Saturday, 31 December 2011

Goodbye 2011

Why, I do not know but I am tempted to write a blog page today after such a long break from production. Maybe it is auto-suggestion that end of year needs some mark of passage or the hosts of year end items in the media. In keeping with the end of year theme, I am just going to review 2011 as it concerned me and mine. It could be that I will stray outside the calendar year; flow of consciousness and all that.
The major item must be that I seem to have halted the losses of memory that led me to worry about dementia. These losses were quite frequent about the beginning of the year. I would be in a conversation and speaking freely when I would stop suddenly because I could not remember a name or a place or even an item. Apart from annoying me, it tended to embarrass the person to whom I was speaking - rather as if I were afflicted with a stammer. The absentee word would come to me unbidden some five or so minutes after I needed it.
I did some delving about on the Internet and the early onset of dementia seemed to be the most likely culprit. I reasoned that I needed to raise the use of my brain - kick it into fitness as it were. Crosswords and puzzles bore me so that route was out but I happened to see a young mum reading to her child from a Janet and John-style book. The child was learning from repeatedly seeing and hearing a word until it formed a groove in it's brain; rather like a tennis player practising a forehand drive again and again until little thought was required once that shot had been chosen. If I formed a collection of words or images I could keep the names in my mind
Thus began a furious winnowing of drawers, cupboards, albums and computer files until I had a large box of memory-inspiring objects. I am lucky to have a clever daughter whose forte is organising and she made these into a scrapbook some seven or eight inches thick. I have a DVD with music and another with images. I spent time dipping into this scrapbook.
Where possible, I expanded upon an item. Yes, that is us at the beach in Benghazi. What is that big building behind us? It is a hotel - the Berenice. Did we ever go there? Yes often. There was a casino on the ground floor and a cellar night club. I and my team had free entry to both on the understanding that we would deal with any trouble makers. One night one of the high rollers took me under his wing at the casino and I won a considerable sum of money with his guidance. This brain-fodder may seem very Mickey Mouse but the embarrassing hiatus do not now occur.
What else? We have the benefit of a first class GP group and a equally good hospital. With my doctor's support I underwent a sort of medical MOT and had orifices checked, bulk prodded and just about everything I would have had to pay many pounds for with a private medical organisation. Behind it all was my realisation that age and physical condition would most likely determine what treatments I would receive. I was mindful of the total rejection of a general anaesthetic when I had my dental clear out and such treatment as I was receiving was aimed at dealing with the symptoms rather than the underlying medical condition. We changed some medications and it seems there are a few miles left on the old jalopy The financial upheavals seem to have passed us by. We have not made any drastic changes to our life style but manage to end each month with more 'in' than 'out'. I was scornful of pension schemes until I had some sort of epiphany when I left the Army in 1974 and thank the ER guy who showed me the error of my ways.
I have to admit that I have not matured too well; I am still Mr Grumpy. The highlight in this connection was a long-running and heated objection to the instruction of the recycling guru that we would have to have and use a wheelie bin. The front door of our flat opens directly onto the street and we have no outside ground at all. The so-called adviser wanted to place our bin directly in front of our door on the pavement of a narrow road. I thoroughly enjoyed objecting on one issue at a time until I had some seven or eight points where the faults of his suggestion were clearly stated. Eventually, after some five months, I had a terse one-line email saying that the bin proposal had been withdrawn.
I used to follow politics; no actual involvement other than voting but the twists and turns and confidence tricks emanating from Westminster. This coalition effort is such that I have really lost interest in politics. The whole nation gets aroused to indignation at the slightest excuse and on the most flimsy of evidence. I would like the power in some two or three years to conduct a poll asking what people then remember of all the 'major' interests of today. I suspect Jordan will be better remembered than Fox and his 'assistant' Now seems appropriate to withdraw from patriarch duties. My children and their children are all, touch wood, settled into their careers or the foundations of such. The light touch seems to have worked. That must be quite enough of a year end piece. Only remains to wish anyone who has got this far a Good 2012 and many years ahead. May you all get what you wish for.

Thursday, 29 September 2011

Timendi causa est nescire.

I watched the rugby this morning. The 5:30 am start was needed to erase the memory of our 'team' yesterday. I say 'team' but that is the least applicable description for them. I saw two matches this morning and the team work there was so clearly visible. The teams from South Africa, Australia and from New Zealand contained a range of skin pigmentation and my mind went back to Capetown in 1956. Our troopship sailed in on Christmas Eve; we were the first troopship to go round the Cape since the war time convoys. The dockside was awash with the good burgers who hoovered up the soldiers and whisked them away. I was ship's policeman so it was duty for me. I commented on the hospitality to a local police officer who informed me it was not all it seemed. Apartheid was still in force and the greeting crowd would only have taken those who matched their ethnicity. Integration seemed to have worked well for the three teams and I thought about the problems we have with mixing immigrants with home-born. It seems that there is racism in Australia as well as New Zealand and South Africa.When I looked further I found that all three countries had formal rules regarding who was allowed into the country
I wonder if our chaotic immigration 'controls' would benefit from such formal procedures.
OK - light relief now. I said I would seek out some blogs that might be included in mine. I suspect that poetry does not get casually Googled by those seeking to pass idle time. I have an interest in words and hunt about in poetry. So," try this. Last bit to tidy up. The title of the blog? Translates as "The cause of fear is ignorance"

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

A disaster rehearsed

I have been reading about the fall of Singapore. When I lived in Malaya I had heard much from old Colonial types about the Japanese occupation and I was interested in getting some of the truth out of the urban myths. The early chapters deal with the decisions that were taken with regards to the defence of the main harbour. Immediately, I was struck with the impression that I was reading a far more modern history.
The powers that be had convinced themselves that any attack would come from a sea-borne enemy. The hinterland of the Malayan jungle was deemed to be too difficult for Asian troops. These were assessed by our military experts as of low grade - even described as afraid of the dark. This showed total disregard for the performance of the Japanese army in recent confrontations. The Japanese had shown themselves capable of coordinating land, sea and air attacks. All this was ignored. Military HQ in Singapore decided to install very large artillery pieces to cover the sea approaches. Second thoughts were for a naval fleet to extend the reach of the defence. There was deemed to be no spare capability of RN vessels but Their Lordships were reassuring that they could deploy a few ships from the Indian fleet 'if any threat developed'. The nascent RAF took on board the idea of reach and made a case for air power where torpedo carrying aircraft would be a good defence.
Thus began inter-service rivalry. There were no facilities for a naval presence and no suitable airfields. Bibs and bobs of budgets were dug up and a start was made on docks and landing grounds. Then it was decided that there was a need for a chain of airfields from India to Singapore. More debate and chewing of military mustaches. The whole fiasco was set against a decision that there would be no attacks within a 10 year timescale. The whole exercise was a rehearsal for the recently undertaken Strategic Defence Review such as was undergone recently.
The book is a well researched publication as one would expect from Professor Richard Holmes; a writer sadly missed. I recommend it.
I also recommend today's lost child of a blog - as warned in my last blog.
’m not a typical holiday person. I believe that the feelings of peace on earth and goodwill toward men (and women) have become overshadowed by the fuss of hosting dinner parties and shopping.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Play it again Sam

I have been wandering out in the outer space of the Internet looking for interesting stuff that has been overlooked. No No - not that. I used to keep statistics on this effort and was surprised at just how many hits were recorded. Sometimes, very respectable. Whilst many came, few were moved enough to comment or do anything to spread the word. Had I not looked at my meter, I would have thought that it was just time and energy wasting. However, as I only do it for my own amusement I am not concerned. There must be many two-finger pokers who agonise over their blog; content, style or illustration.
Way way back, I used to have a sort of supplement to my work - I called it The Guest Blog. Each of my efforts would have one blog chosen by me and reproduced in its entirety. That drew comments where the main oeuvre did not. I propose to reintroduce this idea but with just a link and to draw attention to two or three each time I do something. Criteria for selection is very open - it has to impress me for some reason is what it might boil down to.
I will wander off into the 'net milky way and tee a few up. So - watch this space.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Rights. And wrongs

