Hounded to death.

Hounded to death.

It is gingerly, and with a great deal of trepidation, that I write today’s post. I have been struck by the awfulness of Carl Sargeant’s death on Tuesday when it appears he took his life after having been accused of misbehaviour and having lost his government position. Now, I don’t have any great affection for politicians and did not know a great deal about  Mr Sargeant before this event so why has his apparent suicide affected me ?

Firstly because it is a very obvious reminder of the terrible damage we are doing to our society and the rule of law by the ongoing hysteria in the media about sexual abuse and politicians. Clearly I would want to see any politician, of any hue, who abused any other person dealt with and punished appropriately. The promise of power and influence, that the world of politics offers, means that it will attract more than an average amount of psychopathic individuals. Therefore it is quite reasonable that we may find an above average number of people who are guilty acts of abuse in our governmental bodies. But, equally clearly, I only want guilty people punished and shamed. This distinction is one of the hallmarks of a civilised society where rules are just and punishment only justly applied when it is warranted.

One of the earliest legal treatises was the Mishneh Torah which was an attempt codify the bases of Jewish Law. In the early attempt to tease out guiding principles for a fair and just society the great philosopher Maimonides wrote :-

“It is better and more satisfactory to acquit a thousand guilty persons than to put a single innocent one to death.”

as he was aware that to do otherwise was the start of a slippery slope which lead to a lawless and unjust society where conviction, not being based on an adequate burden of proof, could lead to punishment on the basis of a whim of courts and rulers. This has also been referred to as Blackstone’s Formulation after he stated “All presumptive evidence of felony should be admitted cautiously; for the law holds it better that ten guilty persons escape, than that one innocent party suffer“.

This principle should be considered alongside another, related legal principle, that is, the presumption of innocence. All legal systems hold this principle dear. Roman law states “ei incumbit probatio qui dicit, non qui negat” (the burden of proof is on the one who declares, not on one who denies), and Islamic law, Common Law and the Civil Law all carry this basic tenet. As the public puts it “Innocent until proven guilty“. This is a principle that keeps you and I safe : we can only fall foul of the law, and be punished, if we are found guilty after trail not simply by accusation.

In the Carl Sargeant case he was treated as if her were guilty before he had a hearing. He lost his position and was treated by Carwyn Jones, The First Minister of Wales, as if the accusations were true. This is the  habit, increasingly popular, of jumping to the conclusion that accusations are truth. It is this approach which  underpins such campaigns as #IBelieveHer. Now it is understandable that we want to increase the justice for those who are victims of any form of abuse but this strategy is very dangerous. If we believe the accusers without question what is the need for a trial ? If we believe the accusers then the only thing missing is retribution. This leads us to a very dark place where people can be destroyed by malicious accusations.

 

welsh-spads

 

This photograph, might explain my concerns about this. This is a group of Welsh special advisors out for the evening celebrating on the night that they had just started the ball rolling on the case against Carl Sargeant. These are the expressions just after they have opened the floodgates of innuendo and suspicion. A colleague and erstwhile friend has been thrown to the dogs and this photograph reveals their feelings that very evening. When accusation becomes proof, accusations become dangerous and powerful political weapons which some people seem to enjoy using.

This is not the only legal principle that was ignored in Carl Sargeant’s case. He was never given details of the accusations nor knowledge of who his accusers were.  Again in English Law, Roman Law, and also the Sixth Amendment of the United States this is a ignoring a cornerstone of justice. In the Bible, when Paul was accused, it was described thus :-

“It is not the manner of the Romans to deliver any man up to die before the accused has met his accusers face-to-face, and has been given a chance to defend himself against the charges.”

