Friday, October 31, 2008

A small reflection about the relationship between England and Australia

Most Americans feel proud, pleased and blessed to be born in America. And rightly so. Australians and the English feel similarly and for similar reasons. But from the large and constant stream of English immigrants arriving in Australia, one gathers that a lot of the English like some sunshine with their English heritage. And there is more than sunshine to it. I remember a recent arrival in Australia who hailed from Yorkshire saying to me that Australia is "Yorkshire with brass", where "brass" is Northern slang for money. He was oversimplifying but there was a lot of truth in what he said nonetheless. The ties between England and Australia are a lot closer than either side will normally admit. Australians speak derisively of the English (calling them "Poms") and the English speak derisively of Australians (calling them "colonials").

But it remains true that both nationalities feel very much at home in the others' country. And I am probably a rather extreme example of that. When I was growing up in Australia in the 1950s, I grew up into a society that was very Anglophilic. Many Australian-born people still copied their parents' usage and referred to England as "home". And we had a Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies) who described himself as "British to his bootstraps". And I remember crying -- aged about 9 -- when it was announced that the King had died. An even stronger influence than all that, however, stemmed from the fact that I was a great book reader from an early age. And most if not all boys' books available were written and published in England for the English. So I grew up in a mental world that was half-English: Which was a very good start on understanding English thinking.

So when I first arrived in England in 1977 I found a few peculiarities but in general had no social difficulties -- which is saying something if you know the intricacies of English social rules. I imagine that I did transgress in various ways from time to time -- but never enough to be a bother. In fact my high level of social acceptance would have been the envy of many Englishmen. I was materially assisted in that by the fact that an educated Australian accent is quite close to RP ("Oxford" English) and accent is enormously important in England. Any Australian accent is in fact closer to RP than are many regional English accents. So I was often told in England that I had a "soft" accent -- meaning that although detectably Australian it was not beyond the pale in in the Home Counties. My conservative politics tend to go down well in the Home Counties too.

An amusing effect of this close but usually denied affinity is the way that some Australian women have constructed for themselves a version of English "society". In England there really is such a thing as "society" -- basically the English aristocracy. The Australian version is of course self-selected rather than genetically selected but they do a moderately good job of imitating the English original. And part of that is that they do a rather good job of imitating the speech of the English original. I remember one example vividly. When I was talking on the phone to Laurie, she sounded to me just like Margaret, who is an English lady I know who really is a born member of the English aristocracy.

So who was Laurie? She was the daughter of my father's accountant. In other words we both grew up in a small Australian country town -- going to school in bare feet in a tropical environment -- an environment beset by such perils as taipan snakes, funnelweb spiders, box jellyfish, finger cherries and crocodiles, rather than the more pleasant English phenomena of crocuses, daffodils, cuckoos and skylarks. From that humble beginning, however, Laurie had acquired all the language, mannerisms and values of the English aristocracy. And I imagine that she did so without ever visiting England.

It reminds me of something that someone wrote (probably Andrew Ian Dodge -- an Anglophilic American) when I first started putting up this "Eye on Britain" blog. He said that this is a blog about England from an outsider's point of view -- but the author really isn't an outsider because he is an Australian. Very insightful.
Fat kids heavily persecuted in Britain

Some kids are just naturally fat. It's in their genes

At least seven morbidly obese children were taken into care last year by social services. [i.e. removed from their families]. A boy of six who was seriously overweight, a girl of seven with a Body Mass Index three times higher than normal, and an eight-year-old girl who weighed nine stone, were among those taken from their parents. They were joined by a boy of 12 from London who had a BMI of 28 to 60 per cent above the 17.5 average for his age.

The figures were released by councils following a request under the Freedom of Information Act. Dr Colin Waine, former head of the National Obesity Forum Charity, said more needed to be done to monitor vulnerable children before social services were forced to intervene.

Meanwhile, health minister Dawn Primarolo has hailed Disneyland for offering healthy side dishes in its fast food outlets. Ms Primarolo told the Food Standards Agency she wanted to see all food outlets 'making healthy choices a default option'. She also praised Tesco for using the characters Tigger and Mickey Mouse to promote fresh fruit, juice, cereal and yoghurts.


Self-righteous British legislators fail to look out the window

Snow blankets London for Global Warming debate

Snow fell as the House of Commons debated Global Warming yesterday - the first October fall in the metropolis since 1922. The Mother of Parliaments was discussing the Mother of All Bills for the last time, in a marathon six hour session.

In order to combat a projected two degree centigrade rise in global temperature, the Climate Change Bill pledges the UK to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions by 80 per cent by 2050. The bill was receiving a third reading, which means both the last chance for both democratic scrutiny and consent.

The bill creates an enormous bureaucratic apparatus for monitoring and reporting, which was expanded at the last minute. Amendments by the Government threw emissions from shipping and aviation into the monitoring program, and also included a revision of the Companies Act (c. 46) "requiring the directors' report of a company to contain such information as may be specified in the regulations about emissions of greenhouse gases from activities for which the company is responsible" by 2012.

Recently the American media has begun to notice the odd incongruity of saturation media coverage here which insists that global warming is both man-made and urgent, and a British public which increasingly doubts either to be true. 60 per cent of the British population now doubt the influence of humans on climate change, and more people than not think Global Warming won't be as bad "as people say".

Both figures are higher than a year ago - and the poll was taken before the non-Summer of 2008, and the (latest) credit crisis.Yet anyone looking for elected representatives to articulate these concerns will have been disappointed. Instead, representatives had a higher purpose - demonstrating their virtue

And for the first 90 minutes of the marathon debate, the new nobility outdid each other with calls for tougher pledges, or stricter monitoring. Gestures are easy, so no wonder MPs like making them so much. It was all deeply sanctimonious, but no one pointed out that Europe's appetite for setting targets that hurt the economy has evaporated in recent weeks - so it's a gesture few countries will feel compelled to imitate.

The US Senate has Senator James Inhofe, but in the Commons, there wasn't an out-and-out sceptic to be found. It was 90 minutes before anyone broke the liturgy of virtue. When Peter Lilley, in amazement, asked why there hadn't been a cost/benefit analysis made of such a major change in policy, he was told to shut up by the Deputy Speaker.(And even Lilley - one of only five out of 653 MPs to vote against the Climate Bill in its second reading - felt it necessary to pledge his allegiance to the Precautionary Principle.)

It fell to a paid-up member of Greenpeace, the Labour MP Rob Marris, to point out the Bill was a piece of political showboating that would fail. While professing himself a believer in the theory that human activity is primarily the cause of global warming, he left plenty of room for doubt - far more than most members. The legislation was doomed, Marris said. MP Rob Marris had previously supported the 60 per cent target but thought that 80 per cent, once it included shipping and aviation, wouldn't work. We could have a higher target, or include shipping and aviation, but not both.

He compared it to asking someone to run 100m in 14 seconds - which they might consider something to train for. Asking someone to run it in ten seconds just meant people would dismiss the target. "The public will ask 'why should we bother doing anything at all?'

The closest thing to a British Inhofe is Ulsterman Sammy Wilson, Democratic Unionist Party, who'd wanted a "reasoned debate" on global warming, rather than bullying, and recently called environmentalism a "hysterical psuedo-religion". Wilson described the Climate Bill as a disaster, but even colleagues who disagree with his views of environmentalism are wary of the latest amendments. The Irish Republic is likely to reap big economic gains if it doesn't penalise its own transport sector as fiercely as the UK pledges to penalise its own in the bill. Most Ulster MPs were keenly aware of the costs, and how quickly the ports and airports could close, when a cheaper alternative lies a few miles away over the border.

Tory barrister Christopher Chope professed himself baffled by the logic of including aviation and shipping. If transportation was made more expensive, how could there be more trade? "As we destroy industry we'll be more dependent on shipping and aviation for our imports!" he said. "When the history books come to be written people will ask why were the only five MPs... who voted against this ludicrous bill," he said. It would tie Britain up in knots for years, all for a futile gesture, Chope thought.

However, Tim Yeo, the perma-suntanned Tory backbencher who wants us to carry carbon rationing cards, said it would "improve Britain's competitiveness". He didn't say how. Lilley impertinently pointed out that no cost/benefit case had been made for handicapping shipping and aviation. It was the first mention in the chamber of the cost of the commitments being discussed. Estimates put the total cost of the Climate Change Bill at 210bn pounds, or 10,000 per household - potentially twice the benefits.

Quoting Nordhaus, Lilley noted that Stern ("Lord Stern - he got his reward") had only got his front-loaded benefits by using improbable discount rates - and then only half the benefits of making drastic carbon reductions will kick in by the year 2800. The government has said it wasn't using Stern's discount rates to calculate the cost of shipping and aviation restrictions, but a more sensible and traditional rate of 3.5 per cent instead - yet it refused to reveal the costs.

Lilley asked:"I ask the house - is it sensible to buy into an insurance policy where the premiums are twice the value of the house?" Lilley was "building a broad case on a narrow foundation", the Deputy Speaker told him. "I really must direct him to the specific matter that's included in these clauses and amendments."

Earlier, the Tories had said they would be tougher on carbon than Labour, and the Lib Dems the toughest of the lot. Much more representative of the tone of the debate was Nia Griffith, the NuLab MP for Lanelli. Her comments are worth repeating (Hansard link to follow today) because language tells us a lot - not only about the bureaucratic ambitions of the exercise, but how the modern politician thinks about governing. Griffith told the House that the Bill was "a process not an end in itself", and had great value as a "monitoring tool". MP Nia Griffith "It's the targets that make us think," she said. She also used the phrase "raise consciousness" - as in, "it must raise consciousness amongst nations that follow suit."

In other words, if you take a gesture, then pile on targets and penalties, you will change people's behaviour. Maybe she hasn't heard of Goodhart's law. Yesterday, however, it seemed that the only MPs exhibiting enough "consciousness" to actually think - and ask reasonable questions about cost and effectiveness of the gesture - got a good telling off.

