mcgillianaire: (Union Jack)
There are many things to like about Jeremy Corbyn, even if one does not agree with his politics. One facet in particular stands out: he is a principled politician who walks the walk. And few can claim the same at the highest levels of politics anywhere in the world. That alone should be enough to welcome his participation in Labour's leadership election. Mr Corbyn represents a significant chunk of the Labour family, one that has been forced to accept the domination of the party's opposite-wing since the early 1980s. It has been an uneasy marriage of convenience period of submission, aided by resignation in the face of nineteen years of Tory government. But the shackles are off. The loony-left will stay silent no more.

And why should they? This is their party too. They have as much right to be heard as the Blairites. After all, what is the point of democracy if alternative viewpoints are shut out of the mainstream? A healthy democracy is one in which (aspirant) political leaders can access a fair platform to freely exchange ideas with the body politic, regardless of how impractical, nasty, or ridiculous they may seem. Choice is paramount in the court of public opinion. Let the people decide whose evidence stands intense scrutiny.

That doesn't mean I believe Mr Corbyn can become prime minister, or more importantly, would be a good one if he did. I certainly prefer his brand of politics to that of the swivel-eyed right. But I would rather we avoided both in government. What the country needs is a radical centrist government of all the talents. In my Labour ministry, Mr Corbyn would either be offered Foreign or Environment Secretary. The former is a job he is best-suited to and one that I suspect he secretly craves. A cynic might even say, apart from outright exclusion, it is a role in which he could cause least economic damage with his socialist leanings. There might be some truth in that.

To some/many people, the Labour leadership contest is a debate about what the party stands for. Not for me. Leaders come and leaders go, the party carries on. Leadership contests reflect the political realities of a particular time. For better or worse, the conditions are ripe for Mr Corbyn. He isn't the first candidate from his wing of the party to contest the leadership and he won't be the last. He isn't even their most charismatic spokesperson. But he has struck a chord and gained momentum.

It is unfortunate that some commentators have used fairly pungent language to dismiss other candidates and scaremonger their supporters. Blame for this can be apportioned to all sides. Sad as it is, that is one of the fair prices we pay for a free society. But we should do more to encourage a courteous battle that attacks policies rather than personalities. Because at the end of the day, regardless of the unhelpful labels attached to candidates and their supporters, people like me will always prefer a Labour government, however right-wing, to a Tory one that drifts left/centre (on individual policies) for opportunistic purposes.

Politicians consciously choose their party membership. This is crucial because even though the politics of Cameron, Osborne, Clegg, Blair and Kendall may seem very similar, the fact they belong to different parties is significant. It signals to me that the philosophy underpinning their politics is at some level driven by the general aims of their party. And that makes all the difference. People like me cannot stomach the thought of voting Tory, let alone work for the party. But we do share an enthusiasm for the positive aspects of individual freedom, private enterprise and wealth creation. We are also greatly troubled by the vast disparities in wealth, education and health, at home and abroad, and the negative impacts of our imperial legacy. The question is, how do we square the circle?

It is a conundrum that I have grappled with ever since I became politically aware as a preadolescent. And though my politics now is closer-aligned to Liz Kendall than the other three candidates, the diplomat in me can identify with Andy Burnham's obvious desire to unite opposing factions of the party. That there is significant disagreement among the Labour family is to be cherished. Dissent is at the heart of our open and tolerant society. The key is to recognise that the majority of us largely agree on the ultimate aim: to establish as fair a playing field as possible for everyone, not just in Britain, but if possible, even the world. The disagreement pertains solely to the means adopted.

The problem is exacerbated by a fixation of pigeon-holing people, policies and ideas into neat boxes to fit our narrow world-view. Speak in favour of free markets and be accused of Blairism, or worse, of being a Tory. Talk about re-nationalising the railways, and be accused of importing communism. Talk about limiting AIDS treatment to British citizens, and be accused of racism. And so forth. We need to take a much more liberal and loose approach to strict definitions. We also need to learn how to let go of the past and treat the present on its own merits. It is understandable why the mass media adopts these simplistic strategies to explain complex issues, but we don't have to play their game.

We need to co-opt a grown-up politics where it is perfectly normal to discuss Corbyn's policies with those of his opponents, as though the only differences between them were the reasons put forward as to why one should be favoured over another. I truly believe that there are always positives to gain even from those whose politics are diametrically opposed to mine. Ideally, we need to take the best of everything, discard the worst, but be willing to discuss absolutely anything so that we can test, scrutnise and tease out the best and worst bits, before jumping to conclusions. There are few (if any) easy solutions to the myriad of decisions taken by politicians. Every choice results in benefits and costs. Every. Single. One. Even the best ones.

