Tuesday 31 May 2011

Legal but dishonourable

It's not often I find myself agreeing with Diane Abbot but here goes:

These days I'm a boss (kind of). I have to say that despite the stress this brings it's quite  nice being a boss. It's not really  about the money- in a business like ours there's quite a few people 'under' me who are considerably better paid than I am. In my case I simply  never really liked having anyone 'over' me so being a boss - albeit one who does his best not to act like an arsehole -  is definitely a preferable option. But one thing about being a boss is that the buck stops with you - for better or worse. 

Sometimes - despite your best efforts to be decent and honest - you soak up undeserved glory rightly accruing to people under you - and sometimes you shoulder the burden when they fuck up. Those are the breaks and if you can't hack it - don't do the job, whether it's being the managing director, the captain of the darts team - or the head of children's services at a local council earning £150k a year. 

That's a fucking lot more than I earn by the way - but if you were going to justify it at all you could say that when my team fucks up maybe a typo gets printed and we lose a client - whilst when a social services team fucks up a child dies.

I've no doubt that Sharon Shoesmith was hung out to dry and scapegoated by Haringey Council and most of all by cowardly Ed Balls in response to a lynch mob reaction to the death of Baby P. I'm also sure that the legal decision was well founded in employment law - and I hope that it ruins what little political career Ed Balls may have left. 

But on a personal ethical basis - for Sharon 'I don't do blame' Shoesmith to pocket any compensation for her dismissal is simply dishonourable (sorry I can't think of a better less old-fashioned word) - inappropriate is probably the PC jargon but that doesn't cut it.Granted she probably won't now be able to get another senior exec's job in the public sector and  she has lost a decent pension - but there's nothing to stop her just  keeping her head down and quietly earn a modest living doing some thing a bit more mundane. In the circumstances, whatever injustice she may feel she has suffered, that would seem like an honourable course of action.  

Of course if she was only seeking the courts' decision to highlight the government's and council's scapegoating - maybe now she has achieved this she could  donate the settlement to a campaign to defend public sector jobs and services - or at the very least to a kids' charity. But I wouldn't hold your breath ...

Friday 27 May 2011

Genocide lessons for our generation

Recent posts seem to be concentrating on legal-ish issues - and here's another one: 

For someone with any sense of justice it's difficult not to suppress a sense of jubilation at the sight of  Ratko Mladic - military leader of the Bosnian Serbs in the years of civil war and ethnic cleansing - being called to account. And yet at the same time for anyone with a sense of history it is difficult not to associate  the concept of 'war crimes' with  victor's justice. But just for the moment  I'm deliberately going to set that debate aside:

In our schools the Holocaust is taught as a defining moment in our recent history - when taught well it is an opportunity to educate new generations about the fragility of 'civilisation' and 'human rights'. Rightly so - it must never be forgotten - but there are problems with using it as such a vehicle. The passage of time and the emphasis on the 'otherness' of the Nazi regime has a danger of enshrining the holocaust in a time capsule  that new generations simply can't relate to. But in the very recent history of Balkan Europe  there is a much readily understood example of what Hannah Arendt called 'the banality of evil'. The thoroughly modern racism of neighbour against neighbour ... to the backdrop of MTV, Sony Walkmans and Benetton adverts. So close to our daily lives - and yet it is so swept under the carpet.

If the trial of Mladic is to achieve anything it could be to show that ethnic hatred is not something far away - either in history books or 'developing' countries. And although I'm delighted to see a new generation learning about 'The Boy In Striped Payamas' - I'd  also like them to be reading Joe Sacco's 'Safe Area Gorazde'.

Monday 23 May 2011

Super injunctions - not just about celebs

It's a very British thing:  a meeting of the obsession with 'privacy', and a  prurient fascination for other people's sex lives - all fused with the lynch-rule of a puritanical mob. Throw in a footballer or a celebrity or two and a not-really-a-celebrity photogenic gold-digger - and bingo we have the perfect storm. Then give it an added comic twist with some judges proving that they are indeed silly old farts by trying to police what is being said via social-networking on this new-fangled inter-web thingy. And let's not forget the biggest gold-digger of the lot - Max- fucking -Clifford.

