Archive for the Society Category

Questioning Polls 

Posted in Brexit, Current Affairs, Politics, Referendum, Society on June 19, 2016 by richardhowle

I don’t know about you, but I am fed up with this referendum campaign.  The campaigners on both sides have treated the electorate with contempt as if we are all idiots incapable of making a rational decision based on facts without being bullied, bribed or frightened. It has all been pretty distasteful, pathetic and quite frankly childish. It reached its nadir with the ridiculous spectacle of Bob Geldof and Nigel Farage trading insults each other whilst they floated up the Thames on rival boats. 

All this campaign has done is to expose the dearth of talented politicians that we have in this country. People complain about MP’s pay and their pay rises and whilst with this bunch it is easy to have some sympathy with those complainers, it does prove the old adage – pay peanuts get monkeys. I should qualify that statement by acknowledging that in comparison to most people,  MP’s are paid very well and is certainly not peanuts. But we put a lot of responsibility in the hands of those 650 odd people who represent us (it will be even more responsibility if we vote for Brexit)  so therefore, surely we want the very best people handling that responsibility? To attract the best, we need to pay for the best.  Unfortunately the best can earn far more working elsewhere and an MP’s pay is peanuts in comparison. Why would or should they take a pay cut to become Members of Parliament?

Anyway, I digress before I have even started.  In the last General Election the pollsters famously got it very wrong- throughout the campaign Labour were polling ahead of the Conservative Party and ended up being comfortably beaten. There was shock, not just amongst the pollsters but also the Twitterati – those that inhabit social media. In the lead up to the General Election, Labour supporters were shouting very loudly on Facebook and Twitter, so much so that it was easy to think that this was a true reflection of how everyone felt. But the reality of the situation is that there are vast swathes of the population who aren’t on social media – and of those that are , how many are expressing political opinions?  Think about your own Facebook account (if you have one) – let’s say you have 200 friends, how many of them posted about politics during the General Election? 20, 50, 80 – maybe even 100?  Probably for most people less than half of their friends posted about politics. Now of course many of those who did, did so a lot – and often quite forcibly and on my timeline it was largely in support of the Labour Party. Therefore it was quite easy to wrongly assume that this was what everyone was thinking, particularly combined with the polls which all pointed to a Labour victory. 

In reality, the silent majority spoke and the Conservatives won out, much to the consternation of the left. But why were they silent? I suspect that there are two reasons, and this is only my conjecture and not based on any research. Firstly the naturally more inclined conservative voter is less likely to be on social media (elderly etc), which as discussed earlier is a lot of people. My use of the small ‘c’ in that last sentence was deliberate – less likely to be radical or inclined toward change – supposedly what the Labour Party were offering. Secondly, for those on social media, the vitriolic rhetoric of a lot of the left meant that staying quiet was the best option for an easy life.  They chose to do their talking at the ballot box.  The pollsters claimed that their pre election polls were wrong because many people lied to them and were really secret  Conservative Party voters. I can understand that, such was the climate it is easy to believe that people were  wary or ashamed to admit that they were voting Tory. Although the polling companies will deny this, I think that the way many of the polls are conducted, primarily online, does not truly represent a lot of people – many of whom may be unwilling or unable to participate in an online poll.

Which brings me back to the referendum. It is easy to forget that your social media timelines are unique to you. Your friends are likely to be from a fairly similar demographic.  I work in theatre, many of my Facebook friends or the people that I follow on Twitter do as well.  The social media posts that I read are therefore  not representative of the wider population. With the majority (of those expressing a view) on my Facebook and Twitter feed supporting the “remain” campaign I thought I would conduct own poll on Twitter to see how my followers felt on the subject. Although my followers choose me rather than the other way round, I thought it was reasonable to expect that they were likely to be of a similar bent to the people I follow / am friends with – so I expected a remain victory.

However the poll was quickly picked up by “leave” campaigners, retweeted over 30 times by them and quickly dominated by leave votes.  In the end, Leave comfortably won with 82% of the vote. 

It immediately reminded me of the General Election – where Labour voters dominated social media, creating the impression that it was on course for an easy victory.  So although the “leave” campaign seems to be winning both in the polls and on social media, will the silent conservative (with a small ‘c’) majority do their talking at the polling booth once more  and produce a “shock” win for remain? I for one do not believe the result of my Twitter poll. Leave may very well win, but not by such a large majority.  Polls are not to be trusted. 

