Peter Rhodes on the end of money, gender-free Brit awards and a grim outlook for Harper's Law

Read today's column from Peter Rhodes.

Alan Turing – banknote choice
Alan Turing – banknote choice

Golden rule of Covid-19 mutant strains. By the time we hear about them, they’re already here.

Initials to look out for. According to Bank of England deputy governor Sir Jon Cunliffe, the future is with CBDC, or Central Bank Digital Currency which he predicts will soon replace cash, and which is already being dubbed Britcoin. He may be right. Logically, there is little use for notes and coins in a digital age. But our love of such things goes deeper than logic. If there are no banknotes, what happens to those endless, quintessentially British debates about whose face should – or should not - be shown on banknotes?

What a colourless place this will be if the sort of spats that led to the faces of Churchill, Jane Austen, Alan Turing and JMW Turner appearing on notes were replaced with an electronic consensus, a sterile, invisible pulse of binary code deep in a supercomputer. How unnatural. How dull. How very unEnglish.

One reason Britain abolished the death penalty was that some juries in the 1950s, knowing that the statutory penalty for murder was death by hanging, were reluctant to convict. It is important that jurors know their job is to reach a verdict, not impose an automatic sentence. The new so-called Harper’s Law, imposing a mandatory life sentence on anyone convicted of killing an emergency worker while committing a crime may grab headlines and provide great political sound-bites (“This government is on the side of victims and their families,” etc). But will it work?

How long before a jury refuses to convict in a case of manslaughter in which the death of a police officer or paramedic, no matter how careless or violent, was clearly unintentional? I wouldn’t mind betting that Harper’s Law, having roared on to the English legal scene like a lion, will vanish like a lamb.

From next year the Brit awards will have no separate male and female categories for the best-artist award, but a single, gender-free, prize for Artist of the Year. This is claimed to make the awards “as inclusive as possible.” But what if male artists kept winning the top award? How much pressure would the Brits’ panel of voters then come under to choose a balance of male and female winners, regardless of quality, to be “as inclusive as possible”? It’s one small step from inclusivity to quotas.

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