A flag by any other name?

It has been some time since the NAP has surfaced and even longer since it has gone into print. For the uninitiated here follows a brief history of the NAP.

In 2011 I was talking to a friend (Jo Mitchell) on a minor point of detail about a subject now long forgotten. The detail was important to us but we were far from typical. A passing colleague asked if we were the annual meeting of the NPA? – He then explained this referred to the National Pedants Association.  Not wishing to disappoint we explained it was more correctly known as the National Association for Pedantry and so the NPA was born. A small number of life memberships have since been granted, most notably to my husband and Mr Andrew Tovell of Luga Barooga.

 

union-flag

The United Kingdom flag

This morning, a friend posted a comment on social media relating to the visit of Prince William to Poland. During a walkabout, the national flag was referred to by William as the ‘Union Jack’.

 

The post which spurred me to call an emergency sitting of the NAP included the lines “Prince William greeting Polish children teaching them that they’re holding the ‘Union Jack’, it’s the Union Flag you idiot. We pay you a fortune, at least learn the basics!”.  Immediately I ran for my copies of fun with flags (Sheldon Cooper 2015) and Flags for Dummies (a minor volume of my own currently in progress).

Before going any further, I should declare our respective interests. Tony is, unfortunately, a declared Republican. In contrast, I sit here in my national flag pyjamas, wearing my Jubilee slippers fashioning a 1:50 scale replica of the late Queen Mother crafted from gin labels. Actually, put that difference aside as I don’t think it’s particularly relevant, but is this really just a flag by any other name?

You may think I’m putting the jack back in Jackanory or attempting to wrap myself in a flag of a particular style, I’m not. However, was William incorrect in calling the national flag the Union Jack? Of course whatever I now write is subject to varying opinions but here is one sourced view of the world that suggests not.

 

QAnnebadge

Queen Anne’s heraldic emblem showing the Tudor rose and Scottish thistle growing from the same stem.

As no story today is complete without a nod to Brexit, here’s mine. If you think getting out of an organisation is tough to achieve in two years, read your history. It is nothing, compared to the union of England and Scotland. (Although being a monarchist isn’t necessarily cool and fashionable it does give you some great historical sources from which to draw).

 

When James VI of Scotland acceded to the throne of England in 1603 (James I) the two crowns became united. Job done you might think? Far from it. Over a century later the union of nations was still incomplete only being agreed in 1707 with the Acts of Union (good luck Mssrs Barnier, Juncker, Tusk and Verhofstadt)

It was in this period of instability, where trade, diplomacy and the occasional pillaging still needed to take place, that the first joint flags became evident. The most obvious examples of this were ships passing at sea and needing to know if the vessel ahead was friendly or not.

 

Royal_Navy_Jack_1643

English Naval Jack 1643

The solution was to fly both the flag of England and Scotland on naval vessels. James I gave a Royal decree in 1606 that the ships of the Kingdom of Great Britain “shall bear on their maintops the red cross commonly known as St George’s cross and the white cross commonly called St Andrew’s cross”

 

This is exactly what happened – this example dates from 1643 [Source: National Maritime Museum, National Archives] and shows both national flags of the time side by side. (Note the red cross of St George touching the blue of the Saltire, it’s relevant later).

This was referred to as the Naval Jack – however, so were flags before and after. The term jack referring to any flag flown in a specific part of the rigging for a particular purpose, namely identifying the nationality (akin to modern registration) of a Tudor, Stuart or later vessel.

Jack: “A ship’s flag of smaller size then the ensign, used at sea as a signal, or as a mark of distinction; the small flag which is flown from the jack-staff at the bow of a vessel (formerly at the sprit-sail topmast head) and by which the nationality of a ship is indicated, as in British Jack, Dutch Jack, French Jack” [Source: OED]

However, these jacks were not and could not be flags in their technical heraldic sense. So when flown correctly on a ship it may be a jack, but the instance above could not be a flag. Why? – Well, it comes down to that pesky touching of the red and the blue. In heraldry and on heraldic flags, that’s like french kissing your granny infront of the Queen .. it just can’t happen. No two colours may touch. This led to the white border being added to the cross of St George in later incarnations.

 

Union flag 1606

Union Flag 1606

A solution could have been to adopt the heraldic Union flag of 1606 (note no diagonal red cross). However, that had been ‘knocked together’ rapidly – the equivalent of a couple of pages photoshopping it the evening before the coronation. It was altogether too new and quirky.

