Saturday 2 August 2014

Saturday Interview: Rowan Draper

Rowan Draper is a Labour Councillor on Stafford Borough Council, Secretary of the Constituency Party, and a founder member of the Young Labour Councillors Network. He was shortlisted for the LGiU's Young Councillor of the Year 2014 Award. Rowan blogs here and is an active tweeter.

- Why do you blog?

When I was a Students’ Union Officer in 2008 I believed that having a blog would enable me to communicate with a larger audience and to put across my message of what I was doing and how I was working.

When I left I took up topical writing and wrote pieces on TV, football and life. Nothing to write home about but I was bitten by the blogging bug.

When I setup my regular blog the intention was in the spirit of my SU officer days: to be accountable to the people I serve, to write about what’s going on and to present information in bitesize chunks but I do mix that in with topical writing about current affairs and political developments on the odd occasion.

- What has been your best blogging experience?

Best? I’m not sure what I define as best. I’ve enjoyed blogging about my scrutiny of the local Clinical Commissioning Group and that’s brought me more hits than usual but I would like think the best is yet to come as I continue to develop as a politician and political writer.

- What would be your main blogging advice to a novice blogger?

Write about subjects you really care about because if you want to build a regular readership they will want to know what they can expect from you and staying on topic is one way of building a regular readership.

- Is blogging different now from when you started?

Wordpress has improved its options and I continue to like their platform. I did dabble with Weebly for a bit but wordpress won me back. My writing has improved, I think, and I use much more videos and pictures to spice my blogs up.

- Why do you tweet?

Because it’s open and anyone can have a conversation. Too often connections in life are closed off before we’ve already begun, look at Facebook for example (you have to accept a request), whereas Twitter enables you to just say “Hey” and build a conversation with anyone in your world. At least, it gives you the opportunity and it’s up to you to take it.

- Who are your intellectual heroes?

I like Brecht’s theories on Alientation Theatre (or Verfremdungseffekt, for theatre buffs), I’m interested in Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed to engage citizens in changing their world, and I like Antonin Artaud’s Theatre of Cruelty.

- What are you reading at the moment?

George R. R. Martin’s A Dance with Dragons and I’ve got to finish Tony Blair’s A Journey.

- What was the last film you saw?

In the Cinema? Thor with Chris Hemsworth and Natalie Portman. At home? The Dictator with Sacha Baron Cohen.

- What is the best novel you've ever read?

I’m not a big reader so I wouldn’t like to diss the wide range of good books out there I haven’t exposed myself too but I liked George R. R. Martin’s A Storm of Swords. It’s a book with a lot of action in, and given all the other books are very active that’s some doing, but it also reminded me why I was reading.

- Can you name an idea or an issue on which you've changed your mind?

The Iraq War.

When America and Britain were looking at going to war, it was 2003 and I’d just turned 18. Two years previously we’d had the Twin Towers taken out and the 7/7 bombings in London were only two years away from happening. My original position was that the conflict was about oil, and political status, and that Britain shouldn’t have any part of ‘The War on Terror’ especially as it looked like an escalating conflict that could have required more and more new sign-ups to the forces.

When I got politically active and started researching events, history, politics and the like my world view slowly started to change. When you’re on the school yard and you see someone smaller being physically bullied by someone bigger (or multiple people) you’re able to step in and say enough is enough.

In our geo-political world there’s too much hand-wringing of the things we can’t do because it’s too difficult. We need to look at the examples of where intervening was right: Bosnia for one. Iraq was another example of a country that needed help to remove Saddam Hussein and offer a life of hope to its people.

- How many political organisations have you been a member of?

I’ve been a member of The Labour Party since 2010, a member of the Association of Labour Councillors and Progress since 2011, a member of the Community Union since 2013 and I joined the Co-operative Party in 2014.

- What philosophical thesis do you think it most important to disseminate?

Modern politics. I think a number of individuals within politics, inside parties and outside, fall into the trap of small c conservatism and believe that the way they've always done things is the best way to do it. We constantly need to be alert to and guard against ways of suppressing people's right to be democratically engaged and influential within our politics.

- What philosophical thesis do you think it most important to combat?

I can't just pick one. We have to combat the agents of sexism, ageism, ableism, racism, and homophobia. It cannot be right that in the 21st century that people still have to endure vile behaviour from other people based on a trait about them that they cannot change or have no influence over.

- Can you name a work of non-fiction which has had a major and lasting influence on how you think about the world?

The Prince by Niccolo Macchiavelli. It's interesting to note the political maxims he wanted to make to the world, in respect of the Medici family, and how it's still relevant today. Talking about how leaders can either be feared or loved is especially pertinent in a context of political apathy that sees most Westminster politicians loathed en masse rather than respected for the work they do for their communities.

- Who are your political heroes?

I like Andy Burnham, Julia Gillard, Barack Obama, Tony Blair and Birgitte Nyborg.

