Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Everything you have heard about benefit tourists is untrue

In The Guardian this week the paper's researchers showed that, while accepted wisdom is that the UK is a magnet for benefit tourists, in fact British expatriates in other countries of Europe claim more money in those other countries than immigrants into the UK claim here. In total there are more than 30,000 Britons claiming benefits in Europe and frequently receiving much more generous allowances than the pittances that claimants, whatever their country of origin, are given here.

The research shows that there are over 11,000 British benefit claimants in Ireland, with Germany, France, Spain and Italy also paying allowances to over 2000 Britons each.

There is no reason to dress this information up because it speaks for itself and gives the lie to the statements made by xenophobes whether in parliament, in the media or down at the pub. What it means is that if every EU country banned benefits to natives of other nations and sent them home to claim there would be a net loss to the British economy.

Meanwhile, back on Earth, it's snowing today and I can't get in to work so am looking through the rules for Universal Credit, which is £millions over cost as well as years overdue, thankfully. The new rules include swingeing punishments for anyone who disobeys a direction, whether in work or not. Working Tax Credit is abolished under UC so if someone is in low paid work in future and wishes to claim a top up benefit equivalent to WTC or the old FIS and Family Credit s/he will have to show that s/he is applying for other, better paid jobs or asking the boss for a pay rise every month; otherwise, sanctions will apply and no UC will be paid.

And there's more. It has always been a principle of the benefit system that is someone is overpaid, that overpayment is only recoverable where it was the claimant's fault. In other words, if you give information to the local council or Jobcentre and they accidentally don't act on it, if there is a resulting overpayment you don't have to pay it back. No more! In future, if you are overpaid, no matter whose fault it is or how many times you try to let them know they are wrong (and the recent trial of the woman accused of child abuse in the Ian Watkins case when she had tried for years to get the police to listen to her concerns comes to mind) you'll end up with a huge bill to pay back from out of your monthly pittance.

That both Labour and Conservative parties think and say that bashing claimants is a vote-winner is a miserable thought indeed. I've yet to meet anyone who deliberately chucked in his/her job in order to live it up on Jobseeker's Allowance. Anyone who did so ought to be considered unfit for work on mental health grounds, because, in reality, you'd have to be completely nuts!

Saturday, 17 January 2015

There is no God..

..and there have never been any gods. There is no evidence of the existence of any divine being, either now or in the past. The Bible and the Quran are works of fiction, as are all other supposedly sacred books. Burning a copy of the Quran will not mean the arsonist goes to Hell because there is no such place; likewise killing someone who has desecrated a copy is not a ticket to Heaven because that does not exist either. People who have been canonised don't know about it, because they are all dead, and people who have died have no way of knowing what has happened to their reputation.


If all people accepted the logic behind the above paragraph there would be no need for the existence of the state of Israel because there would be no discrimination against Jews. There would be no Jews, nor any Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus or Jains. The people of Palestine would not have been driven out of their homeland and there would be no religious war in the Middle East. There would be no ISIS, no al-Qaeda, no Taliban, al-Shabab or Boko Haram. If no-one had ever believed in fairy tales there would have been no crusades, no martyrs and no Spanish Inquisition. We might not have had so much great music to listen to but then again maybe the same great tunes would simply have been written anyway and dedicated to someone real, or to Nature itself.


There would be no infallible Pope to impose his own rules on sexuality and contraception, thereby saving a billion Catholics from following such foolish and discriminatory instructions, and there would have been no conflict between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland if there were no Catholics and no Protestants. Throughout the world, people would not have learned at an early age that it was their religious duty to accept their lot in this world and not strive to improve their own living conditions because they be rewarded for their forbearance in the form of everlasting paradise after they were dead.


A caveat now. It would be stupid to argue that no religion would not have meant no suffering at all. There would still be wars fought over access to raw materials and fertile land, but no-one would be able to claim that God was on their side. There might well still be great inequality, since although many scholars have equated the rise of capitalism with the ethics of Protestantism, particularly as practiced in the USA, removing gods and miracles from the imagination would be unlikely to eliminate greed and callousness towards others less fortunate. However, what we would not see would be pointless and cruel massacres perpetrated against so-called apostates or infidels. Terrorist attacks might still happen but they would be the result of people fighting for human rights rather than to take them away and the poor would no longer be cowed by the threat of eternal damnation should they decide to take action for themselves and their children.


