Defamatory DD comment?

Liberty XXX

It was the great foreign secretary Austen Chamberlain who claimed that our diplomats in China had often heard the curse “may you live in an interesting age”. And what a cursed age it is for our nation’s political classes – as Liberty chief Shami Chakrabarti (and as blogger Sadie has it, “winsome khol-eyed heroine”) threatened to sue a Labour Minister for flippantly suggesting that she had used her feminine wiles to win over grizzled trained killer, David Davis.

Sunny Hundal on Liberal Conspiracy summarised the by-election dilemma for liberal-lefties - but with Labour joining the Lib Dems in ruling themselves out of the race, did it really matter? Shiraz Socialist believed so, and saw the situation as a microcosm of the “wider realignment in politics,” pitching those who see the law as a “guarantor of freedom” against those who regard it as a “giant behaviour regulator”.

In other news, NS political editor Martin Bright issued a clarion call for a real liberal to step forward and make the by-election worth running and Rachel North asked readers whether she should pound the streets for Davis. Recess Monkey was pre-occupied with the ethnic backgrounds of the freedom lovers cluttering DD’s website. That’s profiling, and it’s wrong.

Hamassive step forward?

The cross-community e-zine Bitter Lemons, which provides unparelled coverage of Middle Eastern politics, this week presented a fascinating range of perspectives on the Israel-Hamas ceasefire. Palestinian Ghassan Khatib reflected on what he regards as the folly of excluding Islamists from the dialogue of peace, and of continuing Israeli settlement in East Jerusalem. Summing up, he wrote:

“This is the only way to empower the peace camp in Palestine and reverse the trend of radicalization, thus creating an atmosphere conducive to reunifying the Palestinian territories under the leadership of that peace camp.”

Meanwhile, Israeli Yossi Alpher explained why it is crucial for his government to change the basis of its negotiation with Hamas.

Closer to home, analysis was on offer at Harry’s Place, where guest blogger ‘SO Muffin’ took a cool look at the situation, and reckoned that while the Holy Land’s future was not an intractable problem, matters may deteriorate into violence again before any breakthrough is achieved.

What have we learned this Week?

Many of us are glumly observing Euro 2008 from our sofas, cans of supermarket lager resting on our guts, deciding which teams we hate most - and cheering on whoever they happen to be playing.

But Commissioner Mandelson’s old adviser Benjamin “Oofy” Wegg-Prosser sees an upside. The erstwhile Downing Street web guru, now based in Moscow, tells us in his LiveJournal that he is enjoying the tournament “without being racked with nerves about England's next match”.

Across the Pond

Michelle Obama, wife of presidential hopeful Barack, is increasingly proving a source of obsession to media commentators and bloggers across the States. This week she thanked the First Lady for her comments defending Mrs O’s patriotism; sparking off a new wave of online chatter. Hat-wearing Californian Zachary Paul Sire longed for a feisty presidential consort, and wondered who would want a pacified Michelle, or a “Laura Bush 2.0 who whips up casseroles and touts abstinence in a haze of nicotine patch-induced ennui”.

Video of the Week

In these days of triangulation and Cameroon wet ascendancy, it’s good to take a trip down memory lane, to the days when Tories were Tories. Rowan Atkinson’s famous “I am a golfer” speech from Not The Nine O’Clock News contains language which now, as then, is likely to be considered offensive.

Quote of the Week

“She also pointed out that it was thanks to Tony Blair we were there at all (She's a LibDem). I clapped.”

Iain Dale on his sister Sheena’s speech at his civil partnership to partner John. All good wishes and every happiness to them both!

Paul Evans is a freelance journalist, and formerly worked for an MP. He lives in London, but maintains his Somerset roots by drinking cider.
Qusai Al Shidi/Flickr
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I can’t follow Marie Kondo's advice – even an empty Wotsits packet “sparks joy” in me

I thought I’d give her loopy, OCD theories a go, but when I held up an empty Wotsits bag I was suffused with so many happy memories of the time we’d spent together that I couldn’t bear to throw it away.

I have been brooding lately on the Japanese tidying freak Marie Kondo. (I forgot her name so I typed “Japanese tidying freak” into Google, and it was a great help.) The “Japanese” bit is excusable in this context, and explains a bit, as I gather Japan is more on the case with the whole “being tidy” thing than Britain, but still.

Apart from telling us that we need to take an enormous amount of care, to the point where we perform origami when we fold our underpants, which is pretty much where she lost me, she advises us to throw away anything that does not, when you hold it, “spark joy”. Perhaps I have too much joy in my life. I thought I’d give her loopy, OCD theories a go, but when I held up an empty Wotsits bag I was suffused with so many happy memories of the time we’d spent together that I couldn’t bear to throw it away.

After a while I gave up on this because I was getting a bit too happy with all the memories, so then I thought to myself, about her: “This is someone who isn’t getting laid enough,” and then I decided that was a crude and ungallant thought, and besides, who am I to wag the finger? At least if she invites someone to her bedroom no one is going to run screaming from it, as they would if I invited anyone to my boudoir. (Etym: from the French “bouder”, to sulk. How very apt in my case.) Marie Kondo – should bizarre circumstance ever conspire to bring her to the threshold – would run screaming from the Hovel before she’d even alighted the stairs from the front door.

I contemplate my bedroom. As I write, the cleaning lady is in it. To say that I have to spend half an hour cleaning out empty Wotsits packets, and indeed wotnot, before I let her in there should give you some idea of how shameful it has got. And even then I have to pay her to do so.

A girlfriend who used to be referred to often in these pages, though I think the term should be a rather less flippant one than “girlfriend”, managed to get round my natural messiness problem by inventing a game called “keep or chuck”.

She even made up a theme song for it, to the tune from the old Spiderman TV show. She would show me some object, which was not really rubbish, but usually a book (it may not surprise you to learn that it is the piles of books that cause most of the clutter here), and say, “Keep or chuck?” in the manner of a high-speed game show host. At one point I vacillated and so she then pointed at herself and said, “Keep or chuck?” I got the message.

These days the chances of a woman getting into the bedroom are remote. For one thing, you can’t just walk down the street and whistle for one much as one would hail a cab, although my daughter is often baffled by my ability to attract females, and suspects I have some kind of “mind ray”. Well, if I ever did it’s on the blink now, and not only that – right now, I’m not even particularly bothered that it’s on the blink. Because, for another thing, I would frankly not care to inflict myself upon anyone else at the moment.

It was all a bit of a giggle eight years ago, when I was wheeled out of the family home and left to my own devices. Of course, when I say “a bit of a giggle”, I mean “terrifying and miserable”, but I had rather fewer miles on the clock than I do now, and a man can, I think, get away with a little bit more scampish behaviour, and entertain a few more illusions about the future and his own plausibility as a character, when he is squarely in his mid-forties than when he is approaching, at speed, his middle fifties.

Death has rather a lot to do with it, I suppose. I had not actually seen, or touched, a dead body until I saw, and touched, my own father’s a few weeks ago. That’s what turns an abstract into a concrete reality. You finally put that to one side and gird up your loins – and then bloody David Bowie snuffs it, and you find yourself watching the videos for “Blackstar” and “Lazarus” over and over again, and reach the inescapable conclusion that death is not only incredibly unpleasant, it is also remorseless and very much nearer than you think.

And would you, dear reader, want to be involved with anyone who kept thinking along those lines? I mean, even if he learned how to fold his undercrackers into an upright cylinder, like a napkin at a fancy restaurant, before putting them in his drawer? When he doesn’t even have a drawer?

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 05 February 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's war