Reflections on another week

Some more random reflections prompted by events of the past week or so:

The commentators’ consensus on Gordon Brown’s apparently successful teasing of David Cameron at PMQs on Wednesday about his and other Cameroons’ Eton educations (“[Tory] inheritance tax policy seems to have been dreamed up on the playing fields of Eton”) is that Labour has been reduced to playing the class war card, and that this is somehow deeply reprehensible.  “We can join in condemning Brown for trying, with his demented smirk, to let slip the dogs of class war,” writes Minette Marrin in The Sunday Times.  Surely a little bit OTT?  Some media comments seem to have missed the point that the reference to Eton’s playing fields echoes the Duke of Wellington’s famous (but probably apocryphal) remark that “The Battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton”, which was actually a compliment to Eton, or at any rate to its playing fields.  Anyway, what’s wrong with accusing the toffs on the Tory front bench of having been brought up in a rarefied and privileged subsection of society — Eton, the Bullingdon club, and all that — which makes it difficult for them to empathise with the problems of ordinary people?  No-one is saying that every Tory front bencher is a toff, or that there are no toffs in the Labour leadership.  But the sad fact is that class pervades almost every part of life in Britain (or at any rate in England), although it’s considered a bit off to mention it in polite society;  and it’s an indisputable fact of their fundamental founding principles and historical records that the Conservative party exists primarily to defend and promote the interests of the upper and upper middle classes — the landed gentry, the industrialists and financiers, the employers, the businessmen and entrepreneurs:  in general, the rich;  while the Labour Party, originating in and still perfectly properly linked to the trade union movement, is there to defend the interests of the working and lower middle classes — the employees and the unemployed, the public sector workers, the public services on which the have-nots depend, the most vulnerable and defenceless in society: in general, the poor and the less well-off.  Why else do the Tories try to insist that the most urgent problem facing Britain is the enormous budget deficit and national debt, while Labour sees tackling unemployment and accelerating recovery from the recession as a much more pressing requirement?  All right, New Labour has often forgotten, blurred or even betrayed that basic Labour mission, but the generalisation about the fundamental difference between the two parties remains valid.  The squeamish and mealy-mouthed can bleat all they like about the wickedness of fighting the class war, especially if the fight is laced with humour as it was by Brown on Wednesday (who was his script-writer?).  But it goes to the heart of our politics and there’s absolutely no reason not to say so.

*   *   *   *   *

Like almost everyone else on this side of the Atlantic, I feel very sorry for Gary McKinnon, the autistic computer hacker who’s likely to face extradition to the United States, there to be tried (and if convicted, as seems likely since he admits most of the charges, imprisoned) for inflicting serious damage on the Pentagon’s computer security systems.  However, anyone with an open mind reading the statement by the home secretary, Alan Johnson, in parliament on 1 December, and his comprehensive replies to questions on it, explaining in detail why he has simply been legally unable to intervene to prevent McKinnon’s extradition, is bound to conclude that the case against extraditing the man doesn’t really stand up. Johnson had cogent replies to all the doubts, complaints and worries constantly aired in the media as reasons for blocking the extradition.  The issues have gone through exhaustive examination in court after court at every available level, always with the same result.  There is still a possibility of judicial review and another appeal to the European Court of Human Rights (nothing to do with the EU), and Johnson promises not to let extradition go ahead until both processes have been exhausted.  But the final outcome looks bad for Gary.

One issue that surely calls for further debate is the apparent one-sidedness of the US-UK Extradition Treaty under which the Americans are applying for McKinnon’s extradition.  The Tory front bencher Damian Green (yes, he of the home office mole and his leaks) confronted the home secretary with what looks on the face of it to have been a damaging admission by the lady who’s now the government’s chief legal adviser and was then a minister of state at the home office.  According to Green, —

Baroness Scotland, the Government’s Attorney-General, said in 2003:
“when we make extradition requests to the United States we shall need to submit sufficient evidence to establish ‘probable cause’. That is a lower test than prima facie but a higher threshold than we ask of the United States”.  [Official Report, House of Lords, 16 December 2003; Vol. 655, c. 1063.]

The question of the material difference, if any, between prima facie evidence and probable cause is legally intricate, and goes to the heart of the criticism of the treaty.  But here too Alan Johnson spelled out what seemed to me a convincing case for rejecting the view that the treaty is unfairly tilted against the UK and in favour of the US.  Altogether Johnson’s performance on all this was exemplary:  calm, reasoned, patiently and conscientiously dealing with all the points raised.  Only once did he seem to show irritation, when he complained of being “patronised” by “Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con)”, an undoubted toff, and not just on the evidence of his famous moat.  The home secretary, equally famously a former postman, is in no danger of being accused of toffery, which may explain why he objects to being patronised by those who are.

*   *   *   *   *

Perhaps the biggest shock of the week, though, has been the unexpected sacking of no less a personage than Malcolm Tucker, the prime minister’s infamous press secretary in the brilliant BBC political series The Thick of It, written by Armando Ianucci.  As one of the reviewers of the Sunday papers in the oddly-named Andrew Marr Show this morning (6 Dec 09), Ianucci accurately summed up what had happened to Tucker by saying that he had “been resigned”.  Tucker is an undisputed monster, yet it was impossible not to feel just a little sorry for him watching his face contort as he saw on a television set in the minister’s office the “breaking news” strapline announcing that he had resigned (he hadn’t).  Ianucci did however remind Andrew Marr that only the first part of a two-part episode of The Thick of It had so far been broadcast, hinting broadly that we might not have seen the last of the tyrannical, foul-mouthed press secretary.  Tucker, we’re repeatedly assured, bears no resemblance whatever to any No. 10 press secretary past or present, alive or dead.  You’d better believe it.

*   *   *   *   *

In an aside during the Andrew Marr Show press review, Mr Ianucci made a casual remark to the effect that the evidence given so far to the Iraq Inquiry had confirmed the suspicion of firm decisions having been taken to use force against Saddam but repeatedly being denied until the eve of the war.  I’m sure Ianucci is much too busy to sit for hours watching or listening to the Iraq Inquiry hearings, but he surely can’t be too busy to spend a few minutes reading my recent blog post that argues the opposite?   The evidence given to the inquiry by Tony Blair’s principal foreign affairs adviser at the time of the run-up to the war did indeed provide a convincing defence against the charges that Blair had taken the firm decision to go to war with Iraq months before any such decision was announced, or that he had given George W Bush an unconditional undertaking that we would go to war alongside the Americans.  But this was not evidence of a British diplomat’s slavish deference to his political master, nor obedient willingness to defend to the death everything Blair had said and done, as Ianucci seemed to assume:  for the official concerned went on to tell the inquiry that in his view, and contrary to Blair’s, the UN inspectors should have been given more time to complete their work in Iraq before the decision was taken to invade: and, even more wounding for Blair, that Blair had had the option at the time, since all peaceful means of getting rid of Iraq’s supposed WMD had not yet been exhausted, of refusing to allow British forces to play any part in the American military action.  Nothing slavish about that!


9 Responses

  1. Brian,
    Gary McKinnon.
    I think, like most of the UK press, you’ve fallen, hook, line and sinker, for  a brilliant campaign waged by  the NatWest 3’s PR consultants Bell Yard . They are now  acting pro-bono for  McKinnon.
    For a more balanced view on the McKinnon case, some useful links and the relevant  House of Lords ruling, point your browser at  this from the Guardian’s blog editor, Kevin Anderson

    Brian writes: Thank you for this, Tony. But I’m puzzled by your comment. My conclusion after carefully reading the home secretary’s statement and his replies to questions on it in parliament on 1 December was that the objections to extraditing McKinnon were not sustainable, despite the press campaign against extraditing him.  I thought that was clear from my post, and I’m mortified if you had the opposite impression.

  2. Bob says:

    Brian, as you would expect I’m in almost full agreement with what you say about the Labour Party and Lord Snooty’s party. Whatever Gordon intended by his ‘ playing-fields of Eton ‘ jibe, let’s hope the resultant howls of ” the politics of envy ” don’t inhibit him and his gang from hammering home to The People just how our class-based society is designed and controlled by the rich and powerful minority to convince the majority that this is simply how things are…The Labour Party’s post-new Labour strategy must be to identify with the people in a way it never did under Blair, and to wake people up to the fact that the likes of Cameron have never known and never will know what it’s like to live on benefits, to lose your job, to wonder where the next holiday will come from…and, saddest of all, to dread the approach of Christmas for the same reasons. And let me add a forlorn prayer – that one day the huge base of our sociological pyramid will wake up and actually vote in its own interest…( I know; and pigs might…)

    But I’m unhappy with your comments on Alan Johnson and the Gary McKinnon case. Your admiration for AJ’s handling of this sad business doesn’t stack up with most British people’s gut feelings about the likely extradition to the US of this obviously bizarre young man. And it is also far from human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson’s view of it, as expressed in his article in The Independent of November 28th under the title “An immoral and unlawful decision”. ( I should say now that I disagreed strongly with GR’s views that al Megrahi should not have been released to Libya. But on this occasion he has pointed me towards constitutional legal sources of which I was unaware.)
    So how does GR come to oppose the home secretary so directly?
    The starting-point is obviously the Extradition Act under which Gary McKinnon is currently liable to be extradited to the US. You seemed convinced by Johnson’s arguments that the Act isn’t unfairly weighted in favour of the US. I think Shami Chakrabarti (New Statesman Dec 7th p.11) implies otherwise. She refers to the Act being enacted in the days after 9/11 specifically to catch potential terrorists, but critically removing safeguards against politically motivated extraditions or flimsy evidence. “A bad law that has bound the hands of our judges….. and which is now being used to catch computer hackers” is her verdict. She concludes: “No one should be bundled off to another country without evidence or due consideration given to where they should be tried. Injustice in the name of expediency is still injustice.” Surely you can only maintain that the Act’s weighting isn’t in favour of the US if you think we are the more likely of the two countries to request extradition of terrorist suspects….
    Taking things to a more legally fundamental level than this recently concocted catch-all, Robertson says the home secretary has been misled by his lawyers into regarding The European Convention on Human Rights 1950 as the yardstick by which to judge extradition from this country – hence AJ’s concession, to which you allude, of the possibility of future judicial review and an appeal to The European Court of Human Rights ( which stemmed from the Convention ). But Robertson says this is wrong, and that our own 1689 Bill of Rights furnishes the necessary criteria for the extradition of British citizens – and that it has never been supplanted by the ECHR as Johnson seems to think.
    So what is the difference between the two, and why is it important?
    The European Convention prohibits extradition or deportation where an individual might be subjected to ‘ torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment in the recipient state’. Robertson maintains that Johnson, like the courts, has decided that this will not be the case in the US, and that the extradition is therefore legal. So OK, says GR, let’s agree that Americans are not inhuman, and that imprisonment may be no more degrading in Virginia than in the UK. (My note: Really!? From all he must know about comparative prison regimes in the US and the UK, he is generously stretching a point to make his case…)
    But this isn’t the issue, he continues. The criteria we should apply are those laid down in our own Bill of Rights, under which British citizens are constitutionally protected from punishments which are ‘cruel or unusual’. ( A clause inserted into our law at the time of the ‘Glorious Revolution’, says GR, to prevent any repeat of the ‘cruel and unusual’ treatment handed out to the protestant perjurer and plotter, Titus Oates, by Judge Jeffrys on the orders of catholic King James II. Oates was whipped all along the mile from Aldgate to Newgate, then frequently pilloried and bombarded with eggs, etc, and finally jailed for life – but released three years later on the accession of protestants William and Mary.)
    Using the ‘cruel and unusaul’ yardstick Robertson considers McKinnon’s probable fate in the US to be ‘as cruel and unusual as it gets’. Already depressed after years of uncertainty about his future, and in need of care because of his now-diagnosed Asperger’s syndrome, a prison sentence of at least 10 years and probably longer is considered by experts almost sure to drive him to suicide. And this, says Robertson, for a crime which in this country would probably result in a non-custodial sentence.

    He then examines Gary McKinnon’s crime in much greater detail than most other writers seem to have done. GM has commonly been described as a ‘computer hacker searching for UFOs’. But, says Robertson, this is to diminish him. It is acknowledged that he caused damage to Pentagon computers estimated at about £400,000, but this isn’t why he is being extradited. Much nearer the mark might be the message he left on the computers he accessed: “US foreign policy is akin to government-sponsored terrorism these days.” Hardly just looking for UFOs…..
    But hardly endangering US lives either. There are stories that he also left messages saying that a child could break the Pentagon’s computer security…
    So one has to wonder why the US really want Gary McKinnon. What really hurt them?
    Robertson describes how some years ago he defended a young man, the “datastream cowboy”, whose hacking into US army computers was said by the prosecution “to have caused more damage to the Pentagon than the KGB…!” He was tried in the UK and given a non-custodial sentence.
    Robertson claims that the Bill of Rights has never been mentioned in the McKinnon case, either in the courts trying it or in parliamentary debates about it – nor, he suspects, in the legal advice given to the home secretary either. In fact he says the home secretary is mistakenly labouring under the jurisdiction provided by the ECHR – the ‘watered-down version’ of the Bill of Rights, couched in ‘lowest common denominator language’.
    The former postman could still stop this extradition, says Robertson, by citing our own Bill of Rights.
    But then I don’t share your opinion of Alan Johnson as the noble ex-postman who won’t be bullied by the toffs. I see him as the ex-postman who hasn’t raised a finger to help his former postie workmates in their fight for their jobs – in fact as the apocryphal working-man who’s ” got the foreman’s job at last…”
    So I can’t see him looking too hard for ways to fight for a nobody.

