Last night I saw Josie Long at the Brighton Dome. Her show, ‘Something Better’, was originally intended as a hopeful and optimistic look at left politics and activism in a UK veering right post-2010. But this was in May 2016.
That the show remains upbeat despite the worsening political landscape is indicative of Josie’s determined optimism. But post-referendum her hopefulness is angrier, tainted with grief and coloured by the realisation that her left politics are not shared by the majority, that many people do not view this government as an enemy.
Having mapped her gigs to find they are all in areas that voted remain she is aware that she is preaching to the choir. She chastises herself for her complacency, for not persuading enough people to vote differently – feelings that may be familiar to many. But I think at times preaching to the choir is no bad thing; just being in a room full of people sharing both laughter and anger is uplifting, and resistance requires hope. And importantly, while her audiences may agree with her stance on the EU referendum, they would perhaps not so easily agree that the owning of more than one home is immoral and that all landlords are bastards (she is, of course, correct on this).
I think one of the things I like most about Josie is her receptiveness – she says that she values kindness, but it is evident that she wants to do more than sympathise, she wants to learn of struggles in order to stand in solidarity with those who struggle. When I first saw Josie in 2010 I remember her quoting Black Panther Fred Hampton, “the people’s law is lovelier than lovely”, and in ‘Something Better’ she promotes the actions of Black Lives Matter UK, praising their blocking of a runway at London City Airport. It is so refreshing to see a public figure praise direct action when it is current and local, rather than reserving such praise for when it is historic, far away, or both.
Despite all I liked about the show it would be remiss of me not to mention the couple of moments that I found jarring. There was no mention of Labour’s complicity in many of the government’s actions, or of how the Tories have built their policies on foundations laid by Labour. This may simply be a choice of focus, but with a call for unity on the left I’m not sure this is the case. Yes, unity is strength, but we must be careful who we unite with. Why should we unite with a Labour Party that opened Yarls Wood, and that carved ‘controls on immigration’ into stone? And why should we support a Labour leader, socialist as he may be, when he speaks at a SWP event after stating he would not? (Josie didn’t mention the SWP so perhaps her call for unity didn’t include them, but just in case, let’s be clear that we should not unite with a group that covers up rape, we must centre survivors.)
That said, Josie’s recognition of her own privilege, her use of her platform to promote activist groups, and her obvious desire to learn more and do more, meant that those jarring moments did not cast too big of a shadow on the rest of the show.
The central message I took from ‘Something Better’ is that hope is active. Below is a list of groups that Josie talked of on stage and promoted in the programme, groups whose activities sustain hope: