Notepad on Life

May 10, 2018

Local elections no time for a party

Filed under: politics — - @ 12:30 pm
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Pic courtesy of RachelH_

The rascal in me likes to envision TV’s home/garden surprise makeovers occasionally going wrong. Just once, to see Alan Titchmarsh be given an ear-bashing on camera, by a recipient of his largesse who appreciates neither the transformation nor the secrecy, would be worth the television licence fee all on its own.

Last Thursday night, it occurred to me that we actually get to see such unwelcome intrusion once a year as it is, only devoid of any redeeming humour.

Local elections  might seem plain fare alongside a General Election but that same mundanity should, in theory, make them a more edifying spectacle. This should be where rhetoric’s rubber meets the road, after all: with no geopolitical dimension or grand national vision to worry about, it should be all about who’s best-placed to keep the roads in decent nick or the dustbins regularly emptied.

I might not want some slavering Marxist acolyte running the nation but if my town’s infrastructure has been whipped into shape on his watch, then damn right I’m voting him back in.

Only that’s not how these annual elections work, of course. The Titchmarshes of Westminster breeze in to usurp them for national ends, with not an ounce of Alan’s empathy, and the fate of Plymouth’s public transport or Salford’s social housing plays a distinct second fiddle to jockeying for position on the national stage.

It is arrogant, infuriating and leaves all of us looking around once they’ve gone, wondering if our back yard is really any better than it was before they came.

I have a son who hopes to represent a vacant ward on the council, the election for which takes place in June. I’m no Kent Davison, but my advice to him when canvassing comes from years of end-user experience.

Don’t bang on about your party or anyone else’s, I’ve suggested. Talk about the problems in this town, these streets and how you propose to fix them. And always, always, under-promise and over-deliver, because people have had a bellyful of the opposite approach.

Already, one resident, noting the colour of his rosette, has grabbed his election leaflet, torn it up in front of him and shut the door in his face before he could even get a word out.

Proof, I suppose, that for all our MPs’ conceited indifference to the function of local politics, some members of their audience are just as misguided.


April 8, 2018

No-clue Klopp and grown-ups’ ongoing struggle with ‘democracy’

Filed under: politics — - @ 12:39 pm
Tags: , , ,

Pic courtesy of Ruaraidh Gillies

He is hailed as being a cut-above most football people. Charismatic, intelligent and with maybe a better handle on life than many in the goldfish bowl of the Premier League.

But an otherwise engaging profile of Jurgen Klopp in The Daily Telegraph came to a juddering halt when the Liverpool manager offered a Germanic perspective on the Brexit vote.

“I am maybe not the best-informed person [but Brexit] was like countryside against cities, was a little bit young against old and this is not how democracy should work. If you have to make a decision for the whole country then find a solution for the whole country and not for old people in the countryside. That’s all.”

That’s all. As if he is merely suggesting some teensy cosmetic tweak to the voting process. Only he’s not, of course. Throwing in a little casual ageism, he talks as if our voting intentions should be somehow channelled so as to comply with an overarching aim. No mention of how on earth this would work in practice, of course: the German is apparently just another of those who likes to put warm, fuzzy notions out there, and to hell with the logistics.

Brexit was exactly how democracy should work, and would have been had the result been ‘Remain’. Britons went to the voting booths and voted just as they pleased. No-one checked their ballot paper, no-one whispered in their ear as they drew the curtain behind them, no camera whirred into focus over their shoulder.

If you don’t like the result or the social patterns it highlights, that’s just too bad. It’s democracy and whatever its flaws, Klopp might like to reflect that many former East Germans risked life and limb to become part of it.

September 16, 2017

Trying to untangle racism, we tie ourselves in knots

Filed under: politics,TV — - @ 11:46 am
Tags: , ,

For reasons I’ll save for another day, I have little time for Diane Abbott MP, but had she been looking for shoulders on which to cry this week, I would have gladly suspended hostilities and offered her mine.

For if this white man despairs of our fumbling approach to race, what must a black person like Ms Abbott make of it all?

The Shadow Home Secretary was on breakfast TV, describing the caveman-level abuse with which she has had to deal in her time in the public spotlight. In doing so, she happened – surprise, surprise – to say the word “nigger”.

And Britain listened, took to heart another object lesson in why vigilance against racism must be unceasing, and inwardly re-affirmed its efforts to be part of that vigil.

Ha! If only. No, what Britain actually did, because obsession with trimmings over substance is symptomatic of our national shallowness these days, was to ooh and aah over the use of the word “nigger” on television. Oblivious to such details as context and the skin-colour of the person uttering the word.

It’s hard to know who exasperates you more, such witless sheep or the shepherds who lead them…

Diane Abbott reveals online abuse — and shocks viewers with N-word – Metro

Diana [sic] Abbott says N-word during morning TV interview to highlight Twitter abuse – International Business Times

Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott uses n-word on live breakfast television – Evening Times

‘Kids are watching’: Diane Abbott says ‘n***** b****’ live on GMB…but offends breakfast TV viewers and gets a dressing down from Susanna Reid – Daily Mail (the ‘dressing-down’ bit, incidentally, is hogwash)

Note some of the Tweets cited in the Mail report, accusing Abbott of “swearing” while “kids watching”. While genuine swearing involves words that illuminate nothing, however, the MP’s words illustrated all too clearly how far the fight for racial equality still has to go, and half-decent parents, I suspect, would seize upon their children listening to a grown-up simply telling it like it is as a prime learning opportunity for those parents to manage.

So much pointless obsession with syntax. So easily distracted from the bigger picture behind it. In a land that has bought into the childish ‘N-word’ convention wholesale, though, perhaps we should expect no better.

Has anyone ever stopped to think the ‘N-word’ protocol through, or did they simply not care about the hugely condescending assumption that underpins it – that black people are so stupid, they cannot tell the difference between “nigger” being employed as a verbal weapon and being employed simply because it is pertinent to a constructive debate between responsible adults about race and the language thereof?

How ironic that an attempt to make nice with minorities ends up patronising the hell out of them.

And yet the malaise spreads. Even supposedly more enlightened newspapers insisted on tying the real issue in didactic knots. The Independent began well – Yes Diane Abbott said the N-word on TV this morning. If you’re complaining, you’ve got your priorities wrong, but after the scrupulous employment of beeps and asterisks (is sugar-coated reality really the province of a national newspaper?) it went from bad to worse.

Having asserted that, “it seems to be emerging that non-black people wish to gain control over who can and can’t use this word, the contexts where it is acceptable and what impact it has”, the article itself then endeavours to do precisely that:

“Non-black people…have become so used to their privilege that they cannot begin to comprehend that there is a word that they have no right to use, whilst black people can use it – or not – as they choose.”

Apart from objecting to the proposition that anyone ‘owns’ language, I think the author has the wrong word under the microscope. Forget the red herring of ‘ownership’; ‘context’ is the crux. Is the word, any racial epithet for that matter, being employed in a missile-hurling contest, or merely as ancillary verbiage by people trying to establish where we are and where we need to be when it comes to race? If it’s the latter, then leave them be, because your way of doing things, ‘N-word’ zealots and nitpickers generally, is getting us nowhere.

You put me in mind of people trying to bring an unruly hedge under control, armed solely with nail-clippers. How frantically you snip away at the periphery, all the while telling yourself that you’re ‘helping’ and yet all your audience sees is the same old messy privet.

Lose the clippers, find yourself an axe, and hack away at the roots instead. Then we can talk.


Reference to racial slurs in serious, civilised debate is one thing. If you are going to employ them in satire, though, you need to be damn sure you have all your ducks in a row. I don’t think Sarah Silverman makes her case in this clip but I add it because, in light of what I’ve written above, I do think it’s a sample of what healthy debate on this topic looks like.

Give it another decade, alas, and conversation like this will probably lead to prosecutions, by a Society still convinced that you can lance a boil with cotton wool.

August 26, 2017

Two things that damn Britain, conveniently eclipsed this week

Filed under: business,Consumer,politics,Religion — - @ 7:57 pm
Tags: , , , ,
Pic courtesy of Claudio Sepúlveda Geoffroy

Maybe this is why we fixate on the mundane interaction of planets.

Because no-one’s re-creating 1930s Germany up there.

No-one’s making a mockery of ‘rest in peace’ up there, just so that businessmen can get to their destination 15 minutes faster than previously.

And while no-one’s saying that eclipse specs are stylish, they’re still a better look than holding your nose.

January 19, 2017

Bag it, PM – voter empathy trumps matching outfits

Filed under: Appearance,politics — - @ 1:56 pm

Sometimes, the small things are the big giveaway.

Ostensibly, Prime Minister Theresa May has impressed me so far. Her wish to be a government for all and not just some, struck the right note. Her pursuit of Brexit, after campaigning for Remain, has been so dogged, I occasionally wonder what the catch will be.

Others, of course, wonder if she has a plan at all, never mind a catch. Time will tell if my belief that politicians and businessmen would rather do a deal than leave money on the table, is vindicated.

This, however, is the first chip in her veneer. When the economy is uncertain, the National Health Service shaky and the future unclear, I just think a truly savvy leader would recognise that the £995 handbag is best kept for off-duty moments.

January 6, 2017

Shut the door on your way out, John Kerry

Filed under: foreign,politics — - @ 9:23 am
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January 2, 2017

The Honours List – always a dark side

Filed under: politics — - @ 11:55 am
Tags: ,

Pic courtesy of Brad Slavin

It’s the part the media didn’t shout about at the back end of December, so busy were they rightfully hailing the achievements of Murray, Farah and Ennis-Hill.

It’s the flipside that seems to accompany every Honours List: the category of recipients that, for the sake of politeness, I’ll call the ‘You’ve Done What, Exactly…?’ category. Rarely is there any fanfare for this section of the List. On this occasion, there is merely the solitary anguished voice of a heartbroken parent.

I don’t know the full ins and outs of the tragic tale of Elliott Johnson, a promising young Conservative who, if his family are to be believed, was driven to suicide by in-house party bullying. If this is so, then they are understandably aggrieved at having fresh scars rubbed raw by the award of an MBE to someone whom they regard as one of the culprits.

I do know, however, that there probably isn’t a political party around that doesn’t have some kind of form when it comes to general use and abuse of human beings. The bereaved father’s anger at cover-ups and “no sense of shame” sounds wearyingly familiar.

Is Alexandra Broadrick MBE a blameless and worthy recipient of the honour? For all I know, yes, but given the murky business of politics, I am damned if I was going to let the publication of this particular Honours List pass without doing what I could to further circulate this important footnote to a dreadful story.

When you’ve finished being dazzled by Sir Mo and Dame Jessica, you might like to ponder the less glittering corners of British society. And make your own mind up.

December 2, 2016

Sarah Olney – equally damned by word and silence

Filed under: politics,Uncategorized — - @ 6:47 pm
Tags: , ,

I’m sure the new MP for Richmond Park will be among those who claim the Government lacks clarity on the terms of Brexit. Unfortunately, it would appear that she is not much better herself.

Even before Sarah Olney fell at the first hurdle of her political career, monstered into fleeing  an interview on Talk Radio (struggling MPs used to at least be capable of waffling for England when interrogated into a corner but nowadays even that seems beyond them) her comments in this piece by the Mirror pile one contradiction upon another.

My thoughts in bold…

Westminster’s newest MP has said she will vote to “override the referendum”

So no Brexit at all, then?

Lib Dem Sarah Olney said she would “absolutely” resist Brexit in its current form.

Ah, so it could still be on?

She made clear her opposition to ‘Hard Brexit’ in on the campaign trail, confirming she would vote against triggering Article 50

Er…vote against regardless, or vote against until the terms of departure are right?

She insisted she did not want a re-run of the referendum itself…

Right. So you respect the will of the majority?

According to the Press Association, Ms Olney told Sky News overnight: “It does look now as if we can have a vote in Parliament that might override the referendum.”

Override is a strong word. So you don’t respect the will of the majority?

Asked if she would actively resist Brexit as an MP, she said: “Absolutely. Now I’ve been given this mandate.”

Riiight. Sorry to be picky but is that resist absolutely absolutely, or just until the terms are palatable? And how does last night’s mandate stack up against the June 23rd mandate, incidentally?

“What we really want, once it’s clear what terms we are going to leave the EU under, what it means for free trade, what it means for freedom of movement; once we’re clear about all of those terms, to put that to the people in another vote so that they get a clear choice between the actual terms of leave and remain.”

Oh lordy…And this squares with ‘override’ how, exactly?

A sidebar to the Mirror article asks Who is Sarah Olney, how did she win the Richmond Park by-election and how did Zac Goldsmith lose? Two of those questions are probably taxing quite a few of us by now.

