Tag Archives: Labour Party

Poor Old Jacqui Smith

Former Home Secretary Jacqui Smith is embarassed. Say it with me – ‘awwwwww’:

Reflecting on this period, Smith said: “Having to fight your way out through TV cameras when you go out of your house in the morning, having press photographers outside your house for weeks on end is a real intrusion. It’s horrible”.

She added: “I could have coped with it on my own but my oldest son was doing, has just finished in fact, his GCSEs … and I just felt that it was not fair on all of them.”

Poor her. This is someone who thought that it was ok to tread on the constitution and allow the Metropolitan Police to investigate an opposition MP on political grounds. This is someone who thought that it was necessary to tag the entire population with an ID card and fine them for not updating them. This is someone who thought it was a clever idea to tap every single text, email and web access made by every single person in the country. This is someone who thought it was alright to send a gay asylum seeker back to Iran as long as he was ‘discreet’. And she has the nerve to say she was embarassed at press intrusion after her parliamentary expenses were made public? Disgusting. We’re well rid of her.

Get Some Guts, Brown!

But it’s not just Brown is it? This after all was the party which voted for an illegal war. They may bleat on about Brown not listening, but how many of them have recently? John Kampfner sees electoral oblivion:

So, like lemmings, Labour MPs have been bought off by a combination of fear, bullying and the promise of a fresh start. They feared the onset of an autumn general election, believing that by hanging on they stood a better chance of salvation next May or June. They allowed the haranguing and the briefings by the thuggish to get the better of them. And they appeared to accept the prime minister’s assertions that, this time, he will improve his own behaviour, and that of those around him.

Behavioural change is hard to achieve, particularly for a man of Brown’s wizened years. But perhaps in adversity he will throw caution to the wind on policy. If so how about, for a start, political and constitutional reform, genuine measures for fiscal redistribution (rather than the belated stunt from the last Budget), a fully independent and public inquiry into the Iraq war, and legislation that would enshrine into law greater punishments for banks and other institutions that put greed ahead of the public good? I, for one, will not be holding my breath.

Most of those who believed that Brown would give the Labour party fresh impetus after the Blair years, who believed that during his decade of scheming he might actually have come up with a plan, saw their hopes evaporate quite some time ago. Others are prepared to give him one final opportunity to turn around their party’s fortunes. In so doing, they have begun a slow sleepwalk to oblivion at the next general election, and the dismantling of what is left of the British left.

I fear he’s right. Johnson and Miliband may demonstrate an understanding of the need for electoral reform, but the government’s hardly talking about it. Where’s the constitutional convention? Where’s the public education campaign to sell PR to a public no longer sceptical about constitutional change? As was mentioned at the Liberty conference last weekend, a government eager to teach the electorate about swine ‘flu should have no problem leafleting about PR. So where is it? And where’s the swine ‘flu leafleting for that matter? Sigh. They’re incompetent aren’t they, both the government and the party? Polly Toynbee even has a speech prepared for the Prime Minister, be they Brown, Johnson, Harman, Miliband or Straw:

“Friends, there will be an election and a referendum on constitutional reform. I relinquish the injustice of the prime minister choosing the date: from now on elections will always be on the first Sunday in May, with fixed parliaments. Before then, we will clean up expenses and every sitting Labour MP will undergo reselection. A convention on the constitution and on liberty will bring in clean party funding: democracy will not be in hock to the whim of millionaires. We will have an elected Lords, sweep away obscurantist flummery in the Commons and devolve more powers. This parliament that made a mess of things must clean it up before it goes. A referendum on proportional representation deserves time for the arguments to be put fairly.

