Bartlett's Bizarre Bazaar

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Wednesday, December 29, 2004


New Year’s Resolution – a perfectly reasonable fairytale

With the New Year approaching, and with both Gordon Brown and Hilary Benn declaring that Britain’s leadership of the G8 in 2005 must be one in which the welfare of the Third World is a priority, I feel that it is time for a modest resolution. Alas, it is simply a fairytale.

The resolution I propose is the gutting of the British arms trade, the stripping of public subsidy, and the redirection of the energies involved to less destructive ends. As with arms companies the world over, British manufacturers have a history of incorporating bribery into their standard business model, using a few hundred thousand pounds to persuade ministers of developing nations to grant contracts worth many millions using money from the public purse. If these countries needed such weapons, the bribery of individuals in government ought to be unnecessary. To take part in such bribery is to feed the very corruption that, it is argued, is the most serious obstacle in the development of the Third World.

Of course, the influence of these bribes and the arms sales they encourage goes further than this. The products that are being sold are not neutral, but act to actively change the military postures and security cultures of the client nations. This affects not only the status of freedom within the client nation, but has ripples of influence that spread to its neighbours, as their militaries must adopt a stance that reflects the changed armouries and capabilities across the border. These military adjustments may very well involve the procurement of new military equipment, and dealing with any refugee problems resulting from repression in the original client nation may trigger, with a little salesmanship, the purchase of security and paramilitary hardware. And on.

But, comes the reply, consider the effect that ending this practice would have on the British economy. Andrew Wood and Ian Pritchard (of Campaign Against the Arms Trade) point out that each British job in the export of arms is effectively subsidised by £13,000 of public money, largely in export guarantees. The economist Sir Samuel Brittan has argued that the British arms trade accounts for less than half of one percent of GDP. And GDP, remember, is product, not profit, and certainly is not a measure of desirable economic activity. But even if this resolution is economically manageable, as the French, Americans and Russian firms (amongst others) would continue their bribery, the gutting of the British arms trade would be a futile gesture. And it is here that my resolution differs from many other opponents of the arms trade.

If we assume that the ministers managing the public purse of developing nations will continue to spend the money entrusted to their authority according to who offers the largest bribes, then we can turn this to the promotion of development and human welfare. As the British arms trade is gutted, a replacement of a different kind is built, one that keeps the export guarantees, retains the Royal visits that double as salesmanship, but turns this energy and wealth to a different goal. If Britain is serious about the welfare of the Third World it must out bribe its opponents who offer only arms, obstacles to peace and welfare, and instead demand that the public purse of these nations is spent on [British] training for doctors, nurses, teachers, civil engineers and the like, on capital projects that aid the social, democratic development of these nations, building roads, railways, hospitals, schools and sustainable industry. All the while maintaining the flow of capital into Britain, but, as it is destined for the education, health and civil engineering sectors there will be a reversal in the undemocratic, secretive culture of arms development and manufacture.

Britain would borrow a business practice that has proved to be highly effective and turn it to the production of ends consistent with the goals of a socialist party. And before we forget, that is what the Labour Party claims to be. Even if they dispense with that unfashionable tag, they will still claim to be humanitarians*.

*And Tony Blair claims to be a Christian.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004


Burglary and self-defence - addendum

Michael over at Mischievous Constructions has posted a piece in which he summarises that points made by Anthony Scrivener, Tony Martin’s QC, in an Evening Standard article yesterday. This lays out the law, in principle and in practice.

In addition to the points made in my previous post, Scrivener is reported as reminding us that: “judges instruct juries to look at the case from the householder's point of view. What counts is what he or she honestly believed”. That: “[j]uries use common sense: they do not like burglars and identify with householders, even in cases where householders have badly beaten up or wounded intruders.” That: “the judge is quite likely to direct the jury to acquit without even calling on the defence.” And that: “[c]onvictions are extremely rare.”

We can expect our media and our politicians to continue to discuss burglary and self-defence without reference to the actual state of the law. But, if we choose to ignore all the evidence, to make conduct politics grounded in myth, and legislate based on faith, then our democracy is a fiction.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004


Unreasonable and disproportionate - Tory argument and persuasion

Sir John Stevens has thrown his weight behind the Conservative Party proposal to change the law regarding the right to self-defence, the defence of others, and the defence of property. At the moment, the law allows people to use reasonable and proportionate force. Wrigley Claydon Solicitors note that “once a defendant has shown enough to raise the defence properly as an issue, the prosecution is then obliged to prove that it was not self-defence. The person accused is given this very significant 'benefit of the doubt'.” They argue that the Tony Martin case “should not mislead. The defence of self-defence remains very much alive and (in an eminently reasonable way only of course) kicking. It should not be assumed from the Martin case that one cannot defend oneself against a burglar. Martin got it badly wrong and paid the price. Many others who defend themselves properly are not prosecuted and are never heard of.”

