Legal aid: The dismantling of a principle?

On 26 October 1945, Mr Marcus Lipton, OBE, spoke emotively in the House of Commons about “the provision of legal aid for poor persons”.

The Labour Party MP for the Lambeth Brixton constituency from 1945 to 1974 told members that it “must be regarded as an essential contribution towards improved social services”.

He went on to mention how the Army Council introduced the scheme to assist servicemen and women in their “civil affairs” in 1942.

To further underline the vital importance of legal aid, Mr Lipton used a principle built into the Magna Carta: “To none will we refuse or delay right or justice.”

The swingeing £350m cuts proposed by Kenneth Clarke, the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, will dismantle that very principle by leaving those without means with no way of obtaining redress of grievances.

It is no wonder that alarm has been raised by some of the most unlikely voices.

When anybody mentions Lord Tebbit, I immediately think of his no-nonsense get-on-your-bike speech directed at the unemployed in the 80s.

Yet the former Tory minister and ex-MP for Chingford has told The Guardian Newspaper that the planned cuts could be “going too far”.

He is openly supporting amendments ensuring minors or parents on their behalf are entitled to legal aid when pursuing medical negligence claims.

At a time when the disparity between the rich and the poor grows ever more vast, the planned cuts raise awkward questions about the link between obtaining justice, our legal system and having access to immense wealth.


Hitchens: ‘What does not kill us makes us weaker’

Since Christopher Hitchens’ death was announced last Thursday, fellow wordsmiths have been chronicling every word he wrote and said.

Whether you liked or detested the polemicist it would be foolhardy to deny his great literary and journalistic talents.

This afternoon I chose to reread “Trial of the Will” – the Vanity Fair article in which he positively rips to shreds Friedrich Nietzsche’s famous quote: “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.”

When I was a student and “part-time” activist the famous quote easily rolled of my tongue in company when the discourse turned to the great feats historical figures had achieved despite being severely disadvantaged.

I was also quick to repeat it like a nervous tick when friends would confide in me about a traumatic event they had experienced.

Looking back, I don’t think I actually believed the German philosopher’s claim.

It was more I wanted to believe human beings – including me – could triumph over any adversity.

Hitchens questions why he always thought Nietzsche’s saying was “profound”.

He is brutally honest about the indescribable pain he continues to suffer because of his esophageal cancer and the medical treatment administered to inhibit its march.

The 62-year-old notes that in this harsh world we live in harrowing experiences can “leave you considerably weaker”.

Euro zone crisis: Whose fault is it?

I find it rather predictable that nobody wants to own up to the mistakes that were clearly made over the euro.

Seasoned crews furnished with the responsibility for keeping it afloat and steering it through choppy waters have been squabbling among themselves since it ran aground.

This weekend the ex-president of the European Commission Jacques Delors waded into the fray.

Margaret Thatcher’s former sparring partner – remember the famous “the lady’s not for turning” speech at the Conservative Party Conference in 1980 – believes flawed “execution” is to blame for the crisis which could see the beleaguered single currency off in a few days time.

The chief architect of the European Union told The Telegraph newspaper that “everyone must examine their consciences” before referring to “a combination of the stubbornness of the Germanic idea of monetary control and the absence of a clear vision from all the other countries”.

The Economist was less diplomatic in its euro zone analysis piece, Is this really the end?

The magazine pointed the finger at “pigheaded brinkmanship”.Rather tellingly, when asked about the part his country played in the run-up to the current crisis, Mr Delors – who reigned as president from 1985 to 1995 – declined to comment.

NATO must assist Libya’s democratic rebirth

The brutal death of Muammar Gaddafi is not the fairytale cinematic ending the coalition government would have wanted and, no doubt, basked in.

There will be no international war crimes trial with the flamboyant despot standing defiantly in a glass-fronted dock spouting utter nonsense from his “Green Book”.

There will also now be no possibility for the British families of victims of the atrocities he committed during his 42-year dictatorship to obtain recourse.

Instead, what the world is left with is graphic mobile phone footage showing the blooded, balding oppressor cowering as he is manhandled by those he had previously oppressed.

Moments later he was dead.

It is an observable fact that few Libyans believe justice has not been served.

Of course, that in no way puts an end to the matter but what is clear is that the focus should now be on the future of the Northern African country.

In the New Statesman’s rolling blog, Zamila Bunglawala was spot on with his diagnosis of the scope of problems its inhabitants are likely to encounter and how they can attempt to overcome them in the coming months and years.

He called for the “Franco-British led NATO push” to offer as much guidance and training as possible so Libya can move forward from this inauspicious start in a democratic fashion.

There is much work to do and this is not the time for those involved in helping to topple the self-styled “king of kings of Africa” to suddenly get cold feet because they are “unhappy” about the manner of his death.

Labour needs less rhetoric and more policy


I have to say I was completely underwhelmed by Ed Miliband’s Labour Party Conference speech on Merseyside.


What was I expecting? Well, my first editor always repeated over and over again: “The devil is in the detail.”


Rhetoric is not what this country needs now. Job creation and a buoyant economy are at the forefront of people’s minds.


Only strong policies that deliver results will give him the prime ministerial air he desperately seeks.


Heather Stewart hit the nail on the head in her Guardian piece on big business, entitled: “End fast-buck culture? First, Miliband needs a revolution in business values”


She pointed out that Britain’s business model needed to be re-worked and “Miliband will need to translate his rhetoric into a detailed policy programme”.


Fired Starbucks worker’s rant over minimum wage

The Huffington Post tweeted a You Tube video today of a Starbucks employee ranting about the customers he served before he was fired from his job.

It was hilarious to watch and I immediately recognised his vivid and comical descriptions of them.

But this American young man’s incandescence also personifies the harsh reality for people existing on the minimum wage.

The Liberal Democrats have voted for a regionally variable minimum wage. This move will presumably assuage fears that a national one will “destroy jobs”.

The independent reports that in April last year, almost 500,000 people were paid less than £3 an hour.

The newspaper also revealed that Baroness Shirley Williams had “indicated the situation may have worsened” since the wages councils were abolished last year.

If the only way we can get our economy moving in the right the direction is to exploit the already disadvantaged, then we are in trouble.

Self-help gurus such as Anthony Robbins and Robin Sharma advocate chasing your dreams.

This is because a life without prospects is no life at all.

Ten years after 9/11 Westerners ‘still vulnerable’

“We are the centre of our own universe.”

This statement sprang to my mind as I watched some Afghanistan farmers looking nonplussed when confronted with graphic photographs showing the burning twin towers of the World Trade Centre on Channel 4 News.

“When you can’t feed or house yourself,” as one US soldier, based in the country where Al-Qaida orchestrated these atrocities, aptly articulated. “How are you going to care about somebody 6,000 miles away? So I can understand that.”

Only a police district chief recognised the images after scrutinising the prints.

I wasn’t surprised at all. For the last 10 days the UK has been remembering the 9/11 suicide attacks which claimed the lives of nearly 3,000 people, including 67 Britons.

For my generation it is our “JFK moment”.

What were you doing when out of the clear blue sky two planes flew into two iconic buildings that had not only dominated the Manhattan skyline for nearly 30 years but were also symbols of US wealth and invincibility?

I was carrying out pedestrian research on restaurants offering the best deals for students ahead of “Freshers week” on the day the Western world stopped.

I returned to my newsroom to discover it had turned into Madame Tussaud’s with every single member of staff imitating wax works, their eyes glued to TV screens. Even the affable and loquacious receptionists sat mute.

When I glanced at the images on the screen, I initially assumed they were engrossed in an action film.

After all, the footage resembled anything Sly Stone could have produced.

But, no, these pictures conveyed reality. New York was under attack and another plane was heading for the seat for power – the Pentagon.

When I arrived home still in shock, along with the rest of country, I sat transfixed in front of my own television.

How could this happen? Who was behind it? Who would be next?

The answers to my questions were unpalatable.

The audacious terrorist assault in 2001 set in motion a chain of events, including the “War on Terror”, which continue to impact on our daily lives.

In 2005, 52 Londoners died in 7/7. But has the “War on Terror” made the world a safer place? Not according to the International Business Times.

Meanwhile, America has warned of a “specific, credible threat” ahead of the anniversary with security boosted in New York and Washington, the BBC news website writes.

Post 9/11 Westerners carry on but not as before. We have become accustomed to a vulnerability which wealth and materialism cannot protect us from.