I have been following the Dykes Farm story. Sad life I know but some 12 years ago we had a smaller version just the other side of my fence when I lived in Kent. A jolly band of travellers had bought a cherry orchard. Agricultural land. After a while they moved in a couple of caravans on the pretext that these were for casual labourers working in the orchard. They then developed a barn and moved in more 'labourers'. Members of their extended family of course. Then came electricity. No mains sewerage of course.
The whole thing grew and grew. It seemed the local council were powerless to act; what was being done apparently followed a path used by genuine agriculturists. I was not too bothered - what was going on was mainly out of sight and I had made it plain to the capo di travellers that petrol was cheap and matches also. I left before the saga came to any proper denouement. I am not going to detail the Farm dispute but it does seem to follow the pattern of Grandma's Steps I saw in Kent. It does seem that the wanderers were stiffed by the local council who sold them the land, allowed some development and then barred it in half the site. Put that down to a failure of the lucky white heather.
Another facet of my sad life is an addiction to Twitter. It does seem to attract publicity of all sorts of special interest groups. I am told that Facebook has much more of the same. Sufferers of xxx illness seek special recognition and easement of something or other. They have agendas. At the same time, those suffering from yyy afflictions are rowing the same boat. The whole range of the alphabet has someone or other pressing their case. I have not attempted to compile a spreadsheet of the assorted demands but it must follow that what is done for the xxx'rs will conflict with the expectations of the bbb'rs. Whilst I have a number of areas where I would like to claim an exception from the ordinary Joe. Alas, I cannot find an umbrella group. I stand at risk that those who do gain recognition and special treatment could well impinge on what I do now or would wish to do. Drowned in a sea of special cases. The demands are not always understandable to the man in the street anyway. The homosexual rights campaigners gained civil marriage rights. Now they say the procedures are too hole in the corner (no pun intended) and demand the full panoply of a straight wedding, I cannot understand why. Their lifestyle is not ours. What extra do they get - we all know of Elton John's relationship to his wheel-barrow pushing friend.
To me, this is all part of the mongrelisation of our country. I was around and knew the Dunkirk Spirit. We had a common purpose, worked together, we suffered together (mostly) and we triumphed together. Our economic state now could do with some of that Spirit. However, there is no Kabul Spirit, Karachi Spirit. What we do have is groups demanding sharia law, the killing of animals by sawing holes in their necks and for female mutilation and forced marriage of minors. The Cricket Test of spiritual nationality does not cover these. I was brought up to offer my seat on public transport to the disabled and to those pregnant. I saw no sign that this was observed the last time I was on a train. Doubtless, there are groups pressing for legislation on this - it should not be needed and is not likely to lead to any real change if introduced.
Were I to start a Twitter campaign, it would be Give Me Back My Country. Possibly need to add Dude at the end of that. There will be those who mention rickets, TB, inadequate housing but I would seek to go back to 1930s UK. With hindsight, all those problems would be solved - it would be in the Manifesto so was bound to happen (pause for ironic laughter). A hankering to get back to those values may be the secret of popularity of Downton or Upstairs Downstairs.
I don't see it happen. But allow old men to dream whilst they dribble.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Now it can be told

Last week's Sunday Telegraph made much of a story that our troops were being encouraged to report improper conduct by our soldiers whilst engaged in the action against Iraq. Adverts had been placed in magazines likely to be read by troops and these added that the information could be given anonymously if the informant so wished. Information gained would go to a specialist team.
The Secretary of State has set up the Iraq Historic Allegations Team ("IHAT") to investigate the allegations with a view to the identification and punishment of anyone responsible for wrongdoing. He has also set up a separate Iraq Historic Allegations Panel ("IHAP") to ensure proper and effective handling of information concerning cases subject to investigation by IHAT and to consider the results of IHAT's investigations, any criminal or disciplinary proceedings brought, and any other judicial decisions concerning the cases, with a view to identifying any wider issues which should be brought to the attention of the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State has not ruled out the possibility that a public inquiry into systemic issues may be required, in the light of IHAT's investigations and the outcome of the existing public inquiries, nor that there may be prosecutions in the light of those outcomes, but he says that it is premature to set up such a public inquiry now while these other inquiries and investigations are going on.
These IHAT inquiries had a checkered history almost as soon as the team was instituted. The PIL has a history of going back in history and then lodging demands for an investigation.
The main investigation into the sort of incident alleged has now reported it's findings. Pretty grim reading. Mention is made of a conspiracy of silence; this was first commented upon following the court martial of a number of soldiers charged with the assault upon an Iraqi civilian.
By the end of the trial, all charges against the remaining defendants were dropped due to a lack of evidence, including a charge of manslaughter against Cpl Payne.
Mr Justice Stuart McKinnon criticised the soldiers for failing to properly answer questions and accused them of putting up a "wall of silence".
So, rather a long preamble to what is my reason for this edition. In 1970 I was sent to Northern Ireland as a Warrant Officer of the Army Investigation Branch. There was a very small detachment of investigators but I was on the strength of the Provost Marshall NI as an assistant. One of the first things I was asked to look at was the way the Army dealt with internal security incidents where troops had opened fire and killed or wounded a civilian. There were also a number of serious allegations regarding the way that our forces had acted during house searches or arrests. Prior to my arrival, these had not been investigated by the resident team. If the incident or the claims were considered to be serious or widespread, a group of investigators would come from the mainland and deal with them. This was often many weeks after the incident and the claims had already made their way into local history as fact. They were then trooped out every time allegations were made as to Army conduct.
I very soon realised that any contemporaneous routine investigation would not suffice. The normal line of questioning of witnesses building up to the interview of a possible offender was tortuous. Scene of crime techniques were not possible whilst areas were still disturbed and forensic facilities in the province were limited. This meant that the findings were so delayed that Urban Myth prevailed.
When our forces respond to an incident they are required to make a immediate radio report to their HQ. This was known as a Contact Report and was very short and rudimentary. I felt there was scope here for the service investigators to assist. We would attend as soon as a contact report was made. If possible, we would go to the scene of the incident and record written statements from the military personnel, These would not follow what were then known as Judges Rules where evidence was taken with a view to presentation at any trial. I presented the idea to senior RUC personnel, The Coroner and HQ NI and a protocol was established. Copies of the statements taken would be passed to the relevant RUC commander for their consideration. If they considered that legal action should be instituted against military personnel that individual would be re-interviewed in full accord with the Rules, A neat device but quite legal. I left Ulster in mid-1972 and the protocol was working as designed. It also survived without criticism in the Lord Saville inquiry into events on Bloody Sunday.
I have no direct knowledge of the procedures used in Iraq. There is a strong suggestion that the Ulster protocol was not followed. It is only my assumption that this may well have led up to the situation which created IHAT. There is a similar unit in NI but that looks at all deaths and not just those involving HM Forces.
There may be other IHAT work that results in a public inquiry. Mr Shiner has other arrows in his quiver. The latest report says it finds no evidence of institutional brutality, Well, it was only looking at one incident so a pattern would be hard to find, The numbers of soldiers who piled into Baha and his fellow detainees was pretty impressive though. There is some history that the Baha inquiry may have missed.
Whilst it may be unsettling to seek to further the IHAT work by way of anonymous reports it is little different to the procedures of Crime Line and another forces police organisation Getting the true details is an essential duty. Think of the concept of one bad apple. I prefer the idea of a bad barrel that turns good apples bad. The voices of human rights groups are very loud and we risk losing the approval of our actions if these are furthered by dubious means.

Monday, 15 August 2011

Lord now lettest thou thy servant.....

Possibly wrong that I, who have no belief in that sort of thing, should steal from The Book for a title. However, I have always hedged my bets and one never knows who might be listening.

Today is my birthday. Thank you for congratulations, best wishes, Mazel tov, whatever. I had never imagined that would sustain for 78 years on this planet - or any other. I had never been terrible solicitous about my health and welfare right from climbing the tree when my father came and told me I had better get down as war had been declared. I was not evacuated - my parents held that if they were dead, I might as well be also.
The Army claimed me and I was able to get to most parts of the world where the Union flag few. Objectors to this threw stones and fired bullets and I walked among this unharmed. My trade involved investigating - not all my finds came quietly when told to get their strides on because they were nicked. I occasionally drove very rorty rally cars with only minor shunts.
At the the beginning of my 40s I moved away from Action Man's world and resorted to using my brain. I was asked for my opinions and people paid me for my advice. I got involved in preparing budgets for millions of pounds, fighting to explain why I wanted all this money and then controlling the expenditure thereof. I drove many miles on busy roads. The stress was something I grasped like a true adrenaline junky.
And then, in due course of time, I retired. The challenges were put beyond my reach; like a steel fire shutter deployed. I took to hill walking - always without human company but often with my dog. All the adrenaline went out of my life. There were no challenges any more. I felt like Teddy thrown in the corner and abandoned.
Then the physical side started to let me down. Glasses, no real teeth. I was at the mercy of minor illnesses and recovery became longer. Breath was in short supply and I had a season ticket to the local GP. All very frustrating; the remedies seemed to be dealing with the symptoms and not the root illness.
Some months back I realised that my memory was failing me. I would be talking about something and a word I wanted would not come out of the files. Then, for no apparent reason, the word would come into my mind unbidden. I walk from one room to another for some purpose only to find myself wondering why I am in that particular room. I sometimes need two attempts to pick something up - I drop it the first time. I knock things over.
I realise that in the scale of some peoples suffering, all of this is a walk in the park. Well, I sympathise with them but this does little for me in my cocoon of advancing mush. I look back at the few occasions when I might have gone out in a blaze of glory and white light and wonder if what I actually did at those times was worth it in the light of my present state.
So, I want no more congratulations. good wishes or Mazel tov. Just a farewell please. "Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace"

Monday, 8 August 2011

In the public interest

In general, I have always been a law abiding sort of cove. Knowing just enough of the law to let me go up to the edge of offending, However, today I throw caution to the winds,

What follows comes from today's (8th August) edition of The Times and is hidden behind a pay wall. Well, like a kid scrumping apples, I've scaled the wall and return after filling my pockets. Why? I regard the paper as a document of record and repository of sense. As I understand it, the pay wall idea came from News International. The same NI under command and control of the now discredited Rupert Murdoch. The media use the excuse that when they choose to go crook they do it because a matter is of great public interest. As I see it, their second editorial today deals with a matter of great public interest and thus falls within my purlieu. So, sit back, relax and enjoy.

The real victims of Saturday night’s violence are the innocent local residents

For those residents forced to watch powerless on Saturday night as their high street was set aflame, their shops and businesses looted and their homes devastated, the riots in Tottenham are a great personal tragedy. For the nation as a whole, and London in particular, they raise a number of questions about our police service and the communities in which they operate.

Why are we again seeing violent attacks by young people in our capital city? Why is Tottenham again the setting for such ugly scenes?

What is unquestionable is that the failure of the police to deal effectively with the violence unleashed on Saturday night has meant that the people of Tottenham are paying a high price for disorder on their streets. The community is already one of the capital’s poorest. Many of those who have suffered the most are those who deserve to do so the least: the law-abiding majority in the community. Already the stories are striking: a young Asian father whose apartment was set alight and subsequently gutted as he watched, helpless; an elderly pub landlady, petrified by thugs and forced to barricade herself in.

The pretext for the street violence which caused such havoc was anger sparked by the death of a local man, Mark Duggan, shot last week by the police in controversial circumstances. An investigation has been launched into the killing. Initially it seemed that there had been an exchange of fire when the police were in pursuit of Mr Duggan, but details emerged last night to suggest that Mr Duggan was carrying only a replica weapon and that the only shots fired were by the police. For a force already under pressure for failures in other areas, the reports hardly bolster confidence. They underline the need for new, and effective, leadership at the top of the Metropolitan Police. For all the disconcerting elements in the Duggan case, it is nevertheless important to maintain a sense of perspective. There is a clear distinction between legitimate, peaceful protest and the shocking images of destruction and looting. It is right that the grieving relatives of Mr Duggan should be provided with clear answers; but that desire for justice does not confer a free pass on the thugs, some apparently from outside the area, who caused the subsequent chaos. As David Lammy, the local MP, writes in The Times today (see page 20), this “was an attack on the whole of the Tottenham community”.

Mr Lammy says that relations between the police and local people on the Broadwater Farm estate have improved immeasurably since the infamous riots of 1985. So why was communication from both sides seemingly absent in this case? Why too did the police struggle yet again to handle a potentially incendiary situation? All this makes the imminent appointment of Sir Paul Stephenson’s successor as Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police a most pressing matter for the Home Secretary. Applications for this vitally important role close on Friday; a successor is expected to be in place by September.

Names in the frame include Bernard HoganHowe, former Chief Constable of Merseyside Police (currently acting Deputy Commissioner), and Sara Thornton, an impressive Chief Constable at Thames Valley Police. Whoever gets the job will quickly need to show leadership, common sense and a real appetite for justice.

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Education down the drain

I was doing a Cameron in the sun outside our local (posh) coffee shop when an old lady I've "good morning-ed" on a number of occasions asked if she might share my table. I think she was more needing a gossip than needing a coffee and a bake; as soon as she sat down and planted her bag she started to chat. The shop fronts onto the town square so there are many passing pedestrians. My new found companion seemed to know quite a number of these people; some stopped to talk briefly to her before moving on, Dolce Vita in Duns.
Two or three times she launched into chapter and verse regarding those who had stopped or passed by with a nod. Whilst discreet in her choice of words, it was clear that she was of a moralising bent. I was left in two minds; a little embarrassed at what I was hearing but still enough of a detective to appreciate that I was gaining information.
Her final communique concerned a young couple. The girl, aged I suppose around 18, very neat and tidy and just beginning to show the rising diaphragm of pregnancy. Her obviously boyfriend escort was just about everything she was not. Scruffy, stained and torn jeans and unkempt appearance. More of a slouch than a walk. Mrs Local Paper nodded her head to draw my attention to the couple.
The girl had gained high grades at her university qualifying examinations. Her parents were able to support their only child in whatever training path she chose. Her future was brighter than a summer sunrise. That is, until she met up with the lad. She was totally besotted and took him home to meet her mum and dad. Rightly or wrongly they formed the opinion that the friendship could only end in disaster where her further education was concerned. They tried reasoning which moved on to coercion and thence to banning. Their brainy high flyer daughter crashed like Icarus, moved in to some awful digs with her lover and terminated all contact with her parents.
My informant suggested that the young woman had become pregnant almost immediately. She had abandoned plans for university and was working in the local super-market to supplement the lad's dole money. A bright future lay in ashes. My table companion had to hurry to get all this information transferred before depositing her payment and scuttling off. I thought back to see what tit bit she might have gained from me but was comforted by the fact that she had been the one doing all and more of the talking.
After she had gone I mused on this latter-day version of the Rakes Progress. I wondered what it was that seemed to have perverted her ambitions. Given the ferocity of those who demonstrate regarding any threat to education, how can the desire to do well be, seemingly, destroyed so easily?
When one reads the statistics of single motherhood, one fears for the life style she appears to have chosen. Would her lover stay when surrounded by nappies and young baby in their marginal accommodation?
After some old man's cogitation I settled for a scenario where she had her child, the scruff dropped the pair of them and she regained her broken path whilst Granddad and Grandma took up parenting for the second time. If someone had come around with a collecting box for single mothers, I would have dropped a few bob in.

