Martin Bell

Rebel Rants
The Bluecoat, School Lane
27th January 2010

Reviewed by Jeremy Hawthorn

The Writing on the Wall festival enters its tenth year with a series of five 'Rebel Rants' at the Bluecoat. News from Nowhere are joint sponsors, which comes in handy just in case the speakers have books to promote. The events are well advertised and this one at least drew a good crowd.

We've all heard of Martin Bell. He's the bloke in the white suit who became MP for Tatton by making Neil Hamilton look a fool. He was the honest sleaze-buster who got to Parliament and kept his promise by not standing for a second term. Of all the high hopes that anyone had in that heady election of 1997, Martin's the one who didn't let anyone down.

He’s old enough to have done national service in the Army (very badly, he says). He then did thirty-five years with the BBC, becoming one of the best-known war correspondents. Was he a radical then? Probably not, he speaks too well of the British Army. But he's skeptical enough to predict that the West will soon, as Britain did in 1880, declare 'victory' in Afghanistan and leave in a hurry.

The biggest disappointment was that when he got to Parliament he had no real idea what to do. To be fair, he wasn’t expecting to be elected. He said it took him about six months to work out how the place worked, which is no surprise. But then he doesn't seem to have done much with his position. And any ideas for bigger changes in society? Nothing obvious. It wasn't long before the audience ran out of questions as sleaze apart, he's not much of a rebel.

It is refreshing to see someone who's trodden the corridors of power without being corrupted by the experience and he'll make a good ambassador for UNICEF. Just remember that Parliament has continued more or less unchanged since he stood down and the voters of Tatton managed to elect George Osborne in his place.

I nearly forgot Stuart Wilks-Heeg of the Uni giving us all the stats about how few people vote these days (without venturing why) and acting all sheepish when asked about Palestine. There’s no real need for a second speaker at events like this, particularly when they have nothing to contribute.

So the programme continues and next celebrity Rebel is Germaine Greer. Hmm, Liverpool playing at home that night, close call…

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