Sunday, 18 January 2009

Sir John Mortimer, a good hypocrite, RIP

One reason I am not and never have been a member of a political party is that neither I, nor anyone else, can ever agree with everything any given party does or claims to want to do. I support some things the current government does, not many but some. I support a lot of what the Conservative opposition proposes, but by no means all. On some issues, in particular the EU and carbon dioxide, no major party gets anywhere near my position. At election time I could throw my hands up in disgust and abstain, instead I vote for the party or candidate I think would be the least bad. Even the few politicians I hold in high esteem propose some measures I consider utterly misguided. The unavoidable fact is that we are not machines, we are organic beings each with our own personal experiences and we form our political views from a mixture of those experiences and our analysis of issues.

A few weeks ago someone called Harold Pinter died. Apparently he wrote plays. I have never seen any of his plays or read any of his work, so when he died my view of that event was guided by what I did know about him. I know he was a dedicated socialist who, like all dedicated socialists, applied his beliefs to the political causes he supported (including manaical mass murderers who also claimed to be socialists but not identical manaical mass murderers who claimed a different political justification for their acts) while not applying the principles of his beliefs to his own life. To my mind his death was a benefit to the world, it removed a supporter of many dangerous regimes.

On Friday Sir John Mortimer died. Sir John Mortimer was a self-confessed champagne socialist, he used that very term to describe himself and the way he lived. If I knew nothing else about him, his passing would have affected me like that of the man Pinter. In fact I knew him very slightly, in that we met at a number of legal functions over the years. On one occasion he even greeted me with a hearty "Hello Michael, lovely to see you again", which was very kind. It would have been even kinder if my name were Michael. I also knew some of his work, particularly the Rumpole stories in which his genuine belief in both free speech and the presumption of innocence was a constant theme.

Sir John used Rumpole as a conduit for his own views on changes in the law. He started from the premise that the presumption of innocence is sacrosanct. When Rumpole first appeared on the screen no one would have thought the criminal law would ever be enforced on the say-so of a policeman or council employee and without recourse to courts and trials. Because that has become an increasing pattern over the last decade, in recent years he wrote with disdain about Antisocial Behaviour Orders, bureaucratic procedures to enforce political correctness and fixed penalty notices. His book "The Antisocial Behaviour of Horace Rumpole" is a testament to the folly of reversing the presumption of innocence for political reasons.

Sir John wrote much more than the Rumpole television scripts and books, and made a strong libertarian case in many of his plays and short stories. Yet still he was wedded to socialism as his religion of choice. That's the way life is and the way people are. No matter how much evidence accumulates that state control of an economy is a certain recipe for stagnation and bankruptcy, if you continue to believe in the theory you will dismiss the evidence as proof that the theory was not put into practice the right way. No matter how much evidence accumulates of social engineering leading to the poorest being trapped forever at the bottom of the heap and the able from modest backgrounds being prevented from achieving their potential, if you believe in the theory you will call for more of the same.

A number of those wedded to the religion of socialism are fundamentalists. If it isn't in Das Kapital it isn't right. Others cling to parts of it while giving greater value to practical matters that actually improve life for everyone. Sir John fell firmly in the latter camp. In doing so he gave wide exposure to the principles of freedom of speech and the presumption of innocence. Neither of those principles is permissible within strict socialist dogma, yet they are essential if people are to have even a hope of living in an advanced society without constant fear of the State.

Perhaps I would forgive Harold Pinter his idealist excesses if I knew he had actually done some good and acknowledged his hypocrisy. I know I forgive Sir John Mortimer his idealist excesses because he did great good and was honest enough to recognise that the socialist theories he espoused were strictly for other people. I say a hearty thank you to a man whose work I admired and wish him a peaceful final retirement.

No comments: