Jul 162014

I just tweeted in rather ironic tone the following:

Plaything of cybercriminal, paedophile, govt – even social-network users for goodness sake! – the web’s breaking up like a rusting old car.

I’d just read this, where under current legislation (significantly, no need for #DRIP here), but with new process and procedure, forty-five police forces have managed to coordinate their efforts and capture 660 suspected paedophiles.  I presume mainly online paedophiles (ie paedophiles who use online tools to commit crimes), and do wonder if in the future this won’t lead to another digital divide opening up: that where law enforcement concentrates on arresting a far larger proportion of those who operate online than it will do with respect to those who operate more carefully behind closed doors – and in that far more difficult-to-profile real (or, indeed, historical) world.

I am also minded to wonder how many hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, of damaged adults are now hiding within their very private selves the consequences of historical child abuse.  Some would argue that the web augments the activity: I would suggest (with no professional background or figures to boast of, mind) that child abuse is probably a pretty steady statement of intent in most societies, and if less than a year’s concerted effort yields 660 arrestees in the UK, how many more criminals in how many other years have, at all levels in society, avoided the same fate?

I don’t, of course, suggest they’ve historically avoided detection.  I do suggest they’ve historically avoided prosecution.

Meanwhile, this story popped up a little late in my timeline this afternoon:

 Former Labour shadow minster Diane Abbott said her party’s leadership had been hoodwinked into supporting the legislation.

“I believe – I hate to say this because they are all nice people – that those on the opposition front bench have been rolled,” she said.

“All ministers had to do was to raise in front of them the spectre of being an irresponsible opposition, and that children will die if they do not vote for the bill on this timetable, and they succumbed.”

And yet, I would remind you, we have the news already mentioned that, under current legislation, 660 suspected paedophiles can be tracked down and captured.  So why the urgency for making the extra-legal behaviours of the past decades entirely legal law right now?

The problem for me with the surveillance state we’re getting is that it mimics very closely long-running debates of a very technical nature between closed source and open source software licence regimes.  In the former, we trust that one company knows what it needs to know, and will be able to protect us in a timely fashion from any and every cyberattack.  In the latter, when it works at its best, we make the knowledge available to everyone, so that any clever corruption of good intentions can be anticipated, resolved and removed from the system as quickly as possible.

The million eyes which – when they work as they should – work to a common cause.

The dynamics are very similar in the case of child abuse and the passing of #DRIP: allow the relatively few eyes of the security services total access to information, trust they will do with it what they should (we never get paedophile police officers, after all!) and assume that the only criminals acting out there belong to the levels of society who won’t get the right to see the intelligence about each other – or perhaps, more worryingly, won’t get to doublecheck the intelligence about their “betters”.

What we’re getting, then, is the undue exertion of power.  What we need is something different.  If the worldwide web and the Internet it runs on was a real-world chain of, say, toddlers’ playgroups or young children’s schools, and we suddenly and analogously proposed changing the ground rules as savagely as has been demanded (for example, installing CCTV in all children’s environments; recording every word spoken; registering for years the acts of every carer and parent), all of us would find outrage within our reach.  We would see it as abuse (even as it claimed to look to prevent its taking place); we would perceive it, at the very least, as a supremely uncoordinated act of change management; and we would realise how anti-democratic it was all shaping up to be.

Instead, to paraphrase Diane Abbott, we’re all on the point of allowing ourselves to be rolled.

The web and the wider Internet are, indeed, oxidising into uselessness.  There’s still time to rescue them, I’m sure.  But it’ll require a mighty change of mentality and mindsets from us all: from the voters; from the parents; from our MPs who still claim to represent us; from our leaders and from the led together – from anyone, in fact, who cares about democracy.

For that’s what the #DRIP process really stands for.  Unintentionally, perhaps.  In reality, all the same.

democracy | rest in peace

Jun 292014

This story has been at the edge of my radar for the past few days:

Police Commissioners have urged the Met Police to add ultraviolet dye to their three water cannon to help them track down any one responsible for violent protests.

