NELSON MANDELA, Barack Obama, Angela Merkel...the list of world leaders to have addressed MPs and peers reflects the Palace of Westminster’s status as a cradle of democracy.
Now Hillsborough campaigner Margaret Aspinall can be added to this famous roll call. Though there was none of the grandeur which accompanies state visits, her speech – and its symbolism – was no less significant.
Ignored for so long while the establishment closed ranks behind South Yorkshire Police who sought to blame hooliganism for the death of her teenage son James, and 95 other Liverpool fans, at Hillsborough, campaigners were vindicated when an inquest ruled that ‘the 96’ were unlawfully killed.
However the families only overturned this miscarriage of justice thanks to the benevolence of those who did believe their story – Sir Richard Branson, for example, paid the travel expenses of Hillsborough mother Anne Williams who, sadly, did not live long enough to see this landmark moment – and all those generous enough to cover the legal costs.
Unlike those police officers whose obfuscation at the inquest only added to the ordeal of the families, the campaigners did not have limitless public funds at their disposal.
Given this, bereaved families should have equal funding for legal representation at future inquests where the conduct of the police is a feature. Justice demands nothing less. Furthermore, retired officers should not be exempt from scrutiny – and sanction – if it subsequently emerges that their conduct in office fell short of the high standards expected of them. The public interest demands that a consensus is reached so such measures are contained in the forthcoming Policing and Crime Bill.
This also affords Parliament a belated chance to acknowledge its mistake in April 1989, when the first Prime Minister’s Questions after the tragedy was dominated by belligerent questions about hooliganism. So long the outsider, Margaret Aspinall is, in fact, far more qualified to talk about victims, and their treatment by officialdom, than any politician because of the unequal struggle she fought against Westminster’s will. She has more than earned the right to be heard so others are at last spared the kind of anguish suffered by the Hillsborough families for 27 years.
School of thought: The futility of false assumptions
IT is rather disingenuous to make a virtue of the assertion that privately-educated pupils are more likely to lead a healthier lifestyle than their peers attending state schools.
Just as private schools will never be immune from those vices which can be a scourge on society, it is wrong to assume that obese couch potatoes are the sole product of state schools. They’re not. Obesity is prevalent in all sections of society and all schools are working hard to teach pupils about the importance of healthy living and balanced diets.
However it would be remiss not to use these findings, published by the Centre for Longitudinal Studies at the UCL Institute of Education, to highlight a marked difference in the approach to sport.
Unlike those local authority schools which have seen playing fields sold off, and PE lessons diminish in importance because teachers don’t have the expertise or enthusiasm, many private schools are blessed with world-class facilities.
Perhaps future studies can look at this, and whether more can be done to make sports facilities accessible to all, rather than making sweeping generalisations.
Ultimate diplomat: The Queen’s exemplary example
SO THE Queen believes Chinese officials were “very rude” during last year’s state visit when President Xi Jinping and his entourage stayed at Buckingham Palace.
If this is the worst faux pax that Her Majesty has committed during her reign, it speaks volumes about the Queen’s discretion – and patience.
An unguarded comment recorded by an indiscreet Palace cameraman, it will have caused great embarrassment to Her Majesty – even though it has been censored by the Chinese state broadcasters – because she goes to great trouble to make foreign dignitaries feel welcome.
Given the frequency with which David Cameron appears to put his foot in his mouth, this episode highlights the diplomatic tight-rope that the Queen has to walk when duty compels her to glad-hand politicians, leaders and dictators who hold some pretty repugnant views.
In this regard, she remains the ultimate diplomat.