‘But above all, as a new prime minister, give me time to lay out my priorities. In a time of hardship we will share the burdens more fairly, protect the most vulnerable better, make sure benefits and the minimum wage are pegged to earnings levels in perpetuity. Green jobs, already begun, will be increased with more housebuilding – and no, there will be no third runway. All we do from now on will be for cleaner, greener and fairer government. I will apologise for things we have done wrong, so you may better believe me when I boast of all we have done well. There is much to be proud of, and much that will be put at risk if we don’t sing the praises of the considerable good Labour has done: Sure Start is just one emblem. Don’t let anyone say the money was wasted or that the state should be shrunk. We stand for all the important things in life that we can only buy together – health, education, safe streets, beautiful parks and the long fight to stop climate change.”

Brilliant – one of the best pieces I’ve ever ready by Toynbee. But even she knows he & they won’t go for it – their supine nature, cultivated by Blair ironically to win elections won’t allow for it. The clock is ticking for an entirely avoidable Cameron premiership and renewed hell under the Tories, with their promises to repeal the Human Rights Act for starters.

Brown Won’t Change

I think Chris Ames is right:

Is this as good as it gets? The spin coming out of Number 10 is that Gordon Brown will use an Iraq inquiry and a delay to the part-privatisation of the post office to appease voters and, more immediately, the Labour MPs who are circling him. There is virtually nothing new in the Iraq inquiry story, but Brown’s attempt to get a few quick brownie points shows he is still wedded to the old, discredited way of doing politics. He still doesn’t get it.

So far, it has been the old routine of nods and winks signifying nothing – and to achieve not so much party political advantage as personal political advantage. After the savaging Brown got at Friday’s press conference for first briefing that Alistair Darling was for the chop, then denying it when he was too weak to wield the blow, you would think he would learn. But he seems incapable of learning. He has only one way of doing things.

Delaying part-privatisation of the post office and a quite possibly private inquiry into the Iraq War aren’t anywhere near enough to change Labour’s fortunes. There’s no talk anymore about ending child poverty, about reducing the gap between rich and poor, in fact noone seems to know what’s driving New Labour anymore other than the pursuit of power. As far as we can tell they still want to control us with ID cards and superdatabases, and Jack Straw’s odd response on Saturday to one side they aren’t giving any indication that the police will behave any less violently, nor pursue climate protesters any less doggedly. There’s no indication that they have realised just how totally markets have failed in areas of civil society in which they don’t belong, like education and health, or just how inhuman it is to withold legal aid from asylum seekers and make ‘failed’ refugees destitute. These are not things which a Labour government should be doing.

They have to realise they’re gutting local communities, that boosting the fortunes of the mega rich accelerates the gap between rich and poor and that boosting faith schools will only divide communities, not bring them together. Labour has to get back the guts it started out with – radical social, financial and constitutional reform (regardless of what the Daily HateMail thinks) – if it has any chance of even surviving as a viable national force at the next election.

Bye Bye Gordo?

It begins

A group of rebel MPs have begun soliciting signatures for a round robin letter calling for Gordon Brown to step down, which they plan to hand to the prime minister after the results of the local and European elections have come in on Monday morning.

The Guardian has learned there are reports that the backbenchers think they can reach 70 or 80 signatories, with some claims that the letter could be delivered to Downing Street by the end of today.

Johnson must be better, otherwise this is an exercise in futility. He must demonstrate an understanding of how Barack Obama was elected, but also roll back the illiberal politics of control which even Obama has balked at. Should he become Prime Minister he must follow through with his public ruminations about government giving up power in order to increase democracy. It’s the only way (apart from its record on devolution) for New Labour to retain any positive legacy.

David Miliband Hasn’t a Clue

New Labour uses entirely the wrong man and the wrong argument to attack David Cameron on his EU policy, ahead of Thursday European parliamentary elections:

Labour’s constitution commits it to put “power, wealth and opportunity in the hands of the many, not the few”. Devolution, freedom of information, incorporation of the European convention on human rights into British law, and party-funding reform are a record of merit. Gordon Brown set out the links between economic, social and political reform on taking office. He said that we had to go further. He has taken the project forward most recently in the work on a constitutional renewal bill.

