Nobody leaves Ming in the corner

Dancing lessons, life meaning life and the chances of being ethical and working in the media

Dear Marina,

I am having difficulty understanding the difference between a two-step and a fox-trot, I am not sure I have the confidence for jive and this modern break-dancing looks simply too dangerous. All I know is I like to lead from the front. Can you please help.

Best regards,

Wurzel Fortesque-Smythe, 3rd Earl of Little Snodgrass.
PS: My Roller is at your disposal on election day.

I urge caution to any man choosing to lead from the front. The obvious dangers are stepping on toes, being caught on the back foot and leaving those you hope to lead behind.

If for example you so desired to lead a woman such as myself, you must take me gently but firmly into your arms and guide me. Since it is the woman who moves off backwards, one could say, strictly speaking, it is the woman who leads the way.

But the woman does so with charm and feminine foresight. She is ready to override a man’s urge to veer either left or right should she sense she’s about to back into the competition.

This would be too confusing for the judges and would split the vote.

You are right Lord Snodgrass, to be suspicious of the modern dance moves. There is no consistency to the rhythm, the footwork is lazy and the choreography too predictable.

If I were to choose my perfect dance partner to ensure competition gold, it would have to be none other than Sir Ming Campbell. He has enormous appeal with younger audiences who, responding to modern media coverage have seized ownership of this once deemed old fashioned dance form. At the same time his neat footwork and sartorial good taste has older generations gasping at his nimble footed elegance.

Tony and Dave, by comparison are but a confection of tulle and sequins with two right feet apiece. No wonder the judges get confused.

In short sir, whether exemplifying the fox trot or taking the opposition on a merry tango with his military two step Ming is an inspiration: his enormous talent for guidance has enabled his growing troupe of women to lead the way.

You might argue if we ain’t got that swing, this don’t mean a thing, but I’m optimistic the judges recognise class when they see it and we’ll sweep the floor with the opposition come May.

PS: Having mothballed Ming’s jag, I think it best we don’t avail of your Roller to provide lifts to the polling station. Chris Huhne is loaning us his Toyota Prius instead.

Dear Marina,

This week Amnesty criticised Iraq for its growing use of the death sentence. A report says that since 2004 at least 270 people have been sentenced to the ultimate punishment and that trials frequently are unfair. Now clearly no-one thinks people should be executed unless we can be absolutely certain of their guilt but surely society can choose that an Ian Huntley or Rose West be hung or shot? Are there ever circumstances in which you would support the death penalty?

IDS Essex

Hmmm. 270 death sentences since 2004. You do realize America puts down 114 prisoners a year? It would be more, but there’s a debate in progress as to whether the lethal injection is cruel, in that the recipient might die in some pain. Hence a 3366 prisoner backlog – mostly black Americans - on Death Row in the States.

In Iraq meanwhile they appear to have averaged less than 100 executions a year in a country where 200 died just this week at the hands of the insurgency.

The Iraqis appear remarkably restrained in their use of the ultimate judicial tool by comparison to the occupying forces.

Here in the UK we first need to address our sentencing shambles. When does life ever mean life? Never it seems. Evil people do evil things, get life and get out in seven years.

Should we ever introduce the death penalty here, it’s unlikely given the current form, that death ever actually mean death. It would probably mean you get the noose round the neck and the chair kicked out, to be replaced by slightly lower wobbly stool. You’d break your neck but it wouldn’t actually kill you. Later you’d be released – but don’t expect them to adapt your home for wheel chair use.

Lock up the worst offenders and throw away the keys, I say. Life should mean life. So say the Liberal Democrats too – the toughest party on crime and disorder right now. Okay that’s not difficult since we’re the only party with policies on the subject.

And in a recent street survey in my area carried out by myself and my exellent LibDem team, 95% of respondents agreed!

Anyone wishing to know more about Liberal Democrats and our tough action on crime should go to www.wecancutcrime.com or www.homeofficewatch.com

Dear Marina

I’ve got a dilemma. I like to treat people decently, keep promises I make but I also want to pursue a career in the media! What would you do?

S, Manchester

I have just signed 700 letters to local postal voters. I still have to deliver them. My wrist is stiffer than a lonesome Bonobo monkey’s.

So I’ll keep this brief. I have never had any trouble treating people well, keeping my pledges and combining it with a media career – and I’m a single mother.

If you can’t see a way forward, apply for job at the Daily Mail or join the Conservatives. Or do both!

Marina Pepper is a former glamour model turned journalist, author, eco-campaigner and Lib Dem politician. A councillor and former Parliamentary candidate, she lives near Brighton with her two children.
Why not e-mail your problems to askmarina@newstatesman.co.uk?
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In defence of orientalism, the case against Twenty20, and why Ken should watch Son of Saul

My week, from Age Concern to anti-semitism.

