The High Court has ruled that the Executive does not have unlimited powers to act without the consent of Parliament – one of the most important constitutional decisions since the Great Reform Act.
Two days before he was due to hang for a murder he does not even know he committed – nor is he aware of the sentence passed on him and its ratification by the Pakistani Supreme Court – Imdad Ali has received a temporary reprieve while the Government in Rawalpindi reviews the verdict.
Imdad has been diagnosed with severe schizophrenia and lives in an entirely separate reality. Arrested in 2002, accused of killing an Imam, he has been on Death Row since 2014, when capital punishment was restored in Pakistan after a major terrorist incident and a large number of capital cases (including some for blasphemy) were reviewed in the light of the change of policy. A number of prisoners formerly sentenced to prison terms have been executed, not all of them terrorists.
Bizarrely, the Appeal Court ruling contained the news that schizophrenia is not a recognised mental illness and so there was no plea of diminished responsibility possible.
I mention the case, not only because it seems extraordinarily unjust, but because I was one of over 30,000 people around the world who signed a petition organised by the Reprieve charity to halt the execution, which we probably all considered utterly barbaric. Only we were too polite to put it in those terms, it would have been counterproductive.
Imdad is not entirely saved yet. But at least we have achieved something, it seems – and a new defence is being arranged.
Good for us. Now for everyone else….
The Irony Lady
I’m getting bored with leaping to defend Margaret Thatcher, as she was pretty ghastly (in public at least – people who knew her privately say she was kind and thoughtful) and left a lasting legacy of bitterness; although, to risk being boiled in oil, I have to say as a single pensioner I’d rather have had the poll tax than pay £120 a month so my local authority can take away two black binbags and waste £100s of thousands paying PriceWaterhouse Cooper’s consultants to do their job for them.
It’s just that her premiership seems to haunt so many people and has become a ‘meme’ almost of demonic possession in the 27 years since her downfall.
This typical remark is from a Comment thread on a George Monbiot piece on the Guardian website today, about the mental-health consequences of social isolation:
“Palming it off as the human condition is bullshit. Remember Margaret Thatcher: “there is no such thing as society…”? That’s what she ensured with her policies and everyone else has built on it.”
So even today, she still drives people mad. Literally, it seems.
The point I keep trying to make about her policies is that they were less ‘sui generis’ than ‘sui temporis’.
In other words, it isn’t clever or good enough to blame her personally for what we can now clearly see was her policy response to a wider world already trending towards neoliberalism and the cult of the individual.
The full quotation from a Woman magazine interview (where she probably thought she was on safe ground as middle-class women tend to think more like this), courtesy of rightwing website, The Commentator, goes:
“I think we’ve been through a period where too many people have been given to understand that if they have a problem, it’s the government’s job to cope with it: ‘I have a problem, I’ll get a grant.’ ‘I’m homeless, the government must house me.’ They’re casting their problem on society. And, you know, there is no such thing as society.
“There are individual men and women, and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look to themselves first. It’s our duty to look after ourselves and then, also to look after our neighbour. People have got the entitlements too much in mind, without the obligations. There’s no such thing as entitlement, unless someone has first met an obligation.”
In other words, it’s standard Tory Christian thinking, not some evil plot to pull the rug out from under the working-class. Quite the opposite, it enshrines working-class values of thrift and mutual support. It prefigures, for instance, Cameron’s ‘Big Society’ theme; countering the Labour vision of the Big State, it’s an attempt to divest some of the increasingly unsustainable social responsibilities of Government onto other institutions; starting with the family. It was not an appeal to individual greed, but to personal self-reliance.
And, yes, it ignores the plight of the poorest (poverty as I have sometimes experienced is actually quite difficult to escape from even with all your resources of mental strength and resilience intact – opportunity does not always come knocking), but that wasn’t what she was banging on about. It’s a different issue, and while whole communities were being destroyed through de-industrialisation, she did not pull away the safety-net of social security (basic and grudging though provision was) in the way that Cameron, Osborne and Duncan Smith did during the coalition years of 2010-2015.
Her privatisations, Hayekian Chicago-school monetarism, rowing-back the power of Trade Unions*, deregulation of the City of London and the liberation of markets to run rampant over (yet curiously to become more responsive to) consumers, can all be lumped together as Thatcherism if you like, but none of them was her original idea: those things were already happening, here and elsewhere, and it cannot be argued that, despite the casualties, they didn’t make rusty old Britain a more competitive, diverse and tolerant nation in the end.
