July 2014. Street Play: Devonshire Road, our second monthly event.
It’s half an hour before the event, and some of the kids from up the road are already circling on their bikes, waiting. The sun is hitting the street, the patchy clouds offering little resistance. A gentle breeze is in the bright green leaves of this suburban London road.
I’m setting up, at the top of the road, counting the minutes down, and then the seconds, until we can draw the barriers across the road and put up the ‘Road Closed’ sign, right in the middle. Then, silence. No more unwanted cars on this residential road. Our cycling enthusiasts take to the tarmac, and I walk back along the street, right in the middle, knowing I don’t need to look back. After all the anticipation of the start, now the anticipation of what the event will bring.
Second time is more relaxed. No-one is wondering what they should do. The adults lean by the walls, beginning to chat, making introductions where they don’t know each other. Some are sipping tea. There’s cake. Less cautious, the pre-teens have loaded their water pistols and are chasing each other in and out of gardens. There’s noise. Some of the youngest are on scooters or plastic ride-on cars. There are others chalking on the pavements and on the road in gaudy colours. Five foam footballs, kicked, follow the camber of the road and ultimately lodge under parked cars to be largely forgotten.
After an hour or so, with occasional interruptions for returning or leaving residents walked out of the street in their cars behind the stewards – oh, the power – there are twenty to thirty kids of varying ages wide-eyed and alive, engrossed in activities; packs race through the middle backwards and forwards on two, three or four wheels (we await our first uni-cycler) whilst others skip, chalk, chase and squirt. Adults stand by, watching, participating, talking. Some have the nerve to scoot. A neighbour without kids brings out his young parrot and a jug of grapes. Some of the kids are momentarily diverted and watch the bird devour the soft fruit. Buzz Lightyear is chalked onto the middle of the street, a homage to the bespectacled boy causing minor mayhem in a Lightyear cozzie.
Casual activities perpetuate for another hour until a sudden rush of returning cars at the end of the afternoon disrupts the flow, and before we know it, we’re pulling back the barriers and removing our signs; the cars take back the road again.
Our soldiers will take back the street again, briefly, next month and, one day, the war will be ours and we alone will rule the street.
The Wolfson Economic Prize is a relatively new economics competition organised and funded by Simon Wolfson, Baron Wolfson of Aspley Guise, and run by the Policy Exchange think tank. The first Prize was run in 2012 and asked entries to submit proposals as to how the Eurozone could be safely dismantled. It attracted 425 entries from across the world, and was was submitted by the team led by Roger Bootle from Macroeconomics research consultancy firm Capital Economics, entitled Leaving the Euro: A Practical Guide.
A second prize was launched in November 2013. The subject of the prize has been hotly debated for some time, and remains a topic of political and professional debate in response to one of the major issues facing this country at the current time; the housing crisis. The question posed by the prize organisers was, “How would you deliver a new Garden City which is visionary, economically viable, and popular?”.
Garden cities were first established in Hertfordshire, at Letchworth and then Welwyn, and have been one of the greatest achievements of town and country planning. Their success, largely acknowledged in hindsight, prompted the development of the new towns in Britain in the post war years, which arguably culminated in the most complete and best realised form at Milton Keynes. There’s an affection for garden cities at the moment – the Coalition Government revived the idea in designating Ebbsfleet earlier this year, and they also published a prospectus to promote the idea amongst local authorities or similar partnerships following that announcement. A recent poll conducted by the Policy Exchange suggests support for garden cities is high across the board.
My wife and I decided to enter the competition, and we spent many hours between November and the closing date in early March mulling over the issues, the possible solutions and scenarios and our many ideas for a beautiful, fully realised future city based on the garden cities principle. It all culminated in mad weekend where we toiled on our submission for a joint total of 40 hours to get the thing completed and submitted. We were inspired by Milton Keynes, and tried to be creative in expressing our vision, using a time travelling Mayor to express his delight at having lived in our garden city for a quarter of a century, since moving there in 2021. We pondered what it meant to be popular and visionary – can there be such a thing? – and defined our garden city as something very different to that which is almost embarrassingly proposed at Ebbsfleet.
And today, you can see our entry published by the judges. Amongst 279 entries, our was highly commended and was recognised,
“for a financially-aware and credible proposal with a very clear survey of relevant financial issues. The Judges enjoyed this entry’s introspection into the definition of key terms in the Prize Question and the way it presented a vision of the future through the eyes of the city’s future Mayor. They felt it was a human proposal designed for people”.
