Can we get Blair for contempt?

bushblair

There are three lawful ways to get Blair. One is get him in the Hague as commander in chief for war crimes on the ground. Another is get him in court here for misfeasance in public office. The latest to hit the headlines is contempt of parliament. That is the option I will explain. I ought to mention that talk of impeachment is nonsense as that practice of sending miscreants to the Lords for punishment is abolished. And that means the Lord’s power to fine is unavailable.

Contempt of parliament is obstruction of parliament, such as deceiving the house. One precedent going back to 1850 is for a dodgy dossier; another example going back to the Profumo days in 1962 was a false statement. Under contempt rules punishment must be used sparingly and only if necessary to allow parliament to function. Usually an apology is extracted and the case is dropped, but if the accused fronts it out and is found guilty there are three sentences possible. The first is not really a sentence as it applies before a trial, and is the simple fact of being named: the petitioner can criticise the accused on his feet and leave it at that. The second, and standard, punishment, is a speaker’s reprimand: a ticking off from John Bercow. The third is imprisonment, which may also have fallen into disuse as the last committal was in 1880 of Charles Grissal.

In Blair’s case his problem could be that the 2006 precedent for apology purging an innocent misrepresentation only applies if the accused went on to correct it, whereas Blair has brazened it out, so he may be guilty of failure to correct a misleading impression, even if he successfully claims that he was duped by his spies despite his smoking gun memo of 28/07/2002, the dodgy dossier of September 2002 and the fake 45 minute warning. On the other hand, since 1978 the petitioner has needed to prove that a contempt impedes parliament if not remedied. So for historic offences it appears to be abolished. The other problem for the petitioner is that they would have to go back a long way to find an example of a non-member being punished.

The procedure is that the petitioner asks the speaker for time to move the next day to refer the accused to the Committee on Standards and Privileges. The house later consider the committee’s report, invites the accused to mitigate, then passes sentence. The serjeant at arms can drag the accused to the bar of the house for mitigation and sentence, as happened with Sunday Express journo John Junor in 1957. It is nothing to do with Black Rod as some commentators have fantasised about, as Blair was an MP not a peer. The serjeant can also break into premises to effect arrest, as happened in 1810 with Sir Francis Burdett.

As long as the house sticks to parliamentary proceedings the courts will not interfere, so yes in theory the commons could sentence Blair to imprisonment. In practice it would be limited by previous cases with shorter sentences (limited to the end of the parliamentary session) and the question of how it would legislate to transfer Blair to a prison under a separate criminal justice system. Normally it delegates criminal matters (as with the fox hunting invasion in 2004) to police so has no experience of handling it inhouse, and the parliamentary estate police can arrest but can’t do much about imprisonment without facilities beyond a room they have used to hold undesirables until the rise of parliament that day.

If the house can prove ongoing impediment and wants to throw the book at Blair it would want to time the sentencing to take place on the first day of a parliamentary session to maximise the term of imprisonment. Although Newgate prison was used, the usual practice was to lock offenders in the clock tower for a day to cool off, but since the last such house guest in 1880, Charles Bradlaugh MP, that room has bee reassigned so without a bit of refurb we cannot have the satisfaction of seeing Blair frogmarched into the tower, although it would have accumulated a goodly number of Youtube views. Arrest is not impossible as Maxwell and Scargill were summonsed in 1992 and 1982 respectively.

With possibly no power to fine since a judge purported to abolish it in 1762 and no attempt to defy the ruling since, the likelihood is one of three scenarios: a) the speaker refuses the petition, perhaps saying there are other avenues open via court, b) the petitioner names Blair, which adds little condemnation to that in circulation, c) the committee clear him, or d) he ends up with the humiliation of a speaker’s reprimand, attacking an already demolished reputation. He gets no legal representation, but as a barrister himself will doubtless manage if summonsed to the bar. One doubts he will give us the satisfaction of waiting for the serjeant at arms to arrest him and march him into the house on the business end of a sword. But it would make for the greatest TV since George Galloway destroyed the Senate in 2005.

It probably won’t work, but we need to find out where contempt of parliament now applies and need to try and find some accountability for Iraq. Corbyn reckons he will probably vote for it. Our David Amess has indicated he will not stand in the way of Blair heading for the clock tower. I commend it to the house.