Gillard's viral attack on Tony Abbott is something that has inspired me since I first saw the video. Politics should be a passionate subject and the way she took on his mysoginistic politics in the manner she did provides a model for how and why politicians should stand up for themselves, what they believe in and for those that need them to deliver.

I admire Obama for being the leader that could have been. He used poetical oratory and provided hope to a nation and a world that needed healing after two terms of George Bush. He inspires me to dream big, and believe that anything is possible, which in politics I have found important to remember. There are often too many roadblocks and as we've seen with the Republican opposition to the Affordable Care Act, he's doing something worthwhile and he's had to endure unbelievable pressure for wanting to do the right thing by the American people.

Tony Blair. Outside of the political rhetoric those within the UK will enjoy I think it's important to note the impact of a leader who said enough is enough and was determined to influence the global stage to defend people from genocide. Blair's involvement with Bosnia is unlikely to be forgotten by the Bosnian people and his determination inspires me to carry out a vision for my community and country in its best interests.

Birgitte Nyborg is a fictional politician but I think that I couldn't not include one. I could've talked about The West Wing's Jed Bartlett or Matthew Santos, House of Cards' Frank Underwood or any of the many other political characters but I like Nyborg's passion and commitment to doing what's right for her people. She surprises people on a number of occasions and she does all of this whilst being a loving mother and partner. I think it's this reality check that engages with me.

- How about political villains?

David Cameron is somebody I can't get my head around. His ideology seems to be invisible and his motivation seems to be a desire for power and wanting to be the Prime Minister of the day. Of course that doesn't make someone villainous on their own but I think our political leaders need to have a vision, values and reason for what they're doing. If there is one with Cameron I'm yet to see it and so it makes him villainous to me because pushing policies through like the Bedroom Tax, which didn't start afresh and hit so many people who had no opportunity to move.

The Rajapakse dynasty in Sri Lanka. It cannot be acceptable that a government in civil war orchestrates and coerces its people into 'safe zones' only to bomb them.

Nick Clegg should never be forgiven or welcomed back by progressives for enabling the Conservatives to triple tuition fees, abolish EMA, sign the Health and Social Care Act 2012 to law, and I hope that after he did nothing to help Sheffield Forgemasters get a loan off of the government in 2010 that Sheffield Hallam votes for Oliver Coppard as their next MP in 2015.

- What do you think is the most pressing political task of the day?

Combatting political apathy. Encouraging engagement.

- If you could affect one major policy change, what would it be?

I would move our Parliamentary system to a presidential one where electors would vote for a prime minister and government, and then backbench scrutineers of the executive separately.

- What do you consider to be the main threat to the future peace and security of the world?

Political disengagement. We have to have people around the negotiating table whether it's in Britain or the Middle East. When people stop listening and won't talk to each other we are in greatest danger of repeating our past.

- What would be your most important piece of advice about life?

Don't sweat the small stuff.

- What is your favourite song?

At the moment, it's a toss up between a cover by Elsie Lieberth of David Guetta's Titanium and Mhysa by Ramin Djawadi.

- What do you consider the most important personal quality?


- What personal fault do you most dislike?


- What, if anything, do you worry about?

The future and life. How it will all come together and whether I will be where I want to be and whether I'll be happy where I am.

- What piece of advice would you give to your much younger self?

Which younger self? I think the general point I would make is relax. You will get to where you want to be, and it will take the necessary time to get there, don't be so focused on it.

- What do you like doing in your spare time?

Sport and exercise, when I can, but it mostly ends up being social media.

- What is your most treasured possession?

I like and treasure my iPad.

- Do you have any guilty pleasures?


- What talent would you most like to have?

I would like to be able to graphic design more effectively so I can create better leaflets and direct mail.

- If you could have one (more or less realistic) wish come true, what would you wish for?

To win an enormously large sum of money.

- Ah. How, if at all, would you change your life were you suddenly to win or inherit an enormously large sum of money?

I would buy a nice house for the next 10-15 years.

- If you could have any three guests, past or present, to dinner who would they be?

Rahm Emmanuel. Obama's first Chief of Staff and now Mayor of Chicago. I'd love to talk to him about the election campaign and governing in the White House. Suggested as the inspiration for the West Wing's Josh Lyman I'd love to pick his brain.

Meghan McCain. Republican Presidential nominee John McCain's daughter. Author of Dirty Sexy Politics which talks about her experiences on the 2008 Presidential campaign. I dig how outspoken she is and her IDGAF attitude that is refreshing to politics.

Olivia Munn. She plays Sloan Sabbith on Aaron Sorkin's The Newsroom, and from her twitter accounts she's made me laugh a fair few times. Given the other guests on the table I'm sure it'd be a good idea to have someone who can cut any political tension.

- Who will win in 2015?

Labour will win a majority.