THE LAST DITCH An Englishman returned after twenty years abroad blogs about liberty in Britain
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The Raccoon's Return

Of morals, politics and The Guardian

A reader commented years ago that he liked my blog because, although my posts were about politics, there was usually a moral dimension. I confess, though I hope I accepted his compliment graciously, I was puzzled. How, I remember thinking, can a discussion about human relations lack a moral dimension?

I was reminded of this thought when reading today's Guardian.

The front page lead is about the intended sale of NHS patient records from its snazzy new database. The NHS has written to all of us recently to say that all our records will be included unless (as I have) we contact our doctor to opt out. It didn't mention that it planned to sell them.

There is an intelligent discussion of the pros (medical advances will be easier) versus the cons (no way for the public to know who has access to their data or how it will be used). Yet nowhere is there a reference to what I would consider to the the key issue of ownership. We tell our doctors things to enable him or her to take care of us. I think most of us would think we still own that information. We would be shocked, for example if the doctor wrote an episode of House MD based upon our case. If indeed there is another use to which our data can be put, surely we should expect to be asked? If there is a commercial use to which it can be put, surely we should expect to be paid? To me, the story is about theft. Apparently that's not how The Guardian sees it.

Their next front page story is about the LibDem peer alleged (but not proven) to have been a sexual harasser. In this story, there is an atmosphere of much moral indignation, but very little real morality. Lord Rennard's 'allies' accuse the complainants of conspiring to damage his career, which is not entirely news. They are clearly of the opinion that his career deserves to be damaged because of his - as they see it - misconduct.

At least one of the complainants is threatening to leave the party if he is allowed to resume his duties. One of his anonymous 'allies' tries to point out that his advances were not threatening and suggests the complainants are making too much of a fuss. The Guardian's take on that observation is that it does Lord Rennard 'no favours'. Yet surely it is the moral crux of the case? Surely the reason why the LibDem enquiry has exonerated him is that there was no finding of sexual aggression?

A human who would like to have sex with another must - if it is to be consensual - at some point alert them to this desire. The other human then has an opportunity to respond. Different eras and cultures have had different mores as to how far beyond a nod and a wink such an expression can or should go. I am happy to report that in my time I have been on the receiving end of advances less subtle than those reported of the gauche Lord Rennard. Not every woman is an adept in these matters, especially when a little drunk.

The key issue, surely, is how a suitor responds to rejection? By all accounts Rennard - not exactly God's gift to the fairer sex, though clearly a fan - has always cheerfully taken 'no' for an answer. His technique seems to have essentially been that of a long-ago teenage friend of mine who asked every girl he met and reported a 1 in 20 success rate.

It cannot surely be the case that every sexual advance is a gamble with one's career and reputation? An advancee is entitled to say no, but is surely not entitled to be angry to have been asked? How is the human race to breed under such a regime? Again, the key moral issue is not addressed in a fog of faux indignation.

The third front page story seems to take a very high moral tone, but again it seems to me to be false. There is a flurry of loaded language about 'loopholes' that are 'exploited' and about 'leakage of tax revenues' but the only facts reported are that some international companies have asked that long-established laws to which they have adapted their businesses be not changed.

The paper writes of 'tax avoidance' throughout as if it were obviously a bad thing, without making any real distinction from tax evasion, which is criminal. There is no balancing statement of the perfectly reasonable opposing view that if one legal structure results in less tax than others, it's unjust for businesses not to be able to restructure to the favourable basis enjoyed by competitors. Nor is there anywhere a discussion of the perfectly respectable view that the best way to ensure a fair balance of tax obligations across society is for the laws to be simplified and the number of taxes reduced.

I could go on. Please feel free to read the Guardian's website and continue the examples yourself in the comments. Like so much else in our political debate, morality now seems to be a synthetic product of tribalism. Maybe what my kind reader meant was that my moral stances echoed his?

Comments

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John B

The moment you voluntarily put your rubbish in a public place (the street) or allow it to be taken by some third party, you no longer have ownership.

