Wednesday, 29 May 2019

Is Boris or the law the ass?

I am flabbergasted at the news that Boris Johnson will have to defend himself in court over claims that what was written on the side of the Brexit battlebus was a lie. The precise charge is "misconduct in public office". The charge is a crowdfunded private prosecution. How any sentient being could sanction this charge, let alone someone with legal training who one assumes was taught English and some logic, I can't fathom. And it worries me.

For a start, if everyone who held public office could be taken to court for peddling a mis-truth, or saying anything about anything that turned out to be less than 100% correct, then there would be very few people in public office who would not be vulnerable to prosecution. And even fewer willing to occupy such posts.

Secondly, for the crucial part of the time period in the charge, running up to the referendum on 23 June 2016, Johnson wasn't in public office as such, unless you count being a backbench MP. He ceased being Mayor of London on 5 May 2016. (The charge cites the dates as 21 Feb - 23 June 2016 in the run up to the referendum and 18 April - 3 May 2017, in the run up to the General Election, when Johnson was Foreign Secretary). In 2016 Johnson made some daft comments about Turks and Turkey and I expect this was while he was still London Mayor but the statements weren't related his job. In the weeks before the referendum Johnson was speaking in support of a political campaign, not in any capacity as a public servant, because he wasn't one. And arguably it was also the case in the General Election campaign that he was speaking as a political campaigner.

But more fundamentally, where is the lie?

Let's just remind ourselves what was on the Brexit bus:

Vote Leave's campaign bus

"We send the EU £350 million a week". This statement is an exaggeration. After Mrs T's rebate is applied (which comes off before we send any money) we send something like £250M to £280M a week to the bloated blob of Brussels*. (Don't tell me it isn't a bloated blob because I went to the Berlaymont on a monthly basis for while in the 1990s and it will only have got more so). Stats nerds can't even agree on the precise number, which anyway is only known precisely after the event. And the figure is back-calculated once the figures for the year are known. It will have escalated as it is linked to GDP, which has increased more than the projections, so it could be north of £300M by now. So, an exaggeration, but Boris is a damned sight better with numbers than Diane Abbott!

And Boris no doubt didn't personally research the £350M number, it will have been plucked out of the air by the Vote Leave campaign. (The TV docu-drama showed Dominic Cummings shouting at people until they came up with a rationale for a number he liked. Everyone involved in communicating with or persuading people in politics, business and many other fields of endeavour has done this many times......I certainly have!)

OK, so we then get money back for regional projects and the net figure is lower. But we don't have the choice of how to spend that, so the logic that we could take back control and choose to spend it on the health service is 100% correct.

The lie as such comes a step further on when folk like the Welsh farmers, who benefit from this recycling of our cash via the EU, were told they would still get the money, effectively double counting the saving, or spending it twice.  How often have politicians tried to have their cake and eat it in this way?

None of this is new - I argued all of these numbers through in my blog posted 3 weeks before the referendum (Lies, damn lies and statistics in the referendum campaign"  2 June 2016). And I'm pretty sure I've said that, while many politicians dissemble, Boris tells lies, my logic being this last point about double-counting. But he was called out for this at the time and I don't know many people who didn't take the £350M number with a pinch of salt - it was the principle that got leave voters exercised.

However, the point that worries me is that, if we ever fall under the cosh of the Marxist Party of Islington we may become very reliant on the law to protect personal property and personal liberties. It will have to be impassionate, apolitical, logical and rigorous.

I can only think this charge was allowed through by District Judge Margot Coleman either because of her political view on Brexit or a party loyalty or because it has commanded a degree of public support via donations, a bit like a reality TV vote. I can't see any good reason in law or logic for her statement that:

"I accept that the public offices held by Mr Johnson provide status, but with that status comes influence and authority.
"I am satisfied there is sufficient to establish prima facie evidence of an issue to be determined at trial of this aspect."

If this charge is allowed to proceed politicians' answers to questions are going to get even more convoluted, as they would be forced to always quote others for their tenuous "facts". Meanwhile anyone not in a "public office", even if standing for one, would have a different standard applied to them. That would not be logical, fair or workable.