Monday, 11 July 2011

Downhill all the way

Ruminating on the state of our printed media and my mind went into the wider arena of the way in which the old accepted standards of British life have changed. We appear to be in a general decline; something akin to 'the lights are going out all over Europe' Things have stopped working. Graphs all go the wrong way. Daily intercourse has coarsened; foul language is heard everywhere. We are subjected to violent images on the television with scenes of war and starvation, casual murder on our streets, yobbo behaviour.

Education we once relied upon to set our children on the path of good citizenship has failed. It has failed in even the basic instruction of the three Rs. Young adults are finishing their education lacking any quality that will make them attractive to any employer. The idea that competition is something distasteful resulted in the concept that everyone must gain something so education was dumbed down, marking was made charitable. At higher levels of schooling, pretensions of scholarship were satisfied by the introduction of degree courses that demanded little of the student.

Our arts have also suffered. A canvas daubed with technicolour paintwork attracts favourable attention. Sculpture often looks like the rejects from a showing of Scrapyard Challenge. The alleged music is akin to grunts heard in a game park by night. Popular dance involves people spinning on their heads whilst classical ballet has given way to interpretations where the performers are likely to be dressed as dossers or the Black Swan is represented as a bestial bugger.

The internet has opened up avenues of swift and easy communication but has also a dark side. Grammar is ignored or perverted. Pride in composition has gone; the almost universal use of 'init' or 'you know what I mean?' has seen to that. Invited responses most often have a LOL reply.

So, who is to blame for this degredation of our culture? The answer must be 'us' We have lost the ability to say NO. Modern youth is nothing if not confrontational and disrespectful. Physical correction has (rightly?) been outlawed and all that is left is reasoning. With youngsters who lack the vocabulary to understand or the comprehension to follow the line of a debate. Any adverse comment is dismissed with scorn. Fifteen year olds know all they need to know to swim in their feral society.

There is another factor. The rise of immigration has brought to our shores large numbers of people who never had a chance to experience our culture anyway. Integration has failed. The tide of political correctness has swamped those who say "If you wish to live here, you must do things our way". Misguided attempts to make things easier for them have allowed them,in the main, to enjoy lower expectations. Their enjoyment of welfare benefits militates against any compulsion to suit themselves for employment in any but the most menial level.

I see no solution. I suspect that the numbers of those who lack the idea of culture have reached a critical level. Any attempt of correction would be as much use as sweeping flood water with a garden rake.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011


Readers of an advanced age will recall the lady who was always worried about Jim. I find myself afflicted by a similar concern except that I am worried about Dave.

I have already written of my suspicions that they returned to power with inchoate plans; mere bullet points on their scheme for the first 100 days. Now it is beginning to look as if they are quite flat-footed and unable to oppose the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune that fly at them on a daily basis.
In the headlines right now is the question of a newspaper that solicited news leads from a private detective who hacked into individuals' mobile phone messages. A police inquiry had led to charges and convictions involving a newspaper employee and a hacker back in 2007. All went quiet until revelations that it was still happening. The story grew slowly like a mushroom in prime compost. A number 10 employee resigned apparently because he had been an executive at the paper. We know from the news today that there is a body of evidence being investigated which may have very serious consequences.

Theresa May had obviously been given homework to complete after her daily electioneering duties. She announced radical changes to the police service quite soon after getting her kitten heels under the government front bench. Even to me as one who has been close to police but not of them, these appeared to be a total dogs dinner. Not just a dinner but one that was only partly digested before being vomited up. I cite this as an example of where the bullet-point was all they had.
But there is more. She - or those responsible for briefing her - should have seen the hacking investigation as a thunder cloud. She should have been all over it like STD on a Club 18-30 holiday. The resignation of Dave's press czar ought to have rung out like a fire alarm bell. Who knows how much better the government's reaction might look with the benefit of 10 minutes in a dark room with him before he surrendered his door pass.

There are other instances of proposals that may well have read well in the manifesto but which went astray when exposed to the public gaze. Despite the severe cuts in public expenditure, Cameron is handing out unbudgeted aid to regimes renowned for its corruption. The cynics will see this as a quid pro for the withdrawal of our troops. That is promised by 'the end of next year'. It is open for Karzai to plead for more or for the new military commander to advise that the place is not ready to stand on its own two feet. We appear to lose about 38 soldiers a year and many more condemned to a living death so an early withdrawal have benefits beyond mere money. The suspicion that Tom, Dick and Harry are being robbed to pay Tomaso, Ricardo and 'arry would seem to be well justified.

The rioting that followed the uni fees proposals could have been foreseen. The police action was accepted by the Commissioner of the Met as weak and was to be reviewed. Such action must surely have been expected when the posh Tories started to grind down the faces of the poor downtrodden workers. Mother Theresa again.

We had the 'You fight, I'll talk' episode. Liam Fox is having to defend the Strategic Review as being at the recommendation of the Service Chiefs, He now claims that their advice may have been tainted by their desire to defend their own arm of service. Why did he not know or recognise that at the time? The very first challenge to our reduced forces showed we have trouble effectively pursuing even a limited scope air war.

So, that explains my concern about Dear Dave. I have not even touched upon the NHS - that merits (but will not get from me) a blog of its own. No - enough here about the style.
Yet in the first year of the coalition Mr Cameron's leadership flaws have become all too apparent. He is convinced of the need to cut both the demand for and the supply of the state, but his lack of attention to detail is largely to blame for the government's botched reforms to the NHS and higher education. As Tim Montgom­erie, editor of ConservativeHome, notes on page 32: "Cameron's ministers describe his dismissive wave of the hand whenever a conversation becomes focused on the detail of an initiative."

Saturday, 25 June 2011

A case to review

Once again the winkle-pin has knocked aside the horny cap and dragged the animal into daylight. The case of Milly Dowler has shone a fierce light into the ways that we try serious cases. Mea culpa has been cried by the DPP and by the officer in charge of the investigation. These come at a time when other shortcomings of the judicial system are still raw. On top of all this, we have the media stretching the rubber band of what they can and cannot report.
There were calls from the Dowler family for a return to capital punishment. I have read calls for a total Royal Commission into our entire legal system. I am reminded of my sociological-studying days of media hysteria. My first observation would be that none of the discussion has really been in relation to the system; rather that it was not faithfully followed. The police did not empathise with the family in advising them first that the case was going to trial, the DPP said that the performance of his department could have been better. The judge declined a request to have some evidence heard in camera. The Press may have overstepped the mark in demonising the murderer so that his trial for kidnapping had to be abandoned. One assumes that the Press have legal advice; seems none picked up on the claimed prejudicial reporting. If these faults had not occurred, we would merely be left to debate what a bad bastard the murderer was and be glad he is where the sun does not shine.
A review of our Justice System would need,I suppose, to start with PACE and run through to parole. Everywhere along the way we would run into matters that could themselves alone provide fodder for a Commission. I can imagine that the gathering of evidence and publication of the finished report would take up 10 years or so. First we would have to decide what was wrong with the existing arrangement. Then would come soliciting amendments and evaluation of these. Then the nitty gritty of drafting a replacement and the delay in getting through the procedures to formulate any new policy. And all this time we would be trying to administer justice in accordance with laws that we have today. The adage of 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it' comes to mind. What is required is a new procedure to ensure that all concerned know the requirements and make certain they are complied with. Industry has developed Zero Fault procedures in quality control; these could be the basis for such supervision.

