Tag Archives: Conservative Party

Tories: The Party of Equality

Nick Herbert is both right and dead wrong:

The truth is the major parties are reaching a consensus on gay equality. So the real dividing line will be between the parties that are honest with the public and those that are not; between those who can mount a broad appeal and those who fall back on a narrow tribal base. Even as their once natural supporters abandon them, New Labour still has not learned that the public is rejecting old politics, and that people – gays included – are crying out for change.

I think his final comment is spot on. The failures and abuses of the New Labour government are so severe that gay voters will indeed not vote as overwhelmingly tribally as in previous elections. However Tory gains will hardly come because of a so-called consensus between the major parties on equality – just look at Cameron’s new pals in Strasbourg. And I don’t believe for a moment that the gay electorate is so ill-informed that it would start switching its allegiance to a party whose essential nature is greedy and divisive, merely out of a feeling (without any proof I might add) that it simply no longer hated gay people. If they make significant gains next year, it’ll be because gay voters (as straight) have seen the entire system fail – economically and politically, with the resulting disenchantment transcending questions of voter self-interest in every demographic.

I suspect though he’ll have as serious problem as New Labour, because the Tories are also seen as wedded to ‘old politics’ and will also suffer at the ballot box. If they win it’ll only be because of an absence of believable choices for voters, not because alienated gay voters suddenly think Dave’s their ‘mate’.


Smith Asserts Her Incompetence

Vodpod videos no longer available.

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.

Police Abuse of Parliament On Camera

Vodpod videos no longer available.

The actual footage of the police search of Damian Green’s office in the Houses of Parliament is quite brief, but it’s surely enough to make any other reasonable person cringe. To see a police officer who has unconstitutionally been given free rein to enter the Palace of Westminster, to tell the representative of the Leader of the Opposition to turn the camera off and leave because ‘it’s not appropriate that (he) be in here’ is chilling.

Separately it’s somewhat reassuring to see that Ian Johnston of the British Transport Police has been brought in to review the behaviour of the Metropolitan Police. It’s being seen as the first step in the Met’s dropping the case, although you wouldn’t know it from the fierce exchanges between Home Secretary Jacqui Smith and her opposition counterpart Dominic Grieve!

His letter to her:

you have failed to give a categorical assurance that neither you, Ministers nor any Home Office officials were aware that Damian Green or any other Member of Parliament were the subject of the police investigation following the arrest of a junior Home Office civil servant on 19 November. This is astonishing, given that your department referred the leaks for an inquiry in the first place

Her reply to him:

You claim I have not given a full account of my own knowledge in relation to the arrest of Damian Green MP. That is not the case. I have been absolutely clear that I did not know until after the arrest of Damian Green that he – or any other Member of Parliament – was being investigated by the police or was to be arrested.

You are widely reported in yesterday’s media as saying “I think she knew there was an MP involved in this investigation and she decided to simply sit back on her hands.” You repeat this claim in your letter as “the only plausible conclusion” that can be drawn from my comments.

This is a mischievous, perverse, inaccurate and wholly unfounded allegation. Furthermore, it runs wilfully and directly counter to the public statements made by myself, the Home Office Permanent Secretary and the Metropolitan Police Service.

Not so, Ms. Smith. You completely evade the question when questioned by reporters in my previous blogpost about this affair. When asked if you had prior knowledge that an MP was being investigated, your reply was you didn’t know Green was going to be arrested – a reply to a different question. The clarification here is welcome, albeit belated, but still mystifying. If Smith admits she knew Christopher Galley was under investigation, how could she not have known in advance it was in connection with Damian Green?

As I write, the story has evolved again. Now it’s emerged that the Met stepped in after the Cabinet Office claimed the scale of the leaks, even though none of them related to classified information or involved national security, could nonetheless pose a threat to national security. Interestingly:

(Shadow Home Secretary) Grieve tabled a 34-point freedom of information request to the home secretary last night to try to verify her account of her role in the affair.