The Conservative proposal is to change the law to ensure that prosecutions are only sought when grossly unreasonable force has been used. On Newsnight last week, the Conservative spokesperson (I believe that it was Alan Duncan, but David Davies would be a more logical choice as spokesperson) was questioned as to what circumstances would count as being grossly unreasonable. In effect, they amount to pretty much exactly the same set of circumstances in which a person under the current law would be convicted of using unreasonable and disproportionate force. He admitted that he could offer no examples of cases where there had been a conviction under the current law that would have been an acquittal if the Conservative law had been in place. Indeed, the examples that the supporters of this change appeal to are a thoroughly dishonest strategy of persuasion. Michael Howard is reported to be arguing that that the law would protect people such as Kenneth Faulkner. Faulkner shot a burglar in the leg. Mr Faulkner was arrested, but not charged or prosecuted. The law protected him perfectly well, at least against possible prosecution, and ensures that cases of homicide and serious wounding are properly investigated.

So what would be the effect of a change in the law? The key point, admit most proponents, is that a change would reduce the number of householders being prosecuted, with relatively no change in conviction rate. Why shouldn’t we proceed with prosecution, if people using reasonable and proportionate force are, without exception, even according to the supporters of this new law, found innocent? We are warned that the experience of being a defendant in court is a traumatic one. Indeed, I imagine that it is. However, I would argue that we need an exhaustive public investigation of every case of serious wounding or homicide, justifiable or not. In Britain, we demand that justice is served by an adversarial system of deliberation. To do away with this because of the ranting of The Sun would be paradoxical; if we were suggest to Rebekka Wade that we adopt the French system of inquisitorial deliberation and we would no doubt have xenophobic headlines at first press.

Could you imagine the raising of barriers to the initiation of a prosecution to be politically popular in any other area of crime? Why are we contemplating changing the law to allow people to get away with murder and assault, simply because we are worried about the trauma that the accused may experience? Doesn’t the accused experience this trauma, regardless of whether they are acquitted of the crime célèbre of burglar murder, or the crime infamie of peadophilia? Do we worry about the accused in these cases?

Experience tells us that we do not. Moves are made to minimise the trauma of witnesses and victims in trials, with aggressive cross-examination being minimised, opportunities to give evidence via video link and the like. And all this is quite correct. While we may revere the adversarial system, we should be wary of our system being one of overt hostility. But why should we allow this hostility to remain towards the accused? The accused is innocent, at least in law, and should be treated as such. If we recognise the court environment as being too hostile for witnesses and victims for justice to be done, how can we expect it to give justice to the accused?

Rather than prevent the full circumstances of a death or serious wounding from be aired and interrogated in public, we should ensure that the presumption of innocence is just that. Interestingly, the very people calling for the law to be rebalanced in favour of the accused in this case are also the people who complain that the justice system is institutionally biased in the favour of the accused. Can they have it both ways? If you want an example of Tory reasoning that rejects reason, click here.

This change in the law is being presented to readers of The Sun as if it would allow the use of a level of force that the current law does not. That is patently false, by the admission of the authors of the prospective law. Perhaps it is their presentation of the law to the viewers of Newsnight and the readers of The Guardian that is false, and it will significantly change the right to use force, not merely the prospects of prosecution. Either way, their arguments are unreasonable and their demand to change the law is a disproportionate.

Monday, December 06, 2004


Protestantism (and the synonymous work ethic) may be hereditable – but it is not genetic

I studied genetics as both an undergraduate and postgraduate. Now I investigate the sociology of genetics. I keep close eye on stories about genetics in newspapers, and keep a watch on the infiltration of ‘the gene’ into discussions that have absolutely nothing to do with genetics. And I don’t think I’ve ever read a more garbled pinning of personal character on ‘genes’ than this:

“Ellis is a product of his environment, having inherited the workaholic Leicester gene”

Now, I know that the author of this piece more than likely knows that there is no such thing as a ‘Leicester gene’. It does, nevertheless, concern me. The popular presentation and perception of genes is that they are a more or less deterministic and inalterable factor in human development. Speaking with ease about culture as genetic is at least a little way towards legitimising a reactionary response towards cultural and social problems, particularly when they can be identified with a distinct group, rather than an ameliorating and integrationist approach.

Friday, December 03, 2004


Have a flutter, gamble on Iraq

While browsing the right-wing website Newsmax, I found a link to a site called Bet on Iraq. Go on, become a war profiteer.


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