An Unnecessary Role

embracing false choices

Archive for August 2011

Shameless plug

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Today marks 40 days until the Royal Parks Half Marathon, which I will be running to raise money for Whizz Kids.

If you can find it in your heart to sponsor me, you can do so here. Or you can let another child go without a wheelchair. It really is your choice.


Written by samelliot

August 30, 2011 at 10:34 am

Posted in SRN

Hat to Chris Froome and Bradley Wiggins

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Last weekend I was in Benidorm to see the Team Time Trial opening stage of the Vuelta a Espana, one of cycling’s three Grand Tours (the other two being the Giro D’Italia and, of course, the Tour de France).

The team time trial is about as close to a viable spectator sport that bike racing gets, short of spending three days in a campervan on French mountainside drinking your weight in Oranjeboom, as each team hammers past you in sequence, in perfect formation, riding inches from each other’s wheels, maximising their speed in each other’s slipstream, creating a perfect line of bicycling spacemen.

You have a couple of seconds to yell encouragement before they are gone, and you are really left none the wiser as to who is winning. If you’re lucky there’ll be a scoreboard to give you the time read-outs, but that’s really it. It’s something of a symbol of this bizarre, epic sport that it is simply enough to be there, to see the scale of the event, the power and technique of the riders, and to appreciate that you have seen only the tiniest percentage of the effort, focus and ability it takes to win a three week long race.

Cycling as a professional sport is booming in Britain, thanks to the efforts of the Olympic track team, world-leading female road racers like Nicole Cooke and Emma Pooley, a successful British pro team in the form of Team Sky[1] , and an authentic all-time cycling great, the sprinter Mark Cavendish. If there’s any justice in the world, and if the papers can find room to cover the Vuelta, what with all the slagging off Arsene Wenger, then today might be another milestone in the journey of cycling into mainstream acceptance.

For this moning, one of the most important cycling races in the world has two Brits in its top three. Bradley Wiggins lies third after a strong weekend of climbing and an excellent third place in the time trial stage in Salamanca. But, even better than that, leading the race is twenty six year old Chris Froome, Kenyan-born, now riding for Great Britain. He matched Wiggins pedal for pedal up the climbs and rode the time trial of his life to finish second in yesterday’s stage.

For someone like me who grew up watching the Tour de France on Channel 4 when barely a handful of British riders even made the start-line, let alone made any impression on the racing, it is enough to made you extremely giddy. These are not fleeting appearances at the top of the standings before the big boys make their presence felt. Indeed, several of the big boys were ridden out of the race today by Froome and Wiggins, who are now two of maybe half a dozen riders who are seriously capable of winning the race.

I shy away from blogging about cycling as a) my knowledge is, at best, that of an enthusiastic amateur and b) I’m quite sure it bores the casual reader to tears. But on days like today, you must allow me a chance to say “Chapeau” to Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome.

1. Yes, yes, I know, Murdoch, boo-hiss. At risk of provoking a John Prescott hashtag campaign and a ticking off from Tom Watson, Sky have injected unprecedented amounts of money and support into British cycling, and haven’t even been gone near the rights to the sport, meaning most of it is available to access for a fairly cheap subscription on Eurosport, or (increasingly) free to air on ITV, who are doing a bang-up job covering the Vuelta. So there you go. Murdoch – not all bad.

Written by samelliot

August 30, 2011 at 8:30 am

Posted in Cycling, Hat, Sport

“We have to bear in mind that people just don’t give a toss”

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A paragraph (or two) I wish I’d written:

Ed Miliband has recently tried to start “a national conversation”. As part of this the general public have been invited to a day of Party Conference. Definitely not because they want to bulk up numbers at a conference no one wants to go to, but because huge conference halls are ideal locations for conversations on a grand scale.

To make this work, we all need to remember that people don’t care. We have to bear in mind that people just don’t give a toss; it’s the key to success.

Conor’s a funny man, but not even he could have invented the sheer absurdity of the latest Shapps ‘policy’ ‘proposal’, nicely explained by the clever-clogs at Red Brick:

There has been a ground breaking housing policy development that Red Brick readers may just have missed. It’s the government’s Houseboat Strategy.

In genuinely out of the box, beyond the blue-sky thinking, the government plans to help more people live on boats.

In a new bout of press release-based policy making Grant Shapps has said that:

“new moorings could be eligible for the New Homes Bonus, which sees the government match council tax from new-build homes.”

The politician responsible for the nation’s strategic housing needs has just announced that he thinks narrowboats are “basically a pretty good idea” (NB: may not be an actual quote) and what is the Labour Party doing? We’re having a national conversation about nexi of power and flirting with the idea of attacking David Cameron for being simply beastly.

