Tuesday, 31 May 2011

A System that can Corrupt John Taylor must be Rotten

Last week we discussed the notion that nobody should ever be above the law in a genuinely free society. Just as this means that PC Simon Harwood will rightly stand trial for manslaughter after the death of Ian Tomlinson, it is of course right and proper that our lawmakers, without exception, should be no more exempt from prosecution when they cross the line between 'legal' and 'illegal'.

Whatever good things Lord Taylor of Warwick has done in his life (and one could argue there are many), he has committed a serious crime which amounts to defrauding the taxpayer of over £11,000 in false expenses claims for overnight subsistence. The 12 month sentence (of which he will likely serve between 3 and 6 months) seems about right for the scale of the offence. Taylor has not been given the proverbial 'slap on the wrist' but then neither has the court appeared determined to 'make an example of him' either.

I have some sympathy for the view that those who have found themselves in front of a judge for false accounting are merely the softer targets - sacrificial lambs if you will for a system that was in truth rotten to the core. The high-profile serial home-flippers, the large scale evaders of capital gains tax and those MPs who contrived to trough their way through £400 worth of taxpayer-funded food every single month seem to have been let off with a small degree of public embarrassment and/or the inconvenience of having to write out a reasonably substantial cheque. The evidence that the expenses system was as endemically corrupt as many believed can be found in the fact that Taylor, who had lived an existence that stayed on a distinctly straight and narrow path up until a few years ago, managed to either drag himself or be lured into it, depending on how you wish to apportion blame.

Taylor's father was Derief Taylor, who played 16 first class matches for Warwickshire between 1948 and 1950. A competent lower-order batsman and slow left-arm bowler, he scored his only first class century when he made 121 as a nightwatchman against Leicestershire at Edgbaston in June 1949. After injury had ended his playing career, he remained a coach with the county, developing young players for thirty years until returning to his native Jamaica in 1982. His son won a scholarship at Moseley Grammar School, where he was head boy and went on to study law, becoming the first member of his family to attend university. After graduating in 1976, he rose to the bar two years later and had a moderately successful legal career before becoming a BBC producer, working on behalf of numerous charities and serving as a Solihull Borough Council between 1986 and 1990.

John David Beckett Taylor was also the first instantly recognisable black face in the Conservative Party's history. He sought to challenge the notion that people from ethnic minorities must always feel victimised and marginalised by society, therefore seeing parties of the left as the only enabler to a fair shake in life. Dismissing the attitude of the Labour Party in particular as patronising, he said, "They pat us on the head, tell us that we're black, we can't make it, we're disadvantaged because of the colour of our skin. That's not a positive message."

Unfortunately, this positivity towards the Conservative mantra was not always reciprocated by the party he represented. Selected for the safe seat of Cheltenham in 1992, he had to endure members of his own party urging constituents not to vote for him, racist jibes relating to 'monkeys' and 'coconuts' as well as a vicious letter to a local newspaper from a Party member which referred to Taylor as 'the nigger'. The Liberal Democrats cashed in on the chaos, taking the seat for the first time by 1,668 votes. He would later be critical of successive Tory leaders on the issue of race relations, once stating that the issue of race was "a cancer that is in the body that will spread and eventually kill the Conservative Party".

Perhaps with this in mind, Taylor was said to be "gobsmacked" when John Major appointed him as a life peer in 1996. Despite being critical of what he saw as the 'racist right' within the Conservative Party, amongst his most high-profile supporters was Norman Tebbit, creator of the famous 'cricket test' in the 1980s which Taylor himself may well have failed. The man who had also famously told the unemployed to "get on your bike" tipped the new Lord Taylor of Warwick for a future ministerial post and a bright political career.

However, the root of Taylor's difficulties appeared to be the absence of a salary for the work carried out by members of the unelected house. He repeatedly put forward the case for some sort of formal remuneration for those peers who had not already earned their pile and could therefore not consider the amendment of parliamentary bills solely as a public duty or a high-level hobby. When these attempts were unsuccessful, he claims that several peers told him he would be 'crazy' not to claim the overnight subsistence allowance even if his circumstances did not make him eligible for it. As long as there was some family connection to the house declared as his main residence then all would be well.

I suppose the question that stems from this is - do you believe that this recollection of events rings true to the picture that has built up over expenses in the last two years or so? I would have to say that his account sits pretty comfortably with my perception from the outside and that I personally have no issue believing it. This does not by any stretch of the imagination make his false claims any less dishonest, but puts a wider sense of context and culture to the misdeeds of those who have found themselves in the dock. Lord Hanningfield last week protested his innocence by claiming "it's an allowance system, not a reimbursement system", while Taylor stated in his own defence that he was led to believe that overnight subsistence was "part of the reimbursement system".

It is worth pointing out that opinion was divided on John Taylor even before this episode. For every person who saw a committed Christian who had risen to public life from humble origins and done a great deal of charitable work, there was another who questioned his ability. They naturally asked asked if Major's instalment of him as a life peer owed as much to political expediency as it did to finding the most capable man or woman for the job. While we'll never know exactly what went through Sir John's mind at the time that he appointed Taylor to the Lords, it may also be worth noting this:- if a professional who belonged to an ethnic minority sought a fast-track route to the higher echelons of the party machine on the basis of colour or 'novelty value' then the Conservatives were never the party to join. The Labour Party was, and on balance, probably still is.

There is a widespread view that politics generally attracts the types of people on whom you would not wish to turn your back for a single second - greedy, career-driven empire builders who care far more about furthering themselves than they ever will about their constituents. While there has certainly been a noticeable increase in the number of 'career politicians' in the last 20 years or so, I would still lean towards the view that the vast majority of those who go into politics do so for the right reasons. In my experience, every young person you speak to who feels strongly about political issues does not allow the issue of financial rewards to enter the conversation. It's just that somewhere along the way they get distracted by other interests, perhaps seen to be of more immediate and personal relevance.

Like most of us in our everyday lives, members of both houses generally believe that they deserve a better remuneration package than the one that they currently enjoy. Unlike us mere plebs, they previously had a large range of expenses from which to make up the shortfall, more usually than not on the basis of no questions asked and no receipt necessary. It is hardly surprising that people who had motive and were presented with a perfect opportunity were tempted into committing a crime. Of course the prosecutor's observation of how to deal with this no doubt resonates with many, myself included, " Just because your job doesn't pay you much doesn't mean you can put your hand in the till. You ask for a pay rise, and you explain why it isn't enough. If it doesn't go up, you leave and you get another job."

However, summing up after the initial guilty verdict in January, the judge had himself described Taylor as "a man of undoubtedly good character" who had made "a monumental error of judgement". Having taken the time to research at least an outline of his life before writing this, I would broadly agree with those sentiments, and see no reason to believe that this singular but substantial act of dishonesty was anything other than the exception to the general rule. Perhaps he is not alone in this and some of the other former parliamentarians who have spent time in jail will claim that the story of their public lives fitted a similar pattern.

The reason this instance stood out to like a sore thumb is because whether you particularly liked him or not, John Taylor did not come across in any way as a naturally dishonest man. He is no victim either, and as a Christian will know as anyone the importance of choice between the narrow path he led for so long and the days of disaster that invariably spring upon deciding to stray from it. He deserves his sentence just as much as the young person, desparate to make ends meet of just for a nicer life, who dips his hands into the petty cash at work. It may be worth contemplating though whether Taylor, along with some of the other convicted MPs are really the evil, filthy, money-grabbing swines as which they or sometimes portrayed? Or are they perhaps in reality, the living embodiment of the corrupting nature of our politics?

Monday, 30 May 2011

The Failure of Nationalised Compassion

It has been revealed that 800,000 people believed to be in need of social care find themselves excluded from the system and unable to pay for their own private provision. With an ageing population and spending cuts due to come into effect, this figure is likely to rise to over 1 million, according to campaign groups which include Age Uk.

This should not really surprise anyone - the system which many were raised to believe existed, namely that where the state would provide 'from cradle to grave' has been collapsing around us in the last few years anyway. The students who protested against the tuition fees increase in London last year did so because they had been led down the garden path of expectation. An unsustainable model of "you can have whatever you want and someone else will pay for it" finally toppled over as Britain found itself amongst the worst-placed to recover from the international economic turmoil.

Watching those riots on TV was a bit like witnessing a bunch of children who had all found out simultaneously that Santa Claus did not exist. I feel sorry for them because of this, not for the reasoning that statists would use to portray them as 'the future' and as some sort of modern equivalent of the suffragettes. We can have as many arguments about 'cuts' as we want, but I suspect the conversation will be akin to a cat chasing its own tail until the reality is widely understood. There is no rational explanation for sending half the population to university. Too many students, too many bullshit courses, and not enough people coming out of Higher Education with a skill that is applicable to the real world. The solution is simple - send far fewer people to university, and then we can have a much calmer discussion about funding.

Anyway, enough of the young - back to the very old and a BBC story on the subject. The report pointed out that increases in funding for social care had increased by a 'mere' 0.1% in real terms while other state departments such as the NHS had received much more generous settlements. This had forced local councils into tightening their eligibility criteria and focussing their resources on the most needy cases to the detriment of those requiring 'fair to moderate care'. Now the way that is written is of course an invitation to the rest of us to say - "Oh my god - some of these people fought in wars. We MUST increase spending on social care - hey, put up my taxes if you want." In fact, one contributor to the piece offers this insight on the subject:-

"We are a society that has become too busy to look after and respect its own ageing family members As individuals we should be willing to pay extra tax to fund proper state care. Mobility of labour, as required in the capitalist economy, is not compatible with the idea of an extended family in close geographical contact. The days of families looking after the old have gone. Sad but true"

Well-intentioned people like this reader have been suckered over time by the nationalised compassion that has become the norm in modern Britain. There is always a mythical "they" that should be able to resolve every issue and any undesirable situation, regardless of the complexities or nuances involved. If that means throwing further quantities of the 'collective cash pool' at the problem, then so be it. Taking on board the point raised above, it is indeed true that people are now working harder than they ever have for relatively poor take-home rewards. However, in reality this owes more than anything to the burden of spending almost half of the calendar year working for the universal nanny. The gradual slide of 'freedom day' through the month of May and now into early June is largely because of the notion subscribed to by many that the state (ie the taxpayer) must provide ample cover for every last one of life's possible complications.