Monday, 13 June 2011

NHS. Bottomless pit

The question of NHS organisation is likely to rumble on for some while. Quite a few commentators remark that there is a lack of understanding among the populace as to why any change is required. The first coconut shy at reform was so widely condemned and so little supported in today's report that it is clear the government itself is out of tune. I feel that there has been a lack of clarity in stating why reform was mooted. As I see it, the elephant in the room was cost. The changes that were made over the past x years and those more recently advanced can all be traced to funding. The non-nursing side was inflated as more and more controllers and administrators were taken on board. Budgets cannot be considered viable where a local problem will require action that could not be foreseen. The overruns cause headaches for any Chancellor.
A more useful examination would be to try and establish ground rules as to what the NHS will do and what it will not do. These will involve a tremendous soul searching. It is totally understandable for people to expect that the NHS will, as was promised, care for them from the cradle to the grave and that the very best care will always be afforded to them. This is the pathway to the bottomless pit. For example, we currently sustain children born after, I think, just 24 weeks in the womb. Those whose child died at 20 weeks will press for research and improvements to bring the 24 down to 20. Then there will be pressure for the safe delivery of the 18 week fetus. IVF is an expensive procedure. Some of the demand for it is from women who delayed conception in favour of a career and the need comes from their age or their having exhausted their stock of eggs. We seem to be able to get them pregnant to the age of 60. Scotland has (as usual) led the way with an upward limit of 38 years. There would seem space there to control costs. Some of the extreme end of life conditions have very significant costs despite the efforts of NICE; could we not set a definite point or a medical state where all that will be offered is palliative care? Those whose medical or mental problems have arisen from self abuse with drugs or alcohol should not qualify for anything other than first aid or, again, palliative care. We may remember the footballing legend given a liver who then continued his alcohol abuse until he destroyed the replacement.

As I have said, there would be tremendous public outcry at the mere suggestion of such controls, But think - had these been in place at the time the NHS was introduced. we would have accepted them as being far better than the 3 old pence a week private insurances. There can be little point in having universal 5 star health provision if,for example,we have 2 star education, 1 star defence or 0 star full employment because all the money is going to state of the art medical facilities.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

There seems to be a sudden flurry to get the question of the Military Covenant sorted out. I put this down to the government looking for something that might bolster their sagging reputation. The purpose of a covenant has been bandied out for a few years but I wonder just how many know exactly what it was before the drafters got their hands on it. It was included in a MOD document. Never had any legal status. The full detail was
Soldiers will be called upon to make personal sacrifices – including the ultimate sacrifice – in the service of the Nation. In putting the needs of the Nation and the Army before their own, they forego some of the rights enjoyed by those outside the Armed Forces. In return, British soldiers must always be able to expect fair treatment, to be valued and respected as individuals, and that they (and their families) will be sustained and rewarded by commensurate terms and conditions of service. In the same way the unique nature of military land operations means that the Army differs from all other institutions, and must be sustained and provided for accordingly by the Nation. This mutual obligation forms the Military Covenant between the Nation, the Army and each individual soldier; an unbreakable common bond of identity, loyalty and responsibility which has sustained the Army throughout its history. It has perhaps its greatest manifestation in the annual commemoration of Armistice Day, when the Nation keeps covenant with those who have made the ultimate sacrifice, giving their lives in action.
Note that it was not specific as to what would be covered - it is akin to a parent's duty to their child. This original concept of the Covenant really needs to be understood. Now let us have a look at the scope of the proposed legislation. First though, see just how keen the government has been to adopt the spirit of the Covenant. In February 2011 the Conservative-Liberal Democrat government decided that there was no need to make the Covenant law, proposing instead to cover it in an annual report to parliament - a Labour attempt in an opposition day debate to reverse this was defeated by 86 votes.
From what has been revealed very recently, the legislation is not expected to detail specific commitments about individual public services but will instead concentrate on broader principles - such as that no-one should be disadvantaged because of their military service and, beyond that, that special treatment could sometimes be justified. Ample opportunity there for the mealy mouthed lawyers of the MOD to evade responsibility. Forces personnel experience considerable disruption when the leave active service; mainly in finding a home. Compare this to what is done for immigrants. Priority medical treatment does not seem to be a concept known to GPs. The vast numbers of former service personnel suffering from PTSD would surely wamp the psychiatric services of the NHS and would conflict with the concept of the government's idea of a NHS remodelling. Yet another instance of big brave words at a sound and photo opportunity ending as bullshit.
This came up just after I posted this blog

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

'allo 'allo - what's going on here then?

We know the phrase 'putting one's head above the parapet' derives from WW1 sniper prowess in the trench warfare. I am going to go one better and expose the whole body.
In amongst the Tory party thoughts on their island of dreams called opposition was re-organisation of our police force. This was made more relevant when the true economics state was revealed and serious demands were made for cost savings. Theresa May spelled it out when she spoke to the Federation "The cuts will be big, they will be tough to achieve, and cuts will fall on the police as they will on other important public services". She went on in that vein; sacrifices, pay restraint, institutionalised overtime. This of course all went down like a lead balloon with a hole in it. Tom Winsor undertook a review into pay and allowances which was a bit of a curates egg. These opinions divided the forces; police officers who knew what was at risk and politicians and 'experts' who might not be able to distinguish between a police helmet and a Page 3 nipple. It has now reached the stage where the police side are demanding a Royal Commission.
A noble Lord has stated "Royal commissions have somewhat gone out of fashion, in part because they are seen as time-consuming, cumbersome bodies" Time is spent deciding on terms of reference and who will sit. Who will give evidence and how the public may contribute. There is then the hearing of evidence before a report is compiled. I was involved in the Saville inquiry where 30 minutes of madness on a Sunday afternoon took twelve years to resolve. The Secretary to the last Commission on police was not impressed with it. I cannot imagine that there would be many get off the No 68 bus in Clapham to contribute. We would soon have the entrenched officers asking rhetorically "WTF do you know about policing?" and the civilians responding "You don't want to change". Here is where I raise myself to full height and bare my chest to the snipers.
The outsourcing business has introduced much that is new. They amplify convoluted contracts with agreements; let us call them heads of service. These set out exactly what each side may expect from the other. Right down to 'failed lamps will be replaced within 24 hours of being reported'. I see an opportunity to develop, quickly and at not too much cost, something similar. Way way back, Sir Robert identified what he saw as Nine Principles for his new police force. Sir Robert Peel's Nine Principles:
Principle #1: The basic mission for which the police exist is to prevent crime and disorder.
Principle #2: The ability of the police to perform their duties is dependent upon the public approval of police actions.
Principle #3: Police must secure the willing co-operation of the public in voluntary observation of the law to be able to secure and maintain the respect of the public.
Principle #4: The degree of co-operation of the public that can be secured diminishes proportionately to the necessity of the use of physical force.
Principle #5: Police seek and preserve public favor not by catering to public opinion, but by constantly demonstrating absolute impartial service to the law.
Principle #6: Police use physical force to the extent necessary to secure observance of the law or to restore order only when the exercise of persuasion, advice, and warning is found to be insufficient.
Principle #7: Police, at all times, should maintain a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and the public are the police; the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent upon every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence."
Principle #8: Police should always direct their action strictly towards their functions, and never appear to usurp the powers of the judiciary.
Principle #9: The test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with it
These have been slightly modified by passage of time but if one thinks of recent confrontation with violent demonstrators there is much that could be reintroduced to current discussion and methods. The problem of alienation is the very core. It is pointless to start saying what public and police desire when vast numbers just refuse to speak to or, more importantly, assist the police. The regime of a New Law Every Day of the last government must have caused untold harm. It is far too simplistic to say there are 10 Commandments so why do we need so much Statute and Common law that is on the books but a re-examination needs to be made to reduce the vast number of things for which a civilian may find themselves deprived of liberty or money. There is a need to involve the IT wonks. They would start by examining exactly what needs to be recorded and processed and then find the most efficient way of doing this. Proposals must be proven empirically - no acceptance of 'we have always done that this way'. Police whistles are redundant along with small change in accoutrements to use public call boxes. By tackling the problem in small bites of heads of service proposals and adoption there would be no need to delay as with a Commission. As experience developed, the process would become even quicker; ten years since I wrote any but I can still recall the basics.
Putting all the eggs in one Royal Commission basket will extend the time before we can have a new understanding of what police should be doing. The dissent and introduction will take longer. The economic situation cannot accept the delay to cost reductions.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Laura Norder

I have been interested by the way in which our coalition government has set about implementing some of the points contained in their respective manifesto. Or not as the case may be. A number of very contentious policies have been introduced causing the government to withdraw Bills for review or to abandon their suggestions. This mainly due to a lack of detail once the 'new arrangements' hit the media. It seems as if they spent those long years in opposition merely dreaming up bullet point-ideas with no detailed consideration as to implementation. Reaction to these ideas was swift and, in some cases, violent. One or two will become running sores as the opposers vow to continue their demonstrations which could have a splitting effect on the two parties of the coalition. The root of the problems is the sad state of the nation's economy - if that goes wrong there is no way of making the proposed changes.

