Apr 162013
 
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Sue has posted an appeal to common sense today.  After much detailed argument in favour of her position on welfare reform, detail I urge you to read before we continue, she argues the following:

This week, William Hague assures us we can afford £10 million for a ceremonial funeral for Margaret Thatcher. Opinion polls show the public don’t want it, commentators from left and right are mystified, yet 2,200 people have been invited to a decadent funeral for a divisive PM who lies at the heart of many of the problems facing our society today. When I scanned the invitees yesterday, it felt surreal. A mish-mash of variety club has-beens, world leaders she shunned and elite aristocrats who shunned her when alive.

And concluding of the cuts that affect the people she most knows about, those with support needs at the cruellest end of our current government’s stick, she says this (the bold is mine):

[...] it’s that 11 million pounds. £11 million. In Westminster terms it would barely pay for the DWP’s paperclips. It is a drop in the ocean of a welfare budget spanning 10s of billions. It only applied to a few thousand of the most disabled children in society (children just like Ivan Cameron, had he lived into adulthood.) But Lord Freud, failed investment banker and Minister for Welfare Reform, insisted that we could “no longer afford it” We could no longer afford to allow such profoundly disabled children lives of dignity and independence. No more security. No relief for worried families that they would be safe once they were gone. A cross-party consensus of decades, stripped away by ministers who didn’t even know what they were doing.

As she also rightly points out (again, the bold is mine):

Many like me, were fighting the welfare reform bill way back in 2011. We know every last detail, every twist and turn, every sweeping change and every technical detail. [...]

In those three telling paragraphs we have the whole story of this government since May 2010.  A government we should be attacking not just on its policy record, but on its massive inability to involve the people who best know.  Any modern corporation would say, at least from an HR and comms point-of-view, that those best placed to engineer real change in our processes are those most involved with the implications of each and every one of them: that is to say, the personnel who carry out the tasks and the end-users who are our reason for being.  Properly-implemented continuous-improvement philosophies everywhere start with those most affected – not end up with them when everything’s been decided.  And if we need to begin to attack this government of the inept on anything new, then it must be on their manifest incompetence to follow the mechanisms, values and beliefs their better corporate sponsors already follow in their own businesses.

What we have in this government isn’t successful corporates writ large.  What we have in this government is traditional old English graft, grafted slyly – as it were – onto a sleek and supposedly business-focussed series of ever-increasing lies.

Sue and her people, all of us without exception, me in my invisible disabilities, others with their all-too-overpowering, are surely resources to be used for a wider good: people, finite and perishable, short-term in the grand scheme of things – but terribly terribly clever and knowledgeable about the details which, when ignored, are what really metamorphose bright ideas into grief-stricken – even devilish – realities.

If only the government could see its people as this resource I speak of: a resource for a broader understanding of how to improve our society.

Instead, all it sees is an enemy to be vanquished – in an awful and pitiless cloud of no alternatives.

And I wonder where I’ve heard that mantra before.

A religious concept indeed.  For where there is no alternative contemplated or effectively permitted, we are dictatorship enshrined.


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Mar 022012
 
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Dave complains he’s being ignored in the European Union’s summit on jobs.  Dave clearly didn’t know what it was like to be ignored.  We do.

I’m glad Dave feels he’s not being taken into account.  Perhaps a taste of the medicine he so loves to dish out will finally do him some good.

Meanwhile, ignoring me is what he’s done on the NHS, on DLA, on free schools, on Legal Aid, on welfare reform, on digital rights, on News International, on Andy Coulson, on workfare and forests (for a while), on human rights legislation (surely pretty soon) – and on more or less everything that currently preoccupies me about this unfair and unpleasant land.

Which, I suppose, in a perverse kind of way, brings me closer to Dave than ever before.

The worst of it being, of course, than I’m really not sure if this ignorance of Dave’s is unintentional or fashioned.  Politicos these days are so clever – in full marketing mode – at selling their weaknesses as virtues that any virtues you perceive out there must automatically be discounted as weaknesses hidden by the cloak of clever obfuscation.

In short, Dave’s a passive-aggressive bully – and there’s nothing a passive-aggressive hates more than to be simply ignored.

Well done, European Union.  My faith in your judgement is beginning, very slowly, to be renewed!


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Aug 242011
 
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Colours are important in politics, as in many areas of human endeavour.  Not immutable, however.

My web is red – and for its target market this means British Labour.  But most of my readers are from the US, where red is Republican (conservative, that is), and blue, the colour of English Toryism, is actually the colour of the American Democrats.

