MAY DAY

mayAs tradition decrees, the incumbent Government bring the curtain down on the conference season; yes, the SNP and Plaid Cymru are being customarily contrary by holding theirs later in October, but the current run of party conferences that began with the Greens at the start of September ends next week with the Tories, who take to the stage for the first time with their new leader and our new PM. The Conservatives are less than a year-and-a-half into their latest bout of running the country, though so much has happened since May 2015 that it would be foolish to assume just because Her Majesty’s Opposition has been tearing itself apart, the Government have cause to be smug and secure in their position. As Times journalist Matthew Parris pointed out whilst observing the post-leadership challenge Labour shindig in Liverpool, the Tories are far from unified at the moment and could well be there for the taking if their opponents weren’t so divided.

David Cameron’s decision to step down as an MP not much more than twelve months on from the point when he was looking forward to five more years at the helm has been interpreted as a generous nod to his replacement, perhaps mindful of what a persistent backbench thorn in Thatcher’s side Ted Heath was throughout her premiership. His resignation as PM was a foregone conclusion when he’d so vigorously backed the wrong Referendum horse, but few anticipated him retiring from frontline politics completely. Of course, Theresa May had already instigated a clear-out of Dave’s closest confidantes within the Cabinet, even going so far as to rub salt in the Notting Hill Tory wounds by inviting Boris and David Davis back in from the Westminster wilderness. However, the ultimate Brexit baddie, Michael Gove, remains in the Commons and it will be interesting to see how his response to May’s administration shapes the Conservative Party over the next three or four years.

It’s difficult to get a grip on Theresa May, to be honest – and I don’t mean that in a remotely sexual sense. Whereas Dave was a gift to satirists, impressionists and cartoonists with the always-amusing concept of a posh boy desperately trying his damndest not to be posh generating endless jokes at his expense, May is more of an unknown quantity. She may have been Home Secretary for six years, but Gordon Brown had been Chancellor for ten when he finally got his hands on the key to No.10, and nobody really knew how he’d shape up in the top job – not very well, as it turned out; yet I don’t think Mrs May has really had the chance to show what she can or can’t do. Her first opportunity to address her party as leader will come next week, and the hard work starts thereafter.

Though doing her best to exude an air of authority, Theresa May is not in the easiest of positions; she grabbed the leadership of both her party and country in the middle of an unprecedented crisis and attempted to portray herself as a ‘safe pair of hands’, promoting fellow dullards such as Philip Hammond, as though that somehow represented stability whilst the rest of the political establishment was engaged in the headless chicken dance.

Though she herself was a Remainer (albeit along Jeremy Corbyn lines, virtually invisible during the great debates), she has inherited a democratic decision she didn’t vote for and is obliged to carry it out, despite the mind-boggling complexities of the process. She also has to deal with two other constituent countries of the UK that voted differently to England and Wales, not to mention the opportunities for exploitation that presents at Holyrood and Stormont.

The fault-lines within the Tory Party that the Referendum exposed won’t be healed overnight; they had decades to ferment, after all, and Europe has been at the root of virtually every schism in Conservative ranks since 1975. Brexit may mean Brexit, but the drawn-out duty of extricating the UK from the EU has fallen to a PM who wanted to stay part of the Brussels club. Any dithering or deviating from the mission will inevitably stoke the ire of the prominent Leave rump on the Tory backbenches, of whom Gove is destined to be the most vocal. Yes, giving Boris, Davis and Dr Fox (no, not that one) responsibility to deal with the unenviable task ahead is probably a shrewd move on May’s part, though the buck will ultimately stop with her, and it could define her premiership if she’s not careful.

There is also the perennial subject of a possible Snap Election, which if it comes at all seems more likely to come in the spring than the autumn we’ve now entered. From all that was said during their own conference, Labour are certainly banking on it, though the insistence of Jezza and McDonnell that this may be a likelihood does feel a bit like a Kamikaze pilot hoping a US warship appears on the horizon. However, May’s hands are essentially tied by the rules laid down by the Coalition of 2010-15 and the fixed-term Parliament law; apparently, Nick Clegg is now criticising the Tories for carrying on under a different leader without first going to the country, yet he was as responsible as anyone for limiting the powers of the PM to call a General Election when the climate is at is most opportune for a serving Prime Minister to do so.

The fact remains that we have a political figurehead the electorate didn’t vote for, inheriting office from a man they did; and whilst this is hardly a unique situation, one would imagine Theresa May would prefer a mandate of her own rather than one given to her predecessor; maybe only the law introduced by that predecessor is preventing her from acting on her instincts.

It’s still too early to predict what kind of leader only our second female Prime Minister will turn out to be, but her first real platform for setting out her plans will come next week in Birmingham. Expect a token show of support to contrast with Labour’s bitter divisions; but behind the contrived PR sheen there’s a long and potentially very difficult road ahead that could well reveal the mettle May is made of.

© The Editor

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OWN-GOAL OF THE SEASON

allardyceIt might have been twenty-three longer than Cloughie lasted at Leeds in 1974, but 67 days is still a pretty pathetic regime when all’s said and done. Sam Allardyce has been forced to surrender the most poisoned of English football chalices and the FA are again left up shit creek without a paddle. The man who allegedly came to the rescue of England’s shamed national side following the humiliation of Euro 2016 – mainly because there was no other available Englishman to take the job – has been relieved of his duties after one solitary match in charge due to being caught exhibiting his avarice in a tediously familiar Fleet Street sting, boasting of ways around the rules governing player transfers in the company of ‘foreign businessmen’ (AKA Daily Telegraph undercover reporters) and apparently fixing a £400,000 deal to act as a representative for their fictitious company. Do these greedy bastards never learn?

Caretakers in the post have always had short runs, though even the likes of Steve McClaren and Kevin Keegan as official, full-time England bosses at least had a year to prove how inept they were; Allardyce’s 67 days has set a new and unenviable record. Don Revie was crucified by the press for bailing out of the job after just three years in 1977, despite them calling for his head on a plate; that he accepted a well-paid post managing the United Arab Emirates immediately thereafter, securing his financial future at a time when running a pub was the best ex-players and managers could hope for, was greeted with outrage, though hindsight bestows a less malignant sheen on Revie’s actions. Now that the game is awash with money at the highest level, the suicidal greed of Allardyce seems especially repugnant.

The decision of the Telegraph to pursue this entrapment exposé, however – following a recognised path that has caught out numerous politicians and minor royals over the years – raises many questions. Was the motivation merely to catch out another public figure, thus giving their readership one more opportunity to adopt a smug, holier-than-thou attitude, or were they determined to bring down the latest holder of an unenviable job because it presented them with the prospect of endless headlines bemoaning the ‘national disgrace’ of the national sport, thus hoping to arrest falling sales of their paper? Probably a bit of both, I suppose.

