Saturday 26 October 2019

Britain is no country for more and more old men, with greater and greater needs, serving longer and longer sentences in prison

In Britain, in England and Wales in 2019, the number of prisoners, both men and women, over the age of 50 has almost tripled from 4,824 in 2002 to 13,617 in 2019. In fact, about 16% of prisoners were over the age of 50 as of June 2019, compared with just 7% in 2002. Just 4% were women. In addition, over 1,600 were old men of 70 and over with oldest at 104. Tougher prison sentences and the rise in the number of those convicted of historic sexual offences are believed to be part of the reason for the ageing prison population.

Dr Mary Turner, Reader in Health Services research at Huddersfield University said : "People tend to get longer sentences, even in older age, now than they might have done in the past and there are now more older people going into prison than there are being released. We can't just see these numbers going up and up and trying to cope with it in a prison environment so we're going to get to a point where we have to think of alternatives and we have to find solutions." She said options could include building secure care homes and considering alternatives to custodial sentence for older offenders.

Mark Fairhurst, the National Chair of the Prison Officers Association also said the system was failing to meet the needs of elderly inmates : "We need more disabled access cells situated at ground floor level. We need 24-hour health care and we need proper training for staff."

A former prison officer said that when he started work older prisoners were transferred to less secure jails when they approached the end of their sentences, but that had changed. "Now you're getting older prisoners starting big sentences and the young prison officers are coming straight from university, with very, very little life experience and then they're having to deal with major traumatic events like somebody dying in front of them or caring for somebody that is at the end of their life." The Prison Officers Association confirmed that more and more inmates were either frail, or incontinent or had dementia.

Ex-prisoner Ken Denton, from West Yorkshire where he was housed in an over-50s wing at the prison. He said : "When you look at some of the prisons, you know, they're three or four landings high, thin ladder stairways, how do you expect an elderly person to climb them? When they come in, you are assessed and they'll say well you should be located 'flat' but if there's no space where you going to put somebody? How can you put somebody at second or third landing? You can't, it's inhumane."

He went on : "I saw people with cancer, saw people with diabetes, long term prisoners that need their medication but can't get to their medication because the medication hatch is on the second floor and they've got to go to a lift but they can't get into the lift because there's no staff to take them. If you needed a wheelchair, it might take you three to four months to get a wheelchair because one had to be designed for yourself and it also had to come from the specific local authority in the area you came from."

Apparently, according to the the Prison Service, all is well and it has said : "An ageing prison population poses particular challenges, which is why we work closely with local councils and health care providers to make sure we meet the needs of elderly prisoners. Last year, a report by the Chief Inspector of Prisons found there was good work ongoing to adapt prisons for older inmates, and we have updated guidance for governors on how to best support them."

This doesn't quite square with Chief Inspector Peter Clarke, who took a different view when he said : "It feels to me as if they're trying to shoehorn this problem into existing accommodation instead of thinking more radically." He also said : "The Prison Service has so far has said that it's not going to develop an overall strategy to deal with this issue. When prisoners get older, less capable physically or infirm, they don't provide an escape risk, they still have to be held in custody very often and it's not to say they wouldn't present a risk to the public if they were completely at liberty. But the question is : Do they need to be held still in levels of security which are not needed for their physical capabilities and which inevitably are very expensive as well?"

Needless to say, in Brexit-obsessed Britain and with pressure on the Government to spend more money on schools, hospitals and social care, improving the conditions of an increasing number of old men in prison will gain little sympathy with the public and form a very low priority in terms of additional spending. For this group, Britain is very much 'No Country for Old Men.'

Tuesday 15 October 2019

Brexit Britain, is no country for an old Master of Spy Fiction called John le Carré.

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John is about to publish his 25th novel, 'Agent Running in the Field', at the age of 87. It has a plot line that is based covert collusion between Trump’s USA and the British Security Services with the aim of undermining the democratic institutions of the European Union.

Interviewed back in the summer he said : " I think it would be impossible to write at the moment without speaking from within the state of the nation. We are part of it. I'm part of it. I'm depressed by it. I'm ashamed of it and I think communicates itself in the book. inevitably. I'm disconcerted by sense of loyalty. I don't know where to place it. I am extremely concerned by the rise of nationalism which is quite different from patriotism. For nationalism you need enemies and for patriotism you need your one conviction and that's the difference."