And yet it’s put power, wealth and opportunity into the hands of the few. It’s fought against its own freedom of information provision, regularly slanders its own Human Rights Act and has done next to nothing to reform party funding. Brown isn’t offering anything of note for constitutional renewal, indeed he alongside Blair ditched the Jenkins Report advocating proportional representation after Labour took office and found it an inconvenience. This government has avoided any positive engagement on the EU at all since taking office. Where’s the case for the Euro? Where’s the referendum on the Lisbon Treaty?

To say:

A week today, while Labour MEPs will start work on taking forward manifesto pledges on the economy and environment, Tory MEPs will be frogmarched by their leadership out of the mainstream centre-right grouping in the European parliament. The Tory MEP Caroline Jackson calls it “pathetic”. Every European leader I meet thinks it mad to give up influence with the mainstream for a deal with Latvia’s Fatherland and Freedom party.

is entirely right, but it’s too late. It’s hypocrisy in the extreme to say that the Tories are being eurosceptic or europhobic when Labour has failed to make the slightest counter-argument. Remember Blair taking sides with Bush rather than the EU over Iraq? The Tories may have an asinine and borderline dangerous policy regarding the centre-right bloc in parliament, but their offer of a referendum will succeed in focusing minds, in sharp contrast to Miliband’s limp policy of…what exactly?

People do feel a sense of powerlessness in politics. Domestic political reform is vital to that. Gordon Brown has been arguing this and will carry it forward. There is also an international dimension – the “runaway world” needs politics.

They do indeed Foreign Secretary, and New Labour is now entirely to blame. Brown hasn’t argued for such reforms at all, and it’s why he really has to lose his job this week. Cameron’s nationalistic argument has gained ground partly by default, but partly because this government has regularly itself pandered to such sentiments. It only has itself to blame. Brown, Smith, Straw and all their discredited ilk must go as a matter of urgency.

Brown and Smith or Johnson and Miliband? Easy!

Where do we go with politics now? The conventional wisdom (which the papers seem to have a vested interest in shoving down our throats) is that the electorate has given up on politics altogether – the expenses scandal has soured everyone’s view of politics, and only a dramatic change will reengage us and stop us voting UKIP and BNP in our disillusionment. I’ll buy Stephen Fry’s argument to a point to be honest, that excessive behaviour with expenses is universal – to hold MPs to a different standard to the rest of us (most of whom do the same thing to differing extents) is unfair and unrealistic. But I also think that the public disdain for all politicians has now taken on a life of its own, and it’s partly because things have come to a head – a process which began before Blair, but which he and Brown have cynically accelerated – has now bitten them on the backside.

We have a first past the post voting system, whereby the first party to the biggest single share of the vote wins the election, even though the majority of people end up voting for someone else. This has led to shameless abuses with no political mandate ever having been given – the road to ID cards, torture, the withdrawal of legal aid to most people, allowing the police to become a brutal, semi-autonomous militia, an illegal war in Iraq. Most people thought Blair was a liar in his first term but accommodated him as long as his lies didn’t abuse the will of the majority; Iraq scuppered that and destroyed his premiership. MPs in turn were assumed to be cheats in small scale, but not to be rampantly stealing taxpayers’ money and trying to cover it up – their mandate too has now been crushed. It can I believe in part be restored by changing the voting system to proportional representation. It’s a reality which David Cameron and Gordon Brown both fail to realise. Nick Clegg and crucially Alan Johnson however do:

The adoption of AV+ would shift the political focus currently concentrated almost exclusively on a few swing voters in a handful of marginal seats. It would end the perversity of the party with the most votes nationally forming the opposition rather than the government, as has happened twice since the war.

Labour is the only party ever to win under First Past the Post (FPTP) and then use its majority to explore a change to the system that elected them. I recognise that Jenkins is gathering dust because we lost the will to carry it through — but that was at a time when it could legitimately be said that there was no public interest and when narrow party political advantage dominated our internal debate in the Labour Party. Of course, I recognise that many colleagues on my benches support FPTP for more valid reasons.

