Monday, 28 November 2005

Henry

A year ago today Henry, our family dog, died. I was sitting in an office in Columbia, South Carolina, when I opened up my email to see the news that I had been dreading throughout my sojourn in America. Thankfully no-one else was there, as I burst into floods of tears.

Henry was a Border Terrier, and lived to be sixteen – about two years longer than that breed can normally expect. That he did is a tribute to the excellent care he enjoyed, and my Dad’s very wise decision to slightly reduce Henry’s food consumption as he got older (there’s a lesson there!). He was born in my village in North Oxfordshire, and we bought him from a family who bred dogs in a responsible manner. He was named Henry after the French tennis player and showman Henri Leconte, because he came into the world waggling his head in a humorous style.

I remember seeing Henry for the first time. He was snuggled up in a basket in our kitchen. His arrival was a slight surprise, and I had mixed feelings. I was terribly upset when Titus and later Felix (both cats) died, and I wasn’t sure that I wanted to go through that again. But Henry soon made his happy presence felt.

He was – unquestionably – exceptionally good looking. Other Border Terriers always look like slightly (or not so slightly) smudged versions of Henry to me. He had big, soulful eyes, a neat nose and jaw, and a strong physique. He could run like the wind in his prime, and leap into the air to catch treats. At the sound of the word ‘treat’, or something similar, he would prick up his ears and approach in eager anticipation.

As a puppy Henry responded with admirable stoicism when my sister Becca dressed him up in a blanket and pushed him round the garden in a pram. I rarely felt as comfortable about showing affection, principally because I was scared about him dying, and I just hope Henry knew how much I loved him.

Henry barely left the village in his sixteen years of life. We never put him in kennels, and he was very happy at home. He was well known and much loved in the village, recognised by dog connoisseurs as special. He had a favourite walk, up to the top of a lengthy lane and back, and he always walked faster on the return. He was kind and agreeable to all.

There was never going to be any escaping the intense sadness I felt when Henry finally died, and in some ways being away from home magnified those feelings. All the campaign team were very kind, and special thanks goes to Anthony Quattrone who was a rock on the day. Yet I realised immediately that there was no doubt at all that I would not have had it the other way – would not have wished that Henry had never come to live with us, or that I had never allowed myself to love him. A life without tears is no life at all.

We are going to get a headstone for Henry, who is buried in our garden, to make sure it’s all done properly. Thanks for the memories mate – I won’t ever forget you.

Friday, 25 November 2005

London Society 2

NOTE: The same disclaimer applies to the following as applied here.


So dear, dear Roy Keane has been ushered out of Old Trafford (NOT Maine Road as I had thought) without so much as a farewell peck on the cheek. I don’t pretend to understand soccer – rugby is more my game, if only as a spectator – but it is hard to escape the conclusion that Roy has, once again, been treated abominably. He made some incautious remarks about his colleagues on the club television station (MOST unlike Roy), and Sir Alex Ferguson threw a queeny strop and showed him the door like a common or garden nightclub bouncer.

I suppose we shouldn’t expect a Scotsman to appreciate beauty or talent. After all, in centuries of existence their country produces ONE person who can read and write (Rabbie Burns - RABID Burns I call him), and they make him their patron saint. And their national dish is made up of the sort of scraps civilised people discard before the cooking process even begins.

Norman Lamont told me – and I suppose it is a LITTLE indiscreet of me to share this – that Roy wept quietly all the way from his Cheshire home to Norman and Julian Clary’s pad in London. (Julian has just learnt to drive, and Norman insisted he should get some practice in.) There will be no shortage of teams interested in Roy’s delicate signature of course, but he doesn’t feel he has achieved all he could at Manchester City. I gather he missed the European Champion’s Cup Final due to having been sent too many cards, which I must confess I cannot get my head around at all. Julian tried to explain it all to me, but to no avail.

Roy said that if he decides to carry on playing he wants to go to Glasgow Celtic. I shudder to think what such a fragile creature will make of the brutes up there, and even his naturally trim figure will suffer on a diet of battered Mars Bars for breakfast. Personally I think he should give it all up and finish his degree in Romantic Poetry, but he seems to love chasing that bag of wind around a field. And that, of course, is his right.

Julian got into a not inconsiderable tizzy with Norman, who kept on cracking inappropriate jokes about Roy being whipped on the fundament by mean boys in the showers with their towels. I don’t know if that has actually happened, but Wayne Rooney, who is King of the Chavs (whatever THAT means – it must be yet another soccer term) looks like a very rough boy to me, a proper oaf. If I’ve said it once I’ve said it a hundred times – some people simply lack the class to be rich. Apparently he spends it all on cheeseburgers and American cars, which doesn’t surprise me one bit.

What DID surprise, nay amaze, me was when Roy told me that some manufacturers pay Mr Rooney huge sums to wear their clothes. Good GOD. If I ran a sporting goods company, the very last thing I would want would be for oiks as unaesthetic as Wayne Rooney to be seen dressed in my wares. They should pay him to select ANOTHER brand, and focus their attentions on beautiful people like Roy. Norman said that Diadora, who supply Roy with his boots, DO have a Beautiful People policy, which is why they also sponsor someone called Gary Neville. I think he was teasing me though, because someone else started laughing and said “he looks like Dot Cotton”, who is a character in the soap opera Eastenders Street, which is so popular with ghastly common people like Mr Rooney.

Thursday, 24 November 2005

One Of Those Boring Weightlifting Posts You Tend To Skip

I had quite a good day in the gym this morning. I focussed on the deadlift, which is my favourite lift. I built up to an attempt at 200 kilos (440 pounds, 31 stone). I got it off the floor, but couldn’t hold it as I straightened up. I expect to nail it soon though, and my decision to get really into grip training will help.

Oliver (who is sadly, for me, departing Oxford for a few months) and I have agreed it would be fun to have a freakishly strong grip. So we’ve sent off for one of these, and I will be doing lots of pinch gripping of 20 kg barbell plates.

I still get fed up when I think I how much I want to be able to lift, but I’ll keep going. I’ve had a cold this week, and I was tempted to take the week off lifting. I'm glad I didn't - I ALWAYS feel better when I train. Overtraining is certainly a genuine phenomenon, but that doesn’t mean one should skip training if one has already built recovery into one’s programme. I’m further hoping that using a protein shake will be a boost to my energy levels.

My final observation is how much I prefer to train in classic powerlifter style – i.e. with a few minutes rest between sets. It’s not the best way to train one’s aerobic capacity, but that can be done elsewhere. And I’m not training for the muscular endurance World’s Strongest Man contestants need. One rep maxes are the name of the game for me.

Check out www.pullumsports.com, which I link to on the right. They have an excellent supply of stuff for those into weight training, and their sales staff are very nice and helpful.

Wednesday, 23 November 2005

There's Only One Chris Waddling

The following is an abridged version of an email conversation that this blog post provoked.


From: Chris Waddling
Date: Tue, 22 Nov 2005
To: Tom Greeves
Subject: Just curious

I was (egotistically) doing a search of the web for my name and came across an odd reference in your blog:

Monday, May 23, 2005
JK Steps Up To The Plate

"And Tom wrong footed me by sidefooting his first one to my left, when I was expecting him to blast it to my right. But he redeemed himself as far as I was concerned by Chris Waddling his next one."

What does 'Chris Waddling his next one' mean to you?

Thanks,

Chris


From: Tom Greeves

Date: Tue, 22 Nov 2005
To: Chris Waddling
Subject: Re: Just curious


Hi Chris,

Sorry to send you what may be a disappointing email.

Chris Waddle was an England footballer (i.e. soccer player) who famously hit a penalty massively high and wide of the goal in the 1990 World Cup Semi Final, resulting in England being eliminated from the tournament.


You WILL get a mention on the blog NOW, however!

Good to hear from you, and I'm sure fame awaits you eventually,

Tom


From: Chris Waddling

Date: Tue, 22 Nov 2005
To: Tom Greeves

Subject: Re: Just curious

Tom,


Thanks for the clarification. It’s just kind of weird when you think that someone is using your name in a definitive manner to mean an action that’s wholly uncoordinated.

And in defense of Mr. Waddle, from the image I saw, it looked like the ball hit the crossbar, so not too terrible ... Of course, that it’s still burned into your memory as an apparently seminal moment in your youth, well, it must have been important at the time.

Thanks again,

Chris WaddlING (the present continuous, not the simple present!)


It certainly was important Chris. And take another look. Chris Waddle’s penalty was so high and wide that the Man in the Moon himself must have been in danger …


Another funny story resulted from that World Cup Semi Final shoot-out. My friend Robert was a young eager boy when the infamous event occurred. As Stuart Pearce strode up to take his penalty, Robert turned to his father and said “Don’t worry Dad, there’s no way Stuart Pearce will miss.”

As soon as Pearce’s penalty had smashed off the legs of Germany’s keeper Bodo Illgner, Robert’s dad ordered Robert not only to leave the room but the whole house. Robert recounts this tale with glee, and with an absolute insistence that his dad was entirely justified.

Tuesday, 22 November 2005

Richard Hill: A Reply

I need to get on with responding to the guest posters who have kindly graced my blog in recent weeks. First up: Richard Hill. Have a read of what he said, as that would be much better than me trying to summarise it.


1. Winning is everything.

It is certainly true that firing off press releases, writing pamphlets and venting the spleen is less appealing to any self-respecting politician than forming a Government. But surely it is equally clear that there is no point in winning power unless you have SOME idea about what you want to do with it. Yes of course no-one in a democracy can get their way all the time, and there will be compromises to be had. Some of us will even support withholding plans for radical policy changes until after an Election; Labour never seem to get any heat for making the Bank of England independent without telling us about it first. And to an extent we should expect policy to evolve once a party is in power.

But those same self-respecting politicians are nothing other than power-crazed bastards if they are indifferent about the broad direction the country should go in. And that means having some specific principles that cannot be jettisoned for the sake of popularity. What those principles should be is a matter for a broader debate.

There is a more specific point here, however. We are continually told that being more socially conservative and more eurosceptic, and advocating substantial reform of the public services, would be a vote loser. I dispute that, and will come back to it another day.

2. Work for us, not for Labour.

See the previous paragraph.

3. Take the narrow road.

I doubt very much that I will not believe that we should advocate tax cuts at the next election. But Richard’s point here is well taken, and we have suffered from a credibility gap in the last couple of elections. And David Davis has not demonstrated sure-footedness on this issue recently.

4. Forget the little stuff and learn how to say no.

Yes indeed. We’re not the Lib Dems – we aspire to govern so we can’t promise the world.

Although picking on the Olympics and marketing tourism was just mean Richard – I recognise a dig at a former Tory DCMS desk officer when I see it!

5. Why promise tax cuts?

Yes. Although I still believe that there is a powerful case to be made for cutting taxes. And we need to look at spending – particularly on public service pensions, which are preposterously generous.

6. Forge an agenda for the state.

I have nothing to say about this other than that it is wholly correct and brilliantly expressed.

7. Be bored stiff by Europe.

I would love us to put this issue to bed once and for all, and I can see why people have breathed sighs of relief that the Tory Party is not tearing itself apart over Europe any more. But …

… the EU is undemocratic, sclerotic, regressive, racist, injurious of third world development and one of those issues that I alluded to under point number 1. It’s just too important to ignore, and I would happily see us lose some Party members if it meant we could firm up our position. Moreover, whilst it may be true that no majority in favour of withdrawal exists, I do not believe that we could not win the argument. It would be hard however, so perhaps we should focus on renegotiation.

“Remember that people can agree with your position and still find your obsessive approach to the subject a little strange.” That’s true enough. One of the problems is that some of the soundest people on this subject are swivel-eyed loons. That used to give me pause for thought, but it doesn’t any more. But it probably does still give other people pause, I admit.

8. Know Brown’s strengths and his weaknesses.

Elegantly argued, and persuasive.

9. You’re a politician, so don’t behave like one.

Correct, correct, correct.

10. Treat Parliament with contempt – or at least with a little less reverence.

No. I see the point – in a media age, little old Parliament seems rather twee. And I do not, for example, support Gordon Brown’s pledge to hold a vote in the Chamber before troops are committed to a war. But Parliament should stand as a bulwark against Government excess, we have a legislative system of government - and we tinker with or ignore that at our peril.

Yes, let’s not expect everyone to be as interested in Parliament as Sir Patrick Cormack and Tony Benn are, but the Conservative and Unionist Party should still have something to say about how Blair has ridden roughshod over democracy.

Making the hours more civilised was a good thing though, and Tory Whips who delighted in keeping Labour members in Westminster for late night votes (and I know for a fact that they did delight in it) should be ashamed of themselves. We’re meant to be the Party of the Family. And, if your board meetings clash with morning sessions in the Commons, quit the board - arsehole.

11. Don’t allow NIMBYs in your back yard.

Fairish point, but the calls for expanded airport capacity are based on unsustainable and unrealistic projections for an increase in demand, and we need to be looking at reducing the size of our population if we want to retain any green fields. And yes, that means being much tougher on immigration.

12. This is a secular election.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu: “I am puzzled about which Bible people are reading when they suggest religion and politics don’t mix.”

You can’t separate politics and morality either. If something is profoundly wrong, it is profoundly wrong. And the chances are that it is government which is making it possible. That’s certainly true of abortion and stem cell research. Everyone, including politicians, should be engaged in a lifelong search for the truth – however inconvenient that search might sometimes be.

More specifically, the likes of Tim Montgomerie, Cameron Watt, Peter Franklin and co. have a deep seated concern for improving the welfare of the disadvantaged, which many modernisers only seek to imitate for cosmetic reasons. (I accept that Richard respects them too, but too many Conservatives have spoken of Tim in particular in grotesque terms.)

13. Don’t mistake an elephant trap for an open goal.

As my American friends say: word.

14. Be robust on the war on terror.

Correctomundo.

15. Get the right sort of candidates.

Yes. But if we end up with all-women shortlists, I am going to kill and eat someone. Identity politics is for weenies.

16. Don’t ‘make the case’ – accept that people have made theirs.

Yeeeeah, but we shouldn’t be too timid. It’s just that we also shouldn’t be too mad.

17. Do your research.

Well argued – it is easy for people to reflexively slag off opinion polls (or the growth in special advisers). It’s nice to see an intelligent case for them, even though I am bound to come back to my boring old principle-comes-first-schtick.


A buddy is making a case for compulsory voting, in stark contrast to Nate’s piece, so I’ll deal with those together. Next up will be a response to James’s post on drug laws, which has attracted attention elsewhere.

Sunday, 20 November 2005

New Links

I've updated my links. Enjoy.

Wednesday, 16 November 2005

Guest Post On (Not) Voting

Herewith a guest post from my friend Nate Rusby.


Why I don't vote.

I suppose some sort of introduction is in order. Firstly, let me just say that I am a lazy man. I pride myself on it. I don't work, I don't study, I don’t have any hobbies, I most certainly don't sign on, and today I have decided not to get out of bed. I have prescribed myself 36 hours of bed-rest in order to recover from a slight cold and a temporarily broken heart. 26 hours into this session of lethargic recuperation, the inevitable boredom has kicked in and I have elected to pick up my laptop and address a question posed to me recently by a beardless BigTommyG. I can't quite remember how the topic arose, I must have been distracted by the bright city lights gleaming off his baby's bottom of a chin. But, when asked who I voted for, I was forced to admit, that I never had. The follow up was of course why? The answer should be quite obvious from my introduction really. I can't be bothered!

This statement usually evokes a number of platitudes from my politically active friends. Occasionally I’m described as an enemy to democracy. Sometimes I am accused of ignorance. Often I’m told I’ve offended millions of good men and women who fought and died for my right to freedom and democracy. Thanks to the banal BBC pro-vote advert, which aired recently, I am invariably informed that as a non-voter I am no longer allowed to contribute to any conversation round the pub table. And without fail, some prat always pipes up to suggest that I am somehow morally obliged to at least go to the polling station and spoil my ballot paper instead.

I shall address the question of spoiling my ballot paper first. This is clearly one of the most ridiculous suggestions I have ever heard. Why would I take the time to locate the relevant paper work, leave my nice, comfortable, cosy bungalow, to go and stand in a queue, getting cold and probably wet, in order to have no influence on the end result? How is this in any way a sensible or efficient way to achieve nothing? It is not. I am an expert on achieving nothing, so I should know. Personally I have found the most enjoyable way of achieving nothing is to just stay in bed or sit in my armchair for a bit. I discovered this by frequently spending whole days doing just that and not once has anything ever been achieved during one of these delightful little sessions.

Secondly I am not ignorant of all things political. I would describe myself as a keen amateur in these matters. An avid armchair supporter possibly. I like Question Time, This Week, and sometimes I enjoy occupying my afternoon post-Neighbours TV viewing time with a bit of BBC Parliament. I also read the Times 3 times a week - Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, but only during term time. My friend Gareth is a history student and hence has a large amount of spare time himself. For some reason he chooses to spend some of this time with me, drinking tea and talking politics. I am happy to oblige of course - it helps the day pass by. Gareth knows however, I am unlikely to get off my arse and walk the 4 minutes to the nearest shop. He therefore underlines stories he wants to discuss and posts the newspaper through my door before his thrice-weekly lectures, for me to peruse at my leisure, before returning 2 hours later for a “brew and a chat”. As a result of this extensive, but passive research, I consider myself to be adequately knowledgeable of the various political issues affecting this country. I am aware of the variety of policies laid out by the three major parties. I am confident and thankful that the vast majority of politicians here are decent and moderate professionals and anything introduced by the three main political parties will not limit my ability to do nothing all day. This being the case, I am going to be content for the foreseeable future. If I am relatively happy I see no reason whatsoever, to motivate myself to try and effect change.

This brings me on to the suggestion that by not taking part in the process I am somehow offending dead British soldiers. This is total crap. I am not opposed to democracy or an enemy of the state just because I choose to stay at home. In fact I am so happy with the job they have done in beating those horrible Nazis, that I sleep safe in the knowledge that nobody with extreme views has the slightest chance of getting into power under our current electoral system. Whether I wake up under a Labour or Tory government the day after the election, I will still be free to do sod-all for the rest of the afternoon, and I will be fairly certain that somebody is going to come and pick my rubbish up on Tuesday. These are the only things that really matter to me. Neither conceivable victorious party entirely represents my views on how this country should be run. But neither are they so far off the map that I am disposed to actively choose one over the other.

As for my refusing to vote somehow negating my ability to offer pub based comment, I am able to respond to this quite definitively. It transpires that, not only am I still allowed to verbalise my complaints, I can prove it. I am as capable as anyone at launching into a rant about the appalling state of comprehensive schools; the shortcomings of the NHS; the outrageous burden of council tax; and most importantly cigarettes costing more than a fiver a pack. You see I do care a bit about these things. I do have an opinion. I know many aspects of our country aren’t perfect. I am sensible enough however, to realise that the solutions to these problems are too complex for me to fully understand. I don’t know whether it possible to save X billion pounds purely by decreasing the bureaucracy inherent in the system. I am suspicious however that if this was really that easy, somebody would have tried it already. To the best of my knowledge there is no simple calculation to discover which party’s economic figures are accurate, and I really can’t be bothered with complex calculations. Therefore, although I am aware of party differences, I don’t really have an opinion on which one will be best for me, the country, or the World. I don’t know. I don’t care enough to find out. I don’t vote.

So are there any situations in which I can imagine voting? Well, yes. Maybe, just maybe, if we were allowed to vote over the web, and I was as bored as I am today, I would log on and cast my virtual ballot. Possibly, if I could just press my red button and interactively decide our nation’s future during an X-factor advert break, I would. What seems absurd though is that anybody could be so enamoured with obtaining my apathetic vote that they would introduce such a potentially costly and dangerous method of voting. I’m not sure whether such a system is being planned, but it sounds like just the sort of politically correct gimmick which might be on the cards. My advice to anyone who thinks this is a good idea is quite simple. Please don't bother! My vote really isn’t worth it.

If I thought that a party with extreme views, right or left, was in danger of coming to power then I would strategically vote for whichever mainstream party was most likely to damage their chances of success.

If there was a party standing for election whose manifesto read:
"Well basically we'd like to keep everything just the way it is. We realise that certain World events may occur which are outside of our control, and we may need to react to them. But rest assured that our policy will always be the one which we think is most likely to maintain the status-quo. We wholeheartedly promise to do our best not to make anything worse than it already is. The downside of this is that we have no ideas on how to make things better either. Oh, and if some freak economic event allows for it, we will try and cut the price of 20 Marlboro Lights to £4.99."
They could be called "The better the devil you know party" and they would represent my views so completely that I would be forced to get out of bed and actively support them.

Right, that's 55 minutes of my life I've devoted to this. 5 minutes to check for any glaring spelling mistakes, and that only leaves me 9 hours left in bed before I can back to the serious job of sitting round watching the TV. My thanks to BigTommyG for inviting me to post - I am forced to admit that I've actually quite enjoyed writing it. My thanks to anyone who takes the time or effort to read this but you know you really shouldn’t have bothered!



I have more sympathy for this than you might expect. Certainly I despise the whole Electoral Commission let's-spend-lots-of-money-reminding-people-to-get-out-and-vote phenomenon. If someone hasn't realised there is an election on, it means that they haven't read a single paper or watched a single news bulletin - so why should we covet their opinion? And making voting compulsory would let politicians off the hook - it should be their job to persuade us why they are special.

Thanks Nate, and keep 'em coming. I stress once again that I welcome guest posts. I can be emailed at tommywgreeves@yahoo.co.uk.

You Have To Say That’s Magnificent

Never let it be said that I’m not brilliantly insightful.

Read this, and then read this, and remind yourself just why you enjoy visiting here so much.

Tuesday, 15 November 2005

Come Back, We Still Need You

Good possible news for all right-thinking people. And I don’t just mean Right Wing people; the political health of the nation will receive a big boost if this chap comes back to the Front Bench.

Sunday, 13 November 2005

Better Than Banging Smack And Then Writing A Song About It

Simply and straightforwardly, yesterday was one of the best days of my life.

It began well, with a good session in my new gym. Capriciously, I decided to try the Olympic lifts (the snatch and the clean and jerk) and enjoyed them so much that I think I’ll start doing them again regularly. I even managed a new PB on both (albeit rather pitiful ones). Deadlifting and benching went well too. So a good start to the day. (By the way, the hall was full of members of the Oxford University dance team. No flies on those guys, many of whom were not - with all due respect - scarred by the pretty stick, but who were enjoying the company of some girls who were. I remember hearing of the fury of a rugby league player when he was informed that dancing carries a full Blue. Maybe he should have given it a go himself.)

The next step was to take luncheon in a slightly notorious pub near me. In fact it was perfectly agreeable. Then I faced a dilemma: to catch up on my laundry or to take myself off to the Kassam Stadium and watch Oxford United. Like any healthy male, I decided on the latter almost instantly. Thank God I did.

And yet the game itself was a big disappointment. Yes, there were three goals, the last of which was quite special. Unfortunately, none of them were scored by Oxford players. And I still can’t fall in love with the new, soulless and very empty stadium. And the glory days of the Manor MIGHT one day be matched, but are gone forever. So why was it such a successful afternoon? Well, it was certainly nice to find out that Oxford were at home in the morning and set out less than an hour before the game, and realise that I can do that both on Saturdays AND during the week. And it’s always good to watch a game, and we were much cheered by the England win that followed. But that wasn’t the best bit.

The best bit was deciding not to buy a ticket off a guy whose mate hadn’t turned up (in this instance I think that was the true story), but to stick in a queue. Glancing around, I spotted Keith and Robert. I met Keith when we were 17, at a conference in Oxford, and he swiftly became one of my best friends. Life being what it can be, we lost touch, and with few mutual friends to act as a catalyst for a reunion (none in fact, as I’ve sadly lost contact with them too), the months turned into several years. But here was a gilt-edged opportunity (they were at the back of their queue so I didn’t even have to push in!), so I ambled over, somewhat nervously.

I’m SO pleased I did. Keith was incredibly gracious when I broke the news that I’m a Tory, and within minutes – literally – it was just like (what were very good) old times. This nostalgia was complemented by the fact we were able to chat about what’s gone on since. And here’s the real double whammy – it turns out that Keith’s brother Robert (whom I always liked but never knew well) is also a top drawer bloke and lives in Oxford. Gradually I am amassing an army of friends in this great city.

It was sinfully good to go off and see some MORE friends after the England game. Jojo is a great pal from university, and I am thoroughly enjoying getting to know her husband Matt, whom she married last year and who is one of the most interesting conversationalists I know. And they gave me some encouragement about dipping my toes into waters I have been surveying for a while now. Stay tuned for more on that at a later date.

Jojo and Matt had to catch a bus, but Robert and Keith returned and we went and shot some pool. Needless to say on a day like this, I played quite well, and more importantly, we all agreed that we must keep very much in touch this time.

I assumed I’d have to get a cab, but of course there was a bus ready and waiting for me outside the club, and even though some a-hole / bitch treated us to a Technicolor Yawn, I leapt over it with the grace of a particularly athletic gazelle as I disembarked.

And the weekend isn’t even over yet!

It’s good to be alive.

Friday, 11 November 2005

What Would Alan Partridge Say?

A couple of friends have asked me recently what I think about the prospect of the State holding someone for 90 days without trial. Mark C assumed I’d be posting on the matter, and he has galvanised me into action. But first it was necessary to do some research and to give it some thought – this is an issue on which you can’t have too much information. (Actually maybe you CAN have too much information – it might prove hard to sleep if we were given all the gory details of what sort of attacks we can expect.)

The upshot of my research is twofold: 1) It’s rather complicated and 2) I am too tired to do much research. But it does seem to me to boil down to a question of fundamental beliefs. A reasonable case can be made by Mr Blair and senior police officers that holding someone for 90 days could be necessary for vital evidence to be uncovered. Blair claimed that there are two warehouses full of evidence relating to the 7th July attacks. It will take them a heck of a long time to wade through all that.

The question is, are we comfortable with people sitting in jail for 90 days without trial while the police and security services do their work? It seems to me no problem at all that someone reasonably suspected of being a terrorist could be inside for fourteen days, as is the case at present. The Tories think 28 days might now be necessary, in light of the particularly ruthless foe we now face. But 90? That is three months – a quarter of a year. It really IS significantly longer than 14 days. I spent around 90 days in the USA last year, and they were some of the most memorable days of my life. The thought I could have spent them sharing a box room with a guy called “Red” who was 400lbs and had amorous intentions is a disquieting one.

But then again I doubt I’d be hauled in on suspicion of being a terrorist. (This is even less likely since I had to shave my big beard off after a trimming accident. After a few months of looking like a Russian submarine captain, I was appalled at how massive my nose seemed when I removed my whiskers. I can’t quite get over it, which I made the massive tactical error of admitting to my little sister.) Moreover, I reckon I could fight Red off, or send him in a different direction, to someone more bitchlike. And so here’s the rub – I would be very uncomfortable about innocent people being kept inside for 90 days, but I don’t mind if guilty ones are.

Yes, yes, of course that sounds absurd, or absurdly simplistic. It brings to mind a wonderful scene when Alan Partridge (a comedy character who is a repressed chat show host played by Steve Coogan) was interviewing someone about crime, and came out with the classic line “I hardly think the police would go around arresting innocent people”. I do get the whole the-state-should-have-to-prove-it’s-case thang, and I am not of the view that it’s a luxury we can no longer afford in the current climate. But what happened on 9/11, and here on 7th July, and almost happened later that month, has really concentrated my mind. When you’re faced with the prospect it could be you or someone you love who these bastards kill, theory goes out the window, and your soul is revealed to you. The cold hard truth is, I do not agree with the proposition that “it is better that ten guilty men should go free than that an innocent man should be imprisoned”.

Part of the problem is undoubtedly that Tony Blair has proposed this extension. He is so unpopular now, and so discredited by Iraq, that far from being inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt, people reflexively assume he is being malevolent and mendacious. (Blair appears to realise this, which is why he kept stressing that the idea came from the police.) But while it may suit Jeremy Paxman’s purposes to silently ask himself, throughout every interview he conducts with a politician, “Why is this lying bastard lying to me?” it should not suit ours. Indeed given Blair’s preoccupation with news and expectation management, it should give us pause that he was willing to risk putting such an unpopular policy to a vote in the House of Commons – which vote he has famously lost.

But in the end it boils down to a question of values. A good case could be made for holding someone for 90 days; it could probably be made for holding them for a year, if the primary concern was collecting adequate evidence. Or we could decide that we shouldn’t hold anyone at all before they go to trial. Or we could advocate hardcore torture to try to elicit information that might save thousands of lives. Are we utilitarians? Are we avowed supporters of civil liberties? Where do we draw the line in the sand?

Perhaps we are best advised to start with what we KNOW. We know we are faced with a vicious enemy who will trade his own life (or at least convince his minions to trade theirs). We know that a judge would have reviewed the case once every seven days if someone was going to be held for 90. We know that the statement “a man is innocent until he has been proven guilty” is not necessarily true as a matter of fact, even if we agree that it should remain true as a matter of law. We know that being held for 90 days is not “a six month sentence” in a temporal sense, although it is one in a legal sense. We know that we would not like to get to know Red better, even if we are wholly guilty of a crime that merits jail time.

It is right and proper that opposition politicians, and indeed Labour backbenchers, and indeed Labour ministers, should ask pointed questions of the Prime Minister. Parliament is all too often bypassed and belittled – at its best it stands as a bulwark not merely against tyranny, but also against plain old fashioned bad legislation, however well intentioned. (This is where I disagree with my friend Richard Hill, whose post I must respond to.) Having rejected the 90 day proposal, MPs must now give proper thought to what should happen instead.

I am not convinced that 90 days is desirable. Nonetheless, I finish with this final thought. Civil libertarians would have us believe that no-one in Guantanamo Bay is guilty, and that if the Bill had passed yesterday, thousands of us would have faced three months with guys like Red. Neither of those assertions is true of course. Ultimately we do not know exactly who is guilty and who is innocent, and that’s why we have trials. But in trying to delicately balance all the issues, let us not be overwhelmed by the prospect of someone innocent doing porridge – at least not at the exclusion of all other considerations. A criminal lawyer once told me that he did not believe he had EVER had an innocent client. The State should never assume that someone is guilty. But in our private personal deliberations over policy, we might occasionally face up to the likelihood that the vast majority of people arrested for serious crimes are guilty as sin. Alan Partridge had a point you know.

Thursday, 10 November 2005

Public Service Broadcasting

The BBC licence fee – money well spent. It's vital that we protect this bastion of impartial and above all HIGHBROW news. It's the unique way it's funded that makes it so special, don't you know?

I'm just amazed that Davis didn't claim he always goes commando "just like the Navy SEALs". And I suppose we should be grateful that arch-moderniser Cameron didn't profess a love for the male g-string.

Monday, 7 November 2005

Raise the game guys

The Tory leadership race is getting incredibly asinine. Read this, and then retire to the lavatory to barf your lunch.

Tuesday, 1 November 2005

Something Tells Me I'm Into Something Good

I've just joined a powerlifting gym, for the princely sum of £50 for a year. Yes, you read that right. Fifty piffling poundingtons to gain access to some top class Eleiko barbells and discs. Such an opportunity demands that I respond by giving my all in and out of the gym, in my quest for greatness on the platform. I do not intend to fail.

Paul and I are thrilled to be in the flat, and we're enjoying getting to know the neighbourhood. There's a pool club nearby, and the local drinking holes are agreeable. We now have a TV, and although the TV itself doesn't seem to work (yet), we can watch videos. Already we have what I am sure is one of the best batchelor pads in Oxford.

I went to the other place this weekend, to watch Cambridge United and to see my godson Oliver and his family. It's always a tremendous time, and Oliver rocks. It is a source of immense pride to have such a cool godson. I also caught up with Becca, my sister, which was equally splendid. It burnt a bit of a hole in the old wallet, but I guess that's what big brothers are for ...

I'm thinking of honing my public speaking skills by going back to the Oxford Union. Maybe I can sock it to a couple of Cabinet ministers. Don't think I'm eligible for the Presidency though, but hey ho.

There are lots of pretty girls in Oxford. You never know your luck in a big city, that's what I say.

That's all for now, grapple fans.
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