‘cross section’ of customers.  I hate this rather clinical description, which to me suggests their customers are merely demographics rather than actual people.  It’s not a science lab, it’s pub chain where people flock for cheap meal deals.

But why not release a statement clearly referencing gay people, and say that they are welcome at its premises?  After all, that is what the story is about?

It is perhaps sound business sense.  After all, Wetherspoon is not a bar specifically associated with gay people, and they do encourage a very mixed trade.  From from experience my local ‘Spoons’ is frequented by an older clientele eager to get the best deal on booze at any time of the day, joined by local office workers at lunchtime and casual drinkers in the evening.

Maybe they felt a broad section of this customer base would see the brand as tainted with fairy dust if it explicitly came out in support of gay people?  Maybe the company doesn’t actually support gay equality?  Perhaps the chain has now got so big that they don’t wish to comment on individual types of customer?

You could accuse me of putting words in to the company’s mouth, but it’s difficult to understand their exact position on this matter due to the rather vague response.

I am the last person to play ‘the gay card’ and cry discrimination, but in my opinion there was an element of homophobia in this case.  Fox is a well respected blogger and has no reason to lie about his version of events, and the company has failed to admit these failings and apologise accordingly.

And until they do, I will not be setting foot in another JD Wetherspoon establishment again.

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Zoella: The so called ‘brand’ that mainstream media just doesn’t understand

Last month, Zoe Sugg – otherwise known as YouTube blogger Zoella – launched her debut novel.  It shot to the top of the charts but within hours there was widespread speculation that the book, ‘Girl Online’ had been ghostwritten.  Cue a press shitstorm.

The mainstream media generally struggles to understand the culture of YouTube and the stars it has created, but they’re more at home with a scandal such as this, and they’re getting a fair bit of mileage out of it.

Ghostwriting is not uncommon – Katie Price openly acknowledges that she uses one (namely Rebecca Farnworth who sadly passed away last month).  Generally a ghostwriter will take plot ideas and characters from the “author” and turn it into a piece of fully formed writing.

But let’s put that to one side.  The general reporting is not so much about the fact that Sugg used a ghostwriter, but that she hasn’t been more upfront about it.  The common argument seems to be that her brand is built on authenticity and that by covering up the ghostwriting, trust in the brand has been diminished.  I think they’ve completely missed the point, perhaps deliberately in order to make a better story.

Vloggers like Sugg don’t build their brands on ‘authenticity’, but more on what viewers don’t see.  Look at many of the comments on their videos and you will usually find a very suspicious viewership.  A re-occuring  topic is whether or not Sugg has stopped being ‘best friends’ with fellow vlogger ‘SprinkleOfGlitter’ just because they haven’t appeared in a video together for a while.  And there were many comments relating to her relationship with fellow vlogger Alfie Deyes (PointlessBlog) months before they were revealed to be an item.

This is not a brand that’s built on authenticity, it’s one that is built on curiosity, gossip and a bit of light scandal.  A reality based soap opera if you like.  I’m by no means calling Sugg a fraud – she has always seemed a fairly sweet, ordinary girl that has been thrust into the limelight in such bizarre circumstances.

In fact, the whole concept of ‘Zoella’ becoming a brand is partly what has caused this media storm to blow up.  The ‘Zoella’ that millions of viewers invest their time in is not a brand, she is a person.  The decision to convert this new media entity into an old media brand could ultimately prove her downfall as the style of both worlds clash.  A perfect example of this is the way in which Penguin Books released their statement regarding the ghostwriter in the old school ‘letter to the press’ format, whereas Sugg’s statement was issued via Twitter, but looked incredibly proof-read and signed off by her PR.  The fact that Sugg then went on to personally address issues in her regular less formal style was even more jarring.

There is a bigger picture to this recent saga, which has been completely missed by the media.  Prior to Ghostwriter-gate, cracks had already been emerging.  Sugg and Deyes have recently both spoken out against some of their viewers for their comments, which have become more critical of late.  In one recent vlog, many mentioned the irony of Deyes attending the recording of the Band Aid charity record before getting into a helicopter and visiting the huge extravagant house owned by PR guru Matthew Freud.

In a fairly passive-aggressive tone, Deyes threatened to turn off the option post comments to his YouTube channel if the posts are not more positive in future (he later carried out the threat).  Sugg, in bed by the side of him, agreed and added it was negative comments that caused her to stop making daily vlogs.

It’s a sign that PointlessBlog and Zoella are perhaps getting carried away with their own hype, and have forgotten that the very nature of what they do is based on direct feedback from their audience.  If this pair continues to chastise this audience for having an opinion, and lose sight of what their popularity is truly based on, I have a feeling it won’t be appreciated, and it won’t be long until the next generation of vloggers attract the attention of a notoriously fickle viewership.

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If you think Katie Hopkins is outrageous, it’s time to grow a pair.

