I had not been to Doncaster ice-rink until the BBC asked me to film a new discussion programme there on issues of relevance to youth. So, inevitably, Owen Jones and I discuss crime, sex and class with a singer called Sway, a “glamour-model” who wants to hang paedophiles and an audience of Doncaster’s young. While we are discussing sex education it emerges that Doncaster has the highest rate of sexually-transmitted infections (STIs) in the UK. Nevertheless, a council STI worker talks of the success of her work. I turn down an offer to hit the town afterwards.
Not for the first time I wonder what consistent ideas people born in the age of Twitter actually have. They seem driven primarily by the search for consensus. If enough people clap one way, they clap too. And if someone pokes their head above the parapet and makes a point against the consensus which gets shot down then they appear to change their minds.
Whether that will happen with the drunken student from Swansea remains to be seen. Liam Stacey was arrested, tried and sent to prison for tweeting horrible comments about Fabrice Muamba, the black footballer who had a cardiac arrest during a match.
The holes the story exposes in our justice system are a far greater threat than a nasty racist spat which had already been dealt with by the awful man’s peers. The police were at the culprit’s door within hours; and District Judge John Charles was clearly out of order when, during sentencing, he claimed that Stacey’s comments had “aggravated this situation”.
Another thing that went unaddressed was any explanation for this upsurge in virtual crime. I think it is simple. For the police, as for journalists, wicked and idiotic tweeters are a gift. Just as there are newspapers which find it easier to write about Twitter “gaffes” and “spats” than to report actual news, so the British police simply find it more restful to pursue offensive comments on Twitter than to go after real-life violent criminals.
A few years back we saw the introduction of pretend policing in the form of Community Support Officers. Now we have the policing of pretend crime. As last summer’s disturbances showed, a police force which has become expert at going after virtual crime is out of practice when it comes to pursuing — let alone stopping — the real thing.
Shortly after his election it became known that the newly-elected Respect MP for Bradford West, George Galloway, was on to his fourth wife. He was right to wait until after the election to reopen discussion of his complex emotional life. Galloway long ago ditched his childhood Soviet sweetheart for the attentions of luscious Saddam. Then he hooked up with the younger Assad, before the mullahs managed to pass off their protégé Ahmadinejad onto him. The voters of Bradford West would be unwise to expect much of his remaining attentions.
The Boat Race is one of those things which it is pleasant to know goes on even if you take no interest in it. So I was shocked to hear that a race I wasn’t aware was happening had been disrupted by a hooligan from the London School of Economics. The grin on the saboteur’s horrible face as he was pulled from the water made me sorry that he had not been brained by the combined varsity oars.
People who say they dislike “elitism” — as he did — are ignoramuses. Sport is all about elitism. Nobody cares who comes second in a race, let alone who comes at the very back or is so anti-elitist that they don’t run at all. Yet “elite” has entered that list of terms, currently including “prejudice”, “discernment” and “judgment”, that carry only pejorative connotations.
Elites are vital. They are only bad if a capable person who wishes to get into one is barred from doing so for some other reason than ability (background, colour and so on). Part of one’s acceptance of life includes acknowledging elites to which one will not gain access. Just as I accept that I will not form part of Britain’s Olympic team, I know I will never join the elite ranks of the diplomatic service or the special elite of the left-wing press.
I have just arrived in Beijing, marvelling at the electronic slogans which dominate Tiananmen Square. “Long Live Socialism” reads one. Unlike many other signs in the city, this is not one that is published in English.