50 years ago, Tom Lehrer said we would “try and stay serene and calm” in the face of apocalypse. Outwardly at least, Mrs May seems to be doing just that, and Liz Truss remains quiescent, in a ketamine kind of way, as our prisons burn. To the extent that the past week has a theme, however, the video of a rat trying to get off an escalator seems to sum it up best.
This week has been a bit short on laughs, frankly. There is only so much amusement to be wrung out of Theresa May, David Davis, Liz Truss and Chris Grayling before one is forced to face up to the fact that we are laughing to disguise our fears – these people, and others like them, actually have the power to shape our lives. Those fears perhaps seem parochial compared to what is going on the wider world stage.
Mexican meal goes to law
At a time of some despondency for lawyers, I am pleased to have uncovered a new source of potential instructions – the disaffected meal.
A dog’s breakfast among the death notices
I don’t really like this fad of including extraneous biographical details in the Times death notices, but I was brought up short while skimming them recently; “He never met a piece of toast he didn’t like” seemed an odd tribute. It took me a while to realise that the Times now has a column for animal deaths; this was George the Labrador.
The Snooper’s Charter gets the testing in the EUCJ which Parliament neglected
The EUCJ declared that the UK’s Snoopers Charter, whose principles are now enshrined in the Investigatory Powers Act, was illegal, mainly because of the requirement that Internet providers store 12 months of your browsing data. There is little to amuse in the Snooper’s Charter save for this splendid Morland cartoon…
… but there is a bonus in this court decision. The original applicants included David Davis, who, having rebelled once too often against the party leadership, seemed to have resigned himself to a career of backbench sniping and being difficult. Theresa May made him Minister for Waving Two Fingers at the Krauts and Frogs, and he removed himself from the case. As David Schneider put it:
RightsInfo did a superb explainer on the Snoopers Charter – The Huge New European Court Data Spying Judgment In Plain English. Do watch the video in it, showing a woman acting out the effect of the Snoopers Charter – RightsInfo is setting a very high bar for those of us who seek to explain the law in formats beyond mere words.
Theresa May – as calm as a rat on an escalator
Theresa May continued to stonewall in the face of demands for a parliamentary vote on the outcome of Britain’s EU negotiations. A few days ago, David Davis said it would be “inconceivable” to deny MPs a vote. Mrs May watered this down to an “ample opportunity to comment on and discuss the aspects of the arrangements that we are putting in place”. When pressed to say whether this meant “Yes” or “No” as to a parliamentary vote, May said “I gave the answer I gave”.
Now it is quite possible that Mrs May is a skilled negotiator, carefully playing her cards close to her chest. This video of a rat trying to get off an escalator is perhaps a better graphical description of how she is feeling:
It is now said that Theresa May has refused to tell the Queen what the Brexit plans are, and that Her Maj is more than a little pissed off as a result. Remind me, whose prerogative does May rely on to steamroller Brexit through without the participation of Parliament?
Theresa May closed the year with an appeal for unity. You can easily spot the flaws in this – to be unified we need to know where we are going, and we don’t have a clue. Nor, I suspect, has Mrs May. She doesn’t even have unity within her Cabinet, so it’s a bit rich to expect it from us.
Sellafield is at least cleaning itself up
An anti-Corbyn Labour MP, Jamie Reed, resigned his seat, saying that he was going instead to work for Sellafield which deals in spent nuclear waste. The obvious joke – that working for Sellafield is less toxic than working for Jeremy Corbyn – was worn to death very quickly but, what nobody seemed to notice is that Sellafield has made enormous strides to clean itself up and make it fit for our times. Labour seems to be going in the other direction, both in toxicity and (perhaps, given the slimness of Reed’s majority, in seats). Why should Theresa May worry too much about what people think?
Southern blocks the road as well as the railway
The shyster train company Southern seems determined to cut the south-east off from London. It is not enough, it seems, to gum up the railway lines, and Southern sent a carriage out to block the roads as well.
The MoJ mislays £747m as prisoners riot
The Ministry of Justice announced that uncollected court fines and surcharges now total £747m, much of it relating to Chris Grayling’s (quickly abolished) criminal courts charge. This was always fantasy money and, like the profit Chris Grayling made on the flat he did up at taxpayers’ expense, never likely to be recovered.
One of Grayling’s many chickens came home to roost as violence erupted at Birmingham Prison. Grayling’s idea was to bang up more people, for longer, at lower cost, without expanding the prison estate. He chose shysters G4S to run many of them.
The Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Justice in Grayling’s time was Ursula Brennan, perhaps the most useless person to have reached high rank in the civil service (that “perhaps” reflects the hot competition from Lin Homer, “Dame Disaster”, who went through government departments like Sherman though Georgia. I recall Brennan being grilled by the Public Accounts Committee as to how private companies like G4S could do a job more cheaply than the government. Brennan wriggled and turned before muttering something like “private contractors aren’t subject to some of the restraints of government”. What she meant was that G4S could more easily sack qualified staff and replace them with fewer and cheaper people.
G4S did what it usually does when its cost-cutting means it can’t comply with its contractual obligations – it called in the government to bail it out. In addition to the costs of that, it will apparently cost £1m to repair the damage at Birmingham prison. Some saving eh? Why to cut the prison population, as barrister Matthew Scott urged here.
The present Secretary of State for Justice is Liz Truss:
Evernote and Twitter – the victory of developers over humans
Evernote and Twitter both showed how closely they are in touch with their users. Evernote casually announced that its staff would be reading our data, and seemed genuinely bewildered at the resulting storm of protest. Twitter, already giving us jumbled tweets in place of the reverse chronology which most prefer, said it would give us a more “relevant and interesting” experience by shoving stuff into our timelines because other people seemed to like it.
Add that to Twitter’s “In case you missed it” space-waster, which repeats things we have already seen, and it become increasingly difficult to find stuff you actually want to see. This represents the triumph of data scientists over humans at Twitter.
Meanwhile, I saw the “relevance” we can expect from Twitter’s algorithm developers when my timeline included a promoted ad for a taxi company in Preston. Preston is 180 miles from me. I have never been there and probably never will. I guess to an American developer England is such a small place, and so far away, that anywhere is “relevant and interesting” to anyone.
Tom Lehrer – lyricist for our times
Tom Lehrer, talking of the songs which came out of the First and Second World Wars, said people enjoyed singing them because they reminded them of how much they enjoyed the war, adding “If there’s going to be any songs coming out of World War III, we’d better start writing them now.”. Most people know his “We will all go together when we go” which celebrates the unifying experience of simultaneous death; many know “Who’s next?” with its closing line “We’ll try to stay serene and calm / When Alabama gets the bomb”.
“So long, Mom” is perhaps less well known. “World War III is almost upon us, as you know, by popular demand, it seems”, Lehrer says, and we need the songs “that some of the boys will have sung….as they will have gone bravely off to World War III”.
Wishing you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. What there is of the new year anyway.