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Wednesday, 22 June 2011

A "team GB" would be good for Scotland

I've read with interest today's Herald, which focuses on "SFA fury at British Olympic team claim".

As someone who takes a great deal of pride in both my country and our football, I have a strong views on this issue, which seems to have caused no end of unnecessary controversy.

I think we firstly have to deal with the arrogance of the English FA which, it seems, yesterday made an announcement to the effect that a "historic deal" had been struck between the FAs of the various home nations to pave the way for a team GB to take part in the Olympics next year. There is nothing more certain to impede any potential "historic deals" than the English FA pre-empting their Celtic counterparts and issuing dishonest statements. It is quite clear that no decision has been reached, historic or otherwise. The Scottish, Northern Irish and Welsh FAs are united in being appalled at the English FA's attitude, and rightly so.

Unfortunately, what has now happened is that the FA's behaviour has again brought into question whether a team representing Great Britain (rather than an English team in GB colours) will participate in the Olympics. And, predictably but equally unhelpfully, politicians have already used the situation to make points about Scottish nationalism and independence.

As a sports fan, I am concerned that SFA president George Peat can say "we want nothing to do with [the Olympics]". Does he actually speak for all member clubs, or their players and supporters? I also disagree with the SNP, who argue that "it severely puts at risk the continued independence of all the home nations" - and their MP Pete Wishart who insists that a team GB "would be a gift for those who wish to end Scotland’s independence as a footballing nation.” It would be nothing of the sort.

I enjoy rugby union. I support the Scottish team every year in the 6 Nations Championship, and I naturally value the independence of Scottish Rugby Union from the governing bodies of other British nations. However, that independence has never compromised the success of the British Lions or obstructed Scottish players from playing for the British team. Neither, it should be stated, has the existence of the British Lions (a far more permanent arrangement than any "team GB" for the 2012 Olympics) put at risk the independence of Scottish rugby. Perhaps the SNP should take a more evidence based approach rather than play politics with our sport?

The SNP website also claims that "The Scottish Football Association is the second oldest in the world after the English FA and their independence as separate footballing nations has always been well established – that was enshrined when the home nations re-joined FIFA in 1946. The of establishment of a joint team between the home nations would put this historic agreement in severe jeopardy." I agree with their hailing the historic arrangements, but again wish to refer the SNP to historical evidence: a team GB participated in all Olympic games from 1904 until 1972. During these years, the FA organised "team GB" in acquiescence with the FAs of Scotland, Wales and Ireland/Northern Ireland. As the Olympics insisted on participants being amateurs during these years, Scotland's famous amateur club Queens Park provided a number of players to the British team.

So, no - a British team participating in the Olympic games would not put at risk historic agreements or the independence of our national FAs. While I deeply regret the stupidity of the English FA in making irresponsible statements and alienating its counterparts, it is right that it should have taken a lead to ensure a British team is represented in the British Olympics. And I also think it's right that while the other FAs take the English FA to task over the way it has conducted itself, they should do whatever is necessary to ensure that talks continue and remain constructive.

I might prefer that there should be a "team Scotland" in the Olympics. It would be fun to take on England! But, let's think soberly. In all other sporting disciplines Scots will be participating in the same team as athletes from other UK nations: athletics, hockey, tennis, badminton, volleyball, etc - without anyone questioning whether the independence of, for example, the Scottish Volleyball Association or the Scottish Hockey Union will be undermined.

So, while the SNP continue to peddle myths such as "a conjoined team of all the home nations competing in London next year [will set] a dangerous precedent...there would be nothing stopping a future committee turning round and declaring an end to the four respective associations" we should instead look at the historical evidence. There is no move designed to create a GB FA - just to forge a team to play in what are, after all, the British Olympics. SNP scaremongering seems to have no bounds - they also allege that a team GB would mean "the dismantling of the domestic league structures across the whole of the UK" - but it should not be given credibility by our media. The English FA have behaved disgracefully, but that is no reason to politicise the issue and create misplaced and uninformed alarmism about the future of Scottish football.

So, while I appreciate why the SFA feels to angry, I hope they will see the benefits of supporting "team GB". The Olympics are coming to Britain - more importantly, Olympic football will be coming to Glasgow. I want Scottish people to enjoy the games - and what better way than to have Scottish players playing for the GB team in front of a full house at Hampden?

