Gavin Maclure's Musings

My take on politics locally, nationally and internationally

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Ben Gummer should know better

Ben Gummer’s latest missive to the Morning Ipswich Star (not on Star website but is available here) was not his finest hour. I cede to no one in my admiration for Sir Danny Boyle’s opening ceremony, which was frankly the best artistic production I have ever seen. It was, and this is not too strong a word, a masterpiece and he should be duly honoured by Her Majesty for this service to his country. 
I won’t bang on about the Opening Ceremony too much (I have written a full review here) but I do have to take umbrage with the MP for Ipswich, who could only say the most obvious thing any politician would say – post-Aidan Burley tweet – about the ceremony, choosing deliberately to concentrate on the last third of the show:

“..what came through clearly was the pride we have in the diversity of our country – both in our different nations and in the multiplicity of the people who call themselves British and name Britain their home.”

Really, is that the best a Cambridge double-starred first historian could say about the three-hour spectacular tour of British history and the massive contribution we have made to the world? 
How could historian Mr Gummer not say anything about Isambard Kingdom Brunel and Boyle’s genius depiction of the Industrial Revolution, which brought mechanisation and great wealth to Britain and then the rest of the world? How, with the biggest research and development centre in Europe on Ipswich’s doorstep, could Ipswich’s MP not mention that the Opening Ceremony celebrated how the World Wide Web was invented by a Brit, with Sir Tim Berners-Lee taking a bow in the Olympics Stadium and to the one billion people watching world-wide?
Yes, the Olympic Games were about sport but to brush aside the extraordinary geopolitical event, which London 2012 was, is at best naive and at worst very cynical (if he thinks Ipswich people don’t get politics!).
Mr Gummer says: 

“These Olympics have not so much celebrated the Olympic movement, or Britain, or buildings, but pure competitive endeavour, which is what it should all be about.”

You are kidding, Mr Gummer? Equestrian was deliberately moved by Lord Coe – a politician of the grandest order if there ever was one – from Windsor Great Park (a perfect natural habitat) with a shack called Windsor Castle as a backdrop to Greenwich Park in built-up South London. Why? Because it offered  a superb backdrop of the economic powerhouse of Great Britain across the river: the skyscrapers of Canary Wharf, with television pictures beamed across the globe. Now that’s soft political power or hard political power, whichever it is.
I am disappointed in Ben Gummer for segwaying in his piece from stock praise – rightly – for the diversity we have in the UK to racism. That is the classic rhetoric of the Left. Mr Gummer wrote the below when describing a dispute in a restaurant between a customer and a waiter over the bill (something which takes place thousands of times up and down the country every day):

“Frankly, I doubt that they [the customer] would have behaved like that had the waiter been white.  So we butted in and suggested they be more polite.

Speaking to the waiter afterwards, he said that although he was born and bred in Britain, worked hard in Britain and contributed to Britain, the way some people treated him made him doubt whether everyone accepted that fact.  He was making a subtle point and we all knew what he meant.

How sad that should still be the case.  We should take Danny Boyle’s idyll as an injunction as much as a pat on the back.”

Ben Gummer really should have taken a step back before writing this. It is quite possible that the disagreement the customer had about their bill would have still taken place if the waiter was white. Unpleasant people can be unpleasant regardless of race: some people just don’t know how to behave respectfully to people of the same or different colour. Perhaps, Mr Gummer should remember this before he starts firing off allegations of racism?
If Mr Gummer’s final paragraph in his article was an attempt to link the legitimate opinions many have on multiculturalism (including Prime minister David Cameron) and diversity with a non-subtle allegation of racism then this is quite disturbing to hear from a a representative in Her Majesty’s Parliament. This only serves to stir up tensions and is divisive and those in positions of influence should steer clear of such rhetoric.
My wife and I had a wonderful time when we visited the Games to watch the Mens’ Trampoline: we were all mixing together – irrespective of nationality, race or creed – and helping each other out as we navigated through the transport system, security and the Olympic arena. The London 2012 Olympic Games were such a positive and inspiring time and it’s a shame the MP for Ipswich has used his article to put a negative gloss on this once-in-a-lifetime event.
Mr Gummer should not let his left-wing prejudices cloud his highly intelligent mind like this. And if they do, he should not write them down. We all have off days and I am sure the Ben Gummer I selected back in 2007 will resume normal service again soon.


Is football a sport?

I start by saying, again, I am no fan of sports, but what I am a (big) fan of is hard work and graft. I am a meritocrat, plain and simple.

