Monday, 2 March 2015

Talking About BFC

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With my single-minded pursuit of keeping my son Joe at school for the remaining four months – a commitment way above our means but necessitated by events elsewhere in our lives – my availability for attending Brentford matches has diminished to almost zero. By a happy coincidence however Joe himself, after a junior flirtation with Arsenal which cost me several items of the requisite kit during the course of his rapid growth, has matured into a fully-fledged Brentford season ticket holder in his own right and thereby, I like to believe, discharges my obligations by proxy.

But having been a supporter since 1965 I do nonetheless take a close interest in the fortunes of the team, and like everybody else have been excited by events this season, when a perennial lower league side (only one previous and very brief foray beyond what is today known as League One in the whole of my lifetime) has taken the Championship by storm, and brushed aside teams with the pedigree of Leeds United, Nottingham Forest and Wolverhampton Wanderers in the course of what had appeared to be a realistic, if unlikely challenge for promotion to the Premier League itself.

Then came the bombshell. And it was a bombshell of such magnitude that even long-suffering Brentford fans are calling it – well, a bombshell. An article in the Times (that’s the real Times not the local paper of the same name – such is the respect that Brentford has achieved in the football world) revealed that Mark Warburton, the rookie manager who had delivered so much success on the field of play, was to be surplus to requirements at the end of the season. Taken by surprise by the leak the powers that be at the club wobbled, panicked, and issue a verbose, almost Cantona-esque statement saying not very much at all which only served to make matters far, far worse than they were already for shocked fans as well, perhaps, as for the players, who subsequently slumped to a very untypical 3-0 defeat by a poor Charlton Athletic side who had all but played them off the field.


An awkward silence ensued, until a couple of days later a more considered statement emerged from the club, to which both owner Matthew Benham and manager Mark Warburton were signed up. The truth of the matter was that Benham wants to introduce a radical new management system much used on the continent but relatively unknown here in the UK, and Warburton and his closest staff had felt unable to work with it as it ran contrary to their own footballing philosophies. And so the parting of the ways, when it happens, is to be by mutual agreement. Now fans are hoping against hope that “Warbs” hangs around to finish the job of getting the Bees promoted to the dizzy heights of the Premier League, but most of us are realistic enough to know that if a top team were to come in for him now it would be very difficult for him to resist taking up the challenge, knowing that his days at Griffin Park are drawing to a close.

For the benefit of Bees fans, or for that matter of mere voyeurs who may wish to be kept regularly updated on this story, my advice would be to visit BFC Talk, an excellent private blog by Bees fan Greville Waterman which is frequently replenished with eloquent articles and well-presented news and views from around the club. On this particular subject, as with many others, regular new features are posted to this site to relate and offer intelligent comment on all the latest developments.

If you are a Brentford supporter BFC Talk deserves your unqualified support. Especially so as it is a useful, not to mention probably the most articulate source, of regular post-match analysis.

It would be a brave punter who was to commit to a position on Brentford’s likely performance for the remainder of this campaign. An uninspiring if uncharacteristic wipeout at Charlton was followed by an impressively dominant performance against high-flyers Bournemouth and a walkover against no-hopers Blackpool in which the 4-0 scoreline flattered the visitors, which in turn was followed by defeat at the hands of a less than spectacular Birmingham side.

This year’s ongoing Brentford saga is a fascinating one on and off the pitch, whether you are an avid fan or a mere passenger. It is a blessing that we have the tools to keep us well informed.

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

A Horsey Story that's a Racing Cert to Run and Run

Anybody following the local community news forum at could not have helped but notice the big story that has come out of Isleworth over the past few weeks or so, that of the horses which currently graze in the idyllic rural setting of Northcote Avenue, on the Worple housing estate.

The land on which they roam was, before they arrived, open land available for use by the entire community, from the estate and beyond. It was particularly popular with dog walkers. Not no more.

Now ordinarily I would painstakingly relate the whole saga of how a public park became overnight a private facility for the exclusive use of two equines and their owner, particularly in respect of the total lack of engagement with residents and park users. But I understand that this highly entertaining episode will be related in very great detail elsewhere in the near future, so I counsel patience. Suffice it to say that much consideration has been given to whether this rather unconventional annexation of a public facility without a by your leave, far less a proper consultation, was brought about by officers behind the backs of councillors or actually at the councillors' behest.

Ever since the scandal blew up councillors have been (convincingly) acting dumb about the whole thing, although one of them was subsequently discovered to have been the person who actually signed off the authorisation for officers to do the dirty deed!

Like I say there will be much, much more on all of this very soon. But in the meantime let us leave the last word to the Council Leader, whose choice of friends may very well come galloping back to haunt him before his tenure is through:

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

How to Use My Feed on Your Website or Blog

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If you'd like to display a list of my latest articles on your blog or website, please just follow the simple instructions below:

On any Blogger platform (like this one), click "Design" and choose the "Layout" option on the left hand column. From there scroll down to "Add a Gadget", select the "Feed" gadget, open it and insert the following URL: Give it a name and drag and drop it to wherever you want it on your site.

For websites, download any free widget provider such as Surfing Waves and again insert the URL Then just follow the instructions to upload the widget to your site. Simples.

If you'd prefer to place a feed list on the toolbar of your browser just hit one of the "Subscribe" buttons on the right hand column beside this article and again follow the directions given. Then just bookmark the Feed URL to your toolbar. This way you don't need to visit and scroll through the blog to see what is new - all the article titles are there for you.

Why add my feed to your site? Well, for a start if you do it and let me know you will get a backlink from here (I'm PR2 at the moment and hoping to bounce back to PR3 at the next time of asking). Plus of course you get added content. Every one's a winner.

The whole thing is fairly straightforward but please e-mail me if you have any difficulties and I'll be happy to talk you through it. Thanks.

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

The Isleworth Grammar School Class of '72 Reunion

My two recent articles about the Worple Road Primary School reunion held last November (see here and here.) both exhausted and frustrated me. Exhausted because of the feeling of exhilaration the whole occasion brought to me, and frustrated because I lacked the words to truly do it justice.

Last Saturday's reunion of my old classmates and schoolmates from Isleworth Grammar School (which went on to merge with Syon to form today's Isleworth and Syon School) at the Old Isleworthians' Club was similar but different in equal measure.


I suppose I must have been a clever pupil at one point, otherwise I guess I would never have ended up at IGS, a selective state school, in the first place. All the same no sooner had I breached its varnished wooden portals than I resolved of an instant to clown around and to get as little schoolwork done as I could get away with, the result being the rescheduling of earlier aspirations to Oxbridge into scraping an entry to Manchester Polytechnic and thereafter flunking my first-year exams on account of the fact that I had barely set foot in the building, let alone opened a book, in all the time I was there.

So when tales were exchanged amongst the curious little circles that formed, broke up and then regrouped with an altered line-up, of the things we had achieved
in our respective careers since all going our separate ways back in 1979, this humble postman had somehow to hold face amongst the doctors, lawyers, property developers and musicians in whose company he stood.

And it wasn't too daunting, to be honest. In truth I'd been a councillor the last time most of us were gathered, back in 2002, which although not a career as such was as good a talking point as any. So rather than having started at the bottom and worked my way up, like so many of them, I could feasibly say I had started somewhere in the middle and worked my way down.


What struck me was the warmth, the charisma and the generosity of spirit that each and every one of my old school friends exuded. Perhaps the often clumsy approach to character building on the part of our old masters at which we had for so long scoffed had had something about it after all? It was throughout the whole of the evening a wonderful experience, and truly surreal.

We were a bit light on numbers considering that most of us as I write remain on this side of the mortal divide, and we were grateful for the presence of several of the old girls (that is old in the sense of having been "former") from the Green School, with whom those with an inclination to drama or to sport had spent much of their sixth form, although I didn't really know them other than latterly as contributors to the various
old school Facebook threads. It was a goodly gathering enhanced by friendly staff and a well-stocked bar.


We dispersed amid a fond discussion about when we might do it again. Another thirteen years seems far too long as time and age power relentlessly on. Living in Isleworth an annual event would seem ideal to me. To those who had travelled further for the gig, one of them from California, probably less so.

