If you’re not sitting down when the music stops….

“The attainment gap between rich and poor pupils is reduced to almost zero for children in selective schools.” – Theresa May, UK Prime Minister announcing yet more changes to the education system to favour selective schools.

Apart from being untrue  – the BBC’s Education Correspondent finds that even on the most selective measure, there’s still a gap of nearly four per cent to make up in exam grades for those qualifying for free school meals, the definition of poverty used to measure relative deprivation – May’s argument in favour of expanding not only the reach, but also the number of selective grammar schools in England (‘to increase parental choice’ – yes, but only for parents of children who can pass the qualifying exam!) founders somewhat on the rock of the word ‘selective’.

Because, if you select only the brightest children in the first place, they’re going to make up the attainment gap more quickly.

The real measure of a school’s success is surely what happens to pupils after they leave, not how well it does at getting them through the bewildering array of exams now facing them during their school career, thanks to the perennial, obsessive, top-down buggering-about with the system all new Education ministers feel it is their historic destiny to do; a bad case of ‘Butleritis’*, with the shared characteristic that the favoured model is always the rose-tinted one they themselves went through as children.

But what is a ‘grammar school’? I set off on expenses to the furthest and most fascinating reaches of the internet I’ve always wanted to get to but could never afford, to find out….

And I’m still not a lot wiser.

What distinguishes a grammar school from a comprehensive, secondary-modern, academy, technical, free, faith, primary, preparatory or public school (American readers switch off at this point. A ‘public school’ in Britain is actually a fee-paying private boarding-school, not open to the public. Fees range from US $30,000 to $50,000 a year) seems to be only two things:

It’s free, paid for by the State. But you have to pass an exam known as the 11-Plus to get in.

Beyond that, grammar schools tend to be seen as non-fee-paying, non-boarding public schools, with a similar emphasis on academic studies, especially the Classics; although public schools also like to recruit pupils who are sporting, while grammar schools are mostly located in urban areas where open space for playing fields and rivers for rowing on is at a premium. Like public schools, many existing grammar schools were built on foundation trusts established centuries ago, and have become venerable institutions. Discipline, tradition, smart appearance and uniformity are strongly stressed.

Public schools select on several criteria: money being one, offspring of alumni another. They don’t always select the brightest. Children will be presumed to have passed the 11-Plus and sit a Baccalaureate-type of exam at 11 or 13 called Common Entrance, across a wide range of subjects including, for instance, Latin and/or Greek, science and languages. Marks in these subjects will be used to ‘stream’ entrants rather than just admit or fail them.

What separates grammar schools and public schools from the rest, then, is a quality one might describe as ‘seriousness’.

Anyone who has done a psychometric test as part of a job application will recognise the mix of verbal and non-verbal reasoning, literacy and numeracy that goes to make up the 11-Plus. Teachers have criticised it, because it bears no resemblance to the national curriculum they are otherwise forced to teach, and is more like an intelligence test. It also has a ‘pass or fail’ finality about it, that sorts the thicker, lower-class sheep from the smarter goats into forever ‘them and us’ categories: there is no appeal or escape from what inevitably becomes not educational, but social selection.

This is surely far from Mrs May’s hopes for levelling the playing field (assuming it hasn’t been sold off for housing development), and reversing the inequality in our society. Her position on grammar schools, and by extension that of the awful Justine Greening, her Education Secretary, is both illogical and inconsistent.

To say, as the grammar-school-educated PM does, that grammar schools will improve the life chances of children from the poorest backgrounds – supposedly the whole point of Labour’s 1965 introduction of non-selective Comprehensive education from age 11, like the NHS free to all – is to fail to understand that the majority of children from very poor backgrounds have quite disorderly, not to say dysfunctional lives.

Assuming they have a home and are not stuck in a local authority bedsit or on a Romany campsite, they may have a single low-paid working mother, an absentee father; are unlikely to have any reading material in the home, will not have been read-to or taught numeracy skills at a young age, may not have English as their first language, have one or both parents who themselves had poor educational attainment, be exposed only to ‘pop’ culture, have a peer group sharing feelings of hostility to the very idea of school and be brought up in the expectation both of failure and a lifetime of dependency on State support.

Mrs May’s ideal poorer child would perhaps be the son or daughter of a churchgoing working-class family with ‘standards’ of decency, honesty and social conformity to uphold; a nuclear ‘hardworking’ family which, despite its low income, believes fervently in the value of getting on in the world through education; pulling themselves up by their bootstraps. The ‘deserving poor’, in other words.

(This is a good argument, by the way, for not closing down public libraries and adult education programmes as an ‘austerity’ measure!)