Judge Coleman has taken a first step in a dangerous direction and should have thrown this worthless case out.

* sources on 2016 data: Full Fact says "closer to £250M" ( and another website says "around £280M" ( so even the statistical nerds can't agree with any precision

Wednesday, 22 May 2019

Is golf an athletic sport or an inclusive sport?

John Daly used a buggy to compete at the US PGA Championship. Dally currently occupies 1848th position in the world rankings but has a lifetime exemption following his win in the 1991 edition of the tournament. The course hosting the competition, Bethpage Black in New York, does not normally allow golfers to use buggies. It was approved under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Two Daily Mail writers were appalled. Derek Lawrenson said Daly "did golf a's an athletic sport now and there should be no going back".

And Martin Samuel, writing at some length, also did not care for the sight of Daly, with his arthritic knees, riding his buggy smoking a cigarette and carrying a large soda cup from McDonald's. Samuel noted that Tiger Woods limped his way to his 2008 US Open win with two lower leg fractures and a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, saying Woods knew the score - injured, you can't play. If you want to play injured, you limp. He argued that golf has worked very hard to shed its reputation as the refuge of fat, wealthy, old guys. He thought it a mistake for US PGA to override the normal Bethpage rule, saying it's not discriminatory to expect professional competitors to abide by the same rules as club members and guests. Daly has requested to use a buggy in next month's Open, for which he qualifies until the age of 60 due to his win at St Andrews in 1995. Noting that Royal Portrush, hosting this year's event, also does not normally allow them, Samuel commended the R&A "for the sake of golf, its status and reputation" to uphold Portrush's rule.

Smauel went on to say "Your physical ability to compete is at the root of all sport, whether you sweat or not. Controlling the steadiness of a hand in archery, darts or snooker requires athletic ability. Nobody sweats bit it's still sport. Golf is the same". He noted that Nick Faldo has said 'walking is an integral part of being a professional golfer' and argued that anyone with a feeling for the soul of the game would agree.

I find walking while playing golf much more fun and far more sociable than using a buggy and I understand where Faldo is coming from. And yet....

Taking Samuel's point, the ability to swing a golf club and strike the ball accurately over large distances combined with judging wind, reading the terrain and having the touch and finesse to putt well is surely the equivalent of Samuel's archer or snooker player. Indeed I would argue the skill element is far higher. Walking between taking the shots is just the necessary act of getting from A to B and you don't have to be good at that bit just able to do it.

So what if you are not? If golf wants to portray itself as a sport only for ripped gym addicts it won't expand it's diminishing participant base. And anyway, it's a risible proposition. Golf actually sells itself as a sport that people with a wide range of physical abilities can play, getting health and fitness benefits from doing so.

So this is just an argument about what it looks like at a big professional competition. In that context what if a superstar kid emerged who could hit the ball like Brooks Koepka and putt like Tiger Woods but who, for some physical reason, could not walk around 18 holes of a golf course? Unlikely I know but the clamour for the sport's governing bodies to allow such a person to compete would be deafening.

Or, heaven forbid, what if Tiger Woods can compete at the highest level but just can't walk 18 holes on four consecutive days? What do you think they would decide then?

I think we all know that if Tiger had needed to be carried around the last few holes of his Masters win in April the acclaim would surely have been even greater. He's done it and he can hardly walk!

These may be artificial "what ifs" but the point is still valid. Is golf looking to be an inclusive sport or not?

Hide behind Royal Portrush's rules if you like (though Muirfield didn't come well out of that situation only a few years back). But in the long run disabilities and discrimination laws and society's expectations will surely mean that, if you meet the qualifying standard to play in terms of golf ability, you should be allowed to play.

The answer to the John Daly problem is actually to review the length of exemptions given to winners of the majors.