    Brian writes: Thank you for this, Bob. I haven’t expressed any view about Alan Johnson, in relation to the postmen or anything else, apart from his handling of the question of Gary McKinnon’s extradition in parliament on 1 December. My ‘gut feeling’ on this is the same as most other people’s, as I make clear in my post. All I can say is that all the arguments that you make against extraditing McKinnon, and more besides, were raised in the mini-debate on Alan Johnson’s statement: he dealt carefully and uncombatively with every one: and on a careful reading of his replies I can only say, as a non-lawyer, that I found them collectively and individually convincing. The fact that this has been gone over in detail by the courts at every level from the lowest to the highest, always with the same result, is a factor that has to carry weight, if one approaches the question with a reasonably open mind. (The question of the possible relevance of the Bill of Rights was raised, by David Davis, incidentally, but — as I think you would expect in the cold light of day — Johnson made it clear that imprisonment in a low security prison — as promised by the US — after trial and all available appeals in American courts, however different from ours, could not possibly be classified as ‘cruel and unusual punishment’. To make such a judgment of the American justice system would obviously rule out extradition of anyone from the UK to the US for all time, apart from anything else. Johnson didn’t mention the possibility that McKinnon might be transferred to serve most of his sentence in a UK jail, presumably because it would be premature to speculate about that when the man hasn’t even been convicted of anything yet, but it will surely be on the cards if and when the time comes.) I urge you to read the full statement and Johnson’s replies to all the questions put with an open mind: it starts at
    as indicated in my post. I don’t think you can easily fault Johnson on this, even if you disagree with him on the few subjective issues that arise, as distinct from the points of law and precedent. I was unpleasantly surprised to arrive at that conclusion but I found it inescapable.

    I have formed an increasingly low opinion of Geoffrey Robertson as he has become more and more a campaigner and — it seems to me — less and less a reliable legal authority. Some of his opinions have struck me as frankly eccentric. I once took part in a ‘Hypothetical’ programme in which he was the moderator, and I thought him impossibly vain and not at all impressive, although at that time I had expected the opposite. However I accept that he performs a useful service in exposing legal injustices and devising interesting legal arguments on matters of controversy, so we’d be worse off on balance if he went home to Australia for good. I’m afraid however that I don’t think he would be any match for a well-briefed home secretary, on the McKinnon case anyway.

  3. John Miles says:

    You say that “the Labour Party… is there to defend the interests of the working and lower middle classes — the employees and the unemployed, the public sector workers, the public services on which the have-nots depend, the most vulnerable and defenceless in society: in general, the poor and the less well-off.” 

    Yet the Labour top brass – men like Kinnock, Blair and Mandelson – seem to have become  mega-rich without managing, or even trying very hard to manage, to bring about a proportionate improvement in the lot of ordinary people.
    I’ll give you full marks for loyalty, but I hope you’re able to forgive those of the polloi who take a more cynical view than you do.

    As for “fighting the class war,”  it’s not really wicked.
    It’s not even silly.
    It’s just stupid.

    Brian writes: John, you seem to be advancing the proposition that those who work to relieve poverty have a duty to be, and remain, poor themselves. To echo your own words, such a proposition is not really wicked. It’s not even silly. It’s just stupid.

