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About the AuthorHenry Zeffman, Adam Crozier has published 2 articles
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A View From the Pidge
It was weird growing up a Liverpool fan in North London. There were, naturally, few others. Few others with whom to rejoice in the glories and, more often, few others with whom to commiserate in defeat. Few others with whom to speculate about whom we would sign in that transfer window and, more often, few others with whom to share concern about how few players Liverpool had signed in that transfer window. Few others who understood the Hillsborough tragedy.
There was a narrative, bubbling under the surface, that the Hillsborough disaster, 24 years ago today, was the Liverpool fans’ fault. Many subscribed to this story. That wasn’t their fault. Had I not been a Liverpool fan, I also wouldn’t have bothered to educate myself.
Nobody buys into that narrative now. The Hillsborough Independent Panel’s report, released on the 12th September last year, exposed a systematic cover-up by the South Yorkshire police force, which sought to shift the blame from itself to the fans. From the culprits to the victims. The details are worth restating, and mulling over: up to 41 lives could have been saved, 164 witness statements were altered, 116 witness statements were removed. The police breathalysed dead children, in an attempt to impugn their reputations. The local MP, Sir Irvine Patnick, passed false information from the police to the press. Most shockingly, it took 24 years for this to be confirmed, and for the prime minister to apologise to the families of the victims.
Every year, on the 15th of April, the names of the 96 innocent people who went to a football match and didn’t come home are read out at a memorial service at Anfield. It always strikes me how long this takes. I struggle to comprehend death of that scale. But I struggle even more with the fact that after one of the UK’s worst individual disasters of the past century, the organs of the state colluded to deny justice and to suppress the truth. It shocks me that they were successful for 24 years. This is not just an issue for Liverpool Football Club, nor just for football fans. This is something that all of society should be repulsed by. H, 15/4/13, 8pm
I think it was Andrew Marr who once wrote something to the effect that Margaret Thatcher performed her every action with a living sense of her own history. She wasn’t one of those people who are granted a posthumous apotheosis by an ululating and hysterical media, but rather one of that far, far rarer breed who create their own legend in the very moment of its happening. To me the most remarkable thing about Baroness Thatcher, that Iron Lady of rural Lincolnshire, was her fidelity to her own values; the values of thrift, hard work and the steadfastness of principle instilled by her father, Alderman Roberts. Regardless of your views of those values (and I’m not for one moment saying she was always, or even often, right) she never conceded an inch to those she considered wrong. The proof of the weight of her legacy is that the tributes, and occasional grotesque jubilations at her passing, that are pouring out from every corner of the globe are of supreme and staggering unimportance; neither a eulogy by one of her friends nor a tasteless comment by the pathetic and odious George Galloway will remotely alter any pre-existing impressions held of her, nor the views held on the rectitude of her actions. By sheer force of intellect, will and dedication, she stamped herself so thoroughly on the globe that the reverberations still echo today. To paraphrase from the Gospel beloved of her devoutly Methodist father, by her fruits shall ye know her; and whilst I could never argue that her premiership was without its rotten moments, I think it’s fair to say that the apple of Margaret Roberts never fell too far from the tree of her father – and that, like it or not, the seeds sown by the might of the Iron Lady will blossom and flourish for many centuries to come. A, 08/04/13, 3.30pm
In the UK, we are too snooty about public service. You can see it in the contempt with which politics is held. You can see it in the difference of tone between The West Wing and The Thick of It. And you can see it in the reaction to the death of Lady Thatcher.
We had three transformative, towering leaders in the 20th Century. Not only did they profoundly shape the course of our nation, but they also had an immense impact on international affairs. One was Winston Churchill. One was Tony Blair. The other was Margaret Thatcher. That much is indisputable. (It is certainly disputable whether her legacy is a good one. I think it is very poor, but that is immensely irrelevant.) Most people have realised this, and are mourning Lady Thatcher appropriately. She blazed a trail for female politicians, being elected leader of the Conservative Party when it had just seven (seven!) other female MPs. She led the country through a successful war. Most importantly, she committed herself to a life of public service: we should be utterly in awe of someone who held the burden - for it is in many senses a burden - of being prime minister for over a decade.