We cannot express how chuffed we are.
Part three of the blog indulgence is a list of cover versions. I love a good cover version for what it can bring to a well known song, for introducing you to new artists or a breadth of artists you already know, and to re-engage you in a song you thought you didn’t like. A good cover version brings something new; some good cover versions will trick you into thinking the song is an original – indeed, some cover versions are the definitive version – think Tainted Love, Always on My Mind or Hallelujah.
Tori Amos is a bit of a champion of the cover; her version of Smells Like Teen Spirit was probably when I first realised the potential in re-interpreting songs. She’s done some other corkers as well, from Slayer to Chas ‘n’ Dave. Some will note a cover of Bohemian Rhapsody by Fuzzbox – the original by Queen was in my most hated songs, but the Fuzzbox version – a loopy acapella romp is genuinely hilarious. There are a couple of oddities in there – Eddi Reader is best known for Patience of Angels, which was written by Boo Hewerdine who then recorded it in 2006; his might be the cover. Likewise, the Gwen Stefani and Annie Lennox tracks are both obscure Keane tracks, the originals of which won’t be known to many. Check out the Arctic Monkeys ‘Love Machine’ – a band really having fun with a song.
There are a couple of covered songs here that appear twice – Love Will Tear Us Apart, Hallelujah and Always on My Mind (though the Elvis version isn’t one of them), a couple of artists whose songs are covered a couple of times and hopefully one or two surprises… Original artists are in brackets.
- 29 Palms – American Girl (Tom Petty)
- A-ha – Crying in the Rain (Everly Brothers)
- Alison Krauss – Baby, Now That I Found You (The Foundations)
- Amy Winehouse – Valerie (The Zutons)
- Annie Lennox – Pattern of My Life (Keane; originally Closer Now)
- Arctic Monkeys – Love Machine (Girls Aloud)
- Avril Lavigne – The Scientist (Coldplay)
- Barry Manilow – If Tomorrow Never Comes (Garth Brooks)
- Beautiful South – You’re the One That I Want (Olivia Newton John/John Travolta)
- Bloc Party – Say it Right (Nelly Furtado)
- Brooke Fraser – Distant Sun (Crowded House)
- Communards – Don’t Leave Me This Way (Harold Melvin and the Bluenotes)
- Corrine Bailey Rae – Munich (Editors)
- David Gray – Say Hello Wave Goodbye (Soft Cell)
- Deacon Blue – It’s Not Funny Anymore (Husker Du)
- Deacon Blue – Trampolene (Julian Cope)
- Devendra Banhart – Don’t Look Back in Anger (Oasis)
- Eddi Reader – Patience of Angels (Boo Hewerdine)
- Erasure – Take a Chance on Me (ABBA)
- Fat Lady Sings – Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard (Paul Simon)
- Flaming Lips – Can’t Get You Out of My Head (Kylie Minogue)
- Fuzzbox – Bohemian Rhapsody (Queen)
- Girls Aloud – Teenage Dirtbag (Wheatus)
- Glenn Campbell – Good Riddance (Green Day)
- Gossip – Careless Whisper (George Michael)
- Guns N Roses – Live and Let Die (Wings)
- Gwen Stefani – Early Winter (Keane)
- Happy Mondays – Step On (John Kongos)
- Hootie and the Blowfish – Driver 8 (REM)
- Horse – Wichita Lineman (Glenn Campbell)
- Jeff Buckley – Hallelujah (Leonard Cohen)
- John Mayer – Free Falling (Tom Petty)
- Johnny Cash – One (U2)
- Jose Gonzalez – Love Will Tear Us Apart (Joy Division)
- kd lang – Hallelujah (Leonard Cohen)
- Keane – Under Pressure (Queen and David Bowie)
- Keaton Henson – You Were Always on Mind (Gwen McCrae)
- Kim Wilde – You Keep Me Hanging On (The Supremes)
- King Creosote & Jon Hopkins – I’ve Been Losing You (a-ha)
