If you’ve been paying attention over the past year or so – or even just over the past week or so – you’ll realise British politics is about as bizarre and foolish as it can get. It’s possible that for politically tribal reasons you will find resistible the idea that New Labour laid the foundations in its Intercept Modernisation Programme – but the fact that on April Fools’ Day this story on the so-called Communications Capabilities Development Programme is published everywhere shows how resistant to irony bureaucracy can become. The plan – in a nutshell – is for all email, website and general Internet usage in the UK to be accessible in realtime to GCHQ, the government’s electromagnetic listening arm.
A bit of history, then, from Open Rights Group’s wiki on the subject:
In the original Coalition Agreement(12th May 2010), this statement appears on page 11:
“We will end the storage of internet and email records without good reason.”
And Nick Clegg reiterated this in a speech a week later(19th May 2010) when he said:
“We won’t hold your internet and email records when there is just no reason to do so.”
However, on 19th October 2010, hidden in the depths of the government’s Strategic Defence and Security Review was this statement:
“We will introduce a programme to preserve the ability of the security, intelligence and law enforcement agencies to obtain communication data and to intercept communications within the appropriate legal framework … We will put in place the necessary regulations and safeguards to ensure that our response to this technology challenge is compatible with the government’s approach to information storage and civil liberties.”
The revival of the IMP is being spearheaded by the Home Office, which in fact as early as July 2010, planned to revive IMP, as revealed in a largely unnoticed document.
One can only read this as a revival of the Intercept Modernisation Programme. This is despite staunch opposition to the programme by both the Lib Dems and the Tories while they weren’t in government, and their original Coalition Agreement(mentioned above).
GCHQ were revealed to be installing a system for collecting the data required by the IMP in 2009, and are continuing to install this programme despite the suspected opposition of the new coalition. Tories at the time opposed doing this on the sly. Baroness Neville-Jones wanted it to be done only if it was passed as law by Parliament. Baroness Neville-Jones is now the coalition’s security minister and she will have to stick to her guns if the public is to ever see such an important development debated by their elected representatives.
On the 27th October 2010, Liberal Democrat MP for Cambridge Dr Julian Huppert asked the Prime Minister in Prime Minister’s Question Time:
“Can the Prime Minister reassure the House that the Government have no plans to revive Labour’s intercept modernisation programme, whether in name or in function, and that he remains fully committed to the pledge in the coalition agreement to reverse the substantial erosion of civil liberties and to roll back state intrusion?”
The Prime Minister had this to say:
The Prime Minister: “I would argue that we have made good progress on rolling back state intrusion in terms of getting rid of ID cards and in terms of the right to enter a person’s home. We are not considering a central Government database to store all communications information, and we shall be working with the Information Commissioner’s Office on anything we do in that area.”
Notice how he doesn’t say they won’t be extending the requirements for CSPs to retain communications data. Is this another hint that IMP will be adopted by the Coalition, just without the centralised database?
So what is the pattern since the Tory-led Coalition got into power? First, it’s started by putting into place long-term strategies to both disempower and anger the following groups in society:
- the unemployed
- the disabled
- the sick
- those in need of legal support
- those who live anywhere but Tory heartlands
- the so-called squeezed middle
- small businesses
- evidence-based professionals such as doctors and lawyers
Meanwhile, it’s kept onside the managing elites in:
- higher education (eg the tuition fees hike)
- corporations and those ideologically related to the Coalition itself, including those involved in health and education provision (eg the NHS bill, the free schools agenda, HMRC tax liabilities and so on)
And in general, it’s been sympathetic to the lifestyles and interests of:
- the rich and wealthy (eg the recently announced 50p to 45p reduction in the top rate of income tax)
Now, after all the above, and building on New Labour security plans from as far back as 2006, it suddenly discovers (or suddenly reveals – not quite the same thing I think you’ll agree) that it needs a ferocious plan of thought control to defend us from … exactly what?
In years past, in Tony Blair’s time for example, we had the War Against Terrorism to conceptually deal with. Even I gave him the benefit of the doubt whilst it still looked like the situation in Iraq was as he pitched it – though I did find evermore unhappy the company he was keeping. But that War Against Terrorism, whilst always an ongoing matter of some preoccupation, can hardly be seen as the real justification for what is proposed now.
On a day that David Cameron’s approval ratings go through the floor, the real enemy our state needs to be defended from is that long list I described above of those voters this government has chosen to disempower and anger.
And the real reason it needs to be defended is because whilst New Labour took ten years to reach the levels of hubris and disconnect from reality which led to its necessary downfall, the Coalition has managed to achieve all of this in less than twenty-four months. In a blink of a political eye, the Coalition has committed the massive and always inevitable error of all governments past and future: identify completely the broader interests of the nation with the individual interests of each and every politician who forms a part of its inner circles.
Whilst seriously enough the voters and their families are losing in droves their trust in this Tory-led Coalition, far more dangerously for the wider population is the fact that the individuals at the top of the Coalition have lost all trust in the voters.
The announcement today that it’s time to potentially put the whole nation under continuous government surveillance is a blanket recognition that we as subjects cannot be trusted to run our own lives in collaboration and consonance with the state.
And I would agree. It, the state that is, is right to be worried. Essentially because the state itself, under this Tory-led Coalition, has converted itself into the nightmare New Labour was always accused of aiming to become.
Through Cameron it is now clear that Thatcher’s legacy of a land fit for the small shopkeeper has been finally destroyed. This is not Thatcher’s doing that we see on our TV and computer screens but Blair’s very own twist on the elitist’s approach to micro-managing ordinary people’s lives.
Through Cameron we see Blair finally breaking away from his inspiration and revealing what another decade of New Labour would have meant.
Through Cameron, this government is in the process of breaking very sacred contracts. And it knows on the inside far better than the rest of us on the out exactly what measures of control it is going to require.
Meanwhile, as we try and comprehend how matters got to such a point, all we can do is battle to remain sane in the face of such insanity. There is no political beast more dangerous than he or she that is wounded – especially when they believe such attacks have happened and been effected not just through a rank betrayal from their own side of the House but also well before their longer sell-by date could normally have justified.
We would do well to remember this as we witness the April foolishness that is British politics today.
And as we bemoan the real unravelling of that complex travesty of misguided justice: that once-glorious Blairism of the Noughties.