Those, mainly on Twitter, mainly from the left, who are instead electing to use her death to spit on her grave, to traduce her as a common villain, to pretend that she had no democratic mandate for her policies, are low-life scumbags. It is unbeffiting of the left, and it is unbefitting of our politics. A particular source of anger is that she is receiving a state funeral. No doubt, the funeral will be an ugly scene, riddled by foolish, self-righteous picketers. She is receiving a state funeral because she dedicated her life to the service of this country, and to me that seems quite appropriate. (In my view, every prime minister should receive a state funeral - we need only look at the reverential tone of Richard Nixon's funeral to see how lacking we are in this regard. Prime ministers contribute more to this country than the minor, and major, royals who are afforded state funerals.)
We can debate Thatcher's legacy another day. Personally, I don't think she made Britain great. But she was undeniably a Great Briton. H, 8/4/13, 2.30pm
The TES has recently conducted a survey of 500 teachers asking them to name their favourite book, and from the results has produced a ‘top ten’ list. Pride and Prejudice comes in at the top, beating To Kill a Mockingbird into second place and the Harry Potter series into third. I have absolutely no issues with the top two – whilst TKaM isn’t really to my taste, I acknowledge it’s a very good book, and despite not so much murdering Pride and Prejudice in school as parading it before the baying crowd, guillotining it on the steps of the Presidential Palace and casting the body into a pit of quicklime, I like it very much. But JKR beating Austen, Orwell, Tolkien et al to secure third place? I loved the Potter books when I was younger, but this isn’t a list of books that children love, nor a list of books that the teachers surveyed think will engaged their pupils – it is, as it says, a list of their favourite titles. And there really is no getting away from the fact that Harry Potter series is for kids. There are some books which really are, to use the saccharine cliché, ‘for all ages,’ but they really are few and far between – their façade usually belying a deep, philosophic underpinning which informs the writing, resulting in repeated new revelations when returned to in later years. For me, classics such as those penned by Lewis and Tolkien fit this bill (so I’m glad to see they appear on the list) as do newer works of utter genius such as Philip Reeve’s blisteringly good Mortal Engines Quartet, a set of books which I can’t imagine ever throwing away – but these are the exception. Harry Potter, for all that it entertained me when I was younger, simply isn’t in this league – it’s a straightforward ‘Hero’s Journey’ narrative set within a Manichean good vs. evil universe., with various imaginative quirks which make it good fun and memorable. But, when read by an adult, does it raise any deeper questions? does it at any point surprise the reader in a way which isn’t, if you think about it, pretty predictable? with the exception of Snape, undoubtedly Rowling’s best character, can one muster anything beyond a vague feeling of goodwill towards the characters of it? For me at least, the answer is no, and that’s why I’m baffled as to why, according to this survey, Harry Potter is counted as a greater and more enjoyable work than some of the most shocking, moving, powerful or otherwise engaging works of literature written in the English language. A, 06/04/2013, 8.15 pm
Ordinarily, the appointment of a manager with no better credentials than winning League 2 to a side battling relegation from the Premier League would raise eyebrows. (If Paolo Di Canio, why not Steve Tilson? Answer: Di Canio scored a good volley for West Ham once, and shoved a referee.) But the appointment of Di Canio as Sunderland manager has sent a lot of eyebrows quite emphatically heavenward, because he self-identifies as a fascist, though – importantly – “not a racist”. Admittedly, there has also been a significant strain of argument suggesting that it is in itself ‘fascist’ to oppose Di Canio’s appointment on account of his political views. Most absurdly, Gabriele Marcotti, who ghostwrote the autobiography in which the offending phrases appear, not only defends him, but also compares Di Canio to Obama – yes, in a positive sense. Really.
