Mary Dejevsky: Firework fun alongside the orange-jackets

Share
Related Topics

The new year firework display in London was the best I can remember. The shapes, the colours, the luminous reflections in the river put us right up there with Sydney, Athens and Edinburgh – if international competition is how you judge these things. Mayor Boris did everyone a favour with his upbeat message, projected on to City Hall. Thank goodness someone in charge is looking on the bright side.

The Great British Public did their bit for cheerfulness, too. On a bitter-cold night, almost half a million people descended on and around the Thames embankment, with their folding chairs, thermos flasks and – more in the spirit of the festival, if not the temperature – real glasses and real champagne. What was that about the Blitz spirit, again?

So if we can do it, why can't the authorities? Why do they seem so curmudgeonly, so obviously anticipating the worst? Of course, they have a responsibility to be vigilant in the face of possible attack, even if many of us are more neglectful of the terrorist threat than we used to be. But the preparations for midnight had a hint of Romania under Ceausescu in their counter-human and apparently kill-joy intent. It seemed all about control.

As dusk gathered, lorries were depositing mountains of crowd barriers that were then erected by a veritable army of orange-jackets. Controlled viewing areas were where people were supposed to be – or, still better, safely at home in front of the television, and out of the authorities' hair. The big screen in Trafalgar Square helpfully told people that they would be wise to see the fireworks at home, and reassured them that the show would be live on television from 23:50. "Happy New Year", it said.

It goes without saying that any direct road route to the "viewing areas" was cut off in good time (like about 8pm). And that the closest Tube stations, such as Westminster, were shut for the duration.

Having the Tube working until 4.30am, and – as in recent years – free travel from just before midnight was terrific. But it's not quite so terrific if you, and your child-in-pushchair, and your champagne kit, also have to take part in a half-hour forced march to and from Victoria station (the closest recommended).

Oh, and of course, the riverside – except for the controlled areas – was barricaded off; we can't risk people falling into the water, now, can we? The streets swarmed with guardians of public order, labelled crowd control or some such.

Off-licences paired their big posters advertising special deals with little posters – never seen in normal times when we natives might appreciate them – warning that anti-social drinking in Westminster could attract a fine of £500. Could, but invariably doesn't. The Metropolitan Police seem to have no difficulty vanishing from the streets 364 nights of the year, why don't they just make it 365?

In the end, despite their best efforts the massed forces of law and order could only muster 70 or so arrests. There were many fewer emergency calls in the hours after midnight than last year. Perhaps it was because the economic crisis restricted what the powers-that-be would call "irresponsible drinking". Or perhaps it was because, despite all official efforts to thwart it, a sense of good humour prevailed among those who had come to celebrate.

Helen Suzman showed courage and iron principle

Helen Suzman, the anti-apartheid campaigner – how gloriously historical those words now sound – has died, full of years, as an eloquent Russian expression has it, and full of honours. She was one of those women of a certain generation, whose determination was second only to the force of her convictions. The obstacles such strong-willed women faced, whether in standing for political office or simply making their voices heard, only inspired them to redouble their efforts. We will see fewer and fewer like her; social progress means that women no longer need to show such outstanding courage and iron principle to make their way in politics.

For better and worse, women politicians no longer have to be exceptional. It is not the fault of Ms Caroline Flint that, as Europe minister, she was called upon to set out the Government's position on the euro in a BBC interview yesterday. But, my goodness, what a patter of platitude and followership she produced. No, Britain would not have done better with the euro; No, there was no prospect of membership in the foreseeable future. And, by the way, an opinion poll showed that the vast majority of voters agreed. Lily-livered pandering to a tremulous public is not how Helen Suzman helped bring down apartheid.

Blunder did not stop Sir Anthony's rise

Among the end-of-year releases of public records were documents revealing how grievously Britain's then man in Tehran, Sir Anthony Parsons, misjudged the mood in Iran on the eve of the revolution that swept Ayatollah Khomeini to power. He believed, despite mounting and dramatic evidence to the contrary, that the Shah could survive the popular rebellion. He also declined to acknowledge the physical danger faced by British and other foreign nationals, even as his embassy was under siege.

I have a slight personal interest to declare here: my late aunt, a former missionary living in Isfahan, could have been among those arrested by the new regime but was exempt by virtue of her dual nationality. Others were much less fortunate.

To give the late Sir Anthony his due, he was open about his mistake in retirement. And you could argue that a once-headstrong diplomat who has made such an error will be more circumspect thereafter.

At a time when the knives are out for bankers who rushed headlong into dubious financial "products", however, I cannot but note that Sir Anthony's career seems to have been unaffected. He was knighted and glided serenely onwards and upwards, becoming ambassador to the UN (during the Falklands War) and later Mrs Thatcher's foreign policy adviser. Yes, adviser.

It is said she appreciated the fact that he dared to answer back. But why is it that the "how" in public office seems to be more highly regarded than the "what" – whether the judgement was sound and the forecast accurate? I also wonder whether, had Sir Anthony still been alive, those particular Foreign Office records would have been opened. Wouldn't it be nice if there was personal accountability?

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

QA Manager - North Manchester - Nuclear & MOD - £40k+

£35000 - £41000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: QA Manager -...

Property Finance Partner

Very Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: LONDON - BANKING / PROPERTY FINANCE - ...

Agile Tester

£28000 - £30000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: An ambitious...

Senior SAP MM Consultant, £50,000 - £60,000, Birmingham

£50000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Senior SAP MM C...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The Sumatran tiger, endemic to the Indonesian island of Sumatra, is an endangered species  

Save the tiger: Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

Jonathon Porritt
 

Let's make Eid a bank holiday

Grace Dent
A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried