Alison Steadman

by | Jul 14, 2017 | Homepage, Interview, The arts | 0 comments

How would you describe your own beliefs in terms of religion or other worldview?

I was born in this country to a Christian family, not particularly religious. I was sent to Sunday School but we didn’t attend church every week. My parents I think were believers in God, I was baptised as a baby in my local church but I was never confirmed. As the years have gone on I would say I am probably agnostic now. Now this country is full of so many religions you see things in a different way. I was brought up as a child in Liverpool, there was predominantly Protestant and Catholic religion. The city was very much divided, that came from all of the Irish families who came over. But times change, when I married a Jewish man who was not religious, I embraced that, and my parents as well. I have two sons, they are both agnostic but respect religion and the Jewish and Christian or agnostic sides of the family. We are a melting pot, but when it comes to the crunch if I do think in a religious way, my thoughts are to Jesus Christ rather than anything else. And a little bit of me thinks that I do hope that there is something. I will still go into churches sometimes and just sit. I don’t pray, but I absorb the peace of the atmosphere in a safe environment. There is a French church near here where you can go. I do feel a sense of peace and protection when I am there, in a church.

Would you describe Great Britain as an equal and tolerant society, especially in relation to religion and belief?

I would think we are extremely tolerant, obviously you get minority groups who are pretty nasty, and I think because there has been over the last 50 years such an influx of religions coming into the country that some people have been a little bit alarmed and confused. But I don’t know anyone who would ridicule or persecute someone for their religion. I remember when I first moved into my house I heard a band playing in the street and I was excited, as it reminded me of my childhood, but as I looked I saw a St George’s flag leading the band. I realised that it wasn’t a jolly band at all but the National Front and they had their headquarters near to where I was living, I didn’t like that at all. If I go to a city like Bradford I am amazed as the city seems to be a Muslim city now, there’s nothing wrong in that, but I feel like a stranger now. I feel slightly, not uneasy, that would be too strong, but…amazed. I think that as long as we have a good mix that is fine. Compared to France we are very tolerant.

Have you ever experienced any problems living in accordance with your own beliefs in this country?

No, but I did have a strange experience when I moved to the house where I am talking about with my husband it was in the Wood Green area of London and the street had 14 houses and there were maybe half occupied by Indian families. And we had to learn to understand each other’s culture and ways, it was quite amusing at times, and I quite liked the fact. If the whole street had been Indian families I would have found it stressful, but as it was the balance was quite nice. I began to learn the difference between British reserve and their culture, I once went outside and an elderly woman shouted her advice, well instructions really as to what I should do ‘Cut down tree, put in flower’. And she asked me when I had my roof done ‘How much your roof cost?’ no British person would do that. And once when I was going out in the car she said ‘I go to doctors, you give me lift’ and got in the car. It was that openness rather than someone going around the houses, there was none of that. It was a learning curve, this was in the early 70s. And when my son became friends with a boy at school and they went to parties, they were both puzzled about how to behave in each other’s houses. We had animals and the Indian children were always frightened of them. And I once tried to pick my son up from a party and they shut the door in my face and said ‘No, no, no, party not over’. Now it’s very different, and we are beginning to all cross paths a lot more. My boys have grown up with a great mix and so tolerant and so understanding. Whereas when I was at school we were all the same religion and colour.

Do you think that our modern idea of human rights and there legal protection has been a positive thing?

I think that it has got to be, it is good that there are rules to make us be respectful to one another as human beings.

Is the Government good at respecting human rights as Parliament has decreed?

I think that they try, but there will always be someone somewhere along the line who will try to dodge it get round it. But I love that in this country we are free to demonstrate when we don’t like something.

Do you think that the State strikes a good balance in terms of stepping in to intervene when people are expressing their religious beliefs?

I think that we are always trying to strike the right balance. When it comes to some extreme situations it is very hard. I find it difficult when I see extreme Muslim women with only a slit for their eyes, and I wouldn’t want someone like that teaching my children, I can see where they are coming from within their own religion, but I can see why some people would have extreme views on that. I think that most people are fairly tolerant.

Would you say that in recent there has been an impact on freedom of expression within the Arts?

I suppose that because the situation has got worse and worse with bombs and attacks, I find that really sad and I suppose that there are people who are afraid of speaking out because of the repercussion. It makes me sad now that I saw a rucksack on a bench on the Tube at midnight, and my immediate reaction was a flutter of panic. I stepped back and heard a voice say it’s okay, it’s okay’ it was one of the Tube workers.

Some people are so brave, but we’re all becoming a bit more cautious in what we say and do, we don’t want to stir any hatred.

Would you say that the Arts has a role in building a more cohesive and empathetic society?