His attitude to Brexit is expressed by one of the characters in the new novel who says : “It is my considered opinion that for Britain and Europe, and for liberal democracy across the entire world as a whole, Britain’s departure from the European Union in the time of Donald Trump, and Britain’s consequent unqualified dependence on the United States in an era when the US is heading straight down the road to institutional racism and neo-fascism, is an unmitigated clusterfuck bar none."

In the interview he said :"What really scares me about nostalgia is that it's become a political weapon. Politicians are creating a nostalgia for an England that never existed and seeing it as something we could return to. It's used in the rhetoric of the day, particularly on the Conservative side, I believe, as a polemical weapon - that we've got to go back to the good old days, which means restoring the dignity of the British labourer and patronising concepts of that sort, which are completely impractical in our industrial age."

"I saw the film 'Dunkirk'. I thought it was, consciously or otherwise, an offensive piece of propaganda. It excluded, for instance all the Lascars who went across in their boats and it pretended that the small boats rescued everybody from Dunkirk. It was itself a prize piece of reconstructive nostalgia and it did'nt quite happen that way."

"The rest is something I can hardly bear - the wallowing in the '39-'40 experience. We're back to the Blitz. For Heaven's sake, how long ago was that ? I just remember the Blitz. I'm 86 and it's somehow the notion that we were all behind it all the time; that we won single handed."

"Who remembered, watching all those D-Day celebrations, that 30 million Russians died; that the Russians got to Berlin before we did and that there was a Second Front, which coincided with D-Day, in Russia, launched by the Russians which was enormously successful and absorbed a huge amount of Nazi troops."

“The wonderful right wing military historian, Max Hastings, points out that we were bad fighters, that we were extremely badly organised, and our contribution in terms of blood and wealth and material was – I can’t say trivial, but tremendously small by comparison to the sacrifices of the other major powers. We were on the winning side by the end, but we were really quite minor players.”

Sunday 6 October 2019

Brexit Britain is no home for the planned new figures in a French sea by an old sculptor called Anthony Gormley

You might think of Anthony, who 69 years old, as a quintessentially English sculptor whose 'Angel of the North' stands on a hill over Gateshead as a symbol of Britain’s northern identity and on the other side of the country on the Mersey Estuary, his group of 100 cast iron solo figures at Crosby beach has become part of the landscape.

The truth is that he is, in fact. a quintessentially 'European' sculptor, who on the eve of Britain’s potential departure from Europe, is planning a new and dramatic installation  on the beaches of Northern France. He wants to erect a group of seven huge sculptures, made from iron slabs, on the coast of Brittany which will look towards Britain, the potentially 'lost island of Europe.'

He has said of the project : “I am very excited about this, after all, how do you understand yourself other than by your relations with your nearest neighbours?” He has also said : “We all know the EU is inefficient, but most human institutions are inefficient and that doesn’t mean we should not be part of their improvement. I sincerely hope this moment of utter instability and lack of movement just disappears and we get on with making a sounder, safer, more just world because without the help of our neighbours we can’t do it.”

The site planned for his new work is a peninsula and archipelago of small islands that jut into the Baie de Morlaix in Finistère, near to the site of an ancient burial cairn rediscovered during quarry work in 1955.

Soon he will travel to Brittany to meet marine engineers and harbour authorities and to inspect tide levels at the sites. He said his seven giant figures would be made with up to 30 iron slabs balanced on top of each other. “They are sort of massive houses of cards, but made out of blocks that do actually cohere. They are an attempt to say something about the human condition – that we are all provisional. We stand up, but we are always in danger of falling over.”

The entire project would reach out more than 7km into the sea and a similar sculptural form was used by him on a beach at Kimmeridge bay in Dorset until waves destroyed it, but he has likened the shapes he plans to install in Brittany to those now displayed in the first gallery of his major new show at the Royal Academy of Arts in London.

The project has yet to win final approval from the French authorities, but Anthony understands President Macron is supportive. Ostensibly designed as a response to a vast neolithic grave site nearby at Barnenez, its modern resonance,as a gesture of farewell to Britain after Brexit, is clear.

“We belong to Europe, geologically as much as anything else. We were only separated five thousand years ago. The whole idea that somehow we can go it alone by making greater relationships with the former Commonwealth and with our friends and cousins in America is just ridiculous.” 

