The Plastic Hippo

May 28, 2011

Cash before dishonour

Filed under: Uncategorized — theplastichippo @ 3:36 pm


The noble tradition of a captain going down with the ship is as futile as it is mythical. When something goes wrong, the bottle of Scotch and the loaded revolver is, thankfully, no longer the only option. Honour and responsibility went down with the Titanic.

After the Court of Appeal found that the former Director of Children’s Services in Haringey had been unfairly dismissed, Sharon Shoesmith told the BBC that she “does not do blame” and that “you cannot stop the death of children”. The “you”, in this case, was her.

Peter Connelly was 17 months old when he died at his home of injuries including fractured ribs and a broken back after months of abuse. He and his “family” had been seen 60 times by the department headed by Ms Shoesmith prior to his death in 2007. The scum that inflicted this barbaric cruelty are safely behind bars for the time being and it is interesting that those desperate to apportion “blame” make no mention of those that are actually guilty. It is as if the imprisonment of three sub-humans is not enough to assuage our national shame. More scalps are needed.

Shoesmith has a point when she complains of being singled out for culpability but to accept responsibility and then deny “blame” is, at best, inconsistent. We are told that vast salaries within Local Authorities, particularly at directorship level, are necessary to attract and retain the very best practitioners and offer adequate compensation for the responsibilities of a difficult and often harrowing job. Ms Shoesmith might have been fired unfairly, but the Court of Appeal rejected her assertion that a damning Ofsted report into her department was also unfair. The report revealed that under her leadership, Children’s Services were utterly, completely and dangerously useless.

After deciding not to “do blame”, Ms Shoesmith went on to blame everyone else. When the level of incompetence within her department was revealed, the then Secretary of State, Ed Balls, intervened and fired her. Regarding Mr Balls, she said this:

“I’m still staggered by how irresponsible the Secretary of State was. He almost demonstrated his lack of knowledge and understanding of children’s social care. This was his department yet he took steps that led it into complete disarray.”

So, does she blame Ed Balls for the death of Baby Peter? No, not just Ed Balls. There are other too. She went on:

“As a director of children’s services I cannot control what the police do, I cannot control what health does. I cannot control the fact when a social worker is referring a child for abuse that she rings up and finds that a case has not been allocated to a police officer for four months. I can’t control those matters, this is much more complex than saying you are responsible, let’s sack you and the whole psyche of the nation will be at peace.”

So it is Ed Balls, the Police and the Health Service who should be blamed and not the Director of Children’s Services. That is interesting coming from someone who feels that blame will not produce “anything positive”. By resigning as a result of the Ofsted report, the leader of Haringey council and the portfolio holder accepted their responsibilities and have retained some semblance of honour. Ms Shoesmith, it seems, did not consider resignation.

Haringey and the government have said that they will appeal against the appeal which is good news for lawyers. Speculation is rife that if that appeal is unsuccessful, Ms Shoesmith can expect between £500,000 and £1million in compensation for wrongful dismissal. The Court of Appeal ruled that her dismissal was unfair because she was not allowed the opportunity to defend herself. As the coalition rushes headlong into cutting social services, the police and the NHS, the lessons learnt from all this will be in vain and those services will be unable to prevent this horror from happening again.

Sharon Shoesmith now has the chance to defend herself.

Here is a reminder of someone who did not.

May 25, 2011

The law is an ass

Filed under: Law,Literature,Politics,Rights — theplastichippo @ 3:12 pm


Imagine a society that denies a vote to half of its people and where a person ceases to exist after signing a marriage vow. Saudi Arabia? Somalia? Eastleigh in Hampshire? No, imagine England and Wales prior to 1870.

In Oliver Twist, Mr Bumble is told that “the law supposes that your wife acts under your direction”. Charles Dickens, adopting the voice of the hen-pecked Mr Bumble, took the opportunity to rail against the law of Coverture; legislation established in common law since the time of Henry II. Bumble, the pompous custodian of the workhouse, with a characteristic mangling of the English language, said:

“If the law supposes that…the law is a ass – a idiot. If that’s the eye of the law, the law is a bachelor; and the worst I wish the law is that his eye may be opened by experience – by experience.”

