19 August 2012

I have to confess – the Olympics turned out considerably better than many of us would have guessed. I admit to being one of those who anticipated some sort of systemic mishap, an expectation which was considerably enhanced when the organisers displayed the South Korean flag for the appearance of North Korea’s women’s football team the day before the official opening. That, taken with the fiasco of the security arrangements in the days before the games opened, would have supported the perception that the proverbial piss-up in a brewery would be beyond the organising skills of those responsible. However, those particular glitches (and a few other minor misunderstandings) apart, the whole event seems to have been a resounding success.

We thoroughly enjoyed the opening ceremony although why these have become such an integral part of recent Olympics escapes me – I remember the mind-numbingly dull procession of athletes in past Olympics but when did the three hour Hollywood extravaganza become the norm?

The closing ceremony we could have happily done without, however. Dull, I fear, does not do it justice.

Now that the games have finished, we move on to the next phase in the Olympic dream – securing the legacy and inspiring a generation. Unfortunately, the government seems to have forgotten that this was part of the deal (and a significant factor in the UK’s winning bid all those years ago). We’ve mentioned previously how the Education Secretary, our good if incompetent friend Michael Gove, axed the budget of the School Sports Partnership, which had quietly been achieving notable success in getting pupils across England to be more physically active during school hours.

It is quite something for a Conservative education secretary to rouse sporting heroes, parents, schoolchildren, headteachers and newspapers like the Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph [traditionally Tory supporting newspapers] into frustrated, uncomprehending opposition, but Gove managed it.

Michael GoveMore recently we learn that Gove has also relaxed the rules on the amount of outdoor space schools should provide for pupils to participate in sport. In what seems to be a Gove trademark, he sneaked the relaxation through as a Parliamentary Order (one which requires no debate) when Parliament was on its summer recess just before the Olympics opened.

Now we learn that Gove has also been caught being, what one former Conservative minister termed “economical with the truth” regarding figures he produced when asked how many school playing fields had been sold off during his tenure at the Education Department. Journalists were originally told only twenty-one school playing fields had been sold off when, in fact, the figure (currently) is thirty-one.

Gove has apologised for publishing misleading figures about the sell-off in a row that has tarnished the coalition’s commitment to grassroots sport.

We remain bitterly disappointed that his trousers did not spontaneously burst into flames.

There may be very good reasons why a school might wish to dispose of part of their playing fields – the sale can raise a considerable sum of money which generally, although not always, is ploughed back into the school. Most often this money is used to refurbish the school infrastructure and to provide improved facilities. (Particularly useful at present, you will remember, since Gove axed the Building Schools for the Future program on ideological grounds as soon as he took office). One of our local schools, Drayton School in Banbury, for example, did this many years ago – they sold part of their playing fields for housing development and received some of the money raised by the sale which was used to pay for a flood-lit all weather hockey pitch which is used by the school and the community. Most importantly, they still have great swathes of playing fields remaining where the students play sports and which the public can access out of hours.

So, while the sale of school playing fields may not be any bad thing in and of itself, any application to do so must be approved by the School Playing Fields Advisory Panel, a group of independent experts who judge each application against a set of strict criteria. Worrying to learn, therefore, that Gove has overruled the Panel’s judgement and allowed sales to proceed five times in the past eighteen months, more than in the previous nine years. Even more worryingly, perhaps, is his failure to give any reason or explanation for his decisions.

The Idiot Gove

As the Guardian succinctly put it,

A political own goal for a senior minister allowed to defy common sense is also a disaster for the countless boys and girls prompted by the example of Mo Farah, Victoria Pendleton or another of Britain’s rapidly-expanding class of 2012 Olympic medal winners to give sport a go.

School Playing Fields

Someone recently asked me where I find all the stuff I rant about each week. Honestly, with this government and in particular with an incompetent Chancellor and an arrogant Minister for Education, this stuff really writes itself – you could not make it up! Apologies to those of you for whom the focus on British issues is tediously dull. Just think, though, of how cathartic it is for me to be able to vent once a week.

And, I haven’t even started on our favourite banker Bob Diamond and the Parliamentary report suggesting that he was somewhat less than truthful in his answers to the enquiry investigating Barclays’ (and others) manipulation of interest rates. Of course, being a Parliamentary report it has to use civilised and respectable language. So, it called his evidence “selective” instead of merely characterising it as “lying”. And still, no bonfire of the boxer shorts!

Still, I did run across an article in the LA Times this week, the headline of which made it absolutely compulsory reading:

Exploding toilets prompt recall, lawsuit

We need more stories like that!

AnnabelleWe went over to Nick and Lucy’s for lunch yesterday which was delicious, as always. As the weather was fine we strolled down to their local recreation ground and treated Annabelle to some play time on the various bits and pieces they have there. Not surprisingly, the swings are her favourite and she had a great time. If you look very carefully you will be delighted to see that she now has a growing head of hair (you may need to click the photo for a larger version in order to see the evidence). Looks like she will beat her father who was bald until he was at least two.

Stop Press:

And just to prove that I do my share of the hard work as well, Nick sent the following.

Annabelle and Grandpa

Love to you all,


One thought on “19 August 2012”

  1. Dear Greg,
    I, for one, (in the U.S.) find your comments on the British politics fascinating. From my perspective, if The Romney/Ryan ticket wins and the Congress becomes predominately Republican, we here in the U.S. will be experiencing just such irrational cut backs in successful programs as you talk about. They talk about slashing Education funds, doing away with the Environmental Programs, and many others which I read are very helpful – all in the name of austarity and reducing big government and reducing our deficit. I agree we have to cut back, but how about subsidies to Big Oil companies, higher taxes on the millionaires etc., etc. Your cousin is already starting to rant and rave.
    The Olympics was fascinating to me. I watched it on the Canadian station, where they showed almost all of the events. The American station just shows those which the American’s win. My rant is against the primary sponsors – McDonalds and Coca Cola. Ironic that the two worst sources of food for athletes are those foods. They are tagged as two of the main contributors to obesity and diabetics in the world, not the athletic strong bodies we watched in awe at the Olympics. I missed some of the opening ceremonies, but caught the finale, and was not too impressed. Otherwise, your country did itself proud.
    I really, really enjoy your Blog! Cousin Bunny

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