Tuesday, 23 February 2016

This Could Get Boring ... Oh Sorry It Already Has

I'm afraid it's time to talk about Europe again.

I am a sceptic about Le Grand Projet (what's that you say - you'd already noticed) but I have never been completely unpersuadable. However the great project of persuasion as led by our ghastly Prime Minister is already making me less so. What a load of meretricious, patrician claptrap. I can identify exactly the point at which I finally consigned Cameron to the bin of odium. Here it is, from his interview with Andrew Marr on Sunday:
I think the prospect of linking arms with Nigel Farage and George Galloway and taking a leap into the dark is the wrong step for our country.
Well if you are in the unfortunate position of being Michael Gove (a 'close friend' of the Boy Cameron but one who has dared, poor misguided state educated pleb that he is, to deviate from his boss's gilded wisdom) you might very well ask, with friends like Dave who needs enemies? So politics is to come down to this is it - if you find yourself on the same side of an argument as two such clownish figures as Galloway and Farage, then you must be wrong. Well let's take this a step further shall we Dave? Galloway and Farage are, in the end, peripheral in the greater game of politics, they are totems of what someone (though no one seems certain quite who) termed swivel-eyed lunacy. We will return to this designation later. Now here's a thing: it is my judgement that a figure far from peripheral in British politics was Alastair Campbell, Blair's despicable spin-doctor. This is what he tweeted almost as soon as Cameron had left the Marr sofa:
You won't hear me say this often, but that was a very impressive interview by [Cameron] The pro-case is overwhelming.
Thanks Alastair. Debate closed then. Thank goodness, now I can have my life back and concentrate on things that really concern my sort of person. What sort of person is that? The sort of person, actually, who resents what you and Clive Woodward did to the reputation of the British Lions by your arrogance on the 2005 New Zealand tour. That major blot on your escutcheon aside, I am a big man and I accept that there will be things on which you and I might agree. My point? Here's what Cameron could equally validly (that's to say not very) have said to Marr: 'I think the prospect of linking arms with Alastair Campbell and wading yet further into an irretrievable constitutional mire is the wrong step for our country.'

While we're looking at some political 'scoundrels' let's now consider one long since dead but who remains polarising - Enoch Powell. I take no stance for his incendiary language on race and immigration but there is great value to be had from his percipient analysis of the institution that became the European Union. Have a look at what he was saying on the very night that the electorate last voted on the question of membership - Enoch Powell 1975 . This is interesting stuff - what would, I think, have most astounded Powell if alive now is that we have still not twigged the point on nationhood. If anything the discussion has descended to a less wholesome level, because nobody now is being honest (as Powell generously, a generosity others including myself have not mirrored, conceded Heath was being) about the 'abnegation' legally implicit in membership of such a union. My own distinctly unpowellian and therefore inelegant analogy has been to liken sovereignty to virginity - once given away it's bloody difficult to get it back. What the Prime Minister tells us is that we are 'a special case' and that we can have 'the best of both worlds' - which sounds to me a little like being a virgin whilst at the same time putting it about rather indiscriminately. This analogy of mine breaks down (as do most I'm afraid but they help if taken with a pinch of salt) when it comes to the question now before the country, because it translates as 'Do you want your virginity back?' Thus I come to my own rescue and reconfigure the question as, 'How about being celibate for a change?' Or perhaps it should be 'How about the choice of celibacy or a remarriage?' Like I said, analogies break down. Where I will draw the line (and here I gree with the PM) is at gerrymandering the question to be, 'Would you like to get divorced and then remarry the same spouse in a different church?'  

What I'm trying to point out is that this is interesting and, yes, important stuff. So let's see what the interesting and serious people are saying about it. Not Galloway, not Farage, not Cameron, not Corbyn (whose damascene conversion on the topic is positively wondrous), not Osborne. But yes to Sturgeon, and yes even to Salmond who, once you get beyond the instinctive tory-baiting, always has a point. Who are these serious people? How to distinguish them from the swivel-eyed lunatics? Here's some candidates on both sides. I will venture fewer on the Pro side, simply because you can find them aplenty - try the backbenches of both sides of the House, or try a plc boardroom or the partners in the behemoth mega-accountants. The orthodoxy of the political class is theirs. Try for example these two: Hilary Benn and Michael Heseltine. Benn is particularly intriguing because of his difference from his famous father, Tony Benn. Those who ungenerously speculate that Tony Benn would be 'spinning in his grave' at Hilary's orthodoxy, couldn't be more wrong. They miss utterly the point that Benn Senior gloried in plurality. This made him unfit for modern office. As for Heseltine he may not be quite the historical figure that he had hoped but he is genuine. He has built businesses and has quietly used his own money on the campaign trail over the years. A case of putting his money where his mouth is but without the self-serving vulgarity of Doanld Trump.