    As for the class war: the unalterable fact is that class and the inherent conflict of interests between the classes play a significant role in virtually all UK political issues, and the two major parties are lined up by history and instinct on one side or the other of that conflict. Sometimes those class interests may be blurred, sometimes subsumed in an overall national interest such as the need to defeat an enemy that threatens the independence of the entire nation — although even then there will be conflicting class interests in the choice of measures to that overarching end. In that sense there’s no viable alternative to “fighting the class war” for anyone engaged in politics, even to the extent of casting a vote at an election. The only element of choice available is whether to pretend that class is not an issue and that only the other side “stoops to fighting the class war”: or whether to acknowledge the reality of class in almost all our affairs and to recognise that in the conflict between the classes, the only responsible political course is to take sides. As Dante famously observed, the hottest part of hell is reserved for those who are neutral. Those for whom this is excessively strong meat, and who think all talk of class embarrassing, are of course free to keep their eyes shut and carry on as if such an ugly phenomenon didn’t exist. But those who turn a blind eye to reality are inevitably hampered in the task of changing it.

  4. the unalterable fact is that class and the inherent conflict of interests between the classes play a significant role in virtually all UK political issues

    Which is one very good reason why I and many others are very happy indeed to have escaped and found countries where a sense of unity ultimately prevails over serious differences, and civil war is something to be avoided at all costs.
    And Dante’s hell was icy cold. Its ninth circle was for traitors

    Brian writes: I certainly agree about the desirability of avoiding civil war — something that Spain endured a great deal more recently than England, incidentally.

  5. Bob says:

    Brian, elements of what you say above appeared in your opening statements – which I had certainly understood, even if it might have seemed that I hadn’t. But you make no comment on my criticism of the dodgy outdatedness of the Extradition Act 2002, or on what Shami said about it. Isn’t it a fact that McKinnon is being extradited under an Act designed post-2001 to round up suspected terrorists, but which is now applied for the political reasons or on the ‘flimsiest evidence’ which Shami talks about? Are our legal powers allowing the US to pretend they think McKinnon is a suspected terrorist? And wouldn’t you deplore it if they were?
    In considering Johnson’s arguments so closely ( and, I do note, reaching your unhappy conclusion that he was right ) is it posssible that you are perhaps failing to scrutinize the nature of the American request sufficiently thoroughly?

    And I had indeed read the full transcript, including the Lord Justice’s pronouncements on McKinnon’s successive appeals – which amounted to there being not the tiniest gap left through which his lawyers could now insinuate the slightest plea. In fact the more he said the more I was convinced McKinnon’s lawyers are facing a hopeless task – not because they are misguided or wrong, but because it seemed obvious that if a British judge really wanted to get to the bottom of a request for extradition he could at least ask for evidence of harm done before deciding on the merits of the request. This would at least give the defence lawyers something to bite on. But the LJ does not seem to have done any such thing. So it hardly seems worth asking why not….
    (Saying which, I accept [a] that I’m no lawyer and so can’t know if such an apparently logical request would be permissable; and [b] that the Lord Justice in question has stated his willingness to allow all possible leeway to McKinnon’s lawyers before he pronounces.)
    And of course I noted your own sympathy with McKinnon as well as your ‘unpleasant surprise’ at deciding Johnson was right.
    I’m just here to chivvy the stalwart defender of IPP prisoners in you…..Because GM might effectively become an American equivalent.

    Brian writes: Thank you for this, Bob. I don’t think I have anything to add to what I have already written in my post and responses to comments. Alan Johnson seemed to me to have convincing answers on every point, including the alleged shortcomings in the Extradition Treaty. It’s well worth-while to read, as recommended by Tony Hatfield. It answers even more of the standard questions, sometimes via links to yet more key texts. I would still like to see the guy’s extradition blocked by judicial review or the ECHR, but I no longer think there are actually any grounds in law or even in equity for blocking it.

  6. Tim Weakley says:

    If I were the American government, aware of the previous administration’s slackness on computer security post-9/11, I would instruct the Justice Department to compromise with Mr. McKinnon.  I would guarantee him a token term in a low-security place of correction in exchange for a guilty plea and for a comprehensive statement of how he burgled the Pentagon(or whatever it was)  electronically, from where and using what software and ancillary hardware, and offer him a chance under rigorous supervision of attempting to do the same again now that security has been supposedly tightened.  I read some of the links provided in this thread, and clearly McKinnon has talents in the espionage line that shouldn’t be wasted.

