Does Aidan Burley deserve forgiveness? (The Telegraph)

You’re an MP at the top of your game. Elected just 18 months ago, already a high-flyer. You’re 32, Oxford-educated and part of a new breed of caring Conservatives. You’ve got a bright political future ahead of you. Now, how best to torpedo it?

Anyone considering that conundrum should call Aidan Burley, the Cannock Chase MP and former PPS to Transport Secretary Justine Greening. Last week it emerged that he’d been at a particularly raucous stag party in a French ski resort. It wasn’t that the group got obscenely drunk – though who knows, perhaps they did – or that they harassed the waitresses, or even that they ran up exorbitant bills and then neglected to pay them.

The crime – as it may well be in France – was that the party was themed; a nostalgic night during which guests donned SS garb and toasted high-ranking members of the Third Reich. Unfortunately for the stags, they were in a public restaurant and another diner, a journalist, caught the soirée on film.

For Burley, it was something of a last supper. The Prime Minister has now called for an investigation into his “offensive and foolish” behaviour and Burley has been removed from his post.

He is, of course, still part of the Conservative Party and his career will most likely recover. Politicians have bounced back from far worse. But, even as Westminster convulses over Britain’s future in Europe, it is right that this story and this scandal didn’t just disappear.

Let’s refresh. This was not a mere slip of the tongue. A few days earlier, Burley’s fellow freshman Conservative MP Zac Goldsmith was berated for a careless – but, I believe, absolutely unintentional – reference to Auschwitz. He was scolded, he apologised immediately, and the matter was put to rest.

Burley also said sorry, more than once. So why not forgive him, too? Aside from the suggestion in the Mail on Sunday that he was responsible for hiring the uniforms, the answer lies in his own apology; “I wish I had left as soon as I had realised what was happening,” he said.

This comment piece was first published in the Telegraph. Read the rest of it here

John Galliano: It is sad, but…

Remember when those charges against Roman Polanski were dredged up after all those years?

All of a sudden, hordes of ordinarily very rational stars were tripping over themselves to defend him. Never mind that he was an alleged rapist, he was so talented, so creative, they gushed.

Who cared that he fled the country rather than face the consequences of his actions? Not when his films were so wonderful.

Right. And maybe Ashley Cole was just having a tough day on the pitch when he fired at a work experience, and perhaps Charlie Sheen just got out of bed on the wrong side.

Maybe Mel Gibson’s drink was spiked that time he made those nasty comments about Jews.

I mean, such a fantastic [insert profession here] couldn’t possibly hold such filthy views or be responsible for such disgraceful behaviour. Could they?

Of course they could – as all those examples and countless more prove. Yet whatever happens with John Galliano’s design career (and it isn’t looking good), we can expect any number of similar tweets, blogs and comments wailing about how terribly sad it all is.

I can see them now – sentences running along the lines of: “I’m not excusing what he said or did, but what a shame…”. Or, “disgusting, but did you like Nicole Kidman’s dress at the Oscars?”

It is sad – sad that someone in this day and age can hold (and utter in public) such abhorrent things. It’s tragic that a nice meal in a bistro can be ruined by the incoherent ravings of an intoxicated man.

And it is depressing that France has a law criminalising hate-filled speech – depressing that it is still necessary.

But it isn’t sad when a bigot gets what they deserve.

I’m no fashion expert, and perhaps Galliano really is a rare talent. But if he holds the views he appears to, his abilities in the wardrobe department shouldn’t make the blindest bit of difference.

Banning the burka: is it British?

There’s been a lot of talk in the press lately about whether or not British women should be wearing the Islamic face veil, following the proposal for a burka ban made by ex-UKIP leader Nigel Farage.

In the Times today, Alice Thomson wrote that she agreed with Farage because:

“It allows for no communication, no empathy and it’s deeply impractical.”

Meanwhile over at the Independent Yasmin Alibhai-Brown recently praised France for moving closer to a ban, saying it was about protection:

“All the Muslim women I know detest this garment but are afraid to say so because it is a mark of disloyalty.”

But when I asked people on the streets of Islington, not everybody agreed:

Safety checks for school exchanges

Safety checks for school trips! Whatever next, people cry. Disney characters behind glass screens at the Magic Kingdom? A counselling session after reading Roald Dahl’s BFG? The poor little darlings are far too overprotected. They will go on to grow up unexposed to reality, with no life skills and street sense. Knock ’em about a bit, make ’em suffer. That’s how it was in the good old days.

Well, maybe. But as someone who went on a foreign trip as a schoolgirl and had a pretty grim experience, I say bring on more stringent checks. The concept of packing off kids for a week in some random village in France is antiquated and could be dangerous.

Age 13, I set off with a friend on a French trip to La Rochelle. After a lengthy coach journey, everyone was met by host families with whom they would stay for the week. Teachers went off to the hotel, see you in the morning suckers!

My friend and I were met by a quiet man, who gruffly confirmed our names then packed us into his car. Half an hour later we were still driving through dark, desolate countryside.

Abrupt stop, and wordlessly we were deposited in what looked like a bleaker version of the shanty towns we had been studying that term in geography. Nearby, a huge alsatian was barking wildly. We were vaguely directed into a room, whereupon we were left. Alone. Not shown a bathroom, given no food. The man hadn’t even introduced himself. He might have known who we were, but we had no idea who he was. He could have been anyone, that’s the terrible thing.

Time passed till we eventually ventured out. Met with a hostile manner, but thankfully we managed to communicate in broken, Year 8 level French that we wanted to use a phone (This being BB, as in before Blackberry).

Not that there was one in the shack  house. The man, still silent, drove us half an hour away to a solitary phone box on the side of a road. My friend, distraught, broke into hysterical sobs to a family member back home.

What could have happened there? We will never know, because an alarmed parent had called the school, who took the very sensible decision to come and rescue us in the middle of the night.

In the end, we were fine. A new host family. A sweet old couple with a cat and a rural cottage were found. Baguettes for breakfast, coffee in a bowl, the ideal French trip experience.

But it could have gone horribly wrong, not just for me but for all those others put with families out for the money and not the welfare of a tounge tied teen. By all means, take kids on school holidays abroad. Expose them to new cultures and a polyglot lifestyle. But what parent in their right mind would send a child off to stay with a perfect stranger. It is no better than meeting a kindly internet friend and asking them to babysit.

More stringent checks, that’s all l’m saying. Because at least before GCSE, most school kids don’t know the French for ‘help I’m being abducted by a total stranger (who smells of garlic and eats something that looks suspiciously like a snail!)