Friday, 29 October 2010


It was such a sad little affair that I couldn’t even find it on Google this morning.

I got to know Bob Day at Aberystwyth University.  In fact it was at the Cwrt Mawr bar we first met.  Bob was in his forties, an ex-butcher who was studying International Affairs.  Both being mature students and somewhat outsiders, we became friends.  It wasn’t until a couple of years later, when Bob graduated that I got to meet his family.  It is so long ago now that I can’t even remember everybody’s name but there was Jenny his wife, and their teenage children Jasclene (pronounced Jacqueline) and her slightly older brother, whose face I can still see.  I spent weekends down in Cardigan with them and it was a great time.  Jenny helped improved my cooking techniques; we all played badminton and board games together and shot pool when down the pub.   As I recall, Jasclene was a little sweet on me but all was innocent. 

As is usual with any Arcadia though, there was darkness beneath.  I had noticed that over the past year Bob was becoming increasingly pedantic.  He would take the time to explain in detail the most prosaic functions of daily life.  Once Jenny got to know me, she started to express worries about him.   Bob had a large vertical indent right in the middle of his forehead which Jenny told me had been put there in a car accident six years previously.   Since that time, Jenny said, she had been married to a different man.

It was the autumn of 1995 when the cracks started to open.  I usually called the family once a week but this time Bob called me.  Jenny had started to have an affair with a neighbour.  Although I was in my late twenties in many ways I was still pretty immature.  Relationship management was certainly outside my remit at that point.  I didn’t know what to say.
Two weeks went by.  I called but no answer on their telephone.  I tried again and again with the same result.   It was my final year, I had no clue what was happening so it was with some surprise and upset that in December I received a letter from Jasclene that told of a road accident involving both Bob and Jenny.  He was still in hospital but Jenny had died after six days in a coma.  Naturally I wrote back; which hospital?  Where can I visit Bob?  How is everybody else?  No reply.

It wasn’t until April 1996, just before my finals, that Bob himself got in contact.  He was still in hospital in Haverfordwest.  I added the cost of a hire car to my overdraft and hit the road south.  Incidentally I think that was the drive I also started my hate-affair with GM cars.  It was a green 1.7 diesel Astra with all the reactions of a startled sloth.

Bob was in hospital, either in bed or a wheelchair for in the accident his back had been broken, losing the ability to use his legs.  He was also in police custody, charged with the murder of Jenny.  To my face Bob said he simply could not believe it; it was such a vast misunderstanding.  He had taken Jenny out for a drive and on a dangerous mountain bend above Cardigan had lost control, plunging them both over.  A tragic accident.  He asked me to help and the following week I gave a statement to his solicitor.  That was the last time I saw him.

After graduation, I passed through Cardigan en route to Aberystwyth in order to say farewell to friends.  I was starting my current career in Aberdeen that October.  Between buses, I went into a pub in Cardigan.  Naturally Bob and his family were high in my thoughts.

“Tragic about that accident last year.”
“What accident?” asked the young barman.
“The one where Jenny Day was killed.”
“That was no accident,” he stated with some anger.
“If it was an accident, why did the bastard leave a note for her boss telling him what he meant to do?”

Bob, what have you done?

I was in training in Texas when the trial came up.  The defence wanted me to testify.  I agreed to have my statement read out in court.  Robert Day was found guilty of murder and sentenced to three years on the grounds of diminished responsibility.   Naturally the wheel-chair is a life sentence.

                                                            *            *        *

The murder of Jenny Day was the closest I have been involved in the killing of another person but I have known other victims.  A colleague and friend lost his entire family at about the same time.  A guest at my wedding subsequently lost his life and my mother-in-law lost other friends to violence.  So it was with some interest I pricked up my ears this morning when changes where suggested to murder sentencing.    In the brief debate I tended to support Lord Faulkner’s view that there should be one charge of murder and then it is up to the judge to decide the sentence.  However, I would support a greater degree of flexibility on how the judge lays out the sentence.  Perhaps there should be a grading at this point; from whole life term, down to first and second degree through to man-slaughter, each with its own minimum term before parole can be applied for.   The jury could perhaps issue a private recommendation to the judge but the judge would have the final decision.   Naturally the licence system, the power of the courts to recall any murderer to prison, would stay in place.