I’m going to be dead curious to see what the result is. Then again the Freedom of Information Act is riddled with limitations, so the answer will probably be nothing. Either way I don’t buy the legitimacy of the police action, nor of Jacqui Smith’s attitude towards it. As has been said many times on yesterday’s news programmes, at the most this was a disciplinary matter – to suggest that Dominic Green was at any stage criminal, or his involvement with Galley a potential threat to national security, is laughable. It doesn’t in any way justify his arrest, his treatment by the Met, nor their breach of Parliamentary privilege. It’ll be interesting to see if Commons Speaker Michael Martin keeps his job after the Queen’s Speech debate later today.

Met Police Arrest Opposition MP

I’m not a fan of Damian Green. I’m not a fan of the Conservative Party. But something appears to have gone horribly wrong, and the Metropolitan Police (as ever) are in the thick of it:

The shadow immigration minister was arrested last night on suspicion of “conspiring to commit misconduct in a public office and aiding and abetting, counselling or procuring misconduct in a public office” and released on police bail after nine hours in custody.

The 52-year-old’s arrest follows a mole hunt in the Home Office, ordered by senior civil servants in the department after a series of embarrassing stories appeared in the press over the past year.

A Home Office staff member was arrested last week in connection with the investigation, and it is understood Mr Green’s arrest stems from that.

The Guardian has further details:

MPs have been particularly alarmed by the manner of Green’s arrest. The police seized his phone and his computer, giving them access to text messages and emails going back for months and years respectively. The search of Green’s office at Westminster was also said to be conducted in an “aggressive” manner. One MP who spoke to the officers involved was told: “You are at a site of crime scene.”

Green himself says:

“I emphatically deny I have done anything wrong.

“I have many times made public information that the Government wanted to keep secret – information that the public has a right to know.

“In a democracy, opposition politicians have a duty to hold the Government to account. I was elected to the House of Commons precisely to do that and I certainly intend to continue doing so.”

So what was it that he made public by these leaks from the Home Office?

The leaks thought to be at the centre of the investigation include:

  • The November 2007 revelation that the home secretary knew the Security Industry Authority had granted licences to 5,000 illegal workers, but decided not to publicise it.
  • The February 2008 news that an illegal immigrant had been employed as a cleaner in the House of Commons.
  • A whips’ list of potential Labour rebels in the vote on plans to increase the pre-charge terror detention limit to 42 days.
  • A letter from the home secretary warning that a recession could lead to a rise in crime.

So in other words politically highly volatile information, yet not information related in any way to national security. Michael White of the Guardian argues:

Tony Benn told Radio 4’s World at One that the police action may be a “contempt of parliament” by virtue of interfering with Damian Green doing his job as an MP. As such, Green’s rights protect us all. I don’t always agree with TB, but do on this occasion. He was “doing his job”, as I put it.

Matthew Parris of the Times:

The common law offence of “aiding and abetting, counselling or procuring misconduct in a public office” sets such a ridiculously low hurdle that thousands of my colleagues in the newspaper industry, many MPs, most Opposition spokesmen, and innumerable helpfully indiscreet police officers would be behind bars if every offence was investigated and prosecuted.

So if this was ‘business as usual’ why arrest him, particularly considering it was an extraordinary event to have his office at the Houses of Parliament searched?

Backbenchers demanded an explanation of the role played by Jill Pay, the Serjeant at Arms in charge of Commons security, and Michael Martin, the Commons Speaker. The Tory MP for Lancaster and Wyre, Ben Wallace, wrote to Ms Pay: “The House of Commons and Palace of Westminster has in place certain safeguards to protect [members] from the excesses of the executive. It is most distressing, therefore, to find out that the House authorities allowed a search to take place.”

The Tories argue it was a politically motivated attack on Green (considering what he leaked), but I’m not sure I agree. If New Labour is so incompetent as not to be able to present its own policies coherently, it’s highly unlikely they could undertake a highly intricate, formal political plot with the Met. I buy Matthew Parris’ argument that in the wake of the cash-for-honours scandal, that it was more likely impossible for Pay and Martin to resist the Met, for fear of how that might have appeared politically.

