Round and round we go

I suppose we should yawn at this “revelation” about Esther McVey’s expenses claims really (see link below). Of course she did this. Because she can. And that leads to a mildly interesting question (God, I’ve started yawning already): as this stuff is supposed to be scrutinised carefully, not to say regulated, what excuse did the regulators use to let these claims through? The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa), for it is they, said: “Communication is a large part of an MP’s role and they are able to claim professional services to support them carrying out their duties. This could include photography to be used on their website and other digital and print communication channels.” Perhaps they’re not so much regulators as turnstile operators. There’s a kind of turnstile as visitors leave the parliamentary “estate”. I went through it last week. You just push and round it goes. “On you go, Esther, see you next week.”


According to Stop the War (Chris Nineham):

“The Secretary of State of the world’s most powerful nation has promised to ‘push back’ against the possibility of the leader of the Labour Party in Britain getting elected. He suggests US agencies will try and intervene to stop that eventuality because ‘it’s too risky and too important and too hard once it’s already happened’.”

Harry Perkins should be living at this hour (see Chris Mullin, A Very British Coup).

I’ve been away

Meanwhile, back on the ground, in a place that may soon officially become “foreign parts”

– and before you ask, no, it isn’t foreign parts as far as I’m concerned –

meanwhile, I say, life and struggles go on against all the odds. According to today’s Libération, some 200 emergency hospital staff met at the weekend in 33 towns in France. It was a strike movement that has affected 65 of these services across France. At the weekend they decided on a day of action in Paris on 6 June. They have a platform of demands, and they are familiar ones:

  • stop the closure of hospital beds;
  • raise pay levels;
  • increase staffing levels

The national strike committee comprises this group, representatives from various regions of France, plus a united front of trade unions comprising the CGT, Force Ouvrière and the SUD (I don’t know what the last one is). There have been a number of strikes in different places. Dr Francis Braun, President of the Emergency Services of France, has called for a half-hour stoppage today across France. “We have reached the end,” he said. “I have never known anything like this before. The services are at breaking point, saturation point, the point of rupture. Rarely have I seen such stoppages of work.”

This is where we will have to head too, in our own austerity-driven crisis. We need a similar movement of resistance, in solidarity with French and other EU workers. Such solidarity will be more difficult if we leave the EU. But it will have to be done. Or we’re buggered.


Les urgences, entre surchauffe et abattement

A short fuse

As we keep hearing about how “reasonable” and “measured” – even “nice”! – the police are during the current Extinction Rebellion demonstrations (despite the regular footage of people being dragged across pavements by their legs), it may be useful to remind ourselves how nasty it will undoubtedly get if demonstrators don’t listen to Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick (she who was in charge when her officers killed Brazilian Jean-Paul Menezes on his way to work just a few short years ago) telling us to behave ourselves. So Le Monde quotes today the French government’s response to UN criticism of police violence against the gilets jaunes, in particular their use of “defensive fire” weapons (LBD). First the denial of misuse of weapons and the characterisation of demonstrators as a violent mob:

“At no time is an LBD used against even vehement demonstrators if they have not committed physical violence, particularly against the forces of order, or caused serious damage. But in that case it is no longer a question of demonstrators but of participants in a violent and illegal gathering … The police have recourse to the LBD when it is necessary to dissuade or stop a violent or dangerous person. In terms of the weapons used, the 40mm LBD is capable of causing significant wounds if the people targeted are hit at distances of less than 3 or 10 metres … Although misuse is unfortunately possible, this does not put in question the regular use of these weapons when necessary.”

There then follows a call to the UN to respect French legal processes:

“Inasmuch as enquiries have not yet finished, it is not possible to determine today whether the people injured by the firing of these LBDs were in a situation justifying the use of these weapons or whether such use was abusive or questionable.”

So the message to the UN is not only “Don’t jump to conclusions” but, further, “Don’t interfere – we will be judges in our own case.”
Lesson for us here? The “nice” police officer is on a short fuse.


[“A aucun moment le LBD n’est utilisé à l’encontre de manifestants, même véhéments, si ces derniers ne commettent pas de violences physiques, notamment dirigées contre les forces de l’ordre ou de graves dégradations. Mais alors il ne s’agit plus de manifestants, mais de participants à un attroupement violent et illégal. »
Quatre pages sont consacrées spécifiquement à la défense du LBD, rappelant son objectif premier :

« Les policiers ont recours au LBD lorsqu’il est nécessaire de dissuader ou de stopper une personne violente ou dangereuse. » Les spécificités de l’arme sont décrites par le menu et sa dangerosité est en partie reconnue : « En fonction des munitions utilisées, le LBD 40 mm est susceptible de causer des lésions importantes si le tir atteint des personnes situées à moins de 3 ou 10 mètres. »
Les nombreuses blessures engendrées par des tirs de LBD, largement répertoriées, ne sont pourtant nullement évoquées au fil du document, qui prend des pincettes avant d’évoquer de possibles dérapages :

« Si des cas de mésusages sont toujours malheureusement possibles, (…) ils ne sauraient remettre en cause l’utilisation régulière de cette arme en cas de nécessité. »
Et d’appeler à respecter le temps judiciaire :

« Tant que les enquêtes en cours n’auront pas abouti, il n’est pas possible de déterminer, à ce jour, si les personnes blessées par des tirs de LBD l’ont été dans une situation justifiant le recours à cette arme, avec les conséquences malheureuses qui s’y attachent, ou dans une situation d’usage abusif, critiquable. »]

The Rebellion must continue

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has tweeted about the climate protesters (see below). A few changes need to be made to his tweet.