Returning late from a party I never much wanted to go to, I leap up and down in the middle of the Harrow Road in the hope of flagging down a taxi, but the drivers don’t notice me. Either they’re haring down the fast lane or they’re too preoccupied cursing Uber to one another on their mobile phones. My father drove a black cab, so I have a deep loyalty to them. But there’s nothing like being left stranded in NW10 in the dead of night to make one reconsider one’s options. I just wish Uber wasn’t called Uber.

Just not cricket

Tired and irritable, I spend the next day watching sport on television – snooker, darts, cricket, anything I can find. But I won’t be following the Indian Premier League’s Twenty20 cricket again. It’s greedy, cynical, over-sponsored and naff. Whenever somebody hits a boundary, cheerleaders in cast-off gym kit previously worn by fourth-form Roedean girls wave tinsel mops.

Matches go to the final over where they’re decided in a thrashathon of sixes hit by mercenaries wielding bats as wide as shovels. Why, in that case, don’t both teams just play a final over each and dispense with the previous 19? I can’t wait for the elegant ennui of a five-day Test match.

Stop! Culture police!

I go to the Delacroix exhibition at the National Gallery to shake off the sensation of all-consuming kitsch. Immediately I realise I have always confused Delacroix with someone else but I can’t decide who. Maybe Jacques-Louis David. The show convincingly argues that Delacroix influenced every artist who came after him except Jeff Koons, who in that case must have been influenced by David. It’s turbulent, moody work, some of the best of it, again to my surprise, being religious painting with the religion taken out. Christ’s followers lamenting his death don’t appear to be expecting miracles. This is a man they loved, cruelly executed. The colours are the colours of insupportable grief.

I love the show but wish the curators hadn’t felt they must apologise for Delacroix finding the North Africans he painted “exotic”. Cultural studies jargon screams from the wall. You can hear the lecturer inveighing against the “appropriating colonial gaze” – John Berger and Edward Said taking all the fun out of marvelling at what’s foreign and desirable. I find myself wondering where they’d stand on the Roedean cheer-leaders of Mumbai.

Taking leave of the senses

My wife drags me to a play at Age Concern’s headquarters in Bloomsbury. When I see where she’s taking me I wonder if she plans to leave me there. The play is called Don’t Leave Me Now and is written by Brian Daniels. It is, to keep it simple, about the effects of dementia on the families and lovers of sufferers. I am not, in all honesty, expecting a good time. It is a reading only, the actors sitting in a long line like a board of examiners, and the audience hunched forward in the attitude of the professionally caring.  My wife is a therapist so this is her world.

Here, unlike in my study, an educated empathy prevails and no one is furious. I fear that art is going to get lost in good intention. But the play turns out to be subtly powerful, sympathetic and sharp, sad and funny; and hearing it read engages me as seeing it performed might not have done. Spared the spectacle of actors throwing their bodies around and singing about their dreams against a backdrop painted by a lesser, Les Mis version of Delacroix, you can concentrate on the words. And where dementia is the villain, words are priceless.

Mixing with the proles

In Bloomsbury again the next day for a bank holiday design and craft fair at Mary Ward House. I have a soft spot for craft fairs, having helped run a craft shop once, and I feel a kinship with the designers sitting bored behind their stalls, answering inane questions about kilns and receiving empty compliments. But it’s the venue that steals the show, a lovely Arts and Crafts house, founded in the 1890s by the novelist Mary Ward with the intention of enabling the wealthy and educated to live among the poor and introduce them to the consolations of beauty and knowledge. We’d call that patronising. We’re wrong. It’s a high ideal, to ease the burden of poverty and ignorance and, in Ward’s words, save us from “the darker, coarser temptations of our human road”.

An Oscar-winning argument for Zionism

Speaking of which, I am unable to empty my mind of Ken Livingstone and his apologists as I sit in the cinema and watch the just-released Academy Award-winning Son of Saul, a devastating film about one prisoner’s attempt to hold on to a vestige of humanity in a Nazi death camp. If you think you know of hell from Dante or Michelangelo, think again. The inferno bodied forth in Son of Saul is no theological apportioning of justice or deserts. It is the evisceration of meaning, the negation of every grand illusion about itself mankind has ever harboured. There has been a fashion, lately, to invoke Gaza as proof that the Holocaust is a lesson that Jews failed to learn – as though one cruelty drives out another, as though suffering is forfeit, and as though we, the observers, must choose between horrors.

I defy even Livingstone to watch this film, in which the Jews, once gassed, become “pieces” – Stücke – and not grasp the overwhelming case for a Jewish place of refuge. Zionism pre-dated the camps, and its fulfilment, if we can call it that, came too late for those millions reduced to the grey powder mountains the Sonderkommandos were tasked with sweeping away. It diminishes one’s sympathy for the Palestinian cause not a jot to recognise the arguments, in a world of dehumanising hate, for Zionism. Indeed, not to recognise those arguments is to embrace the moral insentience whose murderous consequence Son of Saul confronts with numbed horror. 

This article first appeared in the 05 May 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The longest hatred