Moreover. not only does the social care crisis represent further evidence that the statist model does not work, it also poses a question over whether nationalised compassion (in those instances when it can be delivered) is actually fit for purpose. Given a choice between a state employee who is merely 'doing their job' and a relative or close friend who might actually give a shit about my welfare, I'd politely tell the apparatchik that his or her 'services' are not required and trust the person who has earned it over time. I suspect that I am not alone in this, and that a great many would both help and wish to be helped by someone who could practice real compassion, not the one-size-fits-all nanny state version of it that millions have sadly come to expect as 'normal'. If only we weren't out working ridiculous hours to first pay for a failed state system then keep a roof above their heads, then who knows? We might just be able to find the time and the means to provide care more suited to the needs of the individual.

Of course, there will always be cases of ageing people who need looking after and perhaps do not have a close family to call upon. Perhaps they will also fall through the cracks of private charities , who are a part of this conversation that appear to have been missed out altogether. All of the anecdotal experience of our own lives shows us that people who get involved in something because they feel strongly about it deliver better results and are more conscientious towards the task than those who see it as their take on the grind of nine til five. Of all of the state monopolies that have existed since the Second World War, the attempt to take sole ownership of humanity and care for others is perhaps the one that has been based on the most flawed and disingenuous premise.

We will always need some form of taxpayer-funded care for those elderly who lack the resources or the committed people around them to arrange it themselves. But it is doing our ageing population a disservice to pretend that this is a desirable solution across the board. Care needs to be restored to those who genuinely feel it for the person who is struggling to cope. This means freeing up their time and money by first accepting that the existing model of nationalised compassion has failed.

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Only Walking Away Will Sort Out FIFA

The suspension of Mohammed Bin Hammam and Jack Warner by FIFA's ethics committee at Sunday's meeting in Zurich can be interpreted one of two ways. It is either the work of an organisation which under current president Sepp Blatter has had an 'image problem' or suffered from instiutional corruption depending on your slant, and has finally resolved to sort it out. Alternatively, the move is a political one, motivated principally by Blatter's wish to be re-elected and remove his sole opponent in the presidential race from the frame.

Naturally, I'm more inclined to believe the latter explanation. It should be added that neither Bin Hammam nor Warner have been found guilty of anything, and that Petrus Damaseb, deputy-chairman of the committee, has merely stated that "we are satisfied there is a case to be answered." That case centres on claims that Warner and Bin Hammam offered kickbacks totalling $40,000 to Carribean Football Union members at a meeting on May 10th and 11th in exchange for supporting the Qatari's bid for the FIFA presidency.

Blatter found himself in front of the same committee after Bin Hammam's claims that he was aware of wrongdoing but had not reported it. No evidence was uncovered that confirmed this to be the case and as a result it would appear that the Swiss is to stand unopposed on Wednesday, securing a fourth term as FIFA's main man in the process. Bin Hammam had already withdrawn in the early hours of Sunday morning, claiming he "did not wish to drag FIFA's name through the mud" and stating that he would fight to clear his name.

The presence of the Trinidadian, CONCACAF president Jack Warner in the middle of the latest FIFA calamity is possibly the most intriguing aspect. Last year, the BBC ran a Panorama documentary in which it was claimed by investigative reporter Andrew Jennings that Warner had personally profited from ticket sales for the 2006 World Cup (the first for which Trinidad and Tobago had qualified) while also being partial to a bribe or two and participating in vote-rigging. Warner is visibly rattled when confronted by Jennings on the programme and even punches the journalist on one occasion.

Warner's private enterprise, Simpaul Travel, were later ordered by FIFA to make a substantial donation to charity to offset any personal gains which he may have made through selling travel packages that involved match tickets. This seems at best to be an interesting way of an organisation dealing with one of its senior members alleged to be on the make. If Warner was innocent, as he claimed he was, then a full and open investigation would have uncovered no wrongdoing. In the event that he had sold World Cup tickets on the black market, as FIFA appeared to indicate by ordering the repayment, then instant dismissal followed by prosecution for fraud surely ought to have been the outcome?

That Panorama documentary painted a picture which FIFA would surely wish to refute instantly - secret bank accounts, kickbacks and rigged votes, and a large amount of money that appeared in Blatter's personal account for which there was no rational explanation. Interestingly, Jennings was never sued by any FIFA employee for libel or slander and this prompted me to go out and buy FOUL!, his book detailing the findings of a long-running investigation into the governing body's methods and practices. It was basically 300+ pages of similar material, with some background history into how Blatter rose from backroom boy to FIFA's top dog. It also detailed his use of the Goal Programme and promised extra World Cup places to secure the votes of African nations in presidential elections, and told an amusing anecdote regarding Warner, who is said to have arranged for a friend, Neville Ferguson to vote on behalf of Haiti.

It is just possible that the perception of FIFA as a whole is noticeably worse than the reality - part of this would only be because no organisation could be seen as badly as they are at present. However, as is always the case, a clean organisation accused of possessing a culture that does not exist can demonstrate its credentials fairly simply with a swift and open disclosure of the facts. Alternatively, if anything untoward is uncovered, they can go down the route of the IOC after the Salt Lake City affair and weed out any bad apples, bring their house in order and move forward with a clean slate. Blatter has now been in charge of FIFA for over twelve years, and has contrived to ensure that neither has happened. 'Investigations' and 'Equiries' are secret affairs, with no questions permitted and the predictable end result of 'all is well and let's move on'.

This is why the temporary suspension of Warner and Bin Hammam would. in my view, owe more to political expediency than anything more altruistic. Warner is a former Blatter loyalist who appears to have found greener grass somewhere else. Bin Hammam remains a man well-connected in football, with immense wealth and influence across the globe. Of course, this became apparent when Qatar won the right to host the 2022 World Cup, with the predictable (and as yet unproven) claim that oil money must somehow have been involved. Bin Hammam may well have stood a good shot at winning the vote this week but for Sunday's events, and perhaps Warner's move away from the Blatter camp reflected this.

Intriguingly, it is Chuck Blazer, an American and former Warner stooge, who has turned whistleblower and made these allegations against he and Bin Hammam. If there has ever been truth in the numerous previous claims of corruption against the COCACAF chief, then Blazer is as likely to know as anyone. It will be interesting to see how his role in the saga pans out in the next few months, and if some of the many whispers against Warner in the past are finally backed up by an 'I was there' testimony. However, it is hard to see how this can happen without severe damage also being done to FIFA as a whole.

And this is the central point - whatever happens from here, the conclusion that cannot be avoided remains:- in over twelve years as the president of a multi-billion dollar organisation, Blatter has failed to make it fit for purpose. Of all the scandals that have tarnished FIFA in the last decade, there is a good case for stating that this has had the most embarrassing and potentially destructive consequences. Whichever way one chooses to look at the situation, Blatter has been a disaster as leader of the football world, and upon anything resemling a bout of self-examination, would not be seeking a fourth presidential term. An incumbent with a record of such failure should have no place on the ballot paper, and the reduction of Wednesday's 'vote' to some sort of coronation represents a sporting and ethical travesty.

This leaves the FA and the associations of many football nations with two choices. One is to stay within FIFA and seek to influence it by diplomatic and political means. There certainly appears to be sufficient contempt for FIFA within the FA, ask Lord Triesman. Sports Minister Hugh Robertson has also insisted that, "there is a real political drive to reform sports institutions that are in Europe. I will be using all the international levers at my disposal to push for reform." However, the problem with this course of action is its likely futility. Blatter enjoys a great deal of support from some of the poorer members of what he nauseatingly refers to as "the FIFA football family." Getting a majority of the world's football brotherhood to support the reforms necessary to restoring confidence may prove near-impossible when a many African nations in particular have done rather well out of the Blatter regime.

So we come to what some have referred to as 'the nuclear option' - English withdrawal from FIFA. Canadian lawyer and former IOC vice-president Dick Pound put forward the case for this move on Sunday, stating, "If Fifa is not going to do the game any good, the game may have to do something to Fifa," before explaining what such a 'decapitation strategy' would involve, "You could withdraw from Fifa, for example, and say we're not satisfied that the organisation is not being properly run and it isn't a credit to the sport we know and love, so let's have an alternative. That's one possibility. It has been done in other sports." Indeed it has - darts to name one.

The obvious concern would be that of England going it alone and isolating herself from the rest of the world game. However, even if the FA were to make this principled stand by themselves in the first instance, the immediate damage done to FIFA as an entity would back other countries and their associations into something of a corner. Do they follow the English lead and team up to organise their own, corruption-free international tournament? Or stick with a brand that does not exactly inspire confidence in much of mainland Europe either? The odds of nobody following England were the FA to walk away from FIFA are next to zero, and some sort of understanding could be struck up with friendly nations in the interim, ie - when we walk, that's the cue for some of you to come with us. These nations could stage their own World Cup - perhaps the only one that England would have a chance of winning, and a tournament the Scots could actually qualify for.

The damage done to the commercial potential of the World Cup minus England and a few other top nations would undoubtedly be enormous. This would hit FIFA and their top brass where it really hurts, for their track record invariably points towards a preference for cold, hard cash over the interests of a game which they claim to love, care for and represent. Only a crisis of epic proportions will force FIFA into changing its spots in the way the IOC had to after Salt Lake City, and only the withdrawal of some of the game's biggest revenue streams will bring about such a crisis. It's time for the FA to make a stand, and the first move towards the collapse of the rotten edifice that calls itself FIFA.