- Kirsty MacColl – A New England (Billy Bragg)
- KT Tunstall – Tangled Up in Blue (Bob Dylan)
- KT Tunstall – The Prayer (Bloc Party)
- KT Tunstall – Boys of Summer (Don Henley)
- Kylie Minogue – Can’t Get Blue Monday Out of my Head (New Order)
- Lemar – I Believe in a Thing Called Love (The Darkness)
- Lily Allen – Mr Blue Sky (ELO)
- Manic Street Preachers – Raindrops Keep Falling on my Head (BJ Thomas)
- Mindy Smith – Jolene (Dolly Parton; Parton features on this version)
- Nerina Pallot – Love Will Tear Us Apart (Joy Division)
- Nouvelle Vague – Guns of Brixton (The Clash)
- Pet Shop Boys – Always on my Mind (Gwen McCrae)
- Phil Collins – Can’t Stop Loving You (Leo Sayer)
- REM – The Lion Sleeps Tonight (Solomon Linda; originally Mbube)
- Renee Geyer – Into Temptation (Crowded House)
- River City People – California Dreaming (The Mamas and the Papas)
- Robbie Williams – Louise (Human League)
- Elvis Costello – She (Charles Aznavour)
- Sixpence None the Richer – There She Goes (The La’s)
- Smith and Burrows – Wonderful Life (Black)
- Soft Cell – Tainted Love (Gloria Jones)
- Stephen Lindsay – Monkey Gone to Heaven (Pixies)
- Stereophonics – Handbags and Gladrags (Chris Farlowe)
- Take That – Relight My Fire (Dan Hartman)
- The Big Dish – Refugee (Tom Petty)
- The Civil Wars – Billie Jean (Michael Jackson)
- The Futureheads – Hounds of Love (Kate Bush)
- The Streets – Your Song (Elton John)
- Thea Gilmore – Bad Moon Rising (Creedence Clearwater Revival)
- Tom McRae – Wonderful Christmastime (Paul McCartney)
- Tori Amos – Smells Like Teen Spirit (Nirvana)
- Travis – Hit Me Baby One More Time (Britney Spears)
- U2 – Everlasting Love (Love Affair)
- Vonda Shepherd – This Ole Heart of Mine (The Isley Brothers)
- Will Young – Running Up That Hill (Kate Bush)
- Wonder Stuff and Vic Reeves – Dizzy (Tommy Roe)
As promised, I’m following up my favourite songs list with a list of stinkers. This has been more difficult for a couple of reasons. First, you tend not to cherish these, rather you put them to the back of your mind. A lot of them are one-hit wonders, so the artists don’t stick around, and a lot are recognised stinkers, so they don’t get played much. There might be some controversy: I’m no fan of Eric Clapton and I think ‘Wonderful Tonight’ is particularly risible. John Lennon’s half-arsed ‘Imagine’ is in the same camp. I’m no fan of Queen either and their regular appearance at wedding discos (not in person, obviously) is sure to get my hackles up. There’s a lot of awful 90s techno in there, which should be banished to the musical dustbin promptly and I think the rest are acknowledged stinkers, insipid covers, patronising kids songs and sappy dross.
A couple of notes: some of the tracks often cited in lists like this – Las Ketchup, Macarena, Mambo No.5, anything by Steps – I actually quite like. And this isn’t a ‘coming out’ post either. Further, I’m not a fan of jazz or reggae as two of the more mainstream forms of music, but I can’t include tracks here because you actually have to know the songs to actively hate them. See what you think. 75 covers to follow soon…
- 10cc – Dreadlock Holiday
- 2 Unlimited – No Limit
- Amy Grant – Baby, Baby
- Apache Indian – Boom Shak-a-lak
- Aswad – Don’t Turn Around
- Aztec Camera – Somewhere in the City
- Baha Men – Who Let the Dogs Out?
- Barry White – Show You Right
- Billy Ray Cyrus – Achy Breaky Heart
- Bobby McFerrin – Don’t Worry, Be Happy
- Bombalurina – Yellow Polka Dot Bikini
- Celine Dion – Think Twice
- Charles and Eddie – Would I lie to you?
