To my mind, not enough people picked up on the really important piece of information gleaned from the controversy surrounding the revelation that Rebekah Brooks, until last July the chief executive of a leading newspaper business, had been lent a retired police horse. It was not the fact that at some point David Cameron had been out for a trot on said animal. It was the fact that, at last, Britain has an elected leader who can ride a horse.
When did we last have one of those? Brown, Blair, Major, Thatcher, Wilson, Heath – those are all the prime ministers I can remember in my lifetime, and I am not sure any of them knew how to ride a horse. When other world leaders who like to ride visit the UK they often have to be looked after by our octogenarian head of state, who still rides weekly.
But most people were too busy arguing that the loan of the police horse (called Raisa) to Mrs Brooks, and the ride on it by Dave, revealed too close a link to the police and the prime minister. Power and influence obtained without the use of the ballot box are the enemy of democracy, we hear, but I think its biggest enemy is apathy.
We had local elections in the UK this month, and the turnout was a pitiful 33 per cent. There are countries in the world where people are – literally – dying for the sort of electoral freedom that we enjoy, and yet most of us can’t be bothered to get to a polling station. It is enough to make me want Australian-style compulsory voting.
This year, we in the UK are also going to elect police commissioners. They will in effect be the non-executive chairman of their local police authority, working with the chief constable and representing the people who are being policed. Here the apathy has extended to candidates. I understand from friends in all three major political parties that not nearly enough people have put themselves forward for selection, and that candidates with business experience are especially thin on the ground.
Police authorities have big budgets and thousands of employees, and we need people with business experience to put themselves forward. The only police authority not selecting a commissioner this year is the Met in London, because we have, of course, just elected Boris Johnson to represent us there. Can Boris ride a horse? I have no idea, although he looks pretty nifty on a bicycle.
I shall be riding my own bike down to Cork Street this week to see a horse, or a rather a sculpture of one. My girlfriend Absent Angela has an exhibition opening at Waterhouse & Dodd on Thursday, and its centrepiece is her depiction of the skull of the unbeaten racehorse Eclipse, who died in 1789 at the age of 25.
After Eclipse retired, unlike Raisa, he did not get lent to a well-off newspaper CEO. Rather, he was put out to stud and sired hundreds of foals, as a result of which some 95 per cent of today’s racehorses (including Desert Orchid and Kauto Star) can trace their bloodline back to him.
Absent Angela is so called because she has a habit of abandoning her husband and three children in the interests of art, and going in for mad projects such as relocating multiple rainforest trees to Trafalgar Square. She puts people and animals, dead or alive, through a CT/MRI scanner as appropriate, and then engraves the images on to multiple sheets of glass. This all takes ages, and while she is drilling away in her studio, her family are left to their own devices. Her sculpture of Eclipse took weeks and weeks.
Interestingly, Eclipse’s DNA has recently been sequenced and it now looks likely that entries in the General Stud Book going back as far as 1808 will need to be rewritten. That will prove more controversial than Raisa.