My proposal is that we offer the public the two options of AV+ and FPTP. We should debate these two alternatives freely and openly with no party whip and no government recommendation. Then on the date of the next general election we should have a national referendum and let the people decide. This is a genuinely radical alternative that only Labour in government can facilitate.

Where Brown, Smith, Straw et al are still talking about a British ‘bill of rights and responsibilities’, still wilfully conflating civil liberties and human rights for the most cynical political motives, Ed Miliband is advocating reempowering parliament instead of this almighty executive:

Miliband said the Commons should look at giving select committees more power to shape legislation. But he did not favour moving too far towards the US system, where Senate committees can destroy bills or delay them indefinitely. “There are upsides and downsides,” he said, citing lobbying by fossil fuel companies of the House of Representatives’ energy sub-committee which had the power to weaken climate change legislation. “You do have to protect an elected government’s ability to legislate.”

Brown doesn’t get it, whilst Cameron (who is against proportional representation) is a cynical opportunist who has no reform minded ideas of his own at all. Parliamentary term limits? Great, but repealing the Human Rights Act? It’s not exactly in keeping with the people’s will to restore power and rights to them from a cynical and overly mighty government, leaving Cameron a dangerous, unelectable option. Brown and his disconnected, out of touch cronies must thus be kicked out, and within the next fortnight at that. Whilst I don’t think Alan Johnson could save Labour from losing the next election, he has very clear allies, from Miliband to James Purnell who have grasped the clear (and overdue) means of reconnecting the public back to the political process, and whom together could begin reforming the party and political system itself. It really is Labour’s last chance for its principal legacy other than devolution to be progressive rather than embarrassing.

Is Labour Doomed Regardless?

Polly Toynbee says what few on the left want to admit:

It’s all over for Brown and Labour. The abyss awaits. As long as he remains leader, there is nothing that wretched Labour candidates can plausibly say on the doorstep at next month’s European elections. They are struck dumb. Why should people vote for them? The horse manure bought on expenses is garnish for a decomposing government. The heart of the matter is the economy, and Brown’s responsibility for the bubble years. He personally is to blame for Labour’s failure to ensure that ordinary people on median incomes and poor people at the bottom received a bigger share in national growth: it turns out that they fell back and only the wealthy prospered. Labour made the rich richer and the poor poorer: growth for the few, not the many.

She then claims:

The one person around whom the party could gather speedily would be Alan Johnson. It’s nonsense that another unopposed leadership would mean disaster: a general election is coming soon enough. Orphan boy, genial postman, self-made, clever but modest, he has the grace and charm to match his perfect backstory. He was always the one the Cameroons feared. His political talents turned the NHS from a danger with closures and denials of drugs into an asset for Labour. Good to work with, good in public, he inspires considerable admiration. This time I will not say I know he would be a good leader – that’s unknowable until too late. I doubt that he can win for Labour. But, goodness knows, Cameron is still there for the taking.

Off the cuff I’m in the odd position of wanting to agree. Cameron is winning in the polls by default. Blair in 1997 had Major over a barrel (despite turning out to be a fraud himself) – Cameron isn’t winning on his own merits – it’s Brown who’s losing because he has none. His government has allowed the police to behave like a quasi-autonomous militia, has presided over the near-destruction of the economy, has created the biggest divide between rich and poor since Victorian times and played with very basic civil liberties like toys. Their record on the environment too is a joke, still beholden to big business as they are at all costs. The question though remains: what would Johnson bring to the leadership which Brown hasn’t already? And this is where the argument falls flat – Johnson is New Labour through and through. ID cards? Check. Foundation hospitals? Check. Iraq War? Check. The list goes on. They really shouldn’t replace Brown – they’re toast either way.

A Third Runway? Please.

