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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A new German law wants to force mothers to reveal their child’s biological father

The so-called “milkmen’s kids law” would seek protection for men who feel they have been duped into raising children they believe are not biologically theirs – at the expense of women’s rights.

The German press call them “Kuckuckskinder”, which translates literally as “cuckoo children” – parasite offspring being raised by an unsuspecting innocent, alien creatures growing fat at the expense of the host species’ own kind. The British press have opted for the more Benny Hill-esque “milkmen’s kids”, prompting images of bored Seventies housewives answering the door in negligées before inviting Robin Asquith lookalikes up to their suburban boudoirs. Nine months later their henpecked husbands are presented with bawling brats and the poor sods remain none the wiser.

Neither image is particularly flattering to the children involved, but then who cares about them? This is a story about men, women and the redressing of a legal – or is it biological? – injustice. The children are incidental.

This week German Justice Minister Heiko Maas introduced a proposal aimed at to providing greater legal protection for “Scheinväter” – men who are duped into raising children whom they falsely believe to be biologically theirs. This is in response to a 2015 case in which Germany’s highest court ruled that a woman who had told her ex-husband that her child may have been conceived with another man could not be compelled to name the latter. This would, the court decided, be an infringement of the woman’s right to privacy. Nonetheless, the decision was seen to highlight the need for further legislation to clarify and strengthen the position of the Scheinvater.

Maas’ proposal, announced on Monday, examines the problem carefully and sensitively before merrily throwing a woman’s right to privacy out of the window. It would compel a woman to name every man she had sexual intercourse with during the time when her child may have been conceived. She would only have the right to remain silent in cases should there be serious reasons for her not to name the biological father (it would be for the court to decide whether a woman’s reasons were serious enough). It is not yet clear what form of punishment a woman would face were she not to name names (I’m thinking a scarlet letter would be in keeping with the classy, retro “man who was present at the moment of conception” wording). In cases where it did transpire that another man was a child’s biological father, he would be obliged to pay compensation to the man “duped” into supporting the child for up to two years.

It is not clear what happens thereafter. Perhaps the two men shake hands, pat each other on the back, maybe even share a beer or two. It is, after all, a kind of gentlemen’s agreement, a transaction which takes place over the heads of both mother and child once the latter’s paternity has been established. The “true” father compensates the “false” one for having maintained his property in his absence. In some cases there may be bitterness and resentment but perhaps in others one will witness a kind of honourable partnership. You can’t trust women, but DNA tests, money and your fellow man won’t let you down.

Even if it achieves nothing else, this proposal brings us right back to the heart of what patriarchy is all about: paternity and ownership. In April this year a German court ruled that men cannot be forced to take paternity tests by children who suspect them of being their fathers. It has to be their decision. Women, meanwhile, can only access abortion on demand in the first trimester of pregnancy, and even then counselling is mandatory (thereafter the approval of two doctors is required, similar to in the UK). One class of people can be forced to gestate and give birth; another can’t even be forced to take a DNA test. One class of people can be compelled to name any man whose sperm may have ventured beyond their cervix; another is allowed to have a body whose business is entirely its own. And yes, one can argue that forcing men to pay money for the raising of children evens up the score. Men have always argued that, but they’re wrong.

Individual men (sometimes) pay for the raising of individual children because the system we call patriarchy has chosen to make fatherhood about individual ownership. Women have little choice but to go along with this as long as men exploit our labour, restrict our access to material resources and threaten us with violence. We live in a world in which it is almost universally assumed that women “owe” individual men the reassurance that it was their precious sperm that impregnated us, lest we put ourselves and our offspring at risk of poverty and isolation. Rarely do any of us dare to protest. We pretend it is a fair deal, even that reproductive differences barely affect our lives at all. But the sex binary – the fact that sperm is not egg and egg is not sperm – affects all of us.

The original 2015 ruling got it right. The male demand for reassurance regarding paternity is an infringement of a woman’s right to privacy. Moreover, it is important to see this in the context of all the other ways in which men have sought to limit women’s sexual activity, freedom of movement and financial independence in order to ensure that children are truly “theirs”.  Anxiety over paternity is fundamentally linked to anxiety over female sexuality and women’s access to public space. Yet unless all women are kept under lock and key at all times, men will never, ever have the reassurance they crave. Even then, the abstract knowledge that you are the only person to have had the opportunity to impregnate a particular woman cannot rival the physical knowledge of gestation.

We have had millennia of pandering to men’s existential anxieties and treating all matters related to human reproduction, from sex to childbirth, as exceptional cases meaning women cannot have full human rights. Isn’t it about time we tried something new? How about understanding fatherhood not as winning gold in an Olympic sperm race, but as a contract endlessly renewed?

What each of us receives when a child is born is not a biological entity to do with as we choose. It is a relationship, with all of its complexities and risks. It is something worth contributing to and fighting for. Truly, if a man cannot understand that, then any money wasted on a Kuckuckskind – a living, breathing child he could get to know – has got to be the least of his worries. 

Glosswitch is a feminist mother of three who works in publishing.