Last Night

Saturday was my mum’s birthday. It was also the date of one of the greatest uniting examples of Britishness: the Last Night of the Proms.

For the uninitiated, the Proms are a summer-long series of public concerts, run by the BBC at the Royal Albert Hall. They have run each year since 1895, and are designed to bring classical music to the masses. The Last Night of the Proms is a British cultural institution. But more than that, it is quite wonderful.

b00dl94q_512_288The Last Night has traditionally had a rather fixed programme. Or rather, the first half changes every year, but the second half is an almost-set programme of British patriotic music. In the last couple of years the programmers have played with the format somewhat, but despite the (truly deplorable) absence of Henry Wood’s Fantasia on British Sea Songs, we still have a wonderful set that includes: Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance March No 1 (ending with the singing of Land of Hope and Glory); Thomas Arne’s Rule, Britannia; and Parry’s Jerusalem.

Lets be clear: this is a programme of ‘classical’ music of the Victorian period, and comprises the singing of some of the most jingoistic verses in support of the greatness of the British Empire. Yet what makes the Last Night so wonderful is that the hall is full of people from all over the world, waving their national flags. Despite the words sung, the effect is the most open and inclusive display of harmony you could imagine. It is, in reality, the whole world joining together and irreverently celebrating what used to make this country great.

You can’t help but watch this (and millions of people around the world do) and be happy. It really is an uplifting experience. And it is a wonderful reflection of our national character. We were great; we did rule the waves (and the world). We don’t any more – we don’t even aspire to – but the British remember that once, longer ago than anyone alive can remember, we ruled the world. The wonderful thing is that we, and millions of others in other nations, can celebrate this fact together, and somehow share in that faded glory.

It’s giving me a warm glow just thinking about it [or is that the G&T?].

There is a sort of pessimism amongst the British about Britain and its current achievements. Some of that is undoubtedly deserved – our political class have not quite woken up to the reality that we are a once great power, rather than a great one – but I think on occasion we do ourselves down. The Olympics is a great example. There is a pessimism about our ability to deliver: can we build it on time; what will be the legacy; what on earth will we celebrate at an opening or closing ceremony?

Well, on the last point, I think we don’t have to worry too much. Yes, we built the huge white elephant that was the Millennium Dome. But we also run the Proms. And, as far as an inclusive celebration of Britishness goes, I think we could do far worse than repeat the format of the Last Night. Just imagine, the closing ceremony 2012. All the medal winners standing together, waving their national flags. Singing Land of Hope and Glory.

That’d work, wouldn’t it?

Coupla tings

Brain gradually readjusting to the idea that of a return to work, so nothing profound for my first post of 2008, sorry. Instead, a couple of things that made me smile today

The BBC’s Rory Cellan-Jones has ‘predicted’ what next Decembers technology roundups will read like… amusement for all those geeks and tend-watchers out there! (bemusement for everyone else).

TallSkinnyKiwi posted his favourite Christmas card of 2007 for the general wonderment of us all… It was funny, profound and controversial enough to want reprint here:


[Originally sent (and presumably designed) by Becky Garrison – credit where credits due! (ie, complain to her or TSK if you don’t like it!)]

Misrepresentation of the People

 [UPDATE: sign the Downing Street petition to support the bill!]

While waiting for my weekly dose of “Heroes”, I was watching a programme last night called “The Ministry of Truth”. It was a wonderfully provocative documentary about a campaign to institute a new act of parliament to stop our politicians lying to us…

You can read about the Misrepresentation of the People Act” here.

Essentially the premise is this: we the people have the power.
We give that to our elected representative to govern on our behalf.
They are to do this honestly.
Where they don’t govern honestly, we the people have the right to expect consequences.
The act makes it a criminal offence for people in elected office to knowingly deceive the public. The penalty is to be removed from office and prohibited from ever standing for elected office again.

It’s a great idea, and I’m totally in favour. The Government can’t be judge and jury when they are in the dock (all current forms of accountability, such as the Committee for Standards in Public Life report to the Prime Minister, so are essentially self-regulation). Or as today’s Telegraph puts it:

With laws in place prohibiting everyone from estate agents to company directors from lying to clients and shareholders, why is there no statute requiring honesty from our elected representatives?

I’d love to support this, but I really have no idea how! The “Ministry of Truth” website doesn’t exactly give you much idea of how to go forward. I want to rally my MP! I want to get you to rally yours! But to what?