The Inadequacy of Adversarial Justice

Recently I wrote a piece on the failings of the jury system as a way of delivering justice. However, juries are just the secret voting system which decides the winner of a battle between two champions and we also need to consider whether the adversarial court system is the best way of doing things.

It is worth noting that the reason we do things this way is a hangover from the medieval practice of trial by combat. This allowed disputants who were not in a position to physically fight their own cause (women for example) to appoint a champion to represent them. The barrister in a wig with a silver tongue is the equivalent of a knight on a horse with a lance.

In this piece I am only exploring possible improvements in the criminal justice system. In the UK we also have an adversarial system for civil matters where it is often even less appropriate than in the criminal courts.

Neutral third party mediation offers many advantages over the adversarial system in civil matters. It should be less formal and time consuming and my preference would be for it to be run by a private organisation rather that the government. The process involves a mediation that evaluates the circumstances and attempts to come to a fair outcome that benefits all parties that are involved. The outcome is not necessarily a one-sided judgement, so there is not a winner or a loser. Mediation is an excellent process for working through civil matters such as divorce, child custody disputes, neighbour dispute, debt and financial disputes, etc.

Mediation is more desirable than traditional litigation to resolve matters such as custody. The “win-lose” approach of the adversarial system often does not promote the best interests of the child. Private mediators require qualifications in psychology and social work for family or neighbour matters or financial qualifications for debt cases. They have an advantage over most judges because of their training in the specific field. Child custody involves a lifetime of cooperation. As people change over time they can return to the mediator to work through changes that benefit all parties. This can be done in a much quicker manner than in an adversarial court system.

Another advantage to private mediation is the substantial saving to the individuals involved because they do not necessarily need a lawyer to represent them. The taxpayer also benefits because participants must cover the costs of their own cases.

Returning to criminal law, shouldn’t it be self-evident that instead of a battle taking place between prosecution and defence over who can win twelve people to their side, the objective of a court should be to uncover the truth and protect society by ensuring that criminals are dealt with and innocent people do not suffer injustice. Apart from the problem of the outcome being dependent on the the most persuasive lawyer rather than the truth of what happened, the adversarial system also has ‘rules of combat’ which can only get in the way of exposing everything that needs to be known. We could probably agree that an accused person should be presumed to be innocent until they have been found to be guilty of a crime, but why should that include a right to silence? If a person has been wrongfully accused of a crime they ought to be eager to give every assistance in establishing their innocence. Silence from the accused only has the purpose of allowing the battle between the barristers can go on without the defence lawyer having his lance blunted. It has nothing to give to the discovery of truth.

Some might object that a defendant should not be forced to say that he was committing one crime in order to show that he could not have done the one of which he is accused. Why not? More justifiably it might be said that there may be alibi evidence that an accused person is entitled to keep private. Quite so and that is no problem. Although there should be no right to silence, there is also no requirement that all evidence is revealed in open court. If an investigating judge is provided with solid evidence that an accused could not possibly have committed a crime due to a strong alibi, that is all that the world needs to know. The key point is that all citizens have a responsibility to assist the pursuit of justice and an accused person is not excused from that duty.

As with the right of silence, the double jeopardy rule must be discarded. In recent years in the UK a second trial of an acquitted person has been allowed in a few circumstance of new evidence as it is increasingly recognised that dangerous criminals should not enjoy lifelong impunity because of a failed trial. The rule needs to go completely, along with the whole mindset that a trial can be tripped up on procedural challenges and a criminal acquitted unjustly.

So how would an alternative to the battleground court work? The alternative to adversarial trials is usually described as an inquisitorial method. Systems in use vary in their detail, but the basic principle is that crimes brought before the courts are first handled by an investigating judge or magistrate. It is the responsibility of this person to uncover as much evidence as possible about the crime and the possible responsibility for it. When sufficient evidence has been gathered to indicate that a person or persons have a case to answer, charges are laid and the case goes to hearing before a trial judge. The investigating judge will continue to gather evidence, if necessary, right up to trial. All parties are required to provide honest cooperation with the investigator at all stages and there is no right to withhold information. Giving false information or concealing evidence is a crime irrespective of whether it is done by a defendant, the police or lawyers.

When the case comes to trial, instead of examination and cross examination in a theatrical performance before a jury, prosecution and defence lawyers present their case to the judge in a verbal statement to add to the written submission already passed on by the investigating judge. The trial judge can ask questions of anybody involved in the case and if he or she wants to explore the quality of expert evidence or require additional expertise, they are able to do so.

One of the most important aspects is that even if a defendant has confessed or pleaded guilty, the trial must continue until the judge is satisfied that guilt is established or the accused is acquitted. This is an essential protection for people who are vulnerable to police pressure or who have mental difficulties that pre-dispose them to take responsibility for things they haven’t done.

I have referred throughout to the trial judge in the singular, but this is an oversimplification. One judge is satisfactory for cases where the possible custodial sentence is no greater than one year. Where there is a possibility of custody of between one and ten years there should be three presiding judges and for the most serious crimes a panel of five senior judges is appropriate.

Unlike jury trials in which no reason is ever given for the verdict and there is no way of knowing what reasoning the jurors undertook in reaching their conclusion, the judgements in an inquisitorial system must always be supported by written reasons. If the reasoning is faulty that is a basis for appeal.

Related articles

Abolish the Jury System (malpoet.wordpress.com)

Malpoet's Blog

The Best Thing to Come from LPUK in Months...

It seems that what remains of the Uk Libertarian Party is making a serious attempt to move on from the carnage, destruction and eventual insolvency of the Andrew Withers era. With that in mind, Ken Ferguson, for whom I have always had enormous respect, posted this - http://lpuk.org/2011/05/ideas-and-suggestions-for-reform/ on the party's official site. The invitation to all members and supporters to recommend ways in which LPUK can move forward is indeed welcome, and itself makes a refreshing change from the top-down fuhrer principle that has appeared to consume the party recently.

As a former member who remains a supporter, I have a few strategic and structural changes that would in my view benefit the party's fortunes greatly. Here are eight moves that LPUK could make that would represent a shift in the right direction:-

1 - Monthly Online Publication of the Party's Accounts

The root cause of much of the recent dissent within LPUK has been the feeling amongst a great many party members that it was time to be completely open and transparent about the way in which the money coming in was being spent. The divide over the whether or not the accounts should or should not be audited would have been completely avoided had a culture of openness already been in place. Of course, the names of the donors and recipients of money would be excluded from what was published, and any non-member of the party wishing to donate money would have this 'open declaration' policy explained to them before they parted with their hard-earned cash. Members would have no such concerns as they would be voting on the policy, which would only come into effect if a majority supported it.

We would also have an account for each region as opposed to one national LPUK account (see point 7)

2 - A Realistic Manifesto - Not a set of Pipe Dreams

Reading LPUK's current manifesto is akin to scanning through a Utopian shopping list of the features of the ideal society. It always struck me as odd, as if those shaping policy did not quite understand what a manifesto was. LPUK need to agree some realistic mid-term aims and accept that zero income tax, universal private healthcare and education, along with many other current policies are light years away. By all means keep some of them (see point 3) as long-term aspirations, but on a separate page to the plan for government in the next four years or so. The manifesto should be a simple document, detailing some fairly radical changes that we genuinely believe we can implement within a single parliamentary term.

3 - Abolish the 'Abolish Income Tax' Policy - the sums do not add up

None of us like paying income tax, so the pledge to abolish it may well be the most eye-catching and appealing policy currently on LPUK's books. But then it prompts the predictable questions of how you're going to pay for even the significantly smaller state that remains after a term of a Libertarian government? Candidates will get asked a variant of that question on the doorstep and would currently have to scramble around desparately for an answer. The reality is that as long as there are functions of the state that we are all agreed upon (namely law and order and defence from invasion), then there will be the need for at least some level of direct taxation to meet the costs of these requirements.

The party's focus should therefore be on opposing 'brain drain' taxes, gradually cutting public spending and taking the least well off out of income tax altogether, which will enable an unravelling of the bureaucratic minefield that is the tax credits system. Eliminating the 'churn' in terms of tax and benefits should also be a high-priority economic aim.

4 - Re-Establish Social and Constitutional Liberalism as Key Policy Themes

Over the last year or so, LPUK has become something of an 'economics party'. This is understandable given the fiscal problems faced by the current government, but then Libertarians tend to believe in so much more than this. The danger of focussing on monetary matters is that of being perceived as a slightly more radical alternative to the Conservative Party or UKIP. The Tories in particular believe strongly in using the tax system to promote 'correct' lifestyle choices. They want to retain the status quo on drug control, are anti-immigration and vehemently support the monarchy.

LPUK needs to make its distinction from the Tories and UKIP absolutely clear so it does not end up being lumped in the same bucket as them by the uninformed voter. Doing so will also dissuade illiberal people who happen to believe in lower taxes from concluding that LPUK is a party they should join and look to influence. In practical terms. this involves promoting social, constitutional and economic liberalism with equal vigour, and adopting republicanism as a policy at the earliest opportunity.

5 - Ditch the Fuhrer Principle

LPUK believes (or at least is supposed to) in moving decision-making down to the lowest level. This means that any national leader of the party ought to be there only to fulfil an administrative role and face the media if and when necessary. The more power one loads at the top of any organisation, the less empowered, enabled and involved those at the grass roots will feel by definition. LPUK needs to build its base from the bottom up, and a top-down structure will not enable such a structure to flourish. Internal debate of policy, direction and where the party is going should be encouraged, not stifled, with the young, keen and talented given opportunities to develop themselves and the party as a result.

6 - Ongoing Review of Policy and the LPUK Manifesto

There is no reason why the manifesto cannot be a fluid document, with members free to recommend policies that should be added, removed or amended. The best way to encourage people into a political party is to give them a sense that they will be personally involved in decison-making. For example, LPUK could adopt a system that allows a member to propose a policy or change to an existing one, seconded by another member and then some sort of online poll to be announced and conducted. We have the technology now to get around issues such as duplicate voting, so why not enable a massive, completely clean break from the past and make LPUK the most internally democratic party out there?

