Saturday, 7 March 2009

Equal under the Law?

The man cannot be serious. But, unless he has been quoted woefully out of context, he is. Listen up to the words of wisdom of "a spokesman for Waltham Forest Council":

"As part of the borough’s policy of promoting tolerance in our schools, children are taught that everyone in our society is of equal value.

"At George Tomlinson, parents were invited to meet with teachers and governors several weeks ago to discuss what work would be taking place throughout the national LGBT History Month and how this work would be delivered.

"Regrettably, some parents chose to remove their children from school.

"The council does not condone any unauthorised absence from school and action has been taken."

The full story can be found here. But in a nutshell, a local primary school - George Tomlinson - has decided to run a LGBT awareness week. Some parents don't like the idea: a mixture, I'd guess, of closet homophobia and genuine concerns about stuffing gay sex down the throats of 8-year-olds.

So, after having their concerns listened to in the only way that Local Government knows how - which is not at all - they are taking the only action left to them.

Which is to withhold their children from school. Whereupon, instead of recognising that these are possibly the sort of parents the school MOST needs on side - because they are interested in the content of their children's education - the Local Authority puffs out its chest and goes all legal on them.

My recommendation: well, this blog is called "reciprocity", and its about the small people (us) standing up to the big people (government) by demanding reciprocal treatment.

Most schools act unlawfully when it comes to cctv. Most schools break the law a hundred different ways when it comes to health and safety. But...a blind eye is turned.

If the Local authority, in its wisdom, turns the full majesty of the law on these parents, they should be in there next week...auditing, checking...and every single legal infraction they find, they should report. And demand action be taken. Now.

They might get the school closed by Easter!

Footnote: since so many people choose to muddle ends and means. Personally, I am all for LGBT awareness: I believe in sexual diversity - probably a good deal more so than most local bureaucrats.

But there is always a debate to be had about HOW you do these things. Are weeks of awareness really the best way forward? Are they right for 8-year-olds? And most of all, when schools fall out with parents, is threatening to take them to court the only answer?

I don't know about the first couple of questions: but I do know my answer to the last. A resounding NO.

Investigations are continuing...

The other po-faced bit about the Mandy-takes-a-custard-bath episode...

(No, Mandy, no: did no-one explain that red nose day is NEXT week?) the way in which the Police have decided to "launch an investigation". Pardon?

An investigation? Do they not watch the news? This bird with dark hair walked up to Peter and tipped green slime over him. Then she was interviewed later explaining why she did it.

Various news agencies helpfully captioned her as Miss Deen, of campaign group Plane Stupid. She is 29 and lives in Brighton. Sorted.

Yet we need an investigation?

I wonder how many hours of police time, how many forms, and ultimately how many thousands of pounds that will cost.

Of course we need to investigate things sometimes. When government or social services or anyone screws up, an investigation is useful. But in my own experience of trouble-shooting some very troublesome business issues, it doesn't take a genius or much more than a few hours of knocking heads to get to the bottom of most things.

Its called "finding out" what went on. Giving the process a grandiose sort of word like "investigation" guarantees that it will all get a load more complicated and take twice as long.

As for an "inquiry": forget it. You just know that particular beast isn't going to deliver any answers. Only more questions

Green Custard and Bans

What joy, today, to see the oleaginous one - aka Lord Mandelson of Pride - take a dollop of green slime full in the face.

Its been a week for memories: and this was so reminiscent of a long-lost political era in which Young Liberals poured ink over Prime Minister Edward Heath, and eggs were thrown at Michael Hesseltine. The latter was an especially cruel act, given the length of the man's hair: no doubt a lengthy session with the Head n Shoulders in the bath tub, followed.

And yes. Oh yes, oh yes. Of course it would have been dreadful if the tub had contained not green custard, but sulphuric acid. Or boiling coffee. Or some equally deadly concoction.

But puh-lease can we debate this without the po-faced policeman who turned up on the Beeb's News at One to mutter about 'Elf an Safety.

We've heard this one before, sort of, in respect of Fathers for Justice: don't go climbing up the side of Buck Palace, or we might accidentally have to shoot you.

Don't go doing direct action because it might look a bit like someone doing something really nasty. And oh dear, what if some of that custard had got into Lord Mandy's eyes?

Its another of those very English things. In darkest Africa, the authorities ban politics as blatantly as they wish. Say something we don't like: whump! You're banned.

Here, the Council will send you a bill for any leaflets that you handed out that got left as "litter" anywhere. You need to fill out a Risk Assessment in advance of a demo. And now Direct Action needs to take account of safety.

Sometimes I just want to tear my hair out.

Politics in Britain is being killed not by the heavy fist of oppression, but by the slow carbon monoxide of red tape.

Or treacle.

Now there's something to chuck over a politician. If they would only stand still long enough....

Friday, 6 March 2009

The Poisonous Root...

OK. OK. Just quieten down at the back. Stop sniggering.

