Shropshire Star

Political column - May 18

The totemic standard bearer for breakdown Britain is the National Health Service.


Functionally bankrupt, with overcrowded hospital corridors being used as wards, huge waiting times, and staff allegedly suffering from such low pay and low morale that they are packing up to go and work abroad in their droves, you don't have to go far to hear people saying that the NHS is broken and making unflattering comparisons with Third World countries.

Not anywhere near as far up the pecking order in terms of public concern, but in just as deep a crisis, is the judicial system, which was Sir Keir Starmer's topic for the day at Prime Minister's Questions this week.

While he banged on about domestic abusers being allowed out of jail early, that is just one symptom of a system which has suffered from short-sighted defunding and long-term lack of strategic planning, hence the prisons being so full that the government is having to find ways to free up space.

The idea that it is desirable to administer justice locally was killed off by the closure of smaller on-the-doorstep courts. To the bean counters this saved money. What actually happened is that all the costs were transferred to defendants, lawyers, and other professionals who have had to travel long distances at great inconvenience.

Then there's the backlog. Some cases are taking as much as five years to come to trial. Five years!

That means defendants, who may be proven entirely innocent in the end, have the matter hanging over them for years and live their lives in limbo.

But in any event, can any trial which depends on memory evidence be fair if there is such a delay? How reliably can you recall events from five years ago?

Delays running into years are affecting sentencing. You will probably have read of cases in which the judge has imposed a more lenient sentence on the grounds that the case has taken a long time to get to court. People who might normally have been sent to jail, are not.

It's all another disaster zone.

On something vaguely related, Sir Keir, announcing his big initiative in dealing with the boats coming across the Channel, said that people smugglers were "no better than terrorists." Nobody seems to have challenged this statement, and I think I know why.

In medieval times there must have been just as many intelligent, rational people around as today, although they lacked today's knowledge.

As witches were put on bonfires, some must surely have had doubts. But if they piped up to protest: "I say, I'm not sure doing this is quite right," the crowd would have turned on them and said: "Witch supporter! One more to add to the bonfire!"

So pointing out that Sir Keir is plain wrong would be to invite an accusation of being on the side of the people smugglers.

But terrorists are definitely worse. They shoot people and blow them up. It is what they see as their role. They are a direct risk to you and me.

It is a difference recognised by sentencing powers. Terrorists can be given a whole life term. The maximum sentence for people smugglers is currently 14 years.


If we wonder why today's generation of children are so messed up, you need look no further than Eurovision, with its suggestive gyrating, writhing, bumping, and in one case nudge-nudge nudity, with a dose of witchery mixed in.

How far it has descended from the family-friendly funfest of its origins to a show which has to have viewer warnings about some of its acts was underlined by anniversary flashbacks to Abba's 1974 win. Maybe we have to attribute some of the blame for the decline to Bucks Fizz with that rip-the-skirts-off gimmick.

Today the staging matters almost as much as the music.

Bring back the wholesome fare of Clodagh Rodgers and Dana, I say, or protect our children by broadcasting next year's show after the watershed.


Fair play to Wolves for forcing the Premier League to vote on scrapping VAR, an infernal system which has conferred on referees a legitimacy which traditionally has been questioned. How we hanker for a return of the age-old chant: "The referee's a *******."

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