Friday, January 23, 2009

House Points: It's not the Ministry of Fun any more

My column from today's Liberal Democrat News.

No more fun

When the Department for National Heritage was established by John Major, its first secretary of state, David Mellor, was widely known as the “minister for fun”. Nowadays it is called the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, and at its question time on Monday there was precious little fun is sight.

Which was a pity, because we could have done with some. Later that day Alistair Darling explained why he was giving billions more to the banks. Then we had a statement on the conflict in Gaza and debate on what I make the 194th crime and policing bill since 1997.

But under Labour fun is no laughing matter. So we heard from various MPs that it was “obscene” that Manchester City were proposing to spend £100m on a player. We heard that the Evening Standard was about to be taken over by a former KGB member. We heard that 39 pubs are closing every week.

If that didn’t make you feel bad enough, crippling increases in water rates are being imposed on sports clubs in the North West by United Utilities. If they are cricket clubs, they are also suffering from reduced bar takings and three bad summers, so few of them are now able to employ a professional.

And they needn’t look to the government for help: funding for community sport has gone down by £15m in the past three years.

Meanwhile, Stonehenge has been waiting for a new visitor centre almost since the last Chief Druid hung up his robes.

At least someone is happy. Last Wednesday Lembit Opik was granted his debate on Segways – or “self-balancing personal transporters”, as Hansard titled it.

He waxed lyrical about their technical ingenuity, their friendliness to the environment and how easy they are to use. Only Piers Morgan and George W. Bush are known to have had trouble with them – which rather makes his point.

I like to imagine a beaming Lembit riding his Segway along the byways of Montgomeryshire. Birds sing in the trees. Timid forest creatures look up from their grazing as he passes. A painted butterfly alights upon him for a moment.

If it weren’t for the prospect of the Earth being wiped out by a stray meteorite, life would be perfect.

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