Let's get away from the negativity of the SNP, which at best is nothing more than evidence-lacking speculation. Instead, let's look at the positives, and what a real "team GB" would do for Scottish football. Firstly, a British team which is essentially just a team of Englishmen would not be something I would want to support as passionately as a team that contains Scots, Welsh and Irish. A purely English "team GB" would perpetuate the myth that Scottish football is inferior to its English counterpart, as well as give credence to the notion that "English" and "British" identity is the same - while a genuinely "British" team would have a wider appeal. Secondly, surely it makes sense for a British team playing in Scotland to include a number of Scots? And thirdly, Scots playing for GB would help put Scotland on the map and would be able to showcase themselves on the world stage.

Despite what the English media think, there is far more to British football than the Premiership and the national embarrassment they call the English team. "Team GB" would represent the opportunity not only for Scots to get behind many of our own players representing Britain in the British Olympic games but also a great chance to show that Scots can play and compete successfully on the world stage. In my view, it would help bring back some respect for Scottish football which has been overlooked in recent years.

And let's not forget, these are British games, not merely English games. That is an important distinction. Scotland should and will benefit from hosting the football competition; "Team GB" should similarly reflect the British nature of the games.

It is not often I agree with Conservative MSP Murdo Fraser, but he is right to argue that "any decision on participating in a British football team at the 2012 Olympics should be down to the individuals themselves.” In fact, legally speaking even the respective FAs can not act as a barrier to prevent any willing Scot, Welshman or Irishman putting themselves forward as a prospective participant. What I would be concerned about is the risk that politicisation of the issue could create pariahs out of any Scot who may wish to play for "team GB".

There have been times when, understandably, politics and sport have become intertwined. On this occasion, the SNP's willingness to embroil themselves in a matter that is not for the Scottish government to decide on owes more to the Inverclyde by-election and their obsession with independence than it does to real concern about the future of the SFA as an autonomous body. The historical evidence shows that, time and again, that British teams have never compromised the independence of Scottish sporting bodies; neither are they likely to in the future.

I disciovered today that I have been successful in having bid for some Olympic tickets. Admittedly, I was only allocated tickets for fencing, table tennis and beach volleyball but already I'm looking forward to being part of the Olympics. I would be looking forward to them with much more positivity if a particular political party would abstain from unwelcome interference for its own short-term political ends.

Monday, 20 June 2011

Illiberal doubethink from Church of England

I'm not an expert on the Church of England's internal politics.

But I am passionate about LGBT rights. And, too often, the CofE has paid scant regards for the rights of LGBT people - not to mention its confused stance on women.

I was intrigued to read the headline on the BBC website "Church clears way for gay bishops". At first glance it appeared that the Church was making an overdue but welcome intervention to eradicate the instituional discrimination it has for so long been synonymous with.

Unfortunately not. Like the Church of Scotland's attempts to get to grips with a situation created by the ordination of a particular gay minister, the Church of England has found itself having to make a decision following the elevation to (and subsequent removal from) the Bishopric of Reading of the Rev Jeffrey John.

What the Church has decided to do - largely for legal reasons - is to remove the ban on Bishops who are in civil partnerships. This is to conform with the requirements of the Eqaulity Act which, as an employer, the church is duty bound to respect. However, under the Church's new rulings, people in same-sex civil partnerships can become bishops - but only if they remain celibate.

What? "Only if they remain celibate"? Why would anyone wish to enter a civil partnership to remain celibate?

This is not the great step forward for progressive attitudes that the BBC website would have us believe. It is, instead, an example of illiberal doubethink on the part of a church that can't reconcile its traditionally discriminatory theology with a more inclusive approach. The church clearly fails to appreciate either the illiberalism of its attitude towards LGBT people or the motivations of people calling for change. No-one's asking for the confused logic of ordaining those of LGBT persuasions to a life of celibacy. The church demonstrates its social irrelevance with its insistence on focusing on the purely legal and ceremonial rather than what is actually at the heart of the matter - a question of discrimination against those in loving same-sex relationships.

The Church of England can not grasp the fundamental human, personal dimension to the matter. It thinks by accepting those it has historically marginalised - on the condition that such people give up their offending "lifestyles" - it is promoting equality. It is doing nothing of the sort. It is still judging one form of sexual expression as morally and spiritually superior to others, and refuses to extend the logic by which it judges heterosexual relationships as whole to same-sex couples.

Presumably by the same confused egalitarian logic the Church will eventually recognise women bishops - so long as they denounce their femininity and change their title to "Mr".