More than ever before I feel the need to be firmly rooted in my roots. One of my old classmates admitted to me that at school he used to consider me obnoxious. I told him he had probably been a sound judge.

I'm sure I would have enjoyed senior school much more had I not played the fool, but I always enjoyed the company of those around me. What a fantastic evening last Saturday was. Special thanks to Richard Andrews (no relation) for laying it on once again.

Photos courtesy of Malc Shaw

Monday, 2 February 2015

Is Do-Goodism Poised to Surmount the Final Frontier?

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Forget the celebrity deaths, politicians arguing about who should and shouldn't be on the telly, FA Cup shock exits and uppity Greek voters, the real news in recent days has been the shock announcement that the institution that was and currently is still the 500ml 9.0% ABV can of Carlsberg Special Brew may very soon be a thing of the past.

First brewed by the Danes in 1950 in honour of Winston Churchill - ironically himself in the news this last week as a result of him having not been with us for a full half-century - this true King of Beers (and let's be honest, by comparison Budweiser is but a clown prince) has fallen foul, it would appear, of the government's new "responsibility deal" which pledges to stop selling any carbonated beverage containing more than four units of alcohol in one self-contained container.

A can of Carlsberg Special, in its present 500ml incarnation, boasts something between four and five units.

Assuming that decarbonating is not an option, this leaves Carlsberg, which is determined to play by the rules, with essentially two options. The first is that it could reduce the size of its can. The second option - and forgive me Lord for I know not what I say - would be to diminish the ABV of the product until it is compliant.

Sad though it undoubtedly is, Carlsberg SB has a special (npi) place in my heart. As a young man of, well, a certain age (and I'll not incriminate myself further), I developed a fondness for the "tinny" which, as befits my character, naturally led me to embrace the strongest, meanest and kick-assest beer on the planet. I gravitated to Carlsberg Special Brew like a bluebottle to flypaper. Conveniently after imbibing a couple of tinnies over the Old Deer Park the empty can, suitably crushed, doubled as a football, and by that time probably looked like one too. Many a great time was had by me and my mates courtesy of the 500ml, 9.0% deity in a tin.

Progress, of course, is not always to be frowned upon. Whether the park bench topers and folk who shout at passing buses will lack the wit or the determination to open an extra can or two to negate the impact of the government's benign wickedness remains to be seen. Turpentine remains a valid alternative - and a perfectly legal and respectable one too, uncarbonated as it is.

Me, I will mourn the passing of the half-litre tinny like a much loved aunt. It is a sign of our times that they could dare to interfere with something so fundamental to our society, our memories and everything we are.

Salut, fine friend. Sir Winston would never have approved.

Follow Your Convictions – This Could Be the End of the Politics of Fear

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Syriza, Podemos, the SNP: the neoliberal consensus is collapsing. Forget tactical considerations in May and vote Green for a genuine alternative

By George Monbiot

Here is the first rule of politics: if you never vote for what you want, you never get it. We are told at every election to hold our noses, forget the deficiencies and betrayals and vote Labour yet again, for fear of something worse. And there will, of course, always be something worse. So at what point should we vote for what we want rather than keep choosing between two versions of market fundamentalism? Sometime this century? Or in the next? Follow the advice of the noseholders and we will be lost forever in Labour’s Bermuda triangulation.

Perhaps there was a time when this counsel of despair made sense. No longer. The lamps are coming on all over Europe. As in South America, political shifts that seemed impossible a few years earlier are now shaking the continent. We knew that another world was possible. Now, it seems, another world is here: the sudden death of the neoliberal consensus. Any party that claims to belong to the left but does not grasp this is finished.

Syriza, Podemos, Sinn Féin, the SNP; now a bright light is shining in England too, as the Green party stokes the radical flame that Labour left to gutter. On Tuesday morning, its membership in England and Wales passed 50,000; a year ago it was fewer than 15,000.

A survey by the website reports that in blind tests (the 500,000 people it has polled were unaware of which positions belong to which parties), the Green party’s policies are more popular than those of any other. If people voted for what they wanted, the Greens would be the party of government.