The British public like nothing more than rounding on an individual lacking in the kind of fantasy humility that few demonstrate when presented with a something-for-nothing windfall; in a get-rich-quick culture fuelled by rampant acquisitiveness and the expectation of an instant fortune that will spare its recipient the long, hard slog of earning it, how many would behave differently to Sam Allardyce if placed in his position? Not that his behaviour is in anything other than deplorable (considering the kind of wage he would have been on as England boss, an estimated £3 million-a-year), but to pretend the majority – let alone Fleet Street – would react with unimpeachable piety if served up a similar offer on the same silver salver is laughably sanctimonious.

Whatever the reasons behind the sting, the national side of the national sport has again been abandoned by one more ‘saviour’, and at a moment when its ability to generate national pride is at a particular low ebb in the wake of the summer’s embarrassments. Sven and Fabio were the great experiments in looking farther afield than the British Isles, yet neither achieved much other than collecting handsome redundancy packages when the inevitable axe fell; and the paucity of Englishmen managing football clubs at the top level means the talent pool for recruitment is more threadbare than it has been at any time since Walter Winterbottom was the first man promoted to the post in 1946.

Yes, we’ve been here before; but Jeremy Corbyn has more chance of filling his frontbench with outstanding Parliamentarians that will win over the non-Momentum electorate than the FA have of finding a dynamic English coach with enough experience of managing millionaire Prima Donnas to make a success of a job that has ruined the reputation of every man to take it on since Alf Ramsey.

The dismal showing of England when up against a team of part-timers from Iceland proved it’s no easy task to mould a group of average players accustomed to plying their weekly trade alongside top overseas talent into a successful all-English unit; Sam Allardyce may have cracked the conundrum, but he would most likely have ended up sacked within a year before returning to the Premier League touchline at the likes of Burnley or Bournemouth.

All this incident has done is to bring forward the decision for the FA by twelve months, embarking on another search for another ultimate failure who can at least look forward to a golden handshake before being waved off on his way. With just the one World Cup qualifier under its belt, the national side now has a series of fixtures to play under the guidance of one more caretaker, in this case Gareth Southgate, while the FA is faced with filling a vacant post that has few capable of filling it. They think it’s all over; and for the England team, it almost feels like it is now.

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THE THIRD WORLD

bertrand-russell_02_7661The month of April 1970, if remembered at all, is remembered for two landmark moments in modern cultural history that made front pages around the globe – the drama of Apollo 13’s aborted moon mission and the news that Paul McCartney had ‘quit’ The Beatles; the former represented the apogee of the world’s fascination with the American space programme, whilst the latter served as pop’s final severance with its age of innocence. However, that month also saw another ending as significant in its own humble little way. April 1970 was just four days old when a controversial yet passionately cherished British broadcasting institution disappeared from the airwaves forever – the BBC Third Programme.

I was born a couple of months after the Light Programme and the Home Service were replaced by Radios 1, 2 and 4, so have no first-hand memory of them or their esoteric sibling, the Third Programme. Radio 3 may also have debuted on the same day as 1, 2 and 4, but contrary to popular belief (not to mention numerous online sources), the Third did not join the Light and the Home on the same shuttle service to the wireless necropolis in September 1967. It clung onto the evening hours for another two and-a-half years before time was finally called on a radio station unlike any other before or since. That the Third managed to receive a stay of execution when the rest of the BBC’s radio network underwent the most radical transformation in its history is testament to the friends it had in high places; but much in the same way that the sixpence survived the cull of £sd coinage in 1971 and remained legal tender for a little while longer, the Third Programme’s days were permanently numbered for the last couple of years of its existence.

The far-reaching conclusions of the report ‘Broadcasting in the Seventies’ (published in 1969) failed to envisage a future need for the kind of service the Third had provided since its inception in 1946. In the immediate aftermath of the Second World War there were many reflections on what precisely the Allies had been fighting for, and some concluded culture ranked high on the list of western civilisation’s worthwhile achievements. Such a view had also flourished during the war itself with the formation of the Council for the Encouragement of Music and Arts, which was renamed the Arts Council of Great Britain following the end of hostilities.

As well as heavy government investment in public events such as exhibitions, opera, ballet, the theatre and the 1951 Festival of Britain, there was a widespread belief that the most widely accessible medium of the era, radio, also had a part to play in this promotion of culture. Despite the opposition of the BBC’s ex-Director General Lord Reith – who had always been against segregation in broadcasting – the BBC Third Programme was launched on 29 September 1946 with a specific remit from the start.

The opening night included a 45-minute Bach recital on the harpsichord, an address by the Prime Minister of South Africa, some Monteverdi Madrigals ‘on gramophone’, a concert of choral music from the BBC Symphony Orchestra, and a discussion that promised to contain ‘issues of current interest as well as recurrent abstract problems’. Quite a contrast with the likes of ‘ITMA’ and ‘Variety Band-Box’ over on the Light Programme that same evening, but a clear message of intent that here was something brave and deliberately uncompromising in British broadcasting. When the legacy of the post-war Attlee government is discussed today, it is mostly the social reforms that are focused on, but belief that the Arts mattered was also key to the Left philosophy; Education Secretary Ellen Wilkinson even spoke of a ‘Third Programme Nation’.

The Third Programme may have featured traditional ‘classical music’ as part of its schedule, but it also gave airtime to the increasingly experimental and avant-garde strain of contemporary classical that would have caused British industry to grind to a halt had any of it interrupted the jolly soundtrack of ‘Music While You Work’. It also facilitated the birth of the iconic BBC Radiophonic Workshop, whose influence can still be discerned throughout electronically-based music to this very day. Yet it was the spoken word that the Third revelled in – and not in the Talk Radio sense of giving disgruntled gobshites in love with the sound of their own voices an opportunity to host phone-ins about immigration or the EU.

Lectures and discussions from the likes of Bertrand Russell, Albert Camus and other heavyweight intellectuals of the day were crucial to the Third’s identity and reputation, but so was giving exposure to the works of radical playwrights such as Beckett and Pinter, and poets who had no other broadcasting outlets such as T.S. Eliot and Sylvia Plath; Dylan Thomas wrote ‘Under Milk Wood’ for the Third, such was the station’s standing within the artistic community, not to mention that it was the prime source of copyright payments for poets.

Of course, it didn’t take long for accusations of elitism to be levelled at this unashamed highbrow presence on the nation’s airwaves, despite the fact that it was catering for audiences (albeit small ones) that hadn’t been catered for by radio before. Similar accusations are often levelled at BBC4 today. Who do these cultural types think they are – demanding that their own erudite tastes be funded by the licence fee? The fact is that devotees of the Third paid the same amount as devotees of ‘Housewives’ Choice’, regardless of the vast chasm between listening figures, and were just as entitled to have radio representation.

However, some of the criticisms aimed at the Third predictably had an impact when the BBC instigated one of its occasional pruning exercises. After eleven years of transmitting between 6.00pm and midnight, 1957 saw the Third cut in half, with the early evening segment taken over by the wonderfully named Network Three, an educational strand sounding more like a clandestine government department. Then, in 1965 the BBC Music Programme began broadcasting classical music during the day on the Third’s frequency, paving the way for Radio 3.

When the BBC belatedly woke-up to the need for music radio to reflect the dramatic changes in listening habits during the 60s and recruited a crew of pirate station DJs in time for the launch of groovy Radio 1 in 1967, it also decided to rebrand the Light Programme and the Home Service as Radio 2 and Radio 4 respectively. The Third Programme was a trickier proposition. Its audiences may have been small, but its place at the heart of the nation’s cultural life was so beloved that attempts to axe it met with fierce opposition. A compromise was reached that saw the Music Programme become Radio 3 during the daytime hours whilst the Third and Network Three continued to occupy the evening hours.

However, as many began to express dissatisfaction with the rebranded radio stations, the report that came to be known as Broadcasting in the Seventies was commissioned and its findings resulted in a clearer division between the functions of the respective stations that have more or less defined them ever since. For the Third, the writing was on the wall and it finally disappeared for good in April 1970; plays, documentaries, discussion and education were shunted to Radio 4, and classical music overtook the majority of Radio 3’s extended airtime.

This week marks the 70th anniversary of the Third Programme/Radio 3, and the institution remains contentious, with many questioning the cost of running a service that appeals to such a minority audience. Having enjoyed a weekend on BBC4 in which Keith Richards took over the channel for three consecutive nights, I was aware that the masses were tuning in to ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ and ‘The X Factor’ and that I was a member of an exclusive club seeking televisual stimulation of a unique kind elsewhere. But as I pay my licence fee (unlike most people I know), am I not entitled to an alternative? Last time I looked, we weren’t residing in a Communist Paradise and having to endure a collective schedule. In today’s homogenous society, it is more vital than ever that square pegs have their entertainment too.

Yet, even now, over 40 years after it was laid to rest, those who remember the Third Programme maintain Radio 3 is a poor substitute for its predecessor, a station that prefers the easy option of a music schedule with occasional spoken word interludes rather than the more challenging and adventurous remit of the Third.

Perhaps the Third Programme was destined to be a short-lived heroic failure, a product of a period when the Arts were regarded as important to the nation’s wellbeing as health, housing or education, an admirable concept that now appears quaint to the defiantly philistine, anti-intellectual ear of the 21st century, when culture is viewed as more suspect and more elitist than ever before. Maybe the Third Programme was elitist, but as Paul McCartney once said of ‘Silly Love Songs’, what’s wrong with that?

© The Editor

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FOUL AND FOULER

trumpThe Luvvies are out in force again, though this time it’s the Hollywood left, that pious, humourless and self-righteous branch of the acting profession who turned this year’s Oscars ceremony into a sanctimonious PC rally that was straight out of ‘Team America: World Police’. Interpreting their participation in blockbuster movies that make millions as indicative that the audience stuffing itself with popcorn as they fly around in tights will also sit and listen to them preach as well is a measure of their colossal egos and sense of self-importance. They never learn. Lecturing the American electorate and commanding them to choose Clinton over Trump will probably be as counterproductive for Hillary’s campaign as their British equivalents promoting Remain were for that particular cause. Trump Republicans may be content to fill the multiplexes when actors are doing their day-job, but the minute thespians start preaching politics, the effect is to push a sizeable chunk of their audience into the arms of the enemy.

When Hillary Clinton referred to Trump supporters as ‘deplorable’, it was a rather sweeping statement that I have no doubt contained a grain of truth in the case of the narrow-minded bigoted redneck faction; the problem is that by tarring all Trump supporters with the same unsavoury brush, Clinton is delivering an almighty insult to those Americans whose fortunes have plummeted under the Washington regime of both blue and red persuasion over the last twenty years. Many Americans hold Hillary’s husband, Hillary herself and Obama responsible for the state they’re in; they may have previously voted Democrat and placed their faith in the man who said ‘Yes we can’, but the ultimate impotence of the office for resolving the problems of what Nixon referred to as the Silent Majority has hit them hard. In their eyes, Clinton’s statement seemed to represent both her contempt and cluelessness when it comes to vast swathes of a vast country’s population.

Many of that population have flocked to Trump simply because he’s telling them what they want to hear – not in an airbrushed and (for want of a better word) ‘politically correct’ way, but in the brusque, blunt and unvarnished manner of a barroom braggadocio; some of the things Trump has said in public are indeed deplorable, yet one could probably hear the very same things in any drinking den in any corner of the US; to hear them on the political podium is a novelty that makes some voters believe he speaks their language.

A showy, egomaniacal maverick multi-millionaire whose luxurious lifestyle was inherited from his father is hardly the kind of candidate one would imagine capable of captivating those struggling to make ends meet, let alone taking on and defeating the sophisticated Republican establishment; yet the elements of Trump’s personality that alienate his detractors are the same ones that have attracted his supporters.

Both Clinton and Trump have the kind of income and fortune that only a small percentage of their respective supporters will ever enjoy, so for either to declare themselves to be at one with The People is laughable; but the uncouth bluster of Trump has a kind of Homer Simpson appeal to many Americans, whereas Clinton’s public image is closer to that of Mr Burns. Trump has sold himself as the outsider, and pitching himself as an antidote to the formula so many blame for their ills is a pitch that has precedents.

The antipathy and envy Richard Nixon exhibited towards the Kennedys – seeing their movie-star glamour, wealthy privilege and aristocratic aura as everything he craved but knew he would never have – was to him the embodiment of East Coast elitism, a world that had been barred to him all his life, as it is to most; but the grudge he bore was one he used to his eventual advantage. Post-Watergate, it’s easy to forget that Nixon won a huge landslide in 1972; despite his many enemies, he connected with the same kind of voter that Trump is connecting with today.

Ironically, Clinton herself shares much with Nixon. Tricky Dicky’s political career had a vintage of over twenty years before he was finally elected President. He’d played a prominent part in HUAC activities in the late 40s/early 50s, spent eight years as Eisenhower’s Vice President, famously ran for President in 1960, and had a taste of future questions over his trustworthiness as early as 1952, when he utilised the relatively untested power of television by defending accusations of financial impropriety in the so-called ‘Checkers’ speech. After several years in the wilderness following his 1960 defeat to JFK, his capture of the Presidency in 1968 was undoubtedly one of the great political comebacks of all time. Clinton’s political career stretches back even further than Nixon’s did in 1968, and eight years after her first attempt to become the Democratic candidate she has returned for one last battle.

Like Nixon, Clinton has had her fair share of scandals that her opponents have pointed to as proof she cannot be trusted. There was the Whitewater controversy, which emerged even before her husband had been elected for the first time; there was her alleged compliance in buying off the victims of Bill’s extramarital philandering; there were a couple of ‘gate’ affairs – Travelgate and Filegate; there was the email controversy; there was her dubious recall of events when she landed in Bosnia in 1996; there have even been criticisms of her not being entirely truthful as to the state of her health during the current campaign – enough scandals, in fact, to fill a book, which Christopher Hitchens partially did in his merciless 1999 dissection of Bill, ‘No One Left to Lie To’. If only Hitch was still with us. What a mouth-watering commentator on 2016’s no-holds-barred battle he would have been.

This Presidential race is unlike any other in that both candidates are so intensely loathed by great sections of the American electorate. Hatred of Hillary goes back a long way, but Trump has done his best to catch up over the past twelve months. Perhaps it’s inevitable that someone as ghastly as Trump is the type that emerges when the masses feel disenfranchised and dispossessed, because it is only the Donald Trumps of this world that can boast the requisite ego, fearlessness and unshakable self-confidence in their own magnificence, the only ones that have the gall and gumption to push themselves forward for the job and genuinely believe they can do it. His complete inexperience in public office next to someone with more experience than anyone else is, on paper, a non-starter, yet his supporters bizarrely regard that factor in his favour, as much as it fills his opponents with dread.

The vacuous slickness of Obama and eight years of achieving very little beyond being the first black President can be perceived as a lack of guts, balls and the stomach for a fight; by comparison, Trump has convinced his supporters the opposite approach will achieve everything they desire. If recent events are anything to go by, America is indeed broken; but is Donald Trump capable of fixing it? And what does that say about the American political system that a man such as Trump is even in with a shout of fixing it in the first place?

The first TV debate between the two most polarising Presidential candidates in US history will air in the wee small hours of tomorrow morning. It could well be worth staying up for, if only as a dispiriting and masochistic wallow in how low we’ve sunk.

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…AND THE KITCHEN SINK IS LEAKING

rigsbyIn the last year of the twentieth century and the first couple of the twenty-first, I rented the ground floor of a house from an elderly landlady whose deceptive ‘old dear’ demeanour masked a not-so-sweet disposition that assumed owning the property entitled her to let herself into it whenever she felt like it. I once caught her by surprise when she imagined I was out and I heard her turning the key in the lock; I retreated to the bedroom and waited until she strolled in before emerging and inquiring as to the nature of her intrusion. I can’t recall the explanation she offered up on the spot, but her cheek was characteristic of a Rigsby-like nosiness where her tenants were concerned; and I wondered how many occasions had taken place when I hadn’t been present to witness this illegal action.

Granted, I had a dog and a cat, neither of which were allowed (but then they never are when you rent), and having to hide them whenever she came round in person to collect the rent every Thursday evening was a perennial headache, for she didn’t simply stand in the doorway and receive the money whilst jotting the exchange down in the rent book; she had to come into the flat, sit down, natter and nose. Eventually, she sold the property (which consisted of five separate apartments) and we the tenants were given notice of eviction. I found somewhere else up the road and have never had those kind of problems with a landlord or landlady ever since. It seems I’ve been fortunate.

According to a new survey by the housing charity Shelter, there are over a million tenants living in privately rented accommodation in the country today who are experiencing the same problems I endured over fifteen years ago – and worse. 7.5% of the ones interviewed for the survey said they too were familiar with the owners of the property entering it without giving their tenants a week’s warning, which is the law. More extreme cases of abuse on the part of so-called ‘rogue landlords’ included intimidating behaviour and threats as well as cutting off gas or electric, the kind of tactics reminiscent of ‘Pop’, the repulsive character from ‘The League of Gentlemen’, who sits down of an evening to watch secret CCTV footage of the tenants he bullies and rips off with relish. One landlord even went so far as to hold a replica gun to the head of one of his tenants as part of a campaign of intimidation.

A lack of awareness when it comes to their rights is something that makes many tenants ripe for exploitation at the hands of the most unscrupulous landlords, though the Shelter survey does point out that the worst offenders are relatively small in number and the majority of tenants are content with their landlords or letting agents. Moreover, the National Landlords Association claim that their own survey shows ‘82% of tenants say they are happy with their current landlord’. Without wishing to cast stereotypical aspersions, one cannot but wonder if the least content tenants are either newly arrived immigrants or students, both lacking worldly-wise antennae when confronted by an evident conman and therefore begging to be fleeced in the eyes of the rogue landlord.

The separate research undertaken by the National Landlords Association also takes into account the other side of the situation, whereby landlords have encountered antisocial tenants, with 3 out of 10 landlords in the UK reporting verbal or physical abuse from those renting. So, it does cut both ways. In the case of the latter issue, the buy-to-let landlords who have capitalised on having a sizeable amount of spare cash by buying houses and then renting them out as a means of paying the mortgage have equally played their part in the housing crisis. An Office of National Statistics report released this week revealed the depressing fact that the average age of a first-time house-buyer in London today is 34. It’s no wonder renting is booming and that some are taking advantage of the climate.

An unforeseen bonus is that rogue landlords can sometimes unite tenants, who come together as a community when one of them is threatened. A private tenant and her five children in Bristol this week was poised to be evicted from her home of 12 years simply because she had repeatedly reported the damp in her house to her landlord. However, when the bailiffs turned up to evict her, other residents of the neighbourhood formed a human chain around the property and succeeded in preventing the eviction from taking place. The action was promoted by Acorn, a local organisation that fights for the rights of tenants, and the chain was a 30-strong barrier to making a mother and her children homeless due to the fact that she made a legitimate complaint to someone whose duty it was to resolve it.

Having lived in rented accommodation for all of my adult life, I have been witness to both the good and bad sides of the arrangement and, never having been in a financial position whereby I can purchase my own property, I’ve had no option but to make do with renting as best I can. A decent landlord or letting agent will respond promptly when any of the fixtures and fittings have ceased to function and need repairing or replacing; as long as the tenant pays the rent and doesn’t flagrantly and repeatedly stretch the patience of their fellow tenants, there’s no reason why the arrangement shouldn’t work.