At least as far as television is now concerned.

Now there’s a funny thing.

*

I was struck a couple of weeks ago when Mr David Cameron, our holiday-loving Prime Minister, declaimed before the rioting hordes the following:

The move follows David Cameron’s speech this week in the aftermath of the riots in which he said it was essential that the Human Rights Act should not be “misrepresented” and used to undermine personal responsibility.

The prime minister warned that the human rights legislation and health and safety laws had been used to exert a “corrosive influence on behaviour and morality”. But he acknowledged that work on more fundamental changes such as the introduction of a British bill of rights is likely to be “frustratingly slow”.

“The truth is, the interpretation of human rights legislation has exerted a chilling effect on public sector organisations, leading them to act in ways that fly in the face of common sense, offend our sense of right and wrong, and undermine responsibility,” Cameron said.

Whilst:

The Ministry of Justice said: “We want to ensure that public servants understand the law and apply it correctly, so that no one in authority uses the convention wrongly or as an excuse for inaction.”

You can read more here from the BBC on Monday, on the background to the latest developments in this story.

I shouldn’t have been disconcerted by all of this, though, because here we have what Mr Cameron had said in 2007:

David Cameron last night called for the Human Rights Act to be scrapped outright for the first time amid mounting anger that the controversial law had allowed the killer of the head teacher Philip Lawrence to escape deportation.

In the current climate, I wouldn’t be surprised if that wouldn’t now be “escape decapitation”.  For seventy percent of those questioned about the riots now believe harsher sentences are the right way forward.

Justice or tough justice?

And then yesterday the Guardian reported this fascinating story:

Senior Metropolitan police officers devised a policy of holding all people arrested on riot-related offences in custody and recommending that the courts also refuse bail after they were charged, according to a leaked “prisoner processing strategy” that lawyers argue could pave the way for a mass legal challenge.

The reason behind this blanket and premeditated – ie not case-by-case – assessment of sentencing requirements? Well, apparently it was because the thin blue line found itself unable to resist the aforementioned rioting hordes to the extent that the peaceful populace – the vast majority – were not being protected:

The police document argues that the policy was necessary to prevent further public disorder as violence spread through the capital. But it also acknowledges that the force was so stretched at the height of the riots that it was “impractical” to bail people while they conducted “protracted” investigations, suggesting that investigating officers use special rules to fast-track cases to the courts with less evidence than is normally required. The recommendation could expose the Metropolitan police to accusations that it adopted a policy of “conveyer belt” justice in order to deal with its unprecedented workload.

Specifically (the bold is mine):

Elsewhere the [police document] says: “The volume of prisoners being processed makes it impractical to bail for the purpose of protracted investigation. Where evidence of an offence exists charging authority should be sought, that is likely to mean that the threshold test is applied.”

Didn’t happen with the more than four thousand cases of voicemail interception and invasion of privacy by the newspaper industry though, did it?  That was one sorry case where it was judged impractical to bring to court every infraction and crime allegedly out there.

I wonder why.

The lawyers to whom the police document in question was sent in turn sent a letter to the Metropolitan police:

The lawyers’ letter to the Met describes the policy as amounting to “unlawful arbitrary detention” of people. The existence of the policy has a “chilling” effect on Article 5 under the European court of human rights which guarantees an individual’s liberty and security, it says. Adopting a pre-action protocol for judicial review, the letter demands an apology for the violation of the woman’s fundamental rights. […}

The police replied thus (again the bold is mine):

“Guidance was issued to officers to ensure a consistent approach to an investigation which was, and remains, unprecedented in its volume and complexity.

“To ensure the interests of justice were served, prevent further disorder and protect the public it was made clear that a decision should be sought to charge where there was sufficient evidence. With courts sitting extended hours, the recommendation that those charged were remanded in custody was made to ensure cases were dealt with quickly and again to protect the public from potential further disorder.

“Cases were, and continue to be, looked at on the basis of the evidence available. Where the threshold to charge was not met people have been bailed to return pending further inquiries, released with no further action or – in a small number of cases – dealt with by other police disposals.”

But not, it would seem, over a decade of wrongdoing when people’s privacy was regularly and habitually invaded by newspapers like the News of the World, and with the alleged knowledge of some corrupt bodies in the very same police force.

Now, although it may seem like it, I’m not looking to rub salt into the wounds of corruption here.  A recent mention of my account on Twitter drew me to another Twitter account which proclaims, quite rightly, though incompletely, that we should “Protect our police”.  Why do I say “incompletely”?  Because I assume that those who hold such simplistic views fail to understand that when we say “Protect our police” we must say “Protect us all”.

