Fun and Games on the Stephen Nolan Show

Stephen Nolan

Last night (or rather, this morning — between midnight and one o’clock) I was doing the newspaper review on the Stephen Nolan Show on BBC Radio 5 Live.  The second reviewer was John Cooper QC, a left-wing barrister.  I’ve been on the show before with John — mainly discussing the absurdities of the European Convention on Human Rights — and obviously the BBC thinks we achieve a lively debate.  In fact we seemed to spend more time on current issues as they cropped up than on any formal review of the papers.

We talked (of course) about moors murderer Ian Brady, and the tragic death of Winnie Johnson, the victim’s mother who spent nearly half a century searching for her son’s body, but died of cancer without finding him.  We talked about the plight of Tony Nicklinson, the patient with locked-in syndrome, who has just lost a court case demanding the right to die.  We talked about Sunday trading, and school playing fields, and the Dominic Raab/Priti Patel book criticising the work ethic of British employees.  Somehow with all that going on we never quite got round to the topic I’d picked from the front pages, but it didn’t seem to matter.

Predictably, Cooper insisted that Nicklinson couldn’t be accorded the right to die, because it might lead to vulnerable sick and elderly folk coming under pressure to do the same.  That’s a bit like arguing that no one should be allowed to drive, because some people drive irresponsibly and some vulnerable pedestrians (and others) get killed.  As Stephen Nolan rightly insisted, the solution should be safeguards for the vulnerable — not a blanket denial for everyone.

Cooper’s position arguably represents discrimination against the disabled.  Since the 1961 Act, suicide has been decriminalised.  An able-bodied person has the right, if they wish, to take their own life.  But that right is denied to a person like Mr. Nicklinson, who is so seriously disabled that he is physically incapable of taking his own life.  We go to great lengths to ensure that disabled people have the same rights, in our society, as the able-bodied, but apparently Mr. Cooper does not think that applies in Mr. Nicklinson’s case.

Contentiously, I raised a related question with regard to Ian Brady.  He also wants to die (although for different reasons); is seeking to refuse food; and is being force fed.  He wants to move from his psychiatric detention facility to a normal prison where he would be able to starve himself.  I wondered what social or moral purpose is served by not allowing Brady to starve to death.

Coopers’ position was predictable: the Prison Service has “a duty of care”.  But does one fulfil a duty of care by preventing Brady from choosing to die?  Certainly he seems to think that his best interests are served by dying.  Then Cooper argued that it would be invidious for the Prison Service to have to decide which criminals were to be allowed to starve, and which not.  But surely clever lawyers like Mr. Cooper could devise a suitable protocol — perhaps some kind of judicial review — which could make a case-by-case judgement?  These are deep questions.

I had wanted to raise two related stories on transport costs, and as I spent some time thinking through the implications, it seems a shame not to share my reflections.

Some papers carried a story about Coalition MPs in revolt over rail fare rises, and deluged with complaints from commuter-belt constituents.    Meantime the Indy reported on a campaign by airlines against the hikes in Airport Tax — which could add £360 to a long-haul family holiday.  The airlines argue that high charges depress demand and cost more than they’re worth.  They’ve asked PwC to conduct some research on the issue.  

Surely economic recovery depends on the ability to travel — whether it’s commuters getting to work, or companies looking for new export markets.  William Hague advises businesses to “get on a plane”, but the government sets barriers in their way.

The poor apology for an excuse on airport tax is the eco-warrior’s green mantra: “Cutting carbon emissions”.  Yet raising rail fares presumably has the opposite effect, as commuters are driven to use their cars.  And soaking the traveller doesn’t stop with rail fares and airport taxes.  We have the iniquitous fuel duty escalator.  And we have the government’s failure to address the airport capacity question — as Boris Johnson put it, they’re “pussyfooting around”.

It’s not just British exporters flying abroad.  It’s foreign investors visiting the UK.  With rising costs and limited capacity, we seem to be setting out to deter business and investment.  And we shall all pay the price.

P.S.  I sent a draft of this piece to Mr. Cooper, who has responded in robust terms objecting to my description of him as “a very left-wing lawyer” (so I dropped the “very” from the draft).  This despite the fact that he’s a human rights specialist who supports the ECHR; Chairman of the League Against Cruel Sports (perhaps “Cruel Sports” should be in quotes); and a former Labour candidate.  But nothing shows his leftist/statist attitude better than his implicit but automatic assumption that the State, rather than the individual, should have the right to decide in cases like that of Mr. Nicklinson.