The main theme in Oliver Twist is Dickens vilification of the Poor Laws which, in his view, condemned destitute children to a life of crime or an early and violent death. Thank goodness that those days are long gone but, with the present awful government, be concerned that they may return. Be thankful too that Coverture was repealed partly as a result of Dickens ridicule. Coverture, based on feudal Norman law, assumes that once married, a woman forfeits any legal status, the right to own property and control of any income. The law regards a married couple as one person with the husband as master and the wife as a chattel. In helping to get rid of it, Dickens played a blinder.

If he were alive today, Charlie would love Twitter and even possibly the wretched Facebook. He would certainly be blogging against injustice and be the first to tweet “I’m Spartacus” in the face of an outdated and unworkable law. So we come to the tawdry tale of a Mr Ryan Giggs OBE; sportsman, family man and the object of unhealthy interest by the gutter press and its readership. His fallibility became evident when he, after being unable to resist the pneumatic bliss of bonking a big brother bimbo, took out a High Court injunction to gag the Sun from publishing the sordid kiss and tell details ghost written for the starlet. The brouhaha that has ensued gives not only an insight into the intelligence of Mr Giggs, the morality of Ms Imogen Thomas and the low life that is Max Clifford, but nicely sets up a competition more important than even the Champions League. Mrs Giggs, it seems, found out about the scandal via Twitter.

Usually, the indirections of minor celebrities end up in the recycle bin along with Liberal Democrat promises, Conservative concern and Labour policy, but this one exposes a simmering animosity between the judiciary and parliament. As the Giggs tittle-tattle raged across Twitter, the Lord Chief Justice, Baron Igor Judge (not even Dickens could have invented such a name) was warning MPs not to use parliamentary privilege to break injunctions. By now, the law was sporting long ears and a tail and was being hit with a stick by Afghan tribesmen.

Then, serial adulterer, babe magnet and Liberal Democrat MP for Yardley, John Hemming, girds himself up to his full height and, using parliamentary privilege, names Ryanair Gigaport in the commons in direct contravention of the High Court injunction. Those still awake in the house gasped as Mr Speaker put him in his place. Too late, the cat was out of the wheelie-bin.

Hemming has some form on parliamentary privilege having outed Fred the Shred Goodwin as the subject of a similar injunction. Presumably, the self-promoting light-weight Hemming will relish the publicity created when his long suffering wife appears in court next month accused of kidnapping the cat of one of his latest mistresses. Not even Dickens could invent such a plot but Hemming must be pleased that Coverture, “where the law supposes that your wife acts under your direction”, has been repealed.

Forgetting for the moment the titanic clash between Manchester United and the mighty Barcelona, the real battle is between privacy and freedom of speech with unelected law lords in the red corner and ambitious MPs in the blue, yellow and…err… red corners. The crucial difference here is the distinction between public interest and what is interesting to the public. A very wealthy world-class footballer, watched and admired by millions, is obviously of interest to the public, but his extra-marital affairs are unlikely to threaten national security. Similarly, a kidnapped cat is interesting but does not become important unless an MP claims money from the public purse to provide councilling for the traumatised moggy. Having upped the stakes, the battle lines are now drawn between those that make judgement on the law and those that make the law in the first place. It could turn nasty.

Rendered stubbornly immobile by the controversy, bad ass Cameron did what all political leaders do when devoid of any inkling of reality; he announced the formation of a committee. This cross-party group will “look” at privacy law and the granting of injunctions and will report “sometime in the autumn”. It is clear that both government and judiciary don’t have a clue about social media and have no idea how to react to it. With events changing by the second and with the likes of Twitter influencing those events in real time, “sometime in the autumn” is a long, long way away.

The printed press, already resentful of social media, took to braying “not fair” at the loss of their monopoly on muck raking which prompted the doyen of bigoted bile Richard Littlejohn to describe everything on Twitter as “wrong or motivated by malice”. Coming from such a vile human being, users of Twitter should take this as a compliment and be justly proud. There is an almost symmetrical beauty in the fact that on the day the Sun had its legal challenge to the Giggs injunction rejected, John Prescott won the right for a judicial review of phone hacking at the News of the World, the Sun’s stable mate. By now, the law has been saddled and is being led up and down the beach at Blackpool.

