10 May 2020
Life in a UK prison is described in some detail in ‘A Bit of a Stretch’, a fascinating book by Chris Atkins that was published in February. Atkins is a respected film-maker who was given a 5-year sentence for tax fraud, the first part of which he spent in HMP Wandsworth, and the book is based on the diaries he kept there.
It also includes a lot of background information about just how ineffective the prison system is (he includes 10 pages of sources for this information for those who like to check facts), some of which is horrifying, some of which is utterly dystopian and some of which would be funny if he wasn’t describing how real people’s lives are systematically destroyed by the system. He reserves some of his more excoriating comments for reforms introduced by Chris Grayling, a former Secretary of State for Justice,
Remember Grayling? His next job was Secretary of State for Transport when the full horrors of Brexit were first being appreciated and he gave almost £1m to consultants for a £14m contract for channel ferry services to be provided by Seaborne Freight. He subsequently discovered they didn’t actually have any ships and the contract was cancelled. (He also cost us many more millions in compensation to other ferry companies.)
Roger Lewis, a critic who reviewed Atkins’ book. wrote “Why isn’t Grayling behind bars?” and his critique was published on 23 February this year in guess which national newspaper – yes, that’s right – the Daily Telegraph. (For the full review, see https://www.telegraph.co.uk/books/non-fiction/think-couldsurvive-britishprison-good-luck/)
Atkins writes exceptionally well and his struggles to survive are humbling to those of us who find the present Covid-19 lockdown restricting. While he was in Wandsworth, he also became a Samaritans Listener, offering confidential support to other prisoners who were struggling to stay alive in prison, which opened his eyes to some of the other deprivations that he hadn’t experienced himself.
This book should be required reading in all schools because, as Bob Dylan said of Lenny Bruce, “he just showed the wise men of his day to be nothing more than fools”.
Talking of fools, the government is still getting everything wrong but the Labour party now has a leader who seems capable of providing a genuine opposition. Having eaten Dominic Raab alive a couple of weeks ago at Prime Ministers’ Questions, he did the same to Boris Johnson this week; it was like watching an over-inflated balloon trying to fend off a stiletto.
Meanwhile, Matt Hancock’s proud claim to have met his target of testing 100,000 people for Covid-19 a day was proved the following day to have been an exaggeration and then his team captain put him under further pressure by announcing a new target of 200,000 tests a day by the end of this month.
Where do they find these people?
We’re just lucky that our gung-ho prime minister, who used to boast that he was still shaking hands with people suffering from Covid-19, caught a bad version of it but, happily, he just survived and now seems somewhat de-gunged; so instead of saying “pull yourself together and get back to work”, he’s urging more caution about loosening the restrictions and, with any luck, regretting having delayed introducing them by some 2-3 weeks. His broadcast earlier this evening sounded very sensible as he emphasised that they would be lifting a few restrictions at a time, and then only if the preconditions had been met. He didn’t actually say that, if it looked as though Covid-19 was staging a come-back, some restrictions could be reimposed but this was implicit in what he said.
At least, unlike America, Johnson isn’t up for re-election later this year so he can cheerfully ignore the Bank of England’s warning that the economy could fall by 14% this year and GDP could fall by 25% in the second quarter in the deepest recession for 300 years, employers furloughing almost one in four of the workforce*, charities warning that domestic abuse cases have risen dramatically and the police reporting that there are early signs of an increase in suicides and attempted suicides during the lockdown (see my blogs of 22 and 29 March).
The EY Item Club, which is an independent forecasting group with a very silly name, believes it will take the UK economy until 2023 to recover from the collateral damage caused by the coronavirus pandemic and the IMF is forecasting the global economy will fall by 3%.
Investment managers, who take fees for fund management and dealing but are of course completely impartial, are suggesting this might be a good time to buy shares but they cover themselves by saying this will depend on whether the charts showing the fall in share prices is going to turn out to be V-shaped, L-shaped or W-shaped, or if the last month or so has been a dead cat bounce and markets still have further to fall. So here’s some free investment advice for you: whatever you think might happen, don’t invest money you can’t afford to lose.
Sociologically, I find the pandemic absolutely fascinating (a neighbour looked very shocked when I said this) and hope I live long enough to see how (if?) the world is changed by it. At the moment, people are showing big and small kindnesses to others and some academics are suggesting that, deep in the heart of them, most people actually are kind if they’re given half a chance. (Fat cats are just fat cats but let’s hope societal changes will show they’re nothing more than fools.)
* American experts reckon unemployment could reach 20% in May, more evidence of Trump’s success in managing the economy