- Chris de Burgh – Lady in Red
- Clive Dunn – Grandad
- Cranberries – Desperate Andy
- Crazy Frog – Axel F
- Demis Roussos – Forever and Ever
- Eiffel 65 – Blue
- Elton John – Nikita
- Eric Clapton – Wonderful Tonight
- Eric Clapton – Tears in Heaven
- Eva Cassidy – Songbird
- Extreme – More Than Words
- Fast Food Rockers – Fast Food Song
- Glenn Medeiros – Nothing’s Gonna Change My Love for You
- Ini Kamoze – Hot Stepper
- Jason Donovan – Sealed with a Kiss
- Jennifer Lopez – Jenny from the Block
- Jennifer Rush – The Power of Love
- John Lennon – Imagine
- John Paul Young – Love is in the Air
- Keith Harris and Orville – I Wish I Could Fly
- Kriss Kross – Jump
- MC Hammer – U Can’t Touch This
- Michael Jackson – Earth Song
- Middle of the Road – Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep
- Mousse T Vs Hot ‘n’ Juicy – Horny
- Mr Blobby – Blobby Song
- Nick Berry – Every Loser Wins
- Nizlopi – JCB Song
- OMC – How Bizarre
- Owen Paul – My Favourite Waste of Time
- Pat and Mick – Let’s All Chant
- Peabo Bryson and Roberta Flack – Tonight, I Celebrate My Love For You
- Psy – Gangham Style
- Queen – Bohemian Rhapsody
- Rednex – Cotton Eye Joe
- Reynolds Girls – I’d Rather Jack
- Robert Palmer – I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight
- S Club 7 – Reach
- Salt n Pepa – Push It
- Scorpions – Wind of Change
- S’Express – Theme from S’Express
- Shamen – Ebeneezer Goode
- Shanice – Loving You
- Smokie with Roy ‘Chubby’ Brown – Living Next Door to Alice
- Snap – The Power
- Snow – Informer
- Spin Doctors – Two Princes
- St Winifred’s Choir – There’s No-one Quite Like Grandma
- Stefan Dennis – Don’t it Make a You Feel Good
- Stevie Wonder – I Just Called to Say I Love You
- Sting – Russians
- Taja Sevelle – Love is Contagious
- Technotronic – Pump Up the Jam
- The Beatles – Long and Winding Road
- The Knack – My Sharona
- The Nolans – I’m in the Mood for Dancing
- THFC – Tottenham, Tottenham
- Toploader – Dancing in the Moonlight
- UB40 – Rat in Mi Kitchen
- Westlife – Mandy
- Will Smith – Boom Shake the Room
- Womack and Womack – Teardrops
It’s time to be a little indulgent. I saw a post on Facebook from friend the other day who said he’d seen a number of people list their top 100 songs. He thought that was a little boring, and so proceeded to list his top 100 worst songs. It got me thinking. And the result of that thinking is the next three posts.
I’m first going to list my top 100 songs; then my 75 worst songs, followed by 75 fantastic covers. I’m starting with my top 100, because it’s easiest. Thinking of your favourite songs is a doddle – putting them in a top 100 is trickier. On the other hand, coming up with terrible songs is very difficult, because you tend to forget them. And I love covers, so that’s a joy to prepare. But more on those last two later.
My top 100 saw me come up with over 220 favourite songs. I only had two rules in coming up with the list – no artist could appear twice (though songwriters could appear twice, and the same people in different bands was acceptable) and it had to be a ‘desert island’ list – things I couldn’t do without. The latter rule lead me to include some ‘classic’ artists that might not have been there otherwise; both rules prevented me swamping the list with many songs by the same artist. So there are some ‘honourable mentions’ (HM) below. Here goes:
- Keane – Sovereign Light Cafe: nostalgic, optimistic, bright and set at the seaside. Perfect Keane. HMs – Perfect Symmetry, My Shadow, Snowed Under, On A Day Like Today
- Darius Rucker – This: country songs often have the most poignant lyrics. This is the best example.
- KT Tunstall – Lost: inspired me in a difficult time; thumping beats in the middle section. HMs – Carried, Saving My Face, The Entertainer
- Nerina Pallot – Learning to Breathe: hit a chord recently; might be artificially high, but worthy of a top twenty place. HM – Idaho
- A-ha – Summer Moved On (live): has to be the live version to include that 22 second note. HMs – Out of Blue Comes Green, Analogue, Butterfly Butterfly, Scoundrel Days
- REM – Daysleeper: too many choices from REM, this is the pick of the crop from the ‘Up’ album. HMs – At My Most Beautiful, Fall On Me, Perfect Circle, The Great Beyond, Imitation of Life, Nightswimming
- Bloc Party – I Still Remember: the excitement of a relationship beginning; used at our wedding (a bit weird if you know the lyrics!) – HM – Sunday, Flux
- Deacon Blue – Loaded: the best from a great debut album, and many, many others miss the list because of the rule. HMs – Raintown, Turn, The Hipsters, The Wildness, Your Town
- Mt. Desolation – Annie Ford: the most heartbreaking song I know.
- Kate Rusby – Underneath the Stars: Rusby could sing the ingredients on a cereal packet and make it enchanting
- Take That – Patience HMs – Said It All, The Flood, Rule the World
- Coldplay – Life in Technicolour
- McIntosh Ross – Summer
- Tim Minchin – White Wine in the Sun HM: The Fence
- Ricky Ross – The Further North You Go
- Lighthouse Family – High
- Toad the Wet Sprocket – The Moment HM – All I Want
- The Killers – Human HMs – Mr Brightside, Runaways, Bling
- Catatonia – Strange Glue
- Adele – Someone Like You
- The Smiths – What Difference Does it Make? HMs – Girl Afraid, Girlfriend in a Coma, Bigmouth Strikes Again
- Tori Amos – Jackies Strength HMs – Concertina, Northern Lad, Space Dog
- The Mission – Like a Child Again
- Vonda Shepherd and Emily Saliers – Baby, Don’t You Break My Heart Slow
- Communards – For a Friend
- Crowded House – Distant Sun
- Editors – Bricks and Mortar
- Pet Shop Boys – Flamboyant
- Train – Drops of Jupiter
- Del Amitri – Drunk in a Band
- Suzanne Vega – Gypsy
- Then Jerico – What Does it Take?
- 29 Palms – Mad to be Saved
- Peter Gabriel – A Different Drum
- Kathleen Edwards – Copied Keys
- Magne F – The Longest Night
- Sigur Ros – Saeglopur
- Savage Garden – Affirmation
- The Big Dish – Good Way
- The Adventures – Broken Land
- Robbie Williams – Come Undone
- Sting – Fields of Gold
- Cry Before Dawn – Gone Forever
- Oasis – Acquiese
- Chumbawamba – Homophobia
- Manic Street Preachers – Motorcycle Emptiness
- Madonna – What it feels like for a Girl (Perfecto Mix)
- Paula Cole – I Don’t Want to Wait
- Stereophonics – Dakota
- kd lang – Helpless
- River City People – I’m Still waiting
- Lorde – Team
- Kirsty MacColl – A New England
- Semisonic – Chemistry
- Playing at Trains – Lust
- Of Monster and Men – Little Talks
- Trisha Yearwood – I Hope You Dance
- Nirvana – Smells Like Teen Spirit
- Suede – Animal Nitrate
- Love Affair – Everlasting Love
- Horse – Stay
- Hootie and the Blowfish – Time
- Gun – Shame on You
- Glenn Campbell – Any Trouble
- James Blunt – Same Mistake
- Fleetwood Mac – The Chain
- Counting Crows – Rain King
- John Denver – Annie’s Song
- Fat Lady Sings – Drunkard Logic
- Isley Brothers – This Ole Heart of Mine
- Goo Goo Dolls – Iris
- Eminem – Lose Yourself
- Elton John – Your Song
- Dixie Chicks – Taking the Long Way Round
- Dido – Take My Hand
- Cherry Ghost – People Help the People
- The Beatles – Ticket to Ride
- Alex Parks – Cry
- Amy MacDonald – Let’s Start a Band
- Avril Lavigne – I’m With You
- Brandon Flowers – Crossfire
- Bruce Springsteen – Radio Nowhere
- Carly Simon – Let The River Run
- Don Henley – Boys of Summer
- Elvis Presley – Marie’s the Name
- The Vaccines – Post Break-up Sex
- Kate Bush – Running Up That Hill
- Kim Wilde – Stone
- New Order – Regret
- Pearl Jam – Leash
- Beautiful South – Pretenders to the Throne
- Sarah Maclachlan – Angel
- U2 – Where the Streets Have No Name
- Temper Trap – Sweet Disposition
- Texas – Inner Smile
- The Bangles – I’ll Set You Free
- The Cure – In Between Days
- The Fray – Trust Me
- Thea Gilmore – London
- ABBA – Eagle
The local business association that represents my high street – Green Lanes – and town centre – Palmers Green – have been very active recently, opposing an investment in Enfield of up to £30m in cycling improvements (the ‘mini-Holland’ scheme) because it MIGHT remove paid for, on-street parking on the high street itself. Without any obvious basis for the claims or any evidence to back up their opinions, it has launched an aggressive campaign using posters in shops and emails to anyone on their mailing list, and put up a single issue candidate to fight the forthcoming local election. From my perspective, it appears to be a campaign which has jumped to the extreme end of what might actually happen which and presents it as fact to a public who are unlikely to follow up the claims.