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Peace campaigner Brian Haw dies

Inspirational peace campaigner Brian Haw died today aged 62.

Haw is famous for his determined and courageous efforts to lead his protest in Parliament Square against military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, in spite of vigorous and legally questionable attempts to remove his "peace camp".

Whatever one's views of Mr Haw, no reasonable person could possibly question his commitment to civil liberties, his personal bravery or the role he played in reminding Parliament that actions have consequences. For many years he was a constant presence outside Westminster: while some considered his peace camp an "eyesore" or complained about the condition of the Square, I was always more concerned with the pertinent issues Haw was raising both directly and indirectly through his resolute commitment to protest. Surely the right to protest is of greater importance to the public than aesthetic considerations?

Haw's peace camp led to Parliament passing the Serious Crime and Police Act - an Act deliberately designed to remove Haw from Parliament Square. Presumably some MPs didn't care to be reminded of their roles in approving the Iraq conflict. Fortunately a judge ruled that it was illegal to apply laws retrospectively and so Haw remained in place, in spite of the Act containing such affronts to civil liberties as making any protest within a mile radius of parliament illegal. What this showed was the extent to which Haw's campaign was proving effective - to put in bliuntly, he got under Parliament's skin.

I met Brian Haw in 2005. He was an impressive, if eccentric, person. He was the kind of man it is impossible to spend five minutes with without him making a lasting impression. I remember coming away thinking society had to do so much more to stand up for civil liberties, and joined Liberty.

His methods might have been unorthodox, but Brian Haw is someone I will never - can never - forget. He inspired many people, while being derided by others. Most importantly, he showed character, courage and commitment in his campaign for peace at a time when politicians were making anti-terror laws and destroying our civil liberties. We need more people like Haw - people of principle and conscience. His passing should be mourned by anyone who values freedom.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Lansley’s NHS plan ditched as Health Bill reworked

As a Liberal Democrat, you might expect me to be ecstatic following the announced changes to the Health Bill. Well, I’m certainly pleased that the worst elements of the Tory plans have been either scrapped or significantly diluted, but I’m not willing to get too carried away. While the new draft Health Bill is an enormous improvement on what was previously being proposed, I still have some concerns about what it will mean in practice. I also see little reason for elation or triumphalism from our MPs or our leadership (who allowed the Bill through its first two readings without any opposition) – although I would excuse party members their moment of celebration given the role of Conference in holding the government to account in a far more effective way than our parliamentarians did.

Andrew Lansley’s controversial Health and Social Care Bill has undergone significant and substantive changes. This is a welcome development but, in the circumstances, not entirely unexpected. Since the Liberal Democrats’ spring conference in March – during which party members tabled demands to slow the pace of change, increase accountability and avoid giving preference to the private sector – the Liberal Democrat parliamentary party have been more aggressive in opposing the ill-conceived Bill. But they’ve not been on their own: the BMA, health unions, patient groups and NHS staff have also expressed opposition, and the public similarly have shown little appetite for it.

Eight weeks ago, in the face of growing opposition, the government announced that the independent Future Forum, chaired by Professor Steve Field, would be commissioned to make recommendations on the original Bill. Yesterday, the government responded to these recommendations, effectively accepting Future Forum’s findings. Among these are stipulations that private providers will not be allowed to “cherry-pick” patients, and that the government “should not seek to increase the role of the private sector as an end in itself”. The Health Secretary will remain “ultimately accountable” for the NHS (Lansley had hoped to reduce the responsibilities of the health Secretary to merely the promotion of public health) and there will be increased scope for local accountability. The arbitrary 2013 deadline for completing the reforms is done away with, while GP-led consortia – which will be responsible for commissioning services and taking responsibility of a sizeable proportion of the NHS budget – will be made up of health professionals from across the various disciplines. Monitor, the Health Service regulator, will no longer be allowed to “promote competition” but to instead promote “choice, competition and collaboration”. All this is good news. Even the unions are cautiously welcoming the changes.

