Read All About It!
(Coming in the Autumn)
My Blog provides a running commentary on a Complaint. This is an edited version of it. Those who should have helped me, didn’t. The story does not flatter them. It is a contemporary record, and I have tried to relate it accurately and fairly; in most cases, I avoid naming names. I will afford them the opportunity at the proof stage to identify any shortcomings. I tell it in the public interest.
An active working life often teaches more than a degree course. In my case, my Eureka moments came in my retirement! By that time, I already knew that being street-wise was as valuable as being book-wise. By way of illustration, the word Tempo comes from the game of chess. The person who has the tempo on the chessboard, black or white, has the winning initiative. It is the same in argument and in life; it is more important than reason and logic. Understand this, understand Donald Trump’s Tweets. If only good reasoning always won arguments.
Everything that has happened to me in my last twenty years is by accident, not design. With the aid of a management buyout, I retired from my company to avoid the stress of growing it further into the nationwide company that it is today. Instead, I found a different kind of stress.
First, as chair of governors, helping parents, teachers, carers, and pupils in their successful campaign to keep their special school open when over 100 other special schools in the UK were closed as part of the misconceived policy of Inclusion. Mary Warnock does not disagree.
My play Death of a Nightingale staged at the New End theatre, London in 2008, and my first book Death of a Nightingale with ispy , along with my website of the same name signalled some of these insights.
I never realised at Oxford and in my subsequent working life how a small group of zealots, in this case believing that mainstream education was a right for them, could highjack democracy, thus imposing it on others for whom it was a wrong. How they could persuade the Treasury quite mistakenly that it would save money and suppress dissent. Frankly, I had never fully understood how nasty at times politics could be, and the power game that it is.
I had also never realised that many cock-ups arise because planners never factor human fallibility into their planning. Here they didn’t anticipate that mainstream schools and their teachers couldn’t cope with the variety and specialisms of special needs. Neither did they anticipate chronic bullying and its impact on mental health or see that despite best endeavours in trying to educate everyone equally they were educating many unfairly.
Some evidence of this, the number of prescriptions of Ritalin for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) increased from 700,000 to 1.5million in a decade.
Much to my surprise, in the last few years, this situation has repeated itself in a different and unexpected fashion.
In 2014, a proposal by Newcastle City Council for cycle lanes for non-existent cyclists, and red lines in the main arterial road running through Gosforth in Newcastle provoked me, a local resident, to join those objecting. It was a very bad idea given that the number of cyclists then, as well as the number projected, was far fewer than the figures that they claimed and, if implemented, would have been outlandishly wasteful, added to traffic congestion, seriously harming local amenities.
The plan seems to have been quietly dropped but meanwhile my complaint morphed into something much more serious in its implications. The very people who were supposed to help me register it did their utmost to suppress it. The word Ombudsman is Scandinavian, where the system represents the citizen against the State. Here it was the other way around; and, paradoxically, human rights lawyers were a hindrance not a help.
Again, a small group of zealots, this time auto-phobic cyclists, allied with the cycling lobby Sustrans highjacked democracy, with seed funding of over £1bn from the State in an age of Austerity! They believed that if, in UK’s towns and cities, there were everywhere segregated cycle lanes, one in eight motorists would give up their cars for a bicycle for all local journeys. But the UK is not Denmark or Holland and Newcastle is not Amsterdam and Copenhagen. To believe that they are shows a serious misunderstanding of culture, climate, and economics – as well as a lack of sensitivity to the needs of others compounded by an over-assertive ego.
What about our hills, and wind, snow, frost, sleet, and rain for a start. Or sudden weeks of burning sun. And, in the UK’s narrow, busy, already congested urban streets continuous segregated cycle lanes are impossible. Instead, cycle lanes, a few now segregated, but most not – segmented, spaghetti-like on the landscape – cause gridlock in rush hour; and they are intrinsically dangerous and unhealthy places to cycle. Cycling zealots don’t factor in human fallibility, for instance careless, reckless or unguarded moments on roads and pavements, including their own.
Bristol, “Britain’s first cycling city” thanks to Sustrans based there – with accidents to cyclists up over 60% in recent years despite £2.3million pounds spent on signs reducing 30mph to 20 mph. Do camera-sensitive drivers sometimes watch speedometers instead of watching the road?
11,000 Santander cycles in London and dock-less bikes there and in other cities is truly a folie de grandeur encouraging city cycling without the protection of a helmet. Patently clean electric power is the future, not the risk-laden bike. Charging points not cycle lanes should be the planning priority for Government and local authorities.
I have in mind here the tragic and sudden death of James Sanford, a young solicitor and very good friend, in a cycling accident in Singapore in 2012. He was taking part in the rehearsal for a sponsored charity cycle event. His bike hit a curb on a bend on a hill, skidded and collided with a lorry coming the other way. The world is the poorer for his passing.
As I tried to lodge my protest, I discovered that democracy was a charade, a licensed autocracy, consultation a selling exercise, and Ombudsmen a travesty. That is what this book is about.
I recorded my protest every inch of the way on my website. One thing I took away from my time at the Bar in Manchester, was the importance of keeping written records. This book brings them all together.
If you wonder at its length, let me explain.
I have been long troubled by those who selfishly assert their own rights in the name of equality and diminish or ignore altogether the rights of others with which they conflict.
They should accept that when rights conflict, as I have seen they do in schools and on the roads, they should be reconciled with fair play. Equality is irrelevant. Rights, like people, are equal only sometimes, unequal most times and different always. It is high time to challenge Human Rights lawyers to explore the relativity of some human rights and not assume that they are all the same; and to remind them that rights bring with them responsibilities.
For years I have been deeply concerned when people at the top who make decisions are not held accountable for them.
Instead they take cover behind their subordinates, with their hands clean and their pockets lined. I have witnessed this with the Local Government Ombudsman, the Legal Ombudsman and elsewhere.
That is one reason mistakes go uncorrected. To save face, to protect jobs and reputations, checks and balances that I thought in my University days were vital to a democratic society, have been disabled. This is like driving without a reverse gear down a very long cul-de-sac.
I am always sad as well as perturbed whenever I meet as I have done from time to time lawyers who do not measure against those I knew and respected at close quarters in Manchester, Iain Glidewell and Douglas Brown becoming senior members of the judiciary and Donald Summerfield becoming Manchester City Coroner.
That was at the outset of my working life, when I was wet behind the ears, a long time ago. Life has taught me a lesson or two since then.
One picture is worth 60,000 words here.
The Prologue to my first book, Death of a Nightingale with ispy began with this quote from Four Quartets, Little Gidding 1942 by TS Eliot:
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
I repeat it here. Octogenarians of the World unite!
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