Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Mad, bad and dangerous to know
July 14, 2010

Who needs enemies when you have friends like Mandy?

In today’s extracts from his memoirs (published in The Times), The Third Man refers to the early days when he was, “a particular friend and ally of the party’s rising, modernising stars, Gordon and Tony,” so much so  that they were dubbed ‘The Three Musketeers’.  

I seem to remember the musketeers’  battle cry was, “All for one and one for all!”  There is not much evidence of that in today’s revelations but, rather, a level of self-serving machination that does nobody any favours.

For one who purports to have  always put the advancement of New Labour’s modernised political machine above all other considerations, I fail to see how he thinks his book will serve the party’s best interests.

Neither Brown nor Blair comes out of it well, both apparently fatally flawed.

The wounded and wronged Brown, devoid of interpersonal skills, is portrayed as brooding and fiercely malevolent in his desperation to become prime minister, at any cost, whilst Blair an outwardly confident, charismatic and courageous leader, reneges on his word and backs down behind the scenes when it comes to taking tough policy decisions.

However, for me, a greater indictment of both men is their apparent dependence upon, and persistent faith in the abilities of the Third Man, who like the racketeer Harry Lime in the celebrated film noir of the same title, has now emerged from the sewers to engage in blatant profiteering of his own, at their expense.

By choosing to publish his revelations now it will only serve to re-open old wounds and further lower public opinion of a party still reeling from electoral defeat, at a time when it is seeking a new leader to mount a strong and unified opposition against the coalition government.   

But never mind any of that, the main priority was clearly to get his own version of events on the shelves  ahead of Tony Blair who he quotes as believing Brown to be, “mad, bad, dangerous and beyond redemption,” – a description perhaps better suited to the Prince of Darkness himself!

Leadership contender, Ed Miliband, has attempted to put a positive spin on Mandelson’s  memoirs hoping they will assist Labour, by marking the “closing of a chapter”  in its history from which the party can move on.

Sadly, I think that might be wishful thinking. I’m expecting blue will be the colour for the next ten years!

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Compare the meerkats.com
July 13, 2010

Gove Compare…

As a recently retired primary school headteacher, try as I might, I’m still finding it difficult to distance myself  from or  prevent myself getting worked up by education news stories   – and there have been a few good ones recently!

Fast tracked, rising star of the Tory party, education minister Michael Gove is quickly realising that being in power is just a bit more difficult than being in opposition.

Life on the government front bench brings with it far greater media scrutiny, particularly when you drop a brick or two – well five actually!  That’s how many incorrect lists, so far, he has published regarding the schools that will be affected following his axing of the Building Schools for the Future programme

Gove’s facial expression coupled with a propensity to blink furiously has led the rather superior, and patronising minister to be likened to a meerkat by Ann Treneman, writing in The Times. So to paraphrase two well-known insurance adverts, gove compare the meerkats!

What do you think?

If his ineptitude were not so serious for all those students, staff and parents who have had their hopes falsely raised and then promptly dashed again, it would be funny.

Does he have aides to help him with his weekly shopping list?

 

DC Terrified!

David Cameron (he’s the one on the right just in case, like me, you have difficulty telling the two apart!)  revealed to Sunday’s News of the World that he is TERRIFIED at the thought of sending his kids to a state secondary school in central London.

The Eton educated prime minister has always made great political capital of the fact he desperately wants his children to go through the state education system, so is this an early warning that he might be having second thoughts?

He announced,” I’ve got a six-year-old and a four-year old and I’m terrified living in central London”, “There aren’t enough good school places, that’s the problem.”          

Well isn’t that wonderful, towards the end of the school year when workloads are often at their greatest and energy levels at their lowest, for the hard pressed and genuinely hard-working teachers of central London to receive such a vote of confidence from the Prime Minister?  

I wonder how much his assertions are based simply on superficial schools data, or is it just another too good to miss opportunity to have another go at the previous government’s record on education?

I suspect he is so busy that he has aides who do the groundwork for him but if he really wants to keep in touch perhaps he should do as other working parents in the real world do, get on his bike (don’t forget your helmet & keep to the left) and visit the local schools, talk to the staff and the students and get a real feel for what’s going on. He might be pleasantly surprised.  

S*** Ms Atkins!

I couldn’t believe what I was reading on the front page of the Sunday Times. I had to pinch myself – it wasn’t April 1st was it?

Zenna Atkins, soon to step down from her position as chairwoman of Ofsted, is either cracking under the strain or demob happy. Either way Ms Atkins, who interestingly left school with just one O-level to her name (my guess is domestic science!) has announced, to a fanfare of trumpets, that it is her personal opinion that every school needs a ‘useless teacher’!

She maintains that primary schools, in particular, should provide opportunities for children to identify and deal with people in authority who can’t adequately perform their job. “One really good thing about primary school is that every kid learns how to deal with a really s*** teacher”.

This is of course beyond belief from a member of an organisation that has always taken itself far too seriously, but is so ridiculous it isn’t even worth getting worked up about. I’ve always considered Ofsted a bit of an irrelevance but a necessary evil. With this sort of woman in charge it is little wonder that an increasing number of heads, teachers and parents don’t pay too much attention to their findings.

However Zenna’s idea does raise all sorts of interesting questions?

  • Will there be a new category for Ofsted’s classroom inspection judgements :  outstanding, good, satisfactory, less than satisfactory, s****    
  • Will it be held against schools if none of the teachers meet Ofsted’s new s*** teacher criteria?
  • Will governors and headteacher’s be required to officially nominate a **** teacher and write it into their job description?
  • If the school is having difficulty finding a s*** teacher will the head be expected to ask a teacher to lower their standards a bit and take on the responsibility?
  • Will parents be informed when it is their child’s turn to be in the s*** teacher’s class or left to work it out for themselves?   
  • Will the nominated s*** teacher be entitled to a TLR (Teaching and Learning Responsibility) payment?  or
  • Will there be a separate pay scale for s*** teachers with a lower threshold that teachers can apply to go through?  
  • Will outstanding and good schools be able to advertise for a s*** teacher in order to fill that gap in their staffing profile?
  • Will parents be able to claim compensation if a school is unable to provide their child with a s*** teacher for one out of their seven years in primary education?

The many faces of Prezza, Baron of ‘ull…..
July 9, 2010

Love him or hate him, it’s always easy to point the finger of fun at Prezza. Yesterday the tag two jags might have been traded in for two faces as the one time working-class warrior of the left did an about turn and signed on for the  exclusive club he had always derided for its “flunkery and titles”.    

But there have always been many faces to Prezza  and that’s what makes him such good copy. 

One thing is certain, this one time eleven plus failure is no fool and knows a consequence of his action will be delighted howls of derision from those who consider him hypocritical and an ill educated, incoherent, ignorant street brawling philanderer with ideas above his station.

He maintains he has taken his place to try to change the Lords from within, and well he might, but I suspect it is nearer to the truth that he is prepared to do it, and take the attendant flak,  for his wife of 49 years, Pauline, the former hairdresser who will now carry the title Baroness.

In essence it’s sack cloth and ashes, rather than ermine that he is donning. It’s pay back time for her loyalty during the humiliating publication of salacious extracts from the memoirs of his former secretary Tracey Temple, with whom he had a two-year affair.  

I recall ‘meeting’ Prezza with his aides (Tracey may well have been present – who knows?) on the Euro star back to London from Brussels. We were in the buffet car and I was travelling with a group of colleagues, following an international education visit to the European Commission and NATO. One of our party introduced herself, explaining we were all headteachers, and asked for his autograph.  He signed it ‘from an eleven plus failure’.

He is now 72 and for 61 years he has seemingly struggled to rise above that disappointment and shake  off the stigma attached to it. In his book, written with Hunter Davies, My Story: Prezza Pulling No Punches, he devotes a whole chapter to his 11-plus failure and the impact it had on his young life:

“….class awareness really set in when I got the results of my 11-plus exam. I’d failed………I didn’t understand it at the time, or realise that 80 percent of us, of the entire nation’s eleven-year-olds, had been branded failures. But I sensed that some sort of social and intellectual division had taken place for reasons unknown to me. Perhaps that was when I got the chip on my shoulder.”     

I also remember a day of high tension when the 11-plus results arrived. Luckily for me I was one of the 20% awarded a grammar school place but I also recall the angst and alienation of class mates consigned to the scrap heap of the local secondary modern. We must never be tempted to turn back the clock to those dark days.         

Whatever you think of Prezza as a person or a politician he deserves credit for clawing himself up from that early set back and his subsequent achievements in public life. His career path is well documented: waiter and steward on Cunard ocean liners, militant member of the seaman’s union, student at Ruskin College Oxford, graduate of Hull University, Labour MP for Hull East, cabinet member and  longest ever serving deputy prime minister.   

