'Sayeeda Warsi is a textbook lesson of what happens when you promote someone too fast, too early and for the wrong reasons'
We hear a great deal each summer about “grade inflation”, but Cabinet inflation should concern people just as much. With every reshuffle the number of people allowed to attend Cabinet grows. Where Churchill in wartime made do with nine and Mrs Thatcher with 22, Cameron now has at least 31. One day half of Parliament will be seated around the table. Cameron’s problem remains his precarious need not to irritate too many MPs by sending them to the backbenches.
One who has been moved out of the Cabinet is Sayeeda Warsi. But how to explain her appointment to the Foreign Office, as Senior Minister of State, with a second role as Minister of Faith and Community at the Department of Communities? Warsi is a textbook lesson of what happens when you promote someone too fast, too early and for the wrong reasons. No matter how badly she did her job as party co-chairman, she made herself unsackable by portraying herself as the only bulwark against a nasty party in need of absolution.
However, given her past comments about the Middle East (for example making excuses for Hamas), I predict that her latest position is a disaster waiting to happen. If Israel attacks Iran’s nuclear facilities, what will be the response from a Foreign Office with William Hague and Baroness Warsi lined up as its numbers one and two?
All the boasting that comes from television manufacturers and broadcasters about high definition, I assume, occurs in the hope that it will distract us from noticing that the programmes are getting worse and worse. Supposing that the recaps every few minutes are not only to assist the forgetful, but to welcome those who have just arrived, the result is that watching a programme right through becomes nearly impossible. It feels like a dinner where the meal begins again every time someone turns up late, and even if they only stay for five minutes. You can be there all night and never get to the main course.
This was very much the case with Tom Holland’s Channel 4 programme, Islam: The Untold Story. Though Mr Holland himself should be congratulated for his programme, I am not sure the programme-makers did him many favours.
Of course one of the reasons why Islam has so many untold stories is because of Channel 4. A few years ago the channel planned a documentary about the discovery of ancient Korans in Yemen. But the programme-makers became aware of a problem: the Korans — the oldest known versions — were variants. That is to say that their contents were different from the contents of the (already divergent) versions in use around the world today.
Now this was, and is, an absolutely fascinating subject. It shows, among other things, that the Koran was — at the very least — a compilation of writings whose contents were disagreed upon from the start. If these were Hebrew or Christian scrolls then the scholarship and publicity would be extraordinary. But as the Yemen manuscripts were Islamic, the programme was not only never broadcast, but never even made.
It rains on the village fête, of course, but the turnout is good. A marquee is up on the cricket green with smaller tents dotted around. A brass band plays beneath one. Three people with vintage cars line them up to form a small car show. There is a tent of exotic animals. A man shows off a South American snake which attempts to wrap itself around a girl’s ice-cream. There is also a young tortoise, a chameleon, two hamsters and a large rabbit. Entries for the village prizes are laid out in the main marquee, among them shapeliest carrot, longest broad bean and finest lemon curd.
I wonder about all this as I happily potter around. What is it that changes in us from the moment when we are young and learn to sniff at such enthusiasms and that moment in adulthood when we realise that such things deserve our admiration and reward our interest? Perhaps it is a city thing. Everything in our cities is so impossibly large, everything so completely sent down from on high that we end up by simply accepting our lot and thinking we can do nothing to change it. The other day I passed “the Shard” in London and was struck by what a hideous, attention-seeking act of vandalism it is. But there is nothing I can do about it.
Rural organising provides an antidote to this, where every action of the individual matters and each patient demonstration of human effort is rewarded with consideration and respect. I suppose William Blake could have written a poem about this: something about each broad bean being a weapon in a fight. Or perhaps I am becoming a Green.
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