As for the Antis: Frank Field, long a favourite of this blog - This Deal Is Awful ; Gisela Stuart - definitely not one of the usual suspects, a native German who has given fabulous service as a Birmingham Labour MP - Gisela Stuart: Guardian . With some caution (no one likes to be ridiculed) I also suggest Iain Duncan Smith. That the piece I link - IDS on EU - is from the Daily Mail perhaps says something about my snobbish hesitation, But hey ho it's out there now so let's run with it. A former serving soldier and a Roman Catholic without university education - might it be too wicked to speculate that the PM finds him beyond the pale? Yes it probably would.

You can pick holes in the motives of all of the above, though this is hardest in respect of the three socialists, Benn, Field and Stewart. However I find all my examples more trustworthy and informative than a Prime Minister who is so convinced of his rectitude that he misrepresents the facts of the recent negotiation and takes snide potshots at sincere opponents. Do I expect a higher standard of behaviour from our first minister? I think you know the answer to that one. Call me old fashioned.

Which just leaves Boris. The knowing line of the political insider is that Boris's sidling into the 'Out' camp is unadulterated careerism. If that truly is the case then damn the man to pieces. I genuinely hope that analysis is wrong. Whatever, here is the link to his piece in the Telegraph on Monday. There are some cheap descents into journalistic myth (the summary of daft EU legislation is not entirely fair) but on the whole it is, as you would expect, scholarly and well-written. I am a trained reader between lines (I'm a lawyer after all) but I do not detect any of the nastiness that has invaded Cameron's tone. Perhaps I've been conned. Again. Sincerity or Vaulting Ambition?

You decide. That's the point.

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

A Few Shafts Of Wisdom - Well At Least Hopefully

Six Nations week 2. If you want a good laugh/evidence of mankind's awfulness (it depends on the mood you bring to the table) read the trail of internet comments that sits at the foot of Jeremy Guscott's (I'm afraid) feeble article on the BBC website - Guscott . There you will find some mild wisdom in amongst the masses of ignorance (excusable), stupidity (again excusable), and bigotry (decidedly not). Hey ho.

Well, I've watched all the games twice and I've listened to and read all sorts of reactions from other people and here are my observations, so far as I can recall them and in no particular order.

Psychobabble: I have found Warren Gatland's fondness for this stuff an irritant over the years (and have not been slow to say it) so it would be hypocritical of me to forgive Eddie Jones's similar liking. However I will say this: Jones is better at it and has more humour. As to which is the better coach - my instinct says Jones. As to which possesses the team more susceptible to good coaching - I'm afraid (as an Englishman) it is presently Gatland. Now there's ironic as a caricature Welshman might offer.

The good doctor - problem and solution
Jamie Roberts: deservedly Man of the Match against Scotland, though why we have to sully team sports with these individual awards is another debate. However Roberts is both Wales strength and problem.  Playing well he gives the team its much-discussed Plan A and that can often be enough. He can also be the key to Plan B and we saw this in the George North try. So fearful of Roberts were Scotland that they turned the brilliant North loose. I'm afraid something nags at me - I'm not entirely convinced that Wales knew they had moved onto Plan B. Be that as it may, the larger problem is the defensive conundrum that he presents. He is the leader of the Welsh defensive line and very good at it too. His favoured method of tackling is to hit the torso, a modish obsession. There is the problem, because this style of defence does not provoke the type of break-down at which what it has become fashionable to call 'a classic 7' will thrive. So why are Wales playing two such flankers? At least one becomes redundant - on Saturday it was Warburton who managed to redeem the situation (of selectorial making not his own) with a piece of inspired captaincy. When he opted for that scrum instead of the unmissable penalty, I was baying at the screen that he was wrong. No, I was. Mind you, it would not have been the right decision against New Zealand. Against England or Ireland? Marginal. Against France? Beats me - the French defy any logical analysis. 