Yes we all remember the egg throwing incident and subsequent left hook while campaigning in North Wales, the public soaking at the Brit Awards by Chumbawamba, images of croquet on the lawn at Prescott Towers, two jags and of course claims for mock Tudor beams and 2 toilet seats at his constituency home.     

But behind the bluff exterior, buffoonery and gaffs, that have been a political satirist’s dream, Prezza formed the bridge between old Labour and new and was a moderniser who shaped many of the policies that brought his party back into power. He was the buffer between Blair and Brown and, despite his public image, often a voice of reason in the cabinet. He also worked tirelessly to get the ground-breaking Kyoto agreement.    

What you see has always been what you get with Prezza. He’s passionate but flawed, totally un pc on occasions, and as his autobiography says pulls no punches. He’s been a larger than life politician of a type we are unlikely ever to see again.

Let’s get off his case. He’s earned the right to wear the ermine and stir up the Lords if he wishes, which he probably will!

Back to the Future! Will it be Orange?
July 6, 2010

It’s 25 years since ‘Doc’, Dr Emmett Brown, built his DeLorean time machine and as he said to Marty McFly at the time, “The way I see it, if you’re gonna build a time machine into a car, why not do it with some style?”   

Yesterday the internet was alive with reports that we had reached the first target date, July 5th 2010, set by Doc in the first Back to the Future movie. It was even backed up with what appeared to be a screenshot of the DeLorean time control panel, taken from the film.

Unfortunately it all turned out to be a hoax and we will have to wait another 5 years to celebrate what is now being called ‘Future Day’. That will be on October 21st 2015, which is where the main characters find themselves when Back to the Future 2 opens. Pencil it in your diary now!         

I wonder what Doc and Marty would have made of the following news stories from July 5th 2010?

‘A Miserable Little Compromise’

Following yesterday’s grand announcement of the electoral reform referendum, Jack Straw rained on Cleggy’s parade by reminding him that just a few short weeks ago, before the election, he had described the proposed AV voting system as ‘a miserable little compromise’. What, Jack the giant slayer asked, had changed his mind? MPs joined in the pantomime by chorusing the answer, ‘POWER!’    

The Times projected that, if the last election had been run according to the AV system, the Lib Dems would have gained 22 seats and Labour 4 with the Tories down by 26. This is why DC is insisting on including constituency changes as part of the package, as it is expected they would off-set the AV effect.    

Ronaldo’s Little Dribbler!

Now we know why Real Madrid  galactica Cristiano Ronaldo was off his game for Portugal at the World Cup. He’s just become a Dad! The Portugal national daily, Diaro de Noticias, has announced that Ronaldo will have ‘exclusive guardianship’ of the child who was apparently conceived through surrogacy, in San Diego, and will be named after his father.

I wonder if Ronaldo junior will dribble as well as Dad!    

 

Stig is top of the Dump!

BBC Worldwide have announced that ‘Top Gear’, presented by Clarkson, Hammond, May and the mystery racing driver Stig has generated more revenue than any other show. This amounts to around £30 million and includes proceeds from  selling the series to foreign broadcasters, an international live tour and a whole range of merchandise including Top Gear Scalextric!   

Perhaps the Stig could road test Doc’s DeLorean, through time and space, in a Back to the Future Top Gear special!  

Back to the Future Education ?

I’m not sure what Doc and Marty would make of education secretary Michael Gove’s announcement that he has scrapped Labour’s Building Schools for the Future programme, axing at a single stroke 715 planned rebuilds and refurbishments. Labour might have dug a ‘black hole’ but at least their investment in schools and hospitals helped improve public services, whilst creating jobs and property assets.

Gove, seen above struggling with some big words, has also announced a review of  A levels. This would seem to be a good call.  For too long our public examination system has been kicked around like  a political football. Time and again hard-working students achieving ‘A’ grades have had the wind taken out of their sails, caught between successive governments maintaining standards have gone up whilst top universities and employers claim they have dropped.

I agree it is high time A levels were returned to their ‘gold standard’ status and a full review involving secondary schools, universities and employers needs to be carried out. But I have an uneasy feeling that everything will be tailored to the  needs of Oxbridge, and the already advantaged pupils from their independent ‘feeder schools’.  

I would add I’m not anti Oxbridge. One of my daughters is a Cambridge graduate but she did get there via our local comprehensive school!