Tuesday, 21 May 2019

King Kong on a very good run

It was no surprise that Brooks Koepka and Dustin Johnson finished first and second in the golf season's second major, the USPGA, at the weekend. The Bethpage Black course is punishingly long. Punishing through length and also the density of the second cut and deep rough for those who stray off the fairway. Koepka and Johnson are the most reliable of the "bombers" (the long hitters) and so will be both far and sure (er, I've heard that motto somewhere....) more often than most. And they hit it so far that, even if they stray off the fairway, they can often reach the green with a lofted club - a wedge or at most 9 iron - giving them a better chance of successfully controlling the shot. The shorter hitters - even those who still hit it a long way - stand a much lower chance from those positions with a middle iron.

So the course was set up to favour Koepka, but his achievement was remarkable. The display of pure power was beyond what we have seen since Tiger Woods first came out and obliterated championship golf courses. Indeed the Sky Sports commentator Wayne Riley took to calling Koepka "King Kong". (Dustin Johnson already has a nickname, of course. For most of the world it's "DJ" but to Mrs H it's "cokehead").

In the run up to the PGA the Golf Channel pundit Brandel Chamblee (yes, they have a dedicated golf channel and that's not a made up name - I think) made a bit of an ass of himself by pondering whether Koepka is a great player or simply having "a good run". Noting that Koepka ended up second in the Masters partly because he three-putted five times in the four rounds, Chamblee said "he's on a heck of a run. Nick Faldo hads a similar run. Lee Trevino had a similar (Koepka) truly a great player - a staggering talent - or is he in a great run? Tiger and Jack, they won regular events at the same clip they won majors.....I just need more evidence...He won three majors that were more about power than accuracy. This week it will be equally about power and accuracy. Golf courses like this are a better measure...."

As Koepka had won three of the last eight majors (three of the last seven he had played in) that was rather going out on a limb. Now that it's four out of his last eight starts in majors it looks plain daft.  In the end it was about power and bottle, as much as accuracy, as Koepka had to dig deep when he faltered on the last nine holes and Johnson closed the lead from seven shots to one, before Koepka steadied the ship and Johnson also started to drop shots. But my main quibble with what Chamblee said was not actually about Koepka. Yes, Koepka has the unusual record of having won twice as many majors as he's won regular USPGA tour events - four to two. This is what Chamblee meant about Nicklaus and Tiger winning tour events "at the same clip": Woods has won 66 USPGA Tour events in addition to his 15 majors and for Nicklaus the numbers were 55 and 18, so Koepka's small number of non-major wins in America is surprising. But Koepka has also won seven times in Europe and Japan and had four wins on the European Challenge Tour (the level down from the main tour) as he came up the hard way, driving himself between tournaments in a foreign country on his own. Maybe not sleeping in his car, as Gary Player did when he first came to the Open but at least, reputedly, changing his own wheel when he got a puncture. So not the gilded ascent of a Woods or, say, a Spieth. Also, if Koepka really has cracked peaking for the majors, as he more or less claimed before this tournament, that would be quite something and not to be knocked lightly. After all, it's what Olympic athletes and Team Sky cyclists work very hard to do.

No, the thing that got me was the reference to Faldo and Trevino. They both won six majors, putting them joint twelfth on the all time list of major winners, only one short of Arnold Palmer and Bobby Jones and one ahead of Seve Ballesteros and Phil Mickelson. And they weren't flashes in the pan, either. Sir Nick's wins spanned nine years (1987 to 1996) and Super Mex's a remarkable sixteen (1968 to 1984). So hardly "a good run". The comparison with Faldo that maybe makes sense is that Faldo, who came to golf late at fifteen years of age (yes, that's very late) was to some extent a manufactured golfer who, having competed near the top of the game without winning big, rebuilt his swing in order to win majors. Which he did because he was one of the ultimate competitors. It may be that the same is true of Koepka and he really can perform best when the stakes are highest.

