Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Donald Ray Pollock, 'The Heavenly Table'

Southern American hillbilly outlaw gothic. What's not to like? Some, actually. Too much fecal matter for my squeamish soul. And the death of Pearl's wife will stay with me for - well, too long. Set in 1917, but could have been set 50 years earlier or even 50 years later for its take on poverty in America. A new voice to me, and one that is likely to stay with me for probably too long. Anyway, very funny in places, which I did not expect. It's crying out for a film to be made; quite possibly with Daniel Day-Lewis.

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Who is being undermined here?

On Thursday the Reading East constituency was retaken for Labour after being represented for 12 years by Rob Wilson in the Conservative interest. I was quick to congratulate Matt Rodda, the new Labour MP for Reading East, as I am the only person in the world who has ever previously known what it is to represent the Reading East constituency in the Labour interest, and to send him an open letter. That's more than Reading Labour Party did. Their tweets were all about Olivia Bailey, the defeated Labour candidate in Reading West "you should have won"; "all hands to Reading West next time" (hah! I bet!) and from the party only "What can we say? Matt Rodda MP!" clearly signalling the subtext "THAT wasn't supposed to happen". Well, matey boys, it has. Contrast Plymouth, where they also elected a Labour MP for one of the city's constituencies, and party officers and councillors were tweeting in delight and excitement about their new MP (Luke Pollard since you ask, a fine fellow in my limited acquaintance). I am sure they are doing the same in Ipswich and Canterbury, among other places. But in Reading, no.

So, Tony Page, a councillor for approximately 103 years, currently deputy leader of the council, was chosen to issue the customary counterblast to Labour victory in Reading East. He did this by attacking Rob Wilson. Well, I am not going to join him in that. If you get re-elected, twice in Wilson's case, when you just scrape in the first time because the voters are not sure about you, it means you have earned those votes by gaining the trust and confidence of the voters. Hey, Tony? Well, you wouldn't know. You were the Labour candidate in 2005, the compromise candidate who could get support from party members to deselect that pesky Jane Griffiths who keeps winning elections and NOT DOING AS SHE IS TOLD and NOT BEING THE CREATURE OF READING BOROUGH COUNCIL. Well, the Reading East electorate disagreed that year, and chose Rob Wilson. Who is, of course (says Tony Page), a bad person, because he too refused to be the creature of Reading Borough Council. You can read the "story" here. It is in the Reading Chronicle, so it must be true. See this:

THE DEPUTY leader of the borough council hailed last night's election result as a big leap forward for local government. (you what? this was a parliamentary not a borough council election Tone)
Councillor Tony Page, labour (sic - is John Howarth moonlighting as a sub?), was elated after candidate Matt Rodda pipped former MP Rob Wilson to the Reading East seat with an (sic) 3,749 majority.
Note the "pipped", as if 3,749 was not a respectable majority, especially in a seat which will always be marginal if held by Labour, and especially in a seat which had a candidate who was not the favourite of Tony Page, Jan Gavin, and their various henchpeople. Imagine the briefings. Here is Cllr Jan Gavin (Lab, Redlands, Reading East, former teacher, played a murky role in ousting the head teacher of the school she taught at, which happens to be the one my children attended) hearing the Reading East result: 

Pic Reading Evening Post  (so it must be true). Cllr Page continued: 

I have every confidence that Mr Rodda will work closely with the council and he has already made that clear."
 "Having an MP in Reading who will work with the council as opposed to undermining them is very important."

Is that a threat, Tony? It reads very much like one.

And where, in all this, is the delight and excitement at the election of a Labour MP - because after all it was the election of Labour MPs that denied Theresa May the mandate she hoped for in her snap election? You may well ask. The Observer does, in a big piece today, where they quote Cllrs Tony Jones (whom I do not wish to undermine at this stage) and, you guessed it, Jan Gavin - both of whom fail to enthuse about the election of Matt Rodda. You can read the piece here.

Well, Matt, you do not need them. Great news that you have been elected. A fresh new voice for "Reading, Woodley and Caversham". I wish you all the best, in every way. Step over the tired, corrupt clique of old people on Reading Borough Council and go forward to the future. The scores and scores of mostly young people who campaigned for you want you to do that, and I know you will. 