May 26, 2016

‘Eye in the Sky’ shows why war on terror is pie in the sky

Filed under: Cinema,politics,War — - @ 8:06 am
Tags: ,

How much you enjoy Eye in the Sky – the latest film on drone warfare – depends on what you’re looking for.

The plot is fascinating, the cast excellent (good to see Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul back in the spotlight) and for those of us who’ve always had a thing for the older woman, Helen Mirren in combat fatigues is a fantasy we never dared imagine might one day be externalised.

Yet it is also irritating to the point where my wife nudged me sharply for ‘chuntering’; expressing my increasing dissatisfaction with what was unfolding before me, in periodic sighs and audible groans that could no longer be contained, public place or not.

Thankfully, she didn’t use her normal ploy in these circumstances – “It’s only make-believe…” – because sadly, I have the awful feeling that Eye in the Sky is all too true to life.

No spoilers here: let’s just say that a drone strike on a house in which there is visible evidence of a suicide bomb attack being prepared, is delayed by a turn of events that gives rise to the moral dilemna around which the movie revolves and which is played out at both the US air base from which the drone is operated and a Whitehall meeting room.

With only so much time left before the suicide bomber and his accomplices leave the house, politicians six thousand miles away perform a masterpiece of buck-passing and dithering, the life of an innocent mere proxy for their own political lives. Like a blocker in an American football game, political correctness positions itself obdurately in the way of a blindingly-obvious military imperative.

Does that sound like make-believe to you? If not, then you will understand why I chuntered. It is probably a consequence of being a nation 70 years removed from its last all-consuming conflict that there exist in its citizenry people who naively imagine that the execution of war can be neatly trammelled within the Queensberry Rules. That a politician criticises a general (the swansong role of the late Alan Rickman) for plotting the execution of an enemy from the safety of central London, having herself played the game of drawing-room warfare to the point where Winston Churchill would have spat in her face, is the film’s crowning hypocrisy.

Yet just as I have ceased laughing out loud at the sitcom Veep, because of a nagging fear that its ghastly, shallow characters are all too reflective of real life in Washington DC, so I couldn’t really enjoy Eye in the Sky, because of the dismaying suspicion that this is just how it is in reality. People doomed to lose a war because they insist on treating it like a fencing match.

And, oh, the optics of the film’s crux, where a black guy gets leant on because a bunch of feckless Caucasians can’t make their minds up. In an era where race predominates, did no-one think to put his hand up during filming and suggest that this might not look terribly edifying in the final cut?

As I say, it depends what you’re looking for when you enter the cinema. The drama never flags, the cinematography is excellent, and how gratifying it is that Alan Rickman’s last major line in cinema is not only the film’s best but maybe one of the best he has ever uttered: “Never tell a soldier that he does not know the cost of war”.

If only our politicians enjoyed such clarity.

As a counterpoint, here’s a left-wing view of Eye in the Sky, after which you may feel a measure of sympathy for scriptwriter Guy Hibbert. He produces a fine piece of work and somehow manages to raise everyone’s hackles.

May 20, 2016

Pat Glass and a transparent geography lesson

Filed under: politics — - @ 5:44 pm
Tags: , , ,

It isn’t the first part of Pat Glass’s Gordon Brown impersonation that should bother us.

Maybe Labour’s Minister for Europe was wide of the mark when she dismissed the grumblings of a Derbyshire resident about a local Polish family on welfare, as those of “a horrible racist”.

And maybe she wasn’t.

I would want to hear the conversation on which she was overheard reflecting before I formed an opinion.

Not even the unfortunate echo of Gordon Brown’s private comment that wasn’t, while Prime Minister in 2010, however, trumps the second half of Glass’s faux pas, in which she revealed that her indignation was such that, “I’m never coming back to wherever this is.”

“This”, it turns out, was the village of Sawley, in south-east Derbyshire; the birthplace (unless Wikipedia is seriously losing the plot) of Halle Berry’s maternal grandmother. If its current residents lament Ms Glass’s dismissive tone, they can be assured that anyone else learning of this episode will share their exasperation, whether it’s Totnes or Tadcaster that he calls home.

For all their professed concern for us, we are just voting fodder in the eyes of our elected representatives, particularly those who have begun to set sail up the Westminster career ladder. Just numbers in a poll, segments on a chart.

If their presence on our doorstep only at election time, or Gordon Brown’s pathetic hypocrisy six years ago, hasn’t made this penny drop for you so far, the blasé Pat Glass will surely help the process along.

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