This week with Brian 27 July to 3 August 2023

Further Afield the week according to Brian Quinn

This Week with Brian

Including two CEOs, more than just a bank, 17 lost years, garbage in and garbage out, yet more heat, a celebrity acquittal, on-the-spot guidance, value for money, hedgehogs, swifts, aquatic cats, buses, running on empty, a black muddy river, two pairs of kings, what watch? and 49 elections.

Click on the appropriate buttons to the right to see the local news from your area (updated every Thursday evening).

If there’s anything you’d like to see covered for your area or anything that you’d like to add to something that we’ve covered already, drop me a line at brian@pennypost.org.uk

Further afield

• You’ve got to say this about Nigel Farage: when he goes for something he really does it with both hands. His latest spat has been with Coutts and its owners NatWest concerning whether he was discriminated against because of his political views: and, more specifically, whether he had been briefed against. So far he has managed to unseat two bank CEOs – Coutt’s Peter Flavel and NatWest’s Alison Rose – in less than a week, a feat possibly unmatched in the history of enforced resignations. He wants the whole NatWest board to go as well. After what happened in 2016, who will bet against him?

 

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• Banks

Last year, Penny and I needed to change PP’s bank account as we’d decided to change from a limited company to a CIC as this more accurately reflected what we are about. Insuperable obstacles were thrown up by our existing bank so we had to find a new one. The online application forms, the conversations and the emails seemed to go on forever. Six months on, the snagging problems are not over.

Anyone who has an account with a bank, no matter how unsatisfactory, will probably be inclined to leave it be. There are many reasons to change but many more not to. The fact that one might be forced to because of political or other views adds a possible fresh hell to modern life.

What Farage has managed to do is draw attention to the problem of people having accounts closed with no particular reason offered. As this article in The Guardian points out, this has been going on for years. Banks can choose who they can take on as clients but by law they can’t discriminate on grounds of protected characteristics, which includes political views. These laws came to us from the EU, the organisation that Mr Farage campaigned so effectively for us to leave in 2016.

There’s another dimension to this. Large organisations now feel obliged to espouse ideals, commit to ambitions and project values which, they believe, help set them apart from their rivals and make them appear in some way custodians of a particular ethos. Cynics could argue that this is green-washing or rainbow-washing on a colossal and irrelevant scale.

Many such aspirations are good – we will not invest in carbon fuels or prop up dictators, for example – but no such clear-cut objectives seem to be stated in this case, possibly because they can’t be justified. Instead we have statements, usually in threes, for which the word “vacuous” might have been invented. Take a look at NatWest’s values, for example:

  • We work together to achieve great things with our colleagues, communities and customers.
  • We celebrate and respect everyone’s strengths and differences and share our knowledge and experiences.
  • We are committed to nurturing a fair and inclusive environment where we all feel we belong.

What does all this even mean? As regards the last point, would “inclusive” involve denying someone an account because of their politics and would “fair” include the bank being indiscreet about it?

I remember years ago seeing a slogan for some company or another that included the phrase “more than just a design agency.” If I used a design agency I’d want it to be just that and no more, rather than also a fishmonger, an undertaker or a tyre-fitter. Coutts/NatWest seemed to be trying to be more than just a bank. We don’t need them to be. Just be a bank, please.

• Injustice

It’s very hard to imagine what life must be like for Andrew Malkinson, who served 17 years in prison for a rape he always maintained he didn’t commit and who was finally cleared of the charges on 26 July. There would seem to be some serious concerns about the way the original case was handled and the speed with which new DNA evidence was acted on. We’ll doubtless be hearing more about this.

Such miscarriages are always going to happen. With a bit of bad luck, it could be you or me next. The real problem seems to be with our understandable reluctance to accept that the jury system can be wrong. Indeed, as I understand matters, this is enshrined in law. Once the jury has decided the matter, that’s that; as infallible as when the Pope declares a matter of doctrine. It makes a certain amount of sense. You can’t have every case re-opened just because the defence has thought of a new argument. Again as I understand it, in general only new evidence – such as DNA – is admissible.

All this certainty might be good for the overall needs of society in identifying a culprit and closing the file. In this country, though, we still recognise that the individual, rather than all of us as a group, has rights that are sometimes abused.

The worse the crime, the more likely we are to welcome the fact that someone has been banged up for it and we can all sleep safer. The police forces and the judicial system connive in this, something shown most clearly in the Guilford Four and Maguire Seven trials in the 1970s: all of these verdicts were quashed. This happened because subsequent investigations proved numerous procedural problems and information being withheld or fabricated: which could be construed as new evidence, in that the original jury was not given the full picture.

There are also cases, including Malkinson’s, where disproportionate weight seems to have been placed on one piece of eye-witness evidence or an identity parade. Add to that the persuasive oratory of barristers and the confusion of claim and counter-claim that surrounds even the simplest case and juries are placed in very equivocal positions. And yet the system demands we accept that they are always right. To paraphrase Churchill’s remark about democracy, juries are perhaps the worst way of deciding a verdict except for all the the others.