There are many reasons for this surge, but one of them must be a sense of popular ownership. Green party policies are determined democratically. Emerging from debates led mostly by younger members, they feel made for their time, while those of the major parties appear trapped in the 1980s.

Let me give you a flavour of the political transformation the Green party seeks. There would be no prime minister of the kind we have today, no secretaries of state. Instead, parliament would elect policy committees which in turn would appoint convenors. It would also elect a first minister, to chair the convenors’ committee. Parliament, in other words, would be sovereign rather than subject to the royal prerogative that prime ministers abuse. Leaders would be elected by the whole parliament, and its various political parties would be obliged to work together rather than engage in perennial willy-waving.

Local authorities would set the taxes they chose. Local currencies, which have proved elsewhere to have transformative effects in depressed areas (see Bernard Lietaer’s book The Future of Money), would become legal tender. Private banks would no longer be permitted to create money (at the moment they issue 97% of our money supply, in the form of debt). Workers in limited companies would have the legal right, after a successful ballot, to buy them out and create cooperatives, with help from a national investment bank.

The hideously unfair council tax system would be replaced by land value taxation, through which everyone would benefit from the speculative gains now monopolised by a few. All citizens would receive, unconditionally, a basic income, putting an end to insecurity and fear and to the punitive conditions attached to benefits, which have reduced recipients almost to the status of slaves.


Compare this vision of hope with Labour’s politics of fear. Compare it with a party so mesmerised by the City and the Daily Mail that it has promised to sustain the Tory cuts for “decades ahead” and to “finish that task on which [the chancellor] has failed”: eradicating the deficit.

Far too late a former Labour minister, Peter Hain, now recognises that, inasmuch as the books need balancing, it can be done through measures such as a financial transaction tax and a reform of national insurance rather than through endless cuts. These opportunities have been dangling in front of Labour’s nose since 2008, but because appeasing the banks and the corporate press was deemed more important than preventing pain and suffering for millions, they have not been taken. Hain appears belatedly to have realised that austerity is a con, a deliberate rewriting of the social contract to divert our common wealth to the elite. There’s no evidence the frontbench is listening.

Whether it wins or loses the general election, Labour is probably finished. It would take a generation to replace the sycophants who let Tony Blair and Gordon Brown rip their party’s values to shreds. By then it will be history. If Labour wins in May, it is likely to destroy itself faster and more surely than if it loses, through the continued implementation of austerity. That is the lesson from Europe.

Fearful voting shifts the whole polity to the right. Blair’s obeisance to corporate power enabled the vicious and destructive policies the coalition now pursues. The same legacy silences Labour in opposition, as it pioneered most of the policies it should oppose. It is because we held our noses that there is a greater stink today. So do we keep voting for a diluted version of Tory politics, for fear of the concentrate? Or do we start to vote for what we want? Had the people of this nation heeded the noseholders a century ago, we would still be waiting for the Liberal party to deliver universal healthcare and the welfare state.


Society moves from the margins, not the centre. Those who wish for change must think of themselves as the sacrificial margin: the pioneering movement that might not succeed immediately but which will eventually deliver sweeping change. We cannot create a successful alternative to the parties that have betrayed us until we start voting for it. Do we start walking or just keep talking about the journey we might one day take?

Power at the moment is lethal. Whichever major party wins this election, it is likely to destroy itself through the pursuit of policies almost no one wants. Yes, that might mean five more years of pain, though I suspect in these fissiparous times it won’t last so long. And then it all opens up. This is what we must strive for; this is the process that begins in May by voting, regardless of tactical considerations, for parties offering a genuine alternative. Change arises from conviction. Stop voting in fear. Start voting for hope.

Reproduced with acknowledgements to The Guardian.

Monday, 26 January 2015

Park Resorts on the Isle of Wight - Part Three: Thorness Bay

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This is the jewel in the Park Resorts crown, the king of holiday parks where the Isle of Wight is concerned. As the largest of the four sites in the company's Isle of Wight portfolio, Thorness Bay Holiday Park is the place to be for holidaymakers who like to get involved in what is happening around the site.

