Friday, 3 October 2014

Billy Jo-King

It's Festival time again in Cheltenham, and given the shortage of parking spaces the tall statue of King William IV in Montpellier Gardens has been appropriately adorned. I went to two Times events, one more enjoyable than the other.

The Leader Conference - for a third year in succession - took place "live" at Midday, half a dozen journalists discussing what should appear in the three slots in tomorrow's paper. Last year, former Ladies' Coll. Head Enid Castle, in the Q&A towards the end of the hour, suggested a topic that hadn't been canvassed - and they went with it. This year, I put in a bid for tomorrow's feast of St Francis and the opening of the Rome Synod on Monday, but Oliver Kamm had other ideas, and he's apparently the one who writes "religious" leaders, despite being by his own admission "devoutly irreligious".

At this very moment he'll be polishing the third leader on the vital question of Um and Er. Can't wait.

Despite this failure, I found the hour's exchange of ideas entertaining and provocative. Is the suggested reform of human rights legislation just a political gesture?  Does it matter that Milliband's Conference speech was much-derided? (What, for that matter, differentiates Cameron's speech from "the old policy of populism" in Venezuela? And don't pledges of tax cuts undermine austerity?) Should we send the army into Sierra Leone to halt the spread of Ebola? What are the knock on consequences of making cycle helmets compulsory, as in Australia and now Jersey? Should they also take the brakes off cars?

The Times, News in pictures event this afternoon was by comparison low key, the star of the show - photographer Jack Hill - not being a naturally-gifted communicator in words. So his narrow escape last year, from capture at the hands of the Syrian man he thought was a friend, didn't register with me as I know it has done with others - an  appalling ordeal.

More people than ever throng Cheltenham for this year's Festival. No doubt it's no longer PC to say that the world and his wife were there.

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