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Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Why I Feel Vindicated By the ASLEF Leadership

I would like to congratulate the ASLEF leadership for their decision, published in the previous edition of the Journal, to become active in the franchising process.

Of course, it is not that likely that the government would actually allow us as a trade union to be instrumental in the running of any such franchise, however I do applaud the move towards such a campaigning strategy.

It is with a sense of vindication that I write this letter, as I proposed the exact same strategy when standing for election to the Executive Committee last year. I spoke at length on this issue in a number of branch meetings across District 1 during the election, and the idea was very well received.

It makes sense that the communities who are served by the railways are allowed to have a stake in the direction in which their operation is taken. ASLEF is just such a community. We are a community of highly trained, proud and professional Train Drivers who know where the current system is going wrong through our own daily experiences.

Co-operative's running franchises would remove the embedded obsession with profit, profit and more profit, and instead allow a greater focus on investment in and improvements to operations, safety, ergonomic cab design, social responsibility, customer care, pay, terms and conditions, and so on.

This is also guaranteed to garner substantial press interest if handled the right way, not only from the screaming doom merchants in the Daily Mail et al, but also from the more sympathetic news outlets.

No doubt some would see such an initiative as 'inmates running the asylum' I however see it more as an industry which is currently drowning itself in a sea of non competent management lending itself a chance at grabbing a life raft by drawing on the skills of the professional men and women that keep Britain's railways moving each day, and keep them safe.

I have been saying for an awfully long time that ASLEF needs a much higher media profile than we have currently. Bob Crow is not the voice of the railways, and it is a tragedy that ASLEF should allow the massed media to cast him as such without taking steps to redress the balance.

In order to achieve this we need innovative campaigning strategies, and proactive leadership from those whose wages we pay.

Tradition is a great teacher, and the status quo can be an able guardian of important achievements, but we need to do things better, we need to do them more effectively and efficiently, and we need to be much more aggressive and robust in getting the message across to politicians, the travelling public, and indeed our sister unions.

ASLEF is the only sensible choice for professional Train Drivers. We cannot however, allow ideology and dogma to get in the way of showing people why we are the only sensible choice.

If this initiative is the first welcome step towards that long awaited higher media presence, and modern, innovative campaigning that is fit and focussed on achieving and excelling for a 21st century membership, in a 21st century industry, I for one certainly welcome it, and I will obligingly offer my time and support in pursuit of such an aim, no matter how overdue it may be.

Friday, 12 March 2010

Bulger, Venables, and why the Red Tops Could Leave the Cell Door Open..

Another week, and another relentless display of feverish tabloid headlines. Last week it was Brown the bully (quell surprise) and this week it is the disturbing revelations regarding one of the killers of the tragic toddler James Bulger who as most will know was murdered in horrific circumstances by Jon Venables and Robert Thompson in Liverpool in 1991.

Since the pair were handed indeterminate sentences by the judge presiding over the case, there has been much debate over whether the punishment given was anywhere near severe enough. Personally, I believe that it was at best naive to go forward with the belief that these two could have been rehabilitated following the committal of such heinous acts, even though they were both only 10 years of age at the time.

I do believe that, whilst it is a misnomer to believe that only deviants and maniacs possess the ability to act with violence or sadism, it is certainly true that, at least for the most part, it is only people who are products of a damaged family or social environment, or indeed those born sociopathic who will go on to perform the type of depraved acts perpetrated upon little James Bulger.

Looking back at the particulars of the case, there is a part of me that rails against the sense of injustice that comes from the knowledge that neither of the offenders spent a single day of their adult lives in prison. But stand back for a moment, and view this sorry trail of events as dispassionately as you can. The criminal justice system was faced with what was a no win situation here. They were presented with bellowing crowds and impassioned tabloid headlines that whipped up an already furious public, understandably baying for the blood of these two ‘monsters’ who were responsible for such brutality against such an innocent and defenceless child. Yet they themselves were children too.

The conundrum served to the judiciary, and the rest of the criminal justice system was centred around what to do with these two young boys. One of the cornerstones of any advanced, compassionate and libertarian society is the belief that all punishment should be fair, and should also be aimed at rehabilitation. A fine balancing act had to be successfully achieved between the law being seen to be handing down justice to the perpetrators of what was a horrific and ghastly crime, and the goal of trying to rehabilitate these two youngsters so that they may one day be in a position to serve a useful purpose to the wider society.

So, although I can sympathise to an extent with those who bellow about the softness of the sentence handed down to these two boys, I can also see why it was that the decision was taken to sentence them the way that they were sentenced.

Not everybody takes the same view however. The unfairness perceived by some was translated into angry headlines by the less responsible red top newspapers, and the flames of public outcry were fanned by front page content, and this very understandable grudge seems to have been carried over into recent coverage of the return to custody of John Venables.

The main thrust of my point however is not solely concentrated on my opinion of the reasons behind the sentencing of Venables and Thompson. It is also intended to demonstrate why it is that I fear that the hysterical intervention of these red top papers may well result in the undermining of the criminal justice system.

A cursory scan of the headlines that have poured from the tabloids in recent days have told lurid tales of a myriad of obsessions and offences that I am not going to repeat here. Almost every man, woman, and child in the nation will have read or heard some of the charges against Venables, despite pleas from the Justice ministry for calm and reason in the way that the media handled the case.

This, I believe has been breathtakingly irresponsible action on the part of the British media, rather akin to the actions of the mothers who amazed the nation by buying junk food for their children at lunchtime in protest at the local authority imposing a menu of healthier food for their children’s school lunches.

I make this comparison in the belief that it demonstrates how people can demonstrate such unbelievable stupidity in the face of such obvious fact.

The fact in the case of these mothers is that they were jeopardising the health, educational ability, and future of their children in some ill informed and selfish protest, and the fact in the case of the media is that by hollering such hysterical and inflammatory revelations about the Venables case, they are jeopardising the chances of him receiving a fair trial, and if found guilty of whatever crime he is eventually charged with, receiving a fair and true sentence that will be beyond the questioning theatrics of an ambitious appeal lawyer.

I believe that we should all step back and allow the judicial protest to take its unhindered course. If Venables has indeed committed the crimes that so many have accused him of, the CPS, the judiciary, and the prison ser vice should all be allowed to do their collective job. If he hasn’t, then the same is also true.

The real irony of this situation is that it will be the same people, the ‘red top’ media who will be crying foul if their irresponsibility in the face of reasonable pleas for restraint end up foiling any attempt by authorities to bring Venables to book for any crime of which he is convicted.

These publications have all featured heavily the brave and erudite mother of James Bulger, Denise Fergus. She is a wonderfully courageous and articulate lady who has managed to carry on despite such unimaginable grief and rage, and I for one certainly tip my hat to her for that.

It has been stated by many, quite correctly that Denise Fergus has been handed a life sentence by the actions of these two.

The saddest thing of all of these recent events is that the actions of the media may well sentence Ms Fergus to a second life sentence. Surely nobody could forsee a larger injustice than that.