Nuclear power in a democracy, care homes and the death penalty.

In the news today we hear that new nuclear power plants are going to be built regardless of what anyone thinks and that the planning processes will bent to that end. The suggestion is also made that the same set of arrangements will be employed for other major developments, by which, I assume the government means airports, major roads and new towns, amongst other things.
It may well be that the Severn barrage will be included in the new arrangements. This will put me on the horns of a dilemma in that I am very strongly in favour of that development and am, if I am truthful, somewhat hostile to and contemptuous of those who oppose it.
Dick Tuck, a rumbustious American politician, known especially for playing cruel tricks on Richard Nixon, lost an election and is immortalised for his response – ‘The people have spoken, the bastards!’ Democracy is difficult and can lead to irrational outcomes at times. People have views, often strongly felt, that conflict with the objective evidence. Are governments right to plough ahead despite popular opposition – thinking of wars perhaps? Are they right to defy popular demand – the death penalty perhaps?
‘First past the post’ elections, leading to governments that the majority of the population did not vote for and may have voted against, make these sorts of questions particularly sharp.
A hung parliament with a large block of Independents and small parties holding the balance will make a fascinating challenge to our political class. In my judgement it will, if handled well, permit a rare flowering of democratic influence. Coalitions are not necessarily weak and they can produce not poor government but finely honed and enduring law that commands the respect of a much larger than usual section of the electorate.
Back on the subject of nuclear power: For reasons that are not widely discussed, someone somewhere has to have functioning nuclear reactors. They produce electricity and waste that has yet to be stored securely for geological time periods but also they produce isotopes upon which modern industry and medicine is critically dependant. In recent years there have been times when a critical shortage of these isotopes developed and significant delays developed in diagnosis and treatment in health services around the world.
When the time comes to reduce nuclear armaments, functioning nuclear reactors will have a role to play in processing the fissile elements. In the light of all this I support the possession, by stable states, of a minimal number of reactors. I am opposed to the use of nuclear power as a main or even substantial power source in the long term.
I am sure that we are all profoundly surprised by the eventual closure of all the care homes in the county… Sorry. Did I sound a mite sarcastic there for a moment?
An ageing population is going to need more and better care and by the middle of this century the problem is likely to be very acute. Care at home is desirable, where possible, but this will not always be an option.
Care homes will always have to be available for both long term, respite and crisis situations. Whether these homes are privately operated, or provided by the state, or a mixture of both, and if the latter in what proportions, these are the questions. Standards of care can be secured with existing legislation and may even improve if the stiflingly small print nature of the law were eased.
The overwhelming push to privatise everything remains an enigma to me. So long as it is done well, there are no compelling reasons for preferring private or third sector provision over state provision in my view. Time and resources expended on shuffling between these sectors is wasted and unavailable for the real business of providing care. The ideologues are getting in the way again.
Channel 4’s docu-drama on the execution of Gary Glitter was no triumph by all accounts. I found plenty of better things to do than watch it myself. It does, however, provide a small stimulus to discussion.
Every few years the death penalty re-emerges into the light of public discussion. It is suggested that 54% of the electorate support it and some political obsessives use this as a reason to deride popular democratic initiatives.
I am opposed to the death penalty for any reason and by any means. Full stop.
The numbers of people who are granted posthumous pardons, the doubtful verdicts, the political distortion of the judiciary in many countries, the number of overturned verdicts and the ex-residents of death row who now walk the streets because they were innocent all along – these things taken together ought to prevent even the most fleeting consideration of the restoration of the death penalty. Even the most fastidious legal processes are as vulnerable to error and miscarriage as many other human endeavours.
If you are keen to investigate the matter a little further, let us consider the means of execution. It has been objectively established that beheading or guillotining leaves the severed head conscious for up to thirty seconds. Hanging being a, usually, incomplete form of beheading must be similar. Electrocution is notoriously unreliable and protracted. Gassing is not instantaneous. Injection has lately been found to be unreliable and sometimes impossible. A firing squad, aiming for the heart, will result in a few seconds agony.
Strangely, the customary Chinese approach, a bullet at point blank into the join between the neck and base of the skull, may be the most efficacious method if you are looking for instant effect. This may be some small consolation to abolitionists, as China currently has the highest rate of execution and is therefore the subject of much condemnation.
Michael Portillo featured in a programme in which he sought the ideal method of execution by which he meant as humane as possible. A particularly memorable sequence involved an American prison official (I think) emphasising that he definitely wanted the prisoner to suffer a good deal as that was a legitimate part of the procedure. Portillo was dumbstruck.


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