Before the Olympics started, a friend of mine was teasing his followers on Facebook by challenging why certain sports were now classified as Olympic sports: e.g. tennis and indeed football. After watching some of the Olympic Games, only one sport didn’t deserve to be in the Olympics, especially considering the money thrown at it, and that is football.

Over the last two weeks, I was very impressed by the dedication, effort and pure talent on display by our British athletes, all of which I had never heard of (apart from Bradley Wiggins and only for obvious reasons). For four years, the likes of Jessica Ennis, Mo Farah and Samantha Murray have trained day in, day out, getting up at 6 o’clock in the morning to run several kilometres before continuing with their gruelling training regime alongside studying for A-levels and university exams. Leaving aside the fact footballers can’t read or write, they certainly do not train as hard as athletes, preferring to lie-in in their multi-million pound mansions in Cheshire and Chelsea.

Then after all that hard training, the athletes have taken part in their chosen sports at international level and have beaten the world’s competition. Let me repeat that: they trained hard physically and mentally, then won!

My view is football – which has a perverse status akin to religion – deserves a big backlash after the Olympics. Just compare our articulate athletes who cannot only string one sentence together, but two, three, four, five, six, seven or even eight together in one interview to the likes of Steven Gerrard and John Terry, who just mumble something like “well, you know, whatever the manager says” and walk away back to their luxurious lifestyle. Our athletes hardly have any money, with some still living at home with their parents, but nevertheless they put every ounce of energy into excelling at their sport and also have so much pride in winning for Britain, their country. Compare this to squillionaire inarticulate neanderthal footballers who if they play for England miss penalties and couldn’t give a stuff about their country. They should hang their heads in shame.

Call football a sport, I don’t think so.


My visit to the London 2012 Olympic Games

My wife and I went to the Olympic Games yesterday in London. It was a lovely day out in the buzz of our capital city. We had tickets for the Mens Trampoline at the North Greenwich Arena, which is a very LOCOG name as it is in fact the O2 Arena, also known as the Millennium Dome. As O2 are not sponsoring the Olympics their name has been told to take a long walk off a short pier until after the Games are finished.

Me at the London 2012 Olympic Games (rare event: I’m smiling at a sporting event!)

Now I wouldn’t have chosen the Mens Trampoline (Women’s Beach Volleyball was top of my list but that didn’t even make the short list my wife drew up!) but like all Olympics ticket-holders we had to enter a ballot to have a right to buy tickets. We entered a ballot which contained a mixture of sports, including the rowing at Eton Dorney, which my wife desperately wanted to see, so if we “won” it really was pot luck which sport we were allocated in order to buy tickets. 

As I’ve said previously, I am not a sports fan but attending a world-class event at an Olympic Games is a once-in-a-life-time opportunity and it didn’t disappoint. From the moment we arrived in London at Stratford station the city was on her best behaviour and was highly organised. At the station there were transport officials and Games volunteers every few metres explaining which way to go – even though we weren’t going  to the Olympic Stadium, being so close to its entrance was quite exhilarating. 
Once we got to the “North Greenwich Arena” the atmosphere got better. Security was a breeze – it was just a strong as at UK airports but there was no attitude from the security staff (this venue was staffed by G4S) that you get at the airport, which is more akin to checking into Belmarsh than shelling out thousands of pounds to fly off on holiday for a week. Like I said, everyone was on their best behaviour. There is no way the UK Government is going to allow anyone connected to the Games to embarrass London or upset visitors and everyone involved in organising, running and supporting London 2012 knows not to step out of line. 
It was first time I had been to the Millennium Dome and it lived up to its publicised size. It is like a town all under one roof: restaurants, bars, offices, cinema, shops etc and of course the actual Arena itself. We had good tickets for the Mens Trampoline so we entered the Arena on Level 1 and stepping through the tunnel walkway into the Arena itself was quite something: the size of the venue really hits you as if you are stepping on to the side of a mountain. Great stuff.
The sporting event itself is not like watching it on the TV. It is an entertainment event first and foremost. There is live commentary specifically for the crowd (separate from the TV commentary), dancers at the beginning before the athletes come on, music even during the trampolinist’s performance (lift music you could say to take the edge off the silence). I have to say it was quite entertaining. I wouldn’t say I “enjoyed” the sport bit (I certainly appreciated the athletes’ skill) but I liked being part of the event.
One thing noticeable is the passion people have for their teams. It’s quite disturbing in a way how people get so worked up about what are, at the end of the day, games. It makes you think how easily they would be whipped up into a frenzy about something else: like killing a certain segment of the community perhaps? It didn’t take much for Hitler to whip up ordinary Germans…
Russia’s Dmitry Ushakov competing in the Final where he won Silver
Unfortunately, no British people were in the competition, so I decided to support the Russians. Happily, Dmitry Ushakov won Silver with Dong Dong of China taking the Gold. Chunlong Lu, also from China, took the Bronze. The qualifiers and the Final were all done and dusted in two hours. Considering the athletes had been training for four years, it was all over for them very fast indeed.
Victory Ceremony at Mens Trampoline event (the Chinese just win everything don’t they?)
After our sporting event had finished we took advantage of being in the capital and visited the nearby National Maritime Museum, primarily to see Caneletto’s masterpiece ‘The Thames on Lord Mayor’s Day, looking towards the City and St Paul’s Cathedral’, which was the inspiration for the organisers of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Thames Pageant back in June. It was during this part of the day, it was clear LOCOG could have done better on the transport organisation. Certain Dockland Light Railway (DLR) stations such as ‘Cutty Sark’ near the North Greenwich Arena have been closed or bus routes have been diverted because of the Games. The fact this has happened is very clear but information or signs on how to workaround this are not clear. My wife and I ended up getting lost for a few minutes trying to find Greenwich DLR station. The only sign was at Cutty Sark DLR station saying the station was closed and one arrow pointing us away. Luckily, both local Londoners we spoke with for directions were very helpful.
On the way home later we saw the Olympic Stadium lit up, which looked magnificent. The Olympic Cauldron is made up of 204 copper petals, each representing a country competing, and has been moved to the side of the athletics track after being lit in the centre of the stadium during the Opening Ceremony. The disadvantage of this is it can’t be seen outside of the stadium, unlike in previous Games, so in this digital era we now inhabit the flaming cauldron is actually broadcast live to the outside world through two giant video screens erected either side of the top of the stadium. So we may not have seen the Olympic Cauldron in the “flesh” but we saw a TV image of it as we travelled past on the train! I’m not sure this will be repeated in Rio…
A day like yesterday was certainly one to tell the grandchildren about. You never know – if London was to win the games again, I might get a chance to drive my mobility scooter into the stadium next time. It is more likely the Olympic Games will not come back to the UK in my lifetime.

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A sporting hero speaks the unpalatable truth

As I said yesterday, I am someone who is not that interested in sport. The masses of course are. The same masses who watch The X Factor and obsess about the untalented people who one minute are frying chips and the next are selling Christmas Number Ones.

Any mainstream media columnist who dares to suggest this adoration is shallow and pointless is castigated – Salem Witch Trial style – as a person not fit for society. Hence why politicians dare not criticise (may be apart from Michael Gove) but then comes along a sportsmen (the revered Gods of this shallow world we now live in) who says the same thing. Cue Bradley Wiggins.


The Olympics won’t save you Dave

I’m an Olympics widower. I don’t really like sport (unless it is very exciting like Judd Trump smacking balls into pockets at the UK Championships last year as if he was playing down his local pub) and most Olympic sports are frankly boring.

Do hysterical spectators and people screaming “come on” at the telly realise these athletes do nothing else other than train all day? They have never had a real job or a life for that matter. We’d have a lot more world-class athletes if we didn’t have to work for a living too. Unfortunately, most people have to go to work to eat and have a roof over their head to pay for the taxes dished out in grants to these demigods the masses cheer on.

That’s not to say I am disappointed we bagged the Olympics Games. It is a geopolitical event extraordinaire. We had one billion eyes watching our Opening Ceremony on Friday evening and we were able to remind the rest of the world how much we have done for them: industrial revolution, saved their countries twice (thrice if you count the Cold War), export the best music in the world etc etc. And then of course the sheer brilliance of our engineering and technical skills shone through in the Opening Ceremony production itself.

But one thing the Olympics won’t do is save Dave and George’s skin. London, away from the Olympic venues, resembles a ghost town. Most workers have packed up for 17 days with reports hotels in the capital are having to slash room costs as it seems tourists have deserted the city along with the businessmen and women. And this isn’t even taking into account the skiving that is probably going on amongst the athlete-worshipping working population.

At this rate, we could be heading for a fourth quarter of negative growth within the current double-dip recession. This is terrible and is being caused by a) having a Coalition Government and b) poor and weak leadership: the two are not necessarily mutually exclusive.

There are many things George Osborne could do to kick-start the economy and reduce the debt, such as:

1. Bring the top rate of tax back to 40p: The Chancellor idiotically only moved it back to 45p at the budget in March thereby missing the chance to take one political hit – he blamed the Yellow Peril (yawn!)); this tax change would demonstrate the UK is open for business and encourage entrepreneurs to open new businesses and create more employment.
2. Cut public spending. We were promised by both Labour and Conservatives at the General Election in 2010 a bonfire of cuts, a holocaust of cuts, but instead the Government has barely scratched the surface with borrowing in this financial year targeted to be £120bn – more than Gordon Brown was borrowing in 2009/10. Bear in mind this is a worst case scenario (hence “targeted”) and actual borrowing is likely to be higher! In particular, local government spending should be cut further and why is NHS spending ring-fenced when it spends £17 on a pizza base (not even with topping)!
3. Use the savings made from the public sector to lower taxes for ordinary workers. Top of the list should be VAT – back down to 17.5% to kick-start the crippled retail sector. 
4. Reform planning laws to reverse rules which favour nimbys and instead make it easier for new housing to be built and dare I say a new airport to be built in the South East. This would help the other sector which is dying on its feet: Construction.

There’s four ideas. But it would require strong political leadership of the Thatcherite variety and when I look at the smarmy faces of old-moneyed David Cameron and George Osborne I really don’t think they would know how to act in Thatcherite manner if they tried.

The genius of Margaret Thatcher is she knew what it was like to strive and so knew what was needed to help the strivers in Britain and in turn wind the economy back up after the disastrous years of Labour in the 1970s. Dave and George can’t even imagine what it would be like. The sooner they are replaced the better (thankfully, if one goes, the other will follow!).

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London 2012 Opening Ceremony: Nobody does it better

Arise Sir Danny Boyle. What a spectacular London 2012 Olympics Opening Ceremony. It beautifully summed up what it means to be British – and we showed the world that when it comes to big, innovative and creative, we are the very best. Be it a Royal Wedding, a Jubilee Thames Pageant or an Olympic Games Opening Ceremony, nobody does it better (and that includes the Communists in Beijing!).

Kenneth Branagh as Isambard Kingdom Brunel

The first two-thirds of the Opening Ceremony showed the magnificence of British history of the last two hundred and fifty years as we moved from a rural country into the Industrial Revolution from 1750-1850, where new technologies and mechanisation in all areas of the economy transformed Great Britain and then the world: our country was the cradle of modern civilisation and unprecedented global economic growth. This period in history, powered by genius British engineers like Isambard Kingdom Brunel (played by Kenneth Branagh in the Opening Ceremony) brought great wealth to millions of people across the world. 

Dark Satanic Mills ascend

Regrettably, because of the appalling education system Britain has today, many young people watching would not have heard of Isambard Kingdom Brunel. He was the pop star of the day who designed, built and oversaw incredible engineering projects such as the Clifton Suspension Bridge spanning the River Avon in Bristol, Paddington Railway Station in London, the Great Western Railway in the UK, and the first propeller-driven transatlantic steamship, SS Great Britain. His projects introduced “engineering firsts” which are now widely replicated across the globe. Quite frankly, no one would have the modern transport system they have today without this man. To see Kenneth Branagh swaggering across the stage smoking a cigar as he depicted IKB overseeing the rising of the dark satanic mills with chimney stacks and pitheads was a joy to behold – knowing a billion people world-wide were watching Britain’s great historical achievements was fantastic. This is how I want people to know Britain, not as I described last week.

Bond makes his entrance

Then we moved on the the globally recognised British exports. First up was Bond, James Bond. Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’s participation summed up her ability to move Monarchy with the times. I have read in the newspapers she did her short film sequence with Daniel Craig in one take after only been told of the camera angles once. Well, what do you expect from a pro like Her Majesty? She is the greatest actor of them all – day in, day out for 60 years! The clever parachuting segment where the actor playing the Queen landed at the same side of the stadium where moments later Her Majesty entered the royal box was executed perfectly. I particularly liked the wink to my favourite bond film opening sequence: The Spy Who Loved Me.

Although I still wonder what he has actually done apart from kick a dead cow (not so brilliantly) around a football pitch and trade off his looks, there is no arguing that David Beckham is a world icon for millions if not billions of people. So, as an ambassador for Great Britain goes, he is pretty well qualified. The sequence of bringing the torch on its final leg up the Thames by speed boat to the Olympic Stadium was very Cool Britannia.

Then the third part of the Opening Ceremony showcased British music – an exceptional export – and multiculturalism (more on this below). Our musical exports from the Beatles, to punk rock, to Grime were played through the million-watt sound system. However, it was the third part where I stopped being proud and my political antennae (well, this is a political blog) began twitching. But unlike Tory MP Adrian Burley I know when to keep quiet. But now the performance has finished, we do need to look at Danny Boyle’s somewhat perverse decision-making. 

