Category Archives: Ethics

Posts about ethics and morality

The Marketization of Thought

Sometimes nowadays it seems that reality has been replaced by a dark, dystopian satire. The old phrase “you couldn’t make it up!” would apply so often that we don’t give it another thought.

“Don’t Care” Rooms

The news that prompted my musings was that of an Essex hospital that was giving serious consideration to going into partnership with a company called CareRooms. In an apparently innovative way to reduce the problem of “bed-blocking” patients ready for discharge, but needing ongoing care and support, would move to spare rooms in private homes. The company would provide a form of brokering service, matching room providers to patients. Prospective hosts were said to be able to earn “up to £1000” a month.

Initial reaction from some quarters was positive. Some even suggested this would be a means for some hosts on benefits to avoid the “bedroom tax”. Income for householders, earlier release from hospital for patients, reduced benefits bill: what’s not to like? Everyone’s a winner, are they not? Y-e-e-s, well, hang on a minute…

Care Rooms website
All you need?

Before the NHS was set up in 1948, the misery and suffering by poor people because of a lack of affordable healthcare was a national – and international – scandal. They would avoid or delay seeking medical care because of the costs. Decisions such as “shall I call the doctor or feed the kids?” were commonplace. Or “pay the rent”, “light a fire”, “replace my worn-out shoes” and many, many more. The NHS was set up so that “never again” would people face these agonising choices. It was, and remains, a testament to the compassionate side of our human nature.

For the reasons just stated, it would have been literally unthinkable to suggest such a get-rich-quick scheme. For householders to provide care, and for the intermediary company to profit from, a service which should available, as of right, to all, defies the very founding principles of the NHS.

It’s wrong for several other reasons, too. Firstly, it’s just a way to try to get around the chronic underfunding of the NHS. For too long, we’ve tried to get our healthcare on the cheap. Secondly, it tries to solve the wrong problem. True, shortage of beds is one of the consequences of the underfunding, as one of the graphs from the last link shows. But the bigger problem is the shortage of properly trained community care staff to care for those discharged from hospital safely and appropriately. The people concerned are disproportionately vulnerable and elderly. How many of us would want an elderly relative – or ourselves – looked after by a well-meaning amateur who may have been attracted to the scheme by the money to be made?

The hospital quickly dropped the idea once it got publicity and a hostile reaction. But the fact that it was considered is an example of what I call the “marketization of thought”.

Our Factory Universities

Another example of how market thinking has spilled over into other human activities is how we discuss policy about universities. In my student days, it was natural to think of education, per se, as a “good thing”. More (good quality) education was even better and as many of us as possible should enjoy as much of it as possible. It wasn’t just the opportunity to learn things, of course. It was also very much about the process of learning: the new skills developed: to challenge and be challenged, to refine an idea reflectively or collectively, to create new ways of seeing things. We took for granted that all this experience would lead naturally to a better society: better informed, more highly skilled people making better decisions. Reason, rational debate and mutual respect were all part of this essentially Enlightened idea.

university factory
University factory

Depressingly, universities seem to be treated more and more as factories: factories which are there to enhance the lifetime earning powers of its products: the students. Certainly the whole debate about student loans is conducted in these terms. Individuals benefit, of course – the material self-interest mantra at the heart of Free Market Fundamentalism – and it is also sold as benefiting “UK plc”, whatever the hell that is. Oh yes, it’s the reduction of all our plans, our hopes, dreams, loves and fears, smiles and tears to the sum total of all the transactions in the land.

The “Customer Service” Nightmare Experience

Marketization of thought affects the way we, as consumers, interact with those from who we buy goods and services. Customer service has become increasingly impersonal. Consumers are encouraged more and more to use online services, requiring no real-time human interaction. For a large range of goods and services, this works pretty well for purchases, and when coupled with delivery to your door, is often far more convenient than a visit to the shops.

The old ways weren’t perfect. I remember, as a child, being dragged from shop to shop by my mum on a seemingly endless round of activity, but often not much seemed to get bought. My memory is of wasted hours in and out of the cold and coming home empty-handed. But every one of those would-be purchases would involve a face-to-face conversation, in naturalistic language, where preferences and nuances of taste could be mediated. There was a bit of polite social chit-chat, too – usually about the weather.

The range and quality of goods on offer has improved beyond my wildest childhood imaginings. Product innovation is an area where markets do serve us well. But, even here, some new product or service probably sits on the shoulders of an innovative breakthrough enabled, and publicly funded by those universities of which I spoke earlier.

But woe betides you when things go wrong. In 21st century Britain, so-called “customer service” too often takes the form of a Kafkaesque nightmare. Firstly, the company website: before you can begin to find how you can get help, you wade through a sea of “FAQs”, arranged in some arbitrary, illogical order, none of which seem to address quite your problem. Next, the “Contact us” page, often presented with just the wrong set of questions to “steer” you to the right department. These pages often have helpful message boxes to fill in, which sends an email to some unknown destination deep in the bowels of the organisation – but you don’t know where because there’s no fucking email address to be seen! And the number of times I’ve searched a website in vain for a contact phone number for myself or on behalf of clients, in my role as an adviser: yes, Virgin Media, that does include you!

Don’t Call Me

man waiting on phone
Please press 1 to give up!

Which brings us to that most vexed of subjects: the call centre. The consumer organisation  Which? once reported that waiting times on customer service phone numbers are, on average, seven times longer than those for sales departments. No, it wasn’t you’re imagination. And I cannot begin to count the hours I’ve spent listening to the Four Seasons on DWP and other government department call centre lines. If Vivaldi were still alive, his royalties would easily make him the richest man on the planet! Once you’ve navigated the “Press 1 for…, press 2 for…” hurdles, listened patiently to music on hold, you eventually reach an operative reading from a script who doesn’t have the authority to solve your problem. They promise to get “someone” to ring you back, but…

I had an early inkling of this “painting by numbers” approach to customer service when on a family holiday in the USA about 30 years ago. With youngish children, we typically ate at “family” restaurants. I quickly spotted the routine: a young waitress – it was invariably a “she” – would mechanically go through lists of choices: fruit juices, how you like your eggs (I once said “fried” on my first visit to the States years earlier – and was given a look as if I were a complete idiot). The most bewildering list was for salad dressings: I remember “French”, which was nothing like anything I’d seen in France, and some brightly-coloured goo called “Thousand Island”. Where on earth were these thousand islands where they ate this gunk? Bored with listening to the same lists endlessly repeated day after day, I tried to take the initiative by pre-empting my choices. Big mistake! I soon learnt that, whenever I did this, my waitress got confused and I got the wrong order. I soon learnt to wait to be processed through the system.

