Yet more jottings

Some more things from the media that have struck me recently:

A letter from Bradford in West Yorkshire in Monday's Guardian complained that at Nelson Mandela's 90th birthday concert in London —

"the choir from Soweto was insultingly relegated to backing-up [sic] predominantly white performers, a continuation of cultural imperialism by other means."  

This seems to be a prime example of reverse racism – who cares about the skin colour of the performers 'backed up' (or 'backed-up') by the Soweto choir?  It also reflects a failure of comprehension of the nature of imperialism – even 'cultural' imperialism, whatever that is.  To equate the mixing of black and white performers at a concert with any kind of imperialism is simply silly.

Nelson MandelaThe same letter asserted, to my mind equally fatuously, that —

"the significance of the man [Mandela] was his life of struggle." 

This completely misses the point about the 'significance'  of Mandela, as well as stretching the meaning of 'struggle' beyond breaking-point.  Surely the reason for the world-wide admiration of this great man is his superhuman magnanimity, his extraordinary lack of bitterness or anti-white vengefulness after his 27-year incarceration by an openly racist white régime, and his amazing success in helping South Africans of all races to overcome their past differences in the new multi-racial society of which he is the founding father.  Substituting "his life of struggle" for that achievement is just a lazy resort to clapped-out Marxist jargon, and does Mandela no favours.

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A recent Guardian article about the resignation of Wendy Alexander from leadership of the Scottish Labour Party in the Scottish parliament attributed her downfall to —

"…Labour's failure to cope with an SNP government and its drive towards self-government [sic].  If it, and she, had demonstrated a more coherent response then she may have survived the donations scandal…." [Emphasis added]

As written this can only mean that the writer was unsure at the time of writing whether Ms Alexander had survived the scandal or not.  You'd think that since her resignation was the subject of the article, he'd have spotted a clue to the answer to that question.  It's extraordinary how many experienced writers trip up over the difference between 'may' and 'might' in past conditional contexts.  Galling for Wendy Alexander, too, to think that "a more coherent response" to the SNP might have saved her.  "Can try harder", as my school reports used to say. 

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In Australia one Ken Henry, the Treasury secretary (its civil service head, or 'permanent secretary' in UK parlance) is being criticised for going away on five weeks' leave, at a time of national economic and financial crisis, to a remote national park in Queensland to help protect the rare northern hairy-nosed wombats, threatened with extinction.  '"These guys are on death row," said Henry.  "There are 10 times as many giant pandas in the world as there are these guys."'  No possible comment can match that.  Or are the Aussies having us on?  I wouldn't put it past them.  In general they have more of a sense of humour than we solemn Brits do.

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The Rt Hon Stephen Timms MP has the challenging title of 'Minister of State for Employment and Welfare Reform at the Department for Work and Pensions'.  Among his numerous responsibilities the Department's website lists:  Labour market and the economy, Labour market statistics, Welfare Reform, Employment programmes including the future of the New Deal, Lone parents, childcare and partners, Adult Disadvantage, Cities Strategy, Skills, Disadvantaged areas and regional issues, Tax Credits (where DWP has an interest), E-Government (PSX(E)) [what that?], Bereavement Benefit, Departmental IT and data security [a serious matter these days, obviously], and Benefit Simplification.  (There's plenty more, too much to quote in full.)  If you're wondering what the minister does for his day job, the answer is that he is also, rather bewilderingly, the first ever "Labour Party Vice Chair for Faith Groups".  Perhaps he's able to use his party responsibility for Faith Groups to help him perform his governmental responsibility for Adult Disadvantage.

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In the close vote in the House of Commons on the prime minister's inexplicable proposal to extend the maximum time for which terrorist suspects can be locked up without charge from an already monstrous 28 days to an even more grotesque 42, the gloves were off both metaphorically and, apparently, literally.  On his blog the young and highly articulate Tory MP Ed Vaizey reports being informed on BBC Radio 4 by the Labour MP Kitty Ussher that 'Labour MPs were told to tell Tory MPs they would have “blood on their hands” if they voted against.'   There's an echo of this noxious threat in a recent Labour Party pamphlet comparing what the Tory leader, David Cameron, says with what he allegedly does: 

Cameron does one thing:  David Cameron wants to sound tough on crime;  but does another:  his 'hug a hoodie' approach means voting against Labour's tough anti-crime measures. 

Yet the party leadership indignantly denies that New Labour's endless assaults on our ancient (and modern) civil liberties in the name of the 'wars' on terrorism and crime are mainly designed to wrong-foot the Tories:  if they oppose these illiberal and disproportionate measures on grounds of principle, they lay themselves open to the charge of being "soft on terrorism and crime".  The evidence doesn't seem to support the denials.  The government should leave this kind of puerility to the Daily Mail.  Apart from anything else, it's an insult to the many long-standing supporters of the Labour Party (such as me) who regard New Labour's obsession with chipping away at our human rights and freedoms as a sad betrayal of everything that Labour used to stand for, and still should.

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A report in the Guardian on 27 June said that –

Higher fuel costs would not be felt until after 2010 and the main increases would come from 2015 onwards, according to the government's renewable energy consultation paper. "In 2020, as a result of the new incentives, domestic consumer bills are expected to increase 10-13% in electricity and 18-37% for gas bills," it says. 

This strikes me as odd.  Only last week, in mid-June 2008, my monthly payments for both gas and electricity were peremptorily increased by just over 90 per cent.  So I view the prospect of maximum increases of 13 per cent for electricity and 37 per cent for gas in the year 2020, when I shall turn 86, with a fair amount of equanimity.