A Freedom of Information request in 2010 found that in England alone there were 4598 Church of England and 2010 Catholic schools within the State system. That's a total of 6708 schools in which it is taken as read that Christianity is the true religion in England and that, consequently, people who worship in other religions or not at all have inferior values. When other religious schools and academies are included there must be around 7000 English schools at which children are told what amount to fairy stories on a daily basis when they should be learning facts instead.


Children can be taught poetry and literature and to have respect and admiration for the world around them without any need to dress such things up in terms of magic. Personally I never took much interest in the sciences at school but I wish now that I had because that's where the true equivalents of miracles have taken place and there is so much that I don't understand and never will.


God is not dead. He can't be, because in order to die one must first have lived, so there's no need to mourn his non-existent passing and every good reason to wring as much enjoyment out of life while we can, because it's too late once we've gone. And if we can do some good for those who come after us, so much the better.

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Boycott Boycott


The objection to Ched Evans playing football again after coming out of prison seems to be more to do with his unwillingness to admit or acknowledge his offence rather than to the rape itself. The BBC always refers to him as Convicted Rapist Ched Evans, which is currently the case, but if his appeal succeeds he will just be ordinary Mr Evans again.  Since his is appealing he can hardly apologise for or acknowledge having committed the crime, so his critics are asking for more than he can realistically deliver at the moment. His quandary is similar to that of Craig Thomson, who was a promising player for Hearts and Scotland’s under 21s till he was convicted of having, aged 19, groomed two under-aged girls for sex. His career in British football ended at that point.

Evans does not seem to be a very likeable person but at least he did not take to Twitter to complain about being left out of the New Year honours list, unlike a other convicted offender who the BBC employs, at our considerable expense, and whose crime is never mentioned any more. This is what Geoffrey Boycott had to say this week:

I’m delighted that so many people thought I deserved a knighthood and sad that it can be blocked for something I didn’t do. Unfortunately...

In case anyone has forgotten what happened after Boycott, Ms Moore and Billy Joel spent an evening drinking champagne together, an account of the case was reported thus, in the Independent, on 11 November 1998. The account makes clear that Boycott’s arrogance was a factor in his losing the case (his appeal was subsequently thrown out as well) and that his own account of how Ms Moore received the 20 bruises to her face was far-fetched in the extreme:

By John Lichfield and Gary Finn

GEOFFREY BOYCOTT was found guilty of assault for a second time yesterday when a French judge decided that the former England opening batsman had made a brutal attack on his girlfriend in an Antibes hotel two years ago. He was fined pounds 5,300 and given a three months suspended jail sentence.

The cricketer-turned-commentator immediately appealed against the conviction. He also made a side-swipe against the court in Grasse, south-east France. "In the view of the way the trial was conducted," he said, "I suppose it is not a total surprise."

Speaking from Pakistan, where he was commentating on the Australian cricket tour for Rupert Murdoch's Star TV, he added: "When I went to see Fatal Attraction [a movie about a vengeful, jilted lover] I never thought it could happen to me."

While Boycott appears confident of his future, there are black holes where contracts used to be. He no longer works for the BBC, there are no deals with Sky, and his contract with Trans World International, which feeds cricket coverage to local networks such as India and Pakistan - where the Cult of Boycott is strongest - ended at close of play in Lahore yesterday. There was a further blow last night when The Sun announced that his column would no longer be featured in the newspaper.

The proceedings in Grasse last month were rumbustious, chaotic, often baffling, almost out of control, but most independent observers present - including the massed ranks of the British press corps - thought the cricket legend got a reasonable innings.

Perhaps too reasonable. Many of the 13 defence witnesses flown by Boycott to the south of France - at a cost estimated to have topped pounds 200,000 - appeared to have nothing directly relevant to say.

The judge, Dominique Haumant-Daumas, indulged Boycott and his lawyer when they presented hours of muddled evidence from, among others, a psychiatrist who had never met the victim, Margaret Moore, 46. (He judged her, from television clips and conversations with a former husband, to be a "hysterical psychopath".)

There were also three British women who travelled to France at Mr Boycott's expense to say they had suffered similar injuries to Ms Moore - two black eyes, severe bruising on the face - just by falling over in the street or at home. If it was a circus, it was mostly a circus of Boycott's making.

