Thursday, 14 May 2009

Nice work ...

An erstwhile journalist of my acquaintance, now ensconced in that great gravy train on Thames, once gave me advice about how to prosper in both journalism and politics. ‘Always have your next job lined up and your expense claims up to date,’ he said. I’m sure he’s always conducted himself with the utmost propriety when it comes to MPs’ expenses but I don’t see his name at the bottom end of the league table of low claimers.

I do, however, see the name of one Rt Hon Tony Blair down there as the second-lowest claiming MP in the 2007-08 financial year. He’s sandwiched between the veteran left-winger Dennis Skinner, now in his 40th year as MP for Bolsover, and Philip Hollobone, the Tory representative for Kettering and the cheapest of Westminster’s 646 MPs at Westminster, who claimed barely a third of the £135,600 a year average.

Tony claimed £64,064 expenses for 2007-08, including £5,772 to cover the cost of staying away from his main home (that would be Downing Street, if you remember, so a lot of people would no doubt have been happy to pay for him to stay away a lot longer). Which sounds extremely modest by most MPs standards – until you realise that he quit parliament in June 2007, less than three months into that financial year.

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Taking aim at Nelson

I have put in a bid for a place on the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square. At the time of writing, there are 11,037 applicants for the 2,400 one-hour slots in Antony Gormley’s living monument to the people of Britain, which runs for 100 days beginning in July – so the odds are rather better than for winning the National Lottery (one in 13,983,816 to win the jackpot, one in 56.7 to win a tenner, since you ask).

Coincidentally, I was interviewing Bob and Roberta Smith the other day for Channel 4’s Big Art Project. Bob was one of the shortlisted artists who lost out to Antony Gormley in the contest for the next artwork to stand on the empty Fourth Plinth. So I was thinking of offering him my hour, if I get it, to display his rejected artwork, FaĆ®tes L’Art, pas La Guerre (Make Art, Not War), an illuminated peace sign, powered by wind and solar energy.

Failing that, and the too obvious option of holding down a pigeon for an hour and crapping on its head, I’m planning on donning a liberty cap and dressing up as the French sharpshooter who took out Nelson in 1805. I’ll need a musket and four musket balls for full dramatic effect. (‘If I don't kill him with these three, I'll blow out my brains with the fourth,’ the French sniper is reputed to have said as he set about his task.) But when I’m done it will be some sort of revenge for my country having been on the wrong side in the wars against revolutionary France – and a reminder that the man whose monument celebrates him as a hero of the Battle of Trafalgar should also be remembered as the Butcher of Naples for his vicious subjugation of the Jacobins there in 1799.

Friday, 8 May 2009

Gays and Muslims

As a headline-grabbing finding, you couldn’t get a much more dramatic – or, from a left-liberal perspective, troubling – statistic than the Gallup poll revelation in May that not one of the 500 British Muslims surveyed thought that homosexual acts were morally acceptable. Such unanimity is virtually unheard of in opinion polling, where even the whackiest of viewpoints usually finds some sort of minority representation.

It was noteworthy, therefore, that the Muslim Public Affairs Committee (MPACUK) weekly newsletter was recently promoting a piece by gay Muslim film-maker and activist Parvez Sharma on the UN ‘Durban II’ racism conference, where western delegates walked out en masse in protest against Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s anti-Israeli, Holocaust-doubting views. Sharma clearly got the nod from MPACUK because he chose to direct his criticism against the walkers-out more than against Ahmadinejad, of whom he said only that he ‘made provocative comments which were in poor taste’. But the fact that a campaigning self-proclaimed gay Muslim could feature in such a forum without an outpouring of wrath against him holds out a little hope that perhaps that Gallup poll finding is not as unequivocal as it appears.