At long last the Ashes series has kicked off, with such energy and intensity that one commentator described the first day's play as being more like a highlights package. I watched in awe as England's early promise (and Kevin Pietersen's thrilling talent) was blown away by the ruthless brilliance that makes Australia the champions they are, continuing a cycle of English defeat which goes back to 1989. (Though I can just imagine Gordon Brown arguing that, "for Budget purposes, it would be both prudent and responsible to treat the cycle as having begun a year or two earlier".) Think back to how life was when we last retained the Ashes: a right-wing prime minister whose dominant personality had won three elections, but whose increasingly hubristic style was generating great unpopularity and causing divisions in the ruling party; a third-term government beginning to wonder about changing leaders; a chancellor and prime minister at odds with each other; an opposition so ineffective people wondered if they'd ever win power again; George Bush in the White House. Thank God we've moved on.
The Prime Minister received further support last weekend in his continuing efforts to deny the link between the attacks on London and his adventure in Iraq. This time it came from the entirely predictable source of his Australian counterpart and fellow pillion-passenger John Howard, a graduate from the Les Patterson school of charm. Having declared that "nobody can get into the mind of a terrorist", Howard none the less
proceeded to offer Radio 4's Today listeners his insight into the bombers' "perverted ideology".
"A terrorist will opportunistically link events for their own purposes," he told Ed Stourton. "It's a long pattern of terrorists to seize on events to opportunistically claim that this happened because of that alleged misdeed." Not just terrorists, it would seem. I wonder if any of those in the Pentagon, the White House or the Project for the New American Century (a think-tank that does exactly what it says on the tin: thinks about tanks) were listening. It was, after all, precisely their opportunistic linkage of 11 September 2001 to Iraq that got us into this terrible mess in the first place.
The recent atrocities in London will doubtless fuel the government's desire for a national identity register, despite objections from the Conservative Party, which could logically oppose identity cards on the grounds that it doesn't currently have an identity. At a recent public meeting the excellent Shami Chakrabarti of Liberty maintained that there are those in government who understand the maxim "the price of freedom is eternal vigilance" as a call for eternal surveillance. At the same meeting, Tony Benn was similarly sceptical of government plans, having recently received an official letter addressed to "Lord Benn" (he famously renounced his peerage a lifetime ago). "I thought to m'shelf, blimey, if they don't even know who'sh in the House of Lordsh, what hope have they got with the rest of ush?"
When Bob Geldof invited a million people to descend on Edinburgh for the G8 summit, he can't have had any acquaintance with the city's new traffic system, which is specifically designed to stop anyone from going anywhere. Some squares are now so complicated you practically have to throw a double six to get out. With its combination of meters and fines, it reminds me of the limerick about the young girl from Buccleuch who filled her vagina with glue (she said with a grin, "If they pay to get in, they'll pay to get out of it, too!").
Last week Boris Johnson (who else?) suggested that the best response to militant Islam was to satirise it, to which my immediate response was, "After you, Boris." "Can the British find comedy in this?" I was asked on Radio 5 Live, and I have to admit it's not the easiest task in the world. Yet, given the all-important caveat that no one lost their life in the 21 July attacks, is there not something inherently ridiculous and slapstick about the image of an incompetent suicide bomber cursing his luck as his bid for martyrdom ends with a cartoon "phut"? All the more so as a fellow passenger reportedly then asked the bomber if he was all right. I mean, how British is that?