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Britain’s Silly Season – 12 Months a Year

July 18, 2014


We are entering what is known in Britain as the silly season. A period when Members of Parliament set off for their Tuscan villas, and journalists who still have jobs struggle to find anything interesting to write about. So they go for any human interest stories they can dredge up from the local newspapers or through browsing the internet. At this time of the year the national newspapers tend to resemble Facebook, but minus the inane comments.

Not this summer. We have MH17 being shot out of the skies of Ukraine, murderous rocket attacks from Gaza and the usual crushing response from the Israel Defence Force. Domestically we have an investigation into paedophile rings in the upper echelons of society, celebrities being targeted by the Inland Revenue over their involvement in torturous tax avoidance schemes, Islamist subversion of school governing boards. Oh, and equally significant, former Education Minister Michael Gove finding himself locked in a House of Commons toilet.

Running through the London Times today, I keep stopping and reflecting on the blindingly obvious. There’s no point in including links to the articles, because the newspaper charges for online access. Here are some examples of stories – most of them far from silly – that miss the point, or at least overshoot it:

Malaysian Airlines Flight 17: Cui bono (who benefits)? Not Putin, not the Ukraine government. Most likely a clumsy mistake in the part of the headbangers who have got hold of equipment – one way or another –  from Russia and haven’t been trained to use it properly against their intended targets.

Simon Cowell alleged in a court case to be gay: who cares, apart from Simon Cowell and some extremely well-paid lawyers?

The European Court of Justice rules that it is illegal to discriminate against the obese: so you employ an obese truck driver who suffers a heart attack at the wheel and wipes out a dozen people in a motor crash. If you failed to hire him, you were discriminating against him. If he crashes, you are vicariously liable for the consequences. Damned if you do, and damned if you don’t. The issue is not whether or not the obese are disabled. Many of them are. The problem lies in the definition of disability and the limits of actionable discrimination.

Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, is granted a photo-opportunity with Barak Obama: who cares? Not Obama and not the millions of undecided British voters who can see empty posturing from a mile off. If you were cynical you could say that politically speaking this will be a meeting between a dud man walking and a dead man walking. You might think that – I couldn’t possibly comment.

Former British Minister and Plebgate protagonist Andrew Mitchell investigated in film scheme “designed to avoid tax”: most people do not want to destroy their careers and reputations by being involved in dodgy tax avoidance schemes. The UK tax regulations are ludicrously complicated. Successive governments have tinkered with them. Smart accountants and tax lawyers have fed on loopholes for decades. Simplify the regulations, for goodness sake.

Columnist Melanie Reid claims that “It’s a woman’s right to choose – to live or die”: sorry Melanie, but dying is not a feminist issue. The Grim Reaper does not discriminate. If men are being heard more loudly than women on this issue, then why does the Times carry a picture of Jane and Lauren Nicklinson, wife and daughter of the late Tony Nicklinson, a sufferer of locked-in syndrome, who campaigned for him to allowed to die with dignity?

Indonesian scientist spends two years in prison for claiming he’s an atheist: what does he have to do to be released? Say he believes in God? People should think very carefully before visiting a country that locks people up for thought crimes. Unfortunately, that increasingly goes for most Muslim countries whose governments are increasingly caving in to the tide of bigoted fundamentalism.

Microsoft lets go of 16,000 employees, most of them Nokians: well of course they did. They have a new CEO, right? How does this reflect on Steve Ballmer, who acquired Nokia only last year? It doesn’t. It’s a badge of honour among new CEOs to make changes whether they’re needed or not, especially if they’re incentivised on share price. I feel sorry for the Finns – decent people who have been let down by dumb management for years. I know this – I dealt with some of their “managers” in an earlier life.

Best contributions of the day: Sathnam Sanghera, for pointing out that email should never be used for corporate propaganda. Simon Barnes, who argues that “games are simply not worth fighting for.” Bill Shankly was wrong. Football isn’t more important than life or death. Or to quote Barnes’s First Law of Sport: sport matters because sport doesn’t matter. A magnificent article. Barnes is simply the best in the business, and Sanghera one of the wittiest.

All goes to show that there’s no such thing as a silly season. Humanity’s capacity for silliness, (or should I say stupidity?) will extend until the end of time.

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