Saturday, 12 April 2008

It's Not Us, It's You Who's To Blame: Upside-Down Values in British Society

Two news items struck me today and thoroughly irritated me. They always say that the high-tech that you see in a spy movie or a heist movie has generally been in use by intelligence agencies or criminals five years before you see it in a movie and think it is so advanced. This is how I am now viewing British society. Recently I wrote about what I anticipated the next steps to be in the creation of the British police state over the next 5-10 years and then today I look around and find that some of them are already in place. It was claimed Poole Council (Poole is a medium-sized coastal town in South-West England) had put a family under surveillance for two weeks because they believed the parents were trying to cheat the system for the allocation of school places for their 3-year old child. Rather than be embarrassed when this came to light, the council (this is a local authority not some national intelligence or police body) said that it was quite within the law to put the family under surveillance under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA), which was introduced to help track terrorists and serious criminals, not ordinary families commiting no crime. The surveillance actually exonerated the family from doing anything wrong. As I have said before such 'anti-terrorist' powers always quickly become abused by authorities, pretty often 'little Hitlers' like local council officers as much as by state bodies. Poole Council seemed quite pleased with itself and proudly said it had had five other families under surveillance to try to combat false applications for school places. These people should be paying compensation not crowing about how quickly they are eroding our civil liberties.

The other thing, is why is there such an issue over which school children should go to and that families will do anything such as move house, change religion or lie about where they live to get into them? Well, it is because we have moved to such a divisive schooling system. Ever since Tony Blair's script-writer called comprehensive schools 'bog standard' in 2002 there has been a green light to move to an education system which increasingly divides UK society. More and more schools are allowed to select which pupils come to them on really any grounds they choose. Last week the BBC revealed that in a random selection of areas government officials found many schools were imposing illegal selection criteria to bar certain types of children for example through asking about family income or marital status or in some cases actually charging fees of up to £945 (€1190: US$1880) per term for what is supposed to be a free schooling system. Of course such schools cream off not only strong pupils but resources too so you do not have a very good school and then a reasonable school down the road you have an excellent schools and a very poor quality school as second choice. When a third of parents do not get their children into their first choice of secondary school you can see the reason why they are driven to extreme methods. In the UK going to a poor school can damn you for life barring you from getting good exam results, getting to university, getting work. Children are locked into certain paths from the moment they start school and despite Britain's supposed classless society it is nearly impossible to get off the path you get put upon. Success in the UK for young people has nothing to do with ability it is about winning an educational lottery. So, if Poole Council was not full up of arrogant idiots who somehow think their petty concerns are more important than real life and think they should use police state tactics to enforce their personal views, they might save the council taxpayers money from surveillance and put it in to ensuring all schools in their borough are of a good standard.

The other news story was about the High Court ruling that to send British troops ill-equipped into battle was to violate their human rights. An Army spokesman has said British troops are always properly equipped and yet at inquest after inquest we hear how a soldier died because they had a defective parachute or lacked night vision goggles or lack body armour or their armoured vehicle had no armour underneath it and so on and so on. If the government wants to involve the British Armed Forces in so many conflicts it should stop doing it on the cheap. So quickly they seem somehow, probably influenced by President Bush's thinking, returned to the attitude of the First World War (excellent on this is 'British Bunglers and Butchers of World War I' by John Laffin (reissued 2003)), that victory can be achieved by an almost ritualistic sacrifice of young people in large numbers. When guerilla forces who have been hiding in the mountains for years can pull out anti-aircraft rockets, you cannot go up against them less than totally prepared and fully equipped. Yet again, however, we are told we are wrong to raise such complaints and should ignore what is being done to fellow British citizens (and in fact increasingly from other countries as the British Army seeks again to fill up its thinning ranks with soldiers from the Commonwealth, despite the fact that the Gurkhas from Nepal were revealed last week to only get 10% of the pension a British soldier they may have served alongside would get). No, these are important issues and 'you': you in local authorities, you in the military, you in government, are wrong. Listen to the people who are suffering because of you narrow minded, arrogant policies and do the right thing for a change rather than whining when we draw your attention to your terrible blunders.

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