It's tempting to say good riddance to the whole circus.

But then I remember that the first time I heard the expression 'super-injunction' was when Trafigura tried to hush up their dumping of toxic waste on the Ivory Coast. 100,000 people required medical help for which  the company accepted no liability  but still  paid the government $200 million  in hush money. So footballers and gold diggers aside there's a very important issue here - free speech in this country is something of an illusion when it can be brought off by the highest bidder. 

Libel laws may once have been intended to protect the individual - although historically that seems dubious - but when it costs about 150 times as much to bring a libel suit in this country as it does in the rest of Europe, and there's no legal aid available -  it does look suspiciously like a law only for the benefit of the  rich.

Friday 20 May 2011

Orwell anniversary

There's a piece over at Poumista today to mark the anniversary of George Orwell being shot on this day in 1937 whilst serving with the militias in the Spanish Civil War. 

I vividly remember discovering at the age of sixteen a copy of Homage To Catalonia in the most unlikely of places - the library of my Catholic school. I took it out again and again and re-read it many times over.

I'm not sure why - probably the teenage romantic notion of being a revolutionary  - but it had a profond affect on me that has stayed ever since.

However it goes no way at all to explaining why I should ever have concluded that it was a good idea to join the YCL at the age of 18. Fortunately it only took my six months to realise what a fucking dumb idea that was ...

Thursday 19 May 2011

Why double jeopardy matters

I would not have been at all troubled if  summary justice had  been meted out at the time  to this racist gang in some darkened alley in South East London. So why do I feel squeamish that in the case of one of them - Gary Dosbon - the legislation of 2003 has been used to  revoke the ancient common law principle of double jeopardy  so he can be tried again for a crime for which he was previously found not guilty ?

Some sentimental twaddle has been written about a cornerstone of 'our' justice system by those whose heart is in the right place but whose grasp of history is wanting. Freedom in this country - or any other - has not been guaranteed by legal principles. Yes - double jeopardy was meant to give the individual protection from persecution by a state that without it could manipulate evidence and juries until it  secured the desired conviction. But throughout history arbitrary imprisonment and punishment by the state has managed to go unchecked because - and no apologies for  getting a bit  doctrinaire here -  the state does not exist separate and apart from politics and class conflict.

I've even seen some things written on this case that evoke Magna Carta. A basic understanding of the thirteenth century would tell you that this much misrepresented document  was the product of the fragile balance in the struggle between the feudal class and the emerging centralised  state represented by the crown-  and nothing to do with a concept of universal human rights superimposed centuries later. In fact significantly Magna Carta only really entered the popular consciousness in the seventeenth century when it was dug out of obscurity and used to give legitimacy to another struggle against another arbitrary and repressive state - the Stuart monarchy. In otherwords it was politics - and specifically the  radical popular movements of the English Civil War -  that linked universal freedoms with legal principles.

But my squeamishness about double jeopardy isn't based on any notions of  'ancient principles' - it's very practical.

Quite simply allowing the state the possibility of a second-bite for a conviction actually facilitates and perpetuates the kind of incompetent and corrupt police investigation and prosecution seen at the time of the Stephen Lawrence murder. And anything that lowers the bar on the already plummeting standards of justice is a real threat to all of us.

Monday 16 May 2011

The new class warriors.

So Toby-fucking-Young (as he is not so affectionately known in my house) could only summon up three hundred or so of his mates from Notting Hill for the laughable 'March against debt'. Good riddance. Although it's tempting to wish for some unattributable disaster that would not have backfired on the perpetrators  to have wiped out this bunch of wankers - a damp squib is probably their best epitaph.  

