One man’s terrorist, goes the old expression, is tomorrow’s freedom fighter. Yesterday’s terrorist, Martin McGuinness, has died and I find it very hard to mourn his life. Regardless of the reasons for the “troubles” in Northern Ireland and who was responsible for what, a lot of innocent men, women and children died as a direct and indirect result of the actions of McGuinness. He is no longer suffering from the debilitating heart disease that ultimately killed him. The families of the victims of IRA terrorists will suffer forever.
Even the lavish praise from his political opponents in the Loyalist and Unionist communities doesn’t move me or change my mind and why should it? The IRA deliberately targeted innocent bystanders in pubs, in hotels, in shopping areas and they executed – yes, executed – members of the armed forces and police.
In a very small way, I experienced from a near distance the way in which the IRA operated. On a cold winter’s night in 1974, I missed a bomb attack on Dixon’s in Park Street by a matter of minutes. It was not an explosion that killed people but it sent the fear of God amongst those who were nearby. I was on my way to Tiffany’s “heavy night” in Clifton and we heard the explosion as we were walking along Whiteladies Road, a mere mile or so away. We walked past the actual shop barely 15 minutes earlier. I was never in danger, but I never forgot it. It changed the way I thought about terrorism forever. What if someone had been killed, purely in the name of people being terrorised? The IRA was the organisation of which McGuinness was a commander.
Of course, I recognise the peace process that changed Northern Ireland and the role of McGuinness, who morphed from terrorist to peacemaker, ultimately becoming friends with Ian Paisley, the leader of the hard line unionists. I cringed at the photographs, I winced as politicians shook his hands and I never once forgot the victims, their families and their friends.
I could not show the strength and compassion of Colin Parry, whose 12 year old son Tim was murdered by the IRA in the Warrington pub bombings of 1993 and who in the name of peace actually met McGuinness and his partner in crime Gerry Adams in furtherance of the peace process. People can apologise all they like, but none of it will bring back victims like Tim.
Doubtless, the funeral will be a grand affair, attended by the not very good and the outright bad. If I was prime minister, I would not send a representative and nor would I expect any decent mainstream politician to turn up either.
My condolences are with the family of McGuinness but I cannot bring myself to mourn his death. He was a terrorist before he became a so called statesman and many innocent lives were lost before he changed his ways. For me, his past cannot be undone and outweighs anything that came later.
“And now you’re gonna believe us”, sang an enthusiastic bunch of Bristol Rovers supporters, just last Saturday, “the Gas are going up.” You’ll get no arguments from me on that one, not that I know better than anyone else whether indeed the Gas are going up. Nothing would surprise me given the enduring excellence of our young manager Darrell Clarke. I was less than impressed by one of the accompanying chants.
Now I was not there on Saturday but I know a man who was, a man I know, trust and believe, and he told me that a section of the crowd belted out a verse of “Ten German Bombers”, a favourite of the far right element who follow the England football team. This is not good enough.
Harmless? No it isn’t. It’s an extension of the tired old, dreary, cliched view many Britons hold of Germans and Germany. The idiots who sing have been known to bring along German helmets, inflatable spitfires as well as doing Nazi salutes and doing Hitler-like goose-stepping, in order to illustrate the ludicrous point they are trying to make. Add to that the tedious repetition of the Dambusters and Great Escape music, played by the England band who should be banned, and you have a situation of great embarrassment to most of us who respect and like Germany and Germans and don’t recognise what happened in the 1930s from the modern and vibrant country we see today. So why sing about it at a football match in Bristol?
What next? A return to “No Surrender To The IRA”, perhaps? Now, I am no admirer, nor supporter, of Republican or for that matter Loyalist terrorism and I am at a complete loss to understand why this subject is so relevant to people who have paid good money to watch their team play football.
Do these people imagine that the image of Adolf Hitler or Gerry Adams will motivate their players to perform even better? Perhaps they could ask Nick Day to conduct a verse or two before the teams come out? Why bother with the Rocky theme? Let’s have a verse or two about 10 German Bombers. My idea is no less ridiculous than the decision of supporters to sing about them in the first place.
If the Gas are going to go up, then the players will be best assisted by supporters singing and chanting in support, not by singing about highly charged matters from yesteryear, especially when that yesteryear was 70-odd years ago.
“What do we want?”
“A general election!”
“When do we want it?”
“Not now, please. 2020 at the earliest.”
I know the final line doesn’t exactly fit in with the ones that preceded it, I have the feeling that most people feel like that. But there are indications that Theresa May is indeed thinking of going to the country long before the next scheduled election in 2020. Based on little evidence, I think there is a fair chance she will call an election for 4 May 2017.
If you were Theresa May, why wouldn’t you call an election now? She has a small parliamentary majority but a huge lead in the opinion polls. Yes, we know that polls can be wrong but when they are wrong they usually exaggerate Labour’s strength and in a campaign where, as the Observer’s Nick Cohen pointed out yesterday, their campaign would be led by Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell, Emily Thornberry and Diane Abbott I would expect that Labour’s share of the vote would plummet still further.
Calling an election would be a cynical and opportunistic move by May, but we should not be surprised by this for here is a woman who was, until 23 June 2016, a pro-European “remainer” who has magically morphed into a vociferous hard Brexiteer in the name of political expediency.
There is absolutely no doubt that the Conservatives would win and win “bigly”, as Donald Trump once put it. Scotland is lost to Labour for the foreseeable future, maybe forever, outside the big cities Labour is in serious trouble and these awkward realities are nothing when you add the pitiful state of party in parliament. No one outside Corbyn’s fan club believes he has a snowball’s chance in hell of becoming prime minister and virtually everyone outside it believes Labour will be obliterated whenever May goes to the country. May has one very good reason for striking early. Europe.
It is likely that next week, May will trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon treaty with the aim of imposing the hardest of Brexits on the country. Even the most anti EU campaigners accept that leaving the EU will be complex and messy and may well last longer than the two years provided. What better for the Tories to trigger Article 50, win a landslide election on 4 May 2017, which will give May an additional couple of years of wiggle room to try and sort out the mess that will ensue? The hope will be that the country will have stabilised by 2022 and she will win again. May has all the ammunition to call an election now:
– She could say she wants her own mandate having taken over from David Cameron without an election
– She could add that she wants a mandate from the public to vindicate her pursual of the hardest form of Brexit
– She could effectively destroy Labour and Ukip at a stroke and give the Tories decades of uncontested elections
What would you do?
Going to the country would also help the Tories plough on with their austerity agenda for at least an additional two years. Given that over 50% of George Osborne’s public spending cuts haven’t yet been implemented by May, she could get the worst aspects of the pain out of the way in the first couple of years of her new term in office. The Tories could flog off more of the NHS, especially to the big business friends of May’s new best friend, Donald Trump, they could take an ideological axe to everything about the public sector they hate so much, all with no opposition from the remnants of the Labour Party and cheer led by the right wing red top newspapers.
If you think Labour is divided now, just wait until you see what is coming down the road from the hard left Momentum group, led by Bennite Jon Lansman who are seeking to divide and destroy the Labour Party as we know it. They have now said as much. Anyway, the comrades of the hard left don’t want to win elections anyway: they prefer the purity of distant opposition, regardless of how this affects the very people they purport to support.
Nothing has changed my mind that Theresa May is hopelessly out of her depth as prime minister but she is almost Churchillian compared to the bumbling ineptitude of Labour’s woeful leader Jeremy Corbyn. He is so bad he makes her look good, an incredible feat.
I don’t know if May will go to the country but I have this sneaking feeling that when she triggers Article 50 she might also call a general election. I have a distant dream that somehow Labour might ditch Corbyn, and all the hard left comrades who surround him, and somehow become a party of meaningful opposition and eventually enter government. If May goes early to the polls, Labour takes a major, maybe the final, step to oblivion. Some people of the left might even welcome an early election to put them out of their misery because it might encourage the Labour Party to come to its senses. I don’t buy that, I’m afraid.
Only the Conservatives can win a general election now and in the foreseeable future. Why would May not want to get her own mandate and consign the opposition to the dustbin of history, if it isn’t there already? I’d like her to hang on until 2020, just in case. I can’t imagine why she’d want to.
The Sunday Times reveals that Bristol is the best place to live in Britain. Whilst I think that in many ways, Bristol is a great place to live, this view of the city may not be shared by everyone who lives here. Bristol, adds Rupert Murdoch’s organ, is “Cool, classy and supremely creative.” It is? And if it is, in what way?
I drove through Lawrence Weston last week and Barton Hill the week before. Neither seemed excessively cool and classy to me. And wandering down our high streets taking in all the charity and pound shops makes me wonder just how far those who made the judgement about our fair city moved from Clifton in their research.
The Harbourside is of course a mighty triumph, the rebirth of a post seafaring world but remembering faithfully that which went before. A world class university attended by both of my working class sons who mingle with a majority of privately educated children from all round the country. In fact, Bristol University has more privately educated students than Cambridge – over 50% – which I suppose says a lot for the quality of the university and not much for the meritocracy we should surely desire.
Certainly in terms of transport, there is nothing cool and classy about our woeful public transport system, or the permanent gridlock which makes driving through the city impossibly miserable.
The Sunday Times gushes even more: “There are jobs – lots of them glamorous, creative, hi-tech and professional.” Well, yes: I am sure there are scores of youngsters all over Knowle West and Southmead just waiting to be snapped up by Aardman animation and all the fancy dan arts businesses in Clifton. The vast majority of working class kids are headed into dead end insecure minimum wage zero hour contract jobs. Don’t give me all that “glamorous, creative hi-tech and professional” crap. This is a report made in Clifton for Clifton, it is for the ever expanding takeover by high rent hipsters who are changing Bristol into a very different city.
Don’t mistake real Bristolians from the luvvies who frequent the trendy bars and restaurants because most of them are more likely to visit Greggs or McDonalds than the latest Vegan project.
Clifton Village still look great, the giant estates less so.”The city is a worthy winner,” says the Sunday Times, “thanks to its ideal combination of extraordinary culture, impressive schools, buzzing culinary scene, exciting redevelopment and community spirit.”
Bristol is two cities and this version bears no resemblance to the one I know. Colourful Cliftonwood could not be further away from my reality.
It is the sense of entitlement of some, many, football supporters that is so unappealing about football. It is almost exclusively the province of The Big Clubs. Whereas supporters of so called smaller clubs want success, they also know their place and understand that success for them will be mere survival. Recent events at certain clubs have been perfectly revolting. For an example, I give you Arsenal.
Arsenal are rolling in money. They now own outright a huge stadium which is sold out for every game, despite eye-watering ticket prices. They always finish in the top four of the Premier League, guaranteeing Champions League football, and they win the odd Cup from time to time. Their owners, who continue to rake in millions, are happy with that and so, until recent years, have been the supporters. What’s changed?
Arsene Wenger has been Arsenal boss for at least 50 years, or at least it seems that way. He has been one of the prime movers in changing English football, not least by not rating English players and instead importing young Spanish and French boys. He has been a driver of sports science, of developing a certain type of passing football and of making a fortune for his owners. If your aim is to finish in the top four every season – and that’s very obviously been the height of ambition for Arsenal – please tell me where Wenger has gone wrong?
Listening to radio phone ins, seeing wealthy supporters hiring aeroplanes to fly flags in the sky calling for the manager to be axed and generally trying to get the man who made what their club the way it is to go, sacked has been utterly sick-making. And the sense of entitlement comes through. “We have a divine right to succeed”, “We’re a massive club” and “We deserve better than this”. The sheer, whining arrogance of it all. I can imagine some of the supporters crying into their Mojitos after the game. Nick Hornby could write a book about it.
We have the same thing in Bristol, albeit in miniature. Not with Rovers whose supporters are riding a wave of being better than we have been for years, but at The Big Club, the City, who, because they are owned by a billionaire tax exile, have the same sense of entitlement. “No manager is good enough for us, you see”. “We’re a Premier League club apart from on the pitch.” Actually, the latter is probably true but that gives no one a sense of entitlement. If your team is crap, then you are not in the lower reaches of the division for nothing, or in Arsenal’s case not in the top four.
I’m quite glad I support a club, Bristol Rovers, where expectations are lower, or rather more realistic. History has shown that we are probably where we are where we deserve to be and we know that, unlike the so called bigger clubs, Rovers are building through evolution. Long may it stay that way. I do not want to hear the radio ram-packed with callers from north of the river attacking the manager and owner for not speculating to accumulate (i.e. reckless gambling) or moaning about us not being in our rightful place.
There is nothing worse that football fans demanding better just because they feel they are a bigger and better club. Real life ain’t that way.
I can easily contain myself having heard the news that the new Formula One season is about to begin. Cars from as many as one of only ten competing teams have the remotest chance of becoming “world” champions. Has motor racing ever been more dull?
Yes, I know that F1 is a British success story in that most of the teams are based in the UK, that many of the brilliant engineers and designers are British, that it directly employs over 50,000 people in good jobs. But it’s still shit.
Things were not always better in the old days, but in motor racing they were. I grew up in an era when drivers had personalities – you know, were interesting to watch and listen to. Jackie Stewart, Graham Hill, Ayrton Senna, Michael Schumacher, Nigel Mansell – oh, hang on: forget him because he was as dull as ditchwater – were household names in households other than their own and some of them had star quality and charisma. Fast forward to now and we have dullards like Lewis Hamilton and 19 other blokes your average punter on the Clapham Omnibus has ever heard of.
And just think: the decline in interest in F1 started when the sport – if you can call it a sport – was on terrestrial TV. The figures were good on the BBC, less so on C4, they will be in the hundreds of thousands, rather than many millions – on Sky. For many years, the races haven’t been races, merely a spread out procession with a couple of top teams way ahead of the others.
It is obvious that every race will follow the same procedure which is that the driver who leads on the first bend will normally win the race. As modern racing cars rarely break down, the fastest car will win. I cannot believe that if the bloke on the back of the grid was allowed to drive the fastest car, he wouldn’t win in it and if dreary old Hamilton was driving the worst car, he’d be near the back of the field.
So, in Australia next week it will be the same old boring F1. Hamilton will probably win in the fastest car and nothing much will happen. Worse still for the “sport”, no one is talking about it. Go to your local and you will not find groups of chaps pontificating as to who will win the next Grand Prix, More likely, you will find that most people don’t know and don’t care.
Motor racing was always a minority sport that occasionally attracted the interest of floating sports fans. No more. It will only be petrol heads who pay to watch Sky – no casual viewer will bother to watch. See also cricket and now golf.
I used to tune in to F1 races just for the first lap and maybe for the last few, but why bother now?
There is a sad and indeed pitiful video doing the rounds of some of the British ex pat communities living in the Spanish Costas. In it, we see some of the estimated 108,000 pensioners currently living in Spain, the majority of whom live in ghettos, not integrating with the few Spaniards who remain, not bothering to learn the language and living entirely British lifestyles. They say they are happy with their lives in Spain, away from the grim greyness of the British maritime climate, but I am not so sure. But even if they are, they and other ex pats across the European Union must be very worried.
As things stand, the NHS reimburses the medical costs of ex pats to countries across the EU. This plainly won’t be the case post Brexit as we leave the EU, what will they do? There are two alternatives if they don’t wish to become citizens of the countries in which they live. The first is that people take out private medical insurance and the second is that they come home, not really an option given the escalation of UK property prices. Having dual-citizenship is not an option in Spain because the country doesn’t allow it.
Now I have heard the arguments. Why the hell should the British taxpayer fork out for Brits who don’t live in this country anymore? They’ve made their beds and they can just go and lie in them. I don’t agree with that, but then I don’t agree with just about anything that will happen in the post Brexit landscape.
Many of those who have emigrated to EU countries – and they number many hundreds of thousands – have worked all their lives in the UK and paid taxes and National Insurance accordingly. My view is that there should be an element of entitlement. I agree strongly with the idea of contributory benefits, where generally you get what you pay in for. I don’t see why ex pats should be excluded from this principle. But maybe they won’t have a say in things?
It’s the uncertainty, isn’t it? Personally, I cannot see the attraction of emigrating to sunnier climes if it means leaving your family behind, but we are all different. But imagine you are one of those people living in the sunshine and you see your health care being put at risk, as well as Britain leaving the clear skies partnership with EU which will see air fares rise steeply and the continued decline in the pound further eroding your pension. It’s a grim prospect and it’s why Theresa May should stop playing politics with people’s lives.
By not allowing EU citizens who work here to remain and to use them as negotiating fodder does our ex pats no favours. Does it not occur to her that the rest of the EU will do the same thing? We are not talking about goods and services here: we are talking about human beings. It should not matter if it is Spaniards working here or Brits living in the Costas. We should rise above that.
I have friends and family who live and work in various EU countries and some are very worried about the future and I feel for them, I really do. I suppose it is because I am an internationalist and see everyone as equal, unless they develop an interest in extreme religion, that is. I think it’s good that people can live, love, work, study and travel freely across Europe and I find it hard to believe that 52% of the British people are opposed to that, especially if they enjoy those very freedoms themselves.
Whether Brits are living in their own ghettos or embracing foreign cultures and integrating is beside the point. I still think freedom of movement matters whether or not we remain in the EU.
The BBC reports that “Schools should teach young people about how to identify “fake news”, says the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s education director.” I suppose that’s a good idea but I would suggest that someone should be teaching older people too.
Which part of british society most believed that Britain had lost control of its borders in the EU referendum last year? Or, in the same campaign, fell for the fake news that we would spend an additional £350 million every week if we left the EU, or that migrants cost the UK economy when in fact they were of a great net benefit? Oh yes. Older people.
With age comes wisdom, say some people, although I would suggest that this is a hideous inaccuracy. Wisdom is, they say, “knowledge that is gained by having many experiences in life”, like reading the Sun and Mail and believing every word, presumably, or listening to Nigel Farage and accepting his warped and poisonous view of the world. The young people I know, who have grown up in a political environment that has pushed their expectations and ambitions to the bottom of the pile, have learned about the way society has, or rather hasn’t, worked for them. Just because you are old doesn’t mean you have the monopoly on knowledge and wisdom.
Our young people have grown up much quicker than previous generations because we live in a world where change is happening quicker than ever. The rapid development of technology – it is pointless referring to it as “new technology” because most technology gets old very quickly – has dramatically altered the way we live and learn. Wisdom is accumulated in lots of different ways these days, not simply through the act of growing old.
Young people are exposed to fake news in different way from previous generations. For instance, young people no longer buy newspapers, many of which are purveyors of fake news to the old. The majority of the tabloid market is specifically aimed at more “mature” readers, mature in years not life, and a great deal of it deals in “fake news”, or in the case of certain newspapers what us writers refer to as outright lies.
There was nothing wise about the old damaging the life chances of the young by tearing us away from the EU. In fact, the young saw through the fake news but were narrowly outvoted. If we are going to warn young people about fake news, perhaps we could have evening classes for the old?
I cannot begin to tell you how much I love horse racing. You know, that bizarre sport where the main participants don’t have the first idea they’re competing in anything, where they are given stupid names which are not their proper names and, in jump racing, many of them are put to death if they are injured leaping over fences. I can’t begin to tell you how much I love it because I don’t. And I’ll prove how much I don’t like it.
A very kind woman offered me two free tickets for today’s Gold Cup day at Cheltenham and I turned them down. I was thrilled to be asked but I was never going to take them, and why would I? I spent 20 minutes aboard a train the other day which was, as Jeremy Corbyn might have put it, ram-packed with people who I can only describe as horse racing wankers. Men of all ages wearing comedy tweed outfits and women of all ages wearing what I hope were not their best dresses. They all had one thing in common: they were all, to a woman and man, blind drunk.
A new regulation was brought in this year at the festival where punters were only allowed to buy four pints at a time to prevent the wild drunkenness that occurred last year when certain footballers poured glasses of urine over the people below. Oh what fun they had. I imagine that instead of one person buying a round of drinks that this year punters merely queued to buy four pints each for themselves, over and over again.
The Corbyn analogy was appropriate since many of the punters were actually sitting in the toilet so no one could use it. Women, in their poshest frocks, actually sitting on the toilet seat and – I begin to retch here – on the floor, eating, drinking and laughing out loud amid the overwhelming stench of urine (and worse). My loyal reader will know that I have a thing about people who don’t wash their hands after using the bathroom. Here was a group of people consuming food and drink in the shitter. The journey of less than 20 minutes felt like an overnight train to Inverness.
Cheltenham, we are told, is the greatest racing festival of the year so I dread to think what the worst one is like. Horses that all look the same, five foot tall jockeys who all look the same apart from different coloured clothes and thousands of shouty, badly dressed drunks. What a sight to be hold, if that’s your idea of fun. I’d rather visit the dentist, thank you very much.
Football has really lost its marbles when Manchester United manager launches a fully frontal attack on unnamed “pundits” who have had the brass neck to attack his under performing midfield player Paul Pogba. “It’s not Paul’s fault that he gets 10 times the money that some players – some very good players – did in the past. It is not his fault that some of the pundits, they are in real trouble with their lives and they need every coin to survive and Paul is a multi-millionaire. It is not his fault.” All that for suggesting that the player had not quite justified the £93 million fee paid by Manchester United. Bring me the world’s smallest violin.
Now I agree that it’s not Pogba’s fault that he earns ten times the money that some players did in the past. If someone – in this case Manchester United – hands him £290,000 a week, he’s hardly going to say no, is he? He trousers considerably more than £41,000 every single day of the year, which is way in excess of what most people earn in a year, many in two or three years. That’s the market for you. No, I don’t blame him, personally, but I still think it’s obscene. But Mourinho can’t leave it alone.
He adds: “He is a kid that comes from a working family, a family with three boys that I am sure need a lot of food on that table every day because they are big giants.” I don’t like to use bad language in my blogposts, but for fuck’s sake. You can buy an awful lot of food for £15 million a year. If Pogba deserves respect for his achievements – and he does – than don’t people who exist from hand to mouth deserve respect for their efforts, too?
I don’t envy Pogba, or any other person, their wealth and indeed I celebrate the lives of those with aspirations and ambition who have worked hard to get on and succeed in their lives, including how much they earn. No Premier League footballer can be blamed for taking the money and running because it’s one of the most successful businesses in the world and those who make it a success – the players – earn the most money. Furthermore, this is the society we choose by voting in general elections.
What I don’t need, when I see on a daily basis people struggling through their lives without the care and support they need, when hospital corridors are stuffed with sick people who either can’t get a bed or be able to go home, when the sick and the old are not able to wash on a regular basis because they cannot afford care costs and hundreds of thousands of senior citizens live lonely, miserable lives in a country where they feel, justifiably, that they have been abandoned is an arrogant, egotistical footballer manager saying that “I feel that the world is losing values”, but referring only to a staggeringly wealthy footballer and not the ensuing chaos that is beginning to overwhelm sections of our society.
Sometimes it feels like football’s ruling classes are laughing at the rest of us. Mourinho is right when he says that Pogba deserves respect, but the way in which he acts affords me little opportunity to respect him.