How Brexit works

juncker

Pulling the trigger

To leave the EU we need to resign the treaty that joined us. Then we can either leave without saying a word or negotiate terms. Such terms are likely to cover transitional provisions and ongoing relationship. It is hard to avoid transitional provisions as many funding programmes are long term so can’t be arbitrarily switched off after two years without causing chaos. For example, the framework budget covering CAP and grants runs until 2020.

The Article 50 agreement is subject to the EU commission authorising negotiations to start, and the agreement is subject to approval by the EU parliament and a qualified majority of the EU council. But in the absence of agreement withdrawal takes place automatically after two years. What is left of the EU would have to sign a treaty to remove the UK from EU treaties. The withdrawal agreement is subject to ratification by 28 member states, including the UK parliament who can veto it by negative resolution.

The alternative to Article 50 is invoking international law to terminate membership on the spot relying on us being prevented from exercising our membership rights (eg Juncker telling our MEPs to stay at home) or relying on the EU having become something different to what the last treaty promised. But as it would takes years for courts to decide whether we were entitled to walk our government is unlikely to want the uncertainty. It cannot be ignored however as if we got into a Falklands situation over Gibraltar politically at home our politicians may end up under pressure to stop sleeping with the enemy, cut our losses and go to WTO terms.

Unpicking laws

Some of the EU treaty obligations are duplicated by international law or UK law so would stay. Then we have to work out whether anyone has such a thing as ‘vested rights’ – do rights acquired under the treaty survive its withdrawal? We have to choose whether to rejoin part of the EU by joining EFTA like Switzerland or the EEA.

We would probably want to repeal the European Communities Act 1972 to disapply EU law, meaning we would have to decide whether we want a new Act to continue to enable secondary legislation such as regulations which would otherwise disappear with ECA72. We are expected to want to keep crime prevention cooperation. But many laws will need rewriting as without EU law to interpret them they would overnight acquire a different meaning. It would be useful to tell UK judges whether they must, may or must not interpret any UK law using EU law. We would need to know which court decides EU law disputes.

We need to decide which EU-required legislation to repeal, amend or keep as it stays in force regardless of leaving. Food, environment and employment have been massively interfered with by EU law. Business will be lobbying to ensure the social chapter disappears with the EU membership whereas unions will demand it stays. We will have to decide what pesticides to allow. We will have to work out where international law leaves fishing, given the starting point is that we would be going from a 12 mile territory to a 200 mile one. The navy may have to be funded to prevent a return to Icelandic cod wars. Will we dumb down environmental standards? Will we enforce our own higher animal welfare standards? Will we abolish the landfill tax? Will we bring back UK passports and driving licences? Will we legalise selling in pounds and ounces.

Will we replace common asylum policy with bilateral agreements? We have to decide whether to voluntarily continue right to work or claim benefits for EU citizens depending whether we are prepared to face expulsion of our 1.4M nationals in the EU, mainly in Spain, Ireland, France and Germany. Will we keep Erasmus, will we will still fund EU students and will we come out of the Bologna Process for higher education harmonisation such as credit transfer? Will we keep Erasumus for All for sport? On copyright directives, would be repeal them and go back to WIPO and Berne? Would we jettison the requirement for European content in TV? What happens to the distance selling directive and consumer protection? How do we beef up NATO when one of the only two real military powers in the EU pulls out of EU defence cooperation? Who will our military and police work with on piracy and nation building, will we assist ad hoc like Canada and Norway have done, will we want to be an associate member of the European Defence Agency?

We may want to agree what happens to accrued pensions and benefits in other member states and what happens to EU nationals current entitled to social housing. Do we keep financial compensation scheme levels? Do we keep the same anti discrimination laws? Do we allow herbal remedies again? When can we have imperial measurements back? Do we speed up cancer drug approval by repealing clinic trials directive implementation? Do we stay in the European Medicines Agency to avoid having to get marketing authorisations? Do we ban health care professionals relying on recognition of qualifications? Will doctors train longer hours if we repeal the 48 hour cap? What happens to the European Health Insurance Card? .