Which I think is what Conor is getting at. Labour (or certainly many of those currently wielding influence in the party) is extremely comfortable with ‘politics’, the business of process, inquiries and strategy, but far less comfortable with the stuff of people’s every day experience. When the Tories are drawing upon Rosie and Jim as housing policy inspiration, that’s something of a missed opportunity.

Written by samelliot

August 29, 2011 at 5:58 pm

Posted in Cynicism, Housing, Labour


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When I recently got back from holiday (very nice thank you for asking), it was to my profound satisfaction and joy that I found a new article from Tony Blair (look, I get the post-holiday blues, ok?). In a measured, precise approach to “the riots”, Blair swats aside all the verbiage and hand-wringing of previous weeks and gets down to business.

However, the big cause is the group of young, alienated, disaffected youth who are outside the social mainstream and who live in a culture at odds with any canons of proper behaviour. And here’s where I don’t agree with much of the commentary. In my experience, they are an absolutely specific problem that requires deeply specific solutions.

In the age of the Big Society and the Promise of Britain, it is strangely radical to talk of problems that need solving, rather than causes that need understanding. In his own way, Blair has become that thing he probably resented when in power – the commentator able to craft a neat solution without the inconvenient responsibility of having to carry it out. But his analysis of the problems created by particular chaotic families is persuasive, and, as he freely admits, not exactly new. And it’s even reinforced by something his most frothing critics would never credit him with – a bit of self-reflection.

In 1993, following James Bulger’s murder, I made a case in very similar terms to the one being heard today about moral breakdown in Britain. I now believe that speech was good politics but bad policy. Focus on the specific problem and we can begin on a proper solution. Elevate this into a high- faluting wail about a Britain that has lost its way morally and we will depress ourselves unnecessarily, trash our own reputation abroad and, worst of all, miss the chance to deal with the problem in the only way that will work.

Notebooks out, wannabes, school is in session.

Written by samelliot

August 26, 2011 at 8:00 am

Posted in "The Riots", Labour, London

In which David Cameron is clear and gets it

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Few better ways to start a week off than by listening to one of the worst speeches of David Cameron’s premiership. Plunged into a reverie by the way he used the phrase “let’s be clear” or variants thereof six times, I present my favourite line of the speech:

“So I want to make something very clear: I get it.”

A thing of beauty is a joy forever. I’m going to print that out and pin to my wall.

Written by samelliot

August 16, 2011 at 10:31 pm

Posted in "The Riots", Cynicism

Self-regarding nonsense

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You may wish to read this weeks normblog profile, it features some local government type wittering on about Bruce Springsteen.

Written by samelliot

August 13, 2011 at 12:00 pm

Posted in SRN

While you were looting

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This sort of thing is not supposed to happen in August. It has been difficult to blog this week as when not seeing the heart ripped out of the two cities I call home I have either been working or despairing at the body politic’s frantic rushes to judgement (when they weren’t being shamed into coming back home like the saps they are). As Hopi says:

That about sums it up. Political parties, think tanks, charities, local authorities, government and others will spend weeks and months and years analysing and understanding the event of the last week. For London local government it is that dreadfully phrased thing, a “game-changer”. The game is changed. Everything local government does in London will take place against the backdrop of this August’s violence, ever mindful of the criminality (let me use the word just once, I haven’t had chance yet), social dysfunction and resentment that appears to lie below the surface of society, seemingly unchanged by the years of youth work, housing improvement and community engagement. And what that means for London’s communities we can, for now, only speculate.

Almost as interesting for a geek like me (although probably without the longer term repercussions) is the #riotcleanup initiative, spontaneous community action organised by social media to put right what the feral riff-raff made wrong. Now, I didn’t think these clean-ups were “the closest thing to popular fascism that we have seen on the streets of certain ‘leafy’ bits of London for years”, but I will admit that the darker parts of my soul did feel like informing these evangelical do-gooders that most councils maintain a large street cleaning fleet who would be able to do the job to a high level of competence well in advance of their leisurely 11.00am start time.

This, of course, would have been nothing but churlish spite, targeted at people who in my eyes had committed a crime even greater that violent disorder and theft – the crime of not understanding local government infrastructure. It was with some relief then that I was turned back to the light by reading this post by We Love Local Government, which saw the community stepping up and working with local councils as the undoubted good thing it is for both local government and local communities.

And here is the rub; the cleanup operation proved the success of both local government (and government in general) and society in general. The elected local governments were able to adjust the services they provide, on behalf of the people, to ensure that the worst of the damage was put right. Without this base level of competence, personal commitment from the staff involved and the logistical skills of the councils involved the clean up probably wouldn’t have been completed as soon as it was. Likewise, the support of society was able to send the sort of powerful message that local government alone couldn’t manage.

Read that, and then read nothing else. Take a deep breath. We all need it.

Written by samelliot

August 13, 2011 at 10:00 am