Oh absolutely, on the stage you can say and do things that you never would in a one to one with somebody, you can express and show people things in films and plays, which explains things more clearly, you can show human life and all of the sides of it. It’s so important that we keep that freedom of speech. I wouldn’t want someone to say that we don’t do this play because it says this or that. This will help people to understand someone else’s point of view and have empathy for their situation.

Is it good thing that we live in a Parliamentary democratic society?

Yes, we’ve got to have a democracy, I wouldn’t want to live in other kind of society. It annoys me so much when people say they can’t be bothered to vote. We fought for our right to vote, especially women, everybody should use that right. Thousands of people die fighting to keep that freedom, it is so important.

Do you believe that you have a duty to vote?

Yes, absolutely, what is the point of having a democracy if people don’t bother using that?

Is it a good or a bad thing that Parliament has the final say in making and changing law?

I don’t know, nothing is perfect as I have said. For centuries this country has been trying to find the fairest way, we’ve had dictators, kings people have had their heads chopped off. Finally we’ve arrived at this period in history where the common people can vote. I don’t know how it works in America. But in the end if you have a Parliament, you can lobby your MP, I think that this is the best way of doing it.

Are there problems with the operation of democracy for minority groups? Do some groups find it harder than others to participate?

You can’t please all of the people all of the time. If you think of let’s say, when my son was at school, and there was a parent committee, it was never easy. You need a strong body with rules to keep that discipline. There have to be gradual changes but I think that the way our democracy is run, there will always be a minority who disagree. But people do get listened to. I love the fact that people can get petitions, any ordinary person can get together a petition, get thousands of signatures and change things. There are some injustices of course, but with the internet and media people can have their voices heard and make a difference.

Do you think that it is a problem that members of the House of Lords are not elected?

Yes, that is one thing I think, it always feels to me that it’s a hangover from the past, we should now be moving forward, and there should be a vote. The idea that these mainly elderly men just see it as their right to go into that House. I think that they do a good job on the whole, but it is time of a change.

How do you feel about bishops in the House of Lords?

Maybe that is a thing which does belong to the past, we should rethink it and have a more representative group rather than all bishops. If you are going to reform the House of Lords then you have got to think about reforming that too.

What is your perception of public authorities, do they try to respect the voice of Parliament?

I can’t think of them ignoring Parliament. Again, nothing is perfect, all of these things as human beings and a nation we have to keep checking. We can’t just assume because it is a public authority or the police that it is all fine, we have to listen to people and their grievances. Look at the whole Hillsborough thing that has taken far too long to address and put right. Hopefully that will be an example to everyone. The whole thing of NHS and whistle-blowers, people should be without fear of losing their jobs in saying that things aren’t right.

What is your idea about people with power, what responsibilities do they have to wider society?

Well, if you have power whether it is money, political power, whatever, with power comes responsivity and that is very important. It is very important to not put yourself in an isolated box, you have to reach out and see that decisions have repercussions right down the line to the poorest person begging in the street. A right decision can have massive impact, as can a wrong decision, so with power or money comes terrific responsibility.

Do you think that atheists and agnostics are appropriately represented in Parliament and the judiciary etc.?

Personally, I’ve never taken people’s beliefs into account. If they were extremist it would worry me, but freedom is the main thing. I would never consider that.

Do you think that there is enough distance between politicians and the judiciary?

My perception, as limited as my knowledge is, is that they are or try to be. Again they are human beings, but their job is to be independent and follow the law and not be influenced by pressure groups. I would trust the judges that is what we have got. I did jury service, and it was an extraordinary experience. My son said that the case would be shoplifting or something else boring. But it wasn’t, it was child abuse, very stressful. The judge was amazing, and the best thing of all was the film of a male officer interviewer this five or six year old girl. He was amazing. The way he treated her and talked to her was so kind, he didn’t lead her in any way, he was understanding, she was obviously really relaxed with him, it was incredible. I wished I could have given him a hug and thanked him. And the judge was wonderful as well, when she appeared in court in a room nearby, he didn’t wear his wig and chatted with her in a way which was wonderful. I was annoyed and upset by some of the people on the jury. It makes you realise how difficult some people are on committees. It was a great insight, I have never appeared in court and I have never done jury service.

Do you feel part of a wider community of agnostic people when it comes to challenging decisions?

I don’t feel that I belong to any sort of group. But I have found since my childhood that I really know very few people who attend church.

How would you take action on issues you feel are problematic?

I do sign a lot of petitions, I do write to supermarkets and have written to my MP. I’m very concerned about the environment and big companies which produce plastic, bottles and microbeads…I find it incredible that it has to be an organisation like Greenpeace that gets on to these organisations and get things done. Companies don’t act until something happens and it is proved, when a child chokes or something. So Greenpeace and other organisations which tackle issues are needed, otherwise these issues are not sorted. I am a huge supporter or Greenpeace.