Blazing Saddles        

I profess to knowing very little about cycling but I do love the three-week soap-opera which crosses our screens every July, Le Tour! It’s only the third stage today and they haven’t actually reached France, yet the controversy, complaints and protests have already started.

The usual question marks around le dopage, particularly with regard to seven times winner Lance Armstrong, were raised before the event pushed off, in Rotterdam, with the prologue time trial on Saturday. This has been swiftly followed by a series of calamitous crashes in stages one and two, with our very own Mark Cavendish cast as villain of the piece after Sunday’s pile-up. Belgian TV called him the ‘assassin’ whilst the French paper L’Equipe labelled him a ‘pyromaniac’.

I’ve heard of ‘Blazing Saddles’ but that’s going a bit far!   

Will the Future be Orange? 

Could it also be back to the future for Dutch football team?  Holland are forever revered for the total football philosophy that took them to successive World Cup Finals in 1974 and 1978. But everyone’s favourites lost on both occasions, even with the sublime skills of Johan Cruyff and co on display. Will the current crop of talented, but more prosaic, players put the record straight – will the future World Champions be wearing orange? We’ll have a better idea after tonight’s semi final against ‘dark horses’ Uruguay.

Curiouser and Curiouser…………………………
July 5, 2010

Lady in Red

I have to admit to being intrigued by the Russian spy ring saga, that emerged from across the pond last week, as the FBI swooped to arrest ten people accused of being part of a clandestine intelligence gathering operation.

Most attention over here, has been given to Anna Chapman, ‘the lady in red’, said to be the daughter of a former KGB officer, formerly married to a British entrepreneur and resident in the UK until four years ago. She now lives in NY and has supposedly been running a  $2 million online real estate business as a means of infiltrating high-powered political circles.  

It appears that the so-called intelligence gathered and communicated by ‘the spies’, apparently using techniques familiar to fans of  cold war novels and movies, was pretty much available to all and sundry on the internet and as things stand none of them are currently charged with ‘espionage’. The LA Times described it as, “more Woody Allen than John le Carre”!  

Make over for Wonder Woman

What are DC Comics playing at? Wonder Woman, 69 years old this year, is having a make over. Gone are those stunning star-spangled hot pants and kinky red boots to be replaced by black leggings! For men of a certain age, which includes me, Wonder Woman will always be remembered, as personified by Lynda Carter, in the 70’s TV adaptation of the sci-fi comic book heroine. It’s a generational thing, I know! Batman, for instance, will always be pictured in my mind’s eye as  portrayed by Adam West, rather than Val Kilmer, George Clooney or Michael Keaton!       

Don’t Do It Meryl!

legendary Hollywood actress Meryl Streep, an amazing 16 Academy Award nominations and twice a winner, is considering taking on the role of Margaret Hilda Thatcher in a film to be produced later this year.  

Please don’t do it Meryl! I’d rather remember you as the mysterious French Lieutenant’s Woman, or your Oscar-winning performances in Kramer versus Kramer and Sophie’s Choice. Damn it! I’d even rather remember you in Mamma Mia. I even named my blog after one of your films!

I’m sure you would be great, you always are, but I don’t want to remember you as the handbag swinging Iron Lady!      

 What’s New Pussy Cat?

Welsh ‘sex bomb’ Tom Jones has reinvented himself again. This time he has decided it’s not unusual, for an artist of his mature years, to return to the ‘green, green grass of home’ and has drawn on the chapel songs of his youth for a soon to be released album ‘Praise and Blame’.  

Mojo magazine has described Tom’s latest offering as ‘remarkable’, which of course could be interpreted in a number of ways! Whereas a leaked email from the chief  executive of Island Records, was not at all ambiguous: “ We did not invest a fortune in an established artist for him to deliver 12 tracks from the common book of prayer”.  

Come on boys bach, when you’re a national treasure you can get away with anything. I don’t know what Delilah would have made of it, mind!

And now the papers……….
July 4, 2010

During our pub lunch at the Trout yesterday, Gemma mentioned she had been keeping a ‘journalistic eye’ on my blog and then proceeded to offer me the benefit of her professional advice. Nicci, with her teacher’s head on, waded in and before I knew it the following targets for improvement had been set:

  1. ‘Show more literary discipline’ – in other words don’t ramble!
  2. Don’t over do the sport – mix  up the content more
  3. Don’t get sloppy with your proof reading – (slap on the wrist!)

