Sunday, 29 June 2014
Saturday, 28 June 2014
Friday, 27 June 2014
it's been a while since we had a good laugh at North Korea and its fat leader. This is because they have been on comparatively good behaviour for the last few months, perhaps in the hope that we will send them some food. But now the angry denunciations and threats of war are back - oh how we've missed them. And it's all because someone has made a film in which the Fat Leader is depicted as a Fat Leader and two incompetent spies try to assassinate him.
North Korea has issued one of its bombastic and always entertaining missives calling on this film, The Interview, to be banned. The film, starring Seth Rogen, is due to be released this autumn. If it is, says North Korea, if this 'reckless, provocative U.S insanity' is screened, The Fat Leader will consider it an act of war. It then talks of how stern and merciless their response will be.
So, what will this stern and merciless amount to? Are they going to make a film about Barack? The Fat Leader's father was well known for his love of the movies and often kidnapped film stars to make some for him. Are they going to try and kidnap Seth Rogen and demand he make a sequel, The Interview 2, with the tagline: a man was misquoted and feels about the Fat Leader the same way as Dennis Rodman.
But, if films depicting the great leaders of the People's Republic in a less than flattering light are seen as acts of war, why wasn't swift and merciless retribution delivered when The Fat Leader's father was presented in a way that can only be called disrespectful and downright rude in Team America? It should also be noted of course that we dodged a bullet here in the UK when the Fat Leader was used as a model for bad haircuts by a north London barber. So far as I am aware the only fallout from this was decidedly un-nuclear. The barber in question was visited by goons from the North Korean embassy who demanded he take down the offending picture. He refused, pointing out that this is a free country. Armageddon failed to take place.
I suppose it must come as a shock that the rest of the world does not hold the Fat Leader in the same awe and reverence as do his people. We do not follow his every word and indeed take notes as do those who surround him. We regard his pronouncements, vanity projects and regular threats with wry amusement. Under the circumstances it is no surprise that someone has made a film about him. This is comedy gold. I for one want to see a film re-enacting the birth of all of the family beneath rainbows on a sacred mountain. I for one want to see a film about the time when The Fat Leader's father played golf for the first time and scored 18 holes in one before retiring from the game to give others a chance (you would think he would have joined the professional tour as his country needed the money), I for one want to see footage of the Fat Leader using his recently built ski resort. How good would he look in a ski suit? The possibilities are endless.
Thursday, 26 June 2014
Luis Suarez has been banned from all football and indeed all stadia for four months. This ban starts immediately. It means he will miss the rest of the World Cup and not be eligible to play for Liverpool until the end of October, a situation remarkably similar to last season, except this season Liverpool are involved in the Champions League. Ironically it was participation in this event that was the bottom line for keeping Suarez, not that it has stopped him making eyes at Barcelona and Real Madrid. Now he will miss games in that through his own stupidity.
And it is not clear what happens if he appeals, which, judging from the statements coming from Uruguay last night, is a strong possibility. Would the ban commence anyway, or would he be allowed to appeal and thus postpone the ban? That could mean his playing for Liverpool would be even further delayed. This hardly seems fair on his club.
Liverpool must surely be tempted to be shot of him. But what price would they get for a player who will be missing for the start of the season? And who would replace him? This verdict asks more questions than it answers.
The Europhiles are clearly getting a bit worried about rising Euroscepticism thanks to Dave's travails over Jean-Claude Juncker. You can always tell when they are getting worried because they trot out that old canard about 3 million British jobs being reliant on our membership of the EU. Those jobs, they imply, would be lost.
Danny Alexander, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, is making that claim once again, even using the imprimatur of the Treasury to give it added credence. Yet look beneath the headlines and the claim is not quite what it at first appears to be. Officials have calculated that 3 million jobs are 'connected' to the EU, which is to say that there are 3 million jobs that exist thanks to trade with the EU. That is entirely different to saying that those jobs would disappear were Britain to leave the EU. No doubt there are also millions of jobs 'connected' to trade with Scotland. Will they disappear if Scotland votes for independence? No, things will carry on regardless. The same is true of those jobs 'connected' with our trade with America, China, Switzerland. Trade does not stop because of the ending or changing of a political arrangement. Indeed it could just as easily be eased and accelerated.
And those Treasury officials and Mr Alexander know this very well. It is a lie, pure and simple, to claim that jobs would disappear were Britain to leave the EU. The facts are that the EU actually sells more to us than we do to them. Thus, were we to vote to leave because we do not wish to be part of a union and a currency, it would nevertheless be in everyone's interests to agree to continue trading freely as before. Indeed this is recognised by the Lisbon Treaty. Should anyone leave, Article 50 states that the EU and that country would agree a free trade pact. Thus those jobs 'connected' to the EU would remain 'connected' to the EU. Connected is a deliberate weasel word.
The only jobs that will disappear if Britain leaves the EU are the legions of bureaucrats and politicians who are riding its gravy train. Even those jobs reliant on EU funding in the regions could and probably would be preserved by sending the money direct from Whitehall rather than the more circuitous route via Brussels. It would also mean we would have greater say over how it was spent and would be more likely to get value for money and see less of it disappear in fraud. The same people who make these claims about these 3 million jobs are those who used to tell us it was vital for jobs for Britain to join the Euro. They keep quiet about that now. Unfortunately it is unlikely they will do so about this 3 million jobs lie. It's about the only argument they have. What a pity it's demonstrably and knowingly false.
I wrote in the aftermath of the Suarez biting incident that this probably happened because he is indulged more in his country than he is here, the country that pays him his vast wages and allows him to ply his trade rather than, say, slap him in jail for assault. And so it is proving. Suarez behaves like an overgrown child because his countrymen see nothing wrong in this. Suarez has now followed the lead of one TV station that has sought to cloud the issue, by claiming this is all a lot of fuss over nothing. This despite his body language after the game in which he clearly realised what he had done and knew the game was up. Now he means to try and blag his way out of it.
Take a look at the picture above. Is that an example of Chiellini leaning into Suarez or does it show very clearly that the Uruguay player is leaning in so as to administer the bite? Watch the footage prior to the incident and you will see nothing to provoke any response, let alone a bite. Other video footage from a new angle quite clearly shows that Suarez pulled himself up deliberately and bit the Italian defender at the top of his shoulder. There is no other interpretation of it. Two players were vying for space in the box as strikers and defenders do. Most tend not to come into contact with each others teeth. Indeed the place on the Italian's shoulder where the bite was administered requires a feat of contortion and athleticism just to get there. The latest footage from ITV shows this as clearly as possible. It is an open and shut case.
No, say the Uruguayans, it is not even clear that this is a bite at all. It might have been there before the game. It's only a matter of time until they claim it is a love bite.
Oh and then there's 1966. Clearly the English should have nothing to say about this matter because we apparently won the World Cup with a goal that wasn't a goal. Yes, I'm struggling to see the relevance of this too, but desperate times require desperate arguments.
But at least we can now start to piece together some kind of explanation for Suarez's pathological behaviour and continuing inability to control himself on a football pitch. He is excused by his team-mates and his countrymen. Thus his behaviour continues. Thus he blames his accusers instead. This latest incident was the fault of Chiellini and the hysterical and hypocritical English media. It has nothing to do with a child-man who bites people when he is peeved and then rolls around on the floor pretending that he has been elbowed. He and his defenders apparently haven't noticed that there were several thousand people in attendance and dozens of cameras trained on them. They are behaving like those chav parents who go to the school to remonstrate with staff for daring to discipline their son or daughter.