In the first two rounds of the PGA Koepka was in the marquee group with Woods and Molinari. As Koepka built what was a record low score after 36 holes in that tournament, it looked like he was doing to Woods what Woods had done to so many in the past: overpowering the golf course and intimidating his opponents, striding off down the fairways ahead of his rivals with a stern game face on. There were some differences from Woods. Until Koepka faltered on the final nine holes and Johnson rallied, narrowing the lead from seven shots to one, he wasn't just longer than most of his opponents but also straighter. Not much need for the outrageous recovery shots Woods delivered so many times after errant drives. But there's one point on which Chamblee is right: as a putter Koepka isn't a Woods or a Nicklaus. Just like Rory McIlroy, this is likely to limit his potential. Nevertheless, with four majors to his name by the age of 29 it currently looks like he could go on to reach the group of famous players in the top six of all time major winners, Tom Watson (8) and Gary Player and Ben Hogan (9). After all, it took Woods 21 attempts to win four majors, it's taken Koepka just one more, 22. But then we thought McIlroy would carry on accruing majors just a few years ago. As for rivaling Nicklaus and Woods  by getting into the teens, that looks a long way off for any current players and I would wager just won't happen.

Koepka seems a bit more modest than Faldo. Martin Samuel reported that during last year's USPGA, Koepka was working out in his hotel gym while leading the tournament. He got talking with some of the other guests using the weights and cardio machines. You should have been here earlier, they told him overawed. Dustin Johnson, DJ himself, was here. Man it was a blast. And you just missed him. Five minutes earlier and you'd have seen him. Koepka smiled, without revealing his identity, that he had won the last two US Opens or that he was leading Johnson in the PGA by five shots with 18 holes to go, on his way to being only the fifth golfer to win the US Open and the US PGA in the same year. Putting him with Sarazen, Hogan, Nicklaus and Woods.

Koepka doesn't have the face or name recognition of some of his peers. Indeed, some seem to think he is boring. He may not be flamboyant but he's currently the best golfer in the world, by some margin.

So while I don't think it's likely Koepka will win even half Nicklaus's tally of majors in his career, it looks right now as if he'll outperform his immediate peers: Rory McIlroy (age 30, 4 major wins) and Jordan Spieth (age 25, 3 major wins, possibly getting into form again after a rough spell). With the Open next up, a home game for Rory McIlroy in Northern Ireland, it will be interesting to see how these young guns perform. But it would be a surprise to me if either of them won more majors than Koepka by the time their careers are done.

King Kong's run probably hasn't ended yet.

Wednesday, 15 May 2019

Fine margins decide the Premier League

So Manchester City triumphed in the epic Premier League title battle. It came down to very fine margins indeed. OK, City closed it out comfortably at Brighton after it briefly looked as if things could get interesting. But over the season you couldn't put the proverbial cigarette paper between the teams.

After a season with many twists - and Liverpool riding quite a bit of luck at home against Everton with their crazy last minute winner as well as the fortunate own goal rebound  that gave them another late winner at home against Spurs - I'm left with two decisive moments, both of them featuring City captain Vincent Kompany.

In City's penultimate game at home against Leicester City the visitors played well, defending with determination and breaking occasionally with menace, preventing City from piling on too much pressure. Just when it began to look as if City could drop points likely to be decisive, Kompany scored a screamer, his first ever Premier League goal from outside the penalty area, with team mate Bernardo Silva amongst those who later admitted they were telling him not to shoot. As Kompany strode forward he looked up and clearly thought about a shot before taking another couple of paces and unleashing his unstoppable shot, launching himself at the ball with both feet off the ground at the point of delivery. It is a matter of record that I am not a Man City fan and it wouldn't take you long to guess that I was screaming at the two nearest Leicester defenders to close him down the first time he thought about hitting it. I would hope Leicester keeper Kasper Schmeichel was doing the same - my old goalkeeper mate Herbie would certainly have been bellowing at his defenders. My guess is that, had either of the Leicester players launched themselves in Kompany's direction, his shot would have gone safely over or wide.

Most centre-backs have a kick like a mule and, even if they've never scored from range, if you give them a clear sight of goal they are clearly capable of doing everything but take the net off. But also most centre-backs don't keep their composure when shooting under any pressure. There is usually not much risk, other than getting struck by a hard hit shot, in defenders rushing at other defenders shaping to shoot. I used to berate colleagues who I thought hadn't put their body on the line as the phrase goes by saying "whoever got killed by a football?"  I do have a lot of broken veins on my legs, mind, which I attribute to the impact of fast moving footballs but as I'm not an oil painting I have no regrets about that.