The Welsh front five are very, very good. Englishmen still wedded to the wisdom of the hegemonic late 90s and early 00s, always overlook this point. England remain exposed at scrum time - Cole played far better on Sunday but remains a walking penalty, but it is the loosehead side that is more problematic. An aggrieved Marler was fabulous off the bench (his tackilng was titanic) but neither he nor Vunipola, especially Vunipola, convinces at the scrum. Call me old-fashined but I like props who can scrummage.

Old Harrovian makes England debut
Inane television interview questions. Sonia McLaughlin asking Rory Best 'Is that Ireland's title chance gone?' She will no doubt defend this as incisive and provocative. Bollocks. It was simply rude and unnecessary. Kudos to Best for the way he dealt with it. John Inverdale of Maro Itoje: 'Have we just seen the future of English rugby?' Oh for God's sake grow up. The poor kid (for he is not much more) is a magnificent specimen and an obvious talent but must we really have these absurd labels? The boy (and yes I would pick him to start as it happens) will soon have a target on his back for every foreign assassin to aim at.

Back to the question of tackling technique. The 'choke tackle' is a fad. The Irish have used it to particular advantage. It is dangereous and at the root of the greater number of head-on-head injuries. Ireland have won a fair few scrums on the back of the choke. They also have a gifted fly-half whose dodgy technique has left him looking punch-drunk. Australia favour the 'chop tackle' (another daft nomenclature - it's always been around, we used to call it 'tackling') and they thereby play to the strengths of their vaunted two open-sides. Please note (most haven't) that the Australia play them at 7 and 8. Even this is not original - look at what Toulon have done with Armitage for three seasons now. Rant over. Sometimes I am right. Just sometimes. It was towards the end of my coaching days that the buzz-words were 'squeeze ball'. Some evangelicals averred this method would revolutionize the game. I always avoided it because I judged it dangerous.

Not strictly the Six Nations but the previous paragraph does lead me onto the reason I got out of coaching - I hate the idea of tactical substitutions. If you're getting a personal stuffing, you should stay there and take it. Now, I know this genie will never go back in the bottle and, as an Englishmen, I perhaps ought to relish this pandering to strength-in -depth, but 23-a-side, really? We are divorcing the professional game yet further from the great sport that spawned it.

Wtf is going on with France? Here's a good outside bet if you fancy it - France to win a Grand Slam with the lowest ever positive points difference.

The refereeing. Jaco Peyper. I'm sorry, I know from experience that a referee can't make a poor game great, but gosh he had a dreadful match. How was the French lock not (at the very least) binned for that egregious late-shot on Sexton? Peyper practically fell over the offender as he did it. Shoddy. George Clancy. I quite like him in fact, but the Welsh scrum-half was most definitely off-side for the first try. This is not a technical thing - it mattered, it affected the play. Glen Jackson - I think he's actually rather good although he started the match by badly miscalculting a penalty advantage. He dealt with Brown and Parisse magisterially but not hysterically when they behaved like spoilt children.

The Ronan O' Gara Gobshite nominees? I'm extending the award to include forwards and it pains me to do this but the great god Parisse earns a nomination. Play the game please Sergio. Mike Brown is also in there - I think much of his rage is direceted at himself but even so, unnecessary. Finally Stuart Hogg is in there again. A top player but I think there is dark side. Have a look what he does with his leading leg in every aerial challenge. And just before he limped off after a brilliant sliding take, what was his fooot doing raised as he and the Welsh hooker collided? Maybe these are technical faults. I hope so.

So long pop-pickers.


Friday, 12 February 2016

A Night In front Of The Telly

The more observant of you may notice a change of OG policy - previously I have favoured 'tele' over 'telly' on the basis that the former is more accurately a derivative from 'television'. However some internet searching suggests that I am completely wrong. The other possibility (not entirely inadmissible) is that the internet is wrong. Perhaps more on that particular and interesting conspiracy theory at a later date.