Alan Travis offers a suggestion as to the motivation for the arrest:

The nature of the offence – conspiracy to commit misconduct in public life – may suggest police suspect the junior civil servant arrested last week deliberately accessed documents to leak them.

In other words most whistleblowers find the material they leak accidentally or in the normal course of their jobs, and feel compelled on moral grounds to publicise what they find. Whilst there have been significant such cases which have been politically motivated, they have invariably collapsed. The difference here is the suggestion of premeditation by the whistleblower, and what the follow-on implications might be for his relationship with Green if true. However:

Green insisted that he had not procured the documents and a Tory official said: “There was no financial or any other inducement.” The Tories expressed astonishment at the conduct of the police, who notified Cameron moments before they entered parliament to search Green’s office.

Did his wife and daughter have to be subjected to police abuse for that? Did he have to be held for seven hours before even being questioned for that? Did the Met have to disregard parliamentary privilege for that? He was arrested by nine counter-terrorism officers who believed he was breaking a little-known and barely used common law (as Matthew Parris points out earlier) by publishing leaked Home Office documents which weren’t security-related or even classified. Given the dangerous precedent this sets, couldn’t they have just asked?!

Given his political duty as an opposition front bench MP I find it staggering that he could have been arrested, and my personal reaction is the opposite of Boris Johnson’s – this is exactly how the Metropolitan Police behaves – without a care for the impact or appropriacy of their behaviour:

At one point the police tried to take computer files from her (his wife, barrister Alicia Green) work which she prevented them from doing as they are legally privileged documents.

She said she found it “particularly unpleasant” that the officer took love letters Mr Green and her had sent each other when at university and dating.

They have been given such a free rein that they think they can get away with anything. That Green should be able to exercise parliamentary privilege from the excesses of the state means nothing to them and Philip Johnston points out:

Receiving information from officials who feel the government is covering something up is commonplace and has been for centuries.

If Gordon Brown and Jacqui Smith are telling the truth, then it’s somewhat shocking for neither of them to be upholding the parliamentary principles which the Met have so wantonly trampled on. But how likely is it that this statement by Sir David Normington, the Home Office civil servant who initiated the police action to quell the leaks, is true?

“Yesterday (Thursday), I was informed by the Metropolitan Police at about 1.45pm that a search was about to be conducted of the home and offices of a member of the Opposition front bench. I was subsequently told that an arrest had been made.

“Ministers were not involved in the decision to seek police assistance or in the subsequent investigation and were only told of the arrest after it had occurred.”

But David Cameron and Mayor Boris Johnson were told before it had occurred. If no government minister really was told, why not ? Everyone has egg on their face. I agree wholeheartedly with former minister Dennis MacShane, who said:

“To send a squad of counter terrorist officers to arrest an MP shows the growing police contempt for Parliament and democratic politics,” he said.

“The police now believe that MPs are so reduced in public status that they are fair game for over-excited officers to order dawn raids, arrests and searches of confidential files held by MPs or those who work for them.

“I am not sure this is good for British democracy.”

It isn’t. Someone has to rein in the Metropolitan Police, and fast. But given that Jacqui Smith is standing by the Met’s operational independence – invariably cowardly about them, even now – it doesn’t look likely to be her.

Home Office vs Jacqui Smith

Many of you will already know about this government’s outrageous proposal to put together a ‘big brother’ database, which would retain records of all phonecalls, emails and internet visits by everyone. Of course it’s another instance of this illiberal government rescinding the basics of the presumption of privacy and innocence in civil society in favour of protecting the electorate from terrorism. Again they wilfully misinterpret the fundamentals of civil liberties, by conflating human rights with government’s responsibility to protect its citizenry – check out Geoff Hoon:

Transport Secretary Geoff Hoon has said the government is prepared to go “quite a long way” with civil liberties to “stop terrorists killing people”.

“If they are going to use the internet to communicate with each other and we don’t have the power to deal with that, then you are giving a licence to terrorists to kill people.”

He added: “The biggest civil liberty of all is not to be killed by a terrorist.”

