Comment With Barry Speker

Issue 39

The tale of Boris and the Burka has so dominated the press and the political parties, that the central issue was totally lost. Those wanting to use this as a stick to beat Boris out of his Prime Ministerial ambitions were opposed by protectors of free speech in a democratic society and those like Rowan Atkinson who wish to safeguard humour and satire ; and Boris had surprising allies such as Taj Hargey, the Oxford Imam and scholar. Professor Hargey robustly defended Boris and attacked those with an obsession with multiculturalism. He wrote 'The burka is a fifth column. One day they will wake up to an Islamic Republic of Britain and before this happens I'll be out of here'. Now if Boris had written that, the calls for him to be hung, drawn and quartered would be even more intense.

In a poll 60% of people said Boris was not being racist and one must credit that they may actually have read his offending column in the Telegraph in which he specifically argued against a ban on the burka, as has been introduced in Norway. No doubt he could not resist injecting some humour in the piece, but that does not make him a racist. As Blackadder said, all jokes about religion will cause offence.

What if Boris had written: “A Muslim woman knocked on my door last night. I didn’t open it. I just talked through the letter box to see how she likes it” or compared a burqa to a bin-liner? Both jokes were made by comedian Shazia Mirza, a Muslim woman writing in 2006 in a column in the New Statesman.

Much of the ignorant outcry was reminiscent of the protest marches in Iran and elsewhere calling for the Fatwa death of Salman Rushdie over his book Satanic Verses, which none of the protesters had seen or read. Such is the uninformed ‘politically correct’ clamour about Boris and the Burka.

If you are in London, take the opportunity to visit the Sky Garden, on the 35th and 36th floors of 20 Fenchurch Street in the City, near the Gherkin and beside Monument Tube Station. The building is nick-named the Walkie Talkie.

There are the most amazing panoramic views of London in all directions. Unlike the Shard, entry is free but a time slot must be booked online in advance. There are two bars and two restaurants up there as well as London’s highest garden. A particular thrill for those with vertigo.

All Premier Football ‘Clubs’ and their fans were in fever pitch awaiting the invigorating 2018 summer transfer window. Even in Newcastle there were the inevitable optimists, ignoring experience.

The highest spenders were Liverpool at £167.9m (including £67m for goalkeeper Alisson Becker), Chelsea £128.6m (net £87.3m ) including £71.6m for goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga – a good name for a goalie! – and newly promoted Fulham paying out £102m.

In the transaction table Newcastle were 18th, paying out £17m but after recouping £45.7m this showed a net spend of -£28.7m, the lowest in the entire league. Owner Mike Ashley has strongly defended his record at Newcastle United in response to the ill-conceived petition by local MP Chi Onwurrah. How ironic and coincidental was the announcement that Ashley had purchased his big player – the 169 year old retail chain House of Fraser out of bankruptcy for £90m ( much better value than an unheard of goalkeeper and defender).

The motivation must be getting a high-profile name at a bargain price. In 2006 House of Fraser was sold to the Icelandic Baugur for £351m and in 2014 to the Chinese Group Nanjing Cenbest for £155m. His stated ambition is to make H of F the ‘Harrods of the High Street’. Will there be a merger with Debenhams in which Sports Direct already has a 30% stake?

Ashley has the experience from his successes at Sports Direct and his involvement in other chains – as well as his ‘achievement’ in getting Newcastle United to 10th in the Premier League. As a shrewd businessman he will see no benefit in profligate spending on over-priced and unpredictable footballers and their avaricious agents. Will he be more influenced and intimidated by the shop unions and employees than by the football fans and Ms Onwurrah? Unlikely.

Yes, I have renewed my tickets for another frustrating season!

An enjoyable summer evening was held by the President of the Newcastle Law Society at the Riverside Stadium. An interesting feature arranged by President Alison Hall was a display of Birds of Prey. A subtle comment on the legal profession?

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