Something that has not attracted so much public attention is the question of crime and punishment. Maybe many of us skip over this - it won't happen to me syndrome. The main plank of opposition seems to be the question of finding money to build prisons. This led to be possibility of private prisons run by the private sector. This will not be a cheaper solution - the outsourcing company will run the prison and expect to make a profit.It is akin to the dreaded PFI situation where the build cost is treated like some tally-man purchase on the never never.

Over this last week-end I read a Jenny McCartney article in the Sunday Telegraph.This bemoaned the way in which parenting has become a lost cause for many of those with young children. This encompasses not just the dark arts such as getting a child to sleep a regular pattern but basic human ability where a child was suffering infected toes from wrong-sized shoes or had not been fed for three days. The link between poverty and crime is detailed in an American publication but we are now in the same state as they were at the time it was written. We can no longer rely upon the fact that all children will be taught good behaviour at their mother's knee. Racial it may be but there is also the consideration that not all parents are aware of how our country used to run. We therefore need to review our crime and punishment procedures so as to leave no one in any doubt as to what will decide their future. There is little point in debating who has a crack at which university if their c.v. details just how they have behaved; which finishing-school prison did they attend?

I see no real problem in achieving a much better system for detailing what is right and what is wrong. In the early 1950s, at the age of 19, I was called into the Army under the National Service Act. Our mentors were responsible for indoctrinating us into the Army way of doing things. There was the civilians way, the wrong way and the army way. Every fortnight the intake would dredge up an amorphous body of individuals ranging from highly individual, well-educated youths from rich and privileged backgrounds to illiterate Teddy Boys lacking respect for almost everything. Within a fortnight they were all turned into universal soldiers ready to move into a regiment or corps for further technical training.
They marched together. Moved together. Some had had to be shown how to keep themselves clean. Those who could not read were started off learning by others.

Old crusties will be snuffling about brutality and possibly mentioning Deepcut Barracks. No - in all my service I never saw a soldier struck by anyone in authority. By his colleagues - maybe. When it was necessary to emphasise that his lack of effort was causing us all to suffer when we repeated exercises he had failed. Yes - he would be shouted at and made to move about sharply but this only to let him know that he could not beat the system. Everything he was told to do had been explained and shown to him in detail. 1 - do this, 2 - do that, 3 - then do this.

At the moment, our legal and prison policies lack teeth. I the first place, they are mainly dealing with people who really do not give a damn. One has only to watch Jamie's School to see the total lack of respect of which our juveniles are capable. The recent images of rioting on the streets of London reveal just how little respect is given to the police. Doubtless, someone will comment that the police have brought this upon themselves by their reaction but, even if this is so in every case, it does not excuse the sort of conduct exhibited by the quasi-students. There are established channels for laying complaints and the images would go towards deciding who was right or wrong.

We must have tried everything so far. Community service. They do not attend or just continue their disaffected conduct. Imprisonment. Badge of honour and let out half-way. Conditions inside little worse than their chaotic home life. Short sharp shock. Was deemed a failure. Then we tried Zero Tolerance but that did not realise it's full potential' but that may have been due to the fact that it was not applied across all of the criminal legislation.

Firstly, we should review the laws that are now in effect. Trite but why is it that we have 10 Commandments but millions of offences? Even a review of stuff introduced by that nice Tony. Maybe even simplify them. I seem to recall debate about a Scots law detailing 'being found by night with face blackened' seemed much easier to prove than burglary.

Having simplified the crimes, we come to enforcement. The Zero Tolerance was founded upon the idea that a neglected-looking neighbourhood drew in minor crime and then major offences. The monitoring could be something done by the Community Crime force with, possibly, Neighbourhood Watch. Something for the Big Society volunteers maybe?

The police procedures would need to be evaluated to ensure that arrest is the most likely outcome of bad behaviour or crooked conduct. The prosecution service should concentrate on presenting cases in such a manner that leaves no doubt as to criminal responsibility. Judges object strongly to fixed sentences as being too authoritarian but we need to be sure that there is no weakness in the prosecution of criminals.

The regime in prison should be such that no one in their right mind would be comfortable inside. Television, games. gymnasia, conjugal visits - no such thing. Education directed towards what might improve the inmate's understanding of proper conduct. The days of mail bag production to be re-introduced. Harsh treatment but fair.

This is not a proposal for a 1984 Orwellian land. What I ask is that criminals be isolated from me and mine. My requirement and choice is to live in accord with the laws of the land. Those who elect to do otherwise must be shown the consequences of their choice. There will doubtless be many who reject my vision - I suggest that there is a place for them to assist people to stay out of my world. They can volunteer to show the criminally inclined how they should live - to the benefit of all.

Monday, 21 March 2011

If the dead could return, there would be no more war

Commenting as a deck chair critic of events in Libya one runs the risk of being labelled a Monday morning quarter-back. However, my blood pressure is running high as I have been more of a Saturday evening soothsayer in forecasting the twists and turns of the run-in to the no-fly operation and as to how Daffy would take the sting out of that. I will now venture a little further into the swamp. The current scheme of things suggests we have no end game in sight - as in Afghanistan we do not know what would constitute a coalition 'victory' that might allow the operations to cease. Firstly, even if we convinced the Government forces to adhere to a verifiable cease fire, there is little likelihood that the opposition anti-Gadaffi fighters would do the same - so what would we do then? Regime change has been denied as an objective; fortuitous if it happened but not an aim.

Just stopping the firing would not let us off the hook. The two groups would still be daggers drawn and any discussions regarding the form of democratic government post-Gadaffi would rate high for setting things off again. Someone has to hold the ring. Here might be a convenient lay-by to have a look at the Arab League. Not a reassuring document, (So why do Arab League summits usually end up paying nothing but lip service to Arab issues?) but time since it was written has run much the way as predicted. One would have to wait whilst they decided who would constitute the Arab League-equivalent of a UN Blue Beret peace-keeping force. At the moment, the US/NATO coalition is regarded by the two groups as the enemy of my enemy and our infidel help is accepted on that basis. We would revert to straightforward enemy if we went into a post-conflict peace force. Whoever is nominated as ring-master will need some muscle to deal with transgressions and the idea of this would be anathema to a majority of Libyans. Thankfully, as we now barely possess the power to sort out a fight down at the Queen Vic, our part would be to look on and pontificate.

But we are some way from that where do we go now situation. If the dictator can get his forces into close contact with his opponents, that is the end of the no-fly deterrent. We would not be able to identify who we should kill and that would possibly lead to loss of Arab support that Obama and Hague consider essential. This infiltration does not need to be extensive; something along the lines of the French 39-45 Resistance would keep attack and revenge action boiling. Even an 'allo 'allo resistance would suffice. The images we see from Tripoli may well be stage managed to demonstrate Gadaffi support but the opposition may well find it a tough nut to crack so we face some sort of partition. And there come back - who will decide the rules of engagement and who will enforce them. Give a Arab a weapon and ammunition and he is like a bear with his own personal honey tree.