This structure would help those involved to understand that the current “life” sentence doesn’t mean life but the crime of murder always is held in the highest seriousness.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Liberal Democrats and the Browne Report

We knew that things would not be easy being in coalition with the Conservatives but I really do not recall supporting American-style funding for universities.  In fact, as I remember things the Liberal Democrats plan is as follows:

Year Action
1      Scrap fees for final year full-time students
2      Begin regulating part-time fees
3      Part time fees become regulated and fee loans become available to part time students
4      Expand free tuition to all full-time students apart from first year undergraduates
5      Expand free tuition to all part-time students apart from first year undergraduates
6      Scrap tuition fees for all first degree students

Now I know what you are going to say.  We don’t have a Liberal Democrat government, the financial crisis is a lot worse than we realised etc; all good and valid points.  But where does it say that we have to support a policy that is diametrically opposite in philosophy and aim to our own?  Dear Vince Cable has already softened the effect of the Browne Report on university funding and doubtless behind the scenes more work will continue to make university access as broad and as affordable as possible.  On this point I expect such fudging to be ineffective.  While speaking on PM (Radio 4, 12th of October), Higher Education Funding Council for England representative Mark Calder noted that since the introduction of tuition fees in England, university attendance for those coming from the poorest twenty percent of society has increased by thirty percent.  So far so good but when asked whether this trend was reflected in the best universities in the country the answer is an emphatic “no”.   There has been absolutely no change in the social profile of those going to the top one-third universities.  The increase in the poor getting a degree has been restricted to those attending average and below average institutions. 

My interpretation of this is that since market forces have been introduced into tertiary education more customers have been drawn in but standards have failed to improve.  They may have even declined in order to attract new students who are being drawn in to generate cash for the institutions and for few other reasons.  If we continue down this path we will indeed recreate the American system where a core of excellent and well-financed colleges are surround by a hinterland of the mediocre or frankly rubbish offering near worthless degrees.  I thought we Liberal Democrats were good Europeans.

Does this mean that the state has to fund university study?  No, it does not.  When I lived in Norway during the late 1990s for example, in was usual for students to leave college with debts in the order of £30,000.  But part of the Browne report expressly does away with subsidies on interest payments on student loans.  Meanwhile in Norway it wasn’t just interest payments on student loans that was subsidised but all interest payments on personal debt.  In fact if one was debt-free, a person was expected to pay a higher income tax rate because they obviously had more disposable income.   The central point being is that debt, including student debt, is fully integrated into the social structure.   In the current economic climate, I cannot see England making such provision.   The belt is being tightened across all areas. 

There is only one logical conclusion; we must accept that for the next decade ahead at least, fewer people can attend university.  Other provisions, such as a return to apprenticeships, have to be given consideration.  This is very painful as since the 1990s the one way that a young person really can get ahead in life is by getting that degree.  If we were to cut back the number of places in order to maintain excellence, this does not necessarily mean we are depriving the current generation forever.  I myself was a mature student.

What of we Liberal Democrats?   Dear M.P.s, you signed a pledge, all of you.  In public.  There are photographs.  Doesn’t that mean anything to you?  I assure you it does to the British people.  If you go ahead and support the Browne Report we will not be forgiven.  Nothing that we will say subsequently will be believed.  Support this report and wave goodbye not just to your own but to our entire party’s credibility.

It’s not all bad; there is a solution.  We are part of a coalition government so one cannot expect ministers and PPCs to go into open rebellion.  So my advice would be to abstain.  This is allowed for under the coalition agreement.  Back-benchers, you are free to oppose this or at the very least also choose to abstain.

Last night I discussed this issue with Mrs Veart.  Having lived for a time in the USA, she was frankly appalled with the Browne Report.  This isn’t the way forward for Britain but nor is the way that she suggested for me.  This is very painful but she suggested... I can barely take myself to write this... she suggested that I join Labour.  Harsh words ensued.  I’ll say no more but I still feel sullied.
The Liberal Democrat party is my party.  I’m here to stay.  Being in this party is like being in a marriage; I love you but don’t expect me to like you all the time.   Frankly at the moment I’m pretty pissed off with you.

Nick Clegg MP with Julian Huppert MP signing the pledge not to raise tuition fees.