Last night whilst perusing the interweb I was sent a link to the A Barristers Wife blog and promptly spent the best part of the next hour fully taking in all the content on said blog. I won’t lie when I say it was an eye-opening read however it is one that doesn’t surprise me.
The blog is (unsurprisingly considering the title) the blog of the wife of a Legal Aid lawyer. She is writing about some of the cases that her husband has dealt with and why it is vital that changes to the Legal Aid system as proposed by Chris Grayling do not succeed.
The first one I saw was Exhibit C – the “paedophile”. This is a case her husband worked on where a young boy had claimed that his daddy had been abusing him. It seemed a pretty open and shut case until it came out in court that the young boy in fact called both his dad and his stepdad daddy and that he hadn’t seen his real dad in over a year (because of the charges) and wanted to see him and cried. That doesn’t sound like the actions of a kid who had been abused by this man. The lawyer had worked out that it was in fact the stepfather who was the abuser.
Had the lawyer not taken the case diligently and not strong-armed his client into accepting a guilty plea (because the evidence on paper was pretty clear cut) then a completely innocent man would have rotted away in prison only to leave the real abuser still in control of the young boy.
As an aside here I have been the foreman on a jury in a very similar case. The similarities are uncanny and we fund the defendant not guilty due to essentially we didn’t trust the mother’s account of what happened. Her behaviour didn’t add up to us and that was the key. It is strange that evidence counts for so much but behaviour of witnesses do have a real impact. In the other case I sat on during my spell as a juror we didn’t trust the account of the two alleged victims in a GBH case because of the elaborate way they acted in court.
Anyway back to the case in hand. I continued to read the blog.
Next Exhibit B – the “murderer”. This case was a major national case including a Crimewatch reconstruction. The defendant spent over a year on remand awaiting his trial. The lawyer had to spend two weeks (unpaid) to read through all the background information and on the tenth day found the nugget that showed his client could not have been the murderer. In fact in time the Crown’s own evidence would prove he was incapable of being at the murder scene at the time. If we see the proposed changes of legal aid go through then we’ll get to a state where lawyers are just in the business for profit and not to act in the best interests of their client.
At the end of the piece she writes a summary of ‘Why this story should matter to you’ and if you haven’t clicked on the above link (which I would thoroughly recommend) then here is the summary reproduced in full:
Police & CPS procedure – it is clear that the officer in charge of the case had not done what my husband had done, and sat down and read everything. Evidence is collated and summarised in reports, which are passed up and up through the police rank structure. By the time it gets to the top it is a case of “Chinese whispers”. What the top guy reads is not always an accurate reflection of the evidence.
Performance targets – it is unrealistic to expect the police and prosecution to read all of the evidence in every case under the current system. It certainly won’t be possible, even for the defence, under the proposed system. The allocated defence lawyer will be working to targets, working for profit. He won’t have the time to take two weeks out to find the golden nugget. He’ll take a quick look at the evidence, see that it looks pretty damning, and advise the client to plead guilty.
The real scumbag criminal got away with it – as far as we know the real murderer is still at large. The proposed system will lead to more of this. Because if lawyers are to be paid the same whether clients go to trial or not, there will be less trials. Less trials mean less opportunity for upcoming solicitors and barristers to cut their teeth. Less practice on the more simple cases will lead to less proficiency on the complex ones. This will hold for both the defence AND the prosecution. The end result more innocent people going to prison, more guilty people getting away, quite literally, with murder.
It could happen to you – Exhibit B got picked up for this because he had happened to be in the right place at the wrong time. The Crown’s own evidence showed he could not have been at the murder scene at the right time. He served over a year in prison on remand waiting for trial for something he didn’t do. I’ll spare you the details of what happened to him while he was there. And even though he was found not guilty, mud sticks. He was a young man, just starting out. His life was ruined.
Innocence is not interesting – there was a journalist in court for Exhibit B’s trial. Every day there were articles in the local and national papers saying what a nasty piece of work he was. Once the case was thrown out my husband collared the journalist and demanded that he write the story up, listing the points as the judge had directed the jury. Guess what? He didn’t do it. No wonder the public always believe people are guilty until proven innocent.
Innocence is not interesting. Arguably one of the most damning indictments of modern society and she is right. Do we care about people who are falsely accused? Do we heck. The only time we do is if it happens to us or someone that we know. Until that point in general we couldn’t care less and that is something that saddens me. I’m proud to say that I don’t sit alongside those people and think innocence should be as big a news story as guilt. If a defendant is found guilty of a serious crime it will be front page of the local papers but if the same person is found innocent then it’s a snippet on page 17. That isn’t fair but not only that, it isn’t right.
Next up we have Exhibit A – the “child pornographer”. A tale that starts with a granddad’s computer going wrong and taking it somewhere to be fixed. On the computer were images of naked children and the computer repairer called in the police who then arrested the granddad and charged him with possession of level 1 child pornography. Until the trial no-one (including the CPS barrister nor the defence) had seen the photos and the defence lawyer would not advice his client to enter a guilty plea until he had seen the photos. They were eventually granted access to the photos and the CPS barrister upon seeing them offered no evidence and the case was closed.
