Friday, 25 February 2011

Unpublished Letter to The Times about photo of family of Donna Manning (NZ journalist killed in earthquake) and "disaster voyuerism"


It was a gross invasion of privacy for The Times, like most of the media, to publish a photo showing the anguish of the family of journalist Donna Manning moments after they heard she had perished in the Christchurch earthquake. Not only have they lost their mother in appalling circumstances but they must now cope with the fact that millions of strangers have witnessed the worst moment in their lives. Such a photo does not add to our understanding of this disaster, rather it feeds the 'disaster voyeurism' of our modern age to no great moral or practical purpose and in so doing demeans us all.

Yours faithfully,

John Slinger

Friday, 18 February 2011

Letter to The Times (unpublished) on lessons of Spelman's U-turn

The Editor
The Times


In her dramatic U-turn over forest sales yesterday, Caroline Spelman claimed that unlike under Labour, this government genuinely consults the public, admits when it gets things wrong, promptly apologises and reverses bad policy. I am looking forward to this admirable approach being applied retrospectively and in future to unpopular policies which come up against significant campaigning by the public. It must have dawned on the Government that while opposition to the selling-off of forests was vocal and well-organised, it will pale into insignificance compared to the likely public response to the cuts as they hit and the vandalising of the NHS, to name but two issues. Long live the 'new politics'.

Yours faithfully,

John Slinger

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Spelman admits she got Forest sell-off wrong in humiliating statement to Commons

Environment Secretary, Caroline Spelman has given an emergency oral statement to the House of Commons in which she said:

"I am sorry...we got this wrong".

She should be respected for having been frank in admitting her errors and showing humility.  But as Labour MP David Winnick said, any sympathy for her is for the fact that she was "humiliated by the Prime Minister and Chancellor".

Spelman told a baying Commons that:

"we wants to move forward in step with the public" 

and that she "wants to do the right thing by our forests".

Labour's Shadow Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Secretary, Mary Creagh, gave a bravura performance, showing just why she has risen to the front bench.  Some of her killer lines included:

"the air is filled with the sound of chickens coming home to roost".

Forest of Dean

She also warned Conservative MPs who hitherto supported the policy of selling-off the forests, such as Mark Harper, the Forest of Dean MP, that her apology will not be a panacea.  She said:

"the public may extract a hefty price from them at the next election".

We must make sure that people up-and-down the country are indeed reminded that Tory and Lib Dem MPs supported the selling-off of this most precious national resource - our forests.  The people of the Forest of Dean, where I grew up and where I cut my political teeth, volunteering and latterly working for Diana Organ, will not quickly forget the position taken by Mark Harper, a Minister who felt unable to oppose publicly a policy which went against the interests of the people of the Forest.

The superb campaigning of Foresters was mentioned by Mary Creagh, when she said that the Government's U-turn was "a victory" for people like "Alan Robertson of the Hands Off Our Forest campaign in the Forest of Dean.

Creagh went on to issue a clarion call:

"This land is our land"!

She announced the setting up of an Independent Panel to investigate the issues.  She then pointed out that one of the members of the Panel will be the woodland owners (??), one of the only groups which had supported the sell-off.  She then went on to make the important point that it is groups like Hands Off Our Forest should be on the panel.  She urged the Government to ensure that the Panel "tours the country" and listens to the concerns of these groups.  In a display of insensitivity, one Tory MP described the campaigners in the chamber as "push-button campaigners".

Mary Creagh's final flourish was inspirational.  She declared:

"the Secretary of State is the only Cabinet Minister in living memory to unite the Socialist Workers Party and the National Trust!"

"If she won't stand up for the countryside, we on this side most certainly will".

In my view, we must be forensic in holding the Government to their word.  They showed their true colours when they embarked on this ludicrous and callous policy.  Humility in admitting error is a good thing.  But it must be genuine and Caroline Spelman's apology must not become a mere staging post in a long-term move by the Government to continue its drive to reduce spending through selling-off public assets such as our Forests.  We must keep up the pressure on Spelman and the Government to ensure that this misguided policy is banished from our forests forever.

We must not forget that the Public Bodies Bill contains many measures which are as equally corrosive of our democratic and civil life in this country.  The Bill must be opposed and this is a small but significant victory on a long road to opposing this Government.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

The patronising Mr Cameron jokes about the future of the forests

In Prime Ministers Questions today, David Cameron sought to mock Ed Miliband for his persistent and brilliant questioning on the ConDems' policy of selling-off our national forests.

