Wednesday, 17 December 2008
It seems extraordinary that the top brass at Ofsted has not yet met the same fate as Haringey's Director of Children's Services. I suppose that means no more than that they've not had the tabloids on their backs rather than us having a Government that simply doesn't care about such things.
Monday, 15 December 2008
I'd like to say that the real victory was over the terrorists who attacked Mumbai, with our brave lads refusing to be cowed despite the obvious risk that they would be the next target. But I can't. They should have made clear from the outset that if the Indians wanted the game to go ahead they were up for it. Instead they headed home and prevaricated until they finally worked out that invites to join the IPL would be pretty thin on the ground for those who chickened out.
They scarcely acquitted themselves any better at the Stanford Super Series when their undisguised greed and pre-match whingeing was an embarrassment, and the result was exactly what they deserved. But their response to the Mumbai massacre was shameful, and the ECB should never have indulged the players the way they did.
Saturday, 29 November 2008
Friday, 28 November 2008
Sometimes our Government seems to have a death wish, and Jacqui seems keen to be seen at the front of the queue as always. You'd have thought Gordon had more than enough problems right now without any intervention on Ms Smith's part.
At least she kept a well-judged sense of proportion in ordering the arrest when she decided to use the anti-terrorist squad; Mr Green will be grateful that he's still alive. Honestly, you'd have thought they had enough work keeping on top of all the terrorists crowding our country (if Ms Smith is to be believed) without 'taking out' opposition MPs who manage to cause ministers a little embarrassment now and then.
I've spoken here before on the misuse of the anti-terrorist laws, and this latest farce reinforces my belief that politicians start abusing such legislation almost before the ink's dry. If only we already had our identity cards; that would certainly have scuppered Mr Green's criminal conspiracy before it even got going, wouldn't it?
What do you mean, the Government weren't consulted ahead of Mr Green's arrest? Everyone else seems to have been.
Wednesday, 26 November 2008
What would I have liked to have seen? To the extent that money being put into the economy may at least cushion the worse of the recession, I would have liked to have seen the return of the 10p tax rate, and extending further upwards than before. Since those with low earnings are the most likely to spend their money it would tend to boost trade too. But doing that would of course require the Government to admit that they had been wrong to abolish it in the first place.
As far as possible, I'd have funded the tax cut by getting rid of most of the allowances and other mechanisms that enable the wealthy and big businesses to avoid paying taxes. An end to offshore subsidiaries selling 'services' to their UK parents for starters. An end to trust funds whose primary objective is to transfer property down succeeding generations of a family without the inconvenience of having to pay death duties. A firm clampdown on tax havens.
I suspect those two measures alone would fund the tax reductions, and have a far greater effect in reducing inequality in our society.
While we're about it, bin the ludicrously expensive, pointless and unwanted Identity Card scheme. If the Government were prepared to admit they'd got it wrong on that one they'd be able to save a few bob, that's for sure.
Trident. Do we need to renew it? No of course we don't.
VAT? Forget it; bringing it down to 15% is little more than pissing in the wind. Laughable. Some things are best left alone.
If our economy picks up, it will be because other rather better run economies have improved rather than the result of any efforts on the part of our Chancellor. He'd have served us far better if he'd looked for a way forward that called time on our credit culture once and for all. Even allowing for the unpopular nature of such a route, I'm not sure Mr Darling has even grasped the need to consider it.
Saturday, 22 November 2008
He's quite right of course, so it's singularly disappointing to see the responses he's had so far from the Immigration minister among others. Cracking down hard on immigrants plays well with what remains of the Daily Mail element of the Government's support (did such support ever exist?) but all too frequently politicians seem blind to the law of unintended consequences.
One obvious example has been the growing reluctance to allow seasonal migrant workers to come here in the crop-picking season. Has that meant that such work has been taken by underemployed 'British Workers'? Of course it doesn't; it means that large quantities of fruit and vegetables have been left to rot, which is one of the factors in rapidly rising food prices.
There are many jobs that are both unattractive and low-paid that won't get done unless people come and do them outside the framework imposed by taxation and employment legislation. I doubt if James Purnell is going to pursuade the great unemployed to take them on either. Our Government is not alone in publicly denouncing illegal immigrants whilst at the same time using them to prop up the comforts of an affluent society.
Boris Johnson is right on this, and Gordon Brown, James Purnell, Phil Woolas et al. should have the courage to say so rather than pandering yet again to our unpleasant tabloid press.
Tuesday, 11 November 2008
It’s curious how a major financial crisis has been the saving of Gordon Brown, regardless of his own role in precipitating it. A month or so ago, you’d have got something approaching even money that it would have been a toss up for who would be forming Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition come the next General Election, the Lib Dems or the SNP. Now though Labour have coasted the Glenrothes by-election, and the latest opinion polls suggest that the electorate agree (as does much of the world) with Gordon’s recent assertion that this is ‘no time for a novice’. Certainly not for George Osborne, whose reputation will not recover easily from his schmoozing with that Russian oligarch.
Vince Cable on the other hand is looking very much the man. Every major step the Government has taken has been proposed beforehand by Vince, and the LibDems are appearing foolish only in that they preferred the hapless Nick Clegg as party leader. A week or so ago, he was the object of Labour sneers over his proposal to cut taxes but already it appears that the Government are now about to do just that, with cuts targeted at those most likely to spend the money when they get it.
So what is it that is actually happening? To me it appears like this:
- The banks run out of ready cash after years of reckless, unsustainable lending (this one at least seems inarguable).
- The Government bail out the banks, at massive cost, by borrowing the money to do so since it has none of its own.
- Since this solves nothing, the Government now give people money to spend, once again borrowing the money to do so since its already up to its ears in debt.
This they hope will bring us right back to where we started; property prices rising, the banks lending lots of money, people spending money they don’t really possess at all, but with one major difference. The Government has placed itself in the self same position as everyone else; owing lots of money with no reasonable prospect of repaying it. The last time this happened (with somewhat different historical causes) was when Harold 'you've never had it so good' Macmillan was occupying Number 10, and leaving the incoming Labour government to pick up the pieces.
The Government was of course already deep in debt, not least from its fondness for PFI schemes, which represent a 'buy now, pay later' approach to public finances popular in part because the consequent debt is conveniently hidden when it comes to the balance sheet.
Is cutting taxes the answer to our problems? Of course not, it just defers the day of judgement ever further. Since the people who pay taxes are in the main those who already have money, they are the ones least likely to be having problems. What we do need though is a realignment of our tax system so that the obscenely wealthy pay a higher proportion of tax, and those on low salaries pay less. This has beneficial knock-on effects that might not be immediately apparent. For example, if a City trader had paid considerably more of that end-of-year bonus in tax, he would have had somewhat less left to spend on property; that would have reduced the inflationary spiral of property prices not only round London and the home counties, but across the country as a whole as demand for second (or third, or fourth) homes would have been reduced.
When Gordon Brown took over as PM he promised a Government of 'all the talents'. If he still holds to that, he should get down on his knees and plead with Vince Cable to join the Cabinet as Chancellor. Unlike his Labour counterparts, Mr Cable doesn't hold back from saying the unpopular, that the only way to justify tax cuts for the low paid is to increase them for those who earn above the norm. In the end public services (and other debts) have to be paid for and by the public, not by paying derisory wages to those who work in the sector.
In the meantime, Gordon's decision to scrap the 10p tax band is looking increasingly foolish.
Monday, 10 November 2008
His enquiry actually has a remarkable similarity to Diana's inquest in that just about everyone knows what happened, and consequently the conclusion that is likely to be reached. It would have saved a lot of time and money if our Government, which has certainly known all along what happened, had simply owned up and apologised. All the more remarkable that it didn't, given that in general the only mistakes Tony Blair wasn't prepared to apologise for were his own.
The enquiry stopped hearing witnesses four years ago yet it has proved a continuing gravy train for members of the legal profession. Even now, when you'd have thought that there was little left to fund beyond a supply of quill pens, ink and paper it is costing more than Jonathan Ross' BBC salary (the one he was getting before he was suspended that is).
You can keep up-to-date with Lord Saville's progress in some detail through the enquiry's own website. Unfortunately, you will also need considerable telepathic powers to do so since the website has not been updated for several years now.
I'd like to save Lord Saville time and effort (he could have had my advice ten years and £182m ago if he'd asked). Some members of the Paratroop Regiment opened fire on demonstrators without good cause, and 14 innocent people died as a consequence. Given all the circumstances during the 'troubles', it is surprising that this was in most respects a unique event. Lord Widgery's report was a shameful whitewash. The families of those who died should be offered an unreserved apology (and compensation if that's what they want) and we should move on.
Thursday, 6 November 2008
I can only apologise; this blog is unashamedly cynical. Despite what Ms. Blears might think, that is not because I have been reading other political blogs, in fact quite the opposite. My cynicism stems from politicians who are all too often incompetent beyond measure, who are prepared to lie and cheat when it helps them get legislation passed, and who suffer a collective blindness when it comes to their assault on our civil liberties. Far too many keep their snouts firmly in the trough, in politics not for what they have to contribute but for what they can get out of it . Beyond that, we have a voting system that as often as not denies voters the opportunity to believe that they might actually influence the outcome of an election. Right now we have a Prime Minister who was not chosen by the electorate, who holds no electoral mandate for his policies, and who sits in what would (until recently) have been regarded as one of the safest Parliamentary seats in the country. He is able to choose the date of the next election when he judges it to be most to his advantage. He can only be sacked by an unelected monarch. No grounds for cynicism there then, is there?
I blog partly as an outlet for my frustration at feeling disenfranchised by the form of Parliamentary democracy we enjoy here. Partly because I enjoy exchanging views with others (and not necessarily those who share my political sympathies either). And partly because I know that blogs like this get right up the snout of the Hazel Blears of this world.
The very fact that someone like Ms Blears has a seat round the Cabinet table - that alone is reason enough for cynicism I would have thought.
Wednesday, 5 November 2008
Over here President Johnson is largely remembered for the terrible obscenity that was the Vietnam War. So it's worth remembering the very significant contribution he made to confronting the racial discrimination that was so deeply entrenched in the US in the 1960s; in many ways that period provided the springboard for today's historic event.
Tuesday, 4 November 2008
I rather doubt it. Regardless of colour, the process by which voters in any democracy choose their preferred candidate is (to say the least) complex. Much has been made of John McCain's age by his opponents, and those who reject him on those grounds could reasonably be accused of ageism; it is not as though he is yet of a time of life where he might be expected to shuffle off this mortal coil.
Then there's the gender issue. One of the most bizarre aspects of the election is reports that some feminist voters, erstwhile supporters of Hillary Clinton, are prepared to vote Republican for no other reason than that they've put up a female candidate for VP. That Sarah Palin's neaderthal political views are diametrically opposed to those of Ms. Clinton seems to be of no concern to them; explain that one if you can.
Few of us vote solely on the basis of politics and policies. Voters all carry prejudices into the voting booth, and it is the mark of a democracy that those are tolerated, even where we disapprove.
Thursday, 30 October 2008
As it happens, I'm someone who has enjoyed JR's Saturday morning radio show over several years, but hopefully no more. The BBC, equally at fault over all this, have been shamefully slow in confronting their misjudgement; hence thankfully the sheer scale of the public anger. Hopefully when Ross departs (as he surely will) the notion that any entertainer justifies an £18 million contract will go with him.
Over on 'Comment is Free', Jack Straw has been sharing his opinions. Yes, that Jack Straw. The one who resigned so promptly as soon as his "cynical premeditated" statements about WMD in Iraq were shown to be just that. I'm afraid Jonathan Ross is not the only public figure who should "no longer be paid a penny by the rest of us."
Monday, 27 October 2008
It's gratifying to learn that this is finally being tackled.
Ross McKibbin's excellent LRB article.
Wednesday, 22 October 2008
Tuesday, 21 October 2008
Maybe you followed my recent spat with the MP for Newport West. Well, it seems he has a soulmate of sorts. In fairness, Mr Flynn's comments policy looks singularly liberal set against that of Tory sexpot Nadine Dorries. There's one thing they definitely have in common though (beyond being good looking of course) - neither likes to admit to being wrong.
Aside from her shameful trashing of Dr Ben Goldacre, Ms Dorries has been in a bit of trouble over her use of the Parliamentary Portcullis logo, first by using House of Commons stationery for political purposes - the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner found against her in June 2006, and again this year for displaying the same logo on her (political) blog.
You'd have thought that any MPs previously confused about the rules would by now be quite clear as to what is allowed and what isn't; it's not as though the bonkers MP for Mid Bedfordshire keeps a low profile on this (or anything else for that matter, she's plain barking). It's simple, blogs that contain political comment are not allowed to display the Portcullis logo.
I'm afraid that one or two (well, one at least) of her Parliamentary colleagues still haven't quite worked it out yet. Maybe Paul should get in touch with Nadine and ask for advice.
Nadine blogs here. Unfortunately she seems to have taken the post about her knickers down, I can't imagine why.
Friday, 17 October 2008
If there is no other legal means of carrying out such action (and I'd be surprised if there isn't) then maybe the Government should consider bringing some forward. Unless of course the collapse of the Western world's banking system is because Al-Qaeda has seized control of it; in that case giving banks large sums of public money is likely to be somewhat counter-productive.
I've never believed any assurances our Governments have given with regards to legislation that impinges on our civil liberties, but I take little satisfaction from finding my cynicism justified.
Tuesday, 14 October 2008
To those who have yet to discover Fora, I can say no more than that there is a wonderful range of earlier posts to discover there. Hopefully this will yet prove no more than a rain delay; in the meantime go and enjoy the blogging equivalent of Headingley '81.
Mr Burnham could usefully come to Norfolk and visit my local library. McDonalds haven't quite moved in yet but just about all the other changes that he is so keen to see have already been implemented, entirely to the detriment of those of us who think that there are still places in this world where little children should be seen but not heard, mobile phones neither seen nor heard, and where books and computer keyboards remain entirely free of the sticky residue left behind by fizzy drinks and chewing gum.
It's bad enough that they lend out computer games; that children use the library computers to play them (with considerable accompanying noise) only rubs salt in the wound.
That's before you consider the morning crèche and the afternoon crèche; the young lady who runs those has a singular enthusiasm for the collective singing of nursery rhymes. Then there's the regular 'Community Policing' meet-and-greet; wouldn't they be better off pounding the beat or even trying to catch the occasional villain?
There are still a few books on offer, and even a (rather slim) choice of newspapers - one broadsheet and the local paper - so all is not quite lost yet. But Mr Burnham will do his best to finish the job no doubt.
No, correction. I'll make that imperative rather than speculative. There must be compulsory cricket training for members of the Barmy Army. 42 days worth of it, Thursdays to Mondays, should just about cover a summer's Test cricket. A full annual refresher would of course be mandatory.
Failing that, the early return of National Service might well address the problem.
Wednesday, 8 October 2008
Saturday, 4 October 2008
As for Dr Töben, I can only endorse the views of Chris Huhne. Decline him an entry visa and let that be the end of it.
The one thing on which everyone is agreed is that far too many financial institutions have made far too many reckless loans (on which there are likely to be defaults), and that this is the cause of the problem. Certainly savers with the Bradford & Bingley will feel they’ve had a narrow escape now they’ve realised that their money was being advanced on mortgages where the bank wasn’t even taking the basic step of confirming the applicants incomes.
What worries me is that there is still a failure by the politicians on both sides of the Atlantic to grasp quite how our economies have become dependent on this false credit. Indeed the argument being put forward goes something like this: If we don’t let people carry on using their credit cards, sales will slump. That is of course quite right, but they forget the other side of the coin: If we let people carry on using their credit cards they’re going to owe even more money that they haven’t a hope in hell of repaying.
Excessive credit (of which there has been far too much for the last twenty-five years) overheats an economy and produces a false illusion of wealth. In this country it has manifested itself particularly in sustained property price inflation, with all the negative effects on society that entails. Our Government (and for that matter the one that preceded it) is quite as guilty as that of the US for presiding over an economy financed to such an extent on false credit, and for claiming the economic credit for doing so. Economies are pretty much like credit cards in that sooner or later the bill arrives, and you can only put off paying it for so long. We've had the boom, we've reached the bust, and now it's time to pay. The economic price is recession, and painful as it will be we will need to go through it if we are to emerge with a restructured economy fit for the 21st Century.
