Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Letter on the police, sent to The Times and The Guardian (not published)

Sir,

Each revelation about poor policing, from the G20 summit, to the pre-emptive arrests surrounding the E.ON protest and the Damian Green debacle, points to inadequacies of leadership. Perhaps the police service might benefit from a degree-educated ‘officer’ or leadership corps such as exists in virtually every other important pillar of the state and wider society. We wouldn’t, for instance, expect the army to be led solely by private soldiers who had risen up the ranks, nor would we allow our schools to be staffed by teachers who didn’t possess degrees or our buildings to be designed by people who weren’t professional architects. What makes policing so different? If it is the fact, often cited, that all police officers must first serve as constables in order to gain an appreciation of the concerns of the citizens they serve, then recent events suggests that the system may not be working as it should.

Yours faithfully,

John Slinger

Friday, 24 April 2009

If the unions had done this to the economy, there would have been a coup d'etat....(letter sent to newspapers)

Sir,

Those who declare that the Chancellor’s increases in the top rate of tax represents “class war” and the “politics of envy” reveal a more disturbing truth about the present economic crisis - the terror felt by the rich and powerful that government might take measures to limit, even by a fraction, their personal wealth. This amidst the backdrop of widespread suffering amongst ordinary workers and businesspeople largely caused by the irresponsibility and greed of the super-rich casino bankers and their cronies in the media, regulators and, sadly, in Government.

I wonder what these people would be saying had the economy suffered the worst catastrophe since the Second World War as a result of action by the trade unions, terrorists, or organised criminals. I imagine they would be calling for at the very least punitive and wholesale legislative and criminal sanctions against the perpetrators of such economic destruction, and possibly the declaration of a state of emergency. Marginal increases to the higher rate of taxation seem a very gentle and fair response in comparison to the devastation rained down on the unionised coal and steel industries by the Conservatives in the 1980s when trade unions were viewed to have endangered the economy. The bubble of invincibility which has surrounded the rich and powerful for so long has finally been pricked, and as the polls show, a public battered by economic misery not of their own making, is not feeling overly sympathetic to their shrill cries of outrage.

Yours faithfully,

John Slinger

Monday, 20 April 2009

A walk-out's a walk-out

I'm perplexed (this often happens on a Monday...) I'm reading reports on BBC News Online that western diplomats have walked out of a speech being given by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at a UN conference on racism, seemingly because he referred to Israel as a "racist government."

Now if translators are to believed, Ahmadinejad is someone whose views about Israel are wholly offensive, and he is clearly acting true to form today. However, as I switch on "Devil's advocate" mode, I can't help but wonder what the response of the Israeli, American, British and other western governments would be if the diplomats of the entire Arab, or Muslim world (whatever they may be), were to walk-out of a speech given by Benjamin Netanyahu, in which he referred to the dangers posed to his country and the region by one Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

I imagine our diplomats would be outraged at such truculent behaviour. I had thought that if anything, the UN was at least a talking shop, at which the disparate nations of the world could debate issues, talk to each other. I was always taught that if you disagree strongly with someone, it is best to listen to their point of view and then argue vehemently with them about why in your opinion, they were wrong, in the hope that you might at least make them reflect on their comments. We are often told that one of the strengths of western liberal democracies is our respect for free speech. Pundits often misquote Voltaire, in saying "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." I agree with this sentiment. I would apply it to racists such as the BNP, or extremists who claim to be Muslims in the UK. However unpalatable it may be, we have to engage with those whose view of the world differs with ours. Walking away in disgust is not, in my view, an expression of strength, but more of intellectual arrogance coupled with a lack of rhetorical robustness.

It seems that at the international level, we're going to have to get a lot better at "jaw jawing" if we're ever to move towards ending the nascent "war warring" that sadly exists in the world. We can't just turn our backs and hope that a cold shunning of those we find distasteful will make them go away. It won't.

Thursday, 2 April 2009

April Fool's Day sees dawning of new age in fight against nuclear weapons

Here's a copy of a letter I sent to The Times today...

The Editor
The Times

2 April 2009

Sir,

Was it an April Fool’s joke, or did they really do it? Yes they did! President Obama and President Medvedev did agree to move towards slashing their nuclear arsenals and so opened a process which might just lead to a world free of nuclear weapons within our lifetimes. The advent of the Global Zero movement, the comments of several retired senior British military leaders about the pointlessness of the British Government renewing Trident, and of course the transformative effect of a progressive President of the USA, are evidence of the emergence of a new paradigm in which it is no longer seen as left-wing, or pacifistic to call for pragmatic steps to be taken to rid the world of the pernicious evil of nuclear weapons. This truly was a summit at which the world changed for the better.

Yours faithfully,

John Slinger

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

G20 protests: media gets in way of rioters

Looking at some online coverage of the recent "disturbances" caused by the G20 protesters in central London, I was struck by an almost comic scene: that of newspaper photographers and TV news cameramen jostling at the front of the bustling and bulging crowd in order to capture the moment on behalf of us all.

Have we reached a stage in the development of our wonderful media that they outnumber even the rioters? As I watched the footage, I couldn't help but think of Chris Morris's glorious and prophetic "It's war" satire on just this factor in one of his Brass Eye mocumentaries. His withering analysis of a media so obsessed with itself and with "getting the story at all costs" that it was prepared to start a war via a satellite-linked Newsnight-style live conversation between two countries, and then to virtually become participants in the ensuing conflict as journalists parachute into the warzone, trampling on and endangering civilians in the process isn't so far off the mark.

I challenge you to look at the current photo on the front page of The Guaridan (online) and not have just a little chuckle at how many nice big newspaper cameras there are pointing at the "action."