7 - A Regional Structure to Support Candidates

The libertarian attitude of shifting power down to the most local level of course means moving responsiblity with it. Local branches of LPUK should be in charge of their own finances and fund-raising, paying the deposits of candidates and encouraging members and supporters from that region to back those candidates with time, money or whatever skill they bring to the table. This will have three positive effects. Firstly, members of a branch will have the ability to use their own initiative and work in a way that suits the strengths and weaknesses of active members within that region. Secondly, candidates will get support more specific to their needs, so no LPUK member should feel the urge to stand as an independent.

Most importantly, it will mean that any dishonesty or misuse of LPUK monies in the future will damage the party only on a regional level as opposed to a national one. Concentrating all of the dough in one pair of hands appears to have been at the root of many of the party's recent difficulties.

8 - A Shorter and more Concise Constitution

Libertarians believe strongly in having as few rules as possible. They also aspire to have those rules written in such a way so that even a complete moron can understand them. However LPUK, a party whose membership has never passed 1,000, currently has a constution which resembles that of a mid-sized European country. We need to move towards a document which has a small number of clauses, all of which should be crystal clear and leave absolutely no wriggle-room for personal interpretation. What is 'unconstitutional' in party terms should be beyond doubt and not the subject of a tedious debate as was the case recently when Mal offered to stand in as temporary treasurer. We preach simplicity to the wider world and should also practice such principles internally.

That means, in the words of Edwyn Collins, "rip it up and start again."

I will of course be sending this 'action plan' via e-mail to LPUK with a view to them posting it online. It will be interesting to see if they run this, and whether or not it helps to spark some the serious internal debate that it must be said is overdue. If the discussion of the party's direction, policy and structure takes place in the manner that I know Ken would wish it to, then there is a glimmer of some hopeful phoenix rising from the flames of the inferno of the last month or so.

As a supporter of LPUK and liberalism as a whole, I sincerely hope that this happens, because amid the current statist monopoly in Uk Politics, a party with consistently liberal instincts spanning all issues is needed more than it has ever been.

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Original Sin

Through coition came cognition,

so we’re told.

From serpentine perdition,

to the eve of our condition,

is a line of pulchritude.

The serpent was lascivious.

Tempting Eve to coitus,

by offering an apple

to consume.

His squirming, so voluptuous,

slithering, conceptuous,

lured her to

perfidy and sin.

From thus, homo erectus

was hetero in his genius,

until, through nostra damus,

came il papa’s mighty plan.

By immaculate deception,

came the godhead

to reception

as a naked babe in straw.

Lacking sign of all suspicion,

or hint of malefaction,

the lord had sired offspring,

but no genitals engorged.

Through countless generation,

from Adam and creation,

had the genesis of

humankind been drawn.

By fervent copulation,

foregoing masturbation,

the race had been

expanded and preserved.

In coitus emeritus,

no interruption hindered us

and life was passed

by orgasmagic down.

From primeval broth evolving,

through complex myths contriving,

the human creature

comes to speculate.

No! It surely is apparent,

that our knowing was descendant,

and did not come

from falling to a snake.

All the love and joy

in breeding, should be guiltless,

not conceding any merit

to the fantasists of god.

Deus non magnificat,

and coitus cum laude.

Shagging is not sinful,

but bonding beautiful.

Malpoet's Blog

Ok, I want United to Lose, but Who Cares?

Here's a list of football teams that all have a few things in common. Liverpool, Everton, Ipswich Town, Bolton Wanderers, Millwall, Aston Villa, Tottenham Hotspur, Fulham, Middlesbrough, Newcastle United, Rangers, Celtic, Dundee United, Hearts, Hibs, Kilmarnock, Motherwell, Dunfermline Athletic, Livingston, The New Saints (formerly Total Network Solutions), Barry Town, Rhyl, Wrexham, Cardiff City, Swansea City, Linfield, Glentoran, Portadown, Coleraine.

The first part of the 'common ground' puzzle should be fairly obvious - namely that they are all British teams who have played in European competition in the last twenty years or so (the period of time I have spent watching and following football). What also binds them together is the fact that despite none of them being 'my team', I genuinely wanted all of them to do well and to progress into the next round until or unless two British sides met each other. Then I would in all likelihood revert back to supporting the English team unless Glasgow Rangers, for whom I have always had a soft spot, were involved.

I remember watching Sportsnight many years ago on the BBC. It would be around the early 1990s (hopefully the fact I cannot name the exact year will confirm that this story is authentic). Anyway, Linfield had been narowly beaten 3-2 on aggregate by 1981 CupWinnersCup victors Dinamo Tbilisi in the Qualifying Round for the old European Cup (yes, they only had one qualification round back then and only teams that had actually won their domestic league were allowed to enter the competition - those were the days). However, 'Blues' were awarded a bye into the first round proper when it turned out the Georgians had paid officials prior to the first leg of the tie, which they had won 2-1.

Linfield then caused a shock by trouncing FC Copenhagen 3-0 at Windsor Park, which made them clear favourites to go through even if the second leg went to form.I had no means of following the game and was not even a teenager back then, but remember being utterly devastated when the scores from that night's European matches came through and it was confirmed that Copenhagen had won 4-0 after extra time to progress (a tie against AC Milan awaited the winner in the next round). I read the scores in the paper the next day and was hurt to discover that only an injury time goal had forced the additional period in the first place.

Some five years later, I remember listening to BBC Local Radio one night because updates of a much bigger story were being fed through on a regular basis. Having lost the first leg 3-1 in Budapest, Barry Town had taken the score against BVSC to 3-1 in their favour in the second leg at Jenner Park. The game went into an extra 30 minutes followed by penalties, and the Hungarians bottled it. It was the biggest result ever achieved by a League of Wales club at the time and in truth it probably remains so.

Ok, some of that is so sad that there is no possible way I could have made it up. But the point is that when I claim to wish British teams well in Europe as a general rule, I'm deadly serious. Most of the time the English sides will be on television or BBC Radio, and if you're operating at a lower level in an earlier stage of the competition, you can always have an update screen on the internet available while doing something else. It also makes sense to extend the goodwill to clubs from the Emerald Isle on occasion, such as when Shelbourne had a phenomenal run to the Third Qualifying Round of the Champions League in 2005, knocking out Hadjuk Split along the way.

Now if you look at that list again, you'll see some notable ommissions. Arsenal play great football from a cosmetic point of view, but the preference of Arsene Wenger for technically superior ball-players from overseas leaves them with a style that you could not really identify as British. Chelsea and Manchester City's shared policy of filling a trolley with big-name 'star' signings tends to grate with many, myself included. I once wrote an article suggesting that City had 'lost some soul' which prompted predictably angry comments from the Eastlands faithful. With that memory in mind, I'll tread on the side of caution and not repeat certain words or phrases, but there are two comments worth making here.

In relative terms to their old, partisan and romantic Maine Road ground, Eastlands is indeed soulless. As a result of this and, to be honest, their status of no longer being rubbish or broke, any real warmth I felt towards City as a club died a couple of years ago. However, if any of Arsenal, Chelsea or City get to the serious stages of a European competition I tend to find that a trace of that 'support your own' impulse returns (this is of course as long as they are playing non-British opposition). So in the event of one of them making the final of either the Champions League or the Europa, I'd be supporting them unequivocally. Naturally, this brings us to the one British side in the equation that has not been mentioned yet - namely, Manchester United.

For the benefit of anyone who has been in space or buried on Twitter for the last few weeks, the Red Devils have the small matter of an engagement on Saturday evening against Barcelona, whose current side probably ranks as one of the greatest club teams in the history of the game. In Lionel Messi, they have the player widely regarded as currently the best on earth, a man whose ability to dribble through a whole team at speed as well as being Argentinian has prompted obvious comparisons with Diego Maradona. Barca also have talents on their roster such as Xavi and Iniesta whose ability to play through the opposition mean that stopping Messi does not necessarily halt the Catalonian machine.

United are a British team playing in a European final at Wembley and go in as clear underdogs, yet there still remains a huge wave of the British population wanting a decisive and emphatic Barcelona win. As one of this group, I thought about the various reasons why this might be.

The first thing worth emphasising is this is not all the 'fault' of United, so to speak. The Barcelona side I just referred to happen to be one of those rare occurrences in the history of the sport - a team that plays what Ruud Gullit would call sexy football while actually winning things. Arsenal, aka - the Barca of England - have won the square root of zip for precisely six years. The Hungary team inspired by Ferenc Puskas who anihalated England at Wembley in 1953 ultimately lost in the World Cup Final the following year despite being seen as the most talented collection of players. Johan Cruyff's Total Football side of the 1970's may have played the game with an unearthly sense of fluidity, but they also came up short when it mattered.

Barca remain successful despite the handicap of sticking to an ideal of how the game should be played at all times and have many admirers worldwide as a result. However, this does not account for all of the antipathy towards Manchester United. When Liverpool were the dominant British team in the 1970s and 1980s, they may not have been universally popular, but it is clear that they experienced nowhere near the same level of disdain. What is it about the way in which those at Old Trafford are perceived that makes so many English fans want a foreign team, albeit one more popular than most, to destroy them? There appear to be three main strands to the negativity towards the club as a whole and it is worth exploring them separately:-

First up - the argument that United are a 'lucky' team in the sense that they benefit from a disproportionate number of decisive goals scored in generous portions of injury time. There can be no doubt that United have led the way in terms of the maxim that every game lasts ninety minutes, or ninety six and a half in many cases. Going right back to Steve Bruce's 97th minute winner against Sheffield Wednesday in 1993, their ability to change the outcome of a match at the death has both kept them believing and weighed heavily on the mental stamina of opponents.

