Morning Call: pick of the comment

The ten must-read pieces from this morning's papers.

1. Suddenly, grumpy old Gordon Brown doesn't look such a lost cause (Daily Telegraph)

The PM is an unlikely trump card for his party, says Mary Riddell, looking at recent polls. There is no way that Labour could win the next election, but David Cameron should be wary.

2. Mock this campaign if you like, but how else can Blair be held to account? (Guardian)

George Monbiot defends his campaign to pay a bounty to anyone who arrests Tony Blair. He says that with the limits of power in Britain so ill-defined, the only way a reckoning for Iraq will ever come is through a citizen's arrest.

3. A misreading of Iran that risks a fatal replay of Iraq (Independent)

Mary Dejevsky takes issue with Tony Blair's take on Iran, and US action in the area, as there is no sign that Tehran harbours malign or expansionist intentions, or even that a nuclear Iran would pose a global threat.

4. Tories should be most afraid of their own fear (Times)

David Cameron is at his best when he is at his boldest, argues Rachel Sylvester. But as the election approaches, a dangerous timidity is taking over.

5. Leaderless Nigeria could spin out of control (Financial Times)

Louise Arbour and Ayo Obe discuss the mounting political crisis in Nigeria in the absence of President Umaru Yar'Adua.

6. Afflictions of liberty (Guardian)

Tristram Riley-Smith notes that the word "liberty" was absent from Barack Obama's first State of the Union address -- he may have grasped that the ideal of freedom Americans cling to so fiercely is fracturing their society.

7. The peculiar urge to sack the England captain (Times)

Is adultery sufficient reason for sacking John Terry, asks David Aaronovitch? We are blasé about adultery; perhaps Terry's real crime is betraying a team-mate.

8. The Tories have had it easy too long (Independent)

Steve Richards says that he cannot recall an opposition that has changed its approach to tax/spend so often, and welcomes a new period of intense scrutiny of Conservative policy.

9. Companies need to recruit the older woman (Financial Times)

Women are now more educated than men in every age group up to 45, so why are there so few of them in the boardroom? Michael Skapinker looks at gender discrimination, and says older women should be reintegrated into the corporate world once their children are grown.

10. Free care sounds nice, but why redistribute to the rich? (Guardian)

Polly Toynbee discusses the personal care at home bill, saying that in pursuit of a gripping headline, Brown has scuppered a fair, sensible and long-term plan for care of the elderly.

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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