The Independent London Newspaper
20th August 2014

Letters

One Week With John Gulliver - Big name on the flotilla causes very few ripples

Henning Mankell
Sir Geoffrey Bindman

Above: Henning Mankell (top) and Sir Geoffrey Bindman 

NOTES on the Gaza flotilla deaths.

In deep retreat from the media onslaught, an Israeli spokesman appeared to say on Tuesday that his government only knew of the flotilla heading for Gaza a “few days ago”.

But days after George Galloway was deported from Egypt five months ago he warned at a Camden meeting that a planned convoy of ships would carry much more aid to Gaza.

Obviously the Israel government had six months to plan their strategic response to the convoy – and made a mess of it. 

I am also astonished I have not seen any picture stories in the Press about one of the deported pro-Palestine activists – the best-selling crime novelist Henning Mankell whose Wallender series is now running on BBC 4. His name was made public on the lists published by the various Palestine bodies. Would another big-time crime writer like Stephen King – Mankell is almost in the same league – have slipped past the media?

• In a letter in yesterday’s (Wednesday) Guardian, signed by several Jewish academics and writers as well as by Sir Geoffrey Bindman, a former Camden Labour councillor and leading human rights lawyer, Israel’s action on the flotilla is described as a crime and urges the British government and EU to take “serious and effective action to rein in Israel”.

‘Different voice’ from Lloyd-Pack

IT was written as a lament for the fall of western civilisation in the dark days following the end of the First World War – but TS Eliot’s classic verse The Waste Land has frightening relevance today, according to actor Roger Lloyd-Pack.

Accom­panied by cellist and  music professor Melanie Phelps, Roger, who lives in Kentish Town, is due to read the poem tonight (Thursday) at the Free Word Centre. He says Eliot’s work – that draws together concepts of death and re-birth, using a metaphor of the search for a grail to save civilisation – can be ­easily fast-forwarded to the present.

“It is highly relevant,” says Roger, who has starred in such TV shows such as Only Fools and Horses and The Vicar of Dibley.  Recently, he appeared in a glorious tribute to Harold Pinter along with Michael Gambon, Judie Dench and Bill Nighy. 

Little known is a  Camden link to The Waste Land: the poet originally wanted to call it “He do the police in different voices”, a phrase taken from Dickens’s novel Our Mutual Friend. 

In the book, widow Betty Higden says of her adopted child – he came from the Foundling Hospital in Bloomsbury – that when he reads the newspapers, “he do the police in different voices.”   

Also appearing tonight is the poet Jehane Markham, who sets her words to a jazz accompaniment.

They are at the Free Word Centre, 60 Farring­don Road, Clerkenwell.

It’s not so nutty in Philly!

I MISSED the honeymoon of Cameron and Clegg in the first two weeks – I was in Philadelphia on a family visit.

The US papers I saw – the very good daily Philadelphia Inquirer and the New York Times – gave hardly any space to UK affairs, apart from the volcanic ash and the BA cabin crew strike.

Being abroad gives one a more balanced perspective of Britain’s status in the world.

While the US is seen as the home of the free market, I was surprised to discover how big a part the state plays in the economy – rail service and subway publicly run, new blocks of flats and terraced houses built by the “Public Housing Authority” (contrast that with the total absence of new council housing in Camden and elsewhere), grand libraries, and a large network of schools and social services run by a municipal government housed in both a skyscraper and an extraordinary City Hall, the largest municipal building in the US.

The Federal Government also has tough laws on ageism, banning discrimination by employers.

I met Mr Kenyatta – a West Indian named after the Kenyan nationalist leader – who had toured Europe in the 1970s as a drummer with the famous soul singer Wilson Pickett. 

Now, 72, he is teaching percussion at a Philadelphia school. I was also told by the head of arts education in the city that one of his teachers was nearly 90!

I dropped into the City Hall – built at the end of the 19th century with more than 600 rooms and 200 feet or so shorter than the Eiffel Tower – and talked to the press officers in the mayor’s office. The city – population more than 1.5million – has an annual budget of more than £2billion. But only four press officers appear to work for the mayor’s office. Mainly, they seem to fire-fight probing journalists. I wanted to see a press release on an amusing speech the night before by the wise-cracking mayor, Michael Nutter, on penal reform given at a seminar I attended at the university law school.

“Oh, we don’t do anything about his speeches like that one – he makes so many,” a woman press officer smiled.

Compare that to the swelling number of press officers employed by any London local authority whose population would be less than 15 per cent than that of Philadelphia.

As local councils in London have ballooned in size since the mid-1960s, so has the number of press officers, who promote a borough through publications as well as react against questions from marauding journalists. All very different from the Philadelphia model.

Like so many cities in the US – as well as Britain – there is a struggle to economise and I don’t think the mayor’s office would be allowed to get overweight.

The pay of the Mayor’s press officers – in contrast to those in Britain – was also on the low scale too. About the equivalent of £30,000 a year!

Next week I’ll write about a pioneering attempt to cut the 

penal budget and the prison population that could save billions in Britain.

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