Sunday, 19 June 2016

We have our country: we don't need it “back”.

Thereis a time for mourning, there is a time for resolution, and there is a time for truth. Sometimes those times coincide, and this is one of those moments. Being a time for truth also means a time for confrontation. We have to tell the truth about the Leave campaign's great lie about immigration, about the brutal enthusiasm for stoking up imaginary fears with their anti immigration rhetoric, and the atmosphere they have helped to create, an atmosphere of fear and hate, in which it becomes possible to think that taking someone's life is a legitimate act. “He was nothing to do with us” they say, as they weep crocodile tears about the abrupt ending of a life.

Sometimes I feel really sorry for Nigel Farage. He complains about having to sit on a train with people speaking foreign languages around him. He must have such a fragile sense of identity, sitting in an English train, with English language ads and instructions on the wall, reading an English newspaper. He makes me want to pick him up and cuddle him, take him home and tuck him into bed with a nice soothing cup of ovaltine. Poor little Nigel. Only, of course, he isn't. He knew exactly what he was doing when he unveiled his Nazi redux poster this week, playing on the worst fears of the fiction he and his like have created. And when somebody finally takes him at his word, he will wash and wash and wash his hands, but the stain will not come out.

A worse lie still is the one that has taken hold in the mind of so much of middle England that their country has somehow disappeared. It has not. It is still here. As our football team once again misfires magnificently through a major competition, as April rain in June washes out the cricket, our country has not gone anywhere. It is in nobody else's hands. It is still here. It belongs to us and we belong to it. People have been bamboozled into thinking that they have lost their country. What they have lost is security, identity, pride – and all because of the way the world works, not because of Europe or immigration. Zero hour contracts, low wages, precarious employment, food banks will not disappear if we leave the EU. They will not disappear if all the immigrants go away. Britain will continue a gradual slide down global economic rankings, because other countries are developing. There is no way to stop that, and the slide will be faster if we leave the EU. People say “We're still number 1”. We're not. That does not mean we can't be proud of ourselves. I'm very proud of being English, of being British. I don't have to pretend I'm better than anyone else to do that. Yet people are being made to be unhappy, and in fact to be murderous, because somebody across the road is wearing different clothes or speaking a different language. That is foul.

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Hillsborough. Justice? Or truth?

The papers today are saying, almost uniformly, that we at last have justice for the 96. Some of the families are saying so as well. I disagree. We do not yet have justice. What the decision gave us yesterday was the truth. Truth is a very important part of justice, but only a part of it. This is an important issue in terms of the national debate, because this is not only about 96 people who lost their lives, and not only about the survivors and family who have had to live with the consequences. We have reached the truth because of the determination of the families, the decency of some (but certainly not all) politicians, and the professionalism and integrity of the Hillsborough Independent Panel, and the coroner and jury who gave their verdicts yesterday.

But this is not yet justice. Justice requires that people face up to their wrong doing and, if necessary, pay a price. There has been much persistent wrong doing over Hillsborough. It is not just about wrong doing by people who were there on the day. It is also about policy and culture that led to a climate in which that kind of thing could happen. And it is also about persistent, deliberate and long term perversion of the course of justice because so many people lied for so long about what actually happened. Even during this inquest, over the course of the last two years, South Yorkshire police barristers were still peddling the lie that the fans were ticketless and out of control drunk. I don't blame the barristers - they were doing their job. I do blame South Yorkshire police - the current commanders of South Yorkshire police - for continuing to peddle such a lie.

The Mirror asks today if justice will be served by people being prosecuted after so long a time. It is a legitimate question. But the answer in this case is a resounding yes. Many people who got it wrong on the day have continued in their lives and careers apparently undisturbed by what they did, and undisturbed by the relentless cover up of their failings and crimes. Yes, they should pay a price.

And the wrong doing has continued to this day. The South Yorkshire police who hid the truth, the West Midlands police who aided and abetted their cover up were guilty even yesterday of maintaining the lie. And it is not a little white lie. It is perverting the course of justice. They should be brought to book.

For some people, the law will not bring justice. The Sun newspaper continues on its merry way. Its "heartfelt" apology was published on pages 8 and 9. Why not on the front page? The Metro has done a brilliant job of trolling the Sun, by the way, reproducing the Sun's infamous front page, and then reporting the results of the inquest with exactly the same format. You need to scroll down a little way to get it.

And there is the person known as Bernard Ingham, the poison pen letter writer. He is a really nasty man. He still refuses to apologise for his disgusting reaction. He will carry on untouched.

The survivors, the families and friends will make their own decision as to whether to continue to campaign for justice. They have earned the right to that decision.

Whatever they decide, the guilty should be pursued. And I hope that the state, which has so long used its apparatus against the 96, will now work on their behalf. But the law does not cover everything. The law cannot not always bring justice, because justice is more than the law. The law does not have the capacity to secure justice between the 96 and their families on the one hand, and the Sun and Bernard Ingham on the other. Justice is about the right kind of relationship existing between people, and it is up to all of us as human beings and as citizens to secure the balance. That means contesting privilege, calling out the powerful when they abuse their power, as the Sun and Ingham have done. And because they are so persistent in abusing their power, the confrontation must also be persistent. In that regard we all have a lot to learn from the families and friends of the 96.

27th April edited to add.
Perhaps they are beginning to do it: David Crompton, South Yorkshire Police Chief Constable, Suspended After Hillsborough Inquest Verdict. While he has only been in command of S Yorks police since 2012, he has been directly involved in the maintenance of the cover up, as shown in the article.

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Hillsborough verdict

So the verdict is in, and we have the truth.

QUESTION 6: Determination on unlawful killing issue

Are you satisfied, so that you are sure, that those who died in the disaster were unlawfully killed? Yes or no.


QUESTION 7: Behaviour of the supporters

Was there any behaviour on the part of the football supporters which caused or contributed to the dangerous situation at the Leppings Lane turnstiles? Yes or no.


Was there any behaviour on the part of the football supporters which may have caused or contributed to the dangerous situation at the Leppings Lane turnstiles? Yes or no.


No thanks to Bernard Ingham, who wrote the most poisonous letter I have ever seen from a government official.

No thanks to the Sun. I'm not even going to link to their disgusting front page.

No thanks to Kelvin Mackenzie, who has issued a crocodile apology and continued on his vicious way.

No thanks to South Yorkshire police.

No thanks to West Mercia police, who "investigated" South Yorkshire police.

No thanks to a succession of governments and ministers who failed in their duty to see that justice was done for their citizens, and were complicit in causing it to take 25 years to discover the truth.

Thanks only to the dogged determination of ordinary people - survivors, family, relatives, friends, supporters who would not rest, and some of whom fought until their own deaths, we finally have the truth about these 96 victims of an incapable and corrupt system.

John Alfred Anderson
Colin Mark Ashcroft
James Gary Aspinall
Kester Roger Marcus Ball
Gerard Bernard Patrick Baron
Simon Bell
Barry Sidney Bennett
David John Benson
David William Birtle
Tony Bland
Paul David Brady
Andrew Mark Brookes
Carl Brown
David Steven Brown
Henry Thomas Burke
Peter Andrew Burkett
Paul William Carlile
Raymond Thomas Chapman
Gary Christopher Church
Joseph Clark
Paul Clark
Gary Collins
Stephen Paul Copoc
Tracey Elizabeth Cox
James Philip Delaney
Christopher Barry Devonside
Chris Edwards
Vincent Michael Fitzsimmons
Thomas Steven Fox
Jon-Paul Gilhooley
Barry Glover
Ian Thomas Glover
Derrick George Godwin
Roy Harry Hamilton
Philip Hammond
Eric Hankin
Gary Harrison
Stephen Francis Harrison
Peter Andrew Harrison
David Hawley
James Robert Hennessy
Paul Anthony Hewitson
Carl Darren Hewitt
Nicholas Michael Hewitt
Sarah Louise Hicks
Victoria Jane Hicks
Gordon Rodney Horn
Arthur Horrocks
Thomas Howard
Thomas Anthony Howard
Eric George Hughes
Alan Johnston
Christine Anne Jones
Gary Philip Jones
Richard Jones
Nicholas Peter Joynes
Anthony Peter Kelly
Michael David Kelly
Carl David Lewis
David William Mather
Brian Christopher Matthews
Francis Joseph McAllister
John McBrien
Marian Hazel McCabe
Joseph Daniel McCarthy
Peter McDonnell
Alan McGlone
Keith McGrath
Paul Brian Murray
Lee Nicol
Stephen Francis O'Neill
Jonathon Owens
William Roy Pemberton
Carl William Rimmer
Dave George Rimmer
Graham John Roberts
Steven Joseph Robinson
Henry Charles Rogers
Colin Andrew Hugh William Sefton
Inger Shah
Paula Ann Smith
Adam Edward Spearritt
Philip John Steele
David Leonard Thomas
Patrick John Thompson
Peter Reuben Thompson
Stuart Paul William Thompson
Peter Francis Tootle
Christopher James Traynor
Martin Kevin Traynor
Kevin Tyrrell
Colin Wafer
Ian David Whelan
Martin Kenneth Wild
Kevin Daniel Williams
Graham John Wright

Saturday, 19 March 2016

Only a hollow sense of relief

If I'd ever thought about it beforehand, I would have assumed that I would greet the news of Iain Duncan Smith's resignation with a prolonged bout of helplessly gleeful cackling. But, after a few hours to digest the news properly, I feel only a sense of hollow relief. I feel mostly sadness for the hundreds of thousands on whom he has inflicted his arbitrary misery, and indeed those whose lives have prematurely come to an end because of his policies and practices. (Other people's responses have been a bit more, shall we say, robust.)

Speculation remains as to why he resigned. Some people accept his resignation letter at face value. I see no reason, however, to think that IDS has suddenly discovered a heart. He has throughout his reign at the DWP used the mantra of work to justify ever more repressive policies for sick and disabled people. He brought in PIP expressly for the purpose of saving money, regardless of the effect it had on recipients.  The probability that he now thinks the next cut is a step too far is lower than the probability of Nigel Farage voting to stay in Europe.

The real reasons are murky and complex. The Canary sees Boris's hand in it. Maybe. But I suspect a combination of factors.

Possibly, IDS has realised just how difficult it is to campaign to leave the EU from inside the cabinet. Possibly, he has included calculation of his likely career prospects under a new and Eurosceptic leader (so maybe Boris had some effect). So I suspect that Europe has something to do with it, but not much.

Possibly he calculates that now is a good time to get out of the DWP. Sooner or later the continuing car crash of Universal Credit implementation is going to come to a halt. Even for IDS the ability to continue to lie with conviction about how well things are going while constantly "resetting" must be reaching exhaustion point. There are the lengthy battles with the Information Commissioner to prevent the public from discovering the truth about just how nasty DWP policy has been, with regards to Universal Credit and the investigation of deaths following Work Capability Assessments. There is also the looming report from the UN Inquiry into the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in the UK, which has the DWP firmly in its sights. Perhaps better to get out now and let his successor deal with the fallout from all those dirty bombs.

And possibly it is something about his ego and Cabinet politics. IDS fundamentally objects to anybody interfering on his patch, particularly when that someone is George Osborne, whom he venomously loathes. Although the budget cut to PIP is being described as a joint product of DWP and Treasury thinking, it does seem to have Osborne's butter fingered stamp on it. Maybe that was a move too far for IDS's over brimming and sulphurous ego.

Anyway, the man is gone, but not the policies. So who comes next? To me a more fundamental question is who want the job, knowing what he has left behind for them to deal with. Apparently Priti Patel is a front runner. She would be. Cruella de Ville in waiting. She wants to bring back hanging - a much more economical way of dealing with disabled people than trying to force them off benefit by constantly reassessing them. I wonder if Serco would bid for the contract. Or G4S, with their stellar record of running prisons.

To be honest, she would not be as bad as IDS. She has some loathsome ideas, but, compared to his lethal combination of incompetence and vindictiveness, she is a lightweight. So is almost anybody else.

I would not be surprised if the successor were not given the job as a holding appointment. The department needs a heavyweight minister, and Cameron does not want a reshuffle now. Assuming he survives the EU referendum, there will be one after that, when the job at the DWP can be given to somebody with the managerial and political experience to do the job properly. Or he could give it to another bully, of course.

Update: Stephen Crabb appointed. Not Cruella de Ville then. We shall see what Mr Crabb is made of.

Friday, 13 November 2015

Why I am a Liberal Democrat

The LibDems recently ran an essay competition on the theme "What  it means to be a Liberal Democrat today". Results of the competition are not out yet, and I have no idea when they will be. Here is my effort, for what it is worth.


I am a Liberal Democrat because I have a sense of justice. Justice means everybody getting a fair chance without the playing field being tilted against them throughout their lives. Justice does not mean everyone being treated the same all the time. Equality before the law is a sine qua non, but equality before the law requires different treatment, e.g. those who cannot afford representation should get legal aid. Those who can should not. My sense of justice is Biblical as much as it is political, though I accept it will not be for everybody. The Old Testament justice of Amos “Let justice roll on like a river and righteousness like an ever flowing stream”. Justice is so much more than equality before the law: it demands that we treat everybody as we would wish to be treated ourselves. Thus the two most important fibres in my being, the political and the religious, are intertwined.

Liberal democracy involves a lifetime of effort levelling the playing field. We come into a world with a tilted playing field. We make the effort to level it. But the effort does not end once the field is level because in our world the most influential currency is money, and money is magnetic. Wherever it is, it attracts more. If we leave the playing field alone, it will gradually tilt again as those with money use their power to accumulate more. So we need to work constantly to keep the playing field level. It is not just about fairness, it is also about effectiveness. Wealth used for the benefit of all benefits the wealthy too (some of the wealthy realise this). Wealth redistributed to those who have no work keeps them fit and alert and best able to contribute when work does come their way. Wealth redistributed towards those who will never be able to work means we care for those less fortunate than ourselves. Hence my implacable opposition to the poisonous policies and practices of the current Department for Work and Pensions.

The second most influential currency is information, which is crucial for the exercise of power. Information is light which we shine into the murk of both states and corporations to find out how they are affecting us. Without information we are not free, so being a Liberal Democrat means a concern for the freedom of information everywhere and in every form. People must be free to communicate with each other everywhere and about anything, provided it does not harm other people. But people in power hide information as obsessively as they hide money. So liberalism involves a permanent struggle to uncover information and set it free.

I don’t aim for a small state. I aim for an effective state. Size and effectiveness are not necessarily correlated. I want a state that is strong when I need it to be and otherwise leaves me alone. At the same time I want a society that encourages other people to be all that they can be, but to leave me alone if I am not affecting them. Regulation is a necessity; without it markets and social relations would not be peaceably ordered. Too much regulation is problematic, but so is too little – as we discovered in 2008. I want a smart state, one that is strong enough to counter balance prevailing global forces, and at the same time nimble enough to deal with rapidly changing circumstances. The Home Office’s leaden footed response to legal highs is a perfect example of how not to respond to change.

So the state needs to be smart, which entails that the people need to be smart. We need an active concerned and involved citizenry to keep the state tuned to our needs rather than to the needs of those in power. Liberalism also involves realism. I am realistic enough to know that we will never have an entirely active and involved citizenry. The forces of individualist consumerism are too strong for that. But we need a certain minimum, and everybody should at least have the chance, which means we need an education system in which people learn how to be smart. The system we have at the moment teaches one thing and one thing only – how to be measured. It is a tribute to the indomitability of the human spirit and to the professionalism and creativity of our teachers that most of our pupils leave the system with their character intact.

Ultimately, liberalism, like any political philosophy, is about character. Liberalism includes generosity of spirit. I do not envy those who are richer than me, provided they have earned it, which is by no means always the case. I do not scorn those who are poorer than me, because they did not bring it on themselves. They just live in the wrong part of the playing field, the one that I am constantly working to level up. Liberalism involves being always conscious of the rest of the world, not just the bits of the UK that go beyond my comfortable environment, but the entire world. Being internationalist means we won’t forget that our comfort depends on the discomfort of many others.

Liberalism is not an easy creed. It involves a tolerance for complication, an appetite for the convoluted practice of listening to every point of view and working to accommodate all of them. By and large political philosophies are based on either fear or hope. The politics of fear is easy. You point and shout. Liberalism is founded on the politics of hope, which is hard, hard work. We do not have the Daily Mail to expound our beliefs. We have Focuses. Which have to be delivered. So we pound the pavements. Activism gets you fitter. Not only have you got the message out, but you’ve taken your health into your own hands as well.

Saturday, 29 August 2015

Over-qualified graduates or an under performing economy?

The CIPD reports that more than half our graduates are working in non graduate jobs. Employers are beginning to use a high qualification bar for recruitment in order to sift applicants more cost effectively; and recruits are finding that they have skills which are not being used. (The report makes a genuflection in the direction of general under use of skills, but needs to make more of the fact that many non graduate employees are not being stretched to their full capacity either - and never have been.)