Yesterday's Daily Mail reported that:

"A couple caught simulating sex on CCTV to torment their neighbours were handed two-year restraining orders today".

They don't exactly sound like the sort of neighbours I would like to have. Noisy. Rude. And eventually convicted of causing harassment. Which is where the cctv came in.

The story implies that following some initial bad behaviour, the police suggested that the unfortunate neighbours use cctv to obtain evidence of this pair's nasty behaviour. Fair enough, you might say. Except that training the cctv INTO this couple's garden is itself quite possibly unlawful.

But no matter. For, as Deputy District Judge Alan Fowler is quoted as saying, the neighbours were entitled to breach this couple's privacy "because they were detecting a crime".

Now I am always slightly wary of accepting secondhand reports of what judges are supposed to have said. A comparison between court reports and newspaper versions can on occasion be quite enlightening.

But this has the whiff of modern England about it. We have long since ceased to be a nation in which respect for the Law counted for much. Certainly not if our Home Secretary's pic'n'mix attitude to legality is anything to go by.

We have instead adopted a flexible, graded system. It is OK to break a given law, provided that the aim of your action is to catch someone breaking a more sensational law. In this context, rights to privacy can go hang.

And if, perchance, you are some sort of sex offender, the tariff ratchets swiftly upwards: anyone for a little vigilante violence? Its OK - because the "pervert" deserves it.

This is a far cry from the US approach to law-enforcement in which there is still some lingering respect for the doctrine of "fruit of the poison tree". This states, pretty uncompromisingly, that where the source of a particular piece of evidence is tainted (by illegality) ALL subsequent findings resulting from that evidence are to be ignored.

Its harsh: it gives rise to accusations that the law favours the criminal. But it is also just: an absolute rein on police fishing expeditions.

Not, though, in the UK. The oddest thing about this case is that the pi├Ęce de resistance - the couple simulating sex on camera - only became a crime by virtue of the presence of the camera in the first place. They knew they were being filmed. Stupidly, they put on a performance for the lens.

Otherwise, it seems highly unlikely that their neighbours would have ever seen or been disturbed by this particular bit of faked rumpy-pumpy.

The number of circles in that argument are starting to make my head ache. Entrapment, anyone?

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Careless Words

Oh dear. Some people in the public eye really should be more careful how they phrase things.

First up is MP Julie Kirkbride, expressing her concern - in debate about moves to make secret the addresses of candidates for parliamentary election - about nutty constituents. "You never know", she observes poignantly "if someone is going to explode ...".

Clearly a reference to the recent outbreak of suicide bombers in leafy Bromsgrove. Although others arguing in favour of the measure claims it has nothing to do with terrorism.

Then there's the English Cricket Umpire just back from being shot at in Pakistan. He appeared on the Beeb's News at One today to complain that he had been promised "Presidential Level" security.

So what's his problem? A short grounding in the history of Pakistan over the last fifty years or so suggests that that is exactly what he got. Pakistani Presidents have an unfortunate habit of not dying from old age.

I suppose he could have asked for "Prime Ministerial security" - but even that, as Benazir Bhutto found out to her cost, has its drawbacks.

OK. Is this crude and bad taste? Perhaps: but so too is being so ignorant of a country and its history that one can presume, as this guy does, that one can insist on everything being "just like home" - and then whinge when it isn't.

Perhaps the Pakistanis have more serious problems to worry about right now than the whining of an overseas visitor.

Monday, 2 March 2009


Getting booted up

One immediate spur to action was the weekend's Modern Liberty Convention.

It wasn't exactly inspiring: but it was good to be out and about, hob-nobbing with the activist classes, and up on my hind legs actually speechifying about something once more.

Nice, too, to be recognised (and heckled) by David Howarth, Cambridge's ever-so-cuddly Lib Dem MP. At least that proves that David is a far more visual sort of person than I have ever been. The chances of my recognising even my best friend whilst passing in the street are small to vanishing. My lack of visual acuity is something of a hosuehold joke.

So: much as I remember the man, the voice and some of his sentiments, the chances of my recognising someone I last saw as an up and coming member of the West Midlands Liberal Party some twenty years ago are...nil.

But back to Cambridge and the CML. I also chaired a session - on regulating the internet. Inevitably, perhaps - given that we had the Internet Watch Foundation on the platform - debate skewed round to matters of sex and porn. A pity, since the debate about internet regulation is about so much more: terror, suicide, hate speech, offense and threat. You name it: someone, somewhere has probably requested that it be banned or blocked.

Then, as karma would have it: back home to write up the apparent demise of the Australian attempt at internet regulation. Oh dear! It has hit the buffers, splatttering Comms Supremo, Stephen Conroy, with loads of egg.

It couldn't happen to a nicer Minister.

Let's try again...

I started, so...maybe I won't ever finish, but my New Year's resolution (or seeing as its now February, my Lenten vow) is to get this blog re-started. Yes: a newer, lighter, more streamlined audela is even now waiting in the wings.

If I fall out of the habit again, please poke.