Yes, I know.  I had it explained to me by a police officer when I was a Parish Councillor.  The people see the police as a police service.  The police themselves, however, inevitably, see themselves as a police force.  That thin blue line, don’t you know?

But this then comes to the very nub of the issue.  If we are to continue to police by consent in the UK, we must remember that colours are not immutable, that all the peoples who live in the British Isles all have a right to intervene in how they are protected – and that whilst the police inevitably behave like a force in times of crisis, their abiding and overarching virtue – compared to civilian forces in other countries – is that they truly prefer to be seen as a service.

And not only that – the vast majority of those who inhabit this country I am sure would also prefer to see them thus.

As Mary Riddell quite rightly pointed out in the Telegraph yesterday:

The European Court of Human Rights may need reform but the law, as applied by the UK courts, has consistently upheld the rights of the citizen against an over-mighty state. For Mr Cameron to claim that the causes of the riots included “twisting and misrepresenting human rights” suggests, absurdly, that the HRA is a charter for arsonists, thugs and trainer-looters. In reality, the “perversion” of human rights that he bewails is largely a politician’s dislike of judicial power.

That, on either side of the Atlantic, red can easily equal blue, and the thin blue line originally be a red one of much renown, should remind us that the overbearing state is not only a temptation of the left.  I suspect Mr Cameron is heading towards going down in history as one of the most repressive PMs it’ll be our honour to experience – not out of a desire to stamp on the underclasses as much of the more rancid end of his party might wish; but, rather, out of an inability to escape the rising PR rhetoric his speechifying creates.

Yes, we need to protect the police – more now than ever before.  But what we really need to protect the police from are those structures and individuals which would twist the service’s real purpose: that of providing the necessary logistical support and community framework to an intelligent and forward-looking society.

A society which is looking, in that selfsame intelligence, to imaginatively bring together its many peoples in coherent understanding.

Be a force if you must, on the occasions that we need.  But – even then – an intelligent and transparent force, all the same.

In all war, the negotiating table eventually puts in an appearance.

The wise know when the time is right – and do not flinch at their responsibility to serve instead of impose.


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Jun 232011
 
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I’ve just received an email on behalf of the website soundoffforjustice.org.  If you click on the link, you will be asked to sign a petition.  I strongly recommend you do so.

This is the salient content of the email I received:

Today it was announced that the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill will be read on the 29th of June.

The Law Society are outraged.

Sound off for Justice say:

Over 725,000 people per year will be denied access to justice. The bill is in tatters and is going to cost the tax payer more than it will save.

Back bench conservative MPS have complained that ministers are not giving them any access and they do not understand the policy.

Clause 12 of the bill will remove access to a solicitor for anyone who is taken into police custody.

The cuts in civil legal aid budget means that the government is going to fund cases for financial fraud over that of family cases and victims of domestic violence.

It is outrageous that the coalition government are trying to fast-track this bill through parliament. It has rarely happened and is normally reserved for terrorism law.

What really catches my eye is the bit about Clause 12 (more information here) and the wholly coherent behaviour of a government which – in the words of Sound Off For Justice -  “is going to fund cases for financial fraud over that of family cases and victims of domestic violence”.

All in it together?  Yet again … not.  And as the email points out, even bodies as august as the Law Society have this to say on the matter:

The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill is the single biggest attack on access to justice since the legal aid system was introduced. Legal aid for private family law cases, clinical negligence, and employment has been taken entirely out of scope.

According to the government’s own impact assessment, these cuts risk increasing crime, weakening social cohesion and access to civil rights, and costing tax payers even more.

The bill will:

  • lead to higher government spending, rather than help cut the deficit
  • increase criminality, adding to pressure on prison places, and
  • abolish civil legal aid for victims of medical negligence and in most civil law cases.

It’s not that this government is bad.  Rather, it’s a clear case of conditional relationships gone mad.  They are not governing on behalf of a country.  Instead, they are governing on behalf of themselves.  In a country which has always despised class warfare, they will succeed in driving us off the edge of the cliffs of all reasonable behaviours – where a century of socialist opposition has absolutely failed to.

False economies, economical with the truth and now outright economic and social mismanagement.  This government doesn’t understand what justice means – except perhaps in its rough manifestation.

Yet it may be choosing to foolishly forget there is such a thing as natural justice …
____________________

Further reading: more background to this appalling set of circumstances can be found here.


