Tuesday, January 22, 2013
Britain's legitimation crisis
What happens when the citizens of a country lose trust in those in key positions of authority and responsibility?
When I was growing up in England in the 1950s, there was a widespread (and perhaps slightly naive) faith in the integrity of people in authority. The local bank manager was a man (always a man) of the highest standing. Nurses (always women) were angels of mercy committed to altruistic ideals of public service. The virtue of priests and vicars was unquestioned; ditto the honesty of political leaders. The BBC was the ultimate voice of truth. And if you needed to know the time, you asked a policeman.
The rot began with the revelations of sexual abuse perpetrated (and then covered up) over many years by priests in the Catholic Church.
Shortly after that, the bankers were exposed as greedy and dishonest, trading in debts which they knew to be toxic, and conspiring to distort market lending rates so they could squeeze out bigger profits and bonuses for themselves at the expense of their customers.
Hot on the heels of the banking crisis came the revelations about Westminster MPs fiddling their expenses. British voters discovered their elected representatives had been embezzling thousands of pounds from taxpayers by claiming to live in houses they rarely frequented, or by submitting expenses for dredging their moat, building a duck house, or even paying for their husband’s porn. Several of them ended up in jail; many more probably should have.
Next came the exposure of serious neglect and abuse in the nation’s hospitals and elderly care homes. One investigation last year reported that hospital patients were being left in their own excrement and denied access to drinking water. Another suggested that nurses with impressive paper qualifications often lacked compassion, a sense of vocation, or even basic caring skills.
Then the BBC came under the spotlight - first, when allegations surfaced of sexual abuse by Jimmy Savile and others on BBC premises, and then when the Corporation responded to criticisms by falsely and recklessly accusing a senior Conservative politician from the Thatcher years of involvement in a child sex abuse scandal without bothering to check the veracity of its ‘evidence.’ Meanwhile, the nation’s press has been put through the wringer by the Leveson inquiry which has exposed the grubby practices by which the popular newspapers feed their readers’ appetites for scandal and titillation.
Most recently, it has been the turn of the police. First we learned that, following the Hillsborough disaster in 1989 (when 96 football supporters were crushed to death on overcrowded terraces), officers systematically falsified their accounts to exempt the police from any responsibility or blame. Then it came to light that a cabinet minister forced to resign for allegedly insulting police officers in Downing Street had done no such thing. They’d ‘fitted him up.’ Many of us have assumed for a long time that the cops might ‘massage the evidence’ to ensure that a villain gets convicted, but when even cabinet ministers get ‘stitched up like a kipper,’ nobody can feel safe.
Now it may be that those in authority were always flawed. Perhaps the nurses 50 years ago weren’t angels, the local bank manager had his fingers in the till, and the priests were never as innocent as we supposed. But the important point is that we didn’t think this was the case. We respected authority figures back then. We believed the country was in the hands of decent, honest, virtuous people, people we could trust.
That trust has now collapsed as, one after another, the pillars supporting our civic culture have crumbled. It has been displaced by a weary cynicism. Whether a liberal, democratic nation can survive mass disillusion and distrust (what the Marxist theorist, Jürgen Habermas, once aptly called a ‘legitimation crisis’) nobody knows. But I think we’re about to find out.
Convicts owe £1.8billion in fines as 'free pass' makes a mockery of the British justice system
More than £140million is owed to the taxpayer by criminals who have been kicked out of Britain, lost or who have died. The shambolic management of court fines and compensation orders means foreign criminals have been deported despite owing vast amounts to the taxpayer.
The sum is part of a colossal £1.8billion which has not been collected in court fines and compensation orders. Critics said the figures showed criminals were being given a ‘free pass’ to ignore financial penalties.
Figures released by Her Majesty’s Courts & Tribunals Service (HMCTS) showed the total debt owed at the end of the 2011/12 financial year was more than £1.8billion. That compares with £484 million which was collected from criminals.
More than a billion pounds is accounted for by compensation orders - court demands for criminals to hand over the proceeds of criminal enterprises.
In 2007 the amount of uncollected confiscations orders stood at £507million. It is now £1.2billion.
Another £154million has been successfully hidden from collectors and cannot be recovered despite ‘forensic’ financial investigations. Around £40million cannot be collected because of ongoing appeals.
Officials also admitted that £278million is owed in interest on money that has not yet been paid. And they said £141million related to individuals who were ‘deceased, deported or cannot be located’.
HMCTS said it is looking for a private debt agency to help collect outstanding fines and confiscation orders.
Much of the money is likely to be written off. More than £65 million was written off in 2011/12, compared to £50million a year earlier.
Matthew Sinclair, chief executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance said: ‘There’s no point in dishing out fines if criminals simply fail to hand over what they owe. ‘If offenders can easily ignore penalties or are given a free pass, then it makes a mockery of the justice system.
‘A huge amount of money remains outstanding, the authorities must do a far better job of collecting cash rather than just writing it off the money when it is too late.’
A Public Accounts Committee report two years ago complained about ‘lax’ financial controls at the Ministry of Justice, the department which oversees the courts.
The Ministry of Justice said the value of outstanding money owed was down from £1.9billion a year earlier.
Justice Minister Helen Grant said: ‘We are determined to take action which will ensure criminals are made to pay what they owe.
‘We’ve done a good job of collecting the smaller fines- £484 million last year - and we are not giving up on the larger debts which have been more difficult to recover.
‘Enforcement agencies are also working with authorities in other countries and hiring specialist teams to track down hidden assets which make up a substantial part of the larger debts.
British food folly: Horses
A French chef working in Britain comments
I was raised in France on a diet that included horse. I still savour the memory of Saturday lunchtime, when tiny Maman Blanc dashed about her kitchen, steaks sizzling in a pan of foaming butter.
These were steaks of horse, rather than beef. My mother had five hungry mouths to feed, we were poor and horse was the cheapest of meats. Free if you happened to own one.
My grandfather owned two. They were big, broad Percheron horses used to plough the land. It was a tough job but they were built for it.
My grandfather cherished those horses. He looked after them, fed and watered them and provided them with a home. They seemed pretty happy, but when they reached the end of their lives he would have no qualms about eating them. He loved a chunk of horse.
This will be disturbing reading for many because Britain is a nation that does not eat horse meat – though that’s not quite true now as it transpires many have been eating horse without knowing it, devouring the flesh in supermarket burgers and other beef products.
The supermarkets have swept their shelves clean and simultaneously sent thousands of jokes galloping on Twitter, including the announcement that a woman who ate a horse burger ended up in hospital. Her condition was said to be stable.
But behind the scandal, I detect the unappetising taste of hypocrisy. Many British people like to pretend food doesn’t come from animals. Consumers are overly fussy and precious and hate to think what they are eating once grazed on our land or swam in our waters.
All of this has helped lead to the demise of the high street butcher and has brought tough times for farmers who see their crops go to waste because their apples are not perfectly round, or their carrots have one too many bumps.
Poor old Mother Nature has yet to earn the respect of the British. And still we are shocked at the suggestion of waste.
It is only a week or so since a report – Global Food: Waste Not, Want Not –revealed that up to half the world’s food goes in the bin rather than on the plate. However, education is at the root of the problem.
Horse can be eaten and is a good source of protein. I know to an Englishman this may sound rather confusing, but I love horses and I also love horse meat. I feel the same way about pigs and pork, cows and beef, hens and chicken.
But as a chef and as President of the Sustainable Restaurant Association, I take my responsibilities seriously. It goes without saying that if you are to kill an animal it must be in the most humane way. This will also result in better taste and texture because the animal is not stressed.
The horse is a thing of beauty but it is still something to eat, a source of protein far superior to much that pleases the British palate.
Consumers of chicken burgers, made from the meat, beaks, feet and claws of battery-farmed poultry might disagree, but hear me out.
In France there is an agreement –unwritten of course – between owner and animal: you look after it during its life, and when it dies it feeds you.
The British stroke their pets. In France, we stroke them but we also eat them.
Mind you, the British have a healthy appetite for other animals such as cute lambs, with mint sauce.
Horse is not only eaten in France, where 15 per cent of the population still consume horse steaks bought from specialist horse butchers. It is eaten in China and Japan. It is eaten in Scandinavia. You will find it on the tables of Belgium, while the average Italian devours about 2lb of horse each year.
And who exports their old horses to be eaten on the Continent? Yes, the British. Again, it seems hypocritical.
I was discussing the subject with Matthew Fort, the food writer and a judge on BBC1’s Great British Menu (on which horse has never appeared). Matthew agrees we should not spare the horse from the British plate but come to terms with consuming it.
Indeed, horse meat is lean and rich in iron. There is the slight taste of game and it is incredibly tender. It is similar in colour to beef and has great character due to its sweetness and acidity. It is an interesting meat, which I am sure could cook like boeuf bourguignon – slowly with wine.
What a great shame it is not eaten in Britain. Though that has not always been the case. You may be surprised to know the British did eat horse.
In the days when it was the main form of travel and horses were used in mines, poor Britons viewed the animal in the same way as the French, namely a solid, hard-working beast that would eventually provide a few meals.
In Britain during the Second World War it was not rationed, though butchers needed a licence to sell it. One butcher in Yorkshire continued to sell horse right up to the mid-Fifties, and its fat was bought by home bakers for cakes and pastries.
Can it make a comeback? Will British chefs take on the challenge of cooking horse meat for their guests? Will they create a dish such as cheval bourguignon, maybe cooked with a British red wine?
It’s a good bet that one day it will be on the menu
Australia: Watchdog call for softening of new hate laws
AUSTRALIA'S discrimination watchdog wants the federal government to water down its new hate laws to avoid litigation over workers' water-cooler chats.
Discrimination has been redefined as "conduct that offends or insults" in the government's draft Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill.
But Australian Human Rights Commission president Gillian Triggs thinks the broad definition will spark too many lawsuits.
She said the words offend and insult "have to go". "There is no need to set the threshold so low," she said. "I would suggest the government consider taking the words 'offensive' and 'insulting' out (of the legislation). "It does raise a risk of increased litigation".
Professor Triggs said discrimination cases should be based on the higher test of "intimidation, vilification or humiliation".
The Gillard government has drafted the new law to combine and update five sets of legislation banning discrimination on the grounds of race, sex, age or disability.
Professor Triggs said the words offend and insult had been "buried" in Section 198 of the Racial Discrimination Act, which will be replaced by the new legislation.
"Now it (the new legislation) extends that attribute to all areas (of discrimination)," she said.
"Probably what we'll see is an amendment to the exposure bill, taking out offensive and insulting."
The draft law says a person has been discriminated against if someone treats them "unfavorably" on the grounds of "protected attributes" that range from gender to race, disability, age, religion or sexual orientation.
It defines "unfavorable treatment" as harassing someone or "other conduct that offends, insults or intimidates the other person".
A Senate committee inquiring into the draft bill has already received 587 submissions from organisations including churches, employers, unions, mental health agencies, disability groups and state governments.
A spokeswoman for acting federal Attorney-General Jason Clare yesterday refused to say if the wording would be changed. "The main objective of this project is to simplify and consolidate many laws into one," she said. "If the Senate inquiry identifies the drafting goes well beyond this, the Government will closely consider those recommendations."
Queensland Attorney-General Jarrod Bleijie has told the Senate inquiry the the new laws could damage freedom of speech.
"The use of subjective language such as 'insult' and 'offend' in the statutory definition of 'unfavourable treatment" may be interpreted to set a low threshold test for discrimination," he said.
"(This) will result in unmeritous complaints and lack of alignment with international human rights benchmarks that focus on the need for equality, rather than merely on the social value of being polite".
Queensland's Anti Discrimination Commission also wants the legislation be rewritten, so a "reasonable person" would have to find the conduct insulting or offensive.
Tasmania's Anti-Discrimination Commission, however, wants to keep the words "insult and offend" and add others as well. "To provide greater certainty, this clause could also include the words humiliate, denigrate, ridicule or degrade to describe some of the specific types of behaviour that constitute unfavourable treatment," it told the inquiry.
The NSW Government has told the Senate inquiry the broader definition of discrimination "places unreasonable restrictions on freedom of speech". "The words 'offend' and 'insult', in particular incorporate a very low threshold of unfavorable treatment," its submission says.
Victorian Attorney-General Robert Clark warned that people could be accused of discrimination over what they say in private conversations held in a public place, such as a club or office.
"Many people may be subjectively offended or insulted by the simple expression or manifestation of views different to their own," he told the inquiry.
"To make such expressions of views in workplaces, schools, clubs and sports prima facie unfavourable treatment and hence discrimination ... appears to substantially erode freedom of expression."
The Law Society of South Australia told the Senate inquiry it "condemned" the new definition. "The robust expression of opinions, short of incitement to hatred, is a strength of our social and legal system," its submission states.
"It should not be curtailed to protect subjective offence that individuals may feel when their beliefs or attitudes are criticised."
Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.
American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.
For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN (Note that EYE ON BRITAIN has regular posts on the reality of socialized medicine). My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here.