If one does not know the accusations, nor your accuser, you are effectively denied the opportunity to defend yourself. If you can not defend yourself you cannot receive justice. It has long been known that ignoring this principle would lead to injustice and would facilitate terror. The oppressive, nightmarish qualities we try to explain when we use the term “Kafkaesque” , relate to being on trial but ignorant of your accusers and their claims as so well described nn Kafka’s novel Der Process (The Trial). Secret accusations, secret courts and clandestine meetings have always been the way of the power hungry who wish to subvert justice. In this particular case it seems that it has gone further than this as there were also meetings with the accusers when their stories were discussed with all the risks of contaminating evidence of any wrong doing. This is very reminiscent of the history of the Stasi, or the Gestapo, collecting accusations so that they might prove useful against political enemies in power struggles at a future date

Carl Sargeant did not know of what he was accused nor do we. We know that it could not have been sufficient to warrant police involvement. It is likely that it was behaviour that is deemed inappropriate in our present moral climate. He might have behaved in a manner more in tune with an older generation than the present. If this is the case then it is probable that a further legal principle is  in the process of being ignored – we can only be tried for offences against the rules that applied at the time. Guilt can not be backdated. If tomorrow they pass a law outlawing drinking alcohol on Sundays,  it is this principle which protects me against them coming and punishing me for last Sunday’s drinking. I am obliged to follow the law as it is just now, not as how it might be in the future. Without this principle we could all be facing punishment in the future for some act which is not a crime at present – did you spank your child ? Did you smoke in a public place ? etc etc.  The same guideline should be used when we consider social mores and customs.

For all these reasons the story of Carl Sargeant is a sad and worrisome tale. He did not receive fair justice and now never can. We will never know the truth of these accusations as they can not be tested now that he has died, so justice will never be served. These principles are not minor bureaucratic foibles but are the foundations of our enlightened society. For the sake of all those black men lynched in the South in America, denied a trial and presumed guilty on the words of their accusers, we must fight for these principles. For the sake of all the women accused of witchcraft and killed never able to confront their accusers we need to remember how important these principles continue to be. For the sake of the very many women who are going to be accused of adultery, or other crimes in the middle east, and face death just on the basis of an accusers word we need to promote these ideas and promote civilisation.

Carl Sargeant worked hard for his community and tried to improve the world by his work in politics, I hope now that he can rest in peace. Hopefully his family will also find peace and perhaps, in time, they may see that his sad death contributed to a turning point when society turned its back on hysteria and witch hunting.

Advertisements

In defence of the floating voter.

In defence of the floating voter.

I have become aware that sometime during the last decade I have become a ‘floating voter‘. Prior to this I had always identified myself with one or other of the main parties, either Labour or the S.N.P., and cast my vote loyally for their local candidates. I was aware that floating voters were always looked on with a degree of derision; as poor fellows lacking any political philosophy and being politically un-engaged. The quote below, by Ann Coulter the right-of-centre political commentator pretty much sums up the common impression.

Swing voters are more appropriately known as the ‘idiot voters’ because they have no set of philosophical principles. By the age of fourteen, you’re either a Conservative or a Liberal if you have an IQ above a toaster.

However, despite this statement being witty , is it accurate and reasonable ? Taking first the idea that floating, or swing, voters do not have a political philosophy; is this really likely to be the case ? If one has a well developed sense of political principles then it is quite unlikely that these will line up neatly with those of a single political party. While my desire for people to have the ability to determine their future might tally nicely with the SNP’s plans for and independence referendum but not with the Labour Party’s opposition. My internationalism may find favour with those pursuing worldwide class solidarity in the Labour Party but would jar with the nationalism of the SNP. My recognition of the importance of freedom of speech might be welcomed in the Conservative Party but cause consternation to those in left leaning parties who place greater emphasis on the dangers of “hate speech”. However, if I have well developed opinions I am going to have to drop some of these and compromise if I want to be a loyal party voter (though I suppose I could establish my own party !). If I have political principles I am going to have to weigh these up against the offerings of the political parties at any given time, as priorities and situations change, and decide which party looks the best recipient of my vote at that time. In short, if I am principled I’d be better being a floating voter.

I remember when I was active in political campaigning how little respect the parties had for their loyal voter. Their votes were “in the bag”, all that we needed to do was “get the vote out, in some of our more certain constituencies we’d joke that we could put a red, or yellow, rosette on a dog and it would win handsomely. In essence we knew that these votes were loyalty votes, unthinking votes, knee jerk votes that we didn’t have to work for as they were not forged out of discussion or principle but because “I’ve always been Labour/SNP”  or they were voting “like my father and his father before him”.Even when parties acted against their best interests (Labour has neglected the fate of the white working class, the SNP has ignored the best interests of the youth in Scotland, and the Conservatives are ignoring the economic havoc they are about unleash on the business community) the loyal voters keep coming back. Like store loyalty cards, even though you can get a better deal elsewhere, it coaxes you back to the same old fare.

Secondly there is the idea of intelligence, that floating voters are in someway a bit more dumb than those who have made up their mind. For the reasons above this is unlikely, but there is a further reason. The world constantly changes, the challenges we face differ, and our priorities need to change to match this. Intelligence comprises recognising change and adapting to it, changing our responses and dealing with it. It is stupidity to continue to try the same approach no matter what the problem. The old adage that when you only have a hammer everything looks like a nail  comes to mind. Consider the problem facing loyal Labour voters, their conference has just jubilantly proposed harsh measures which will  undoubtedly worry large businesses (they know this because they have started to plan for a run on the pound should they win). Now this is quiet understandable in the light of their general principles but, with Brexit just around the corner when everyone’s main priority will be to maintain business in the UK and try and avoid its flight to Europe, the smart labour voter might recognise priorities have changed (at least temporarily) and feel that they need to put their vote elsewhere – it would be the intelligent thing to do.

Indeed, being a floating voter requires more intelligence and more involvement. Voting on party lines means you are leaving the decisions to others, you are abrogating your democratic duty to consider the arguments and make a choice. It is more work being a floating voter but you can feel better knowing that your vote was actually a considered one and is more likely to have had an effect on the outcome (Floating votes are disproportionately important in election results). Our system with its reliance on political parties damages our democracy.  The tendency of political parties to try and develop these “loyal voters” has lead to increasing pork-barrel politics with the right trying to expand its power by promising tax relief or advantage to its crony capitalist friends, or the left promising increased benefits in the welfare state to bribe its followers to keep in line. All of this concentrates political power and influence into a small number of hands, it reduces the choices we are given and influence of our opinions, and it weakens the flexibility and efficacy of our subsequent government.

 

Google’s Shame

Google’s Shame

The story of the “Google Manifesto” continues and becomes more worrisome. For those who do not know what this is about it refers to a document written by one of Google’s engineers, in which he expressed his views on gender differences, and for which he was sacked.

The full text of his document is here. I give this link as often this document is commented upon by people who have not read it. They describe it as a “rant”, a “screed”, a “diatribe” or a Men’s Rights Manifesto. While there have been rants about the document and many diatribes about the author (often by women keen to show that they do not conform to any stereotype by using aggressive and hostile language) the document itself is not one of these.

It is an article considering the reasons that gender disparities exist and suggesting that there may be evidence that, at least in part, these differences have biological roots. It further suggests that Google, as an organization, has become to wedded to one world view as to be blind to the possibility of any other divergent views.

Considering first the gender differences; whether he is right or wrong about the relative importance of nature versus nurture in the differences between the sexes, or races, or individuals, he is clearly not wrong that this plays a part. (Anecdote alert n=2) I have recently watched my grandchildren, a boy and a girl, raised by modern forward thinking parents who eschew gender stereotypes, and it was clear that despite their rearing their biology still determines aspects of their behaviour.

The author of the Google Document felt that nature is more important than is generally credited but he does not suggest that individuals are bound by their genes. Further he is clear that these effects affect groups and averages and does not imply that no individuals can outperform others in in

It really would only be either a fool or an ideologue who felt that nature played no part whatsoever. Unfortunately is seems a lot of the latter hold positions of influence inside Google. But it really doesn’t matter whether he is right or wrong on this matter, as long as he is neither abusive or threatening, he should be allowed to express his views. How else can he recognise any errors he may have, how otherwise can others learn what he thinks.

But his views are seen as a heresy – too dangerous to be allowed to be heard for fear that they might damage the faith. Just as the Church of old used to snuff out any discordant views (and often the discordant person at the same time) the clerisy of present day thinking about diversity will not tolerate views that are out of step.

This was the second theme of his paper; that Google was intolerant of divergent opinions. Unfortunately he has proven his thesis is a very sad manner, after the involvement of the Head of Diversity, he was sacked because he “advanced incorrect assumptions about gender”. He had written that he worked in an “ideological echo chamber” and having “shaming culture and the possibility of being fired”. There could not be more proof of this than his own fate. It truly is Orwellian and would not be at all out of place in “1984” to read of the Diversity Officer arranging the firing of the employee for his divergent views.