A literary ideal, it is arguable if such families exist today in any great numbers, as the heavy industry that created the close-knit communities that bred such values is long gone. It is the ‘squeezed’ middle-class with the sharpest elbows who will gain most from May’s new grammar schools.

Or will they?

I’ve not yet seen any practical logistics for the creation of these new grammar schools. What buildings are they to be housed in? Will they simply apply for rollover conversion from other types of school, in which case what will be the difference, apart from the category? Converting an existing academy or a comprehensive school into a grammar school will only reduce parental choice, surely, and not increase the overall availability of places locally, especially in high-performing schools? Starting a new grammar school from scratch allows for no time to build the traditions they rely on.

To serve their reputation for academic excellence, new grammar schools will have to find the best teachers, but from where? Who now teaches the Classics? Teachers’ unions have been warning for the past few years of an increasingly desperate shortage of qualified teachers, especially in Maths and the sciences. Recent changes have seen the creation of new Academy schools and Free schools, where already the complaint is of under-qualified teachers, with classroom assistants having to do the work of teachers. Creaming the best teachers off the top of the comprehensives must have the opposite effect to improving the educational attainment of the poorest children.

If the purpose of secondary education is to deliver more pupils to the universities, then what are we to make of the huge increase in children from poorer backgrounds, comprehensively educated, who since the early years of the Blair government that committed to a 50% intake have already been enrolling in large numbers on sometimes third-rate courses, running up unrepayable debts of typically £50,000 over three years through rising tuition fees, loans and extortionate rents for accommodation; who are subsequently unable to profit from better-paid employment as those jobs simply are not there for them, so underrated are their skills?

Clearly, comprehensive schools have been working hard to deliver more poorer pupils to universities, at the expense of developing their lifeskills and interests outside the narrow focus of GCSEs and A-Levels. What then is to be gained by adding yet more ‘opportunities’ for brighter children to go to university, when they are already doing so from the comprehensive system? I expect universities would be pleased to see more applicants with better A-Level grades and a broader education, with higher standards of literacy and numeracy, able to write essays and with the confidence to speak and argue cogently, because universities also practice selection and their reputations depend on recruiting the brightest and best to achieve more first-class honours. But they are under pressure to admit less well qualified students from poorer backgrounds….

And so round we go again, on the educational carousel. Only now it’s to be a game of musical chairs; and if you’re not sitting down when the 11-Plus music stops, you’re out.

In fact, it might be easier, quicker and cheaper, and a lot more effective, given the importance of proper sleep and diet to improving educational performance, for Mrs May just to lower the bar for pupils qualifying for free school meals.

That’ll narrow the attainment gap.

*RA Butler was the Labour minister who steered through the 1965 Act introducing Comprehensive education in Britain.

The Editor admits to some bias, in having had a public-school education that has left his life a total wreck.

 

Levelling the playing fields of Eton

One of the less lovely characteristics that mark out your average Tory CUNT (Conservative & Unionist? No Thanks!) is the strong tendency to always want to tilt the playing field in favour of the home side.

If it’s not rearranging constituency boundaries to disadvantage opposition candidates*, or shovelling more and ever-cheaper party donors into the already overstuffed House of Lords, then it’s selling off council houses at bargain prices to create more grateful Conservative-voting property owners.

So the unworthy thought has to occur to us, doesn’t it: is Theresa May’s interest in boosting the number of traditional grammar schools at the expense of comprehensives really just another ploy to churn out more Conservative voters, a next-generation striped-tie electorate that will ensure Tory hegemony for decades to come?

We should be told.

*The Prescience of BogPo genie pops up again. The next day’s lead story is about the Boundaries Commission report recommending changes that will cost Labour 25 parliamentary seats, including that of the leader, Jeremy Corbyn.

 

Concentrix circles

 “A teenage mother had her child tax credits stopped after she was wrongly accused of being married to a dead 74-year-old man.” – BBC report

Complaining to Concentrix, the bloated and inept US contractor sucking-in £75 million of UK taxpayers’ money to bully working single mums out of claiming tax credits to supplement their meagre wages, Ms Nicola McKenzie told the Victoria Derbyshire programme that, when she pointed out to them that the local authority had confirmed that her 74-year-old ‘husband’ – a name previously registered at the same address – was in fact deceased and had gone to meet his maker, they told her: ‘You need to get him to make contact with us’ to confirm they were not married.

This is perhaps one egregious case of insensate bureaucratic incompetence out of many thousands. Though cock-ups over tax credits overpayments have been notorious for more than a decade, the authorities will admit to barely more than a hundred such errors a year.