Reporting of this report is varied. The Guardian says, "Britain’s failure to create sufficient high-skilled jobs for its rising proportion of graduates means the money invested in education is being squandered, while young people are left crippled by student debts, warns a new report."  AGCAS says, "The report suggests a range of interpretations of the available data, but the findings raise questions about the size of the HE sector in relation to our labour market needs and reinforce calls for investment in alternative routes into work for young people." Adventures in Evidence is looking forward to the bun fight: "The annual graduate employment statistics remain much-emphasised by universities and government.  Providing an alternative, more sceptical view, this report is worth a bit of attention: it will be interesting to see what counter-arguments are put to this and by whom."  Though so far there doesn't seem to have been much of one. Readers may point me to analyses which I have missed.

Creating high skill jobs requires investment - that thing that Tory governments don't do if they can possibly help it. The Tory rationale is that investment is best left to the market. If firms want high earning staff, they will create high paying jobs. Trouble is there is a mismatch here between requirements for the economy as a whole and requirements of individual corporations. In a way the Tories are right: investment is best left to companies and sectors to decide for both short and long term strategies. But what happens when the business sector gets it wrong too?

Globalisation, technological development and the increasing power of the managerial classes are causing a widening divide throughout the world between the elite and the rest. The CIPD report mentions the hourglass workforce demographic, where there are some nice jobs at the top, then a squeeze, below which the hulk of (generally low paid and precarious) jobs are situated. The elite who run the companies are quite happy with that. It appears our government is quite happy with that too because much of George Osborne's economic policy is pushing that way. But therein lies the contradiction - if that is the shape of our economy, we do not need a large body of graduate employees. The rationale behind Blair's HE expansion was that to maintain our prosperity we would need to compete with the rest of the world on skills and inventiveness. For that we need a large base of well educated recruits. But the economy we are developing (rapidly) is not that kind of economy. So at some point that contradiction will need to be dealt with.

I do not expect our business sector to be able to deal with it on its own. While there is a great deal of entrepreneurship and vision around in the business sector, it seems to me that there is not enough, and current policies do not encourage it nearly enough. It seems to me that our managerial class has become expert in forms of behaviour which are great at enriching them and maintaining their position, but does not require them to find new fields and new endeavours. In other words, they have become among the world's leading experts in rent seeking: in extracting the value of other people's labour and appropriating it for themselves in bonuses and dividends. Why risk unbalancing the trough when your nose is still in it?

The CIPD says, quotes in Times Higher Ed, “It’s crucial we as a nation take stock now of whether our higher education system is delivering desired returns for graduates, for organisations, and society.” In my view, it is not the HE sector we should be looking at, it is the economy. We should be looking at whether our economy is delivering desired returns for graduates, for organisations and particularly for society. All the signs are that it is not. And it can be changed. The economy is not a monolith, as neoliberals would have us think. It is not beyond influence - in fact what the Tory half of the last government and Tory whole of this government is doing is influencing the economy in the - for me - wrong direction. What we are developing is a finely tuned version of the economy of the trough and we desperately need a form of economy that spreads security and prosperity as widely as possible. People should be rewarded for the work they do, rather than the value being sifted out of it and given to people who have not worked for it. And we should also recognise that the economy is easily big enough - massive enough in fact - to afford to pay a decent minimum, without constant harassment, to those who, through no fault of their own, are not working.

Monday, 3 August 2015

Five years in prison....

Actions that carry a maximum sentence of five years in prison:

Trading in firearms without being registered as firearms dealer
Selling firearm to person without a certificate
Repairing, testing etc. firearm without a certificate
Falsifying certificate etc. with view to acquisition of firearm
Violent disorder
Female circumcision
Unlawful wounding
Assault occasioning actual bodily harm
Abandonment of children under two
Acquisition by or supply of firearms to person denied them
Dealing in firearms
Setting spring guns with intent to inflict grievous bodily harm
Failure to disclose information about terrorism
Child sex offence committed by person under 18
Abuse of trust: sexual activity with a child
Abuse of position of trust: causing a child to engage in sexual activity
Abuse of trust: sexual activity in the presence of a child
Abuse of position of trust: causing a child to watch sexual activity
Possession etc of articles for use in frauds
Putting people in fear of violence
Offences in relation to certain dangerous articles
Possession of indecent photograph of a child
Sexual activity with a child family member, with penetration (Offender under 18)
Inciting a child family member to engage in sexual activity (Offender under 18)

Or,if the government get their way, I might be a landlord who happens to be renting a flat or a room to an asylum seeker. And I might decide, when I hear that their request for asylum has been refused, that I cannot be so callous as to evict them just after they have been told they cannot stay in the country. For that as well, they want to give me five years in prison.

We were right to talk about adding a heart to the Conservative party. They don't appear to have one.