The Bill finally passed its third reading by 463 votes to three.


THE BIG BBC MELTDOWN: It was once a model of high standards and decorum -- but no more

Now that the Left have got hold of it, any garbage is fine and "standards" is a stupid old-fashioned concept. Tearing everything down is what the Left are all about. After just about everyone from the Prime Minister down condemned them, the principal offenders have now been suspended and one has resigned but how the BBC allowed such a foul and hurtful programme to be broadcast is the real issue. Two articles below on the matter. One from 29th and one from 30th


The BBC is under unprecedented pressure to crack down on offensive material after an intervention by the Prime Minister and 10,000 complaints over its decision to broadcast obscene phone calls made by two of its biggest stars. Mark Thompson, the BBC Director-General, maintained his silence on the conduct of Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand for a third day despite a growing clamour for an explanation as to how pre-recorded taunts directed at Andrew Sachs, the 78-year-old Fawlty Towers actor, went on air.

The radio transmission on October 18 included Ross shouting on to Sachs's answerphone that Brand had slept with his granddaughter Georgina Baillie, 23, and Brand joking that the actor might kill himself. Ms Baillie has called for the pair to be sacked.

Gordon Brown swung behind the flood of public outrage, saying that the incident was clearly inappropriate and unacceptable. David Cameron, the Tory leader, demanded to know who had given the green light to the broadcast. Andy Burnham, the Culture Secretary, described the incident as a serious breach of broadcasting standards.

The BBC has rejected calls to suspend the pair and Ross, who is paid 6 million pounds a year, was expected to record this week's edition of his chat show, Friday Night with Jonathan Ross, tonight. However, Sir David Attenborough, who was due to appear on the show, was in discussions with the BBC last night. Frank Skinner, the comedian, and the American actress Miley Cyrus were also on the guest list.

Mr Thompson has been ordered by the BBC Trust to present a "formal report" to its monthly meeting on November 20, as to how the offensive material came to be aired. The trust also demanded an interim report to be presented next week at a meeting of its editorial standards committee. Ofcom, the broadcasting watchdog, was also investigating the material under Section 2 of the Broadcasting Code, relating to harm and offence.

The row led every major BBC news bulletin yesterday. Tim Davie, the corporation's director of audio and music and the most senior executive to comment, admitted that the programme that went out was "unacceptable". He said that the BBC would conduct a full investigation and decide the appropriate action and that it would be wrong to apportion blame at this stage.



The suspension of the foul-mouthed Jonathan Ross and the forced resignation of his equally disagreeable sidekick Russell Brand marked an extraordinary historic cultural victory. For the first time in living memory, the BBC has signalled that there are boundaries of decency it must not cross. But, my goodness, didn't this admission take a long time coming? No one at the BBC appeared to realise that the original show broadcast by Radio 2 on October 18 was so offensive.

Ross and Brand's vulgar abuse of the actor Andrew Sachs was passed on the nod by a 25-year-old Radio 2 producer, even though Mr Sachs had refused his permission. That young man evidently did not know any better. But nor did his bosses. It took several days of mounting Press coverage, and critical remarks by David Cameron, Gordon Brown and other politicians, before the BBC's management finally responded. Even then the person whose head was pushed above the parapet was that of Tim Davie, the 'director of audio and music', of whom none of us had ever heard.

Only yesterday did Mark Thompson, the BBC's director-general, and the man ultimately responsible for the Corporation's output, break his holiday and announce that he was suspending Ross and Brand. His statement was certainly everything one might have wished for, referring as it did to 'a gross lapse of taste that has angered licence payers', but it had to be wrung out of him.

Mr Thompson is a deeply symbolic figure of our times. He is not a bad man. He is civilised and well-read, having taken a first in English at Oxford. As a devout Roman Catholic, he adheres to moral values that are a million miles from those of Ross and Brand. And yet he has made no attempt to stem the tide of clod-hopping filth that pours out of their, and others', mouths whenever they broadcast.

Why should this be? Perhaps Mr Thompson believes that Ross and Brand are popular figures who will attract a large audience. Although the BBC is protected from commercial realities, it increasingly conducts itself as though these are the only realities that matter. Shielded from the market, the Corporation often strives to outdo the market in offering dumbed-down programming, and appealing to the lowest common denominator.

But I fancy there is a deeper psychological explanation for Mr Thompson's indulgence of so-called entertainers against whose vulgarity and ignorance he must privately recoil. Whereas some on the Left embrace Brand for his nihilism and for what they regard as his welcome flouting of bourgeois values - he seems eager to copulate with anything that moves - Mr Thompson is a more elevated, as well as a more interesting,

Like so many modern liberal-minded intellectuals, he has a horror of being judgmental. He knows that Jonathan Ross is a coarse figure, but he reasons that if there are people who enjoy his crudeness and lavatory humour and peppering of four-letter words, he is not going to prevent them from having what they desire. There is a fissure in him that permits this moral relativism. For himself and his family he wants culture and standards of decency, but if there are others who prefer dross, he is not going to stand in their way.

Yet, more than any other organisation, the BBC should not be in the business of providing dross. It is protected from the market. It was founded on high and noble principles. It does not have to follow the worst trends - far less take the lead - and lure us into the gutter. Mr Thompson might not be fitted by background or temperament to edit the Daily Smut, but he has all the attributes to guide the BBC towards higher ground. And yet he does not do so.

The French philosopher Julien Benda famously coined the phrase 'La Trahison des Clercs' - the betrayal of the intellectuals. He was thinking of French and German 19th-century intellectuals who had become apologists for militarism and nationalism. The modern trahison des clercs is that of liberal intellectuals like Mr Thompson who can recognise goodness and truth but, out of fear of appearing judgmental or proscriptive, will not help others to find them.

This moral dereliction amounts to a fatal arrogance. Mr Thompson knows why it is wrong to scatter four-letter words on television. He can see that the kind of humour purveyed by the likes of Ross and Brand does not raise people up but often pushes them down. But, because he is terrified of being seen imposing his values - which are, in fact, almost indistinguishable from the old values of the BBC - he has so far said: let them have what they want. Then he returns to the books and music and culture of his pleasant house in Oxford....

BBC bosses were not able to see what was objectionable about Ross and Brand's outpourings, but thousands of ordinary people, once alerted, could. It was the shocking realisation that many licence-payers had had enough - that they still defended standards of decency and proper behaviour - that finally jerked Mr Thompson out of his holiday reveries....

Will this historic cultural victory stick? Yesterday's Mail reported that, in April, a BBC1 comedy drama called Love Soup showed a woman being 'raped' by a dog. The BBC still pumps out many programmes that offend against decency and taste, and are often particularly offensive to women. We should not imagine that the tap will be turned off in a trice. But, maybe the affair of those unfunny and grossly overpaid vulgarians Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand will show Mr Thompson and his senior colleagues that the BBC has become dangerously out of step with many of the people who pay its bills.

If Mr Thompson does not have the courage to act on his moral convictions, he will be wise to listen to the outrage of those who do.


Outrage as British council makes pupils stand on chairs and pledge to be nice to gypsy children

Villagers opposing plans for a travellers site have accused a council of attempting to 'brainwash' their children. Pupils aged between six and 11 were requested to stand up and promise to 'welcome newcomers' and not bully them. The incident happened at a workshop for youngsters that was part of Local Democracy Week, where talks were organised by Norwich and Norfolk Racial Equality Council.

A large proportion of the scores of children present were from Spooners Row Primary School, near Wymondham, Norfolk. Residents there are battling plans by South Norfolk District Council to build a permanent travellers' site with eight pitches. One parent, who asked not to be named, said: 'It appears as if the council was targeting children with propaganda to try to get them on side. My first thought was that it was disgusting to target children in such an underhand way when so many people oppose the new site.'

Another parent said: 'It's out of order that the council has done this.' They added: 'If I had been there I would have stood up and said, "Stop this". It's in breach of the children's rights, surely?' Another parent complained the workshop was planting thoughts about bullying into the minds of children who had probably not thought of it.

The primary school's headmaster, Simon Wakeman, has made an official complaint to the council. He said yesterday that a council official connected with the plans for the travellers' camp had been at the workshop-The two people taking the workshop asked the children if they wanted to stand up and make a pledge,' he said. 'None of the children stood up because I suspect they felt awkward, but the pledge was read out anyway. 'They were asked to make a series of promises to be kind to gipsy and traveller children, welcome them into the community and not bully them. The children were encouraged to put their fingers in the air or their hands on their hearts to signify their acceptance.'

He added that he supported talks to 'build bridges in society', but opposed having children make pledges, particularly in light of their parents' anxiety over the travellers' site. Mr Wakeman said the workshop had left the school in an 'invidious position' as it had gone to lengths to remain objective about the proposals but parents were now questioning its neutral stance.

The talk, on October 17, was one of several on offer to schoolchildren at the council's offices in Long Stratton. Headmasters chose which ones their pupils attended. No one from the Norwich and Norfolk Racial Equality Council was available to comment yesterday.

John Fuller, South Norfolk Council leader, has sent a personal apology to the school but yesterday he insisted that the council was not responsible for what the equality council told the youngsters. 'The workshop was run by the local racial equality council who are experts in this particular field and the council had no direct input in what was said.


"Holocaust denier" wins first round

Germany is trying to prosecute an Australian citizen for things he said in Australia:
"CONTROVERSIAL Australian historian Frederick Toben has won the first round of his fight against extradition to Germany from Britain. A London judge ruled overnight that the European arrest warrant used to detain Dr Toben in Britain for extradition earlier this month was invalid because it did not provide enough detail.

However, the case appears far from over, with lawyers representing German prosecutors, who want to try Dr Toben for his alleged anti-Semitic views, preparing to appeal to Britain's High Court.

