This week I have seen at least eight murders, a couple of vicious beatings, one hit-and-run and one suicide. They were all fictional, courtesy of Case Histories, an old episode of Lewis and The Great Gatsby (exuberant but cold-hearted and ultimately empty), but it’s not been an unusual week. Indeed, even leaving out Hollywood movies, I’m guessing that between Scandinavian TV noir, the Granada school of Morse, Midsomer and Whitechapel, and the BBC’s Silent Witness, I must have seen well over 2,000 murders and gruesome deaths in my viewing history. True, Midsomer Murders is more panto than Pinter, but since that show alone has despatched more than 250 victims, you get my drift.
Which may explain why, when all the TV news broadcasters showed the pictures of Michael Adeboloja ranting in Woolwich, his hands clutching a meat cleaver and a kitchen knife, carmine with blood, the image itself was not as shocking as it should be. Yes, the fact of what he had done, the horror of such an act in broad daylight, the hateful madness of such a warped ideology, these were shocking. The cold-bloodedness of it was deeply disturbing, too. But the image itself was, strangely, not.
In another era, the broadcasters would have thought twice. They would have feared the wrath of The Sun or the Daily Mail. But this week the images had been bought by The Sun; the broadcasters ran them with barely a warning and few have blanched. Indeed, the only row has been about Newsnight and Channel 4’s preposterous decision to give the hateful Islamist cleric Anjem Choudary considerable airtime. Doubtless the journalists involved thought that their incisive questioning would expose his deranged creed. In fact, all they succeeded in doing was to make him just that little bit more famous. Which is hardly a fitting tribute to a brave young man.
What makes our being inured to images of violence even odder is the fact that murder here is a rarity. In the UK last year, there were 12 murders for every million, but the figure for the US was 48, for Colombia 310 and for Honduras 960. Denmark, Austria, Germany and Spain all do much better, but last year there was a 30-year UK record low for homicides. These images should shock.
Emergency for health lottery
On Thursday, I stood by a wet and windy roundabout outside the Royal Glamorgan Hospital with my Labour colleagues Owen Smith, Leighton Andrews and Mick Antoniw, declaring our support for the local A&E unit, which is under threat of reconfiguration in a clinical review of South Wales’s NHS. Of course, medical advances mean that in a moment of life-threatening crisis such as a road accident, you are best being transported to a major regional trauma centre. That’s what happens already. But health inequality between the rich and the poor remains a major killer in Britain, and geographical isolation cannot be allowed to determine people’s life chances.
Heavyweight issues in the House
Everyone complains about the heavy-drinking lifestyle of parliament, but I worry more about the heavy eating. For ministers, stakeholder management often means a full English breakfast and fine dining at least twice a day, and when MPs are waiting for divisions, there is a great temptation to take the three-course dinner in the Members’ Dining Room. Since he left office, Charlie Falconer has slimmed down dramatically, while a couple of cabinet ministers have been putting on the pounds at such an alarming rate that it seems one of them can actually place his stomach on the despatch box. When I was a curate in High Wycombe, the council used to weigh the new mayor at the start and end of his year in office. Perhaps we should do the same for ministers.
Same sex, same sartorial choices
The Same Sex Marriage Bill had its third reading debate in the Commons on Tuesday. It was a one-hour debate of contrasts. Maria Miller, below left, was so cautious I felt I was listening to an elegant pot of Olay. Yvette Cooper, below right, replied with passion and not a little camp humour, demanding that we all join her in a rendition of Abba’s “I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do”, and suggesting that the only way her own marriage would be affected would be if someone decided to enter a same-sex marriage with the shadow Chancellor. Stuart Andrew took issue with Sir Gerald Howarth’s reference the previous day to “aggressive homosexuals”, and told us of how he had been beaten unconscious for being gay a decade ago and how the steady changing of the law had helped him grow strong. And in the dying moments, the “born-again, Bible-believing Christian” Dr William McCrea and Edward Leigh declared their opposition.
There were two sartorial moments to savour. First, the former police minister, Nick Herbert, jested that although he had had medical attention that day for his eyes, he could still tell that I was wearing a “loud and proud and typically revolting tie”, before noting that the Speaker was wearing exactly the same number and withdrawing his remark.
The second was hidden from the cameras, which are not allowed in the division lobbies, where it is traditional at third reading for the government ministers in charge of the Bill to stand at the Aye voting boxes to thank their colleagues. On this occasion, as there were many more Labour MPs than Conservatives, the job was shared by Yvette and Maria. Charmingly, they wore identical cream-coloured shoes.