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Week 15 Saturday
Howard’s campaign on immigration is just plain wicked. His campaign is devious and malicious, drawing upon the very worst of human nature in a desperate attempt to gain electoral advantage. For every word of the headline statements, there is an unspoken parallel text of racial resentment, cultural antagonism. And for those of us who know the situation “on the ground”, the campaign is also deeply dishonest, in ways which demean democratic politics. This is wickedness of a very high order.
And I must acknowledge that my own Party does not come to the issue with clean hands. Political pressures have dismantled the moral inhibitions of earlier generations. My Government has clearly schemed to make life nastier and nastier for asylum-seekers, to the despair of those us working to assist them in their distress. For me (as a human rights lawyer) it is particularly distressing to know that my Government has suborned our judicial and legal-aid systems, in the pursuit of nastiness.
But through all this, it is vital that we find the right language in which to debate these profound issues. My Labour Government has sought to keep the temperature of public debate low, keenly aware of its societal explosiveness. Under Blunkett, nastiness to asylum-seekers was balanced by liberal immigration strategies elsewhere, with work permits and other entry schemes. And Blunkett deserves great credit for his EU Workers Registration Scheme.
Howard has rejected all caution, to unleash the forces of racism and xenophobia. His Australian advisers clearly hold out great electoral returns, as a racist electoral dividend. Ignore the measured “reasonableness” of their text: it is the sub-text that matters. Howard is clearly praying that “immigration” will carry him into Downing Street, upon a tidal wave of racial antagonism and cultural resentment.
Anti-clericalism is not enough
That is, not a sufficient response to the phenomenon of the Pope John Paul’s death and funeral. Polly Toynbee was in great iconoclastic form this week, writing in The Guardian. Her acerbic atheist prose was French in style, in the extremities of its anti-clericalism. And as a dyed-in-the-wool anti-cleric myself, I confess that I enjoyed her attack. And it was successful, as far as it went.
But it did not go far enough. One cannot dismiss the events in Rome as mere mumbo-jumbo, inviting only intellectual disdain, neglect, disbelief.
A mystery "Jan" has replied to say that she does not accept my reasoning, about the impossibility of securing convictions for "corporate manslaughter".
The attempt to prosecute "artificial persons" for manslaughter are doomed to failure. Government promises to legislate for "corporate manslaughter" are simply ill-informed and wrong-headed. Nobody in power seems to have grasped the absurdity of what is being proposed.
Jan cries "foul", because she claims that individual LA officers should be forced to accept personal responsibility for their own neglect or incompetence. Hers is a real cri de coeur, a cry from the heart.
But there are two quite separate issues here, and they must be "unpacked".
The first is my point, that the attempt to convict artificial persons of "manslaughter" is misconceived, because that is a crime designed to influence the behaviour of natural persons and cannot reasonably apply to corporations, i.e. artificial persons.
The second is Jan's point, that senior managers (all "natural persons" to the core) should more often be held personally responsible, for their own personal negligence and incompetence. That is already possible, under existing law, though often difficult to prove: too often, complex systems and job descriptions make the line of accountability difficult to trace. Jan is right, though: Parliament, by making its intentions much clearer from the outset, could do much more to call managers to account. And it should.
Am I old-fashioned?
A Nolan prude? Regular readers will know that I disapprove of the survey methods of YouGov. I think they are sloppy and unreliable: I gave you my full reasons, last July. Rigged telephone polling is becoming part of the political entertainment business, discrediting serious opinion analysis. And I have been astonished at the weight attached to YouGov poll results by the Meeja generally, including the BBC and the Today Programme.
I now find (Evening Standard 6 April), when YouGov is floated on the Stock Exchange on 25 April 2005, no less a luminary that John Humphrys of the Today Programme stands to receive £270,000 for his shareholding.
Call me old-fashioned, but should not John Humphrys have "declared an interest", when YouGov survey results were being presented, on the BBC? Do any of the other BBC pundits own shares?
I have triggered this week the establishment of a new national charity, Asylum Justice, to mobilise others to join me in this work. The Government's relentless nastiness to asylum-seekers gets worse this month, as time-limits are cut and legal aid resources further reduced. My thanks to the excellent
City Solicitors Bates Wells & Braithwaite for backing me with a commitment to do the necessary legal work on a pro bono footing. I am also working with the new Young Foundation of Bethnal Green (Geoff Mulgan and the Michael Young succession and inheritance). I am deeply grateful to both organisations for their understanding and support. If you have ideas, or can assist either as a lawyer or a layman, please...
The harrowing Terry Schiavo Case in the US generated many references to “living wills”. Also much misunderstanding about what a “living will” is. For it is not a conventional “Will” at all. And Terry Schiavo did not make one.
A “living Will” is quite different, because it comes into effect before your death. It is a signed, witnessed, statement from you, while you still have the mental capacity to make it, giving instructions to all concerned what you wish to happen to you if should lose that mental capacity, or any specific degree of physical capacity.
The common law has always allowed individuals to decide whether or not to accept medical treatment of any kind, rejecting compulsory medication. A living Will is merely the advance exercise of that discretion. It covers the situation where you have lost the mental capacity to decide for yourself on the continuation of medical treatment. And if you have expressed yourself clearly, those around you are entitled to carry out your wishes if you do lose your mental or physical capacities as indicated.
Against Unreasonable Inequality >>>
Ralph Erskine The Great >>>
Darwinian " strangers" >>>
"Corporate Manslaughter" fallacy >>>
Labour's philosophical vacuum >>>
Forget Iraq? No fear! >>>
Camilla's Wedding - go ahead >>>
Bangladesh legal bombshell >>>
I will vote Labour, but... >>>
Migration should be legal >>>
London dysfunctional city >>>
Referendum? Wrong question >>>
How politicians abuse "contracts" >>>
Abolish Wrongful Dismissal >>>
Adjustment Pay for every worker >>>
....drop me a line
I confess I was flattered by The Guardian’s excellent review of Tam Dalyell’s political career. He was cited as “defying Left-Right” labels, because he was (a) deeply opposed to the invasion of Iraq, (b) pro-Europe and (c) in favour of nuclear power.That demonstrated his independence of mind. And all three are also my own personal positions, quite precisely. But I have a fourth position, on school indiscipline, which will seem odd to many people.
To make way for the work of Asylum Justice, I have this week resigned two of my major charity Trusteeships - the one at Aquaterra Leisure, the other at LIBRI, the charity for libraries. Both take me regularly to London (it's 400-mile round-trip, from Swansea) and I am finding the regular commuting both time-consuming and demanding. Shelf-space must be cleared for other concerns. And the needs of asylum-seekers are now my higher priority...
My concerns are essentially about Blair himself. They are not "about the Iraq War" as such: I am not a pacifist, and I can understand the arguments for "toppling" Saddam Hussein, if that is what was done. I meet too many Iraqis, in my asylum work, who praise the invasion - and I do not take their testimony lightly.
My concern is with the evidence of Blair's character weakness, and flawed morality, displayed in the abuse of power that triggered the invasion. He showed that he was capable of enormous, almost insane, self-delusion. He subordinated means to ends, in pursuit of an unmeritorious end. He is a brilliant political showman, capable of persuading even himself. He will go down in political history for his awesome conceptual and verbal dexterity, which is both his strength and his weakness.
I simply wish he was not leading my Party, in spite of his proven political dexterity. For he has failed the probity test, and his capacity for self-delusion, coupled with his unprincipled pragmatism, remains a threat to all of us. It is telling that so many Labour MPs are opting to omit his picture from their Election manifestos.
Spare a moment to get to grips with the happy £3bn accounting error that this week brought an extra £3bn into the public accounts.
Lucky, or what? It turns out that the Office for National Statistics had been double-counting the large £3bn-per-annum bill for highway repairs, from the Highways Agency. That sum had been both put aside, in some kind of sinking fund and deducted from the value of the nation's highways each year, by way of "depreciation" (i.e. the amount by which the network wears out, each year).
But how could such a massive error come to be made in the first
place? How long has it been going on? It's hardly rocket science, after all. I have checked the
website, but (surprise, surprise) they do not feature it.
The Public Accounts Committee this week tried
to pin responsibility on Gordon Brown, for fiddling the books - but he
would have none of it. The Office for National Statistics is a
wholly independent agency.