The embarrassingly bad BBC Question Time debate between Jeremy Corbyn and Owen Smith helped me decide how to vote in Labour’s leadership election. Would either man serve in the other’s shadow cabinet? Does Labour have an anti-Semitism problem? Should Corbyn have campaigned more vigorously for remaining in the EU? Will youthful non-voters attend the polls and sweep Labour to power? None of it had anything to do with the price of fish (or the price of tea in China, depending on your preferred idiom). It was a terrible advertisement for the Labour Party.
To be sure, the candidates were answering questions submitted by the audience. But clever politicians steer debate on to subjects they want to talk about. Neither candidate was nimble enough for that. On Trident – one of the few areas where there is substantive policy disagreement – Corbyn failed to highlight its enormous cost and to quote a sum that could instead go to the NHS, as the Brexiteers so effectively did in the referendum campaign. The figure may be wrong but the idea would resonate with voters, nearly half of whom, according to one poll this year, oppose full renewal.
Hopeless as Corbyn was, Smith failed to convince me that he would be an improvement. The anti-Corbyn MPs should not run mediocrities, thus further exposing the party’s weakness to public inspection. Given time, the Corbyn project will collapse. Labour MPs should wait and groom a candidate – one should naturally emerge over the next three years of opposition – who can plausibly be presented as a general election winner.
This is a damaging, unnecessary and farcical election that should not be repeated. For that reason, I shall vote Corbyn.
If Theresa May must have grammar schools, she could do two things to make them more palatable to lefties like me. First, she should stipulate that any children who have benefited from their parents paying for education – whether through attending a fee-paying school or through private tuition – must be banned from entry. Second, she should instruct the schools to recruit all their pupils from postcodes where two-thirds or more of the child population is eligible for free school meals. I remain opposed to grammar schools, the evidence against them being so overwhelming. Yet at least those two steps would give them a small chance of doing what it says on the tin of May’s social mobility policy, and the second may have the pleasing side effect of creating a house-price premium in the poorest areas.
Over and out
We should not be surprised that David Cameron has chosen to resign his Commons seat rather than continue on the back benches. Ousted chief executives don’t stay in their companies as minor functionaries in the sales office. Burned-out head teachers rarely go back to teaching remedial classes. Newspaper (and magazine) editors usually move to other publications; they do not hang around covering stories about pile-ups on the M4. Though some, I am compelled to admit, continue writing opinionated
columns for many years.
What, everyone asks, does Brexit really mean? In the Yorkshire town of Hebden Bridge last month, I think I stumbled on the answer. Large numbers of people were perambulating in Victorian dress, some accompanied by weird contraptions that had a faintly retro look. This, it emerged, was a “steampunk weekend”.
After a little research, the best definition I can manage of steampunk is that it fuses different eras (mainly Victorian and post-millennium) rather as fusion food combines different cuisines. It originated in the time travel and alternative universes of science fiction. Imagine, for example, a cutting-edge computer dressed up as an old typewriter. It is not exactly a protest against modern technology, more an ironic comment on it.
“Take something that’s got something to do with the 19th century, or thereabouts, and do something with it,” advises an authoritative website. That, it seems to me, is what David Davis, Liam Fox and Boris Johnson are up to: they have taken the Victorian concept of a buccaneering nation that sails the high seas and trades with the world and, er, they are doing something with it. Once they start wearing top hats and frock coats, all will be clear.
Play for pay
In refusing to tour Bangladesh later this year on “security grounds”, Eoin Morgan, captain of England’s one-day and Twenty20 cricket teams, follows a long tradition. From the 1930s, when India attained Test status, England nearly always sent weakened sides to the subcontinent, mainly because players claimed medical susceptibilities to the country’s food, climate and hygiene arrangements. Yet many leading cricketers agreed to coach or play when offered generous remuneration and lavish hospitality from assorted maharajahs. Geoffrey Boycott declined to tour the subcontinent for most of his career, pleading a weak immune system. Only from 1977, in his late thirties, did he play three Tests in Pakistan and five in India (including his last in 1982) when payments to England’s cricketers had dramatically improved.
Morgan claims a nearby bomb blast frightened him in Bangalore in 2010. Since then, he has accepted lucrative offers to play in the Indian Premier League. As Americans would say, go figure.
Here in Loughton, Essex, where I live quietly and unfashionably, scarcely a week passes without an appeal, pushed through the door and/or affixed to nearby lamp posts, to find a missing cat. These appeals have increased dramatically over the past year. Have other areas experienced something similar? Or does Loughton have a catnapper on the loose?
This article appears in the 14 Sep 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The fall of the golden generation