The critical question is - do United, especially at Old Trafford, get that bit of extra time in which to turn the game around? The answer would appear to be yes. A study was carried out assessing the stoppage time of all matches at 'the Theatre of Dreams' over a three year period between August 2006 and September 2009. In those instances where the home team was ahead after 90 minutes, an average of 191 seconds was advised as additional time by the fourth official. When the visitors held at least a share of the game at that point, this figure increased by over a minute to 257 seconds. Given the number of occasions where United have pinched either a draw or a victory with what has effectively been the last kick of the game, that additional 66 seconds has proved to be decisive on more than one occasion.

They are also said to be terrible losers, who lack class and dignity when defeated by opposition that was better on the day. The answer to this charge would also appear to be an unequivocal 'affirmative'. When Southampton spanked United at the Dell in April 1996, Alex Ferguson's response was not to state that, "They were awesome" or "We were useless", but to suggest that the defeat was down to a clash between the clouds and the grey away strip that United were wearing. Other great Ferguson-isms include blaming the referee, the referee's assistant, the crowd, the lack of sufficient stoppage time, and suggesting that the other side's players are cheating their manager by raising their game when they play United. One could not have imagined someone like Bob Paisley for instance, a former manager of another immensely successful English club, reacting to defeat in the same way.

What can be said in Ferguson and his side's defence however, is that in all likelihood, it is this total hatred of losing (which manifests itself in a complete lack of grace when it happens) that has spurred them on to the achievement of 12 titles in the last 19 seasons. There is undeniable merit in the suggestion that while nobody positively likes being defeated, some sort of direct correlation exists between one's ability to lose graciously and their propensity for coming second. The cliche that as a nation we do not take too kindly to natural winners appears to have a basis in fact too if one takes some of the examples of history.

Despite a remarkable run of success over a period of five years at the end of the 1980s and into the early 1990s, Nick Faldo was never really a figure of national pride. Eric Bristow remained deeply unpopular either despite or because of his dominance of darts in the decade of odd socks and rubix cubes depending on your perspective. Was it the 'Craftey Cockney's' brash and borderline arrogant personality that alienated him from many fans, or merely the fact that they wanted someone other than Bristow to return home with the gold for once? A bit of a clue as to the validity of the thesis lies in the fortunes of two of Barry Hearn's biggest stars, Chris Eubank and Steve Davis. Both were less than loved by the general public while at the top of their respective ladders, but began to enjoy affection from that same populous when they dropped out of genuine world class.

Finally there is the slightly more marginal issue of the intimidation of officials. Watching the likes of Ferdinand and Vidic jump on an official as they did in the recent game at Blackburn does make one wonder if the presence of six-foot-something footballers shouting at them from point blank range influences the final decision. Of course, that judgement call at Ewood Park went their way as Wayne Rooney scored the penalty that ultimately sealed that 19th League title to go one ahead of Liverpool. Did the surrounding of the ref work, or was that the decision that would have been reached anyway? Do United really gang up on decision-makers more than other Premier League sides?

Having seen plenty of 50-50 decisions involving other Premiership sides this season, the conclusion I would come to is while they do not do this noticeably more than anyone else, United give the impression of being amongst the most well rehearsed at it. Football is of course an emotional and highly-charged game, and much of what you see in the heat of battle is spontaneous reaction to the ups and downs that can occur over 90 minutes. What the top teams appear to have perfected however is the knack of making the choreographed look spontaneous - ie a 'planned spontaneous reaction' to what they believe is a foul, or a contentious and key decision. United are masters of the craft but then are far from alone. Arsenal and Chelsea, for example have also taken to this black art with some aplomb. Watch how quickly their players form a corden around an official who crosses them and then ask if United really are isolated offenders.

Maybe another large part of the reality is that Ferguson and his team are actually most comfortable with the notion of being unpopular. After taking over from Ron Atkinson in 1986, Alex (long before he became a sir) stated quite unequivocally that he would not rest until United had "knocked Liverpool off their fucking perch". Turning oneself into a national treasure does not exactly dovetail with such single-mindedness, and anyone who has heard the Govan man's thoughts on finishing second will know which clearly means more to him. When he first took over at United, he had to deal with a drinking school that was perceived to have lost any semblance of control. Bryan Robson, his best player at the time, could not be done without but the likes of Paul McGrath and Norman Whiteside, fans' favourites though they were, had to be moved on.

In one of his early encounters with his new gaffer, Robson had attempted to defend the reputations of some of the players already at the club. Ferguson's riposte was to the point, "Oh really - what have you won? Isn't that what the game is supposed to be about - winning things?." The reasoning was that the successful, as opposed to the popular, were those who left marks on mortality, and that a jolly nice chap who ultimately lost is remembered only as a man who failed. A glance at the record of Australia's cricket team in the 1990s confirms that this analysis has the weight of evidence on its side. Alan Border and then Steve Waugh after him moulded a side that was nasty, aggressive, sledged their opponents and harrassed officials. They were also appalling losers, on the rare occasions that it happened.

They may have upset English players by refusing to share a drink with them after the day's play in 1989, but the first thing remembered is the scoreline of that six-match series, which read:- England 0 Australia 4. Being English and a fan of the sport, I've never cared much for the Australian cricket team either, but as they took the crown of unofficial world champions by winning in West Indies in 1995, I very much doubt that Border cared less whether people like myself loved him or his players. What I did have was a grudging respect for their achievements - it was impossible not to. Though I'll still want them to lose come Saturday evening, it is no easier to ignore what United have put together over the last two decades.

One suspects that the only danger of an upsurge in neutral support for United would arrive if they were to go into some sort of serious post-Ferguson decline. I say 'post-Ferguson' because there is no way he would ever allow such a slide to take place on his watch. After years of being immensely disliked but equally successful, I don't think he could handle winning a popularity contest now. If people like myself wanted United to win tomorrow, one gets the feeling that this might be when he became deeply worried.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Time to Discuss the Salaries of MPs

So Paul White, otherwise known as Lord Hanningfield, has become the latest political figure to be found guilty of false accounting relating to expenses claims. In all, he was found to have defrauded the taxpayer for around £14,000 by falsely taking a London overnight stay allowance while actually sleeping soundly in his Essex home. He joing Labour MPs Jim Devine, Eric Ilsley, Elliot Morley and David Chaytor, along with fellow Tory peer Lord Taylor of Warwick on the roll of expenses shame. Lord Taylor (real name John David Beckett Taylor) is due to be sentenced on Tuesday and both he and Mr White will be staring down the barrel at the distinct possibility of a custodial sentence if the cases of Morley, Chaytor, Ilsley and Devine are anything to go by.

For a moment, a trace of sympathy towards the guilty men enters my head. They do have the look of fall-guys in the William Calley mould after all. Of course, none of them stood of an earthly of being acquitted given the popular rage on the subject. All of them are male, well past any career peak they may have had and none of their downfalls will represent irreparable damage to their respective political party. Besides which, are there exploits really any worse than those of the mass of MPs who 'flipped' their homes to evade the taxman? However, White then opens his mouth, insisting, "I have no regrets. I did nothing wrong", before producing the sort of statement that should go on every poster promoting Lords reform, "It's an allowance scheme, not a reimbursement scheme. Quite honestly, people see this as a way of recouping what we spend." Brilliant!!

Having let Mr White hang himself, it makes sense to move onto the more serious point of how to restore trust in the system of remunerating our members of parliament. One of the most stupid areas in which MPs have historically been able to claim expenses is that of food - up to £400 a month no less. Now besides the point that of current MPs, only Eric Pickles could realistically be seen eating that much food, there is a greater principle at stake as to how and why that type of allowance was granted to MPs in the first place. Like everyone else, you and I need to eat something from time to time whilst we also have a job to do.

However, I've never once thought that my employer should pay for the chicken (or, god forbid, that bottle of wine) I bought the other day. Isn't that why I'm paid a salary? Ok like most people I think it should be considerably higher than it is, but us mere plebs understand that unless we're staying in a hotel on business, what we eat and drink is paid for out of our own pocket. As the Torygraph's leaks gradually came out in the spring of 2009, the continued re-appearance of maximum claims for food stood out like a sore thumb. Ok, so the food and drink allowance has now gone, but its presence in claim after claim illuminated in my mind what the real problem was.

Amid all the complications of the individual claims and the laughter about duck moats, the root cause is pretty simple. Most MPs appear to believe that they are worth considerably more than the £65,738 to which the bog standard House of Commons member is entitled. This of course doubles for ministers and there is that bit extra for the Prime Minister (David Cameron currently claims £142,000, which it should be said is less in real terms than the salary taken by his two predecessors). The expenses system, which gradually increased in size and scope over several decades, was seen by many MPs merely as a vehicle to extract what they thought they were worth from the system.

However, theres is also something else to consider. MPs are among a very small group in the Uk who enjoy the benefits of a final salary pension scheme, while the rest of us look ominously at the prospect of plodding on into our seventies. In real terms, this equates to a pension pot worth pushing £2 million for the average MP. Though the scheme is is said to be under review (not before time), it is worth noting as it currently remains a rather large slice of the remuneration package in their favour.

Now, having never followed an MP for a typical week, I have no idea about the varying degrees of difficulty in their work, the length of the working day or the sacrifices on family life required to be a half-decent Member of Parliament. So I would make no claim to be capable of putting a value on the work they do. However, a group of qualified people must be able to carry out this task, so here's a potential solution. Scrap the final salary pension completely, and retain only the office costs allowance (no nepotism please), second home expenses for those well out of London and reimbursement for the cost of long distance travel. Then have a completely independent body assess the value of the work of a typical backbench MP, while also asking if the perk of a 100% pay rise is absolutely necessary for a minister.