As individuals and as a country we have been living far beyond our means and we are going to have to learn to do otherwise.
The most interesting commentary on this crisis can be found on the ever reliable John Redwood’s blog (far too many posts to link individually). He is now struggling to maintain his normal ideological consistency, but I suspect that he was always in something approaching a minority of one with his conviction that much of our current problems have been caused by excessive banking regulation.
Friday, 3 October 2008
The Irish Government was presumably somewhat keener, since its own guarantee is unlimited. Mr Darling is reportedly not very happy.
I must be missing something here. Other than in scale, surely there's no difference between these schemes whatever.
Tuesday, 30 September 2008
It's difficult to believe that the Chagos Islanders will enjoy quite the same success when their demand for a right to return home reaches its conclusion with the Law Lords judgement due next month, but I hope they do.
Wednesday, 17 September 2008
Classic Italian looks and style. This young lady has had one or two rather pertinent things to say about the Pope recently. Sadly it looks as though she might just be in a spot of bother.
Tuesday, 9 September 2008
Ed Miliband told the Today programme that it "would enable ministers to learn more about events affecting people's lives outside the capital. I do not see it as a cheap gimmick. If you are saying to me, is this going to win us any votes, I don't particularly think it will," he said. "I just think it is the right thing to do. I think it is important for government not simply to spend all its time in London."
Did I miss something? Was it a public meeting at some community centre, or a get-together in the saloon bar at the Kings Arms? Was policy made on-the-fly as they ambled round the Bullring, catching up on their shopping at the same time?
I'm afraid it says a lot for the intellectual powers of at least one cabinet minister that he can't even grasp that a cheap and utterly pointless gimmick was just that.
Thursday, 4 September 2008
Charles Clarke's article in today's New Statesman isn't inhibited by the need to retain a seat in government like David Miliband's Guardian piece was, but there's scarcely any more substance.
"Everyone in Labour needs to stop obsessing about the past and to start obsessing about the future", he says at the end of the introduction, before talking at length about the past and coincidentally reminding us that he played a significant part in it. Beyond calling for a change of direction (and indirectly for a change of leader) he proposes no direction whatever. "Many of us who were proud to be members of Tony Blair's government had differing approaches even then, and certainly propose differing prescriptions now." That's as maybe, but there's none of them actually prepared to put their neck on the line (least of all Charles Clarke) and give us a prescription right now be it good bad or indifferent.
Labour doesn't need a change of direction in the slightest, it needs a direction, period. Right now it's not only directionless, it's rudderless. Charles Clarke could have taken this opportunity to tell us the direction he was advocating but he didn't, and it's easy to see why. He's as constrained as Miliband was, it's just that he's got his eye more on the future. Either he's planning to run himself, and doesn't want to give any potential rivals the edge by showing his hand too soon, or more likely he's simply hoping to be part of whichever campaign turns out to be the winning one and find himself suitably rewarded as a consequence. Proposals of his own might just queer his pitch on that one, better just to knife Gordon, then wait until the lie of the land becomes a bit clearer.
Nothing could be clearer. Newman was absolutely insistent that he should be buried for ever alongside the man with whom he shared his life and home.
No Catholic tradition, dogma or ritual about cardinals and saints can justify the Vatican's heartless, self-serving decision to violate Newman's categorical, unambiguous instructions. No one gave the Pope permission to defy the cardinal's wishes. It is an act of shameless dishonesty and personal betrayal by the homophobic Catholic Church.
Peter Tatchell, writing on CIF today. I've made my own views clear already.
Wednesday, 3 September 2008
I can add nothing whatever to what Eve Garrard says so eloquently over on normblog.
Tuesday, 2 September 2008
Yesterday evening a Ms Rebecca Burt left a comment on the previous days post 'Obama's Palin Bonus' which struck such a chord with Paul that he quoted it in full in his subsequent post 'Some good news' (Rather than link here, I'll do so later, for reasons that should become apparent). Here, recovered from my internet cache, is what Paul actually posted:
Madam President Palin
This comment came into my blog this evening from Rebecca Burt. It’s, perfect, I would not want to change a word.
'Let's see...an ex-beauty pageant winner...with an undergraduate degree in Journalism...who does not believe in global warming...who does believe a woman should have no control over her own body and for 9 months should be viewed as nothing more than a baby container...who's main attributes seem to be stubbornness and vicious competiveness... who has had next to no experience in government...who has a currently very messy family situation given that she had recently given birth to a downs syndrome baby, has a 17 year old daughter who is unwed and pregnant
and is facing investigation for using her political office to smear her ex-brother-in-law and get him fired (he is in a custody battle with her sister)...who seems to be in bed with big oil...who is running for VP...whose running mate is 72 and is a cancer survivor...who has no foreign policy background and in fact has only been out of the country twice...who may become President of the country I love at a time when it faces the most complex foreign policy issues, economic issues and domestic issues it has in decades...Why does this sound like a totally unbelievably bad novel???? I for one am terrified and cannot understand what Mr. McCain was thinking!!!!'
Posted on September 01, 2008 at 08:34 PM Permalink
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Note that "It's, perfect, I would not want to change a word"; I think we can take that as a pretty ringing endorsement of everything Ms Burt's had to say for herself. I was somewhat surprised since she chucks in a lot of comments that have nothing whatever to do with Ms Palin's fitness for office; the reference to her older daughter is at best juvenile, that to her baby with Down's syndrome frankly offensive. Ms Burt clearly likes to think herself a feminist, but at the same time resents Ms Palin having a career outside the home let alone allowing a 17 year old daughter to get pregnant (you'd have thought she'd have approved of that) . It's certainly not the sort of view I'd expect to find a Labour MP agreeing with (or an MP from any party come to that). So I left the following comment:
I think that there are one or two issues Rebecca Burt raised that you should have wanted to change, Paul. Maybe you could elaborate on why you think that having a young child with Down's syndrome, or for that matter a 17 year old daughter who is 'unwed' and pregnant (shock, horror!) should in any way disqualify Ms Palin from running as the US Vice President? Why should the fact that she is an 'ex-beauty pageant winner' be of any account?
Ms Palin's political background & beliefs and her lack of experience are a different manner, but I am surprised to find you endorsing Ms Burt's astonishingly offensive critique of her 'very messy family situation'. Unless of course the two of you really think that a mother's place is in the home.Presumably Paul agreed with me, and hopefully felt suitably ashamed, since he carefully went through and erased all references to Ms Palin's baby with Down's syndrome; from Ms Burt's original posting, from his repost, and (rather clumsily) from my own comment. However, he then posted a follow-up comment which pointedly avoided all reference to his having made these edits, instead responding to my own as if his edited version were what I had written.
Pleased as I was that Paul had taken on board my criticism, I was somewhat annoyed by his failure to acknowledge the means by which he had done so since it left my edited comment strangely blunted set against his subsequent response. "Perfect, I would not want to change a word" is still there, even though it's now patently untrue. I've left a follow up suggesting he may wish to edit that too but although he's seen it he's chosen not to so far.
I would have thought it a matter of the most basic politeness to at least acknowledge when you have chosen to alter a comment left on your blog, particularly since you may well have changed the intended meaning or emphasis. I certainly would, and I'm disappointed Paul didn't.
Here's the link to Paul's amended post. Sadly, Rebecca Burt left no link back of her own.
Update: I've now had an exchange of emails with Paul about this. He claims that he sent me an email at the time, although it certainly never arrived. However, this is what he now says:
The health of politicians' children is not a proper subject for political controversy and I have deleted all reference to it from the contributions I had. In your case the only point you made was about the disease, so it had to be deleted. All other postings had deletions.
None of this addresses why it was that Paul chose to repost Ms Burt's reference to Down's syndrome in the first place given that it was so self-evidently offensive. Nor why he presumably still regards the pregnancy of Ms Palin's daughter as a proper subject for political controversy. Or for that matter why his post is still (at this point in time) making that "perfect, I would not want to change a word" claim.
Further update: Another exchange of emails. This is what Paul now has to say:
When someone tried to make a political issue of that one factor, it was then I decided that this was not a fit subject for a political wrangle. It would have with hindsight been better to remove the reference to the original letter. The same policy apples to the families of other politicians. As ALL references had been removed, there was no point is stirring up controversy by publishing your contribution. You have mis-informed the readers of your blog. You were informed on the address you provided.
So what he seems to be saying if I read him right is that it was ok for him to mention the baby with Down's syndrome until someone called him to account over it. Which means it was all my fault. That's alright then, all as plain as day.
Not quite sure what Paul understands 'misinformed' to mean. I certainly didn't leave him the wrong email; here it is from a screenshot taken just after I left my last comment on Paul's blog (it enters automatically since I ticked the 'remember personal info' box on an earlier occasion).
Looks like the same email address that you'll find if you use the 'Email me' link in the sidebar to me.
Shameless. That's the word I'd use.
[this issue is also being discussed over on Fora; if the comment posted there has indeed been left by Paul Flynn, then shameless is a considerable unerstatement.
I'll summarise what I've said there. This is not a political row. It is a row over whether Paul Flynn displayed poor judgement in endorsing wholesale as he did the views of a very immature young girl, and whether he then attempted to conceal that poor judgement by editing not only his post but several comments. He is not even well informed about Down's syndrome, it is not a disease. Such, I fear, is ignorance.]
Thursday, 28 August 2008
If there's a problem for Labour, it's that they've come to realise that settling for a 'coronation' doesn't guarantee a halfway decent leader let alone a great one, and it certainly doesn't guarantee any sort of subsequent loyalty from disaffected MPs, particularly those fearful of imminent unemployment. Brown may be long since dead and buried, but it means that at some point soon Labour will have to turn up not one but two credible candidates if the competition to find a successor is to have any meaning whatever. David Milliband has pretty much ruled himself out already - a Guardian article so short of substance as to be laughable, and then events in Georgia very publicly highlighting his continuing ineffectual performance as Foreign Secretary. There have been many who've been advising Brown to sack him for disloyalty but a canny PM would leave him be. He's in his own hole and he just keeps digging.
Since Jack Straw is a no-hoper of the first order it looks like Alan Johnson is the only realistic opponent for the lady. Bring it on.
Wednesday, 27 August 2008
So once again some blogging solidarity. This is the post that is believed to lie behind the dispute, which comes from 'Harry's Place' (sorry, no link as Harry's completely down as of now). You can find more elsewhere by now of course.
Posted by David T August 22nd 2008 5:58 pm
The extremists are countered by a small number of Jews and anti-racists, many of them supporters of Engage. They are routinely defamed as racists, imperialists, Apartheid supporters, liars and conspirators. Quite a few of the Jews and anti-racists have been chucked off the list by the UCU administrators, arbitrarily, and usually for making public their complaints about the racism on the list.
There have been complaints to UCU about racism on its activist list. UCU has dismissed them all as baseless.
One of the formal complaints was made in relation to a series of particularly poisonous and nasty emails written by a Sheffield-based UCU activist called Jenna Delich. That complaint was also dismissed.
Yesterday Jenna Delich wrote the following message on the activist list in order to support a boycott of Israeli academics:
In support to your link this may be a long but also an interesting reading:
No comment necessary. The facts are speaking for themselves.
The website which she links to is the website of David Duke, who is the former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, and perhaps the most notorious racist and anti-semite in the world. The article itself was originally posted on an extremist conspiracy nut website, but appears only on David Duke's website. It is therefore reasonable to infer that Jenna Delich reads and takes her information on world events from neo Nazis.
So, in a nutshell, the position is this. The UCU refuses to take action against viciousness against Jews and anti-racists on its own activist list, and endorses their exclusion from that email list when they defend themselves. Meanwhile, the UCU is circulating links to David Duke's website on behalf of Delich.
What a wonderful institution UCU is.
For reasons of strict accuracy I have amended the caption for the photo - it originally said 'Sheffield-based academic, Jenna Delich - links to far right websites associated with the Ku Klux Klan'.
Jenna Delich and her supporters do not dispute that she sent the email in question. They say however that it was private (despite being circulated to around 700 UCU members and associates) and that Ms Delich did not appreciate the significance of the site she linked to. My own view? It's politics, if you give it out you've got to be prepared to take it.
By way of update: Harry's Place has returned with a somewhat braver hosting company I'm pleased to say. So you can see all the posts relating to this discussion (and the comments they have drawn). In republishing, the post above has been retitled 'UCU and the David Duke Link', the photo and caption have been removed. At this moment in time there are 352 comments on the post and they certainly make for lively reading.
Tuesday, 26 August 2008
As you may well realise, I regard the whole notion of sainthood as ridiculous, but even so I feel that the Church is showing a considerable contempt towards Cardinal Newman and his wishes, and by extension a lack of respect towards the dead in general with this ghoulish scheme. If he has as is claimed been working miracles (absurd as that might be) he has had no difficulty doing so from his present location in Rednal. Pilgrims who wish to visit his grave would surely appreciate the experience all the more for having to take the time to seek out the existing one rather than expending no more effort than might be required to attend a pop concert at the National Exhibition Centre.
Normally it is illegal to move human remains from a graveyard to a church tomb, but it is no surprise that the feeble Jack Straw and his Justice Department have set that aside entirely in granting the Vatican's request. I'm inclined to agree with Peter Tatchell who feels that the move is at least in part intended to overcome the Church's embarrassment resulting from Cardinal Newman's preferred double grave and all that might be thought to imply.
The Vatican do not own John Henry Newman's body and should have been told so.
Wednesday, 13 August 2008
Right lady, right location of course.
I couldn't decide about that jacket at first. Has she had decorators in recently? Been indulging the children with a bit of action painting? Finally got it though. Liberation by MC Escher. Love it, just love it.
Now a word of caution, so pay attention, girls. It's all very well to burn your bra when you're young, but it may not look to have been such a wise decision when you find yourself approaching 60. Oh well, never mind.
Tuesday, 12 August 2008
Firstly, a little history. The Umpire’s original posts on this subject were The Past is a Foreign Country (June 2006), Private Farr Again (also June 2006) and Private Farr is Pardoned (August 2006). I read those in reverse order, and my eye was caught by a point in the earliest one:
It is fashionable these days to disdain our forebearers; our ancestors whose world was unimaginably different from our own. Here is another press letter I had published earlier this year in which I sought to stress that well-known saying of LP Hartley in The Go Between which I have adopted as the title for this post.
Trevor Harvey is right to infer that we should not attempt to pass judgment on events in our distant past such as the execution of Pvte Harry Farr for cowardice during the First World War. Already the case has taken up valuable judicial resources, as indeed have other recent reviews of long ago cases such as Derek Bentley, Ruth Ellis and James Hanratty. In all of these cases judicial proceedings only came about because of the accident that each of the deceased had living relatives. We should not expend public resources on cases which turn on that happenstance.
Debating whether the likes of Pvte Farr suffered shell-shock is a matter of interest for medical historians but we should hesitate long and hard before presupposing to pass judgment on events as far removed as the Great War. It is fashionable to dismiss the generals of the day as ‘donkeys’ and to rail against the supposed brutality of shooting for deserters. But it should also be recalled that of all the armies which were involved in the war from the outset, only the British did not suffer a severe collapse of morale at any point as well, of course, as emerging victorious.
The logical conclusion of what you say here is that injustices from the past should not be pursued, nor should judicial resources be wasted, even given the 'accident' of living relatives. We would live in a very sorry society indeed if injustices such as unsolved murders were simply abandoned once they were considered past their 'sell-by date'. The existence or otherwise of living relatives is in one sense irrelevant to the moral proposition you put forward; on the other hand such relatives are surely entitled to have their feelings and hurt considered. "Of all the armies which were involved in the war from the outset, only the British did not suffer a severe collapse of morale at any point" Are you suggesting that what maintained the morale of the British troops was the knowledge that they faced execution if they displayed cowardice? To me, the Home Secretary made exactly the right decision in making no judgement whatever over individual cases, but accepting the likelihood that some executions were unjustified.
The total number of murders that have been committed is obviously very great indeed. Judicial resources in the present day, as ever, are scarce and very expensive. We cannot possibly investigate every supposed past injustice. Where the convicted person and everyone else involved in the case are dead, and all the surrounding circumstances have vanished, that has to be a very strong reason - albeit not necessarily decisive - against re-opening cases. I appreciate that where there happen to be living descendants, they may feel strongly about the stain on their family history - but there are many present-day people behind bars and facing trial who should have first call on the resources of the state. The fact that some cases in the past involved defendants who have living relatives is the only reason that they are now being investigated; it does not seem to me compelling that that should be so. It might be that wrongly convicted men remain convicted because they lack living relatives; I am not sure that in the grand scheme of things the existence of (say) a great-grand niece should have anything to do whether the state chooses to reopen one old case as opposed to another - or rather, as opposed to not opening old cases at all.