Thorness Bay has all the touring, camping and holiday home ownership opportunities (caravans start at £14,495 and the site is now open all the year round), plus an extensive range of chalets and caravans of all grades, from the pleasant and comfortable to the luxury with every mod con.

The entertainment is out on its own. Like other Park Resorts venues the Sparky's Krew Club are always around to entertain the children, with a host of daytime and early evening activities. Later in the evening there is music, comedy, in-house cabaret and party dances - something for everybody as you enjoy excellent service from the spacious and well-stocked bar.


An adventure playground, archery, horse riding, an indoor pool with an imaginative themed water chute and a large multi-purpose sports area mean there is no shortage of things to do for the young and the not so young.

The on-site restaurant (with another bar!) provides breakfast in the morning and a varied menu throughout the day. From the spacious balcony outside one can observe all the activity on the busy Solent and across the water around Southampton, or one can take a short walk down to and along the beach to see it all from closer still.

Throughout your stay it is possible to keep stocked up with supplies from the busy camp shop.

Thorness Bay is located near to Cowes, so it can be accessed with the minimum of inconvenience from the Red Funnel after arrival at East Cowes.

On selected dates a free ferry is available as part of an inclusive holiday deal. Take advantage of the Early Booking Offer by organising your 2015 holiday before the 31st January, and get up to 30% off the published price. Click on the links here for further details.

Reproduced with acknowledgements to The Holiday Zone.

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Park Resorts on the Isle of Wight - Part Two: Lower Hyde

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The second location in our Park Resorts series is Lower Hyde, one of two parks situated in the popular seaside town of Shanklin.

Lower Hyde Holiday Park is of a similar size to Nodes Park, but is situated close to a major Island town - an easy walk both to the shops and down to the beach. As such it is an ideal retreat for families and seaside dwellers.

The star attraction is maybe the popular heated outdoor pool, open between May and September. As well as the pool itself an attractive patio area is provided for lounging. For those who prefer the warm ambience of an indoor swimming pool this is shared with neighbouring Landguard Park, with modern facilities and overlooking bar and food area.

As with all Park Resorts venues Lower Hyde boasts some great evening entertainment at the Squires Showbar. There is also an amusement arcade which has been recently refurbished.

Great news is that the park is now open all the year round, albeit with some curtailment of facilities during the short former closed season in winter. Holiday home ownership is available as on all sites and caravans can be purchased from just £16,995.

Remember the Early Holiday Booking Offer in which you can save up to 30% on all 2015 Holidays when you book before the 31st January.

Reproduced with acknowledgements to The Holiday Zone.

Friday, 23 January 2015

Mary Macleod Takes Up Mogden Complaints

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Residents suffering the effects of the ongoing odour problem at Thames Water's Mogden Sewage Treatment Works have been given some hope of respite following the intervention of Brentford & Isleworth Conservative MP Mary Macleod.

Mary has already raised the matter in the House of Commons and has met with the Environment Minister alongside members of the community-led Mogden Residents' Action Group (MRAG). She has also established a line of contact with the Environment Department at the London Borough of Hounslow, where planning permission was granted to Thames to expand the plant when it was patently obvious to all but a handful of dopey politicians that Thames had lied about its capacity to minimise odour once the proposed works had been completed.

It is worth noting here that Ed Mayne, one of the three Labour ward councillors for Isleworth, has also written to Thames in the strongest possible terms calling for action over the smell.

Campaigning residents are hopeful that these latest high-profile interventions will impress upon the Mogden management at last that the present situation in which odour is simply allowed to escape at will and impinge upon the quality of life of tens of thousands of neighbouring residents is unsustainable.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Park Resorts on the Isle of Wight - Part One: Nodes Point

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Much though we like travelling around, the one place we can always be guaranteed to return to each year is on the wonderful Isle of Wight. As holiday parks go these are the ones which in our view provide the best balance between peaceful enjoyment and entertainment, with high standards retained in every aspect of the holiday experience.