When asked by Miliband whether he was happy with the policy he replied: "The short answer is no."  But he did so with what looked like a large smirk on his face and much laughter.  As if he'd been found out by teacher for breaking the rules.

He tried to wriggle out of the policy by suggesting that all the Government had done was engaged in a "consultation".   He sarcastically mocked the process, saying "we've had a range of interesting responses" [code for almost everyone who has responded has said it was a crazy idea, apart from the landowners and vested interests who would have gained from the policy]. Yet the enabling bill, the Public Bodies Bill, which will give Ministers power to sell off the land, is going through the House of Lords at the moment.  This devious Bill has been mentioned in this blog previously.

Ed Miliband was on fine form, saying "...even he must appreciate the irony of the guy who made the tree the symbol of the Conservative Party, flogging them off up and down this country."

Miliband went on to say "he says they're consulting on this policy....they're actually consulting on how to flog off the forests, not whether to flog off the forests".

Cameron refused Miliband's offer for him to take the opportunity to kill off the policy.  His final reply to the Labour leader shows his attitude to the selling off of a national asset such as forests.  He said, "I think the bandwagon has just hit a bit of a tree".  For Cameron it is a joke.  For millions of people up and down the country, particularly those who live in or near our forests, it couldn't be more serious.

But then Tories tend to understand the price of something, be it a forest, or a service, but not its value.

Government endangers society again on crime by weakening of Sex Offenders Register

We are seeing the tough measures which Labour took against criminals further weakened by the ConDem coalition government today, as Ministers introduce the right for paedophiles and rapists to challenge going on the sex offenders register for life. Several criminals have challenged the current law, claiming that it is against their human rights. Judges on the Supreme Court agreed. Now the Government is being forced to push the measure through.  Home Secretary Theresa May says she is "appalled".  I urge the Government to do all it can to prevent this change being made.

This comes hot on the heels of the Government's shameful changes to the DNA database, in which they are removing all samples from people who have not been convicted of a crime. This may seem very 'liberal' and it may of course seem that it runs counter to your human rights for your DNA, taken when you were arrested, to be kept ad infinitum on a database. But consider that some people who were arrested but not convicted of a crime DO ACTUALLY GO ON TO COMMIT SERIOUS CRIMES such as rape and murder. Some of these have been caught largely due to their DNA having been taken and stored when they were arrested on suspicion of having committed an offence.

I would take someone seriously who believes that an individual's right NOT to have their DNA on a database just because they were arrested, if they were prepared to look the parent of a raped or murdered child in the eye and say they would rather see the person who hurt or killed their child go free than suffer the so-called indignity of having their personal DNA on a database.

I would happily have my DNA on a database. Remember the calls by Bristol MP Kerry McCarthy for a mass DNA screening of Bristol following the Joanne Yeates murder? It would be so much simpler if all of us were on the database, with no exceptions. Let us send a clear message to criminals in our midst - we will do all we practically can to prevent you from committing crime, to apprehend you if you do, and to punish you severely when we do. You have human rights, but the rights of the law-abiding majority not to suffer from crime take preference.

I also believe strongly in rehabilitation. But punishment must come first. The rules of society are quite simple. It is not hard to avoid raping, assaulting or murdering people - the vast majority of us manage it! We should not feel guilty about taking a tough line on people who violate the most sacred tenets of our society.



Monday, 14 February 2011

Propagandists for privilege argue eugenics on university admissions

Here is my letter to The Sunday Times regarding the disgraceful article they published by columnist Minette Marrin. They operate a pay wall so I can't link to the article or quote from it. You'll get the gist from my letter:


In an astonishingly crass, patronising and offensive article unworthy
of your pages, Minette Marrin states "the less bright tend to have
children with others who are less bright and tend to produce
corresponding is conceivable that you would not, in
fact, expect inherited intelligence to be equally distributed across
all socioeconomic groups."

You know that the rich fear their privileges are threatened when their
propagandists in the press resort to arguments akin to Nazi-like
eugenics in defence of an education system which ensures that the best
education and therefore life chances go predominantly to the children
of the well-off. She sums up her argument as that life isn't fair so
university access "can never be fair". It is the task of
"unreconstructed socialists" as she calls us, to work to ensure that
society becomes more fair. Without this imperative we would still be
living in feudal serfdom. Just as the NHS was established to ensure
that people receive treatment on the basis of their need, so all who
believe in fairness must work to ensure that elites, which are of
course inevitable and necessary, must be formed as a result of
equality of opportunity rather than parental wealth.