I say there's not much risk if you rush a defender. Yes, if the man on the ball is a magician like say, Messi or, ok, David Silva the risk is that rushing at him leaves you flat on your back from a dummy or a canny pass being slipped through behind you. But in the limit you shouldn't stand off any player who is shaping to shoot. And it wasn't Messi or Silva, it was Kompany. As it turned out, in that moment, the league title was effectively decided.

Or was it? In the end the difference between the two teams could be argued to be City's win over Liverpool at the Etihad in January, the Kopites only league defeat of the season. Until then Liverpool were 7 points clear. When Kompany brought down Mo Salah in the first half with the score goal-less there was a clear case for a red card. Yes, it was a long way out, maybe 40 yards. And other City defenders were roughly level with Kompany. But Salah is a speed merchant and was "on his bike", as the saying goes. I believe Anthony Taylor's decision of a yellow card proved material in the title race. I wasn't the only one who thought there was no chance Salah would be caught by the other defenders: Jurgen Klopp asked later "how on earth is that not a red card?" City went on to win 2-0 but at that point in the game Liverpool were well on top and most bookies would have given you great odds against City winning with 10 men from there.

Of course, I've often described Kompany as "a red card waiting to happen" and it very nearly happened in the key game against Leicester as well, Kompany unleashing one of his trademark lunges to miss the ball by a mile a take out Jamie Vardy, again with the score goalless. I thought this one was a yellow but I don't think City fans could have complained had it been red, as Kompany could (in my book should) have attracted many more red cards over his career.

The other area of fine margins that proved decisive were John Stones's goal-line clearance at 0-0 in the Etihad game against Liverpool: VAR showed it was less than 12mm from being a goal. While, in their 1-0 win at Burnley, Sergio Aguero's goal was also shown by VAR to be just 29mm over the line.

You can't get much finer than that.

So it was an enthralling title race, albeit difficult for me as it left me choosing between my least favourite football team (Man City) and effectively the anti-Christ (Liverpool FC). In the end, whatever I think of them, City's run of 18 wins in their last 19 games, many of them played under the pressure of Liverpool having won their match with the weekend games being staggered for TV, made them worthy champions. Though either team in this case were "worthy".

As for goal of the season, for me that wasn't Kompany's strike against Leicester. Liverpool's winning fourth goal in their Champions League semi-final against Barcelona, stemming from the audacious corner taken by Terence Trent D'Arby (or something like that) wins that plaudit from me. Young Trent's quick thinking, elegant deception and outstanding execution, turning and striking the ball accurately without pause for balance or more than a glance at his target, the woefully unmarked striker Origi, was truly outstanding. We see fabulous strikes from distance almost as a matter of routine. Both goals had the merit of being scored in high pressure situations with much at stake. But Alexander Arnold's assist was highly unusual, at least outside of playground games between the sassy, streetwise kids and the wet behind the ears innocents. Liverpool made Barcelona, with all their experience, look like naive schoolboys. Mind, I was trained that, even if it looks like the corner, throw-in or whatever isn't about to be taken, go and mark your man NOW while it's easy and then it's so much easier to keep him marked when the action starts.

I'm now left feeling that Liverpool richly deserve something from this season and so I guess I have to shout for them in their Champions League final against Spurs (I still tend to call it the European Cup, after all neither Liverpool nor Spurs are "champions"). I've nothing against Spurs, but it wouldn't seem right for Liverpool to go without a trophy after the way they have performed. I would have said the same about City, by the way. I think.

Confirmation - I'm definitely Virgin

More on my conversion from Radio 2 to Virgin.... I've been listening while doing household chores - isn't retirement wonderful?  Last week Eddy Temple-Morris was on holiday and Tim Cocker, usually on in the evenings, was on. Tim's fine, no problem. But this week Eddy was back and he delivered.

Predictably he played the Spin Doctors Two Princes and of course the Stereophonics Dakota, both among my very favourite tracks, so as always there was a large dose of the familiar, along with the currently obligatory, if wimpy, Lewis Capaldi but also (another regular) Guns N' Roses Paradise City. So, overall, what's not to like? Rock on!