It wasn’t the waitresses’ fault – or the call centre operators’ fault, or any of the other bored employees you actually spoke to. After all, they’d been given just enough training and authority to guide customers through a standardised corporate process, but not enough to interact as one human being with another. Clever people in corporate HQs would streamline everything for maximum efficiency – and profit. Pity the poor customer who doesn’t like being processed like an item on a production line.

And so it has become more generally in the world of “customer service”. All this only becomes possible when decision-making is centralised and customers are treated as economic units to be exploited, rather than living, breathing humans.

Interlude: A German Joke

Time to lighten the mood. This story dates from the late 1970s, long before the wonders of computer-aided design had enabled the sophisticated customization and flexibility of modern production process. It’s a joke told to me by the German delegate at an international conference I attended. He was anxious to prove that his compatriots do have a sense of humour. You’ll see the relevance – it goes like this:

Word had spread the length and breadth of Germany of an exciting new invention: The Wonderful, Amazing, Universal Shaving Machine. Its inventor was the blacksmith in a small, hilltop village in Bavaria – let’s call it Rasiersdorf for now – who had shown no particular skills before, apart from being a steady and reliable blacksmith. A coachload of interested tourists went to track down the inventor and his amazing machine. The blacksmith was a shy, self-deprecating man who led his group of visitors into his workshop.

“My Wonderful, Amazing, Universal Shaving Machine will give the perfect shave to any man in the village!” The tourists looked doubtful, so the blacksmith said: “Bring me any man in the village old enough to grow a beard!” The guide went and returned with the village butcher. He sat in the blacksmith’s chair and was tied in with a leather strap. The Wonderful, Amazing, Universal Shaving Machine was lifted up by the blacksmith and tied to the butcher’s head. Various leather straps were adjusted and then the machine was switched on.

Cogs of all sizes began to turn and whir and, sure enough, two minutes later, the butcher stood up, showing off his perfectly-executed shave. “That’s truly amazing!” the visitors cried.  “Especially so”, said one, “considering all the different sizes and shapes of men’s heads and jawbones!”. “Ah, yes”, said the blacksmith, “But that was before the invention of the Wonderful, Amazing, Universal Shaving Machine!”.

robot barber
Something for the weekend, sir?

The next time you’re waiting for a call centre to answer, you’re on to your third tune of music on hold, the seventh time you’ve been told by a recording that “your business is important to us” and they’re “experiencing unexpectedly high call volumes”, just think on my little tale. It might just help you to retain a little vestige of the will to live.

Market Overreach

I’ve written before about the problems that arise when markets overreach themselves into areas where they don’t belong, most notably in Cat and Mouse. Obvious areas are privatised water, the utilities and railways. Plus, of course, the NHS. The energy regulator, Ofgem, proved once again yesterday that it doesn’t understand the stupidity of what it is trying to regulate. It says that the “big six” oligopolistic companies made a healthy profit margin of 4.5% by overcharging those customers who had not switched suppliers. The gap between the lowest and highest tariffs has widened. If all customers, and not just those switching, were on the best tariffs, the companies would have made a 6% loss instead.

Ofgem refers to non-switchers as “less-engaged consumers”. “Engaged”? ENGAGED?? Pardon me: I like to get engaged in a good discussion at a meeting or a pub. I got engaged to each of my wives (serially!) before we got married. I also enjoy being engaged in the plot and characters of a well-crafted film, novel or TV series. People get engaged in sport, hobbies and pastimes they enjoy. But engaged in shopping around for where to buy the stuff that makes my light come on when I press the switch? Come off it! I can think of at least 8 billion other things I’d rather be engaged in! Electricity, water and public transport are all basic essentials to modern life. I just expect them to be there and work, at a fair price. At the end of a rail journey, I don’t want to be told “Thank you for choosing to travel today by X”. (Fill in your own privatised, monopoly rail company at the X.) As if I had a choice! Nationalise the lot and sack the regulators, and let us get on with our lives in peace!

antique toilet
A guide to life?

In their very different ways, the examples I’ve given above reflect the overreach of markets into every corner of our lives. Worse too, it’s infecting the language we use and the way we describe activities that have (or should have) nothing to do with markets. As Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz has said: markets, like toilets, both man-made inventions, are very useful in the right context. But no-one tries to run the whole of society on the basis of toilets. The same must be true for markets.

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Justice for All

I only ever attended one Employment Tribunal during my career, about twenty years ago – and I found it a bit of a pain and a waste of time. So, at first sight, you might think I have some sympathy for the headline in today’s Daily MailDaily Mail headline

But I don’t. Here’s why.

My Tribunal Experience

My presence was required at an Employment Tribunal as a result of a grievance claim from a former member of staff who was dismissed for gross misconduct. I was the senior manager and the final step in the company’s appeals process: I had dismissed the appeal and upheld the sacking. The offence was theft of a small amount of cash. We had a clear policy on this type of misconduct: the nature of the work required a high degree of trusting our staff and the hard line was pour décourager les autres.

The case took two days and was held in Croydon: a two hour journey each way from home. The tribunal dismissed the claim and awarded us costs. I admit to feeling slightly sorry for the guy, for his poor judgement and false hope in thinking he had a case. But I was also irritated by the – to me – waste of everybody’s time. Was the case “spurious”, to use the Mail’s language? In their eyes, probably yes, but I felt that “misguided” would be a more accurate term.

Grayling’s Failing

Fast forward to 2013. Justice Secretary Chris Grayling introduced fees for ETs, of up to £1200 for the more complex cases – extra if there were appeals. The reason Graying gave was to deter “vexatious” cases, an assertion made without conducting any research into the verity of his statement. Volumes of cases fell dramatically, by more than 70%. If the assertion that fees would deter the more frivolous and less worthy cases, the success rate of the remaining volume of cases would have risen. In fact, the opposite occurred. The logical conclusion was that most claimants who would have succeeded in the past had been deterred from claiming: a denial of justice.

As an advisor in the past four years, many times I’ve given advice to clients on employment issues. They had a valid claim against a rogue employer who has cheated them out of money or discriminated against them. But when told of the fees, they decide not to proceed. Very often this is simply that they cannot afford the money. Sometimes they’re advised to sue in the county court instead, because this is cheaper. This was correct advice, but absurd when you consider that the Employment Tribunal system was created as a better-matched and less intimidating way than the courts for mistreated employees to seek justice.

Praise to Unison

Unison bannerSo I was delighted to see the news that Dave Prentice and the Unison union have persevered in their legal fight against tribunal fees – and won. The Supreme Court ruled that fees were a denial of justice and were unlawful. The decision of the five judges was unanimous. Grayling’s policy changes when Justice Secretary have been ruled unlawful before. But this time, the Supreme Court went further. In one paragraph of their ruling, they effectively lectured the Government on some basic truths about our constitution. It’s worth reading in full (the emphasis is mine):

  1. At the heart of the concept of the rule of law is the idea that society is governed by law. Parliament exists primarily in order to make laws for society in this country. Democratic procedures exist primarily in order to ensure that the Parliament which makes those laws includes Members of Parliament who are chosen by the people of this country and are accountable to them. Courts exist in order to ensure that the laws made by Parliament, and the common law created by the courts themselves, are applied and enforced. That role includes ensuring that the executive branch of government carries out its functions in accordance with the law. In order for the courts to perform that role, people must in principle have unimpeded access to them. Without such access, laws are liable to become a dead letter, the work done by Parliament may be rendered nugatory, and the democratic election of Members of Parliament may become a meaningless charade. That is why the courts do not merely provide a public service like any other.

Now, that’s basically what’s called a bollocking! Call it teaching grandmother to suck eggs, if you like. The “enemies of the people” (Daily Mail style) yesterday called out those who are the real enemies of the people in this case: the Government in trying to defend the unlawful actions of an earlier Tory Justice Minister. The Court ruling has been called a “lesson in patriotism” in a powerful article by Afua Hirsch in today’s Guardian.

Justice for All

So, the Mail did what it always does: take a news story and spin it to the opposite of the truth. It again confirms their attitude to the law. It’s fine when it’s used by the rich and powerful to bully and intimidate others into getting their own way. It’s the law as a plaything of the rich: super-injunctions to suppress awkward facts and expensive divorce settlements for spouses of billionaires. But the law as a bulwark to protect the rights of the poor and exploited? No way. There’s a word for this attitude: feudal.

And as for my irritation at the two days I spent in Croydon all those years ago? Put it down as the necessary price to pay to protect those freedoms we have gradually wrested from those in power, over the past 800 years since Magna Carta.

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Schadenfreude

Were you still watching on election night 1997 when Stephen Twigg defeated Michael Portillo in Enfield Southgate? My late wife and I were. Great, wasn’t it? We went to bed shortly afterwards with tired smiles and a feeling of contentment.

Twigg defeats Portillo 1997
That Twigg defeats Portillo moment

Talking of wives, my current wife is a real dog lover and she wouldn’t knowingly harm any animal. And yet, she laughed uncontrollably at the sight of a small, cute dog being accidentally thrown into a cement mixer in a famous sitcom scene.

Binky in the Mixer
In goes Binky

Schadenfreude, that most guilty of pleasures, seems to affect us all, no matter how well-intentioned we claim to be. Taking pleasure out of someone else’s misfortune has been the stock-in-trade for moral tales and for comedy down the centuries. From the comeuppance of Shylock to the humiliation of a self-important Basil Fawlty, the audience is invited to feel good or to laugh at witnessing the suffering of a rogue or buffoon.

As a comedian once said, “I wonder what the German word for schadenfreude is”. Although we have no everyday word in the English language, there’s a whole host of idiomatic phrases to choose from. “Cut down to size”, “got what (s)he deserved”, “the higher they climb, the harder they fall”, “taste of your own medicine”, “(s)he had it coming” all spring to mind. Clearly our in-built sense of justice often includes a levelling down as well as a levelling up.

So, why do human beings, even quite moral ones, exhibit schadenfreude? An interesting article in Psychology Today attempts to answer this question. A key point is this: “people … have a fundamental need to believe that the (social) world is a just place and that this belief is functionally necessary for them to develop principles of deservingness”. That’s fine, I get that… except that it doesn’t explain the joy at poor Binky’s fate. Of course, the core theme of the sitcom was that most British of subjects: embarrassment and the gradations of the English class system. But I think we’ll keep our dog walking away from building sites, just in case.

The chocolate orange

Chocolate orange
Chocolate orange

Right now, the UK government is in a state of collapse. In a few short weeks, the evil hubris of “crush the saboteurs” has given way to minority government, bribes to the DUP, open warfare in the Tory party, a breakdown in Cabinet discipline and the PM’s plea to opponents for ideas. The head of the National Audit Office speaks of disarray between Government departments, a lack of policy-making capacity and the real danger of the UK’s approach to EU exit negotiations falling apart “like a chocolate orange”.

The government’s official economic watchdog, the Office for Budget Responsibility, said this week that the UK economy was in a worse shape now to cope with economic shocks than it was in 2007, before the global crash. Exiting the EU on May’s proclaimed terms will be the biggest economic shock since World War II. The sheer size and breadth of the mess is becoming clearer by the day. So much for Tory austerity policies. Anyone brave – or insane – enough to say “strong and stable” one more time?

Ode to Joy?

Of course, I can’t help at times feeling some guilty pleasure at all this misfortune falling on a group of people who felt they were entitled to rule for generations. In my heart, my dream scenario – or, perhaps more accurately, the most benign nightmare scenario – would be this. May and her ragbag of incompetents and fantasists struggle on long enough to damage their reputation and electability for a generation. But in so doing, they don’t do so much damage to our economy and national interests that we – and especially the poor and most vulnerable – are harmed irreparably for decades to come.

My heart may wish for such an outcome, but my head says the chances of this happening are vanishingly small. Perhaps I’d better stop my indulgence in schadenfreude pretty damned soon. But, hey, I guess the odd snigger from time to time might still be allowed.

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Curiouser and Uncuriouser

Just after she retired, my wife and I were at a social function. She was asked what she was now doing with her time. She replied that she was doing English Literature as a part-time student with the Open University. The questioner without hesitation responded: “Oh, I can’t think of anything worse!” This, as it turns out, is a great conversation killer! Where on earth can the conversation go from there?

Reflecting on this exchange some time later, I wondered why I felt at the time such huge contempt for her questioner. My conclusion was that the questioner and I are poles apart on one spectrum of human attitude: curiosity. I was appalled by the fact that someone would find offensive the idea of a mature woman gaining new knowledge and learning new skills.