I know from experience the kind of tricks private landlords can play on their tenants, though I also know from experience how some tenants take the piss and can make life miserable for their fellow tenants as much as those they’re renting from. About five years ago, I and the man in the flat below me had to combine forces in order to persuade the agents letting our home to evict the noise polluters on the ground floor who were wilfully disrupting the harmony of the household beyond a tolerable level. Tenant can on occasion be as bad as landlord, and with no glimmer of hope on the horizon for affordable housing at an age younger than mid-30s, the likelihood of the rented sector increasing means the balance between the two has to be one that benefits both rather than either or.


And on a lighter note…


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FOREGONE CONCLUSION

jezzaWell, that was an edge-of-the-seat moment, wasn’t it – a penalty shoot-out for the future of Her Majesty’s Opposition that nobody could predict the result of. Sorry, pardon the sarcasm. Unlike the fevered speculation that always ignites whenever there’s a vacancy for the job of Doctor Who, James Bond or the England team manager, the question over the Labour leadership was a non-starter from the moment Angela Eagle launched her ill-fated bid after the frontbench exodus in the aftermath of Brexit. As expected, Jezza the Messiah has consolidated his grip on the party, wiping the floor with the hapless Owen Smith, and he can now continue with the task of leading the British people out of the wilderness.

The week leading up to today’s leadership election result has seen some of the less principled Labour MPs who walked away from the Shadow Cabinet in a mass hissy fit meekly reverse their previous opposition to Corbyn, declaring they would happily rejoin Team Jeremy now that the coup has utterly fizzled out and their chances of forming an alternative opposition have collapsed completely. If Jezza has anything about him at all, he won’t be making any approaches to them. Indeed, the PLP majority who have made their feelings clear about Corbyn’s leadership are now confronted by a perplexing dilemma.

When the Gang of Four exited the Labour Party in 1981 and formed the SDP, many felt they should have stayed put and wrestled control from the far left and its Militant affiliates; some never forgave them for what they perceived as a dereliction of duties. Whilst there aren’t any current Labour MPs with the kind of clout the likes of Roy Jenkins or David Owen possessed at the time, there remains a sizeable body of Labour Parliamentarians facing the fact that the membership are backing Corbyn and not them. So where do they go? Let’s face it, not being able to call on the services of Tristram Hunt, Chukka Umunna or Liz Kendall is hardly going to give Corbyn any sleepless nights; but Emily Thornberry? Diane Abbott? With those names on your side, 2020 can hardly be pencilled in as the date Labour finally set up shop at the Promised Land.

Jezza’s winning speech after the inevitable was announced saw him insist the kind of intimidation and online abuse that has characterised his devoted following was not his way and not the Labour way; but it is the Momentum way. And while Corbyn himself is someone who comes across as a largely likeable individual, the sinister double-barrelled Trots and borderline anarchists who have turned him into a Gandhi for Generation Snowflake are immensely worrying. If – and this is a big if – this country should ever elect Corbyn as PM, it’s difficult to foresee anything other than a virtual Vichy Government, with Jezza as an oblivious frontman for ulterior motives of a nature that would make the deep divisions that were exposed in the EU Referendum seem like a minor kerfuffle in a primary school classroom that can be curtailed by the intervention of a supply teacher.

The ‘number crunching’ sections of ‘Private Eye’ are occasional eye-openers that make a point succinctly; a recent one pointed out that an estimated 2,500 turned out for yet another of those seemingly endless Corbyn rallies, this time in Sheffield, whereas 1,279 was the number who voted Labour at a Council Election in the same city a month later, one that the Lib Dems won on a 31.8 swing – yes, that’s right; the bloody Lib Dems! Translating cult appeal to a national phenomenon is an impossible mission that I don’t believe Labour under Corbyn has yet to grasp; and the fact that traditional Labour heartlands are populated by disgruntled voters that are not only at odds with the Blairite vision of Britain but also Jezza’s equally out-of-touch idyll suggests a state of blissful denial on the part of Team Jeremy that will only result in another General Election disaster four years from now. And we haven’t even broached the tricky subject of Scotland, where even the bleedin’ Tories – never mind the SNP – have capitalised on the abysmal Labour performance.

The third-way mess that the class of Professional Politician has left not just this country but both Western Europe and the US in over the last couple of decades has understandably provoked a vociferous reaction in passionate grass-roots movements; and I see no discernible difference between the far-right protests of the Tea Party in the States or the Corbynistas here. But neither has offered anything other than a series of grievances with the ruling elite, ultimately defined by what they are opposed to rather than what they stand for, grievances that are regularly manifested as infantile vitriolic hatred towards the competition that rarely rises above playground name-calling. Unlikely figureheads, whether Jezza or Trump, have been pushed forward as unlikely saviours while the background boys with the nefarious agenda plot their takeover strategies with little or no care for what this will do to the actual electorate.

The infiltration of Labour by the Momentum virus, with threats of MP de-selection if the MPs in question oppose the Corbyn master-plan, hardly points to a democratic future for Labour. This also echoes Militant nightmares of the 80s, and Corbyn’s insistence that intimidation is not part of his makeup doesn’t carry much weight when the evidence of his supporters’ intentions is so blatant. His anticipated triumph in a challenge that was undertaken in the absence of any charismatic or convincing opponent is symptomatic of the sorry state of a once-great party that doesn’t bode well for mainstream politics or the supposed alternative to a Conservative Party that hasn’t been in such a privileged position for thirty years.

© The Editor

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SIMON’LL FIX IT

cakeFaced with a concept of entertainment in which baking a cake is the icing on it (muddled metaphor, but you get what I mean), I’d rather watch the Potter’s Wheel. The hysterical amount of coverage devoted to a TV programme snatched from the Beeb by Channel 4 says a lot about where we are, really. The farming out of in-house BBC productions to independent companies during the Birt era of the early-to-mid-90s, and the leasing of shows that were already produced by said companies to the BBC, eventually led towards the ultimate redundancy of BBC TV Centre; and events this week re ‘Bake Off’ are a direct legacy of Birtism, as well as the auction process Mrs Thatcher had encouraged during the old ITV franchise rounds (Birt had made his name at London Weekend and wholeheartedly embraced the Thatcherite ethic). A BBC exec appeared on Radio 4’s ‘The Media Show’ the other day and announced that a by-product of the new BBC Charter would be to auction off BBC1 mainstays such as ‘Casualty’ and even ‘Songs of Praise’ to independent companies. The manner in which he explained (or justified) this decision was a master-class in Birtspeak, though the underlying message was pure Tony Hall kowtowing yet again.