The Umpire responded to my comments with a fourth post Mutiny Again where he answered my points thus:
And in response to my query as to the suggestion of a link between morale and executions:
No, not at all. The point related not to the case of Pvte Farr specifically, but to the general context of popular perception of the incompetence and injustice of the First World War as a whole. You may have seen numerous posts I wrote on the Great War last year attempting to set something in the balance against the idea that the Generals were all callous butchers. One of the authors whom I drew upon, Gordon Corrigan, has investigated some of the executions in detail and concluded that it was by no means clear that any injustice had occurred (bearing in mind, among other things, that the death penalty was still in force and still used in those days for civilian murders). And of course a lot of soldiers were sentenced to death but the penalty was not in fact carried out, which goes against the idea that a load of commoners and Irish were being topped as a lesson to the rest. Certainly I was not suggesting that the British army survived due to the threat of execution (the French army had rather more of those and did indeed collapse as an offensive force). Rather I was pointing out that it cannot have been led as badly as the likes of Oh What a Lovely War or Blackadder IV might have one believe.
I commented:It's almost impossible to know where to begin in responding to this. But I'll offer the following as a starting point: If we don't examine alleged wrongs from the past, we won't learn from them. And if we determine that a wrong has been committed, and it is a wrong that can (at least in part) be righted, aren't we failing in our moral responsibility if we chose not to do so? The greater the wrong, surely the more important that wrong is corrected, if it is within our power to do so? For example, it matters not one jot in 2008 that John Smith was given a parking ticket in 1942, but surely that does not mean that victims of the Holocaust (or their descendants, through the 'accident' of being alive) should be denied justice? Injustices that involve the state taking an innocent life are not casual matters that should simply be cast aside; indeed, it is the mark of a civilised society that it does not do so. Even within the timescale you appear to contemplate, relatives not only suffer the 'accident' of still being alive, but may well have been alive at the time of the event you focus on. It is entirely conceivable that siblings (siblings, not great-grand nieces) of executed soldiers from the Great War may still be alive; where do you place their rights? There is a complex balance to be struck, but I doubt if your rationality would justify the wasting of international military resources (particularly given the current situation) on searching for the corpse of Keith Bennett on Saddleworth Moor. He died 44 years ago; nothing we do now will bring him back, Myra Hindley is long since dead, and there is no prospect of an insane Ian Brady ever being released from Ashworth. So what about Winnie Johnson? Is it no more than an inconvenience that she is 'accidentally' still alive? And does our obligation (society's obligation) to find Keith Bennett's body disappear at the point that his mother dies? Rather the opposite; to the extent that we would have failed Mrs Johnson in her lifetime, our obligation would be all the greater. Is Winnie Johnson the only person to be considered anyway? What obligation do we have (for example) to the jurors who had to listen to those appalling tapes? Or to their children, who saw a parent irretrievably scarred by what they had heard? It's true I know, there are terrible cases involving children who are still living, children we have some hope of saving. But I very much doubt if your humanity would allow you to tell Winnie Johnson that there are more important priorities than finding her son, let alone that you believe the use of public resources in that search to be wrong. Moral judgements are absolute, however much we recognise that attitudes have changed with the passage of time. If homophobia is wrong now (and we both agree it is) it was wrong fifty years ago. How much more so the loss of an innocent life at the hands of the state.
And the Umpire responded with a final post Alleged Past Injustices Again:
Regular commentator Stephen of It's a rough trade, politics and I have had a disagreement on the pardoning of WWI soldiers shot for cowardice or desertion. I have done a few posts and comments on the subject, but given the vehemence of Stephen’s disagreement (unusual, as he has already observed), I thought I would attempt to set out my position in slightly greater length. Also some of the comments I have made have been rather sloppy, and this post therefore constitutes a tidying-up effort.
Of course in principle righting historical wrongs seems a worthy cause, but matters are not that simple.
The first question which might arise is whether we should be investigating past injustices when the victims and the convicted person are long since dead and the circumstances under which the offending arose have long since vanished. None of the officers who charged, prosecuted, convicted and executed soldiers are still alive, and the events took place over ninety years ago in a Europe that has changed out of all recognition as has the British army.
Two obvious points flow from that: first, it would be an expensive use of scarce judicial and other public resources to investigate any of the more than 300 executions. It is my belief that those resources should concentrate on resolving present-day crimes; the judicial system is straining to cope as it is. It is not unusual for a person charged with murder to be remanded in custody for a year or more awaiting trial. Many people currently serving life imprisonment think they have a case to be reviewed; their cases should logically have priority.
Secondly, with no witnesses left alive and all records nearly a century old, the chances of us being able to be confident in reviewing past cases has to be correspondingly low. That has to be a factor to be taken into account when deciding how to distribute the inevitably overworked resources of the judicial system.
At this point I should counter a red herring that Stephen raised in a comment. He writes impassionately, and unarguably, that we retain a duty to find the body of Keith Bennett on Saddleworth Moor, a victim of the Moors murderers. I agree. But that is not raking over the past to satisfy our changed morals and ideas; it is solving an unsolved case. It bears no relation to reinvestigating and judging what our forefathers did when they thought they were doing the right thing by the actions of the time. Of course if a dead child of a living parent has not been found we should continue the search.
There is a further distinction of importance. Some past convictions we would now denounce as we disagree that they involved a crime at all; homosexuality between consenting adults being a quintessential example. I would have no problem for a retrospective pardon in those cases. But the Shot at Dawn campaign concerned men who were tried for cowardice in the face of the enemy or desertion or similar offences; these remain crimes to this day. The objection has to be either to the conviction of individual defendants or the imposition of the death penalty, not to the crime itself with which they were charged. I accept that the state could declare that all those executed should have had a different punishment, although by abolishing the death penalty in toto it has implicitly already done this. But the fact of the death penalty is not sufficient to conclude there was particular injustice in the shot at dawn cases, since that was the standard punishment for murder and some other civilian crimes in Britain at the time.
It is, moreover, not as if the 306 executions* were the only occasions in which the judicial and/or military system of 1910s might have produced a different result to what would obtain in comparable circumstances under today’s mores. I am sure many died in industrial accidents, for example, that would have resulted in severe punishment of their employers nowadays.** None of these potential injustices have been investigated nor is there any suggestion that they should. I remain unpersuaded about the reasons why we should choose the shot at dawn campaign and ignore the rest - particularly those found guilty of transgressions during wartime but received lesser penalties. Their reputations would have been stained just as would those executed. The mere fact that approximately 3,000 death sentences were passed but only about 10% carried out indicates that the story is more complex than brutal officers ruthlessly and cruelly executing the innocent merely as an example to the rest.
World War II provides examples of other potential injustices, such as those whose farms were confiscated for failing to meet production targets. Had that been wrongly done, it would have been a wrong with direct economic as well as other consequences for persons still alive today.
Des Browne, the Defence Secretary who pardoned the executed, reasoned thus:
"I believe a group pardon, approved by Parliament, is the best way to deal with this. After 90 years, the evidence just doesn't exist to assess all the cases individually.
"I do not want to second guess the decisions made by commanders in the field, who were doing their best to apply the rules and standards of the time. "But the circumstances were terrible, and I believe it is better to acknowledge that injustices were clearly done in some cases, even if we cannot say which - and to acknowledge that all these men were victims of war."
But 'second guessing the decisions made by commanders in the field, who were doing their best to apply the rules and standards of the time' is indeed the very thing Mr Browne has done. And in so doing he has brushed aside one potential injustice and replaced it with another - a slur on the officers who dutifully and in good faith conducted courts martial in the way they thought best, and a pardon for some soldiers who may not have been deserving. It is not clear that all of the executed were in fact innocent; in an army of millions it would be astonishing if there were in fact no deserters or cowards whatsoever.