Lifelong Learning

I started to think about the wider ramifications of all this. To start with, we all have some fundamental principles that underpin our outlook on life. Two of mine, relevant to this subject, are these. Firstly, the development of the human brain by the random march of evolution is a thing of wonder and celebration. Secondly, when it comes to the brain, I’m a firm believer in the “use it or lose it” principle.

Alice and the Mad Hatter

Just look around any primary school classroom. Just talk to, or observe, any 5, 6, 7, 8 or 9-year old child as they explore new things about the world. See the joy that comes from each new discovery, and the further quest for knowledge that it inspires.  Sadly, for too many of us, that joy, that quest for learning, withers and fades. But for many – and I like to consider myself as one such – that curiosity survives into old age. The popularity of adult education classes, of institutions such as U3A, of mature students taking degrees are all testimony to that. To quote a tired – but paradoxically energising – old cliché, “You’re never too old to learn!”

Left and Right

I’ve often pondered what underlying characteristics separate politically left-leaning from right-leaning people. It’s part of the old “nature versus nurture” debate. Perhaps it’s something to do with our faith in human nature. The right might take a view that, left to their own devices, people are selfish and can’t be trusted. The left, by contrast, may hold an unshakeable faith in the improvability of human kind. They criticize each other as being bitter, cynical and twisted or being hopelessly naïve and utopian. Such an analysis may explain a lot, but I think it gets us only so far.

argumentI think there’s another dimension, a spectrum which characterises the left-right character differences. And that’s this dimension of curiosity: the preparedness to use one’s own brain to challenge received ideas and think things through for oneself. My observations of human behaviour over nearly seven decades have noticed one thing in particular. Those on the right (politically and socially) seem much more prepared to take at face value the word of authority figures, such as politicians, doctors, priests and anyone in uniform. (Increasingly these days, these also include business leaders and the rich of all types.) The left are more prepared to challenge and seek alternative views on the subject.

This underlying difference has many manifestations. Divine revelation versus the scientific method. Theocracy versus secularism. Royalist versus republican. Tradition versus progress. Order versus creativity. Views on the environment and climate change. Rote teaching of facts versus “learning to learn”. Attitudes to race, gender and sexuality. Nostalgia for a mythical “golden age” versus optimism for the future. The welcome, or otherwise, for different cultures and the immigrants who bring them. Win-lose versus win-win. Daily Mail versus Guardian.

To sum up: “I have nothing to learn from you” versus “I welcome the opportunity to learn from you”.

Sticking Together and Schism

There’s a further point I’d like to make concerning this phenomenon. And that’s to do with political parties. It’s a well-observed fact that parties of the left love to have debates and schisms, factions and splits. It seems naturally easier for left-wing party activists to split and form a new party than split the difference. (Think Judean People’s Front in Monty Python’s Life of Brian.)

Sorry, I meant the People’s Front of Judea.

Parties of the right tend to keep their differences to themselves. Last year, nearly half of Tory MPs voted Remain. But with literally one or two exceptions, you never hear from them now. There’s a strong cultural pressure to stick together / avoid doing something that is “bad form” / don’t let the side down / support the regiment / rally round the flag / supply your own cliché. (The exceptions, of course, are the extremist right-wing parties like UKIP and the Front National.)

In addition to the huge disparity in funding, this phenomenon hugely disadvantages Labour and the left in UK elections, with our first-past-the-post voting system. To recall an old joke of two men chased by a lion, “I only have to run faster than you, not the lion”.

It Makes Me Cross

One last thing about all this that makes me cross. It’s when religious apologists rage against that non-existent oxymoron, the “militant atheist”. You know, the person who’s going to undermine all moral authority by brainwashing our children into becoming atheists too. All the atheists and humanists I know want nothing of the sort. We just want people to think for themselves and draw their own conclusions. The uncurious just don’t get that bit. So I say, rediscover your inner eight year-old. Try using your brain a little harder and discover something new. Test your opinion against some facts. You might even enjoy it.

“Curiouser and curiouser!” cried Alice. Well, amen to that, I might say!! (Or not.) And, by the way, Alfie, what is it all about?

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Hatred and Humanity

My early-morning reading yesterday came from two very different sources. Firstly, I checked my Twitter feed, which included comments about the media coverage of Theresa May’s calling of a snap general election. Then, I continued my read through the latest volume of Alan Bennett’s diaries, entitled Keeping On Keeping On. It brought into start relief two very different aspects of human nature: hatred and humanity.

Hatred

On Tuesday, May spoke a transparent lie that she called the election because Westminster was making things too difficult for her to lead EU exit negotiations. This lie encouraged the usual suspects in the media and morphed into something akin to fascism. Britain’s chief daily harbinger of hate, the Daily Mail, turned this into the headline “Crush the Saboteurs”. The saboteurs, in this case, are those who disagree with the Mail’s views favouring the most extreme and economically-damaging departure from the EU. Any dissent is treason.

Anyone who knows any history can see both historic and current resonances. “Stability”, a word much in vogue with May yesterday, is the last refuge of every tyrant, despot and tin-pot dictator down the ages. It’s easy to make a list of such autocrats, but a topical example is shown below. May’s words could (with a little adaptation) have been spoken by President Erdogan of Turkey as justification for his referendum to secure an autocratic power grab for himself.

Dialy Mail and Erdogan
Daily Mail and Erdogan

Let’s turn to the other main media suspect, the Sun. Those with attention spans longer than a gnat’s will recall that it’s only nine months since much-admired MP Jo Cox was murdered in the street by a right-wing fanatic. His barbaric act was no doubt spurred on, and legitimised in his own mind, by the vile xenophobic outpourings of many of those in the Leave camp during the referendum campaign. And yet now, a few months later, Rupert Murdoch’s scandal-rag is talking of “killing off” and “murdering” Labour MPs. And, in his bid to grab full control of Sky, Murdoch asserts he is a “fit and proper” person. Not in my book, sunshine.

Sun and Jo Cox MP
Sun and Jo Cox MP

Humanity

So, anyway, I turned away from this Twitter-fed poison to read more of Alan Bennett’s diaries, covering the period 2005 to 2015. What surprised me was that they were more political than I expected. Several of his comments were remarkably prescient and he was plainly no fan of Tony Blair! But what strikes me above all – and is no surprise – is the sheer humanity of the man. His ear for a fine turn of phrase is legendary: the cadences, nuances and idiosyncrasies of the spoken language. But he also has a fine eye for character: moods, body language, real or suspected motives, strengths and human failings are all deftly portrayed, whether he’s writing about someone rich and famous or the lowliest of strangers he just happens to meet.

