Friday, 29 June 2007

Spice Fever

So, the Spice Girls are to reform for a 25-date international tour that will hit London on December 15th. While certain journalists turn conspiracy theorists to shakily conclude that the announcement was designed by the so-called 'Tory scum' Spice Girls to upstage Gordon Brown on his first day as PM, the girls themselves have insisted that they're only regrouping for the experience and 'for the fans'. Nothing to do with the £10 million they'll each pocket from it, then!

A Close Shave

Today's close shave with a car bomb in central London serves to remind us just how we continue to be under threat from terrorism. Blame Iraq if you will, but the police deserve a pat on the back for their swift work in reducing the impact of today's discovery. If the reports are true about the police officer who ran away with the mobile phone detonator to stop it working, he deserves a medal.

62p? Not from my money!

62p - that's the amount, according to the official reports at least, that the Royal Family costs each UK taxpayer in a year. Oh good, that might make you think. They're not as pricey as I thought...I don't mind keeping them around if they're that cheap to put up.

You wouldn't be alone if that's what you did think. A quick look at the message boards attached to the BBC's news story on the Royals shows many people seemingly convinced that the Queen et al are suddenly good value for money. Together they cost the UK public £37.3m last year, according to the Queen's public accounts.

If you look more closely, you'll find that the cost is closer to £150m. Graham Smith, the campaign manager for Republic, an organisation which I support and which shouts a lot for an elected head of state, has pointed out that the Royal Family's costings take no account of the tax breaks they enjoy or the cost of providing their security. Putting it rather nicely, he suggested that "this blatant spin would put Alastair Campbell to shame." Not that criticism of ten years of Tony Blair's Labour government is something I'd endorse, you understand.

But the problem with the Royal Family goes beyond their cost - it just happens to be the quickest and easiest way of showing our growing distaste for them. A monarchy - constitutional or otherwise, let's be clear - shows the UK as being stuck in the past, still obsessed with the idea that some of us are born above everyone else at birth, entitled to privileges and benefits while others suffer in poverty.

Republic's arguments for an elected head of state are certainly convincing, and are head and shoulders above the counter arguments that come back in favour of maintaining the status quo. An elected president would just as well maintain the standing 'above party politics' that the Queen is so often credited with doing. And to compare the prospect of a president with George Bush's standing just isn't fair - no-one knows we'll get someone like him, and I'm not sure the current situation over here is any better anyway.

The trouble at the moment is that, while she's not the favourite person of most Republic supporters, the Queen is in the country as a whole fairly popular. Queenie and her abstinence from meddling in politics, not the overall idea of the monarchy, is what keeps her and her parasitical relatives in the public light and living at the public expense. Charles, I suspect, won't be so safe. With him will come our time.

UPDATE: Peter Tatchell's barking up the right tree in his fantastic comment for the Guardian here.

Tuesday, 26 June 2007

TWAGs?

I can't be the only one who's already had enough of hearing about Wimbledon? Maybe some strawberries and cream will make it better but, before that, get a load of this - there's a new word on the street. TWAGs are the Coleen McLoughlin of the tennis world, the likes of Lucy Henman. Apparently, unlike the chavtastic fashionistas of football pitches and shopping centres, this lot are more likely to be seen in 'a crisp white shirt, v-neck sweater and a pair of jeans, with a nice pair of sunglasses'. So you've got your orders, that's what you need to be wearing to SW19 this summer. How middle class, darling.

Bugger off - unless you're playing Whitney

Why did they have to do it? What on earth went through the minds of mobile phone manufactutrers when they decided to put loudspeakers into them? Now every bus on London's streets seems to be plagued by annoying little brats spurting out whatever sort of annoying rap they're into - as loud as possible. Like anyone else wants to listen to it!!

So I'd normally call for the annoying gits to be strangled and thrown head first off the buses, but one of them for the first time yesterday was playing something decent; a bit of Whitney Houston. It made for a better bus journey, I'd say, so I think we need to amend the rules: you can play music out loud, so long as it sounds good. Sounds good to me.

London's a Dictatorship, is it?

The recent row over London Mayor Ken Livingstone's blocking of appointments to the London fire authority was just plain ridiculous. Not because of what Ken did, you understand - I didn't agree entirely with his positive discrimination (he claimed that the councillors put forward by the Tories and Lib Dems weren't representative of London's ethnic diversity), but the real problem came with the Tory responses.

First, Nick Ferrari on LBC radio decided that Ken's move was equivalent to claiming that Ken should himself be representative of all of London. Obviously a sarcastic comment but, while I don't think positive discrimination is the way to go, to claim that a single elected politician should himself be representative is out and out ludicrous. The Tory argument goes that the councillors and London Assembly members who were put forward for the seats on the authority have, too, been elected - but it's different. There are a good number of them and they should, if possible, be representative of London as a whole. They were elected to their local councils, and then indirectly chosen to sit on the fire authority. Ken, on the other hand, was directly elected by Londonders - on more than one occasion - to be Mayor. By rights, he therefore has no need to be representative, so long as he serves all the electorate.

Then, another woman's Ann Widdicombe-esque voice on the radio scared me enough, before she went on to claim that London is fast becoming a 'dictatorship'. Quite how do you justify that, when he's won the only ever two terms of the Mayorship, and still shows popularity? Answers on a postcard to your nearest Tory tosser, please.

Positive discrimination doesn't work it's true. Simply because it doesn't make a blind bit of difference whether these people are white, black, brown, blue or yellow, provided they can do the job and have got it fairly. But now Ken's also brought the fairness of the Tory and Lib Dem selection process into question. He's approved the appointments for now - because he has to by law - but is said to be considering legal action on the grounds that the selection process might not have been as transparent as one would hope. We'll have to wait and see.