The Daily Telegraph reported, with apparent regret, that vital NHS reforms will be “watered down”. “The role of private companies in the NHS is likely to be restrained while patients’ rights are bolstered under plans to rescue the Government’s health reforms” it opined. Quite why strengthening patient rights should be seen as a negative development is a mystery to me. As someone who has campaigned for such improvements for many years, I am naturally pleased that the NHS should become more patient-led and driven by need rather than the interests of the private sector. Unfortunately, there will always be those who feel the NHS can only move forward if the C-word is made super-significant: many Tories are deeply unhappy that the central principle of introducing competition has been scrapped and are now arguing that the changes necessary for the sustenance of the NHS have been rejected. This is utterly wrong. The NHS does need to be reformed. The status quo is neither sustainable nor desirable. But change must be responsible and it must also be evidence-based, tailored to address the nation’s health needs and driven by the public interest – not those of private companies. I have never been convinced by suggestions that competition in itself would be a catalyst for NHS improvement. But even accepting this, I would be concerned about the context in which competition takes place in Lansley’s vision which would simply have allowed private providers to take from the NHS without giving anything back.

Paul Burstow yesterday rejoiced that “competition has been put back in its box”. This didn’t go down too well with Conservative MPs. I’m sure it went down a bit better with those who work in the NHS, the unions and patients’ groups.

Labour leader Ed Miliband issued a statement yesterday in which he failed to discuss the amendments to the Health and Social Care Bill and argued that “David Cameron is undermining the NHS with an incompetent and bureaucratic reorganisation which puts profit before patients. Cameron made a solemn promise before the general election: no more top-down reorganisations. Yet that is exactly what he rushed in to with an ideological plan which he confirmed today is going ahead. The consequences will be billions of pounds that should be being spent on patients instead being spent on making people redundant in the health service. Patients are losing out with higher waiting times and a worse NHS. The best thing the Government could do is go back to the drawing board and scrap this Bill.” I’m not going to disagree entirely with his analysis of the Conservative default position, but it’s a shame Miliband didn’t feel able to recognise the far-reaching changes to Lansley’s original blueprint that have reversed the position in which patients were secondary to profits. I think it would have been more constructive to have examined the detail of the new proposals, which while positive are perhaps not everything they could be. Given his statement last week, in which he proposed increased cross-party collaboration on the NHS, it is more than regrettable that he already seems to have ditched this high-minded idea – preferring instead the easy politics of tribalism and oppositionalism.

In the House of Commons debate yesterday afternoon, the worst sides of many MPs were on display. Many Labour MPs followed their leader’s example of failing to respond to the actual changes to the Bill being discussed and opting instead to make misinformed and near-apocalyptic predictions of “privatisation” – something that has never been entirely absent in the NHS and was certainly encouraged by the previous Labour government. Dennis Skinner, his usual abrasive self, seemed furious that the NHS Bill had only been changed to satisfy “tinpot liberals", which I have to interpret as the ultimate backhanded compliment. Thanks for giving us so much credit, Dennis! John Redwood was on hand to insist that the changes were not as a result of Liberal Democrat involvement – but if that is the case, where else did they come from?

In truth, these welcome changes would not have come about without Liberal Democrat Conference putting pressure on our MPs to take a firmer line. For our leadership to spin this as their victory is therefore more than a little disingenuous; prior to conference our MPs had expressed little or no concern about the direction of Health policy, despite it so blatantly contravening the policy platform set out in the Coalition Agreement. And so, if it is a Liberal Democrat victory, it is a victory of democratic process: a victory for the members and activists, not for the leadership. But, similarly, such a victory was only possible because of widespread opposition from the unions, the BMA, charities, patients’ groups, NHS staff and the public. It’s surprising that Miliband and Skinner don’t want to give credit to the unions’ role in shaping more progressive legislation. Some credit should also go to George Osborne, who realised early on that Lansley’s unpopular proposals risked damaging the Tory brand and urged a rethink.

Many people come out of this with some credit, but Lansley himself emerges battered and bruised. He is more than humiliated; he has been completely undermined. In the last few days he has had to listen to Nick Clegg –and, more tellingly, David Cameron – prove that his plans were in some respects fundamentally wrong. No-one believed the Health Secretary when he said “I am delighted about having to make these amendments to my Bill”. While some of the principles of the original Bill have been retained, such as clinician-led commissioning, integrating health and social care, tackling bureaucracy and increasing engagement with patients, the heart of his ambitious plans have been ripped out of the Bill. It is questionable whether Lansley can survive: the latest developments do not obscure the fact that only 20% believe that the NHS is safe in Cameron’s hands, according to Conservative Home.