After presiding over the 10-hour trial of "L'Affaire Boycott", Judge Haumant-Daumas decided yesterday, in a delayed verdict, to deliver precisely the same judgment as another judge who conducted the original, ten-minute trial in January. The first trial was set aside because the 58-year-old former cricketer failed to turn up, saying he had a more important engagement commentating on Test matches in South Africa.

Ms Moore, a divorcee with two children, claimed Boycott punched her 20 times in the face, head and chest, holding her to the ground and staring at her with "wild, piercing and manic" eyes. Boycott insisted she fell over while throwing his shirt, shoes and underpants out of a hotel window during a quarrel.

In a seven-page written explanation of her verdict, the judge made it clear that Boycott's behaviour in court - telling Ms Moore's lawyer to "shut up" at one stage - had counted against him. "In the court, the accused didn't hesitate to interrupt rudely Mrs Moore's lawyer, tarnishing the image of the perfect gentleman which he brought his old friends and witnesses to testify to."

Judge Haumant-Daumas said the evidence presented to the court "did not support the theory of an accidental fall". She had decided that Ms Moore was the victim of "purposeful blows".

Ms Moore, who returned to Grasse for the judgment, said she was delighted with the verdict. "I am the victim here. He beat me three times in all. I want to urge every person who has suffered violence to report it to the police." She was, once again, awarded the 1 franc (10.5 pence) symbolic damages that she had requested.

The Third French Test - Mr Boycott's appeal - is expected to be heard in the Provencal appeal court at Aix-en-Provence at a date to be fixed next year.

In the meantime, Ms Moore is not holding out much hope that the Yorkshireman's Yorkshireman will pay her the damages. "I don't think I'll get my franc because he is a little tight-fisted," she said. "If I get a cheque I'll frame it and if I don't I'll send him a writ."

Geoffrey has always maintained that he was denied a fair hearing because the proceedings took place in France, the clear implication being that the French are either too biased or too incompetent to come to a fair conclusion.

Leaving Ms Moore’s ordeal aside there may be other reasons, not yet considered by Boycott himself, why a knighthood might be out of his reach. His well-documented rudeness is one, hiding from all Test matches against Australia till Lillee and Thomson were past it is another and breaking apartheid sanctions by joining a tour to white-supremacist South Africa is one more.

The honours system is a ridiculous anachronism in any case but if anyone from the England cricket team deserved a knighthood it would not be Boycott but David Lloyd, David Steele, Brian Close or one of the other batsmen who faced the great Aussie quick bowlers in his place while he sulked at Headingley and caused a civil war within Yorkshire CCC which ended with his being sacked as captain.

Boycs was very respectfully interviewed on Look North the other week along with his fellow professional Yorkshireman Michael Parkinson, who does have a knighthood. TV Gold it was not......

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Death by Racism, and Justice Denied

Sir Robin Spencer, like 87% of his fellow QCs, was privately educated. I am guessing that Jimmy Mubenga was not. On 16 December 2014 three security guards who worked for G4S were found not guilty of the manslaughter of Mr Mubenga, who died after they had restrained him on the aeroplane that was deporting him to Angola in October 2010.


Those of us who were not there to hear all the evidence can't really take issue with the jury members, but maybe their decision would have been different had they heard what Justice Spencer refused to allow as evidence in Court but has now been released. I refer to the racist attitudes of two of the three G4S guards, Terrence Hughes and Stuart Trebelnig.


Someone with more knowledge of criminal law might be able to tell us why this information was not available to the jury, since Mr Mubenga was black and an immigrant and consequently racism towards black people and immigrants might have been a factor in the two men using unnecessary force.


It turns out that Hughes' mobile phone contained 76 texts which were derogatory to black people, Asians and Muslims. One racist text would be enough to have some of us sacked and quite rightly so, because it would demonstrate discrimination against an ethnic group or groups. One might slip through carelessly if you had a particularly ignorant friend who had only just sent it, but 76 is a wee bit harder to explain.


OFFENSIVENESS ALERT


The following message was found on Stuart Trebelnig's mobile phone. Call me naïve, but I think anyone capable of writing something even half as obnoxious as this might well use an opportunity such as the deportation of a black person as an excuse to be somewhat rougher than is reasonably required:


Fuck off and go home you free-loading, benefit grabbing, kid producing, violent, non-English speaking cocksuckers and take those hairy-faced , sandal wearing, goat fucking, smelly rag head bastards with you.


