LEAST SAID

It give me no pleasure to kick a man when he’s down, but ‘Randy Andy’s’ exploits have at least performed one valuable service – they have pushed Brexit from the front pages of the news and given us all a much-needed break from  the rough and tumble of the daily political grind.  That said, I suspect it won’t be long before we are fed yet more daily doses of the same, as we try and sort the wheat from the chaff.

Fortunately we have a fair-minded and balanced Media, concentrating as they do on the burning issues and ignoring the trivia.  That said, there is news of Jo Swinston, the ebullient yet vacuous leader of the Liberal Democratic party, outed as a squirrel slayer, both grey and red, firing her catapult at the poor defenceless creatures.  For the record, when the story broke, she denied it, but then, you would wouldn’t you?

For the record, it occurred to me that two of the essential qualifications needed for the leadership of the Liberal Democrats is ebullience and vacuity, and she has them in spades.

And to be even handed, what of Jeremy Corbyn?  Yes indeed, what of Jeremy Corbyn? For those of you who may have dozed off, he is the elected leader of the Labour Party, but by all accounts, no more than a figure-head.  The real power in the Party lies with John Macdonald, the shadow something, and the proud possessor of Chairman Mao’s little red book.  Suggestions vary as to what he should do with it, but it goes to show he’s at the cutting edge of the political debate, albeit not the British political debate.

The Labour Party manifesto is eagerly awaited.  It is in the hands of the ever dependable Dianne Abbott, taking longer than expected as she has yet to master the complexities of joined up writing.

I am not mentioning the Tories, as I felt it was time to give the also-rans their moment in the spotlight before they return to the political wasteland from whence they came.

When it comes to also-rans, I miss Lord Sutch and the Monster Raving Looney Party.  They were fun in a political landscape where fun was in very short supply.  Those were the days of Ted Heath, as dry as a sea biscuit, and Harold Wilson, who elevated political chicanery to new heights.  And to round off  this Fred Karno’s circus, there was the oleaginous Jeremy Thorpe.  That said, there is nothing more to say.

As for Prince Andrew and his ‘advisers’, if he is willing to take advice, and that is not a given, then he should remember the old adage that “least said, soonest mended”.  There may be too many questions that need credible answers, and that is going to take time.  The media circus moves on.  So should he.

ENOUGH IS ENOUGH

For Shamima Begum, the Jihadi bride, the saga goes on and on and on.  In short, after 5 years with Isis, she has had enough and wants to come home.  By home, I mean Bethnal Green and not the crushing poverty of Bangladesh where she and her family originated.

According to the latest opinion polls, over 76% of our population don’t want her back.  They take the view, as do I, that she went to Syria with her eyes open, knowing full well what to expect, and because her adopted Caliphate is about to be crushed, too late for regrets.

To the rest of us, if her ‘plight’ was ever newsworthy, we have had a blanket exposure from the media for the best part of two weeks, and for several days it was front-page news.  I say enough is enough.

I remind myself that this girl and her foolish companions left the United Kingdom for Syria to provide sexual services and immoral support for Isis fighters who specialised in the most depraved forms of torture and killing known to man, and these girls did so willingly and in full knowledge of their depravity and, by all accounts, totally unfazed by it  all.

It may seem harsh, even draconian, to strip Shamima of British citizenship, but Sajid Javid, the Home Secretary, is obliged to look at the bigger picture.  By allowing her to return, it sends out the wrong message to others who might be tempted to behave in the same way, knowing that if things don’t work out, they can return.

It is also worth remembering that jihadists, some home grown like Shamima, regard the United Kingdom as a legitimate target to maim and kill innocent people, regardless of the consequences.  Have we forgotten Manchester and Westminster so soon?

Shamima may be the turning point in our otherwise tolerant attitude to our enemies within, and if so, the time is long overdue.

 

ANOTHER FALSE DAWN?