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9 Responses to Fun and Games on the Stephen Nolan Show

  1. neilfutureboy says:

    I am also unhappy with the left/right definition of politics. When the term was invented, describing the seating of French deputies during the Revolution, the people who supported free marketism were on the left and those who supported government dictat according to the wishes of those in power were on the right.

    Currently the prime definition of the “right” seems to be that we support free markets and the “left” supports government intervention.

    On that basis we should be talking about “free marketists” & “statists”.

    On several subjects, primarily being against criminal wars against small countries I am well to the “left” of Blair, Livingstone & Clare Short. I don’t know whether Mr Cooper, as a “human rights lawyer” has ever publicly expressed any disapproval of NATO police dissecting thousands of living people in Kosovio. If not & I suspect not, then he is quite correct to say that, at least compared to me, he is not left wing, though clearly statist.

  2. Sean O'Hare says:

    Denying Brady the right to starve himself to death seems a fit punishment given the torment he inflicted on others. Why such punishment should be also meted out to Tony Nicklinson is beyond understanding.

    • Sean — I agree that the one credible reason for keeping Brady alive is that it makes him suffer — but is that what our American friends call “a cruel and unusual punishment”? Against that, I feel that he’s been around long enough, and that the world — and the Prison Service — would be well rid of him.

      • neilfutureboy says:

        The argument that keeping prisoners alive is more cruel than killing them and thus should be done, is widely used by the opponents of capital punishment. If we assume they are being honest it negates any argument that opposing capital punishment is the “liberal”, “civilised” or “Christian” position.

        Though it does not negate the argument that opponents are merely showing they do not have the moral courage to take responsibility for what should be done in the public interest.

  3. catalanbrian says:

    It may be pedantry on my part but it was a court that dismissed Tony Nicklinson’s case, not the Government. The court quite rightly stated that it was not the court’s place to make/change such laws but it was up to Parliament to make the legislation. It is now high time that this matter was properly debated in the Houses of Parliament. I would also comment that it is rather tasteless to conflate the two separate and very different cases of Ian Brady and Tony Nicklinson.

  4. Quite right — the court ruled against Nicklinson’s request, but for the reason you state. It seems to me reasonable to look at both the Brady and Nicklinson cases. In one sense they are utterly different. Brady is a criminal on a scale almost impossible to imagine, whereas Nicklinson is an innocent victim of disease who surely deserves sympathy from all right-thinking people. Nonetheless, both men, for entirely different reasons, wish to end their lives, and I’m not sure it is the business of the state to stop them.

    • catalanbrian says:

      Strangely enough I am not in total disagreement with you. I have every sympathy with Mr Nicklinson and believe that the law should be changed so as to allow someone to help him carry out his wish to die. However this is a very dangerous road to start walking down as we can all imagine the potential for abuse in circumstances such as this and thus Parliament should legislate accordingly,.with the courts being responsible for dealing with individuals on a case by case basis. As far as Brady is concerned I don’t give a damn either way

  5. Tony says:

    Roger, you normally make a lot of sense, but I cannot agree with you about ‘mercy’ killing. It will be the thin end of the wedge in the same way since the Abortion Act was introduced. In 2003 only 137 abortions were carried out because of a risk to the mother’s life – almost 180,000 babies were aborted for “social” reasons. In other words this scandalous waste of human life is basically for birth control.

    If “mercy” killing is legalised, it would become equally ‘normal’ in a short space of time, and there will be no protection to stop inconvenient relatives being killed off to save money or for other reasons. It cheapens life and makes us poorer as a society.

    Hard cases always make bad law.

    • Thanks Tony. In fact “Hard cases make bad law” appears to support my side of the argument. Cooper said that Nicklinson could not be allowed to die, because then vulnerable people could be pressured to go the same route. Cooper wants the law in place to protect the “hard cases” — the vulnerable — but in doing so denies Mr. Nicklinson and everyone else the right to make the most personal choice a man can make. I stick to my analogy — you don’t ban driving, even though you know it will lead to the tragic death of innocent and vulnerable pedestrians. Rather, you put systems and regulations and law-enforcement in place to ensure that driving is as safe as we can make it. If I were in Mr. Nicklinson’s position (and pray heaven I never am) I should insist that the right to decide lay with me — not with legislators, politicians, law enforcement agencies, judges, and media commentators. Or vicars.

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