Bez 4 prez? Photo: Christopher Furlong
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Happy Mondays star Bez on the revolution, standing in Salford, and why he didn't join the Greens

The distinctive dancer and 2005 Celebrity Big Brother winner has joined the battle to become MP for Salford & Eccles. Does he have what it takes to become an MP?

Bez is jetlagged. He’s just returned from creating music with an indigenous tribe in Panama, followed by a whistlestop tour of Mexico and a gig in the city. To help them "live the lifestyle they live", all of the money raised from the music made in South America will be donated to the tribe. “A well-deserved two week break from politics,” he laughs.

Bez answers the phone in his thick Salford accent: “How do mate?” he says. Mark Berry (Bez’s real name) shot to fame in the Eighties with his distinctive dance moves while on stage with the Happy Mondays. Then, of course, he went on to beat Blazin’ Squad rapper, Kenzie, to the crown in Celebrity Big Brother 2005  despite Kenzie being the favourite to win.

But now this maraca-shaking “proud Salfordian” has decided to use his celebrity status to face a different contest altogether: politics. And he – like Russell Brand – is calling for some version of a revolution. Bez decided to stand under the banner of his own creation: the Reality Party. And he’s running in the Salford & Eccles constituency where the incumbent Labour MP, Hazel Blears, is preparing to step down. An MP who’s “been caught with her fingers in the till,” adds Bez. (Blears was stung during the expenses scandal, though she did not break the law).

Bez proudly announced his campaign – and the revolution – on the morning the Labour politician Tony Benn died. “The radio was playing speeches from Benn all day,” he recalls. “It actually made the hairs on my neck stand up.” The late Benn is the only politician Bez has any time for. The rest, he says, “are all the same”. “The same monotone voice, the same language – there’s no passion coming from anyone anymore!”

Unfortunately, Bez’s initial revolution was shortlived after teething problems with the party in January: namely, forgetting to register with the Electoral Commission. The regulators claim they wrote to Bez on a number occasions warning him that the Reality Party sounded too much like the pre-existing Realists’ Party and could confuse the electorate. Bez failed to respond and the party was officially deregistered. 

On 12 Feburary, the indie band star renamed his party We Are The Reality Party, or WATRP – an acronym that I’m not sure how to pronounce. Anyway: Vive la revolution, take two!

We Are The Reality Party election poster

The subject he is most passionate about is fracking. Not long ago, Bez and his girlfriend, Firouzeh Razavi, protested against the government's fracking plans by staging a week-long "bed-in" at a London hotel. Some pointed to parallels between the famous John Lennon bed protest in 1969 against the Vietnam war.

So, why not join the Green Party? I ask him. “I could have joined the Greens but I didn’t want to be restricted by party politics. I wanted to have a free hand to say what I wanted and do what I wanted really. The thing is with the Green party in Salford: they haven’t got a chance. They’re a middle-class greeny party that does not appeal to the people that I’m trying to appeal too.”

His other qualms are focused firmly on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) – “basically, that’s the American corporations and banks taking over fiscal sovereignty of this country” – the political disengagement he claims is so endemic in Salford and the “corporates”, who are “in the midst of a hostile takeover this country.”

What about Ukip? Bez goes off on one: "they are engineered by the Conservatives to bring this right wing agenda this fascist agenda! Where you blame the immigrants. It's what Hitler was doing before World War Two. And what's happening now before World War Three."

To put it lightly, Bez is an eccentric individual. And although some of his revolutionary concepts might need some fine-tuning, the attention he has paid to voter engagement in the constituency should be replicated across the country. “98 per cent of the people I asked on Salford precinct said they didn’t vote,” says Bez. “We’ve got to try and reengage all these people who are disenfranchised from politics because they don’t think they can make a difference.”

“Wake Up Salford” will be the name of his engagement campaign. Bez plans on setting up camp on estates in Salford and Eccles in some of the most deprived areas in the hope he can open up a dialogue​ with some of the city's residents about his anti-fracking revolution. “We’re going to take a solar powered generator with us, set up a gazebo-type affair and we’re going to have people playing music and talking,” he adds. 

Bez is well aware of the challenge that lies ahead: he's in competition with Labour's 40 per cent take of the seat in 2010. "But it’s not about the winning," he says. "It’s about how well you fight. And I’m willing to put up the best fight I can.”

I ask him what message he'd give to voters in his constituency: "You not voting, you staying at home is just endorsing the system that you are unhappy with. The poor are getting stuffed. We're going to have a situation like in Mexico  where I've just come back from  how the poor are living over there. And that's going to be happening on the streets here in Manchester. It's an unacceptable situation for a country that's supposed to be civilized and set up the Empire."

Ashley Cowburn writes about politics and is the winner of the Anthony Howard Award 2014. He tweets @ashcowburn

 

 

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Is there such a thing as responsible betting?

Punters are encouraged to bet responsibly. What a laugh that is. It’s like encouraging drunks to get drunk responsibly, to crash our cars responsibly, murder each other responsibly.

I try not to watch the commercials between matches, or the studio discussions, or anything really, before or after, except for the match itself. And yet there is one person I never manage to escape properly – Ray Winstone. His cracked face, his mesmerising voice, his endlessly repeated spiel follow me across the room as I escape for the lav, the kitchen, the drinks cupboard.

I’m not sure which betting company he is shouting about, there are just so many of them, offering incredible odds and supposedly free bets. In the past six years, since the laws changed, TV betting adverts have increased by 600 per cent, all offering amazingly simple ways to lose money with just one tap on a smartphone.

The one I hate is the ad for BetVictor. The man who has been fronting it, appearing at windows or on roofs, who I assume is Victor, is just so slimy and horrible.

Betting firms are the ultimate football parasites, second in wealth only to kit manufacturers. They have perfected the capitalist’s art of using OPM (Other People’s Money). They’re not directly involved in football – say, in training or managing – yet they make millions off the back of its popularity. Many of the firms are based offshore in Gibraltar.

Football betting is not new. In the Fifties, my job every week at five o’clock was to sit beside my father’s bed, where he lay paralysed with MS, and write down the football results as they were read out on Sports Report. I had not to breathe, make silly remarks or guess the score. By the inflection in the announcer’s voice you could tell if it was an away win.

Earlier in the week I had filled in his Treble Chance on the Littlewoods pools. The “treble” part was because you had three chances: three points if the game you picked was a score draw, two for a goalless draw and one point for a home or away win. You chose eight games and had to reach 24 points, or as near as possible, then you were in the money.

“Not a damn sausage,” my father would say every week, once I’d marked and handed him back his predictions. He never did win a sausage.

Football pools began in the 1920s, the main ones being Littlewoods and Vernons, both based in Liverpool. They gave employment to thousands of bright young women who checked the results and sang in company choirs in their spare time. Each firm spent millions on advertising. In 1935, Littlewoods flew an aeroplane over London with a banner saying: Littlewoods Above All!

Postwar, they blossomed again, taking in £50m a year. The nation stopped at five on a Saturday to hear the scores, whether they were interested in football or not, hoping to get rich. BBC Sports Report began in 1948 with John Webster reading the results. James Alexander Gordon took over in 1974 – a voice soon familiar throughout the land.

These past few decades, football pools have been left behind, old-fashioned, low-tech, replaced by online betting using smartphones. The betting industry has totally rebooted itself. You can bet while the match is still on, trying to predict who will get the next goal, the next corner, the next throw-in. I made the last one up, but in theory you can bet instantly, on anything, at any time.

The soft sell is interesting. With the old football pools, we knew it was a remote flutter, hoping to make some money. Today the ads imply that betting on football somehow enhances the experience, adds to the enjoyment, involves you in the game itself, hence they show lads all together, drinking and laughing and putting on bets.

At the same time, punters are encouraged to do it responsibly. What a laugh that is. It’s like encouraging drunks to get drunk responsibly, to crash our cars responsibly, murder each other responsibly. Responsibly and respect are now two of the most meaningless words in the football language. People have been gambling, in some form, since the beginning, watching two raindrops drip down inside the cave, lying around in Roman bathhouses playing games. All they’ve done is to change the technology. You have to respect that.

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 05 February 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's war