Here we go again! The Government, in the capable hands of the aptly named David Gauke the Justice Secretary, will introduce a Bill sometime whenever to end the fault-based divorce system.  This is a reference to the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 which, in fairness, has withstood the test of time, hence the fact that it is still on the Statute books.

The main complaint of the ‘no-faulters’ is that the present law stigmatises one of the warring couples as the pantomime villain and risks damaging the broken relationship further, not to mention the effect it might have on the children of the union.

Gawke, like most politicians, has an opinion to offer on the back of a consultation paper last autumn to which 600 responses have been received.  A veritable tsunami!  Set against the 110,000 couples who divorced last year, 600 is hardly a representative sample, but that didn’t deter Gawke.  But beneath the rhetoric, there is little of substance, as we have been here before.  Referring to the 600 responses, “they were overwhelmingly in support,” he trumpeted, “and it is my ambition to bring forward legislation in the next session of Parliament.” Assuming, of course, that he and his party are still in government by then.

But whilst the commentators and interested spectators such as Sir Paul Coleridge, the retired Family Court Judge, gave the proposed reforms their blessing, what interested and depressed me in equal measure were the 110,000 divorces in one year under the fault based system.  How many more once no-fault divorces become the norm?

Perhaps as much or more time should be spent on schooling couples intending to get married before they do. So many get hitched with their eyes wide shut, and with little or no conception of what lies ahead.  It’s not just the actual cost of living together and bringing up a family, it’s the emotional cost that ends the relationship, and more often than not, nobody to turn to outside the immediate family, as they are more likely than not to take sides.

In my brave new world, no couples would be allowed to get married until they pass a written and oral test conducted by a suitably qualified professional.

When Gawke made his announcement, all eyes turned to the much publicised case of Tina and Hugh Owens, you will remember it well.  She wanted a divorce, he didn’t, and as far as I could determine, she had no arguable grounds.  Hugh came over as a perfectly pleasant man, somewhat boring perhaps, but having a boring husband is not, and never should be, grounds for divorce.

Reading between the lines, I feel sorry for the luckless Hugh, and he is better shot of her. That said, he continues to stand by her, metaphorically speaking of course. Unless and until Gawke gets his way, Tina will have to live apart from Hugh for 5 years.  She has served 4 years, so not long to go now.  During this period of separation, Hugh has made provision for Tina to be comfortably housed, and he makes sure she wants for nothing.  Their children have grown up and long since left the coop.

As for the future, when love has flown out of the window, I would advocate compulsory mediation, without which there shall be no divorce. The fair division of matrimonial assets would remain as before, as well as proper provision for any dependent children.

It’s a matter of priorities, marriage or divorce.  But whatever else, let’s get  on with it.  The time for rhetoric is over.

OFF TO HELL IN A HANDCART

Social Media is swamping us, and we are going under by the sheer weight of it all.  I don’t claim to be familiar with even the half of it, but by all accounts, Facebook, hosted by a strange, totally anonymous and obscenely rich American, bears much of the responsibility for media intrusion, as he was the first geek on the block.  Since then, he has been joined by several others, including Twitter for the boring and self-opinionated, YouTube for the wannabies and Instagram for photos and videos.

Attention has recently been drawn to these social media sites by Donald Trump, the leader of the free world, who uses Twitter  to connect with Twits the world over, it’s called connecting with kindred spirits, and Molly Russell, a 14-year-old girl who, according to her father, committed suicide after viewing  self-harm content on Instagram. His plight has touched a raw nerve, and Molly’s tragic death highlights the real dangers of getting swamped by social media.

Into this frenetic debate steps Mrs. Jackie Doyle-Price MP, who is the minister for mental health and suicide prevention.  Wow!  Hands up who has ever heard of her and her ministry.  It sounds like complete nonsense to me, but her aims may be perfectly laudable if unattainable.  She proposes to tackle social media executives and hold them personally liable if content on their platforms is harmful to children and vulnerable people.  She goes on: “Nothing is off the table.  We could use fines, we could make social media companies much more responsible and apply the full force of the law if we feel they are being negligent in their duty of care to their users.”  All well and good, but a fine won’t bring back a child, and it may be worth remembering that Facebook generated over $40 billion in 2017.  A fine is meaningless.