Friday, 9 June 2017

Open letter to Matt Rodda, Labour MP for Reading East

Open Letter to Matt Rodda, elected Labour MP for Reading East on 8th June 2017

Dear Matt

We don’t really know each other at all, but I wanted to write and say how delighted I am that you have been elected to represent Reading East for Labour. Until your election yesterday I was the only Labour MP the constituency had ever had, and I was very proud to hold that office from 1997 to 2005. I’m so glad that the people of Reading East again have a Labour voice to speak for them in Parliament.

I was once told “The House of Commons is a great megaphone: use it so your constituents can be heard.” Good advice, that was. Your place is on the green benches, speaking, petitioning, debating, giving the government a hard time if need be – at the time of writing we don’t know who is going to form a government, nor what its party composition will be. Your place is in the constituency too, and it isn’t either/or – being an MP is two jobs. Your constituents will expect to see you in person and hear from you regularly, and they will also want you to contribute to debates and speak in the House, and not just on the high-profile causes.

You are Labour, but you are no one’s creature. You will need to work cross-party from time to time, especially now that Reading’s two MPs are of different parties. Don’t tell anyone I told you, but sometimes it’s easier that way. You need good relations with both the councils whose areas you represent parts of, but you are the tool of neither, nor can you (as your constituents sometimes believe you can) overturn the decisions of either.

You are your constituents’ representative, and not their delegate. How else can you represent constituents who hold diametrically opposed views – and I promise you they do. You represent a relatively highly educated, fairly diverse, urban and suburban area, with quite large disparity of income and wealth. But all your constituents, whatever their situation, share the general human needs and concerns we all have. I was once remonstrated with by a former government minister for not tabling Agriculture questions (as it then was). When I said that was because I didn’t represent any farmers, she said quietly “Your constituents eat food, don’t they?”

Table questions. All the time. Get involved with causes which are precious to you, to your constituents, or both, through All-Party Groups and committees. If there isn’t an All-Party Group on something that matters to you, start one. It’s one of the ways a back-bencher can have some real influence over policy.

The House of Commons Library is better than Google, for almost everything.

Travel, on your own account and on parliamentary visits. Keep it to the recess, but don’t be hair-shirt about it. You will learn from it, and you will learn from the colleagues you travel with, and maybe they will learn from you. Be discreet (you know this) – a backbencher of another party (unnamed here) once passed out from unwary drinking of toasts next to me at a dinner on a parliamentary visit to (country name redacted). No media (this was before Twitter et al) found out about it through me. Make time to read, in the recess and in the evenings. This is advice I was given and should have followed but didn’t. You probably have a special skill or talent your colleagues don’t. Perhaps you are fluent in Basque, or play a mean harmonica, or win prizes for growing tomatoes. Whatever it is, use it. Show off a bit.

Woodley is one quarter of the constituency by population. Spend more than a quarter of your constituency time there. I promise you you won’t regret it. A little piece of my heart will always be there.

If you ever want a chat, pm me and I’ll be happy to. Best wishes and give my love to Reading East.

Jane Griffiths
9 June 2017

Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Helen Small, 'The Long Life'

A fascinating literary and philosophical meditation on ageing and the end of life. I came to it through the bibliography of Margaret Drabble's latest novel 'The Dark Flood Rises', which itself deals, not with ageing exactly, but with late life. Helen Small parallels 'The Old Curiosity Shop' with 'King Lear', and Aristotle with Samuel Beckett. She notes that ageing and the old person are not much dealt with in literature, but that it is often through literature that we come to our view of the world and our place in it and in our lives, especially as those lives lengthen. She discusses most interestingly the notion of life as a narrative, and wonders therefore which parts of that narrative are the most important and valuable, and thus worth giving the most attention and resources to. In short, do we live our lives preparing for a good old age? Answer, no, or not perhaps until the generation (mine) that is now preparing to be old. And should we? And if we develop dementia and can no longer grasp the concept of our lives as narrative, are those lives thereby worth less, for example in terms of whether life-extending medical treatment should be extended to us?
Small, Helen. The Long Life (p. 115). OUP Oxford. Édition du Kindle.