A guide to borrowing a horse from the Metropolitan Police

Cameron confirms that he did ride Brooks' horse. So how can you get a retired police horse of your o

The latest SHOCK DEVELOPMENT in Horse-gate is that David Cameron, long time riding buddy of Rebekah Brooks, did indeed ride her horse. That's not an innuendo (but you're welcome for the mental image). It is a reference to the news earlier this week that the Metropolitan Police loaned Brooks a retired police horse between 2008 and 2010, when she was editor of the Sun.

In an admission of dishonesty that's up there with Watergate, Cameron conceded that he had allowed a "confusing picture" to emerge about his riding of Raisa the horse. He told reporters:

He [Charlie Brooks -- Rebekah's husband and long-time friend of Cameron's] has a number of horses and, yes, one of them was this former police horse Raisa which I did ride.

I am very sorry to hear that Raisa is no longer with us and I think I should probably conclude by saying I don't think I will be getting back into the saddle any time soon.

The Met's line has consistently been that it is no big deal and retired horses are re-homed all the time. But how exactly would one go about it? Maybe I'd like a retired police horse. It's always good to keep your options open.

I called the Met's press office this morning to ask how it all works. The nice man I spoke to read out the information that I'd already seen on their website:

At the end of the police horse's working life the animal is re-homed at one of many identified establishments who have previously contacted the Mounted Branch with a view to offering a home.

The Mounted Branch is looking for suitable homes for retired horses, that is homes where the horse will not be ridden.

Anyone in the southeast of England offering such a home will be considered first.

But who are these people? Apart from national newspaper editors, obvs. "Anyone in the south-east who offers to take them on," he tells me, sounding bored. "They're people who register an interest in re-homing a horse with the Mounted Branch. Officers will assess whether it's a suitable home." So they go and check the house? He laughs. "I don't know if they check the house. They assess whether it's a suitable home."

I'm still not getting a sense of exactly the process works, so I ask again. Who are these people? How do they apply? He repeats the paragraph above, which is helpful.

Although he tells me that in 2011, eight horses retired, in 2010, 10 did, and in 2009, 11, I can't shake my suspicion that there was something not quite regular about this case. Brooks returned her horse, Raisa, after two years. That doesn't sound like retirement. Indeed, the arrangement has been most frequently described as a "loan". Is that the same? "Well, yes," he says, impatient at my idiotic implication that retirement isn't normally temporary. "They can still be returned to the care of the MPS after they've retired."

And another thing -- the only suitable homes are those where the horse will not be ridden? "Yes, they are homes where the horse will not be ridden."

If Brooks was indeed part of the rehoming programme, she might want to have words with Cameron, who has inadvertently grassed her up for breaking the rules. Raisa was not just ridden by her owners, but by the future Prime Minister, no less. The Mounted Branch office might want to work on that suitability assessment process.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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The decline of the north's sporting powerhouse

Yorkshire historically acted as a counterweight to the dominance of southern elites, in sport as in politics and culture. Now, things are different.

On a drive between Sheffield and Barnsley, I spotted a striking painting of the Kes poster. Billy Casper’s two-fingered salute covered the wall of a once-popular pub that is now boarded up.

It is almost 50 years since the late Barry Hines wrote A Kestrel for a Knave, the novel that inspired Ken Loach’s 1969 film, and it seems that the defiant, us-against-the-world, stick-it-to-the-man Yorkshireness he commemorated still resonates here. Almost two-thirds of the people of south Yorkshire voted to leave the EU, flicking two fingers up at what they saw as a London-based establishment, detached from life beyond the capital.

But whatever happened to Billy the unlikely lad, and the myriad other northern characters who were once the stars of stage and screen? Like the pitheads that dominated Casper’s tightly knit neighbourhood, they have disappeared from the landscape. The rot set in during the 1980s, when industries were destroyed and communities collapsed, a point eloquently made in Melvyn Bragg’s excellent radio series The Matter of the North.

Yorkshire historically acted as a counterweight to the dominance of southern elites, in sport as in politics and culture. Yet today, we rarely get to hear the voices of Barnsley, Sheffield, Doncaster and Rotherham. And the Yorkshire sporting powerhouse is no more – at least, not as we once knew it.