The whole incident came about because someone pointed a finger (which in this day and age is pretty standard and we all want to be vigilant on these issues) but instead of the police going to see the accused and going through the case properly they just went for it. It turns out the children were his grandchildren and they had come over one day and had forgotten their bathers so were playing in a paddling pool and shooting water pistols naked. A perfectly innocent explanation and one that could have been nipped in the bud before any serious cost to the public purse. Instead police hours, CPS hours, legal aid hours, the court’s time and costs were all incurred when there was never any need for any of it.
On another blog we see the blog post So you’re a football fan, and think the legal aid cuts won’t affect you? which tells of a common tale that could happen to anyone. As a matter of fact a very similar thing happened to me in my teens and it was only the fact that the copper’s colleague really couldn’t be bothered that I wasn’t arrested.
Now I do not know how I’d have reacted as a what 14/15/16 year-old (I can’t remember exactly how old I was) but the context was it was a school INSET day so we were walking through town towards Seaclose Park to play a bit of football. I was saying to the guys something along the lines of ‘I bet we get pulled over by the police asking us why we aren’t in school’ and literally as I said that a cop car drives past eyeballing us. I point and laugh and say to the guys ‘just like that’ and then about 30 seconds later the car has swung around the block and young copper wants to talk to me/arrest me. Older copper (the driver) just stood there leaning on the car and I saw him just shake his head of the younger officer and so I was told to go away. He said I had sworn at him. I knew I hadn’t. However it was effectively my word against his so I’m hypothesising that the advice given to me would’ve been to accept a caution and not taken it to trial had he in fact done what he wanted to do and arrested me.
Of course it didn’t come to that and it was one rather small run-in with the law but I’m not going to lie. Even that incident affected me for quite a while and even years later it would blindside me and I’d think about it. Essentially it was one coppers decision that he couldn’t be bothered with the paperwork that stopped me potentially having a criminal record. How insane is that?
If the proposed changes to legal aid come in and the emphasis changing from putting the clients best interests first towards providing the best value for money and creating profit for the legal aid accredited companies then something has gone seriously wrong in our justice system. Seriously wrong. The cheapest contract is not always the best. I could say that I could school a whole school for £50 a night but that doesn’t mean I could clean it to a level that they expect and the same goes for lawyers.
We can all find ourselves in legal strife through no fault of our own. It can happen to any of us and that is what is so vital about not only the ability to have legal aid but also quality legal aid. Not all defendants are criminal scumbags and until they are found guilty by a jury of their peers they should be allowed the best possible representation from a diligent lawyer who puts the best interest of their client ahead of their own personal views or profit.
If you believe that everyone has the right to a good level of defence when they are only accused of a crime then you can sign the petition here. I did so last night. I would implore you to do so and if this blog post hasn’t convinced you then please read all the pieces that I have linked to. The right to a good standard of defence and advice is something that we all deserve but because of the way the media like to portray all accused as guilty scumbags until proved otherwise and the way society in the main has moved from innocent until proven guilty to suspicious presumed guilty until proven otherwise then it is all the more important that we defend quality legal aid for all who need it. I don’t use libraries but I can see many people that do and therefore don’t mind my taxes being used to keep them open. The same goes for quality legal aid.
My blood is boiling folks. There is one thing that I hold dear and that is that we are all created equal. One human life is of the same value as the next. So if I get murdered the person who killed me should get the same sentence as if they killed anyone else in exactly the same way. Now of course not all murders are equal, some are premeditated, some involve sexual crimes, some include torture before killing their victims but if I am killed in exactly the same way as another person then I’d expect sentencing to be the same.
Theresa May today outlined new proposals that will mean any police officer or prison officer slain would see the perpetrator given mandatory whole life sentences. This is because we ask them to put themselves in harms way to ensure that society are safe. However last I saw Army, Navy and Royal Air Force personnel did exactly the same. What about the coastguard who risk their lives to safe others? What about the Fire Brigade? Are we seriously saying that one section of society deserve more retribution than others?
What about when police officers kill members of the general public? Do these people deserve less time in jail and the opportunity of being free one day? Isn’t that kinda mad?
I am not a ‘lock ‘em up and throw away the key’ person. In fact I am quite the opposite. I believe there is a better way to deal with criminals but when it comes to serious crimes such as murder and rape then prison very much has its place. However mandatory life terms for a crime against one section of society to me seems wholly wrong and only goes to show that we are not all equal. All crimes are not equal. That is why we have judges who have leeway to use their judgement to decide on how long a guilty person should spend inside. Mitigating circumstances have to be taken into account.
This policy seems to me to smell strongly of the Home Secretary trying to get the police back onside and trying to sound strong on crime. That is what everyone seems to want. Labour have welcomed this policy and I don’t know what the Liberal Democrats think but I’d be disappointed if they are happy to say that one persons life is worth more than another’s. It goes against our very principles of equality.