I was in Anglesey for a couple of days warming up the shamingly neglected country estate in readiness for Daughter Number 2 who is going up there for a couple of days. As ever there was the rather wonderful feeling of being on a different and less noisome plain, this, of course, being a piece of wishful autosuggestion to fight the guilt at being (in a small way only) over-endowed with property. Such guilt is, most probably, a load of old bollocks but I think that Jeremy Corbyn must be getting to me. So it goes. Terrible thing guilt - a point of which I was reminded when I used up six plus hours last night rewatching the Channel 4 adaptation of Anthony Powell's A Dance to the Music of Time (available on the excellent All4 service). It was the the doomed and tragic socialist aristocrat Erridge who put me in mind of this. The series is well worth another view. The source sequence of twelve novels sprawls over the middle of the twentieth century and might seem unadaptable but my conclusion on this second viewing was that the script did a better service to the source material than I had remembered. It does probably help that I had (not recently but since the first transmission) re-read the entire sequence in the right order. Just as had been the case with Simon Raven's Alms for Oblivion novels, I had first encountered them in the random order that they became available in second hand book stores (I am very parsimonious in my book buying habits) or in public lending libraries (you remember those surely). So, I recommend that you find yourself the time to read the books or watch the television series, but preferably both. But here's an even stranger recommendation: I was idly googling what commentators have made of Powell's efforts (because of his perceived snobbishness he has diced with unfashionability, not one suspects that he would have given a fig) when I came across a dread concatenation: 'Tariq Ali/the Guardian/Anthony Powell'. I am glad I overcame my prejudice and read it - Tariq Ali on Powell - scholarly and, to this eye, spot on, right down to the doubts about the quality of the last volume. Incidentally the definitive Proust biography to which Ali refers was written by George Painter Junior, the son of the English master at King Edward's Aston in whose memory the annual sixth form English prize is still awarded. My father and I won that prize twenty-six years apart, a fact that fills me with unbecoming pride - not at the prize itself, in truth it was not what racing parlance would term a strong renewal, but at matching an achievement of the man I most admire.

I rounded out my viewing with a couple of contrasting documentaries on BBC4: Fifties British War Films: Days of Glory and The Most Dangerous Band in the World: the Story of Guns N' Roses. The first of these was good, the second a revelation - why are none of Guns N' Roses dead? Talented bunch of lads but individually and collectively bonkers. Welcome to the jungle indeed. Appetite for Destruction - never mind the tracks (which are good), what a great album title.  The attached is the Robert Williams artwork (soon ditched for reasons of taste apparently) from the original release. Nice.

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Are Brilliant ... Mark XX

The Jaguar AJ26 V8 4 litre. The big cat still purring nicely after all these years on the favourite run up to Anglesey. Still only 63000 miles on the clock and I got 28mpg today which makes it a little more excusable.

Heard on the radio as I journeyed today in the Precious Jag: Band on the Run by Paul McCartney and Wings. I had forgotten just what a fabulous song this is. In its multi-movement structure it actually prefigures the more celebrated Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen. So here is a link to a YouTube version of the song - don't be fooled by the description of it as 'the original video' because it's nothing of the sort but, as someone else would say, the song remains the same.

And then, courtesy of the CD player which was a retro-fitted luxury when I acquired the PJ, I was reminded of this sad but beautifully concocted song by Gilbert O'Sullivan. Not in the Lennon/McCartney league by size and reliability of catalogue but O'Sullivan was responsible for a choice few brilliant pop compositions.

Finally, the Malbec grape which, skilfully fermented by those nice Argentinians, has kept me company as the country seat has been lifted from its winter chill (we have neglected it I am afraid to admit) this evening. Still only up to 15 degrees.

Monday, 8 February 2016

Same As It Ever Was?

Well yes and no. Six Nations passionate and raucous as ever but never quite hitting top quality. A typical opening weekend to that extent to. But untypical, it is now only the French who have not fallen for the habit of appointing a foreign coach. Eddie Jones a rather pleasant change in his media approach (though his mischievousness will soon lose him friends) but his England side gave us nothing much new - indeed did anyone seriously expect it in the face of the usual frenzied anti-English opposition? This last is not meant as a particular moan, rather a weary observation. The ingrained hatred (what we are conditioned to regard as a quaint and acceptable form of racism) of the English works peculiarly - it inhibits England unless they have one of those rare moments of steely inflexibility (Alf Ramsey, Martin Johnson, Ian Botham) and motivates the rest of Europe to excess, such that they are too easily satisfied with putting the bloody English in their place. The Welsh remain the worst and serial offenders on this score, the Irish have come furthest in overcoming it and, I suppose, in fairness we should exempt the Italians from this lazy categorisation since they don't give a fig for such daftness.