That doesn't sound like the kind of language that Sir Robin Spencer is used to hearing at home, in Chambers or at his Club. Perhaps he is a free-loading, ultra Conservative, xenophobic, know-nothing, fox-hunting arsehole, or maybe not. I think we all know what Stuart Trebelnig is, though, and one of those things is a free man.


Call that Justice? I don't.





Saturday, 13 December 2014

The first Working Class FA Cup Winners

1883 was the year:
Blackburn Olympic the team

 
 

 
Football is considered the world's game but it hasn't always been that way. Before 1883, the year of theKrakatoa eruption and the
Sunderland ballroom disaster, football, like rugby,had simply been a robust form of exercise for those inthe South of England who had the privilege of enough spare time to play. Ithad been an amateur game played by "gentlemen" from old public schools, but association football caught on in a way that the comparatively boring and complicated rugby did not. The professional game, like Rugby League a few years later, became popular in the North of England, where Saturday afternoons tended to be the only few hours' space available in which to enjoy a bit of fun.


And it still is so today. Towns like Blackburn and Burnley would be no better known than their equally typical Southern equivalents like Guildford and Worcester were it not for their famous football clubs. Likewise, in Scotland, places like Arbroath, Cowdenbeath and Stenhousemuir would be pretty much unknown were it not for the Saturday afternoon results.
 
1883 was the year of the twelfth English FA Cup Final, and all of the first eleven had been won by teams of former public schoolboys: Wanderers (5 times), Old Etonians (twice), Oxford University, Clapham Rovers, Old Carthusians and Royal Engineers. The Home International championship began in this year but during the 1882/3 season England did play all three of their fellow British teams anyway, beating Wales and Ireland by an aggregate score of 12-0 but losing 3-2 to the Scots at Bramall Lane. The team included players from Cambridge University, Old Etonians, Clapham Rovers (the captain, Norman Bailey), Pilgrims FC and Upton Park, but there were the first stirrings of more Northern influence too with three Notts County men in the side, one from Villa and another, Alf Jones, from Great Lever FC, of Bolton.
 
The Cup had never left the South though and no working class team had ever won it. The first Northern team to reach the final was Blackburn Rovers the previous year but they were, themselves, comprised mainly of "gentlemen" and they were defeated, unexpectedly, by the Old Etonians. In 1883 though all that was to change and it was Blackburn people who welcomed the Cup to their town, but it was not the mighty Rovers who carried it home.
 
Blackburn Olympic FC wore sky blue shirts and white knickers like Manchester City. Before 1880 their players wore any colour they fancied but in order to enter the Cup they were ordered to dress alike so they chose a proper kit for the first time. Never having won a match in the competition before, in 1882/3 Olympic pulled off four fairly comfortable victories in local derbies against Accrington, Lower Darwen, Darwen Ramblers and Church before defeating the Welsh stars Druids, from Ruabon, in the fifth round. They then met Old Carthusians, Cup winners two years previously, in the semi-final. To be fair to the FA, their choice of Manchester as a neutral venue was greatly in Olympic's favour and they walloped the ex-pupils of Charterhouse 4-0 to reach the final.
 
Under their professional coach Jack Hunter, Olympic trained hard for the final and their players were given time off work, which was considered unsporting by the Southern football establishment and the London papers, and took themselves away to Blackpool. There would be no local advantage this time, though, since the Kennington Oval cricket ground was the venue for the match. Old Etonians were finalists for the third consecutive year but they had a poor record in finals, having lost all their previous four before beating Rovers in 1882.
 
The teams:
 
Blackburn Olympic: Tom Hacking; Jim Ward, Squire Albert Warburton (captain); Tom Gibson, William Astley, Jack Hunter; Tom Dewhurst, Arthur Matthews, George Wilson, Jimmy Costley, John Yates.
 
Old Etonians: John Rawlinson: Thomas French, Percy de Paravicini; Lord Kinnaird (captain), Charles Foley, Arthur Dunn; Herbert Bainbridge, John Chevallier, William Anderson, Harry Goodhart, Reginald Macaulay.
 