This  mob who have misappropriated the label 'libertarian'  are  the same chinless wonders of the Federation of Confederation Students in the 1980's  - only now they've grown balder, fatter and more be-mortgaged. Back then they wanted to legalise heroin and hang Nelson Mandela as a terrorist - now they say the world capitalist crisis is the result of a feckless and greedy working class grown flabby on the welfare state. They thrive on the shock value of supposedly saying the unsay able - so for once I'm inclined to agree that ignoring them is the best way of attacking them.

But - their cer-wazy ideas do actually have a little more traction amongst a constituency within the middle classes with a smug consensus that 'something needs to be done about debt' and that cuts are necessary. Until of course their children's drama group is  closed down or their parks and libraries shut and sold off. Most of all these people believe that society has become infected with the poison of debt and greed. 

However, this supposed infection only applies to the materialistic white-van-man who has a mortgage for his home on a new-build estate, or maybe a loan for a car or a holiday. And of course those unemployed and unwashed who are actually dependent upon state benefits  are even worse  and have completely lost their moral compass. It's obviously a completely different matter  if you have to borrow money to buy up and renovate  a period home in a decaying urban area that is on the up. Or  if you take out a loan to finance a sabbatical year whilst you give up work so that you can start that little  bijou-business that you wanted all along before you ever got on the corporate ladder ... Cunts.

Wednesday 11 May 2011

Running on empty at the moment

Recently posts may have been a bit slow and uninspired - I’ve been fretting over posting something as personal as this. But given some of the inconsequential crap that has often been the basis for my posts, not writing something here about a subject so important seems somehow dishonest and disrespectful - apologies if it is uncomfortable to read:
My Easter bank holiday was – and I can’t think of any other way of putting this – a fucking nightmare. My mum, in her 80’s, housebound with chronic arthritis for the past 18months and cared for by my dad,  rapidly developed some mental problems over the course of a couple of weeks.  So I went over to see them  - and made a decision that my dad simply couldn’t cope anymore. We called an ambulance and she was carried out screaming  - possibly the last time she will ever leave her home. After a weekend spent in the observation ward attached to the A&E department – during which various doctors argued about whose responsibility she was – she was finally admitted to a specialist geriatric psych unit.  

That was getting on for three weeks ago and she is still there for assessment – we haven’t been told yet if it is depression, delirium or dementia or what we can expect to happen. But I have experienced an insidious shift towards acceptance of a situation that a month ago was unthinkable. Occasionally this is interrupted by hope I can ‘get her back’ - but more often by guilt that I have come to terms with the fact that I won’t.
When I see her she is by turns subdued, angry, frightened, depressed, delusional and aggressive. Whatever she is – she is not is the person that I knew:  The mother and wife. The woman with a passion for life and fun and an intense sense of justice,  - strong-willed and independent.  A career woman before her time, she left school at 16 to work as a lab technician in wartime and went on to train as a school teacher in the pioneering days of comprehensive schools and special needs (or remedial as it was then) education … and I’m already writing this as an obituary because it’s hard to believe that that person is still there.  

As an unswerving atheist I often find that the writings of Marcus Aurelius are a source of humanist comfort and wisdom. Not so when I remember how he identified the ‘self’:  ‘A little flesh, a little breath, and a Reason to rule all - that is myself’… and by implication when that has gone, what is left?

Monday 9 May 2011

I just can't help hating the LibDems

I have to confess to a not-entirely-irrational hatred of Liberal Democrats. Despite boycotting the AV referendum myself I can't help but take  pleasure from the shit they undoubtedly now find themselves in. There's dangers in this of course - it's a distraction from the real bastards in the organ grinder / monkey coalition - and getting sucked into the nuances of the inner workings of that can come close to a kind of 'parliamnetary cretenism'. 

Nonetheless I'm still rejoicing at the LibDems discomfort - maybe it's a local thing. My area was one of  the very few in the country to show a majority for AV. 

