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Opinion

Paul McNamee: Inclusion and subversion Big Issue style

"That small get-together, inviting Big Issue vendors into Parliament, is a key political act"

Houses of Parliament

Houses of Parliament

The vendor event at Parliament last week was significant.

In his first act as a peer, The Big Issue chief John Bird held a reception as a thank you for the people who have helped him and The Big Issue. He details it in his column in this week’s magazine.

It was a fantastic assembly. There were supporters from the early days of The Big Issue. There were former vendors who had moved on and built some incredible careers. Key to it all were our current vendors. They were invited into the seat of government, to the Mother of All Parliaments, to take their place. The tea, said writer and vendor André Rostant, tasted a lot better in bone china by the side of the Thames.

It was a wonderfully Big Issue thing to do, a reflection of the organisation and of John Bird. It said, we’re here, we have a right to be here and we’re going to have you sit up and take notice.

There is a timeliness and focus to it.

Elsewhere, the national dialogue noisily rattles with one form of cultural determinism or another. The Brexit debate, the Scottish elections campaign that has the air of an SNP victory lap, even the Queen’s birthday celebrations are all couched in language of how where you’re from informs how you should act. This is fair enough to a degree – we are ALL products of time and place.

It is a limiting way of being and takes us perilously close to navel-gazing

But it is a limiting way of being and takes us perilously close to navel-gazing. It closes perspectives rather than opens them up. Also, it’s single-track thought. Blame can be attributed to those who think in terms of the other. Polarisation rather than plurality could set in comfortably.

We mourn the passing of incredible free-thinkers and risk-takers like David Bowie and Prince – PRINCE! Damn it! – yet getting off our owned learned behavioral tracks can be the hardest thing of all.

Which is why taking a score of Big Issue vendors into Parliament is an important act – at once inclusive and subversive. There is no way those with their hands on the nation’s tiller can simply pay lip-service to the reality of Britain today when this reality of life for some of the poorest people in society walks right into their House. Our House.

Significantly, it also says to the poorest and the dispossessed, your voice is being heard. You are not invisible, you are not silenced.

This is why I think that small get-together is a key political act. It makes me very proud to be part of The Big Issue. It also makes me proud that we live in a nation where, for all its flaws and imperfections, parliament’s doors can be opened like this.

Importantly, it feels like the start of something.

If you have any comments please email me at paul.mcnamee@bigissue.com, tweet @pauldmcnamee, or send a letter to The Big Issue, 43 Bath Street, Glasgow, G2 1HW

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