CANDLE IN THE WIND

The sixties were an interesting and testing time for all who were there and remembered them.  The Cuban missile crisis was the scariest, the assassination of President Kennedy the most tragic, the student protest in Chicago in 1968 over America’s continued participation in the Vietnam war the most effective, and then, perhaps minor in comparison but still memorable, the Profumo affair was the most salacious.

As well as the Profumo affair, more later, there was also the absurdity of the prosecution of Lady Chatterley and her erstwhile companion Oliver Mellors.  Lady Chatterley’s lover was regarded in some quarters as an obscene publication, I kid you not.  The fact that it was written by D.H. Lawrence, one of the finest writers of the twentieth century, cut no ice at all with the twerps who decided to prosecute, and there was actually a trial.  All this because the words ‘fuck’ and ‘cunt’ were in the text, making judges swoon who were more comfortable with flogging, hanging and transportation. The case is also best remembered by the remark made by prosecution counsel to the jury, a robust group of horny handed sons and daughters of toil: “Is this the sort of book you would even wish your wife or servants to read?” Mercifully, the jury threw out the case, and the rest, as they say, is history.

The Profumo scandal has been well documented, and nobody came out of it smelling of roses.  It had all the ingredients of a Barbara Cartland pulp fiction novel, only this was for real.  I remember it for two reasons:  I was there at the time; and one of the star players died the other day.  Christine Keeler has followed her friend Many Rice-Davies, who died 3 years ago, into immortality, and I shall miss them.

Their main claim to fame was as star performers in the sex romps at Lord Astor’s country pile at Cleveden in Buckinghamshire in the early sixties, where John Profumo was a guest.  Profumo at the time was Secretary of State for War, in the days when you made war, not love, so he was pretty high up in government and had ready access to secret documents.

Christine had a sweet innocence, and was only 19 years old when she was introduced to Profumo.  She was boobing around naked in the Astor pool when Profumo joined her at a canter, in he plunged, and in no time at all he was giving a whole new meaning to the breaststroke.

After the affair was exposed, Christine was treated abominably by the legal system, and especially the judiciary.  Profumo was rehabilitated and became a ‘good egg’, but Christine was treated like a common tart, to use the words of the sanctimonious Harold Macmillan, the then Prime Minister.  As one obituary writer put it, she was the woman, and the woman bears the guilt.  The English legal system has little to be proud of.

 

THE NHS IN CRISIS

I read that, once again, the National Health Service is on the brink of collapse.  Drugs are becoming unaffordable, Accident and Emergency departments are short staffed, junior doctors and overworked and underpaid, nurses are overweight and going back home, and general practitioners are struggling to meet the demands of an ever ageing population.

The latest ‘scandal’ to hit the headlines is the staggering increase in the cost of drugs demanded by the pharmaceutical industry, in some cases increasing life saving drugs such as quetiapine from £1.62 to an eye watering £65, and with the industry running a virtual monopoly on pricing, the government appears to be helpless.  Helpless or not, it’s called racketeering by any other name.

Surely to goodness it’s time to go back to basics and admit that with the ever increasing demands on the Health Service, we need to take some unpalatable decisions.  The first must be whether we can continue offering a health service that is free at the point of delivery.  Whilst this is political anathema to many, it is a step in the right direction, and it should be relatively easy to apply.  Those on income support will still be able to access the service free of charge, but those who can afford it will be required to make a small payment for the privilege of seeing a doctor.  By small I mean £5, or one and a half pints of beer, and if a visit to the doctor helps reduce the consumption of alcohol, so much the better.  There are several countries round the world which impose a modest consultation fee, Australia for one, and the argument that the sick and needy will not seek medical assistance if they have to pay £5 for the privilege is ridiculous.

Secondly, the number of missed appointments is staggering.  In my own rural surgery, they amount to 30% of ‘no shows’.  This is a criminal waste of precious resources, so I propose that if the ‘no show’ wishes to book another appointment, he must pay £10.

Finally, it’s time that the medical profession re-educates itself.  GPs must stop prescribing drugs every time one of their patients breaks wind, and start asking themselves if it is absolutely necessary.  My own case is a case in point.  I went under to repair an aneurysm, a successful operation I am pleased to say, and afterwards I was prescribed statins and pills for my blood pressure.  I asked in a spirit of inquiry how long they were to be prescribed, and to my astonishment, the doctor told me for the rest of my life.  I don’t like taking pills, so I said no, and in return I have a routine test for blood pressure and cholesterol.  That’s all that’s needed, and if either or both are too high, I change my lifestyle and dietary habits.  I don’t know how much I am saving the NHS, but I’m doing my bit.

None of us can live for ever, but it should be our responsibility, not the NHS,  to ensure that we look after our bodies, so that old age is a part of life and not an intolerable burden.

THE HOARY OLD CHESTNUT

There is a certain amount of controversy surrounding the upper, or second, chamber of the Houses of Parliament, and I refer of course to the House of Lords.

As names go, experience tells me to proceed with care for fear of incurring the wrath of the minority lobbies, who can be vocal, strident and at times positively intransigent when protecting the best interests of their supporters.  I refer to the Feminists and the Transgenders, who normally have more than enough to say on anything and everything.  Imagine my surprise therefore during the current debate on the composition of the House of Lords and efforts to control its numbers that all the usual suspects are mute, whether of malice or by visitation of God, who can say.

Before going on to the meat and potatoes of the debate, let’s dwell for a moment on the cabbage.  Has the time come when it is politically incorrect to refer to the House of Lords as the House of Lords?  With this in mind, may I suggest a way out that should please almost all: call it the House of Peers.  An excellent suggestion I hear you cry, so let’s move on.

The debate is predominantly about numbers, how to reduce them and how to make the House of Lords manageable.  There are approximately 850 peers, with work for 250 being done by 100.  So as a legislative chamber, it is grossly overmanned and hugely inefficient.

In addition, the vast majority of those elevated to the peerage know little or nothing about affairs of state, and care even less. When accepting a peerage, their first consideration is getting to the front of the queue when booking a table at the Gavroche, and scooping up the £300 a day attendance allowance when the bank balance needs an injection of funds.

So I suggest we model reform of the Lords along the lines of a gentlemen’s club, or should that be a gentlepersons’ club?  Club members enjoy the facilities but are rarely asked to take part in the administration, and besides, they wouldn’t want to do so.

Let the great and the good continue nominating their favourites for a peerage, which will enable its recipients to use the appropriate title and the bar and dining room. They will not be admitted to the debating chamber, and will therefore not be permitted to speak.  And most important of all, they will not be permitted to draw an attendance allowance, thereby saving the hard pressed taxpayer several millions each year, and removing the temptation of those who might otherwise claim to lie through their teeth.

Job done!

TIME TO CALL IT A DAY

Many years ago, when most of you were not even a twinkle in your parents’ eye, the question of fault in the breakdown of marriage was all important, as much was riding on the outcome. Fault determined in large measure if the petition should be granted, and if so, how the marital assets were to be divided, who would get the Royal Doulton dinner service, and who would pay the extravagant court and legal fees.

We all remember the Duke and Duchess of Argyll in the fifties, whose divorce was the daily fare of the tabloids, with ever increasing and prurient revelations the one against the other.  Binky and Dilly, as they were known to their intimate and eclectic circle of friends, used every opportunity to stir the pot in the hope that this would influence the eventual outcome.  It was the stuff of Barbara Cartland and her chocolate box romantic fiction.

Some 25 years’ later, with Parliament as ever on the front foot, attempts were made to simplify the laws on divorce by introducing the notion of the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage, and five tests were enacted to bring this about.  The most controversial was the notion that the respondent’s conduct during the marriage had been unreasonable to the extent that the petitioner could no longer be expected to live with him or her or it, if you take into account the new and ever growing fad for transgenders.  Interestingly, adultery is a ground for divorce, but only if the adulterer is violating the sanctity of the marriage bed by having it away with somebody of the opposite sex.  Somebody of the same sex will not do, which smacks of discrimination to me, and the law is silent on having it away with somebody whose sexuality is indeterminate.

