12 June, 2018:
‘The said truth is that it is the greatest happiness of the greatest number that is the measure of right and wrong.’
– Jeremy Bentham
It is wonderfully stimulating to write a diary on the day great things happen. So today, 12 June, 2018 I sat finger poised over my e-diary to await momentous news. There seemed to be almost an electronic connection between my brain and the computer. For the first time I felt, rather tragically, that it (or should I say ‘she’ or ‘he’) was my friend, my partner, my co-conspirator. Together we would record the news in our diary. My smartphone lay ready to bleep with breaking news reminding me of the first time this had happened. I was on my feet mitigating when a bleep and vibration occurred simultaneously. I said: ‘The question is aaagh whether he should be detained indefinitely or not.’ ‘Aaagh, Mr Byfield?’ questioned the judge. ‘I think I’m having a blood-clot in my thigh,’ I said, clutching my leg. ‘It’s your phone,’ commented my opponent. Normal service was resumed.
Today, however, I was not sure that there would be a bleep when the historic moment arrived: not, at any rate, to mark that particular event. My phone was making ‘breaking news’ noises the whole time about a summit in Singapore featuring some narcissistic despot talking to a self-publicising braggart, or was it the other way around? My interest was the Criminal Bar Association’s referendum on the government’s latest proposals to pretend to solve the legal aid crisis. Whoever would be winners and losers, which, rather like Brexit, seems a little troublesome to quantify accurately on either side of the divide, it was at least unique in recent years for putting new money on the table and allowing some degree of annual uprating – a feature we have always lacked in the modern era.
Suddenly, my eye caught the news: 51.55% accepted and 48.45% rejected the offer. I do not know whether others have the occasional strange feeling that they have not actually woken up. I get it at my local underground station when for some reason the platform is empty at around 8.30 am. This horrible feeling creeps all over me. I am not here. I am asleep. I am oversleeping. This is a dream. Please God, wake me up! I’m going to be late. Once, I actually was asleep, but generally it is all truly happening and for some reason I am standing on a busy underground station in the rush-hour all on my own.
This time it was different. A very close friend of whom I had not seen as much as I should have over recent years had very kindly invited me last week to Bill Murray’s show at the Royal Festival Hall with a tiny but exceptionally gifted musical group and Murray just barnstormed his way through the evening. And my favourite film of Bill Murray’s is…
So, when I saw the figures, was this Groundhog Day where Punxsutawney Phil predicts the weather for the next six weeks before either an extended winter or an early spring occurs and where Bill, the weather anchorman for a cable channel, becomes trapped in a time-loop that begins every morning with Sonny and Cher singing ‘I Got You Babe!’ on the radio-alarm.
Was it happening all over again? Brexit. Oh no! That referendum! The demise of our nation – whichever side you were on. The Brexit figures were 51.89% to leave and 48.11% to stay. Were Sonny and Cher soon to be chanting ‘I’ve got you Babe’ on my Alexa App?
Fortunately, not. I guessed this quickly as the margin to accept the MoJ’s offer was described by everyone as very narrow, whereas I gather that the Brexit referendum apparently showed the overwhelming desire of the British people to leave the EU. I rang around Chambers to gauge opinion. Hetty Briar-Pitt asked if I knew the price of ‘mulch’. I thought you made it yourself. Paddy Corkhill claimed the vote was next week. Roderick Twist had voted in favour and, Alexander, his brother, against. Trimmers to the end.
When rashly I took a moral philosophy option at university to avoid Conflict of Laws or something like, I wrote an essay on ‘the greatest happiness of the greatest number’. My tutor said: ‘What if 51% mildly want a red carpet, but 49% passionately want a blue one? Where is the greatest happiness of the greatest number?’ As with many questions of a philosophical kind, I hadn’t a clue. But, if the government wants to avoid real trouble in the near future, it might ponder that one itself.