As you might have guessed, I have little truck with these defences. Instead, I am utterly enraged by Di Canio’s appointment. Firstly, the supposed distinction between fascism and racism is hardly clear, and, to the extent that it exists, is certainly lost on many of the people of Sunderland, a city with a proud socialist and anti-fascist tradition, but where the BNP has gained ground in recent years. It is certainly not positive for an espouser of similar ideals to be the figurehead of the local football club. David Miliband, as much from family history as his period as Foreign Secretary, understands how dangerous Di Canio’s ideas are, as do the Durham miners, as did the GMB union when Di Canio was at Swindon. It is a cliché, but footballers are role models. If Sunderland enjoy glittering success on the pitch under Di Canio’s stewardship, he will become an icon of the northeast. An icon of the northeast, a self-professed fascist, with Dux tattooed on his bicep. Didn’t we win the war?
Perhaps, though, Di Canio has been simply misunderstood - just as he claims Mussolini was. But nothing he has said or done has shown any sign of recanting, or at the very least explaining, or mitigating, his past statements and actions. Ah yes, his actions. Because the fact remains that Di Canio raised his arm in fascist salute to the Lazio fans, many of whom, we can be sure, are, quite openly ‘fascists but definitely also racists’. Last month, AEK Athens midfielder Giorgos Katidis was given a life ban from all national teams after he did the same. The actions of sportsmen can be profound and their consequences far-reaching. The black power salutes made by Smith and Carlos at the Mexico Olympics of 1968 sent out a clarion call for a better world. Di Canio’s salute did the opposite. But perhaps it was merely a matter of identification with the collective, as we are told. Which no doubt also explains why, when told that some Jews found his salute offensive, Di Canio responded: "If we are in the hand of the Jewish community it's the end". Repeat: “a fascist not a racist”.
Were I a Sunderland fan, I would be asking how I could continue to support my club with good conscience. Only, the brutal truth is that I probably wouldn’t be. Instead, I would be clinging to any novel defence of Di Canio that I could conjure up, just as many Liverpool fans did (including me, quite shamefully, in retrospect) when Luis Suarez was accused of racist abuse, and just as many Sunderland fans are doing now. Too many football fans sacrifice their principles for the sake of their club’s glory. That is surely an overlooked tragedy of the Di Canio case.
Anyway, at least the training will run on time. H, 3/4/13, 4.20pm
Apparently Sussex University authorities have obtained powers from the High Court to boot the ‘Occupy Sussex’ protestors, who were complaining about the outsourcing of University jobs, off their property. The protest itself baffles me – it’s easy to cast the University of Sussex management team as the lickspittles of a Thatcherite-Murdochite-Luciferian conspiracy to crush the freeborn sons and daughters of the earth beneath the jackboot of pragmatic financial decisions; fatuously, ludicrously easy but nonetheless fatuous and ludicrous. Sure, I’m not intimately acquainted with the details of the case, but I’d bet my bottom dollar that even the minute cadre within this vanguard of the people’s revolution who are aware of what they’re protesting against (rather than just turning up to smash things and wave signs in response to the buzzword ‘privatisation’) aren’t half as clued-up as the management team who made the decision in the first place. Call me trusting, naïve, benignly ignorant, but I’m firmly of the view that occasionally the top brass make unpopular decisions based on careful evaluation of evidence and a commitment to remit of their jobs, rather than any particularly burning desire to be attacked and reviled as incompetent, mental, blinkered or evil. A, 30/03/13, 1.10pm
Having to move everything out of our rooms at the end of every term is a chore. For Trinity students, this frustration has probably been compounded by the revelation that Christian Concern, a lobby group that supports ‘corrective therapy’ for homosexuals, has been the inhabitant of their quadrangles over the Easter vacation, especially after Exeter College, after hosting Christian Concern last year, was pressured into donating the profits garnered to LGBTQ causes. I’m not so fussed. I disagree profoundly with Christian Concern’s message, but if Oxford weren’t hosting them, some other university or conference venue would be. Let’s be clear: Trinity is not “supporting Christian Concern”, as the Trinity MCR President claimed, but the reverse. Trinity is receiving pecuniary gain from the group, which will then be re-invested in its students. And, personally, I think there’s a delightful irony in a fundamentalist group funding a university that is, on the whole, liberal and tolerant, and which will produce a generation of students who overwhelmingly have no truck with their retrograde philosophy. Let Christian Concern carry on paying for us to be better people than them, I say. H, 28/3/13, 10.40am
First of all, David Miliband’s departure – which has surprised many pundits – is sad for the Labour Party. There is undoubtedly a paucity of talent in the upper echelons of the Parliamentary Labour Party (with vast reserves of talent in the 2010 intake), and so for one of its most distinguished voices to be lost is a great blow. His speech on the Welfare Bill in January evinced his devastating combination of intellectual force, rhetorical skill and cognisance of what the public wants. Far fewer politicians exhibit all three of these characteristics than one might think, and that is why David Miliband would have been such an asset to a future Labour government, just as he was an asset to the last one as foreign secretary. Clearly, David could not bear to serve under his brother, and for familial reasons as well as the loss to the Labour Party, that is sad.