My favourite forum of rugby discussion is the Welsh Scrum V on BBC 2 Wales. It is far more knowledgeable than the mainstream BBC Rugby Special fronted by the sadly diminished (as in: he used to be good but has become pretty shit) John Inverdale with its determinedly tabloid grade of analysis. Yes Scrum V is, by definition, parochial and the format pays unnecessary lip-service to the forced bonhomie of Top Gear, but Wales has a ready supply of pundits who understand rugby and want to take it seriously. The pre-Six Nations show (still available on iPlayer) had Gareth Thomas (a very good player and an even greater cultural icon without ever wishing to be such) and Jeremy Guscott as the tame Englishman. I still don't think the Welsh have quite understood how tragically they are underselling this current team. Warren Gatland has had eight years in the job and has been granted a stellar cast of players. I see no material improvement in that time in their tactical acumen. They have been very, very good but it is the final few inches of development that are the hardest and thus far they have not managed the full ascent. This can be a matter of bad luck (for example the execrable sending-off of Sam Warburton by Alain Roland in RWC 11 - a decision which still offends my tender sensibilities) but Napoleon was right in his preference for lucky generals - in rugby terms this was never better illustrated than by the career of, much as I venerate the man, Clive Woodward.

Icarus falls. OG still loves him.
Sorry, as is my wont I've wandered off the straight and narrow of my piece. So what I'm saying is that I've watched all the matches and imbibed all the punditry and, yes I'll confess, I've even waded through the screeds of drivel on various message boards. And what I think is this. Number eight play is my pet topic and this was a great weekend for all us eightomanes (I think I've made that word up). We saw the unfeasibly brilliant Sergio Parisse flying too close to the sun - scoring a try, leading from the front, giving away two vital penalties and finally attempting a ludicrous drop goal. Magnifico. We saw Jamie Heaslip (whose descent from Olympus I had posited here last week) give a few hints of the old fire. We saw Taulupe Faletau do everything well. We saw Billy Vunipola doing an impression of a force of nature. Tellingly we also saw Louis Picamoles limp early out of the French match against Italy, seemingly leaving France without a focal point. Focal points matter - even the justly vaunted 'Total Football' had Cruyff.

I'm still rambling. So let's venture a few conclusions: Ireland remain the best coached team (Schmidt not Gatland would be my Lions coach); Wales still have the best players but will miss Biggar during his injury (that focal point thing again); the crowd at Murrayfield demean themselves by booing opposition kickers - this surely doesn't matter to professional players but some traditions are just nice, and to counter that the French do it has never been an effective defence to anything; England's back-row balance is wrong and Eddie Jones knows this; Scotland need a focal point, preferably a fly-half given the talent available outside; likewise France; early leaders in the Ronan O'Gara Amusing Gobshite Back Award (journalists call this 'feisty') are Stuart Hogg and Liam Williams.

As if all of that were not enough the my weekend also had space for a game refereed in the teeming rain which I greatly enjoyed and Super Bowl 50 which was a game dominated by harsh defense and cowed offense. My sort of sport.           

Friday, 5 February 2016

The State Of The Union

Fings of course ain't never what they used to be. So with my beloved Rugby Union. But I have decided there is life in the old beast yet - the game that is, not me, though I have no imminent plan to shuffle off the mortal thingy.

Two weeks ago I refereed a humble second team match at AOE. Now, quite undeniably, second team rugby is not what it was in the bloodthirsty eighties but despite all the poor omens this match was a delight. It had to proceed with uncontested scrums (which I detest but hey, ho, the dead hand of my own profession) but what transpired was a cracking contest. Result unimportant but well done to Aston and to Birmingham Exiles. As I jovially said to both teams afterwards, 'I don't really care about you bastards - I had a great time - what a fantastic game of rugby.' Filled my cynical old heart with joy. There is no skating over the fact that amateur rugby in England is still struggling to find a sustainable identity in the wake of, firstly, structured competition and, secondly, professionalism. This is no old git whinge about either of those developments, for both of which I proselytised. In particular I completely loved the league rugby that I got to play - it gave a formality to the extreme competitiveness that marked (occasionally marred) my inexpert efforts. In this I differed from my far more talented father. No one was ever going to offer the Boy Roberts money to play rugby but I did get a few flattering if unelevated offers to coach professionally. This never seriously appealed although I suppose I might have looked differently at it had I not had a bemusingly passable legal career. I preferred the lofty view that I didn't want the additional pressure that money would bring. Anyway, what I'm getting round to saying is that, thank the Good Lord, there are still daft people who get a kick out of the controlled violence of playing amateur rugby football. Good on them - there is hardly a day goes by that I don't miss the visceral thrill of it all.

