Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Fred Goodwin's lost knighthood - a victory for the mob but the City is on notice it's accountable to you and me

I won’t go as far as to say I felt sorry for Fred Goodwin on hearing the news the disgraced former Royal Bank of Scotland chief executive had been stripped of his knighthood.
But it’s impossible to escape the conclusion he has been sacrificed to appease the blood lust of the baying mob.
While he hasn’t been found guilty of a crime – the usual reason for the withdrawal of an honour – Goodwin was heavily censured in the official inquiry into the collapse of the bank which required a £45 billion state bailout.
However by snatching back the bauble, the whole honours system has been demeaned rather than enhanced. It smacks of Stalinist rewriting of history.

Monday, 30 January 2012

No one smells of roses in the Stephen Hester affair

Royal Bank of Scotland’s chief executive Stephen Hester faced opposition to his proposed £1 million bonus from all quarters – few on the right including Tory ministers were prepared to defend him – and last night he yielded to the inevitable.
No one comes out of the affair smelling of roses with his decision to waive the shares.
Hester should have seen the writing on the wall weeks ago; the RBS remuneration committe misjudged the country's mood; the Government, as the bank’s controlling shareholder, should have twisted his arm; and Labour should never have agreed such a lucrative contract when it was in office.

Friday, 27 January 2012

Ali G's Newt Gingrich interview is a classic


Revisiting Ali G’s interview with Newt Gingrich* of a while back remains a hoot and deserves more airplay.
Sacha Baron Cohen’s creation of the ignorant faux-streetwise leader of the West Staines Massive opens the interrogation of the right-wing politician by first painstakingly establishing the spelling of his name.
Gingrich is currently campaigning for the Republican nomination to run against Barack Obama in the US Presidential election later this year.
He keeps his composure throughout managing to dodge Cohen’s more NSFW questions and comes out of the encounter more or less unscathed.
It’s a pity Ali G’s not around to test today’s crop of British politicians.
*Treat yourself and watch Ali G's interview with David and Victoria Beckham, the first and only time Posh Spice has been caught laughing on camera.

Thursday, 26 January 2012

On Bob Dylan, the Bronte sisters, Logan's Run, and Tony Hancock

In nostalgic mood yesterday I settled down to watch sci-fi classic Logan’s Run on television. Later I tuned in to what I hoped would be radio comedy magic – an ancient episode of Hancock’s Half Hour. I couldn’t stay long with either.
Was it me that had changed over the years or had the passage of time conferred a reputation that the works didn’t actually merit?
I'm used to dipping into elderly repeats of Top of the Pops and being disappointed regardless of the decade or fashion in music that about only one song in five stood the test of time.
Perhaps Golden Ages can also be crowned once they have passed – and when time has smoothed the rough edges of the contemporaneous experience.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Glimpses of happiness or lives of contentment?

A debate about the desirability of happiness in the lives of your children opened from an unusual source recently.
Broadcaster Kirsty Young, writing in the Radio Times to celebrate the 70th birthday of Desert Island Discs which she presents, wrote “I don’t want my children to be 'happy'.”
“They will be bloody lucky if they glimpse it now and again. I want them to be content and have self-worth.”
The distinction between contentment and happiness is a fine one. I agree happiness is transitory in its nature. Often we don’t appreciate it the most until it’s gone. But I wouldn’t dissuade my children from pursuing its glimpses.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

GC is seduced by the drama of Karissa Shannon's trousers

I watched an episode of the current Celebrity Big Brother on Richard Desmond’s Channel 5 for the first time last night.
I must have picked up from the internet that a particularly explosive hour of high drama was in prospect.
As it turned out Loose Women presenter Denise Welch pulled down the trousers of Playboy model Karissa Shannon; cue hysterics.
This morning I was surprised at the space the Daily Mail website devoted to this non-story, especially given Desmond also owns the Daily Express and is a sworn enemy of the newspaper.
But then I saw more than 500 readers had commented on the storm in a DD-cup.
I have to acknowledge a lot of people are interested in this reality stuff and MailOnline isn’t going to let a feud between newspaper proprietors filter its story selection.
Karissa Shannon’s modesty would seem a recent arrival for the former Playmate of the Month. While still a teenager, she took up residence (with her twin Kristina) as the ancient Hugh Hefner's girlfriend at the Playboy Mansion - and last year admitted she featured in stolen sex tapes.
Karissa and Kristina, who is also in the Big Brother house, were put on probation after a fracas at a house party in 2007.
None of this excuses Welch’s action…Oops this trivia tittle-tattle is a slippery slope; I wish I was as certain where I stood on the Coalition’s efforts to impose a £26,000 a year benefits’ cap.

Monday, 23 January 2012

Branson is right to press for legalised drugs

Virgin boss Sir Richard Branson deserves every credit for sticking his head above the parapet supporting the decriminalisation of drug use.
Branson gives evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee Inquiry into drug policy tomorrow.
Today writing in the Daily Telegraph he said: “The war on drugs is a failed enterprise. We need to have the courage to learn the lessons and move on.”
“Too many of our leaders worldwide are ignoring policy reforms that could rapidly reduce violence and organised crime, cut down on theft, improve public health and reduce the use of illicit drugs.”
Read the rest for yourself and then consider the many better uses that the $1 trillion spent in the fruitless battle against drugs over the last 50 years could have been put to.

Friday, 20 January 2012

Shredding Sir Fred of his knighthood would be a vain gesture

Sir Fred Goodwin, the disgraced former chief executive of the now mostly state owned Royal Bank of Scotland, has been the agent of his own downfall. Rarely have hubris, incompetence, and unpleasantness come together in one boardroom tyrant to such devastating effort on the company under his stewardship.
I met Goodwin on several occasions when he was cock of the walk; you could tell from his icy smile that secretly he revelled in his ‘Fred the Shred’ nickname earned by his ability to slash costs.
That said it would be wrong if Goodwin were stripped of his knighthood in the wake of the growing clamour he suffer the ignominy.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Ken overtakes Boris in the race for London

“The facts have changed, so I have changed my mind,” says Peter Kellner, president of pollsters YouGov today.
Where once he judged Boris Johnson likely to retain London’s City Hall for the Tories in May’s mayoral election, the outcome is now too close to call, according to his company’s latest research.
Although Labour’s overall opinion poll lead in London has been cut back by the Conservatives, the party’s candidate for mayor, Ken Livingstone, has bucked the trend. He’s more than made good Boris’s earlier 8 point advantage.
Ken is current polling 51 per cent support among Londoners compared to 49 per cent for Boris.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Sunday lunch at Nobu - GC digests the experience

Sunday lunch at Nobu in Old Park Lane last weekend, pretty tame in the way of pilgrimages, was a journey of discovery just the same.
I love Japanese food and I’d promised myself a visit to the London mecca of the cuisine for many years. Now seemed an appropriate time to treat my family, while I still had sufficient teeth in my head.
It could have been a once in a lifetime experience; my credit card isn't going to take another hammering there. The food was mouth watering; the prices eye watering.
There were some limits to my philanthropy. Nobu’s signature dish Black Cod Miso (pictured) is £42 a portion; you work out what that is after the addition of a 15 per cent service charge on the meal.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

"What about listening to some readers?" Ian Hislop exposes a major weakness in the Leveson Inquiry

The evidence Ian Hislop, editor of the Private Eye satirical magazine, gave to the Leveson Inquiry into Press ethics this morning was most conspicuous for his call David Cameron and former prime ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown give evidence on their toadying relationship with Rupert Murdoch’s News International empire.
For decades Private Eye’s Street of Shame column was the only place to go for critical scrutiny of the Press in Britain. So Hislop is well-placed to comment on what used to be called Fleet Street.
"I believe in a free press and I don't think it should be regulated, but it should abide by the law," Hislop said echoing my own opinion.
It was his throwaway line that Lord Leveson should hear evidence from readers of the now-defunct News of the World on why they read the scandal sheet struck a particular resonance with me although it is likely to be overlooked by the Inquiry – and most commentators.
Many weeks into the investigation and no heed has been given to the motive force that keeps newspapers in business – its readers.

Monday, 16 January 2012

Huffington Post UK is failing to live up to Arianna's promise

Its founder Arianna Huffington introducing last summer’s launch of Huffington Post UK – the first overseas arm of her hugely successful news and comment website – declared: “Our goal is to give our readers a one-stop shop for all the information they need to know -- whether we're reporting on it, curating it from the best sources around the world, or our bloggers are weighing in with their takes on it.”
Its biggest fan – I wager a tiny community – would have to admit HuffPost UK has disappointed in its short life.
Today Nick Denys, co-editor of the Platform 10 political blog writing for The Kernel, a new technology website, doesn’t pull punches in suggesting without swift action HuffPost UK looks headed for the “dead pool.”
“The over-riding impression, on browsing the site, is of stale mediocrity,” he writes.

Friday, 13 January 2012

Scottish independence - a view from England

If Scotland votes for independence
On the lighter side:-
1. We’ll be able to adjust the clocks to give us lighter evenings – GMT+2 in the summer, GMT +1 in winter – without worrying about Scottish farmers bumping into their tractors on dark mornings.
2. The Queen can expect pressure to sell Balmoral Castle – or perhaps turn it into a theme park. Either way the money raised should be used to off-set the expense of the Royal Family. And we’ll be spared the sight of Charles’s knobbly knees in a kilt.
3. We’ll be saved from the obligatory singing of Auld Lang Syne - no one knows the words or else what they mean - to welcome the New Year. A suitable modern song should be substituted after a reality show contest winner is chosen by TV viewers.
4. Scottish soccer pundits with unintelligible accents would be discouraged from pontificating on the English game on television.
5. Sean Connery just might want to live in his beloved homeland rather than singing its praises from sunnier climes.
6. Andy Murray would be able to announce where his true allegiance lies.
On a serious note:-
7. The West Lothian Question – where Scottish constituency MPs in the Commons have the power to vote on English-only affairs but not vice-versa – would be solved at a stroke.
8. We’ll anticipate a new lease of life for Scottish sectarianism when it becomes difficult to automatically scapegoat England for the country’s ills.
On the positive side for a newly independent Scotland:-
10. It might be able to keep its best brains at home and re-discover the confidence which once made it a world leader in science, medicine, engineering, economics, and literature. The test will be when an English accent in Scotland doesn’t invoke prejudice but the same welcome Scots have long received coming south of the border.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

London at sunset

I was struck by the beauty of tonight's sunset. I'm glad the same thought occurred to my daughter. Click on the picture she emailed me with the caption: "View from my office window this evening - gotta love London when it looks like that." I couldn't agree more.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Alexei Sayle - a welcome return for a stand-up original


I see stand-up comedy pioneer-turned-author Alexei Sayle, at the age of nearly 60, is going back compering on stage to test the reception for his new material. I wish him well at his Soho Theatre comedy night gigs; his wife Linda doesn't approve of the move.
Back in the 1980s when he was MC-ing at iconic venues the Comedy Store and then The Comic Strip, there was nobody like him. Nor has any stand-up since struck me as original as Sayle mixing the visceral with the erudite.
The video clip (above) featuring his Top Twenty song “Ullo John! Gotta new motor?” which he performs in a cockney accent rather than the exaggerated Scouse he reserved for his stage act, still holds up well after near 30 years.
But it doesn’t begin to give a sense of what it was like to be at his live gigs.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Thierry Henry's no angel - but his goal was heavenly

You’d have to be the meanest spirited non-Gooner not to have relished Thierry Henry’s comeback winner against Leeds United at the Emirates last night.
The Frenchman’s brilliantly taken goal did more than illuminate an otherwise lacklustre Arsenal performance in the absence of Robin van Persie.
Every football fan should welcome Henry’s magical strike as a much needed reminder why their sport is called the ‘beautiful game.’
Football has only itself to blame for being in the doghouse.

Monday, 9 January 2012

The Artist - silent movie fails to match critics' praise

I may be in a minority of one on this; I didn’t come away yesterday ecstatic from seeing the movie The Artist. The silent, black-and-white, French-made homage to early Hollywoodland movie-making is well worth seeing.
But I cannot join the excessive praise lavished on the film by most critics, many of whom are talking about Oscar nominations for The Artist’s star Jean Dujardin and its director Michel Hazanavicius. Good fortune has already visited the latter; he’s married to the movie’s delightful female lead Berenice Bejo.

Friday, 6 January 2012

It's never too early to keep Alzheimer's at bay

It seems to me I’ve been experiencing ‘senior moments’ all my life. So at nearly 67 my short-term memory loss doesn’t seem any worse than, say, 20 years ago.
But for me and my generation every mental slip raises the spectre of Alzheimer’s such is the dread with which this disease is held.
More so, I reckon, than cancer or heart attack. The prospect of your near and dear-ones respectfully visiting your hospital bed is one thing; quite another when they search the streets as you wander abroad in your pyjamas.
It seems, however, my concern has started a couple of decades too late.

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Diane Abbott learns racist stereotyping isn't a one-way street

Britain’s first black woman MP Diane Abbott blundered into making her racist tweet when she was being bested in a twitter exchange with freelance journalist Bim Adewunmi in the wake of the Stephen Lawrence murder convictions yesterday.
Adewunmi’s account here doesn’t do Abbott any favours; she was unwise to dig her heels in and claim her remarks were taken out of context.
They weren’t. Abbott compounded her poor judgement by the delay in correcting it. Ed Miliband was right to demand she apologise.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

As Ed Miliband gets another kicking where has all the talent on the Left gone?

I don’t know which makes the worst reading for Ed Miliband today, a LabourList poll that finds a large majority of its readers rate the Labour leader’s 2011 performance between average and very poor - or else the criticism levelled at him by its policy guru Lord Glasman in the latest issue of New Statesman magazine.
Glasman, who was recommended for a peerage by Miliband, doesn’t pull his punches. He writes: “There seems to be no strategy, no narrative and little energy. Old faces from the Brown era still dominate the shadow cabinet and they seem stuck in defending Labour's record in all the wrong ways - we didn't spend too much money, we'll cut less fast and less far, but we can't tell you how.”

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Stephen Lawrence - the murdered teenager's legacy

Five white youths were arrested shortly after the murder of black teenager Stephen Lawrence at a bus stop in Eltham, south-east London, in 1993.
So the conviction today of Gary Dobson and David Norris for Stephen’s stabbing goes only part way in the near-two decade’s battle by the Lawrence family to achieve justice.
The jury’s verdict will be the spur to much heart-searching about whether racism is as virulent in our society now as it was 18 years ago. Sadly, the simple answer is yes.
But that doesn’t mean time has stood still. The police – found on inquiry to be “institutionally racist” – and the British justice system, both failed the Lawrences for many years. In being forced to address their shortcomings they made some amends, which should benefit us all in making Britain a better place to live.

Monday, 2 January 2012

If we can't have fewer TV ads, make them better

I’ve watched more television over the holiday period than I probably do normally in a couple of months. It’s only now I’ve come to appreciate the growing level of viewer complaints about the increasing frequency of ad breaks on commercial television.
I’m being driven to watch more BBC output to escape the irritating interruptions mid-programme. Although the Beeb is guilty of assailing viewers with plenty of plugs for its own schedule (surely unfairly exploiting its licence advantage) in between shows.
I’m an instant gratification sort of guy. I can’t see myself ever bothering to record a show to watch it later fast-forwarding the ads.
So I can only hope the bosses at ITV and the other companies, the ad makers and their clients all wake up to the fact they are killing the golden goose.