Ultimately, every generation should have an opportunity to challenge allegedly settled states of affair. Who knows, the debate might throw up some interesting or unforeseen perspectives from which we could all learn something. Or perhaps not. But we won't know for sure until we try. So to those who say, Jez We Can, count me in for the ride. We can worry about the destination after 12 September.
mcgillianaire: (Union Jack)
"But my father summed it up pretty well by saying, "Nobody in our family has ever voted Conservative, without a stiff drink before, and afterwards."" ~David Owen

If a week is a long time in politics1, what about a lifetime? Tasked with the challenge of teasing out salient introspections from the life and times of some of Britain's grandees, is the contemporary political historian, Peter Hennessy. He delivers an insightful programme, as it launches its third series with the enigmatic David Owen. Having listened to several episodes, Owen's is among the best. I also recommend the one with John Major from last year. In all, Hennessy has talked to:

01. Shirley Williams
02. Jack Straw
03. Norman Tebbit
04. Neil Kinnock
05. John Major
06. Roy Hattersley
07. David Steel
08. Margaret Beckett
09. David Owen

And by the end of this series he will have interviewed Norman Lamont and Clare Short too. Each episode is either 28 or 43 minutes (depending on the series), with the latter forming the perfect length to explore a lifetime without inducing boredom and avoid glossing over multiple events or issues. But there are a few peripheral shortcomings. For instance, by the end of this series the uneven ratio of guests by political party will have been exacerbated to comprise: 5 Labour, 3 Tories, 2 SDP/Lib Dems and 1 Liberal. Given that Williams and Owen were also cabinet secretaries with Labour, you could question whether the breakdown was a matter of design, bad timing or lack of Conservative enthusiasm (I find this doubtful). This only matters because it's produced by the BBC. There's also the issue of gender ratio with three women out of eleven by the end of this series. And one other minor criticism about Hennessy's interview technique. When teasing out their reflections, he sometimes comes across as presumptuous, but it may have been an intended tactic or perhaps more likely, my imaginative nitpicking. Those minor quibbles apart, it is an absolutely fantastic programme and essential listening for the anorak.

1 Possibly misattributed to former British prime minister and Labour leader, Harold Wilson.
mcgillianaire: (Union Jack)
"If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same"

(Rudyard Kipling's "If")

Every year for two weeks, the British put on the greatest show on earth. I don't care what anybody else says, but there is nothing as good as The Championships at Wimbledon. It's the (only) highlight in the British tennis calendar and the pinnacle of the sport. At once the game's oldest tournament and arguably its most innovative. It aspires a lofty, secluded status. It oozes class, largely upper-middle. And the British are only eager to oblige with a spectacle that smoothly links the stiff upper-lipped past with the dynamic present, leaving you starry-eyed and hungry for more.

Everything about it is different. The name. The colours. The uniforms. The dress codes. The lack of advertisements. The surface. The traditions. Oh yes, the traditions. 1pm starts on show courts, except for the second weekend. No play on the middle Sunday. Strawberries, cream and Pimmsmania. Curtsies, bowed heads, royalty in their box. Inclement weather, early British wild card exits, ball boys and ball girls working like precision pulleys. But in truth it was not ever thus. Indeed the greatest trick the British ever pulled, was convincing the world that tradition could not be manufactured. And I'm not about to reveal our hand either.

That is the beauty of SW19. It transports you away from reality to a land conquered by a select few. The true legends. And this year's edition was no different. From Serena Williams, to Novak Djokovic, Martina Hingis and Leader Paes, this was another vintage crop. It's twenty-four years since my uncle introduced me to the wonder that is grass court tennis and my love for the game has never diminished. I have also never missed a men's singles final since then and although my man fell short again today, it is worth recalling the immortal words penned by Britain's own Kipling. It adorns the doorway onto Centre Court and rings true to the way we should approach life in general. As the sun sets on yet another magical experience, there remains only one thing to say: Game, set and match!
mcgillianaire: (Football player)
When Roger Federer stepped onto Centre Court on Tuesday 30 June 2015, it marked his 63rd consecutive Grand Slam singles appearance, a record-breaking streak (for men and women) dating back to the 2000 Australian Open. If it wasn't for his losses as a qualifier in the preceding US and Australian Opens of 1999, he might easily have been playing his 67th consecutive Grand Slam tournament. Trailing him in second-place are Japan's Ai Sugiyama for the women with 62 and South Africa's Wayne Ferreira for the men on 56. Sugiyama and Ferreira never reached a Grand Slam final. In fact of all the players (men and women) who have made at least 45 consecutive appearances, only one other has played in more than two Grand Slam finals: the Swede Stefan Edberg, rather fittingly Federer's present-day coach.

On top of this injury-free consistency, can be added a record 17 Grand Slam titles (for men), a record 26 Grand Slam finals, a record 37 Grand Slam semi-finals and a record 45 Grand Slam quarter-finals. He also became the first man to reign supreme at the top of the rankings for more than 300 weeks, that included a record (for men and women) 237 consecutive weeks between February 2004 and August 2008. Even Novak Djokovic, with 154 weeks and who has dominated the men's game for the past four years, trails Federer by 148 weeks overall as world number one. While Rafael Nadal was number one for 141 weeks.

Supplant onto these: the record 10 consecutive Grand Slam final appearances between 2005 and 2007, followed by the second-best 8 consecutive appearances between 2008 and 2010 (Nadal is third-best with 5 consecutive finals); the 23 consecutive Grand Slam semi-final appearances (Djokovic is second-best with 14); the 36 consecutive quarter-final appearances (Djokovic again second-best with 25, and counting); the first man to appear at least 5 times in each Grand Slam final (the next best is 3); one of four men in the Open Era to achieve the career Grand Slam (along with Rod Laver, Andre Agassi and Nadal); an Olympic singles silver-medalist and doubles gold-medalist; 86 ATP Tour titles, surpassed only by Jimmy Connors (105) and Ivan Lendl (94); 131 ATP tournament finals (surpased again only by Connors and Lendl); the only man to win at least one ATP Tour title for 15 consecutive years (one ahead of Lendl, two ahead of Connors). And you get the picture.

As if that wasn't enough, he has won the most prize money in the history of the sport (although Djokovic should surpass him soon enough), earned the most through endorsements (which few will ever surpass), is by far the most popular player in the world, is multi-lingual, has a beautiful supportive wife and two(!) sets of twins. All this before turning 34. And yet, when Federer stepped onto court yesterday afternoon to play Britain's Andy Murray for the umpteenth time, he delivered a performance that was at once clinical and majestic. One for the Gods to savour, and the mere mortals amongst us to cherish for all-time. Many others have written more eloquently about the aesthetic pleasure derived from watching the Swiss maestro in action, so let me end simply by saying, we are privileged to be living through a period when two of the greatest players ever to wield a racquet (Federer and Serena Williams) are still willing to put themselves through the grinder, in order to satisfy their own love for the game - and by extension, ours. Long may this continue!
mcgillianaire: (Union Jack)
2015 - 24.4% - T
2010 - 38.5%1 - T+LD
2005 - 21.6% - L
2001 - 24.2% - L
1997 - 30.1% - L
1992 - 32.5% - T
1987 - 31.8% - T
1983 - 30.1% - T
1979 - 33.4% - T
1974 - 28.6% - L
1974 - 29.3%2 - L
1970 - 33.1%3 - T
1966 - 36.2% - L
1964 - 34.0% - L
1959 - 38.8% - T
1955 - 38.1% - T
1951 - 39.3%4 - T
1950 - 38.6% - L
1945 - 34.9% - L

Although one shouldn't compare apples and pears, it is worth noting that this government intends to impose a 40% win threshold on balloted strikes affecting essential public services. In addition to this, a majority of the union's members would have to participate in such an action, unlike the present situation in which there are no participation thresholds and a simple majority of balloted members is sufficient to carry out a strike. Such proposals have form on both sides of the political divide, as the then Labour government under Jim Callaghan imposed a 40% win threshold on the Scottish referendum of 1979. Even though a majority voted in favour of implementing the provisions of the Scotland Act 1978, they fell 7.1% short of the threshold. Soon afterwards the Scottish National Party withdrew its support to the government, resulting in a vote of no confidence, a general election and eighteen years in the wilderness for the Labour Party. And by how many votes did the government lose the no confidence motion to trigger the general election? Just the one (311-310).

1 This is a combined figure for the Tories (23.5%) and Lib Dems (15.0%).
2 Labour secured the most seats and formed the government, but the Tories won the popular vote.
3 The voting age was lowered from 21 to 18.
4 The Tories secured the most seats and formed the government, but Labour won the popular vote.

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