Two stories recently caught my eye. Each in its own way, to change the metaphor, left its distinctive taste.
The first story may be called “Army manoeuvres”.
In 2006 an open verdict was recorded by the investigating QC on the deaths of four young soldiers who died at the Deepcut Army Barracks, Surrey. The QC had concluded that the deaths of the four soldiers were self-inflicted, despite the fact that he considered that “bullying, harassment, ‘foul abuse’ and a systemic failure to investigate complaints” were part of life at the Deepcut base.
It would seem that a substantial amount of evidence to do with the inquest, including documents, notes and photographs, were not examined. It is only through the efforts of the civil rights group Liberty, using the Human Rights Act, that permission for a fresh inquest has been granted.
In the event, it needs to be questioned as to whether human rights mean very much in the normal course of ensuring justice in the British state. QC’s are charged with the highest administration of law and justice in the land; why, then, the need for the increasing involvement of groups such as Liberty?
Or, is this example simply pointing to the fact that the Armed Services, the Army in this case, see themselves as being outside of the norms affecting everyone else? Whatever may be the truth behind the deaths of the four soldiers, the story emanating from the Deepcut Army Barracks leaves a distinctively bad taste.
The second story may be called “Fostering good practice”.
The Conservative Party’s Edward Timpson is the Childrens’ Minister in the British coalition government. In many respects, Timpson is a traditional Tory: public-school educated, from a rich family (I am familiar with the Timpson name as I sometimes get keys cut or a pair of shoes mended from one of the Timpson outlets), and a barrister by profession. In February he was named the Minister of the Year. He is married to Julia, an accountant, and the couple have three pre-teenage children.
Domestically speaking, Edward Timpson would seem to be a fine choice to be both an MP and the Childrens’ Minister.
He recently pushed through reforms that will see the age of leaving foster care raised from 18 to 21 – a change piloted by the previous Labour Government (no criticism here, then, simply following-on). So too, he favours further changes to working patterns in parliament. He acknowledges that many MP’s, like himself, have young families and that much needs to be done to recognise that life – in parliament, as outside – has moved on.
It seems to me, therefore, it comes as no reason to laud the fact that when Timpson was elected to parliament in 2008, Labour Party activists “donned top hats and mocked him as an out-of-touch toff”.
Perhaps these same activists were unaware of how active were Timpson’s parents in fostering around 90 children and had adopted a further two. Edward Timpson is himself the youngest of three children born to his parents. Participation in such a family was, it seems, fundamental in shaping Edward Timpson’s desire to read family law at university and then enter politics after substantial experience in the courts of law.
It might be sobering for the same Labour Party activists who mocked Timpson’s entry to parliament to reflect on the suitability of its own opposition front bench to be in the same position now occupied by Edward Timpson. The comparison might prove to be odious.
Whilst comparisons might be odious, the story of Edward Timpson leaves a distinctively good taste.
These are two tales that tell us something about aspects of the society in which we in the UK live and the impact that institutions and individuals can have on that society.