Saturday, January 21, 2012

kettle on

The police tactic of kettling people who are, at the point of captivity, not breaking any law still sits very uncomfortably alongside the fundamental tenet of freedom to protest peaceably. The majority of victims of kettling are innocent and not suspected of criminal action or intent. It is detention without conviction, charge, or arrest and caution.

Disappointing then that the police have won their appeal against a High Court ruling made last April that it was unlawful for them to kettle several thousand Climate Camp protesters in London who were not causing any trouble. The concern was that less well behaved (in fact violent and destructive) protesters at a nearby demonstration, aimed mostly at banks, would infiltrate the Climate Campers and extend the battle to their group. The key question for the police when considering taking action against a protest is whether there is imminent danger of a breach of the peace. In April the High Court said that there wasn’t and that the containment of the innocent protesters was wrong.

But the Appeal Court says the thinking of the High Court was wrong. Apparently it wasn’t for them to judge whether a breach of the peace was imminent but whether it was reasonable for the police to think that it was imminent. A subtle distinction; a semantic argument; a great game for judges and lawyers to play; but it means little to the public and misses the whole point about the unfairness of kettling innocent people.

The Appeal Court even acknowledged that kettling is lawful only if police had taken all other possible steps to prevent the imminent breach of the peace. But one step is to arrest those who are breaking the law rather than stand back and allow them to continue or to spread their criminality to a different but peaceful group. If this requires more resource then more resource must be acquired and applied.

Other legal cases on kettling are still in progress and the wigs and gowns are loving it. The innocent victims of kettling are not.


Sunday, January 15, 2012

off the rails

The Government of the UK is supposed to represent the people. Naïve maybe, but true none the less. It is hard to imagine a Government action, even one from the current bunch of detached, self-centred, let-them-eat-cake multi-millionaires, that flies so hard in the face of the wishes of the people. There is no prejudice here for or against any political party; Labour announced it and ToryLib have progressed it; they are all much the same and all to blame.

Overwhelmingly, the public has said that a high speed railway, known as HS2, from London to Birmingham, and later beyond, is not only unwanted but will be literally disastrous for quality of life, for the countryside and for historic buildings. It is a nonsense, a pointlessness, a fatuity, a mindlessness, an inanity and a bad dream come true. An expensive disaster too, currently predicted by the government to cost £32 billion but we all know it will be in excess of £50 billion and I would bet it will be over £60 billion. Nearly a billion has already been spent on public relations and other forms of fluffiness, a lot of it entirely needlessly because it was always the plan to ignore the outcome of the so-called 'consultation'.

This colossal folly isn’t about business people desperately needing to arrive in another city a little earlier or about the creation of jobs (in fact many will be lost as a result). No business has offered to play any part in the funding of the HS2 white elephant, partly because most businesses know there is no economic benefit to be gained from it for them or for the country. Any attempt by the government, particularly by the poor excuse for a Transport Minister, the hypocritical Justine Greening, to detail any benefit of HS2 is rightly greeted by those without a political motivation with closing of eyes and shaking of head in disbelief at its lack of substance, reality and vision.

Apart from enabling bankers and their like in Birmingham to join their London colleagues for a three hour lunch and get back in time for their 5pm finish and trip to the local wine bar, HS2 will do nothing for the less rich and more human members of society who will pay for it but be priced out of ever using it. HS2 is purely and simply about posturing, bravado, affectation and self-importance.

It’s about a show-off prime minister and his show-off cabinet showing off to France and Germany that the Brits can install a high-tech piece of transport infrastructure, regardless of its lack of merit. But this country is a fraction of the size of those countries, with our major cities relatively easily and quickly accessible without having to ruin lives, nature and architecture.

Of course there is room for huge improvement but that can be achieved through other less draconian measures, as the government knows very well and was so embarrassed to reveal that it concealed the report they commissioned which shows that the alternative 51m proposal offers greater benefit than HS2 at much lower cost.

In a time of austerity when important public services are being starved of money, HS2 is such a monstrous, irrational and destructive waste that it would sit more comfortably as a scene in Gormenghast than as a part of a rational transport policy. Meanwhile our roads will remain pot-holed and our local, rural train services the shambles that they are now.

What happened to the ‘green’ strategy that encouraged people to travel less frequently and promoted the use of technology like video-conferencing to conduct business meetings, many of which are not worth the cost and time to travel to anyway. It has been derailed by MPs who make so many journeys between their second and third homes and on unnecessary foreign trips that their carbon footprints nearly match their oversized egos.

Daft, destructive and divisive, HS2 takes profligacy and recklessness to a new dimension. The battle to stop it must continue.