The full force of the law fell upon former Labour minister Elliot Morley who was quite rightly banged up for 16 months after Mr Justice Saunders regarded the fiddling of £30,000 of MP expenses as “blatant dishonesty”. Strangely, former Liberal Democrat minister David Laws, after fiddling £56,000 of MP expenses, remains an MP, a free man and, astonishingly, likely to return to cabinet. “By experience”, as Mr Bumble observed.

Spare a thought too for another Liberal Democrat minister, Chris Huhne. Family man, adulterer and MP for Eastleigh in Hampshire, he will no doubt be relieved that Coverture legislation has been repealed as the law no longer “supposes that your wife acts under your direction” when avoiding driving offences. Rather than driving to work, Mr Huhne might find himself following the law armed only with a shovel and a bucket but given the nature of current legislature, his “experience” will probably result in a caution.

The law’s asinine approach to the powerful and the wealthy has, however, been severely shaken and the response is likely to be brutal. Hemming has already been slapped down for “abuse” of parliamentary privilege. Do we really want to see our elected representatives denied the right to speak freely because an ambitious and opportunist MP decides to reveal the identity of a footballer? Twitter is also under attack and here is the crux of the matter.

Users of social media tend to regard Twitter as conversational and no more important than a discussion in a pub, living room or over the garden fence. Bloggers, including this humble author, tend to view their posts as nothing more than opinion rather than truth and welcome the cut and thrust of challenge. There are, of course, complete and utter idiots using social media, especially Facebook, but these are a minority and compared to well paid commentators in old media like Richard Littlejohn, the loathsome Kelvin MacKenzie and our own village idiot Peter Rhodes, twittering internet botherers look positively sane.

The law, however, regards tweets and posts as “publication” and so come under the same flawed jurisdiction that controls the printed press and broadcast media.

Until it wakes up to that crucial difference, the law will forever remain an ass. Please sir, can I have some more?

May 22, 2011

Rapture

Filed under: World — theplastichippo @ 10:45 am


In the early hours of a fog covered February morning, a man was crossing a deserted Waterloo Bridge. As he trudged through the gloom, a dark figure became visible standing motionless on the parapet. A lost soul was about to plunge into the icy Thames.

“Wait” said the passer-by. “Things cannot be that bad. Let’s talk. Are you a person of faith?”

“My faith has gone” said the distressed stranger, “it’s broken.”

The would-be Samaritan persevered.

“Tell me, are you a Christian?”

“Yes” came the reluctant reply.

“Why that’s amazing, so am I. We have so much in common. Please come down and we can talk. Are you Church of England or Catholic?”

“Neither, I am Seventh-day Adventist.”

“Lord be praised, that’s astonishing. I am Seventh-day Adventist too. This is the work of God. And do you follow the edicts of the 1843 General Conference?

“No, I follow the edicts of the 1845 General Conference.”

“What? said the passer-by.

“1845” replied the happier and less suicidal stranger.

The passer-by pushed the man off the bridge into the river far below shouting: “Burn in Hell, heretic scum.”

*****************

Having attracted global attention with prophesies of the dead rising from out of the earth, the righteous ascending into the sky to join the returning Jesus Christ and Satan devouring the flesh of the Godless, preacher and president of “Family Radio” Harold Camping must be delighted by the response of some very gullible people. The self proclaimed “quality” press and even serious news broadcasters covered the end of days story as if the 89 year old fruitcake had any credibility. More astonishingly, some of the easily led actually believed that they were about to join the host of angels hovering above California and donated money to this crackpot. Evidence, if evidence were needed, that the planet is actually doomed.

It was left to the new force in media and, indeed, judicial, journalistic and moral accountability to debunk and ridicule this utter tripe. Twitter was at its best, generating hash tags for rapture play lists and rapture confessions even as it was under attack from philandering footballers.

But for all the nonsense, one has to admire the guile of old man Harold. He is saying no more than is stated in the scriptures and if you ask any passing Pope or Archbishop what Armageddon looks like, they will describe the same scenario. It says so in the Holy Bible so it must be true. Our spiritual leaders tell us that everything in religious texts, of whatever flavour and of whatever vintage, is irrefutably correct. When some of the unbelievable assertions are challenged, irrefutably truths become allegory, parable, metaphor and are in need of interpretation. Our spiritual leaders do the interpreting.

