Saturday, 28 July 2012


Like most people, I gather, I was blown away by the Olympic Opening Ceremony last night. It was of course technically spectacular and visually stunning. I liked the fact that there was a sort of narrative and also some irony verging on self-mockery. I can understand why a Tory MP detected a socialist agenda in Danny Boyle's extravaganza, only seeing focus on suffragettes, the NHS, and sideswipes at bankers and exploitative industrialists. However I don't think there was a party political agenda; it was more a series of a few big images of British heritage and life, strung together with a thin story line. And it was brilliantly (and extravagantly) done. The immediate reaction of many friends on Facebook has been, "Wow, wow, wow!"

Nevertheless, after I'd listened to the lighting of the cauldron (I didn't stay up to watch, but have done since then on YouTube), I lay in bed and thought, "Yes, that was a great show. I'm glad I watched the bulk of it. But do I approve?" Do I approve of the arms race of Olympic openings? The continual effort to do bigger and better than anything before - epitomised by having the torch brought by a special effects speed boat driven by a millionaire footballer and ending up with seven young athletes lighting a succession of "petals" which came together to create the "cauldron".

Once, a long time ago, there were games in ancient Greece where people competed for nothing more than a garland of herbs. (We're priding ourselves on our gold medals weighing twice as much as China's in 2008 - get a life!) Once the Olympics were strictly for amateurs. Now our athletes are highly rewarded professionals. Once a single athlete ran into a stadium and lit the Olympic torch alone.

It's sad, I think, that corporate sponsorship - "the Cocalympics" - and the entertainment industry have such a stranglehold on the Olympic movement that no one has the bottle to say, "Enough is enough. Money is needed more elsewhere. We do not have to be bigger and better." I agreed with Trevor Nelson on the BBC commentary team who, during the parade of the athletes, said something like, "This, to me, is always the best part of the ceremony - seeing the national athletes who have trained so hard for so long, coming into the stadium." That is what the Games are about. Let's have less of the competitive corporate razzamatazz, and more simplicity.

Friday, 27 July 2012

Chameleons change colour depending where they are

I'm not going to comment on the rights and wrongs of the issue of "gay" or "equal" marriage, since I've already blogged about it here, "Humpty Dumpty or Brave new world?". As you may remember the principle that most concerned me was governments trying change reality by redefining language. I'm happy for people who love each other to live together with long-term commitment. And I readily concede that Christians, including me, have been slow to wish them well, for which I'm sorry.

However this time I'm concerned with the nature of politics and the behaviour of politicians in particular. You may remember that before Christmas the Prime Minister made a much trumpeted speech to church leaders in Oxford, of which the Daily Mail's headline was "Speak up for Christianity, Cameron tells Archbishop: PM calls on the Church to defend 'values and moral code' of the Bible". Earlier this week he made a speech (not so widely publicised) to prominent members of the gay, lesbian and bi-sexual community,  in Downing Street of which the Telegraph's headline was "We will legalise gay marriage by 2015, says David Cameron. David Cameron has given a personal guarantee to legalise gay marriage by 2015 - despite unease among his own MPs and his core Conservative supporters. The best account of what he said on each occasion was here:, and here: I'm sure he would deny it, but it looks very much like a case of saying what your audience wants to hear. "But surely that's the stock in trade of all politicians?" I fear you may be right, but if so it's a sad state of affairs. There once was a phrase "conviction politics". You knew what a politician stood for, what their convictions were. Now it's a case of "focus-group" or "opinion-poll politics" and politicians are merely reflections of what they think we want to hear.

For me, the comedy "Twenty Twelve" has been the redeeming feature of all the Olympic hype to which we have been subjected in an ever-increasing crescendo. Most wonderful of all, emerging from the PR company, Perfect Curve, like a star, has been the character of Siobhan, with her indomitable optimism and unsurpassed ability to do instantaneous u-turns and to create mutually contradictory concepts: Watch Siobhan Sharpe in full flow. In the final episode, which you can still watch on iPlayer, Siobhan's stream of consciousness has infected the rest of the Olympic Deliverance Team, "totally, guys. So that's good!" I even detected some Siobhanisms in the chef de mission of Team GB on BBC Radio 4 this morning. (By the way, that's a phrase that really makes me grind my teeth - something Jane's trying to cure me of - "team GB". It's not just the phrase, though why we can't just use our country's name like every other nation defeats me; it's also the religious uniformity (no, that's unfair to religions) with which commentators use it. Clearly a governmental edict has gone forth, and those who transgress and say "Great Britain" face being thrown on to the fiery scrapheap.) Oh for the return of the individual!
Kenyan chameleon - Superstock photo
With Siobhan it is great entertainment. One of my friends described her as her "fave English person", which is fine as long as she's a caricature on screen. But when our politicians adopt her modus operandi of sailing with whatever wind is prevailing at that moment, "absolutely", then it is a danger signal. In fact people responded to the likes of Margaret Thatcher and Ken Livingstone because, agree with them or not, their principles were clear and consistent. When I consider the Leader of Her Majesty's Opposition, or the Leader and Deputy Leader of Her Government, I'm not sure I recognise any clear convictions between them, except to try to please people. They're like chameleons. I clearly remember my one encounter with one of these wonders of nature outside my temporary home in Kenya. He, or she, was a handsome creature. But I don't want my politicians to be chameleons, changing their colour according to their background. Above all, I don't want a Prime Minister named David Chameleon. Even so, I trust he's able to have a relaxing and hard-earned holiday with his family this summer. Despite the perks, he has a tough job. Bless him!

Monday, 9 July 2012

Oh Lordsy Lords

Two things concern me over reform of the House of Lords - well, three in fact. I get the point that there seem to be too many of the chaps and chappesses - and judging by some bishops' expenses they don't come cheap (not to mention those archaic robes). But I'd have thought a reasonable retirement age might sort that out for a start. However here's the thing.
1  We're told there doesn't need to be a referendum about it because the electorate have already been given the opportunity to vote about it - at the general election. A commitment to Lords' reform was in the three main parties' manifestoes, we're told. QED. Eergh? What choice did that give the population then? I suppose, theoretically, if that was the overriding issue for you, you could have voted for the Monster Raving Loony Party. However in practice the choice between 'Yes', 'Yes', or 'Yes' is no choice at all. In other words, the electorate has expressed no opinion on Lords' reform.

2  If it ain't broke, don't mend it, and certainly don't mend it in a hurry.

3  And this is the most significant, in my view. The down-side of electing peers is that you will change the nature of the House. Admittedly some peers at present are career politicians (come up and out through the Commons) and more have taken a party whip (in other words they're more likely to toe the party line), the present house has a distinct weight of those who haven't sought power but who are disinterested and distinguished people who have been asked to serve. The Clegg proposal will radically lighten this weight, and therefore the Lords' will have less of a critical voice and more of a party one. I suspect I'm not alone in wanting less party politics in Parliament and more wisdom.