All of this was inevitable I suppose. It certainly fits a pattern. But then that's the clincher isn't it. If this had been a one off offence, if Suarez had never done this before, he might today be getting the benefit of the doubt, although the pictures are pretty convincing and the marks on Chiellini's shoulder leave little doubt. Suarez's reaction afterwards was pretty damning too. But most convincing of all, surely we don't have to point out, is that he has form for this kind of thing. He's done it before. At least then he had the balls to admit it and take the punishment. But then he was on foreign soil and not surrounded by his countrymen. Perhaps a casual bite is acceptable in Uruguay. Perhaps it's just a cultural clash again. Or is it just because we know we shouldn't have won in 66? Fifa need to throw the book at him, especially if he keeps up this ludicrous pretence that nothing happened and he is the victim of some kind of conspiracy.
Wednesday, 25 June 2014
Apologies are all the rage at the moment. The England team issued one for being hopeless, the cricket team will hopefully shortly follow suit. And our politicians are in apologetic mood. Dave issued one yesterday for giving Andy Coulson a second chance and allowing him to sully the shades of Downing Street with his tabloid derived street smarts which turned out to be criminally derived too.
Labour leapt on this of course. But this is the party that only last week had its leader posing with The Sun and then apologising for doing so. It is also the party of twice resigned Lord Mandelson, Bad Ali Campbell the dossier fixer and Damien McBride Gordon's red faced bully and fixer. The difference is that Labour have never apologised for any of that, indeed their former leader but one is still insisting he has nothing to apologise for and knows how to bring peace to the middle east.
One thing Dave will presumably not be apologising for is his stance on the imminent new President of the EU Commission Jean-Claude Juncker. Juncker seems to think that he is the common sense appointment, which is hard to square with the stories we keep hearing about his recent forced departure from the top job in Luxembourg, his penchant for all things federal in Europe and his greater fondness for breakfast boozing.
Nevertheless this had all the makings of an uncomfortable session for Dave, one that even Wallace couldn't stuff up.
And yet he did. It wasn't that he was utterly useless, it wasn't that he didn't cause Dave some discomfort, it was that he was lacklustre and insipid. This had the potential for a great parliamentary moment, and yet Wallace produced an assault that was saggy and limp. It was like watching England in the World Cup. He had all the opportunities, on paper he was the one with all the advantages and yet his opponent managed somehow to wriggle out of the worst moments and even get a few hits back. Cameron somehow managed a creditable draw, when he should have been like a team down to 9 men with a number of other walking wounded. It was like having one of the best strikers on the planet on your team only to find that he sinks his teeth in to an opposition defender and gets himself banned.
This was one of those sessions in which the leader of the Opposition gets to question the prime minister's judgement. Yes, Wallace getting to question someone else's judgement, indeed Labour, the party that elected Wallace as leader getting to judge someone's judgement. But that was what he tried and, given the way this had called, he had no choice really.
If you analyse Wallace on these occasions, the ones he really ought to win, it's comes down to his serial inability to make telling points. It's not as if he didn't have the right points to make and didn't make them. It's just that he does so in such a long winded way we lose the will to live. Someone with a better grip of these things would make jokes, would use sarcasm. Wallace deploys earnestness and long sentences. The nation yawns. Dave could easily anticipate what the attack lines would be and so he had ready made answers for them. He has probably had them ready for months. Wallace similarly has had months to prepare for this day. he might have got some decent jokes prepared, some withering denunciations. He had nothing.
And so Dave deployed Leveson, he deployed the Press Complaints Commission, he pointed out that Wallace had agreed the terms of the inquiry. Sure he was defensive and evasive, but then he was in a spot of bother here. Fortunately he was up against an opponent who wouldn't know an open goal if it came with a flashing neon sign. And Cameron even managed a counter attack, calling Wallace weak and pointing out his fickleness when it comes to Murdoch, The Sun and his own backbench MPs. By the end it was Dave who had his dander up, Dave who seemed to have the best arguments. Wallace was simply repeating lines about criminals in Downing Street. The PM had various inquiries that had absolved him of blame. Wallace had once again been presented with a golden opportunity to knock a few goals and give the PM a pasting. In the end he was lucky to get away with a draw with Tory MPs calling for more. Even England fans aren't that optimistic.
Tuesday, 24 June 2014
Luis Suarez is a moron. I think we can all agree on that. I am a Liverpool supporter. When people criticise the performances of Stevie G I purse my lips and consider it grossly unfair. When they say he is past it I consider it unreasonable after a hard and long season which was wearing both physically and emotionally. Was it too much to expect him to go to Brazil and perform in this World Cup? Perhaps so. But he is a wholehearted player who always gives his all and wanted to play for his country. I think most fans are fair enough to realise this and thank him for his efforts and to feel sorry that this most committed of players was unfortunate enough to concede vital goals.
But Luis Suarez? Well what is there to say about the man? Actually he is not a man, he is a little boy with a man sized ego and of course chipmunk sized teeth. His latest biting incident is utterly indefensible, it is the action of someone who is not responsible for his actions - but then that makes it sound like an excuse, as if he had no choice. His biting of Chiellini was born of frustration and irritation, but that is no excuse. It isn't even the beginnings of an excuse. We all get frustrated and angry from time to time, but most of manage to stop ourselves from lashing out, from becoming violent. The vast majority of us, 99% at least, manage to stop ourselves from reacting to frustration and anger like a five year old, or a dog. There is no excuse.
We thought, did we not, that Suarez had this kind of thing under control. But you probably never have this kind of thing completely under control. It's like an addiction. A relapse can easily happen. Perhaps it was inevitable that that relapse would happen when away from his club and given the adoration of his countrymen and the responsibility that comes with being by far their best player. It should also be noted that Uruguay may not have quite the same attitude to this kind of behaviour as Suarez endured in England. It may explain why he was so pleased to score those two goals against England last week. Again this was the response of a brat, not a grown man. How else were we supposed to react to a football player, however gifted, who bites a defender who is simply doing his job? If Suarez were less prodigiously gifted it might actually be more of an excuse. If he had the footballing gifts of a Vinnie Jones for instance it might be more understandable from a psychological point of view.
What should now be done with him? Well a lengthy ban would seem to be a given. But what then? Will he come back to Liverpool and work hard to redeem himself once again? Or will he listen to his idiot advisers and family and demand the move he considers his due? Will his behaviour make the slightest difference to those who have been leaking stories about how he will soon be joining Real Madrid or Barcelona, trying to engineer a move once again? Of course not. This is a pattern of behaviour that has only been interrupted by the World Cup, meaning that his imminent ban will ironically make it open season once again. The brattish one and his cheerleaders will start the chuntering the moment he is on the plane and heading home in disgrace. But it would be a very silly and counterproductive move. A player goes to a World Cup, behaves like a five year old and is rewarded with a dream multi million pound move to one of the giants of the game? But don't be at all surprised if that is what happens.
What should actually happen is that Suarez should be charged with violent behaviour and bringing the game into disrepute and be banned from international football for a year or more. He should be despatched from this World Cup immediately. He should be sent back to his club with his tail between his legs. Brendan Rodgers and the Liverpool staff know him and have shown themselves adept at managing him. He should beg them to do him the same favour again now, possibly along with a few visits to a psychologist. By rights he should probably be banned from all football for a long time and told that no transfer will be possible and no mega wages either. He ought really to be criminally prosecuted. But we all know he won't be. We all know that money will speak. And speaking as a Liverpool fan I want to see him playing for us in the Champions League, although I know that will disgust many people and really ought to disgust me. Maybe he needs help, maybe he needs therapy or something. But one thing he does not need is a mega bucks move to a new club so that he can wave goodbye to his tawdry past and pretend that nothing has happened. Although at the moment if someone offered £90 million for him we might be tempted.
It seems that Dave, in taking a robust line on the need for EU reform has offended some of his fellow leaders. Good! Leaked tapes from Poland reveal, in addition to their frequent usage of the F word and its derivatives, the consensus notion amongst what Europe laughingly calls its leaders that we Brits are so much less sophisticated than they are simply because we don't buy into the whole EU vision. That this is a vision of Europe shared even by recent entrants to the EU nightmare shows how pervasive this notion is, although of course it helps that they themselves are in receipt of benefits paid to them from the EU and can export their unemployed to us too. That they then react with such fury to British fury at this state of affairs shows how blind they are.
But, confronted by these realities and backbench fury, Dave should apparently have simply told everyone to fuck off. No, really. Democracy? It's not an option when it comes to European solidarity.
What they are essentially saying is that they think that the Conservative Party should have adopted the approach taken by Labour and the Lib Dems these last few years. That's how we ended up handing over part of our budget rebate and signing a constitution rejected by two countries and on which the British people had been promised a referendum. Labour told the British people to 'fuck off,' they would much rather cosy up to the European establishment and the new accession countries, they would much rather allow an extra couple of million people into the country thus entirely negating all of the extra money they had poured into the NHS and schools and putting downward pressure on everyone's wages whilst increasing the cost of housing. All for the European ideal and to avoid being exposed to fruity east European language.
It seems that our European 'partners' have essentially decided that British exit from the EU is now priced in. Thus they can ignore us and indeed actively work against us, promising one thing to our prime minister's face and then doing the opposite. He has reacted by demanding a vote on the installation of Jean-Claude Juncker. This again is anti European. A vote? Instead of back room deal making and shallow compromise? That just isn't how the EU works.
On this however our 'partners' seem confused. What they are essentially gambling on is that Dave loses the next election and thus they are then presented with someone more amenable to talk to and from whom to extract concessions this time next year. That geeky little twerp running the Labour Party seems like their kind of guy, especially if he can be aligned with that nice Nick whose policy towards the EU is essentially how high would you like me to jump? Yet at the same time they seem resigned to the fact that Britain is going to leave. But again this is very EU. They don't want to budge and so are concocting every excuse for not doing so, even if it makes no sense. That after all is how we ended up with the CAP and the euro, the foreign service for a state that doesn't actually exist and has no agreed common foreign policy, the peripatetic parliament and the free movement of workers which turned into the free movement of benefit claimants.
Those of us who want to get Britain out of the EU and who suspect we will thrive outside of it are at best ambivalent about all of this manoeuvring on the part of our 'partners.' The fact that they have decided that Juncker is the man for the job and that he was somehow elected and thus inevitable is par for the course. It just make us all the more determined to get that referendum and to leave them to their absurd supra national dream which will bring them permanently sclerotic economies, renewed nationalistic tensions which they tell themselves the EU is the solution to, and a political class deliberately cut off from the people who are watching all of this in despair and anger. Dave is letting the side down by listening to that despair and anger. That isn't the EU way.
Monday, 23 June 2014
You know, I'm beginning to think that Jaws was a bit far fetched. Take a look at this video of some people and their encounter with a Great White Shark. But, despite their being in a small and very vulnerable boat, there was no relentless pursuit of them, there was no jumping up on to the back of the boat and eating of a salty sea dog, possibly to stop him singing again. There was no sinking of the boat. And there was no John Williams music to make us sit on the edge of their seats. This big fish came alongside a couple of times, took a look, ate some bait and left again. Next you'll be telling me that giant gorillas don't exist, fall in love with beautiful blondes and climb skyscrapers to find them.
It seems that, despite the loud protests of the British and the more sotto voce protests of others, Jean-Claude Juncker is set to become the next President of the EU Commission. The British are going down fighting anyway, with David Cameron set to demand a vote, something unheard of at these meetings, so that those who are insisting on the appointment of Juncker go on the record as having done so.
This, of course, is not the European way. The European way is to deal with these things behind the scenes, to do back room deals that nobody is really happy with and then come out at the end claiming that all was sweetness and light and that compromise has been reached. The European way is a shoddy, undemocratic appalling fit up and should be exposed for what it is. The prime minister is absolutely right to call an end to it, quite apart from anything else he has a mandate from the British people last month to do so. This classic piece of EU deal making and ignoring the clearly stated will of electorates in countries right across the continent is symbolic of the coming fight over reform.
It goes without saying of course that many of those who will line up against David Cameron this week privately share his reservations about Juncker. Even Juncker shares them. He didn't want this job, he wanted to be President of the EU Council, a job better suited to his fondness for grandstanding and being at big meetings without making any telling contribution. This former leader of a nation with the population of Leeds, who was forced out just last year, is by common consent wholly unsuited to this role as the EU's bureaucrat in chief. His temperament is suspect, and that's even if you discount the stories about his fondness for the sauce.
Nevertheless we should probably be glad that the EU is doing what the EU always does. It is ignoring what the people want, what the people quite clearly expressed only just over a month ago. It is now set to appoint a man who is wholly unsuited to his role based on the fact that he is a Euro federalist and, in Euro la la land, 'won' those elections. The European Parliament is trying to do what the EU always does and accruing powers to itself by reading between the lines of the Lisbon Treaty and seeing what it wants to see. Our fellow members are continuing their path towards ever closer union, despite what their electorates want, despite the disaster that has been the Euro. It is probably appropriate that they are also set to appoint a man rejected by his own electorate and who can only be elected by failing to tell people who are voting what they are voting for only to mention it once the votes are safely in the bag. How very EU.
Many of us always doubted that David Cameron would be able to accomplish meaningful reform of the EU, let alone the repatriation of powers signed over without a referendum by the last Labour government along with shedloads of our cash to make them look more European. The imminent appointment of this tin eared, arrogant place man just goes to reinforce our doubts. It makes calls for a referendum unanswerable.
Sunday, 22 June 2014
Saturday, 21 June 2014
One of the great songwriters died this week. Gerry Goffin who wrote songs like Will You Love Me Tomorrow; The Locomotion; Up On The Roof; One Fine Day and I'm Into Something Good died at the age of 75. Here's my favourite of his prodigious output performed with characteristic heart and soul by Aretha Franklin.
Friday, 20 June 2014
Yesterday, as you will no doubt be aware, Labour decided to make a major announcement about welfare. You were unaware? You were thinking about the football? You didn't care anyway? You were distracted by their Twitter announcement about owls?
Anyway, yes, the party that brought you the man who cannot eat a bacon sandwich; the man who cannot be bothered to read the newspapers; the man who cannot be bothered to remember the name of the leader of his local party when being interviewed on local radio; the man who doesn't read newspapers and particularly not those owned by Rupert Murdoch but nevertheless poses with The Sun so he can join in the whole World Cup bandwagon and try to look relevant, has now also made a 'major announcement' about welfare. Having spent his entire tenure as leader of his party calling Tory welfare reforms cruel, evil and misguided, not to mention the now forgotten too far, too fast, he has finally cottoned on to the fact that people agree with the changes - someone who reads the newspapers must have told him about this - and think that they are fair and just. They probably think that they should go further.
The trouble is that this announcement, which doesn't actually make sense if you look below the headline because the young have already been given a jobs guarantee in a previous 'major announcement' by Labour, ended up looking like what it is: a desperate attempt to get some headlines, look tough and try to get some traction going into the summer after a disastrous few weeks for Wallace and his band of dimwit advisers.
Unfortunately for them we have only to point out that Labour have voted against every single measure introduced by the Coalition reforming welfare. And look at his proposals and they would actually require yet more tax and spend. The party that decimated Britain's pensions means to come back for another bite. Once again, despite their supposed acknowledgement that welfare needs reforming they mean to take from those who have saved and done the right thing to hand to those who have not.
Why did they make this announcement on a day when England were playing and attention was elsewhere? Well, quite apart from the fact that they are a bunch of hopeless incompetents as we have already seen, perhaps it was a kind of Freudian slip. They don't really believe in it, it doesn't really make sense and they will never implement it even if elected, but it was a desperate attempt to make the bacon muncher look relevant again.
