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Can Charlotte's pub politics overcome our digital apathy?

Byline: 28 MONDAY, OCTOBER 3, 2016 ABBIE WIGHTWICK COLUMNIST abbie.wightwick@walesonline.co.uk

You've got to applaud it as a good idea to get people talking, but it will be interesting to see how many people turn up to Charlotte Church's political debate at a Cardiff pub to gawp and how many go with the courage to air genuine views.

The singer has just announced she is hosting an informal "open forum" political debate at The Cornwall pub in Grangetown, a stone's throw from Cardiff City Stadium.

Subjects might encompass Brexit, renationalisation, public services, grammar schools, nuclear disarmament and whether Theresa May "is a return to Thatcher", Charlotte said, as she invited all to come along and have their voices heard.

These are important and controversial subjects which have the power to divide opinion - but who will have the courage to stand up and speak against the prevailing view, face to face, in real space and time, when we have all become cowardly keyboard warriors? The singer and left-wing political campaigner has become a controversial figure for some since she had the audacity to grow up and take an interest in politics, so doubtless some will go just for a spot of celebrity-bashing - which they will be certain to do after the event when they are safely back home and anonymous.

Beware those silently sipping their pints at the back, Charl.

The event, on November 21, is part of a series of informal debates called Endevant devised by Welsh music company Turnstile, which manages singers Gruff Rhys, Gwenno and Cate Le Bon.

The company says the debates will draw on discussion, art and "collectiveness" to explore how Wales fits into the wider European and international community in a rapidly changing modern era.

Other Endevant debates include broadcaster Iolo Williams and author Jon Gower discussing the impact of Brexit on the environment at a Welsh-language event at Jolyons in Cathedral Road on November 14.

Iolo said he is taking part "as it's important to raise people's awareness of the importance of nature to us all and to try to speculate how Brexit will affect the wildlife and countryside of Wales".

The readings, talks and panel discussions will be held in English and Welsh and recorded in front of an audience before being uploaded as podcasts. But will punters really say what they believe about contentious topics, especially when they are being recorded? Charlotte hopes so.

Inviting people to the debate she is chairing, she said: "I know that the majority of people feel they are not being listened to, and are becoming increasingly disenfranchised by the Westminster parties and Londoncentric media outlets.

"Fifty years ago communities getting together to discuss their needs and grievances was commonplace, but since society has become more fragmented and individuals more isolated by technology, one of the only places you're likely to hear a diverse range of views from ordinary people is the pub.

"I invite all and sundry to The Cornwall to take part in Pub Politics, a fun and vibrant debating forum for everyone, right, left, centre or N/A; whether you're for hard-Brexit, renationalisation of public services, grammar schools or nuclear disarmament; if you think a female PM is progress or that Theresa May is a return to Thatcher; if you rejoice in the falling-away of the centre ground or see it as a catastrophe - come and have your voice heard."

Strong words, but the singer may find pubgoers more muted.

On the face of it, it's a great scheme to try to get people together to talk about something more than the Kardashians or Cardiff City scores, but Charlotte might have to do a lot of the chatting. Not everyone has her courage in courting controversy.

In our digital bubble we can talk 24 hours a day and say what we want, with our faces hidden, to people all over the globe at the touch of a button. We are less willing and less used to airing our views in person without the safety of relative anonymity behind a screen. In a world where bosses email staff, husbands, wives, partners and friends communicate by text and children chatter via social media, standing up and talking in a pub is a genuinely novel idea.

Our collective vocal cords may not be up to the challenge.

Let's hope there will be genuine dissenters and people brave enough to go against the flow as the masses float along on the strongest current.

Being in a real-life debate about divisive issues could silence the bravest keyboard king or queen.

We are too mollycoddled by shouting out to friends who share our views on social media.

They like and tap their agreement, shoring us up in our purpose, rather than making us question those shouting loudest.

Perhaps it is because we have lost the collective ability and courage to say what we think face to face that the internet is rife with trolls.

Offensive views and abuse volley around the internet as they never do in real life.

This may or may not be a good thing.

It is only when you know what the dangers are that you can address them - on the other hand, the internet encourages aggression because it creates a bullies' paradise of nonaccountability.

So, I'll drink to Charlotte holding court in the Cornwall, although I suspect the real debate will happen after closing time, on social media.

It's not so much fun at the Twitter Arms. They don't sell beer, the company can get rowdy and no-one needs to show their face.

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Charlotte Church has taken on the role of political campaigner
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Oct 3, 2016
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