The report from which the above quotation is taken also includes the following, with which I agree:
Correlli Barnett, a military historian, said last night that the mass posthumous pardon was "pointless" after all these years. "These were decisions taken in the heat of a war when the commanders' primary duty was to keep the Army together and to keep it fighting. They were therefore decisions taken from a different moral perspective," he said.
"For the people of this generation to come along and second-guess decisions taken then is wrong.
"It was done in a particular historical setting and in a particular moral and social climate. It's pointless to give these pardons. What's the use of a posthumous pardon?"
Those who were shot for cowardice or desertion were by and large treated fairly, according to the standards of the time, he added.
Indeed, as I pointed out before, Gordon Corrigan's investigations show that it is not at all clear that there was a litany of injustices committed, to the extent that surviving records enable us to judge. Even if we did find procedural faults with the courts martial, that is not the same as finding that the executed were in fact innocent. This is the point which is key to the misunderstanding and misinformation put about by the press in the wake of the quashing of the conviction of Derek Bentley some time ago. He was not, contrary to the screaming headlines, declared 'innocent'. All that was found was that there were defects in the trial judge's summing up: a common enough occurrence that routinely leads to convictions being quashed and new trials ordered. If Bentley was alive today that is precisely what would have happened - a retrial.
The point about Bentley is made in this article by Francis Bennion, with which I agree. Its conclusion is apposite for this post as well:
Our generation needs to be reminded of that pregnant saying of L P Hartley's in The Go-Between. The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there. Or to put it even more succinctly: you can't change history, and you shouldn't even try.
We can - and should, indeed must - learn from history; we can in so doing debate whether things were done right or wrong in the past. But official rewriting is another matter. Niall Ferguson is a professional historian of a similar view:
Retrospectively pardoning First World War deserters, then, is as empty a gesture as retrospectively condemning Second World War conscripts. Harry Farr and Günter Grass were simply two tiny cogs in the monstrous mincing machines of total war. That is why the real question children should ask of veterans is not "What did you do in the war, daddy?" but "What did the war do to you?"
* From the Ferguson article: 266 British and colonial soldiers were shot for desertion, 18 for cowardice, seven for quitting their posts and two for casting away their arms: 293 in all. The other executions were for offences of a different nature, such as murder.
** Ferguson again: "If you are against the death penalty in principle, you may well ask why a few hundred Tommies have been singled out to be pardoned. Many of the crimes for which young men were hanged in the 18th century, for example, were mere petty thefts. Today, most such young offenders would face nothing more painful than a caution or an anti-social behaviour order. Shouldn't we pardon the hanged sheep-stealers while we are about it?" Of course if it was purely the death penalty that was the objection, then a pardon would be inappropriate; a lesser sentence would be formally passed, for all the good it would do.
Coda: From Wikipedia: It seems I was misinformed to an extent:
The pardon was enacted in the Armed Forces Act 2006 which came into effect on 8 November 2006. However section 359(4) of the Act states that the pardon "does not affect any conviction or sentence." Since the nature of a pardon is normally to quash a conviction or to commute a sentence, Gerald Howarth MP asked during parliamentary debate: "we are entitled to ask what it does do." It would appear to be a symbolic pardon only, and some members of Parliament had called for the convictions to be quashed, although the pardon has still been welcomed by relatives of executed soldiers.
What was the point of all that then?
I'm going to do my best to pick off the main points here as far as I am able in some sort of rational sequence. The first two are interlinked. Should we be pursuing cases from so long ago in our distant past, and is it right that doing so is dependent on the existence of living relatives?
It depends of course what you mean by our distant past. What is distant to a youthful Umpire is by no means so distant to those of us who are of more advanced years. However, neither the cases of Private Farr nor Derek Bentley were pursued by distant relatives "(say) a great-grand niece" several generations hence; Private Farr's case was at the behest of his daughter Gertrude, who was born two years before the start of the Great War. Derek Bentley's sister Iris was the one who campaigned to have his conviction overturned (assisted by her daughter), although of course she died shortly before it was. In both these cases it seems wrong to complain about the 'accident' that the relatives are still alive, as if it were some unfortunate inconvenience. Given that those executed are unable to argue their cause further, it is neither surprising nor wrong that relatives who feel that there has been an injustice should do so on their behalf. If Derek Bentley had been imprisoned, he would almost certainly have been alive (aged 65) at the time his conviction was quashed in 1998. But of course if he had been jailed he would long since have been released anyway.
In another post, Harry Partch and the unheralded victories in the Great War the Umpire asks why the only names etched into the public conscience are those of the defeats, or stalemates, or seemingly pyrrhic victories for the allies: the likes of Loos, Verdun, Gallipoli, the Somme, Passchendale and Ypres. His conclusion: I suspect, however, that the main reason is that the Second World War, just two decades later, began more or less as a reprise of the First. That he needs to ponder the question at all shows that he views the Great War as 'history' and of course it is for the young. But those names were etched into the public conscience well before the start of the Second World War and the evidence for that is easy to find; the War Memorials that seem to permeate Britain were almost without exception erected at the conclusion of the Great War, and it is out of respect for those who gave their lives that rather than celebrating victory we choose to remember where so many died. The names etched into the public conscience from the Second World War are even more grim. Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen, Buchenwald, Hiroshima, Nagasaki.There is an issue of proportionality to all this. In time, historians will mark little more than our success in winning the First World War, and possibly even the Second, but it is to be hoped not; more important surely to remember the Holocaust and man's terrible capacity for evil. Regardless of the outcome of Private Farr's case, it is likely that his death would have ceased to be an issue before too long since all those directly affected would indeed be dead; but they're not, and it isn't mere history to them.
Is it appropriate to pardon people long dead merely on the basis that they received what is now regarded as an excessive sentence, but wasn't at the time? It can be. A pardon isn't a way of saying that someone was innocent of the crime that they were charged with; sometimes they clearly weren't. A pardon is an expression of forgiveness which provides a sense of closure to those such as Gertrude Harris who felt her father was wronged.
The case of Timothy Evans is probably relevant. Hanged for a murder he didn't commit, but initially denied even a pardon since whereas no jury would have found Evans guilty in the light of what later became known there was no certainty of Evans' innocence (R A Butler). Correlli Barnett would presumably not even have considered whether there was certainty or not, given the pointless nature of a posthumous pardon anyway. Thankfully Roy Jenkins was of a different mind. But a pardon doesn't quash a conviction and Timothy Evans remains convicted of the murder of his daughter. Mary Westlake (his half-sister) has campaigned to get that conviction quashed, but her court case ended when the judges, while acknowledging that Evans was entirely innocent, took the same line as the Umpire and said that the cost and resources of quashing the conviction could not be justified. Personally, I'd have thought it better justice if the judges concerned had just got on and quashed the conviction there and then given all the circumstances.
Derek Bentley's conviction was quashed of course, and since his execution has precluded any possibility of a retrial I think it's important to remember that a man is innocent until proved guilty. Francis Bennion's article however raises interesting points well outside the scope of this discussion, so maybe I'll address those elsewhere in the fullness of time.
If there's a shortage of judicial resources I would prefer to look first at the call on those resources made by the wealthy. I'd far rather see a court quashing the conviction of Timothy Evans than preoccupying itself deciding whether Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta Jones had been hard done by because their wedding pics had ended up in the wrong celebrity mag. And that brings us back to the collective pardon for those executed in the Great War. Des Browne agreed entirely with the Umpire that judicial resources were better devoted to other matters. Parliament agreed with him. History has not been rewritten, but we have forgiven the men who were executed. That's the point.
Wednesday, 6 August 2008
Given my antipathy to any form of religion, and that on offer from the C of E in particular, you may be surprised to find me posting on events concerning the SPCK (The Society for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge) bookshops. But there is far more to this than religion. The SPCK had a considerable chain of bookshops offering a broad range of religious books; customers tended to be those who had a serious interest in such matters and the shops were not evangelical in nature. It became apparent some time ago that the shops were losing money and were facing closure, and Dave Walker, a Christian cartoonist and blogger started a 'Save the SPCK' campaign. The campaign appeared to have been successful when the shops passed into the hands of another charity, St Stephen the Great Charitable Trust (SSG). However what had appeared to be the saving of the shops proved to be anything but. Two brothers from Texas, J Mark Brewer (a lawyer in Houston) and Philip Brewer were trustees of the SSG, and considerable changes were made at the shops which caused immense disquiet among the staff, many of whom resigned. Soon stocks had been run down, the remaining staff found themselves facing redundancy, and Mark Brewer is currently attempting to take SSG into bankruptcy in a Houston court, claiming that SSG is a limited liability company, not a charity. SSG currently have considerable debts in the UK, not least redundancy money owed to former staff, while considerable sums have nevertheless been taken out of the charity for purposes such as Mark Brewer's legal retainer.