Wednesday, 1 May 2019

He can whistle

I was listening to Labour's shadow international trade secretary, Barry Gardiner, on Adrian Chiles's 5Live radio show this morning. Gardiner is a Question Time regular, perhaps because he is comparatively eloquent and unscary for a Labour front bencher. (John McDonnell, in contrast, can be eloquent but that just makes him scarier). Chiles was challenging Gardiner about the story carried in the newspapers today about Jeremy Corbyn having written a foreward to a new edition of J.A. Hobson's 1902 book Imperialism: a study. Jezza wrote his piece in 2011 before he was elected Labour leader and had to worry about the optics of calling the work a "great tome" despite its anti-semitic components, such as conspiracy theories about the Rothschild banking family and alleging that finance in Europe at the time was controlled "by men of a single and peculiar race". In recent times Labour members have been suspended for promulgating such tripe.

Gardiner naturally defended his leader, saying that journalists presumably spent time trawling through everything Corbyn has ever said to find things to discredit him (er, don't lefty journalists do that to Tories as well, Barry? I presume you won't be joining in any resulting clamour for Tory heads in the future). He also made the point that Hobson was "of his time" and that, while some of his views can't be defended, he was an important writer, influential in the evolution of  socialism. Indeed, according to some sources (OK, Wikipedia) Hobson influenced Lenin.

I'm not a great fan of Chiles's, but he bit back on this politely and with some precision, saying that these days that doesn't seem to matter to many people. I think the Oxford/Rhodes and Bristol/Colston cause celebres were mentioned. Gardiner tried to ignore this point and waffled on fluently.

Now I actually agree with that argument. I find calls to airbrush people who have done or produced great things  from history because of their views or behaviour unseemly. For example, the calls to ban Michael Jackson's music from the airwaves. I can understand why people might feel queasy. Indeed, I decided not to go to the Jackson West End musical Thriller currently touring the provinces after the recent TV programme on his paedophilic tendencies, though my decision was partly because I could see hardly any tickets had been sold so the atmosphere would have been flat. I feel this way partly because these calls for bans, redolent of the awful no-platforming tendency of university students, amount to selective censorship. I've written previously about the fact that we don't hear any such calls regarding  Wagner, Chuck Berry and others who have exhibited questionable ethics. OK, Berry's music isn't often heard these days but his status recovered long ago from his conviction for taking a 14 year old girl across state boundaries in the USA for the purpose of sex. There is a de facto ban on Wagner's music at the Israeli opera but that is a soft target - BMW and Mercedes cars aren't banned.

Leaving aside the question of whether you can separate the person from the body of work they have created, any such bans are effectively random acts of censorship. They are probably counter-productive, it would be better for people to be told about the good and bad in folk. The benefits of Colston's philanthropy could be coupled with explanation of the source of his wealth, doing something that was legal but abhorrent. Otherwise the slavery story doesn't get told either.

After all, it's a bit like saying we won't teach our children about the Romans because they had slaves.

Chiles put words into Gardiner's mouth, to the effect that he would presumably have clarified that there were only some aspects of Hobson's work that he was commending. It made me reflect that I hold the simultaneously contradictory view that everyone is worth listening to and has points of view I can learn from, combined with the belief that some people are fundamentally unsound and not to be trusted about anything, ever. Tony Benn would be an example of someone I would consider to be wrong about absolutely everything, confident that I would be right 80% of the time. As Hobson influenced Lenin he fits in that category like a glove. Along with Jezza.

So I look forward to all sorts of lefties noting that Margaret Thatcher wasn't all bad and had some really good policies. Ha!

Chiles started and ended the interview by commenting that he had heard Gardiner whistle very tunefully and he insisted Gardiner perform, even though the 1030 news bulletin was already 6 or 7 minutes late. Gardiner reluctantly obliged and, once he's got his tempo, a remarkably tuneful - almost soulful - version of Flower of Scotland  emerged from the radio. He certainly can whistle, as well as weasel.