First of all, there was no mention of the Empire or World War II. Granted, there was a sequence on honouring (rightly so) our great war dead but it was deliberately aimed at the First World War, where every survivor in Britain has now died. The Second World War is obviously still too sensitive for the Left but if we were to demonstrate Britain’s contribution to the world in modern history, it was our standing up, alone, to Nazi Germany in the 1940s (let’s not forget the USA did not join the war until 1941). I think a Spitfire downing a Messerschmitt in a cermony sequence might have been a tad insensitive but something around the “spirit of the Blitz” would have been appropriate.

The Empire of course is a very dirty word on the Left but the British Empire spanned a quarter of the world, and the sun never set on her as a result. We brought railways, democratic institutions, mass education and schooling to the countries we colonised. As a recent documentary by the BBC showed, the former colonies may be glad of their independence now but they also said they were glad the British Empire had existed. Frankly, the British Empire is arguably the UK’s biggest ever achievement and not to be mentioned in the Opening Ceremony was of course politically motivated.

NHS nurses dance at the Opening Ceremony

I had heard the altar of the NHS was to be wheeled out during the ceremony and was braced for the worse with nurses being adulated despite leaving patients to die of thirst or leaving elderly people soiled in their beds. But Danny Boyle steered through this political minefield very well. He concentrated on the children of Great Ormond Street Hospital bouncing on beds – bizarrely accompanied to Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells, which was also the soundtrack to a satanically possessed girl with a revolving head in The Exorcist – and segued this into a sequence around J K Rowling’s famous Harry Potter books – magnificently performed by all! I did chuckle to myself that the nurses (played by real NHS nurses) actually looked like nurses rather than in reality where they wear scrubs to deliberately blur the line between nurse and doctor.

I know we bagged the Games by harping on about multiculturalism and how we hated our past and wanted to embrace the world by letting everyone in to feast on our massive welfare system but if the Opening Ceremony was meant to be about depicting Britain as it is to the world then it was slightly distorted by Mr Boyle. At the beginning of the ceremony, the wonderful faces of the children’s choir filled our screen. But if this was meant to be representative of Britain’s demographics then 50% of our population is black. In reality. it is 2%. During the digital era performance, the goings on of a “typical British family” were depicted in a British style suburban house. The mixed race daughter was shown updating her social networking page before getting ready to go out. During the sequence, she met a black boy and started a relationship (with her ‘relationship status’ duly updated on the social networking site). As lovely as the performance was, a typical family in Britain is not multi-racial and to pretend to the world they are was bordering on a right-wing satirical production of the Left’s perverse view of the UK. Additionally, the CND symbol was just laughable.

British inventor of the World Wide Web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee

It was fantastic to see Sir Tim Berners-Lee given prominence during the digital era segment. Get this world, a Brit invented the World Wide Web! The pixel padals in the crowd beamed out “This is for Everyone” – a reference to Sir Tim’s refusal to patent his technology which is the basis for all websites today.

As I mentioned earlier, the great British export that is music was showcased to the world. But far too much emphasis was placed on Dizzee Rascal, as if Grime is what we all listen to all day – actually only a minority (sizeable I am sure) do. Bonkers. 

The last third of the ceremony did pretty much sum up that Britain has lost its way since World War II and the fall of the Empire. Much of our engineering heritage has been sidelined with far too much emphasis placed on the creative sectors such as music (important as it is) rather than our capacity to be a great innovative and manufacturing country once again. Is Britain a victim of it’s own success? We brought modern civilisation and engineering to a quarter of the world and saved the the world three times (no mention of the Cold War in the ceremony either) to provide the foundations of a global economy which has pushed so much of what we do best to far flung parts of the world, purely because they are cheaper. It just doesn’t seem right and is one of the reasons many young people in the West do not have prosperous futures to look forward to.

London 2012 Olympics Cauldron

I want to end this London 2012 Opening Ceremony review on a high because overall it was a 9/10 production! I said on Twitter yesterday I was disappointed with the cauldron (or lack of) lighting but I watched the ceremony again last night and I’ve changed my mind. In fact, it was a great idea to have an innovative and creative “cauldron” lighting sequence. The perpetual focus on youth I am still not sure about (with the seven young athletes lighting the “cauldron”) but the 204 copper petals representing all the nations competing in the Olympic Games rising to form the shape of a cauldron summed up Britain again: we are the world’s innovators, the world’s engineers, the world’s technicians. Nobody does it better.