We would also need to decide if we want to be in TTIP, given it was a reason for leaving the EU, and if we do then we would need to find out if we can sign up individually. Plus we would want to go after preferential trade agreements with Brazil, India and China, which the EU blocked us from doing. We would also want to seek foreign direct investment agreements with the likes of the USA who say they would rather we were less tied up in the EU.

We can expect the EU to try extract all sorts of final payments such as bailouts for Greece under the European Financial Stabilisation Mechanism.

There are also policy issues to confront. How will we afford pensions formerly funded by EU workers and how will we fill any skills gap?

Finally there are settlements to agree within the UK as regions and interest groups lobby for replacement of EU subsidies such as west Wales and the loss of CAP with its subsidy for farmers.

The options

EEA

The Norwegian EEA option has already been rejected by the government as it forces us to accept about two thirds of EU law with no say in it, to accept free movement, and we have to pay for access to the single market which merely avoids an average WTO 1% tariff. It does however avoid the Euro, CAP, CFP, and justice, home affairs, common defence and foreign policy, the Euro army, Euro bailouts, Euro arrest warrants and our fish being siphoned off. But members have to pay grants to new EU members (in our case the five basket cases in the east) plus they have to pay for EU programmes according to GDP (in our case the lion’s share). Parliament calculated we would save only 17% on contributions if we downgraded from EU to EEA. And even in the EEA Norway found it was not safe when the EU imposed a 16% anti-dumping duty on salmon. Leavers would ask what did we come out of the EU for if we are diving head first back into regulations and uncontrolled immigration?

EFTA

More feasible is the Swiss EFTA model with free trade agreements but that is undesirable too, as if we went back to our original EFTA membership nowadays we would be expected to play along with EU foreign policy and defence and EFTA members are in the Schengen zone so we would have to see if we can avoid that – Switzerland did not avoid it. It does allow us to decide our own VAT levels and to sign free trade deals with the rest of the world. To join the EEA we have to first join EFTA, so suddenly it is not for certain that EEA avoids the Schengen zone and common defence and foreign policy. Worringly Switzerland signed an extra agreement allowing freedom of movement, even to EU citizens with no job. But they do avoid rules on environment and competition, although have signed bilateral agreements to voluntarily apply most EU law anyway and have even joined Europol and Eurojust. Parliament calculated we would save 60% on our contributions if we had the Swiss-style EFTA membership. But it would leave us powerless to influence the market in services where we do have a surplus with the EU. Leavers would worry that we would be dragged into the EU army with pressure to allow free movement.

Anglosphere

The third option has been referred to in the press as a return to the commonwealth, but the parliamentary reports calls it the Anglosphere as it might not be able to stretch as far as the whole commonwealth unless they are up to scratch. All we do know is that USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand are OK. They already share an intelligence network which we deny to the leaky EU. TTIP and NATO may feature heavily. As the old idea of the imperial parliament is not on the cards, all it really seems to mean is setting up trade deals with the world once we are no longer banned by the EU from breaching fortress Europe. Rekindling commonwealth links has the benefit of more of a common culture, language and history.

If we decided to keep out of the EU altogether and just cut a deal on WTO terms we would suffer a 1% most favoured nation tariff for the 6% of our firms who export to the EU, in return for avoiding all EU rules except exporters who would have to make products compliant. However, the EU may want to avoid taxing our liquified natural gas to spite their own wine and car producers. If we join the EEA there would be about a 3% cost of determining country of origin for re-exports that came into the UK from outside the EU and carry on into the EU from here.

Precedents?

There is a precedent for withdrawal, and that is Greenland who left the EEC in 1975 after deciding in a referendum in 1972 on a rather similar turnout of 75% and 52 to 48 to withdraw. They agreed tariff-free sales of fish in return for a share of their fishing. They also gave vested rights for EC workers already in Greenland. But that was pre-EU and Greenland was only leaving as part of another country.

Way forward

Fudging Brexit by keeping free movement and regulation from Brussels will only stoke the flames just to pacify big business. The five president’s report and subsequent leaks reveal that the EU army, EU tax, compulsory Eurozone and United States of Europe will make staying in the EU unacceptable and hanging on the sidelines impractical.

We need to unravel our whole EU membership and start again treating the EU as one of many nations we will set up deals with. The declining global market share held by the EU is a reason to escape the insular continental approach and put up with short term costs to position ourselves for the long term need for a global outlook.

I see the main price of democracy being difficulty for banks trying to passport into the EEA. But they ruined us in 2008 and must not be allowed to wag the dog again. Taxpayers are not prepared to fund a sudden expansion of the NHS, housebuilding and schools to accommodate EU immigrants many do not want at all. Perhaps though free movement could be funded by extra taxes for graduates, the City, Scotland and Northern Ireland who want it so badly. Then we will find out if they really want it, or just want the cheap labour and subsidies at everyone else’s expense.

A Tale of Two Nations

greatescapeThe latest Ashcroft poll of 12,000 people on why we voted to leave confirms a UK of two halves. The old distinctions of Labour versus Conservatives are off the agenda for now. It is now about winners versus losers. And I don’t mean in the referendum. I mean in society.

The winners are the remainers.  They are the under 45s, ABs, workers and non-whites, generally young graduates and Labour voters scared of economic risks and attracted by the single market without the Euro or Schengen, hoping for world influence through the EU and low cost of living, seeing themselves as British. They can take or leave capitalism and internet, but are pro-multiculturalism, social liberalism, feminism, green movement, globalism and immigration. Their biggest reason at 43% for remaining was fear of economic risks, suggesting that in contrast with leavers who did not see the economy as relevant some were scaremongered into voting remain, and remainers saw potential disaster if we get it wrong. It appears that without the economic threats announced by experts even fewer voters would have chosen remain, doubtless because only 9% saw a strong attachment through history or culture to the EU. Perhaps there were simply insufficient numbers of voters seeing why we should throw out lot in with countries we have nothing in common with except greed. Imagine how many fewer remainers there would have been without the £9M leaflet, the 48 hour extension, the under 35-only Facebook ads, the drip feed of doom and the purdah-busting ‘sermon on the Downing Street’.

The losers are the leavers. They are the over 45s, C1C2DEs, unemployed, pensioners, council tenants and whites, generally old non graduates, Tories or kippers, incensed by immigration and loss of sovereignty regardless of whether Conservative or Labour voters, seeing themselves as English and pessimistic for today’s children and seeing more threats than opportunities to a larger scale than remainers. In contrast to the remainer’s fear of doom, leavers thought the outcome will leave us a little worse off or better off with not much in it either way – meaning project fear was useless against them and indeed backfired as leave turned into a protest vote against bankers, bureaucrats, experts and politicians, and consumed airtime that in hindsight was needed for reassurance on funding of public services to cope with uncontrolled immigration. They are against multiculturalism, immigration, social liberalism, feminism, green movement, globalisation, internet, capitalism, immigration, and slightly less politically minded than remainers. 94% did not think the UK would be financially better off outside the EU, suggesting leave won because either sovereignty was not for sale or they thought they will not get any ‘trickle down’ anyway. Leavers did not worry about how many drinks they would get at the economic party as they believed they were not invited anyway.

10% decided how to vote on the day, mainly Labour and Lib Dem voters, who appear to have suddenly exercised an unexpected protest vote. So perhaps pollsters can be forgiven. But next time we should take less notice of phone polls where punters tell the interviewer want they want to hear and more notice of online polls telling us that voters are shy about holding opinions unpopular with the outspoken intolerant left such as voting Conservative or having a border.

Remain lost because their sales pitch was uninspiring: “don’t worry about immigration as immigrants pay tax to fund your dole when they take your jobs and don’t worry about losing more democracy as we already ignore you anyway and please don’t take our cheap nannies away from us and it is better stay in an unhappy marriage to avoid the divorce bill and we might have to win World War Three against Germany again“.

No wonder the Qrious poll got it right. Worryingly, their poll also suggests the Jo Cox murder cost remain 8 percentage points. Far from thinking, ‘oh I better vote remain to protest against racists‘, it appears many may well have thought ‘oh I better stay at home as if I turn out to vote remain I might be causing murders by increasing immigration‘. Doubtless more on that later as most ‘Britain First’ witnesses have recanted or disappeared, and the memorial charity is now being linked to funding terrorism.

The landscape has not changed. It has merely been exposed. Scotland and Northern Ireland want to keep their English-funded EU subsidies. England want their country back and Wales want their jobs back. We are a nation of two halves with young rich educated progressives in it for the money lined up against old poor uneducated social conservatives in it for the democracy, public services and national identity. It is Eddie Izzard versus John Bull. Surprisingly Labour thought a cross dressing millionaire would just the ticket to win over socially conservative old Labour voters.