Costas Georgiou, chairman of the business association, is standing in the local elections as an independent candidate on this single issue. His claim is that the removal of parking spaces on Green Lanes equates to the removal of shoppers. Again, there is little evidence from him to support this so far – even I can dispute it, being heavily reliant on the shops in Green Lanes, but never having driven there. But, because the association is respected and run by local business people, it might be natural to assume that their fears are well founded. I don’t think they are.
There have already been attempts to set out a more balanced view. The Palmers Green Community website, for instance, has already posted a riposte to explain some of the finer points of the planning process, which is ongoing. Even from the Enfield Council website downloads about the mini-Holland bid, one can deduce that the proposals for Green Lanes within Palmers Green are a very small proportion of the overall package of improvements across a Borough that has high levels of pollution from vehicles and significantly high levels of obesity in children and adults alike. The posters imply that the Palmers Green element is a major part of the proposals; it isn’t.
Palmers Green town centre is not without its problems, but is lucky to be one of only a handful of local centres to have relatively low vacancy rates compared to the national average, a high proportion of independent traders, a station right in the town centre, and good bus routes in both east-west and north-south directions. It has good quality, relatively dense and varied housing all around it, giving thousands of people easy access to the town centre on foot, by bicycle and by two forms of public transport that operate regular services for around twenty hours a day. We have three good supermarkets, including one with its own ample free car park. There is an abundance of places to get a hot drink and a snack. Commuters criss-cross the town centre on their way to the station and bus stops having parked in the surrounding residential streets and walked through it. The Census between 2001 and 2011 demonstrates a growing number of households in wards around N13 – over 40% in many wards, and over 30% in most – have no car. None of these factors point to a desperate need for available on street parking for cars.
Aside from my casual observations, there is evidence to suggest that their claims are unreasonable. A report by the Association for Town Centre Management and the British Parking Association (2013) remarked that, “trying to find a conclusive link between town centre prosperity and car parking provision is extremely difficult”, largely because of the high number of variables involved in a town centre’s success. There is simply an insufficient evidence base to draw such a firm conclusion.
Further research suggest that town centres actually benefit from allowing greater access to people on foot and on bicycles, or that a balanced approach to traffic management and parking is preferable to boost the appeal of town centres. This includes a report written by Living Streets, and a wealth of research over many years by the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (like this), the ATCM (like this) and the Design Council. Friends living in Palmers Green have also found easy and accessible evidence to support the idea that town centres benefit from reducing the impact of cars in town centres, and that increasing walking and cycling only has positive effects (here and here) the former of which also demonstrates that traders tend to over-estimate the reliance they place on customers arriving by car. Consider, for instance, the reductions in noise and fumes as cars slow down looking for spaces; the potential for conflicts and accidents and the simple fact that cars are rather ugly features that detract from good looking places.
It may well be that the proposals being proposed by Enfield Borough in their current form need some discussion and informed contributions, but for an influential group of people in the town centre to launch such a ham-fisted and unsophisticated campaign of opposition is unfair and unjust, and needs challenging.
Maria Miller is all over the news today. For those that don’t have their ears firmly pressed to the ground, Maria Miller is the former Culture Secretary who has, today, resigned from her post in light of recent events in respect of her expenses claimed prior to the changes to the rules governing MPs expenses in 2010 (the claims were made when she was a new MP between 2005 to 2009). As well as having to pay money back, she was asked to apologise publicly in the house, and many thought that her short apology was rather forced. After a week of discussion and exaggerated disgust, she has finally fallen on her sword claiming that the debacle was distracting the country from all the good things that the Government is doing (insert own sarcastic tone here if desired).
