Rob Marchant was born in Waddington, Lincs., grew up in North Yorkshire and studied at New College, Oxford, Birkbeck College, London and IESE, Barcelona. Over the years he has been a management consultant, City analyst, senior Labour Party staffer, technology architect, communications guy and eco-entrepreneur. He has published no books whatsoever but is strangely serious about writing the story of postwar British contemporary music. In fact, he's three-quarters through it. He is married to a Spaniard, Mireia, and they have two little girls. Travels a bit but spends most of his time between London, Yorkshire and Barcelona. Rob blogs at The Centre Left.
Why do you blog? > I've kind of stumbled into political blogging. I set up the Labour Party's first proper website in 2000 when I was the staffer responsible for all their technology, and then got sidetracked into other projects, always meaning to get involved with blogging but never doing it. Then I started writing articles when I was going for a seat in 2009. Realized I really got something out of it, so I kept going. I recently read a brilliant book (Happier by Harvard academic Tal Ben-Shahar), which suggests that the perfect job should be something you (a) like, (b) are good at and (c) get some meaning out of. I'd always thought the first two were important, but now I see that the third is too, and blogging, believe it or not, gives me all three. Although, on reflection, whether I'm any good at it, only my readers can tell you (please be kind).
What has been your best blogging experience? > All of the last six months. Last month my blog doubled its traffic, and I've been trying to do it conscientiously and well. Best of all has been getting picked up by journalists whom I respect. And Labour politicians who had no idea that I was capable of independent thought!
What has been your worst blogging experience? > Killing yourself to write what you think is a great piece, which then gets posted at a dumb time when no one will read it.
What would be your main blogging advice to a novice blogger? > I still consider myself a novice blogger. That the best stuff flows straight out into the pen, practically in a single take. Write about something you feel strongly about, otherwise it'll sound forced or boring. If you don't have strong opinions, don't bother blogging.
What are your favourite blogs? > I'm a bit of a dilettante, I'm afraid, although I gravitate towards people who stir it up a bit. I think the one I check most regularly is John Rentoul. Nick Cohen is always good value, as is Alastair Campbell (when he's not talking about sport, that is). His diaries were brilliant beyond expectation. There are some very good independent ones too, though, so I shall put a link to them here.
Who are your cultural heroes? > All musical, primarily. David Bowie. I defy anyone to tell me that he's not a genius. 1969-1980 period, not one bum song. Takes in influences from all over and creates something unique. Joe Jackson, who is classically-trained but takes in everything too. From the last 10 years I'd have to take Maxïmo Park, who have set the bar for other new British bands. But my record collection is immense. I read quite a lot, but appreciate most good writing and don't really fixate on one or two individual writers all of whose work I want to read.
What is the best novel you've ever read? > Lord of the Flies. Did it for O-level but never tire of it. Universal, timeless messages. Good and evil.
What is your favourite movie? > Easy. John Schlesinger's Midnight Cowboy. Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voigt in the best thing either ever did. We are all of us in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars, I think sums it up. As a bonus, two amazing soundtrack songs, Harry Nilsson's 'Everybody's Talking' and the haunting harmonica theme song by John Barry. And how can you not cry at the end?
What philosophical thesis do you think it most important to combat? > Lots, although maybe they are attitudes rather than full-blown theses. Moral relativism, for one. A lot of the Houdiniesque logical contortions currently to be found in many corners of the British and European left. Black is white. My enemy's enemy is my friend.
Who are your political heroes? > Blair, Churchill, Bevan, Attlee, Gaitskell.
What is your favourite piece of political wisdom? > 'All that is required for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing.' – ascribed to Edmund Burke. I truly believe that. We are all responsible for the society we live in, and we all need to stand up and be counted. It's like voting; you have a moral responsibility to do it. And if you don't do something significant for society at some point in your life - even if it's just being a school governor or running the youth club - that's just selfish, because then someone else will have to do your public service for you. There's no excuse.