Viewing some discs of archive BBC shows that had all, to a man, been produced in-house a couple of days ago, the bar of the quality threshold was undoubtedly far higher than it is today, though the talent was spread far and wide forty years ago, whereas now everything seems concentrated on a small handful of ratings winners. When Saturday night was owned by BBC1, ITV barely got a look in. But since ITV redefined what used to be called Light Entertainment, the Beeb has carbon copied the formula endlessly, ‘Bake Off’ merely being the latest addition. If any man can really be held responsible for that and a hell of a lot more, it is the untalented Mr Cowell.

2004 saw the debut of ‘The X-Factor’, and the willingness of its hopelessly optimistic participants to submit to any humiliation on the exceedingly slim chance that they might become a star set the tempo of the future. With each successive series, the nation’s youth spinelessly submitted to Simon Cowell’s unelected Absolute Monarch without putting up a fight. And, with Cowell the nominated Bad Cop of the panel, X-Factor contestants realised that appealing to the token Good Cop might win them a few favours; thus was born the wearisome sob-story element, whereby tales of dying grannies, children with life-threatening illnesses and carrying wounded colleagues on the battlefields of Iraq infused the programme with a dollop of sickly sentiment that removed each participant even further from dignity.

Every true life tale was exploited to the hilt, as though it were a headline in a cheap magazine on the table of a waiting room in a doctor’s surgery, with contestants seemingly trying to outdo one another by stooping to whatever low it took to make it through to the next round, so desperate were they to grab a piece of Cowell’s profitable pie; and the programme-makers milked the sentiment by inserting footage of said contestant or Good Cop panelist in floods of tears, able to cry at will with the expertise of a cute kid in an old Hollywood weepie. Cue a montage of distraught indulgence accompanied by the obligatory power-ballad to hammer home the required emotional response with all the subtleness of the Reverend Ian Paisley in his fire-and-brimstone pomp, preaching eternal damnation to all Papists from the pulpit.

But desperation was the defining characteristic of the generation raised on Cowell’s vision of pop; the National Lottery may have declared ‘It Could Be You’, but that slogan could equally have applied to the X-Factor mindset, with every supermarket checkout girl or unemployed brickie led to believe they were in with a shout; and a lack of talent was no impediment to the superficial circus Cowell presided over as repugnant ringmaster.

‘I’ve been on an incredible journey’ and ‘this means everything to me’ were reeled off with monotonous regularity as the overinflated significance of the experience was writ large on the ruddy faces of those who fell at the final hurdle. No trailer for any audience participation show today is complete without the money shot of a contestant crying.

The TV talent show had gradually become reminiscent of the horrific dance contests of the Great Depression, where the only quick exit from poverty and anonymity was to dance till you dropped; and as the economic climate plunged into a terrifying downturn at the end of the 2000s, the desire for the quick fix dangled in front of hungry viewers acquired an even greater gravitas. By the late 2000s, British TV was awash with variations on the formula – whether the celebrity brands such as ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ or ‘Dancing On Ice’ to the search-for-a star incarnations like ‘Over the Rainbow’ or ‘Britain’s Got Talent’, the latter another Cowell vehicle, being a spin-off from ‘The X-Factor’ in which contestants were able to exhibit talents other than vocal ones.

The celebrity brand was largely Cowell-free, but the eagerness of pre-reality TV stars to take part in them seemed to speak volumes as to the way in which old-style television entertainment had been usurped since the arrival of ‘Big Brother’. Severe critics of the genre, such as veteran comedian Freddie Starr, eventually ended up as contestants on ‘I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here’, finally realising this was the only route back into television now that mainstream channels had handed over all primetime slots to the format that had killed the careers of every old showbiz trouper.

Fanny Cradock’s career had been killed on an early reality prototype in 1976 merely because she had exhibited personality traits that would today make her one of the most sought-after characters on TV; but the game had changed beyond recognition in thirty years.

Of course, with the selling of Simon Cowell’s route to the Promised Land the most dominant rags-to-riches guidebook available to the masses, it is inevitable that the modern media is loaded down with casualties of the journey; after all, the bandwagon can only hold so many passengers, and the road-kill quota is escalating with every rev of the reality engine. Not that such obvious evidence has dampened the enthusiasm for participation. Far from it; for many young people, it seems the glittering prize is all their radar can detect. The same democratisation of celebrity that made Jade Goody a household name is now available to anyone – or at least that’s the theory, anyway.

Forty years ago, children wrote to Jimmy Savile and asked if Jim could fix it for them to be a bin-man for a day. Now they wait four or five years in the hope that Simon’ll fix it for them to be famous.

© The Editor

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AN AUTUMNAL INTERLUDE

autumnToday’s the day the world recognises the onset of autumn via the arrival of the September Equinox; at one (brief) time it also marked the start of the French Revolutionary Calendar, though that hasn’t had any relevance for over 200 years. Most of us here tend to associate the end of summer with the changing of the clocks, even if we don’t return to Greenwich Mean Time until the end of October. By then, the ‘Indian Summer’ we often enjoy at the beginning of September (and we’ve certainly experienced with record temperatures this September) is being slowly ushered away by the chilly autumnal breezes that scatter the leaves and necessitate the hibernation of the summer wardrobe.

The changing of the seasons as we approach the back-end of the year is usually greeted in Britain by ‘senior citizens’ with resigned shakes of the head and accompanying pessimistic observations uttered in a dismal, Eeyore-like tone, as though the transformation from one season to another was a newfangled innovation like decimalisation. ‘Ooh, it’s getting darker on a night now’ or ‘Ooh, I had to put the central heating on, it was so cold last night’ or the classic ‘Ooh, it’ll soon be Christmas.’ But this is always a curious juncture of the year, when the football season is well underway yet the cricket season is still active, if drawing to its conclusion; and because the clocks have yet to be put forward an hour it still has the feel of summer.

Admittedly, it does often seem as though the last three months before ‘Christmas Month’ are ones the country yearns to speed through, as if everything the year has to offer is already over and done with. In many respects, the great events that mark the calendar year generally tend to take place before September, so it’s no wonder that is the impression given. With the possible exception of February, October and November are the most overlooked of months and ones it feels like everybody views as unnecessary inconveniences they just want to get out-of-the-way. The retail sector certainly does its utmost to bypass them; bar the brief interlude of the newly-Americanised institution of Halloween, Christmas is shoved down the shopper’s throat from almost the very moment August has evaporated. We have to be constantly reminded how we’re inexorably careering towards December 25, though I can’t quite fathom why anyone over the age of ten would give a toss.

Perhaps the problem when one has lived long enough is that certain times of the year inevitably retain the associations they had when we were children; and yet they are utterly illusory now. Whenever we reach autumn, I find it hard not to anticipate its arrival as it was back then, even if virtually all of those archaic associations are long gone and redundant in 2016. Belated realisations that the pleasures derived from what once constituted autumn are pleasures I can no longer access possibly generates the aforementioned Eeyore response in those who experience a similar disheartening sensation. Autumn therefore becomes little more than an ominous prelude to the bleak winter of astronomical fuel bills and freezing water pipes – hardly something to celebrate.