To be fair the announcement was part of a wider report by a lefty think thank into the condition of Britain. But it again was a report that panders to old prejudices and is rapidly being left behind by an improving economy that is creating jobs and getting young people out of unemployment at a rate that is leaving even Tories gobsmacked. Labour don't really know what to say about any of this. Perhaps that's why they made their announcement and then tried to bury it on a day when England were playing in the World Cup. They also then Tweeted about owls. They then said they had been hacked rather than simply made a mistake. Do we believe them?
Thursday, 19 June 2014
It was a terrific last hurrah from Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight last night. There was the wobbly tandem interview with Boris which wasn't quite an interview, it was a kind of verbal, good humoured joust. There was even a tweeted tribute from George Galloway who used the word 'popinjay' for the ten millionth time in his political career directed at at the London mayor. Oh George, where do we begin? If you had just an ounce of self knowledge you would be too ashamed to ever enter public discourse again.
But back to Newsnight. There was a fleeting and funny appearance from Michael Howard: 'Did you,' asked Paxo. 'No, I didn't said Howard with remarkable good grace and tongue firmly in cheek, 'but feel free to ask another 11 times.' And there was a last proper interview with Peter Mandelson trying once again to defend the indefensible, or Tony Blair and Ed Miliband as they prefer to be known.
And finally, Jeremy just thanked us for watching, hoped we would continue to do so, said goodnight and goodbye and then muttered something to the crew as the lights faded and the camera stayed on him uncomfortably long at the end. Then, as a parting gift, and after the credits had finished, he popped up again in a laugh out loud moment of comedy gold as he stood in front of the weather map, told us it would all be much the same so a forecast was pointless and he didn't know what all the fuss was about. He then walked off again. Lovely, and laugh out loud funny.
I hope I am wrong about this signalling the end of Newsnight, but last night we saw the giant gap it must try in vain to fill and some of the pygmies seeking to fill it, like Economics Editor, Duncan Weldon. There are persistent rumours that the lightweight but ineffably smug Krishnan Guru Murthy, a former presenter of Newsround, is being lined up as the new Newsnight presenter. Angels and ministers of grace defend us. I fear that last night might be the beginning of the end, Guru Murthy's appointment would definitely signal it.
But in the meantime: goodbye, Jeremy, we'll miss you.
Wednesday, 18 June 2014
Wallace, that modern political colossus, has had another trying week. These ought to be comparatively relaxed times for all of the party leaders since most of the country, even the ones who usually follow politics, are instead focusing on what is turning out to be a very entertaining World Cup in Brazil, and not just for followers of Jonathan Pearce. Wallace himself ought to have had a spring in his step since Phil Neville was revealed to be even more boring than he is. It is not known how he is with a bacon sandwich.
Unfortunately however Wallace decided last week to pose with The Sun. This sparked fury. He then apologised, sort of, for enraging the sort of people who get enraged by this sort of thing and made matters worse. The scourge of the press and of Murdoch posed with a newspaper, even though he purports not to read them, and worse it was a newspaper loathed by lefties for
The latest polls haven't made happy reading for the Labour leader either. His party's lead is effectively non existent and his own ratings are now worse than Nick Clegg's.
Not that things have been all sweetness and light in Downing Street. Dave has been assailed by Michael Gove's former adviser Dominic Cummings this week. He described the PM as a Sphinx without a riddle and other excellent one liners. Dave, Cummings seems to think, is a bit of a dilettante with a questionable attitude to his workload and a tendency to make things up as he goes along. Yet this is not part of some great Gove campaign for the leadership we're told. He doesn't want it. What would it be like if he did?
And it looks as though the PM is also about to be stabbed in the back by his great pal Angela Merkel who has decided she wants Jean-Claude to lead the EU Commission after all. In between popping over to Brazil to watch Germany stuff the Portuguese on the football pitch, word has seeped out that she intends to stuff Dave and deny him his prize of denying the federalists. Of course the fact that this also flies in the face of general public scepticism about Europe is beside the point. That's the way the EU rolls.
Incidentally, just to digress for a moment, there have been some awards handed out to photographers who captured images with their iPhones. The above picture was captured with my iPhone. I'm just saying.
Anyway, last week's PMQs was criticised for concentrating on purely domestic matters and trivia concerning beach ware, when Iraq was in the process of imploding. Things have since got worse. Assuming that Dave would not be asked about where to play Rooney and his thoughts on the quality of modern commentators, this was the opportunity for that to be redressed.
And indeed Wallace went into statesmanlike mode, well his closest approximation of it anyway, with all six questions about Iraq, the middle east, Iran, Britons on terrorism tours and what we are going to do about it other than actually get involved. The answer, according to the PM, was not very much other than reopening our embassy in Iran. Oh and he announced a policy which seems to be that we are calling the jihadist morons ISIL rather than their preferred ISIS. This refusal to adopt their nomenclature will infuriate them without the need for boots on the ground, cruise missiles or sorties of any kind.
The exchange of platitudes which emerged was as ever entirely unrevealing. What was essentially agreed was that middle eastern people really ought to try and get along with one another better. That should do it. Modern diplomacy is speak softly and carry a tickling stick.
Interestingly, Dave became a lot more passionate when asked by Labour's Ben Bradshaw about his prospects of blocking Jean-Claude Juncker. Dave became irate. He was standing up for a principle of elected governments choosing the EU Commission he said and implied that many agreed with him in private but couldn't or wouldn't say so in public. If you want EU change, he said, you have to stand up and fight for it. His backbenchers were floating on air. Interestingly, throughout all of this, Bradshaw giggled and pointed like a schoolgirl seeing someone with a ladder in their tights. This is odd because Labour are against Juncker too.
The only other intervention of note was a characteristically lengthy question from Father of the House Sir Peter Tapsell asking about whether the Commons should impeach Tony Blair for the Iraq War, but more importantly for annoying everyone by refusing to acknowledge how mistaken and foolhardy it was. Dave responded by saying we should publish the report into it and take matters from there.
And that was it. A bipartisan session between the two leaders and a mixed bag of sniping about various issues from everyone else. The Commons did at least talk about the big issue of the day and in so doing revealed how little influence we have over events or these days how little influence we even want. Apart from Tony Blair of course, and they want to impeach him.
It's the end of an era tonight as Jeremy Paxman bows out of Newsnight. It will probably also, let's face it, lead eventually to the end of Newsnight, since Jeremy was the only presenter worth watching. I of course give due deference to Emily Maitlis and Laura Kuenssberg, it's just that I'm not sure they yet have it in them to have the appeal of Paxman. A different appeal for sure, but enough? And frankly I have never understood the appeal of Kirsty Wark. The Scottish mumbler has never, however hard she tries, been an inquisitor in the Paxman class. She hectors and nags rather than questions and lacks Paxman's wit, and that's when you can understand what she is saying.
Anyway, though tonight is not apparently going to be a long farewell to Jeremy, it will feature another encounter with Boris. These are classics all of their own and always worth watching.
So goodnight Jeremy, you will be missed, probably even by the politicians you gave such a hard time to, because without you nobody will be watching anyway.
Tuesday, 17 June 2014
A meme is currently up and running. It concerns our two main national broadcasters and their coverage of the World Cup. Peter Oborne has written about it. As you would expect of a man of his vintage, he seems to think that all was rosy in the BBC garden when the likes of John Arlott and Brian Johnstone were commentating on the cricket and collapsing in fits of giggles because someone said something about getting their leg over. Okay, to be fair, it was and is very funny.
But what Oborne is really arguing, if you analyse his piece, is that the current policy of employing former players as pundits and presenters rather than seasoned journalists has been the downfall of our sports coverage. You might expect this from a hack. They protect their own. It won't be long before he is writing of the iniquities of employing ex bloggers rather than those who learnt the trade the hard way by traipsing the streets looking for stories, going to the local court to cover the day's events regarding dog bites, drunks being given their last chance and a local bigwig getting 3 points on their licence, getting ink on their fingers and propping up the bar once the presses were rolling. We get this sort of stuff regularly from Oborne nowadays. It's like he's auditioning for a role in Grumpy Old Men having not noticed they don't make it anymore. It's either that or wants to go back to the Daily Mail.
All of this has been sparked by the admittedly dreadful commentary of Phil Neville on the England game the other day. Neville, who now wishes to be called Phillip, perhaps to give him some broadcasting gravitas he is unlikely to earn by actually, you know, broadcasting, spoke endless trite passages of dreary, platitudinous drivel which may mean he is planning on a political career and could easily be the next leader of the Labour Party. That was when you could hear what he was saying. Surely the BBC should at least have given him some training on microphone technique before putting him in a game watched by 14 million? And of course he never shut up, presumably thinking that he would show some honest commitment to the cause like on a football field, making up for a lack of experience and class by saying a lot - the pundit's equivalent of having a 'good engine'. To be honest though, having missed the first couple of minutes of the game so as to avoid the national anthems, I spent the first half thinking that Neville was in fact Michael Owen. They talk in the same mid-Lancastrian monotone.
But Oborne's critique makes no sense anyway. Football is still commentated on by professional commentators. These are men, they are almost entirely men, who have the sort of background Oborne claims is de rigeur. This is how we got the likes of Motson, Tyldesley and the current object of ridicule Jonathan Pearce. I'm not going to join in the chorus of abuse being directed at Pearce. He made a mistake and made a tit of himself going on about it. He did it on live television. That's what live television does. It could happen to anyone. It will again, probably during this World Cup.
Oborne holds up as an example David Coleman. David Coleman was great. But this was the David Coleman whose many gaffes, committed once again on live television, were called Colemanballs. There is a list of them.
And then of course there is Adrian Chiles. Chiles is a journalist, a seasoned one, albeit from the broadcasting end of the firmament rather than the addled hack schooled in Fleet Street or the provinces end. Chiles is a highly paid, extremely average broadcaster who simply cannot cope with live television and is incapable of filling time when called on to do so. Back in the golden period of David Coleman, presenters routinely had to do this because things went wrong so often. It was what they were there to do. Chiles cannot do it. He is presumably there for his alleged everyman appeal and wit. And yet the best part of the ITV coverage so far was when that monumental self regarding tit Roy Keane re-enacted his now traditional World Cup walkout, but this time on Chiles and co. They should make it part of the opening ceremony.
Frankly I'd take Gary Lineker every day of the week, even if he is an ex footballer. It should be noted however that Lineker did his apprenticeship at the BBC. He learnt his craft. He did so as understudy and eventual successor to the great Des Lynam. It's often forgotten that, when the Grand National was disrupted by a bomb scare many years ago and Des had to evacuate the course, the BBC had to cut back to the studio and Gary Lineker. Being new to the job and only recently kicking a football for a living, he was dreadful. He got better with experience. The great Des was the greatest exponent of the art of sports broadcasting. He made it look easy, the exact opposite of the hapless and hopeless Chiles who has never got better.
Oborne also takes issue with the current head of BBC Sport, Barbara Slater. She has, he claims, overseen the near extinction of cricket and horse racing on the BBC. I don't know Mrs Slater and hold no agenda for her. But accusing her of overseeing the demise of cricket on the BBC is just bad journalism. Cricket disappeared from the Beeb, except on TMS, 20 years ago. It did so because they were outbid and cricket wanted the money. That can scarcely be laid at the door of Barbara Slater or indeed of the BBC. We have come to accept that our televised sport must be paid for, either with the intrusion of advertising or through subscriptions. If the BBC were to spend our licence fee on expensive TV rights for cricket Oborne would be the first to complain that it was an appalling use of taxpayers money and a skewing of the market.
Essentially then this is just a story that is not really a story. The BBC and ITV coverage of this World Cup is no better or worse than any other World Cup. Happily the football has been of a decent standard which is frankly all that matters. They've tried to jazz things up, bring in new faces and, as with all experimentation, some things have gone well and others not so well. I for one could happily do without those avatars of the players that the BBC is using. They're spooky. The first time I saw one I thought a Brazilian protester had invaded the studio, although I suppose this is testimony to the quality of the effect.
Ultimately we get a month of live football in glorious high definition from the other side of the planet featuring the world's best players, and all for free. If the only price we have to pay is listening to Phillip who was Phil and the egregious Adrian Chiles then we have struck ourselves a rare bargain. Things were not rosier in the broadcasting garden of yesteryear. I'm pretty sure that if Kenneth Wolstenholme were to return to our screens he would seem as out of place as Jonathan Pearce's goal line observations. Television evolves but the opportunity for gaffes and feet in mouths is always there. The other day Rio Ferdinand spoke of a player opening his legs and running down the line. That was a Colemanball, an almost exact replica of one originally uttered by David himself.
Interesting news this morning that inflation is sharply down: from 1.8% to 1.5%. Why is it down? Thanks to competition between supermarkets, which are slashing at prices as they respond to the discounters and try to reverse their recent declines. Tesco and Morrisons in particular have suffered at the hands of Aldi and Lidl and have been forced to respond. I went shopping at my local Tescos yesterday and was pleasantly surprised by some of the prices and offers. All of the supermarkets have slashed the prices of some staples like milk for example. For those of us who do know the price of a pint of milk, we know that it has stayed at 49p now for years, but more importantly you can buy 4 pints at most of the major supermarkets for just £1.
This should be the response of Conservatives to Labour gimmicks about the so called cost of living crisis. This is an example of a market doing what it is supposed to do completely unprompted by politicians and their idiotic interference and promises of price freezes and the like. It's not that many years ago since we looked suspiciously at the big four supermarkets and wondered at their pricing and profit margins. Then along came the German discounters and shook everything up. The once dominant Tesco is having to fight for every customer. This is how it should be.
And this is how to address issues with energy prices. Trying to interfere with the way the market works with short term and highly damaging gimmicks is exactly the wrong way to to address a problem. It is competition that is needed. The cosy old four way supermarket carve up has been transformed by the arrival and rapid expansion of two new entrants. It took time but we are now seeing the very real benefits. The energy system is no different. There are international factors, of course there are, but then there are with our food too. The consolidation of the energy providers was the worst decision for prices in addition to all of that interference and subsidy for 'green' energy. If we have a cost of living crisis as Labour allege, it can largely be laid at their door.
Reports suggest that David Cameron has lost his battle to prevent Jean Claude Juncker from becoming EU Commission President. Mount Etna meanwhile signalled its displeasure. If only we had a volcano of our own.
Monday, 16 June 2014
As the marching morons of Jihad rampage through Iraq bravely murdering defenceless civilians for the crime of inadequate belief, the wrong type of belief, the wrong type of piety or possibly insufficient beardedness, it is notable that Tony Blair felt the need to leap to his own defence and indeed adopt a policy of attack as being the best means of defence. This is nothing to do with the chaos engendered by his lies, evasions, dodgy dossiers and messianic zeal for a pointless war. This is because our modern politicians, wearied by Blair's wars, decided against mounting another one in Syria last year for fear of what might happen.
No, says Blair, had we intervened in Syria, or were we to do so now, we would stabilise the situation. Presumably he bases this on how well things have turned out in Iraq and Afghanistan.
