Where were you?

Five things you might have missed last week

1. Use the ashtray

A Dorset man was fined £75 for flicking cigarette ash from his car window while driving. Alan Joyce complained that the offence hardly compared with dropping rubbish, but a councillor said: "The people of Poole won't tolerate littering."

2. Motorway alert

Venida Crabtree, 51, who spent £27,000 on driving lessons and failed nearly 40 times over 33 years, celebrated her first year as a qualified driver. Despite "several near misses", the former Oxford publican said she had full points on her licence and would soon be tackling her first motorway.

3. One to spare

An Indian businessman is to have surgery to remove an unwanted second penis, the Times of India reported. Though "diphallus" is a known condition the second organ is usually rudimentary, the paper said, but in this case the unnamed 24-year-old has two fully functioning penises.

4. Lounge rage

A Chelmsford couple, Alan and Janice White, came home to find their living room trashed by a squirrel that had fallen down the chimney. It chewed window frames and shredded curtains and a sofa before dying. "It's unfortunate for the family," said the RSPCA, "and the squirrel."

5. Deny that

A Knebworth farmer admitted being drunk in charge of a horse and cart after downing 20 pints of Guinness and five alcopops in an afternoon. Adrian Whitaker was so drunk he toppled off his cart and fell at the feet of the arresting officer.

This article first appeared in the 28 August 2006 issue of the New Statesman, Blogs plc

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No, David Cameron’s speech was not “left wing”

Come on, guys.

There is a strange journalistic phenomenon that occurs when a party leader makes a speech. It is a blend of groupthink, relief, utter certainty, and online backslapping. It happened particularly quickly after David Cameron’s speech to Tory party conference today. A few pundits decided that – because he mentioned, like, diversity and social mobility – this was a centre-left speech. A leftwing speech, even. Or at least a clear grab for the liberal centre ground. And so that’s what everyone now believes. The analysis is decided. The commentary is written. Thank God for that.

Really? It’s quite easy, even as one of those nasty, wicked Tories, to mention that you actually don’t much like racism, and point out that you’d quite like poor children to get jobs, without moving onto Labour's "territory". Which normal person is in favour of discriminating against someone on the basis of race, or blocking opportunity on the basis of class? Of course he’s against that. He’s a politician operating in a liberal democracy. And this isn’t Ukip conference.

Looking at the whole package, it was actually quite a rightwing speech. It was a paean to defence – championing drones, protecting Britain from the evils of the world, and getting all excited about “launching the biggest aircraft carriers in our history”.

It was a festival of flagwaving guff about the British “character”, a celebration of shoehorning our history chronologically onto the curriculum, looking towards a “Greater Britain”, asking for more “national pride”. There was even a Bake Off pun.

He also deployed the illiberal device of inculcating a divide-and-rule fear of the “shadow of extremism – hanging over every single one of us”, informing us that children in UK madrassas are having their “heads filled with poison and their hearts filled with hate”, and saying Britain shouldn’t be “overwhelmed” with refugees, before quickly changing the subject to ousting Assad. How unashamedly centrist, of you, Mr Prime Minister.

Benefit cuts and a reduction of tax credits will mean the Prime Minister’s enthusiasm for “equality of opportunity, as opposed to equality of outcome” will be just that – with the outcome pretty bleak for those who end up losing any opportunity that comes with state support. And his excitement about diversity in his cabinet rings a little hollow the day following a tubthumping anti-immigration speech from his Home Secretary.

If this year's Tory conference wins the party votes, it’ll be because of its conservative commitment – not lefty love bombing.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.