With the third runway at Heathrow most likely to be approved soon (it was supposed to be this week, but it’s curiously been shifted back), Simon Jenkins makes some excellent points:

The prime minister has again postponed taking a decision, but that will not stop him meekly championing the carbon lobby by parroting Matthews’s nonsense to reluctant Labour MPs. He will waffle about “insisting” that the airport and airlines “take steps” to reduce carbon emissions. He will promise that a third runway will not go ahead if they “breach air pollution and noise levels”, or if Heathrow fails a punctuality test.

What will Brown do if these conditions are not met? Will he come from retirement, break up the tarmac with a drill and rebuild Harmondsworth? This is infantile politics, but it will doubtless dupe the ever-spineless Labour backbenchers.

Brown will do what his predecessors have done, which is lie. In the 1960s ministers promised “for all time” that there would be no expansion of Heathrow. It expanded. When T4 opened in 1978 there was another promise of no expansion, and a cap of 275,000 flights. The pledge was broken within a year. At the time of T5 the cap was raised to 480,000, and the prime minister and cabinet agreed that a third runway would be “totally unacceptable”.

That promise is now broken. In 2006 the transport secretary, Ruth Kelly, promised that a new runway would be a short, domestic one, with flights only over countryside to the west. She also promised carbon and pollution limits. Those promises have been broken. The government wants almost to double the number of Heathrow flights to 700,000, an astonishing increase on the present chaos, and careless of the impact on west London or its infrastructure. This is an orgy of planning abuse. No Heathrow promise is worth a bucket of spit.

Ministers lie because they know they will be out of office, or out of sight, when their pledges are broken. They know that no government can bind its successor and that Big Carbon, like Big Pharma, always gets its way. When we were young we were told that new airports could go anywhere because new planes would be so clean and quiet that nobody would mind. It was all rubbish.

The biggest lie is that a third runway is about something called “the business economy”. The BAA lobby has conned the CBI, London First and even the unions into believing this, fobbing them off with a factoid that the runway would “create 50,000 jobs”. So would rebuilding Britain’s mental health infrastructure, which would thus also be “good for business”.

I am unsentimental about much economic growth. I would flatten a rare orchid or a natterjack toad or even Harmondsworth tithe barn if the wealth thus liberated were overwhelming. With Heathrow’s third runway nothing is overwhelming except the prospective environmental damage.

This is pretty much my own argument, and of course the ‘environmental  damage’ is already with us, and is already in breach of European standards:

Heathrow’s controversial third runway – due to be given the green light by ministers this week – is unlikely ever to be built because it will fall foul of new European pollution laws, environmentalists and senior government advisers believe.

The airport’s two existing runways already cause air pollution which breaches compulsory European Union air-quality standards, which Britain will have to observe by 2015. Neither anti-runway campaigners nor the Government’s Environment Agency see how these can possibly be met if the number of flights rises by 50 per cent as planned.

With the government hell bent on expanding Heathrow at any cost, Greenpeace has adopted an innovative tactic to prevent the expansion of the airport:

Greenpeace has bought a field the size of a football pitch and plans to invite protesters to dig networks of tunnels across it, similar to those built in the ultimately unsuccessful campaign against the Newbury bypass in 1996. The group also plans to divide the field into thousands of tiny plots, each with a separate owner. BAA, the airport’s owner, would be forced to negotiate with each owner, lengthening the compulsory purchase process.

Greenpeace believes that the longer the expansion is delayed, the more likely it is that the project will be cancelled.

Emma Thompson, the actress, Alastair McGowan, the comedian, and Zac Goldsmith, a Conservative adviser on the environment, were among those who signed the deeds to the site last Friday. They each contributed a small, undisclosed sum towards the purchase, but most of the £20,000 cost was met by a secret donor.

Ms Thompson said: “I don’t understand how any government remotely serious about committing to reversing climate change can even consider these ridiculous plans.We’ll stop this from happening even if we have to move in and plant vegetables.”

John Sauven, Greenpeace’s director, said: “Many thousands of people will be prepared to peacefully defend their field in person, standing in front of bulldozers and blocking construction. This site will become a focus for climate campaigners.”