The biggest damage is to Labour, who have been rumbled as having abandoned their core voters on the altar of global capitalism and muticulturalism. Corbyn’s enemies now have proof that although he recruited loads of £3 members they are losing at the polls. Conservatives have now shot the UKIP fox and no longer have any EU to argue about, but whereas Boris used to be the potential Heineken candidate, will he unite enough leavers across the political spectrum to outweigh those on both sides who blame him for leaving? Perhaps Teresa May can slip through the middle having sat on the fence as an obvious leave voting remain campaigner like Corbyn. Both parties are split between society’s losers and winners. But they will survive because now they get loads of kippers back in the fold.

The stockmarket has bounced back as the cheap pound will boost the very exports the remainers told us will collapse. Blue chips are up 2% on the week. Moodys have downgraded us but they are the people who rated BBB CDOs as AAA, triggering the 2008 subprime crisis. Major economies including USA, Germany and Canada are already queueing up for favoured nation deals. Young remainers will now have a better chance of getting on the housing ladder with cheaper houses. Labour have got their public services back and we have all avoided TTIP abolishing the NHS. Everyone has got their nation back. We will escape the EU army, the budget increase, the EU tax number, the Turkish accession, the Cologne gangs, the toaster ban. Global warming nuts will be marginalised.

Farage should get a knighthood for services to democracy and Corbyn is to be thanked for sabotaging the remain campaign with his Bennite belief that the EU is an undemocratic capitalist conspiracy to farm cheap workers and impoverish third world farmers. Meanwhile the economists and bankers who told us to join the Euro and that the 2008 would not happen will continue to talk us down, making either way bets before breakfast dinner and tea.

As we head for the divorce court, no wonder other EU leaders are demanding we leave quickly before referendums take place everywhere else and before anyone can prove the exit terms will be bad. Sweden, Denmark, Italy, Netherlands, France, Austria, Hungary and Czech Republic are all under pressure to abandon ship. Geeks looking for the possible detail of how Brexit works can wade through the House of Commons briefing paper Apr 2016 The process of leaving the EU, House of Commons research briefing Feb 2016 Impact of an EU exit on key policy areas. There is also the slightly older House of Commons research paper Mar 2013 Leaving the EU.

What we need to do now is sign up deals with the wider world that the EU banned us from doing for the last 43 years, build a bonfire of EU red tape, beef up the border force, put on a union jack waistcoat and sing the national anthem.

For Fox Sake

foxbinHas anyone in Southend had their bins collected on time and not seen the town turned into a stinking maggot infested eyesore by the new Veolia timetable over the last month?

Months ago I warned the Lib-Lab-Indie coalition not to proceed with their hairbrained idea of putting the binmen on a four day week, forcing householders to have four bins and abolishing weekly collections. But the rag bag coalition insisted they knew best. The collections will be more efficient they said. People want four bins crammed in their home to help recycling they claimed. They even denied that weekly collections are due to expire in 2017. They timed all the contract changes to slip in after the election so that it minimised their lost seats and allowed them to try to blame the Conservatives when it inevitably all goes wrong on their watch.

The cabinet member who negotiated the deal, Independent Group’s Martin Terry, told the Echo the reason our streets are strewn with rubbish and plagued with foxes is poor communication by the new Conservative administration. Yet his new contract changes came in on 9th May 2016 before the Conservative administration was voted in on 19th May 2016. He ploughed ahead with the disastrous changes before Veolia’s depot was even built to handle the extra lorries per day. He kept secret from the public that the four day week meant collections at 10pm on the right day if you are lucky and a random time the next day if you are not lucky. The Conservatives were given no say in it and still have none as the plan is contractual binding for another 14 years.

Laughably, when I predicted that a four day week could take us back to a 70s-style dystopia of uncollected rubbish piling up in the streets I was dismissed by Labour bloggers as a pessimist and told it will be better then Cory and better than the five day week. Tory Cllr Flewitt received similar treatment from the Labour press officer on 01/04/15. How did I predict the lefties wouldn’t be able to organise bevvies in a brewery? Now the architects of the scheme are going in the Echo to blame residents for being too thick to put their bags our on the new correct day, knowing full well that Veolia aren’t turning up.

Last year Terry told the Echo the deal will give us ‘a first-class service to our residents and businesses, maintaining an attractive street scene across the borough‘. But it’s not all Terry’s fault. Constitutionally his portfolio was an administrative convenience. The deal was signed off by the Lib-Lab-Indie cabinet with everyone from wind farm-obsessed Lib Dems to cryptokippers all up to their necks in it. Ultimately the buck stops with the council leader who was Independent Group’s Ron Woodley. This left-wing junta (who only got in power through a coup against the largest party) defied Conservative advice to keep Cory, but they weren’t listening. All that mattered to them was to get rid for political reasons of the company the Conservatives wanted. Now residents are paying the price for a multi million pound left wing tantrum.

Then there is the ‘four bins’ fiasco which I exposed in March. I don’t know anybody who is using the blue boxes or bags as they are all stuffing everything in black bags in protest as being used as slave labour by Veolia who promises ‘more for less’. Now we know the truth. The deal is actually ‘less for more’. If you deduct the fifth collection day or recycling sort palmed off to residents the deal is already dearer than Cory. If you deduct both it is massively more expensive. But it gets worse.

As I warned in April, in November 2017 the weekly collections stops, as the Lib-Lab-Indie coalition insisted that the contract do not require weekly collections for its lifetime. Why would they do that? Well it allowed them to announce a ‘cheaper deal’ for the next two elections. Even the coalition started giving up the pretence when Labour dropped weekly collections from their manifesto this year following complaints that it was a blatant lie as anyone can see from the contract and council press release. Conveniently for the opposition the Conservatives are confronted with the task of negotiating a contract upgrade to continue weekly collections beyond November 2017, with the associated council tax rise unavoidable given Veolia have a fifteen year contract to lock out alternative quotes.

If it was up to me I would get a QC in to advise on whether we can walk away from the contract in light of the four day week meltdown, and if it is not clear cut, demand indefinite weekly collections and a return to Veolia doing their own recycling sort (so we abolish the blue boxes and bags) in return for continuing the contract.

What this saga reminds us is that the Lib-Lab-Indies are great at spending our money for us on gimmicks like solar panels, but can’t even get the basics right like bin collections. As it was when Conservatives had to rescue the country from bankruptcy after Labour’s IMF loan in 1976 and again in 2010 after New Labour’s love-in with banks, now a Conservative administration is going to have spend years just mending the damage done to Southend’s frontline services. Some advice to voters: don’t play Foxy Bingo with your environment – keep left wing experiments away from Southend.

No country for old white men

No-Country-for-Old-Men-Backgrounds

First it was the Jews. Now Labour are coming for old white men. Labour’s shadow Europe minister Pat Glass has told her ‘Another Europe’ Labour remainer rally that there is ‘no point talking to older white men’ as they are ‘a problem’. Luckily she didn’t have Naz Shah on the platform – she is good at solving ‘problems’. On a grander scale than the Coen’s brothers’ Anton Chiguh. Anyone old enough to remember the war or who won the UK the freedom for her to say such things in English rather than German, or who remembers the old days of democracy and sovereignty when our laws were made by elected MPs, is a problem. It used to be an achievement to be non-platformed by the left. Now there is a new meme – being ‘non-doorstepped’.

 

Truancy myths debunked

truancy

LEA bureaucrats were crying into their Guardians recently as news emerged of a High Court judgment that decimates the ability of councils to fine parents for taking kids out of school on holiday. The ruling means that parents can take pupils on holiday with impunity for almost certainly between at least a fortnight and probably up to 10% of the term time per year.

Jon Platt of Isle of Wight took his child to Disneyworld during April and got a £60 ticket from the council for his troubles. He told the council in the politest terms where to stick their fine so ended up in the Magistrates who threw the case out. The council were not happy so asked the magistrates to refer to it the High Court. Had they taken discretion as the better part of valour they could have left parents guessing whether they would win if taken to the magistrates court, but now they have set a precedent meaning it is probably impossible to convict for truancy below about 10%.

The appeal was by way of case stated (whereby the lower court asks for an opinion from the appeal court) and this is the question the magistrates asked the High Court. Namely, can they consider attendance record for the period ending before the unauthorised holiday?