I always look forward to Katie Hopkins tweets

Katie Hopkins is once again hitting the headlines with yet another trademark barb.  The former Apprentice star (the only contestant ever to say ‘I Quit’ to Sir Alan) has directed her wrath onto someone that threw themselves in front of a train, presumably in a suicide bid (and not a misguided attempt to re-enact the opening scene of Skyfall).

Personally, there’s nothing that Hopkins has posted that has outraged me, and this occasion is no exception.  While flippant (and what else can a Tweet be?) she’s right to be annoyed.  I actually think that throwing yourself in front of a train is one of the most selfish ways to kill yourself.  You have to think of the driver, the passengers and emergency services that have to endure the horror of your actions, not to mention the poor member of your family that has to identify you.  This wasn’t the point that Hopkins was overtly making, but the argument of “how can you moan about a delayed train when someone’s died?” can seem less solid when you look at the whole picture.

But in these ultra politically correct days, God forbid we post what’s on our minds for fear of offending someone.  Several responses to Hopkins claimed her comments were ‘anti-mental illness’.  As if mental illness is a good thing?  I’m all for getting rid of its stigma, but the ultra-sensitive way in which some go about this can actually hinder the cause.

I find myself sick to the back teeth of seeing links to Katie Hopkins’ Twitter feed with comments like “she’s gone too far this time…” and “absolutely disgusting, lock her up and throw away the key…”.  Of course, she doesn’t give a monkeys and absolutely thrives on causing outrage, but much of the reaction at times a tad frustrating.

Hopkins has been fairly supportive of ex-footballer Jimmy Bullard, who was voted off I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here following a “bullying row” (as labelled by the popular media) when he spent approximately 30 seconds laying into X Factor nobody Jake Quickenden.

As part of a short exchange, Bullard asked Quickenden “Why the fuck are you in here? What are you? What sort of skill have you got?”.  And fair enough.  Quickenden is a relative unknown who has only been in the public eye for a matter of weeks.  And indeed, since joining I’m A Celeb, he’s shown very little of note to prove he’s anything but a regular (boring) person compared to the other more established faces.

While I’m sure “Bullying Bullard” made for an irresistible headline for news outlets desperately looking for a story to stretch out of the ITV show, a bully – he is not.  An annoying little shit, possibly, but not a bully.

“Bullying” is a label that’s nowadays more carelessly thrown around than the words of some people that are actually accused of it.  Again, being ultra-sensitive can be even more detrimental.

When I was at school, I only ever experienced what I would call ‘bullying’ once.  It was very light, in my opinion, and it only served to make me a stronger person, and grow a pair of balls.  Not right away: I never faced up to the bullies, spent most of my school years introverted and was a fairly quiet pupil.  However in the years to come I told myself how I should have reacted at the time, and have used that experience when reacting to real, grown up problems.  And I’m a better person for it.

Looking back now, there were probably many occasions that if I were at school in 2014, would be classed as bullying.  A bit of name calling, a few jokes at my expense, someone sending me a rude message on Faceparty (under 25’s look it up) all stuff that went straight over my head, even at an age where the smallest of problem seemed like a major catastrophe.

Had I been a pupil in 2014, I’d probably be a nervous wreck.  I’m glad I was brought up in a world where, although I knew I could turn to people if I was in trouble at school, I had a better grasp of what was real bullying and what was something I could handle myself, and even turn to my advantage.

And it’s probably for that reason that I never cringe or experience outrage at any of Katie Hopkins’ tweets.  My only negative reaction is reserved for those sensitive souls who can’t cope with what she has to say next.

To coin a phrase: If human beings had tiptoed around for generations, the soles of our feet would be a lot weaker.

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“The Gay Lifestyle?” Constant clubbing and promiscuity is not exclusively gay.

Gay people can be monogamous just as straight people can be dirty whores

Gay people can be monogamous just as straight people can be dirty whores

Over the weekend I stumbled across an article by US journalist Luis Pabon entitled Why I No Longer Want To Be Gay. The gist of it was that he doesn’t want to be gay because he doesn’t enjoy the stereotypical lifestyle that goes with it. To sum it up in a quote, he longs for the day when “a guy would greet you and offer you a drink as opposed to his cock size and sexual stats” (because those sort of guys don’t exist anymore, right?).

I’m not going to dwell too much on that particular blogger, but I was stunned to see several gay people I know sharing the article, along with a comment such as “so true” or “i can sympathise with this entirely”.

Firstly, anyone that thinks promiscuity is exclusively gay really should get out more. There are apps and clubs for straight people too, and trust me, they use them!  Likewise, there are gay people who are strictly monogamous and not into random “meets”. It’s ridiculous to generalise and make a judgement based on a stereotype, particularly when you are part of a group of society that regularly falls victim to stereotyping.

I once knew of a young gay man who was coming to terms with his sexuality, and decided to explore it by heading to a local gay club. He decided he didn’t enjoy it, and within months he’d made the decision to live as a woman. Because he didn’t like the gay club. I’m sure (and hope) there was more to it than that (and who am I to judge) but I’m amazed at the people that think being gay means constant clubbing and promiscuous behaviour by default.

While we’re talking about generalising, there has always been a rather snobbish attitude that some gay people take to gay clubbing (“the gay scene”). They take a sweeping view that the scene is only frequented by self-centred, bitchy vain types who don’t have an ounce of sympathy or feeling between them. Well guess what, you find those people everywhere. My first job was in an office of about 100 people and not a day went by without someone having a bitch. Did this put me off ever working in an office again? No, because common sense told me there were people in the office who, like me, didn’t enjoy the bitching either. If you extend this to friendship groups (if your current group of friends are nasty, does it put you off having friends forever?) it seems even more ridiculous.

Having said this, it is perfectly reasonable that a gay person doesn’t want to go to a gay club for any number of reasons, and again, this doesn’t mean you’re less gay. It’s not even an issue, it’s just not your thing, and certainly not something to smugly announce.

I digress. In his blog entry, Pabon notes that he turned to “alcohol, drugs, sex and parties” in a bit to “assert his identity” as a gay man. Maybe here lies the foundation of his resentment. From such an early point in his life, he incorrectly associated “gay” with many aspects of life that he now loathes. In an age where gay people have been afforded so many equal rights (in the UK/US at least), it seems awful that someone could use their own personal issues to project such hatred on an entire sexuality.

It’s simple. If you are gay, and not happy with your lifestyle, you can change your lifestyle without changing your sexuality. There is no such thing as a ‘gay lifestyle’, in the same way there is no such thing as ‘gay music’ (don’t get me started on that one!).

There are many different types of lifestyle out there, and there are many gay people that adopt them.

And who are we to judge any of them?

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Whether they know it’s Christmas or not, Band Aid has changed lives for the better

George Michael, Bob Geldof, Sting and Simon Le Bon

George Michael, Bob Geldof, Sting and Simon Le Bon

Band Aid 30 tonight unveils the fourth incarnation of the iconic Do They Know It’s Christmas.  Now, I naively assumed this was a good news story.  Stars such as Ed Sheeran, One Direction and Bono are just some of those giving their voices to the recording, which this time aims to raise money for Ebola-stricken countries in West Africa.

But no, I really should have known better.  For when I did a quick Google-search for “Band Aid” yesterday, the top news stories were mostly negative, ranging from a report that Adele “refused” to take part, to a bizarre report somehow linking singer Marilyn’s subsequent drug problem to the recording of the single.

But one article stood out to me.

Bim Adwunmi of The Guardian called the Band Aid track “clumsy, patronising and wrong in so many ways” and although she admits “there is a humourless danger in taking song lyrics too literally”, she went on to rather pedantically pull apart various lyrics.  We were given a lesson in the climate of Africa, because actually ‘it does snow in Africa’, as do river flow, and as large swaths of the continent are Christian, they do know it’s Christmas.

It’s ridiculous to take the lyrics of any song too literally, and it’s clear to anyone that the message of the song is that, while they are perfectly aware it is Christmas, it isn’t going to be a pleasant one, full of the joys of our own.

The motivation for such a negative piece about the song is that the Band Aid singles have exacerbated the stereotype of the whole of Africa as a continent that constantly needs saving by the rest of the world.

I can understand this frustration to a point, but for Heaven’s sake, it’s a charity record which shone a huge spotlight onto the region’s famine and actually made our nation (and the rest of the world) take action and donate millions of pounds.  This was all during a time where the western world was on the verge of the mid-80’s boom, an era where we lived to excess, with the birth of the Yuppie.  Who knows just how much more ghastly we would have become if Geldof hadn’t picked up the phone to Midge Ure one fateful night.

It’s a 1980’s pop song with incredible intentions, and it has been a huge success in raising money for those that need it, time after time.  Geldof himself has made it clear before, if people don’t like the song, it doesn’t matter as long as they buy it and make a difference.

I think Sting, who featured on the 1984 version, sums it up best. “There was a charming naivety about the song, and I think a more sophisticated song wouldn’t have worked.  It had to be a kind of Christmas carol/nursery rhyme, simple idealistic vision.  And that’s exactly what it was.”

And indeed, the song left a quite incredible legacy.  The song, and the Live Aid concert which followed made charity cool, and doubtlessly lead to organisations such as Comic Relief and other celebrity-driven charitable activities.  While much maligned, we shouldn’t underestimate the different such fundraising has made to people’s lives.  Events such as these have also, on occasion put political establishments to shame with their sheer drive and ambition to raise funds and awareness.

So rather than dwell on the fact that Madagascar isn’t on the map used on the Band Aid logo (yes, another Adwunmi gem) let’s embrace the remarkable contribution this new version of the 30 year old song will make to people that need help.

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