There are somewhat negative connotations within cultural corners too – ‘the autumn of my years’ being a term signifying the beginning of life’s slow descent into reflection, regret, senility and death. Frank Sinatra sang of himself as being at that stage of his life in his finest late recording, ‘It Was a Very Good Year’, yet he lived for another thirty years after committing it to vinyl. Few would want to volunteer for the dubious accolade of being in ‘the autumn of my years’, however; it suggests surrender, raising a white flag rather than raging against the dying of the light, a mournful, terminal train ride towards a destination with a longer stretch of track behind it than in front of it. What a depressing thought.

Jeremy Paxman’s recent spat with the OAP population of this country was portrayed as the deliberately offensive Clarkson-esque rant of a man in denial of his own advancing years, though I understood to a degree where he was coming from. As with every age group from teenagers onwards there is an assumption that ‘we all want the same thing’ and that we will adhere to the portrait of us painted by the advertising industry, which not only simplifies everything to the lowest common denominator cliché, but assumes that everybody belongs to an easily identifiable demographic. Passing 60 being summed up by images of stairlifts, walk-in baths, Werther’s Originals, slippers, cardigans and chunky sweaters is indeed appalling and unappealing. That to me was what Paxman’s rant was about, the apathetic acceptance of someone else’s ideal of maturity rather than having a go at oldies in general. With life expectancy longer than it has been in living memory, falling back on those outdated images and implying the last (potentially) thirty years of life will look just like that is enough to provoke a rush of flights to Switzerland.

Overseas autumn holidays are now quite commonplace, with October in the sun viewed as a preferable alternative to October at home. Yet, October in the sun is much the same as April in the sun or August in the sun; it’s the bloody sun. A country with a climate that doesn’t alter from one season to the next, certainly not in the dramatic manner with which it does here, just wouldn’t feel right or as rewarding to me. The bliss of one is a reward for the hardship of another. It’s almost as though the welcome gift of spring, for example, is earned as opposed to given. But maybe that’s simply due to us being on an island and we enjoy/endure the island climate.

It’s all-too easy to dwell on the downside of autumn and what it represents in purely climactic terms; and yet, I spy with my aesthetic eye the most visually rich of seasons when autumn transforms the landscape. The bruised fruit ochre shades of marmalade make a walk in the park an atmospheric excursion through the shifting carpet laid by the wind from the dry-roasted crispy cast-offs of the trees. Nature can always have the power to marvel if we raise our heads above the parapet of concerns imposed by man and machine.

© The Editor

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WE’VE BEEN HERE BEFORE

carterTo call this weekend’s New York bombing (and two other terrorist-related incidents on American soil) a potential game-changer in the ongoing US Presidential race is not necessarily exaggerating. Such events, and the way in which those hoping for power respond to them, can have an impact on public opinion; and it pays for the competing candidates to have stock responses in reserve just in case they occur. Thirty-six years ago, when President Jimmy Carter was running for a second term in office, his attempts to boost his falling ratings by staging an audacious rescue of the hostages being held at the American embassy in Tehran ended in tragic disaster and arguably cost him the Presidency as the country was won over by the untarnished Ronald Reagan.

The Georgian peanut-farmer and former Governor of his home state had swept to power in the wake of Watergate at a moment when the US was suffering from an acute decline in self-confidence; state-of-the-nation movies in that intriguing, immediate pre-‘Star Wars’ era, such as ‘Taxi Driver’, ‘All the President’s Men’ and ‘Network’, perfectly capture the uncertain mood of the moment in all its ugly albeit undoubtedly compelling glory. Despite being a relative unknown – and an unfashionable Southerner to boot – Jimmy Carter capitalised on the unpopularity of President Ford after his pardoning of Nixon by promising to lead the nation out of the untrustworthy darkness that had characterised the first half of the 70s and into a new era of more open and honest governance. Pardoning Vietnam draft-dodgers of the 60s on just his second day in the White House, Carter made an encouraging start, particularly in the field of foreign affairs.

Anyone who was around in this country during the late 70s will recall Jimmy Carter’s visit to the UK in 1977, and in particular the memorable diversion from the routine London meeting-and-greeting that constituted his unexpected trip to Newcastle. After the toxic legacy of Tricky Dicky and then the Presidency of a man who (to quote Lyndon Johnson) was so dumb he couldn’t ‘fart and chew gum at the same time’, Jimmy Carter seemed to be a breath of fresh air, and his overseas popularity was certainly strong, even if it couldn’t be replicated at home. His role in the building of bridges between Egypt and Israel won him considerable plaudits on the international stage, as did his joint signing of the Salt II treaty with Brezhnev, reducing the escalating arms race with the Soviet Union. Ironically, considering his success abroad, it was an event beyond America’s borders – the November 1979 capture of 52 American members of staff at the US embassy in Iran – that proved to be Carter’s undoing.

Operation Eagle Claw was the name given to the project planned as a means of releasing the US hostages from captivity in Tehran by force in April 1980. Had it succeeded, it would probably have been regarded as one of the American military’s greatest peacetime triumphs as well as a masterstroke on the part of the President that would have virtually guaranteed him a second term in office. But it didn’t. He’d already fought off a Democrat challenge from Teddy Kennedy (claiming he would ‘whip the Senator’s ass’) and then he was up against a former movie star whose Republican renaissance needed a calamitous blunder by Carter to give it the boost it required to ‘make America great again’. Funny how Republican aims always remain the same.

The Iranian Revolution of 1978/79 was the first tangible sign of Radical Islam as we know it today, and the end of the Shah’s unpleasant American-sponsored regime was marked by a new hostility towards the West (especially America) from former Middle Eastern allies. When students inspired by the Revolution took over the US embassy in Tehran, seizing 52 staff members for a period of what eventually turned out to be 444 days, American eyes turned to the President in the hope he would act. He took his time, despite the public clamour for action; and when a sequence of events contributed towards the failure of the mission to end the hostage crisis, Carter bore the brunt of the blame.

The hostages remained held against their will, whilst eight servicemen lost their lives in Operation Eagle Claw when the mission was aborted in the desert, just 52 miles from Tehran. An ill-thought-out project ended when a helicopter crashed into a transport aircraft packed with fuel for the intended operation and this was when the lives were lost. It proved to be a devastating blow for Carter’s re-election ambitions as well as one for national prestige; and Reagan couldn’t have wished for a better boost to his campaign. In fact, the Ayatollah Khomeini deliberately withheld the release of the hostages until the day of Reagan’s inauguration in January 1981, simply to deny Carter the credit for the belated end of their captivity. To his credit, Reagan offered his predecessor the opportunity to greet the hostages upon their return to the US, but he politely declined.