Thursday 3 October 2019

Britain, according to an old Spy Master called Sir Richard Dearlove, should be no country for the old Master of Spy Fiction called John le Carré

The former Head of MI6, 74 year old, Sir Richard Dearlove has criticised the 87 year old John le Carré for trading his experiences in the intelligence services to write books. Sir Richard joined MI6 in 1966 and was its Head from 1999 until 2004 and drew a contrast between those he described as the "primary myth makers of British intelligence : James Bond and John le Carré." He said that although Bond had his benefits, when it came to Le Carré, although the Smiley series of novels “have some quality, he is so corrosive in his view of MI6 that most professional Secret Intelligence Service officers are pretty angry with him. He flips the coin of reality. Intelligence organisations are based on trust between colleagues. His books are exclusively about betrayal.”

Sir Richard said that while reading Le Carré’s memoir ' 'The Pigeon Tunnel : Stories from My Life,' he had concluded that the author was “obsessed with his membership of the Secret Intelligence Service. He was only in the service for three years and something must have happened to him while he was there to breed this cynicism. I rather resent the fact that he has traded on his knowledge and reputation and yet the feeling I get is that he really rather intensely dislikes the service.”

John did not take all this lying down and responded by saying that : 'Sir Richard is not sound on the details of my career — dates wrong, duration wrong, scant mention of my years in MI5 or my extramural work for both services. But he claims, rather quaintly, that since I only served a mere three years in MI6 (not true), I was scarcely qualified to write about the service anyway. My books, he goes on to complain, are “exclusively about betrayal.”  Something, he says darkly, “must have happened to me to breed this cynicism.” Well, yes, actually it did.'

Born David John Cornwell in 1931, it was  after studying foreign languages at the University of Bern in Switzerland when he was 17 to 18 years old that he joined the Intelligence Corps of the British Army garrisoned in Austria, working as a German language interrogator of people who crossed the Iron Curtain to the West. In 1952, he returned to Britain to study at Lincoln College, Oxford, where he worked covertly for the British Security Service, MI5, spying on far-left groups for information about possible Soviet agents.

It wasn't until he was 27, in 1958, that he became and MI5 officer and ran agents, conducted interrogations, tapped telephone lines and effected break-ins and it was three years later that, still an active officer, he began writing his first novel, 'Call for the Dead.' By this time he had transferred to MI6, the foreign-intelligence service, and worked under the cover of Second Secretary at the British Embassy at Bonn.

 He then transferred to Hamburg as a political consul and it was there that he wrote 'The Spy Who Came in from the Cold' as 'John le Carré 'in 1963. He left the Service the following year to work full-time as a novelist, because his intelligence-officer career was brought to an end as the result of the betrayal of British agents' covers to the KGB by Kim Philby, the infamous British double agent.

According to John, he first picked up his cynicism at the age of 30 when George Blake was unmasked as a spy in 1961 after he had decided to become a Communist and work for the KGB while a prisoner during the Korean War. 'I had barely finished my basic training when George Blake, a longstanding and greatly treasured officer of the service, was exposed as a Russian spy. The taxpaying public wasn’t allowed to know it at the time, but Blake had consigned several hundred British agents to prison, death, torture, or all three. Exactly how many hundred he couldn’t be sure, as he later declared from his safe haven in Moscow.'

That cynicism was increased when 'Kim Philby was exposed, although again the scale of the damage was just too much for the public to swallow. Add together all the MI6 agents and the MI6 special operations that Philby betrayed over his 30 years of working for MI6 and the Kremlin, throw in Blake’s few hundred or so, and we’re safely into the thousands: liquidated, imprisoned, or missing believed interrogated.'

With his knowledge of the damage caused by Blake and Philby it is little surprising that John said : 'So yes. Something did happen to me, and it would have happened to Sir Richard if he had been around at the time, which he wasn’t.'

As to Sir Richard's point that "most professional Secret Intelligence Service officers are pretty angry with him" John rejected this by saying : 'Soon after Sir Richard’s retirement as Chief, his successor, Sir John Scarlett, invited me to dine with some of his senior staff. I was flattered, but felt queasy about what I had read of the service’s alleged role in the run-up to the Iraq War. So I said thanks, and reluctantly declined.'

In addition, another Intelligence Chief, David Spedding : 'invited me to lunch with his directors at the service’s new headquarters. He later visited us in Cornwall. He kindly believed that, due in part to my novels, MI6 had assumed a sensible place in the public awareness : human, fallible, aspirational, contentious, and part of real life.' Also, Antony Duff, 'a former Director-General of MI5 and a longtime friend, thought my books were trash but harmless.'

John concluded : 'Take your pick. One thing is certain. When my new novel comes out next month, Sir Richard and his notional colleagues are going to be mad as bedbugs. But thanks all the same for the much-needed publicity at this busy time in the publishing year.'