You Couldn’t Make It Up Department (8): recent items to alarm or amuse
The following more or less weird items have appeared in the UK press in the last few days. They have struck me as unintentionally revealing or chilling, or as suggesting the opposite conclusion to the one imagined by the originator.
A 2004 Commission for Racial Equality inquiry … found little had been achieved by race equality training introduced after the Metropolitan police were branded "institutionally racist" for their failings during the Stephen Lawrence murder inquiry…. The report also found that tests designed to detect racist officers were more likely to catch black and Asian recruits than whites. Ethnic minority officers were also more likely than whites to be targeted for disciplinary action by their forces.
It doesn't seem to have occurred to the Inquiry that the explanation for this could just possibly be that the ethnic minority recruits are likelier to be racist and to commit disciplinary offences than their white colleagues. But precisely the opposite conclusion seems to have been drawn. (I'm reminded of a highly intelligent white South African friend of mine who strenuously argues that only white people can be racists…)
Goodman and Mulcaire [News of the World Royal Editor and footballer turnedprivate detective respectively] pleaded guilty to conspiracy to intercept communications without lawful authority, under the Criminal Law Act 1977. Mulcaire also pleaded guilty to a further five counts of unlawful interception of communications under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) 2000… Bugging and phone-tapping are also forbidden under the self-regulatory Press Complaints Commission code of practice, unless it can be shown to be in the public interest.
"It is a totally unacceptable practice unless there is a compelling public interest reason for carrying it out," said the PCC chairman, Sir Christopher Meyer, yesterday. [My emphasis — BLB]
So the code of practice of the Press Complaints Commission, by its Chairman's own admission, takes it upon itself to license journalists to break an array of laws by committing an offence if "there is a compelling public interest reason for carrying it out", although Sir C. Meyer, H.M. former Ambassador in Washington, doesn't appear to have spotted the anomaly. This looks like a loophole the size of the Channel Tunnel, especially since few of our tabloid editors or their hacks seem to be able to distinguish between (a) what the public are interested in, and (b) what is in the public interest.
Dozens of schools are using creationist teaching materials condemned by the government as "not appropriate to support the science curriculum", the Guardian has learned. The packs promote the creationist alternative to Darwinian evolution called intelligent design and the group behind them said 59 schools are using the information as "a useful classroom resource". A teacher at one of the schools said it intended to use the DVDs to present intelligent design as an alternative to Darwinism. Nick Cowan, head of chemistry at Bluecoat school, in Liverpool, said: "Just because it takes a negative look at Darwinism doesn't mean it is not science. I think to critique Darwinism is quite appropriate."
Here is the head of a science department, at what looks like a serious school, equating the religious belief in "intelligent design", for which there is not a shred of evidence, with Darwinism, whose central tenets are supported by encyclopaedic scientific, empirical evidence, and which is continuously "critiqued", as Mr Cowan inelegantly calls it — although not by any religious techniques or criteria. Yet this intellectual rubbish is being taught as if it was science.
Patient survey will determine GP bonuses
Patients unhappy with access to their GP will be able to affect the income of their surgery in a government move certain to anger the medical profession. Patricia Hewitt, the health secretary, is planning the NHS's biggest survey, sending questionnaires to five million patients asking whether they find it easy enough to get a prompt appointment with the family doctor, and at a convenient time.
Part of GPs' incomes will depend on achieving a high level of satisfaction among their patients.
We all know what millions of people expect of their doctors, whom many of their patients treat as a mixture of domestic servants and miracle-workers. How many of those millions are likely to express satisfaction in such a survey, which will inevitably look like an invitation to complain? Either the ever-patronising Ms Hewitt honestly believes that her survey can have some real value and validity, in which case she's an idiot, or she doesn't, in which case — oh, never mind.