Success criteria: more succinct, accurately written, posts which appeal to a greater audience resulting in more ‘hits’.

So, basically, ‘must do better!’  Here goes then:

I’ve always fancied doing that slot on Breakfast TV where guests review the papers. These are the stories (in brief) that have caught my eye this week:

David Cameron is officially a ‘waxwork’ : Enough said!

Baroness Flo: For children of the ’70s (and some university students) Playschool presenter Floella Benjamin  is a legend. She has taken her seat as a Lib Dem peer and is currently working on her maiden speech for the Lords. I trust Humpty and Jemima will be in the public gallery!    

     

 

Tory MP puts foot in mouth-Part 1:  Andrew Lansley (Health Secretary) declares Jamie Oliver’s Healthy School Meals campaign a failure. Top tip: Don’t slag off a ‘national treasure’. A celebrity chef can only do so much and at least he’s trying. How are the coalition going to address the healthy lifestyles agenda, by cutting school meals subsidies?   

 

Tory MP puts foot in mouth-Part 2:  Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt loses the votes of an entire city at a single stroke! Top tip: If he thinks an apology over his Hillsborough disaster gaff will wash with the scousers – forget it. Liverpudlians still steadfastly refuse to buy The Sun because of its assertion, at the time, that Liverpool fans contributed to the disaster.  

Don’t Cry for Me Argentina!  Diego ‘Hand of God’ Maradona, one of the ‘main events’ at this World Cup, had appeared on track for further footballing immortality. The roly-poly football legend has undergone a transformation from  drug addled, obese laughing-stock and reinvented himself as coach of the Argentina national side. His press conferences had been a breath of fresh air and his team a delight to watch until they inexplicably succumbed to the Germans by 4-0!   

The Italian Job:  Fabio Capello keeps his job but probably for the wrong reasons. The FA can’t afford the compensation or face the public ordeal of appointing another coach.  

Murray misses his Moment:  

The time seemed right and the nation was all set to hail a Wimbledon champion for the first time since 1977. Even the Queen had leant her support!  Unfortunately Rafael Nadal had not read the script. Murray was good but not good enough. Nadal is a supreme athlete with a precision and killer instinct that Murray still can’t quite match. There’s always next year!

A stroll for Serena: Meanwhile fashion guru & ‘model’ Serena Williams took time out from her business interests to lift the Wimbledon crown for a 4th time.  She and her sister, Venus (who take it in turns), have now won an incredible 8 out of the last 10 Wimbledon championships!

Gideon’s Way!
June 23, 2010

George Osborne, the Chancellor formerly known as Gideon, emerged from yesterday’s ‘unavoidable’ Emergency Budget relatively unscathed.

We’ve been so well primed for this ‘tough but fair’ recovery plan that hardly an eyebrow was raised. Timing is everything of course and, realistically, in the glow of yesterday’s summer sunshine, more minds were probably focused on Andy Murray, safely negotiating his way through the first round at Wimbledon, and England’s forthcoming  do or die World Cup match.

The media are generally agreed that this budget is the most severe in living memory, but largely accepting that the bitter pill of savage cuts, in public spending and benefits, and an increase in VAT to 20%, is the consequence of the previous government’s financial mismanagement and something we will have to swallow.

Whilst the Mail described the Chancellor’s performance as ‘Masterful’ and the Telegraph dubbed him ‘Osborne the Enforcer’, the Guardian was rather more prosaic, alerting us to ‘Pain now, more pain later’. Only the good old Mirror voiced its opposition, ‘History will show George Osborne’s Budget was a disaster.’

Perhaps ‘prudence’ would not normally be associated with ex members of  Oxford University’s elite ‘Bullingdon Club’, membership by invitation only and renowned for its wealth and destructive binges.  But will Cameron and Osborne in their new guise as  ‘the dynamic duo’ save the day?

At this stage the jury is out, but those in opposition are saying say the cuts are too much too soon, will restrict growth and result in a dramatic increase in unemployment.  As always the Tories seem to think this is a price worth paying.   

One thing is certain, however, we now have a coalition government in name only, and this is well and truly a Tory budget. 

Nick Clegg, resplendent in his golden tie, and Danny Alexander, becoming increasingly prominent as senior minister to the Treasury, were strategically placed either side of Osborne on the front bench, like two nodding dogs throughout his speech. They are slowly but surely morphing into Tories and it won’t be long before Cleggy becomes, ‘the man with the royal blue tie’.  