But, more significantly, this is a tragedy for David Miliband. Yes, the job in New York may be great (and yes, there’s amusement in ‘brains’ going to run International Rescue) but this was by no means Miliband’s life goal. He has spent all his life working in politics. And then, when finally in parliament, he spent all his time gearing up to become Prime Minister. He was a minister of state within one year of becoming an MP – an absurdly rapid rise – and a secretary of state within five. Blair, or at the very least ‘close allies’ of his, encouraged Miliband to challenge Gordon Brown for the leadership in 2007. He clearly entertained the prospect of challenging Brown at several points before 2010. Make no mistake: David Miliband was meant to be Prime Minister. It was as close to a political inevitability as you will find in Westminster. But he is never going to be, and his resignation today is an admission of that.
Of course, the failure to become Prime Minister is largely his fault. Much has been made of the trade unions’ role in propelling Ed Miliband to victory in the leadership election of 2010, but the truth is that the sole reason that David Miliband lost was David Miliband. Under Labour’s bizarre electoral college system, David merely needed to accrue the votes of four more MPs in order to win. But David, unlike any of the other candidates, delegated the role of securing the votes of MPs to a plenipotentiary, and MPs (particularly new ones) who should have voted for David voted for Ed. I’m not sure it’s true that he should have run after James Purnell resigned in June 2009: Parliament was in disarray at the time over the Expenses Scandal, and a change of Prime Minister could well have sparked a general election, which Labour – having just come third in the European elections – was in no fit state to fight. Instead, Miliband should have gone over the top in January 2010, on the day of the much-maligned Hoon-Hewitt plot, which actually, as Rawnsley tells us, should be known as the Harman plot, and stood a far better chance of toppling Brown than was clear at the time. But perhaps to be Prime Minister you need a ruthlessness that David Miliband didn’t show.
The requisite ruthlessness was shown by David’s brother Ed, who stood against his brother for the leadership, knowing that if he did not stand, his brother would very probably realise his ambition of being Prime Minister. And his brother’s resignation is very good news for Ed Miliband. Firstly, the Miliband psychodrama is over. There were many in the Labour Party who feared that, having just rid itself of the crippling Blair-Brown rivalry, the Party had replaced it with the same thing, except this time with two brothers as the main actors. This fear has now evaporated, and that is to the benefit of Ed Miliband. David remained in Westminster in the hope that his brother would prove unequipped for the task of leadership. His resignation is a declaration that Ed’s position is secure enough to fight the next election, and that he will win. A double-boon, then, for Ed: he will be Prime Minister, and while he is, the ‘prince across the water’ will literally be across the water.