I am very disappointed in Google. I had often though their “Don’t be Evil” tag meant something but clearly not. I had allied myself with their services for this reason, but it seems it is time now to distance myself.  I don’t want to use a search engine that thinks there is only one truth that can be heard. I do not wish to share my data with an organisation that feels it can decide what is appropriate to be in someone’s mind. So the search is on to find ways to reduce the revenue I generate for them. I’m away to rediscover Edge and DuckDuckGo.

Listen up folk !

Listen up folk !

Listen up folk ! Zog our tribal leader has kept us safe from harm these last months. he has protected us from wild animals who wanted to devour us. He has protected us from other tribes who wanted to kill us. He even protected us from ourselves when he lead us away from mistakes and disasters we would have made. Let us give our young women and food to the great Zog so he continues to protect us.

Listen up folk ! Our King Albert has kept us, his loyal subjects, safe for another year. He has protected us from King Zog who surely wished to invade and kill us. He has wisely guided us and avoided many a disaster that would otherwise certainly occurred without his wise council.  Without King Albert the barbarians at the gate would surely have entered our lands; killing our men, raping our women, and butchering our babies. So let us give thanks as we give our labour and produce to our monarch and prepare for another year.

Listen up folk ! The church has again saved us;  not just our bodies but also our souls. Our priests have guided us well in ensuring we do not fall prey to heathens at the gate. We know the pagans sit and wait for the chance to kill us and take our women and children. The warn us and protect us from the work of witches and demons. Thanks also to the clergy who, through their wise advice, have kept our souls safe. They warned us of our sins and saved us from eternal damnation and the pains of hell’s fire. So let us arrange a tithe to give a portion of our wealth to the Church so it may protect us for another year.

Listen up folk ! The government has lead us safely through another year. Without them no roads would have been built, no one would have cared for the poor, our children would have been uneducated and ignorant and doctors would not have attended to our sick. Without our ruling class we would have descended into savagery killing and raping our fellow citizens. So let us feel pride when we pay our taxes as we are protecting ourselves for another year.


Check who is taking your possessions, check who holds the power. This will let you know who is your enemy.


 

The fury and rage.

The fury and rage.

Before all the dead have been found, before anyone has been buried, and the left has started using them as fodder to make political points. Before we know the facts they are trying to create the narrative – this, in their eyes, was a fire caused by austerity and social inequality. The possibilities of criminal negligence, inadequate building regulations or of materials failure are all put out of mind, while they try and stir the flames for their “Day of Rage”.

I will certainly feel enraged if we discover that malevolence or negligence caused this tragedy. If people were sacrificed for short term gain then the fury will be real and justified. But I will also be enraged if this manipulated political fury allows the guilty to hide from responsibility. I fear the shifting the focus from the real task of finding our the causes of the fire, and the causes of the failure of systems to mitigate against the fire’s deadly effects,  to the task of scoring political points will obscure the truth and allow the guilty to escape.

There are likely to be, at the very least, lessons to be learnt on how to offer help and support to communities in the wake of tragedies like this. Knowing how to do this, and doing it, is more important than scoring a point against a Tory council.

The only bright glimmer of hope so far has been in the response of the local community. Local groups and charities have managed to get assistance to the victims very rapidly and with great skill. They have shown that individuals, working voluntarily, can outperform government agencies. Rather than being ashamed of this, as some commentators have suggested, we should celebrate this and consider how we could support this approach more generally.

 

Did you see this about Donald ?

Did you see this about Donald ?

I am sure many others, like me, have found their timelines on facebook and twitter awash with jokes at the expense of Donald Trump. Joke about his character, his hair, his colour, his spelling ability and so on. Some are funny but most are simply attempts at humiliation. The audience for these jokes is obviously other like-minded  people and they serve as a way to share unhappiness with the present situation and to rail against this.

It reminded me of when I was a junior doctor and would share black humour with my comrades. We made jokes about dreadful things, and in dreadful taste, in an effort to show to ourselves and each other that we shared and appreciation of the predicament. It fostered camaraderie and developed support at a particularly stressful time in our career. We knew this and found it useful. However, we never mistook it for a strategy to improve things. It was a coping strategy not a mechanism for change. Increasing experience and knowledge, union activism, and political change were the things which improved things (partially), not our black jokes.