Should people that kill police officers and prison officers face heavy sentences? Darn tootin’ they do but you know what – so does anyone who takes another human life deliberately. Whether that person is a police officer, a member of our armed forces, a teacher, a student, a homeless person or whoever. Taking another human life is a despicable act but you won’t convince me that killing one person is less reprehensible than killing another.
‘Individuality in people is what makes them beautiful’
Words of a very special young man, oh wait, no, scratch that, I said those words this morning. You see I was speaking (well typing) in response to the petition surrounding the ‘glammed up’ version of Merida by Disney as they have made her look more ‘beautiful’ as they prepare her for the US market. They clearly think that by making her look more sexual then they’ll sell more products but isn’t this yet again an attempt by a big money corporation to follow the dollar instead of standing up for what is right?
The creator of Merida – the star of the film Brave – is unhappy with the new version of her character. Speaking in The Guardian she said the following:
“The redesign of Merida in advance of her official induction to the Disney Princess collection does a tremendous disservice to the millions of children for whom Merida is an empowering role model who speaks to girls’ capacity to be change agents in the world rather than just trophies to be admired. Moreover, by making her skinnier, sexier and more mature in appearance, you are sending a message to girls that the original, realistic, teenage-appearing version of Merida is inferior; that for girls and women to have value – to be recognised as true princesses – they must conform to a narrow definition of beauty.”
By jove she has a point. Now I’m a man so did not face half the issues that women – and in particular young women face as they grow up. Still I see all the magazines and read all the stories (ok that is a lie, I don’t but I know they exist). I know that we are spoon fed by the media what to look for in role models and alas looks is right up there. I was standing in the shower earlier working through this blog post in my head (yes this is the type of thing that I do) and I wondered to myself if we asked 1,000 teenage girls and 1,000 teenage men who they would aspire to be like (and for the men would like to share dinner with) – either Dame Helen Mirren or Kelly Brook who would get the most votes amongst both genders?
I think it is safe to say the vast majority of teenage men would be hot blooded and say Kelly Brook but I also fear that an albeit smaller majority of women would prefer to be like Kelly Brook than Dame Helen Mirren. This depresses me. The tabloid media will follow Kelly Brook’s (or anyone else of that ilk) every move so they can show a photo of her in an attempt to boost sales. Good looking women sell copies but photos of a respected, Oscar winning actress would not.
Michelle Obama is the most known First Lady of all time I suspect and is it a coincidence that she is the most glam? I had Carla Bruni shoved down my throat in both the written and broadcast media when she was the wife of the French President but I had to go and search for the name of her successor in that position. Valérie Trierweiler is her name for the record. Whilst I don’t begrudge the media presence of Michelle Obama as she clearly uses her position to further many great causes – it says a lot that other First Lady’s have done just as much good which were not as widely recognised due to being less in the media spotlight.
The media and society have a view on what is beautiful and they try to promote people who fall into that venn diagram of who they believe is beautiful. The media do this to make money (similar to what Disney have done with Merida) and society gets dragged along with it. You ask anyone who they think is the most beautiful person and they’ll say their partner if they have one and then if you say ignore their partner they’ll pick out someone famous. However they won’t all name the same person, in fact quite the opposite, if you asked 1,000 men and 1,000 women who they thought the most beautiful famous person was and I’m willing to bet we’ll get at least 100 names for both men and women.
You see the thing is we all look for something different and see beauty in an unending number of ways. If someone asked me what I thought makes someone beautiful then I would struggle to answer. This is just this je ne sais quoi that some people have and some people don’t in my eyes. There is no one thing that I could hang my hat on and say ‘that is something all beautiful people have’ because I just don’t think there is that one thing.
I would love to live in a world where beauty isn’t dictated by society or the media. I know as we all get older we start to see this for ourselves but when you are young and impressionable you don’t see this. When I was a teenager I saw what the media dictated as the most eligible bachelors – David Beckham and Jamie Redknapp – marry two pop stars. Every young women (ok not every young woman, that is a lie) but the amount of young women who wanted to be pop stars increased with this because they thought that is what eligible bachelors go for. A lot (although not as many as some in society would claim) of young women would like to be a footballers wife. Is this really an aspiration we want to pass on?
The best way to tackle this is to promote individuality as beauty. If young people can see that beauty is not just want society tells us it is then they would start to feel less pressure to conform to what society wants them to be. We are all different. This is what makes us a wondrous race. I’m lucky that I have reached a stage where I am comfortable in my own skin but heck in my teens and early 20s I had so much disdain for how my looked it was insane looking back.
If I had my way then schools would promote individuality far more than they do. In our education system you aren’t prepared for the real world. Instead you are forced into a mould to achieve the best possible exam results for both yourself and in turn your school. However whilst being academically successful is important, so is the process of discovering who we are and how we can be the best person we can be. I think our education system fails on this and is one thing I’d love to change. The more young people are allowed to explore themselves the more tolerant we would be and the more comfortable we would be with ourselves and others – no matter how different we were.
Back to the original point the petition is here and if you believe that young women need a vaster array of role models then I would implore you to sign. I don’t blame Disney for what they did because they are just trying to maximise their revenues but I am disappointed by it. They don’t have an obligation to any section of society but it would be nice to see them promote a larger selection of role models and not just do what they think is best for them in the short term profits wise.