I myself had a run-in over tax credits with HMRC, the tax-and-customs people, who, while admitting they had accidentally overpaid me, nevertheless pursued me for years in the mistaken belief that I was a company director, presumably with hidden earnings from dividends.

This false assumption existed in total denial of the easily established fact that I had instead been signing-on fortnightly at the local JobCentre during most of the year in which they argued my excessive income from my ghost directorship had disqualified me from receiving the benefit.

Curiously, I was not being accused of benefit fraud.

Nothing I could say to them would shift their nonsensical position, until in the end they set a private firm of debt collectors on to me and I flung the money at them in exasperation, realising that I could never beat the system.

Sadly for Ms McKenzie, too, Her Majesty’s taxmen and their buddies at Concentrix are totally impervious to accusations of incompetence or notions of redress, especially when their helpless victims are left without food for their children.

In a statement, HM Revenue and Customs responded: “We take great care to make sure that correct tax credit payments are made…. Payments to Concentrix are based on the quality and accuracy of their work.”

While Concentrix replied: “….re-evaluation of individual tax credits claims can be difficult…. We adopt a rigorous process at every stage to ensure we manage this process responsibly, and in full accordance with the protocols and guidance set by HMRC.”

Round and round we go in the Tories’ Kafkaesque modern Britain of privatised bullying, where even the dead must pay their dues.

Postscriptum

This morning (14 September) brings news that HMRC have told a loudly spluttering Concentrix their contract will terminate next year. Extra staff are being thrown into the blazing reactor. It seems there is honour among thieves, after all.

 

Railroading the commuters

Rail Minister Paul Maynard said: “Wages are growing faster than train ticket prices ….our commitment to cap….rail fares in line with inflation will save annual season ticket holders £425 on average in the five years to 2020. ….We are investing record amounts in our railways….providing more seats, more services and better facilities on the trains.” – BBC News report, 12 September

All together now….

Bullshit!

Maynard was responding to a survey showing that many commuters are having to fork out ten per cent or more of their annual net (after-tax) wages on season tickets for overcrowded and unreliable train services.

That’s as much as they spend on food.

Wages are indeed rising at 2.5% per annum, which is higher than the 1.9% rail fares are forecast to rise on average in January.

However, until 2015 rail fares had been rising on average by more than the rate of inflation year on year, under the old ‘inflation + 3%’ cap; while wage growth is more recent and starts from a much lower base, wages having been depressed since the 2008 financial crash (a year in which the Rail Fares Index soared by a staggering 7%).

At the same time, other unavoidable costs, particularly housing, have also been rising rapidly, outside the measures used to determine the overall rate of increases in prices – ‘inflation’ – which has been running at an abnormally low rate since 2008. And not all fares are regulated.

The Rail Fares Index shows that regulated and unregulated fares combined have increased by 66% since 2004. 2014 and 2015 saw lower than inflation rises overall, though long-distance fares have risen faster than the average.

While rail travel is still far cheaper than taking the car, there are huge regional discrepancies in cost-per-mile. Some commuters pay as little as 11p, while others are having to fork-out 37p, depending on where they live. British commuters have the highest rail fares in Europe, to travel on a network laid out, basically, in Victorian times, much of it still relying on manual or analog control systems.

Ministers always make these grotesquely optimistic statements on the basis that whatever costs they have some responsibility for are the only costs faced by whichever group is claiming to suffer hardship. In fact, it is surprising that Maynard didn’t also point to the fact that numbers of rail passengers have increased, something that in the past ministers have tried to claim proves a high degree of customer confidence, when the opposite is true.

Of course, if inflation is running at 1.3% (July 2016 – it’s now down to 0.6% in September) and fares only went up by 0.7% (January 2016) and wages have increased by 2.5% (thanks in part to George Osborne’s Living Wage initiative providing a one-off catch-up), rail fare increases might seem fair.

Only not from the point of view of workers struggling to make ends meet, forced to move further and further out of town by rising rents and house prices, and with historic levels of domestic debt, who are faced with increases in transport costs year-on-year when their wages haven’t been keeping pace with real-world living costs for a decade.

And following Brexit, with the pound still some 12% down against major world currencies the cost of imported goods and raw materials will inevitably increase, while historically low oil prices – the standard measure, Brent Crude was down at $28 a barrel in May but has since recovered to $50 – are also rising again, pushing up the underlying trend of inflation.

MPs, of course, are expensed to buy or rent second homes in London, to be nearer their work. ‘Laptops’ – executives of large companies and quangos such as local government and health boards – can claim travel expenses or are compensated in their contracts for their train fares.