(with thanks to ukliberty)

There is no human right not to be killed by a terrorist – that’s not what human rights mean. By conflating the terminology he justifies government attacking human rights in order better to provide ‘protection’. Yet the Conservatives don’t support this game:

Shadow home secretary Dominic Grieve said pulling all the information together in a central server, to be managed by government, “represents a very profound change in the relationship between the state and the citizen”.

Exactly. As with ID cards, the government is trying to rewrite the relationship between the citizen and the state, which I find fundamentally unacceptable. It’s not just me though, it turns out the Home Office itself is combatting Home Secretary Jacqui Smith:

Yesterday, a memo leaked to The Sunday Times said that a “significant body of Home Office officials dealing with serious and organised crime” are lobbying against the proposal. They believe it is “impractical, disproportionate, politically unattractive and possibly unlawful from a human rights perspective,” it said.

The paper also reported that everyone buying a mobile phone might have to produce a passport at the point of sale and register their identity. More than half of the UK’s 72 million mobile phones are “pay as you go”; they are used by terrorists and criminals so they can remain anonymous. The proposed database would have limited value to the security services if these pre-paid phones were not included.

Ministers insist there are no plans to store the content of phone calls, text messages or emails. The most draconian option under consideration would allow the police and intelligence agencies to keep records on who communicated with whom and when.

Yet as again with ID cards, there would  be ‘function creep’, which the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee already realises:

“We are concerned about the potential for ‘function creep’ in terms of the surveillance potential of the national identity scheme,” the cross-party committee concluded. “Any ambiguity about the objectives of the scheme puts in jeopardy the public’s trust in the scheme itself and in the government’s ability to run it.”

The MPs said they accepted the government’s assurance that ID cards would not be used as a “surveillance tool”. But they demanded further assurances that people would not find themselves subject to unnecessary intrusion from the authorities.

“We recommend that the Home Office produce a report on the intended functions of the national identity scheme in relation to the fight against crime, containing an explicit statement that the administrative information collected and stored in connection with the national identity register will not be used as a matter of routine to monitor the activities of individuals.”

With the government’s recent, ignominious, final defeat over legislation to hold people without charge for 42 days, there may be less of a taste in New Labour to push for fights over ‘surveillance society’ legislation. If not, let there be no doubt that such a database would  be abused, by agency after agency. Just look at the way in which the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act has been thoroughly abused. The pressure really can’t be lifted from Jacqui Smith, because this must be stopped at all costs. The alternative is living under her vision of society.

Jacqui Smith is a Killer

It should surprise noone, given her track record as Home Secretary, but today Jacqui Smith proved once and for all just how ruthless she can be. Having received limited kudos for her finally granting asylum to Mehdi Kazemi, the question remained – would she institute a moratorium on deportations of gay asylum seekers to Iran and similar Middle Eastern (and other) countries, where to be gay is to court the probability of death? After all the Netherlands proved they could do it. The answer was ‘no’:

“With particular regard to Iran, current case law handed down by the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal concludes that the evidence does not show a real risk of discovery of, or adverse action against gay and lesbian people who are discreet about their sexual orientation.”

Sorry but she’s fucking retarded. I’ve tried to use more temperate language about this woman until now, but this is just ridiculous. Ben Summerskill, Stonewall Chief Executive quite rightly pointed out her stupidity:

“You only have to listen to people who were terrorised by the Metropolitan Police in the 1950s and 1960s to know that telling gay people to live discreetly is quixotic.”

It’s a cavalier and inhuman means of avoiding living up to the human rights obligations she’s tied into, as well as the European Commission’s ruling in January that:

“Member States cannot expel or refuse refugee status to homosexual persons without taking into account their sexual preferences, the information relevant to the situation in their country of origin, including the laws and ways in which they are applied.”

And why would she refuse a moratorium (other than to prove her political brutality, lining up behind her boss, having proven his ‘strength’ with his pyhrric victory on 42 days)? Does she believe there’ll be some sort of ‘flood’ of asylum seekers, to ‘swamp’ the notoriously bad UK Border Agency? Paul Canning of Gayasylumuk points out:

“The Dutch experience shows that a proven, tested model exists of how to operate a humane asylum policy for gays and lesbians – and they haven’t had a ‘flood’.”