The Olympic captain was actually christened Squire Albert and was not the Lord of the Manor, unlike the Hon. Arthur Fitzgerald Kinnaird who skippered the Old Etonians and was of old Perthshire stock and a director of what was to become Barclays Bank. Kinnaird was playing in his ninth final but was now at wing half after playing in goal for the Wanderers in 1872.
 
Harry Goodhart, an England international of the time, put the OE's ahead in the first half but all that hard training proved to be decisive after half time as the Olympic, playing the passing rather then the rushing game favoured by the public schools, by all accounts ran their opponents ragged. Matthews equalised and in extra time Costley converted a pass from Dewhurst to win the match, and the Cup, for the Lancashire side; making them the very first working class team to win it.
 
To say this was a turning point in the history of English football would be something of an understatement. After monopolising the Cup for its first eleven years, no public school side ever won it again. In fact the cup never left Blackburn till 1887 since Rovers won it for the next three years.
 
This was as good as it got for Blackburn Olympic. Blackburn is only a relatively small town and there was never really room for two professional clubs. Rovers, being older, more popular and with a better ground, became prominent and also, along with Preston, started to sign up the Olympic players. By the time the exclusively Northern and Midland-based Football League started up they were an amateur side again and they closed down very shortly afterwards.
 
For all that, Blackburn Olympic deserve a much more prominent place in history than has been accorded them. The times they were a-changing and maybe professionalism and the development of football as the favourite sport of the poor would have happened soon in any case, but their win was certainly a catalyst for that change. Five of their eleven men worked in the cotton industry and one in a foundry. The others were a picture framer, two pub landlords, a clerk and a dental assistant. In other words, they were all working lads and if they had not been paid to play they would not have been able to do so at all.

 
Over the course of the next few decades footballers became famous, in England and Scotland and then, gradually, around the world, but they played for love of the game rather than for money, since the club owners treated them like slaves, binding them with restrictive contracts and imposing a minimum wage which would not change till 1962 and only then under the threat of a players' strike. Players could go overseas for a better pay day, and plenty of them did so, but some of these pioneers were to find that their new riches were not enough to compensate for life in a goldfish bowl, and Denis Law and Jimmy Greaves were two who fled back home when life in Italy's Serie A turned sour. On the other hand, John Charles left Leeds United for untold riches, came back a few years later and only stayed for a few unhappy months before heading back to the Italian life to which he had become accustomed.


Today's top players are paid so much money that the figures have become meaningless; they are simply too great for the rest of us to understand, but it would be fair to say that the top players in the English and Spanish leagues could buy all the Ebola kits that West Africa requires with just one weeks' salary. With endorsements they probably make just as much again till they probably don't have a clue how much they have, much less what they could possibly spend it on.


At Barcelona, Lionel Messi is accused of a huge tax fraud even though the very last thing he needs to do is to avoid paying tax since he is already one of the richest sporting stars in the world, which makes him very wealthy indeed. In the weeks before Christmas David Beckham has appeared in adverts for whisky even though he is thought to be a teetotaller and certainly does not need the extra money. It seems that, like a more benevolent Tony Blair, he and his agent have an inbuilt inability to reject any offer which might make him richer still.


That the minimum wage was unfair to the players is obvious, and club directors in the old days of the English and Scottish Leagues tended to be local businessmen of doubtful integrity but at least everyone knew who names and their individual foibles. Nowadays, fans feel disenfranchised from the game, ripped off by high gate prices and expected to shell out still more on shoddy merchandise and fast food. To make matters worse, some fans have no way of finding out who is in charge because the ownership of the club is so complicated. Coventry City, for example, are run by a hedge fund who have no obvious interest in anything other than increasing their profits whether the team wins or not. A convicted crook in a prison across the world still appears to have a controlling interest in Birmingham City. Leeds United fans have seen their club pass from a spendthrift of limited means, via an apartheid-busting megalomaniac and a fly-by-night, to an Italian criminal with a penchant for sacking managers every few weeks. Hereford United, a respectable lower division club, have been killed off by a succession of chancers, as were Chester City before them.