What Harold did was to programme a reminder on the digital TV somewhere between the end of the Scottish Cup Final and the beginning of Dr Who. Sadly, the nation was watching Britain’s Got Talent and so understandably missed the elevation to heaven.

It is a shame, in so many ways, that the rapture that clears the earth of the righteous to make way for the destruction of non-believers failed to materialise. Who would not want to see the removal of child abusing priests, clerics who encourage the feeble-minded to dress in suicide bombs, religious leaders who offer prayers of thanks for the successful annihilation of children in refugee camps and elders who deem fellow human beings as untouchable? We would be, as the Buddha might observe as he tucks into his KFC family bucket, better off without them.

Harold Camping is back at his abacus, trying to work out where his calculations went wrong and wondering why he has made less money than the more established religions. Rather than excommunicate this nutter, we should call for his beatification on the grounds that he offers us a more realistic revelation of the end of days.

Jesus, as they say, wept.

May 19, 2011

Tell Laura I love her

Filed under: Law,Rights,World — theplastichippo @ 8:47 pm


There will be those who would have taken great delight in seeing images of Dominique Strauss-Khan led away in handcuffs by NYPD`s finest and the charge of attempted rape made against the head of the International Monetary Fund might even raise the eyebrows of Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke.

This humble blog has previously suggested that avuncular Ken, unlike his odious cabinet colleagues, might achieve some sort of redemption when either the Queen sends them off to the tower or the hungry mob place their heads on pikestaffs along Westminster Bridge. Now, though, Ken has well and truly blown it and is likely to be first against the wall.

Suggesting that there are varying degrees of rape in order to “discount” sentences for rapists is a financial rather than judicial imperative that is jaw-droppingly offensive. If a rapist pleads guilty early on, his tariff is reduced and with “good behaviour” he will be free to re-offend within 15 months. Sorry Ken, rape is rape and no amount of “clarification” at hastily arranged media interviews will extract the hush puppy firmly wedged into your mouth or save you from the fate that you deserve.

It would be easy to suggest that the Justice Secretary was suffering from a hang-over or was under the influence of a liquid breakfast when he made his ill-judged remarks on Five Live and equally easy to suggest that he was quoted out of context. But his attitude and insulting comments reflect what is at the heart of this government. There is no evidence to suggest that an early admission of guilt leads to an increase in successful convictions and to claim that his motive is to prevent victims “re-living” their ordeal before the court is a cynical smoke-screen. The reform of the justice system is about saving money, not about justice.

Although it is tempting to dismiss Clarke as a stereotypical overweight, middle-aged Tory male incapable of any empathy for a rape victim, something more sinister is going on within government. On May 4, only 128 of our MPs bothered to turn up and vote on the first reading of a bill that seeks to introduce compulsory lessons in sexual abstinence for girls only. The bill was proposed by Nadine Dorries, Conservative MP for Mid Bedfordshire and was passed with six votes.

Ms Dorries later appeared on television to suggest that abstinence lessons for girls would reduce the frequency of sexual assaults against children, the logic being that it is the responsibility of the child to say no.

Astonishing.

Nadine seems to be a bit of a publicity addict and is happy to say anything outrageous in return for seeing her name in a newspaper or her face on TV. Having fiddled her expenses, lied to her constituents and described people with disabilities as “work-shy scroungers”, it emerged that she embarked on a sexual relationship with the husband of a former friend. When this lack of abstinence was revealed, she issued a press statement describing her former friend as an abusive alcoholic

Nice.

Saying no, or admitting guilt or even saying sorry will not protect the honour and well-being of our beloved Laura Norder. Clarke has been forced to apologise for his unwise words but has laughed at suggestions that he should resign. An apology or admission of guilt, however, does not justify criminality. Consider David Laws, a cabinet minister in the coalition for just 17 days. His crime was to defraud the state of more than £40,000. His defence was that he wished to conceal his sexuality. His punishment was suspension from the commons which, in effect, granted him a week off work and has delayed his likely return to cabinet. If only he had said no before he was required to say sorry.