The mistake the council made was confusing government guidance on when to authorise absences (Regulation 7 of the Education (Pupil Registration) (England) Regulations 2006, SI 2006/1751) with the law on truancy (s444, Education Act 1996 as interpreted in Bromley v C). The guidance on authorised absence is that it should be granted exceptionally, whereas the guidance on truancy is 10% of total term time. The law is that pupils must attend regularly (taking into account attendance record and the circumstances) minus absences with leave or for religion, unavoidable cause or sickness.

In this case the estranged parents between them took the pupils out of school for 12 days. The defence successfully argued that there was no case to answer because the charge was failure to attend regularly whereas attendance was 92.3%. In fact the headmaster admitted that attendance was 100% before the holiday was taken. The council’s own absence authorisation form admitted that 90% would be acceptable. The magistrates found no case to answer on the basis of only the latest holiday of 7 days.

The council argued four hopeless points. First that the only relevant period for measuring attendance is the absence, meaning that any absence is a crime. Second that only 100% attendance is full-time education as required by s7 Education Act 1996. Third that absence is lateness. Fourth that the statutory instrument on authorising absence trumps the Act of Parliament on truancy.

These were all silly things to say as it was already law that absence is measured in all the circumstances including attendance record, the prosecution itself had relied on evidence of attendance record for the whole academic year and the court dismissed the lateness case of Hinchley v Rankin as irrelevant.

What the media omitted to mention – as they went to press on this without waiting for the judgment that has only just emerged – is the court’s warning that they in any event might not have found the parent guilty without adding the government as an interested party to the proceedings to comment on the vagueness of guidance on truancy, which due to Barnfather v Islington may render the statute unenforceable due to uncertainty.

So future prosecutions should reduce until the government clarifies the legislation as currently the legal position is even worse than the popular press thought. The law on truancy appears to now be that you can take your children out of school for either a) the greater 10% of sessions or whatever is lawfully excusable by leave, sickness, religion or unavoidable cause, or b) as much as you like. It remains to be seen whether any LEAs will litigate and risk wasting £50,000 on an appeal like Isle of Wight did here, to find out before parliament changes the law.

Sadly, not far below the surface of this case, was the impact on childrens’ welfare of a separation, leading each parent to take their own holiday with the children, thus doubling the time off school. So while I am pleased a citizen stuck it to the state in this case, we ought not to allow parents to think they can get away that. That said, the overriding factor should be child welfare, which is a grey area for any unsuspecting parent, judge, LEA or headmaster to grapple with.

Is it best for a non-academic child to be frogmarched to school for extra fortnight, or to go on an educational inspiring trip that the geography teacher could only dream of affording to arrange for the whole class, or to just hang out with a parent they don’t see much of? My view is that the best the state can do is educate parents on why maximising attendance is usually the best policy but leave it to parents’ conscience how to use discretion for the 10% of term time they can get away with.

The latest government research reveals that only 7.5% of absences are for holidays. It also claims that absence causes poorer results, conveniently ignoring much of the previous research that shows results depend on other school and family background factors not included in the regression analysis. Many pupils from chaotic homes would only benefit from the stable environment of school. And what of the report on The Determinants of Non-Cognitive and Cognitive Schooling Outcomes which claimed that attainment depends on enjoyment? Are truants not enjoying school because it is one size fits all, with an assumption that academia is good for you and the more we test it the more it happens? The report also reminded us that some truants rationally calculated that they will make more money getting into work early or establishing themselves in the criminal fraternity than by getting an extra GSCE grade.

One might note in the latest report, ‘The link between absence and attainment at KS2 and KS4’ that whilst at key stage two the proportion achieving level four falls by 27% for those absent over 95% of term time (and thus 73% of the result is nothing to do with the school), it falls 69% for level five, suggesting that attendance mainly benefits academically gifted pupils and much less so the typical truant. The government’s explosive claim that ‘even one day harms results’ is rather deflated by the actual statistic which is that only 1.1% miss out on level five by virtue of missing 10% of term time, ie about a fortnight’s holiday.