 

Apart from that, there was the small matter of a Royal decree which specified something different. Now I don’t know about you but Tudor monarchs weren’t perhaps at the top of the ‘open to suggestion’ listings so why should the new Stuart King be any different? Hardly surprising his decree held sway.

However, with Queen Anne coming to the throne in 1705, the navy was presented with the Union Flag (above) to be flown as the jack (that was on the sprit-sail of vessels). This was what was flow during coronation celebrations. Two years later the Acts of Union were finally passed in both countries.
On 28th July 1707, Queen Ann issued a Royal proclamation that ‘this flag shall be the National flag of Great Britain, for use ashore and afloat’ – So from that point it could be both a flag and a jack.

This led to the belief that it was a flag on land and a jack when flown on vessels. The proclamation referred to ‘this flag’ and that was the Naval Jack becoming the ‘National flag’. Nowhere is Union Jack or Union Flag mentioned. Technically, and deliberately, neither Union Jack or Union flag was adopted by either the Monarch, Parliament or the Navy.

 

ukend

The National Flag of the United Kingdom

 

The navy simply refers to the national flag as ‘The Union’ – the truncation being very deliberate.

Statute, proclamation and naval orders continue to refer to the National Flag.

The Union flag does of course exist but it isn’t this flag. It is the 1606 Union Flag which has no red diagonal cross (representing Ireland) and if you want to start waving that around anytime soon .. good luck in Derry/Londonderry. The Union Jack is similarly wrong although it remains at least colloquially the most common nomenclature for the national flag of the United Kingdom.

So you can certainly say William was wrong – the Union Jack is a convenient fabrication to cover over centuries old fragilities between England, Ireland and Scotland. But, equally so was my esteemed colleague. It is no more the Union Flag than it is the Union Jack … whether flown on land, sea or out of your bedroom window.

Whatever it is, I better make sure all my pictures are in their correct orientation or I’ll be drummed out of the NAP.

Does Germany still have a ‘special responsibility’?

This last weekend saw my fourth visit to Berlin over the past two years. Although I had previously been to the city a couple of times pre-unification, these had been more ‘passing through with work’. It has only been over the last four visits that I have really come to like the city in a similar way to my existing love of Paris.

Charlottenburg Palace, Berlin

Charlottenburg Palace, Berlin

However, it is certainly my view that Berlin has changed quite noticeably in those visits. This weekend, I became aware of a strong and growing social resentment. At the risk of falling into a Fawlty Towers cliché, this is, in my view related to Germany’s psyche and specifically its continued sensitivities about its wartime history.

If you visit Berlin, the city carries these scars quite obviously. The Jewish memorial is justifiably prominent, deeply moving and thought provoking. However, arguably, it has become the singular physical representation of the nations consciousness. There is an emotional and sometimes a physical blanking out of the war years. The equally striking and emotionally charged Russian war memorial is comparatively unknown.

Berlin2If you are lucky enough to visit the revamped 1930’s Olympic stadium you will notice the almost Egyptian chiselling of historic symbols from the fabric of the building. Hardly surprising as nobody least of all me would want to see Swastikas retained for historic integrity. However, this has served as a strong symbol reflecting the ongoing sensitivities.

Within the rebuilt German Parliament, you will read a brief summary of the war years and an explanation that this history gives Germany a ‘special responsibility’ towards minorities and victims of religious or political persecution. This can appear to a non German national who wasn’t alive during the war to be over-compensation. Nobody would equate modern Germany with the days of the Nazi regime. Few consider the German people responsible for the actions of its political ruling class at the time. I have certainly seen nothing but a progressive, friendly, open and very welcoming country. I believe the rest of the world has come to terms with the actions of 1940’s Germany – I for one would like Germany to do the same.

Angela Merkel

Angela Merkel

The current mass migrations from Syria led to a reiteration of this special responsibility with an open door policy announced for any Syrian refugees. It was notable on the day before I left that the definition of refugee in German media was becoming an issue. Should it be limited to the UN or legal definitions or more broadly move to what others would refer to as economic migrants.

I hasten to say that I have great sympathy and an natural impulse to accept genuine refugees (those with a genuine fear of loss of life/persecution). The current position with mass migrations across Europe is an appalling one, however, does that make all concerned refugees? The knee-jerk instinctive reaction from  German political leaders means these questions were simply not addressed.

German Protesters against refugees

German Protesters against refugees

This weekend, in Berlin, I was amazed at what appeared to be a vault face based on atypical political naivety.