I don’t know how many cases involve a long sentence and where the evidence was not overwhelmingly against the convicted person. I imagine these would not be that massive. We have a lot of lawyers in this country and I wonder if some could be employed in reviewing such cases and looking not for fresh evidence but holes in the original prosecution case and referring any concerns upwards for further scrutiny.

Yes, it will cost money. No, it won’t solve every problem. However, it would show that we recognise that the machinery of the law does not always produce justice. There can be few more valuable things a state can do than bolster confidence in its judicial system. This should include accepting that mistakes can be made. Juries may provide verdicts that are later shown to be wrong but this may be because they were not told the whole truth, or worse. Garbage in, garbage out.

• Heat

This article on the BBC website has the headline “global boiling is here to stay” and that July seems certain to set yet another unwanted record for high temperatures. It seems increasingly hard to pretend that this is in any way usual or part of a natural oscillation in climate, or that it’s not linked to CO2 emissions.

As for the cause, I pointed last week to a pair of graphs that show a pretty exact correlation between the amount of atmospheric carbon dioxide and the number of people on the planet. We don’t all produce the same amount, though. Well over half the carbon emissions come from the EU, the USA and China. The entire population of Africa on the other hand contributes less than 4%.

The Mayor of Phoenix, Arizona – which has recently had 27 days with temperatures of above 43ºC – has said that her city is “on the front line of climate change.” I think we all are.

• And finally…

Kevin Spacey has been found not guilty on all nine charges of sexual offences. He described himself as promiscuous and a “big flirt” who had “casual, indiscriminate sexual encounters.” Other cases in other jurisdictions may yet follow. We are increasingly expected to judge an artist’s work in the context of their private life, or the parts of it that are known or alleged. The trouble with that logic is that almost anyone can become off-limits. Flawed people can produce great things. Certainly his performances in American Beauty, House of Cards and The Usual Suspects, to name but three, are beyond superb. Enjoy them, watching the actor and not the man.

• North Korea’s Leader Kim Jong Un recently proudly showed off his country’s formidable and terrifying arsenal to Russia’s Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and a delegation from Beijing. An alliance between these three would surely finish the rest of us off, though it’s hard to see them all agreeing with each other for more than about two minutes. Mutual distrust between your enemies can be the best guarantor of peace. I wonder if the Great Successor, as Kim likes to be known, offered any of his famous on-the-spot guidance to his visitors? There certainly seemed to be the usual number of flunkies hanging around with pens and notebooks.

• The weather interruptions at the fourth test match in the Ashes, which almost certainly cost England victory, have re-opened the debate about whether more time should be allowed. Test matches generally start at 11am and finish at about 6pm but there are always at least 12 hours of sunlight in any day when cricket is played, so why not start earlier: in short, to do everything possible to get in the 90 overs a day for which people have paid. Cricket’s proved pretty good at change and innovation in its short-formats. Test matches, though, seem more immune from reform. Some may think that if tests were to start at any time other than 11am then the world would end. I say, take a chance on it. There are so many things that might cause this to happen: surely risking one more isn’t going to make any difference…

Across the area

• Hedgehogs and swifts

Last week’s Full Council meeting at West Berkshire Council considered a petition to create “hedgehog highways”. These are gaps in fences on housing developments through which these important and much-loved mammals, which are unable to climb or fly, can use to travel in order to feed and to mate. In that respect, they’re not that different from us, then.

The petition did not succeed. However, I don’t think that this reflects as badly on WBC as this bald statement might imply. Indeed, the fact that this particular protection for this animals cannot now be provided by the Council, at least not through the planning system, may be good news; it dispels any illusions that regulations and laws can on their own create what we need, the more so if there’s any doubt as to whether they can be enforced. Britain’s swifts had a similar date with destiny in the Commons last week which met with a similar response. For the same reason, this may not be bad news for them, either.

You can read more on this in this separate post.

• Running on empty

Citizens Advice West Berkshire (CAWB) published its Annual Report for 2022-23 at its AGM on Wednesday 26 July. The advice charity warns that its services are coming under strain as the ongoing cost of living crisis puts intolerable pressures on households across our community. Its clients are, as the headline to the summary to the report eye-catchingly states, “running on empty.”

“The past year has been extremely challenging for our clients who were faced with rising inflation and soaring food, energy and housing costs,” said Isabel Esperança, Chief Officer of CAWB. “Many clients experienced financial difficulties, job losses, relationship breakdowns, mounting debts and poor mental health. The strain on households was immense, and increasingly, people in full-time work came to us for advice.  We used our clients’ stories to engage with decision-makers to successfully campaign for increased government support on the cost of living, including an uprating of benefits and pensions in line with inflation.”

You can read more in this separate post.