What is it about politicians that they can never admit to being wrong? I supported the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq at the time, albeit because I took in good faith what we were being told by our prime minister. I was wrong. The impulse to lash out against Afghanistan, the Taliban and Al Qaeda in the wake of 9/11 was understandable and probably did work for a time. To then extend that war to Iraq based on a flimsy excuse and a shining light in the eyes of two zealots in sheep's clothing was wrong and we are still paying the price to this day. If Blair isn't man enough to apologise or repent, he should at least have the decency to keep quiet while innocents are slaughtered by evil men convinced of their own righteousness and the blessing of their imaginary friend.
This new civil war in Iraq, albeit a civil war being prosecuted by an awful lot of outsiders, is sectarianism and nothing else. It is a modern day crusade against people who believe in the wrong version of the same god. Now Iraq, always riven by warring factions because it is an artificial construct created by colonial powers, is close to becoming a failed state. The power vacuum created by Blair and Bush's war is reaching its almost inevitable end point.
Unfortunately this is the politics and religion of the middle east. Syria is, as Blair says, a 'proximate cause', but that is not because we failed to intervene, it is because Assad was protected by Iran and Russia. The marching morons of Jihad were created and strengthened by that war. There is nothing we can do now but watch and wait and help the victims. It says much for the chaos of Iraq that some Iraqis, perhaps remembering the nervous stability of the Saddam years, are choosing to stay in areas now dominated by the marching morons. That is a direct legacy of Blair/Bush.
None of this is to doubt that this is a fundamentally troubling and dangerous moment for this ever troublesome region and possibly for the wider world. Quite apart from anything else it may have an effect on oil prices. Worse it is a proxy war between the two great powers of the middle east: Saudi Arabia and Iran. It may even become a real war between the two.
It will only be a matter of time before someone trots out the usual line about Islam being a religion of peace. Islam is not a religion of peace. No religion is peaceful. That is not their purpose. Religions are created to unite people behind an idea, a unifying force. When those religions are young and immature and of course full of self righteous zeal they tend to go crusading and slaughtering in the name of their god. Eventually they grow up, or at least become more modest. Islam is still going through this stage. It is as chaotic and inchoate as some of the countries dominated by it. It is people who choose to be peaceful and to live and let live. In the meantime a lot of people are going to die needlessly until that choice is made. There is probably little we can do about it for now, and recent experiences under Mr Blair make us reluctant to try.
Sunday, 15 June 2014
Sad news that Casey Kasem has died. Who he? Well, he was the voice of Shaggy for a start. He was also for years a household name in America as he presented their Top 40 countdown every week. It was DJs like him that were emulated over here for years. He's probably the reason that Tony Blackburn can't to this day talk like a normal person. On radio though, and when voicing one of 'those pesky kids' he was a legend.
Note the positivity being displayed by England fans, pundits and even the headline writers this morning. You see? This is all we ask. We're English, we don't mind losing. We just want to see a bit of fight, a bit of spirit, a bit of verve and application. We lost but we lost well. We never expected to win the World Cup, we just wanted to put on a decent show. This England side did that. The only debate is about whether Wayne Rooney should be dropped - he should.
Those of us calling for the inclusion from the start of Raheem Sterling were entirely vindicated. He was excellent, but he was part of a general team performance that was enormously encouraging. It is no disgrace to lose to Italy, a side with the brilliant Pirlo, excellent Balotelli and Candreva. But what was better was that we made plenty of chances: with a bit more luck we could have easily got a draw and maybe even a win. Italy were good but they were by no means out of sight. Had we emerged with a point or even more it would not have looked unfair.
And anyway, if there is one thing England and indeed English teams are good at it is playing for a vital result when the only other option is the plane home. We enjoy nail biting tension and group misery mixed with elation. It's part of our national character. Perhaps the government should put it on the syllabus for all schools. This is what being English/British is all about. And if we lose the next game, at least the Scots will be happy and the Union safe.
One of my favourite films from the ever funny Top Gear this week. This is made all the more funny when you realise that Jeremy started off in the BBC car park next to the now defunct Television Centre, drove around 'to work' in the wrong direction, before heading back to the Top Gear office a few hundred yards up the road from where he started. All in the name of a thorough road test in a car so small you can fit it in your back pocket, or indeed in a BBC lift as you will see. There are larger smart phones nowadays. Enjoy!
Saturday, 14 June 2014
Things get serious in this thus far enjoyable World Cup. England are playing. I'm sure other teams go through the same agonies that we do, especially those upon whom there is such expectation: how must Spaniards be feeling this morning, is Diego Costa even now planning to become Brazilian again? But we are so good at being lachrymose in this country, we are so adept at being pessimistic. It's partially down to bitter experience of course, but it also suits our national character. Frankly this decent weather is letting the side down as well.
This time of course we are telling ourselves that nobody expects anything. But as ever there is an element of double bluff about this. If we don't get our hopes up, don't get too excited perhaps they will surprise us. It might be like that win against Germany in Munich all those years ago. Defeat was priced in so a victory, and such an emphatic one was like a glorious dream. It seems to be working for the England cricket team after all, but I won't mention hockey.
The trouble is that Roy has been surprisingly bold in his selections and this has resuscitated our hopes, damn him. There have even been a few of those little England flags spotted on cars the last few days. The fools: can't they see they are jinxing us?
So go for it boys, not that we are expecting anything. Oh, no. If, when the team is announced and it turns out he's selected Sterling, Barkley and is sending them out to attack we will be pleasantly surprised but feign detachment still. The calm build-up, the quiet manner is all very encouraging but we refuse to get carried away. But now comes the action. The trouble is that, if we win, our hopes will build a little more. If we lose we will still be depressed and call them all overpaid prima donnas. Actually the worst result would be if we did a Holland and gave Italy a thrashing, unleashing our young guns and playing thrilling Premier League style football but with English players. At that point all of our restraint would be gone, the little flags would be out bedecking our German cars and the players would suddenly be world beaters, unable to move for prying lenses and pundits telling us how they predicted all of this.
So what do I predict? Well it depends on the team he selects obviously, but I think this England team, with Barkley and Sterling unleashed and the modern captain marvellous providing his stoic calm and killer passes can beat Italy tonight and, if not go all the way, do us proud. So that's that buggered then. Or is it?
Friday, 13 June 2014
Well, now that the football is underway and we can forget for the moment about Blatter, his cronies and their egregious corruption, this World Cup has started rather well and thrillingly. There has been controversy and what John Motson always used to call talking points.
And then Spain lost by 5 goals to 1 against the Netherlands. And they were well beaten. The score entirely reflects their humiliation and the Dutch dominance. They were brilliant, Robben in particular. The age of Tiki Taka football is well and truly over. This was like when Barcelona were thrashed by Bayern Munich. The baton may have been passed, we just don't know who to yet. It might even be the Dutch. They did make it to the final last time around. Perhaps after this result they will do so again and kick the ball rather than the opposition. It should be noted however that Spain lost their opening game in the last World Cup too, albeit by a rather less eye opening scoreline. It still made us sit up and take notice though, and this time looks like something more fundamental. At times the World Champions were shambolic.
On another note, Manchester United fans will probably have a spring in their steps tomorrow.
And to give the authorities their due, they have come up with rather a good idea. The referee drawing a line on the pitch to stop the wall encroaching is brilliant. Brazil 2014: so far, so great.
There's been a certain amount of consternation in Labour circles today after their leader chose to pose with The Sun, the bete noire of lefties everywhere, the red rag to their red flag. Wallace, he of the intellectual consistency, has spoken out against the Murdoch empire and even called for it to be broken up, once again displaying those business friendly credentials for which he is so rightly famed. Quite what the animus is against News International has never really been clear to me. It presumably comes down to power, wealth and success and traditional lefty antipathy to all of those things, even when that antipathy is voiced from million pound houses in leafy north London.