Please let this be more than just a documentary…

Life: A Political Commodity

This story has saddened me, and is beginning to wind me up.

Learco Chindamo is a young man who, over 12 years ago (at the age of only 15!) made a stupid, stupid mistake to be part of a gang. That gang membership led to a fight outside a school where a brave teacher tried to intervene. Chindamo stabbed him, and he died.

The death of Philip Lawrence was incredibly shocking at the time. It was one of those cases that ‘fits’ the media/political temperament of the moment, and ends up with wall-to-wall coverage. I’m still not sure why these things happen, but its something to do with the ‘human interest’ element, and probably also whatever agenda Murdoch is currently pursuing…

I want to make it clear that I think the death of Philip Lawrence was and is a tragedy. Human life is incredibly precious, and to have it snatched away in such a violent manner is a terrible thing. Learco Chindamo was guilty of a crime, and he deserved to pay for that crime. He was caught, charged, tried and found guilty, sentenced and jailed. He has served 12 years in prison. He has done his time.

Only, for some people, this isn’t enough. There is currently some consternation in the UK media, as the Government has just been told that they can’t deport Chindamo as they had hoped. Born in Italy, but raised in the UK since he was 6, this country is the only one he has known. It is the culture he is immersed in. It is where all of his family and friends reside. Yet we want to send him away, to throw him out of the country of his upbringing, even if its not of his birth.

A Home Office Minister, Tony McNulty has said Chindamo

“had forfeited his rights because of the seriousness of the crime he committed.”

Excuse me?!?

This appals me. It appals me as much, if not more, than the original crime. When did we decide that a crime was so severe that it obliterated the Human rights of the individual?? When did we decide that murderers no longer deserve to be treated as human?

Murder is a heinous crime. It can never be sanctioned or justified, whether by individuals, or tribes, or governments. It is, and always will be, in all circumstances, wrong; both morally and legally. Thankfully the British justice system has always recognised that. The murder of Philip Lawrence was wrong.

There was a price that was to be paid for such a crime, and under the laws of this country Learco Chindamo has paid that price. He has served his time. If he is judged to be rehabilitated, if he is judged repentant, if he is judged to be of no more danger to the community (and we have very well trained people who make these decisions for us), then he should be released back into the community. That is how justice works.

But that isn’t enough here, because Learco Chindamo is not just a criminal. He is not just a murderer. He is a High Profile murderer, of a High Profile victim. Because of this, because Sun readers don’t understand what the word justice means, suddenly all concept of due process, of proportionality of punishment goes out the window. And our Government is so afraid of the Sun and the Daily Mail that they have to posture in such a ridiculous manner.

Learco Chindamo is not a serial killer (or even a cold-blooded killer). He is not a terrorist. He has not been judged a danger to the community. He is a kid who made a stupid mistake, which he probably deeply regrets.

In this country we enshrine in law a concept of retributive justice, not one of vengeance. I cannot believe that it is necessary to destroy the entire life of a young man who made a tragic mistake at the age of only 15. We have already taken away nearly half his young life. Why do we need to take away his family and his home as well?


Much has been said in this case, and others like this, about the rights of the victim. I feel the need to emphasise that I do believe that the victim also has rights, also needs to be treated as human; treated with dignity and respect. Frances Lawrence has experienced a terrible loss, one I can barely imagine. I am deeply sorry for her loss, and the continued pain she must feel as this case is dragged back into the media spotlight again.

Yes, victims have rights. Yes, victims feel a terrible sense of loss, and a deep desire for retribution. But ‘vengeance is mine, says the Lord’.

I don’t say that as a pat answer, it really isn’t. Real justice will never be seen in this age. We have to wait for the True, Just judgement of the one true Judge. Until that time, we trust in the law of the land.

Believe it or not, the laws we have in this country are built on the principle that God will judge, but that until that time someone has to stand in between the family of the victim and the accused. Someone has to deflect the desire for vengeance and retribution and instead dispense some form of imperfect justice, some foreshadow of the justice to come. That is what our courts have done.

Frances Lawrence understandably feels much pain and loss and grief. I feel deeply for her. But because of her deep loss, she is the last person to be able to judge impartially on the fate of the young man who so cruelly snatched away the life of her husband. And those tabloid readers who empathise with her so understandably are similarly misplaced.

We are talking about the life of a young man. One who was but a boy when this crime was committed. Lets stop playing politics with peoples lives.