• Residents’ news

The latest Residents’ Bulletin from West Berkshire Council covers free gym and swim memberships for people with Parkinsons, the latest on the Summer Reading Challenge, the Spurctoft School Legacy Project, career opportunities with WBC and the Museum, consultations, family fun and an open-air sculpture exhibition at Shaw House.

• Surveying the buses

A reminder that in 2021 the Government launched the National Bus Strategy setting out its vision of improved bus services and provided authorities with additional funding to ‘build back better’ bus services via the Bus Service Improvement Plans. Its main aim is to get more people travelling by bus but this can, a recent statement from West Berkshire Council points out, ” only be achieved if buses are made more practical and attractive as an alternative to the car.”

For more information and to take part in the survey (which closes on 10 September), please click here.

• News from your local councils

Most of the councils in the area we cover are single-tier with one municipal authority. The arrangements in Oxfordshire are different, with a County Council which is sub-divided into six district councils, of which the Vale of White Horse is one. In these two-tier authorities, the county and district have different responsibilities. In all cases, parish and town councils provide the first and most immediately accessible tier of local government.

West Berkshire Council

Click here for details of all current consultations being run by West Berkshire Council.

Click here to sign up to all or any of the wide range of  newsletters produced by West Berkshire Council.

Click here to see the latest West Berkshire Council Residents’ Bulletin (generally produced every week).

Click here for the latest news from West Berkshire Council.

Vale of White Horse Council

Click here for details of all current consultations being run by the Vale Council.

Click here for latest news from the Vale Council.

Click here for the South and Vale Business Support Newsletter archive (newsletters are generally produced each week).

Click here to sign up to any of the newsletters produced by the Vale’s parent authority, Oxfordshire County Council.

Wiltshire Council

Click here for details of all current consultations being run by Wiltshire Council.

Click here for the latest news from Wiltshire Council.

Swindon Council

Click here for details of all current consultations being run by Swindon Council.

Click here for the latest news from Swindon Council.

Parish and town councils

• Please see the News from your local council section in the respective weekly news columns (these also contain a wide range of other news stories and information on activities, events and local appeals and campaigns): Hungerford areaLambourn Valley; Marlborough area; Newbury area; Thatcham area; Compton and Downlands; Burghfield area; Wantage area

• Other news

Click here for the latest news from West Berkshire Council’s Library Service.

• The work on upgrading the Lido at the Northcroft Centre in Newbury continues and it’s still hoped this will be open some time in July. You can click here to see a brief video which provides an update of the progress.

West Berkshire Libraries has challenged primary age children to read up to six library books in the Summer Reading Challenge until 15 September and to collect free incentives from their local library for their achievements as they read, with medals and certificates for everyone who completes the challenge. More details here.

• West Berkshire Council is planning to invest an additional £1.9m on a housing scheme for displaced people to help provide an additional ten homes. More details here.

Click here for information about help available with the cost of living crisis in West Berkshire, the Vale and Wiltshire.

Please click here for information about what local councils are doing to help support refugees from Ukraine and how you can help.

Click here for a post listing the various places which are offering a takeaway and/or delivery service. If you are aware of any others, let us know.

• The animals of the week are these aquatic cats. Cats don’t like water, right? Wrong.

• The letters section of the Newbury Weekly News includes, as well as ones referred to elsewhere, communications on the subjects of ADHD, organ food, buses, elitists, snowflakes and parking.

• A number of good causes have received valuable support recently: see the various news area sections (links above) for further details.

The quiz, the sketch and the song

• So it’s time for the Song of the Week. Thanks, once again, to Prof JC for his suggestion: Sierra Hull’s 2022 cover of The Grateful Dead’s Black Muddy River.

• Which takes us to the Comedy Moment of the Week. I’ve done this one before, as I so often say, but here it comes again: a lovely little scene from the peerless Casablanca about telling the time in English.

• And so, finally, the Quiz Question of the Week. This week’s question is: Which two (consecutive) English kings each became king twice? Last week’s question was: Not counting the three taking place on 20 July, how many parliamentary by-elections have there been since the 2010 general election? The answer is 49. This probably equates to about 49,000 photos of dogs tied up outside polling stations on the BBC website.

For weekly news sections for Hungerford areaLambourn Valley; Marlborough area; Newbury area; Thatcham area; Compton and Downlands; Burghfield area; Wantage area  please click on the appropriate li

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3 Responses

  1. It’s far from perfect and is criticised in this case for taking too long. It’s underfunded and overwhelmed, but then what isn’t under the current administration?

  2. Re miscarriages of justice, we do have the Criminal Cases Review Committee. Anyone can submit their case and it’s free of charge. It was the CCRC that commissioned the DNA evidence that overturned Malkinson’s case. Nothings perfect, but nothings done, dusted and beyond review, although 17 years to establish that is shocking indeed.

    1. Thanks, Julie. I thought that the CCRC could only look at cases where new evidence had emerged. Perhaps I’m wrong (I often am…). If there is a body looking at verdicts that might be dodgy for other reasons then great. However, if so it seemed to have missed this one…
      Brian

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