A rosy-enough picture for the Labour Party then? A leading light is lost to the third sector, but only because he thinks the Labour Party is set for government. But as they did with Bevan, Healey, Jenkins and more, the Labour Party will wonder what might have been. H, 27/3/13, 1.40pm
As a result of the Stafford Hospital scandal, ministers have announced that henceforth the NHS will have ‘a legal duty to be honest about mistakes as part of an overhaul of the system.’ The mere fact that this ‘reform’ is being sold as such – and that mendacity is so commonly encountered in the institution as to make honesty an oddity – is atrociously depressing. I ask this rhetorically, but surely suitability for public service is dependent upon basic standards of morality, honesty and reliability? If this isn’t the case, then there’s far wider problem than the recommendations of the government report could possibly hope to deal with, and something that ministers will have to address at some point. A, 26/03/13, 4pm
I'm mostly glad that the St. Hugh's graduate student brouhaha is over because I'll no longer feel sad seeing respectable, sensible people using the saga to say "Look, Oxford is BAD" or, in the Daily Mail's case, "ANTI-POOR". (Of course, the Daily Mail isn't really respectable or sensible.) But I don't feel sad because they're wrong, but because their anger shouldn't be directed just at Oxford, but at all universities, and at the government. I can quite easily understand St. Hugh's rejecting the potential student on the grounds that he didn't have sufficient funds. But I struggle to understand why he can't get funding. This is clearly not some jolly to postpone getting a job. Damien Shannon really wanted to study at Oxford: he was prepared to take St. Hugh's to court, with the risk of bankruptcy if he lost, just to be able to do a master's. But the most important point is that for every Damien Shannon, there are far more potential students who don't get in, or don't even apply, because they don't have funding. That is the country's loss. Academia should not just be for the lucky and the rich. H, 24/3/13, 12pm
So Alex Salmond has finally announced the date of the referendum over Scotland’s place within the United Kingdom. It’d be a crying shame to break up what’s been one hell of a 300 year long party, but I suppose it’s their decision to make. Only one thought really – whether they vote to stay or leave, I’d really love to witness the swift and brutal execution of the phrases ‘Westminster government’ and ‘the government at Westminster’ – phrases that denote what is popularly known as ‘the government’. I really wouldn’t mind if these phrases weren’t quite so patently political constructions; so smugly, detestably and self-evidently cooked up by some nationalist policy wonk in order to create a ‘Scottish political identity’ distinct from a British one, so mechanically and incessantly deployed in interviews and speeches by increasingly bovine politicians of the nationalist camp, and so spectacularly redolent of the contempt in which the political classes hold their electors. A, 21/03/13, 5.40 pm
I was planning on writing something about the Budget. About how Osborne is a poor Chancellor, in both senses, perhaps, or about the Evening Standard mistakenly releasing the details of the Budget early. But then I realised that very few people outside of the world of politics actually care. I mean, I obviously knew that nobody cared. I knew that from declining turnout at general elections and from the general apathy in the nation about politics. Not local ‘there are too many potholes on my road, sort it out please Councillor’ politics, but national politics - the Westminster bubble - about which there is considerable apathy, if not downright antagonism. I knew all this. But I’m not sure I fully appreciated it. This evening, I saw an elderly well-dressed man on a relatively prosperous high street scavenging for past-it fruit outside a greengrocer, and it hit me how truly and utterly irrelevant the Budget really is. By this I don’t mean that the economic policy of the government is irrelevant: it is quite the opposite. But Ed Miliband’s response is irrelevant, the early reporting by the Evening Standard is irrelevant, the heckling in the House of Commons is irrelevant, Osborne losing his voice for a little bit and sipping some water like Marco Rubio is irrelevant, despite what politicos on Twitter might have you believe. For once I’m not going to be a politics-obsessive-geek. Instead, I'm going to stick my fingers in my ears and just say ‘not interested in all that’. Because real people in the real world aren’t talking about the Budget, but are grappling with their budget. H, 20/3/13, 11.30pm
You might have seen that St. Hilda’s has sacked a graduate student/librarian who allowed students to film a Harlem Shake video in and amongst the books. To me, the Harlem Shake was a not-that-funny craze that continued to be not-that-funny for far too long (although this and this are glittering exceptions to the rule), and so I’ve struggled valiantly for a way to conjure up an ‘interesting’ or ‘different’ take on this story. But I can’t. [Update, 19/3/13: it turns out my view on this is so mainstream that I'm with the Daily Telegraph. Apologies.] The reports of this could just as accurately, if far less respectably, have been headlined: "College Authorities Have No Sense Of Humour Or Proportion”. Were this video to have been filmed in the throes of finals, or even just in the middle of the day, then I might have a little more sympathy for the college authorities. Even still, the Head Librarian’s ire would have been more suitable if it had been directed solely at the students engaged in the video itself, rather than the graduate student who surely had no ability to stop the ‘shakers’, regardless of whether she had the inclination.