So, I foresee a drawn out and un-lanced boil in that part of the Middle East. Just what the world needs. I see no chance of Baldwin's saying re the future of war becoming accurate.

Friday, 25 February 2011

Pipe dreams

The latest government cock-up regarding the evacuation of British subjects from Libya causes me to wonder just what thought has gone into the background planning for all the wonderful things they propose to do. The recovery of our Nationals from Libya showed just how faulty was the Defence review. What we needed to do was almost exactly what the MOD thought was it's most likely scenario. Yet it all fell apart from the moment the commercial airlines decided that the air space over Benghazi and Tripoli was just too dangerous to venture into. We didn't have a plan B; Plan A was useless anyway. When it was appreciated that civilian planes do not fly schedules in what amounts to war-time, MOD was forced to seek a charter flight at we do not know how eye-watering cost. We ended up with one that had a fault that kept it on the ground for hours. The charter company should have been told that it was 'their' plane with the fault and 'ours' needed to be wheeled out of a hanger somewhere.
The antique ship HMS Cumberland was lauded by the Men from The Ministry as part of their 'Plan' At the time of it's being drafted into a PR cum rescue role it was steaming home to be broken up. What would have been useful was something such as HMS Ark Royal but that had already berthed at Scrap Yard Quay.
My concern is that the evacuation farce is merely indicative of the organisational capability of this government. I get an image of them in opposition in the last days of Brown. Realising that after so long on the wrong side of the House their turn might come. In amongst their dreams for bigger and better duck accommodation and real estate finagling was the attitude 'what I will do when I am a boss' It is a heady moment - and I speak from experience. Sell off the forests and woodlands. Increase university fees. Get rid of the NHS as we know it. Sort out the police, Immigration. Get a grip on the Army. And, of course, the Big Society. All in broad brush sweeps with, it seems, a lack of detail in the 'nuts and bolts department' as some turnip Tory will have described it. Well, the chickens are coming home to roost; chicken or vulture?
Such club smoking room plans as have been exposed to the light seem to have gone tits up. Policies dropped, delayed as too difficult or radically changed on a cut to fit basis. Some of the broad brush ideas were so thin on substance that there is a risk we will thrown baby out with the bath water. The intent would seem that outsourcing works wonders. The plan included
Allow independent healthcare providers, as well as NHS Foundation Trusts and other NHS providers, the freedom to supply services to the NHS, if they can do so at the NHS price and NHS standards. Commissioning of NHS services will be separate from healthcare providers and overseen by the independent NHS Board. An independent regulatory structure will ensure high standards of service and care.
But the organisation is to be radically revised so any NHS prices or standards will be out of date. The new framework is also supposed to lead to improvements so these prices and standards will change as time progresses. The new supervisory and commissioning bodies will be set up and would appear to be the top heavt bureaucracy we complain of now. There is an added factor - the Government plans refer to :
Reverse the top-down power relationship governing the NHS, putting patients, not politicians, in the driving seat. Patients will have a real power of choice over their care: which GP or other healthcare provider they want to use, which hospital they go to and even whether they want the privacy of a single room, rather than a ward.
This idea of choose where you sit is associated with an environment where many hospitals still have Bedlam era mixed-sex wards. There seem to be issues over morale of nursing staff and these are unlikely to be addressed by the changes - no one likes change. So, that is the NHS; looks like a real dog's dinner and the other 'radical improvements' are no more appetising.
And our PM spends much time flying hither and yon worldwide advocating new ideas and ways and means. Rather as if he thinks the globe still has large patches of red and we are a nation of power and importance in the scheme of things.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Shattered lives and broken promises

The BBC TV4 programme has screened some hard-hitting material in its time. Last night's episode was billed as examining how the Nation treats those who are unable to settle back into civilian life after the shocks of active service.
This is, of course, nothing new. Way back in the Crimea War, our troops were considered as little more than cannon fodder. When the heroes of Waterloo returned to their home soil strict legislation was introduced to deal with those forced to beg and scrounge. There was some recognition that they were not as other men when what was known as the military covenant was adopted.
Soldiers will be called upon to make personal sacrifices - including the ultimate sacrifice - in the service of the Nation. In putting the needs of the Nation and the Army before their own, they forego some of the rights enjoyed by those outside the Armed Forces.
In return, British soldiers must always be able to expect fair treatment, to be valued and respected as individuals, and that they (and their families) will be sustained and rewarded by commensurate terms and conditions of service.
In the same way the unique nature of military land operations means that the Army differs from all other institutions, and must be sustained and provided for accordingly by the Nation.
This mutual obligation forms the Military Covenant between the Nation, the Army and each individual soldier; an unbreakable common bond of identity, loyalty and responsibility which has sustained the Army throughout its history. It has perhaps its greatest manifestation in the annual commemoration of Armistice Day, when the Nation keeps covenant with those who have made the ultimate sacrifice, giving their lives in action.
Army Doctrine Publication Volume 5
Note that there is nothing in the actual covenant that is specific. Nowhere does it say what is included and what is excluded; it is meant to be unconditional and ever-lasting like a mother's love of her child. Once the covenant got into the purlieu of politicians of the modern day variety, it was adopted as a rally round the flag subject to be trumpeted when they showed their red blood on swift visits to the fighting cadres. They had no idea as to why it was and little care for how it was. It took them very little time to abandon their crusade to deal with it."David Cameron 'broke 10 pledges to troops'. Top of his list of empty promises is his failure to make law the Military Covenant, the historic pact setting out Britain’s duty to its fighting men and women. The latest manifestation of observing the covenant is a 'promise' by Liam Fox that he will provide an annual assessment of what the Government has achieved in specific areas; plenty of options there for weasel words and Civil Servant maths.
In the event, the programme really lacked anything of substance merely repeating statistics well published already. The presenter was Lt Col Collins who has himself felt the lash of MOD disapproval. We had the traditional scene where intrepid reporter goes back in time and repeats some stage in a witnesses past. Sleeping rough for one night cannot in any shape or form give an example or replicate the real thing when the 'one night' was in fact months of deprivation with no guarantee of a hot breakfast. Given his past form, Collins was strangely muted.
He identified successful charitable works where individuals had stepped in to help the otherwise abandoned former soldiers. A point missed here was opportunity to review the local authority cost cutting targets to see just whether these good works could continue where their meeting places were closed. We could also have benefited from a look at Simon Weston and what he did with his life after the Falklands. Weston was greatly assisted by his Welsh Guards regimental association which could be a model for what we do now.
Another factor that I would have expected to see was some reference to Cameron's army of volunteers that will run the country whilst the Cabinet sips white wine at Eton reunions. The Armed Forces are the biggest Army of Volunteers he is ever likely to see and the way they are messed about can only be a preview of the future. The plans for that are already going awry.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

