On the 4th of April Oxford County Council leader Keith Mitchell tweeted:
Eddie Izzard, Stephen Fry and Benjamin Zephaniah support AV. Three good reasons for voting No to AV!
This, for me, is so emblematic of not just the No campaign but of the right in general. Three people who have challenged the establishment and won public acceptance on their terms; three people who have taking the public anger to stand up for things they believe in; three people who have done more for the marginalised, the disenfranchised, the discriminated and the disadvantaged in this country than Keith Mitchell could do if he lived for another 100 years. I am so utterly outraged by his idiotic and insubstantial slander against three people I have looked up to for most of my life I cannot even think where to begin. He gives no explanation as to why they are good reasons to vote No.
His self-indentification as a “male lesbian” and his being a transvestite whilst at the same time one of Britain’s most famous and well respected comedians is one of the most mainstream challenges to our idea of gender, and he is accepted regardless. In a world where gender and sexual preference mean the difference between success and a life of persecution, Eddie Izzard is exactly the sort of person we should look up to. And this is not to mention his running 43 marathons in 51 days for Sport Relief. I’ve never even seen Keith Mitchell run for a bus (but then I’ve never seen Keith Mitchell in person so I guess I wouldn’t have).
Stephen Fry, or to give him his full title, National Treasure Stephen Fry is a prolific campaigner as well as comedian, journalist, author, presenter and several thousand other jobs. He is a signatory member of British Jews for Justice for Palestinians and has spoken out against the Iraq War. Through his documentary The Seceret Life of a Manic Depressive he spoke candidly about his bi-polar disorder helping to bring more understanding to mental illness and in HIV and Me brought greater public understanding of a controversial and utterly devastating disease. His being an out homosexual and at the same time so widely loved by almost all of Britain can be little more than an outrage for the sometimes homophobic establishment.
When I was 10 my mother gave me a book of poetry called Talkin’ Turkeys by Benjamin Zephaniah. This was a formative moment for me and I have looked up to and followed the career of Benjamin Zephaniah ever since. He was named one of The Times’ top 50 post-war writers, has written dozens of books of poetry and stories for children. He has campaigned to increase children’s literacy, he is one of the most prolific anti-racism campaigners in the country, has given huge amounts of support to animal rights campaigns such as the Animal Liberation Front, supports the establishment of a British Republic and is a vegan. He is also a patron of the Newham Monitoring Project that campaigns against police racism in Newham, East London and of the Tower Hamlets Summer University that offers alternative education to 11-25 year olds in Londons’ most deprived borough. He also famously rejected an OBE on the grounds that it reminded him of “how my foremothers were raped and my forefathers brutalised.” I cannot immediately think of a person that would make me more likely to vote for something.
Unless he has another reason for not liking these three true national treasures and if Keith Mitchell really does oppose what Eddie Izzard, Stephen Fry and Benjamin Zephaniah stand for then it appears he thinks we should stick to rigid forms of gender expression (and, therefore, oppression), shouldn’t raise money for charity, shouldn’t have equal rights regardless of sexual preference, shouldn’t help people with mental health problems to cope or feel like they aren’t alone, shouldn’t accept people for who they are, shouldn’t campaign against racism, shouldn’t end cruelty to animals and shouldn’t help educate disadvantaged youths.
The change in the voting system is such a fundamentally important decision to make that will affect this country and possibly others for decades to come that to make it based on what a celebrity says or what a councillor says about a celebrity is utterly idiotic.
So here’s the bit where I say that Keith Mitchell might have run marathons for charity, or run for a bus, I genuinely don’t know and if he has then I am sorry for casting aspersions. And other than his tweet, in which he suggests he doesn’t like them, I don’t know his opinions on what Izzard, Fry and Zephaniah stand for.