Monday, July 29, 2013

Heygate Estate

There's a slightly curious article in the LRB about the Heygate Estate in Southwark reporting the local opposition to the private redevelopment of the place. Two short extracts sum up much of this opposition:
It was asked why the scheme would be an improvement on what’s already there. ‘It’s better because it’s an improvement,’ came the non-answer...
Catherine Croft, the director of the Twentieth Century Society, spoke at the hearing on behalf of the Better Elephant group, which is campaigning for a regeneration scheme that actually benefits local people. ‘In decades to come,’ she said, ‘we will be astounded how structurally sound buildings were cavalierly demolished.’
What is this structurally sound, unimprovable architectural jewel, the loss of which Fatema Ahmed so mourns? Well, this:

OK, so it's past its prime now (though marvel at the structural soundness that only pre-cast concrete panels provide!). It must once have been a thing of beauty?


There was a much better piece (in that it at least looks at both sides of the argument over the demolition of the 1960s monstrosities, rather than simply assume that private developers = bad, and leave it at that) in the Guardian a couple of years ago, which noted that the opposition to demolition and revelopment tends to come from architects. But here's this thing. This is Robin Hood Gardens, described by Richard Rogers as "a great example of the best postwar architecture [which] deserves to be kept for future generations."

And this is a stucco-fronted townhouse, like the two that Richard Rogers actually lives in himself.

There's something of a money/mouth interface problem here - people who would never live somewhere like that are awfully keen that people they will never meet should continue doing so.

Thursday, July 25, 2013


Now that I have two daughters, I tend to keep an eye out for sexism - particularly my own. I guess this is what checking your privilege means. But, and I know I'm late on this, this is not a good example of sexism:
And then in bumbles David Cameron congratulating Andy Murray on being “the first British player to win Wimbledon in 77 years”.
Grace Dent piles into this as an example of egregious sexism:

Virginia Wade won the women’s title in 1977, Ann Jones in 1969 and Angela Mortimer in 1961. If you find women get exasperated about being Tippexed out of history books in this way, it’s because it’s been happening FOR EVER. Mumbling, “Oh, well, you know what I mean” doesn’t cut it, because what you mean is, “Oh stuff the women’s tournament. Let’s face it, it’s just not as important.”

But this is only sexism if ignoring Stanley Matthews' (son of the more famous one) victory in the Boys' singles in 1962 is also, somehow, sexism. Or Jonny Marray's Mens' Doubles title in 2012. They're people too - and if you ignore them on the grounds that Boys' titles or Doubles titles aren't as important as Singles titles, then Cameron was justified in doing the same thing. There are enough excellent examples of sexist people around (and, yes, John Inverdale definitely falls into that camp) without stretching it.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013


I suspect I'm like quite a lot of people - I went for years hardly using the NHS at all, other than to sit in A&E for hours after hurting myself playing sport. And then I had kids, and I was in and out all the time: for the births, obviously; most scarily for three bouts of intensive care for my eldest; and most often for innoculations and reassurance and all the associated trimmings of small child care.

So #ILoveourNHS right? Well, not especially. On personal experience, it pretty much directly killed my grandfather (by taking him off his heart medication in preparation for an operation that they then cancelled, without putting him back on his meds, so that he died of a heart attack), having already partially paralysed my father by trapping a nerve when operating on his back. They didn't pick up on my mother's cancer either, but whether that made any great difference in the long run who knows. Everyone dies, after all.

But the thing is, that doctors and nurses are there to make you better, if they can, while fucking up as little as possible. That's their job. The NHS mostly does this reasonably well, relatively cheaply. On the other hand, it's institutional size means that when things go wrong, they go badly wrong. It's an intensely political institution too - the idea that the Tories are being monstrous in 'turning it into a political football' is ridiculous. That's the whole point of the NHS - that a dropped bedpan should echo in the corridors of Whitehall.