I can therefore understand why some people make jokes about Trump. It helps them cope and to identify themselves to other fellow ‘sufferers’ so they may develop a sense of community and lessen any feelings of isolation. But is it wise in the world of politics, and, more importantly, could it be counter-productive ?

Though many wish to go back to the thirties to look for historical similarities which might help us understand Trump this is unnecessary. We barely need to go back 10 years and can look at the story of Silvio Berlusconi, the infamous Prime Minister of Italy, who despite many obvious failings also has the distinction of being the longest serving Prime Minister of Italy as well as the most controversial.

In an article in the  New York Times Luigi Zingales considered how this pompous, brash, and at times corrupt man could remain in power for so long. One reason seems to have been the failure of the opposition to him to take him seriously, and the tendency of the opposition to focus on his personality rather than on politics. As with Trump, there was no shortage of attempts to bring down Berlusconi with humour and ridicule. Unfortunately, while this made the opposition feel good about their ability to create stinging puns, and confirmed their prowess in the cartoon, it did nothing to unsettle him and may have strengthened his position.

Mr. Berlusconi was able to govern Italy for as long as he did mostly thanks to the incompetence of his opposition. It was so rabidly obsessed with his personality that any substantive political debate disappeared; it focused only on personal attacks, the effect of which was to increase Mr. Berlusconi’s popularity. His secret was an ability to set off a Pavlovian reaction among his leftist opponents, which engendered instantaneous sympathy in most moderate voters. Mr. Trump is no different.

 

And ..

The Italian experience provides a blueprint for how to defeat Mr. Trump. Only two men in Italy have won an electoral competition against Mr. Berlusconi: Romano Prodi and the current prime minister, Matteo Renzi (albeit only in a 2014 European election). Both of them treated Mr. Berlusconi as an ordinary opponent. They focused on the issues, not on his character.

We need to debate the issues and politics with Donald Trump. We need to show what needs to be done and warn against what should not be done. We should not allow ourselves the distraction of the option of an easy joke or a zippy one-liner. We must ignore what he looks like, must ignore his bluster and style and focus on what he says and does. It is easy to debate the wrongs of protectionism in the economy, the wrongs of religious prejudice, the wrongs of nationalism and the wrongs of cronyism. If we do this we will possibly avoid the danger of just talking amongst ourselves and might, hopefully, win round others to our views so that four years do not become eight.

Standing up to Trump (via Spiked)

Standing up to Trump (via Spiked)

The Daily Prompt today was “resist”  and initially I was going to give this one a miss. However, the worry that many people have about the changes in America under President Trump is causing much discussion on issues of resistance.  However, much of this initial resistance seemed very unfocussed and, at times, even anti-democratic. It almost seemed that people wanted to oppose the democratic result itself – a wail against the result – rather then looking at specific political points that need to be addressed and, trust me, there is no shortage of these issues.

Spiked, the online magazine has been a valuable source of good critical political debate and I thought that this article by them gave a good summary of where some of this activity could be directed. There are clear good initial pointers to action. There are also some good general points about the political changes.

In particular, we need to be very careful about the direction of “anti-politics”, as the article reveals, this can be very dangerous :-

Trump … “Your pose as the anti-politician, the man who hates the political class, is getting wearisome. It has crossed the line from criticism of he establishment, which is good, into a trashing of politics itself, of the very business of people getting together and talking and voting in order to make things happen. When will your anti-politics shift into a conviction that you alone should decide how things should be run? That’s the logical conclusion to anti-politics, whether it takes the form of demagoguery (you) or technocracy (Hillary).”

Spiked also makes a direct call to Trump :-

“In short, Trump, do not interfere with individual autonomy, freedom of speech or reproductive choice; do not promote the politics of fear; do not keep fighting the disastrous ‘war on terror’; and do not expand the power of the state over people’s lives. Respect freedom and choice and trade and growth: true, good liberal ideals.”

Given, that I fear, it is likely he will reject this advice, the other pointers to practical  ways to resist him will prove invaluable.

 

via Daily Prompt: Resist