In an amazing demonstration of surprise, Germany changed it’s approach on border controls stating it was surprised at the number of refugees arriving. Munich was reported by the German press as failing to cope with 30,000 people having arrived in 2 days. I wonder what was expected when you effectively announce an open door policy? Whether you agree with the policy or not, surely you can and should hardly be surprised when people offered a place in Germany head to Germany.

More worryingly, I detected a change in tone among the German public (at least those reported in the press and in the café society of Berlin. Demonstrators took to the streets in Freital, Germany demonstrating against the provision of accommodation being provided to refugees. It appeared this was a criticism of the unstructured nature of the governments policy.  Whilst protestors accepted refugees and those seeking asylum they strongly resisted economic migration on such a scale.

Alarmingly Rhabbi Barkhan, Director of one of Germany’s leading Jewish support charities spoke out publically about the concerns of the German Jewish community being able to accommodate and integrate upwards of 800,000 people with what they perceived to be a natural hostility towards them.

“We as Jews have compassion for the refugees… there are children from war-torn countries. But on the other hand, we’re afraid they may be terrorists. As Jews, we are supporting Israel and our people. Here, they don’t need us,”

Whether or not you agree with these concerns, many in Germany clearly believe these internal frictions could have been avoided with a little more thought and reconsidering what Germany’s special responsibility means in the current climate.

Berlin5What I noticed during my most recent visit was the increased number of people sleeping rough on the streets. Many of the budget hotels were being used to home migrants without any obvious support or assistance to integrate or even understand their surroundings.

When travelling back from an evening out in Berlin, I was amazed at the sea of bodies on either side of the river. Sheltering under boxes, blankets and plastic, these refugees whilst safer than in Syria had found a far less favourable Germany than they had anticipated.

During the day, numerous migrants were collecting discarded bottles, cans and plastics to sell in order to support themselves. A few days after announcing a welcome to all, Germany had closed it’s borders, reinforced it’s most porous borders with the military and called on the rest of Europe to accept mandated immigration quotas to help support Germany’s special responsibility. As a visitor in Berlin, it didn’t look promising at this point. Following Hungary, Austria and Serbia announcing that they were not bound by Germany’s open door policy all border controls in those countries were strengthened.

Berlin6On my last day in Berlin, the  news covered the border closures. A German couple at breakfast surprised me by saying ‘It won’t be long before they start shooting at them’. Prophetic words indeed. After landing back in the UK I remembered these words as Hungary deployed water cannon and CS spray to disperse those seeking to cross the border to Germany.

So how much has a default and instinctive belief in a special responsibility helped those attempting to cross the continent. I for one am uncertain that  it has done much to solve the underlying issues.

I hope that Germany will reconsider it’s position. Seventy years after the end of World War II the special responsibility is no longer appropriate as a default position. The impact has been much wider than Germany itself and continues to impact neighbouring states. Ironically, it may already have increased the likelihood of conflict within existing minority communities. A more controlled implementation, (which need not mean fewer people accepted) may allow the impact of a generous humanitarian policy to be more measured and less challenging for all concerned.

Can a ‘Good European’ support the Conservative view on the Human Rights Act?

Magna Carta

Magna Carta 1215

I suspect if you ask most Brits what they understood by Human Rights, they would be very clear in their answer. I also suspect most people regardless of their political view would be opposed to such practices as torture, being held without charge, fair trials, freedom of speech and the like.

It is also a commonly held view that Human Rights in the United Kingdom were somehow introduced by ‘requiring’ King John into signing the Magna Carta in 1215. Whilst that is one view of history, it isn’t entirely supported by the facts.

Magna Carter (the Great Charter) of 1215 could be seen as tackling Human Rights of its day. In particular, it dealt with protection of church rights, protection for the barons from illegal imprisonment, access to swift justice, and limitations on feudal payments to the Crown.

However, these rights were hardly universal – note it only protected Barons from illegal imprisonment and access to swift justice. The lesser known fact is that even this charter was restating existing rights which had existed from Norman times.

English Bill of Rights 1689

English Bill of Rights 1689

In recent weeks and months the focus of debate has settled on the protection of the Human Rights Act 1998 (ECHR) which incorporated the rights contained within the European Convention of Human Rights into UK Law.

Whatever your view on the ECHR it has sometimes been presented as if there had been no human rights in Britain prior to 1998. It also, in my opinion, overlooks the contribution to protecting the citizen made by the Bill of Rights 1689, the Petition of Rights, the Habeas Corpus Act 1679 and the Parliament Acts of 1911 and 1949. These taken in the round form the basis of the unwritten British constitution.

In fact, the English (as it then was) Bill of Rights is considered to have strongly influenced the United States Bill of Rights and the basis of the European Convention on Human Rights itself.