Against this squirming sack of sordid emotions is the recent and ongoing case of Tina and Tim Owens.  She wants a divorce on the simple ground that the love has gone out of the marriage and she finds her husband a royal pain in the arse.  He doesn’t dispute this, but as it’s not a ground for divorce, he doesn’t want one, and the court will not grant one. She has tried to reason with the High Court and the Court of Appeal, to no avail, and now she is appealing to the Supreme Court, a lottery if ever there was.

This has brought into sharp focus the absurdity of our present divorce laws, and calls for the introduction of a no fault divorce. There is  a vocal lobby, isn’t there always, calling itself Resolution, a national group of family law specialists, which advocates “the need to reduce conflict and support separating couples to resolve matters amicably, rather than forcing them to play a blame game where one or both of them thinks the marriage is over.  The simple fact is that the Owens’ case should not have been necessary, and only by implementing a no-fault divorce system can we ensure such a situation doesn’t happen again”.

Call me old fashioned if you will, but I believe in the sanctity of marriage and the solemn vows taken between spouses, and most important of all, the recitation that “whom God hath joined together, let no man put asunder”.  Marriage should be more than a good knees up and swilling copious quantities of alcohol, and if, in the cold light of day, it’s not a union made in Heaven, should they simply walk away, or work at making it a success?

I agree that the grounds for showing that the marriage has broken down irretrievably should be revisited, as in many cases they are patently absurd, but that’s no reason to throw the baby out with the bath water.

I have some sympathy for Tim Owens.  He has accepted that the long marriage may be past its sell by date, and he acknowledges this, but to simply walk away after so many years is defeatist and a denial of their marriage vows.

JUDGE NOT

I have never felt comfortable with the review of lenient sentences provisions, which allow the Court of Appeal to review sentences referred to them by the Attorney General, with the sole object of increasing them or converting community sentences into ones of immediate imprisonment.

Picture if you will how these so-called unduly lenient sentences are passed.  The judge will be either a Recorder or a full time circuit judge, so they will have had the benefit of experience within the criminal system.  They have to serve a minimum of 10 years at the coal face before they can apply to sit in loco judiciaris, and they start off trying piss ant cases such as shoplifting or gobbing in public to get the measure of the job so to speak.  If they behave and keep their noses clean, and most important of all, if they don’t upset the Lord Chancellor’s minions, then the Queen’s shilling beckons, and it’s a job for life.  Come the twilight when it’s time to retire, there’s the index linked pension to look forward to, and the chance to come back from time to time to relieve the boredom of gardening and too much daytime television.

Judges are also given a copy of Sentencing Guidelines, which they are expected to master, and which explain when to go in with the soft shoe and when to go in with the studs showing.  All in all, you may think, not much room for error or original thought.

Imagine my surprise therefore when I am told that last year, 190 cases were referred by the Attorney General to the Court of Appeal as being unduly lenient.  As an aside, the power to refer is also within the remit of the Solicitor General, but as nobody knows who he or should may be, it can be discounted.

The review of these unduly lenient sentences is carried out by judges of the Court of Appeal who know absolutely nothing of the trial process other than what they are told by the Attorney General, and he too knows absolutely nothing about the trial process.  Of course the miscreant whose sentence  is being reviewed has the benefit of mitigation provided by an advocate, who may or may not have been there when the sentence was passed.

It’s justice behind closed doors, to assuage the lust for condign punishment which is the life blood of middle England, that ignorant and bigoted swathe of the population that judges now have to humour.  Before all this nonsense of everybody and his dog having a shout, the principle of open justice to which I subscribe is that justice must not only be done, but must be seen to be done.

And what is achieved by these increases in sentence, other than blood letting and yet more prison overcrowding?  In my opinion, absolutely nothing.  We either trust our judges, who were there to hear the evidence and listen to the mitigation, or  we go down that well worn road travelled by countless dictatorships, where trial and sentence are conducted behind closed doors and there is no appeal.

Our judges are good enough, and experienced enough, and possessed of an abundance of common sense and fair play, to trust them to get it right, so let’s get rid of this odious backdoor kangaroo court and get on with the important task of making the system work.