“Due process”: the baneful legacy of Magna Carta

This year marks the 800th anniversary of the sealing of Magna Carta, the treaty which protected the rights of the Norman barons during the reign of King John, and has since become a byword for long-established rights (even those not in it) both here and in other English-speaking countries. David Cameron has been harping on its virtues while campaigning to get rid of the Human Rights Act, which provides rights associated with a modern constitution and modern notions of human rights; Melvyn Bragg recently presented a four-part series on Radio 4 about the charter and the events leading up to its sealing. In the Daily Telegraph, Peter Oborne has criticised both the series and the political celebrations, the former for ignoring a charter issued around the same time which did protect common people’s rights and for glossing over how people’s rights have been trampled by this and the last government, and the latter for being full of hypocrites who themselves trample people’s rights. There is a crucial inadequacy in Magna Carta which has survived into both law and legal discourse throughout the English-speaking world to this day, which also should be considered when promoting its virtues above that of the Human Rights Act: the satisfaction with Due Process and the notion that it is synonymous with justice.

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Message to the animal rights lobby: women aren’t vermin

These days a regular annoyance is getting an email from a petition-hosting organisation (having absent-mindedly signed up for their emails when you signed a petition once) asking you to free someone who’s been “caged” for so many years and opening the email and finding that this someone is an animal, not a human being. The other day it was a bear which had been held captive in an ice-cream parlour (?!) for some years. As someone who has been following (and sometimes participating in) the efforts to get the illegal prison at Guantánamo Bay shut down and the illegally abducted detainees sent home, or to a safe place, it’s offensive to see an animal compared to them, or to a person held when they are innocent. The animal rights lobby routinely indulge in this tactic: during the protests against live animal exports in the UK a number of years ago, one woman was seen on TV comparing them to trains taking people to the gas chambers.

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No, not “regrettable errors”. Lies. #FoxNewsFacts

Image of a St Patrick's Day parade in Birmingham, showing at its centre a white woman and two girls playing drums, with various other white people wearing Irish flags and similar regaliaFox Correction: “We Have Made Some Regrettable Errors On-Air Regarding The Muslim Population In Europe” | Video | Media Matters for America

Fox News, on which a number of ludicrous and obviously false claims about British and French cities, that there were zones and “whole cities” where non-Muslims cannot go, have been made since the Charlie Hebdo attacks, has put out an “apology” in which they “apologised” for things that actually weren’t said. You can see the video at the above link, but here’s a transcript:

A correction now: over the course of this last week, we have made some regrettable errors on air regarding the Muslim population in Europe, particularly with regard to England and France. Now this applies especially to discussions of so-called no-go zones, areas where non-Muslims allegedly aren’t allowed in, and police supposedly won’t go. To be clear, there is no formal designation of these zones in either country and no credible information to support the assertion that there are specific areas in these countries that exclude individuals solely on the basis of their religion. There are certainly areas of high crime in Europe, as there are in the United States and other countries, where police and visitors enter with caution. We deeply regret the errors, and apologise to any and all who may have taken offence, including the people of France and England.

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Walking into Trouble: How ‘shared space’ shuts blind people out


Some friends drew my attention to the above video, which is about how the ludicrous “shared space” fad (in which ‘street furniture’ is ripped out, pavements and roads levelled, and surfaces smoothed out to give a more open, less ‘cluttered’ appearance) is shutting blind people out of town and city centres across the UK. A scheme like this was recently imposed on a busy road junction near where my sister used to live, which has already started causing accidents, as has been reported in the local media. It also tells how these schemes have been bulldozed through, and the well-grounded fears of blind people, that they are dangerous for them as they do not provide the tactile clues as to where the road begins and the pavement ends, were simply ignored. (More: Rob Imrie on Vimeo.)

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How France can really ‘protect all religions’

François HollandeFrance ‘to protect all religions’ (BBC News)

The French president, François Hollande, has announced that France “will protect all religions” and that Muslims are the “main victims of fanaticism” in a speech at the Arab World Institute:

Speaking at the Arab World Institute, he said:

Islam was compatible with democracy and thanked Arabs for their solidarity over terrorism in Paris.

“French Muslims have the same rights as all other French,” he said. “We have the obligation to protect them.

“Anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic acts have to be condemned and punished.”

Mr Hollande said that radical Islam had fed off contradictions, poverty, inequality and conflict, and that “it is Muslims who are the first victims of fanaticism, fundamentalism and intolerance”.