Is it important for you always to act within the law?

Generally speaking, I would say uphold the law. Otherwise you end up with a chaotic society and it doesn’t work. Occasionally, with something like Greenpeace who have a point to make, in order to draw attention, where what they do isn’t harming anybody or threatening but are saying listen, look, this is important. I would allow them to do that, but I would be cautious.

Are there any particular laws which you would like to see changed?

I think that the whole situation with the way we manufacture plastic now, I can only see a future where there is something catastrophic and I really think that we have to start to say that we cannot allow our world to fill up with plastic the way it is. We I first started becoming aware of this, the plastic in the Pacific, because of the current it all bunches together and has made this island, it used to the size of Wales, now it’s the size of Germany. Birds and nesting and laying eggs on it because they think it’s an island. The tonnes of plastic that are dumped in our sea daily is ridicule. Sea creatures are dying, turtles with 287 plastic bags in its stomach washed up on our shores. I happened to meet some businessmen the other days who sell onions, and I said to this guy do you ever consider sending your onions out in anything other than plastic netting. And it was obvious that they hadn’t, they said that we do what Waitrose says, and they like netting. But it’s injuring seabirds, choking creatures. When I email supermarkets they either ignore me or tell me all of the good things which they are doing, well they’re not! This is going to be a world disaster, we can’t keep filling up landfill. This is major and most people are totally unaware that a plastic bottle will never, ever disappear off our planet. Fish are ingesting these things so we in turn are eating plastic bottles, its nuts. I feel so strongly. How can manufacturers allow microbeads to be put in shower-gel and toothpaste? It’s not even clear from the packaging. I want to know the scientists behind these companies who think that it’s all alright when they know it’s know. I remember 30 odd years ago when my kids were little, a display in the Science Museum about a plastic bottle, continually drifting in the ocean, so it’s not like we haven’t known about it.

Do you believe that you have a duty to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves?

Absolutely, once you are aware of something as awful as what I am talking about. You do have a duty to try and explain and protect. When there are 10 plastic lighters for a pound, and albatrosses with choke their chicks by mistaking them for fish. How could anybody condone that? But it’s about knowledge. I’ve got a friend who has a theatre company and she goes around schools and educates children about what we are doing to our oceans. So hopefully we will get a generation of kids who are aware. I have been a member of Greenpeace for many years and support them all I can.

Would you say that the Rule of Law is applied equally in our society?

I think there’s no doubt that if you’re a young, black guy you have a harder time than if you are a young white guy who has been educated at Eton, not matter what you are doing. I think that the more we flag this up and try to avoid discrimination.

How do you feel about the general trend in the last 15 years towards an increase in police/State powers?

It’s very difficult because I think we have to be vigilant, we live in a world with all of the terrible things that happen. Like me seeing that rucksack, 30 or 40 years ago I would have walked past and not thought. And if you are a policeman or woman you have a huge responsibility, because if you don’t spot a threat a lot of people could die. But I know an American businessman, dark eyes, beard, sallow complexion, he had a terrible experience at an airport here. He was pulled out and given a rough time just because of the way he looks. They did everything get an arm up his back and say ‘tell us who you really are’. He said it was terrible. We should be very careful that we don’t mistreat people. We mustn’t take things too far, we must try to balance them.

Are there any legal rules which have a negative impact on your life?

I can’t think of any really.

Any other comments which you would like to add?

I just think that as a society we always have to be vigilant, there is always someone who will try and sneak something in. Sometimes I think in schools with children there is a terrific emphasis…….but all of this testing. I don’t blame teachers for putting those spelling tests online because they think they have a negative effect. When I was a kid teachers were teachers, they weren’t there to fill in forms. I think that school should be a life-class, not just academic.

I was walking along a canal recently in Liverpool and a kid came along with his sister, and he had some sweets in a little red tube. He finished it and dropped it on the floor, right next to some ducks and swans. I said ‘excuse me, you’ve dropped your sweets’. He said ‘there’s nothing in it’. And I said well, even though it’s empty the ducks over there might eat it because they think it’s food, and then they choke and die and you wouldn’t want that. So you want to take that home and put it in the rubbish, remember that and think on. And I wondered if he would……he was unaware of what this little plastic tube could do, could choke those creatures and would be in the Earth forever. There should be a law, things should be biodegradable alternatives, made in Spain in fact. Probably the reason is money, they are a couple of pence more expensive. But we have got to change. There isn’t a beach anywhere in the world where there isn’t plastic debris being washed up. It can’t go on.


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