“Similar policy and practice exists in the United States, Canada and Sweden – why is the UK alone in being inhumane and disregarding international law?”

Opposition parties have lined up to condemn the Home Secretary. Stephen Crabb, the Chairman of the Conservative Party’s Human Rights Commission said:

“Asking minorities to live their lives discreetly is to give in to the tyrants and bullies who sustain their positions through fear and coerced conformity.

“It demonstrates both an unelevated view of the importance of human rights and cowardice in championing our own system of values.”

Whilst Phelim Mac Cafferty, media spokesperson for LGBT Greens said:

“Her claim that as long as people are “discreet” a regime notorious for its treatment of LGBT people will somehow stop persecuting them is misled at best and homicidal at worst.

“Instead of this macho posturing from the Home Office on keeping asylum figures down, we desperately need a Home Secretary prepared to look the Iranian regime in the eyes and stand up for what’s right for LGBT people.”

And this is what it’s all about. It’s why Peter Tatchell’s claim about the treatment of gay asylum seekers is more salient than ever. The New Labour government has been attacking the 1951 Geneva Convention since 2003 and they’ll do whatever they can to keep it that way. It’s an outrage essentially to blame gay people for their own persecution and it deserves the most thorough condemnation. This is what Iran does to gay people, a fact which the Home Office denies.

David Davis: The Difficulties

I said in a previous post that just because David Davis is wrong on other matters, it didn’t make him wrong on 42 days. Of course this is a difficult one, and it shows just how confusing the lines now are when it comes to equal rights and the competing claims of minority rights. The clear problems come up in the following questions, the answers to which now fluctuate within and across party lines, rather than merely between them.

  • Supporting the Death Penalty

But it is my personal, moral, opinion that, in the most serious multiple murder cases, where the evidence is overwhelming (not just beyond reasonable doubt), it is justifiable.

This really gets me. How on Earth can he be so opposed to 42 days detention without charge, yet believe that a single circumstance could exist where the state could be allowed to take a life? If he’s looking at 42 days from a position of human rights then he’s a terrible hypocrite. Of course if his platform is a moral one, then he’s really stirred up a hornet’s nest.

  • Opposing Gay Rights

I may have voted against certain legislation, but that does not make me homophobic. For example, I am in favour of allowing Christian adoption agencies to be exempt from discrimination laws, because they do a great job and – out of religious conviction – believe children should have a mother and a father.

Well yes it does. You voted against the repeal of section 28, which you don’t try to explain or justify here. Section 28 let me remind readers forbade a local authority from:

“intentionally promot(ing) homosexuality or publish(ing) material with the intention of promoting homosexuality” or “promot(ing) the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship”.

A 21st century, former front bench politician, believing that homosexuality is a ‘pretended’ family relationship? How do you ‘promote’ it exactly? That would presume that you can make someone gay. I thought only nutcases like Iris Robinson believed that anymore. Is the Conservative Party not as enlightened as they want people to believe? Or have rights issues diffused out of party divides and refastened onto other divisions? Davis is clearly not looking at rights from a standpoint of equality – the most telling bit appears to be the ‘out of religious conviction’ quote, to which you can probably attribute both decisions.

Both of these rights issues used to be based on ideological lines – the left wing believed for the most part in equality before the law, the right supported the (unequal) status quo. David Cameron wants us to believe that those days are gone, and ultra religious Labour MPs like Ruth Kelly and late-stage-Blair tend to prove him right. But it is religion which is proving the increasingly influential dividing line, for all-too-obvious reasons when you look at Blair’s example. It makes life much easier – all you have to do is believe you’re right and hold on for dear life. Britain likes conviction politics after all. The problem though – it’s directly in contravention with the notion of equality. That it’s led to Davis to be against 42 days is nothing short of astonishing, and it’s not surprising that people, even the media, are getting confused.

Of course today the Davis campaign had a notable success, with councils in England warned today that their abuse of anti-terror and surveillance laws had to stop because it was alienating the public. Time will tell if anything changes.