John B

Property Rights: if A has a bar of chocolate, breaks it in half and voluntarily gives half to B but says, do not share it with anyone, does A still own the half given to B?

If B ignores A's instruction and shares some of the chocolate with C has a crime been committed and if so what? Has B, by giving part of the chocolate to C, now 'stolen' it, the whole half or just the part given to C, or has C knowing it came from A 'stolen' what he received, or is he guilty of receiving stolen property?

If C hands on some or all of the chocolate, does that make him a fence?

So if a patient discloses information to a doctor specifically so he can use it, is there not joint-ownership of that information? What if the doctor has a similar case and the information he got whilst treating the first patient, could help him/her better treat another patient, should it be used at all, or just with the consent of the first patient?

With doctors and lawyers, there is 'client confidentiality, which if breached can give rise to disciplinary action by the doctor's/lawyer's professional body and civil damages.

That would seem to cover the situation with NHS information... except...

There is no contract between a patient treated under the NHS and those who provide the treatment. Simply put, whereas a client pays for a lawyer, or a private patient pays their doctor thereby establishing a contract, under the NHS the contract is between the State and the doctor. The NHS is de facto the doctor's client and 'client privilege' exists between those two parties. The patient is not the client, no more than the recipient of soup at a Sally Bash soup kitchen is a client of the SA, or donators to the SA own the soup.

In that respect the information a person gives to an NHS doctor, is no more their property or better protected than if they had told a neighbour or the Man on the Clapham Omnibus.

This fact is evidenced by Act of Parliament passed in the late 60s specifically giving patients rights to sue for malpractice if treated under the NHS, because ordinarily they could not, there being no contract between themselves and the provider.

This is also evident when hospitals can refuse or delay treatment/drugs as they choose, NHS GPs can refuse to accept a patient onto their list, or ask people to leave their list, and a patient has no legal remedy under contract law.

It is one of the many problems of the NHS, which a doey-eyed public does not understand and in their bliss call the NHS 'theirs'. It is no more 'theirs' than the Army, funded out of taxation, and just as a citizen cannot phone the local barracks and ask the Army to attack France because their recent holiday there was ruined by French strikers, they cannot get the NHS to do their bidding.

Tom

I always think the "bringing into disrepute" schtick begs the question "with whom?" Rennard sounds like the liveliest LibDem in the land to me. Of course my view would be entirely different if he had ever refused to take no for a literal answer.

Tom

I first realised that the Left are bonkers when one announced pompously during a 1970s Student Union meeting that "there will be no good sex until after the revolution." I shall never forget the guffaws of derision.

MickC

The Rennard case appears, as ever, to be about the money.

When asked by Paxman last night, whether she would sue if she received an apology, one of his accusers (who had to be pushed hard-well done on that, Paxo!) said she may well still do so.

The only possible inference from that is that the money is the prime concern, not the principle.

Strangely enough, my view of (Lord-why?) Alex Carlile has improved because of his stance on this matter. I had believed him to be a pompous little functionary devoid of any consideration other than his own advancement-I may have been wrong. I imagine Rennards statement, which is rather good, was drafted by Carlile.

As for the LibDems, they are falling back on the "bringing into disrepute" schtick- a non-charge impossible to disprove, and effectively a popularity contest as meaningful as the Big Brother "show". All rather depressing, really.

JuliaM

"How is the human race to breed under such a regime? "

For heaven's sake, don't stop them! If the 'Guardian'-reading classes start to die out through inability to procreate, the world is saved... :)

Sam Duncan

“To me, the story is about theft.”

Bingo.

I've often made a similar property-rights point in relation to recycling. If my rubbish is a useful raw material then somebody must be willing to buy it. If, on the other hand, the government uses its power to force me to recycle without compensation for the time and effort expended and the supposedly valuable goods surrendered, that must mean one of two things: either it's not useful at all or they're stealing my property.

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