There are some lessons we should take from this debacle. Firstly, we should deal with policies before they're launched, making clear where they have originated from and what their objectives are. Policy must be examined and scrutinised more thoroughly in future; had conference not empowered our MPs to make a stand the consequences of allowing Lansley’s Bill to pass would have been catastrophic. Secondly, as Lansley has found to his cost, rigid thinking and digging yourself into entrenched positions can be fatal, especially when it comes to promoting radical changes. Such changes should be done gradually, not imposed from the top, and should always be organic. Thirdly, listening exercises should ideally be done prior to embarking on a course of action, not once a discredited policy looks set to be defeated. Fourthly, and perhaps most importantly, this saga has demonstrated the significance of internal democracy. The influence of Liberal Democrat Conference can not be underestimated.

While I applaud the changes, I have some concerns. Firstly, I dislike the NHS being used as a political football. It’s bad enough that some Labour MPs feel the need to opportunistically and dishonestly use this for their own ends, but that is to be expected. We’re also seeing some Conservatives, like John Redwood, who are claiming that the Bill is still essentially the same, while other Tories argue that Downing Street has caved in to a weak Liberal Democrat partner. Neither of these perceptions are accurate, but both suggest an unhealthy pre-occupation with the political rather than the health needs of the nation. Redwood’s interest is with saving face, rather than patient care. Other Tories, quick to berate their leadership for a u-turn (especially where promoting completion is concerned) show themselves to possess that obsession for privatisation so characteristic of the Thatcher era. More pertinently, such attitudes suggest a straining of relations between the coalition partners and it is highly possible that partisan perspectives will re-emerge to create a crisis in the future.

From a Liberal Democrat perspective, I’m not going to play down the victory. You know it’s a victory when the Daily Mail complains that the Lib Dem tail is wagging the Tory dog. But it is a victory for commonsense over ideology, of social justice over big-business interests and of internal democracy over party leadership. It’s a victory for Conference, not Nick Clegg. Admittedly, I’m sure this will help restore both the party’s and our leader’s standings, and it’s becoming clear that we can operate effectively as an independent party within government. But I dislike the misplaced triumphalism. The BBC reported that, on Monday evening, Nick Clegg waved around a scorecard of Tory U-Turns at a meeting of his parliamentary party. It is disturbing on two levels: firstly, the NHS isn’t a political football and I don’t care for even Nick Clegg playing this shameful game, especially as it was conference that allowed him to save some face on the issue. Secondly, this incident suggests an approach to government that is unhelpful and I think unwise.

Our role in government is not simply to curb Tory excesses, although I hope we will do that. We’re also not in government to continue acting as if we’re in opposition. Liberal Democrats can be proud of what we have achieved, but it is an achievement because government policy is more progressive, and more inherently liberal, than it would have been without us. That is positive. But I dislike the notion that somehow achievements are measured by the degree to which we can score points at our coalition partner’s expense. Coalition government is about co-operative and pluralistic approaches to politics, which are hardly suggested by obsessive one-upmanship. This is important, because if the Liberal Democrats are to ensure more progressive policy in relation to welfare reform, we’re going to have to work collaboratively with the Tories to achieve it. And while it’s no bad thing to play up our distinctiveness, it’s also in our interests to make the coalition work.

The NHS does not exist for the sake of politicians. Like other Lib Dems – in fact, like any other person who believes in a patient-focused NHS – I am delighted at yesterday’s announcement. I am, however, less pleased at politicians of all parties playing their political games with the NHS. There are challenges lying ahead that need to be risen to; challenges that I believe have been regrettably overlooked.

The real question is not whether the new draft Health Bill represents an improvement on Lansley’s original plans, but on whether it actually improves upon the status quo. I am cautiously optimistic that it does, but I am not entirely convinced and the wording of the new Health Bill has set some alarm bells ringing. For example, while it is obviously an improvement that Monitor can no longer “promote competition” as its sole objective, what exactly does it mean to “promote choice, collaboration and integration” in addition to “competition”? These aims conflict, and inevitably while “increasing the role of the private sector” can no longer be an end in itself it appears that it can be justified as a means of promoting choice. Also, while private providers can not “cherry-pick patients” there are no stipulations in regards cherry-picking services which might effectively amount to the same eventuality. There are also further questions to be answered in regards how consortia will work in practice, what exactly is meant by empowering patients (a section that is notably weak) and how specifically the new NHS Commissioning Board is to help save £20billion.