Dr Toben's solicitor Kevin Lowry-Mullins described today's ruling as a victory and said the academic, who has been granted bail, looked forward to the High Court hearing his case.

Dr Toben was arrested while in transit at London's Heathrow airport on October 1 under a warrant issued by Germany, which accuses him of racism and publishing anti-Semitic views.

Unlike in Britain, Holocaust denial is a crime in Germany and offenders can face up to five years in jail.... The High Court is expected to hear Dr Toben's case early next year.


UK immigration reforms make visas easier to get for Australians

Young Australians wanting to work in the United Kingdom should find it easier under new visa rules being introduced by the British government. Britain is revamping its working holiday visa scheme to allow 18-to-30-year-old Australians to find jobs in their chosen profession for a full two years. They will also for the first time be able to line up jobs to go to in Britain before leaving Australia. Under the old scheme, Australians faced a host of restrictions before being granted a working holiday visa, including how long they could stay in the one job.

British high commissioner to Australia Helen Liddell said the changes would make working in the UK even more attractive for Australians. "Some of the old restrictions are going and the visas will be cheaper by half,'' she said. "Britain's immigration system rewards those who come, work hard, bring their skills and strengthen cultural ties and Australians fit the bill very well.''

The new youth mobility visa scheme will come into force on November 27 and cost STG99 ($255.85), down from STG200 ($516.86) price of the working holiday visa. Those applying for the new visa will also have to show they have the equivalent of STG1,600 ($4,134.9) to cover living expenses for the first few weeks in the UK. Australia is one of just four countries Britain is allowing to take part in the new visa scheme. The others are New Zealand, Canada and Japan.

During the last financial year, the British High Commission in Canberra issued 15,204 working holiday visas to Australians. "Because of the changes, we wouldn't be surprised if those numbers increase next year,'' a British High Commission spokesman said. The changes are part of wide-ranging alterations Britain has been making to its immigration policies, including introducing an Australian-style points system for would-be migrants.



The University and College Union (UCU) is facing a court threat if it doesn't retract its decision to encourage members to question the ethics of contacts with universities in Israel. A group of as yet anonymous litigants, who are UCU members, are demanding repayment of any union funds spent on carrying out a national conference resolution which asked academics to consider the moral and political implications of their links with Israeli institutions. Via their solicitors, Mishcon de Reya, the litigants warn UCU that they will sue its four trustees individually for recovery of the money.

A year ago UCU accepted legal advice that its 2007 national conference motion for an academic boycott of Israel was unlawful and could not be implemented. At this year's conference in May, lecturers voted overwhelmingly to call on colleagues to "consider the moral and political implications of educational links with Israeli institutions, and to discuss the occupation with individuals and institutions concerned, including Israeli colleagues with whom they are collaborating".

Their general secretary, Sally Hunt, had warned delegates before the debate that UCU would need to take legal advice on what steps it could take to carry out the motion. The motion sparked off a heated debate and a succession of resignations from UCU members.

In a House of Lords debate, the former independent adjudicator for higher education, Baroness Deech, called on universities to derecognise the union. "These efforts to boycott, or to come as close as possible to a boycott, are contrary to race relations legislation and ultra vires the powers of the union," Deech said. "The UCU has created an atmosphere hostile to Jewish academics and to quality academic research and freedom in this country," Deech added.

On September 26, Mishcon de Reya wrote to Hunt warning her that unless UCU accepted within 14 days that the latest conference resolution was "ultra vires" - beyond its powers - a group of unnamed members would take it to court. As UCU members, its clients were entitled to sue the union and its trustees - Professor Neil Macfarlane, Fawzi Ibrahim, Dr Dennis Wright and Paul Russell - to force it to declare the resolution null and void, the letter said. And they would sue the trustees for the repayment of any money spent on implementing the resolution. If legal action is taken, the union members taking it will be identified, their solicitors say. The 14-day deadline for UCU to reply passed on Friday.


Thursday, October 30, 2008

British "health & safety" Nazis obliterate an ancient right for no good reason

They want to assert their ownership of what is not theirs. Power is what bureaucrats want and ownership gives power

If you go down to the woods today, forget about disguise - you'd better wear a hard hat and a hi-viz jacket. Dingly Dell has fallen to the elf 'n' safety nazis. For the past 12 years, retired builder Mike Kamp has been collecting firewood from the forest near his home at Betws-y-Coed, North Wales. It's a right enshrined in the Magna Carta of 1215, the template for democracies around the world. Free men down the centuries have been granted the liberty to gather dead wood from common land to fuel their stoves, repair their homes and make charcoal.

That was before the Forestry Commission came along and started demanding that anyone wanting to collect wood would need a licence to forage. Now it has imposed an outright ban, stating: 'This is an area where we are subject to increasing constraints in terms of health and safety. We have a duty of care to people in our wood.' Note the use of the possessive our wood. It isn't their wood. It's common land and it belongs to everyone.

As Mr Kamp said: 'They are claiming there are health and safety issues. But people have walked through the woods collecting firewood for hundreds of years without too many safety problems.' Precisely. I doubt there is one recorded incident of a firewood-related fatality in North Wales. This, as usual, is about bureaucrats justifying their own sad existence and protecting their backs in the event of someone turning their ankle in a rabbit hole, ringing Blame Direct, and suing for com-pensayshun.

It's the same warped thinking which led to plans for an open-air ice rink in Bath this Christmas being abandoned because council officials feared it could be a magnet for paedophiles. How sick do you have to be to reach that conclusion?

And a school in Colchester has banned children from bringing in broomsticks for Halloween in case they get hurt. In fairness, they were only following official advice on the NHS website: 'Be careful with witches' brooms made from sticks. If the sticks get dislodged, they are a choking hazard. These brooms should be labelled For Adult Use Only.'

You couldn't make it up. Where is it all going to end?


British high school exams COULD be dumbed down unless watchdog steps in

What? Dumbed down any further?

Standards in GCSEs and A levels risk being dumbed down unless the new independent examinations watchdog is given statutory powers to force exam boards to maintain them, the Government has been warned.

In a highly unusual intervention into the debate about exam standards, Mike Cresswell, director-general of AQA, Britain's biggest exam board, has broken ranks with its rivals. In an interview with The Times, he has given warning that public confidence in the quality of GCSE and A level qualifications cannot be maintained unless the new exams watchdog, Ofqual, has sufficient muscle to prevent exam boards lowering their standards.

Ofqual was created by Gordon Brown and made independent from government precisely to put an end to the debate about the dumbing down of public examinations and to ensure that there could be no suspicion of government pressure on exam boards to set standards at particular levels. But Dr Cresswell believes there is a "major omission" from the proposals for Ofqual's powers. While it is empowered to force exam boards to follow certain procedures in the way they set and mark exams, it has no powers over what level they set standards at.

"Ofqual needs to be given an explicit statutory power to enable it, if necessary, to direct an awarding body to set standards at a particular level," Dr Cresswell said. "It needs to have this power so that it can give credible public assurance that standards are comparable between awarding bodies and maintained over time." Without statutory powers of intervention, Ofqual would be left to the mercy of exam boards, he added. "A regulator who is there to uphold public confidence in standards can't be in a position where it has to negotiate with the exam boards over standards."

Dr Cresswell added: "The awarding bodies compete for entries. They don't compete on standards. If Ofqual had this power [to enforce standards], it would make it much more difficult for that to ever begin."

The main exam boards work closely together in developing qualifications, but there is a tension in their relationship, as they are competing with each other within a finite but lucrative market place. Schools and colleges pay about 400 pounds million a year in fees to exam boards. Mr Cresswell's warning comes after a disagreement this summer between England's three exam boards, which set their own GCSE and A-level papers, about standards in the new GCSE single science exam. The three boards met in August to discuss grade boundaries. They failed to come to an agreement over the mark needed to get a C, officially a good pass. One of AQA's rival boards awarded Cs in one paper to pupils who got only 20 per cent of questions correct and would not back down from this position. Negotiations between the boards broke down.

AQA was eventually persuaded by Ofqual to reduce its own grade boundaries to bring it into line with the other boards, even though it did not think this sufficient to maintain standards. Dr Cresswell agreed to the move "under protest" because he did not want to disadvantage the half-million pupils who had taken his board's science exam. "Plainly, we couldn't possibly have a situation where children doing our exam would be judged against harsher standards than children doing other boards," he said.

Yesterday was the last day for submissions on what monitoring and enforcement powers Ofqual should have. Dr Cresswell has written to the Government to express his concerns and to request a meeting with Jim Knight, the Schools Minister.


Public must think we have all gone mad, says British judge left powerless to jail burglar who terrorised pregnant mother

A judge has hit out at sentencing guidelines which stopped him from jailing a burglar who terrorised a heavily pregnant mother. Recorder Shaun Smith said the public 'must think we've all gone mad or soft' as he let Dominic Wong walk free. Wong had admitted battering his way into Safa Moustafa's home and stealing cash while she cowered upstairs with her two-year-old daughter.

Trauma from her ordeal has left her a virtual prisoner in her own home, but Recorder Smith said he was powerless to put Wong behind bars because it was his first burglary offence. Instead he had to hand out a community service order. The judge said: 'This is sentencing by numbers. I want to send you to prison. The public want to see you go to prison. But I can't send you to prison because of the guidelines I have been given.'

Last night Mrs Moustafa's husband Ahmed, 31, a highways consultant, reacted with outrage. He said: 'We're the victims, but no one cares about us. The whole system is completely on its head. 'If a judge wants to send someone to prison but can't then what's the point of a judge in the first place?'

Jobless Wong forced his way into 28-year-old Mrs Moustafa's home in Loughborough, Leicestershire, on September 15 this year. She was seven months pregnant at the time. She and her daughter, who was not named, were upstairs and stayed hiding as Wong smashed his way through the front door before helping himself to money. When police arrived at the scene they discovered him lurking in the garden of the house next door, which he had also tried to break into.

In a victim impact statement read to Leicester Crown Court, Mrs Moustafa said: 'I'm now very nervous and anxious in my own home. I'm forever checking doors and windows and keep looking outside to see who's around. 'I can't even go into the garden unless my husband is here. I can't be alone in the house and have friends to sleep over.' Mrs Moustafa said her daughter had become 'nervous and clingy'. She added: 'Because of this man's actions, I hope the court sends him to prison to make him understand exactly how he has affected our lives.'

But James Weston, defending, said it was Wong's first offence and the starting point was a community sentence. The law recommends first-time burglars should be spared custody if the case can satisfy certain conditions. The sentence has to represent an effective punishment and should tackle problems such as an offender's drug addiction.

Wong, of Loughborough, who claimed he would 'turn back the clock' if he could, also admitted burgling the house next door. He was given a two-year community order with 240 hours of unpaid work and was made the subject of a six-month night-time curfew. He was also told to pay 350 pounds compensation to the mother.

Mr Moustafa said the sentence did not reflect the damage Wong had inflicted. He said: 'My wife and daughter have been mentally scarred. My wife could have had a miscarriage. 'She was screaming "I'm pregnant!", but he still kept hitting the door until he managed to get in. 'Would he have still got a community order if my wife had suffered a miscarriage? I can only assume so, if that's what these guidelines say.'

The case came as Justice Secretary Jack Straw attacked liberal justice groups who 'drive him nuts' by focusing on the 'needs' of offenders instead of punishment.


Stranger Than Fiction

Earlier this year, I wrote an eco-satirical column under the pseudonym Ethan Greenhart, in which I (or rather, Ethan) called upon Greens everywhere to pray for an economic downturn. The column argued that nothing would benefit our human-ravaged planet more than a "big, beautiful, stock-crashing, Wall Street-burning, consumer-baiting, home-evicting, bank-busting recession."

We need something to stop humans "raping the planet," I said, tongue pressed ferociously against my cheek, and "the recession might just be the chemical castration for the job." A recession could be the "antibody Gaia so desperately needs to deal with her human itch," since it would force people to buy less and live more humbly.

The column said recession would be a just punishment for the "lunatics" of humankind, before the arrival of the "final big disease" - that glorious moment when a rampant sickness will "reduce the human population to sustainable levels" and "end industrialism . . . just as the Plague contributed to the demise of feudalism."

I was going too far, right? Yes, there are super-aloof Gaia worshippers who, caring little for the living standards of their fellow men, argue that a recession would be a good thing - and, sure, they deserve a few satirical darts tossed their way. But surely no right-minded Green (assuming such a thing exists) would celebrate the depletion of mankind by a "preferably painless but speedily contagious disease"?

You'd be amazed. Not 24 hours after the column was published, "Ethan" received an e-mail (my alter ego came with his own inbox) from Valerie Stevens, chairperson of the U.K.-based Optimum Population Trust. The OPT is an influential green-leaning outfit that campaigns for strict controls on population growth. Ms. Stevens, believing - remarkably - that Ethan Greenhart is a real person, wrote: "What a marvellous piece of writing. I feel exactly the same as you!"

Consider what this means. The head of one of Britain's most vocal Green lobby groups feels "exactly" that people who work in shops are comparable to "concentration camp guards"; that humankind is a "poisonous bacteria in Gaia's bloodstream"; that "consumerism makes us mentally ill"; that the consumer society has "turned us into savages . . . well, not us, obviously, but certainly them"; and that a disease should come and decimate "the plague that is mankind." All of these statements were contained in the pretend eco-rant that OPT chair Valerie Stevens described as a "marvellous piece of writing" with which she agrees "exactly."

The OPT has numerous Green bigwigs on its advisory board, including Jonathon Porritt, who was director of Friends of the Earth from 1984 to 1990 and is currently an adviser to Prince Charles, the insufferably eco-minded heir to the British throne. Ms Stevens' enthusiastic agreement with Ethan Greenhart unwittingly revealed the backward, misanthropic thinking that rattles in the attics of Britain's posh Green elite.

It also revealed something else: the environmental movement is now so pompous, hysterical, bloated, and disconnected that it is almost beyond satire. My weekly Ethan Greenhart columns, published in my online magazine, spiked, have now been turned into a book: Can I Recycle My Granny? And 39 Other Eco-Dilemmas. In the course of writing it, I discovered that satirizing Greens is forever an uphill struggle, as one's campaign to mock environmentalism continually threatens to be derailed by the latest ridiculous utterance from the Greens themselves.

Ethan Greenhart has argued that climate-change denial should be recognized by the American Psychiatric Association as a "mental disorder" and that there should be "eco-lobotomies" for persistent deniers. Well, this is only a more extreme version of a leading British Green's demand for "international criminal tribunals" to try those who "preach the gospel of denial." Yet it turns out that many Greens are already discussing the "psychological processes" that contribute to climate change denial, with The Ecologist, an influential British magazine, arguing that "angrily denying the problem [of climate change] outright" is a form of "psychotic denial." Perhaps eco-lobotomies aren't so far off now.

Ethan Greenhart has claimed to have set up something called Bottlefeeders Anonymous, for those moms who have strayed from The Ethical Path by bottlefeeding rather than breastfeeding their offspring. "Bottlefeeding is a form of child abuse," he declares, since it involves "stuffing your child's gut with powder produced in a factory by a really big and probably quite evil conglomerate." Lo and behold, it turns out that eco-minded "militant lactivists" really do look upon bottlefeeding as abusive. Green columnist George Monbiot believes that feeding your child formula is "tantamount to child abuse."

Ethan has even celebrated suicide as a sensible solution to human overcrowding on Gaia's "pretty face." Here he was inspired by cranky Green groups like the Church of Euthanasia. Yet this outlook ain't so cranky anymore. Shortly before Can I Recycle My Granny? was to hit the shelves - in which Ethan maintains that "non-existence is the most perfectly ethical way of being" - a book by David Benatar (a professor of philosophy at the University of Cape Town, no less) appeared under the title Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming Into Existence.

Horace said the purpose of satire is to "laugh men out of their follies." Yet such is the depth of contemporary Green folly that even mockery can be mistaken for another sensible idea or contribution to the "Green cause." Of course (and I would say this, wouldn't I?) my book is still full of cutting-edge satire - "richly comic," hails The Independent. But you had better buy it quick before its maddest, zaniest send-ups of the environmentalist movement become the latest Green orthodoxy.


British Muslim doctor faces misconduct hearing over homosexual comments

What he said would have been normal just a few decades ago. But no worry: As a Muslim, he will be excused.
"A prominent Muslim doctor has appeared before a misconduct hearing after declaring that society needs "protecting from the ravages" of homosexuality. Dr Muhammad Siddiq, 65, president of the Islamic Medical Association, accused gay people of spreading disease and suggested they needed the "stick of the law to put them on the right path", the General Medical Council was told.

Dr Siddiq, who is currently suspended from practising, made the comments in a letter to Pulse, the medical magazine, which generated a stream of complaints when it was published last year. He later apologised for causing hurt and distress, but yesterday faced misconduct charges in front of a GMC fitness-to-practice panel in Manchester. If found guilty, he faces being struck off .

The panel was told that Dr Siddiq was working as a GP at the Walsall Teaching Primary Care Trust when he wrote the letter in July last year. It read: "There is punishment and fine if you throw rubbish or filth on the streets, the gays are worse than the ordinary careless citizen, they are causing the spread of illness and they are the root cause of many sexually-transmitted diseases. "They need neither sympathy nor help, what they need is the stick of law to put them on the right path and mend their ways and behaviour. "We need to protect society from their ravages."

Bernadette Baxter, prosecuting, said Dr Siddiq wrote to Walsall PCT to explain the letter after it was published in July last year. In this letter, he apologised unreservedly and said he had written it because of stress due to unrelated proceedings between himself and the GMC. He wrote: "I categorically and unreservedly apologise and retract the letter, and apologise for any hurt or offence that may have been caused to anybody reading the letter. "I have practised as a GP for over 30 years, and I have never discriminated against any patient on any grounds.


Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Black man has to remind Britain's Labour government that they are supposed to be on the side of the worker

Britain risks a surge in Right-wing extremism if it fails to help its white working class weather the recession, the equalities chief will warn today. Trevor Phillips will break with years of political convention to call for the law to be changed to enshrine positive discrimination in favour of disadvantaged whites. His startling intervention in the race debate is a rebuke to Harriet Harman, who earlier this year trumpeted plans to make companies discriminate in favour of women and ethnic minorities.

Mr Phillips said ministers should allow councils and education authorities to introduce 'positive action' programmes aimed specifically at young whites unable to compete with highly skilled immigrants because the 'need is so great'. And he warned that immigration has fuelled 'resentments that are real and should not be dismissed - resentments felt by white, black and Asian'.

The chairman of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission set out his thinking to the Daily Mail ahead of his appearance at a CBI event on immigration today alongside immigration minister Phil Woolas. Mr Phillips said failure to help white families hit by the downturn could drive them into the arms of far-Right parties similar to those that have brought turmoil to Austria, Belgium and Holland. He also warned that ministers needed to acknowledge the resentment by some whites over what they see as unfair help given to blacks and Asians. 'What we are seeing is that there is a whole group of people, a large proportion of whom are white, who are going to suffer from this crisis who are going to be the people we should want to help, particularly because they come from the wrong side of town,' he said.

'We are going to have to do something special for them. We are going to have to put extra resources where young people can't compete with migrants' skills. 'And in some parts of the country, it is clear that what defines disadvantage won't be black or brown, it will be white. And we will have to take positive action to help some white groups, what we might call the white underclass.'

And he warned: 'We know what the political consequences are because we have seen it on the Continent. 'If we ignore the fact some white groups are going to be disadvantaged we will end up with the same kind of conflicts we have seen in Austria, Belgium and now Holland, where the anti-immigrant racist Right-wing parties get a big boost. 'We need to do more to help those who are going to suffer and who will then think that the reason they are suffering is their colour. 'We need to pay attention to that white underclass that happens not to live in the right part of town.'

Politicians have long shied away from allowing positive discrimination, claiming it flies in the face of equality laws. But its supporters claim the system is a necessary way of helping minorities finding it difficult to get a job or housing, by pushing them to the top of the queue.

In June, Miss Harman angered business leaders by revealing plans for new anti-discrimination laws. She said she wanted to see more women and ethnic minorities promoted into senior posts and would use next year's Equalities Bill to discriminate in their favour. Under the plans, firms will be forced to reveal the salary gap between their male and female staff to shame employers into bringing them into line. But in what was seen as a clear 'white men need not apply', she made no attempt to suggest that whites could benefit from positive discrimination as well.

Mr Phillips said he wanted to see the bill used to help whites. And he added Miss Harman had been looking at the work of the commission. 'Positive action now in Britain is more likely to mean programmes for people who are poor, white and come from workless households than it is for East African Asians, for example,' he added.

Earlier this summer, Miss Harman insisted: 'It is important to encourage applications from minority groups, but we are strongly against positive discrimination so someone gets a job just because they are black or disabled.'

Mr Phillips also warned against allowing the economic crisis to trigger an outburst of anti-immigrant feeling in the UK. 'It's dangerous and it's divisive,' he said. He claimed immigrants could act as a 'buffer' against the impact of recession because they are more likely to return to their countries than stay in Britain and swell the unemployment register. 'If it wasn't for the fact that migrants from eastern Europe are now going home you would see a great many more people unemployed in this country,' he claimed.

Last week, Mr Woolas was forced to backtrack after suggesting that there should be a cap on the number of immigrants allowed into the country. Last night, Mr Phillips dismissed Mr Woolas's call for a cap, saying: 'We need to control it, we need to be tough on borders but the idea is a promise no one can deliver.'


War crime? Battle of Agincourt was our finest hour

By Bernard Cornwell

Legend says the Battle of Agincourt was won by stalwart English archers. It was not. In the end it was won by men using lead-weighted hammers, poleaxes, mauls and falcon-beaks, the ghastly paraphernalia of medieval hand-to-hand fighting. It was fought on a field knee-deep in mud and it was more of a massacre than a battle.

Laurence Olivier's film of Shakespeare's Henry V shows French knights charging on horseback, but very few men were mounted at Agincourt.

The French came on foot and the battle was reduced to men hitting other armoured men with hammers, maces and axes.

A sword would not penetrate armour and did not have the weight to knock a man off his feet, but a poleaxe (a long-handled axe or hammer, topped with a fearsome spike) would fell him fast, and then it was easy to raise the victim's visor and slide a knife through an eye. That was how hundreds of men died; their last sight on earth a dagger's point.

It is not a tale of chivalry, but rather of armoured men hacking at each other to break limbs and crush skulls. At the battle's height, when Henry V expected an attack on his rear that never materialised, he ordered the newly captured French prisoners to be killed. They were murdered.

Over the weekend, during a conference at the Medieval History Museum in Agincourt, French academics met to declare that English soldiers acted like 'war criminals' during the battle, setting fire to prisoners and killing French noblemen who had surrendered. The French 'were met with barbarism by the English', said the museum's director Christophe Gilliot.

The French pronouncement smacks of bias, but what is certain is that Agincourt was filthy, horrible and merciless. Yet it is still celebrated as a golden moment in England's history.

Why do we remember it? Why has this battle galvanised English hearts over the centuries? These are questions I came to ask as I researched my new novel Azincourt - spelled as it is in France - and discovered just what an extraordinary event it was.

Part of the legend about the archers is certainly true. Most of the English army were archers and their arrows caused huge damage, although they never delivered the knock-out blow it is claimed.

Henry V was also an inspirational leader. He fought in the front rank and part of his crown was knocked off. Eighteen Frenchmen had taken an oath to kill him and all of them died at Henry's feet, slaughtered by the King or by his bodyguard. And, despite recent claims to the contrary, it seems the English were horribly outnumbered.

In the cold, wet dawn of October 25, 1415, no one could have expected Henry's army to survive the day. He had about 6,000 men, more than 5,000 of them archers, while the French numbered at least 30,000 and were so confident that, before the battle was joined, they sent away some newly arrived reinforcements. By dusk on that Saint Crispin's Day, Henry's small army had entered legend.

But the English should never have been at Agincourt, which lies 25 miles south of Calais. England was in the thick of the 100 Years' War with France, and Henry had invaded Normandy in the hope of making a quick conquest of Harfleur, a strategic port. Yet the town's stubborn defence delayed him and by the siege's end his army had been struck by dysentery.

Sick men were dying and the campaign season was ending as winter drew in. Sensible advice suggested that Henry cut his losses and sail back to England. But he had borrowed huge amounts of money to invade France and all he had to show for it was one gun-battered port. Going home looked suspiciously like defeat.

He instead marched north to Calais with probably nothing more in mind than cocking a snook at the French who, though they had gathered an army, had done nothing to relieve the brave defenders of Harfleur. Henry wanted to humiliate the French by flaunting his banners, yet I doubt he truly wanted to face that large French army with his own depleted numbers.

The French had been supine all summer, but now, suddenly, they woke and moved to block Henry's path. Henry tried to go round them. A march meant to last eight days stretched to 16. The English exhausted their food, they were ill with dysentery and soaked from the continual autumn rains.

They were driven far inland in search of a place to cross the River Somme and then trudged north, only to discover the French army waiting for them on a muddy field between the woods of Azincourt and Tramecourt. The English were trapped.

The French were barring the English road home, so Henry had to fight. He hoped the French would attack him and he ordered his archers to protect themselves from knights on horseback by making a thicket of sharpened stakes to impale the stallions' chests.

But the French remained motionless, so Henry was forced to advance on them. Did he really say 'Let's go, fellows!' as one contemporary claimed? It seems so, yet whatever his words, the English plucked up their stakes and waded through the mud to get close to the French line.

And the French, even though they must have seen that the English were in disarray, did nothing. They let Henry's men come to within extreme bowshot distance where, once again, the stakes were hammered into the ground and the battle line was reformed on a newly ploughed field that had been soaked by constant rain. If I had to suggest one cause for the French defeat, it would be mud.
The two sides were now little more than a couple of hundred paces apart. The English, astonishingly, had been given time to reposition themselves, and now the archers began the battle by shooting a volley of arrows.

At least 5,000 of them, most converging from the flanks, slashed into the French, and it seems that the shock of that first arrow strike prompted the French to attack.

A handful of Frenchmen advanced on horseback, trying to get among the archers, but mud, stakes and arrows easily defeated those knights. Some of the horses, maddened by pain, galloped back through the French men-at-arms, tearing their ranks into chaos.

Some 8,000 Frenchmen were now advancing on foot. No one knows how long it took them to cover the 200 or more paces which separated them from Henry's men-at-arms, but it was not a quick approach.

They were wading through mud made treacherous by deeply ploughed furrows and churned to quagmire by horses' hooves. And they were being struck by arrows so that they were forced to close their helmets' visors.

They could see little through the tiny eye- slits, their breathing was stifled and still the arrows came. The conventional verdict suggests that the French were cut down by those arrow storms, but the chief effect of the arrows was to delay and, by forcing them to close their visors, half-blind the attackers.

The French knew about English and Welsh archers. The longbow could shoot an arrow more than 200 paces with an accuracy that was unmatched till the rifled gun barrel was invented.

At Agincourt some barbed broadhead arrows (which were designed to cause maximum damage and could fell cavalry) would have been shot at those few horses that attacked the English line. But most were bodkins, long and slender arrowheads without barbs that were made to pierce armour.

A good archer could easily shoot 15 arrows a minute, so 5,000 archers could loose 75,000 arrows in one minute; more than 1,000 a second.

Why did the French not deploy their own longbowmen? Because to shoot a longbow demanded great strength (they were at least three times as powerful as a modern competition bow) and considerable skill. It took years for a man to develop the muscles and technique, and for reasons that have never been understood, such men emerged in Britain, but not on the Continent.

So as the first French line advanced it was being struck repeatedly by arrows, and even if a bodkin did not penetrate plate armour its strike was sufficient to knock a man backwards.

If the advance took four minutes (and I suspect it took longer), then about 300,000 arrows would have been shot at the 8,000 men. Even if the English were short of arrows and cut their shooting rate to one-third, then they would still have driven 100,000 arrows against the struggling 8,000, and if the legend is correct, then not one of those Frenchmen should have survived.

Yet they did survive, and most of them reached the English line and started fighting with shortened lances, poleaxes and war-hammers.

The fight became a struggle of hacking and thrusting, slaughter in the mud.

But if so many arrows had been shot, how did the French survive to reach the English and start that murderous brawl? The answer probably lies in the eternal arms race.

Armour technology had advanced and the French plate armour was mostly good enough to resist the English arrow-heads. And how good were those heads?

Arrow-making was an industrial-scale activity in England, yet few men understood what happened when iron was hardened into steel and many of the English arrows crumpled on contact with the enemy's armour. So the many reached the few, but the many were exhausted by mud, some were wounded and the English, enjoying the luxury of raised visors, cut them down.

What seems to have happened was that the front rank of the French, exhausted by slogging through the mud, battered and wounded by arrows, disorganised by panicked horses and by stumbling over wounded men, became easy victims for the English men-at-arms.

There would have been the ghastly sound of hammers crushing helmets, the screams of men falling, and suddenly the leading French rank being chopped down and its fallen men becoming an obstacle to those behind who, being thrust forward by the rearmost ranks, tripped on the newly fallen bodies and so became victims themselves. One witness claimed that the pile of dead and dying was as tall as a man, an obvious exaggeration, but undoubtedly the first French casualties made a rampart to protect the English men-at-arms.

The French had attacked the centre of the English line where the King, the nobles and the gentry stood. Their aim had been to take prisoners and so become rich from ransoms, but now that centre was a killing ground and, to escape it, the French widened their attack to assault the archers who had probably exhausted their arrows.

Yet the archers had been equipped with poleaxes and other handweapons, and they fought back. The bowmen wore little armour, and in the glutinous mud they were far more mobile than their plate-armoured opponents.

Any man capable of hauling a warbow's string was hugely strong and a battle-axe in his hands would be a ghastly weapon. So the archers joined the hand-to-hand fight and the tired French were killed in their hundreds.

The second French line, another 8,000 men on foot, tried to support their beleaguered colleagues, but they too were cut down and the rest of the French melted away. The extraordinary, awful battle was over. The field was now groaning with horribly wounded men; men lying in piles, men suffocating in mud, dead men, blood-drenched men.

Perhaps as many as 5,000 French died that day, while English losses were in the hundreds, maybe not even as many as 200. The few had gained their extraordinary triumph.

There were other victories, like Poitiers in 1356, that were more decisive, and it is arguable that Agincourt achieved very little; it would take another five years of warfare before Henry won the concessions he wanted from the French and even then his premature death proved those gains worthless.

Shakespeare's heart-stirring Henry V helped ensure the battle's place in English folklore, but Shakespeare was playing to an audience that already knew the tale and wanted to hear it again.

Agincourt was well-known long before Shakespeare made it immortal, yet even so there were those other great triumphs like Poitiers and Crecy, so why Agincourt?

It must have started with the stories told by survivors. They had expected annihilation and gained victory. It might even be true that the archers, when the battle was over, taunted the French by holding up the two string-fingers that the enemy had threatened to slice off every captured bowman - the V- sign that is common parlance today.

The men in Henry's army must have believed they had been part of a miracle. The few had destroyed the many, and most of those few were archers.

They were not lords and knights and gentry, but butchers, bakers and candlestick-makers from the shires. They were the ordinary men of England and Wales. They had met the awesome power of France in hand-to-hand fighting and they had won.

The battle is part of the binding of England, the emergence of the common man as a vital part of the nation, and those common men returned to England with their tales, their plunder and their pride.

The stories were told in taverns over and over, how a few hungry, trapped men had gained an amazing victory. The story is still told because it has such power. It is a tale of the common man achieving greatness. It is an English tale for the ages, an inspiration and - far from being ashamed of so-called 'war crimes' - we can be proud of it.


Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Science comprehension slipping badly among British pupils

Given the way science teaching has been dumbed down almost to vanishing point, this is no surprise. The article below is written as if it were IQ being tested but that is careless. The researcher in fact makes the point that on a task which relies on IQ rather than specific knowledge, there has been no change. It is the teaching that has deteriorated. The kids all know about global warming, the desirability of a low-fat diet and other myths but would they be able to explain the periodic table to you?

Bright teenagers are a disappearing breed, an alarming new study has revealed. The intellectual ability of the country's cleverest youngsters has declined radically, almost certainly due to the rise of TV and computer games and over-testing in schools. The 'high-level thinking' skills of 14-year-olds are now on a par with those of 12-year-olds in 1976.

The findings contradict national results which have shown a growth in top grades in SATs at 14, GCSEs and A-levels. But Michael Shayer, the professor of applied psychology who led the study, believes that is the result of exam standards 'edging down'. His team of researchers at London's King's College tested 800 13 and 14-year-olds and compared the results with a similar exercise in 1976.

The tests were intended to measure understanding of abstract scientific concepts such as volume, density, quantity and weight, which set pupils up for success not only in maths and science but also in English and history. One test asked pupils to study a pendulum swinging on a string and investigate the factors that cause it to change speed. A second involved weights on a beam. In the pendulum test, average achievement was much the same as in 1976.

But the proportion of teenagers reaching top grades, demanding a 'higher level of thinking', slumped dramatically. Just over one in ten were at that level, down from one in four in 1976. In the second test, assessing mathematical thinking skills, just one in 20 pupils were achieving the high grades - down from one in five in 1976.

Professor Shayer said: 'The pendulum test does not require any knowledge of science at all. 'It looks at how people can deal with complex information and sort it out for themselves.' He believes most of the downturn has occurred over the last ten to 15 years. It may have been hastened by the introduction of national curriculum testing and accompanying targets, which have cut the time available for teaching which develops more advanced skills.

Critics say schools concentrate instead on drilling children for the tests. 'The moment you introduce targets, people will find the most economical strategies to achieve them,' said Professor Shayer. 'In the case of education, I'm sure this has had an effect on driving schools away from developing higher levels of understanding.' He added that while the numeracy hour in primary schools appears to have led to some gains, it has 'squeezed out a lot of things teachers might otherwise be doing'.

Professor Shayer believes the decline in brainpower is also linked to changes in children's leisure activities. The advent of multi-channel TV has encouraged passive viewing while computer games, particularly for boys, are feared to have supplanted time spent playing with tools, gadgets and other mechanisms.

Professor Shayer warned that without the development of higher-order thinking skills, the future supply of scientists will be compromised. 'We don't even have enough scientists now,' he said.

Previous research by Professor Shayer has shown that 11-year-olds' grasp of concepts such as volume, density, quantity and weight appears to have declined over the last 30 years. Their mental abilities were up to three years behind youngsters tested in in 1975.

His latest findings, due to appear in the British Journal of Educational Psychology, come in the wake of a report by Dr Aric Sigman which linked the decline in intellectual ability to a shift away from art and craft skills in both schools and the home. Dr Sigman said practical activities such as building models and sandcastles, making dens, using tools, playing with building blocks, knitting, sewing and woodwork were being neglected. Yet they helped develop vital skills such as understanding dimension, volume and density.

Earlier this month the Government bowed to mounting pressure and scrapped SATs for 14-year-olds. Ministers have also created an independent exams watchdog and promised a return to traditional, open-ended questions at A-level plus a new A* grade to mark out the brightest students. A spokesman for the Department for Children said last night: 'Good teachers do not need to teach to the test and there is no evidence that such practice is widespread. 'We have already taken steps to reduce the testing burden, but targets and testing are integral features of any work to drive up standards.'

Last month an Ofsted report said millions of teenagers were finishing compulsory education with a weak grasp of maths because half of the country's schools fail to teach the subject as well as they could. Inspectors said teachers were increasingly drilling pupils to pass exams instead of encouraging them to understand crucial concepts. The report said: 'It is of vital importance to shift from a narrow emphasis towards a focus on pupils' mathematical understanding.'


British prisons boss toughens up

Liberals who push criminal rights drive me nuts, says Justice Secretary Jack Straw

Jack Straw will today launch a withering attack on liberal justice groups who 'drive him nuts' by focusing on the 'needs' of offenders instead of punishment. In a landmark speech, the Justice Secretary will unleash a broadside against the 'prison reform lobby', condemning groups with which Labour has forged close links and accusing them of being 'lost in a fog of platitudes' and overlooking the suffering of victims.

The tough tone of Mr Straw's speech appears to mark a dramatic turning away from the liberal consensus on prison policy. For years this has stressed the need to understand prisoners' problems and 'needs', while playing down the role of jail as a harsh deterrent to force them to mend their ways. It is likely to be seen as a bid to re-establish Labour as the party of law and order at a time when the Conservatives are pledging measures to fix Britain's 'broken society', and public concerns are growing over gun and knife crime and the crisis in the country's overcrowded prisons.

Mr Straw served as Home Secretary from 1997 to 2001, and resumed responsibility for prisons when he became Justice Secretary in June 2007. He will tell his audience at the Royal Society of Arts in London today that the Government is not returning to 'Victorian notions' of crime and punishment but must be 'crystal clear about what the public expect the justice system to do on their behalf: to punish those who have broken the law'.

He will lament the way concepts of 'punishment and reform' have become 'unfashionable', adding: 'We should not shy away from the fact that the sentences of the court are first and foremost for the punishment of those who have broken the law, broken society's rules.' He will go on to say: 'The criminal justice lobby today is full of people . . . who do a very good job. 'However, I am concerned that it has retreated into language that doesn't chime with the public. 'When I hear phrases like "criminogenic needs of offenders" it drives me nuts . . . I profoundly disagree that we should describe someone's amoral desire to go thieving as a "need" equivalent to that of victims or the law-abiding public.'

The Justice Secretary's focus on the central role of punishment in prisons is likely to infuriate groups such as the Howard League for Penal Reform, and the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders, which have enjoyed close ties with the Government since Labour took office in 1997. Such reforming groups have enjoyed years of Home Office funding while senior ministers - including Mr Straw himself - have been frequent speakers at their conferences. By contrast, groups espousing much tougher approaches to law and order, such as the Victims of Crime Trust, have mostly been sidelined under Labour.

Mr Straw also risks a backlash from opposition critics demanding to know why he is adopting a tougher tone now, more than 11 years after Labour took office, and having personally overseen the Government's criminal justice policy for much of that time. He is currently under fire over his department's policy of releasing thousands of convicted prisoners before they complete their sentences, as an emergency measure to cope with the lack of prison capacity in England and Wales. Hundreds have gone on to commit further offences when they should have been behind bars.


Widow, 71, died after uncaring NHS doctors ignored penicillin warning

A grandmother died after hospital doctors gave her penicillin even though her medical notes and drug chart made clear she was allergic to it. June Cutmore was even wearing a red wristband to draw attention to the allergy. The 71-year-old widow went into anaphylactic shock and died after being injected with Augmentin - a form of the drug.

St Bartholomew's Hospital in London admitted that 'human error' caused the death. Her family believe a catalogue of mistakes by medical staff led to the tragedy in May 2007. The grandmother of three from Basildon, Essex, was admitted to St Bartholomew's to have a heart valve replaced, and undergo a double bypass.

Shortly before this Mrs Cutmore had some teeth removed at a hospital in Basildon. While there she was given penicillin and went into anaphylactic shock. She recovered from that reaction but it was written on her medical notes that she should never be given the drug again. Daughter Denise Hajduga, 48, and her husband Peter, 50, say they repeatedly told staff at St Bartholomew's about the allergy. Mrs Hajduga said: 'We told a nurse about it when we went into hospital with my mother for her pre-operation tests, then we told another nurse about it when my mother was actually admitted a few days later. They gave her a red band to wear on her wrist which said she was allergic to penicillin. 'It was also written on her medical notes after they discovered it in Basildon, and on her drug chart.' In a copy of Mrs Cutmore's drug chart seen by the Daily Mail the word penicillin is written in big capital letters with stars next to it in a box labelled 'drug allergies'.

Mrs Cutmore's heart operation was deemed a success, and after two days in intensive care the retired cook was transferred on to a ward. But the pensioner, who lived alone after the death of her husband Cliff, suffered complications. Mrs Hajduga, from Romford, Essex said: 'When she had the heart operation they had to break her sternum bone to reach her heart, and it became infected. The doctors had a meeting about what to do, and prescribed the antibiotic Augmentin - which contains penicillin.'

Mrs Hajduga's husband was there when the nurses gave her the drug. She said: 'He could see my mother was distressed immediately - within seconds of it being given to her she started getting short of breath and was pointing to her arm.' She says that her husband told the nurse three times to stop injecting it. 'But the nurse said she was just panicking a bit and carried on injecting it. She died shortly after.'

Mrs Cutmore had been in hospital for three weeks before she died. Mrs Hajduga said: 'They just didn't follow procedures. A number of health professionals failed to pick up that allergy.' She claims staff failed to even check her mother's wristband. 'They killed somebody and I think people should know about it. We have waited 18 months and now we just want answers to why it happened.' Her husband added: 'June worked hard all her life. She was loved by everyone. It is unbelievable what happened.'

A spokesman for the hospital said: 'Barts and The London NHS Trust is deeply sorry for the failure of the safeguards that should have protected Mrs Cutmore. The Trust's medical director and chief nurse met Mr and Mrs Hajduga soon after their mother's death to apologise unreservedly for the medication error. 'The staff members involved in this tragic incident are very upset and the Trust is committed to ensuring that the whole organisation learns the lessons from the tragedy.' [Bullsh*t, Bullsh*t, Bullsh*t]


Monday, October 27, 2008

British immigration boss too outspoken

Phil Woolas, the immigration minister, was pulled from last night's BBC Question Time on the instruction of the home secretary after a series of controversial public performances in the past week. Jacqui Smith said Woolas should delay his appearance for a week and Labour tried to replace him with the former Home Office minister Tony McNulty. Smith thought Woolas had made enough controversial remarks, with some Home Office officials briefing he was gaffe prone. The BBC rejected the party's suggestion and asked Lord Hattersley, the former deputy leader of the party, to appear.

Being pulled has been difficult for Woolas, who feels he is being briefed against by Home Office officials angry at what they regard as his unwise remarks on immigration and criticism of previous Home Office practice. However, he is being allowed to appear on the World at One today and he is gathering support from Labour MPs who believe he is taking the right approach.

Woolas was appointed in the reshuffle by Gordon Brown to speak about immigration in ways in which the public could relate. But it has not been clear whether his appointment is bringing a change in policy or merely in rhetoric from his predecessor, Liam Byrne.

There are indications that Smith is considering tightening immigration policy. She told MPs this week: "Our proposals on earned citizenship mean that migrants understand very clearly that permission to come here to work or study does not give them the right to settle here indefinitely".

Labour MP Frank Field, in a joint paper with Tory MP Nicholas Soames, has proposed those granted permission to work in Britain through the new points system would be allowed to stay for four years and thereafter be expected to leave, or undertake a test to see if their skills are needed.

Field, in a letter sent to MPs reporting on his meeting with Smith last week, claims: "The home secretary questioned whether we were being robust enough in our criteria for allowing people to come here to work for up to four years."


British migrant row: Minister hit by pie

The usual Leftist love of coercion

Immigration minister Phil Woolas has become the victim of a pie-throwing protester, angry at his call to limit UK immigration. A member of the No Borders group threw a cream pie into the minister's face while he was speaking at a debate at Manchester University. A spokeswoman for the group said Mr Woolas had been "spouting right-wing anti-immigration policies". A Home Office spokeswoman said the minister declined to comment.

The No Borders group, which campaigns against immigration controls, were angered by Mr Woolas' recent remarks, in which he said the government would not allow the UK's population to rise as high as 70 million.

The Oldham East and Saddleworth MP denied that he wanted a "numerical cap" on immigration. Home Secretary Jacqui Smith later said Mr Woolas had not been "gagged" after her department pulled him from BBC One's Question Time.

Mr Woolas was targeted when he attended an environmental debate held at Manchester University student union on Friday afternoon. As he arrived the minister was confronted with a mock "border control" and was asked for his passport. Then, shortly after he began to speak, a woman rose from the audience and threw a pie, believed to be made of Bourbon Creams biscuits and vegan cream, into his face at close range.

A spokeswoman for No Borders said: "The woman ran away. Mr Woolas was shocked and there was a bit of an awkward silence as he left the room to clean himself up. "We threw the pie because we didn't want to engage in debate [No surprise there] and legitimise what he was saying. "What he was spouting were right wing anti-immigration policies. The danger is that people like him are making such views mainstream."

Mr Woolas was unharmed and later rejoined the debate. It is not known whether he was accompanied by any security at the time of the incident.


Must they know about sex at age five?

One thing stumps me about the news that the Government is to provide compulsory "sex and relationships" lessons for children from the age of five: how much can there really be to say?

On the subject of relationships, obviously, one could go on forever, recommending lengthy homework on everything from Jane Austen to Leonard Cohen lyrics. On sex, I would have thought there was rather less to discuss: one could surely exhaust the topics of contraception, pregnancy, abortion and sexually transmitted diseases in a matter of weeks at the age of 11, perhaps with a brief refresher course at 13. After that, in what precise style young people proceed with sex in later life is surely a matter for them: there must be some areas to which even the omnipresent hand of the nanny state does not reach.

The news that there will now be a "naming of parts" session for five-year-olds, however - in which they learn the correct words for genitals and the differences between the sexes - gives me the creeps. By the age of five, many children have their own names for their private parts, often of a friendly, silly variety that will do them perfectly well until they are older. Is there really any point in school insisting on teaching them otherwise?

If a friend or relative suddenly insisted on lecturing your five-year-old about the official name for their genitals, apropos of nothing, I imagine they would be asked to shut up pretty sharpish. I am at something of a loss as to why this interference should be thought preferable coming from a primary teacher. And yet a sex education comic - Let's Grow With Nisha and Joe - is already being promoted to primary schools. We learned to read with Dick and Dora: I shudder to think what they would do with that pair today.

The great irony in the Government setting itself up as the supreme educator on sexual and emotional matters is that, when it is given the task of actually looking after confused and vulnerable children all by itself, it is the worst parent imaginable. Girls who have grown up in care are sexually active earlier than other teenagers, and are 2.5 times more likely to become pregnant. A quarter of girls leaving care are already mothers or pregnant.

These girls are subjected to the same sex education at school as everyone else: I would be extremely surprised if any of them did not know in theory how to avoid having a baby. The real point, surely, is that they do not greatly want to avoid it. The emotional isolation they experience during their period in the unfeeling British care system means that they gravitate towards men as a source of affection and attention. The prospect of motherhood then offers them both an acknowledged social status and perhaps a reason for continued financial support from the state. Their early pregnancy is entirely logical, for any state that cares to read its own shortcomings written in the logic.

This, to a lesser degree, holds true for very many teenage girls who "accidentally" find themselves pregnant. The phenomenon is not helped by the fact that at the moment there is a wealth of information on what it means to have sex and very little on what it means to be in sole charge of a small baby that cries round the clock.

I believe in the good sense of basic sex education at school for older children, even if my own was pretty much confined to a terrifying film of a woman giving birth, and a hilarious, crackling 1960s film about male puberty called From Boy to Man. (We never got to see From Girl to Woman, despite being primed for yet more helpless laughter: the projector broke.)

There is a danger, however, that any philosophy that mainly concentrates on the somewhat deceptive notion of "safe sex" and the judicious use of contraception is in fact misleading. If a teenager doesn't think that he or she is ready for the life-changing complications that might arise from sex - and few are - then the best advice is not to do it at all. Otherwise, they should be warned that contraception is very far from infallible, and they would be advised to double up on their methods.

I yearn for the day when "sex and relationships" lessons actually do something to make teenage behaviour wiser, and when lessons include: "Just because he sleeps with you doesn't mean he loves you" and "New mum Mary can't go out for two years. It's 3am and the baby's screaming with colic." Sadly, the glum news that Jim Knight, the Schools Minister, has decided instead to start badgering the nation's five-year-olds into naming their private parts doesn't lead me to think that will happen any time soon.

More here

NHS dream of equality trumped by reality

Up to 10,000 patients will pay to top up their care when Alan Johnson, the health secretary, lifts the ban next month on National Health Service patients buying drugs that the state does not fund. Johnson’s U-turn, reported in last week’s Sunday Times, will end the policy of withdrawing NHS care from cancer patients who pay privately for life-prolonging drugs. It follows a campaign by the paper to end the practice. Until now the government has resisted pleas for top-ups to be allowed by claiming that the system will create a two-tier NHS.

The controversy is also expected to force Johnson to ask the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice), the government’s drug rationing body, to review the way it calculates whether life-prolonging cancer drugs should be funded by the taxpayer. Thousands of NHS patients are denied drugs that could prolong their lives because Nice has ruled that they are not good value for money.