They would assess the workload, mental and physical strain incurred by that labour and the 'on call' nature of the job along with the current climate in the employment market before making a decision that was seen to be fair, but not 'generous' in any way. It may turn out that they find in favour of those members who believe themselves to be chronically underpaid. That would put an end to the madness of the expenses scandal at least once the initial upset amongst the general population died down. However, the independent body should also have the power to advise a reduction in the pay of MPs too.

One of the false arguments pursued by some MPs is the notion that public service is competing with the city for the talents of our 'best and brightest'. This is of course disingenuous nonsense, which takes no account of the reality that the jobs of stockbroker and parliamentarian are likely (or at least should be) to attract an entirely different set of candidates, driven and motivated by different aspirations and seeking entirely unique rewards from their career. It is just possible that a clinical view from the outside would conclude that if anything, our members of parliament are slightly overpaid. That would re-enforce the folly of the expenses scandal more than any newspaper headline or verdict from a jury ever could.

Abolish the Jury System

It is regularly pointed out that juries have difficulty dealing with the evidence in complex fraud cases. Expert witness evidence is commonly given inappropriate weight by juries, such as in the Sally Clarke case where she was convicted of murdering her baby which had actually died from natural causes. As society, and crime, have become more complicated, trials have got longer and tying up members of the public for weeks and months is not only unsatisfactory for their lives, it means that they are being asked to apply an expertise that they do not have.

The crucial flaw in the jury system is its susceptibility to the public mood. Whenever some atrocity takes place whether it is terrorist mass murder or child rape and murder for example, the pressure to apprehend and convict somebody is intense. This has led to horrible miscarriages of justice. The Birmingham six and the Guildford four are examples in the case of terrorism. Stefan Kiszko's wrongful imprisonment is just one example of the sex murder of a child. (Ref:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Murder_of_Lesley_Molseed ). What happens is that the ferocity of opinion conveyed by tabloid media and court gate crowds causes jurors to feel that they must convict and they do convict even if the evidence is weak or suspect. To get a feeling for this, consider the recent murder of Joanna Yeates. Her landlord was arrested and immediately subjected to character destruction and crowds baying for his conviction. Had he been charged at an early stage, the investigation to find the real killer would have ceased and his chances of aquittal would have been minimal. That is despite the fact that there was no evidence to link him to the crime, there was only the circumstance of him having had the opportunity and the prejudice that he was a likely candidate.

In the USA there are large numbers of cases of executions having taken place of people who have subsequently been proved to be innocent or whose convictions were unsafe. There are good indications of racial, class and lifestyle bias playing a part in the jury decisions that sent these people to their deaths.

In recent decades, justice has improved substantially in developed nations. This owes nothing to justice systems which have remained trapped in very poor historic processes. The improvements have come from the emergence of DNA evidence, progress generally in forensics and most of all, the spread of mobile phone video and photography. Without the video there is not a chance that Ian Tomlinson's death would have been examined and the brutal police behaviour given any credibility at all.

Again the US gave us an early and shocking example with the severe beating of Rodney King. This kind of racist assault by police had been common practice and gone without redress until video evidence from the public forced some accountability. (Ref: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rodney_King ).

The origin of juries is when fixed courts and police did not exist. When a crime was committed in a community a jury of responsible people would apprehend a suspect. They put that person in the local lock-up and waited for a circuit judge to come round. The jurors would then tell the judge why their detainee was known to be guilty and the judge passed sentence. This kind of 'trial' would take a few minutes, even when the sentence might be death. It can be seen here that the respectable sounding jury is the equivalent of the posse and lynching where no process exists at all. To that extent it was progress towards justice by due process. It has changed over time, but it can no longer meet the needs of justice.

This has been recognised where very difficult situations exist. For example, from 1973 to 2007 jury trials had to be abandoned in northern Ireland for many cases because the sectarian divide and the influence of paramilitaries meant that it was not safe for jurors and they could not be relied on to overcome sectarian bias. So called Diplock courts were established in which judgement was given by a judge. These courts were phased out as part of the peace process, but trial without jury may still take place in special circumstances. The concern in these cases is of 'perverse acquittals' rather than the wrongful convictions which I have described above.

In grand crimes such as those handled by the Nuremberg hearings of the Nazis or the International Criminal Court and its trials of Charles Taylor and others it is taken for granted that a panel of judges must produce the verdict.

It is time for us to recognise that the evaluation of evidence and the establishment of guilt beyond reasonable doubt requires a degree of skill and objectivity which can only come from professional training and substantial experience. The whole of the lay magistracy needs to be abolished as well for similar reasons.

What is needed is for the summary hearings which are now handled by magistrates to be conducted by a single district judge. Middle range cases carrying potential sentences of between one and ten years custody need to be adjudicated by a panel of three senior judges. Above that level of seriousness the judging panel should be five. The appeal system doesn't need radical reform because juries have no part in it

Moving from a jury and magistracy system to a properly professional system for determining guilt or innocence is only one part of the restructuring the judicial system requires. It is also necessary to move away from the adversarial court system. This is just a continuation of trial by combat and should be discontinued.

Our present theatrical joust of two be-wigged posers competing to see whose eloquence can win the favour of a jury for their client is a pathetically inadequate substitute for a genuine investigation into whether a person may or may not have committed a specific crime. But that is a whole other subject which must wait for now.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

A Glimmer for the Family of Ian Tomlinson

The death of Ian Tomlinson during the G20 protest in April 2009 may well go down as an incident which changed the instincts of many in Britain towards the police and how they go about their job of upholding law and order. It may appear a cold, withdrawn observation to make, and will be of no consolation to any of his loved ones, but when something as tragic and horrific as his death occurs, one can only hope that something representing an improvement on the status quo comes out of it. The decision to charge PC Simon Harwood with manslaughter over the affair suggests that this may just happen, regardless of the outcome.

Whether Mr Harwood is guilty of manslaughter or not is for he, his solicitor and in all likelihood a jury to decide. What we know is that Tomlinson, having finished his working day selling newspapers, attempted to make his way through the demonstrating crowd towards a homeless hostel on the evening of 1st April 2009. He was not a demonstrator, and posed no apparent danger to either those involved in the G20 protest or the police. However, he was followed by members of the Met's Territorial Support Group and one of them (believed to be Harwood) swung back, baseball-style, struck him with a baton and then shoved him to the floor. Tomlinson attempted to walk away but collapsed almost immediately. and was dead within minutes.

This would appear to be a fairly simple case to investigate, especially when recorded footage of this incident was leaked and shown on television. Establish the exact cause of death and, if necessary, identify the officer responsible. Then make a rational decision whether sufficient evidence exists to pursue a charge of either murder of manslaughter. Sounds straightforward, doesn't it? Enter Dr 'Freddy' Patel, an accredited forensic pathologist who on the surface was a sensible choice to establish the cause of death. However, scratching beneath the surface begs the question as to why he was selected for the task, given that the Met had themselves written to the Home Office in 2005 to complain of glaring errors in some of Mr Patel's work.

The most notable of these came in 2002. Patel had concluded that Sally White, who had been found dead in the flat of Anthony Hardy, had passed away as a result of a heart attack. This was despite the bloodying of her scalp and the presence of a bite mark on her thigh, but the 'natural causes' verdict was sufficient for the criminal investigation against Hardy to be closed. Hardy later confessed to killing Miss White prior to being convicted of the murders of Liz Valad and Brigitte McLennan in November 2003. The head and hands of both victims were never recovered and the remains of their bodies had been dumped in black bags. It is highly likely that but for Patel's mistaken conclusion the previous year, Valad and McLennan would still be alive. Patel also found in the first instance that Ian Tomlinson had died of coronary artery disease, or in layman's terms, a heart attack.

Amid protests from members of Mr Tomlinson's family, a total of three further post-mortems were carried out during April 2009. Dr Nathaniel Carey immediately refuted Patel's findings, concluding that Mr Tomlinson had died from internal bleeding as a result of blunt force trauma, with cirrhosis of the liver as a secondary cause. Dr Kenneth Shorrock and Dr Ben Swift, carrying out two separate post-mortems, took the side of Dr Carey in his view that the cause of death had been internal bleeding and not a heart attack.

However, the post-mortem of Dr Patel represented a strong piece of evidence that would damage the credibility of any attempt to pursue a prosecution for either murder or manslaughter. As a result of this, the case was closed by this time last year, and it appeared that those close to Ian Tomlinson would never see a resolution to the events surrounding his death. It was a also a deeply unsatisfactory ending for all those, myself included, who felt that the police had been allowed to behave as an army of the state, a law unto themselves, without fear of being held to account.

It turned out that Dr Patel's negliegence in the Sally White case was not an isolated instance. In July 2010, he found himself before a GMC hearing in which 26 charges were levelled at his work spanning four criminal cases. The recurring theme was of failing to notice obvious signs that indicated death by less than natural causes, the sort that most of us would have spotted had we been presented with the corpse of Sally White. The GMC, an organisation which has been perceived as lenient and protective towards its own in the past, found Patel guilty on sufficient counts to suspend him for three months for 'deficient professional performance.'

Earlier this year, Patel faced a 'fitness to practice' hearing over the Sally White post-mortem. The chairwoman of that hearing, Vickie Isaac, delivered this damning critique of his work:-

“The panel determined that it was clear from your first report that you had not adequately considered other possible modes of death, including asphyxia. Your conclusions were made without any adequate consideration of other possible modes of death, including asphyxia, and that this was irresponsible, not of the standard expected of a competent forensic pathologist when undertaking and reporting on special or forensic post mortem examination and liable to bring the medical profession into disrepute.”

Then at the start of this month, an inquest jury concluded that the (unnamed) officer in question had acted "illegally, recklessly and dangerously". They also stated, with some finality, that Mr Tomlinson's death was unlawful, and had been as a result of internal bleeding and not a heart attack. The GMC are now looking into the possibility of investigating Dr Patel and his fitness to practice again, and Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer was faced with a difficult decision of his own. Given that the original post-mortem remains a massive weapon for any well thought out defence, was it right to charge PC Harwood with manslaughter and make him face trial?