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Panorama: a parade of irrelevance

John Ware and the director of British Muslim TV, climing a flight of stairs.So, on Monday night BBC’s Panorama responded to last week’s massacre at the Charlie Hebdo offices by dusting off a 25-minute feature on “British Islam”, in which John Ware, who had fronted a previous ‘investigation’ into Muslim leadership which used secret filming and promoted the wholly unrepresentative Taj Hargey as the answer to everything that is wrong with Muslims in Britain, used the “Happy Muslims” video and various other snippets of one or two Muslim scholars saying offensive things to promote the idea that the root of terrorism is a “them and us” attitude among Muslims, rather than genuine violent extremism or western foreign policy. No attempt was made to prove a link between the massacre in France and the state of the Muslim community here, probably because there isn’t one. (You can see it here until next year if you’re in the UK.)

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Charlie Hebdo and the limits of free speech

Front page of Charlie Hebdo, showing a cartoon of four women in different coloured hijabs saying (in French): 'Sex slaves of Boko Haram say: hands off our benefits!'.Last week three gunmen raided the offices of the French ‘satirical’ magazine Charlie Hebdo (Weekly) and killed its editor, three other contributors, two policemen and various other staff (including bodyguards but some not named) before taking hostages in a Jewish supermarket the next day and ultimately being killed in a shoot-out with police. Charlie Hebdo is best-known as the magazine which printed a derogatory cartoon strip called “The Life of Mahomet” (sic), as well as a number of other offensive cartoons, including one portraying Egyptian demonstrators being shot while holding copies of the Qur’an, with a slogan saying said text is rubbish if it cannot stop bullets. The incident made heroes of a Muslim policeman, who was shot by one of the attackers outside the Charlie offices, and a Muslim shopkeeper at the Jewish supermarket, but otherwise has led to the usual demands (both from non-Muslims and unrepresentative Muslims) for Muslims to apologise for or distance themselves from the attackers, and a series of “solidarity” marches, including one today which is led by kings, presidents and foreign ministers of various repressive régimes, several of them in the Arab and Muslim world.

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Review of 2014

Picture of an elderly white man with a grey patterned jumper, reading the Observer with a magnifying glassTwo big things happened in my life in 2014. The first was that my Grandad died, in January. He had been living with us since the previous November, and had been getting steadily weaker. He was 90. My Nan had died the previous August at age 87, following a stroke; after this, he began to visit us every weekend (he hadn’t been out of the house much in the years leading up to that, only to the shops) and we thought he would have a new life, but his health declined rapidly a couple of months after that. They lived in a two-bedroom house in East Dulwich, which we’re currently selling for more than £500K.

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City Link failure shows limits of cost-cutting

A depot with a green and yellow City Link sign above, and several green Renault Premium trucks with yellow City Link trailers halfway out.City Link: 2,000 staff to be made redundant on NYE - RMT

Last week the British logistics firm City Link went into administration, with the potential loss of nearly 5,000 jobs once self-employed contractors and the supply chain are taken into account. The firm started as an adjunct to the British Rail Red Star parcels operation, allowing parcels to be transported by rail without the need for direct train links and actually delivered rather than simply held at train stations, but since British Rail was broken up in the 1990s, they had to provide their own distribution network. The company had been part of the Rentokil Initial group from 2006 to 2013 but was sold for £1 in April 2013 to Better Capital, who reportedly invested £40m in the company (a small amount according to the staff union) but could not turn around the company’s losses or find a buyer. They went into administration on Christmas Eve and announced it on Christmas Day, presumably once most of the Christmas parcels had been delivered.

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Nick Cohen shows his irrational hatred for the Muslim Brotherhood

Why must we tolerate police spies in our midst? | Nick Cohen | Comment is free | The Observer

Nick Cohen, as long-time readers will know, has a long-standing hostility to the Muslim Brotherhood, as well he might, being an atheist secular liberal while they are a religiously-based party. When hundreds of thousands demonstrated in central London against the Iraq war that he supported, he ignored the people marching and looked only at the organisers — the “enemies of economic freedom” (communists) and the “enemies of sexual freedom” (the Brotherhood). This was a common theme of bourgeois liberal critics of the anti-war alliance. In today’s Observer, he has a long article denouncing police spying on environmental campaigns, setting the scene for another dig at the Muslim Brotherhood, all Muslim groups which included any of their activists, and non-Muslims who supported them. In this case, it was Bob Lambert, a former police spy who was the head of the Muslim Contact Unit from the time it was established in 2002 until he left the force in 2007 and went into academia. He has been exposed as having been an agent provocateur, helping to write the pamphlet that became the focus of the McLibel trial, as well as fathering a child with a member of London Greenpeace, and then abandoning both of them when the police pulled him out.