Business wants lower, simpler tax, says CBI
Business leaders are unhappy with the corporate tax regime and are urging the government to cut taxes on business and simplify the system. Releasing a poll of leading firms as its annual conference begins in London today, the CBI said three-quarters of members thought the corporate tax regime had worsened in the past five years in spite of cuts in the main rate of corporation tax to 30% by the Labour government…
But a spokesman for Mr Brown hit back, saying that the UK had one of the most competitive business climates in the world. "Corporation tax is at its lowest ever level and lowest in the G7, having been reduced by 33% to 30%. The World Bank recently found that the typical UK business faces the lowest total tax rate in the G7, the fifth lowest in the OECD, and a low burden of tax administration and compliance when compared to other countries…
Does the CBI ever stop to think what its continual whingeing about "the burden of tax" and its demands to be awarded more money at everyone else's expense (yes, it's a zero sum game) do for the image of business in Britain? The spectacle of top company executives paying themselves and each other several millions of pounds apiece every year while the rest of us — or at any rate those of working age — are about to be obliged to work until we are nearly 70 before being allowed to draw even a miserly state pension, is peculiarly distasteful. Presumably the CBI doesn't care what the rest of us think: they just want to put the squeeze on a New Labour government obsessed by the compulsive need to appear "business-friendly".
Ministers plan to break pledge on freedom of information
Ministers are today accused of rushing through drastic proposals that would "neuter" the Freedom of Information Act. The government is not planning to hold a proper public consultation on the proposals, breaking a pledge made by a minister in parliament.
Lord Falconer, the constitutional affairs secretary, with the backing of ministerial colleagues, is putting forward measures that would make it simpler for government to reject requests for information from the public on the basis of being "too expensive to answer"….
Under present rules public bodies can reject requests if the cost of retrieving documents exceeds £600 for Whitehall and £450 for other public bodies. Ministers want to make it more likely these caps would be breached by allowing departments to count time taken to read documents and discuss their release.
It's the substance of these changes that is so poisonously objectionable, even more so than the shameless breach of a ministerial pledge to hold a proper consultation exercise before making them. New Labour on taking office duly introduced, with a justifiably proud fanfare, reforms that it had loudly promised when in opposition, such as the Freedom of Information Act and the Human Rights Act, and now spends the rest of its period of office busily trying to subvert them. Not only are they trying to increase by a huge margin the number of applications under the FoIA that government departments may legally reject on cost grounds: they have also recently sought to argue that the release of information under the Act doesn't mean that the applicant who has received it is allowed to publish it — as Craig Murray has discovered to his cost, although the media who are the likeliest victims of this Alice in Wonderland proposition don't seem to have noticed. As I have observed before, what fools they take us for! (Perhaps they're right.)
And, finally, —
Police want power to crack down on offensive demo chants and slogans
Police are to demand new powers to arrest protesters for causing offence through the words they chant and the slogans on their placards and even headbands.
The country's biggest force, the Metropolitan police, is to lobby the attorney general, Lord Goldsmith, because officers believe that large sections of the population have become increasingly politicised, and there is a growing sense that the current restrictions on demonstrations are too light… Trouble at recent protests involving Islamic extremists has galvanised the Met's assistant commissioner, Tarique Ghaffur, into planning a crackdown…
Mr Ghaffur has previously advocated banning flag burning. But this document would take the police a lot further. Mr Ghaffur says there is a "growing national and international perception" that the police have been too soft on extremist protesters… What we are seeing in effect is a rise in the politicisation of middle England and the emergence of a significant challenge for capital city policing."
As well as the absence of a law banning the burning of a flag, there is no law banning the burning of a religious text.
The police want powers to tackle a "grey area" in the array of public order laws. At present, causing offence by itself is not a criminal offence.
Comment on this is surely superfluous. Take note of those chilling words in the last sentence quoted: "At present…". We must suppose that in submitting his proposals to New Labour Ministers, Mr Ghaffur means to be constructive and reassuring. My fear is that Dr Reid, yet another home secretary not exactly famous for his liberal attachment to fundamental human rights, will think them simply spiffing. Well, they'd form another wonderfully appropriate element in that Blair 'legacy' that he seems so concerned about.