In August Nice ruled that four life-prolonging kidney cancer drugs should not be funded on the NHS because, although they could halt the spread of the cancer for six months, this would be at a cost of up to $70,000 a year. Nice will now be asked to take greater account of how precious this extra time is for terminally ill patients.

At the moment, patients who have chosen to use their savings to pay for drugs to give them extra months of life with their families have their NHS care withdrawn. Johnson will argue that by ordering Nice to make more of these drugs available on the NHS, it will reduce the number of patients who need to pay to top up their care.

Healthcare at Home, a private company, says it is already selling cancer drugs to 1,000 patients from about 30 NHS trusts that have broken ranks and allowed patients to buy additional drugs while receiving NHS care. A company spokesman said that once the ban was lifted and more than 170 hospital trusts in England allowed top-ups, up to 10,000 patients could decide to supplement their NHS care with additional drugs.

Johnson’s change of policy follows an inquiry launched by the government in June after The Sunday Times revealed the tragedy of Linda O'Boyle, 64, a grandmother from Billericay, Essex, who died in March after her NHS care was withdrawn because she had paid privately for cetuximab, the bowel cancer treatment. At least three other cancer patients have died after their NHS care was withdrawn because they had paid for drugs.


Man sacked from British counselling service because he is a Christian who refused to give sex advice to homosexuals

A relationship counsellor claims he was sacked because he admitted that his Christian beliefs could prevent him giving sex therapy to gay couples. Gary McFarlane, a father of two who has worked for the national counselling service Relate since 2003, says that it failed to accommodate his faith or allow him to try to overcome his reservations. Now Mr McFarlane, 47, is taking his case to an employment tribunal, alleging unfair dismissal on the grounds of religious discrimination.

The controversy follows the case in July of Lillian Ladele, the Christian registrar who successfully challenged Islington Council over her refusal to conduct civil partnership ceremonies for gay couples.

Mr McFarlane, a solicitor, said he was 'sad and disappointed' with the 'bigotry' he had experienced at the Bristol branch of Relate from 'a group of people with their own agenda'. 'If I was a Muslim this would not happen,' he said. 'They would find a way to make the system work. But Christians seem to have fewer and fewer rights. Relate needs to be forced to work through stuff like this.'

Mr McFarlane, who regularly attends both Church of England and Pentecostal services in Bristol, joined Relate Avon five years ago. As a solicitor, he has specialised in resolving legal disputes through mediation, and even sits on a committee advising the Law Society. He is also a part-time tutor on relationships at Trinity Theological College in Bristol, whose Church of England principal, Canon George Kovoor, is a Chaplain to the Queen.

While training as a counsellor he had qualms about dealing with gay couples but overcame them during discussions with his supervisor. He has since helped a lesbian partnership. But his real problems arose last year after he started to train as a psychosexual therapist, treating people's intimate sexual problems. He said: 'In counselling, you are drawing the couple out, going on a journey with them, enabling them to think in more than black and white. You are not telling anyone what to do or endorsing what they do. 'But in sex therapy you are diagnosing their problems and setting them a treatment plan, not unlike a doctor.'

He said that while he believed in 'each to their own', he felt uncomfortable doing anything that would directly encourage gay sex. He had not expected to confront these issues until facing the prospect of providing therapy for a gay couple, when he planned to discuss them in confidence with his supervisor. He assumed that Relate Avon would take him off the case. He said that many counsellors had difficulties that had to be worked around. Some had been abused as children and found they could not conduct sessions with abusers, and Relate Avon would accommodate them.

But fellow counsellors complained about Mr McFarlane's views, alleging he was homophobic, and he was suspended last December by his manager. After three weeks, he was reinstated and had to promise to abide by Relate's equal opportunities policy, with the proviso, he claims, that he could raise issues in the future.

Following further complaints, however, he was told that he would face a disciplinary hearing because managers at Relate Avon no longer believed he intended to uphold the policy. He was dismissed and his appeal was rejected.

'There was a group who didn't want me there and they got their teeth in,' he said. 'I was prepared to explore my reservations but they wanted unconditional assurances that they would never become an issue for me. 'Why did they have to slam the door like that? This could force other Christians out of counselling. Some have already reacted with consternation, saying if it could happen to someone of my experience and skills, it could happen to them.'

A spokeswoman for Relate said: 'Relate cannot comment until the employment tribunal has taken place.' The organisation, originally called the National Marriage Guidance Council, was founded in 1938. By 1998 it was counselling couples in a much wider range of relationships and changed its name to Relate. It now operates from nearly 600 locations nationwide.


Liberty vs liberty

British campaign group Liberty seems more interested in proposing an alternative authoritarianism than defending freedom

This week, the UK government decided to shelve its plans to increase the period that terror suspects can be held without charge from 28 days to 42 days, after its proposal was voted down in the House of Lords. Britain's leading civil liberties group, Liberty, immediately declared the decision a `victory' for its campaign to prevent the increase. Yet the law that Liberty should really be worried about is not the Counter-Terrorism Bill but the Trades Descriptions Act - because Liberty, along with many others, doesn't seem very interested in defending liberty at all.

The government's decision to shelve the extension was simply a pragmatic one. Its Bill calling for an extension to 42 days' detention without charge only scraped through the House of Commons in June this year thanks to the support of nine Democratic Unionist MPs: bigots from Northern Ireland that no self-respecting government should cuddle up to. New Labour's whips in the House of Commons believed that if the measure went to a vote in the House again, it could well be defeated. Furthermore, even if the Bill did get through the Commons, the unelected House of Lords could continue to block it for up to a year before the Parliament Act could be used to force the law through; this would have delayed all the other measures in the Bill. The government scrapped the 42-days proposal in order to avoid embarrassment in the Commons and a potential delay by the Lords.

However, parliamentary calculation was not the only reason for a change of mind. There was also opposition to aspects of the Bill from those who should have been its keenest supporters: the police. In an article in The Times (London) a week before the Lords' vote, Andy Hayman - until recently Britain's most senior anti-terrorism officer - declared his support for the principle of 42 days' detention while denouncing the proposed mechanism by which it would be put into effect: `[T]he government's current proposals are not fit for purpose: they are bureaucratic, convoluted and unworkable. The draftsman's pen has introduced so many hoops to be jumped through that a police case for detaining a terror suspect will become part of the political game.'

Others argue that the government erased 42 days from its Bill for strictly party political reasons. In June, with Prime Minister Gordon Brown flailing about in a sea of unpopularity and desperate to appear like he had some purpose, he was keen to push through a measure that looked tough on terrorism. But the current economic crisis has given him a new lease of life. Now he is praised in the press not only for saving the British banking system (allegedly) but for providing a framework through which the US authorities and European governments might intervene in the financial arena, too. The 42-day proposal, which must once have seemed like a potential vote-winner, is now a messy and divisive idea at a time when Brown is milking the financial crisis. With all eyes focused on the economy, it was the perfect moment to drop the 42-days idea.

Liberty believes the decision to drop the proposal was a stunning vindication of its campaigning. Never mind that everyone from senior police officers to the prime minister himself was getting cold feet about the whole thing. After the Lords vote, the Liberty website declared: `Last night saw a resounding victory for Liberty's long running "Charge or Release" campaign. Common sense and common decency prevailed as the government dropped plans to detain terror suspects for 42 days without charge, following an overwhelming defeat in the House of Lords. We have consistently urged the government to drop these damaging proposals and have condemned the measures as wrong in principle, unnecessary and counter-productive.'

This is a strange kind of `victory', rather like a football manager declaring that being beaten four-nil was cause for celebration because at least it wasn't six-nil. Both are crushing defeats. The same applies to the current rules on terrorism offences. The power to lock someone up and question him repeatedly without charge for a disturbing 28 days - the victorious settlement in this civil liberty war - has no equivalent in any other democracy, as Liberty itself has pointed out frequently. Indeed, terrorism offences aside, the legal maximum for detention without charge in England is 96 hours - even in murder cases.

Worse, Liberty has argued that 28 days should be maintained and that other important principles of legal protection for suspects should be thrown out in lieu of introducing the 42-day extension. Liberty argues that the government should `remove the bar on intercept (phone tap) evidence in criminal trials', `review the way in which people that have already been charged can be re-interviewed and recharged as further evidence is uncovered' (opening up the possibility of oppressive post-charge questioning), and `bring in existing powers under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA) which enable a civil court to require an individual to hand over an encryption key (which unlocks data on seized computers)'.

These legal rules that Liberty wishes to water down or override provide protection for individuals when the overwhelming power of the state is brought to bear upon them. Yet Liberty seems willing to trade them in for the administrative convenience of the police when investigating terrorist offences. As the Labour peer Martin O'Neill pointed out in the New Statesman earlier this year, in relation to the 42-day proposal, `certain liberties - like the freedom from detention without charge - are simply too fundamental to be traded-off against gains in our personal security. This is because personal security may itself only be truly worthwhile as long as these liberties are protected. It may do us no good to be kept safe from harm if it is at the cost of living in a country that is no longer a civilised liberal democracy.' The same applies to these other pillars of civil liberty, too.

Furthermore, Liberty has remained silent - at best - on a range of recent restrictions on our freedom, from the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act, which requires the state vetting of 11million people who work with children and old people, through to the bans on smoking and drinking in public. Shami Chakrabarti, the head of Liberty, has even threatened to use the libel laws - England's famously anti-free speech rules - to stop malicious statements being made about her. That's hardly the instinct of someone truly interested in freedom.

Instead of declaring victory in cases where draconian government powers are reinforced, what is needed is a more fundamental defence of individual liberty in Britain, something that spiked has put forward in our `Slash 42 days to 24 hours' campaign (see The fight for individual liberty starts here, by Brendan O'Neill). We need to defend existing protections and reinstate important principles like the right to silence - but we also need to go beyond the law to re-establish the idea of the active political citizen in contemporary society. Until the authorities feel the breath of active opposition on the backs of their necks, we will be stuck with the alternative authoritarianism of legalistic wonks like Liberty.