In short, this victory is to be welcomed. But it is the first battle. Greater battles lie ahead if we are to ensure that our NHS continues to evolve and reform in the public interest. Shirley Williams wrote in The Independent that “Liberal Democrats can comfort themselves with the realisation that one of England's most trusted and best loved public services will now survive as the framework for our health care”. That is not disputed. However, the spectre of preferential privatisation remains and there is much even in the new draft Health and Social Care Bill that needs considering in greater detail. Liberal Democrats must ensure that what is on the table represents a marked improvement on the status quo, as well as a means of taking our Health Service forward. This is not a time for self-congratulation or making political capital from Lansley's incompetence, but for working to ensure the best possible outcome for the NHS. In that respect there is still work to do.

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Brian Souter receives a knighthood – an insult too far.

I remember very clearly Brian Souter’s obviously homophobic “Keep the Clause” campaign back in 2000. It was one of a number of events that eventually served to define me politically and develop my social conscience. His “referendum” and intolerance-fuelled struggle to retain Section 2a (regrettably supported by such social luminaries as the Daily Record) made a huge impression on me. It was when I realised that institutional homophobia not only existed, but that in its rampant forms had the potential to divide our nation and destroy its social fabric. I also was shocked by how easily Souter and his pseudo-Christian campaign moved away from their supposed aims (i.e. “protection” of children) and turned their fire on gay people and LGBT groups while a large part of the population appeared to support him. I was horrified at the uninformed prejudice masquerading as “family values”. Souter’s campaign was dishonest, based on lies, misconceptions and smears. It was also, in the short term, immensely damaging and for some time was allowed to dictate Scotland’s socio-political agenda.

Around this time, a young gay man I knew committed suicide. The pressure of simply being himself at this time was too much for him. I’m not saying anything more than that, but like the various characters in An Inspector Calls who simply are unable to grasp their culpability in situations that don’t directly concern them, Souter was indirectly responsible for a lot of unnecessary suffering. He certainly played a large role in demonising Scotland’s LGBT community and creating a poisonous atmosphere for debating what should have been a straightforward political issue.

I was very proud of many of our politicians from the Liberal Democrats – and also from Labour, the SNP, the Greens and the SSP – who were determined to stand together to defeat prejudice, even though the cost was a Tory gain in the Ayr by-election. All these years later, attitudes have shifted so much that it’s hard to see the Daily Record ever running with such a homophobic campaign again – or the actions of someone bankrolling a “referendum”, like Mr Souter, being seen as anything other than an expression of intolerant bigotry.

Unfortunately, and quite incomprehensively, Brian Souter is to receive a knighthood in the honours list. I don’t know why. Perhaps its due to his donations to the SNP, although officially it is for his services to public transport and “charitable work”. I can safely say that his dubious business ethic should not merit the honour he is receiving; as for his “charity” – well, he has never shown much of that to people of an LGBT persuasion. I am completely bemused that someone with his record for stirring up homophobia should receive any type of honour, let alone a knighthood. Frankly, it’s an insult to those who he would marginalise and discriminate against.

I was chatting on twitter this morning with a number of people. All but one were predictably appalled by Souter’s knighthood. One, however, took issue with me and argued that all Souter has ever done is “stand up for family values”. If only that was true. Unfortunately, Souter’s defender then made his own rather uninformed judgements about gay people (comparing them to paedophiles, arguing that homosexuality was “unnatural, etc), which neatly summed up Souter’s position and underlined why a man holding such views should never be offered an honour.

I see there is an online petition urging the Cabinet Office to withdraw Brian Souter’s knighthood. It has, so far, 1,066 signatories. I would urge you to sign. I am not simply concerned about Mr Souter’s history and his outspoken prejudice. I am also concerned that he should have been offered an honour in the first instance. As Caron Lindsay observes, it would be unacceptable for someone with overtly racist views to receive a knighthood, so why should exceptions be made for other – equally repugnant – intolerance?

If, however, the decision is not reversed, I am in agreement with one of my twitter friends who suggests we should call him Dame Brian – just to annoy him. Dame Brian Souter MBE (Member of the Bigoted Establishment) seems quite apt somehow.

On a more positive note, I was delighted that Bernard Cribbins was recognised in the honours list. Now there is a man who deserves his gong - a real legend in his own lifetime. Souter, on the other hand, is simply a miserable, bigoted reactionary.

I'm pleased to be back blogging after a short absence. Many thanks for e-mails from people enquiring as to my well-being. I have been taking a break with my family and will be back to what passes for normality next week!