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Discriminatory on every level

'Welcome to Britain' sign at Heathrow airportMan faces deportation as UK wife’s salary too low

Last week a couple found out that they had been refused the right to settle in the UK and would have to split or resettle to the husband’s home country of South Africa (which is what they have decided to do). The reason was that the British wife’s income, at £19,786 for 2014 (she runs a craft-making business in Cornwall) was too low for a couple with a child; the British spouse must make £22,400, while if they do not have a child, the threshold is £18,600). This is ostensibly so that someone cannot bring in a spouse and expect the state to look after them, but this does not appear to have been the case here. A female friend of mine posted yesterday that the ruling was “inhumane and sexist”, the latter because it is more likely to discriminate against women because they tend to earn less money than men. However, it is discriminatory on every level you can think of. As the BBC article points out, average earnings in Cornwall and in much of northern England are around half of that of London and parts of the south-east, so someone on about average earnings for those regions would be more likely to fall below the threshold, while someone living in London is more likely to (although actually, there are plenty of people in London making around the threshold or less, and are much less likely to be able to afford a house on a single salary).

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Quality, not quantity

Picture of Nico Reed, a young white man with very short hair wearing a striped T-shirt, in a wheelchair with a leather harness, smiling.On Thursday the inquest into the death of Nico Reed, who died in a Southern Health supported living unit in Chalgrove, Oxfordshire, returned a narrative verdict which stated that his death was the result of “aspiration of gastric contents” with an “underlying cause of cerebral palsy”. He found that Nico could have been saved if he had been checked every 20 minutes, as stated in the care plan, but that this was intended as a guideline and could only be a guideline as there was only one members of staff at night to look after four severely disabled residents. Yesterday BBC Radio Oxford covered the inquest result, which I was able to hear as my work took me to Reading and Newbury which are well within range, and I caught a phone-call from another parent with a son or daughter in the same unit, who called up to defend the unit and the Trust, saying among other things that checking him every 20 minutes would have been intrusive. He also attacked the “nasty blog campaign” against the trust (you can add this blog to that description, but he mainly meant people like Nico’s mother Rosi Reed, Sara Ryan (whose son Connor Sparrowhawk also died in Southern Health’s ‘care’), George Julian, Gail Hanrahan, Mark Neary, Justice for LB, People First England and a few others), at which point the host, Phil Gayle (who has covered the Southern Health care scandals in depth) cut him short. (You can listen to it online here for the next four weeks; it starts at 2hrs 7min. You can also read Sara Ryan’s write-up of the Southern Health rep’s performance.)

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Tories’ “£15bn roads revolution” is a pre-election con

Today the government announced their intention to spend £15billion on an ambitious set of new road projects, including improvements to several junctions on the M25, a tunnel near Stonehenge on the A303 and the dualling of the A1 north of Newcastle as far as the Scottish border. The reader may have already guessed that there is not the time to do even one of these things before the next election in May next year. A few of these schemes, however, simply will not happen.

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Feminists throw Billy-no-mates under the bus

A yellow road sign showing a bus, a person with his foot out, and a person falling under the busA letter to … the girl who accused me of rape when I was 15 | Life and style | The Guardian

I knew when I saw this piece in today’s Guardian Family supplement that it would provoke a torrent of outrage from feminists that the matter of false accusations of rape by women and girls is even being discussed. (Incidentally, in the Saturday pages in the main section, there is another article on how Legal Aid Cuts are putting victims of domestic violence in danger, something the paper has covered at length.) Sure enough, within an hour I saw a series of tweets from a radical feminist claiming that what the boy did is rape even if it wasn’t, because the girl was 13 and drunk.

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What’s missing from Bubb’s tepid report

Picture of the former Winterbourne View hospital, a red-brick building partly painted yellow, with cars at the frontThis week the long-awaited report by Sir Stephen Bubb into the care of people with learning disabilities and autism following the scandal of Winterbourne View in 2011 was published. Titled “Winterbourne View: Time for Change”, it offers ten recommendations to the NHS, local authorities, the government and regulators including a “charter of rights” for people with learning disabilities, giving them and their families a right to challenge decisions and to request a personal budget, and a programme of closure for “inappropriate” inpatient care facilities, and has prompted a surge of media interest, the best being this piece in yesterday’s Guardian. Also this week, the inquest into the death of Stephanie Bincliffe from complications of obesity in an assessment and treatment unit, after seven years in a padded cell which she never left, was published, and although it criticises the institution she was in (run by the private Huntercombe group) for having no plan to treat her weight gain or challenging behaviour, it cleared them of neglect despite the egregious denial of her human rights and liberty over an extended period. (More: Mark Neary, Housing & Support Alliance.)