Park Resorts has four parks on the Island. One of them is Nodes Point, situated at St. Helens, near Bembridge. Just a short walk down to the beach (owned by the National Trust) at the beautiful Priory Bay, Nodes Point boasts an adventure playground, indoor fun pool with water slide, all-weather sports court, horse riding and evening family entertainment in a newly refurbished complex.

More good news is that Nodes Point is now open all the year round. As well as static caravans touring and camping is also provided for on site. A good selection of food is available from the Harbour View Terrace, and there is a well-stocked shop on site too which will provide for most of one's needs throughout one's stay.

One comment frequently heard about Nodes Point Holiday Park is that it has a strong community feel, not least because of the many caravan owners who return sometimes several times a year. Holiday homes can be purchased from as little as £16,995 and it is always discussing what may be available in terms of finance and offers.

Until 31st January Park Resorts is running an unmissable Early Booking Holiday Offer, with up to 30% off all holidays booked for 2015. Click on the links for more details, but don't miss out - this offer expires at the end of the month.

Reproduced with acknowledgements to The Holiday Zone.

Democracy Day: A Few Additional Thoughts

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Today (Tuesday) is, by all accounts, Democracy Day. Whose idea this was I've no idea - I can't remember ever having been asked to vote on it - but let us not be churlish. In recognition of the great event I have reproduced an interesting article below by Paul Cartledge, taken from the BBC News Magazine.

I am sure there are many sound arguments against the notion of replacing the present party system with a pure Athenian model of government. But the one usually invoked, that being that our towns and cities are far too large for such a thing to be practical, has been effectively neutralised by the rapid advance of technology. As any X-Factor or I'm a Celebrity enthusiast will know, voting in large numbers very quickly is these days a surprisingly easy thing to organise.

Instead, we have a version of democracy which involves two large exclusive organisations and a handful of smaller ones who use their collective power to monopolise our political process in a way which provides them with total power over us as a society. As if this were not bad enough, the whip system ensures that no dissent can usually be heard even within these organisations. Our First Past the Post electoral arrangement means that, effectively, there are only two schools of thought to be considered amongst a population of some 64 million, and with the convergence of official opinion even those are so similar as to be close to identical.

Mention the prospect of replacing the system we have with something resembling a real, organic democracy and the squeals of anguish that emanate from that tiny chosen minority that is actively involved within our present system can be heard from miles around.

The Internet may lack the splendour of the Athenian assemblies, but since it arrived we have had no excuse for the continuation of the perversion of democracy that is the banker-sponsored, media-driven two-party state. Does Ancient Athens have something to teach us? You decide.

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Would Athenian-Style Democracy Work in the UK Today?

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The following article was written by Paul Cartledge, AG Leventis Professor of Greek Culture emeritus, Cambridge University, and AG Leventis Senior Research Fellow of Clare College for the BBC as a contribution to Democracy Day.

Ancient Athens operated a unique system of direct democracy in which all citizens could vote on laws themselves rather than electing representatives to do it for them. Could such a system operate in the modern UK?

We're all democrats now. "We" in the liberal, late-capitalist West, that is, whether we are upper-case democrats (Christian Democrats, US Democratic Party supporters, etc) or lower-case. And we have been that since roughly the mid-19th Century.

During the course of the long and horrendous 20th Century, we recovered some of the original ancient Greek term's ideological resonance. Demokratia - "people-power" - was born in classical Athens around 500 BC, explicitly as an anti-tyrannical political mode of self-governance.

Against any simple, straightforward application of ancient Greek democratic ideas and practices to our modern democracy, however, there stands the apparently insuperable obstacle of incommensurable differences of scale.

Even Athens, by far the largest polis - a city or citizen-state - in ancient Greece in terms of the size of its adult male citizen body (60,000 maximum), was minuscule by our standards, though for Aristotle (not an ideological democrat) even that was way too large.


Yet thanks to new digital technology and instant online intercommunication, it is theoretically possible for us today to replicate virtually (if not necessarily virtuously) the conditions of an ancient Athenian primary decision-making assembly by mass meeting and face-to-face voting.