This was a master stroke by Cameron and Osborne, for it was the front bench Lib Dems, not the Tories, who bore the brunt of Harriet Harman’s response to the budget as she demanded, “How could they support everything they fought against? How could they let everyone down who voted for them?”

When Harman is on song, as she was yesterday, one wonders why she isn’t standing for the Labour leadership. Her display was confident and passionate, something we haven’t seen from the Labour bench for a while, and she went for the kill in no uncertain terms: “The Lib Dem leaders have sacrificed everything they ever stood for to ride in ministerial cars and to ride on the coat-tails of the Tory Government”.

A lot of Lib Dem backbenchers and voters would say, ‘Amen to that!’ and it will be interesting to see how many MPs break ranks and side with Labour in voting against the budget.

The Emergency Budget will go down in political history, not only in terms of its severity, but as the beginning of the end of this coalition government and more significantly as the point at which the Liberal Democrat Party seized to exist as an entity in its own right.

‘There is nothing like a Dame’ – unless it’s ‘the Prince of Thieves’!
June 21, 2010

Those of you who are familiar with old Hollywood musicals will know, “There is nothing like a dame,” – just  take a look at our very own Dame Helen Mirren……. 

Appearing on a US chat show last week, ‘national treasure’ Dame Helen, better known as ‘the Queen’, across the pond, got her self into oily waters and raised a few eyebrows back home. 

Dame Helen, who often revels in her reputation as something of a loose cannon, played to her audience by stoking the prevailing anti-British sentiment and describing BP as “Bloody P—- poor”.

She followed this up by saying that he was pleased England had not beaten the United States in the World Cup match.

She is a good actress, deserving of the recognition she has received for her performances, but surely one might expect a little more decorum from a Dame?  Given that emotions are running high in the US, over the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, and that the ‘special relationship’ is under intense  pressure perhaps she was seeking to defuse the situation with  a mischievous and ‘humorous’ comment or two.

On the other hand it could be seen as nauseous, ingratiating and a calculated act of self publicity.

Thankfully, at least, on this occasion the Dame kept her clothes on!      

Perhaps BP missed a trick. Beleaguered executive Tony Hayward should have enlisted Dame Helen to accompany him at Congress last week, where the members  were lining up to ‘slice and dice’ him. I’m sure her take on events would have gone down well, and a regal wave or two and a few signed photographs from ‘the Queen’, would have helped pour oil on troubled waters!

Another thespian who was present at Congress the other day, Hollywood legend Kevin ‘Prince of Thieves’ Costner, was able to offer BP a more practical solution to cleaning up the oil spill. He owns a company who, for the last 17 years, have been working on a machine that will separate oil from water. Ever, straight as an arrow and one to ‘rob the rich to help the poor’, Kevin has signed a contract with BP to provide 32 of these centrifuge like devices. Let’s hope they hit the target!       

Finally on the oil front, slick operator and Hollywood wannabe President Obama (seen here in the role of Bond villain Dr No), who has been the fiercest critic of BP in recent weeks,  is becoming increasingly embarrassed by the incestuous relationship that has existed between BP and US politicians. Obama’s own presidential campaign benefitted to the tune of $77,000 from BP funds.

It was further revealed, by the Sunday Times yesterday, that up to 30 Congress committee members have combined holdings, worth $14.5 million, in oil companies which include BP!

South Africa Youth Day – The Soweto Uprising Remembered
June 17, 2010

On June 15th we received the long awaited Saville Report into the atrocities of Bloody Sunday, 38 years ago in Northern Ireland.  

Yesterday, June 16th, was South Africa Youth Day, a national holiday commemorating the 34th anniversary of the Soweto Uprising. The parallels are there for all to see.

The Soweto riots grew out of student protests against the ruling National Party’s apartheid regime which forced children, from black only schools, to be taught in Afrikaans, or in the words of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, “the language of the oppressor”.

Resentment grew amongst the children of Soweto, resulting in the formation of a Students’ Representative Council which organized a mass rally, in order to make their voices heard.

The student demonstration was planned with a degree of secrecy which took parents and teachers by surprise and, on the morning of June 16th 1976, thousands of black students walked from their schools towards the Orlando Stadium.

It set out as a peaceful protest but police barricaded the road along their intended route and a diversion had to be taken towards the Orlando High School. Estimates suggest that by this time up to 10,000 students had gathered; singing and waving placards.

