Picture of a judge's wigThe Judge RANTS!Picture of a judge's wig

Date: 03/12/08

Blame - How To Avoid It And How To Apportion It

Just on three and a half years ago, a young man was 'mistaken' by the Metropolitan Police for an Arab terrorist (you know - the sort of mistake anyone could make), tailed across a large part of London, followed into a Tube station by a phalanx (or should that be 'Phalange'?) of armed coppers, forced back into his seat in a carriage and fatally shot seven or eight times in the head at point-blank range in front of dozens of witnesses.

Immediately, the Über-plods started crowing about how they'd foiled another terrorist attack on London's transport infrastructure, saying that of course the man was an Muzzy terrorist - he had a padded jacket on in the middle of summer, said jacket had wires sticking out of it, he ran from the police when challenged, and had to have most of his skull ballistically removed to prevent him from detonating the bomb he had in his rucksack and killing and maiming all those Daily Mail readers.

Except that none of this was true. Jean Charles de Menezes was not a Muslim, or even an A-rab. He didn't have a padded jacket on, and even if he did there were no wires which could be seen. He didn't run from the bizzies and he had no bomb, except in the distorted perceptions of a bunch of out-of-control testosterone junkies who thought they were in a movie - and their commanders.

When all this soon became apparent, the senior officers involved tried 'news management', i.e., they lied. De Menezes looked like the alleged Muslim ne'er-do-well they had supposedly been following; his body showed traces of cocaine; he was an illegal immigrant. All this, too, was bollocks. For once, the public and the tame media showed a proper degree of scepticism, and the whole cover-up unravelled quicker than a ball of wool which has been attacked by a hyperactive kitten.

None of this, however, prevented the officer in charge of the slaying - the unfortunately-named Cressida Dick (yes, I know; I mean, Cressida?) - from being promoted further beyond her limited competence, and her boss - the lamentable Ian Blair - from being able to stay in the top job in the Met for another two years or more.

Nor did it prevent the relevant authorities' attempts to obstruct justice. Firstly, the Crown Prosecution Service - after much prayer and fasting, and no doubt a great deal of being leant upon - decided that, despite the facts already being in the public domain and despite the killing taking place in front of dozens of witnesses, there was not sufficient evidence to proceed even with manslaughter charges against the trigger-pullers. However, in a rare burst of courage, they decreed that the Met should be charged with offences under Health & Safety legislation.

Secondly, every possible obstruction was placed in the way of there being a proper inquest into Mr. De Menezes' death; the 'health & safety' trial was used as the main excuse, and the timing of this was delayed and delayed again to put as much distance as possible between the events at Stockwell Grove and any credible hearing into them.

After all this dragging of judicial and political feet, however, the inquest has finally taken place. At the time of writing, the jury is considering its verdict.

Or, rather, it isn't. Because it can't. Because in his summing up the coroner, 'Sir' Michael Wright, has told the jury that they are not permitted ('permitted', if you please) to return any verdict other than one of 'lawful killing' or the totally inconclusive outcomes of an 'open' or a 'narrative' verdict. So, in other words, the jury - even if they firmly believe from the evidence placed before them that De Menezes was a victim of a wrongful act - cannot say so in their verdict. This is part of what Wright said:

"Many people tell lies for a variety of reasons...[including] to mitigate the impact of what might be a...tragic mistake"

So, in Wright's eyes, even if the tooled-up rozzers had told porkies six ways from the origin, this was quite understandable and they shouldn't be condemned for it. And that was why they couldn't be blamed for killing an innocent, unarmed man - even if they lied to a court of law its very self about what they knew and what they did.

(Incidentally, am I alone in being reminded by all this of this classic Peter Cook sketch? Would that he were still with us - there's enough going on to have supplied him with material for a hundred years).

Apart from confirming that - when it comes to the actions of the police and the so-called 'security services' - there is a deep-seated corruption in the administration of justice (or what passes for same) in this country, it raises another question: what the hell is the point of having juries when they can be ordered to reach a certain verdict by a judge or coroner who, at least in theory, is there only to offer guidance on points of law and procedure rather than present his/her view of the evidence as being the only way of viewing it? Why not get rid of juries altogether?

But then, that is what the current régime wants most fervently to do. It has sought to expand the numbers and types of cases which are heard without juries, either on the thoroughly patronising and insulting grounds that the cases would be 'too complicated' for their tiny, TV-addled button brains to understand; or on the basis of that ever-cynical and sinister catch-all excuse, 'national security'. Moreover (and most germane to what we're discussing in this case), the régime has managed to pass a law (in the name of countering 'terrorism', natch) which enables the Secretary of State (i.e., a government politician) to arbitrarily declare that a coroner's hearing in a particular case must only be held in secret and with a 'specially-appointed' coroner (i.e. a 'trusty').

Gradually but inexorably, our fundamental liberties and all the meaningful protections for them are being removed by this wretched régime. And, as with previous occasions when this has happened elsewhere, the general population will not move against it until it affects them or someone they know. By which time it will be too late, far too late.