Then there is the further obstacle of our very different, indeed contradictory notions of the state, political parties, and representative government, all of which for an ancient Greek democrat would add up to something far more like oligarchy ("rule of the few") than anything he would recognize as democracy.

Unlike our representative democracy, or politics at a distance, however, ancient Greek politics were always face-to-face, and often enough in-yer-face. A frequently fevered contention for domination or control of public affairs, constantly risking civil dissension or even outright civil war.

It was this pressure-cooker, zero-sum character of ancient Greek politics that helps explain why the compound noun demokratia, so far from being a descriptively innocent term, was always loaded - in the artillery sense as well as the gentler metaphorical one.


The -kratia component of demo-kratia was derived from kratos, which meant unambiguously and unambivalently power or strength. Demos, the other component, meant "people" - but which people, precisely?

At one extreme it could be taken to mean all the people - that is, all the politically empowered people, the adult male citizenry as a whole. At the other ideological pole, it referred to only a section of the citizen people, the largest, namely the majority of poor citizens - those who had to work for a living and might be in greater or less penury.

Against these masses were counterposed the elite citizens - the (more or less) wealthy Few. For them, and it may well have been they who coined the word demokratia, the demos in the class sense meant the great unwashed, the stupid, ignorant, uneducated majority.

So, depending where you stood on the social spectrum, demokratia was either Abe Lincoln's government of, by and for the people, or the dictatorship of the proletariat. This complicates, at least, any thought-experiment such as the one I'm about to conduct here.

However, what really stands in the way is a more symbolic than pragmatic objection - education, education, education.


Pericles - Greek statesman, orator and democrat
For all that we have a formal and universally compulsory educational system, we are not educated either formally or informally to be citizens in the strong, active and participatory senses. The ancient Athenians lacked any sort of formal educational system whatsoever - though somehow or other most of them learned to read and write and count.

On the other hand, what they did possess in spades was an abundance of communal institutions, both formal and informal, both peaceful and warlike, both sacred and secular, whereby ideas of democratic citizenship could be disseminated, inculcated, internalised, and above all practised universally.

Annual, monthly and daily religious festivals. Annual drama festivals that were also themselves religious. Multiple experiences of direct participation in politics at both the local (village, parish, ward) and the "national" levels. And fighting as and for the Athenians both on land and at sea, against enemies both Greek and non-Greek (especially Persian).

Formal Athenian democratic politics, moreover, drew no such modern distinctions between the executive, legislative and judicial branches or functions of government as are enshrined in modern democratic constitutions. One ruled, as a democratic citizen, in all relevant branches equally. A trial for alleged impiety was properly speaking a political trial, as Socrates discovered to his cost.


In short, ancient Athenian democracy was very far from our liberal democracy. I don't think I need to bang on about its conscientious exclusion of the female half of the citizenry, or its basis in a radical form of dehumanised personal slavery.

So why should we even think of wanting to apply any lesson or precedent drawn from it to our democracy today or in the future? One very good reason is the so-called "democratic deficit", the attenuation or etiolation of what it means to be, or function fully as, a democratic citizen.

The recent Scottish referendum, whatever one may think about its outcome, was quite extraordinary if for nothing else for its very process - a one-off, once-for-all popular democratic vote, the majority on the day (plus of course the postal voters) winning and taking all (but the Athenians would have raised an eyebrow at the voting equality of 16 and 17-year olds - 18 was their age of political majority).


There's another dimension, too, that I would myself wish to recover from the ancient Athenian democratic experience - the Athenians were incredibly hot on responsibility or accountability.

Most of their office-holders were, as a matter of fact, selected by the lottery rather than by election, the latter being considered in principle un-democratic, since it favoured members of the few rather than the masses.

But even allotted officials were no less subjected to official public scrutiny and audit than were the elected high officials who served the community as generals or treasurers or water-commissioners.

All too easily today, in our era of cabinet government and prime-ministerial autocracy, it is possible for our high officials to evade even routine accountability for their actions or decisions. Abolition of parties is another plank in my own personal neo-democratic platform - but putting the case for that must await another occasion.

Reproduced with acknowledgements to BBC News Magazine.