Nobbut laiking: Ross Brewster

Date: Monday 24th July 2017

THE brutal murder of MP Jo Cox, stabbed and gunned down in the streets of her Batley and Spen constituency in Yorkshire, just over a year ago, came as a horrific shock.

If there was one good thing to come out of this terrible family tragedy, and disturbing example of extremist madness, it was that politics and tolerance were to become nicer. Jo Cox lived and died for her beliefs. “We are far more united and have far more in common than that which divides us,” was the mantra often repeated in the aftermath of her death.

But since the Brexit referendum and the election it’s just got nastier and the language of the tweets, the texts and the e-mails has turned ever more vile and threatening.

So much so that one study says it’s time to consider taking firmer action against the thugs and bullies and the on-line extremists who actually believe that the tone of their language is somehow justified simply because it is on-line and anonymous.

A number of candidates at the election have since come forward with allegations of threats. One female MP recalls having her car tyres slashed and being the target of graffiti. The smears are deeply offensive, personal and frightening. They are mostly cowardly, posted by inadequates in the safety of their own bedrooms, but not all are to be dismissed as rants by people who have no intention of carrying out their threats.

It’s suggested that, if the trend continues, good quality people will demur from going into politics because it’s simply not worth risking the abuse and the fear that, amid the on-line bullies, there’s that one psychopath ready and willing to carry out their most abominable threats.

BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg had security guards during the election, such was the personal vitriol heaped on her, while a member of the aristocracy no less, offered £5,000 to anyone who would kill anti-Brexit campaigner Gina Miller.

Most of our politicians are decent, hard workers on behalf of their constituents. Do we want a society in which they are intimidated and driven apart from the people they represent by security fears?

“Robust banter followed by a hand shake and pint in the pub,” was how Tory MP Simon Hart described election campaigning in the old days. Not any more it isn’t. Was Jo Cox’s sacrifice in vain? It’s beginning to look that way. And that doubles the tragedy.

WHO’S FOR TENNIS?

AFTER discussing it with my mate Ken we agreed. Tennis. A way to meet girls. Lithe, attractive girls like Joan Hunter Dunn, “furnished and burnished” as in John Betjeman’s poem.

We practiced most evenings on the local courts. And then a notice went up at school. A tennis tournament. Mixed doubles. I put my name on the list. Lo and behold I’m drawn as partner with one of the best-looking older girls.

Sadly my tennis and potential love lives literally came crashing down in the first round. Nerves overwhelmed me. I could hardly remember which end of the racket was used to strike the ball. And in one last desperate bid to please I dived head first to reach a drop shot and plunged into the net which collapsed in the middle. She stalked off in disgust as I lay bleeding, from my knee and my heart.

I did eventually join a tennis club. I was never destined to reach great heights in the game, but I was invited to knock up with a chap who they said was “county standard” so I can’t have been a total duffer.

It’s just that Wimbledon always brings back unhappy memories of that school tournament. It’s like a nightmare that recurs for two weeks every summer. I don’t watch it much on TV these days. The best bits are usually in the first week when the matches are so predictable that the media look to the periphery for stories.

Like the kid who had that towel whipped away by a grumpy old bloke in the row in front. Actually only privileged kids get to watch Wimbledon from the best seats on the show courts. I bet his mother could have bought him an entire wardrobe packed with green and purple towels, but as 6ft 10in hunks smashed serves past ineffective opponents, it was the best the telly and papers could latch on to.

Wimbledon is the naffest sporting occasion of them all. The inane comments of the “experts” and the endless searching of the Royal Box by the cameras for B-list celebs. on a freebie. It also marks the annual appearance of the world’s most annoying man. The clown who has to be last to yell out a “go on Andy” or “go on Jo” exhortation just as the player is about to toss the ball high in the air and serve.

It’s all over now. I find that most British tennis fans don’t actually follow tennis for the other 11 and a half months of the year. They’re not really fans at all. It’s just tradition and an excuse to purchase expensive strawberries and laze at home drinking gin and tonic in the afternoon.

Nobody put tennis back in its box like the late lamented AA Gill, who once wrote that it was all “fake tan and Pimm’s”. As for Wimbledon, Gill said it was “the grand mosque of provincial probity, with its blazered officials, its uniformed children drilled into obsequiousness, its Rotarian linesmen and Women’s Institute genuflection to minor royalty — the whole blessed, ghastly little-Elgar-England pomp and peonies nastiness”.

I can only surmise that, somewhere in his youth, Gill also entered a schools tennis bash hoping to meet and impress girls. And went crashing, embarrassingly, into the net. Anyone for tennis?

A BETTER USE FOR HS2 CASH

JUST think. You could repair all the flood-damaged bridges between Keswick and Threlkeld and bring back a railway that would chug along perfectly with our recently conferred world heritage status, a sustainable transport link to the very heart of the treasured Lake District.

Indeed dozens more transport infrastructure schemes, all much-needed, could be approved were the Government to see sense and scrap the vanity high speed rail project that’s designed to whip businessmen back to London as fast as possible once they’ve done their duty in the smoke-blackened North with its woad-wearing natives.

Tory Lord Framlingham, who was formerly Commons Deputy Speaker, is most unpopular with the Establishment with his repeated pleas for HS2 to be reconsidered. There’s already talk of HS2 costing at least £100 billion. Rebuilding bridges in Cumbria would cost a shed load of money, but a mere fraction of the waste that’s likely to be dispensed on HS2.

HS2, ministers assert, is a vital investment for the Northern Powerhouse. The lobbyists, the 17 PR firms, the lawyers and the consultants are loving it, of course. A toy Hornby set would be more use to us in this neck of the woods.

Has anyone got the guts to say that HS2 is a financial and environmental disaster waiting to happen and should be dropped? To do so might prove an inestimably popular move.

SUCCESS? NOT HERE

“SUCCESS Regime”. One of the biggest misnomers of all time. The scheme which, in its two-year existence, managed to upset most communities in north and west Cumbria, seems to have slunk away quietly like a burglar in the night.

The figure quoted as the cost of Cumbria’s Success Regime is £6.2 million. Consider how beneficial that money would have been when invested in staffing, training and facilities. Still, I imagine it’s been a “success” for the lawyers, consultants and communications whizz kids.

Success Regime claims to have left us in better shape than they found us. Their definition of success is wildly different from the communities’. Right from the start people were sceptical. It appeared to be a cost-cutting exercise dressed up in a positive-sounding title. Nothing we have learnt since has deflected from that view.

Money is tight in the NHS. Everyone knows that. Many believe that management as much as money is the problem. Sir Neil McKay’s team did have financial deficits, workforce issues, the needs of an ageing population and the geography of a largely rural county with poor road links to juggle.

But, if that £6.2 million is correct, then it’s been a profligate exercise at the expense of taxpayers that has left most communities in the dark about the security of future provision.