And yet here is Wallace posing with The Sun. This makes him look nearly as odd as when he tried and failed to eat a bacon sandwich. Why? Well, it's football innit. The country is now about to engage in a month long football fest, The Sun was publishing a widely distributed free supplement to accompany this orgy of samba and balls, and so Labour decided it was an ideal opportunity to make their man look like a man of the people, someone who knows fun when he sees it, clearly having never actually watched an England game. As you can see, it's a work in progress. I wonder if anyone could persuade him to wear a T shirt, hold a can of lager and chew on a burger.
Thursday, 12 June 2014
As you will no doubt be aware, the World Cup gets underway today. It remains to be seen if it will run smoothly since Brazil is clearly not really in a position to host a huge tournament like this and has struggled to get everything ready in time as the woeful state of the pitch England must play on this weekend has illustrated. The people of Brazil are asking the not unreasonable question: if we have all of this money to host a World Cup and an Olympics why are so many of us living in filthy conditions and in unrelenting poverty? There are strong suspicions that the Olympics in a couple of years time are going to be much, much worse. Brazil, after all, is a footballing nation.
And then there is Fifa. What is there left to say about this grandstanding, corrupt, kleptocratic, greedy and arrogant organisation? Well happily plenty. UEFA in particular reacted with commendable unity and outrage when faced with Sepp Blatter this week and his patently self serving racism accusation against those newspapers which print stories about his petty fiefdom. There should be a new kind of Godwin's Law enacted. Anyone in a position of authority who claims that his critics are being racist should immediately be suspended or sacked. It is the modern last refuge of a scoundrel. It is how Blatter has managed to get and then hold on to his job all these years. Who knows what will emerge if and when he is prised out of it. Presumably he hopes to go to his grave in office when he will no longer care.
Anyway, it all kicks off today, possibly in every sense of that phrase, but the actual playing of football is definitely scheduled to get underway. England play on Saturday. Happily nobody is getting their hopes up for that, although we have been pleasantly surprised by the way Roy Hodgson has chosen his squad and favoured youth. Perhaps we will do okay, or at least not be humiliated. That would be nice. And, if they surprise us, if they actually get to a point at which penalties are required as so often in England's history, is a bit of foreign style cheating out of the question? Take a look at the clip above. We do wobbly legged keepers, why not wobbly legged strikers?
Wednesday, 11 June 2014
They're back. Well actually they were back last week when the Queen opened parliament accompanied by various notables, a couple of Field Marshals and a hat on a stick. She read her speech and was then thanked for it by someone we are not allowed to call a fine filly by the name of Penny Mordaunt MP. Her speech was very funny. It set a few pulses racing. We're probably not allowed to say that either.
In the intervening period we have had elections. There were local ones in which Labour did well but not as well as they should be doing. Ukip did well, but not as well as last time. The Lib Dems did catastrophically and the Tories did badly but not as badly as they might have done and so were rather chipper about it all. The same was true of the European elections in which Ukip won, but not as spectacularly as one might imagine. Labour came second which is not good enough. The Tories came third which is somehow okay apparently. Oh and the Lib Dems were not quite wiped out. They had to amend their website to talk about their MEP, singular rather than plural. And then just last week we had the Newark by election, the one Nigel Farage wimped out of. His party lost. The Tories had their majority cut but emerged triumphant. They have commissioned a rousing speech by Penny Mordaunt.
And so we are now back for a few short weeks before we go off into the summer. Tories are confident, Lib Dems are rebelling but don't have anyone to rebel around because Vince screwed things up again. Labour are muttering about the inadequacies of their leader who can't even eat a bloody bacon sandwich without looking like a muppet with a nut allergy. But there's always the Lib Dems for everyone to laugh at. Perhaps, now that they have shown how pointless and useless they are, they are now the comic turn. If only they had a Penny Mordaunt. Or indeed a Wallace chewing on fast food.
Oh and last week there was some internecine warfare in the Cabinet. For once this was not Lib Dems trying to differentiate themselves from Tories and showing how liberal but tough they are, this was Michael Gove and Theresa May fighting over Islamist extremism, who was toughest, who was to blame and who wants to be the next leader of the Conservative Party.
In a rare piece of decisiveness, Wallace has this week let it be known that he supports Dave's attempts to stop Jean-Claude Juncker, an arch federalist, from becoming the new Eurocrat in chief. Of course he'll probably change his mind before long to annoy Dave and so that he can get a few cheers from his backbenchers. Is he now pretending that he is a Euro sceptic? Presumably this is meant to denote that he is in favour of reform. So why won't he back a referendum? As usual it's hard to know what the hell Labour are thinking. Is this what being intellectually self confident gets you?
Dave started proceedings today somewhat controversially by wishing the England football team the best of British. Shouldn't he have to hold a referendum before doing that?
Wallace joined in, although missed out the contentious B word. He then asked about the Birmingham schools scandal and who parents should go to if they are concerned. This was an odd, if rather predictable line from Labour. The party that always believes that the answer to all things is an extra layer of officialdom sees this as a reason for an extra layer of officialdom. Yet, as Dave pointed out, even in the rare cases that head teachers have resigned or been forced out and governors are the problem rather than the answer, there is Ofsted. Wallace, we should note, was not suggesting people going to their local town hall to complain. Funny that. But then as someone who once worked for Birmingham Council I can see why that line might be difficult, even or perhaps especially when it is Labour running the council and have been, mostly uninterrupted, for years. So Wallace seemed to be suggesting, on the hoof, another layer of bureaucrats to compensate for the uselessness of the local council. Brilliant!
Dave made all of these points with some helpful hints from Michael Gove just down the bench. Couldn't he just nominate him to answer University Challenge style? Wallace then said, as he is wont to do, that Dave had not said what we had just heard him say. He has no answer on accountability said Wallace even though the PM had just given an answer on precisely that. What he meant was of course that, when they were planning all of this in the morning they decided that the PM would not have an answer on accountability and proceeded from there. It's probably because of that intellectual confidence of his. He can talk for himself and anyone he is arguing with. If we have the much mooted leader debates next year will this be Wallace's approach? Will he try to sum up the PM's answers for us so as to tell us what he really said?
Wallace then turned to passports. There has been a spurt in applications for passports and this has caused a backlog. The party that believes that the public sector can do no wrong was arguing that it was doing wrong. Dave pointed out that there had been an unexpected boost in applications compared to the previous year of a third of a million. He did not point out that this could be as a consequence of an improving economy. He informed the House that additional staff had been deployed to deal with the backlog, that this had been recognised straight away and was being dealt with. Wallace then linked it, somewhat tenuously, to the spat between Theresa and Michael which only happened last week. But he got to say it and this pleased him. Dave then pointed out that he had had nothing to say about the latest unemployment figures which are down once again.
This was actually a rather informative session. Dave wasn't avoiding questions and actually had to don his glasses which meant he was actually spouting facts rather than spin. For someone who is intellectually confident Wallace was somewhat incoherent. He told us that the answer to schools was more officials looking over their shoulders. He then bemoaned the failure of officialdom to predict that more people would apply for passports and ruin their holidays or livelihoods. Even the nodding dogs on the front bench seemed to notice this contradiction.
Towards the end, in addition to learning about Dave's swimwear choices for the summer, Labour's Michael Kane attempted to blow the PM's doors off with a question pertaining to football and Roy Hodgson with regard to team discipline apropos Gove and May. That Labour, the party of the TB GBs can ask such a question ought to be astonishing, but, Dave dealt with it rather well, pointing out how successful his team was in various areas such as the economy, law and order, education etc. Kane had presented Dave with a bit of an open goal and he slammed it in the net. Perhaps, if he has a passport, he should head over to Brazil and coach our players on penalty taking.