As the rewards for players and directors have mushroomed so has the amount of cheating in the game. Commentators use sentences like "He was entitled to go down" when a player dives to win a penalty or to get an opponent sent off. When there is a dispute it is not the cheating player but the ref who gets it in the neck; in fact it seems to be a rule that, in the Premier League at least, every manager whose team loses must blame the referee, at least in part, for his club's defeat. Alex Ferguson became so feared by referees that many of them seemed too scared ever to give a penalty against Manchester United, whilst throughout his management career, at a succession of clubs, Neil Warnock has made a name for himself as a spoilsport and mardarse to such an extent that now he is getting old he is actually considered by the media to be a "character" rather than the scoundrel he undoubtedly is.


There is a famous story of Tommy Lawton, one of Everton and England's greatest ever centre forwards, getting a bus to Goodison Park after his transfer in the thirties and being told by the conductor that he would never be as good as Dixie Dean. These days the idea of an Everton player catching a bus is ridiculous. A recent account of an Everton junior game mentioned that even the club's young professionals have their own entrance, car park and access to the training pitch on which they play that loyal fans are themselves forbidden from using, so determined are the club that spectators have no access to their pampered young stars. Several of these youngsters will never actually play for the first team and will probably be non-league players or have given up the game in a few years' time, and then it will be they who use public transport and have to peer through the fence or pay a small fortune for the privilege of gaining a glimpse of the stars they see on television.


Some fans too have much to answer for since they are always ready to make excuses for the behaviour of their players and clubs. The obvious example is Liverpool FC, whose defensiveness when Luis Suarez racially abused Patrice Evra of Man United was, to the rest of us, ludicrous. Like all bullies, Suarez and Liverpool appeared to be cowards as well, attempting to blame the victim, Evra, for the abuse levelled at him, as if he deserved it for being black, French and playing for the club's bitterest rivals. Meanwhile, Liverpool FC have bought up the streets around their stadium and left them to rot in order to have them bulldozed and new stands built in their place, which would be disgusting behaviour which ever corporation was carrying it out but in Liverpool seems to be considered fair play as long as it benefits their beloved football club.


On the terraces, while racism is less blatant than it used to be, mocking other club's fans for their town's poor housing, ethnic mix and level of unemployment is still fair game. Thus, Rotherham are "just a town full of paedos" and Bradford "a small town in Asia". I saw a game last season in which Nottingham Forest supporters sang "Sign on, sign on, and you'll never get a job" at Sheffield United as if the Notts coalfield still existed 30 years after the strike. Forest's eventual 3-1 defeat was all the more sweet for that. If you can stomach it, try the average fans' forum and read the same boring rubbish about how their rivals are inbred, illiterate, benefit scroungers and all the other snotty, ugly drivel derived from the pages of the Sun and Daily Star.


It's no good fans on one hand bemoaning that their stadia have become staid and middle class and at the same time giving the working class a bad name by indulging in such insulting behaviour. By all means criticise the opposition for being dirty, boring or indulging in time-wasting and other "gamesmanship" but to mock them for being poor is despicable and traitorous.


Leicester City manager Nigel Pearson seems to me to be an honest man who calls a spade a spade, and entitled to defend himself from a fan's ignorant verbal attack by responding in a likewise manner; however the supporter in question turns out to be such a shrinking violet that he demanded Pearson apologise to him, which he has refused to do. Pearson has now been charged by the FA, suggesting that football managers should simply accept belligerent abuse as a normal part of their job, just like referees. 


No wonder so many fans prefer to watch non-league football these days. The standard might not be much cop but at least there is still a community feel there; a belief that this is our club, and there's a lot to be said for that.







Thursday, 11 December 2014

Badgering the Badgers

Hands up who likes badgers. In fact, hands up who has ever seen a live one. I hadn't, till this year, but now I see them every night because I feed them in my back garden, and my friend Clive definitely likes them because, twice, he has travelled to Gloucestershire to try to disrupt the cull which resumed, with the same lack of useful results as before, both there and in Somerset.
 
That the badger cull is ineffective might be open to question. It's unlikely we shall ever know because the government will fiddle with the figures so that they don't look stupid should farmers in the West Country find that cattle still get TB just as often as before or other farmers in Wales and Devon discover that the disease has increased in their own areas as animals scarper from the counties where they are likely to be shot, but there is, in any case, a big moral question here? Even if it were beyond doubt that killing badgers prevented TB in cattle, would humans have the right to do it?
 
