Sunday, 14 October 2018

No need to be frightened of the drill

Last week the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee heard testimony on live music from a number of witnesses, including from ShaoDow. In his testimony ShaoDow spoke eloquently about how Hip Hop and grime artists find it difficult to get booked at small venues due to preconceptions about their music. These preconceptions seem amplified when it comes to drill music, particularly given the way drill music has been linked to violent crime in the public imagination.[1] I believe this negative characterisation misunderstands the role of drill in today’s youth culture. It further risks stigmatising what I believe to be a vital release valve for many youngsters.

The contemporary debate about drill music, and its role in knife violence among our youth, replays past arguments about other forms of rap music.  As the saying goes ‘history doesn’t repeat itself but it often rhymes.’ Its over 20 years since 2pac uttered the words ‘n-s been dying for years, so how could they blame us?’ on the track ‘2 of Amerikaz most wanted.’[2] Nonetheless, society is still arguing about whether rap music (of which drill is simply a subgenre) is a negative influence. 2pac was right to assert that he did not create the conditions he was rapping about. Likewise contemporary drill musicians did not invent the concepts of lurking, trapping, drilling, scoring shots and so on. For many, these are things they grew up around and had to encounter every day. Why should they be denied the chance to talk about their experiences?  

The negative portrayal of drill music also ignores the therapeutic benefits of producing and listening to it. According to Cambridge University researchers, Dr Becky Inkster and Dr Akeem Sule, Hip Hop music can help people experiencing mental health difficulties.[3] Anecdotally this is certainly my experience. As with other forms of rap music, for many of the people who produce and consume it, drill music is the primary way they have to discuss issues that affect them. For those that lack the means to seek therapy, to help them come to terms with the often troubled and violent surroundings in which they live, music can be a way to avoid bottling up their feelings. Without drill as an outlet how else would these repressed and negative feelings find expression? The argument presented by certain figures in law enforcement and politics is that drill music encourages violence. My question is where would we be without it as a mode for people to get things off their chests, or to seek empathy from others in similar situations?

Nothing in our world is uniformly perfect so we should not expect drill music to be any different. I will not argue that drill music does not often deal with difficult subjects. However, it is often the product of people who have lived very difficult lives. My contention is they should not be judged by a different standard that others are held to. Particularly when, to my mind, the creation and consumption of drill music is not without benefits.

[1] Independent, 29 May 2018, link
[2] 2 Pac, 2 of Amerikaz Most Wanted, 7 May 1996, link
[3] University of Cambridge Department of Psychiatry, 16 October 2014, link

Tuesday, 2 October 2018

What the Prime Minister needs to do in her 2018 conference speech

The Prime Minister has a talented group of advisers around her, which guarantees her 2018 conference speech will be superbly crafted. The 2018 conference theme, opportunity, also gives her a great theme to work with: Allowing her to talk about how her plans are designed to open doors for people. Tomorrow she will undoubtedly give a very good speech. However, to make it a speech that stays in the memory she must use what she says to craft a new narrative for her government: A central theme that ensures hardworking people understand how government is delivering things that will benefit us and our families.

She must not treat Brexit as something separate to her agenda, instead Brexit should become just another issue that showcases her agenda: An agenda to give people more of a say over their own lives and deliver the security that comes from having control over where we are going in the future. Too often politicians treat Brexit as an obstacle that must be navigated so they can get back to talking about domestic issues. This is not the optimal approach. One of the great insights of the Leave campaign during the 2016 EU referendum was the desire of people to ‘take back control.’ Vote Leave was able to recognise that many voters felt disenfranchised, felt powerless about their futures and wanted to have more of sense of where they were going. In the way the Prime Minister talks about Brexit she must tap into that vein of feeling. Recent research published by Britain Thinks indicates that ‘swing voters feel they are facing an anxious and uncertain future.’[1] Because people feel they have no control over where they are going they feel anxiety. The desire for greater control, which will deliver them greater security for the future, is the framing narrative the Prime Minister must apply to Brexit and everything else she does.

She must make the conference theme come alive for normal people. Conservatives can sometimes forget our cultural assumptions when we talk politics. When we discuss opportunity, it seems self-evident that it is a good thing. However, to many people that is not the case. To many people opportunity is just a word. Indeed, some people may read it negatively. Some many ask ‘what do I care about the opportunity to do more? I just want to feel secure with what I have.’ In the way she speaks the Prime Minister must give the word ‘opportunity’ emotional content, so that it makes an emotional connection with the electorate. In short, if you are struggling to get on in life the Prime Minister must explain why opportunity is the answer. She must help the public see that opportunity is not an abstract good but something that speaks to the fear for the future pollsters are noting in voters. She must demonstrate that she wants to give people opportunity so that they can have more control over their own lives, so that they can have greater security and feel that they are masters of fate not its victims.

She must contrast her platform with that of the opposition in a way that helps the electorate understand the choice ahead. Fundamentally, when it comes to addressing the problems felt by voters, Labour’s answer is state action. However, the Britain Thinks research illustrated that moving further to the left is a net -22% negative for Labour among swing voters.[2] People understand their children will not be able to afford mortgages if the government mortgages their children’s futures by spending more, borrowing more and taxing more. The Prime Minister must make clear why Labour’s promises are not built on solid foundations but will lead to people having less more in their pockets, less security about getting by day by day and therefore less of the control over their lives and their futures.

[1] Britain Thinks, Breaking the Deadlock, 11 September 2018, p.5, link  
[2] Britain Thinks, Breaking the Deadlock, 11 September 2018, p.23, link