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Opinion

Paul McNamee: Challenge empty bluster

The Big Issue will continue to ask questions, to speak for those without a voice

Christmas is a busy time for The Big Issue. Don’t stop reading. I’ll stop saying Christmas shortly. Not yet, though. At Christmas, we welcome new readers who may not be with us at all other times of the year. We see an increase in vendor numbers. There is a greater likelihood of people buying The Big Issue.

This Christmas was a belter. We don’t often talk about sales. It’s a curious thing to do, and, obviously, nobody is keen to do it when the figures are not great. But it’s worth noting for a few reasons. The first is the scale of the sales. In little over a week, we sold 335,603 copies of The Big Issue Big Christmas special. This is up eight per cent on the previous year. Our Christmas run of five big important mags was up almost six per cent from the previous year. That’s a lot of magazines.

It says a lot about you, as a reader. In these turbulent times the British public is more keen than ever to connect with the most vulnerable people in society. Our vendors, much of the time, are the face and clear frontline of the desperate, growing fractures and need in society. It’s hugely reassuring to know that wonderful, compassionate and wise readers – you have, clearly, impeccable taste – are so keen to help our vendors continue to work their way out of poverty.

A positive attitude is all very well, but details about what is coming, truth about what is being done, is essential

This is the fundamental thing. Our vendors are working to sell The Big Issue to change their lives. I frequently remind people that we are not a charity. There is a charitable arm to us called The Big Issue Foundation. They do vital work. But we are a business, a social enterprise. Vendors buy the magazine for half the cover price, then sell it for full cover price. The difference is what they earn. We are, as John Bird often states, a poverty prevention device. We offer a live and viable alternative.

There is another key part. Increasingly the new Westminster government is making noises about one-nation Britain. The idea that we are a strong union of separate nations making one strong Britain is Boris Johnson’s big play. It’s built on the belief that we can get through whatever comes with a brash can-do attitude and self-belief. And if you challenge this, you are talking Britain down and are therefore some sort of enemy of the state. What’s wrong with you, damn it? Don’t you want bloody bongs! Traitor. This veers somewhere between a cult and a dash through Oz – tap the shoes three times and Brexit boon will boost everything, and fairy godfather Trump will make the world better.

But there must be a challenge. A positive attitude is all very well, but details about what is coming, truth about what is being done, is essential. Not platitudes and rictus grins but clear policies that are paid for to help those who need it most, to really deal with the environmental crisis we’re in, to be clear how we’re going to remain an open and inviting nation after Brexit.

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The Big Issue will continue to ask questions, to speak for those without a voice and, with John Bird at the wheel, drive for legislative change that can build for the future.

We’re not just for Christmas. Though, we can all get our trees back up in 10 months’ time.

Paul McNamee is editor of The Big Issue 

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