Most commuters aren’t, however. They see little or no improvement in services resulting from the marginal increases in investment spending they are paying for through the nose; along with hefty salaries and bonuses for the executives of train operating companies who, while passenger numbers continue to increase by necessity and revenue is guaranteed by the Government to rise every January, seem to have little incentive to deliver anything but more misery and delays.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-37166033

 

Showbiz

From our Correspondent ©2016 Polly_Wood @fuxnews.org

Professor Green (some sort of pop star? Ed.) says he didn’t enjoy being part of the celebrity magazine culture.

“Being dragged into that world is a scary thing,” he explained to BBC Radio 1Xtra’s MistaJam. ….”It’s all about the music” he said, premiering his new single Back on the Market.

Earlier this year he split up from Made in Chelsea’s Millie Mackintosh after a two-year marriage.

(BBC Entertainment, 14 September)

We need to hear them

We’re quite grown up, really. We know when we’re being lied to.

©2016 Gordon Flakjacket, Security Correspondent. @bunkermental.co.uk

 

Found guilty last month of ‘pledging allegiance to so-called Islamic State’, an offence under Section 12 of the Terrorism Act, 2000, radical Islamist preacher, Anjem Choudary and his dead-eyed sidekick Manzanur Rahman, at whose doors may be laid a number of conversions of more active bigots who have gone on to commit atrocious crimes, have been sentenced to five and a half years each in chokey.

While the BogPo doesn’t pledge allegiance to anyone, and absolutely decries the nihilistic brutalities of that cynical bunch of chancers, rapists, small-time crooks, drug dealers, slavers and child-murderers calling itself whatever, Daesh, nevertheless we have to say:

It’s a bit of a sad day for freedom of expression.

There used to be a whatsisname, an aphorism, that went: ‘Sticks and stones may break my bones, mere words can never hurt me’. The Terrorism Act in our humble view (as purveyors of words to the motley) went way too far in making any public utterance of sympathy for any kind of organisation labelled by the government as ‘terrorist’ in any part of the world, a prisonable crime.

For it is surely better to know, than not to know, what these creatures intend towards us?

The Islamic Thinkers Society was the American branch of the al-Muhajiroun movement launched in the UK by Choudary’s mentor, the Syrian preacher Omar Bakri Mohammed. Just like its British counterpart, its activities were focused on calling for an Islamic state for the whole world. – BBC News report

“Islamic thinkers”? Possibly the greatest oxymoron ever! Islam does not permit thought, unless it is thought of God. It apostasises and often kills free thinkers, as in Bangladesh currently where a number of teachers and bloggers have been hacked to death by credulous village simpletons. Islam as codified in the books of the Quran and the Hadith claims to be the final, the only true religion. Nothing that is the product of thought may therefore come after.

But it’s good to know what they’re thinking.

We had this before, didn’t we, in the eighteenth century? The sedition laws that protected the majesty of the absurd Hanoverian dynasts were eventually abolished as being unworkable in the face of the growing globalisation of the publishing industry; and the strength of the vitriol purveyed in the public pamphlets subsequently declined.

There is a school of thought, to which we subscribe, that believes the things Mr Choudary was going around saying – which, for twenty years before he was finally entrapped into saying it, did not it seems go as far as publicly pledging allegiance to the so-called Islamic State terror gang – ought to be common currency.

As, we here at the BogPo have no idea what he said!

We should not have to speculate; be kept in the dark. Everyone should be allowed to hear what creepy, manipulative, religiose proselytes like Choudary are saying, know what dangerous, improbable nonsense they are promoting, why, and what is in their oddly shaped heads; we should be free to discuss and rubbish their noxious doctrine, to laugh at them and spit on them and throw rotten eggs in the street; or to consider them fair and sensible, moderate and proportionate if that’s what they are – we, the Jury, can decide.

That’s the British way.

It worked with the fiery radicals of the 1968 intifada on the streets of London and Paris, look at them now: Jack Straw? What, the Privy Councillor, former Labour Home Secretary and principal apologist for Blair’s War, caught on Candid Camera offering to hang his well-paid arse out on a daily basis for a dodgy Chinese PR firm (invented by Channel 4)?

What, ‘Professor’ Tariq Ali? ‘Green MEP’, Danny Cohn-Bendit? But I followed these exciting young opinion leaders and their dangerous anti-American, Trotskyite ideas into Grosvenor Square, along with tens of thousands of other people like me, except possibly worse dressed, twice! And now look at them.