Which is where it helps for those plotting such an outcome if they have a convenient distraction. Usually, television and the scum press fulfil this purpose admirably (compare the proportion of conversations you hear or overhear on real subjects with that regarding the previous night's episode of Desert Island Has-Been Saddoes or about what "they say" in the Sun, Mail or Express), but sometimes other methods must be deployed and finding a group within our society that no 'right-thinking person' should be expected to have any sympathy for is usually a winner. In my lifetime I can recall the targeting of gays, trade unionists, black and Asian people, travellers (of both the 'traditional' and the more recent sort, whose only 'crimes' were to wish to escape from the drug-ridden inner cities, reject selfish consumerism and not have to wear designer clothes) and, of course, that perennial sure-fire winner, nasty foreigners in general.

Another ready standby, of course, is the unemployed. One of the surest possible signs of an economic recession is the increasingly strident yapping of the political classes and 'right-thinking people' against those who are not in work but who (according to those who have never been in that situation) jolly well ought to be, even if it means taking a shit job for shit wages working for a shit of a boss. "That's the way to build self-respect and self-reliance! Working 72 hours a week diving into cess-pits for a living with nothing but a botulism-contaminated drinking straw to breathe through never did me any harm!".

I first saw this in about 1977, when Callaghan and Healey's cowardice had handed us over to the tender mercies of the IMF and the scum press were full of screaming headlines about 'benefit scroungers'.

(Incidentally, at that time I saw a Socialist Worker poster which had the headline "Spot The Scrounger", with a picture of 'Elizabeth Queen' who was scrounging millions out of the system. To see this on a bus shelter (and in Silver Jubilee year, too!) was they call a 'consciousness raiser' - I knew that they were right, and I've been a convinced republican from that day forth).

I saw it again in the early eighties, when the wretched Thatcher's deliberately-contrived slash-and-burn assault on our society put four million or more on the dole. So, I suffer from what might be termed déja déja vu when I read of this crooked cabal's latest plans for 'reform' of the welfare system, particularly vis-à-vis the unemployed.

(And while I'm at it, this is just another example of the way in which the innately harmless word 'reform' has been hijacked and prostituted out of all innocent meaning. It now means nothing more than 'fuck about with solely for ideological purposes' or, more specifically, 'cut wherever you can get away with it, and either overburden what's left or 'outsource' it to the companies on whose boards you hope to be once you get rumbled and kicked out of office').

Under the 'reforms', the unemployed will be subject to yet another raft of provocation and harassment. They will be obliged to sign 'contracts' (and isn't it noticeable how the language of business has been allowed to creep into areas of our society where it has no bloody business being?) with either the State or the private companies of varying levels of disrepute who are angling for the public's dosh, compelling them to go on 'training courses' (which seldom lead to anything other than a sense of wasted time), or even attending 'parenting classes', on pain of losing 40% or more of their benefit payments for refusal (benefit levels are - and have been for years - a national scandal, standing at about half of what one might reasonably need even to subsist upon).

Not content with that, nor with their desire to further humiliate the disabled by tightening still further the largely arbitrary Incapacity Benefits system (partly by renaming it - the 'Sellafield Syndrome' in effect once again), the scum who rule us also now want to subject claimants to lie-detector tests (although, as you'd expect, this is given the Bollocksese title of 'voice risk analysis technology'), and to being left destitute for at least a month at a time if found to have cheated the system - 'found', of course, by the same agency which has accused them in the first place - and even for a first 'offence'. No doubt the modern adminstrative obsession with 'targets' will mean that thousands - perhaps tens of thousands - will be left penniless because some petty official has a performance level to attain.

(It is, again, interesting to note this as an example of 'joined-up government'. The use of 'voice risk analysis technology' combines a number of central elements of this government's way of doing things: it gives enormous, arbitrary and unaccountable power to petty officials; it is used primarily against vulnerable and unpopular groups; and it uses technology which has no proven reliability. Don't think for one moment that the ID Card/National Identity system is an isolated anomaly).

The person pushing all this is called James Mark Dakin Purnell, the greasy little twunt who is currently Secretary of State at the Depratment for Menial Work and Miserly Pensions. Purnell obviously knows a lot about the life of the unemployed. Presumably from what others have told him, as he has had no experience of it himself: born in the City of London, educated in France, at a private grammar school and Bailliol College, Oxford, he worked as a researcher for Tony Blair, for the IPPR thick twonk (sorry, I meant 'think tank'), as Head of Corporate Planning at the BBC and as one of Blair's 'special advisors', before being parachuted into a safe Labour seat in 2001. In short, he is the archetypal Nu Labour pol. - able to expound at great length about things he knows fuck-all about.

He is also typical NuLab in another sense. Whereas ministers in departments dealing with business (or, as we are obliged to call it, 'Enterprise' - as in 'wobbly sets, strange clothing and technology which doesn't work') are obliged to take a crash course in Corporate Fellatio before being sent out to service Saudi psychopaths and Uzbek crooks for a living, the primary prerequisite for someone who has to administer services for the undeserving poor is to come across like a Doberman which has caught its nuts on a barbed-wire fence - all snarl and bile.