In many respects, Jimmy Carter’s post-Presidential career in the field of human rights has won him more admirers, and aged 91, he is currently the longest-retired President in US history, breaking Herbert Hoover’s long-standing record four years ago. In terms of history, however, it seems to be the failures rather than the successes that most associate with his term in the White House.

The situation in 2016 is somewhat different to 1980 in that the incumbent President isn’t seeking re-election, though Obama has given his endorsement to Hillary Clinton’s efforts to succeed him. However, Clinton’s recent health problems have served to momentarily stall her campaign, with a renewed terrorist assault on New York just a week after the fifteenth anniversary of 9/11 the last thing she needed. Donald Trump’s ignorant willingness to play into the hands of ISIS by proposing a ban on all Muslims entering the US received a gift with the latest (mercifully failed) attempts at claiming American lives in the name of Allah, though his uncompromising reaction to the bombing has been utterly predictable and precisely what his supporters wanted to hear.

It is too early in the campaign to discern how much of an impact these events will have upon it, though Trump’s hardline approach is precisely the kind of rhetoric many in America welcome; that Clinton is prepared to dredge up her time as Secretary of State in relation to the assassination of Osama Bin Laden (presumably proving she’s not ‘soft’ on Radical Islam) is perhaps a measure of how far both candidates are prepared to go when it comes to exploiting an incident that is being promoted within the US media as more a case of what could have happened than what actually did.

© The Editor

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THE CLASS CLOWN PROSECUTION SERVICE

gazzaIt’s hard to think of a greater expression of sheer bilious venom to have ever been captured on disc than Bob Dylan’s 1965 top ten single, ‘Positively 4th Street’. ‘You’ve got a lot of nerve/to say you are my friend’ snarls Dylan in the opening line. ‘When I was down/you just stood there grinning’. Its lyrical target remains the subject of speculation, but at a time when Dylan was delving into more obscure and oblique lyrical realms, the song is a uniquely direct collection of grievances spat out at the disgruntled folkie audience from the newly-electric troubadour. The time-honoured ritual of kicking a man when he’s down, especially when the kickers in question built the man up in the first place, is particularly pungent in this country. The British media – and to an extent (it has to be said) the general public – like nothing better than the downfall of a famous name they once lauded and applauded; when the Law gets involved as well, the one-time darling doesn’t stand a chance.

A quarter of a century ago, Paul Gascoigne was one of the most famous people in the country. Already recognised as a prodigious talent by regular followers of football, his role in the England team’s unexpected route to the World Cup semi-final in 1990 caught the eye of the fair-weather fans that only pay attention when the national side does well in a major tournament. Receiving a yellow card in the battle with the Germans, Gascoigne’s realisation that he would therefore miss the final should England make it provoked something nobody had ever seen a participant in such a masculine pastime reduced to before – he burst into tears. Overnight, ‘Gazza’ became a national treasure for wearing his heart on his sleeve, an instant household name whose emotions placed him under the scrutiny of a spotlight his emotions were ill-equipped to deal with.

England manager Bobby Robson had described his star youngster as being ‘daft as a brush’, and Gazza certainly played the joker within the England team, his evident hyperactivity and childlike enthusiasm for being the class clown masking a deep insecurity and emotional vulnerability at the root of his manic persona. When his career didn’t quite pan out as it should have, Gazza found the intense press intrusion into his private life and personal relationships a downside to the fame he had embraced with such gusto in the aftermath of Italia 90. The trajectory his life followed thereafter uncannily echoed the route taken by that other outstanding football talent produced by the British Isles, George Best. The demon drink took hold and after one final glorious hurrah on the pitch with Euro 96, Gazza ended his days as a player turning out for lower league clubs seemingly to make ends meet. It was a sad winding down to a playing career that should have ended on a far higher note.

Sport, like many other areas of society, has become adept at smugly patting itself on the back of late via various initiatives allegedly aimed at stamping out prejudices towards ethnic minorities, women, homosexuals and the mentally ill. But its ability to aid those within it that have suffered as a consequence of previous inaction on the part of sporting authorities is fairly limited. Paul Gascoigne’s alcoholism and mental illness have received precious little assistance from football’s governing bodies; some fellow team-mates have done their bit to help him out, but Gazza has paid the rent in recent years by joining the after-dinner circuit. A man whose natural talent on the field of play is the kind today’s England side would die for has been relegated to a graveyard it’s difficult to imagine contemporaries such as Gary Lineker or Alan Shearer enduring.

Throughout the years since he retired from playing, Gazza’s difficulties have been reported on with obscene relish by the tabloid press. The ‘How the mighty have fallen’ subtext to every telescopic lens image of Gascoigne staggering around dressed in wino chic is appalling, though who would expect anything less from the press? Unfortunately, Paul Gascoigne is not emotionally equipped to cope with that kind of intrusive voyeurism and one suspects the dream headline craved by the pack who persist in slavering over his every misstep would be the one announcing his premature death.

And now poor old Gazza has been subjected to another irredeemably corrupt British institution – the Law. Today he was found guilty of ‘Racially Aggravated Abuse’, following an ill-timed and innocuous throwaway rehash of an old unfunny Bernard Manning joke during one of his ‘An Evening with Gazza’ events in Wolverhampton. The fact that the utterly reprehensible Crown Prosecution Service (a pusillanimous stain on this country’s legal profession beyond compare) chose to pursue this charge all the way to court merely because it could is despicable enough, but the box-ticking, self-righteous piety encapsulated in the summary of the District Judge at Dudley Magistrates’ Court reads as a last will and testament for common sense within British Law.

After praising the contemptible CPS for bringing the case to court, District Judge Graham Wilkinson pompously declared: ‘As a society it is important that we challenge racially-aggravated behaviour in all its forms. It is the creeping low-level racism that society still needs to challenge. A message needs to be sent that in the twenty-first century society that we live in, such action, such words will not be tolerated.’

And yet the CPS is tolerated, despite its jaw-dropping catalogue of sanctimonious moral crusading and politically-motivated pursuance of those whose crime has been to utter a mistimed gag in public or to have indulged in a consensual intimate encounter with a willing participant decades before that has now been reclassified as post-therapy rape. Fined £1,000 for ‘threatening or abusive words or behaviour’, were Paul Gascoigne clued-up on the rancid and redundant institution that dragged him into court he might well ask what the monetary value would be of a suitably fitting fine the CPS should receive for its deplorable record over its lamentable 30-year existence. I suspect the amount is incalculable.

© The Editor

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