Sadly, that consensus seems to have fallen apart in recent months.
Subsequent problems such as child poverty, epidemic mental health issues and half a million people relying on food banks have been the fault of successive Governments failing to engineer reform, to support fiscal responsibility and to extend social obligation into the business sector. They are not the intended consequence of Thatcher’s ‘tough love’ policies, but of political faiblesse in standing up to corporations.
Thatcher would not, I suspect, have gone along with the cuts and caps in social welfare prescribed by Osborne and Duncan Smith as the cure for the nation’s ills; but would have sought some means of forcing companies to invest rather than sit on their huge cash piles, waiting out the never-ending crisis. Nor would she have pulled Britain out of the EU, with the consequent economic uncertainties of a weaker pound and possible trade barriers.
Already, according to her stated objectives, with May we are seeing the reversal of neoliberalism ‘red in tooth and claw’. Yet Thatcher would I feel have been horrified by May’s refusal to put Brexit to a vote in Parliament. The 2008 crash revealed that the markets had no trousers on, and not a lot has changed. Hopefully then as we’re not going to get another Labour government for many years, we might arrive at a synthesis between interventionist policies and ‘compassionate Toryism’ to mitigate the worst consequences of austerity.
Mrs Thatcher was less a fan of austerity than, like poor Gordon Brown, of housewifely ‘prudence’. I think you’ll find the welfare bill increased substantially during her reign, whatever her views. She was not advocating the dismantling of ‘society’: she was expressing the view that there really is no such thing.
You can argue that ‘society’ is in essence the culmination of communitarian qualities such as altruism, neighbourliness, mutual reliance and resilience – based perhaps on self-interest – charity, and that these things ultimately result in broader governance based on a pact between government and the governed (that is now in real danger of breaking down) to provide for everyone’s needs; but that there is no intermediate institution called ‘society’ (except in the upper-class sense, that she wouldn’t have known about).
It’s not really such a controversial observation.
*While believing in the importance of Trade Unions, I couldn’t help but give Thatcher one cheer as, twice in my life, union restrictions and mulish obstructionism fatally impeded my career prospects; and when on the one occasion I needed the support of my union, to whom I had been paying dues for several years, they told me to get lost as they considered me to be ‘management’; although I had just been unfairly dismissed.
So actually, I couldn’t give a fuck about the unions.
Horrible, horrible science persons
On the morning of 4 November Britain woke to the news that a lovable, record-sized earthworm had been found in a garden in Cheshire.
At 15.7″ ‘Dave’, as the son of his finder christened him, was a monster in earthworm terms; certainly for a wild worm. Annelids of a not dissimilar size have previously been bred in captivity, under ‘ideal conditions’ (badger- and blackbird-free).
Outrage ensued, and a Twitter campaign has been mounted (#JusticeforDave) – alas, too late – when it was revealed that, on receipt of the living specimen, the evil scientists at the Natural History Museum promptly had Dave ‘euthanased’ and pickled him for further research and display purposes.
If they can do that to an earthworm, the humblest among us, what can they do to us, I wonder?
By total contrast, proving the milk of human kindness has not been entirely replaced by UHT, another BBC report tells us:
“Park rangers have given mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to a number of fish (ornamental Koi carp) after the tank they were in was slashed. Forty-five “much loved” fish died at Castle Park in Colchester, Essex, on Wednesday while their pond was being cleaned and they were in a container. Park staff rushed to save a number of fish, managing to successfully resuscitate some of the larger ones.”
An 18-year-old man has been arrested.
Ice-rink officials in the Japanese city of Kitakyushu are to hold a special memorial service for thousands of fish, to apologise to an incensed public for marmorialising the fish in the ice as a form of decorative embellishment for the amusement of skaters.
According to officials, the fish were already dead when they were frozen.
Meanwhile, nothing is seemingly being done to stop the unbelievably cruel ritual each September of herding and slaughtering hundreds of dolphins in Taiji bay by the atavistic baboons of Wakayama, a peculiarly Japanese obscenity which is apparently still tolerated on ‘cultural’ grounds.