Diary: Where are all our athletes? The Tories got rid of them

  • @andymcsmith

"Why is it that, in so many schools, sport has been squeezed out and facilities run down?" David Cameron asked yesterday, in a speech which lamented the low promotion of Britain's top athletes who have been through state schools.

It is hard to believe that the Prime Minister does not know the causes of the problem. The last Conservative government tightened the education budget but gave schools the freedom to raise money by selling their playing fields. One estimate is that 10,000 school playing fields disappeared under concrete in the Tory years.

In 1998, the Labour government introduced rules which banned sales of any sports fields except those that were "genuinely surplus" – which did not stop another 203 disappearing in 12 years. The great sports sell-off continued even after the announcement in 2007 that London would be hosting the 2012 Olympics.

And there is another problem, on which I can do no better than quote what Sam Allardyce, manager of West Ham, told The Sun a year ago: "Since Margaret Thatcher stopped teachers being paid extra money for coaching sports after school, all sporting activities have diminished on a competitive basis. Kids are now more obese and unfit than ever. All the prime young athletes we were ready to develop just aren't there."

Blunt Claire Perry knows her bankers

I had occasion last week to mention the fruity language used in public by Claire Perry, Tory MP and Government loyalist.

However, to give her her due, she is someone who knows whereof she speaks when discussing the banking scandal, having once worked in a bank and witnessed what she calls the "big swinging dicks" culture there.

"As a middle manager it was easy to see that those at the top were being paid huge amounts of money," she wrote in her weekly column for the Wiltshire Gazette yesterday. "I am always a fan of big rewards for big effort but in some cases never has so much been earned by so many for doing so little."

Sugar prescribes bitter pill

Lord Sugar, on the other hand, thinks that some of what the banks have been doing is fair and defensible, notably their reluctance to lend to businesses which might not survive the recession.

Politicians say to the bankers "why aren't you lending to that bloke?", he told the House Magazine, "that hopeless cause over there, complete and utter hopeless cause who's doing all the moaning, all the mouthing off, catching the Sky television cameras and some of the opposition politicians saying 'yeah, yeah, poor Harry here, you know, he can't get this and can't get...' Well, poor Harry in some cases is not entitled to it. Poor Harry has got a bust business. And poor Harry shouldn't have any money invested in him. Simple as that."

A spin-doctor with a heart

Gaby Bertin, David Cameron's long-serving press secretary, is an oxymoron – a Downing Street spin-doctor with a kind heart. Living in Harlow, Essex, is a 16-year-old named Gaby Bertin, who wrote to her local MP Robert Halfon to say that she was intrigued by her namesake operating at the seat of political power. Yesterday Gaby the spin-doctor put aside part of a morning so that Gaby the teenager could have a tour of 10 Downing Street.

Tory rebel has his eyes on another seat

Walter Sweeney, a bed-and-breakfast proprietor who is running as an independent for the job of Yorkshire Police Commissioner, is remembered in Westminster for having a very small majority and missing a vital vote because he could not get out of the toilet. He won the Vale of Glamorgan in 1992 by just 19 votes, and became a right-wing rebel. It was never established whether he missed that vital vote on the Maastricht Treaty because he had locked himself in the loo by accident, or the government whips locked him in.