Bennett also displays a quiet, comfortable sense of place. He’s clearly very much a man of Britain in an unshowy, sort-of-patriotic way. There’s a sense of rootedness which is the antithesis of the hawkish, jingoistic variety espoused by the Mail and by the unhinged, irreconcilable EU-haters on the Tory back benches.

Alan Bennett
Alan Bennett

A Matter of Character

All of this brings us back to Theresa May and her character now on show. Check out both her speech in Downing Street on Tuesday and that in the House of Commons yesterday. It’s all “me”, “I” and such, displaying an autocratic nature that I’ve commented on in earlier posts. May is pushing the line that the election is about strengthening her negotiating position “in the national interest”. But the truth – that her decision to go to the country is all about cynical Tory Party advantage – easily belies that. Yvette Cooper got it exactly right when she called that out in the Commons debate.

Conventional wisdom is that the election result is a foregone conclusion: that may well turn out to be right. But I do have this to say to anyone who, like me, cares a lot about emphasising our common humanity. Firstly, whatever you do, vote – even though our first-past-the-post system may make it a wasted one: it’s moral authority we’re after here. Secondly, think very hard about what you can do to minimise the number of seats that the Conservatives win. I’m pleased to see that Gina Miller, the brave woman who forced May to act constitutionally with the Article 50 vote, is setting up a tactical voting unit to help those who want to avoid giving May even more hubris and the most damaging form of EU exit.

There’s too much hatred and not enough humanity afoot in the UK right now. And it’s not the fault of the “saboteurs”. On June 8th, think very carefully indeed about what you’re voting for.

 

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Cressida and Jean Charles

I read the news about the appointment of Cressida Dick to the top police job in the country with mixed feelings.

Cressida Dick
New Commissioner Cressida Dick

I was certainly pleased that her appointments as the first female Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police meant that another part of the “glass ceiling” barring women from top jobs had been smashed. But I immediately remembered where I’d heard her name before. Dick was the senior officer in charge of the police operation in 2005 which led to the fatal shooting by a police officer at a tube station of an entirely innocent man: Jean Charles de Menezes. His only crime was, in today’s words by Owen Jones, to “look like he might be foreign”.

The context of the shooting is important. The atmosphere was febrile, less than 48 hours after the London bombings of 7th July 2005 by Islamist extremists on 3 tube trains and a London bus. 52 people died and over 700 were injured in the attacks. The police were under enormous pressure to find and arrest anyone associated with the four suicide bombers. I’ve always felt an enormous sympathy for the police officers who shot de Menezes at close range, thinking he was a suicide bomber who was about to detonate his bomb on the tube train. These officers had taken enormous personal risk to take down a presumed bomber, only find later they had been told to pursue the wrong man, who had absolutely no connection with the 07/07 attacks.

Those officers have had to live their days since in that awful knowledge. Dick, as the Police Commander in charge had issued the order that the presumed bomber be “detained as soon as possible”. It was widely assumed at the time that, at the very least, Commander Dick’s career would forever be tainted by suspicion. One cannot help but be impressed that her own personal qualities have enabled her to overcome this dreadful incident and rise to the top. From the media coverage, it seems that the two people ultimately responsible for her appointment – Home Secretary Amber Rudd and London Mayor Sadiq Khan – were both convinced she was the best candidate.

De Menezes’ Family

It was no surprise that de Menezes’ family criticised the appointment of Dick yesterday. His cousin expressed “serious concerns” and expressed doubt that Dick could command the confidence of the public in such a high-profile and often controversial role. A sorry part of the aftermath of de Menezes’ shooting was that, on several occasions, the Metropolitan Police, including its most senior officers, treated his family shabbily, to say the least. Yesterday’s news must seem like another enormous kick in the teeth.

Jean Charles de Menezes
Jean Charles de Menezes

Is it too much to hope that some accommodation could be found between the Met and the relatives of Jean Charles de Menezes? During her very busy period preparing for her new job, might it be possible for Commissioner-elect Dick to take time to meet the members of the family – to apologize in person and to hold a frank and private discussion as to what happened on that fateful day? A hand of reconciliation offered to the relatives of an innocent victim of police error would be a good way for the first female “top cop” to begin her role.

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In Moral Freefall

It’s less than a week since the US Presidential Inauguration and how does it feel? Metaphors and images come readily to mind, mostly involving cliff edges and falling off them. In the Oval Office, we see daily pictures of the Trump-creature (I can’t bring myself to see him as human) signing executive order after executive order. It’s like all my worst nightmares rolled into one awful horror story. The dominant image is of the USA in freefall.

Sign of man going over cliff
Over the cliff

The American Clifftop

All countries have their national myths: they are part of the glue that binds nations together. A powerful and enduring US myth is of the “shining beacon on the hill”: America as leader of the free world. American setting an example in terms of freedom of speech, equality before the law, peaceful handover of power following a free and fair election. To a considerable degree, all of these things are true. America’s clifftop is all of these things, a moral high ground of sorts. There have been a few landslides and rockfalls, mainly, in recent times, during the Richard Nixon and George W Bush eras. But the cliff is still there, discernible.

At the foot of the cliff, I see horror: a moral cesspit. There appears to be no moral compass to any of Trump’s decisions. All you see is personal self-interest, projected into a twisted notion of national self-interest. And right now, I see a country just starting its freefall from the moral clifftop to the cesspit. Most Americans don’t seem to appreciate the degree of resentment and hatred there is around the world against the USA. 9/11 was a sharp reminder of the most extreme example of such hatred. It may take months, it may take years, but the collapse in the US’s moral standing will have consequences, sooner or later.

The British Clifftop

At the risk of trying to stretch the “falling off a cliff” analogy too far, Britain has two clifftops to consider, one economic and one of social policy and ethics. We haven’t jumped off the economic cliff yet: we’re still arguing over the size of the cliff and what’s at the bottom. So far, Theresa May’s comments suggest see sees quite a high cliff and a hard landing. But all this will be the subject of acrimonious debate over the next two years.

