July 2011

My Wimbledon guilt

In her eighties, my grandmother would announce that she was taking her summer holidays during Wimbledon fortnight. She would cancel any meetings or other activities and sit down in front of the television with multiple cups of tea.

I was hopeless at sports at school, although I usefully learnt the rules of both tennis and cricket, and at home followed Wimbledon and Test matches on the screen.

And yet I never made my way to live matches until recently. Thinking back, I think I was intimidated by all those sporty types amongst my friends and relations, and I felt I had no right to take part, even as a spectator, in a sporting event.

Wimbledon was always a problem for a teacher or lecturer anyway, as I couldn't take time off, and the weekends would be over-subscribed. But I haven't been teaching full-time for 14 years, so that hardly counts as an excuse.

In fact, it took my son to get me to Wimbledon for the first time last year. As a birthday treat Stuart organised a day out for me. We didn't have any tickets so set off very early in the morning for the Park and Ride, then joined The Queue for ground tickets. It was very sunny, we saw several interesting matches (including the Bryan twins who won the Men's Doubles this year), and then sat on the hill to watch Murray in Centre Court. Stuart even packed a day's worth of picnic goodies, although we bought the traditional strawberries and cream when we got there.

That was the point when I wished I had overcome my sensitivities and attended before. The organisation of every aspect of Wimbledon is superb. The grounds are delightful and litter free; the atmosphere is great; Pimms and strawberries are just right for summer days in June. And the tennis is riveting.

This year I applied in November for tickets and was very excited to get two No 1 Court tickets for last Thursday. It was a first outing to Wimbledon for Ian as well, and he enjoyed placing the scene that he had seen so often on the BBC. We had great seats just above the score board and we watched three doubles quarter finals, including the eventual winners of both the Men's and Mixed. We could also hear Sharapova - who couldn't?

At my age I don't need to have any guilt about not playing tennis - or anything else for that matter. I just wished I had realised that earlier.

Some simple questions about the phone hacking scandal

Who knew about the contents of Clive Goodman and Glenn Mulcaire's notebooks after they were taken by the police in 2005/2006?

After the Goodman/Mulcaire trials in 2007, why did the police a) not inform people who were named in the notebooks and b) not prosecute? Could it by any chance be related to alleged payments made to the police?

When the Guardian broke the story about the hacking of celebrities' phones in 2009 did they also know about the Millie Dowler and July 7th hacking which has just emerged?

What is going to be done about the lies told to the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport in 2007? And why were they not told then or at later enquiries about the existence of the notebooks? And is Parliament at last going to tackle corruption in the press? Could the reticence of MPs in the past possibly be anything to do with personal fear of the power of the media?

Why did the Press Complaints Commission chicken out after its report in 2009? "The PCC has seen no new evidence to suggest that the practice of phone message tapping was undertaken by others beyond Goodman and Mulcaire, or evidence that News of the World executives knew about Goodman and Mulcaire's activities. It follows that there is nothing to suggest that the PCC was materially misled during its 2007 inquiry."

Why did it take a civil case by Siena Miller to force the Crown Prosecution Service to review the material held by the police?

And - the obvious question - why is this most damning of evidence emerging right now, and who is drip-feeding it to the Guardian and others? It couldn't be related to Murdoch's bid to take control of BSkyB, now could it?

And does anyone, anywhere, believe Rebekah Brooks?

Oh - and if you want to do one small thing about all this, do sign the Hacked Off petition calling for a full public enquiry.

Vince is too polite to say "I told you so" ...

... but he did tell us, of course.

First he was right about the economic dangers, and then he was right about Murdoch. Vince Cable must be quietly celebrating the fact that the 'unfortunate' Jeremy Hunt, who was handed the BSkyB contract decision after the Telegraph's underhand trap, has had to bow to the collective will of MPs.

Cameron and Miliband are busy backtracking after years of toadying up to Rebekah Brooks by their parties. The Liberal Democrats were never considered significant enough to be subjected to her charm offensive. And that may be where News International may have made their biggest mistake, because by ignoring the Lib Dems they have left us in a very strong position on the moral high ground.

Will this lead to a realignment of the press? Will it lead to a more robust and less fearful relationship between politicians and the media? I hope so.

I'm in The Times today!


Today The Times has an article which refers to my post about the 'Crime Prevention UK' scam.

Sadly I can't find it on the online version so you will have to go and buy it yourself!

Olympics come to Kingston early

The events in Kingston in three weeks time may take some people by surprise.

Next summer the Olympic cycle road race will pass through the Borough. So on Sunday August 14th (this year) they are staging the London Surrey Classic Race over the Olympic route as a test event.

Whilst this is all rather exciting, it will also be very disruptive. The entire route will be closed from 6am to 2pm and many of the roads that feed into the route will also be closed.

The cyclists will enter Kingston over Kingston Bridge, then go the wrong way round the one way system to get to London Road. They will then peel off to Richmond Park via Queens Road.

The rest of the route, which begins and ends in The Mall, goes through Surrey, around Dorking, Guildford and Woking, so roads through Surrey will be heavily affected as well. See the map below.

There's more information on the Council website on http://www.kingston.gov.uk/news.htm?id=117509

I don't think I'll try to go shopping in Kingston on 14th August - in fact, I'll probably just stay at home.

Petitions to Parliament - waste of time or golden opportunity?

This is an article that I have submitted to Liberal Democrat Voice.

The Government has just launched its brand new e-petitions system. You can find it here: epetitions.direct.gov.uk . The first petitions will be going live next Thursday.

Haven’t we been here before? Well, it is true that Labour surprised us all by setting up the Number 10 online petitions website some years ago, and that this attracted thousands of petitions.

But after the initial enthusiasm there was inevitable disappointment, because, in the vast majority of cases, the only response received by petitioners was a statement from a civil servant. It is true that, in some cases, petitions channelled strong public concern about an issue, such as road pricing, and did lead to political action. But these cases were very rare.

Sadly, it is impossible to trawl through the Number 10 petitions site now as all attempts to find it redirect you to the new site.

The Number 10 petitions scheme, set up by the excellent MySociety team, achieved what I suspect the developers had expected all along. It exposed the fact that the many thousands of petitions presented in cardboard boxes over the years at the door of Number 10, as well as all the online signatures, had minimal impact on policy-making.

So I was pleased that the Coalition backed the plan to set up a proper system for petitions to Parliament itself. It has a further proviso, that if a petition attracts over 100,000 signatures then it ‘will be eligible for debate in the House of Commons’. The Backbench Business Committee will decide whether a petition will be debated in the House. Petitions will have to be filtered at some point, otherwise we would have endless debates on hanging, flogging and banning immigration; a backbench committee is probably the best body to do this and certainly preferable to the Government, or worse still, civil servants.

It is important to remind ourselves that a petition is not a referendum. Instead a petition is a way of expressing support or opposition to a proposed policy, or a way of drawing attention to a new issue. It can be a trigger for political action, but it should never be taken as a definitive statement of the views of the public at large.

Also, petitions often oversimplify, and do not take into account all the factors that can affect a policy decision, such as financial constraints or consequential impact.

But a petition can, very valuably, be used to kick off a public debate about a previously unrecognised concern. Further research can then follow, together with a full assessment of the impact of any actions, before any firm proposals can be put together.

So – it’s a case of watch this space.

Published by Mary Reid, 126 Clayton Road, Hook Chessington KT9 1NJ
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