THE LAST DITCH An Englishman returned after twenty years abroad blogs about liberty in Britain
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July 2008

Vote for your Top Ten Blogs

Link: Iain Dale's Diary: Guide to Political Blogs 2008-9: Vote for your Top Ten Blogs.

It's the awards season and bloggers everywhere affect insouciance. However, I am sure we all want the results to be free, fair and based on a better turnout than a local election. So please get your thinking caps on and email an ordered list of your top ten political blogs. The rules are simple (though Iain's wording of rule 2 sadly falls short of legal drafting standards of precision):-

1. Please only vote once
2. Only blogs based in the UK, run by UK residents are eligible or based on UK politics [my emphasis] are eligible
3. Votes must be cast before Friday 15 August
4. Blogs chosen must be listed in the Total Politics Blog Directory.
5. You must send a list of TEN blogs, ranked. Any entry containing fewer than ten blogs will not count.

The email address to which you can send your TOP TEN BLOGS is:-

[email protected].

What has the Met learned from Menezes death?

Link: Terrorism: Met 'has not learned' from Menezes death | UK news | The Guardian.

JeanNext week is the third anniversary of the murder of Jean Charles de Menezes. Some will object to my choice of the word "murder." In England, a killing is murder if two elements are present and there is no valid defence. The first element - the actus reus - the act that led to the death is clearly present. The second element - the mens rea - is intent. If the killer intended either to kill or to cause Jean Charles grievous bodily harm, then unless there was a valid defence, it was murder. No-one who blows off another man's head with seven dum dum bullets is really in a position to deny his lethal intent.

A defence of provocation would require Jean Charles to have done something to provoke his killer into losing control of himself. He had no time to do so.  He was killed immediately by a total stranger.

I don't imagine the killer would have pleaded diminished responsibility on the basis that the balance of his mind was disturbed when the act was committed. In the heated atmosphere of the time, no doubt his blood was up. We could speculate endlessly as to the state of mind of someone who can kill a helpless fellow-human being under restraint. But we may be confident that this would not be the killer's defence.

The only "runner" here is self-defence. Had I had killed Jean-Charles because I mistakenly believed he was a suicide bomber about to detonate, that would be my defence. I think it would be a good one, though I would expect to be severely tested under cross-examination as to the truth of my mistake and the basis for it.

Had I been the killer however, the police and the Crown Prosecution Service would quite properly have said that it was for a jury to decide if my defence was valid. Had they said that to the killer in this case, the jury would probably have acquitted. That is not what happened. One agency of the state (the Crown Prosecution Service) shielded another (the Metropolitan Police) and justice has neither been done, nor seen to be done. There is now clearly one rule in Britain for ordinary citizens and quite another for the state's employees. That, with all due respect to his grieving family, is the true significance of Jean-Charles' death.

If brought to trial, the gunman would have had some difficulties with evidence. Another officer had already restrained Jean-Charles. The killer would have had to convince a jury he had no time to register that Jean-Charles was lightly dressed with no place to conceal a bomb belt. But in the fevered atmosphere of the time, and given the false information incompetently communicated by the killer's colleagues, I still think a jury would have acquitted.

So why do I now say it was murder? If the case were brought now, years late, the circumstances would be very different. The killer's attempts to evade justice would forfeit the jury's sympathy. Jury members would consider more closely the possibility that - as he pulled the trigger seven times to blow off the head of an innocent man - he knew that he was no threat. They would listen more carefully to the evidence of the officer who was holding Jean-Charles down and according to his evidence at the farcical "health & safety" trial, perceived no further threat. They would consider more seriously the possibility that, in a heightened state of excitement, having geared himself up to kill and knowing he could do so without consequences, the killer simply refused to be denied his prey.

Why would he pull (and pull and pull) the trigger if he knew at that moment that Jean-Charles was innocent? Humans are violent. Men particularly so. When there is war or other justification to break the 6th Commandment there is never a shortage of volunteers. There is a dark reason why "The Godfather" is the most loved film of all time and why men test their new televisions with the opening sequence of "Gladiator." In our animal nature we are killers, and that is why throughout the history of civilisation, killing has been surrounded with laws and taboos. It had to be.

PinnochioWe are told its own report concludes the Met "has not learned" from this incident. I disagree. The Met's officers have learned that they are above the law. They have learned that the state will back them, conceal their identity, reward them with holidays at the taxpayers expense and generally treat them as "one of its own" if they kill those merely suspected to be its enemies. They have learned that all this applies however reckless or incompetent they may be and that they can defame their victims shamelessly without any consequences. They have learned dark and terrible lessons.