We’ve already jumped off the ethical cliff by the referendum result last June. Despite the other EU members granting the UK a number of concessions and opt-out deals over the years, a small majority of voters still said we’d had enough and to hell with the lot of them. I must have been naïve to think that we British now considered ourselves quite European in our outlook on the main social issues. But we’ve always been the most Atlanticist in our values, and that’s got nothing to do with our geographical position. Our moral standing in the EU and the rest of the world has taken a great fall, except perhaps in the eyes of a sociopath like Donald J Trump.

May’s Visit to Trump

Trump and May at lift
Going Down? You betcha!

Which brings us to Theresa May’s impending visit to Washington. I squirmed with embarrassment and disgust when I read published extracts from a speech May plans to deliver to a Republican gathering today. It contains the usual British delusion of the “special relationship”: nothing new there. But, worryingly, she also speaks of “shared values” and “common interests”. I hope May’s shared values don’t include support for torture, undermining NATO and the UN and disdain for basic women’s rights such as abortion. There’s not too much evidence of common interests, on free trade in particular.

As to a bilateral trade agreement, Trump’s idea of a deal is one in which he wins hands down and his “opponent” is crushed and humiliated. And one of Trump’s sidekicks spoke of the meeting for the UK in its “time of need”. The new US administration clearly sees us as subservient, a supplicant. That’s another reason why it is stupid for Britain the leave the relative protection of the EU.

May also spoke of the opportunity for the USA and UK to “lead together, again”. To lead where, exactly? It would scare me witless to think of May leading the UK in any direction that Trump wanted to go.

Plummet Meeting

I spoke at the beginning about the USA being in moral freefall. If May is planning to try to hold Trump’s hand, metaphorically speaking, as he drags his country down, we’re truly in for a Plummet Meeting.

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The March of Civilization

The world watches on anxiously as the Americans are about to embark on a highly dangerous experiment. They are about to hand over the keys of the White House to a “grotesque man-baby*”. With the keys come the world’s largest economy and by far the world’s largest military operation and the codes to a huge arsenal of nuclear weapons. It feels like the onward progress of humankind, the “march of civilization” has been thrown into a terrifying reverse.

(*thank you to Polly Toynbee for this memorable, and chillingly accurate, turn of phrase.)

Ascent and descent of man
Ascent and Descent

Civilization

What do we mean by civilization? My dictionary defines it as follows: “an advanced stage or system of human social development”. This is fine as far as it goes, but begs the question about the word “advanced”. I think it is easier to spot which societies are civilized and which are not, rather than come up with a precise definition. But bound up in the idea is the sense of advancement, of moving forward, of progress.  My own world view is strongly bound up in this notion of advancement: the “march of civilization”, if you like. As we learn and discover more, as we spread our knowledge and improve our skills in education, we become more “civilized”.

At the 1908 London Olympics, the gold medallist in the men’s high jump cleared 1.90m. The current Olympic record is 2.39m (world record 2.45m). Better training, fitness and innovative techniques have literally “raised the bar”. So it is with civilization.

Early Civilizations

It’s generally accepted by historians that civilizations arose independently in several parts of the world: the Middle East, Asia, China and Meso- and South America. The earliest were in Mesopotamia (roughly modern Iraq and parts of neighbouring countries), the east coast of the Mediterranean and in Egypt, beginning around 3500BCE. And of course, classical Greece is seen as the foundation for Western democratic civilization.

If we were transported back in time, clearly we would be shocked by many aspects of what we would see. None of these early “civilizations” would feel “civilized” to a 21st century western eye. Slavery, random acts of violence, arbitrary rule with little or no concept of equality before the law would be just for starters. A total lack of status for women, early death from violence or disease and near-100% illiteracy would be commonplace, too. What we call “civilized” today has been a long time in the making. Like the high jump, successive generations have raised the bar when it comes to defining civilization.

To the Rear, March

No one is naïve enough to believe that progress has been smooth and steady. To give a random example, the good intentions of the French Revolution were followed by a bloodbath before some new order prevailed. Nevertheless, in the longer term, progress has been in a forward direction.

But two key events in 2016 have given the onward march a violent kick backwards. In June, the Brits stuck two fingers up at our closest neighbours – closest geographically and culturally. And in November, the Americans voted a grotesque caricature of a human being as their next president.

Uncivilized USA

We all presumably carry some kind of mental checklist around in our heads about what it takes for a country to be civilized. For many a year, I’ve said that the USA doesn’t meet my criteria, for two – or three – reasons. The two, either of which alone would, for me, disqualify it, are:

  • The US still commits judicial murder on its own citizens (i.e. capital punishment);
  • It has no comprehensive healthcare system (despite Obama’s attempts) to look after all its citizens when they fall ill, regardless of their ability to pay.

The third, which comes close to the previous two, is the lack of state control on gun ownership, a basic failure of a duty of care for its citizens.

But the United States is about to get a whole lot further from my definition of a civilized nation. Sunday’s Observer doesn’t mince words: “His [i.e. Trump’s] often-demonstrated ignorance, racial bigotry, misogyny, untruthfulness, hostility to free speech, crude bullying and dangerous, rabble-rousing nationalism utterly disqualify him. […]Even if all Trump’s numerous inadequacies and sordid personal baggage were set to one side, his egregious lack of coherent, fact-based, rational and cooperative policy platforms, especially internationally, is potentially disastrous.” Quite.

Assuming we all survive the next four years, there will be some backlash to all this, sooner or later. I have to believe the march of civilization will move forward again one day. Whether that’s in my lifetime, right now, I’m not so sure…

 

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A Fundamental Contradiction

Well, here we are in 2017, in the worst mess politically in my lifetime. Hatred, xenophobia and bigotry on the rise again, the highest levels of inequality for a century and the prospects of matters getting even worse. It’s worth tracing how we got to this position – and I want to explain the fundamental contradiction at the heart of the thinking of those who got us here.

Early thinking

Starting with Ayn Rand’s novel The Fountainhead in 1943, the economic theory which I call Free Market Fundamentalism slowly began to form. Rand’s 1957 work Atlas Shrugged further developed the idea of the “morality of rational self-interest”. The intellectual baton passed to economist and philosopher Friedrich Hayek, first at the LSE then at the University of Chicago. Hayek won a Nobel Prize in economics in 1974 for work on the theory of money. (One ironic moment in the story was 30 years earlier, when Hayek was elected as a Fellow of the British Academy, nominated by his intellectual arch-rival, John Maynard Keynes.)