On another note, why does St. Hilda’s employ a librarian in the deepest hours of the night? My college doesn’t, and I’ve found that my essay crises have been distinctly ameliorated by my resultant ability to ingest inordinate numbers of Peperamis and Cadbury's Mini Rolls as I procrastinate. H, 18/3/13, 10.45pm
The debate over the Leveson report is of course an extremely emotive one – victims of press abuse have every conceivable right to be angry and upset, and to express their feelings in the media. However, due to truly appalling past experience, such people tend to avoid the media spotlight; and into this vacuum step our beloved politicos. The ham-actors who govern us commandeer the well of emotion generated by the scandal for their own use, all as part of their bid to look ‘compassionate’ and ‘human’. One cannot watch a news broadcast at the moment without witnessing an utterly depressing offering from a doe-eyed Cameron/Miller/Miliband/Balls/Harman pledging, their voices tremulous and quivering with outrage (yet steely and steadfast with resolve), to stand ‘side by side’ with the victims, or some similarly Disneyesque stock platitude. As if any of them actually care one jot - it’s saccharine, cynical and utterly revolting. A, 18/03/13, 10.20am
I was struck by John Rentoul’s article in today’s Independent on Sunday, which argues that next week’s budget is irrelevant: it is the last budget’s decision to cut the top rate of tax that counts, or, as Rentoul puts it, “probably made the difference between the Conservatives winning and not winning the next election.” I agree, and think it speaks to a wider truth about Osborne. He is not just the Chancellor, but also the government’s chief strategist. Most importantly, he is lousy at both. David Cameron might think that he is irreversibly wedded to Osborne. They embarked on a mission (now seemingly abandoned) to modernise the Conservative Party together, and their political visions are indistinguishable. But if Cameron wants to give real credence to his claim to be ‘making the tough choices’ for the economy and the country, in addition to fending off the quixotic challenges to his leadership, then he should think seriously about removing Osborne from his top table. H, 17/3/13, 1.30pm
Dizzying levels of wittering have surrounded the new pontiff’s choice of name – Vatican officials and kindly journalists inform us that Pope Francis’ decision was inspired by his saintly namesake’s devotion to the poor. All cracking stuff, but such speculation confirms the enduring power of ‘the name,’ (papal, regnal or otherwise.) Names and titles clearly have connotations - you may have noted that the truly heinous (yet suitably catchy) pun Henry and I painfully contrived as a title for this blog is based on A View from the Bridge, a play filled with (and connoting) dodgy family relations, deceit and misery. These are things that I hope our blog will avoid. So whilst wishing His Holiness all good luck in fulfilling the values that his name signifies, let’s hope that any relationship between name and action is incidental rather than divinely ordained, or this blog could make some pretty grim reading. A
Once, I was mired in an interminable queue for drinks at Bridge, when a besuited man in front of me turned to his friend and asked his opinion on the government’s decision to abolish the 50% top rate of tax. Oxford is full of these instances: discussion, sometimes self-important and usually drunken, of current affairs. Our aim in this blog is to give our perspectives on these discussions, and hopefully (though probably not) without the self-importance and drunkenness. We will talk about Oxford-centric issues, as well as those things that allegedly happen outside of the dreaming spires. Our opinions should diverge, though we shall endeavour, unlike Eddie and Marco in the play from which our witless title is derived, not to stab each other. Of that, at the very least, you can be sure. H