With the new conservative led government promising to replace the European Convention with a new British Bill of Rights, this whole area has become politically charged and wrapped up with views on Europe and Britain’s place (or not) in the European Union.

Whilst to some extent that connection is inevitable, is it possible to feel (as I do) that I am both British and European – albeit that my European identity is a geographic belonging above anything else. If so, can I still feel a good European and have some sympathy with the desire for national Courts to have the final say on some aspects of law, potentially including the definition of Human Rights?

One of the difficulties in discussing this whole area is the complexity of the various European Courts, their relationship with national Courts and how conventions fit within that framework. This rather etherial and in some senses technical miasma makes the rational discussion of options difficult to find.

Whilst I never thought I would be recommending Jacob Rees-Mogg (a member of Parliament recently described as a walking anachronism) as a clear and objective reference point, this is the position in which I find myself. Whether or not you agree with his arguments, this interview is the closest I have found to a rational outline of the available options. For those interested in the detail of the debate, Jacob Rees-Mogg discusses the possibilities here in a clip from the BBC’s Daily Politics.

So given the Gordian knot that is likely to be found in an attempt to amend the status quo, what exactly is wrong with the current state of affairs. Well, again that depends on your political and personal perspective on such matters as judicial accountability and the role of the nation state v. the European Union.

catThe most commonly cited example may be that of the half Bolivian cat. Although somewhat over-egged, it is an example used by those who think that ‘foreign’ judges have taken the concept of Human Rights a little too far. In this case (2009) a Bolivian found himself about to be deported. (It is unclear whether this was for a criminal matter or over staying his visa etc). However, he appealed his deportation on the basis that it breached his Human Rights – namely the right to a family life.

The case revolved around his relationship (of roughly six months). As part of this relationship, he had purchased a cat which was used as contributory evidence to prove that he had fully integrated into the country. Whilst the role of the cat is often over-stated, the relationship was found to be sufficient to prevent his deportation on Human Rights Grounds.

Others, of which I’m usually  but not consistently one, believe that a sovereign nation’s Supreme Court should be just that. For me it isn’t a question of ‘johnny foreigner’ having over-extended the legislation or not, it’s more a question of national sovereignty. I have no issue with eminently sensible conventions (including ECHR and those of the UN for example) being referenced and considered as required. I just happen to think that should be done by each Nation State.

starbucksIf the Convention on Human Rights was a little more focused I might take a different view. One might think, for example, that Human Rights applied to Humans – but they apply equally to bodies Corporate – so companies such as IBM, HSBC and Starbucks find themselves protected by Human Rights conventions.

Whilst I have no issue with robust legal protection for companies in terms of their intellectual property, copyright, trading etc, it is hard to see how I can impact on the Human RIghts of a corporate body.

What is clear, whether you make the national sovereignty argument, object to the ‘stretching’ of legal definitions or simply object to a supra-national Court this topic is set to dominate British politics over the next 3-4 months, As is often the case, you wait some time for a contentious Human Rights case and then three come along all at once.

Over the next few weeks, three high profile cases could provide further fuel to the fire and reinvigorate the calls (at least in the right wing of the Conservative party) to exit from the Court or the Convention or both.

The first case referred to the grand chamber involves three men who attempted to carry out suicide bombings in the London Underground. They received sentences of 40 years. However, during their arrest they were initially refused access to a lawyer to allow for an urgent interview (the ticking bomb interview). Initially, the Court held that they had not been prevented from having a fair trial. However, this is now being appealed to Strasbourg

The second matter relates to “whole-life tariffs” – life sentences, where the defendant is told they will never be released from Jail. In essence, the European Court will assess whether this sits well with the words of lord chief justice, Lord Thomas of Cwmgieddwhen he said that “the law of England and Wales provides an offender hope, or the possibility of release, in exceptional circumstances” If they find this is not the case, this could end whole-life tariffs in their current form.

The final case relates to the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes by Metropolitan police officers in . Lawyers representing his family claim that the failure to prosecute individual officers for the shooting breached Menezes’s rights under article 2 of the human rights convention.

With such incendiary cases about to reach the Courts, Human Rights may again be next month’s political football, Given this, my qualms over wishing to see these decisions made at a national level can sit on the back burner until I see exactly which way the legal winds are blowing.

One thing is fairly certain – we better get used to the news being heavily focused on what we mean by and how we interpret Human Rights.

So much Government: Thoughts of an unexpected constitutional monarchist.