This debate has got out of hand and gone off at a rather different tangent from where it started. It’s become a debate about expenses. She wasn’t asked to apologise about expenses; she was asked to apologise about her conduct in being obstructive towards the investigations.
I’ve been left with a very odd taste in my mouth following the news coverage today. Maria Miller has, it seems, been a victim of rather vicious hounding and harassment and – it seems to me – myths, lies and rumours about the circumstances of her case which leave me uncomfortable despite my feelings about the shortcomings of the expenses system that have been discussed in light of Ms Miller’s apology. It boils down to a few points:
1. Most importantly, given where the debate has gone, she was cleared of making false expenses. The overpayments were made because she did not reduce the claims as interest rates fell on her mortgage. The Standards Committee found her conduct obstructive in investigating the claims, but rejected claims that she’d benefited from overpayments. It was this obstructiveness that was the problem, not the making of false claims.
2. As discussed above, the claims date from the original expenses crisis, and to all intents and purposes is part of that debate, and not a new one. The possibility of making claims on that scale are much reduced these days, and new MPs – those elected in 2010 – are likely to be much more aware of the damaging consequences of making such claims anyway. And hopefully the others have learnt…
3. Maria Miller was working on two very important pieces of legislation; gay marriage and press regulation. The former has now passed into law; the latter is ongoing and, whilst the bill has support politically, it does not have support amongst the press. It seems to me that this places her in a position that is unlikely to be popular with the press; others might conclude it could make her a likely victim of unfavourable press stories; that the press might gleefully jump on a story that involved someone closely involved in seeking to more tightly regulate the press. Surely not?
4. She was asked to pay back around £5,000. Many people have asked the question as to why she shouldn’t pay back ‘the full £45,000’ that she was found to have falsely claimed. The answer to this is that she seemingly produced late evidence to prove that the remainder was a legitimate claim under the rules and that she did, in fact, pay back everything that was overpaid.
I’m no apologist for MPs expenses but, on the whole I do admire MPs and our political system. I am thankful I do not live in, say, Italy, Russia or Ukraine. It seems to me that MPs should be entering the profession with a desire to do something for the public good primarily at a local level, but contributing to the betterment of the country as a whole. I believe that most politicians have this desire. They are relatively well paid in carrying out this duty, and in my experience of dealing with MPs I have always left with the impression that the work is long and difficult and brings many compromises. I also believe that MPs should be compensated for the expense involved in travelling to London from distant constituencies and for stays away from their family home in alternative accommodation. I don’t think this should be extended beyond the sort of cost that a commuter living in Brighton might pay – without subsidy – to work in London over the course of a 30 year career, for instance, so I recognise that it’s a difficult balance to make. Funding mortgages is especially difficult when the purchase of a house has, historically, been very profitable and is especially so in London. There are no doubt issues with expenses, and very complex arguments and counter arguments to be had. The general public is right to demand transparency and a more palatable system.
But none of this seems to resolve the fact that I think Maria Miller’s initial obstructiveness to what should have been a much more straightforward matter has drawn out a process which has, in the last week, spiralled madly out of control and concluded with her resignation. Utter madness. I hope we’re all much happier.
You might have seen in the media recently some research that suggests that, rather than aiming for five portions of fruit and vegetables a day, we ought to be targeting seven or more. I’m naturally cautious of health related stories, particular as I’m heightened to them at the moment because I’m in the middle of Ben Goldacre’s rant, ‘Bad Science‘ but also because a lot of media stories about health are populist nonsense seeking to grab out attention for a nanosecond, and a good old fashioned scare story normally does the trick.
However, I’m inclined to think that a higher target for fruit and vegetables each day is a good thing. Most of the impartial, objective advice to living long and healthy seems to revolve around eating fruit and vegetables in combination with not smoking, doing exercise, avoiding to much drink and generally being a bit of a goody two shoes. So raising the target should have a side effect of raising the game of those on two or three pieces of fruit and veg a day just through exasperated guilt.
One of those might be Rosie Millard, who wrote – exasperatedly – about all this fruit and veg she now has to eat. Now, Rosie was a charming screen presence as BBC Arts correspondent in the early noughties and continues to write now, and I’m sure she’s a lovely person. But her barren breakfast, reluctant lunchtime apple, and evening fish fingers needs some work.
