On justice

We all have our pet peeves – the things that stir us up, that light that ‘fire in the belly’ and get us going. For some it’s about family, for others it’s about a particular belief, mindset or ideology. For me it’s about ‘justice’.

For some justice is synonymous with vengeance. They follow, to some degree or another, the old ‘eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth’ standard of the bronze age shepherd. For them justice is both simplistic and obvious. Theirs is the ‘two wrongs make a right’ approach that most of us grow out of before we leave the schoolyard. That’s not my type of justice.

Others acknowledge the complexity of determining right from wrong in a world that contains so much more grey than simple ‘black and white’. They accept that justice is complex and often difficult to define. I have to admit, that seems like a very good starting place. But then they go and spoil things by demanding that the victims of crime, the very people least likely to be objective, get to determine the most appropriate punishments. They’re the same people whose only real (and particularly unimaginative) contribution to debates about crime is to state….

“You wouldn’t say that if it was your…. (mother, father, son, daughter, home, money etc.)”

And of course, they’re right. I’d most probably want someone’s head on a plate, not because that’d be the right thing to do but because I’m human, I’m emotionally driven (as are we all) and sometimes I can be irrational (as can we all). But I still shouldn’t be able to mete out judgement or take the law into my own hands.

The hallmark of a civilised society is that punishment is taken out of the hands of the individual and placed into the hands of the state.

Still others seem happy with the idea of a state controlled judiciary until it comes to the sentencing of offenders. Then their true colours tend to show. Then they become so similar to the ‘let the victims decide’ contingent that it’s hard to tell them apart.

These are the people who, with little or no knowledge of the often complex court proceedings and mitigating factors insist, as though through automatic reflex, that the sentence is too lenient. These are the people who complain loudly and incessantly that the convicted murderer ‘could be out in ten years’ without ever pausing to imagine just what ten years incarceration might be like. They’re the people who prefer emotional vengeance to rational justice and their lack of a sense of proportion shows all too well. They’re not interested in positive intervention to effect positive change. They simply want another person to suffer. In that respect, despite the apparent veneer of social awareness, they’re no more advanced than the ‘eye for an eye’ brigade.

These are the unthinking, uncaring individuals, the vengeful defenders of people they’ll never meet against people they’ll never understand. These are the easily led, the tories target voters who faithfully fail to notice the damage that ‘Boris’ bastards’ are doing to our country so long as they can be distracted by a juicy crime story or a made up threat from foreigners fleeing persecution or warfare in distant lands. These are the people who think populist emotionality can substitute for paying political attention and the likes of Patel, Gove and Sunak are more than happy to play along. Let’s face it, Johnson and his cronies will play any game at all if it’ll let them hang on to a little bit more power for a little bit more time.

By pandering to the lowest common denominator of our basest instincts, of tribalism and of vengeful hatred they can persuade the people to give away all their rights under the pretence of stealing them from someone else. It’s not me they’re after, it’s them others! 

But the changes to our justice system that made it into law last week in Parliament affect us all – not just the few foreigners and criminals targeted by the populists.

Ironically enough, populist fervour leads to a government so buoyed up by nastiness that it can literally do anything it likes. So last week we lost the right to protest, the right to free expression and even the right to save drowning people without facing prison if they happen not to be British.

We lost the right to fair trial with several crimes being defined and people found guilty and sentenced not by judicial process, not by a court or a jury but by the Home Secretary, personally.

We lost the right to scrutinise and censure politicians when they break the law. Judicial review can now only go ahead with the consent of the very government the system aims to scrutinise. In short, they can now do pretty much whatever they like and, short of revolution or some other form of insurrection, there’s very little we can do to prevent it.

This crop of tories – the truly nasty party representatives – have taken principles of fairness, of justice, of democracy and of hope and turned them into rules intended to benefit themselves and their cronies at the top of the financial tree at our expense. They allow energy companies to make vast profits while many Brits are unable to heat their homes. They allow sewage companies to dump raw effluent into our waterways – waterways only recently clean again thanks to EU regulations – you know – the ‘red tape’ we were all told to dislike so much. That’s the same red tape that’s been removed as we lose employment protections with no effective recourse to law and extremely limited access to legal aid. And all because decent people were conned into voting for a pack of vicious hyenas.

Personally I tend to lean toward utilitarianism – the philosophical approach that seeks to achieve the greatest good for the greatest number. That doesn’t make me ‘soft’ or ‘naive’, by the way. I absolutely believe that society has both the right and the duty to protect itself. Sometimes that means long sentences – even life and that’s OK by me. But often it means something quite different. Often it means understanding, compassion and education. Often it means rehabilitation. What it most certainly does not mean and cannot, must not mean is the gratuitous inflicting of suffering. Justice must be purposeful and devoid of emotional bias. And it can never be right that the person under scrutiny is the very person deciding whether or not the trial can go ahead. Guilt and sentencing should never be decided by a politician with an axe to grind and nobody should ever be sent to prison for saving a human being from drowning. What inhuman monster came up with that idea?

However the real purpose of this post is to make one, simple point. Justice, as determined by the state, must be in response to actions and behaviours. It has nothing to do with prejudicial assumptions about nationality, heritage, skin colour, sexual orientation, poverty, dependency, political affiliation, wealth or place of birth.