The second institution I visited whilst in Canberra was the Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia. For the Brits reading this, please don’t confuse this with our usual meaning of the word Commonwealth. – Perhaps a little explanation and context is in order (with apologies to my new and existing Australian friends for the bits I get wrong). So firstly a brief revisitation of the history of Australia for my fellow Brits.

Captain James Cook RN

Captain James Cook RN

The first record of Europeans sailing into Australian waters is dated around 1606, and includes their observations of the land known as Terra Australis Incognita (unknown southern land). This was by Dutchman, Willem Janszoon. A former buccaneer, William Dampier, was the first Englishman to land on the Australian mainland ( 5th January 1688 in his ship the Cygnet).He was the first European to report Australia’s peculiar ‘large hopping animals’. Capt James Cook didn’t chart the Australian East Coast until 1770 in HM Barque Endeavour.

So between 1606 and 1770 numerous contacts were made and around that time (not least because of the British East India Company) a number of interactions with Europeans took place. Contrary to popular belief in parts of Europe, not all those landing on Australian soil were convicts. In fact, Britain and France conducted most ‘transportations’. The first British was ‘cast into exile’ according to Court records in 1788. The last transportation took place from England in 1868.

As a result of these to-ings and fro-ings, six States emerged being (alphabetically) New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania (formerly Van Diemen’s Land), Victoria and Western Australia. Details of their evolution can be found here.

Then there are the territories. These are lesser jurisdictions and are not ‘full states’. In many senses they are governed directly from the Federal Commonwealth. The mainland territories are: Australian Capital Territory (Canberra and surrounds) and Northern Territory. In addition, the staunchly independent Australia (and rightly too) holds a number of overseas territories being: Ashmore and Cartier Territory, Australian Antarctic Territories, Cocos (Keeling) Islands, Coral Sea Islands, Christmas Island, Heard and McDonald Islands, Indian Ocean Territories, Jervis Bay Territory and Norfolk Island.

I wont go into the differences between States and Territories except arguably the most important difference being the number of representatives elected to the Senate (upper house).

Purely for the purposes of shared understanding and explanation to a UK audience, think of the modern Federated setup in this way. Consider the Government in Canberra to be the National Government of Australia. (A phrase which causes some difficulty in Australia) The six original states can be considered as sovereign states much like those in the US. However, they are also in some senses a kind of super charged Local Authority in terms a Brit would understand.

Flag of Australia

Flag of Australia

The first challenge to the brain of a UK visitor could be summed up in the question “How many countries exist on the mainland of Australia?”
Surely the answer is One ? – Well of course in many senses it is, but students of Australian constitutional law (and those who have them as their significant others) will tell you that each of the six original states is a ‘sovereign state’ in it’s own right. Each with Queen Elizabeth II as their head of state.

Nobody I have asked (and I’ve asked a few) has been able to tell me the difference between a ‘sovereign state’ and a country.  However, they all pointed out that the recognition of the original six states is preserved by the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Australia. Interestingly, that Commonwealth Constitution was enacted by the UK Parliament. Powers to the Australian territories were in turn granted by the Commonwealth of Australia with the States being autonomous in their own right.

The States were brought together in Federation in 1901 (much later than I had thought) with that overarching entity being the Commonwealth of Australia. Some Australians have made a comparison between this relationship and that of the member states of the EU. In that model, Canberra becomes a type of Supranational body. With these nuggets of information and background firmly planted in my head, we made our way to tour the Australian Parliament.

Australian Parliament

Australian Parliament

The new Australian Parliament buildings are situated at one end of  Anzac Parade. The architects and designers were reportedly extremely keen to ensure that the Parliament was not sitting ‘above’ the people it represented but rather that the people were above it’s Parliament.

This thinking led to the excavation of a large hill in Canberra where the Parliament was then constructed and the hill rebuilt around and above the Parliament. Indeed, you can walk up the hill to the point immediately under the rather impressive and imposing flagpole. At that point you are indeed above the Parliamentary chambers.

It was a huge political statement to design a Parliament in this way, although arguably only partially successful. The hill is still significantly higher than most of Canberra and some height above the old Parliamentary buildings it replaced.

The Government is made up of two houses (broadly following the Westminster model). The lower house being the House of Representatives with the upper house being the Senate. Both are elected (although at different times and for different periods of office). Both are also considered to have parity within the governmental structures.

House of Representatives

House of Representatives

The House of Representatives has a familiar feel to members of other Commonwealth countries and certainly to anyone familiar with the Westminster Parliament.

The members of the house are elected by a form of preferred alternative vote and it isn’t unusual to have a significant number (in excess of 20) parties and/or candidates on a ballot paper for the lower house.

The green (a blue-green representing the nations gum tree leaves) mirrors the UK House of Commons. Less adversarial in shape, the basic  structures are very similar including the dispatch boxes, bar of the Commons and Mace representing the Crown (although not it’s power as in the UK).

In other regards, the lower house felt very familiar to me although ironically, placing the Parliament in its own government centric territory did make me wonder whether it feels any more relevant and representative of Australia? Some of the same difficulties around the ‘Westminster village’ seemed to be present by virtue of having created a government centric territory.

The Australian Senate

The Australian Senate

The upper house (Senate) had a similarly superficial similarity. The red house (similar to the house of lords) is actually more shades of pink to represent some of the flowering species in Australia.

The Westminster ‘thrones’ are substituted for maple chairs for the Governor General. The only other significant difference in layout is  the reallocation of the ‘Lords Spiritual’ benches (Bishops and archbishops in the UK house of lords) to political advisors.

However, the differences in this house are more profound. Firstly it is a wholly elected house. Secondly, it views itself as having parity with the House of Representatives within the broader Government. This is subtly but importantly different to the UK where the House of Lords considers itself a legitimate amending house but ultimately subordinate in terms of the will of the House of Commons.

As I toured the Parliament building I found myself experiencing an unexpected hardening of views relating to the UK political system. There just seems to be so much government fighting for the same territory in Australia. I should stress that I’m not making a value judgement or criticism of the system in Australia. Given the history described above it has evolved organically to suit the needs of the country. However, it made me more firm in the view that the current system in the UK actually works quite well for us too.

I wouldn’t (and couldn’t) justify creating a Westminster system from scratch for a new State. Equally, I suspect many Australians would iron out some of their Constitutional idiosyncrasies and would equally not start afresh from where they are today?

Canberra Parliamentary Building Flagpole

Canberra Parliamentary Building Flagpole

As someone brought up pre-devolution in the UK, I struggle with the number of Parliaments and Governments in play. Each State has its own Parliament and Supreme Court. Similarly Canberra has the Commonwealth (Australian) Parliament with reserved national policy powers. These include the right to issue currency, defence, immigration and similarly national issues. However, as three Australian lawyers have told me the legal community could argue for ever over those interpretations and the extent to which the State and Federal powers overlap. I have started to see similar debates over the UK West Lothian question and ‘independence’ for Scotland and Wales.

Whilst accepting that the House of Lords is an anachronistic hang-over from Supreme rule of the Monarchy, it is an effective second chamber despite being appointed. Two Australian lawyers have mistakenly commented that the UK has no upper house – so it isn’t just my preconceptions that have been challenged during my visit.

Despite it’s non elected status, (some might say because of it), there is no ‘battle for supremacy’ between the two Houses of Parliament. Nor does electoral drive play as prominent a part as I have seen in both the US and Australia.

I could continue to consider the differences here. As you can imagine it has led to some interesting but always polite and good natured political discussions with Vaughan. However, I think I have settled on the position that both systems serve their respective countries well given their history,  culture and national  psyche. However, they would probably not transfer well one to the other.

Perhaps there is more truth in the suggestion that we all end up with the governments we deserve.

 

 

Adults must be escorted at all times.

I would be the first person to acknowledge that some adults carry out terrible acts against children. I also strongly believe that any civilised society should seek to protect the most vulnerable and unable to protect themselves.

However, I am starting to have a problem with a growing tendency to blanket ban single people without first trying more targeted or proportionate measures.

No singles please.

No singles please.

In the United States it isn’t unusual for some parks (or parts of parks) to be restricted as zones where adults can only enter if accompanied  by a child.

Whilst I do have a problem with this at an intellectual level, I can accept that a toddlers play area (where that is the only use) could legitimately be restricted in this way. However, I do struggle to accept being excluded from a public area maintained at public expense merely because genetically, through sexual orientation or just luck, I am not the parent or guardian of a child.

In the United Kingdom, the restriction has been relatively limited. Possibly the largest organisation to impose the restriction is the Legoland group of companies. Even here I can accept their business choice (although it isn’t one I would make in the same way myself).  With no disrespect to Legoland, I can’t imagine there are many single adults queuing to see the Castaway Camp or ride on the Duplo Viking River splash. In short, the venue is not merely primarily aimed at children but is exclusively designed for their entertainment.

However, recently, several establishments with a much more mixed environment have moved to impose a broad brush ban on single adults. One example (although not the only example by any means) is Puxton Park near Minehead in Somerset (UK).