That he has done so appears to have the support of a large section of the population myself included. Assuming that PC Harwood pleads not guilty and does not accept a lesser charge such as ABH, only a jury can decide whether he killed Ian Tomlinson, albeit unintentionally. The surprising element in this story is how many people were horrified by the original decision not to prosecute, and were therefore in total agreement with Mr Starmer's judgement that the original decision should be reversed. It would appear that there has also been a shift in general attitudes towards the role of the police in our society, and that is just as welcome, possibly more so.

Throughout the 1990s and into the early 2000s, the notion of civil liberties was seen by the 'silent majority' in Britain as the terrain of 'namby pamby lefites' and academics who were out of touch with the 'real world'. This single view completely dominated our political discourse and brought with it some dire consequences. Tuning into what he saw as the public mood and applying the law of 51 per cent, Tony Blair and his government passed a mountain of draconian legislation that slowly chipped away at some of the freedoms and principles established by the Magna Carta over 700 years earlier. These included the automatic right to a jury trial, the presumption of innocence and the principle of no detention without charge.

All were lightly regarded by a man looking to win over readers of the gutter press, and who sincerely believed that history began in 1997. Anyone objecting was presumed to be "soft on crime and soft on the causes of crime" and as a result, what the police wanted was what the police got. Control orders, a raft of 'anti-terror' legislation, additional CCTV and surveillance, new laws on 'hate crimes', ASBOs - I could go on. They were spoiled, and as an institution began to run riot like a spoiled child as a result.

The execution of Jean Charles De Menezes at Stockwell Tube Station in July 2005 appeared to change some minds, but then sections of the mainstream media diluted any legitimate sense of angst by reporting that the Brazilian had overstayed his visa. This of course was a tacit invitation for some readers to conclude that he was partially to blame for his own death. Eventually, no criminal procedings were brought against any Met officer with regard to the shooting. It appears to have taken the death of a man born and raised here to awaken the general population to the concept that those responsible for upholding the law are not themselves above it, and that just like any other member of the public, they must answer and be accountable for their actions where necessary.

Over the last three decades, something has gone horribly wrong in the relationship between the police and the rest of us, with successive governments exacerbating the problem by competing in an arms race over who can be more 'tough on crime'. The Peelian principle that 'the police are the public are the public are the police' appeared to be forgotten altogether at some point in recent history. People who call themselves Libertarians but idolise Margaret Thatcher all the same have either a poor grasp of history or a very selective case of amnesia, for her use of the police as a private army during the miners' strike marked a very clear shift in how law enforcement related to those it was supposed to protect.

Whether you agree with the cause of the miners or not is irrelevant. The critical point is - any attempt or even pretence to cling to the Peelian notion that the police are a uniformed extension of you and I died the day that the Iron Lady sent armed police into a wave of protesting (and in some cases violent) strikers with the clear intention of smiting them, and putting them in their place. If one sees the record of the police in demonstrations and protests from that day on, they invariably reach the same conclusion, namely that the police serve the state, and care not a jot for the freedoms that they were once supposed to uphold.

Routine police brutality at the G8 and G20 protests against demonstrators, 'kettling' and penning them in like animals - again it does not matter one iota whether you or I agree with the point being made by the demonstrators. From watching footage of all of these protests on television and YouTube, it has become clear that the 'right' of the police to exert the will of the state has been judged to outweigh that of people wishing to make an expression of social or political conscience. People claiming that the police had been 'too soft' on the students and anti-cuts protestors in the last six months or so should watch some of the more graphic scenes at G8 or G20 and witness the alternative with their own eyes.

I saw the 'too soft' criticism as a positive sign that some sort of lesson had been learned from the death of Ian Tomlinson. In theory, it should never take something of this nature to prompt awkward questions to be asked of those in authority. However, history tends to point towards the reality that, sad as it may be, this is indeed the only type of incident that brings about positive change. I found PC Harwood's evidence to the inquest last month remarkably revealing. Here's a quote from it:-

"He (Tomlinson) just looked as if he was going to stay where he was, whatever happened, and was almost inviting physical confrontation in terms of being moved on."

Now having watched the footage, Tomlinson appears more than anything to be somewhat lost and perplexed as to how he can negotiate his way through the crowd in front of him. Harwood himself seemed to contradict the statement above when he accepted that Tomlinson had not posed a threat to anyone. From a distance, the highlighted quote read as the words of an officer who certainly expected and was geared up for physical confrontation on the day, and whose mindset towards the job in hand may have reflected this.

It should be said that only a cross-examination of PC Harwood in the witness box will establish if this is the reality or not. It may also be the case that if Dr Patel is allowed to continue as a pathologist, the conflicting medical evidence will make a 'not guilty' verdict highly likely. However, what is absolutely clear and beyond doubt that there is a very serious case to answer and that Harwood should face trial. The law belongs not to the police or the judiciary, but to all of us, and this means that those charged with upholding the law should be no more exempt from it than you or I. If this case has helped to swing the balance back in that direction, albeit slightly, then at last some good has come from the tragic and avoidable death of Ian Tomlinson.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

The Natural Disasters Gang Up on Malpoet

It should be stated openly. Malpoet is, to a large extent, only a contributor in nominal terms and more of a lifetime friend of OutspokenRabbit. Despite his immense intelligence, he does not wish for 'disciples' to be at his beck and call and nor does this bunny have any intention of being such a person to anyone. So Mal and I get on famously, and always have done since the day we met.

Malpoet has been something of a scurge to the former leadership of the Uk Libertarian Party in the last few weeks. He has been the most vocal in calling for an audit of the party's accounts in the wake of Anna Raccoon's 'Libertarian Liberties' blog last month. He was amongst those who made it clear precisely why the NCC's 'investigation' into the affair was inadequate, and covered too narrow a scope. He offered to stand as temporary treasurer and pay for the audit himself, only to see his offer dismissed as 'unconstitutional'. Senior members of the party then proceded to offer jobs on the spot and online to anyone who wanted to apply. My ego thinks for a split second that resigning was a grave error, before the brain takes over and thanks the man upstairs that I did.

However, while hate is a strong word, one can see why Andrew Withers and his friends might have reason to hate Malpoet. He has (in my view quite rightly) been a complete pain in the arse to them, explaining why only transparency will give the party closure on a squalid chapter in its history. Some of the "let's learn lessons and move on" bollocks of the last few weeks has led me to believe that the top-tier of LPUK comprised of former shareholders in Railtrack. Malpoet has been the single most critical voice in exposing this 'under the carpet' technique for what it is and he has clearly made enemies in the process.

The re-emergence of Ian Parker Joseph as a voice on matters LPUK is interesting to say the least, as is his decision to stand squarely in defence of the recently-departed Mr Withers. They make an interesting tag-team, and remind me of 'the Natural Disasters', a clinically obese pair named 'Earthquake' and 'Typhoon' who used to literally squash their opponents into submission.

Between them, they have pursued a quite desparate attempt to find something, anything that might constitute 'dirt' on Malpoet. Eventually, they appear to have found what they thought was something. I'll go through the content of IPJ's blog - LPUK - When the Nutters Take Over - http://pjcjournal.wordpress.com/2011/05/24/lpuk-when-the-nutters-take-over/ on the subject and take the time to address each point separately:-

It has long been said that LPUK attracts the nutters, something that I have tried to dismiss over the years but now… well with all the turmoil, the coup and the agitator in chief Malcolm Saunders calling the shots I have to think again.

Firstly, how long has LPUK been in existence? It was formed in 2007 Ian, am I right? So maybe you'll want to qualify your definition of 'long' - unless your comment was little more than mere hyperbole. 'Nutters' in LPUK terms appear to constiute any person who dares to ask a difficult question. As for a 'coup', Malcolm Saunders had not nominated himself for leader or any NCC role on a permanent basis last time I checked. Some 'coup', Ian!!

Investigate, Investigate, Investigate says Malcolm Saunders. He is not happy that due process has taken place, he is not happy with those in authority over such matters such as the Electoral Commission and the LPUK NCC have followed their processes and found no wrongdoing or case to answer.

The NCC, guided by Nic Coome, defined the scope of the investigation so that the most difficult question (ie that of 'the money') was not on the agenda as discussed here - http://outspokenrabbit.blogspot.com/2011/05/why-word-libertarians-and-parties-dont.html. No wonder many, Malcolm and myself included, found it to be unsatisfactory, and therefore could not trust its conclusions. The Electoral Commission may well have figured that with the accounts due to them very soon anyway, they will keep wise counsel for now, By the way, why are LPUK now running a new bank account and why has Mr Withers bailed out just before disclosure becomes a legal requirement?

Investigate he continues to scream. OK, so lets do that. I wonder if Mr Saunders was calling for the same detailed level of investigation into his own background in 2002.

Ok Ian - what have you got for us? Hit me with it...

The Liverpool Echo takes up the story…
MERSEYSIDE fire chief Malcolm Saunders is at the centre of an investigation into sado-masochistic pornography posted on the Internet, the ECHO can reveal.
Oh my.

Interesting how the application of 'innocent until proven guilty' is applied selectively in the mad world of Ian Parker Joseph and Andrew Withers. Moreover, Libertarians surely defend the right of people to indulge in anything sadistic and masochistic as long as it's legal, don't they? Were this anyone else, what price IPJ and Withers would be slating the authority involved for intruding into someone's privacy?

The fire authority has received complaints over sordid material written under the pseudonym “Solomon Gurney – poet and philosopher”.
The author had used e-mail accounts which also appear to have been used for the posting of legitimate messages by Mr Saunders.
Some of the material posted includes scenes of sexual violence and sado-masochism.
No, surely some mistake..

Let me see some of this 'material' and make my own mind up if it is depraved or not - even if it is, this is absolutely none of my business and nothing which the state should be involving itself in, surely? Isn't that what Libertarians believe?