But now the other extreme - the Six Nations. A competition wreathed in tradition, bonhomie and old enmities. But is it any good? Did the dominance by the southern hemisphere of RWC not prove that we in the north are categorically crap at the game? Well, yes and no. Let's take the southern supremacy thing first of all. New Zealand are everyone's exemplars these days - which I find satisfying since I was singing this tune forty years ago when the northern static maul was enjoying an uncharacteristic period of fashionabilty. However before we embark on a Stuart Barnesean orgy of jizzing our pants at all things antipodean, let's just note some important facts. For a start we need to remember that (with the previously suggested exception of Maggie Alphonsi) Dan Carter is the best player who has ever lived. In the 1950s many knowledgeable commentators averred that Hungary had devised a perfect method for coaching football (soccer for our American readers) - they hadn't. What they had actually discovered was Ferenc Puskas plus a coincidental flourishing of other players nearly as talented.  Whither the Magnificent Magyars? Next, please don't forget that when playing without Carter in a home RWC in 2011, New Zealand struggled to defeat a woeful French team. Just to keep us away from that old Celtic favourite, English arrogance, we will also recall that England had succumbed feebly to the same French. Now as it happens, the 2015 All Blacks not only had Carter but several others who will enter the pantheon - McCaw of course, Kieran Reade and Ma'a Nonu - this last the most towering example I can recall of a man who has just got better and better. Carter was born great; Nonu became so. In the near fifty years that I have been a student of the game, the 2015 All Blacks are the best team to have taken the field. Better even than the 1986 AOE Colts Invincibles and better even than Gary Street's World Cup winning women, though those girls were the best prepared team I have witnessed.    

So where does this leave us? Optimistic or doomed to a season of 'second division' international rugby? There is much that mystifies me: how does Warren Gatland continue to get away with the pre-match crap he spouts and will Eddie Jones (who has distinct previous on this) be allowed the same leeway by a press corps which is already gagging for him to fail? Just as everyone seems sold on the 'double open-side' ploy (not invented by Australia by the way - please note Hill/Back fifteen years ago) why have England picked Haskell to play at 7?  The answer one suspects is 'faut de mieux' - and this is the reason that Robshaw has suffered so much odium over the years. Mind you if he had elected to kick that goal against Wales then Stuart Lancaster might very well still be in a job. My hunch is that on balance Robshaw did us a favour - certainly with the advantage of distance the Burgess farago looks more and more embarrassing. Most vexingly, when will the French bloody well turn up at the party again? At their best they have big, nasty, deft forwards and exhilarating backs. However their game is (yet more than the English) held to ransom by rich clubs and their import of ageing galacticos.

What about the Celts? Scotland have some very good players - I particularly like the look of the imported Kiwi flanker. Their coach is a mute hard case - a model I favour. The younger Gray is a very tidy player . However, Scottish resources are scarce and they somehow manage their poverty less efficiently than the Welsh and Irish. Wales - a lot of very good players. They are right to pick Tipuric, an outstanding footballer, although I would be tempted to play him at open-side, keep Lydiate and drop Warburton. Could the Welsh pundits please stop banging on about the injuries at the World Cup. Man up. New Zealand won the World Cup in 2011 without Carter and with McCaw on one leg. They played a fly-half who transpired not to be good enough for Bath's second team. The Welsh penchant for morbid self-pity is what separates this team from greatness. In their defence coach, Shaun Edwards, they have the asset all right-thinking Englishmen have coveted for years. One strongly suspects he simply could not envisage himself working for the Twickenham set. One equally strongly suspects he has a point.

Ireland, oh Ireland. I have lauded your coach, but let's face it, the World Cup exit was tame. Giants have departed - O'Driscoll and O'Connell were generation-defining players. Heaslip has diminished and Sexton looks like he may have had one too many blows to the head. Nonetheless, a match for anyone in Dublin.