Who knows? But one thing is for sure – that I think the majority will be in agreement about – I’ll be glad when it’s all over 

Learning From History

Posted in Current Affairs, History, Society, Travel with tags , , , , , , , on March 17, 2013 by richardhowle

I have always loved history. At school I was lucky enough to have teachers who helped me understand that history is about understanding and learning, not facts and figures. Facts and figures are important, yes – but only to aid that understanding and to provide context.

This week Paul and I had a birthday break in Berlin and as we sat on tour bus going round the city (traveller tip – always a great way to get your bearings in a new city) my heart sank as the pre recorded commentary spouted pointless facts and figures about a beautiful city. “This road is 50 meters wide”. Who cares? I can see how wide it is, tell me something that will help me understand its significance to the city, tell me about the things that have happened here…..

Thankfully the whole visit wasn’t like this and a visit to the Checkpoint Charlie museum helped provide an insight into what life was like in the divided city and what impact it had on all of our lives. I have been lucky enough to visit lots of museums and exhibitions in lots of cities around the world that have helped feed my love of history and my understanding of the world that we live in. The ones that have a human edge to them, real life accounts of what life was like, such as the Museum of Occupation in Riga or the Anne Frank Museum in Amsterdam, are the ones that are the most illuminating and informative.

However just reading about events or examining artefacts still isn’t enough. Nothing beats experiencing it for yourself. Meeting the people, seeing the locations,  watching, listening, smelling, touching – getting under the skin of a place is really what makes  history come alive.

When I was younger I was lucky enough to go to Moscow and there I visited the Moscow Arts Theatre and watched a production of Chekov’s A Cherry Orchard. I had studied it school and thought that I understood it. But it wasn’t until I saw the play in context, performed in Russia, by Russian actors with a Russian audience that I really understood it.

So whilst I have read a lot about Berlin, the second world war and the cold war, actually visiting Berlin has given me a whole new level of understanding. Seeing the city, understanding the geography and impact of the wall, visiting the museums, viewing the exhibits and displays and imagining what life must have been like. Then sitting on a train opposite an old German woman and realising that she had lived through it all, suddenly makes it real. Makes it human. What if it was you, what if it was your city? This didn’t happen to the nameless and faceless, this happened to you and I.

Berlin wall

A City Divided

This is why history is important. To help us understand what has happened, to provide context for what is happening today and to help inform our decision making about tomorrow.

Facts and figures, dates and statistics are all very good, but they don’t explain why and how. History is a real, living thing and we will do well to listen to it and to learn from it.

My 2012 review

Posted in Society, Theatre, Ticketing with tags , , on December 30, 2012 by richardhowle

Everywhere we look there are reviews of the year. So why not join them?

How will history reflect on 2012? Will it be a year to remember in twenty years time. How often do we reflect on 1992?

Well, of course, the outstanding feature of 2012 – the one that will mark it as a year to remember- is the Olympics. As everyone else is devoting hours of airtime and thousands of words to it I will keep my thoughts here brief and simply say that I thought it was terrific. It lived up to all my expectations and then some, proving all the doubters wrong. I was always a great supporter and had faith in our ability to deliver a great games – witness my blog post on 16 October 2010 here.
What I was particularly thrilled about, was the complete conversion of the doom- mongers and nay-sayers who ended up being some the biggest fans of the games (including my partner Paul). One of my favourite moments of the year was in the Olympic stadium as Mo Farrah picked up his second gold of the games in the 5,000 final and the whole place going ballistic. Paul and I hugged with tears streaming down our cheeks. As it died down the man next to Paul said “it’s great isn’t it?” and Paul responded through the tears with “yes, and I don’t even like sport”!

Professionally the Olympics provided some unique challenges in 2012. There is normally a pattern and flow to ticket sales in the West End based upon which we build our marketing and advertising campaigns – but this year the text books were thrown out of the window and we had to be creative and flexible in order to sell tickets in a challenging market. After a strong first quarter, sales fell away, particularly over what is normally the strongest time of the year, the summer and we had to work really hard to get sales. A good final autumn has given an early indication as to what we might expect for 2013 and has helped boost the overall numbers. When the final numbers for London theatre attendance in 2012 are released I expect them to be up on last year and there will be much comment about how the Olympics wasn’t as bad for theatre as everyone said. But closer inspection of the numbers will reveal that this was only achieved by more promotion and discounting as well as a lot of effort. One thing that is guaranteed is that those of us whose job it is to sell London theatre, to drive admissions won’t get any of the praise or plaudits for delivering against the odds. But I know how much work, imagination and passion it took to achieve those numbers. So from a professional point of view 2012 has been a tough, challenging, but rewarding year and I am very proud to work alongside some incredibly talented people.

