Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Top Eight: Planet of the Apes movies

Having just seen Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, I was slightly disappointed. This is where it fits into the rating of the films so far:

1. Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971) - starts off satirical, with intelligent apes exploring modern America, before it gets a bit darker. (10/10)

2. Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972) - the political one, with the rising of the underclass. (9/10)

3. Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) - great music, effects and story, with a brilliant set-piece battle. (8/10)

4. Planet of the Apes (1968) - dulled a bit by familiarity, but still has its moments. (8/10)

5. Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970) - mostly a mess, but the worshipping of the atomic bomb makes it all worthwhile. (7/10)

6. Planet of the Apes (2001) - generally ridiculed, but the architecture is stunning and Helena Bonham-Carter makes a fine ape. (6/10)

7. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014) - looks good and has its moments, but lacks wit and the fighting has no charm. (5/10)

8. Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973) - the pointless one with no budget. (4/10)

The TV series (1974) comes below that, and the animated series (1975) doesn't really count.

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Top Ten: Still Costing the Country

A couple of years back, I listed some recent reports and studies on how much the British economy is losing as a result of specific failures.
The problem clearly hasn't gone away, as the following show:

1. Obesity costs Britain £5 billion a year - link

2. Cyber crime costs Britain £27 billion a year - link

3. Child poverty also costs Britain £27 billion a year - link

4. Violent crime costs Britain 'almost £30 billion' a year - link

5. Migrants claiming benefits for children living abroad cost Britain £30 million a year - link

6. Poor language skills cost Britain £50 billion a year - link

7. Family breakdowns also cost Britain £50 billion a year - link

8. Bovine tuberculosis costs Britain £100 million a year - link

9. The erosion of organic matter in soil costs Britain 'more than £120 million a year' - link

10. Mental health issues cost Britain £70 billion a year - link

This is a random collection of recent stories, and I stopped after the first ten, so it's hard to know how far the problem extends. But that list alone would add around £250 billion to the UK economy. It's extraordinary to think how rich we could all be, if only we made the effort.

Just to be clear about these stories. Here's one I saved up to illustrate why we need to take them so very seriously. A report published last month revealed that small and medium-sized business in Britain are losing £2.5 billion a year by dealing in cash. The equivalent of two weeks a year is wasted counting cash and taking it to the local bank. This research was 'commissioned by online payment provider PayPal'. All credit to PayPal. If they hadn't so unselfishly taken the trouble to enlighten us, we'd never have known.

Monday, 14 July 2014

Bigotgate - the prelude

A further extract from Joe Ashton's 1977 novel Grass Roots. This is a Labour voter berating his MP, shortly after hearing that the steel-plant where he works is to be closed, and that the Labour government isn't going to save it:

'This country, us, the working people, have had enough of you lot down there! Don't you know this country is bleeding to death? You bastards do anything for the Irish. They can blow Belfast to pieces and flatten it to the ground, and you will pay our taxes to rebuild it again. You do anything for the sodding French to keep their farmers rich in the Common Market. You lean over backwards to keep those bloody Scotchmen happy and give them all the oil. And if it is West Indians and Pakistanis, then they can come here and live on the dole for ever. But when it comes to your own English working-class flesh and blood, then we can be thrown on the scrap-heap and you'll let us go bankrupt.'

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

The rot sets in...

An extract from Grass Roots, a novel by Labour MP Joe Ashton, published in 1977:

'And who speaks for you at Westminster? Do you know how many of the MPs ever helped to build a ship, to make a motor car, to put up a school, to weave cloth, to cut wood, to forge steel, to generate electricity, to dig coal, or run a railway or hospital? I'll tell you. About ten per cent of them. Do you know that many of them have never even sat on a local council? Do you know that of all the MPs in Parliament the number under the age of forty-five who have ever done manual work can be counted on the fingers of one hand?

'And the reason is that politics has become a career. It's become a step-ladder. A pat of progress from the debating chamber of the students' union at Oxford to the dispatch box and the front bench in the House of Commons. And it has meant that MPs have become tame, placid, docile sheep. Frightened to speak up. Never having the guts to stand up and be counted because if they do then it will affect their career prospects.'

Baroness Butler-Sloss: a clarification

In an earlier blog entry I wrote about the non-prosecution of Sir Peter Hayman in the early 1980s, and noted that 'the whole thing stank of the suggestion that Sir Michael and Sir Tony were looking after Sir Peter'. Obviously this should in no way be taken to mean that I think Sir Michael's sister is not an absolutely appropriate person to lead an enquiry into historic cases of child abuse. Just wanted to make that clear.

Monday, 7 July 2014

Child abuse inquiry

In the wake of the conviction of Rolf Harris and of the story that Geoffrey Dickens's dossier on high-ranking paedophiles has gone missing from the home office, Theresa May has now announced a wide-ranging enquiry into historic child abuse.

In the words of the Guardian: 'She stressed the exercise would look not only at state institutions, but would bring the church into its scope and would also examine the role of political parties including the conduct of whips' offices at Westminster.'

There's one other area that might be worth considering, since we now take Dickens seriously (even if we don't go so far as to think that 'the Hayman affair is the biggest cover-up of the century').

In 1983 Dickens asked for a meeting with May's predecessor, Leon Brittan, saying: 'I am going to give him a glimpse inside my private files, where people have written to me with information.' Amongst those cases of which he had details was 'a civil servant receiving fifty-seven photographs involving children.'

But, The Times added: 'Mr Dickens refused to go into details of the case allegedly involving an employee at Buckingham Palace.'

Presumably, this time the new enquiry won't stop at the Palace gates.