The research needs further investigation as it claims that authorised absence caused level five achievement to fall by half after 10% absence, whereas kids who bunk off to take drugs down the local park for the same 10% of term time only suffer a 10% reduced chance of level five. I suspect this is because the children being taken on holiday are those who stood a real chance of getting level five. What the reports seems to show is that parents who don’t bother getting authorisation for absence tend to have children who would not do well at school even if they turned up whereas there is something peculiar to pupils who have authorised absences that suddenly ruins their education.

It is not good enough to try to prop up a fines regime with a doomsday headline and then hide at page 21 the admission that ‘agreed family holiday absence has no statistically significant effect at KS2‘. It is obvious that the socio-economic factors the researchers claim to have factored in to isolate the effect of absence did not pick up what sort of pupils go on authorised holiday. Could it be that these parents slip in a bit of home schooling to make up? Or are teachers discriminating in favour of pupils who can afford holidays by spending more time helping them catch up?

What we see here is the same as happens with speeding drivers. It is easier to prosecute otherwise law abiding citizens who are traceable and pay their fine than catch unlicensed insured drug addicts who will not cooperate with court and yet who cause the most danger. It is easier to demonise parents who want a cheap holiday than confront the real issue which is persistent truancy by pupils whose parents did the same at their age and who don’t believe in education, by pupils being bullied, with low IQs or who are flitting between estranged parent’s homes or acting as carer for a disabled parent. These are the truants who turn to drugs and crime or face a law abiding but damaged array of life chances, not hapless kids dragged on a lastminute.com bargain to Magaluf.

Fortunately Southend is ahead of the game, with a state secondary school absence rate of 4.8% compared the England average of 5.3%, and a persistent truant rate of 3.3% compared to 5.4%. But we do need a clear law on truancy and an explanation why authorised absence does not harm results at KS2 but does at KS4 if we are to take government figures seriously.

My suspicion is that kids are caught up in a power struggle between the state and parents, with the former using research that can’t see the wood for the trees. We are also faced with several generations who thanks to the perverse self-propogating welfare state know that you can do OK by forgetting school and throwing yourself on the taxpayer, perhaps with a bit of cash work on the side. Every benefit payment puts another brick in the wall that divides the old ‘on yer bike’ self sufficiency from today’s ‘on yer sofa’ Benefit Britain.

Kat out of the bag

Felix_krazy_katThe latest leaflet from Ron Woodley’s offspring Kat has arrived in the Peagram letterbox a couple of days ago. The highlight is the shock announcement of a change of career for Conservative St Laurence councillor Mark Flewitt, which is news to even him.

We are sorry Kat is disappointed to have lost in St Laurence in the 2016 Southend election but surprised that she got her hopes up. The ward which wraps around the south of the airport is Conservative with UKIP tendencies. They don’t want Thorpe Bay independents coming in telling them how to run the neighbourhood.

Her war on potholes would have been difficult without the Conservative government’s pothole fund. The street litter she complains about is down to her dad’s decision to change bin collection times so bags are ripped open by foxes and the contents left to swirl around in the wind all day if not until the next day.

But more damaging was her first leaflet a few months ago saying she wanted to build a new cinema and restaurants at Seaway which would wipe out those at the top of the High Street and a new shopping centre at Fossetts Farm which would wipe out what is left of the High Street.

The youth council veteran and aviator is still touting the old lie about care home closures. Her dad’s administration wanted to close a care home which Conservatives wanted to save. Her group also wanted to flog off the town’s care homes to a company to maximise profit, which some would say sounds likes remarkably like the privatisation she condemns. Indeed, if it wasn’t for Conservative St Laurence councillor Mark Flewitt exposing the independents’ secret plan over the last two years to build council bungalows on sheltered housing plots, suspend repairs and ‘review weaker units’ (ie close them) Southend would have even less accommodation for our elderly infirm.

The most surprising announcement was that she was going to run a personal binbag delivery service for the ward’s residents instead of doing the job of a councillor which is advocacy, surgeries and policy making. Bizarrely she appears to promise on behalf of Flewitt that in her place he will become a dustman delivering pink sacks to some 4,500 homes. This sort of nonsense is what attracts hyperbolic comparison to cartoon figures. I expect Kat has a sensible side to her given her civic and aeronautical predilections, but did not have the best of mentors, hence allowing this latest leaflet to take off without a cockpit check.

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