Rowenna Davis selected as Labour candidate for Southampton Itchen

The New Statesman contributor is chosen to contest the marginal seat currently held by John Denham.

Congratulations to New Statesman writer Rowenna Davis, who has just been selected as Labour's PPC for Southampton Itchen.

I've known Rowenna since 2011 and have long admired her campaigning on issues such as the living wage, affordable housing and payday loans. Current MP John Denham, who is standing down in 2015, held the seat by just 192 votes in 2010 (making it the 13th most marginal in the Commons) but with a candidate as strong as Rowenna it's one the party can be confident of retaining.

She said after her selection:

It's an honour to succeed John Denham as Labour's candidate for Southampton Itchen.

Too many people have told me they feel anxious about the future as a result of a heartless and incompetent government that continues to give a raw deal to this city, threatening Southampton's proud record as a place of hope and opportunity. We urgently need to make Southampton a living wage city, attract new investment and employment, build more affordable housing and support our schools to become the leading lights of the south.

I'm looking forward to working on these issues with all residents whether they voted Labour, Conservative, UKIP or have never voted at all, to change Southampton together.

As well as serving as a councillor in Peckham, Rowenna has been a regular contributor to the NS since 2010. She's also the author of Tangled Up In Blue, an excellent account of the birth of Blue Labour, which I reviewed back in 2011.

To get a flavour of Rowenna's social commentary and investigative journalism, here are a few good places to start.

No "spirit of 45" for the workers at the liberal intelligentsia's favourite cinemas (April 2013)

How food banks became mainstream: the new reality of the working poor (December 2012)

The left's opposition to badger culls ignores the plight of our farmers (October 2012)

Spread of betting shops shows the coalition's failure on growth (June 2012)

The silent crisis engulfing our pubs (March 2012)

Payday loans: "Don’t worry, love, they don’t need your backstory!" (December 2011)

Shadows over the rural idyll (December 2010)

Labour also held its selection in Hampstead and Kilburn today, where Camden councillor Tulip Siddiq was chosen to replace the retiring Glenda Jackson. That seat is even more marginal than Southampton Itchen, with Labour holding on by just 42 votes in 2010.

Judging by tweets from those at the selection, it appears to have been an acrimonious occasion. Camden New Journal reporter Richard Osley wrote: "All a bit heated outside the Labour selection meeting for Hampstead and Kilburn. One man reportedly headbutted in clash outside", and the police and ambulance services were subsequently called.

Rowenna Davis, who was elected to Southwark Council as a councillor in Peckham in May 2011.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Did Titantic do more for climate change than Leonardo DiCaprio’s new documentary?

Sex, icebergs and individual plight: the actor’s earlier outing teaches us more about vast disasters than his new docufilm about global warming’s impact, Before the Flood.

“Now you know there was a man named Jack Dawson and that he saved me . . . in every way that a person can be saved.” Or did he? For Titanic actor Leonardo DiCaprio, there is one way in which Jack never did rescue Rose: from the threat of climate catastrophe. 

Over the last 15 years, DiCaprio has made the issue a personal mission. Yet even in his role as UN climate ambassador, he stills feels far from heroic:

“If the UN really knew how I feel, how pessimistic I am about our future . . . I mean to be honest, they may have picked the wrong guy.”

So begins his new documentary, Before the Flood. A quest for answers on climate change, the film sees Leo racing around the world, marvelling at the sound of endangered whales, despairing at the destruction caused by tar-sands – “it looks like Mordor” – and interviewing a series of concerned experts, from professors to Barack Obama to the Pope.

There are plenty of naysayers to stand in his way and put him down. “Who better to educate world leaders on made-up climate change and a crisis that doesn't exist, than an actor with zero years of scientific training?” mocks one commentator from Fox News.

But if DiCaprio can gather enough evidence to believe in himself – AND believe that there are viable solutions out there – then so can we. Or so the story arc promises. His journey thus stands as a guide for our own; a self-education that will lead to salvation for all. 

It's all a little messianic. The film is even named after a biblical painting. And will those who don't already know who DiCaprio is even care? 

The sad fact is that, while DiCaprio’s lasting popularity still owes so much Titanic, the 1997 box-office smash that made his name, his new documentary fails to recapture the dramatic wisdom that put him there. It doesn’t even quip about the icebergs.

This is an oversight. Titanic didn’t win 11 academy awards for nothing. As well as a must-see rite of passage (pun intended) and soundtrack for infinite school discos, it taught me something invaluable about storytelling. Though I was not initially a DiCaprio fan, over the years I’ve come to accept that my lasting love of the film is inseparable from my emotional investment in Leo, or at least in his character, Jack. What Titanic showed so brilliantly was that the fastest way to empathise with suffering on a vast scale – be it a sinking ship or a sinking planet – is to learn to care for the fate of one or two individuals involved.

Every part of Jack and Rose's story is thus intimately linked with the story of the ship. Even that famed sex scene gains its erotic force not from the characters alone, but from their race through the blazing engine room (situated as it is between the foreplay of the naked portrait and the famous post-coital ending in the back of the cab).

And such carefully crafted storytelling isn't only essential to great entertainment but to great activism too. It can literally inspire action – as evidenced by fans’ desperate attempts to prove that both Jack and Rose could have climbed to safety aboard the floating piece of wood.

So would Before the Flood have been better if it had been a little bit more like Titanic and less like An Inconvenient Truth? Yes. And does that mean we should make climate films about epic polar bear love stories instead? Not exactly. 

There are many powerful documentaries out there that make you emotionally invested in the lives of those experiencing the consequences of our indirect (fossil fuel-burning) actions. Take Virunga, a heart-wrenching insight into the struggle of those protecting eastern Congo’s national park.

Sadly, Before the Flood is not one of them. Its examples of climate change – from Beijing air pollution to coral reef destruction – are over-familiar and under-explored. Instead of interviewing a Chinese official with a graph on his iPad, I would have preferred visiting a solar-panel factory worker and meeting their family, who are perhaps suffering from the effects of the smog in a way I can't yet imagine.

If you want a whistlestop tour of all things climate change then this necessary and urgent film is the movie for you. But those hoping it will give new depth to climate activism will be disappointed.

DiCaprio's distant relationship with the effects of climate change leave him stranded at the level of a narrator. He makes for a great elderly Rose, but we need a Jack.

Before The Flood is in limited theatres from 21 October and will be shown on National Geographic on Sunday 30 October.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.