States of confusion

I am unsure whether I am unusually perceptive of bull dust or so naïve that I cannot understand plain English. The latest confusion comes from the words of our Chancellor Osborne who has been commentating on the dodgy performance of our economy over the past months. The chancellor blamed the severe weather for the weak figures, but said he had no intention of changing his programme of cuts to public spending. "These are obviously disappointing numbers, but the ONS has made it very clear that the fall in GDP was driven by the terrible weather in December," Mr Osborne said.
Quite true, About the weather anyway. However, as politicians do, he wanted to big up where he could. In a video clip, he drew attention to manufacturing which had performed well in comparison with other sectors and that is where I smelled a rat. What is it about manufacturing that is weather proof? Their workers have to battle the same snow and transport cancellations. Raw materials still have to get to where they are processed and then the finished product delivered to the customer. Power outages were fairly widespread.
Another apparent anomaly was the question of control orders. The proper administration of these requires very significant use of trained surveillance operatives and equipment. To maintain comprehensive observation on one man has been estimated as needing 40 personnel. It seems that the original legislation was loosely drafted and those subject to an order have successfully challenged them in Human Rights courts. Much discussion is in hand regarding alternatives.
The shape of new orders is likely to consist of
End overnight curfews - but overnight residency at named location
Tag suspects - same as now
Bans on visiting locations difficult to keep under surveillance
Allow mobile phones - but only if numbers are supplied
Foreign travel ban
Ban on meetings with other suspects
. I am quite sure that I could operate a ring of terrorists within these confines.
Add in another factor. We have recently heard more about police moles who infiltrated action groups. Not very impressive.Quite a few of these undercover officers went under the bed clothes with nubile members of the group and confessed their identity and role. There were instances where personal protection officers did naughties with the wives of their charges. Undercover work is especially stressful where officers are away from their normal milieu for long periods and their going rogue is a real risk. Seems as if these risks were not detected in the cases that have come to light. Assume these traits are repeated in those involved in watching the control order procedures - are we really getting the anti-terrorist defences that are claimed?
My doubts as to what I read and how I translate this into real concern involve a peer of the House of Lords who was done for fiddling his expenses.He is a qualified barrister in criminal law but put forward the defence that some of his colleagues had suggested he do this to make up his income from his position in the House. This sort of conduct is well covered in the legislation where the Theft Act includes a section
17. False accounting. — (1) Where a person dishonestly, with a view to gain for himself or another or with intent to cause loss to another,—
destroys, defaces, conceals or falsifies any account or any record or document made or required for any accounting purpose; or
in furnishing information for any purpose produces or makes use of any account, or any such record or document as aforesaid, which to his knowledge is or may be misleading, false or deceptive in a material particular;
he shall, on conviction on indictment, be liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding seven years.
His claims were in respect of car journeys he did not make and rent of a house where he never stayed. His alleged advice was tested only in one case but fell down when the witness denied ever giving such advice. However, there is no mention of any investigation being mounted to see just who else - if anyone - was up to the same caper. Lord Taylor has not yet been sentenced.

Sunday, 9 January 2011

We deliver - sex on wheels

"The grooming of vulnerable teenage girls for sex is being investigated by the country's specialist exploitation unit.

Experts from the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre are to carry out the work, which comes after the indefinite jailing of two Asian men for abusing girls aged between 12 and 18
Former home secretary Jack Straw sparked a backlash after claiming the conviction was evidence of a specific problem among young men in the UK's Pakistani community.

Ceop, affiliated to the Serious Organised Crime Agency, was set up in 2006 and its staff include police officers and members of organisations such as the NSPCC.

On Friday Mohammed Liaqat, 28, and Abid Saddique, 27, were jailed at Nottingham Crown Court for raping and sexually abusing several girls, often after giving them alcohol or drugs. They were the prime movers in a group of men who befriended girls aged 12 to 18 in the Derby area and groomed them for sex.

Mr Straw, who represents Blackburn, said such crimes were a "specific problem" in the Pakistani community which needed to be "more open" about the reasons.

But fellow Labour MP Keith Vaz, who chairs the home affairs select committee, rejected his colleague's claims and insisted the case was not symbolic of any "cultural problem". Children's charity Barnardo's, Muslim youth group The Ramadhan Foundation and a retired police chief also said Mr Straw was wrong to highlight one community."

Straw put the cat amongst the pigeons (pig in the mosque?) with his views. He ventured onto the egg-shell floor where almost any remark that refers to ethnicity sends the PC brigades into a frenzy. To give him his due he agreed that there were many white men in prison for sex offences. This seemed to have been ignored by his opponents.

The proposed CEOP inquiry might be a tool to cut through the barriers that exist in any process towards integration. The mother of one of the girls abused is reported as saying that the Muslim religion of the offenders was not the issue - they did what they did because they knew they could get away with it.

The matter arose following a Times newspaper article* ("A culture of silence that has facilitated the sexual exploitation of hundreds of young British girls by criminal pimping gangs is exposed by The Times today. For more than a decade, child protection experts have identified a repeated pattern of sex offending in towns and cities across northern England and the Midlands involving groups of older men who groom and abuse vulnerable girls aged 11 to 16 after befriending them on the street.")

Far be it for me to correct The Thunderer, but I consider there are two things that need to be considered. There are those (young) Pakistani males who approach and subvert the girls and also there are those (older and sometimes fathers themselves) who take advantage of the delivery service of drunk or drugged white girls provided by the young men. This is where I think 'conspiracy of silence' is appropriate. I see no reports of any end-user being charged in respect of the offences disclosed. If the same attention were given to this group, it should limit the demands of a market served by the young recruiters.

What is really needed is a debate regarding the conduct of those who come from overseas or were born in UK as members of any separate racial group. We have affirmative actions that are designed to benefit minorities who wish to live in a separate culture to the majority. What we seem to lack is action to explain to the minorities how they may best conduct themselves with a view to the assimilation we all support. A prime example of this void is the question of introduction of sharia law. It is here (Times link -
Islamic law has been officially adopted in Britain, with sharia courts given powers to rule on Muslim civil cases.
The government has quietly sanctioned the powers for sharia judges to rule on cases ranging from divorce and financial disputes to those involving domestic violence.

Rulings issued by a network of five sharia courts are enforceable with the full power of the judicial system, through the county courts or High Court.

Previously, the rulings of sharia courts in Britain could not be enforced, and depended on voluntary compliance among Muslims.

It has now emerged that sharia courts with these powers have been set up in London, Birmingham, Bradford and Manchester with the network’s headquarters in Nuneaton, Warwickshire. Two more courts are being planned for Glasgow and Edinburgh.

Sheikh Faiz-ul-Aqtab Siddiqi, whose Muslim Arbitration Tribunal runs the courts, said he had taken advantage of a clause in the Arbitration Act 1996.

Under the act, the sharia courts are classified as arbitration tribunals. The rulings of arbitration tribunals are binding in law, provided that both parties in the dispute agree to give it the power to rule on their case.

Siddiqi said: “We realised that under the Arbitration Act we can make rulings which can be enforced by county and high courts. The act allows disputes to be resolved using alternatives like tribunals. This method is called alternative dispute resolution, which for Muslims is what the sharia courts are.” All sounds very clear - but, there is a problem. "Some countries, such as Saudi Arabia, claim to live under pure sharia law and enforce the penalties for Hadd offences. In others, such as Pakistan, the penalties have not been enforced. The majority of Middle Eastern countries, including Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon and Syria, have not adopted Hadd offences as part of their state laws.

Hadd offences carry specific penalties, set by the Koran and by the prophet Mohammed. These include unlawful sexual intercourse (outside marriage); false accusation of unlawful intercourse; the drinking of alcohol; theft; and highway robbery. Sexual offences carry a penalty of stoning to death or flogging while theft is punished with cutting off a hand.

"This is a system of criminal law which has become a potent symbol of Islamisicing the law," says Dr Welchman. "But there is the question of whether it's actually applied in the countries which have adopted it. There is supposed to be a very high burden of proof, but that clearly often doesn't happen in practice." So even if sharia law were universally accepted, we would not have something that is agreed by those who seek it. There have been reports of rape victims being punished by flogging. How would such treatment in UK sit with the empowered sisterhood?

What about honour killings? "An Iranian civil rights activist who is due to be deported from the UK tomorrow could face the death penalty and fears being murdered by her family in an "honour killing" if she is sent back to Iran," If sharia law sentences someone to death or amputation, where does UK law stand?

E pluribus unum is a fine aim but even where it is sought officially, there are serious problems. What this country requires is one law for all regardless of racial beliefs or origins.

* Link is to a mirror - Times material is behind a pay-wall