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Jun 082011
 
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Yesterday, I compared the shape of the Internet to history.  Today, I read that the United Nations recently proclaimed access to the Internet a human right.  So although the Internet may not be as absolutely robust for individuals as we like to make out, some foresighted organisations – in this case the UN, in other cases governments such as Finland – are ensuring that the legal frameworks for the rights of individuals as individuals to access the Internet when it counts do exist and are in place.

In this way, we can thank the Lord – or perhaps those secular thinkers who care more for human rights than personal enrichment – that, very occasionally, the offline world can impinge and impact virtuously on the virtual, before the virtual has time to decide for itself.

This is one example, one of the very few, when I am happy for the lawyers to get involved.


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May 022011
 
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There’s a monarchic meme going the blogosphere rounds at the moment that republics in themselves are no guarantee of better societies.  I’ve already spoken on these pages about the subject, so wasn’t going to return to it – but after having read this article felt unable not to comment further.  First, what clearly catches one’s eye when first reading the post in question:

Let’s assume that, at some time in your life, you will fall foul of the authorities in a foreign country. The good news is you get to choose which one. If you had to get into trouble with the police and justice system somewhere, which country would you choose? (Exclude English-speaking ones because that just makes it too easy.) Where do you think you would be treated the most fairly?

Whenever I have tried this, the answers are remarkably consistent. Most people come up with a similar list of countries. Sweden, Denmark, Norway and the Netherlands are usually in there somewhere.

And what do these countries have in common? They are all monarchies.

Evidence of a statistical nature is then provided, most of which clearly demonstrates that the monarchies at the top of the world’s fairness/wellbeing/cultural smugness lists tend to outdo any republics in the battle to be best of the bunch.  As Rick does point out, however:

Now before anyone starts (because someone is bound to) I’m not saying that there is a correlation between monarchy and all these good things. Unsurprisingly, the hereditary despotisms in the Arab world don’t score highly on any of these indices. But it is clear that being a monarchy is no barrier to being a fair, equal, happy and prosperous society. All other things being equal, a monarchy is just as likely to be a good place to live as a republic.

He also goes on to underline the importance of history in all of this – something I am inclined to agree with.  There are bound to be monarchies out there with more unpleasant – or at least, more recently unpleasant – histories than others, just as there likely to be banana as well as burnished republics.

I’m also inclined to believe that nice monarchies are nice precisely because their subjects – that is to say, the people – have reached a state of tolerance of all that might be considered eccentric and peculiar for a modern society to tolerate.  And this, precisely this, bodes well for broader mores.  We could, in fact, almost allow ourselves to say that any democratically up-to-date society which allows its monarchy to continue is likely to allow other curiosities of an especially human nature equal leeway.

A sign of innate tolerance – of innate humanity – if there was one.

That is to say, the degree to which a modern and otherwise democratic society allows privileged and unelected individuals to wear crowns and velvet – and drive tanks and posh cars – is a direct indicator of its essential inclusiveness.

No more and no less.

Well.  It’s a point of view you might wish to ascribe to, anyhow.

The other alternative, of course, is to banish both monarchies and republics to the darkest corners of the dustbins of history – off with both of their heads is what I mean.

You wanted less government?

How about starting with just one legislative house?


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Feb 162011
 
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I don’t know very much about this subject and so probably shouldn’t opine.  But as Sunny Hundal pointed out yesterday on his Twitter feed, unsolicited opinion is really what social media is all about.  So here goes.

This tweet came to my notice this morning:

@jongaunt @skycharlotte Child sex offenders CANNOT suppress urge to violate children. We live in the UK , not EU. We disagree with this.

So what do they disagree with?  Well.  This decision by the British government as a result of a ruling by Britain’s very own Supreme Court:

Thousands of sex offenders in England and Wales are set to be given the right to appeal against having their names on the sex offenders register for life.

So if these offenders are unable to suppress their urge to violate, can we not see this as an illness rather than a choice?  And if it is an illness, a condition, are we not – indeed – violating the rights of the offenders by making public their infirmity?

Would you for example create a schizophrenics’ or bipolars’ register?  Or – even – a register of all those who had contracted swine flu?

The problem is of course that, for this matter, no one has invented a more useful alternative to a register – so we blithely go ahead and violate the human rights of the violators in the absence of a more intelligent way of monitoring behaviours in order to ensure no one else gets hurt.

As far as the register itself and the right to appeal are concerned, it looks like a no-brainer to me.  But then, as I said at the beginning, this is an unsolicited opinion and I am not an expert in the matter.

Comments welcome.


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