Badgers are native to the UK and part of the British ecosystem. The cows that graze in farmers' fields are not. The farmers may have concern for their cattle but it is a fact that a cow's life is not a happy one. She will be made pregnant by artificial insemination several times, only to have her calf taken away (to be killed should it be male) and her milk stolen for consumption by humans. Finally, when she is too old to be of any more use as a breeder she will be butchered for her meat, so it's obvious that the idea of preventing her from being infected with TB is not to save her from distress but to prevent the farmer from having to have his/her herd slaughtered before their allotted time is up, which will cause him/her a whole lot of financial hardship.
 
Since cows, given the chance, bond with their calves and cry for them when they are taken away, and since they are able to feel pain and experience fear, isn't it arguable that we should be treating them with compassion in any case, and that killing badgers to save cattle is merely using one cruel practice in order to allow us to continue with another?
 
Carnivorous animals are not in a position to make a moral choice. While I have learned that badgers will eat anything you put out for them, their staple food is worms. Poor old worms; they seem to be too tasty for their own good, don't they, even though human beings baulk at eating them? We, on the other hand, do have the capacity to make an ethical judgment. Badgers and cows suffer pain and fear and feel emotional upset, so if we do not need to inflict those things on them in order to survive, but do so merely because we have a preference for the taste of meat, then doesn't that make us, morally, inferior to the animals whose flesh and milk we are eating and drinking? And if not, why not?
 

Saints and Scabs

There's a famous old North Eastern folk song whose first verse goes like this:
 
It's in the evening after dark
The blackleg miner creeps to work
With his moleskin pants and his dirty shirt
There goes the blackleg miner
The following quote is attributed to Jack London:
 
"After God had finished the rattlesnake, the toad, and the vampire, he had some awful substance left with which he made a scab. A scab is a two-legged animal with a corkscrew soul, a water brain, a combination backbone of jelly and glue. Where others have hearts, he carries a tumour of rotten principles. When a scab comes down the street, men turn their backs and angels weep in heaven, and the devil shuts the gates of hell to keep him out..."
 
And there's more:
 
"No man has a right to scab so long as there is a pool of water to drown his carcass in, or a rope long enough to hang his body with. Judas Iscariot was a gentleman compared with a scab. For betraying his master, he had character enough to hang himself. A scab has not".
 
Whether it was Jack London or not, the speaker definitely has little time for anyone who breaks a strike. And why should s/he, indeed? Public sector workers struck on 10 July this year for one day and another day of action was planned for October, only to be called off when a new, better offer was made. So, the strike of 10 July was worthwhile, but is it fair that those who made the choice not to take action on that day should reap the same benefit as everyone who sacrificed a day's pay and pension entitlement?
 
The NUM strike of 1984/5 failed because miners who didn't wish to take part formed their own scab union, the UDM. There's no need to go into the whys and wherefores because we all know that the Nottinghamshire miners were mere pawns in the government's game but for the workers who not only went without pay for a year but were also sacked, arrested and beaten up their ultimate defeat could fairly be blamed on the UDM. But what can we say about Yorkshire miners who stayed out till they could take it no more and were effectively starved back to work? Can we really blame them for going back when it was obvious that the NUM was going to lose and their families were at risk of eviction?
 
If you were a miner who stuck it out till the bitter end the answer is "Yes".
 
Here's another scenario. The union branch is dominated by a bunch of racist, sexist bullies who are ultimately sacked because of their behaviour. A picket line is formed the following day. Your instinct tells you that a picket line should not be crossed but at the same time you are glad to see the back of these men and you feel they richly deserved to get the boot. Would it be ethical or unethical to cross that line?
 
I know what my answer would be. In those circumstances I believe that for the greater good the line should be crossed and it would be unfair to call anyone who crossed it a scab at all.
 
So, in summary, where are we? How does this sound? Jack London was justified in what he said but there is a possibility of exceptional circumstances in which breaking a strike is justifiable. Crosing a picket line to go into work is unethical when it means gaining rights that you don't deserve because you have allowed others to do all the work and go through the hardship necessary to get them for you. In those few exceptional circumstances, however, it would be OK. In other words, only an unethical strikebreaker carries the tumour of rotten tomatoes and makes angels weep and the devil close the gates. Only that strikebreaker can justifiably be called a scab.