I’m no angel when it comes to food. I’m a fish eating vegetarian (or what vegetarians would call an ‘omnivore’) who doesn’t like many vegetables. I am prone to fish and chips once a week if I can get away with it, and my exercise routine could be written on the back of a stamp without a pen. But I don’t struggle to get at least five portions (usually more) of fruit and veg a day because I’ve found what I like and I try to substitute bad snacks – crisps, chocolate, cake – with better snacks. Here’s a sample.
My breakfast usually consists of muesli. I highly recommend the award winning stuff from Lidl. It’s by far the best I’ve had and is full of crunchy nuts, raisins and dried fruit. I always add raspberries and blueberries, which I feel deprived of without. I always make a sandwich for work; whether it’s fish or cheese, I normally add some kind of salad – rocket, lettuce, tomatoes. I will take two pieces of fruit – normally a Pink Lady apple (sweet, crisp, crunchy) and a banana and will buy some grapes or mango at lunch along with a bottle of beetroot juice (although I accept that fruit juices are not as good as fresh fruit).
My wife and I don’t buy pre-prepared meals. We always try to make something if we can (and Rosie, we have kids aged 4 and 2 who will eat with us most of the time). This will revolve around pasta with a sauce, or risotto, stir fry, a pizza (base and sauce all prepared fresh) or a curry. Once you have these, fitting three of four veg into them is a doddle, anything from onion, pepper and carrot to peas, spinach and courgette. We use frozen peas and spinach to add to most hot dishes or into the pasta water while the pasta boils. It’s really easy. We do have sausage and chips now and again, but we’ll cut the chips from potatoes rather than reaching for a bag of frozen chips and steam some broccoli florets to go with it. It really is no hassle at all; you can involve the kids in making it, they get used to eating fresh food and we share meals together.
Eating fruit and veg is essential for a good healthy life but more than that it helps kids learn, it brings families together and it avoids having to pay lots of money on processed food. And far from being difficult or virtuous, it’s straightforward and time can be made for it. Does that help, Rosie?
I’ve been irritated for some time about the constant reference amongst Coalition politicians to ‘hard-working people’. There’s been something quite forced and contrived about it. It’s as though they’re being given bonuses on the back of mentioning it. Even Boris has the regional version on repeat. It’s stuck very stubbornly. Unlike ‘the Big Society’ which slipped away very quickly.
It hadn’t occurred to me until yesterday to really question what they mean by ‘hard-working people’. In a sense, I prefer the Big Society. At least there’s a sense of togetherness about it. Constant reference to help for ‘hard-working people’ has the implicit idea that there’s a group of people who aren’t hard working who don’t deserve any support. Referring to hard-working people is divisive. It’s us against them. And that’s assuming that I’m classified as a hard working person. I’m not sure about this, as I’ve not seen a definition.
In my mind, the truth of the matter has become a little clearer with the widespread circulation by the Conservatives of their charming little poster following on from the Budget (above). It’s the word ‘they’ that really grates. Not only is it patronising (that means talking down to people, George) but it also indicates that the politicians themselves – or at least the Conservatives – don’t fall into the definition of hard-working people.
So, what we now know is that there are hard working people (who like beer and bingo); there are people who don’t work hard (who deserve to be ignored), and there’s the political elite and their pals (who don’t enjoy beer and bingo). The only one of those I fit into is people who don’t work hard, as I’m partial to beer, but not bingo, so excluding me from the other two.
I’m a bit frustrated by this, as I think I do work hard. So perhaps this brings us no nearer a definition of hard-working people. How is it being defined? Is it defined by the number of hours we have to work? By the nature of the work? By how much they we earn? By how socially valuable the work is? By how economically important it is? Does it include work that isn’t paid, such as caring for a sick or disabled relative or friend, or parents who choose not to do paid work because they value time with their children? Does it only refer to work that is ‘hard’; and is it physically hard work or emotionally hard work, or intellectually hard work? And who’s defining ‘hard’ if it is?
Is it retrospective, so applicable to people who have worked hard in some way but – at this moment – can’t because of some other reason? Maybe, like me, they were working hard for, say, a quango that was abolished, and are now struggling to find other work? Does it apply to people who aren’t hard working right now but are aspirational strivers who want to make and do and could, with a bit of help, be hard workers? Do you see the problem here? And I’m not getting any closer.
Can anyone help me out here?
HOUSE! Damn, there goes my secret.