Friday, 28 November 2014

Andrew Mitchell is innocent

and that is why he sued for libel. Nobody would sue if they knew they had done what they were accused of. I have written many times publicly that former MP Martin Salter took over 40K of public money to pay for a non-existent London property. He has never even threatened to sue me, because it is true. UK libel laws are problematic, and also controversial. My personal view is that there should be a privacy law, as there is in France, which would protect private individuals from unwarranted publication of details of their personal life, family matters and so on. Public figures would also be protected, but less so, because there could be a public interest defence. I barely knew Andrew Mitchell during my time in the House of Commons, so I have no personal interest to declare. He had the reputation of being irascible, and I have no reason to doubt that he is. If he did shout and swear at police officers on the day in question, and it is not seriously disputed that he did, then that was bad behaviour, and behaviour not befitting a chief whip (bullying and psychological torture is more their style), but it does not merit two years of personal hell and career and possibly financial ruin. Andrew Mitchell may have the personal wealth to pay the enormous legal bill he now confronts, or he may not. I have no idea. But there is no doubt that his political career is over. He appears to have been personally tormented by the accusation - which amounts to the use, or not, of the word "pleb" - in a way that some other politicians facing media storms of this kind have not been. I maintain that this is because he was innocent of what he was accused of. It has been suggested that he brought this matter on himself by refusing to walk away from the issue, and by suing for libel. This of course is what brought down Oscar Wilde over a century ago. Contrast with Chris Huhne, who went to prison for an offence he knew he was guilty of, and who appears to be relatively unscathed by the experience. Andrew Mitchell is not going to prison, but unscathed he is not.

It seems clear that there was some kind of conspiracy by more than one police officer to stitch Andrew Mitchell up. Probably because they didn't like him, and if the police decide to do you over they can usually manage it. The judge seems to have known this, and to have deemed it not especially relevant. He chose to believe the police officer at the centre of the case, Toby Rowland, who said he didn't know what the word "pleb" meant - probably not, because that briefing came from elsewhere in the police - because he thought Rowland was not the kind of man to make things up, and so Andrew Mitchell must be either lying or amnesiac to deny having used the word "pleb". Well, that is what judges do. They make judgments.

In his very interesting book on UK political scandals, 'Eye of the Storm', Rob Wilson MP (my successor as MP for Reading East, to no one's surprise, and likely to retain the seat next year) chronicles the personal and emotional crisis Andrew Mitchell experienced as a result of this accusation. He indicates that those who feel they have been unjustly accused are likely to suffer more than those who know themselves to be guilty. Conscience is a real thing, but so is justice. Andrew Mitchell has been unjustly treated. Justice is real, but only if those who are unlikeable or unfashionable have the same entitlement to it as everyone else does.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

did this picture get someone killed?

the regime in North Korea is both barmy and savage, as any fule kno. Its ruling dynasty and the elite that surrounds it cannot afford to move on from the worst extremes of the Cold War in which its people are still living, even though they must. The regime's pronouncements read like a bad joke, most of the time, and its leaders, since the nation's founder Kim Il-sung ("Kim: The Early Years"), to his allegedly playboy son Kim Jong Il ("Bad Elvis", as John Sweeney dubbed him) to today's Dear Leader Kim Jong Un ("Fatboy Kim", ibid.) have looked increasingly ludicrous with each generation. One day the regime will come crashing down, and the Kims with it. But until then the people of North Korea live in a tragic parody of a socialist paradise. And yet, look at this picture. It is an official photograph taken of Leader Kim's visit to an orphanage (one with no children in it, but that is the way of things in the Democratic People's Republic). It appears not to have been photoshopped or tampered with. Someone in that place has (or had) a subversive sense of humour. The picture is from KCNA, the Korean Central News Agency, the sole official news agency.
fatboy kim look behind you
I am not one to subscribe to the notion that totalitarian or fascist regimes can be brought down by ridicule - look how effective the satirical cabarets of 1930s Berlin were against Hitler - but there is a place for taking the piss. The worker in the orphanage, the member of Kim's entourage, the humble official, whoever it was who had the notion of placing the two stuffed toys behind Kim in the compromising position they are in has a juvenile sense of humour, but a subversive one. It's good to see that subversiveness is alive and well and living in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, where there's not much to laugh about, most of the time. The joke that is Fatboy Kim's haircut has probably worn a bit thin by now.

Of course, this picture may be fake. I don't think so, but it may be. Of course, if it's real the person responsible for the placing of the animals may have been identified and terminated by now. Commenters on Mashable, which is where I first saw this picture, seem to think so.

For those who care, the stuffed animal in the, er, submissive position in the picture is a Japanese manga character. He is a blue cat with no ears called Doraemon who has come back from the future to help a little boy called Nobita live a better life. I think he is fab and I have got several pieces of Doraemon merchandise at home. And, why, pray tell, can the Glorious People's Republic not create their own stuffed animals, but instead use ones imported (we suppose) from Evil Imperialist Japan?

Leaving quite aside the notion of being pictured smoking a cigarette in an orphanage. Or anywhere, really, these days.