Friday, July 07, 2006

"Now bugger off"

Today's House Points from Liberal Democrat News.

Parks posers
An exchange from Monday’s culture questions. Nicholas Soames complained that an excess of commercial events is damaging London’s royal parks. The minister, David Lammy, replied that Soames’s tastes “may well not be the same as those of Londoners” and that the Prince’s Trust concert and Live8 show that the Royal Parks Agency has been very successful.

We know what to make of this, don’t we? The forces of reaction took on modern London and were vanquished.

Soames fits that script admirably: the grandson of Winston Churchill, he has the look of a man who has eaten a whole gamekeeper for breakfast. But Lammy, the MP for funky, multiracial Tottenham, is not the straightforward Londoner (or ‘Nylondoner’ as Ken Livingstone would put it) many think him.

True, he was born in a working-class area of North London, but he won an Inner London Educational Authority choral scholarship to The King's School, Peterborough, and sang in the cathedral choir there. Add to this a postgraduate degree from Harvard, and he becomes a more complicated character than he made himself sound.

Besides, Soames has a point. Lammy later claimed there is the potential “to raise even more revenue from our parks”. But isn’t the point of a park that it is somewhere that stands apart from the business of getting and spending? If it is just a stretch of ground to make the maximum profit from, it ceases to be a park at all.

Nor are cathedrals exempt from this view. Culture questions were followed by the incongruous questions to the Church Commissioners. Even more incongruously, they were answered by Stuart Bell. He happily told the house that cathedrals generate £91m a year and support 2600 jobs.

Granted one of the best things about cathedrals is that they are not too holy: there is always someone rehearsing music or a bit of building work going on. But Bell does not understand the point of them any more than Lammy understands parks.

Finally, back to Nicholas Soames. As a very small boy he escaped from Nanny and wandered the corridors until he found Churchill. “Is it true, Grandpapa, that you are the greatest man in the world?” he lisped. “Yes,” came the reply. “Now bugger off.”

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