Singing in Parliament

A thousand mayors and MEPs from around Europe have been talking for three hours. Now it is my turn to lift everyone up and bring the event some soul.

Backed by the Choir of the European Union I sing a Cajun blues. Music takes over where words have ...

The scene in the European Parliament at the beginning of Moon Pool draws on my experience in the European Parliament. The hemicycle is which parliamentary debates take place is an amazing room as is the whole building which symbolises, as it does, the desire of twenty eight nations to work together. It is inevitable that such a building must contain not only space for the politicians who will collectively make decisions but also an army of translators to enable the politicians to make themselves understood.

There are 24 official languages in the European Parliament and there are therefore 552 possible language combinations, since it must be possible to translate each language into 23 other languages. The politicians also have support staff to assist them in carrying out their duties. The building is therefore teeming with people.

Singing in the hemicycle was exciting and a privilege. For someone of Sam’s age it would also have been a huge adrenalin rush, scary as sky-diving. She is, after all, given a chance to speak to an audience that represents over 500 million people!

In November 2011, I was the Official Artist for the ceremony at which I sang, also produced a series of films, banners, photographs and other artworks. I proposed to the organisers that they invite two children to speak to explain to a thousand mayors and MEPs why tackling climate change mattered. I cannot remember which countries the two young people came from and there wasn’t a competition as such, they were proposed by an organization that works to bring the children of Europe together, but it was moving to hear them speak and they were, for me, the seed for Moon Pool.

I also proposed that the European Parliament invite Arnold Schwarzenegger (The Terminator) to speak on environmental and climate change issues. At the time everyone thought I was mad but two years later there he was in the Hemicycle, explaining what he done as governor of California. These things can take time!

Between 2003 and 2011, I was a city councilor in York in the North of England, including two years on the ruling executive, one of seven people running the city of 200,000 inhabitants. It was a fascinating and frustrating experience. People everywhere love to hate politicians, often with good reason, but the truth is that without them many things that need to be done simply cannot be done. It is also true that it is one of the weirdest jobs because there are no professional qualifications needed, you simply need to get yourself elected.

None of it is not as easy as it sounds. Behind most politicians is a political party. The would-be politician must first persuade the party that they would make a good candidate because dozens or hundreds of volunteers will be required to give up hours of their time pushing leaflets through door to get the candidate elected.

If elected and if he or she wants his career to progress, the politician must then work hard to ensure that the party continues supporting him or her. This does not necessarily mean achieving practical outcomes that make the world a better place. It is what they call the greasy pole. You have to mix any desire to change your city, country, or continent with an ability to secure the approval of people more powerful than you. It quickly becomes very complicated. Not everyone in politics is there to change the world, unfortunately. Some just like being important, some just like having power; for every passionate idealist there are a dozen party yesmen and yeswomen who just want an easy time. For every visionary there is a backroom bully. And that is before you take into account the interest or disinterest of the voters.

But the world carries on spinning, and challenges carry on needing solutions.

The Moon Pool Trilogy revolves around the question of whether some of the characters have rights, and whether non-human species can be said to be sentient. These kinds of questions are ultimately decided in places like the European Parliament or the United Nations because decisions of this kind, like those that determine whether we take action to tackle climate change or to end poverty across the world or to eradicate a particular disease, impact on the lives of us all.