Will he or won’t he?

I dreamt last night that I had a talk with David Cameron. It was an after-lights-out talk at a generic Public School (it couldn’t have been Eton, because I didn’t go there) and we should have been snug in our dormitory beds rather than whispering in the corridor. He was kind enough to ask me to call him Dave.

Dave and I had one of those frank man-to-man talks that late nights encourage. He was carrying a cricket bat, which was odd, because sports equipment isn’t allowed in the bathroom or the dorm, and he was practising shots as we whispered.


I was very much the Junior Boy in the conversation, though in real life I am older than he is, and I was very privileged to have the brief attention of the Head Boy. I timidly asked him what he’d be doing after Wednesday when he steps down as Prime Minister. Perhaps the cricket bat was a clue, but I can’t now remember what he told me. He agreed that he would neither be offered, nor would accept  a Cabinet post, and he didn’t find the idea of an academic career appealing. Village cricket, it might have to be. But I suggested, sympathetically, that it would be a trying time for him and Sam, whatever happened. I pointed out how utterly bereft I would feel if I were suddenly to have nothing more to do with LLP Group or systems@work, two companies of which, I suppose, I am Head Boy.

So, Dave will travel to Buckingham Palace on Wednesday after Prime Minister’s Questions, leaving from the Palace of Westminster in the Prime Minister’s armoured Jaguar but returning from the Palace to his suburban semi in a Mondeo or something similar. In the UK the trappings of power are removed immediately and savagely. He’ll be putting the kettle on himself come teatime.

Poor Dave. He’s been a decent sort of chap, on the whole.  He puts you at your ease when he’s talking to you, in my experience, at least in dreams.

So, PMQs on Wednesday will be an emotive affair. I well remember Margaret Thatcher’s defiant last performance, and Tony Blair’s nine years ago. David Cameron did a rather decent thing on that occasion, the sort of thing you learn to do at Eton. As Blair’s last performance came to an end, David Cameron urged his Tory colleagues to stand and applaud as Tony left the House. ‘Come on,’ he called out. ‘Let’s show appreciation for his years of public service.’

It was a decent thing to do, and so English Public School, reminiscent of the kind of honour celebrated in Henry Newbolt’s Vitai Lampada (‘Play up! play up! and play the game!’). It was a way of saying, more slyly, that, winners or losers, we’re all in the game together, and it’s decency and how you play the game that counts. It was also cleverly patronising, almost suggesting, ‘We’re the winners. It’s our time now.’

So, my question is, will Jeremy Corbyn do the same thing on Wednesday?

Now as it happens, I did go to the same school as Jeremy Corbyn, the Castle House School in Newport in Shropshire. He’s eight years older than me, so he would have been a very senior boy or not there at all, when I was there at the age of five. Perhaps he, too, was Head Boy. But it was a private school and his parents paid for it. Corbyn’s background is not so utterly different from Cameron’s. And, as it happens, I was at the same Oxford college and at the same time as Corbyn’s strategic adviser, Seumas Milne, who studied at Winchester College, an English Public School almost as illustrious as Eton. But, of course, Lenin was no working-class lad either.

My guess is that Corbyn will be mealy mouthed. He won’t fall for the cliché of decency and we’re all in it together and there’s more that unites us than divides us and Play up! play up! and play the game!. I suspect that he and his cadre will staunchly hold the line. They’ll have nothing to do with all that Public School nonsense. Rather, ‘Tories to the firing squads.’

And my second question is, what will all the other Labour MPs do? Will they break ranks, with their leader?

It’s a tiresome truth that an hour, a day, a week, is a long time in politics. One of the great unknowns is now resolved, and hard-as-nails Theresa May will be PM by Wednesday evening. But the other great unknown, what will happen to Corbyn, is a game that’s far from over.


Vitai Lampada
There’s a breathless hush in the Close to-night—
Ten to make and the match to win—
A bumping pitch and a blinding light,
An hour to play and the last man in.
And it’s not for the sake of a ribboned coat,
Or the selfish hope of a season’s fame,
But his captain’s hand on his shoulder smote
“Play up! play up! and play the game!”
The sand of the desert is sodden red,—
Red with the wreck of a square that broke;—
The Gatling‘s jammed and the Colonel dead,
And the regiment blind with dust and smoke.
The river of death has brimmed his banks,
And England’s far, and Honour a name,
But the voice of a schoolboy rallies the ranks:
“Play up! play up! and play the game!”
This is the word that year by year,
While in her place the school is set,
Every one of her sons must hear,
And none that hears it dare forget.
This they all with a joyful mind
Bear through life like a torch in flame,
And falling fling to the host behind—
“Play up! play up! and play the game!”

Cricket – A Good Reason to Remain

Is there anything lovelier, at the end of a long working week, than to come home on a sunny summer’s day to watch the cricket on the telly. Thanks to Oggie and his wizardry I can watch this marvellous game from my living room in Prague.


Today is the second day of the Third Test Match in the three-match series between Sri Lanka and England. Sri Lanka are doing well after two catastrophic matches played on pitches in the north of England during the last three weeks. England have already won the series but the Sri Lankans have their honour to play for. With a risk of rain on Sunday, a draw seems the most likely outcome. This Third Test is being played at Lord’s Cricket Ground in London, the greatest cricket ground in the universe, at least as far as we know. But how marvellous it would be if, when aliens finally arrive, they were to arrive as a team of eleven in cricket whites. We would know that they must be intelligent.

You don’t have to concentrate on cricket. When those moments of excitement come and a wicket falls, you can abandon your blogging, cooking, or whatever you might be doing, and watch the replay. The sound of idle banter between the commentators is the perfect background music to the summer. Perhaps it reminds me of those summer days when my father would do something pointless in the garden with the cricket radio commentary playing loud enough for everyone, including the neighbours, to hear.

I played the game, too, as a child. I loved to bowl, but I was too scared of the rock-hard ball to bat with confidence and I was completely hopeless at catching. The ball comes at you at 90 miles per hour with the hardness and weight of steel, as it rockets or glances off the batsman’s bat. Custom demands that you never wince at the pain (my Godfather once took a catch in Malta at the cost of a split finger).

Cricket, in its Test Match variety (true cricket), must be the longest game that humans play. It lasts no longer than five days, but of course a full five day series (as between Australia and England when the Ashes are played for) may involve twenty-five days of cricket.  It is the only game, as far as I know, that stops for tea. Though it demands great physical fitness it isn’t vulgarly physical and it is rare that one player ever touches another. It is the game that most closely resembles life  or war- there are long periods of quietness (I won’t say tedium) and then moments of immense excitement, and always plenty of tea. It is affected by the arbitrary forces of nature – on a damp day, the ball will swing more alarmingly, or bounce more erratically, and if the rains come the match is suspended with no compensation. Strategy, patience and thoughtfulness are rewarded, and aggression concealed beneath a patina of politeness and gentlemanly conduct. Fair play, decency, magnanimity, gallantry, and giving credit where it is due – these are the values of the game.

I have long since ceased attempting to explain the rules of the game to the barbarians amongst whom I live in the Czech Republic, but I believe the game is occasionally played by the Commonwealth expats who live here. At least it is allowed. In fact I know of no country in the world where the game is outlawed. It is permitted even in places where it is impossible to play it, such as Antarctica. Even the UN fields a team.

The EU has not so far, legislated on the issue of standard competitive games between EU nations, and I suspect it never will. If anything is evidence that the culture of a nation is safe within the European Union it is cricket.