Ayn Rand
Ayn Rand

13 years Hayek’s junior, Milton Friedman was also at Chicago between 1946 and 1977. The “Chicago school” developed further the ideas which were to form the basis of FMF.

Implementation: Thatcher and beyond

Hayek and Friedman acted as advisers to various right-wing politicians in the USA and elsewhere, including Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan.  A key moment came in 1975, shortly after Margaret Thatcher had become leader of the Conservative Party. At a Tory policy conference, Thatcher produced a copy of Hayek’s book The Constitution of Liberty, stating “This is what we believe”. Reagan in the USA stated he was much influenced by Hayek. Thatcher and Reagan both appointed ardent Hayek followers to key government posts in their respective governments.

Augosto Pichochet
Augosto Pinochet

But the first to put Hayekian ideas into practice was Chilean dictator Augosto Pinochet. In 1975, when he wasn’t busy “disappearing” his political opponents, Pinochet implemented free-market reforms which rescued Chile’s economy from some of its ills, at the expense of rapidly rising inequality and poverty. Thatcher and Pinochet remained friends until the latter’s death in 2006. Thatcher lobbied for his release from house arrest in 1999 where he was held pending a request for extradition for alleged human rights abuses.

One defining strand of FMF thought in the early 1980s was monetarism. There was much talk of the “velocity of circulation” of money and much debate as to what actually counted as money. The resulting policy implementation led to two devastating recessions, in 1980 and 1984, which saw off much of British manufacturing industry, never to return.

Friedrich Hayek
Friedrich Hayek

As virtually all of the economic growth was hoovered up by the richest 1% of the population, money flowed secretly into the coffers of various right-wing “think tanks”. Hayek himself had been instrumental in the founding of one of these notorious bodies: the Institute of Economic Affairs. Another think tank, the Centre for Policy Studies, was co-founded by Keith Joseph, Thatcher’s Secretary of State and propagated Hayekian ideas. A third, Policy Exchange, co-founded in 2002 by Tory ex-Ministers Michael Gove and Francis Maude, pursues the same propaganda war. Common features of these organisations are their bland, neutral-sounding names, their extreme right-wing agenda and the lack of transparency in their funding sources. More information can be found at the Transparify and WhoFundsYou  websites and my earlier blog post Think Tanks? More Like the Thought Police!

Parallel realities

A key problem for the proponents of Free Market Fundamentalism is when rigorous pursuit of their policies for over 30 years fails to deliver us all to the promised land. Thorns in their side are those intellectuals and independent-minded people who point out the failure of this policy – most spectacularly in the 2007-8 economic crash, but also in low economic growth, massive tax avoidance, chronic underfunding of public services and rampant rises in inequality and poverty. For Chilean dictator Pinochet, the solution was simple: lock up and kill your political opponents.

But in liberal democracies such as the UK and USA, a more subtle approach is needed. For right-wing politicians, this has mainly taken the form of the consistent application of propaganda (i.e. lies) to deflect criticism away from their policies which have caused the problems. The best two examples of this since 2010 in the UK are the vilification of the poor (including highly misleading distortions about benefit fraud) and putting the blame for the 2008 global recession on the then Labour Government.

Such propaganda has been highly successful and has led to a distinct rise in intolerance and hatred. But the politicians have been helped enormously by their friends in the media, traditional and digital, aided and abetted by those shady think tanks. In his excellent 2014 book The Establishment: and How They Got Away With It, Owen Jones calls these groups and individuals the “outriders” of the system. For reasons of electability, the politicians have to choose their words carefully and not be too brazen about their lying. (At least, that was true until last year’s EU referendum campaign, by far the low point in UK politics in my lifetime.) No such scruples apply to the outliers. The think tanks, Fox News, the Sun, Mail and Express in the traditional media and the likes of Breitbart and worse in the new media pump out a vision of a parallel universe in which truth is an inconvenience to be swept aside with contempt and fury.

Populism and post-truth society

Add to all this the social media and search engines: Facebook, Twitter, Google and so on. Their algorithmic, profit-maximising approach to presenting information on the web, together with a proliferation of false news propaganda websites, can promote lies to the top of the list above those websites, often less melodramatic in tone, aiming to tell the truth. Instead of reasoned debate between people with different views, discourse has now split into two distinct strands. Firstly, people seek out those sources of information which share their views and people spend much of their time in bubbles of the like-minded. The second form of discourse is hysterical ranting, often limited to Twitter-length soundbites of people abusing and threatening each other.

Throw in the denigration of “experts” and you arrive at the Oxford English Dictionary’s Word of 2016: post-truth.

The Contradiction

This now brings us up against the fundamental contradiction at the heart of the post-truth project.

The early intellectual founders of Free Market Fundamentalism appealed, above all, to the rationality of humankind. A key aspect of 1980s monetarism was known as “rational expectations”. Rand, Hayek et al built fabulously complex and, on the face of it, intellectually appealing sets of arguments to support their cause. These towering achievements of intellect remind me of theodicies: increasingly sophisticated arguments purporting to show how the existence of evil in the world can be compatible with the existence of an all-powerful, all-knowing, perfectly good deity.

As I’ve said before, the whole of the free market fundamentalist project rests on two prior assumptions, both false, which are never properly spelled out. These are (a) the pursuit of material self-interest is our only motive in making decisions and (b) such decisions are always entirely rational. (Click the link at the start of this paragraph to see my reasoning.) The “clever” people, Rand, Hayek et al, forgot what it is that makes us human.

As critics are increasingly questioning the economic orthodoxy, its true believers have switched tactics, by appealing instead to human emotions, above all anger and fear. Watching the way Trump stirred up the mob during his pre-election rallies surely brings into mind some sub-Nuremberg chilling of the spine. For the “project” to continue, the “people” must forget all this rational discourse and simply shout and scream at the defined enemy (the poor, immigrants, racial and sexual minorities, or whosoever is selected, 1984-style).

And so a project reliant for its existence on rationality now has to destroy it to survive!

The Fightback

It’s still very early days, but there are signs of a fightback. Economists are rapidly rethinking their ideas. The political left and centre-left are talking about ideas for “progressive alliances”. Various groups and individuals are beginning to agree on one thing. We will not let the mob, exemplified by the more rabid “Brexiteers” and by the “Trumpsters” go unchallenged.

My take on the contradiction is unspectacular. Societies work best when the rational and emotional sides of human nature are reflected in balanced policies and political programmes. We used to call it social democracy. A re-fit for the 21st century is sorely needed. The decent people need to organise and rescue post-truth society from its own follies and contradictions.