Dave Walker covered these events in some detail in his blog in a very reasonable and informative manner, but then found himself in receipt of a 'Cease & Desist' demand from Mark Brewer, who alleged defamation and threatened legal proceedings against Dave in the US. Dave felt that although his posts were not in the least defamatory he had to take them down if only to bring an end to the threats. So I (like others before me) am linking to available sources of Dave's original posts to show solidarity and to emphasise that honest bloggers should not be subjected to the sort of threats favoured by Mr Brewer.
Incidentally, Dave was cartoonist-in-residence at the Lambeth Conference; he will not have found himself short of material I am sure!
Dave's entire collection of posts can be found on Cease and Desist, or are available as a pdf download, courtesy of Matt Wardman, The financial and legal aspects of this affair are covered in considerable detail at Ministry of Truth. Sam Norton reposted much of Dave's material, and has now himself been on the receiving end of one of Mr Brewer's 'Cease and Desist' demands. SPCKwatch have some excellent material, this post being a good place to start, as do SPCK/SSG: News, Notes & Info.
The posts that follow are some of Dave Walker's originals. As always they should be read from the bottom up. I have copied them 'as is' and some links may not work as a consequence.
July 8th, 2008
I’ve been aware that this has been a sad week for many readers of the Cartoon Blog. Many of those visiting have been mourning the death of Steve Jeynes, the Worcester bookseller, who, judging from the comments posted on this site was loved by many. In the circumstances the usual nonsense that I write on this site has not seemed appropriate, hence my silence.
The memorial service for Steve Jeynes took place yesterday. The Worcester News has a report: Tributes paid to exceptional man. Doug Chaplain was there and has written about it. See also on the SPCK/SSG blog: Steve Jeynes: A Life Remembered.
This will be one of the last former-SPCK-related posts that I expect to do until September as I am away doing one thing and another. I have one more bookshop-related thing that I need to post about which has arisen as a result of a comment (not yet visible) on this site on Sunday morning. I will hopefully do that post today (Tuesday) or tomorrow (Wednesday).
The place to go for former-SPCK-related posts for the next month or two is SPCK/SSG: News, Notes & Info. [Aside to Phil: hopefully you will post Plans Coming Together for New Christian Bookshop in Cardiff on the SSG/SPCK site when the time is right - a post well worth sharing.]
I hope to post a bit more on this blog this week, including an announcement about my new book and plans for Lambeth.
The memorial service for Steve Jeynes is now to be held at Worcester Cathedral at 3.30pm on Monday 7th July, followed by refreshments at Worcestershire County Cricket Club.
Many tributes have been left in the comments of my previous post and on other sites linked from there.
Image: the former SPCK shop in Worcester
Posted by Dave at 7:57 am on July 3, 2008 and filed under Save the SPCK.
SPCK / SSG: Tragic news from Worcester
There is some tragic news from the Worcester Diocese. This note was sent out today to clergy within the Diocese by the Communications department:
I am very sorry to tell you that Steve Jeynes, has been found dead, apparently having taken his own life. Many of you will know him from his work at the SSGT (ex-SPCK) shop in Worcester, from where he was made redundant two weeks ago.
Please hold (the) family in your prayers, together with the many friends whose lives have been enriched through Steve’s loving generosity in serving the Lord.
Details of the funeral arrangements will be made available in due course.
Doug Chaplain has posted here: In Worcester the SSG / SPCK saga turns to tragedy
Please remember Steve’s family, friends and all affected in your prayers.
Update: A service of Thanksgiving for Steve’s life will take place on Monday 7 July 2008 at 3:30 pm at
All Saints’ Church, Deansway, Worcester. The Thanksgiving Service has been moved from All Saints’ Church to the Cathedral at 3.30pm on Monday 7th July followed by refreshments at Worcestershire County Cricket Club.
A couple of things:
Phil Groom has set up a new group blog on the subject of the former SPCK shops. It is here: SPCK/SSG: News, Notes & Info. If you’re interested in SPCK/ SSG updates please bookmark this site and/or subscribe to the feed. I do intend to continue writing on the subject on this blog, but during July and August in particular I will have very little (if any) time to devote to writing on the topic owing to my preparation for and participation in the Lambeth conference and being away from home for various other reasons.
If there is anyone who would like to contribute to the new site please contact Phil directly.
An update to my last post - some staff have now been paid. I have made an update to my last post to reflect this and will update again if it emerges that all staff have now been paid.
Bookseller: SSG tribunal claims mount
Chester Chronicle: Union action to support sacked Chester bookshop workers
Lincolnshire Echo: ‘Sacked’ shop staff in court action
SSG: Bankruptcy papers received, employees not paid
Bankruptcy papers received
Some people in the UK have been receiving papers relating to the SSG ‘bankruptcy’ from the US Bankruptcy Court of the District of Southern District of Texas. There will apparently be a ‘meeting of creditors’ on 22 July in Houston.
Having done a quick search I notice that there was, on 18 June a ’status conference’ for St Stephen the Great LLC in the bankruptcy court (this can be found on a cached Google page saved here). Information on the chapter 11 bankruptcy process can be found via this page: Chapter 11 - Bankruptcy Basics
Usdaw firmly believes that the bankruptcy proceedings in the US have no effect in the UK, because this is a UK company with entirely UK-based assets and activities.
Also, from John Hannett, the General Secretary of Usdaw:
These loyal staff are being given misleading information about these US bankruptcy proceedings and the effects this may have on their rights to take legal action in the UK. Our fear is that the Brewers’ actions may be an attempt to move assets away from the business and out of the reach of our members with legitimate claims.
“We will carry on as before with the claims against the Brewers who are accumulating wealth whilst riding roughshod over hard working employees. We will continue to assist all our members affected by this messy situation and work to rectify it as soon as possible.”
Employees not paid
On a related note some (all?) of the people who work or worked in the shops have not been paid today (the 25th) as they would usually be. See for instance these blog comments. [Update: some employees have now been paid]
Telegraph blog post
Christopher Howse (who wrote Saturday’s comment piece) has written on his Telegraph blog about the Orthodox church in Poole: Orthodox Exodus. As others have pointed out this isn’t new information, but I thought I’d post the link anyway.
Usdaw press release about the former SPCK shops
Usdaw fights for mistreated bookshop workers
Shopworkers’ union, Usdaw, has submitted 15 employment tribunal claims against the Brewers, US-based brothers who have taken over a chain of UK bookshops and were seeking to impose a new contract on staff, drastically reducing their contractual rights. The Union has over 50 members at the bookshops and is expecting that the number of employment tribunal claims will rise.
The Brewer brothers were gifted the St. Stephen the Great Christian bookshops in 2006 by SPCK. The chain includes 23 bookshops, many of which are historic buildings in prime retail positions.
Following the change of ownership, a new contract was drawn up increasing the working week from 37.5 to 40 hours with no additional pay, turning all part-time staff into casual staff with no guaranteed hours every week and taking away all rights to company sick pay.
Now, virtually all Usdaw members have been dismissed with no notice, some by email, and have received little or no information about what this means for their rights and their pay.
The Brewer brothers have now filed St. Stephen the Great for bankruptcy in the US. Usdaw firmly believes that the bankruptcy proceedings in the US have no effect in the UK, because this is a UK company with entirely UK-based assets and activities. Staff have been told that they can apply for jobs with ENC Management Company, which is also owned by the Brewers, but that they no longer have jobs with St. Stephen the Great.
Usdaw is also aware that the Charity Commission has been alerted to these actions because of its role in regulating the activities of the linked charity, St. Stephen the Great Charitable Trust.
John Hannett, Usdaw General Secretary, stated:
“It is clear that staff, many of whom have been long standing loyal workers, have been mistreated and many are understandably very upset and concerned. We are very concerned at a new company (ENC Management Company) being set up in these circumstances, while our members are losing their jobs. These loyal staff are being given misleading information about these US bankruptcy proceedings and the effects this may have on their rights to take legal action in the UK. Our fear is that the Brewers’ actions may be an attempt to move assets away from the business and out of the reach of our members with legitimate claims.