In the first paragraph, the phrase “but this is now taking a real toll” should be “and this is now taking a real toll …” (because that is a good, not a bad, thing); the phrase “counter-productive to the cause and our city” should be “good for the cause and our city”.

In the fourth paragraph, the last sentence (“It simply isn’t right to put Londoners’ safety at risk like this”) would be correct if it referred to government complacency about climate change. It doesn’t.

The last paragraph shows that despite saying he shares “the passion about tackling climate change of those protesting” he will do nothing to meet their demands.

So the lesson from Sadiq’s tweet is that the protesters should not “pause”, as some of them have suggested. Instead they should spread the protests further. They should not withdraw from some areas and start “negotiating” – who will they “negotiate” with? – the government is rubbishing them as lawbreakers, Khan says they’re a threat to the safety of Londoners and wants them all to go back to their day jobs, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner just wants them to behave themselves. But the government has to be forced out of its complacency, and the Labour Party must swing behind the protesters and their cause. Without equivocation. No ifs, no buts. Labour MPs should join the protests, including the front bench. Then we may all get somewhere.



Paris is personal

I’m upset by this. Politicians will make what capital they can out of this fire. But I’m upset. I haven’t been inside the building much – it always seemed a gloomy place to me. But it’s a memorable piece of Paris architecture and it contains a lot of history, both the kind we may celebrate and the kind we would have to deplore. And it’s just down the road from where I used to work. Paris is where I always feel at home – immediately, no matter how long I’ve been away. Paris is personal, and this catastrophe feels like an injury to someone I love.
I know that if a fire broke out (and they often do) in what are called the “difficult suburbs”, where many of the city’s ethnic minorities live out their marginalised lives, the media wouldn’t be piling in to report on it and photograph it. The president wouldn’t cancel a speech and turn up, there would be no inquiry announced into its cause within the hour (as was the case with Notre-Dame). And the cause of the fire would sure as hell not be related to any renovations because there wouldn’t be any renovations, let alone ones costing millions of euros. But I’m sad, because I once lived there, and I know it a bit. I’m going to be there in the middle of May and I will visit the site of this disaster. And I will wish Paris well, from its centre to its “difficult suburbs”.

On Popes, cardinals, paedophilia and cover-ups

In the New Testament, the apostle Paul had a big argument with the apostle Peter: “I opposed him to his face”, he said.[1] There is, however, nothing to suggest that Peter (in Catholic teaching, the first Vicar of Christ, or Pope) ever trod on his own toes. We’ve had to wait till the 21st century for that. Former Pope Benedict XVI (who was allowed to retire rather than wait to die in office) is poking his nose into the business of his successor, Pope Francisco. And that is to go where angels fear to tread, and Benedict seems to have stumbled into the paths of foolishness. What he has done is lay the blame for paedophilia among priests on “the revolution of 68”, reports Le Monde,[2] because, according to Benedict, it made paedophilia “something that was permitted and appropriate” (of all the ills blamed on 1968 I don’t think I’ve heard that specific one before – but I may have lived a sheltered life). But back to Benedict:

Why has paedophilia attained such proportions? At the end of the day, the reason is the absence of God … [A] world without God can only be a world without direction and therefore a world without a notion of good and evil.”[3]

But remember, we’re talking about the Catholic Church. Benedict must surely believe that God is present in the Church. He has to believe that, if only to justify his salary and his robes and cassock allowance when he was in office, and his pension since. And it is paedophilia tolerated, denied and covered up by the Church that concerns his successor today.

But if Benedict is right and all this happened while God was absent from the world, what was God doing to stop the abuse, the denials and the cover-ups in the domain in which he was uniquely present, the Church. Not a lot, it seems.

And Benedict? He is now trying to limit the damage the scandal has done to the Church by blaming 1968, and he says that “paedocriminality” became severe only after the second half of the 1980s. This claim, says Le Monde, is particularly questionable because “there have been numerous revelations that go back to at least the immediate post-Second World War period, as in Ireland, for example.” But what was he doing in “the second half of the 1980s” anyway when, he says, paedophilia was raging? “Before succeeding Jean-Paul II [as Pope]”, reports Le Monde, “Cardinal Ratzinger [Benedict’s real name] was fighting hard to change canon law in order to allow the guilty to be kept out of harm’s way” (i.e. protected, their crimes covered up).

Perhaps Ratzinger now regrets not resisting the temptation to interfere. Too late now though. The cat is out of the bag. Or the toothpaste is out of the tube. But I don’t think the shit will hit the fan: he’s 92, he’ll get the sympathy granted to the elderly, he’s Pope Emeritus, he won’t go to jail. But there’s not much merit in that.


[1] Galatians 1:11.

[2] Le Monde, 11 April 2019:

[3] Ibid.

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