Tuesday, 10 June 2014
What to make of the scandal in Birmingham and the plots, for which ample evidence has been produced, surrounding several schools in that city? Well firstly it should be pointed out that the document that sparked all of this alleging the Trojan Horse conspiracy is almost certainly a fake. It seems to be an attempt to create a kind of Islamic version of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. It worked.
I am no great believer in conspiracies, and I don't think that this is an example of one either. But it doesn't need to be. What we have is a paternalistic and ultra conservative community that is determined to maintain control of their children in our decadent westernised country with its sex and free love and dangerous tendency to not believe in the right gods and to tempt their children into ungodly pastimes like listening to pop music, dancing and consorting with the opposite sex. Thus they have tried to impose themselves on schools. Parents, in particular fathers, can control their children with rods of iron in their own homes, but they then have to send their children out into schools. There was and remains the danger that they will start believing in 'wrong' concepts and bring shame on their families. These are the sort of communities in which so called honour crimes are prevalent.
The area in Birmingham is one I know well. I used to drive a bus through there a few years ago. It is a spectacularly unpleasant part of one of our ugliest cities, a kind of inner city ghetto in which one particular section of community has become the overwhelming majority and have very effectively cut themselves off from everyone else. Women wearing the Niqab are a regular sight. I once had one get on to a bus I was driving and produce a bus pass with photo ID of her wearing the Niqab with only her eyes visible. I laughed. What else was there to do? I would have loved to have seen how an inspector would have dealt with the issue.
But you also got to see quite heartening examples of good old teen rebellion. Girls would come out of their homes dressed conservatively as their parents and their god (apparently) decree but then change and westernise themselves for the day at school when they might be seen by boys. And there in a nutshell is why such communities are now trying to impose controls on schools.
People are blaming multiculturalism and they are of course quite right. But this is only a problem of multiculturalism with regard to one part of the community: the Muslims from south Asia. Britain has successfully integrated, not without some hiccups along the way of course, people from all around the world. They have managed to stay in touch with their roots, to be proud of where they came from and even enabled the rest of us to enthusiastically adopt some of that culture (and I'm not just talking about curries) without feeling the need to cut themselves off from the culture they chose to move to and where they hoped to better themselves and become more prosperous. By cutting yourself off and adopting this them - and - us attitude you make that altogether less likely.
And what lies at the heart of all of this? Religion. A pupil of one of the schools when asked by the BBC if there had been segregation of girls and boys said that there hadn't but that they weren't allowed to have boyfriends or girlfriends. But, said his credulous friend, that is not allowed by Islam (I wonder who told him that). Yes, said his intelligent and mature friend, but this isn't an Islamic school. That boy will go far - if he is allowed to do so of course.
And this is the point. The outrage here is that certain governors and school leaders are trying to impose religion on schools that are not faith schools. They may well have the backing of a large number of parents in doing so. But that is not the point. These are publicly funded schools in a country where liberal attitudes to education are long established. That is being corrupted by people who think their way is better even though they emigrated to a country to get a better life. This needs to be pointed out again and again. One of the major reasons why Britain is a successful, prosperous, wealthy and tolerant country is because we believe in education for all, of learning about the world, of science, of different faiths. It is simply unacceptable, based on an alleged interpretation of an idiotic religion, to undermine all of the elements of this country that have made it successful and a magnet for immigrants.
And the problem is that our own liberalism, tolerance and multiculturalism is being used against us. It is one thing to have a namby pamby C of E school with its occasional references to god and Christianity, and the Lord's Prayer at morning assembly. I attended such a school, in Birmingham, and other than an occasional visit from the vicar you would never have known it was a faith school. It was also an appalling school, by the way, from which my family removed me at the age of 9. But that is a world away from the kind of Islamic schools being created, even when they are supposed to be secular, but which we have felt obliged to allow because of the faith schools already in existence.
The time has come to put an end to faith schools. I know they are an article of faith to some parents and politicians who believe that they somehow mysteriously create a better learning environment. This is nonsense. They are simply well run schools that happen to have a notional link with churches. Perhaps they are more traditional and have better discipline. It's got nothing to do with god whatever it is.
The government is now to insist that all schools teach British values. It should also insist that all children, regardless of background, will be taught a full and well rounded syllabus with no excuses, no faith based exclusions. This will include playing sports, dance and drama, learning about sex and relationships and of course about biology and evolution.
Some may object to this. They may even call it racist and Islamophobic, a sure sign that they have no decent argument. But in answer we need only point out that it is this tradition of liberal education, this approach which made the western world so economically dominant and a place that immigrants want to come to.
By broadening the horizons of their children we may well turn them away from their medieval religion, we may well make them want to marry outside it, we may well encourage them to want to mix with the opposite sex and want to have relationships with them. That is called freedom. But we will also prepare them for a fulfilling life and career: they may become doctors, lawyers, engineers, inventors, software writers, even bloggers. They will be liberated and freed and given opportunities beyond their current enforced and restrictive horizons. Some might see that as shameful. They are wrong. It's that kind of mindset that leads to women being treated as second class citizens and murdered for defying their families wishes for marrying the wrong kind of man. It's that kind of mindset that a decent education should prevent. It is incumbent upon us all, and especially teachers and eventually the government itself to see that they get it.
Monday, 9 June 2014
Oh God, Gordon Brown is back. Someone in the Better Together campaign seems to think that the worst prime minister this country has ever had, and someone foisted on the rest of the country by the credulous Scots is a good idea to persuade them of how good an idea it is to remain part of the UK. Then again perhaps he is Scottish revenge for taking 'their oil.'
Brown has popped up today and told us that what the Tories have been doing is wrong. As usual with Brown though you can't help suspecting that there is more, or indeed less to this than meets the eye. Is what they are doing wrong? Or is it just because they are Tories? Worse, is it because they are Tories who beat him at the last election and turfed him out of Downing Street precipitating a years long sulk?
It is a mistake, says Brown, to threaten Scots with cuts to defence jobs and with bankruptcy. So what are we supposed to do, lie? If Scotland were to leave and become an independent nation of course defence jobs would go. Would we want our warships built in a foreign country? And the 'threats' over the pound have come from all three parties, including from Brown's pal and protege Ed Balls. They are a simple statement of economic reality. Scotland cannot leave the UK but expect to carry on with the same currency and Bank of England protection for its banks.
Similarly the British government has issued various papers which illustrated how Scotland will be worse off if independent. That is not making threats or bullying it is setting out the facts. Isn't that what the Scottish people want and deserve? Aren't they supposed to be making a decision on an informed basis? That's not, as Brown claims, Scotland versus Britain, it is Scotland or Britain. That is the choice they are making. It is pointless trying to dress it up as some romantic quest for nationhood. Scotland joined the UK for sound economic reasons that have delivered prosperity. If it leaves, inevitably, that will mean giving things up and will, to some extent, mean a step into the unknown.
Best of all though Brown has himself been talking about breaking some links such as those on pensions, healthcare, the BBC and armed forces. But when he says it that is okay, he is talking about stuff Scots want. When Tories say it then it is bad. Because? Well, because they're bastard Tories.
What we're actually seeing here is a particularly egregious and pathetic example of that great recent lefty obsession of checking your privilege. This was the great ruse of last year in which lefties tried to close down debates before they even took place. If you were rich, or of the wrong race, or had an elite education you were somehow, in lefty world, not allowed an opinion. Brown, a man who tries to pose as a statesman, is essentially saying that Tories, and English Tories like David Cameron in particular, are not allowed to enter the debate. They are making essentially the same points that he is about the risks of independence, but he should be a lone voice on account of his accent and upbringing.
In other words then Gordon Brown is as intellectually vacuous and tribal to the point of idiocy as he ever was. He has no consistency to what he says and no new ideas of his own. From an English point of view Scottish independence would not be wholly bad would it. Presumably Gordon Brown would stay in Kirkcaldy.