Monday, 26 October 2015

No bacon, no beer

Two reports by health bodies caught my eye in the last week.

First up, the NHS's National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) published a report on dementia which said that for people between 40 and 64 there is no safe limit for alcohol and therefore they should abstain from drinking to avoid it being a trigger for the condition, and now the World Heath Association (WHO) has announced that eating sausages, bacon and ham puts you at the same risk of cancer as smoking.

As someone in his mid-forties who regularly drinks beer and eats bacon, ham or sausages most days, I'm clearly in big trouble. Our beer-drinking and sausage-eating cousins across the North Sea in Germany should no doubt be worried too as they swig their steins of lager and munch their Bratwurst.

I accept that there are environmental and animal welfare issues around how meat is currently produced, and health and social problems associated with the excess consumption of alcohol, and not being a scientist I have no way of knowing how accurate the findings from NICE and the WHO are. But even if they are, the messages are so extreme as to make it almost inconceivable that they'll be heeded. And if they were, and we all became teetotal vegetarians tomorrow, there would be massive economic knock-on effects with closed shops, restaurants, breweries, farms, factories, pubs and off-licences.

Kingsley Amis put it well when he said, "No pleasure is worth giving up for the sake of two more years in a geriatric home in Weston-super-Mare."

A lethal combination

Monday, 19 October 2015

Mancs get tanks

A new German-style beer hall opened its doors to the public in Manchester yesterday, after a couple of press and invitation-only nights last week, so I popped along to take a look.

Alberts Schloss, named after Queen Victoria's German consort Prince Albert, is on Peter Street and is fitted out with a Bavarian pine interior which I'm quite a fan of, but the main attraction is the beer, in particular Pilsner Urquell, the world's first golden lager brewed since 1842 in the Bohemian town of Pilsen, or Plzen as it's known in the Czech Republic.

Alberts Schloss is one of the few places in Britain that serves unpasteurised Pilsner Urquell tankovna, dispensed by air pressure from large tanks above the bar. It's not cheap (£4.80 a pint, or £3.20 for two-thirds) but it's great stuff: fresh, soft-bodied, cool rather than cold, with low carbonation and a delicate balance between the sweetness of the Moravian malt and the bitterness of the Saaz hops. There's also a range of draught and bottled German and Belgian wheat beers and lagers at similar prices and a single hand-pump for cask ale which yesterday was from Magic Rock.

I didn't get chance to look at the food menu but I'd guess it's the usual German combinations of pig, potatoes and pretzels.

Friday, 9 October 2015

Treizification comes to town

Fans of both rugby codes will be heading to Manchester tomorrow as England play their last match in rugby union's World Cup, a dead rubber against Uruguay at the City of Manchester Stadium, and Leeds meet Wigan in the rugby league Grand Final at Old Trafford.

Since rugby union lifted its ban on professionals twenty years ago, quite a few players and coaches have left league for union, although many of them have not found it an easy switch, Sam Burgess being the latest convert from league to union to struggle in the rival code. Some of the England rugby union team's youngsters played rugby league at amateur or junior level, including Owen Farrell and George Ford, both sons of former league players who now coach in union. Rugby union has also adopted some tactics and rules from league, a process French rugby league historian Robert Fassolette has dubbed "treizification".

When rugby union became openly professional in 1995, many had concerns that the fifteen-a-side game would poach league's top talent in much the same way that union players used to be lured North by league club scouts. While that has happened to some extent, thankfully it hasn't been on anything like the scale that some feared and, as now looks likely with Burgess, several ultimately returned to the thirteen-man code.

Thursday, 1 October 2015

The six tribes of Labour

At the end of the most interesting Labour Conference for a couple of decades, the media is focussing on divisions between the left and right in the party, mainly over Trident, but also to a lesser extent over Europe, Syria and the economy.

Those divisions are real and important but what's often overlooked is the differences in background and class that have shaped Labour politics throughout the party's history. I can think of half a dozen such groups in the party:

1. Upper middle-class Nonconformists, often from a Radical Liberal background: tend to the left and towards vegetarianism, teetotalism, pacifism and mild eccentricity. Tony Benn and Michael Foot are the classic examples.

2. Middle-class professionals, especially academics, journalists and lawyers: tend to the right. Current examples include Tristram Hunt, Gerald Kaufman and Keir Starmer, and in the past Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, Harriet Harman, Jack Straw, John Smith, Bryan Gould, Paul Boateng, Jack Cunningham, Harold Wilson, Shirley Williams and Roy Jenkins.

3. Working-class, former blue collar trade union officials: to be found on the right (Alan Johnson, and in the past Ernest Bevin) as well as on the left of the party (Ian Lavery, David Anderson, and in the past John Prescott, Eric Heffer and Aneurin Bevan).

4. Working-class, former white collar trade union officials or activists in local government, the public and voluntary sector or campaigns and pressure groups: tend to the left. Current examples include Diane Abbott and John McDonnell, and in the past Ken Livingstone, Tony Banks, David Blunkett and George Galloway.

5. Politicos/staffers/policy wonks: people who've never had a job outside Westminster, graduating straight from student politics to working for a MP or a left-of-centre think tank, in the party or an affiliated trade union's research unit or as a speechwriter or special adviser to a minister. Lots of current examples including Andy Burnham, Stella Creasy and Tom Watson, and in the past Ed Balls, both Miliband brothers and Denis Healey. Tend to be lower to upper middle-class, occasionally working-class, and on the right of the party. The network of ex-NOLSies (members of the National Organisation of Labour Students) who came from this background were key to creating the New Labour project in the early to mid 90's.

6. Business donors: not many examples, but, unsurprisingly, influential, at least in the recent past, given their ability to donate large sums to the party's coffers and access to other fundraising contacts and networks: Geoffrey Robinson, Lord Levy, Lord Sainsbury.

I'm sure I've missed a few people out and there are of course others who fit into more than one category: Corbyn is a mixture of 1. and 4. and both Benn and Foot worked as journalists too. Let's hope that in the future we see more of 3. and 4. and a lot less of 2. 6., and especially 5.