“We will carry on as before with the claims against the Brewers who are accumulating wealth whilst riding roughshod over hard working employees. We will continue to assist all our members affected by this messy situation and work to rectify it as soon as possible.”
St. Stephen the Great shops at which Usdaw members are affected:
Usdaw is the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers
Update: This press release is now available via the Usdaw website: Usdaw fights for mistreated bookshop workers
June 21st, 2008
Former SPCK bookshops in the Telegraph
Christopher Howse: The bare and desolate SPCK bookshops
Today’s former SPCK bookshop news
From the Chester Chronicle: Christian bookshop sacks staff by e-mail
From the Eastern Daily Press: Christian bookshop stripped of stock
From the comments below:
The article in the Eastern Daily Press concerning the Norwich shop mentions three potential future tenants.
One of the bids is from the Norwich Christian Resource Centre, a new Community Interest Company with six directors from various denominations, all with a wealth of business experience.
They are giving their time and talents free of charge and are all passionate to re-establish the centre that had become such an integral part of the community of Norfolk and beyond, as quoted in the article.
The company would run as a non-profit making business and strive to return the centre to it’s original ethos, offering the widest breadth of stock, knowledgable staff, a high level of customer service and the ‘best capuccino in town’.
Prayers for this venture very welcome.
Also, from the comments yesterday, this by ‘concerned dad’:
My daughter applied for holiday work via an agency in Newcastle and took up a job in the Newcastle shop - we were completely unaware of the situation. She is expected to work completely on her own for 6 hours a day several days a week, somebody else does the other days - both are temps, no permanent staff, no training or guidance. She has creditors and people chasing book orders ringing up but no information to be able to respond to them. She is employed and paid by the agency (that is the theory anyway, will be interesting to find out what happens on payday!) If we had known about the situation we would not have got into this, but the agency were not very forthcoming with details about the shop until it was virtually too late…. So Newcastle is open - after a fashion, but far from satisfactory situation.
Update (lunchtime) Phil Groom has posted: SPCK/SSG News Archives. (I’ll try to say something about the blog idea later or over the weekend.)
The SPCKonline website is now the same as the Third Space books website. Details of most shops have been updated. Some, like Salisbury (above - thanks to ezlxq), are on very limited hours and appear to be relying on voluntary labour. I’m aware that I need to keep updating the shop roundup page - updates appreciated.
The entry for the Norwich shop says ‘You are not authorised to view this resource’. That is probably because there is no resource to view - I am informed that a removal firm packed up all the books, fixtures and fittings and was taking them to the Chichester shop today.
I have updated the Church Times blog with a list of news reports and letters about the former SPCK shops.
Melanie, the former manager of the SPCKonline site has written an interesting comment on Phil’s bookshop blog.
Norwich / York
Network Norwich has the following: Norwich Christian bookshop closes its doors
Meanwhile, from the comments section of this blog:
In 2003 I was taken to a city centre deconsecrated church by Stephen Platten, then Dean of Norwich. We both thought how splendid it would be to relocate the SPCK Bookshop, it’s decrepid premises huddling in a side street, to this magnificent medieval building.
In January of the next year Bishop Graham James officially blessed the vision along with representatives from virtually every denomination.
After many trials and tribulations and delays of several months, the centre opened on 13 July 2004. I had been privileged to help plan the layout and the concept.
Over 180 people attended the rededictation of the church to it’s new use in on a Friday morning in October 2004!
Within 3 years the loyal team had doubled the turnover of the previous shop and provided access to thousands of visitors from the Christian faith or none, to be offered an exceptionally broad range of product, a place to meet and be refreshed in the cafe.
We held events on a monthly basis. Highlights included: a lecture by Bishop Tom Wright attended by 350 plus, an Advent evening with Ronald Blythe during which three Salvation Army bandsmen managed to ascend the spiral staircase complete with trombone and play from the balcony, debates between bishops and humanists; Professor Brian Thorne and Ian Gibson MP and a Fawlty Towers evening!
This morning I visited the centre with my two sons, on the last day of trading. It was in fact open after 11-00.
To describe it as semi-vandalised would not be overstating the sight of half-empty boxes relocated from the London shop several weeks ago still blocking the porch and what is left of the stock lurching across the shelves.
Visiting the church on a regular basis over the past months I have been moved from frustration, to anger, to sadness, to disbelief as to how such a thiving resource could be laid to seed.
Today is a very sad day for the ex-staff, all but one of whom have yet to find new employment and the Christian community, who are voicing that ‘their’ centre has been lost - a high compliment indeed.
I count myself blessed to have been offered an alternative position within the Christian retail environment and have thus stayed in touch with so many of my customers who had become friends.
However, it’s never over until the Canary sings as we say in Narwich, so please keep praying for an unlikely resurrection in the not too distant future.
‘The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it’
‘Richard and Gill’ on Flickr have a recent picture of the former SPCK shop in York.
Meanwhile, I found this blog post written in Chinese on June 16. It sounds as if it is by someone working in the York shop. Google translated it as follows:
I should be very fortunate, at least in this area to work, to York the second week, it began a career Part-time job. However, this is not so much a subjective initiative, I found, than to use a blind cat encountered more aptly described as dead mice. At that time, purely in the City Centre Luancuan, Okay, I admit that, in fact, I had lost. The results of the accidents that have been in SPCK work.
This is one in the entire United Kingdom has 28 Chain stores of the Christian Bookshop, a harmonious working atmosphere, have fixed the breakfast 11am and 3pm the afternoon tea time and all the break are paid. However, however, however, but, boom is not long, SPCK be acquired. A U.S. company called SSG took over the bookstore this. British indeed are born of hatred of Americans, the shop all the old staff have left, but Fortunately, the Manager of new people is pretty good. I want to go to the SSG, also by the nature of the work before the development of a simple cashier to accountant, gradually began to contact the bank’s work. Sense of accomplishment that is not an ordinary Youranersheng ah.
Boom is not really long, SSG recently went bankrupt, another bookstore was an American company take over. David and Olga have left, I left the bookstore on the people. Optimistic, I am now boss hey. Pessimistic, I really do not know Bookstore will close on this, I have on unemployment.
SPCK in the UK with my life is inseparable from, I Baijia all have come from the capital where wages. However, it also sacrificed a lot with my family Dear Amanda travel out of time. Switzerland, Rome, Prague, Barcelona, Fuluolunsa I have no time to. My dear SPCK, you can see in my youth to take all the copies to you, will not be so quick to close OK. You, and so I kept enough money to the United States, Greece, the Netherlands, Sweden, the Arctic Circle, and so I kept enough money to buy Chanel, Dior, Fendi, Prada to the temporary close it, but I travel back and so on, then opened the door for ah
This might or might not mean that the York shop is open.
Posted by Dave at 11:28 am on June 18, 2008 and filed under Save the SPCK.
Charity Commission to investigate SSG
- From today’s Church Times: Ex-SPCK shops ‘bankruptcy’
- The Bookseller says that the Charity Commission is to investigate SSG: St Stephen the Great files for bankruptcy
I think the Church of England Newspaper will have a report(Just opened my online copy - nothing there as far as I can see. I thought there might be as I was telephoned.)
Closures and openings
- We think that the shops that have closed since the bankruptcy announcement are:
Birmingham, Canterbury, Chester, Exeter, Newcastle, Norwich (closing on June 14) Worcester, York. These may be temporary or permanent.
- Salisbury is now open again.
- I’m still attempting to maintain a complete list here.
- On the Third Space books site (Is Third Space books bankrupt or not? Not sure.) a new map of the SSG shops appeared on June 7. Bristol, Carlisle, Lincoln and London have been taken off. Cardiff remains. ‘Leichester’ (not on the old map) has been added.
Former SPCK bookshop closures
I have been attempting to update my SPCK bookshop roundup page. Please take a look and tell me whether I am being accurate.
In the last few days I have been told that the following shops have been closed, but some of these closures might be temporary:
- Chester (Local news report: Christian bookshop closes in Chester city centre)
- Exeter (Notice on door says it is due to reopen - photo above)
SalisburyNow open again