Saturday, April 24, 2004

House Points

I have just added my latest (23 April) House Points column from Liberal Democrat News to Lord Bonkers' website. But I am feeling generous, so I am going to post the whole thing here too. My copy of Lib Dem News did not arrive this morning, so the headline may differ from that published...

The writing’s on the wall

Charles Kennedy was missing on Monday. Not from the Commons – he was there to hear Tony Blair describe how well things are going in Iraq – but from Blaby Road Park, South Wigston.

He had been due to visit the Harborough constituency until events at Westminster got interesting and forced him to cancel. But we still had a television crew, Bill Newton Dunn and several local councillors.

They were there to mark the success of the district council (Liberal Democrat-run Oadby and Wigston) in reclaiming the park from underage drinkers. It is a thoroughly modern initiative involving anti-social behaviour policies, alcohol bans and community support officers.

In essence, councils are reinventing park-keepers. They were got rid of 20 years ago because the right wanted to cut taxes and the left believed they were crypto-fascists.

The South Wigston project also involved the building of a skateboard park. What a photo opportunity that would have been for Charles!

Skateboard parks mean bare concrete. And bare concrete means graffiti, which poses a dilemma for officialdom. These days it is too self-doubting to say graffiti is a bad thing but not relaxed enough to let events take their course.

The solution? Official graffiti. The council employed professionals to write on the concrete before anyone else got at it. You need a Masters in Graffiti Studies before you are allowed near a spray can these days. (“Who painted you this then? Bloody cowboys.”)

I had expected to have naughty libertarian doubts about the Blaby Road scheme. But it seemed a sensible idea and I liked the municipal flowerbeds.

After leaving the park I walked into Leicester down streets of council housing. You could tell they were council houses because of the tall metal columns topped with CCTV cameras. The scene was a cross between the old East Germany and a work of science fiction.

And at Westminster there is now a screen across the public gallery, supposedly to protect MPs from gas attack. You could call them cowards, but they seem to have had little to do with it. It was an initiative from the security services. Conspiracy theorists will believe they put it up to keep MPs in a state of fear.

If you listen carefully, you can hear Bin Laden laughing.

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