Italy. You've got to love them but there is no logical reason to think they can win a game. That may not stop them. Sergio Parisse will get the part of God when they remake The Ten Commandments.

Bring it on. No Grand Slam this year. Wales to win the title from France, England, Ireland though these three not necessarily in that order. Newsflash - Eddie Jones will do what no Englishman would have the licence to do and openly treat the championship as a development exercise. If this backfires he will be excoriated, will be forgiven because the RFU can't afford to sack him and will garner a Grand Slam in two years.    

You heard it here first.  

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

First Principles

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
Isn't that good? Don't you wish you'd coined it? I do. But, beautiful and properly intentioned as it may be, it is also provides the self-righteous foundation for the American gun lobby. The road to Hell is paved with good intentions indeed (of which a little more below).

All of which is my roundabout way of trying to find a work-around (is that what the tech guys call it when you neatly circumvent a problem because you can't be arsed to suffer the full rigour of fixing it?) for my own frustration at the current charade being played out on the European political stage. We once again find ourselves in that most invidious of positions, namely favourably citing the Guardian - Cameron farce .   

I will not rehearse again my personal conclusion that the EU is a con. A well-intentioned and liberal con but a con nonetheless. Good intentions alone don't rescue these things - The Russian Revolution was well-intentioned and we ended up with the Warsaw Pact. Simplistically (very, but work with me) we can characterise certain types of British politician to have played on the Euro stage as follows: good men for whom their experience of war made them blind to the connivances of continentals who actually rather despised the British (Edward Heath); good men whose experience of the same war left them untrusting of compromised euro-socialism (Benn); hugely clever but mildly bonkers men who feared an unstoppable social democracy (Powell, Redwood); true believers who rather fancied an unstoppable social democracy (Shirley Williams, David Owen, Roy Jenkins, Peter Mandelson, Heseltine, Ken Clarke); those who believed that they could control it ie. the 'better in than outers' (Thatcher during her premiership, Major, Blair, Cameron); quasi-bigots (Farage); sane and principled opponenets (Shore, IDS, Hannan).

All of this is confusing and, in its way, nicely fascinating to anyone with a curiosity about constitutional politics. And God knows I like a nice abstract debate but the trouble is that this has long since encroached into the territory of actually bloody mattering. And (there it is again the OG's stylistic quirk of starting a sentence with a conjunction - this was frowned upon when he did it at junior school but, hey, he's a rebel) what really irks is that the current main players on the stage think that most of us don't matter in this discussion and that our views need neither be countenanced nor cajoled. Because here's the news you smug bastards (and here I'm really talking to Blair and Cameron) - I am already persuaded that you are better equipped than I to lead, that representative democracy is the best way we have come up with. Further (and more immediately important) I am persuadable that, despite everything, the EU might be refashioned to the advantage of civilisation. However I will not be persuaded when you: 1- fashion a slim wish-list of 'demands' to put to the technocrats and recent converts to democracy who constitute the growing EU franchise; 2- inevitably fail in your meaningless attempts to get anything from that shopping list and then; 3- most odious of all, spin it as some sort of progress. I've thought this over (seriously, it cost me sleep last night - that's how sad/engaged I am) and sorry Prime Minister, your performance yesterday was a heap of contemptuous bollocks. There is occasionally a place for contempt. As it happens PM I rather think that you are on the right lines when your temper betrays you and you show contempt for the risible Jeremy Corbyn but, being selfish here and I suppose immodestly crediting myself with some sensibility you doubt I possess, I assert some standing in all of this. You can't put the genie back in the bottle - thanks to the vision and sacrifice of others I have a vote and a semblance of education. Stop patting me on the head and asking me to trust you. I no longer do.

Back to where we started. 'That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men.' Governments of where? What is a viable/practical nation state? The UK? Scotland? The whole of Europe?

Governments derive 'their just powers from the consent of the governed'. But is the consent of Europe as a whole, to be binding on the UK if the UK disagrees? Is Scotland to be bound by the rest of Britain? Is a wealthy London to be held in check by an under-performing 'Northern Powerhouse'? Spain/Catalonia? It goes on and on. Simple it ain't. But worthy of serious discussion? Yes. By all of us.
That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
 Amen to that. Kindly note, my masters.