The NHS is a branch of Government that works about as well as you'd expect a vast state monolith to work. Ultimately, given the changing demographics in the UK and the pressure in public finances, it will need to reform the way it does things. Reacting to this reality by lighting candles and chanting about your love for a branch of the state is, frankly, weird and creepy. Nigel Lawson famously described the NHS as the nearest thing the British have to a state religion, but on current evidence, it's less like a religion and more like a cult.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

A fine fucking way to start a Test Series

Patrick Smith of the Australian puts the furore over Stuart Broad not walking when he edged behind down to the fact that he "was startlingly more bald-faced than anyone we have seen and therefore his scorn for the game and his opponents was unprecedented". On the offchance that Patrick is reading this, perhaps he might take a look at this:

Or this:

In the first of those, Michael Clarke middled it onto his thigh pad, and wasn't given out. England had a review left, and roughly six close fielders all called for it at the same time. In the second, Clarke got a thick edge straight to first slip, and stood his ground before being given out. Batsmen don't walk - and haven't in Test cricket for decades. Shall we have another?

I'm actually slightly baffled by the reaction to it. You can expect people who know naff all about cricket (such as Richard Dawkins and Piers Morgan) to jump up and down and call Broad a cheat (a cheat! for not walking against Australia!), but for anyone who knows anything about cricket, getting aerated because someone nicked behind and waited for the umpire's decision is like being appalled that England don't clap the new batsman to the crease.

I'm also completely thrown by the idea - trumpted by Greg Baum of the SMH here - that while OK, batsmen don't walk for thin edges, they should walk if it's a really big nick. How on earth does this make sense? If you nick it, you know you have - almost always. Why is it any different to stand there if you've feathered it, than if you've hit the cover off it? Because you're more likely to get away with it? That's more like cheating than either always walking or always not.

As an aside, Baums line that "A catch to slip is out, and out, and out, and a batsman who does not accept that is a prat" is irrelevant here: Broad nicked it to the keeper - it bounced off Haddin's thumb to be caught at slip. There was once a batsman though who, on 28*, nicked it not to first slip, but to second. He was given not out by a local umpire and went on to get 187. Don Pratman has a certain ring to it.

Anyway, Aussie fury at an Englishman not walking is not without its lighter side. Michael Gleeson in the Age waxes lyrical about the damage done to cricket by (I still can't quite believe this) a batsman edging behind and waiting for the umpire to make the decision.
And it was not cricket. No longer was there cricket of the quaint, charming, small ground in a small town way. There was in its place the dull-minded cynic. The dull-head exploiting the non-decision of the dunderhead.
Eventually, there are only so many times you can go over old ground. Batsmen don't walk. Ask Bill Lawry, ask the umpires, ask Michael Clarke. If you want to see what real damage to the spirit of cricket looks like though, you can't really do better than this.

Curse of the Pigeon

It seemed at first that Ashton Agar was blessed. Picked from pretty much nowhere, he was given an extra life by Marais Erasmus, and proceeded to tuck into some juicy short, wide filth from England's bowlers. Having lit up Trent Bridge with the best debut tail-ender knock ever, he must have thought Test cricket was pretty easy. Little did he know that he was cursed; cursed by the man who presented him with the baggy green:
I've been lucky enough to present three caps: the first was to Nathan Hauritz, the next to Mitchell Johnson and now Agar. Every time it really is a special honour.
 The first was so shabbily treated by Australia that he ended up selling his kit (allegedly); the second is more famous as a joke than as a cricketer. Glenn McGrath is still destroying cricketers' careers - he's just switched targets from England to Australia.

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Second Jobs

It's not only Aditya Chakrabortty who can play the 'look over there' card.
Ed Miliband caused major ripples in Westminster, with a speech on Labour's union funding which raised the prospect of a ban on MPs having second jobs.
This is another traditional bugbear - particularly for Labour and the left. Tory MPs are more likely to retain outside interests, in the form of directorships and the like, when they enter Parliament. This is partly because their career backgrounds, predominantly in finance, business and the bar, are more compatible with a consultancy-type position than Labour-types (predominantly public sector, teachers, and solicitors).
At a time when everyone's glaring at Labour over their Union problems, it must have seemed a very bright idea to try and turn the spotlight on Tories and their second jobs. Fair enough. But I have a problem with the rhetoric on second jobs. The spiel goes like this:
Being an MP is (or should be) an all-consuming job. There can be no place for part-timers, or those whose attentions are divided and distracted by other jobs. Maintaining a job outside Parliament could also lead to conflicts between the interests of ones constituents and ones other commitments. Therefore, no second jobs.
Fine. So what about ministerial positions? How can it be incompatible with the position of a constituency MP for someone to work for, say 15-20 hours a week as a barrister (to keep ones hand in), but just fine and dandy to be Prime Minister? How does that even begin to work?
There are suggestions that Miliband might not be suggesting a ban on second jobs, but a cap on how much can be earned. This makes even less sense. It would be OK to work full time on a second job, provided you were paid less than the cap? What happens to 'unearned' income from investments? Hard to see how you can ban someone from collecting investment income while they're an MP.
I'm not quite sure that this really stacks up as a coherent policy...

Quick! Look over there!

Ah, party funding. The scandal that never gets old. From Lloyd George knew my father, to cash for honours, to the recent schemozzle with Len McCluskey it's a hardy perennial of British politics. In its new iteration it is largely the product of the single largest feature of moder party politics: the death of the mass-participation political party.

If membership falls to minimal levels, parties cannot raise sufficient money from them to function - especially pertinent given the substantial increases in the costs of running a party. So, they need to look elsewhere. Labour looks to the Trade Union movement, Tories to business. Labour's Union link is proving a touch sticky just at the moment, what with all the entryism and subversion going on. So, high time for the Guardian to come to the aid of the party with a quick burst of whataboutery.

It's fairly predictable stuff: the Tories are in the pocket of the City, which explains their radically pro-financial sector policies (this will surprise many in the City). Tory policies (including on tax) are therefore entirely guided by this tiny donor clique in the financial sector, and thus far more of a scandal than Marxist-led Trade Unions subverting Labour selection-processes, while also providing 90% of Labour funding.

Well, a man's gotta do and all that, but the two examples he uses are slightly counter-productive. For a start, if you're trying to illustrate the fact that the Tories are in hock to their City paymasters, and that's why their policies are so finance-friendly, why would you use Sir Anthony Bamford as your lead example? He's an industrialist. Where is the radically pro-manufacturing industry policy that must surely have resulted?

For a second, to prove how much influence large individual donors have over the Tory party, Chakrabortty points us to Sir Stuart Wheeler. Who had so much influence over the party that, um, he defected to UKIP in 2009, saying that he disagreed so fundamentally with the Tories on European policy that he had to quite (and is now UKIP Treasurer).

There's dirt everywhere you look in party funding, but what Chakrabortty really seems to have done with this piece is demonstrate just how little most donors really get for their cash.

Monday, July 08, 2013

Curse of Cameron


So, that widely hyped 'curse of Cameron' then. It must be true, of course: it's in the newspapers. David Cameron must personally be blighting British sport to an unprecedented extent. Let's have a quick look at the trail of destruction wrought by our ill-starred PM:


Since DC became PM, Andy Murray has: been the first British Wimbledon men's finalist for 74 years, the first British men's grand slam title since 1936, an Olympic gold medallist and now, gloriously, Wimbledon champion - the first since Fred Perry 77 years ago. Laura Robson, meanwhile, has risen from 260 in the world to 27.

Curse rating: You Cannot Be Serious


Since DC became PM, England have won the Ashes away for the first time since 1986/7; white-washed India at home to become the world's number one Test side; beaten India away in a Test series for the first time in 28 years, and have lost only two of the twelve test series they've played.

Curse rating: Not Out


Two words really: Best Olympics Ever. OK, three but you know what I mean.

Curse rating: C'mon


England won the 2011 Six Nations, Wales won a Grand Slam in 2012, and won again in 2013. OK, so that's largely a domestic matter. How have the home nations done against Southern Hemisphere opposition?

Curse rating: Offside


I think there was some sort of international cup in 2012 wasn't there? And England were mostly rubbish. So that's presumably Cameron's fault - just like the rubbish World Cup in 2010. And the rubbish Euro 2008, World Cup 2006, Euro 2004 and so on and so on.

Curse rating 30 40 47 Years of Hurt (and counting)