The lawyer in me would tell her that the burden of proof to prove negligence is nigh on impossible to discharge, even if these social media companies would be willing to engage with the well-meaning minister in the first place, which they would not.  And how do you prove criminal negligence when it is obvious that one man’s meat is another man’s poison?  It’s all in the eye of the beholder, with many shades of grey, and it’s far from black and white.

And finally, if you are making negligence a criminal offence, how do you prove cause and effect?  The problem with Molly was that she was adversely and tragically affected by what she saw, but by the same token, I suspect there are thousands of others watching the same material who are not adversely and tragically affected in the same way.  This means you cannot make it an absolute offence, which makes it pointless.

With respect to Ms. Doyle-Price, this is ministerial posturing, and other than grabbing headlines for a day, it is wishful thinking.  Far better to abolish all social media platforms that do not comply with common decency, otherwise we really do risk going to hell in a handcart.  God help us all, but don’t hold your breath.

DOH!

It has recently been disclosed that some universities, and I use that term advisedly, are making unconditional offers to hapless school leavers in return for a minimum investment of £30,000 over three years and the promise of a worthless degree at the end of it.  Unconditional offers mean that the leavers are guaranteed a place regardless of entry results such as ‘A’ levels or any other test of their academic prowess.

One cannot get away from the nagging suspicion that these unconditional offers are being made by ‘new’ universities which wouldn’t otherwise be able to meet their quotas or indeed justify their very existence without them, but whilst we cling to the absurd mantra that everybody is entitled to a place at university regardless of ability, these third-rate institutions will find a market of sorts.  It is also instructive to note that of the top ten universities making more than half of their offers unconditional last year, all were ‘new’.  The biggest offender was the University of Suffolk, which made a staggering 83.8% of its offers unconditional.

But it gets worse. More first class degrees are being handed out like confetti at a wedding than ever before, and last year, across the board, more firsts were awarded than 2:2s and thirds combined.  It risks devaluing the entire ethos of higher education, and as W.S. Gilbert wrote: “When everyone is somebody, then no one’s anybody.”  Put another way, it’s dumbing down for dummies, and universities are not supposed to be pandering to dummies.

According to Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of the Office for Students, “it is fundamentally important that degrees hold their value over time.  There has been a significant and unexplained grade inflation since 2010, which risks undermining public confidence in our higher education system.”

The other obvious problem besides public confidence is the cruel misconception that a first class degree from Bogbrush University is going to put the graduate on the fast track to fame and fortune and instant riches, when the reality is quite different.  Employers are unlikely to be impressed, finding such a degree worthless, and who can blame them?  So many applicants cannot even spell properly, and have never heard of ‘curriculum vitae’ let alone what it means.

Surely it’s time and enough for the government to understand that higher education is fundamentally different from comprehensive education, where one size fits all, and where ability and creative thinking are discouraged.  A good university education is supposed to be the pursuit of academic excellence and not intellectual mediocrity, and is supposed to encourage original thought and not rote learning.

Some of you will remember the days when universities were the preserve of academia or the vocations, and technical colleges offered real prospects in the workplace.  They replaced, or at least supplemented, the apprenticeship scheme, where real crafts were learned and jobs readily available to skilled workers across the board, and it didn’t take £10,000 a year to acquire them.

I remember, not so long ago, when it was bruited abroad that plumbers were earning £70,000 pa, there was a stampede amongst lawyers to sign up.  An income such as this was riches beyond their wildest dreams to those dependent on legal aid.

Time for a complete rethink if our higher education system is not to become the laughing-stock of our competitors.