I write for the day after tomorrow, WITH Covid-19 around whether I live to see it or not is another matter. Self- isolated as I write, I hope that I will.
Essentially this is for you
I have just seen with total clarity where Human Rights lawyers get it horribly wrong without, I suspect, their realising it. They are committed to human rights and to égalité. They convolute the two and supercharge both in the service of those they categorise as “the disadvantaged” in society.
From an ethical point of view that appears unchallengeable, does it not?
But a flash of light
Are Human Rights lawyers politicised, fighting for the rights of only those they categorise as “disadvantaged” under the blood-stained banner of Revolutionary égalité but ignoring the legitimate rights of everyone else? British fair play absent. And at a terrible cost?
Sadly, many people see life exactly as they saw it when they started thinking about it in their teens, since then either treasuring anything consistent with it and binning anything not, or not thinking about it at all, probably the difference between the Left and the Right politically? Complacent, self-satisfied, self-sufficient in both cases. Sometimes self-righteous too. We pay a big price for that today.
Once I would have accepted without qualification the right of all children to equality of opportunity to go to University and the obligation of the State to provide it.
I was that way until in my retirement when I became chair of governors of Barbara Priestman School in Sunderland, a special school for children with a physical disability and a learning difficulty, one of the very many disabilities that teachers and carers of children with special needs had to provide for. Thanks to the Rotary Club of Sunderland that introduced me to Fredwyn Haynes its inspired and inspiring head teacher, sadly no longer, this was a shock to my system, a good one. I saw service before self, Rotary’s mantra, outside Rotary every day in the school.
Suddenly I am presented with a new situation. The flavour of the times is Inclusion. A law has been passed in 1976 giving children with special needs the right to mainstream education, giving them their right to an equal opportunity to go to University. Without that right disadvantaged.
But that was not the right that the parents, teachers, and carers wanted, or the children. In a meeting convened by the director of education to support Inclusion, not one hand went up in favour of it. In a very well attended meeting, no-one felt children were deprived or segregated. I recall the head teacher, Fredwyn Haynes, saying that the one thing BPS could give its pupils that mainstream could not, was time. It was also some very dedicated, very skilled teaching and caring and no bullying I could see.
While over 100 other special schools were being closed – State vandalism in my view – I helped the parents, teachers, and pupils in their campaign to keep their doors open. Mainstream education right for some with special needs but not for all. That is a story on its own. Seeing the dirty side of political argument provoked me to write my play Death of a Nightingale and stage it in the New End Theatre in London. I gave the head teacher in the play the line “What our kids want is not equality of opportunity, just opportunity.”
I now fine tune that. A friend to this day, a pupil at the school then, Ashleigh Ritchie, now Ashleigh Watts. I write about her wedding in my blog. What I have come to realise is that what Barbara Priestman School provided Ashleigh was a very precious commodity, self- esteem. For all her disability and health problems associated with it she was at one with herself. Nothing at all to do with an equal right to anything else. And at her wedding she surrounded herself with her teachers and friends from her school days acknowledging that. Giving kids self-esteem is part of what education should be about.
There is another dimension to this that may be an uncomfortable thought for some people.
The national curriculum and the examination system have been constructed to give all children an equal opportunity to go to University, but only half their number will end up there. What about that other half? What about their rights? Did they have any right to an education suitable for them? Have they got to be equal to register for attention? Isn’t it enough to be different? They don’t want equality.
What they want is fair play, not égalité.
As I keep saying, we are equal only sometimes, unequal most times and different always.
Here, maybe a different curriculum altogether, not one with an academic bias. Maybe a different qualification at the end of it. Maybe selection is not such a dirty word as it has been made out to be. Maybe this explains school disorder. ADHT and the widespread dosing kids with Ritalin, Expulsions. Mental health problems from a sense of failure. And maybe it explains why the UK has had to import skills that should have been home grown.
And maybe in the pursuit of égalité, the pursuit of excellence that is profoundly unequal has been neglected. Maybe bursaries and State Scholarships should not have been discontinued to reward the gifted and talented and the ambitious studying the subjects that would serve the country well in the future.
End of story? Not quite.
Time moves on. I suddenly find myself joining another campaign, to stop a cycle lane congest further a busy urban road through the shopping centre in Gosforth Newcastle.
In London cyclists truly represent the disadvantaged. Motorists the advantaged. Property prices, rents, the cost of living all put cyclists at a disadvantage. Not to mention their health and safety on the roads. And so many emotive arguments for the bicycle to promote their use even though Cycling UK says that “cycling accounts for less than 1% of road traffic and under 2% of trips”, they are scarcely equal, there are many other safer ways to keep fit, many quicker ways to get clean air into towns and cities and, unlike on the Continent of Europe, narrow and already congested urban roads and roundabouts unwelcoming. Outside London cycling is for students and the young, mainly for recreation not commuting to work.
Never mind. There is suddenly a brand-new human right promoted by the Media, notably the Times. An equal for all right to clean air. Unobjectionable. Save the planet too. Given statutory backing. Substantial State funding provided.
But look more closely. No one is told that this policy is being promoted by the cycling lobby Sustrans with a vision that wants one driver in eight to make a model shift, their words remember it, as they describe it and give up their car for a bicycle for all journey under five miles, that wants traffic to drive more slowly, that doesn’t mind gridlock for others.
In Newcastle Sustrans is employed by the local authority to bid for the money that will pay them to realise their vision. To that end they prepared a diagrammatic map and with a black crayon marked the route for a cycle lane without any professional examination of the road where it was to go and without any market research to support their aspiration. Simply totally fanciful expectations of the number of cyclists likely to materialise over ten years, “an increase in cycling trips by 73% – 1,232,177 additional cycling trips are forecast.” And a fake consultation. A choice between cashew nuts and pistachio but nuts all the same. With Inclusion for Barbara Priestman School parents it had been a choice between walnuts and peanuts but nuts all the same. They were allergic to nuts.
But what has happened here is that an equal right to clean air has pre-empted the right of the majority to get to their destinations as quickly as possible and the right to lead their lives without unnecessary restriction – going to and from work, shopping, eating out, films, concerts, football matches. Instead 20 mph speed limits – millions of £s spent on the signs, a new proposal that no cars can park on a pavement curb necessary for thousands of car owners without garages, and the latest stupidity on Tyneside, a proposed bus and cycle lane reducing the traffic on the main bridge over the Tyne to a single lane. That “model shift” again?
At least good sense has prevailed on Gosforth High Street, not elsewhere in Newcastle and the UK. Regardless of cycling injuries that A & E and the NHS can certainly now do without. And this policy still dwarfs a policy to introduce fast chargers for the new generation of electric cars ironically much more likely to achieve clean air in our towns and cities.
This, however, is only a part of the story. My story in my new book Kafka’s Cycle – slow death of a complaint. In my retirement if there is meat on a bone, I gnaw at it.
It includes – NHS – is the 1948 Model fit for the 21st Century. As front-line staff in hospitals and care homes are the heroes today, backroom bureaucrats also need to see the place for the first time.” Not just as they started from. With 20 years involvement in Philip Cussins House in Newcastle – another place where I found service before self every day – I assert the right of care home staff to protection in amongst rights currently minimised.
QUESTION FOR NEXT TIME – Are Human Rights lawyers politicised fighting only for the rights of those they categorise as disadvantaged, blind to the rest?
PART TWO – Human Rights Infringed –Mine, the Right to Free Expression – The Guilty Ones? To follow.
If you want to read Kafka Cycle, it will be up to you to help.