"But", I hear you say, "Shouldn't the unemployed be looking for a job?" By and large, yes. If there is a job there, and if that job pays a living wage (not the same as the Minimum Wage, which is merely a way of subsidising cheap labour with cheap labour's own money), if that job is suitable for the prospective applicant (we have enough square pegs in round holes as it is), if that job is with an employer who will treat his/her employees as sentient and intelligent human beings (with all that that entails about basic dignity), and if (the biggest 'if' of all) there are actually jobs there in the first place. We're at the beginning of a recession, remember? The beginning. Who knows how bad it will get?

"Anyway", as you no doubt continue, "Why should my tax money be spent on keeping the workshy in luxury? I meantersay, satellite TV, carting cases of Black Label home from the 'offy' every evening? And they breed like rabbits!"

Well, Mr, Mrs and Ms Taxpayer, rather than feed off the prejudices of someone you got talking to down the pub or in the 'fitness centre', consider what else your tax money has been, is being and will be spent on: the replacement of a pointless nuclear missile system with yet another even more expensive one, when we have no-one against whom it could be practically deployed even if you can countenance it being used at all; two illegal, pointless and counterproductive wars on South West Asia (with the prospect of a third - what will probably be called 'The War On Teheran', with Saint Barack of Chicago and Madame Hilary de Bombe in charge); the handing over of a large part of the properties and functions of our public services to private corporations and those sham shamans called 'management consultants'; and, latest and greatest of all, the pouring of billions of pounds into the pockets of the banks and bankers who profited mightily from the boom and bubble in order to protect them from any of the major consequences of their own greed and dishonesty.

In the light of this, wouldn't you prefer to pay a far smaller amount, but know that at least it is being used to put food on the table and roofs over the heads of individuals and families not all that dissimilar to yourself and your own? I can't say that I begrudge them, particularly at the demoralisingly low level of welfare payments in this country. You see, I have been unemployed (more than once), and I confidently expect to be again, due to a combination of the increasing fuckwittery of the people running my place of employment and my increasing reluctance to keep my mouth shut about it, and I know what it means in practice both in a material and a psychological sense. I don't want to go back to it, to the real poverty, the bureaucratic indifference and incompetence (which will be far worse with private corporations seeking to profit from it), the difficulty in understanding what it is that employers may be looking for (and in trying to puzzle out from their vacancy advertisements whether they really know what they want). No, on the whole I think I'd rather eat my own foot without benefit of condiments. That's why I don't object to some of my tax money being spent on keeping them alive (if barely), and why you shouldn't really object, either. I mean, look at it in a selfish light: if they're all forced into jobs that they don't particularly want to do, there won't be any for you to take when The Credit finally Crunches you, will there? There are those who are wedded to that pernicious invention the 'work ethic', there are those who are in a stable but unsatisfying live-in relationship with it, and there are those who prefer to stay free and single and who regard employment in this day and age as - at the very least - over-rated. I would like to think that our society is not so far down the toilet of rampant me-me-me-ism that we cannot allow all these groups to exist to a minimum standard of decency.

That is not a popular (as in the sense of 'widely-held') view, however. When, yesterday, Polly 'Nosepeg' Toynbee wrote an opinion piece on the Comment Is Free section of The Guardian's website castigating the obsessive compulsiveness of Purnell's proposals, the response was overwhelmingly negative, of the sort that one would traditionally associate with the Sun, the Mail or (in the case of the more erudite replies) the Telegraph. All unemployed were scroungers, they were all living in luxury flats with plasma-screen TVs, they were all having each other's children with wild abandon; and the answer to the problem was to get rid of the welfare system altogether and let the scum sink or swim. And these are readers of The Guardian, remember.

We all know, of course, that the current economic ordure/windmill co-location is the fault of the unemployed, the poor and the disabled, don't we? How dare they not be efficient units of production and consumption? How can they live with themselves knowing that they are letting down that vast majority of 'right-thinking' people who have spent the last decade or so spending their money (or, more frequently, someone else's) like water? Don't they know what it's like to have to sell one of your buy-to-let tax dodges to keep young Kyra in private schooling? Or have to trade in the Beemer for a (gulp!) Ford Galaxy? For the love of Mammon, have they no empathy?

Any stigma will do to beat a dogma, of course, and there's evidence here that Pernicious Purnell's attempt to demonise the jobless will reap its desired result (i.e. the backing of the Murdoch/Associated/Barclay Brothers press) and, heedless of the consequences for the individuals at the sharp end of the policy, the outcome will be a fourth term in office in order to secure the blue-nosed snoop state and the corporate welfare agenda of the neo-liberal economists who have brought us to where we are.

So, if you're unemployed and reading this, be very afraid; but don't entirely despair. This arrogant brutality has been tried before and it doesn't last. I have faith that common decency and humanity has not yet been so totally expunged from our society that it will tolerate another round of blaming the victim for the crime.

At least, for the sake of all of us, I bloody well hope so.