I have joined up. For the sake of the environment, for the sake of the town of Sipson, and because noone’s presented a credible case for Heathrow expansion, I honestly believe you should too. And you can, here. So the government wants to buy us off with a high speed rail hub? Big deal, they should be doing that anyway. The expansion of Heathrow isn’t justified by the credit crunch – the construction will likely mostly be undertaken by foreign labour, which is all well and good, but won’t make a dent in the recession. If there really is a case for airport expansion (and I’d love someone to try to make it), I see no reason why East Midlands Airport, Manchester Airport, Birmingham International or any number of regional airports couldn’t be developed, and connected to London by a high speed rail service. This is second nature for other countries, why not Britain?

Smith Asserts Her Incompetence

Yet again Jacqui Smith’s arrogance blossoms into full-blown incompetence. When delivering her Commons statement to explain her involvement (or curious non-involvement) in the Damian Green affair, she insisted that even if she had known in advance that Shadow Immigration Minister Damian Green was to be arrested she still wouldn’t have intervened:

In a statement to MPs, Ms Smith again insisted that she had no prior knowledge that Damian Green, Shadow Immigration Minister, was to be arrested last Thursday in connection with an inquiry into repeated leaks from the Home Office.

She said that she backed the right of MPs to do their job and hold the Government to account but the “systematic leaking of Government information” raised issues that struck at the heart of Britain’s “system of governance” and “drove a coach and horses” through Civil Service impartiality.

But in an angry reply that goaded the Labour benches into cries of “shame”, her Tory shadow, Dominic Grieve, accused Ms Smith of “wilful ignorance” and of “washing her hands” of the responsibilities of her office.

I hate to say it though but he couldn’t be more right. As a friend of mine recently wrote, you don’t get a police state by tabling legislation asking for one. It comes through vain and incompetent small decisions such as these. As Grieve continued to say of the issues:

“They involve basic ministerial oversight over counter-terrorism police operations against a Member of this House. Heavy-handed and incompetent at best, and at worst an unwarranted assault on our democracy,” he said.

Bleating on about the primacy of ‘operational independence’, when the police have engaged in an unlawful search of parliament, having arrested a member of the opposition front bench on counter-terrorism charges when he was at the most guilty of an internal disciplinary matter, is a complete abjugation of her greater duties of actually controlling the police, of safeguarding civil liberties, and not criminalising every action she just doesn’t like. If she had known of the investigation in advance (and considering she knew Christopher Galley was being investigated I can’t figure out how she didn’t know Damian Green was also) she should have intervened in some fashion. As Dominic Grieve demanded:

“Does the Home Secretary regret her wilful ignorance in this whole affair and the decision to wash her hands of the basic responsibilities that come with her office? Who is in charge of the police, if she is not?” But Miss Smith remained impenitent even when chided by her predecessor, John Reid, who said he would certainly have wanted to know if his “opposite number” was about to be arrested.

For Miss Smith, ignorance is bliss. For the rest of us, her desire not to know what the police are doing looks more like a disingenuous dereliction of her duty.

That she doesn’t know why she should, and has instead spun this as a national security issue, makes her unfit for office. Noone has said the police were trying to behave in a politically partisan fashion – that isn’t the issue. This is instead a case study of the consequences of this government’s criminalisation of everyone, of a presumption of distrust of the trustworthy, of choosing to drive a wedge into normal relationships in civil society. The police action is wrong in part because it’s simply unnecessary, but Green has also been on the receiving end of heavy-handed, unnecessary treatment by a force which the Home Secretary is unwilling to rein in (in order to keep herself appearing ‘strong’ on law and order), and whose excesses she encourages at every turn. Even when Jacqui Smith was called in the Commons on misrepresenting the charge on which Green was arrested she showed complete disinterest in basic fairness:

Throughout Damian Green sat on the front bench, his face drawn. When Ms Smith read out what he had been arrested for – suspicion of conspiring to commit misconduct in a public office and aiding and abetting, counselling or procuring misconduct in a public office – he shook his head. “I have a copy of my arrest warrant here,” he said, waving it, “and the phrase ‘counselling or procuring misconduct in a public office’ does not occur.” He asked her to withdraw the words. Ms Smith, who lacks personal generosity, refused. “I would certainly be prepared to take that up with the police,” she said, as placid as a cow chewing its cud while, all around the pasture, the heifers rioted.

