Sporting sadness

I will start by admitting that I am no fan of sport, let alone Tennis. I haven’t followed Wimbledon since the ‘tie break’ rule came in, and we lost the thrilling games of yesteryear. Plus ‘Baseline’ tennis also bored me to tears, and I yearned for a return to those ‘serve and volley’ days.

But my post today is about sadness. Sad at the desperation this country feels to achieve some acclaim, in modern sport. So much fuss today, about Johanna Konta. She is ‘representing’ Britain, and has achieved a breakthrough, to the Wimbledon semi-finals. Her success has been lauded as the first time a British woman has been through to this round, since Virginia Wade, in the equivalent of the tennis ‘stone age’.

How proud we are. How effusive are the commentators, and the excited news reports. Flags are flying high, British tennis is on the ascendant. Although she may be minced up by one of the Williams sisters, those automatons of modern tennis, it doesn’t matter. She is through, and we are almost ecstatic as a nation.

But hang on. Something is wrong here, surely?

This young lady was born of Hungarian parents, in Australia. She had an Australian passport, and played tennis for that country. Fair enough, she was born there. Johanna Konta, Australian tennis star. That sounds good. Well done to her. Australia has a great tennis heritage, and she should do well, given the right chances. But then her parents moved to the UK. Johanna went to Spain, to improve her tennis skills. So, Johanna decided to become a British citizen, just five years ago, in 2012. She then appeared as a tennis player for Great Britain. No longer Hungarian by the nationality of her parents, or Australian by the nationality of her birth. Suddenly, she is British, and our great white hope in tennis.

So, am I proud? No, quite frankly, I am ashamed. Because she is good at a particular sport, she is accepted immediately, unlike so many others struggling for a British Passport. Give her nationality, forget her Australian (and Hungarian) roots. She is as English as me. Hooray! Remember Zola Budd? I do.

As far as I am concerned, this is simply unacceptable. Sporting prowess should not equal nationality.

The Descent of May

Politics is a precarious path for a career, that’s for sure. Not so long ago, Theresa May was flavour of the month. The new strong woman, adored by many of the rank and file supporters, a better option than Thatcher; less abrasive, no annoying children, and smartly dressed too, in designer clothes.

Even though she hadn’t supported leaving the EU, she boldly threw her hat into the ring to succeed Cameron, emerging as the new leader with her own catchphrases, ‘Brexit Means Brexit’, and ‘Strong And Stable’. Even her enemies had to concede that she had a handle on things, and that she epitomised the Conservative ideology in a way that the public schoolboys preceding her never could.

Somewhere along the way though, it all went very wrong. Perhaps she was badly advised, or maybe the whole thing just went to her head. She could have waited out the term of the government, got on with the job, and led the negotiations around leaving the EU. But she wanted more. Personal approval, public affirmation of her leadership, and the possible destruction of any viable opposition.

So she called an election. One she was expected to win. One I thought she would win. I expected a Conservative landslide, the end of Jeremy Corbyn as opposition leader, and successive Conservative governments ruling unhindered until my dying day. All she had to do was to keep her nerve, and not disclose the reality of their policies. Say a few nice things, meet a few real people, including some who didn’t agree with her. Get her hands a little dirty on the campaign trail, and try to come across as someone behind the mask, and that iron grey hair.

But no. Instead, she decided to tell us what was best for us. The rich would continue to get richer, the poor could stay where they belong, and everyone in the middle would just do as they were told. She scolded her greatest supporters, the elderly, by taunting them with the prospect of selling their houses to pay for social care. She would not increase their pensions, and would means-test them for every benefit and allowance. As for the young, they wouldn’t vote anyway, so they could all shut up.

Why bother to appear on national TV debates, to argue her point? Why meet people in deprived areas that she didn’t want to associate with? Better to travel to nice comfortable places, where she would be welcomed by the wealthy and unconcerned. Better to give solo interviews to reporters than to face questioning from plebs about her policies. She didn’t need to do any of that, she was certain. Her victory would be enormous, the insiders and the pollsters had all told her, and she believed them.

They got it wrong, and so did she. She emerged with a tiny majority, and had to seek support of the far right DUP to prop up her government. Anyone else would have admitted failure, and resigned. At the very least, they would have gone back to the country with another election, apologised for their previous errors, and sought a bigger mandate. But she decided to cling on, to become an embarrassing figure, a female John Major, going from ‘The Grey Men’, to ‘The Grey Woman’. Then came the additional mistakes. Refusing to meet the victims at the site of the Grenfell Tower fire, and refusing to give interviews to the BBC journalists at the scene. As her political opponents showed their chops by hugging homeless victims, and helping to shift boxes of aid, she hurried back in her car to the studios of the BBC, to give a ‘personal’ interview with one chosen reporter.

She then threw away any chance of redemption via that interview, by harping on about the same things, boasting about the £5 million in aid for the victims, but unable to tell the reporter when and how it will be given out. She refused to accept any government responsibility for ignoring safety warnings after similar fires, and repeated her prepared quotes like a broken record. She looked older already, the signature eye-bags bigger than ever, her posture slumped and defensive. The reporter eventually gave up, her voice tinged with frustration at the attitude from the leader of Great Britain.

Mrs May is on her way out of politics, that’s for sure. And she only has herself to blame.

Grenfell Tower: The London Fire

I watched this incident with more than usual interest. I worked in the ambulance station around the corner from this building, for more than twenty years. I have been inside on numerous occasions, to deal with the many 999 calls generated by such housing density in one place.

The area is North Kensington, close to better-known parts like Notting Hill, Holland Park, and Portobello Road, all accessed with an easy walk. Not far from that tower block, you will find houses that would cost millions to buy, alongside similar tower blocks in the same street. So, it is an area of great financial inequality, as well as one of the most racially diverse in London.

Blocks like Grenfell Tower once seemed to be the answer to clearing slums, and providing basic housing for ordinary working people and their families. After all, high-rise living is just as popular with the rich, who are willing to pay small fortunes for better-quality apartments in very tall blocks all over the city. But these blocks were not the same as those destined for the wealthy. They were built with costs in mind; rooms just big enough, the minimum level of outside space around them, inadequate car-parking, and a visible lack of safety features.

Inside, there were lifts big enough to take a coffin when necessary, but only a few people at a time. They didn’t always work either, which left the elderly and infirm trapped on higher floors, unable to manage the stairs. There was no ornamentation, no art on the walls, and no concierge to supervise the huge block. Much later, they became little more than a ‘dumping ground’ for the local council to house refugees, immigrants, and people discharged from mental health institutions. Inside the poorest standard of accommodation available, they placed the poorest and most vulnerable people.

Even during the much-vaunted refurbishment of this block, corners were cut, and costs saved. Warnings were ignored, alongside the pleas of those living there. It was never a question of if something like this was going to happen, rather than how soon it would. Since this tragedy, many questions are being asked, and the blame game has started in earnest. The council officials seek to exclude themselves from blame, by stating that they gave over the running of this property to a private company. The government ministers concerned seek to exclude themselves from blame, by putting the emphasis on the council itself. It has emerged that there was no contingency plan in place, to deal with such an event. It has also been stated that adequate fire precautions would have been ‘too expensive’. There is even the chilling likelihood that the number of fatalities has been deliberately played down, as many of the occupants do not have the language skills necessary to state their concerns.

Can you just imagine if this had happened in a luxury apartment block overlooking the river? Or maybe inside an iconic building, like The Shard? What if all those killed and terribly injured had been rich and influential people? Would they have had to try to occupy the council offices to get answers to their questions, or to arrange temporary accommodation? Those are rhetorical questions of course, and we all know the answers.

Poor and ordinary lives don’t matter. It’s as simple as that.

The UK Election: The Post-Mortem

So what are we to make of our election results?

Theresa May made some wrong moves, and threw away one of the biggest leads in decades.

The tax on property, to allow for social care in later life.
Big mistake.

Austerity policies.
Big mistake.

Not attending any televised debates.
Big mistake.

Underestimating the UK electorate.
Big mistake.

What about Jeremy Corbyn, written off, before the election?

He came across as sincere and passionate.
Huge positive.

He said things that people wanted to hear.
Huge positive.

He attracted the votes from disillusioned elderly people, and first-time young voters.
Huge positive.

Many people believed his Socialist rhetoric.
Amazingly positive.

He secured his position as leader of the opposition Labour Party.
Massive positive.

UKIP all but disappeared from the political scene, and their leader resigned. So much for the far right, in UK politics.

The Liberals had some gains, but nothing remotely significant.
Situation normal for them, after the fuss has died down.

Scotland rejected the second independence referendum, and the Nationalist path, with a loss of 30% of Nationalist seats.

Theresa May is unlikely to ride out this storm, and almost certain to either resign, or be ousted.

The knives are out in Westminster, and the sides are forming. She is in neither camp.

Corbyn cannot form a government, but a second election in the short term looks very likely.

That was one hell of a day, in British politics!

UK Terror attacks: The difficult questions

Last night, there was another terrorist attack on the streets of London. This follows the Manchester bombing, and the Westminster attack before that.

The man responsible for the Westminster attack was described as being, ‘known to the security services’.
The man responsible for the Manchester bomb was described as being, ‘known to the security services’.

Although it is too early to speculate at the moment, there is a good chance that the men responsible for last night’s attack will be described as being, ‘known to the security services’.

The head of the counter-terrorism command has stated that it takes thirty officers to maintain constant surveillance on one individual. There are currently some 20,000 individuals in the UK who are described as ‘Subjects of Interest’, regarding terrorism. Keeping tabs on all of these is obviously logistically impossible. So, the attacks will continue, as those responsible for trying to stop them are too few in number to make it possible to stop them all.

Should radicalised Islamist citizens be allowed to continue to spread their words of hate, encourage others to kill innocent people, and go about their business unmolested?
Do we have to wait for them to kill and injure large numbers of people before bringing them to justice for conspiracy in those events? It doesn’t relate to the individuals who carry them out, as they want to die, either by being shot by police, or blowing themselves up.

But those carrying out the attacks are only a small part of a huge organisation of terrorists operating in the UK. Many are well-known to the authorities, but are still allowed to travel freely between the UK and countries like Syria and Libya. Some receive benefit payments as they do not work, and others live normal lives with no apparent source of income. Remote surveillance of their computers, emails, mobile phones, and social media use shows that they are conspiring with others to promote terrorism, and to try to get men to carry out these suicidal attacks on innocent members of the public.

Do these people still deserve their rights in modern Britain? Should free speech and freedom of movement extend to them? Should they be issued with passports, and allowed to travel? Should they be allowed to hire vehicles to use to run over and kill people?

I have no definite answers. But I am beginning to believe that if these attacks are to be stopped, or at least reduced in number, we are going to have to seriously re-examine the tolerance in our society that allows them to happen.
And it is a dark day when I feel compelled to write such words.

Corbyn: Behind those slurs

In the aftermath of the Manchester suicide bombing, there was an agreed pause in electioneering. As soon as it started again, everyone was soon attacking Jeremy Corbyn, for making a supposedly insensitive statement about why Britain is one of the countries targeted by terrorists. Given the high level of emotions concerning the terrible attack, loss of life, and many still requiring treatment, it might be understandable to condemn the Labour leader for his speech. He was accused of being thoughtless, and that his speech was poorly timed too. When that failed to get enough backlash, they dragged out the old accusations that he supported the IRA, decades ago.

But let’s look at the substance of what he said, and forget the heated atmosphere for a moment. He was not blaming British troops, as has been alleged, rather the policies of this country in slavishly supporting America, and becoming involved in foreign wars against Muslim countries. Many of his own colleagues were quick to attack him, and the opposition parties queued up to have their say about him too. I am not in his party, and I doubt he will win in June. But what he said was true.

If you send the armed forces of your country thousands of miles, to become involved in proxy wars that are not your business, you can expect a backlash at home. France, Russia, Britain, and many other countries who have chosen to involve themselves in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen have seen the repercussions of their decisions arrive on the streets of major European cities, and in some US states too. If, as it is claimed, the Jihadists and militants seek to destroy the western way of life, then why are there no attacks in Austria, Switzerland, Czech Republic, Finland, Slovenia, and so many other countries I could list here? You don’t have to be an expert strategist to work out that only those nations happy to become embroiled in the wars in troubled lands are those being attacked in return.

And it doesn’t end with actually sending troops. Supporting countries like Saudi Arabia in their wars against their old and new enemies, or taking sides in favour of Sunni or Shiite against the other, is little different to being physically involved in the fighting. It seems to me that Corbyn was not only correct in his assertion that we must stop fighting, and start talking, but that his timing was actually just right, following a painful reminder of the consequences of not doing so.

Of course, a cynical person might also see that the so-called ‘unelectable’ socialist was doing quite well in the polls recently, and pulling back the previous big lead the government was enjoying. His tax policies, nationalisation policies, and big-spending promises about health reforms and better housing were beginning to capture the imagination of voters, after all. His latest speech about terrorism was a good one, designed to try to set this country on the road to peace, at the expense of money lost to the arms industry, and a cooling down of our relationship with America.

And we couldn’t have that, could we? That just wouldn’t do.

Trump’s hair

This is a short post about something that is causing me some concern.

Ever since Donald Trump first came to my attention, I have been fascinated by his strange hairstyle. Not just the colours, which are interesting enough in themselves, but also the strange way that he styles it to disguise any baldness, and to achieve what he must believe is something attractive to behold.

To be honest, I did wonder that anyone could take a man with hair like that seriously, let alone elect him to the most important office in the world. Had I been an American voter in 2016, I would never have been able to get past that hair, whatever his policies. It would have been a case of a vote lost for want of a hairstyle, that’s for sure.

When he was elected, I felt sure that he would modify his coiffure, and appear with something more dignified, and better suited to his important role on the world stage. But no, he carried on with the intricate combing-over of hair that resembled soft straw, seemingly unaware of how it enabled him to be further mocked.

Last week, I was watching him being interviewed by a reporter. He sat forward excitedly in his chair, like a teenager making a point that was important to him. His answers were full of contradictions, and he really didn’t come up with a convincing reply to any of the probing questions. The news moved on to a different story, and I forgot about it after a while.

Sometime later that evening, it occurred to me that I hadn’t noticed the President’s hair. After his 100+ days in office, it seemed that I was actually becoming used to this clownish style, and beginning to accept it as perfectly normal.

Now THAT is worrying!