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Not being spied on used to be called freedom

Front page of today's Sun, with the headline 'Blood on their hands' and Facebook's logoYesterday a report from the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) came out that concluded that the murder of Lee Rigby, a British soldier, in London in 2013 could not have been prevented despite the two murderers being known to the intelligence services and having come up in a number of inquiries. The one bit of chatter they were aware of after the event that actually mentions a plan or desire to kill a soldier was on an American Internet service, thought to be Facebook, which is not obliged to share such information about users with foreign intelligence services. However, David Cameron claimed yesterday that Internet providers have a ‘moral responsibility’ to share such data and the Daily Mail’s front page screams “Facebook has blood on its hands”.

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Palestinians are not just irrational haters

Avraham GoldbergLast Tuesday, two Palestinians attacked a synagogue in Jerusalem, killing four rabbis and a Druze Israeli policeman. It was revealed that several of the rabbis killed were immigrants from Britain and the USA; one of them, Avraham Goldberg, had previously been a rabbi in north London. The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine claimed responsibility, but Israeli police believed the two men acted alone. The Israeli police delayed releasing the men’s bodies to their families as a supposed deterrent to others, and also demolished their family’s homes, as is now standard practice (which satisfies Israeli desire for collective punishment, although it never seems to have acted as a deterrent).

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I’m a professional driver, and I’m not a knucklehead

Front page of the Sun newspaper, showing a house covered in red and white English flags with a white Ford Transit van parked outside, with the headline \Last week Mark Reckless, who had stood down as a Tory MP in the Rochester and Strood constituency in Kent and re-stood for UKIP, won the by-election with 42.1% of the vote on a 50.6% turnout. Remarkable in this election was the poor showing for the Liberal Democrats, who scored only 349 votes (0.9%, down 15.5% from 2010) and lost their deposit. During the campaign, the Labour MP Emily Thornberry, who had been Shadow Attorney General, tweeted a picture of a house festooned with St George’s Cross flags with a white Ford Transit van parked outside, simply captioned “Image from #Rochester”, which allegedly made Labour leader Ed Miliband “incandescent” because it gave the impression that Labour were full of metropolitan snobs who looked down on “real” working-class people they expected to vote for them. The Sun and the Daily Mail both made front-page stories of the tweet, the former headlining “Only Here for the Sneer” and printing a picture of the owner of the van, now covered in Sun mastheads, along with his ‘manifesto’; the Daily Mail’s headline this morning said “Labour row deepens over snob MP”. The idea that this man’s views and behaviour actually represent working-class men (let alone women) are not being seriously questioned, at least in the mainstream media.

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Julien Blanc and swearing on talk radio

This morning on the Nick Ferrari show on LBC (which I don’t listen to very often; I always preferred the BBC London station), they were talking about the American “pick-up artist” Julien Blanc, who has been going around the world giving seminars on how to “pick up” women, which he seems to think involves using very physically aggressive methods, who was meant to be coming to the UK to give seminars but, following widespread protests from feminists in particular, now will not be as he has been denied a visa. Nick Ferrari (right) had two feminist guests on (unusual), namely Rahila Gupta and Louise Pennington. The discussion, however, came to a premature end when Pennington used the F-word, leading Ferrari to cut her off and say he would never invite her onto his show again.

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Are we really much better than the Greeks?

Brightly painted wooden cage-like cells, photographed in a care home in GreeceLast Friday there was a story on the BBC website on a state home for both children and adults with learning disabilities in Greece, in which some of the inmates, who have conditions including Down’s syndrome and autism, are kept locked in cages for most of the time, have no access to personal possessions and rarely leave the centre. Other abuses have been documented over the past ten years, including people tied hand and foot to their beds and one 16-year-old boy who died and was found to have swallowed bandages as a result of poor supervision. A modern centre for people disabilities exists in the area and was built with EU money and currently houses the head of an association for people with disabilities and their families, but has no residents as the Greek state has no money to staff it. The director of this centre has not been paid for a year. Continue reading

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