Two songs from film musicals seemed appropriate as 2016 ticked over to 2017. In The Sound of Music, a cropped-haired young Nazi explains to a naive young girl about ’16 going on ’17.
Timid and shy and scared are you
Of things beyond your ken
Lots of things about ’16 were beyond our ken. Quite a lot more is proving to be beyond our Theresa in ‘17. We seem undecided, though, as to whether she is as naive as Liesl or as sinister as Rolfe.
Who is writing the script for our politicians and media?
The other song from the musicals is Tomorrow Belongs to Me from Cabaret. Watch it, not just for the rousing tune and stirring words, but for the way it shows everyone in the sunny beer garden gradually being drawn in – not just the budding young thugs, but housewives and mothers, a prosperous-looking chap, teenagers. Everyone except an old veteran of the Great War who stares stolidly at his lager. “Do you still think you can control them?” asks Brian. Max shrugs. Joel Gray’s Emcee smiles knowingly.
We are not surprised to find that the youth on the platform is just a front, a pretty face for the camera – singers on film are usually mouthing the words which someone else wrote, but in this case the actual singing was done by another. Who is writing the script and dubbing the words for our politicians and media?
Liz Truss, our Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, is an example of someone whose thoughts and words seem entirely driven by others. Her views on justice, on judges, and on prison conditions, for example, come straight from the Daily Mail, and flow unfiltered by thought into her pronouncements. The Ministry of Justice is recruiting a speechwriter for her, at a salary of up to £68,969 plus all the perks of civil service employment – an easy stress-free 37 hours per week, pension, holidays, etc. An algorithm fed with the Daily Mail and the scripts of Steptoe & Son and the Teletubbies would do the job adequately.
Those who can, do; those who can’t, shuffle civil service paper and get gongs for showing up
There are, of course, some very fine and bright people in the civil service, but there is much contempt at this time of the year about awards handed to civil servants because they showed up for work on most days. The Ministry of Justice was proud of the gongs handed out to its pen-pushers in the New Year Honours List.
Solicitors, barristers, prison and probation staff and others still struggling to prop up the failed Ministry of Justice gaped in contemptuous amazement as Matthew Coats, Chief Operating Officer, was given a bauble to add to his vast salary. Those who can, do; those who can’t, shuffle paper at the MoJ.
Contempt turned to derision when the Head of Customer Services at HM Customs and Excise was given a gong for “services to Taxpayers”. This is an organisation which can’t even answer the phone, so we were all wondering what a “Head of Customer Services” actually does to deserve a salary, let alone a bauble from a grateful nation.
Privatisation, or Diddle-the-Dumb
The government’s aim, no doubt, is full privatisation of the justice system. The railways are perhaps the model, where people like Matthew Coats sit ineffectually shuffling paper and giving token regulation while handing out contracts to a range of incompetents and shysters who drive up prices while offering the bare minimum of service, all under the command of a ministerial third-rater like Chris Grayling or Liz Truss.
The railways were in the news again this week with fares going up; Grayling spoke boldly about “investment for the future”, perhaps unconscious (or perhaps not) that we have heard this for so many years that it has ceased to be credible. Transport, like justice, is integral to the economic health of a nation and to intangible concepts which people like Grayling simply don’t understand.
I am not against the principle of privatisation. I don’t believe it is easy to do it well. Our government and civil servants have a knack of giving state assets and services to shysters on generous terms and then leaving them to screw the users and taxpayers while running down the service. It happened with the railways; it will happen with justice.
The Daily Mail attacks lawyers with the MoJ playbook
The Daily Mail launched an attack on lawyers who, apparently “raked in £32.2bn in just ONE year”. That’s marvellous news, isn’t it – lots of invisible earnings, evidence of an underlying sound economy, much employment, plenty of tax and NICs. But no – the lawyers hadn’t “earned” the money but “raked” it in. Much of the article looked familiar – conflation of big international corporate lawyers with struggling criminal practitioners, treating income and profit as if they were the same thing, including the 20% VAT which goes straight to the Treasury, a strong impression that you, the taxpayer, was funding all this fat-cattery.
It was straight out of the Ministry of Justice playbook from the cuts of Grayling’s time. Grayling is never shy to lie, and he did so with gusto while at Justice with these same bare and deliberate untruths. Truss had mouthed words from a Daily Mail script, and this was the quid pro quo, the Daily Mail’s version of an MoJ press release.
Another criminal barrister, A View from the North (@jaimerhblog) gave a fine counter-attack with Raking it in, as did Barbara Rich (@BarbaraRich_law ) with The Daily Mail and the lawyers: a leftovers sandwich.
None of it, I am afraid, will make the slightest impression. Our post-truth politicians and media (C S Grayling, Founder Member) know well that what matters is first impressions. If the Mail’s readers carry away the idea that lawyers are leaching billions out of the state, then the job is done. The (anonymous) Mail journalist was not mistaken, just lying.
Truss has already left the judiciary to swing in the breeze in the face of unwarranted attacks from the cheaper press. She was not to be seen defending the lawyers either. A useless creature.
May puts her fingers in her ears as our man in the EU brings difficult messages
Sir Ivan Rogers, the very senior (and respected) civil servant responsible for our Brexit negotiations resigned with an unambiguous warning that the government had neither a team nor a strategy for pursuing Brexit. He talked about “those difficult moments where you have to deliver messages that are disagreeable to those who need to hear them.”
Sir Henry Wotton famously said that “An ambassador is an honest gentleman sent to lie abroad for the good of his country.” Even if you accept the cynical premise here, you must accept also that the ambassador must be told what the lie is. One needs more than “Brexit means Brexit” to work on.
Martin Shovel put it this way:
Barrister Blogger (@BarristerBlog) Matthew Scott transplanted Sir Ivan to the role of a criminal barrister trying to persuade his disagreeable client that his case was hopeless. His What Sir Ivan Rogers did next: he was called to the criminal bar includes this passage:
Time isn’t really on our side Mr Bruiser……
So you want me to plead guilty?
It’s entirely up to you Mr Bruiser, but I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t tell you that pleading guilty on the best terms we can get would almost certainly be in your interest.
Well fuck off then. I want another barrister. Someone who actually wants to get me off.
Theresa May doubtless puts it in a more restrained manner, but her message to those who try to warn her of impending doom seems to be much the same.
Where are the coherent and eloquent Brexiteers? Why do we hear only from the dim and deluded?
We are left wondering why we only hear from the particularly stupid Brexiteers. Why do they wheel out, say, Iain Duncan Smith, when there are undoubtedly many intelligent proponents of Brexit who might give us a coherent explanation of the merits of casting ourselves off from the world’s largest trading bloc. All we seem to get is “Suck it up whiners” in lieu of coherent argument.
I can’t keep up to date with the tweets of this unpleasant specimen, Stewart Jackson MP, because he blocked me after my observations on an earlier tweet of his – they don’t relish debate, these people. This type of Tomorrow-Belongs-To-Me Brexiteer appears by default as part of the public face of the Brexit camp. Surely there is someone out there who is not thick, nasty, bigoted, and triumphalist who will help us understand the merits of this national self-harming exercise.
An MP called David Davies urged Remainers to abandon their stand for constitutional and judicial oversight. Let’s just head for the cliff-edge, he seemed to imply.
This David Davies is not to be confused with David Davis, Minister for Exiting the EU. Davis is the driver of the bus heading at speed for the cliff. Davies is the sludge in the oil in the sump of the engine of the bus.
2016’s sunset fades to grey desolation
As the year ended, my son Will and I went out to film a particularly fine sunset on Oxford’s Port Meadow. By accident, we left the iris setting on auto, so that the camera struggled to counteract the growing darkness. The result is slightly eerie, as the deepening yellow of the sunset gives way to a bleak whitened landscape. I hope it is not a metaphor for 2017.