A Happy New Year to all readers of this blog.
A quiet Christmas gave me some time to read - I have just finished Ken Livingstone's "You Can't Say That", and managed to get through an impressive pile of newspapers over the last week. Two articles struck me in the press - one because it was so poor, the other because of its weight and implications.
In the rubbish bag must go Liz Hull's Daily Mail article of 27 December, which considers a curious spin-off from the case of missing Lancashire teenager Charlene Downes. "Stalker terror of mum whose girl was 'killed by paedophiles'" tells us that Karen Downes, the mother of Charlene, has been plagued by a stalker.
Mark Bailey, a New Zealander who travelled to Blackpool after reading Mrs Downes' website, has been fined and received a restraining order after pestering Mrs Downes to leave her husband. The article then gives a general overview of the Charlene Downes case, and that those tried with her murder received a six figure sum in compensation when the jury failed to reach a verdict.
For some reason the Mail's online article has a different heading to the print version, the rather more lurid "New Zealand man stalks mother of girl who was 'murdered and turned into kebab meat' after becoming obsessed with the case" is deployed. Perhaps that was considered a little too strong for the Daily Mail's print readership!
More seriously, Liz Hull manages to tell a very partial rendition of the Downes case. There is nothing on perceived police botching or indifference, Mr and Mrs Downes' subsequent involvement with the British National Party is ignored, as is the recent Times analysis (clearly based on a Lancashire Constabulary intelligence file) of the behaviour of Robert Downes, and the suggestion he frequently introduced men he met in local pubs to his daughter, leading to sexual activity. Such an important case deserves better.
The second article which I pored over was The Times interview with Michael Palin of 28 December by Rachel Sylvester and Alice thomson (safely hidden, I fear, behind their paywall). Palin's suspicion of modern technological developments is welcome:
"I feel a little bit alarmed by the whole depersonalisation of the internet. People are friends with people they've never seen, people are walking down the street and never look up because they're on the phone. What's happening to real life in all this?"
Secondly, and the section of the interview which gained most attention, Palin points to some of the effects of increased religiosity. Comparing today to 1969, when Monty Python began:
"Religion is more difficult to talk about. I don't think we could do Life of Brian any more", he says. A parody of Islam would be even harder. "We all saw what happened to Salman Rushdie and none of us want to get into all that. It's a pity but that's the way it is. There are people out there without a a sense of humour and they're heavily armed"
And that was when I realised what was missing from Ken Livingstone's memoir. Whilst Livingstone speaks with passion about the changes London in particular has seen via immigration and multi-culturalism during his life and his political career, he makes no attempt to recognise that there may be downsides to the same process.
Whilst the politicians of the three main parties are comfortable talking about the benefits of diversity, it is neccesary sometimes to articulate what these downsides are - in this instance, cultural. In a supposed liberal democracy, one of the country's best known media personalities and comedians believes it is now harder to discuss religion, and impossible to produce certain types of comedy. This is not due to reasoned debate or critique, but fear of physical violence and, indeed murder.
And that does require serious thought and debate in 2014 - it diminishes us all.