Jude Kelly: “In another hundred years, men and women will play different roles altogether”

The artistic director of the Southbank Centre takes the NS Centenary Questionnaire.


Illustration: Ellie Foreman-Peck

What is the most important invention of the past hundred years?

Contraception. It has allowed a part of the population to be economically independent, in terms of monitoring how they want to use time in their lives. That’s why I still find it extraordinary that the world doesn’t look upon the Catholic Church as if it’s trying to prevent human rights.

What is the most important scientific discovery of the past hundred years and why?

String theory. It allows you into the extraordinary imaginative proposition that space and time are the same. You can see how vague I’m being – it took me three attempts to pass A-level science. It’s theory I find the most exciting and creative.

What is the greatest sporting event of the past hundred years?

The first Paralympics in 1948 – they changed our understanding of what human beings are capable of doing.

Who is the most influential or significant politician of the past hundred years?

Nelson Mandela. To have used his time in detention to build a picture for himself of what peace could look like and then implemented it is politics at its finest.

And author?

Doris Lessing. She was an extraordinary intellect and an amazing charter of the sexual, political and economic conflicts of women. I’m amazed she got the Nobel Prize so late in life.

And playwright?

Samuel Beckett. He’s an absolute minority taste, an example of an artist who reshaped form. He is the ultimate playwright, who dramatised our existential quest for meaning.

How about anyone in business?

Anita Roddick. When I was growing up she was overt and unabashed about saying that business could and should be ethical. She was often ridiculed and was very much a lone voice, so she has been a huge influence.

And sportsperson?

Muhammad Ali. Boxing is something I instinctively want to turn away from, as I feel slightly repelled by the idea. But he used his celebrity status and incredible talent to speak about politics and racism.

What is your favourite quotation?

I love the thought that went into “the price of everything and the value of nothing”. If economic value is the most valid proof that people want, it’s a bit like wanting to prove that love has fiscal value.

What is your favourite speech?

Prospero’s speech in Act IV, Scene One of The Tempest. It’s a speech about understanding mortality. It is wonderfully poignant and is essentially about being able to say farewell to everything on a daily basis.

What do you think will be the most significant change to our lives in the next hundred years?

The next phase of women’s emancipation. Life is already unrecognisable in some countries in some ways. Although progress feels slow, you look back to women still trying to get the vote at the turn of the 20th century and you think, “That’s extraordinary change.” I’m convinced in another hundred years men and women will play different roles altogether.

What is your greatest concern about the future?

Climate change. Because it’s another one of those things that can be abused. First of all, none of us has any idea of the real impact of what could happen. Millions could become refugees – and then how would other countries cope?

What will be the most dramatic development in your own field of work?

Speaking about the coming 100 years, can everyone learn to read and write? Could they or should they? No one asks that any more. In my field of work there is still the idea that some people have artistic feelings and others don’t. I don’t think that’s true: everyone has a powerful imagination and the capacity to be expressive. The most radical thing is already happening. And it is that the population will participate in the arts not as audiences, but they will become part of the expressive work. It will become part of their normal activities, and will change their cultural status.

What is the top priority for the future well-being of people and our planet?

Learning how to navigate the brain. Neuroscience is telling us an enormous amount about what triggers operate in us; where we store our memories and our feelings. We’re beginning to understand scientifically and intuitively a great deal about our sense of being. That could change both domestic and community life.

Jude Kelly is the artistic director of the Southbank Centre

This article first appeared in the 08 January 2014 issue of the New Statesman, The God Gap

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Copeland must be Labour's final warning

Unison's general secretary says Jeremy Corbyn is a friend - but must also take responsibility for turning the party's prospects around. 

No one objective could argue that last night’s by-election results were good for Labour.

Whilst it was undoubtedly pleasing to see serial fibber Paul Nuttall and his Trumpian politics put in their place in Stoke, this was never a seat where the result should have been in doubt. 

But to lose Copeland – held by Labour for 83 years – to a party that has inflicted seven years of painful spending cuts on our country, and is damaging the NHS, is disastrous.

Last autumn, I said that Labour had never been farther from government in my lifetime. Five months on the party hasn’t moved an inch closer to Downing Street.

These results do not imply a party headed for victory. Copeland is indicative of a party sliding towards irrelevance. Worse still, Labour faces an irrelevance felt most keenly by those it was founded to represent.

There will be those who seek to place sole blame for this calamity at the door of Jeremy Corbyn. They would be wrong to do so. 

The problems that Labour has in working-class communities across the country did not start with Corbyn’s leadership. They have existed for decades, with successive governments failing to support them or even hear their calls for change. Now these communities are increasingly finding outlets for their understandable discontent.

During the 2015 election, I knocked on doors on a large council estate in Edmonton – similar to the one I grew up on. Most people were surprised to see us. The last time they’d seen Labour canvassers was back in 1997. Perhaps less surprisingly, the most common response was why would any of them bother voting Labour.

As a party we have forgotten our roots, and have arrogantly assumed that our core support would stay loyal because it has nowhere else to go. The party is now paying the price for that complacency. It can no longer ignore what it’s being told on the doorstep, in workplaces, at ballot boxes and in opinion polls.

Unison backed Corbyn in two successive leadership elections because our members believed – and I believe – he can offer a meaningful and positive change in our politics, challenging the austerity that has ravaged our public services. He is a friend of mine, and a friend of our union. He has our support, because his agenda is our agenda.

Yet friendship and support should never stand in the way of candour. True friends don’t let friends lose lifelong Labour seats and pretend everything is OK. Corbyn is the leader of the Labour party, so while he should not be held solely responsible for Labour’s downturn, he must now take responsibility for turning things around.

That means working with the best talents from across the party to rebuild Labour in our communities and in Parliament. That means striving for real unity – not just the absence of open dissent. That means less debate about rule changes and more action on real changes in our economy and our society.

Our public servants and public services need an end to spending cuts, a change that can only be delivered by a Labour government. 

For too many in the Labour party the aim is to win the debate and seize the perceived moral high ground – none of which appears to be winning the party public support. 

But elections aren’t won by telling people they’re ignorant, muddle-headed or naive. Those at the sharp end – in particular the millions of public service employees losing their jobs or facing repeated real-terms pay cuts – cannot afford for the party to be so aloof.

Because if you’re a homecare worker earning less than the minimum wage with no respite in sight, you need an end to austerity and a Labour government.

If you’re a nurse working in a hospital that’s constantly trying to do more with less, you need an end to austerity and a Labour government.

And if you’re a teaching assistant, social worker or local government administrator you desperately need an end to austerity, and an end to this divisive government.

That can only happen through a Labour party that’s winning elections. That has always been the position of the union movement, and the Labour party as its parliamentary wing. 

While there are many ways in which we can change society and our communities for the better, the only way to make lasting change is to win elections, and seize power for working people.

That is, and must always be, the Labour party’s cause. Let Copeland be our final warning, not the latest signpost on the road to decline.

Dave Prentis is Unison's general secretary.