Sunday, 17 June 2012

Keir Starmer



"Starmer struck" is how I would best describe the two teenage girls who came with me to see a talk by the Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer at this month's Hay Literary Festival. Apparently he has a "firm judging chin". He is certainly an excellent communicator, putting across quite nuanced legal and ethical points in language so simple and clear that nothing was lost on my 14 year-olds companions. They told me afterwards, with starry eyes, that they felt 'very reassured knowing our justice system was in the hands of such a capable man'! 

For me? I was particularly struck with his views on the importance of transparency in public office and the work he has done to build what he describes as a 'virtual glass wall' around his department. Whereas his predecessors tended to the view they shouldn't have to justify their decisions and that the public should trust them to use their discretion wisely and get things right, Keir believes this is no longer a tenable position in an age where the public has seen such lack of integrity among so many public office holders, first with MPs and expenses, and now Leveson bringing disrepute on politicians, police and press alike.

"Discretion can be a force for good, certainly. But it can also hide incompetence - or even corruption' he says 'and in my mind this means we must be transparent: issuing guidelines explaining our general approach to an area, be it assisted suicide, phone-hacking, whatever. Then be transparent about what we decide in each case. We are making important decisions that have very significant impacts for individuals, for families, victims, witnesses. We owe it to them to be open about how we arrive at these life-changing decisions."

He also told a wonderful tale of the case of the DDP impersonator. Definitely a case he had to stay at arm's length from; he didn't even want to be privy to who in his department was handling it. The doppelg√§nger was Paul Bint, a con man who posed as rich or important men to win the affections of women. One of his girlfriends gave witness for the prosecution. Her suspicions about her new boyfriend began when she realised she had never seen any one of the three expensive cars her lover bragged about and he was always cadging lifts from her. The clincher came when they had a row one evening and as he left in fury he sprawled the word 'Bitch' over her garden fence "which didn't seem something the DPP would do" she said in the witness box. Quite. 

When the time came for the trial, Keir did just have three questions for his colleagues: "Is the man pleading 'Not Guilty'? If he is, what's his defence - is he saying he really is me? And in that case, what happens to me if he is acquitted?" Luckily for everyone concerned, Brint was found guilty of fraud and put away. My teenage friends can rest knowing we still have the right man in role for this very important job.
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So what do we think of Danny Boyle's Green and Pleasant Land? I always knew we could expect something imaginative, ambitious and memorable from the top film-maker and theatre director, his medium being such a high-impact visual one. And as his plans to transform the Olympic stadium into "the British countryside" were unveiled this week, my heart did stop for a moment - although I'm not entirely sure it was all for positive reasons. The pastoral scene is to include three live sheepdogs, 10 chickens, 12 horses and 70 sheep to create "a picture of ourselves as a nation" we are told. So far, I can't say this particularly resonates with my own sense of what's great about England - don't know about you... 

But then he came to his "mosh pit" under the fake Glastonbury Tor, filled with real people - members of the public representing the masses; his "posh pit" at the other end representing the first-night-of-the-prom-goers - and his hopes the two groups might "do battle and face each other off" on the night. Now that's more like the England I know. Like it. And the model includes four big suspended clouds which are capable of producing rain, "just in case we don't have enough." Well thanks for that, Danny. Thoughtful.

But then more excitement later in the week as we learn that this "rural idyll" theme is to be just one of several segments, each sequence to burst through the previous.  According to the Guardian "the countryside side set was a feint, inducing critics into taking it at face value...thus to make the eventual spectacle more shocking".  Now that's more like the Danny Boyle we know and love. 

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Last chance to see... The BBC's Chief Economics Correspondent reminded us at a Gorkana Media Briefing at Mayer Brown this week that as the TV team moves out of the historic Television Centre in White City to join radio colleagues at Broadcasting House in Central London's Portland Place, and the BBC ceases broadcasting from its iconic headquarters altogether, 50 years of TV history comes to a close. Television Centre was built in the 1950s and officially opened in 1960. It is synonymous with an age of broadcasting that brought us Play School, Blue Peter, Top of The Pops, the original Dr Who, Fawlty Towers and countless other programmes that are now part of out collective cultural mind map. 

Feeling nostalgic? Take a look at this video and write up for a recent documentary on Television Centre that the Guardian's Michael Pilgrim described as 'a leaving do for a building'. Hankies at the ready... 

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