Friday, 27 November 2009

The sad, sad world of Katie Price.

This week ‘model’ Katie Price, also known as Jordan, the favourite hate figure of the tabloid press, walked out of jungle based reality show ‘I’m a celebrity, get me out of here.’

Her exit was in response to having been voted to undergo six successive ‘bush tucker trials’, a unique dining experience involving chomping on fried insects and Kangaroo genitalia. Having been told she had been voted to be thrown into a snake pit, what did they expect her to do, eat the snakes?, Price said ‘Someone else has to do it; I’m just not doing it anymore.’

Since the news broke on Monday morning I have been telling myself that I’m a serious person and don’t care, and its true I don’t care, but I do find it interesting because our attitude towards the car crash that is Katie Price says a lot about the state of our culture.

It is impossible not to warm to Katie Price the former page 3 model with a shrewd head for business and an even more shrewd understanding of the prejudices and aspirations of her audience; it is, though, equally impossible to do anything other than recoil in horror from Jordan, the pneumatic poster girl for all that is most brash about modern Britain.

The problem is both Katie and Jordan are halves of the same split personality and we the public sometimes struggle to know where one ends and the other begins; worse still Price herself seems to have the same problem.

Just now in this Jekyll and Hyde tale for the noughties nasty Jordan seems to have the upper hand. It was the brash, attention seeking half of Price’s personality that led her to mark the end of her marriage to fellow micro celeb Peter Andre with a series of ever more lurid capers played out on the front pages of the red top tabloids ending with a bizarre attempt to find ‘closure’ by appearing on a television reality show so witless if it were a person it wouldn’t be allowed to cross the road on its own.

The public liked ballsy Katie Price when she was standing up to the polo club snobs who didn’t want her sort soiling their manicured lawns because she was striking a symbolic blow for everyone who has been patronised for not having the right accent or connections; they hated super slapper Jordan for abandoning her children and falling out of nightclubs at three in the morning because it reminded them of how often they put self pity dressed up as the right to have a good time ahead of responsibility. That was why more people than can be bothered to turn out at a general election voted to see her have snakes and spiders tipped over her head on a nightly basis.

Perhaps flouncing out of the jungle will earn Katie Price a sort of ‘closure’, in the sense of the door closing once and for all on her media career leaving her alone in her mansion telling her reflection in the mirror that she is still big it is reality TV that has gotten small. In the long run that might be the best possible outcome for the damaged, but even now not unlikable woman behind the gaudy fa├žade.


Tough Lessons.

rom 2011 children in British primary schools are to be taught about domestic violence and gender equality as part of a ‘Together we can end violence against women and girls’ strand in their personal and social health lessons.

Campaign groups working with victims of domestic violence had welcomed the initiative, Sandra Horley of Refuge said ‘This huge social issue will only end when people are educated about why it happens and where they can get help.’

While welcoming the steps taken so far Ms Horley stressed ‘Prevention will help in the long term, but in the meantime there is an urgent need for services for abused women and children to be improved.’

Doubtless there are legions of people who will bridle at the though of such a contentious subject being introduced to young children, listen closely and you can already hear them huffing and puffing about ‘political correctness gone mad’ and anti-male agenda and an attempt by evil social engineers to further damage the ‘innocence’ of childhood.

After all, they will say, most children are lucky enough to live in families that are free of violence, why spoil their few years of being insulated from the cares of the world?

To which the only answer is, yes but for 750,000 children violence is part of their everyday life with consequences that extend far into adulthood, there is no innocence for them, only pain and fear. It is our responsibility to offer them all the help we can and often the only way to do so is through the school system.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Speaking for himself.

Is there a sillier man in British politics than speaker of the House of Commons John Bercow? Please don’t write in on a postcard because the question was a rhetorical one to which the answer is no there isn’t.

Last weekend Mr Bercow popped up on the BBC’s Andrew Marr programme to tell us all that in his esteemed opinion MP’s should expect to receive ‘rough justice’ from the parliamentary authorities over their excessive expenses claims.

In full theatrical flow he declaimed that ‘the public perception of the way in which we operate is so negative that it is necessary to accept a wholesale, fundamental and irrevocable change. There’s an element of rough justice, but it is necessary.’

Justice is certainly needed, but it is never necessary for it to be ‘rough’, not in the way Mr Speaker means it anyway since he is merely trying to cash in on the wave of outrage about flat screen TV’s and Kit-Kats paid for out of the public purse that has been washing around since the summer. What we need, but still haven’t had, is a reasoned debate about just what we pay the people who make our laws, with men like John Bercow on the job we may never get one.

There is, even worse, a distinct touch of hypocrisy in John Bercow’s call for rough justice to be applied to MP’s caught fiddling their expenses, after all he is still battling allegations that he spent £45,581 renovating his lavish apartments in the Palace of Westminster. He initially claimed the work cost no more than £20,000 and then that he had no control over how much was spent, although, of course, he did by exercising enough common sense to realise that when the public is up in arms over just how high on the hog its representatives live its not a good idea to be planning some expensive DIY.

Common sense though does not seem to be something of which the current occupant of the Speaker’s Chair is ever going to have a surplus. He is a lightweight so light he must need led ingots sewn into his turn ups just to keep him on the ground.

John Bercow presents himself as a bold reformer, most recently in an article written for the usually sensible New Statesman, but is version of change is always cosmetic. Replacing the Speaker’s, admittedly absurdly anachronistic, robes with a lounge suit and an academic gown does not constitute modernisation, merely half hearted window dressing.

The word is that Mr Bercow gained one of the highest posts in the land by virtue of being more articulate that his predecessor and because certain Labour MP’s value his ability to annoy his fellow Tories. There is, of course an even better method of annoying the Tories, they could formulate some half decent policies, sadly this week’s Queen’s Speech suggests that Labour have largely missed that particular bus.

The good news is that former UKIP leader Nigel Farage is to break with precedent and stand against John Bercow at the general election, he might just win too. If that happens a newly elected crop of MP’s might just be persuaded to drag a real reformer to the chair.

Farewell to the Equalizer.

The death was announced this week of Edward Woodward star of horror classic The Wicker Man at the age of 79.

His agent Janet Glass told the press that he was ‘universally loved and admired for his classic roles on film and television’.

Perhaps the greatest of all those roles was that of soulful hit man Callan in the television series of the same name, a programme that captured perfectly the weary cynicism and simmering rage of Britain in the seventies, unlike many programmes from that era it is still watchable almost forty years later.

The stature of a performer is measured in the respect offered to him by his peers and the extent to which his work remains relevant; Edward Woodward passed the test of true greatness by excelling by both standards.

Friday, 13 November 2009

A slip of the pen spells trouble for embattled Brown.

These days saying it’s been a bad week for Gordon Brown tends to prompt the question ‘does he have any other kind?’

As ever his misfortune is mostly the product of his own by now legendary social awkwardness. This time round he has been in the firing line for spelling the name of Grenadier Guardsman Jamie Janes as James in a handwritten letter of condolence sent to the boy’s mother.

Speaking to the Sun newspaper, no friend of the Labour Party these days, Mrs Janes said the mistake made her feel ‘so angry’ and matters were made no better by the poor state of Gordon Brown’s handwriting, about which Mrs Janes said : The letter was scrawled so quickly I could hardly even read it.’

To his credit Brown telephoned Mrs Janes to apologise, but with the sort of bad luck that only he seems to attract the transcript of the call in which she berated him about the lack of decent equipment for British troops fighting in Afghanistan made the front page of the Sun the day after.

You have to feel for a mother who lost a son in a war that no longer has the support of the British public or, it seems, any purpose beyond avoiding the embarrassment of pulling the troops out and admitting that nothing can be done. She had every right to take Gordon Brown, or any other politician for that matter, to task about the shameful way this country treats its troops.

It would be hard though not to feel a little sympathy at least for Brown who told the press following the incident ‘I have at all times acted in good faith seeking to do the right thing. I do not think anyone will believe that I write letters with any intent to offend. After all however awkward the presentation he does act in good faith, or at least what he believes to be good faith anyway.

And yet sympathy has been in noticeably short supply, the accusations thrown at Brown range from the practical, someone in his office should have proof read the letter before it was sent, to the hysterical with the PM being accused of disrespecting the brave boys who lay down their lives for this country and, since he didn’t bow his head when laying a wreath a the cenotaph last Sunday the memory of the dead of the two world wars too.

Just why is it that we refuse to ever cut Gordon Brown any slack, other Prime Ministers have been unpopular but none to my knowledge have been subject to the constant deluge of criticism and ridicule directed at the present incumbent.

Ok he is the author of many of his own misfortunes from failing to call an election in the autumn of 2007 through the 10p tax debacle to this week’s announcement that child care vouchers are to be snatched away from the majority of working parents. Brown exhibits a wooden headed determination to follow policy decisions that have been demonstrated to be wrong because like all fundamentally weak men he fears changing his mind will highlight his weakness.

He made few friends amongst Labour Party grassroots members when he pledged to abandon spin, remember the phrase ‘not flash just Gordon?, and then proceeded to lead a government that spins like a top. Treating the party leadership as his for the taking without the people who plod the streets posting leaflets for the party having a say was also an arrogant mistake.

In person I suspect Gordon Brown, like Edward Heath before him is an awkward and rather selfish man with no small talk and little interest in life outside Westminster; not for him the hinterland of interests that keeps politicians sane and in touch with the world of the people they govern. When, as it will next year, his time in Downing Street comes to an end the rest of his life will, like that of Heath, be a void filled with resentment.

All of these things make him a less than sympathetic man, but not a man undeserving of sympathy.

The fact that the media and by extension much of the British public are rather enjoying the slow implosion of Mr Brown’s ambitions says something not at all nice about our character. Just like the sort of children who stand and laugh when a smaller boy cries because he was pushed over in the playground it amuses us to see him hurt because the hurt shows. Doubtless Mrs Thatcher and Tony Blair were plagued by dark nights of the soul and frequently doubted their ability to bear the great burden of office; Churchill, the greatest man ever to hold the office of Prime Minister was haunted all his life by a depression he called his ‘black dog’, but in public all three presented a front of dauntless optimism, however grave the situation.

Gordon Brown does not have that ability, every slight from a newspaper columnist who never took a decision more difficult that choosing to have tea or coffee, every jibe in the commons from a disgruntled back bencher who believes he should have been made a minister, every stick; every stone leaves a visible scar on his increasingly haggard face. Like a boxer being pummelled on the ropes the question is not if but rather when he will go down for the count.

All politicians enter their trade knowing that their every action will be subject to criticism, that is only right in a democratic country, but every now and again they way in which we highlight their failings throws an unflattering light on our own.

Friday, 6 November 2009

A brush with broken Britain.

Last weekend I caught the train back to my home town of Stoke-on-Trent after spending a weekend in Manchester. I’d like to be writing about the delights of travelling by train through the hidden back side of one of our great cities or the charmingly British practice of always standing on the right of an escalator so that people rushing for their train can pass by quickly on the left. A rule, I might add, that is enforced by our innate good manners rather than the demands of the station authorities.

I’d like to write about those things, but I can’t because of an incident that showed me a much uglier aspect of life in modern Britain.

After getting off the train I walked out of the station into a busy street, as I waited for a taxi to draw up at the rank I became aware of a dozen or more young men running towards me from the direction of the North Stafford hotel grunting like Neanderthals, from somewhere to the rear of the station came another party of young men, within seconds a pitched battle in which fists, bottles and even a pool ball were thrown with malicious intent had ensued.

For ten minutes or so a street in a civilized town in a major nation was turned into violent chaos. The two gangs of thugs, obeying their own warped moral code, did not deliberately attack innocent bystanders, in fact one apologised for knocking over my suitcase. That, of course does not alter the fact that a beer bottle when thrown is not a smart bomb primed only to hit its ordained target, rather it is a blunt instrument that injures anyone and anything unlucky enough to cross its path.

I don’t usually buy the line sold by David Cameron and his policy advisers that British society is in some way ‘broken’, since I see too much that is good and hopeful about this country, whatever problems we may face at the moment. And yet, having experienced what I did last Sunday it is hard not to feel there is something seriously wrong.

The young men fighting on the street that afternoon did not belong to a desperate underclass driven to violence by poverty you need a disposable income to follow football. These young men had chosen violence and stupidity in the way others choose to study for an exam or to marry and start a family.

They are the ugly, snarling representatives of an arrogant sub culture in which gratifying the demands of their own ego is their primary concern and any challenge to their doing so is a threat to be met with extreme violence. Whoever wins the next election will find the task of teaching such people to respect the property of others and the rule of law as great a challenge as reviving the economy.

Brown’s effigy goes up in smoke.

It is probably an accolade he is less likely to crow over than being named ‘Statesman of the year’, but it is none the less an significant achievement, Gordon Brown is to become the first British Prime Minister to be burnt in effigy within home shores.

The mock immolation is to take place at Ripon and John Richmond of the committee organising the community bonfire explained the reasoning behind it saying, ‘Guy Fawkes did want to blow up the houses of parliament, it was a political plot, so we wanted to keep a political theme with the economic situation as it is and an election coming up.’

Burning, ok only in effigy, politicians at the stake, after the expenses scandals of the past year its something that might just catch on.


Free tickets for our boys in uniform.

I started this week by writing about the ugly violence that spoils so much of British life and does irreparable damage to our reputation abroad; it is a pleasure then to end with something that shows our country in the way we would most like it to be seen.

This week saw the launch of a scheme backed by Match of the Day presenter Gary Lineker and Johnson Beharry VC, amongst other luminaries; that will allow military personnel to enter a ballot to win free tickets to concerts and sporting events.

Lineker, who visited British troops serving in Afghanistan earlier this year, told the BBC ‘An important aspect for any person in the services is that they feel appreciated.’

The scheme would, he said, show our troops that people at home ‘really do care and respect their sacrifice for our country.’

We are, alas, a long way away from adopting the American practice of spontaneously applauding people in military uniform when they pass through, say, the departure lounge of an airport, but this excellent scheme is a small step in the right direction.