And it worked with the leaders of the IRA, McGuinness and Adams, now cosy partners in government with their erstwhile sworn enemies, the DUP. Identifying poverty and lack of opportunity as the root cause of extremism on both sides in Northern Ireland made it easier and cheaper to buy violence off, than to try to suppress it militarily.

For many years the public intellectual and journalist, the late-lamented Christopher Hitchens, took his readers’ and audiences’ breath away in staged debates, interviews and books with his repeated, courageous demolitions of so-called Islamic jihadi thinking, as well as of the more obvious idiocies and inconsistencies in Christianity and, indeed, Judaism: they are all of a piece. He martialled, calmly, with fact and reason, on the basis of impeccable historical research and detailed knowledge of the content of the claimed ‘holy’ books, a case against the absurd cowardice of the apologists for Islam as a ‘peaceful religion’. Born in blood, that it has never been.

Open debate in the light of knowledge is the surely the only way to defeat ‘jihad’. Sticks and stones will never hurt them.

Prosecuting hate speech on the grounds that it radicalises Britain’s young, disaffected Muslim population and persuades them to engage in stupidities like fleeing to Syria to blow themselves up for a handful of raisins* in the cause of restoring an eight-hundred-years-old ‘caliphate’ which, on a moment’s reflection, anyone would not really want to live in, does nothing to halt the process and belittles the intelligence of its hearers.

Trying to ban the currency of those ideas simply makes it more dangerous and excitingly anti-authoritarian to hold them in secret, creating that very sense of superiority and ‘apartness’ which is the main attraction of Jihad for impressionable teenage baboons in the first place. If they thought the grownups were all in on it, they’d soon find something else to do.

Egging each other on, modern British governments have become over-addicted to ‘more prison’ as the solution to all social ills. It’s a growing paternalism, frankly, with a level of surveillance and morality-policing we all resent at times. We’re quite grown-up, really, we know when we’re being lied to.

Except Brexit voters, obviously.

*’Virgins’ is a mistranslation, apparently.

 

Let us now praise gruesome men

An open letter to Crispin Blunt MP

PRIVATE AND PERSONAL

Dear Blunt

I feel I have some strange affinity with the Yemenis as my great-uncle Harold was the British envoy to Yemen before the Second World War, responsible for brokering a now-forgotten treaty that united the Bedouin tribes on the side of the Allies.

His wife Doreen wrote a well-received Foreign Office report on the condition of tribal women that remains to this day a landmark in Yemeni social history – or would, if that impoverished country were not embroiled in a devastating proxy war whose prosecution by an interventionary neighbour state is being supported in large part by illegal arms sales to the many-headed tyrant of the House of Saud; prime exporters of Sunni Wahhabist jihad throughout the Middle East and beyond, to Manhattan and Paris and to our shores.

In the light of your recent statements in Parliament and on the Newsnight programme I feel, however, that I have no connection with you personally, as a member of the human race.

You revolt me to my core.

Devious old shits like you make me wish devoutly that I had not been born British. I am sick already of watching the government of this country demeaning us all with its craven lamprey-mouth firmly affixed to the arsehole of Arabia, prepared to do and say anything, anything at all, to tolerate any hypocrisy, any abuse, to keep that crude a’pumping. Do we not suppose ourselves in all other respects to be better than that?

As you plainly well know, there is clear, ample, recorded and fully investigated evidence of war crimes and crimes against humanity being perpetrated on an almost daily basis by your unpleasant chums in Riyadh: the murder of doctors and nurses and teachers and pregnant women and children in the deliberate terror-bombing of schools and hospitals that are well known to the Saudi forces and properly identified as supposedly ‘safe’ sites, protected in international law.

So cowardly are they, so brutish and, as are by extension their bought British ‘friends’, so arrogant, that they cannot win this war without it.

Yet you continue for whatever reason may be known only to yourself to deny what is happening, to propose more delays and ‘inquiries’ before Britain suspends its illegal supply of weapons of death; to suggest, as the thin porridge dribbles from your twisted old mouth down your stained Old Wellingtonian tie, that the Saudis themselves are best placed to investigate their own complicity in crimes against humanity – please! You dismal emitter of noxious, self-serving claptrap! – and to bluster and bombastify and threaten and rail under Parliamentary privilege against the media and your actually honest political colleagues who rightly draw attention to disturbing matters of which you are apparently entirely unaware in your enthusiasm for more murder.

It has often occurred to me that the notorious love for all things Arabian shared by the upper echelons of the British political, diplomatic and military establishment has its roots, principally, in their fondness for young Arab street boys and their shapely little brown bottoms. The current festival curiously celebrating the poetic pederast, Oscar Wilde reminds us of it.

