Of the many admirable demands made by supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement, such as dismantling capitalism and making white people pay for centuries of vile oppression, none commended themselves to me more than the demand that we should defund the police. This is a hugely attractive proposition, I thought, as I watched the chief constable of Kent, Alan Pughsley, ‘take the knee’ in solidarity with people who want him abolished.
I was a borough commander in west London and come from a long line of officers — and I can tell you that it’s fast becoming impossible to police the streets. The police are attacked on all sides. They’re told both that they’re too aggressive and too politically correct; too understanding and too intolerant. They’re required to reduce the level of violent crime on the street and yet told they’re racist if they stop and search young black men and ‘put hands in pockets’ to check for knives.
For years now, the British government has prided itself on how much money it gives away in foreign aid. But of course it’s not just the amount that matters — it’s how effective it is. Now that the Prime Minister is to wrap the Department for International Development back into the Foreign Office, it’s a chance for us to ask again: who are we as a country? What are our values? And how can we ensure that taxpayers’ money is well spent?
It can be difficult to ensure that a recipient of aid is legitimate and worthy.
Sun Tzu, the great Chinese military commander, said that all battles are won or lost before they are ever fought. By first week of February, the UK and many other European countries had lost the battle against coronavirus. Another of my favourite life sayings is that ‘Assumption is the mother of all screw-ups’. Assumptions by UK government, Sage, NHS, Public Health England and the Department of Health and Social Care were certainly the mother and father of this one.
In mid 2015, Macer Gifford, the City trader who went to Syria to fight Isis, got an unexpected phone call. He was in London for a break and busy doing media interviews as the unofficial spokesman for the Kurdish YPG militia. The caller, though, wasn’t just another hack after a quote. Instead, it was a lawyer whose client was on the ‘other side’. Tasnime Akunjee said he was working for the family of Shamima Begum, the teenager from Bethnal Green who had run away to join Isis.
I have been making the best of lockdown by reading properly, from start to finish, Edward Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, in a seven-volume edition that is less daunting than it sounds, when you consider how addictive his rolling prose is. I have just reached the point, near the end of the great work, where Gibbon describes the sack of Constantinople by the armies of the Fourth Crusade in 1204. The blind Doge of Venice had persuaded the crusaders to interrupt what was supposed to be an attack on Muslim Alexandria by diverting to the Byzantine capital, where Venetian merchants had a large number of grievances to settle.
It might seem puzzling that we have seen such a furore about racism and racial discrimination at this particular time in our history when all possible measures of racism indicate that there is less of it in Britain than at any time in the past 70 years.
A decade ago, 41 per cent of us ‘-strongly agreed’ that we would be content for our children to marry someone of a different race. That has now risen to 70 per cent. In 2006, 55 per cent ‘strongly disagreed’ that you had to be white to be ‘truly British’.
When Boris Johnson announced the easing of lockdown this week, there was nothing for schools. Pubs, yes. Theme parks, even. But the education of children? There is no great rush for that, it seems. First things first. I have a 14-year-old daughter at a state grammar and like so many parents, I am in despair.
The two-metre rule, which had presented such problems for schools, is finally being relaxed. But far from cheering the move as a crucial step towards getting children into the classroom, the teaching unions are still cavilling — advising headteachers to ensure they have contingency plans for bringing only half of pupils back, on a rotating basis.
Football is back — but the fans aren’t. Covid means that clubs have to play their games behind closed doors. Which is a pity, as at dull games (far more common than pundits admit), the fans are the best thing. Their chants are works of genius. When Rio Ferdinand was banned for eight months, opposition supporters adapted Duran Duran: ‘His name is Rio, and he watches from the stand…’ After Andy Goram was diagnosed with mild schizophrenia, Kilmarnock fans sang: ‘Two Andy Gorams, there’s only two Andy Gorams…’ And when successful teams inspired renditions of ‘It’s just like watching Brazil’, fans of lesser clubs serenaded match-day police with ‘It’s just like watching The Bill’.