Perhaps some of those unthinking supporters of our far right, nationalist government would do well to remember that.

Patel’s murderous plans for asylum-seekers

Priti Patel may well be the most despicable politician of my lifetime. She seems to be motivated only be her own mean-spirited avarice and cruelty. And yet even she has surpassed herself in heartlessness with a new bill intended to guarantee desperate people drown in the channel. She even plans to imprison anyone who rescues them from their fate. How can this travesty of a human being attain the position of Home secretary?

The great PPE swindle

Last Friday Matt Hancock, Secretary of state for health and all round bad egg stooped about as low as he could. He actually tried to blame hard-pressed clinicians on the front line in the fight against coronavirus for over-using the PPE that his own department had spectacularly failed to plan for or provide.

Like all tory politicians, Hancock wilfully left the NHS under-resourced and now attempts to cover his guilt by throwing the blame on to his victims. Shame on you Hancock! Shame on you.

So I decided to make a short, 3 minute video, highlighting just some of the statements made by Hancock and his cabinet cronies in the face of questions asked by more sensible heads. Enjoy!

Are Britons working or not?

Of course there’s been a surge! Of course more women have entered the workforce! Reductions in access to carers’ allowances or help with childcare mean that single mothers of young children, those who care for disabled or elderly relatives and WASPI women who really ought to be looking forward to retirement, those least likely to have the time and energy to go to work are now also the least able to afford not to.

Boris bounce

So they’re flooding into minimum wage, part time or zero-hours contracts just to survive, on top of their considerable informal caring duties. The tories promised to make work pay but what they actually have done is to make any alternative to work unsustainable, no matter what the circumstances. That’s what they’re crowing about – exploitation of desperate people whose personal circumstances are often worse than any privileged tory minister could ever hope to fathom.

That’s what they mean when they boast about their record-high employment. They certainly don’t mean anything that will actually benefit the UK economy in any sustainable way.

“Research from academics at the University of Sussex and Loughborough University shows that the productivity growth slowdown since the 2008 financial crisis is nearly twice as bad as the previous worst decade for efficiency gains, 1971-1981, and is unprecedented in more than two centuries.

Growth in productivity – a measure of economic output per hour of work – has failed to rise in Britain at anywhere near the rates recorded prior to the banking crisis, with severe consequences for living standards. Economists believe productivity growth is vital for lifting GDP and higher wages.”

But there is one positive thing about starving our essential, informal, social workforce into other occupations – big businesses loves it. That’s why, when asked what we’re going to do about the massive post-Brexit workforce deficit, Home secretary Priti Patel’s knee-jerk reaction is to fill their vacancies with 8.5 million ‘economically inactive’ people. According to the ‘tax research’ blog

“To consider the economics for a moment, of those 8 million a significant number are students. Others are sick. Some are retired. There are non-working parents in that number. And yes, there are also some unemployed.”

Far from work to increase productivity as a way to improve living standards the Tories plan to remove the social infrastructure that this country has always relied upon to sustain its workforce…

Let’s get the grandparents back to work, the disabled and the students (you know, the people whose ability to study is the thing our national future depends upon). Let’s ignore the social and economic benefits the country derives from the veritable army of informal carers and stick them in the fields picking the fruit – now that we’ve sent all the fruit-pickers away.

As John McDonnel points out in The Guardian many more are currently ‘under-employed’ or struggling away with zero-hours contracts or below subsistence wages that will hardly improve as the job market is filled with people who, unlike them, don’t particularly need the money in the first place.

“With wages still below pre-crisis levels and so many people struggling with universal credit, the Tories have singularly failed to deliver the decent wages and strong social security needed to lift people out of poverty,” said John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor.

“The Tories have some cheek to talk about ‘levelling up’ when this report makes clear they have been responsible for levelling down the foundations of a healthy society, including good jobs and social security.”

Priti Patel

Smug Tory Home Secretary, Priti Patel claims 8.5 million unemployed and ‘under-employed’ people can fill the gaps in the workforce after Brexit. Yet the gov also claims we have unprecedented levels of employment.

Is the truth about in-work poverty, about people starving because they can’t get better than zero hours contracts finally being acknowledged?

Or is she talking about people who only have time for part time jobs because they’re either studying or acting as unpaid carers for relatives?

If so – how does she propose to fill the gap left by this army of unpaid carers?

Will she pay strangers to care for each-others’ relatives in an endless cycle of care-giving by proxy?

If so, why not just pay existing, family carers what they’re worth to the economy? Few things are as effective in stimulating a failing economy like ours is rapidly to be than the financial emancipation of women. It’s Keynesian, it’s just, especially in the case of care-givers and WASPI women and it’s effective.

Give ordinary women a way to make a reasonable income en masse and they spend it en masse. Money circulates. The economy grows.

Give those who already have more than they can spend a tax break and they stick it in the offshore account with the rest of their pile. Money is removed from circulation. The economy shrinks.

So stop funding tax cuts for the wealthy and start helping those at the bottom of the tree instead.

Oh right, you can’t – that would involve getting billionaires to pay their fair share of tax, wouldn’t it?