It is no wonder the Mother of All Parliaments is crumbling to pieces, its fine mock-Gothic stonework eaten away and rotted by the acid breath of generations of expedient, slimy hypocrites.

Yours most sincerely, and with maximum prejudice

etc.

The foregoing article does represent the opinion of the Editor.

 

Cycling news

Getting the show on the road

Cyclo-fascist and presenter of the new series of Crimewatch, the nearest thing the BBC ever gets to public-service broadcasting after the Antiques Roadshow, Jeremy Vine has been rehearsing for his new career move by dobbing-in angry motorists to the cops.

When Lord Rank wanted rid of him, my TV documentarist father was posted to the presenter’s chair of Rediffusion’s Police Five as a stand-in for the regular smug drone, Shaw Taylor. I too was nearly driven out of the broadcasting profession after several punishment shifts for LBC, reporting on traffic from Scotland Yard. (It still didn’t get me an invite to the 40th anniversary bash.)

Coming from Radio 2, Jeremy (what is it with people called Jeremy?) may not realise the symbolic intent behind being offered Crimewatch. He probably thinks it’s a job of national importance to be seen standing on a wooden platform in front of a big green screen, earnestly linking to improbable reconstructions, teary press conferences and sententious coppers calling on widowed mothers to shop their wayward sons, with his Sunday face on. He may not know that the criminal class vies to get on the show.*

A few days ago, Jezza unkindly posted video online of a black woman driver haranguing him for pedalling slowly in front 0f her car down a narrow one-way street with parking on both sides making it impossible to pass him.

It’s probably just as annoying to have a cameraphone shoved in your face, she was probably in a rush to save her burning children and she may have uttered threats and imprecations of the usual kind we all do nowadays. I don’t know, I haven’t seen it. Life’s too short. All I know is, ‘a woman’ has been arrested and bailed to report later this month. There but for the grace, etc.

The only time I ever tried to kill someone was about 25 years ago, when, as I was pulling off the main road onto the forecourt of my office building, I could see this vision in Lycra hurtling down a gentle incline towards the rear of my car through the traffic lights behind, that had just turned red.

I flashed my brake lights frantically to warn him against the course he was clearly about to take, and waggled my indicators, but as I turned the stupid cunt still tried to overtake me on the inside.

Illegally mounting the pavement, as he shot across my bow he insolently threw me a V-sign. I set off in red-misty pursuit, with the full and likely fatal intention of running the little bastard into the railings.

Happily for both of us, my anger-management angel prompted me just in time to abort the mission, and instead I overtook him. As I started to get out of the car to make certain points clear, he jumped from his bike and fell to his knees, operatically begging for mercy.

It was such a sickening spectacle, I got back in, turned the car and headed off around the block to try again to get to work, where I really needed to be. Reader, I spared his worthless life. I’d hate to think that cyclist grew up to be Jeremy Vaine.

Luckily in my day the cellphone hadn’t been invented. Only God saw what we got up to. Cyclists, eh?  Way to go, Jez. That’s one cleared up before the red light’s even gone on.

*I’ve just been made aware of a news item whose headline suggests there has been a small change in the format of the show. It seems part of it is now fictionalised, to sex it up for the Strictly crowd no doubt.

 

Showbiz

From our Correspondent ©2016 Polly_Wood@fuxnews.org

OMG!!!, not Hiddleswift? Surely not yet? THE END ALREADY??? #terrifiedface

(Who this? Ed.)

 

 

 

Are we losing our moorings?

Courting trouble

I don’t generally comment on stories about crime, however last October for a specific reason I wrote about a case in Liverpool in which a policeman, PC David Philips, was knocked down and killed by a young tearaway, 19-year-old Clayton Williams, driving a stolen car.

Police vehicles were in hot pursuit after an earlier break-in had been reported at a local estate agent’s office. PC Philips and a colleague were on foot and ordered to deploy a ‘Stinger’, a device designed to stop vehicles by puncturing their tyres.

My reason for commenting was that, as a former news editor, who was once subject to all sorts of reporting restrictions, laws and rules of arrest and trial procedure, I found several aspects of the case troubling.

For instance, the highly emotive language used by the police, who claimed immediately following the incident that Williams had deliberately driven the vehicle at PC Philips, which he denied; the release for publication of an unflattering social media photograph of an obviously drunk and leering Williams after he had already been charged; a carefully constructed tearful TV press conference involving PC Philips’ grieving widow, children and extended family, again after charge; the continual stressing of PC Philips’ paternity, his attractive blonde widow and the immediate assumption in the press before the outcome of the trial, of Williams’ guilt.