    Brian writes: I suspect that the supervision of such a mercurial and unpredictable character as he tried to repeat the practice of his dark arts would require an effort out of all proportion to the likely benefit. According to the various medical reports on the implications of Mr McK’s autism, quoted in the court judgments, he has difficulty in putting himself in anyone else’s shoes when making ethical and other judgements, and in distinguishing between right and wrong in matters affecting society generally; and the evidence from his hacking into numerous US compter systems over a period of more than a year, in some cases leaving behind threats of continuing destructive activity, suggests a strongly anti-American attitude (possibly stemming from his apparent obsession with UFOs). If I were to be in charge of IT security in any of the American military, naval and intelligence establishments that Gary McKinnon attacked, I would be less than enthusiastic about asking him to do it again, or even to provide an honest and accurate account of how he did it in the first place. The Americans after all have a huge pool of computer expertise at their beck and call without needing to call in this strange Brit. The wonder is that they don’t seem to have used those massive native resources to ensure that their computer systems were 100 per cent secure. That failure appears to have cost them dearly — and is probably going to cost Mr McKinnon even more dearly.

  7. John Miles says:

    I’m sorry, I don’t seem to have expressed myself very clearly.
    Some members of the lower orders have noticed what a nice little earner sticking up for the underdog  has turned out to be; yet these plutocrats have allowed the gap between rich and poor to become even bigger than it was under Mrs Thatcher, and quite a few of the poor to pay a bigger portion of their income in tax than quite a few of the rich.
    I was trying to say I hoped you’d empathize with such people if they take a more cynical view of Labour than you do.

    What makes you think Dante’s got it right about the hottest part of hell?
    If he has, there’s one consolation anyway: if I have to go there the chances are I’ll find its denizens a pretty easy-going, friendly bunch of people.

    Like Mr Cameron and you yourself, I might well be sneered at by the likes of Mr Brown for being a public school toff.
    Does that necessarily mean we’re incapable of appreciating other people’s problems?

    After public school I joined up and served – as an officer.
    Then Oxbridge.
    I’ve never been to a state school.
    I’ve never  lived – as opposed to just stayed – in a council house.
    The only football I’ve ever played is “the game for hooligans played by gentlemen.”
    When I was in my forties the firm I was working for went bust, and I was on the dole for six months or so; at the time it seemed like the end of the world, but by many people’s standards it was just a fleabite.
    I don’t have to live on the old age pension.
    The only means-tested benefits I’ve ever had were my children’s assisted places. That was nightmare enough, but nothing to what my ancient, widowed mother-in-law has to go through.
    I suppose I talk posh, and this probably helps when you’re dealing with the police, shop assistants, health workers, minor public servants etc.

    A pretty grim CV, you have to admit.
    On the other hand, throughout my working life I’ve worked closely and mixed socially with people from all kinds of backgrounds.
    I’ve managed to be on friendly terms with almost all of them; on the rare occasions when there’s been bad blood, it’s never been caused by class.

    It seems to me that the best – indeed the only sensible – way to “fight” the class system is to ignore it and try to treat other people decently.
    This rules out making nasty remarks, however witty, about other people’s class.

    Such remarks are less obnoxious than racial ones, but they have something in common therewith.
    It’s not your fault, after all, you went to a public school.
    In the jargon of our national game, don’t play the man, play the ball.

    Brian writes: Thanks. Actually I agree with the great bulk of what you say. My CV resembles yours pretty closely and I don’t think class has ever intruded into my personal relations (although for all I know, from the other chap’s point of view I may be kidding myself). It’s in the public sphere rather than the personal that the obstinately durable British, or English, class system colours and often distorts virtually every issue, although it’s fashionable to pretend otherwise — especially if, like you and me, one is on the relatively prosperous, middle-class side of the great divide. It certainly dominates our politics.

  8. I certainly agree about the desirability of avoiding civil war — something that Spain endured a great deal more recently than England, incidentally.

    There is indeed a very big difference between how people see a civil war that is in living memory and one that is the subject of fancy dress reenactments of events that took place nearly 400 years ago. The difference is that people who can remember it will go to extraordinary lengths to avoid repeating it.

    Brian writes: I can imagine all sorts of unpleasant things happening to the UK in the coming years, including even its disappearance as a single sovereign state; but fortunately I see no prospect whatever of civil war, however distant our memories of it might be.

  9. John Miles says:

    Lets not lose too much sleep about the feelings of the “other chaps” we’ve had to do with.
    In theory it’s conceivable they could all be two-faced grudgers.
    But the odds against more than one or two being so are pretty astonomical.

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