Yours faithfully,

John Slinger

I also sent the following letter to The Sunday Times about the amusing but unedifying sight of Oxford admissions tutors trying to claim that treating everyone exactly the same at the time they apply somehow constitutes a 'fair' system. Of course, objectively, it is fair. But despite all their training (no doubt much of it at top public schools and Oxbridge), they always seem to omit to mention the hugely unfair secondary school system which proffers up the students for them to then decide on. My letter tries to get to the nub of this argument by use of analogy. Yes, I am an opinionated bore. I am in fact working to achieve my aim of being a remunerated opinionated bore, but with no success so far. But equality of opportunity (as opposed to pure equality) is, to me, so obviously something that all right minded people ought to aspire to, that I am saddened to see how blinkered so many people are when it comes to their own privileges being threatened.


Oxford's head of admissions says it would be an "intellectual
contradiction" to lower offers from state school applicants when they
already reject so many privately-educated students with top grades
(Oxbridge snubs Clegg on grades, Sunday Times, 13.02.11). Surely the
real intellectual contradiction comes in viewing it to be fair to
treat all by the same criteria at the point if application, when the
educational system which these students lived through up to that point
is patently unfair in giving better opportunities to those whose
parents are better off.

We wouldn't accept a hospital consultant claiming it to be fair that
he treats a disproportionate number of rich people in the NHS, if the
GP system which fed patients to him did so on the grounds of people's
ability to pay. Why is education different when its effect on
someone's life chances and on society is arguably more profound than

Yours faithfully,

John Slinger

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Protesting the Public Bodies Bill today outside Parliament

I've just been to the lunchtime demonstration and rally outside Parliament to protest about the shameful Public Bodies Bill which will amongst other things: give Ministers the power to arbitrarily alter or abolish up to 400 public bodies. Some of these are crucial to our well-being and preservation of our rights such as the Equalities and Human Rights Commission. Others deal with our cultural heritage such as the UK Arts Council and the Film Council. Others protect the employment rights of some of the most vulnerable workers in the UK - agricultural workers, through the abolition of the Agricultural Wages Board. Others, such as the School Teachers' Review Body ensure that teachers receive the same pay throughout the land.

We heard superb speeches by Diane Holland, Assistant General Secretary of Unite and from the PCS. Labour peers Lords Hunt and Knight gave rousing speeches, with Jim Knight saying "the Government is so ideological they're privatising the trees". He ended with a clarion call to unite to "get rid of this bloody Bill." Lord Hunt reminded us that there had been little or no consultation from the Government on this Bill and that some of the vital organisations being swept away, such as Consumer Choice, do work which is of vital importance for our society. He pointed out that the Government's claim that Citizens Advice can take up the slack, is laughable: where he lives in Birmingham, all 6 CABs are being closed.

A QC from Matrix Chambers reminded us of the huge importance of the Equality and Human Rights Commission to our constitutional settlement. It's independence from Government was hard-won and will be lost soon if we are not careful.

The best speech of the afternoon was by Waterloo Road actor Ellie Paskell an activist from the Equity union. She is a natural speaker and full of passion and intelligence. When I spoke to her afterwards, she gently berated me for being a member of the Labour Party. I reminded her that much of what the ConDems are now destroying and which we are protesting about, was only made possible thanks to Labour in Government under Blair. I tried to convince her to join the party...

Here are my snaps of the rally:

Here's Lord Jim Knight.

Here's Lord Hunt:

Here's Ellie Paskell:

And here I am:

I was particularly moved by a speech about the Agricultural Wages Board in which the speaker, Steve (?), told us of the crucial work the Board does in maintaining at least minimum standards for agricultural workers. What is amazing about this Bill is that this aspect of it is opposed even by the farmers themselves, yet still the Government drives it through.

I left with the impression that the union-organised March for the Alternative on 26 March will be a crucial day in opposing the Government's agenda of cuts. Many speakers reminded the crowd that a demonstration of over 1 million is the real Big Society.

I was reminded of the importance of activism and of peaceful campaigning. The importance of solidarity and of meeting people who care about common causes.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

My ex-band release their début video

The band I used to be in until the responsibilities of parenthood finally won out has just released its first music video.  If you enjoy it, please spread the word about The 7.20s far and wide.  They deserve to make it.  You can find about more about them here.

Je'adore L'amore

the 7.20s | Myspace Music Videos