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Match Fit Britain

Chancellor Philip Hammond recently spoke about making Britain’s economy “match fit” in preparation for the shock of leaving the EU in the near future. In the spirit of the recent decision of the American people and of Donald Trump’s suggestion for UK ambassador to the US, here are some predictions.

Trade Negotiations

bull in a china shop

The former popular figure of John Bull is to be revived. He will be responsible for trade negotiations with the People’s Republic of China, with the view to making our trade deficit with them even larger. To ease negotiations, Mr Bull’s office will be located in adapted retail premises in Beijing.

Christmas

turkeyRetailers were pleased when, in a recent poll, 37% of turkeys voted for Christmas, thereby ensuring their annual mass slaughter. The French Government has made an offer to take any of our turkeys wishing to escape this fate, in exchange for the remaining child refugees in Calais. The European Parliament voted to suspend – by the neck – any turkeys found within the EU “before Christmas”. A spokesbird for the turkeys complained: “We’re damned if we do and dinde if we don’t”.

Church of England

empty churchFollowing a recent decision by the C of E to remove the requirement for all churches to hold a weekly service, a further innovation will be introduced to make better use of these much underused buildings, especially in rural areas. British zoos will be required to transfer any lions they hold and relocate them to a convenient church. This will provide the lions with more space to roam around. A Church spokesman said he expected this to reduce the need to hold services in these little-used buildings almost completely.

Monarchy

charles windsor cartoonIn a shock move no one expected, the present Head of State is to be replaced by a Mr Charles Windsor, a 68 year-old pensioner and serial violator of the “no political interference by royalty” convention. As a result, all Government Ministries are to be amalgamated into a single Ministry of Black Spiders. All current civil servants will be made redundant and, in their place, a small group of keepers will be appointed to look after the arachnids. In addition, a secondee from the British Homeopathic Association will be deployed to formulate all Government policy based upon interpreting the shapes of the spiders’ webs.

As a result, the redundant Mr Liam Fox will be put in charge of the chicken run, egged on by a Mr Adam Werritty. One other deposed Minister said that this announcement had “certainly ruffled a few feathers” in Westminster.

Utilities

jack and jillIn a move designed to save millions of pounds, the entire water supply network – pipes, pumps, reservoirs and all – will be closed down. It will be replaced by a promising new enterprise consisting of two small children and a bucket. The boy and girl said in a statement: “Any help from the British public to find a hill with a well on top would be much appreciated”. Share prices in water companies took a tumble on the release of this announcement.

Prisons

dickesian jailFollowing recent staff unrest about prison overcrowding, new incentives are to be introduced to instil a more positive attitude from warders. Staff will be encouraged to profit from prisoners by selling them a variety of services and to charge rent at “affordable” (i.e. unaffordable) rates. Free prison meals are to be abolished to help in this enterprise. A City analyst said: “I’d put my money on Class A drugs. The prison warders and the City could really make a killing in this exciting new market.”

Education

old school classroomIn a bold initiative to raise standards further, new minimum standards of attainment will be adopted for school pupils. Entitlement for continuing state funded education will be dependent on achieving at least 2 good passes in A levels at the age of seven. Successful students will then complete the remaining years of education learning the history of Triumphs of the British Empire and in declension of irregular Latin verbs. They will be known as “Class A”. A City analyst forecast promising joint enterprises with the prison service.

Children who fail to meet this standard will be required to fill the empty pews in our little-used churches, developing their athletic prowess by avoiding getting eaten by the lions. A spokeswoman for Sport England enthused: “This presents a great opportunity for Team GB 2024. Although we do expect that, in those Olympic Games, we will field a bigger squad for the Paralympics than the main Olympic Games. I’m proud to be part of another world-beating initiative for Team GB!”

Meanwhile, the Conflict of Interest policy for School Governors is to be revised. In future, all Governors who do not profit personally from decisions at Governing Body meetings will be dismissed, for showing a lack of the new British entrepreneurial spirit. School rooms where Governors hold their meetings must be adapted to include a revolving door affording easy access to local and regional companies in whom they have an interest. An Education Department press statement said: “This change has been made following studies of Best Practice in the Ministry of Defence and in new policy initiatives in the White House”.

Child Protection

donald trump shockedIn a related area, the screening of jobseekers working with children and vulnerable adults, known as DBS checks, will be changed. The checks will be replaced by a short practical exam, known informally as the “grope test”. Candidates will be required to show dexterity and physical strength in sexually assaulting women and children. Oral examinations, including verbal abuse, will be necessary for the most sensitive appointments.

The focus of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse will be repositioned to examine case studies to be used as role models and for training candidates lacking in these key skills.

Administration of Justice

scales of justiceIn a shake-up in the magistracy, the Ministry of Justice has announced the closure of all its Advisory Committees across the country. These are the bodies that interview and select candidates to be appointed as magistrates. In future, released prisoners serving a minimum of five years in gaol will be automatically placed on a shortlist for the magistracy. A simple written exam will be used to sift from the shortlist. Marks will be awarded for wrong answers. Bonus marks will be added for evidence of cheating. In the event that too many candidates reach the required standards, priority will be given to convicted fraudsters, sex offenders and child abusers. A Justice Ministry spokesperson said: “It takes a thief to catch a thief”.

Health

anthrax cellsIn a controversial move, NHS England has announced the resignation of its Chief Executive. He is to be replaced by a vial of anthrax. Under its new leadership, the NHS is planning a series of “breakout initiatives” right across the health service: hospitals, GP surgeries and drop-in centres (to be renamed “drop dead” centres). The vial announced: “This is doubly-good news for the NHS. We expect to eliminate all waiting lists and the massive budget overspends by NHS Trusts in a matter of weeks.” He added “will the last person standing please turn out the lights, pull up the drawbridge and close the door. Thank you.” The Prime Minister commented: “This is really excellent news. It will certainly trump our other recent policy announcements. Under my government, Britain is at last taking back control of our borders. By turning Britain into a toxic wasteland, uninhabitable for 10,000 years, I confidently expect that immigration will immediately fall to zero”.

UKIP protested that 10,000 years is far too short a time for this to be an effective deterrent against our “invasion by foreigners”. The Daily Mail agreed: “These selfish, so-called ‘death tourists’ should continue to go to Switzerland where they belong”, it said.

No one from the Labour Party was available for comment.

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