The Liverpool Echo, for instance, reported (even before a trial): ‘The married dad-of-two was mown down by the stolen red Mitsubishi pick-up he was trying to stop.’ How were potential jurors supposed to ignore all this prejudicial reporting?

The memorable sentence: ‘He didn’t stand a chance’, was used of PC Philips by the Chief Constable in the immediate aftermath of the incident, and no doubt by coincidence came up again in court, in the mouth of the prosecutor. The trial being held in fiercely partisan Liverpool would also have contributed to what appeared to me to be a deliberate effort by the police to ensure that it was Williams, too, who ‘didn’t stand a chance’, by effectively prejudicing the outcome of his trial through a concerted PR campaign.

Williams was charged with murder, however that proved a red line too far even for the Liverpool jury. Finding lack of intent, he was convicted of manslaughter, but was handed a murder sentence anyway: 20 years, the more usual manslaughter sentence involving a vehicle being two to five and with a long driving ban. (The question arises then, as to how good the defence team could have been?)

That is not, any of it, to excuse the crime; only the exceptionalism with which the case was handled. I say these things, only because we still have a criminal justice system, just. Pace the hanging and flogging brigade, it’s what separates us from the beasts. And it is always difficult to prove intent.

As well as querying whether the pre-trial procedure was even legal – once a suspect has been charged they have certain protections designed sub judice to ensure that, for instance, evidence of identification is not compromised – I felt, too, that another reason PC Philips might not have stood a chance is that someone, the incident controller, must have ordered him to stand in the path of the speeding vehicle. Could the furore have also been stirred-up out of embarrassment, to draw flak away from a bungled operation that led to the death of an officer?

These incidents are of course always investigated exhaustively and at very long length by the Independent Police Complaints Commission, who will no doubt be looking once again at the whole question of whether, in an age of electronic surveillance, high-speed Kojak-style car chases need be initiated by police over minor crimes when lives are not at stake, and why it is considered sensible and safe (and not complete bloody madness) to burst the tyres of a speeding car in a built-up area?

Many organisations online are asking the same, not just the BogPo. Indeed, every time the highly publicised (and fortunately very rare) death of a police officer on duty is followed by the almost unnoticed death of a civilian involved in some way with the police, of which there are many, many more instances, there is a moral dilemma to be discussed, questions, debate – but never, seemingly, political action.

You see, another young man, Joshua Dobby, 23, has just been remanded in custody following an incident in South London yesterday.

Also being pursued in a stolen car by police, the suspect apparently lost control and hit a group of pedestrians, killing ten-year-old ‘promising’ child-actor Makayah McDermott and his aunt, Rozanne Cooper, and injuring three young girls. There is community grief, flowers, emotional reporting – but no indignant police campaign finding Dobby guilty in advance of any hearing, no police PR detrimental to the probability of a fair trial.

Dobby (reports now say he is the estranged son of a millionaire businessman – again not the sort of pre-trial reporting I was used to doing) has been charged, not with murder, not with manslaughter, but with the lesser offence of causing death by dangerous driving, and various other offences relating to stealing a car. The IPCC is ‘investigating’. According to the BBC News report:

Over the past 10 years, 252 members of the public have died following road traffic incidents involving the police in England and Wales, according to the IPCC. In London, there were 498 crashes involving a pursuit by Met officers in 2015-16.

The IPCC, however, is involved in investigating only four out of ten incidents of this kind. The rest are locally investigated by the police themselves. Between 2005 and 2009, according to a Daily Mirror investigation, 22 civilians (some of them, possibly, fathers-of-two) were killed specifically in the course of high-speed police chases of suspects. Since 2006, apart from PC Philips, two officers that I can find have died during vehicle pursuits, both in accidents involving their own cars.

The inference has to be, doesn’t it, that the police – who do a professional and sometimes dangerous job – live in a bubble in which the principle that it is their duty to protect the public can sometimes be turned on its head. So few are ever tried or dismissed on counts of reckless endangerment. (Some are: a police driver who killed a teenager in 2014 while driving at 90 mph in a 30 mph zone to attend a report of minor shoplifting was sentenced to three years in gaol.)

They must know that racing around an urban residential environment at lunatic speed is dangerous even for trained drivers; that kids who boost cars aren’t trained drivers and are probably off their faces on drugs and alcohol; that a stolen car or a minor break-in really isn’t worth a life – or a life sentence. Often, their handlers do tell them to back-off. Sometimes they don’t.

Could they all not just be told to think more proportionately? Maybe watch a little less TV?

Postscriptum

In the wake of my piece on the Liverpool case, I received a single hate Comment, accusing me of being a f***ing stupid ‘solicitor’ and other, lesser crimes. What I found more disturbing was that in the news Comment threads, many more people were calling for the death penalty to be applied, for Clayton Williams to be raped and killed in prison (this was before he had been tried), and – extraordinarily – many expressed disappointment that he had turned out not to be a black man, as his name seemed to suggest.

We seem to be a society increasingly losing its moorings. Perhaps we always have been.

 

Penultimate night at the Proms

Oh goody, an improvised-on-stage, postmodernist piece for 15 assorted musicians, composed by the late Hector Berlioz, conducted telepathically ad hominem by Sir Simon Rattle.

At last, some music which, when the i-Player freezes and the little pink circle whizzes round for 30 seconds, it almost seems deliberate; part of the performance.

As for the BBC’s being able now to legally insist that i-Player viewers have to pay the same licence fee as viewers of their broadcast channels, can we please have an assurance?

We’d also like to be able to watch those movies you won’t let us see for copyright reasons, that broadcast viewers are allowed to see, please.

 

That’s the way the Cookies crumble

For feck’s sake!

I was just reading a piece on the Guardian website by Marina Hyde, some tough liberal-lefty love about Donald Trump and why he’s probably just pissed about his Balkan trophy wife Alania getting all the attention in the Mail and stuff which is why he has let her sue for libel.

And there was a link to an even more mordant and very funny analysis by Garrison Keillor in the Chicago Tribune of Trump’s crude locker-room, social-climbing mentality. (Trump is only from Queen’s and he wants to be more respected by the uppity Manhattan Jews. Is there something a little anti-semitic when you summarise it like that?)

And I got to the end of it nodding approvingly and not, I have to say, without a pang of writerly jealousy, only to be confronted by….

Ouwhaouwhaouwha… eerie flashback music

Okay, so yesterday I went looking for presents for the boy’s birthday (he’s 23) and I was outside the music store and I went in and bought a harmonica, the most expensive Hohner Pro-Harp they had in the window, looking dead cool in black and gold, as you do.

The saleslady asked which key I wanted it in and I mused, well, if I were a folk musician it’d have to be D, but for general purposes maybe C, although as a jazz devotee and in tribute to the great Toots Thielemans, at 94 (he retired last year) one of this brutal year’s crop of sadly dead musicians, Berlioz among them, I thought probably A-flat.

A-flat and C weren’t in stock, however, and I’m no folkie, so I ended up rationalising that with E, at least I could use it to tune my guitars. I lightly tossed away the £32, having  earlier learned with pleasure that I was only £138 overdrawn this month, but then I reasoned in the car: birthday boy wouldn’t really want a harmonica, would he?

After all, he’s a trumpet player who hasn’t practised for years, and gave up piano as soon as his teacher started telling us how promising he was, he takes after his dad, but my own birthday was coming along nicely so I could pretend it was really a present to myself. (Except I’ve also just bought a soprano sax I don’t know how to play. It’s a challenge!)

And it truly does make a nice noise, rich and smooth, wha-de-wah; but the key was still bugging me. It wouldn’t play along with my favourite tracks, or with Mahler’s 7th on TV from the BBC Proms. E isn’t a great key for singers, either.

(I became mesmerised by the sheer expense of those glistening instruments in the Berlin Philharmonic and watched it around twice, all 80 minutes, just to wonder among other things at the incredible euphonium I estimated to be worth maybe 80,000 euro. It seemed to be made from some lustrous other-worldly substance than humble brass.)

At the same time, who says pensioners can’t multitask?, I was browsing around to see if anyone had an A-flat Hohner Pro-Harp for sale, and yes, everyone did, but not in stock (available to order).

So, as my real birthday (like the Queen, I have two – one on the actual day I was born, and one for whenever I’m feeling unloved) is not for another month, I bookmarked a Hohner store and went about my normal business (Bacardi shots, pissing in the garden, re-reading my old stuff…).

And blow me, if at the foot of the page of the Trib website, all the way from Chicago, Ill., weren’t some helpful picture suggestions for having a lovely day consuming more stuff. Like, for instance:

Harmonica by Gear4music £2.99 – gear4music com

And now it seems the entire webinet knows I bought a harmonica and that I went online to find one in A-flat, that I’d even consider buying another one for a lousy £2.99, and now I’m in the Chicago Tribune and everything and I’ll never be allowed to forget that it was Pete’s birthday and I meanly kept the present I bought him all for myself.

Hey, America, I took a crap this morning! Wanna know what it looked like?

Oh, you already do. It’s on Shitface.