Spare a thought for fellow Liberal Democrat cabinet member and “big beast” Chris Huhne, infamous for claiming money for a trouser press, who allegedly pressured his now estranged wife to take the penalty points he owed for a speeding offence. Essex police are making enquiries so expect an apology any day now.

So what is poor old Laura to do, especially now with massive cuts, sorry, efficiencies to funding for the police service and ministers being let off the hook? Step forward Home Secretary Theresa May, a girl who clearly has the ability to say no. After being jeered by members of the Police Federation at their conference in Bournemouth, the only sound in the hall at the end of her speech was the click of her high heels as she left the stage. Quite how the NYPD would react to Mrs May remains unclear.

In New York, Dominique Strauss-Khan, having resigned as head of the IMF is on suicide watch at Rikers Island prison, a slammer universally described as “notorious”, vigorously denying the allegations being made against him. Whatever happened in the hotel prior to M. Strauss-Khan being dragged off an aircraft at JFK is almost incidental particularly if we are to accept Kenneth Clarke’s supposition that there are degrees of rape. The damage, along with the similar allegations surrounding Julian Assange, has already been done.

Wild-eyed conspiracy theorists bellow of a set-up and point to the many powerful enemies that Strauss-Khan has attracted and find the timing of his arrest on the eve of a further meeting to bail out Portugal and Greece significant. President Sarkozy, currently suffering a decline in approval and with French opinion polls revealing that Strauss-Khan is more popular, will be enjoying this particular affair and the growing millions that believe that the term “banker” is synonymous with “criminal” will take delight at at the incarceration of the former head honcho. You don’t get to be boss of the IMF by being a nice guy.

The American media are taking every opportunity to remind the audience that Don Dom is French and so therefore must be as guilty as hell. But what they forget is that behaviour considered as outrageous in the Oval Office or Arkansas has a long tradition in French politics. Indeed many senior French politicians see promiscuity as a duty rather than a guilty secret.

The French public hardly batted an eyelid when former President Valery Giscard d’Estaing, upon leaving a “notorious” brothel in the early hours of the morning, drunkenly crashed his car into the gatepost. Le Francais seemed more concerned about his injuries rather than what he had been up to in the preceding hours and the Paris press seemed proud that a man of such age still had the va va voom for some ooh la la. Similarly, when François Mitterrand publicly acknowledged his secret, illegitimate daughter in 1994, the news was greeted by a Gallic shrug of collective indifference. Back home, Dominique Strauss-Khan is something of a hero.

If Kenneth Clarke is correct and there are different severities of rape, then the IMF man, who can afford a clever legal team, shouldn’t be too worried even if he is guilty of such a vile crime. If innocent, though, his career at the top of a corrupt banking system is over and he will quietly retire and spend his time browsing the aisles of the Pigalle branch of MFI.

Another very rich banker may yet face justice. Sir Fred Goodwin has had part of his injunction lifted to reveal that he had a “relationship” with a senior colleague at RBS. It would be wonderful if the mystery woman turned out to be called Laura. Even is she isn’t, one imagines that she wished that she had said no.

May 16, 2011

RSVP

Filed under: Fiction,Politics,Walsall — theplastichippo @ 3:14 pm


Dear councillor,
Walsall council tax payers cordially invite you to the grand opening of the mayoral drinks cabinet to celebrate the start of the new municipal year.

Dress code: formal but no hoodies, trainers or baseball caps.

6-00pm. Drinks, canapés and excuses on the terrace.

6-30pm. Meeting of the full council.

6-35pm. Hors D’oeuvre: Pan fried Willenhall stool pigeon served with a compote of vodka-stuffed hand-picked lentils and a rhubarb jus of broken promises.

Entrée: Mechanically separated Pheasey Park Farm meat product patty in a sesame pain de Tesco avec le Kraft fromage slice served with extra pomme frite anglais on a bed of parking tickets and complimented by top-sliced education and crushed social services.

Vegetarian entrée: Pickled red cabbage infused with an invisible policy sorbet and shaved banana skins served with vegetable kebabs and very little else.

Dessert: Fudge.

Cheese board with Bath Olivers.

8-30pm. Dancing to the Titanic dance-band.

Carriages at 10-00pm on Thursday 3rd May 2012.

RSVP

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