If you could effect one major policy change in the governing of your country, what would it be? > Well, I can cheat and make it a really big one. Complete the reforms of public services which Labour started in government, to make them truly great services which met people's 21st century expectations. That way, the Tories would have nothing to do when they got in power and would be sitting watching the tumbleweed. And they wouldn't be able to be doing what we wanted to but badly, which is what's happening at the moment. There's really no reason why public services can't be as good as privately-run ones. Acceptance of them as often being second-rate is wrong, as is the dogma that there should be no involvement whatsoever of the private sector in them. The only important thing is the outcome.
What would you do with the UN? > Completely reform the security aspects. The 1990s and 2000s have shown that they are next to useless, which is why recently countries have gone round them (e.g. Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Iraq). We can't credibly say, let's all stick to the rules, if they involve insane hoop-jumping. The UN's only hope for real development in this sense comes from 'Responsibility To Protect', which owes a lot to Blair's Chicago Doctrine, something he gets precious little thanks for. Also reform 1-member, 1-vote. It's plain silly to have Lesotho on a par with the US.
What do you consider to be the main threat to the future peace and security of the world? > Struggles for natural resources between unequally-endowed nations in a worsening climate. Terrorism will be the means.
Do you think the world (human civilization) has already passed its best point, or is that yet to come? > Yet to come, surely? Humanity occasionally goes backwards, like in the Dark Ages, but it's not the norm. And, despite the unparalleled carnage of the 20th century, that century saw huge advances in human rights, democracy, health and lifting people out of poverty. I feel that far too few people read history nowadays, so they can see neither the reasons to be optimistic about the future nor the dangers of repeating past mistakes.
What would be your most important piece of advice about life? > You can do anything you want to. Don't set your own limits: don't build your own prison so you can live in it.
Do you think you could ever be married to, or in a long-term relationship with, someone with radically different political views from your own? > I probably could, but it'd be very tiring. I like arguing too much.
What do you consider the most important personal quality? > Good judgement. Have that and everything else follows. And you only develop that by taking risks, making mistakes and learning from them. No risks, no mistakes, equals no learning.
What personal fault do you most dislike? > Meanness. I've never understood how people can deliberately cause pain to others.
In what circumstances would you be willing to lie? > For the common good. I mean, if you're Chancellor and the currency's on the brink of devaluation, do you say, 'Oo-er, things are looking a bit ropey here'? No, you lie for the common good. Or to prevent hurt to a loved one. But in the end it's practical as well as moral. I like a friend's maxim: 'Tell the truth. It's the easiest thing to remember.'
Do you have any prejudices you're willing to acknowledge? > Really not sure about opera. Just can't get into it. Emperor's New Clothes to me. Sorry.
What commonly enjoyed activities do you regard as a waste of time? > Although I'm not a massive football fan, I enjoy it every now and then. But talking about football, that thing that men do ad nauseam: now that's a waste of time.
What, if anything, do you worry about? > My kids. Little else worries me.
If you were to relive your life to this point, is there anything you'd do differently? > Perhaps do the things that really interest me earlier. Then again, I'd probably be poorer.
What would you call your autobiography? > Jim. (Only joking.)
Who would play you in the movie about your life? > John Cusack. Because every now and then people say he looks like me. From a distance. Also he's a very good actor.
Where would you most like to live (other than where you do)? > Ibiza. It's extraordinary and unique. Plus I speak reasonable Spanish.
What is your most treasured possession? > Don't treasure much. Not big on possessions.
Who is your favourite comedian or humorist? > Eddie Izzard. If you can be that different, you're a true innovator.
Who are your sporting heroes? > From my youth, John McEnroe, Steve Ovett. Those who are a bit cranky, rather than the usual fresh-faced youths with nothing interesting to say. Not really anyone from now; frankly, find them all a bit anonymous and dull.
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