The answer is unpleasant.
About three weeks ago out of the blue I received a phone call from a woman calling herself Claire Taylor, purporting to be from a Brussels-based public affairs company, called MJ Associates. She said they were working with a client that wanted to understand the workings of Parliament better and could she discuss it further with me. After an exchange of emails, I met her and the colleague she brought with her. They asked about the consultancy and advisory work I do. They told me they represented a Chinese retail company that wanted to expand its High Street presence but were concerned about the draft legislation on supplementary business rates.
They must have been disappointed that I specifically said I would not move amendments to a bill or ask Parliamentary Questions on behalf of any client, that I would not arrange introductions for them or their clients, nor would I make any representations on their behalf.
However, they persisted and I told them I was happy to explain to people how the Parliamentary and political processes worked and the backgound to policies being supported by the major political parties, that I offered strategic (non-Parliamentary) advice to a number of organisations including to one or two overseas companies.
I did not agree to do any work with them and said, if they wanted to pursue it further, they would have to put something in writing, so I could look at in detail and decide whether it was appropriate. To be honest, I was slightly suspicious: they seemed rather naive and kept pushing me to offer to do things that, if they were genuinely who they said they were, they should have known were improper.
I didn’t hear any more from them. Finally, ten days later – last Friday morning, I got a call from The Sunday Times, saying that the people from MJ Associates were actually undercover reporters: the whole thing had been an attempt at entrapment. And, of course, while I had made it clear, I would not do those things that would have been improper, a clever journalist can write a story full of hints and innuendo, taking what was said out of context and by only using selected parts of what was said create a sensational and damaging story.
In the event, I was not named in yesterday’s Sunday Times story, but as I was one of those approached by the under-cover journalists in question, I have asked to appear before the Sub-Committee of the Committee of Privileges that will be looking into the issues raised by the Sunday Times story. I am confident that I did not breach any of the House’s rules, nor did I offer to do so. Nevertheless, as I was one of the subjects of the journalists’ deception and attempted entrapment, it is clearly important that the Sub-Committee have the opportunity to question me.
An unedifying spat has broken out between London Boroughs as to which Councils can use the Olympics rings logo in the run up to the 2012 Games. Apparently, the five Boroughs around the Olympics Park believe that they should have the exclusive right to use the logo.
They are wrong. The bid was for London as a whole. All of London (and indeed the rest of the country as well) should feel ownership of the Olympics. Yes, of course, the five Boroughs face more disruption than the rest, but they will also get more of the long-term benefits.
Grow up and stop being parochial.
In the first Lords’ Question Time of 2009, the Conservative Frontbench took it upon themselves to malign the people of South London, when Lord Howell of Guildford took it upon himself to say, “My Lords, I had the honour of being the Member of Parliament for Guildford for 31 years. I know that I do not need to teach the noble Lord any geography, but Surrey is not an island surrounded by sea; it is bang up against London, from which a large number of the criminal element of southern London descend into Surrey. That presents the policing of Surrey with a special problem, which I hope is taken into account in assessing proper funding to enable law and order to be maintained in that very pleasant county.”
Now as an unrepentent North Londoner, I am rarely moved to defend those living South of the river, but this is really going too far. What is being done to protect people from the hordes of bankers (to say nothing of hedge funders and other undesirables) who each weekday commute into London from Surrey and have over the last few years wrought such damage to our financial system and the well-being not only of Londoners but of people throughout the country and beyond ……
On my way home tonight I saw three Atheist Buses in under ten minutes on Tottenham Court Road. Is this a record?
Of course, it may mean that all the cheery posters, saying, “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.”, may have been confined to bus route 29 (a very fine route which can take me from Finsbury Park to Trafalgar Square), but I prefer to believe that it means that the message will be seen by most Londoners as they go about their daily lives.
My optimism that rational thought might prevail was unfortunately punctured when I got home and read Madeleine Bunting in The Guardian. Her (somewhat confused) argument seems to be that the Atheist Bus campaign is the product of middle class patronising triumphalist atheists intent on destroying the hope of downtrodden poor people that their faith will lead them out of poverty, that Barack Obama is a practising Christian (which she says will upset the trio of intellectuals who launched the campaign) and that faith-based institutions are helping address disadvantage in the Inner City.
It is hardly “triumphal atheism” to say, “There’s probably no God” – if anything it is “tentative agnosticism”.
The fact that Barack Obama is a believer simply explains his personal motivation and the background to his philosophy – more dangerous are those political leaders who believe that they should use their political position to impose their religious beliefs on others (Madeleine Bunting seems to be suggesting that this is what Barack Obama is doing, but I would suggest that it is rather premature to define his Presidency in these terms when he has yet to be inaugurated.).
And, of course, there are many faith-based organisations that are doing good things in the Inner Cities and elsewhere. However, the list of terrible things that have been and are being done in the name of religion would more than fill an article and could indeed be the framework for describing much of world history.
So, I remain convinced that the Atheist Buses, encouraging people to think for themselves, are a rationalist beacon that we should cherish rather than rubbish.
Those who know me will be aware that I am not exactly a fitness fanatic (My exercise philosophy is “no pain, no pain”.), but I do like to go for a swim every so often. For the last few years, however, I have always avoided going in January so as to avoid the crush of those who have bought gym memberships as part of a New Year’s resolution drive for fitness – by February or March most have stopped using their memberships (but the business model of the fitness club’s, of course, requires a year’s subscription …). Today, because an appointment had been unexpectedly cancelled, I thought I would risk it. The place I go to was virtually deserted with only one person there whom I had not seen before. Clearly, the economic situation has focussed people’s New Year’s resolutions in a different direction this year, unless, of course, I was just lucky and everybody else had decided it was too cold …
Am I alone in being perpetually irritated by BBC Weather – both on the radio and on television? Not about the content or accuracy of the forecasts themselves, but about their perpetual bias against London. Always, there is a lengthy description of the weather conditions in the furthest reaches of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and then only a cursory mention of London and the South East (even then often subsumed in a general reference to England).
Isn’t it about time that BBC Weather (and for that matter most other allegedly UK institutions) realised that there are more people living in London than Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland combined.
The play, Red Fortress, at the Unicorn Theatre is offering children some serious and thought-provoking theatre. It tackles religious tolerance and violent extremism in the name of religion, together with loyalty, friendship and love. Three young people – one a jew, one a christian and one a muslim – originally living side-by-side in a harmonious Granada in the late fifteenth century find themselves tossed around in a war between religions. It doesn’t pull any punches, nor is it history-lite with stereotypes.
The audience when we saw it (the target age-range is 10 to 15) were pretty riveted – proof if it were needed that there can be an antidote to Disney-fied offerings like High School Musical 3. Alas the latter will no doubt be seen by more children and young people than will make there way through the Unicorn’s doors for a bit of live theatre in SE1.