Here's my piece from the Guardian Comment is Free website on a debate that isn't really worth having.
In that wonderful, but neglected Stanley Kramer masterpiece, Ship of Fools, the morose baseball star played by Lee Marvin is asked by the dwarf, Glocken, what's troubling him. Marvin says that he's depressed because can't hit a home run. Glocken, ever the philosopher, points out to Marvin that the vast majority of people in the world probably wouldn't even know what a home run was.
I thought of Marvin's conversation with the dwarf when reading the headlines of a popular tabloid yesterday, which informed us that 98% of its readers thought the Muslim veil should be banned. Because, I'd wager, until Jack Straw expressed his opinions on the issue, the vast majority of people in Britain wouldn't even have known what a Muslim veil was.
The furore over the dress of a tiny minority of people in these islands has dominated news headlines for over a fortnight. Columnists in every newspaper in the land have felt obliged to express an opinion: whether or not the hijab should be banned has become the burning issue of the day. But the only proper response to this artificially stoked up "debate" is to refuse to enter into it.
The rights and wrongs of the hijab were far from my mind last Saturday, when along with scores of other race-goers I waited in vain for the 17.17 from Ipswich to Cambridge to arrive at Newmarket station. It never arrived, like the hundreds of other trains that are cancelled every week in the country which has the most expensive, but also the least efficient public transport system in the developed world.
Waiting for trains that never arrive, (or if they do, arrive very late); or being stuck in traffic jams on gridlocked roads is the daily reality of life for millions of Britons. Yet neither Jack Straw or Tony Blair feel any need to make public pronouncements on such issues. Nor is there a murmur from the opposition. Until politicians start to address the issues that do have an impact on our everyday lives, we shouldn't waste a nanosecond debating those that don't.