If anyone should go in this affair it’s Jacqui Smith.

Jacqui Smith Arms the Police

I thought I’d start out this post about Home Secretary Jacqui Smith authorising the funding for 10,000 50,000 volt Tasers to be issued to 30,000 police officers in England and Wales, with a comment by Mark Thomas:

After Jacqui Smith decided to play office Santa to the police by promising them 10,000 Tasers, I trawled through various comment boards and websites. Perhaps unsurprisingly there were lots of folk for whom my zapping wish list (with the exception of the beloved Sachs) was just the start.

If their comments offer any insight, then many of us believe that it is “Better to Taser people than shoot them dead”. Indeed, this is true. Most things are a better option than being shot dead, including non-consensual sex with the Duke of Edinburgh – though this might be a borderline example.

But amid the cliches there is a valid argument. It is better to be Tasered than shot dead, and if these are the only two options available, then any enlightened soul would opt for the Taser. But this scenario relies on the police or public being in immediate life-threatening situations, a legal conclusion that Keir Starmer, the new director of public prosecutions, arrived at in his report on the use of stun weapons.

So Tasers can only be used in life-threatening situations? Not exactly – police can use them if officers face “violence or threats of violence of such severity that they will need to use force to protect the public [and] themselves”. This might look OK at first glance, but “threats of violence” are a far cry from life-and-death situations. It could be a drunk shouting “I’m going kill you!” moments before he says, “You’re my best mate and I love you forever.”

Smith’s decision follows year-long trials of Tasers by frontline officers in 10 police forces. The guns, only deployed in the UK by specialist firearms officers, deliver a powerful electric shock that temporarily incapacitates targets and causes them to “freeze” or fall to the ground.

Smith’s decision was warmly praised by the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO):

which said trials showed in the majority of cases Tasers helped police resolve incidents without resorting to other weapons.

Derek Talbot, Acpo spokesman on Tasers said: “This reinforces the value of Taser as a useful tool to make the public and officers safer and to resolve potentially violent situations effectively and rapidly.

“The conclusions of this trial provide further evidence that Taser is a proportionate, low risk means of resolving incidents where the public or officers face severe violence or the threat of such violence which cannot safely be dealt with by other means,” he said.

Let’s look at ‘proportionate’ and ‘low-risk’, because to believe ACPO and Smith these two things have to be true. First look at this video and tell me if you think the Taser use is ‘proportionate’:

This analysis of this police attack, which happened in Pittsburgh, questions how a ‘less lethal weapon’ would be handled when used by trigger-happy police thugs:

Taser advocates often pose a false question, says Gan Golan of Los Angeles, a recent MIT grad who did his master’s thesis on the increasing use of “less-lethal” weaponry. The choice communities are given is “What would you have us use — guns or less lethal weapons?” But in reality, he says, “police are still using their lethal weapons when they should be using their less-lethal weapons, and they are using their less-lethal weapons when they should be using nothing at all.”

Vic Walczak, legal director of ACLU Pennsylvania, agrees: “We see Tasers used for what we call ‘contempt of cop’ violations — swearing, questioning their authority. Tasers are a way to exact street justice. It’s disconcerting to see police officers using Tasers in circumstances where essentially no force can be justified. De’Anna is, what, 5-foot-2, 110 pounds? And to my knowledge [she] is not a black-belt martial-arts expert. The police are much larger and have training in hand-to-hand combat. You can’t tell me that police couldn’t bring her under control without a Taser. … If the [city's] policy says under these circumstances it’s appropriate to use the Taser, I think there’s a huge problem with that.”

And that’s the heart of the problem because Jacqui Smith says:

“I am proud that we have one of the few police services around the world that do not regularly carry firearms and I want to keep it that way.

“But every day the police put themselves in danger to protect us, the public. They deserve our support, so I want to give the police the tools they tell me they need to confront dangerous people.”

Considering she has presided over an increasingly politicised police force, clamping down (often violently) on peaceful political protesters and the media (and now politicians), her words should be seen with alarm. Her attempt to increase the timescale for detention without charge to 42 days came because the police said they needed it, not because there was a genuine need which couldn’t be met in multiple other ways with existing legislation. She’s refused to interfere in the police investigation and arrest of Damian Green. Now she’s caved in yet again to the police who now say they need Tasers. Why would they use them any differently than the cop in the video, considering the British police behave just the same way under just the same circumstances:

Considering the Metropolitan Police’s record of killing innocent people with guns and their increasingly rogue behaviour, it’s interesting that the Metropolitan Police Authority has rejected Smith’s offer, saying:

“The MPA recognises the potential to cause fear and damage public confidence if the use of Tasers is extended to non-specialist trained police officers and is perceived by the public to be indiscriminate.

“There is no doubt that in some circumstances Tasers are a very effective alternative to firearms or asps [metal batons] but their use must be tightly controlled and we have seen no case made out to extend their availability.”

Nor have I. In addition to being hardly ‘proportionate’ weapons, they’re hardly ‘low-risk’ either:

Oliver Sprague, an arms expert at Amnesty International UK, said: “We don’t oppose the use of Tasers as long as it’s by a limited number of highly-trained specialist officers, responding to genuinely life-threatening or very dangerous situations.

“Tasers are potentially lethal weapons, which are already linked to numerous deaths in North America, and that’s why wide deployment without adequate training is a dangerous step in British policing.”

He said the human rights group’s research showed that 320 people had died after being Tasered in the US since 2001, and that 90% of those killed were shocked multiple times and were not armed.

In looking at proportionality and the level of risk posed to potential victims of these weapons, you must also factor in who will be using these devices and how uncritical the oversight is over them:

The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) has said of Tasers:

The Independent Police Complaints Commission said 35 complaints had been made against the use of Tasers since they were introduced in 2004 for use by firearms officers in the UK. The IPCC added that it backed the extension of the use of Tasers.

It all points to an alarming picture of a police force which has not made a genuine case for using these weapons on this scale, and of a weak Home Secretary who will do anything to be seen as strong, which invariably means bending over backwards to accommodate whatever the police wants. Amnesty International’s report on the use of Tasers in the US is damning. Given that the violent culture of the police in the UK isn’t far removed from that of forces in the US, it’s difficult to conceive that similar case studies won’t spring up rapidly with the deployment of 10,000 Tasers, particularly when:

The Home Office says that before the new Tasers are issued, all officers who use them will need to attend an 18-hour training course, spread over two to three days.

They will also be required to attend an annual “refresher” course to keep them up to date with developments.

‘Proportionate’? ‘Low-risk’? Given all the evidence, and the cop-out deployment guidelines Mark Thomas details in this first article, I see a recipe for disaster. Attacks on the unarmed and the most vulnerable in society who are already routinely abused by the police are only likely to increase, as is the culture of using weapons when none is even called for. The IPCC’s report does not justify Smith’s decision, based as it is on limited usage (making the conclusions difficult to extrapolate for the use of 10,000 Tasers), a stipulated requirement for greater training (which she is not providing), a restricted requirement for disclosure of Taser use for the report, and no acknowledgment of the dangers of police misbehaviour (just see my next post to see a recent example). It’s also worth bearing in mind that the IPCC has recently been by its own advisory body as guilty of poor decision making, favouritism towards the police and indifference to complainants.