This should be a matter of national concern. The White Rose county is, after all, the home of the world’s oldest registered football club – Sheffield FC, formed in 1857 – and the first English team to win three successive League titles, Huddersfield Town, in the mid-1920s. Hull City are now Yorkshire’s lone representative in the Premier League.

Howard Wilkinson, the manager of Leeds United when they were crowned champions in 1992, the season before the Premier League was founded, lamented the passing of a less money-obsessed era. “My dad worked at Orgreave,” he said, “the scene of Mrs Thatcher’s greatest hour, bless her. You paid for putting an axe through what is a very strong culture of community and joint responsibility.”

The best-known scene in Loach’s film shows a football match in which Mr Sugden, the PE teacher, played by Brian Glover, comically assumes the role of Bobby Charlton. It was played out on the muddy school fields of Barnsley’s run-down Athersley estate. On a visit to his alma mater a few years ago, David Bradley, who played the scrawny 15-year-old Billy, showed me the goalposts that he had swung from as a reluctant goalkeeper. “You can still see the dint in the crossbar,” he said. When I spoke to him recently, Bradley enthused about his lifelong support for Barnsley FC. “But I’ve not been to the ground over the last season and a half,” he said. “I can’t afford it.”

Bradley is not alone. Many long-standing fans have been priced out. Barnsley is only a Championship side, but for their home encounter with Newcastle last October, their fans had to pay £30 for a ticket.

The English game is rooted in the northern, working-class communities that have borne the brunt of austerity over the past six years. The top leagues – like the EU – are perceived to be out of touch and skewed in favour of the moneyed elites.

Bradley, an ardent Remainer, despaired after the Brexit vote. “They did not know what they were doing. But I can understand why. There’s still a lot of neglect, a lot of deprivation in parts of Barnsley. They feel left behind because they have been left behind.”

It is true that there has been a feel-good factor in Yorkshire following the Rio Olympics; if the county were a country, it would have finished 17th in the international medals table. Yet while millions have been invested in “podium-level athletes”, in the team games that are most relevant to the lives of most Yorkshire folk – football, cricket and rugby league – there is a clear division between sport’s elites and its grass roots. While lucrative TV deals have enriched ruling bodies and top clubs, there has been a large decrease in the number of adults playing any sport in the four years since London staged the Games.

According to figures from Sport England, there are now 67,000 fewer people in Yorkshire involved in sport than there were in 2012. In Doncaster, to take a typical post-industrial White Rose town, there has been a 13 per cent drop in participation – compared with a 0.4 per cent decline nationally.

Attendances at rugby league, the region’s “national sport”, are falling. But cricket, in theory, is thriving, with Yorkshire winning the County Championship in 2014 and 2015. Yet Joe Root, the batsman and poster boy for this renaissance, plays far more games for his country than for his county and was rested from Yorkshire’s 2016 title decider against Middlesex.

“Root’s almost not a Yorkshire player nowadays,” said Stuart Rayner, whose book The War of the White Roses chronicles the club’s fortunes between 1968 and 1986. As a fan back then, I frequently watched Geoffrey Boycott and other local stars at Headingley. My favourite was the England bowler Chris Old, a gritty, defiant, unsung anti-hero in the Billy Casper mould.

When Old made his debut, 13 of the 17-strong Yorkshire squad were registered as working-class professionals. Half a century later, three of the five Yorkshiremen selec­ted for the last Ashes series – Root, Jonny Bairstow and Gary Ballance – were privately educated. “The game of cricket now is played in public schools,” Old told me. “Top players are getting huge amounts of money, but the grass-roots game doesn’t seem to have benefited in any way.”

“In ten years’ time you won’t get a Joe Root,” Rayner said. “If you haven’t seen these top Yorkshire cricketers playing in your backyard and you haven’t got Sky, it will be difficult to get the whole cricket bug. So where is the next generation of Roots going to come from?” Or the next generation of Jessica Ennis-Hills? Three years ago, the Sheffield stadium where she trained and first discovered athletics was closed after cuts to local services.

This article first appeared in the 19 January 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The Trump era