PS: By coincedence, there seems to be a plot to oust Ken, with Tories trying to put a two-term cap on any single Mayor's time in office, US-President style. Why? If he's still got the support of the people which, despite hysterical Evening Standard ranting about congestion charging, I think you'll find he has, who are posh toffs in Parliament to kick him out? The fact is they're just trying to cover their own backs, having failed miserable twice on the trot to pick a candidate for London Mayor who's got any chance at all of winning.

Tuesday, 12 June 2007

Truth at Last

The Mail's Richard Littlejohn has finally owned up to his Nazi roots - you'll see what I mean here. Trouble is, he's closer to the truth about himself than he wants to believe.

UPDATE (in response to comments): For a start, let's be clear - Richard Littlejohn writes in the Daily Mail and has extreme right-wing views. He is all but a Nazi sympathiser, I have no qualms in declaring that that's my belief. If you've seen him on telly before you'll also know that he's a complete arsehole who refuses to listen to anyone's views and who, based on one interview I saw, clearly believes women should stay at home and do the washing rather than being allowed to present serious political programming.

Having had that bit of lefty rantage, I find it quite strange that my first point against you involves me leaping to Littlejohn's defence. Even he hasn't said in that article that 'people in Britain should be able to speak English'. Not that I doubt he'd say that. But the bigger point is that people in Britain *can* speak English. You and I speak English every day - the arrival of new and exciting languages doesn't place English under any threat; maybe it allows it to diversify by taking on new words from cultures we've never before experienced, but that should be something to proud of surely, rather than being petrified of and cowering away from?

You've also clearly misunderstood his basically racist point about workers. Nowhere does he mention legal and illegal workers - no one doubts that legal workers (of any nationality or colour) should be given preference over illegal workers, but his point is that someone should earn brownie points in a job selection process purely on the basis that they are white British. This isn't just his point of course - he overplays this, but it is a suggestion that's been made by Labour MPs and indeed ministers, and that fact in itself concerns me. I'm certainly not about to start agreeing with them just because they're Labour party members.

Pretty much the same point stands as regards the social housing issue. Council houses are at present - and very much should - be issued on the basis of need, entirely independent of any factor like race, colour, nationality, or indeed gender, religion or sexual orientation. Why having lived in an area all their life gives someone more right to a council house than a newly-arrived immigrant is beyond me. Does it mean that the wealthiest white British bloke in a borough takes precedence over a Pakistani man who's been in the country for a week? Absolute lunacy - if that too has been spouted by Labour MPs (and I think Margaret Hodge is the one responsible, rather ironically given her outcry that the BNP are gaining ground in her constituency) then I condemn them fully, and certainly I don't want anyone with those views in our new leadership team. But to deny that Littlejohn is a bigot is just foolish.

A Sickening Stunt?

Just another short post about the German journalist who dared to ask the McCanns a question which I'm sure has passed most of our lips at least once. I know I've frequently questioned the authenticity of the whole scenario, and in particular the fact that just one of their three children was snatched while the other two were left to lie sleeping, completely unaware of what had happened.

I'll be the first to put my hands up and say that I don't know the exact ins and outs of this specific story - partly because I have an 24 hour news appetite for new stories, not the same recycled articles that newspapers have been churning out for 6 weeks in a (perfectly well-intentioned) attempt to keep the issue current. But my gut instinct is to challenge why it's so sickening that the journalist should ask if the McCanns had anything to do with their daughter's disappearance. Another example of the mass media's willingness to pander to emotion.

Incidentally, there is (again in the G2) an interesting take on the suitability of the Madeleine appeal for being featured on Crimewatch - you'll find it here. The BBC's Editors blog, too, has an interesting take on the issue and finally at least acknowledges that the tide of public opinion is turning against Gerry and Kate McCann.

The Fight To Be Brown's No 2

An interesting (if now a few days old) article in the Guardian's G2 supplement on all six of the Labour deputy leadership contenders is here. It tries to get a little past their obvious politics and into their heads and backgrounds. Alan Johnson's got my first vote, and Hazel Blears is tickling my fancy too.

NHS Wonders

Sometimes it takes something awful to happen before you truly realise just how fantastically lucky and privileged you are. Take my example: four weeks ago this coming Friday, a close relative was taken very ill and rushed by ambulance to Intensive Care. It emerged after emergency surgery that the stomach ache she'd been complaining of for weeks had been a tumour in her bowel. Its sheer size ultimately had caused her bowel to perforate and encouraged the contents to swim around her body like mad, resulting in a severe case of sepsis.

Her quick recovery can be described as far as I'm concerned as nothing short of miraculous, and yesterday the improvement in her condition was underlined by a move from the Intensive Care Unit through to the High Dependency Unit, but that's not the point. The point is that the whole time she's been in hospital, she's been under 24 hour watch by a nurse dedicated just to her. Yes, one to one care. And these are nurses who are amazingly on-the-ball and brimming with such intricate knowledge that I mistook the nurse on the first day to be a doctor. In short she's been on the receiving end of care which must have cost thousands and thousands of pounds to deliver, but which has undoubtedly saved her life.

What I am witnessing may indeed be the very top end of medical care, in that this was about as serious a case as it could have got. And a five-bed ICU is indeed only a very minute part of a rather large NHS trust. But to slag off an NHS that provides this amazing level of care for its patients is unbelievably slanderous.