Yesterday, I said that one of the things I loved about running this blog was the amount of new knowledge I acquired along the way. No sooner said than done.
I have been fascinated by the way in which Jeremy Corbyn and I are on a level playing field. He may be better known to you as ‘Leader of the Opposition’; he may have an army of supporters behind him; his face may be on every TV screen; he may have access to campaigning funds beyond my wildest dreams – but as far as the returning officer at Islington North is concerned, he is just a man whose name appears on the ballot paper along with that of Susanne Cameron-Blackie and the other candidates. No special treatment, no relaxation of the rules, no bowing and scraping. Truly a General Election is a leveler of citizens.
There was something about typing that word ‘Leveller’ that rang a bell in a dark and cobwebby corner of my mind. Very cobwebby as it happens. A gossamer labyrinth festooned with the dust of a thousand conversations and snippets of information. Was it a pub quiz, or perhaps a history lesson 50 years ago? I had definitely heard that word before and in connection with politics. You probably got there way before me – but Google is my friend (and belated tutor).
The Levellers were a political movement during the English Civil War. They started meeting, of all places, in Islington – in a tavern called the ‘Rosemary Branch’. They were early Libertarians rather than Socialists. They were the first to adopt the habit of writing pamphlets and petitions to publicise their cause.
They wrote effectively not merely because they were exceptionally gifted or technically well equipped … but because they wrote with a purpose clearly understood and deeply felt, and for an audience which they knew to be close and immediately responsive … they can fairly claim to be the fathers of the tradition of plain English writing dedicated to the service of the plain man.
So there you are – Islington wasn’t such an odd choice for me – it had long been a place where people who believed that all men were equal, that all religions should be tolerated, that all men should be treated equally by the justice system, were moved to write about it. I hadn’t realised that I was so ignorant about English history. Needless to say, I have spent the afternoon reading everything I could find about the Levellers. It is almost as though Islington was pre-ordained for me.
If the Levellers were early minimalist Libertarians, the other political group group which came to prominence and opposed them – the ‘Diggers’ – were fledgling hardline Marxists. How hugely appropriate, as Jeremy Corby digs a hole in which to bury the Labour Party!
At the moment we are in danger of creating a justice system that doesn’t treat all men equally. Those who are accused of sexual offences are being marshalled into an area of the justice system that simply isn’t a level playing field with rest of the justice system – different rules apply, with very unfair results. Whilst I am currently campaigning on the issue of this ridiculous sum of money that is being expended on compensation claims against the NHS, I don’t want anyone to think that I have lost interest in the fate of those who have been on police bail for years on end, waiting for a charging decision from the CPS, or have had to forgo their homes and pensions in order to pay for their defence.
There is a connection between the two issues – in many cases it is those same firms of personal injury lawyers, fed by those irritating advertisements on afternoon television, who are scalping the NHS – just as they have scalped many other institutions; motor insurance pools; then with the historic sexual offences – the church, and various charities running care homes – that is not to suggest that some of the claims against those institutions are not valid – merely that they have clearly been targeted by rapacious personal injury lawyers trawling for business.
PPI (Payment protection insurance) which has proved such a lucrative income source for many of these firms – ‘Gladstone Brooks’ cheerfully advertises that it has reclaimed £800 million for its clients, at what benefit to Gladstone Brooks we do not know – is drawing to a close. So presumably they will be looking for a fresh source of institutions to target.
Where those ‘fresh sources’ turn out to be taxpayer-funded, as is the case with the NHS – then I am interested, because what we are witnessing is a grand transfer of tax payer funds into the hands of personal injury lawyers via ‘no win, no fee’ agreements.
Take the case of the surgeon who has been convicted of carrying out unapproved ‘cleavage sparing operations’ on patients; the Trust involved has chosen to pay an average of £37,000 to the women involved – and Eight and a half million pounds to the lawyers who were acting on their behalf. We don’t know the terms of the settlement – it may well be that the Trust thought it was cheaper to settle at this stage rather than risk the costs going even higher.
Emma Doughty, clinical negligence solicitor at law firm Slater and Gordon, which represents more than 60 victims, said: “Although we have seen hundreds of claimants, God knows how many this actually affects.
“There are hundreds, if not thousands, of claimants and then we have got to think about people who haven’t come forward, people who have died. It’s on a huge scale.
“I would say, from our standpoint and what we know, there have been cover-ups since the late Nineties.”