Miliband: gaffe or ploy?

Friendly fire caught on video, the police state plus booing Brown

Many bloggers have put their views of tabloid journalism aside this week to recognise the superb work done by Tom Newton Dunn, defence editor at the Sun, by getting hold of a video so crucial to the inquest of the British soldier Matty Hull.Roy Greenslade said: “It was some leak and I foresee awards galore for the reporter in the coming year.”

But Donal Blaney thought: “The video has already now begun to be used by anti-war activists in Britain and elsewhere to fan the already dangerous flames of anti-Americanism.”

What also caught the attention of bloggers was a statement by Dr Mohammad Naseem who says Britain is moving towards a police state. This came after the release of two of the men arrested last week under the Terrorism Act in Birmingham.

At Leninology there is certainly agreement with Dr Naseem expressed again by Abu Bakr on Newsnight. But Rob Newman suggests this should be put in perspective because it is “offensive to people all over the world living in fear of their governments.” Does he have a point?

Liberal Review draws attention to, Dr Sumaya Alyusuf, the principal of King Fahad Academy, an Islamic school in London which was accused this week of teaching religious hatred.

A comment left on the blog asked: “Why should an otherwise useful text book be withdrawn on the basis of one chapter that is not used in the classroom?”

Schools Minister, Jim Knight, has ordered an inquiry to assess if the school promotes tolerance and harmony as it is legally required to do.

Ellee Seymour saw the importance of the debate in the House of Commons on Wednesday on the Freedom of Information Act. She says: “The Act has, in effect, been a victim of its own success - the government has had enough.”

An accurate analysis came from Martin Rosenbaum who raised a crucial point many are missing. Any defence of the Government’s proposal to charge people for the man hours needed to find a piece of information under the FOI Act does not address the larger issue.

The proposal to also include charging for time spent considering the exemptions and consulting others, is much more controversial and widely criticised than the suggestion to incorporate reading time.

Keeping you updated on all the latest FOI news is blogger, Steve Wood.

And I leave you with some news from the Environment Minister, David Miliband. On Question Time he said: "I bet in a year's time people will be calling for Tony Blair to come back and people will be booing Gordon Brown."

Caroline Hunt thinks it wasn't a 'gaffe' at all but: "an excusable slip to put the idea into people's brains that they should keep Blair for as long as possible." Sometimes people simply analyse too much. Or perhaps I should say not enough.

Adam Haigh studies on the postgraduate journalism diploma at Cardiff University. Last year he lived in Honduras and worked freelance for the newspaper, Honduras This Week.
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Euston has to be the most horrible station in London, especially before ten in the morning

So off I go to Birmingham, the city where J G Ballard meets Captain Kirk.

A friend posts an ad for the John Lewis Soft Touch Washable Mattress Topper on a social medium. She doesn’t usually post adverts. “This actually will change your life,” she writes, “in the sense that you will not get out of bed and your muscles will atrophy and you will be penniless.”

I am tempted, I must say. Lately I have simply not been getting out of bed. The trick is to wake up at, say, eight in the morning, and then utilise that early-morning grogginess to go back to sleep. That way you wake up again around noon feeling deranged from the extra-weird dreams you’ve been having. The one where I stole my ex-girlfriend Debbie Milton from Prince Charles, whom she had unwisely married, and escaped with her in a white Rolls-Royce while an enraged Greg Chappell chased after us was quite something. (All details true, promise.)

But Saturday comes and I have to get out of bed because I am off to Birmingham. Why Birmingham? Because I’m being paid to. I am also chairing a talk between Diego Marani, whose most excellent novel New Finnish Grammar I am proud of having introduced to a wider audience than it might have received, and Frank Witzel, a German author of whom I know nothing, but the title of whose prize-winning (untranslated) novel, The Invention of the Red Army Faction By a Manic Depressive Teenager in the Summer of 1969, is suggestive of greatness to follow.

My train is at quarter to ten in the morning. That is horribly early, and it’s from Euston. Euston has to be the most horrible station in London. Crammed with fast-food outlets and shops selling tat, it is a wholly commercialised space, beneath which the trains hulk in confinement on their platforms like trapped beasts. They are also mostly Virgin trains, and bitter experience has taught me that these are unreliable and that one should never, under any circumstances, use their toilets. It’s best to Go before or, at a pinch, to soil oneself. After all, using one more or less amounts to the same thing.

I don’t have much experience of Birmingham, bitter or otherwise. I once gave a talk at Birmingham City University and was distracted by the Ballardian architecture of the place and by an audience member’s beauty, so much so, in the latter case, that I could not speak for a couple of minutes. But my attention is drawn to the fact that the Star Trek convention is taking place at the National Exhibition Centre in the city at the same time, and I think that as my event ends at around three I’ll skip over to the convention and, for a mere £15, have myself photographed on the set of the original Enterprise, sitting in the Captain’s chair.

I would have done anything for Captain James T Kirk when I was a child, and to this day you can catch me, from time to time, punching light switches with the fleshy part of my fist, the way he answers the internal comm-system in the TV series.

But it turns out, I learn from a friend who has had the same idea but actually committed himself to it, that there is a huge entry fee and the queues for the Captain’s chair are “apocalyptic”. So I decide not to go, and ask the hotel staff instead where the nearest decent old man pub is. They steer me in the direction of the Shakespeare round the corner.

This splendid pub huddles amid another Ballardian cityscape of car parks and stunted skyscrapers. The barman is nice, but does not know how to pronounce “Laphroaig”. “I wouldn’t even try,” he says. I teach him. It occurs to me that the whisky in the bottle is probably older than most of the buildings around it.

Why do we do this to cities? The view from my hotel is of a vast building site, behind which the few survivors of Birmingham’s Victorian heritage cluster like exhibits in a freak show: “See the Amazing Buildings Built More Than Twenty Years Ago!!” Still, at least Birmingham Library is, as modern buildings go, rather cool: and then I realise this is because the outside is modelled on the Sam Browne belt worn by Lieutenant Worf in Star Trek: the Next Generation.

I sigh at my nerdiness and take my place on stage. The chair, I decide, is suitably captainesque, and in front of us lies the flag, blue with yellow stars, of another federation, different from the one Gene Roddenberry dreamt of. I remember being excited, as a child, about the future, thinking of the progress we would make as it happened. The desire to go home, and dream, returns.

Nicholas Lezard is a literary critic for the Guardian and also writes for the Independent. He writes the Down and Out in London column for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 20 October 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Brothers in blood