Politically and socially 2012 has seen a continued move towards society being driven by moral outrage and panic. The scandals have been endless.This is led by a seemingly righteous media, but is in reality about selling newspapers. No institution or organisation is safe and every fault or failing is endlessly picked over until someone or something breaks or another, juicier story is found. The problem with this is that it hides the real issues of our time, the ones that have no right or wrong answers, but have a more profound effect on our society than what a cyclist in Downing Street did or didn’t say to a policeman. What about the recession, the plight or the poor, investment in enterprise, immigration, falling education standards, disenfranchised youth, our role in Europe the fate of Syria etc etc?

And finally personally, it has been another good year. The 30’s are a good decade, a time when you finally become confident and comfortable of who you are. This allows you to take on and succeed with new challenges – for me that meant producing my first play. Green Forms at the Tabard Theatre was a sell out,raised over £10,500 for cancer charity, Maggie’s and was a personal triumph for me, giving me a self belief and confidence that perhaps I didn’t have before. It also gave me the opportunity to work on a project with Paul whose vision and talent made the project an artistic success as well as financial one. It was great teamwork that helped strengthen our personal partnership. Last week we celebrated the 16th year of that partnership, a year that added many more happy memories to our life together from producing plays, happy holidays and watching the Olympics.

2012 has been a really good year and there is much to be thankful for. I hope 2013 proves to be just as fruitful.

Wishing you all a Happy New Year

Sensibly correct, not politically

Posted in Society with tags on September 3, 2012 by richardhowle

This weekend, staying at hotel in the countryside, I came across one of my bug bears – a low shower. In the way of the modern age, I took to Twitter to protest “another hotel and another shower installed by a midget” I communicated to the world (or at least those few that pay me any attention).

“You can’t say ‘midget'”, I was told by one of my good friends, “should I say ‘dwarf’?” I responded.
No, I was told, in this day and age – despite Dwarfism being a recognised medical condition (or is it a syndrome?) – the word “Dwarf” is also unacceptable.

Two things struck me about this conversation – first of all the phrase “you can’t say that”. Of course I can say that – I had just done so and wasn’t struck down by lightening or thrown into prison. Whether I SHOULD have said that is different matter.

The second thing, is who is it that decides what should or shouldn’t be said. I was told that SCOPE issues guidelines about this kind of the thing. An unelected, unrepresentative private charitable organisation, campaigning on behalf of a section of society with no statutory power is determining how we should communicate with each other.

And this is the key point, this is a communication issue. Words. Words are simple things, communication tools. How they are used is the important factor. Depending on how they are used words can make you laugh, cry, be inspired, teach, comfort, love, abuse, shock and offend. If my tweet was offensive, it wasn’t because of the word “midget”. If I had said “another hotel and another shower installed by a vertically challenged person” would the tweet being any less offensive?

Of course it wouldn’t, I just wouldn’t have been able to fit it into140 characters!

Last week I had a meeting with an education charity who, in the course of the meeting, got themselves tied into a terrible tangle trying to describe people with hearing difficulties. It seems, that the term “deaf” is unacceptable.

This is surely ridiculous. There is nothing offensive or derogatory about the word “deaf”. I understand that it be used in offensive way – but any word can be used in an offensive way. I could find a way to make “kitten” be offensive if I wanted – but that shouldn’t mean that we need to find an alternative way to describe a feline infant.

Of course there are words in our language that are offensive and are meant as such and I am not defending those – what I am asking for is a little common sense. Let’s change our attitudes not our words. If someone wants to be abusive or offensive they’ll find a way of doing it with whatever words are in use, we cannot keep running away and changing the words.

Because, as I said, this is about communication. And in a world that could be so much better with improved communication, let’s not put up barriers to communication. I am of course not advocating free reign to use any term, there are terms that are designed to be, or have become, derogatory and offensive. But I am calling for some common sense, a recognition of the difference between when people are intending to be offensive or when they are describing the great work that they are doing with deaf children. Let us not be subjected to the diktats of single issue pressure groups, but just be respectful of all of our fellow human beings.