I remain convinced that the death of Jean-Charles de Menezes is the most significant event of my life to date; though I have lived through some of the most eventful times in human history. 9/11 changed nothing.  Neither did 7/7. They told us what we already knew - that there are barbarians in the world and that as George Orwell put it;

"People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf."

Jean-Charles' death however did change something. The day he died, my England - the England of fair trials, of justice being seen to be done - died with him. That is why, if I were in London next week rather than Moscow, I would attend one of the events recommended by Rachel (the living proof that politicians lie when they claim the victims of terrorism despise those who believe in "old-fashioned" notions of liberty and justice). Full details are to be found at (from where I took the images in this post).

If you have in you the spirit of the England that once was, please be there for me and for the others who can't make it. Above all be there for an innocent young man who was killed in your name.

2008 Witanagemot Club Political Blogging Awards

Link: The Witanagemot Club - 2008 Witanagemot Club Political Blogging Awards - In the Spotlight - News.

Many apologies for my temporary absence from blogging. My colleagues and I have been helping some clients and their business partners generate substantial "invisible earnings" for a number of Western governments to tax and squander. The contract was signed two nights ago, and I have been recovering since. The adrenaline high of a big deal is just as good as ever, but the bump with which I hit the ground afterwards gets nastier with age.

Header01Launching myself back into the blogging fray, I have just cast my votes in the Witanagemot Club blogging awards. On the basis that, if I voted for myself in any category, I ought then in all conscience to vote myself the "Blogger most desperate to win blogging awards", I didn't.

It's all in fun, but provides encouragement to many who selflessly put a lot of effort into sharing their thoughts (and in the best cases their wit) with us all. Please go here and vote yourselves. I am lobbying for no-one but I will tell you that the two blogs I voted for in the most categories were the two I turn to first each day, namely An Englishman's Castle and The Daily Mash.

An Englishman's Castle is what a blog should be; pithy, to the point, intelligent and amusing. The blogger's personality shines through, though no blog I read displays less egotism. He chats to you as he might down the pub. I wish we had a pub in common. I suspect "the Englishman" influences more people with his dry observations than many an interminable ranter (naming no names). Arguably, although it meets the technical definition, The Daily Mash is not a blog at all. It is a damn sight more professional than most print media and exponentially funnier, though not always suitable for perusing at your office computer.

My own question is much simpler than the Witanagemot survey (easy enough to complete though that was with the questions open in one tab and Google Reader in the other to cut and post the URLs of my favourite blogs). Which is the first blog you read each day, and why?

David Davis: fool or hero?

Link: Analysis: David Davis' hollow victory in Haltemprice by-election - Telegraph.

The received political and media wisdom about David Davis's "one issue by-election" says more about the commentators than the man himself. To a cynical, unprincipled careerist (and a journalist accustomed to reporting on such creatures) Davis's actions make no sense. All they can see is that he damaged his "career" by distracting attention from his Party's leader to the latter's annoyance.

Perhaps that is even how David Cameron sees it. I hope not. As Gordon Brown is discovering, no PM can stand alone. He needs to be surrounded by high quality people to prosper.

Davis has proved that to him there are things more important than his career. I would hope that is true for all of us. As the things Davis values are those that our ancestors valued more highly than life itself, it should not really be shocking. That our political classes are shocked shows how much our island race has dwindled.

It used to be a commonplace that people went into politics out of a spirit of public duty. They had a desire to "give something back" to a society of which they were proud. We can all think of many historical politicians who derived only the dubious benefit of fame from their careers. By their cynical comments on Davis's actions, our modern politicians and pundits are proving that those days are over.

Since parties began to prefer "career politicians" as candidates; men and women with politics degrees and a "real life" background only in think tanks, lobbying, political journalism and government consultancy, people have increasingly lost faith in the political process. Politics should not be a game. It should be an honest pursuit for concerned citizens; ideally those whose experience and understanding of real life equips them for the job.

Only those who see it as a game with prizes could see David Davis as a failure. Since the "prizes" are paid for by the rest of us, we should aspire to exclude such people from politics. I regard David Davis's campaign as a useful litmus test. Every politician and journalist who sneered is to be regarded with suspicion.

Elfin safety school

I spent yesterday in the company of students and parents at my daughter's school. She has just completed her "A" Level exams and it was her last day. As this signalled the end of a major expense as well as a rite of passage for my daughter, I was very much in the mood to celebrate. It was uplifting to be in the presence of so many excited, optimistic young people setting out on their adult lives. You could have cut the parental pride into neat blocks and built castles with it.

I have become very fond of the school in the eight years my daughters have been there. It is the most efficient organisation I have ever dealt with in Britain (though I could wish that were a bigger claim). The staff are dedicated and enthusiastic and the students almost always do them great credit. Every time I visited, bright cheerful, polite young people swept away the images of British youth perpetuated by the Daily Mail. Although the school fees were the greatest single expenditure of my life, I do not regret a penny. Whatever may befall my daughters (and I hope it is nothing but good) no-one can ever take their education from them. It's also a remarkably portable asset if (as I fear) it may become necessary to make a run for the border someday.

I didn't know whether to be more amused or annoyed when, before the chaplain stood up to take the leavers' service which began the day's events, a prefect stood up and said she had some announcements to make. Then, under regulations I can't be bothered to waste time looking up, she gave us an airline-style introduction to where we could find the exits in case of fire and instructions on how to behave "in the unlikely event" of such an emergency. Just as we we sending our offspring off to be adults, the ludicrous voice of the British government intruded to treat us all like children.

Gordon Brown has smashed all previous records for legislative fecundity, his government having enacted 2,823 new laws in his first year in office. No doubt one of them required a nice young girl to waste breath in the imagined interests of "Health & Safety", while making all us middle-aged onlookers feel like rebellious teenagers. In that moment, I wished Gordon Brown were there. I and a few of the other fathers would have given the oily little tick a good kicking behind the bike sheds. Had his fellow-pupils at Kirkcaldy High been more diligent in this respect, our nation might have been spared a good deal of harm.


Img_0159_2 Hand on closed book, I look through smoked glass at planks lit by watery Moscow sunshine. My book and my meal are both finished; my coffee cup is drained. To my left a couple speak earnest Russian. They laugh. I glance and smile wryly. Their eyes shine. In their mutual ease, I had thought them married. Now I doubt it.

To my right two young men speak, and perhaps hear, in the common language of commerce. Their words are clumsy and inexplicably serious. Is it the effort of concentration? What price do they pay to squeeze their thoughts through this straw?

“My computer clock is on French time. Every day it is five - then ‘Oh my God, no!’ It is already seven.”

Beyond them, two femmes d’un certain age illustrate “tete a tete”. You could not slip a petal between their carefully moisturised foreheads. They have only to extend their tongues to touch. For a moment that seems absurdly possible. Then they wag again.

“I always ask for exit row, but never get it. You know this row? There is more space there.”

I glance at my watch. I gaze at the dust-jacket, irritated. A life measured in books. Since childhood, an unbroken hiss of author noise muffling my own thoughts. Books measured by the time they linger. This one was too good; too fast. The world is loud and annoyingly clear without the author’s hiss. I listen.

“Yesterday I had mushrooms stuffed with cheese; very traditional.”

The second man nods. Does he smile inside at such certainty in his interest? A sudden amused insight; if this is conversation, I need never have been shy.

“No workflow. No nothing. Just pure email.”

I rise to leave, thinking of the next book. There is always a book. Bad ones linger in the hand; good ones linger in the mind. Perhaps there have been too many?

Justice must be seen to be done?

Link: Jean Charles de Menezes inquest: 44 police officers granted anonymity - Telegraph.

If these policemen were employed by a totalitarian state (e.g. Zimbabwe) our press would call them a "death squad." Here, in our democracy, no-one even seems surprised that, not only will they face no criminal charges for gunning down an innocent man, they will not even face his family across a coroner's court. Where are the "War on Terror" merchants now to tell these officers that "if they have nothing to hide, they have nothing to fear?" Why don't they come out of the shadows to challenge the following statement?

"...the officers at the scene conspired to perjure themselves in stating that warnings of "Police" or "Armed Police" were given before firing and that de Menezes moved towards them in response. Seventeen witnesses, given no chance to collude, all confirmed he was shot dead without warning. Anyone with experience of criminal trials will tell you that such unanimity is almost unheard of. Policemen who give false evidence under oath are not worthy of our support..."

The Jean-Charles de Menezes case is what finally brought home to me what my country has become. A nation of cowards prepared to sacrifice truth, justice and liberty in the vain hope of safety from enemies real and imagined. A nation ruled by a political class devoid of honour or principle; a political class quite capable of lying about terrorist threats in order to justify self-serving actions. A nation which will allow its leaders to throw away everything (Magna Carta, habeas corpus, jury trials, the right to silence, the rule on double jeopardy, the presumption of innocence) which ever made it worthy of respect.