When a police patrol arrived, to marshal the demonstration, the majority of students continued to march peacefully but some children reacted by throwing stones. A handgun was drawn and fired, causing immediate panic and chaos as the students fled for safety.   

Emotions were running high and, following a subsequent escalation in violent retaliation, 15,000 heavily armed police, supported by armed vehicles and helicopters, were deployed to the township. Shots were fired indiscriminately as means of dispersing the rioting crowds.

Government figures maintained there were 23 student fatalities whilst the Reuters news agency put the figure at ‘more than 500’ with over 1,000 men, women and children wounded.   

The BBC’s World Cup football coverage has been matched by a series of excellent off the field reports, providing a valuable insight into the recent history of South Africa and how the ‘rainbow nation’ has emerged from the apartheid era into the free country it is today.

Yesterday, following a report by Garth Crooks on the Soweto Riots, we saw Desmond Tutu, accompanied by former Dutch international Clarence Seedorf (right), at an Africa Youth Day celebration, where he reminded a group of students You and I, old and young, now have a very precious thing, this freedom that was bought with the lives and blood of all – young and old, black and white.”

On a lighter note he also said it was it was important for South Africans to rejoice in their moment of World Cup glory and that foreigners must accept their traditions, including the controversial vuvuzela, which was an integral part of their games. He urged football fans to blow them even louder!

Meanwhile, broadcasting  from the BBC studio in Cape Town, prior to last night’s South Africa v Uruguay game, Gary Lineker reminded viewers that not long ago his panel of co-presenters, Alan Hansen, Lee Dixon and Emmanuel Adebayor (right) would not have been allowed.

Unfortunately ‘Bafana Bafana’ could not add to the Africa Youth Day celebrations, losing 3-0 to a Uruguay team inspired by former Man Utd player Diego Forlan.

Domhnach na Fola – 38 Years of Hurt……
June 16, 2010

The events of Sunday January 3oth 1972 should and will forever be remembered.   

I was still at school, studying ‘A’ levels, and living at home with my parents. I don’t actually recall, but it was probably a typical Sunday for us, reading the papers, enjoying a roast lunch and settling down in front of the TV to watch edited highlights of one of the previous day’s big games  on ‘Star Soccer’.   

Meanwhile over the Irish Sea, in Derry, the tragic events of ‘Bloody Sunday’ were unfolding. 26  unarmed and innocent civilians were gunned down by British Paratroopers, confronting an unlawful but peaceful demonstration with a hail of gunfire.

The families and friends of the victims, indeed the whole community of Northern Ireland’s second city have lived with the painful consequences of these murderous actions for 38 years.  

The initial enquiry, from Lord Chief Justice Widgery 11 weeks after the event and proclaimed as the ‘official truth’, has now been shown to be anything but. In many ways the publication of this report, which whitewashed the actions of the British troops and in effect denied what local people and the media had seen with their own eyes, was almost certainly responsible for intensifying and prolonging the Troubles in Ireland.    

Twelve years ago, as a result of the Good Friday Agreement, then Prime Minister Tony Blair took the unprecedented step of setting up a second official enquiry, led by Lord Saville,  which was finally and momentously published yesterday.

It couldn’t have been more categorical and unambiguous in its findings, clearing all 26 victims (14 killed) of any actions that might have provoked the massacre and laying the blame firmly with the paratroopers.   

The report, 10 volumes and 5000 words long, took an amazing 12 years and £192,000,000 to produce, which begs belief when one considers the Nuremberg Trials at the end of the Second World War only lasted a year!

However, whilst there should be future questions about where that money went and whether lawyers have been profiteering at the tax payers’  expense,  sometimes the truth costs and it is far better that the people of Derry can have their ‘closure’ after all these years and  that the British Government can be seen to have acted honestly and honourably.

It was a humbling and emotional experience, listening to  David Cameron announce the Saville Report findings to the Commons, while simultaneously watching the reactions of the people in Derry. It seemed almost surreal that Cameron was apologising on behalf of the nation for something that had happened when he was only five years old!

Many of the innocent Bloody Sunday victims were my age. 1972 seems a lifetime ago , and when I consider what I have experienced and achieved in the intervening years it really brings home to me the full tragedy of the event. It is preposterous that it has taken this long for the truth to become officially recognised, but far better late than never.  

However this might not be the end. After all these years, will ‘closure’ be enough for the families and friends of the dead Bloody Sunday victims or will charges be brought against those who unlawfully killed them.