Naming names: Geoffrey Dickens vs the Establishment

In 1981 The Times printed a typically sharp cartoon by Mel Calman. 'Hurry,' a woman calls to her husband, as the TV news starts; 'they're naming names.'

The reference was to the Conservative MP Geoffrey Dickens, a man who has made such a spectacular return to the news media over the last week, nearly twenty years after his death. Dickens, we learn, compiled a dossier of information and allegations about paedophilia amongst those in public life. This was handed to the then home secretary, Leon Brittan, in 1984. The fate of that dossier, together with any description of its contents, is unknown. An enquiry is promised.

Whilst we wait for that (no rush), let's look instead at what is on the record, and specifically at that 1981 case that prompted Calman's cartoon.

The story goes back to 1978, when a package was found on a London bus, containing 'obscene literature and written material'. No further details were officially given, but it was understood that the material related to paedophilia. The owner of the package was traced, along with several others who had shared 'correspondence of an obscene nature', until eventually a circle of nine people - seven men and two women - had been identified.

Under section 11 of the 1953 Post Office Act, all were liable for prosecution for the offence of sending obscene matter through the post. No charges, however, were brought in this instance.

But one of the men involved was discovered to be also carrying out a separate correspondence with another man (outside the original circle of nine). Their communications were more extreme and concerned 'the systematic killing by sexual torture of young people and children'. These two men were prosecuted and given a conditional discharge.

Meanwhile another trial was making its way to court, this time of Tom O'Carroll, a member of the Paedophile Information Exchange and the most vocal advocate for a reduction in the age of consent. He was charged with conspiracy to corrupt public morals, found guilty and jailed.

Both these court cases involved members of the original circle of nine correspondents, whether as witnesses or as names that were mentioned in evidence. And amongst those named was Peter Henderson, the owner of the package that had been left on the bus.

And so, finally, to Geoffrey Dickens.

In March 1981, Dickens used parliamentary privilege - the legal convention that the laws of libel do not apply in the Houses of Parliament - to reveal that 'Peter Henderson' was actually a pseudonym, concealing the identity of Sir Peter Hayman, a sixty-six-year-old former diplomat, who had been High Commissioner in Canada. Dickens wanted to know whether Sir Michael Havers, the attorney general, would initiate proceedings against Hayman under the Post Office Act. The answer to that question was 'no'; Havers agreed with the decision made by the office of Sir Tony Hetherington, the director of public prosecutions, not to bring charges relating to the correspondence within the original circle of nine.

There were many who felt that this didn't really deal with all the issues involved. In particular, there was a strong suspicion that the reason there was no prosecution was simply that the establishment was protecting one of its own, a senior retired diplomat who was also - it was rumoured - high up in the security services at MI6 (as well as being a member of the Paedophile Information Exchange). Furthermore, some believed, this was the reason that Hayman was not called as a witness in either of the two trials and why his name - uniquely - was kept out of the court record: he was simply referred to as Peter Henderson.

In short, the whole thing stank of the suggestion that Sir Michael and Sir Tony were looking after Sir Peter.

But there were others who felt that this wasn't the real issue here at all, that the main area of concern was the action of Geoffrey Dickens, which might bring Parliament into disrepute.

'I do not believe Sir Peter Hayman should have been named,' wrote Alan Watkins in the Guardian, 'and I hope MPs will now curb the absolute privilege they possess.' David Steel, then the leader of the Liberal Party, suggested that Dickens might have been abusing parliamentary privilege. Sir Michael Havers had attempted to persuade him not to name Hayman in the first place. And the Metropolitan Police called Dickens in for questioning over the source of his information, which he refused to reveal.

Much of this response was shaped by the nature of the man himself. Geoffrey 'Bunter' Dickens was a figure of great ridicule on the liberal left. A rotund man (he was a former heavyweight boxer) who spoke with a London accent, he called on a regular basis for the reintroduction of capital and corporal punishment, and was noted for his 'monomania' (to use the Sunday Times's word) on the subject of paedophilia. He was clearly obsessed, and few took him seriously when he argued, for example, that there was a connection between paedophile rings and Satanists: 'Children are sacrificed sexually to the lust and gratification of the coven,' he told the press in 1988. (To be fair, he went on to suggest that skeletons were also being sexually abused.)

By that stage in the late 1980s, of course, the question of paedophile rights was not on anyone's agenda. But a decade earlier, it had existed on the fringes of liberal thought, and PIE had found that, in some quarters at least - including the National Council for Civil Liberties, Mind, Release and the Campaign for Homosexual Equality - its arguments were not rejected entirely out of hand.

The fact that it was the likes of Dickens and of Mary Whitehouse who spoke out so strongly against paedophilia, and that their cause was taken up by the tabloids, made some feel that the paedophile scare was being blown up out of proportion. Here, for example, is an extract from a somewhat jokey leader column in the Guardian in 1981 concerning Dickens's naming of Hayman, complete with mockery of the tabloids:

'Straight sex, kinky sex and gay sex are all now looking a bit passé for the purpose of raising a scandal, and it may be thought that paedophilia (an even smaller minority interest than most) has surfaced only just in time. As the Daily Mirror remarked in a thoughtful leader, "The Daily Mirror is a tolerant newspaper. But tolerance has its limit. AND THIS IS IT."'

But times have changed, and here is an extract from the Guardian's leader today about the fallout from the Dickens dossier:

'It is now obvious that the scale of child sex abuse has been greater and has gone on for longer than many people might have imagined. So the question that most urgently needs answering is who knew, and why didn't they act.'

Maybe we're getting to the stage where that Calman cartoon could be dug out for a reprint.