A somerset grandfather who had previously attended the park with his grandchildren is reported to have returned at a later date on his own to see an advertised falconry display only to be turned away as a single male over fears of pedophilia risk to children.

In a rather clumsy statement from the park’s managing director, this exclusion was defended on the following grounds:

“This has been blown out of all proportion. The main aspect not being reported is that Puxton Park is predominantly an attraction for children aged 0 years to 7 years with 90% of the park dedicated fully to child’s play, which is not suitable for lone adults.”

“Some adults may be interested in our falconry department and we offer falconry experience days which are open to all. We have not set out to discriminate against single adults but we take child protection extremely seriously.”

“We would rather be over zealous when unaccompanied adults visit us armed with cameras than put children at any potential risk. Even schools follow similar policies with regards to the photography of children.

Our members fully support our decisions and we have received nothing but praise for our policy including positive feedback from a Child Protection Specialist, who commended us for our child protection principals.

Within seven years we have only had one complaint about this policy from the gentlemen last week.

At the time of setting the policy the other parks within the area had a similar stance to us. I have spoken to two or three similar client-based parks this morning and they still have the same policy as we do. I’m not going to name names as it’s unprofessional of me to do so.

In light of this coverage we will look at what other parks are doing with their admissions policy, speak to our customers and review.”

– ALISTAIR MEAD MANAGING DIRECTOR OF PUXTON PARK
An interesting perspective, however am I the only person to be uncomfortable with the apparent alignment of being a single male with being a higher than average pedophile risk?
I am at least reassured that Mr Mead recongnises his actions are over zealous but regret that he feels a blanket ban on all singles would be more appropriate than (for example) a ban of photography in or near the children’s play area(s). If you wish to implement a ban at least make it evidence based, proportionate and fair to the individual. This blanket ban fails on all three fronts in my view.
Whilst not doubting the sincerity of this apology, it does seem half-hearted at best. Although 90% of the park may be child centric clearly not all of it is. I wonder how many 3- 10 year olds will be queuing to sample the local cheeses in the farm shop or attending the £340 falconry exhibits. The assurance that these are open to everyone certainly runs contrary to the reported facts and seems arbitrary – some might even say discriminatory.
I certainly wouldn’t hold this establishment up as the sole poor implementation of this policy, but it appears to be one of the least well nuanced.
Have we really reached a point where anyone over 30 who for what ever reason is childless is not only to be pitied but also treated as a probably criminal? Puxton Park and those who follow this rationale we all deserve better !

Broken news: The drugs war is lost

It is now 43 years since President Richard Nixon announced his ‘war on drugs’. His comments came in the summer of 1971 at the height of public concern in America over cannabis use, fear at a growing ‘hippy’ culture and two years after Woodstock. Many commentators believe the war he mentioned focused on Cannabis, however it has widened in recent years to include all drug classes.

In recent weeks Admiral Robert Papp, head of the US Coast Guard was heavily criticised for stating that it was disheartening to watch a continued battle against drugs being lost. Many will not agree with the premise of his argument, however, it was sufficiently interesting to make me consider a number of similar comments in the United Kingdom.

The more I looked the more I was surprised by the apparent cross party agreement that the current status quo is failing to prevent the steady growth in drugs use and availability.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg (Liberal Democrat) called for a Royal Charter to investigate the possibility of moving to the Portuguese model where all drugs are no longer subject to criminal sanction but rather become considered a public health issue. He was quoted as saying that the UK was ‘losing the battle against drugs on an industrial scale.’ Despite rapid dissociation from the Prime Minister, this remains Liberal Democrat policy.

His argument was that countries such as the United Kingdom and the United States end up criminalising significant proportions of their population for drugs offences often initiating a downward spiral. He suggested that once in possession of a criminal record for drug possession/supply, an individual was effectively marginalised in society. This made their employment less likely and ultimately increased the potential for them to re-use.

In the summer of 2012 former Home Secretary and political heavyweight Ken Clarke (Conservative) also commented that the United Kingdom was losing it’s war on drugs. Despite being lambasted for making such a comment he wasn’t alone in holding those views at the time. Although taking different views on the solution, a similar admission is made by Louise Mench MP (2012) Speaking against legalisation. Ms Mench was a fellow Conservative MP at the time and open in her admission of previously having taken class A drugs.

Former chief advisor to the government Professor David Nutt (politically independent) is perhaps the most well known individual to take a public stand which ran contrary to public policy at the time. Nutt argues that his views are based on empirical evidence and is nothing more than a logical position based around the relative dangers of non-prescribed (illegal) drugs, compared to items such as tobacco and alcohol.

To complete the political consensus, it was only this summer that the Labour magazine claiming to voice thought leadership to the party made the same comment. It encouraged the party to support legalisation of recreational drugs – including those currently classified as Class A such as Crystal Meth and Cocaine.

In addition to the voices from the political classes, a number of social commentators have been calling for a debate on current drugs policy. Some are perhaps unsurprising.

Russell Brand’s debate and near battle with Peter Hitchin on Newsnight has become something of required viewing when considering the two most extreme ends of the spectrum. One considers the requirement to move from criminalisation to treating as a medical condition akin to a disease or illness. The other holds the position that a more punitive enforcement of the criminal law would be more likely to lead to success.

However, increasingly less typically anticipated voices are making themselves heard. Richard Branson recently spoke out encouraging a move to treatment rather than regulation. He also made the point that most politicians in power find it impossible to speak out about the issue. However, they frequently move to the position once they have left power. He cites former Presidents Carter and Clinton as examples. He also drew comparisons between the fight against drugs and the prohibition of alcohol in 1920’s America.

So my position isn’t to propose a ‘solution’ I don’t presume to know enough to do so. However, what is clear to me is that the current status quo isn’t working. More over there appears to be near political unanimity in agreeing that position. I don’t want a world where the population is wandering around in a drugged stupor (legal or illegal). I’ve also seen far too many people’s lives ruined with remarkably little in the way of support.

My question and challenge is that if that is the case – where is the political discussion? Is it simply easier to sedate large numbers on methadone rather than face up to a problem we all know exists and isn’t improving.

How many politicians from how many parties and political stances does it take to speak out before the issue becomes important enough to shape a new public policy ?

So soon for dirty politics ?

The "No"'s have it

The “No”‘s have it

Less than a week after the Scottish referendum results and the art of low politics has already made its debut onto what is turning into a particularly sordid little stage.

Having held back on my personal view prior to the vote, I’m personally very pleased that the No vote was successful. I certainly don’t see my many Scots friends as subjected to England or Britain. Nor do I fail to see the unique national identity of the Scottish people. I’m just pleased that they chose (in the majority) to exercise that distinct identity within the scope of the United Kingdom.

That said, I would be the first person to say the behaviour of the major parties (and specifically the English parties) has been nothing less than disgusting. It’s made me quite ashamed to be part of the English nation.

Of course, the expected resignation of Alex Salmond MSP took place with almost undue haste. Although it was expected that he would fall on his own sword in the event of a defeat, his speed took many (including me) by surprise. Whilst I had anticipated him stepping down as the leader of his party, I didn’t expect him to leave the political stage completely. I for one disagreed with his rationale, didn’t appreciate the way he ran his campaign (it was too presumptuous and incomplete) and disliked his personal style. However, I did believe he felt his ambition for Scotland was in it’s best interests. I certainly believe Scottish politics more generally (arguments over independence aside) will be the weaker following his departure.

However, the speed of his leaving was nothing compared to the ‘clarifications’, ‘qualifications’ and ‘variations’ uttered by the main party leaders within England post referendum.

In the days immediately prior to the vote, promises were made to Scotland indicating that far more autonomy, self-determination and decision making powers would be settled on the Scottish Parliament. How disappointing it was to see English politicians squirming like a worm on a hook three days after the vote trying to recover ground as if we hadn’t heard them make the offers to those north of the border.

The Independence Vow

The Independence Vow

I for one remember the extent of the promises made in those days and within the ‘vow’ printed on the front of the Scottish Record and signed by all three English party leaders.

Of course the issues raised by granting Scotland more independence has an impact on England and Wales, potentially it encourages more regional devolution and undoubtedly it shows that the promise has many ‘loose ends’. However, all that said – the promises were made in order to secure the union and once made in good faith, I would be shouting as loud as any Scot that those promises are honoured without the shabby examples of watering-down their words after securing their desired result.

What is worse is that this behaviour is exactly the kind of Machiavellian scheming that resulted in the Scottish arguments for independence stating UK politics was unfit for Scottish purposes.

I trust and hope that the politicians within England will realise that their actions over the next 12-18 months will either secure the union for the next generation or will merely hasten the calls for a second bite of the rotten cherry. If you renege on your promises now, you will prove the point that those calling for Scottish Independence made. A point I had hoped was just opportunistic shorthand for anti-English sentiment.

Come on political classes within England and Westminster. Keep your word !