Neil James Monnery is what my parents named me.
Early life would not be easy because of a duff arm and a duff leg.
Incidents of falling over would be far too commonplace.
Labelled as ‘disabled’ is something my mum would not tolerate, something I would learn to appreciate as I struggled to be like every other kid.
Nippy is not a word you could use to describe me but I can walk and run, which wasn’t exactly a given at one point.
Early it was noted that I was a gifted child.
Intelligence is something I had but I fear I wasted.
Lamentable are my school grades, despite never ever failing an exam or test I didn’t excel as much as my brain allowed.
Negative traits I have a fair few.
Envy is one that rears its ugly head on too many occasions but dissipates quickly.
Irrelevant and Insignificant are two I constantly fear I am.
Lackadaisical though is one that can very easily stick.
Not everything though is a negative.
Earnest I am.
Imperturbable in a crisis.
Liberal in my views of the world and of the people therein.
Narrow-mindedness makes me sad.
Egotistical people too.
Intolerance of others is another bug-bear.
Let us not dwell on what crushes my spirit though.
Normal is vastly overrated ergo I am not normal.
Early mornings are something that I do not miss.
Inane is something I worry my life is becoming.
Lucid though is my mind.
Naive I have been called.
Eloquent at times.
Influential on rare occasions.
Lovely…well once or twice.
Now to round this all up in a nice little bow.
Easy, life is not.
It has ups and it has its downs.
Life though is a journey and one that I have have a long ways to go.
Nine degrees of Neil James Monnery.
Each verse made up of the letters of my first name, acrostic they call it.
I am immensely proud of this poem and to a significant degree the person that I have become.
Like me or not I always try to be a good and decent person, that is how I would like to be remembered when all is said and done hopefully on a day far away from today.
…because I know you are all dying to read them.
First of all I am surprised that the Manchester United board have gone with a guy who whilst I think can do the job – has yet to prove his ability at the very top table. It is always good to bring through new blood and give (relatively) young managers a chance but Manchester United are a club listed on the NYSE and the share price is extremely important to the club. Until Moyes can prove it I suspect investors will be uneasy.
Away from that though I am delighted that Moyes has been given a shot. I really am. I think he is the best manager outside of Sir Alex and Arsene currently plying their trade in English football. I would throw in Guy Whittingham as well but that I suspect might just be blatant bias. The job he has done at Everton has clearly been first rate and his record in the transfer market has been impressive. All managers have their misses but he has been able to keep his flops to a minimum and has always got the best out of his players. Taking chances on the likes of Phil Jagielka and Leighton Baines were first rate as both of these players could be argued are in England’s best XI at the moment.
The big question though (well one of three but in my opinion the biggest and most stark) is how will David Moyes do when buying at the top table. I shop at various supermarkets but I suspect if I shopped at Fortnum and Mason I wouldn’t know where to start and would come out with posh nosh that actually wasn’t very good. Can Moyes identify the right player to spend £30million on? Can he solve the problem Manchester United have of finding that playmaker in the middle of the park? Can he attract players to join him over the likes of Mourinho etc…?
Another question is how he’ll deal with the egos of the bigger players. Lots of talk that Ronaldo might be returning but that Rooney wants out. What does he do here? Lastly can he deal with the pressure that comes from one of the biggest jobs in world football and following a legend? It is never easy to follow a beloved leader but when that leader left at the top and is still on the payroll and around? Oh boy…
I fear for David Moyes but you know what – he has well and truly earned the chance to try and whilst I’m no big Manchester United lover I will be rooting for him to succeed. However with Jose’s imminent return to the Premier League I’ll also be rooting for him. With my long team fandom of Arsene and the way his teams try to play then I have lots of rooting interests in the Premier League next season. Manchester City will not have any of that.
Moyes has always come across as first and foremost a decent chap and I personally respect that a lot. I think he can succeed at Old Trafford and the six-year deal shows that the powers that be at Old Trafford see this as a long-term appointment (and is possibly why Jose Mourinho was never a genuine contender). Lots of hard work ahead for him but what a job and what an opportunity. I wish him well and also to Everton for the way they’ve acted in all this – it has been very classy.
So at least two of the top four will be changing their managers this summer (United: Moyes, Chelsea: Mourinho) and who knows what’ll happen with Roberto Mancini. Sounds like a fun summer ahead!
It is a question that comes and goes with various media stories and people have fairly entrenched views on either side of the debate. I am one of those people. I have strong views that due to the fact a not insignificant proportion of society equate an arrest or a charge sheet to guilt. I’ll ask these two questions and I want you to think about it and not just read past it.
If a friend of yours was charged or even just arrested for burglary would you treat them any different? If so, by how much? If the same friend was charged or even just arrested in relation with a sexual offence, certainly one involving children would you treat them any differently? If so, by how much?
Now i don’t have any statistics to back up my point but most people I know would be far more cautious with regards to someone who had been linked to a sexual offence. Certainly if you are a parent then would you want this person around your children? I’d pretty sure you wouldn’t even though they had not been found guilty of anything. An arrest or charge of burglary is a serious crime but there is a distinct different in how many of us perceive sexual crimes and all other crimes. We (rightly) find them more vile but we are also far more ready to err on the safe side in removing those people from our lives before the judicial process has played out.
The old adage of ‘mud sticks’ isn’t there because it isn’t true. It most certainly is true. Anyone who has been arrested or charged with a sexual offence will have that on file for the rest of their lives and it will follow them like a bad smell even if they were found not guilty or the charges were dropped or even if they were never charged. It is fair that innocent people are victimised (I don’t use that word lightly) because we as a society err on the safe side?
This brings me nicely on to my next point. At what point do we decide who the victim is? Do we decide that the victim is the person who has alleged a sexual crime against them from the off or do we decide they are a victim when a jury reaches a guilty verdict? Do we decide that the person arrested/charged is the victim if they are found not guilty or do we still perceive the person who alleges the crime as the victim?
Now clearly this isn’t an easy one to answer because there is a situation where both people can be victims, the person who alleges the crime may well have been the victim of a crime but the person arrested/charged with that crime might not be the right person. In that situation are they both victims or is one of them more of a victim than the other?
We all have different views on this case and one of the most prominent liberal voices out there, co-editor of Liberal Democrat Voice Stephen Tall has his and they are vehemently to mine. In his post Rape anonymity for the accused: well-intentioned but wrong, he concludes that, ‘Ultimately the best safeguard for maintaining a free and open society is an accountable and open system of justice. Secrecy, however well-intentioned, is hardly ever preferable to transparency, however messy.‘
Whilst on paper that seems the best way forward I would contend that in the real world that is not plausible. Justice can be seen to be served in a not guilty verdict but that verdict cannot undo the months (and sometimes years) the accused has suffered on multiple fronts. They find their social circle dramatically decreases whilst they await trial as people don’t want to associate with someone charged with such serious offences. They probably are at best suspended by their employer but in many situations they will be fired and are unable to find any more work until they are cleared and if they do it is unlikely to be in a similar field. Also as I hinted at earlier a not guilty verdict doesn’t ex-sponge people’s memories nor does it disappear from your criminal record. Yes you can have a serious criminal record without even being a criminal. A rape/sexual offence arrest/charge stays with you forever.
Some would say they would prefer to know if someone they knew was arrested or charged with such a serious offence as they have to think of their safety as well as that of their children. This is a fair point but at what point does a person constitute a threat? An allegation? An arrest? Being charged? Being found guilty of the crimes? I honestly don’t know but what I do know is that innocent people charged with such serious offences are victims. I’m not saying they are more or less of a victim than the alleged victim but they are victims. Yes a not guilty person can rebuild their life but they will always carry baggage with them and they will also always be looked at through narrower eyes.
I think I should put it out there that I believe the vast majority, let me reiterate that, the vast majority of allegations are made in good faith. We all know there are a number of malicious allegations made but we’ll ignore them for now even though they are a relevant debate. This is about a situation where there is a victim who has been attacked but at what point does the person the police decide is the person who attacked them deserve to have their name made public?
I know many (including Stephen linked to above) bring up the Stuart Hall case where him being named brought forward more victims and ensured a guilty plea and a sexual predator brought to justice but that is but one example. You could make a case for any piece of legislation based on one example. However I always ask the same thing – if you were an innocent person arrested and subsequently charged with such an offence, you lost all your friends and your job and lived a life of limbo for say a year or so before being found not guilty, finding that your social circle still weren’t sure and most of them still didn’t want to know you and then you couldn’t return to your job – or a job of similar standing – then would you feel aggrieved?
Darn straight you would. Your life would have been turned upside down through no fault of your own. Now whilst it is true that rape victims have exactly the same in that their lives are completely turned upside down, do two wrongs make a right? No. No I don’t think so – and more than that – I never will.
So to round this thing up one of two things need to happen, We as a society have to learn the difference between someone being found guilty of a crime compared to being charged or even arrested in connection with a crime (which I don’t think we can do) or we need to keep both the accused and the accuser anonymous until we can find out which of the two (or even if both) are victims.
Life can be a bit fickle can’t it? In the blink of an eye everything can change not only for you but also for many others. One small thing can lead to giant consequences and life altering situations. One of those situations happened to me today and to be frank I’m relatively lucky not to be in a hospital right now, at best.
Many years ago (2000 or so) I should have died on a zebra crossing. There were four lanes of traffic and the green man was all lit up and I was walking across. In lane three there was a double decker bus and therefore i could not see what was coming in lane four but with the green man all lit up I didn’t exactly worry but as I stepped into lane four a speeding car whooshed through. I was already a step inside the lane and I saw and heard it and put on the emergency breaks but as I did so my momentum was still travelling forward and my upper body kinda hovered over the car and then when it passed my feet moved to stop me falling into the road. It was most surreal and my phone went but seconds later and I remember answering it, ‘I should be dead.’
It showed me how one second can indeed change your life. Had I been one second earlier then the likelihood is I wouldn’t have taken another breath as that car was travelling easily at 40+ just going straight through the red light. Well today a similar situation arose. I have had instances where cars have just gone through zebra crossings before – even when I’ve been on them but this one was different – this one I managed to clock the driver and noticing that she wasn’t looking at the road saved me at best a trip to A&E and who knows what else.
Outside my apartment is a zebra crossing and I was off into town to do some food shopping. To my right a car was turning and to my left three cars were coming and they all decided not to stop for the person on the zebra crossing. The traffic to my left had stopped and I went to walk across the road. Then I flicked back to my right and there was another car and it wasn’t slowing down and I managed to glance directly at the driver. She wasn’t looking at the road. She was looking down the Broadway either at the car that had just turned left or the parade of shops. She had no idea I was there just starting to walk in front of her.
Luckily I had clocked this and I only took one step before stopping and letting her swish by. As she went by she finally swiveled her head back towards the road and still she didn’t see me with essentially half a foot out in the road. I’m perfectly fine but it made me think that by her not looking at the road/ahead for just a second or two it could have led to her life being dramatically altered as well as mine. I was lucky I noticed she hadn’t noticed me. She was coming from a long way away and had she been looking forward there is no doubt she would’ve seen me and had ample time to just cruise up to the zebra crossing and let me cross. Instead she was travelling at a good 30-40 and not looking at where she was going.
Just goes to show that small, what seemingly are inconsequential decisions, could lead to rather dramatic consequences.
Local election campaigns are in full swing across the country (although not here in Southend-on-Sea) and there is only one story that seems to be coming out. This story isn’t about whether Labour will make gains against the Tories. The story isn’t about whether the Lib Dems will stop the hemorrhaging of votes/councillors. The story isn’t about whether the austerity will hurt the Tories. The only story I keep reading about is the surge of the UK Independence Party and what this means for the future.
I must admit my gut feeling is that UKIP will be like a fast burning love affair. They will burn oh so bright but they will not burn for a long time. The fact of the matter is there are a significant number of people who don’t like nor trust politicians. The whole expenses scandal has left politicians looking up at journalists in the respected by stakes, which is not a good place to be. Heck divorce lawyers are more respected than politicians at the moment. UKIP are promising a breath of fresh air and to put Great Britain first and not to kowtow to Brussels and the EU. It isn’t like the UKIP leader has taken (to 2009) around £2million in tax payers money from the EU in expenses. Oh wait…
They are basically scratching the itch of those who are disenchanted with modern politics. They are different they say. The system is crooked they say. Nigel Farage has seen a stronger eye on his party in recent days as it has come out that they have struggled to vet their candidates. Some of them seem to be less than desirable and certainly not the type of people you’d want in any position of power. The main issue is a lot of people vote for the party and not the candidate so if you don’t vet properly then you may find you have councillors representing the party who don’t truly reflect the views of the party.
The UKIP leader is not happy with all of this, ‘Have you met the cretins we have in Westminster? Do you think we can be worse than that?’ exclaims the 49 year-old. On one hand he has a point that all parties have the odd person who deep down you aren’t sure truly reflects the parties values and you get a sense they aren’t being their true self. When it comes to UKIP though who knows?
However this blog isn’t about that. It is about the talk over the possibility of more PM TV Debates in 2015. Stories in the press over the weekend have linked Labour to the Tories in wanting to keep out UKIP. Remember Labour do not want the Lib Dems in because they formed a coalition with the Tories so think any Lib Dem leader should share a platform with the Tories and Labour’s deputies because that is as high as they could ever be. Gotta love Labour’s stance on that. So in Labour’s eyes any debate would be two-way between them and the Tories. The Tories are happy for three-way with the Lib Dems also involved. We don’t know the Lib Dem view as yet.
My view though is extremely simplistic. If a party is putting up enough candidates to form a government then their leader should be invited to join the other leaders in these debates. The SNP, Plaid Cymru, the Green Party and others were unhappy about being left out last time but none of them were fielding enough candidates to form a government and their leader could never be Prime Minister so their place in any ‘Prime Ministerial Debate’ did seem relatively pointless. The likelihood though is that UKIP will be putting up enough candidates across the country and in the interest of democracy they deserve the to share that platform in my eyes.
We saw last time that Nick Clegg’s profile rose dramatically throughout the process last year and at one point, in one Sunday poll the Lib Dems actually led. As we all know though that extra exposure translated to over a million more votes but actually fewer MPs. It also led to far more scrutiny in the right-wing media as they went to town on the Lib Dems and on Nick Clegg in particular. This worked to some degree and should Nigel Farage and his party get the same exposure they would be subject to the same level of scrutiny.
My feelings on UKIP are pretty clear but I also believe in fairness and equality (good liberal traits there) and if UKIP are in a position where they could feasibility (no matter how unlikely) form a government if everything went right for them on polling day in 2015 then they deserve the right to share that platform. It is up to the other parties and particularly their leaders to show UKIP for what they are and to get the public to vote for them and not Nigel Farage’s lot.
The thing is we all know that the moment UKIP get any power (either at local or national level) the public will quickly realise what they have done. At a local level voting UKIP will not change anything to do with the EU or tax rates or immigration which is basically what UKIP are all about. So a vote for UKIP locally on Thursday is basically saying, ‘we hate them all and even though they can’t follow through with their primary objectives in local governments we’ll vote for them as a symbol of our anger towards national issues.’ When it comes to national issues though their rhetoric of being anti-EU and anti-foreigners is actually something they could act on.
UKIP are unlikely to ever have a Prime Minister, they are unlikely to ever be in a position to form a coalition but as they say – you never know. UKIP’s core support is with the older generation – a YouGov poll in February found that only 15% of UKIP support comes from those under 40 – the fact is the older generation are more likely to vote.
For me I don’t see UKIP as a viable party and are just a protest against the status quo and the current financial climate. The moment the economy pulls itself out of its funk and the countries finances are balanced then the need for a protest party will dissipate. This will happen but it won’t happen before 2015. So let UKIP play with the established parties and give them the opportunities that they deserve. I just hope they shoot themselves in the foot when they are under a serious national spotlight. It is easy to protest when their are few repercussions but when it comes to a General Election protests are harder because actions (and votes) have consequences.
The words of Jason Collins as he comes out in the latest edition of Sports Illustrated to become the first openly gay male athlete in any of the major north American team sports. This is a big thing and it is about time it happened.
As you all may know I’m a huge NFL, MLB and NCAAFB fan but the NHL and the NBA kinda pass me by as I don’t enjoy the sports too much. So I don’t know this guy from Adam but what I do know is he is an active player and he has decided it is time to open up the conversation. A couple of weeks ago Brittney Griner came out and now just a few days later a man followed suit.
In a self-penned essay in the latest edition of the magazine 34 year-old Collins writes about his struggle and one paragraph in particular stood out, ‘When I was younger I dated women. I even got engaged. I thought I had to live a certain way. I thought I needed to marry a woman and raise kids with her. I kept telling myself the sky was red, but I always knew it was blue.‘ I would certainly recommend reading the entire article linked to above to get a full sense of what he has struggled with over the years.
The situation has changed and the tide is changing for people to be more open about their sexuality. I watch two American Sports Talk shows daily and everyone was happy that he had felt able to come out but also it was noted that this wasn’t Jackie Robinson breaking the colour barrier nor Billie Jean King beating Bobby Riggs. Sadly not everyone in the industry is cut the same way and step forward Chris Broussard:
‘Personally, I don’t believe that you can live an openly homosexual lifestyle or an openly, like premarital sex between heterosexuals. If you’re openly living that type of lifestyle, then the Bible says you know them by their fruits. It says that, you know, that’s a sin. If you’re openly living in unrepentant sin, whatever it may be, not just homosexuality, whatever it maybe, I believe that’s walking in open rebellion to God and to Jesus Christ. So I would not characterize that person as a Christian because I don’t think the bible would characterize them as a Christian.‘
Now it has been a while since I’ve read my Bible. In fact I don’t own a Bible but I know the odd passage, ‘Judge not, lest ye also be judged.’ (Matthew 7:1). ‘Do to others as you would have them do to you.’ (Luke 6:31). ‘In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.’ (Matthew 7:12). Now I grant you the bible also has texts that counter this but the bible should not be taken in a literal context as if you did then you’d get nowhere as there are so many texts that are actually polar opposite.
Mr Collins finally seems at peace with his sexuality and that is what all want to be. There is nothing, absolutely nothing, wrong with being attracted to people of the same sex. Happily the early signs coming out of follow north American athletes are seemingly full of support for the player. The thing is if you are a professional athlete in a team sport the overwhelming likelihood is that you have played with a gay team mate. As a fan the overwhelming likelihood is that you have rooted for a gay player at some point in your sports watching.
I hope this man’s decision accelerates something similar happening here in the UK. Sexuality is just part of who we all are and at some point a big name Premier League player will come out as homosexual and it will help others in the sport – and also more importantly young people – feel that there is nothing wrong with being gay. Society is coming around to this and the younger generation are – in general – far more open and accepting than previous generations. I hope we get to the point where sexuality doesn’t define us and is just a footnote in describing us akin to ‘likes soap operas, hates prawns, loves people of both sexes’ or similar.
Jason Collins is a brave man but I’m pretty sure the overwhelming majority of the NBA will support him as will the majority of the paying public. This is a huge step and one that shouldn’t be understated and now I await to see when someone still active in the major British sports feels comfortable enough to follow suit. Sadly I fear I will be waiting a while as the vocal minority are still extremely vocal.
It is a question I often ask myself when laying in bed or sitting on the throne, if I could go back to (and then I think some random date) would I go back and I ponder how happy I was at that time compared to how I am now etc. Well in the interests of a blog post I thought I’d look back at how I was at the end of April every year for the past ten years and see if I’d go back to that time or not.
Note: Obviously I’d go back in time and just before the huge EuroMillions jackpots were drawn go back and play the winning numbers so lets ignore that.
2003. I would have been coming towards the end of my first year at university in Farnham. I was happy where I lived and had made some pretty good friends. University was going along ok and I was cruising towards passing the first year. At this point in 2003 I had actually had a few dates with someone (cue SitCom studio audience going ‘ooooo’) but it would not go any further due to her meeting someone else (ahhhh) but I had just witnessed Pompey winning the league so that was good. Would I swap 2013 for 2003? Maybe I would but only because I would like another crack at the whole uni thing.
2004. I would be just days away from doing Jury Duty and I genuinely enjoyed that. I would be just a couple of days away from handing in my final assignment of my second year so I’m probably sitting at my PC trying to string together 3,000 words of cohesive text about some rubbish. No love interests at this point in 2004 and that I fear will become a recurring theme as I rack my brains. I’d swap 2013 for 2004 only because of Jury Duty and I’d be set for my last summer with my IoW based friends before never returning there on a full-time basis, which still shocks me now.
2005. At this point I was arguably at my most lost throughout this blog post. I was coming to the end of my degree and had fallen out of love with Journalism. I had no idea what the future held and the real world was actually pretty scary certainly when it became clear that I would not be able to move back to the IoW. No love interests at this point and certainly no reason to swap 2013 for 2005.
2006. I was lost in 2005 but by 2006 I had found myself. Volunteering in a charity shop had given me a large self-esteem boost and more of a purpose. At this point I had very few friends that I would actually see though and this I suspect was the start of my more reclusive nature socially. I didn’t really know where my life was going at this point but I was more comfortable with the journey. Wouldn’t swap 2013 for 2006 though despite being relatively happy at this point.
2007. Bizarrely enough despite being unemployed at this point in 2007 I was immensely positive that something good was just around the corner. I had got down to the final two for a job at The Sun which strangely enough a friend of mine actually does these days. Knowing that a large company like that could have some interest in me I felt positive something good was around the corner career wise. However yet again I wouldn’t swap 2013 for 2007. Notice no love (or potential love) interest since 2003, that has to change shortly right? Err…
2008. All change please. All change! Well for the fifth consecutive year on April 29 I was living in a different place and this time I had an exciting job to go with it. Hurrah! I was living in Aldershot working as a Sports Editor (right up my street) and was more than comfortable with my home situation. Smallest double bedroom ever but heck cheap rent, Sky TV and good housemates. Yep good times. However the job whilst being great on paper had one or two drawbacks, mainly stemming from essentially working solo on a project and having no one to bounce any ideas or just talk sport with in my office. When you work in an office full of people who genuinely dislike you then you struggle to stay motivated. Pompey are about to win the FA Cup but that is still a surreal day in my memory and not the exciting one I would have imagined it would be as a kid. Would I swap 2013 for 2008? Possibly but only because I have learned so much since then that I could make a bigger success of that project than I did.
2009. No more Sports Editor for Neil as I had moved on to become part of the SEO team at a well known company on a contractor basis. Still living in the same place and still happy with that situation although I was looking to move solely because I now worked from home and needed space for a PC etc… Still no love interests. What was April doing to me through the years? Had some good times though around this point and was pretty contented however I would not swap 2013 for 2009.
2010. In a stunner I had moved back home for a few months to save some dollary-do’s as it were. I was still working in the same position and low rent and no bills really does help your bank balance. Living back in an area where you don’t really know anyone my social life went to the dogs again. I doubt I’d swap 2013 for 2010 though.
2011. So I’d moved out again and into my own place where I still currently reside. Same employment situation but now I had finally thrown my hat into the ring and just joined the Liberal Democrats. I would be three weeks away from writing the blog post that announced this blog to a wider audience. However I see nothing of too much value or interest happening in my life at this point in 2011 so no swapping here.
2012. This was not a good time in my life. My dad had just passed away and I was fighting an election campaign that deep down I just wanted to get out of because my head was elsewhere. This is the biggest no to swapping years that I have come across on this little journey to how I saw life on this (or around this) date in the past ten years. I’d hate to go back to where I was at this point last year.
So in the ten years the only years I’d think about going back to would be the first two uni years as I wish I had made more of that experience and possibly 2008 as knowing what I know now I am pretty sure that I could have made that project far more of a success (and I have more self-confidence now than I did then) so instead of just seething at certain things I’d face them head-on and hopefully be able to change the direction that the project was heading in.
In those ten years from 2003 through 2012 there was just the one occasion (2003) where there was something going on in my personal life and in all honesty that had finished but I wasn’t aware of this at the time. April has not been a great month for my personal life (although as we all know no month has really been a stream of successes) but for the record I think December/January can hold the claim for best month on this front with both of them laying claim to three years where I’ve had some form of interest on that front in the past ten years.
What I think this shows is in the main I wouldn’t like to go back in time although I wouldn’t mind giving uni another go around and that project from mid 2007-early 2009 could have been so much better but such is life. On April 29 from 2003 to 2012 I lived at seven different addresses (although one of them was twice in two different stints) so I have gotten around a bit on that front but I have actually stayed put at my current location for just under three years now.
So all in all for this addition of ‘If I could go back to…would I?’ I think in general I’d say no, no I wouldn’t.