There's an invisible Berlin Wall that bisects my home borough of Haringey: To the west angst-ridden middle classes and a LibDem MP  - and to the east a poverty-stricken ethnically-diverse working class seemingly stuck with a Labour MP presumably until the dwindling turnout reduces to nothing.   In reality these  chattering classes to the west have the same politics and NIMBY-ism of any old-fashioned Tory from the shires - but they read the Guardian instead of the Telegraph, and derive their over-valued incomes from the media and the arts rather than anything as vulgar as business. Maybe they were daringly left-wing in their student days - now they can salve their consciences that they haven't altogether sold out to the Right by being 'progressive and liberal'. Are they're genuine in this or is it just sanctimonious hypocrisy that stops them from being proper Tories?  Who cares? 

If they ever were 'progressive' they must be feeling pretty shitty these days in having facilitated this vicious austerity government coming to power. So now they're lobbying to save their precious arts funding or their particular local services - which apparently unlike everyone elses' are especially precious. The one lifeline of self-justification they could cling on to was that they were securing some democratic reform that might just be worth the price that the rest of us were having to pay. Now that's blown up in their face and we are facing the possible political death of the LibDems for another generation. 

Good. Wankers. Next...

Wednesday 4 May 2011

King William - bloody good bloke & reactionary bastard. A prequel.

One of the more odious  aspects of the royal wedding circus was the re-cycling of the Ladybird 'king and queens of England' school of history. So much so that the BBC's Robert Preston has got in to trouble for tweeting that the collective noun for the constitutional studio pundits - including Andrew Roberts and Simon Schama - was 'a lick-spittle'.

There haven't been a lot of previous royal Williams - the first one (the 'conqueror' or the 'bastard')  was a thuggish warlord who ruthlessly introduced feudalism and imported a whole new ruling class. The second was a footnote who got himself killed in a hunting accident at an early age. And the third was the first 'constitutional' monarch whose reign marks the historical compromise between the capitalist and land-owning ruling classes that characterises the modern British state. 

The fourth one is often eclipsed by the reign of his niece Queen Victoria whose reign came to personify the high water mark of British capitalism and imperialism. But actually William IV or 'Sailor Bill' provides some interesting possible parallels with the future King Wills.

William IV came to power when the royal family were pretty low in public esteem. His elder brother - first as Prince Regent and then as George IV - had  made himself unpopular as a profligate glutton and serial-shagger at a time of growing radicalism and widespread hardship. By contrast William was a modest character. His coronation cost the state only a tenth of his brother's ten years earlier. As a younger son he had previously had  a frustrated career of sorts in the Royal Navy and enjoyed nothing more than dressing up in his admiral's uniform and messing about in boats.  In comparison to the  extravagence of his extrovert brother he lived modestly with his long term mistress and even went on incognito 'walk-abouts' around the country. From a style point of view if nothing else, he was arguably the first 'modern' monarch who derived his legitimacy from his subjects (at least the middle class ones) identifying him with their own lifestyles.

But beneath this cloak of 'bloody-good-bloke-ishness' that beat the heart of a reactionary old bastard every bit the equal  of his predecessors. As a younger son and royal duke he had sat in the house of lords and made a name for himself as a champion against the abolition of the slave trade. As king, after initially supporting the reforming Whigs, he did his best to obstruct their 1832 Reform Bill that would have enfrainchised a section of the middle class. When the reformers went to the polls to get a mandate, he ignored their victory and tried to impose a minority prime minister - the arch-reactionary Duke Of Wellington. Forced to back down from constitutional crisis and a potentially revolutionary situation, William eventually had to accept the reformers. But two years later he imposed a minority Tory government on the country despite there being a clear Whig majority in parliament.

But as Tony Benn would say, it's about politics not personalities. 

It doesn't matter if the monarch captures the popular mood with a blokey style - and 'WillsandKate' seem determined to project a more modern and accessible image than the old-fogeys of the Charles and Camila generation - the institution still serves the same purpose in class society as it has always done. A panic lever for the ruling class to pull when things get a bit sticky in the hurly-burly world of real politics.