A police spokesman said: “Merseyside police carried out an investigation into matters referred to it by Merseyside Fire Authority relating to the publication of material on an internet site written under the pseudonym Solomon Gurney.
“No substantive criminal issues have been revealed and the matter will now be returned to the fire authority for any action they may deem appropriate.”
So, it seems there was something after all.. but how deep did they dig, how far did they investigate?

So. in short, no charges were brought against Malpoet and there was no evidence of any law having been broken - this after all the available material was made available to the authorities. Of course, the material presented to LPUK's 'internal investigation' was highly selective, with key accounts data still to be disclosed - therein lies the subtle difference. To say with a nudge and a wink, 'So it seems there was something after all' after a man has not been charged is hardly the behaviour of someone with liberal instincts, it must be said.

It is understood that the police did not go on to investigate if Mr Saunders wrote the material, having satisfied themselves that it was not criminal in its content.

Well that's that then - case closed. Of course, the written word, particularly anything creative, is open to the interpretation of the reader. We've established that Malpoet did not break a law that most Libertarians would disagree with anyway.

So, due process completed Mr Saunders would have heaved a huge sigh of relief… but was it enough? should they have continued to investigate, investigate, investigate or should we all consider that the proper authorities had done their job and that was the end of the matter?
Mr Saunders will no doubt be the first to tell you that there was nothing in the allegations, but should we be calling for further and more detailed investigation of this most serious of allegations?

Of course not - after the police had seen all of the relevant material, they decided that there was no case to answer. As stated earlier, most Libertarians would defend the right of people to write erotic, even disturbing material if they wanted to anyway. I haven't seen the 'offending' pieces of literature and I very much doubt either IPJ or Withers have either. Complete disclosure took place in this case and Malpoet was cleared. Partial disclosure took place in the NCC 'investigation' so any declaration of either guilt or innocence is worth not a jot as a consequence.

Oh, and just in case you think I was joking when I called him a nutter, here’s his picture.. borrowed from his own website. Is this the man to investigate LPUK?

Neither Andrew, Ian or myself are pretty boys either it must be said. People in glass houses should probably put their rock down...

and following on from his dealings with internet porn, it seems this champion of the people got a massive payoff from the public purse… ripping off the taxpayers to the tune of £200,000 ….this from the Daily Mail….
A FIRE chief who said it was ‘morally repugnant’ for officers to accept big pay-outs for retiring due to ill-health has been condemned as a hypocrite after doing exactly that.
Malcolm Saunders, who had been off sick from his post as Chief Fire Officer of Merseyside since the start of the year with a nervous illness, was awarded an estimated pound sterling200,000 lump sum and an annual pension of about pound sterling40,000.
Last year, towards the end of a stormy four-year tenure, Mr Saunders strongly criticised the system by which officers can take more on retirement than they had paid into the service’s pension fund.
Strange is it not that the 2 most vocal accusers of LPUK and its officers are ex government employees and both have received massive payouts for the same problem.
Susanne Nundy’s payout was £250,000.

The first thing to note here is - do not trust statistics produced by the Daily Mail - a newspaper with a record as long as its right arm of bending the truth to pursue its own agenda. I'd also like to see that full quote from Malcolm in the proper context, and make my own mind up whether he was making a sweeping statement or referring to a specific case as 'morally repugnant'.

The truth is that Malcolm was diagnosed by a doctor with a few medical conditions, including PTSD. Firefighting is a stressful business and no doubt some of the scenes one encounters while doing this weigh heavily on the mind. Having suffered from depression and been on anti-depressants myself, I should add that I don't take too lightly to people poking fun at mental illness. As for the settlement and pension, well it is what it is. Malcolm fought to reduce the grip of the union on the fire service but was severely limited in what he could do.

Having paid 11% of his income into a pension fund then fallen genuinely ill, he was faced with a choice between the offer he got and no pension at all. Malcolm has a wife, children and grandchildren, and imagine their response if he had left them in the lurch by walking away with nothing. Sometimes life presents us with these awkward choices, and there is no easy answer. IPJ's attempts to present this as evidence of rank hypocrisy fall rather flat once you examine the facts. The cheap shot at Anna Raccoon only suggests to me that the damage done by her writing on this subject still hurts immensely.

and I also discover that our Malcolm Saunders is a Common Purpose graduate

Well of course he is - he worked in the public sector, where it was almost as compulsory as being a union member at the time. What exactly is your point here?

Naturally, a few comments have been made on the subject by IPJ, Withers and Nic Coome, although it should be added that Malpoet's attempts to defend himself have been, at least in part deleted. Thus, I felt the necessity to allow the other side of the story to be heard on here. As Malpoet has not been allowed to properly answer some of these posts, I'll do the same to some as I have to the blog that sparked them.

IPJ - Well I certainly don’t think your Libertarian credentials stand up to scrutiny.
Actions such as this are as Libertarian as Tony Blair and his communitarian authoritarians.

Ian, your lack of Libertarian credentials became very apparent when you nudged and winked that there was 'clearly something' despite Malpoet being charged with precisely nothing. Next.

NC - Was this the same Malcolm Saunders who, after allegedly stating that it was ‘morally repugnant’ for officers to accept big pay-outs for retiring due to ill-health, was condemned as a hypocrite after doing exactly that?
Apparently, that Malcolm Saunders, who had been off sick from his post as Chief Fire Officer of Merseyside for some months in 2002, was said to have been awarded an estimated £200,000 lump sum and an annual pension of around £40,000.
Nice work if you can get it.

Nic, are you suggesting that there was nothing wrong with Mal, or that he should have taken nothing and let his family starve on a point of principle? Life is hard and requires us to swallow our pride sometimes. And stats from the Daily Mail tend to be about as reliable as those circulated by a Mr J Goebbels in the 1930s.

But my favourite was:-

AW - I have been feeling slightly ‘ nervous’ recently where do I apply ? Stupid me- I do not work for the State.
Looks like you have to be a very special public servant to get this pay off, IED’s , seeing your mates killed and maimed does not count.
Is PTSD a recognised mental illness ?

I'll answer your last point first Andrew - yes it is. The attitude of some towards mental illness is blind and ignorant to say the least. I just thank the man upstairs that they don't lead LPUK anymore.
And more to the point Andrew, when was the last time you did a day's work for anyone? Scroungers like you should be forced to clean up dogshit at seven in the morning - you could be the first ever DIY parish councillor, fancy that...

But the most frightening comment of the lot actually came as a result of another IPJ masterpiece - http://pjcjournal.wordpress.com/2011/05/23/lpuk-trying-to-make-sense-of-the-mess/. In response to Mal and I reminding him that any declaration of innocence was hollow given the witholding of evidence and narrow scope of the 'investigation' by the NCC, IPJ produced this piece of gold. In fairness, he also answers my other question does LPUK have any money left with what I believe to be total honesty. I've highlighted the bit that most caught my eye in bold.

Daz,has the old LPUK account got any money left? I don’t have a clue and don’t have access to that information.
You cannot find a man guilty or not guilty on incomplete evidence Ian – quite right, that’s why as a Libertarian I always work on the basis of innocent until proven guilty. The work done by the EC and the NCC appear to me to have substantiated that innocence.
Sooner or later someone will have to accept the word of someone in authority or it simply becomes a never ending witch-hunt. Like the traffic cop who is determined to find fault with your car, there will of course always be some who will never be satisfied.

Ok so an honest answer to the question - but how can Ian proclaim Andrew Withers' total innocence if he has not seen the full facts? The NCC did not see the full facts either and defined a very narrow scope to their 'investigation', so their declaration that all is hunky dory is not worth jack shit either.

But think about the part I marked in bold - the former leader of the Uk Libertarian Party - a party that sold QUESTION AUTHORITY T-Shirts online, is now telling us to "accept the word of someone in authority". Don't ask difficult questions, or enquire as to where your money went. Just shut up, speak when spat at and invest your time, money and blind faith in the beloved fuhrer. As I said in response to his blog - Fucking Incredible. In the last fortnight, I've started to believe that the party I joined was a cross between a particularly draconian religious sect and one of those shady pyramid schemes that ruins the greedy and gullible. Nothing that has happened since has caused me to consider that I may have reached this view somewhat hastily.

The attempt to smear Malpoet is nothing more than another classic diversion tactic from two men who do not have a liberal bone or instinct between them. Such has been the focus on the question of 'the money' and where it went, it is only natural for statists to adopt their favoured method of hurling mud at the antagonist and hoping enough of it sticks to damage their credibility.

Withers commented to me today, "Daz, I am still laughing knowing what I now know about the ‘tribune of the people". Well I'm not laughing, Andrew. You're a sick bastard for making fun of mental illness, and by the way haven't you got a parish to serve? Why are you spending the day smearing your perceived enemies instead of doing the job you desparately wanted? Isn't that the reason you upset so many LPUK members by running as an Independent? I'm assuming of course that you didn't use any LPUK money to 'campaign' in an uncontested seat. If you could confirm this I would be most grateful.

It would be immensely sad if any former friends turned on Malpoet as a result of the pathetic and vindictive ramblings of two very bitter and twisted men. Confession time - part of me actually feels sorry for Andrew P Withers. Deep down here is a man scared of taking responsibility for his own life and what happens in it. He didn't trade while insolvent - he was the victim of a fraud. He wasn't justifiably disqualified from being a company director - Peter Mandelson was personally out to get him. Now there is no reason to question the brilliance of his leadership of LPUK despite the party being insolvent - it was only because they stopped accepting memberships and the fees that came with them. Besides which, that bastard Malcolm Saunders (ably supported by his mate Daz) is trying to destroy him. Now would scientists call that a pattern or a trend?

I shouldn't be saying this to men much older than myself but - Andrew, grow up and consider that maybe some of what goes wrong in your life might have at least something to do with you. Ian - please stop encouraging him. As for Malpoet,well he's worth a thousand of either of you. Out of the three, I know who I'd want in the trenches with me anyway...