The dye in question – SmartWater I believe it’s called – has a number of different manifestations as described at its manufacturer’s website.  Presumably the version some of the police appear to be eager to use is this one:

Forensic Spray System:

This system is typically used in business premises to deter robberies and out-of-hours burglaries. Upon activation the SmartWater Forensic Spray System sprays intruders with an invisible liquid, marking their skin and clothing. The liquid can only be seen under UV light, remaining on skin for weeks and indefinitely on clothing. It can be used to link a criminal to a particular crime scene, remaining detectable long after the crime has been committed.

One of the manufacturer’s customers (there are many, of course – Britain is anything but a law-abiding country these days, after all) is a company called Ecclesiastical.  Their testimonial runs as follows:

“Theft of metal is a serious crime and has had a devastating effect on a large number of our customers since 2007. From the beginning of the metal theft epidemic, we have been working in close partnership with SmartWater and continue to promote it to our customers. We believe that the SmartWater brand is a very powerful tool in our fight against metal theft, as it is well known amongst potential thieves and acts as a significant deterrent.”

I remember once being on a train to Manchester, which had to stop for about half an hour close to its destination because some evil type had apparently nicked the cabling which connected the signal box to the rail network.  So I appreciate the importance that such products can have in deterring the unlawful acquisition of someone else’s property.

Property, mind.  Objects.  Stuff.  You know what I’m getting at.

Meanwhile, Mr Boris Johnson – whilst removing useful fire engines from our capital’s streets – happily makes jokes about second-hand German water cannons he’s buying to forcefully impose the peace over the next few years or so:

I don’t mind. I am certainly prepared to do anything to show that they’re safe within reason.

If it will really make you happy, I will investigate the whys and wherefores of whether I can stand in front of a water cannon without infringing some code of health and safety.

That is to say, some code of health and safety which serves to protect the Mayor of London but not lawful demonstrators.

Because the problem with adding ultraviolet dye to your water-cannon water is that really, unsurprisingly, it’ll get on just about everyone and get just about everywhere.  Who knows what such substances could do to those kettled for simply believing they were going to be in the right place at the right time?  The lawful ones I mean, that is.  The ones who engage democratically with society.  Not the metal-theft-epidemic miscreants.  The men, women and children who don’t like being treated with disrespect by their governments – and simply, politely, calmly and kindly want to express their dissatisfaction as per our still existing and current democratic rights.

This is how the property market in London just grew by eight million objects.  By proposing this clever SmartWater be added to water cannons that may gaily spray the streets of the city and its multifarious inhabitants with indelible inks that remain for weeks on the skins of those who lawfully participate in democratic demonstrations, we choose as a wider society to make objects of such human beings: to be marked, tagged and ultimately criminalised with tools that till now have served a highly constructive purpose.

SmartWater was great for protecting property.

It was even probably justifiable when it turned undeniable thugs into traceable criminals.

But as a tool to turn straightforward voters and citizens into objects themselves, to be pursued, chased down and identified as any common electronic device, TV or piece of jewellery out there … well, I really do not know whether this was quite what we wanted – or even anticipated.

Nor, indeed, whether Ecclesiastical, the aforementioned customer of SmartWater, might have anticipated it either.  As they say on their website, “[the organisation was] established in 1887 to protect the Anglican Church and we’re still committed to doing this today. Over the years we’ve grown to provide tailored insurance solutions for organisations and people who care – such as charities and heritage property owners […]”.

People who care, eh?  So how many charities would really care to be advertising products for water cannons which indiscriminately sprayed everyone and anyone with ultraviolet dyes?

A final thought, before I sign off tonight.  The term SMART was always, for me, associated with relatively sensible processes of workforce objectivisation:

Ideally speaking, each corporate, department, and section objective should be:

  1. Specific – target a specific area for improvement.
  2. Measurable – quantify or at least suggest an indicator of progress.
  3. Assignable – specify who will do it.
  4. Realistic – state what results can realistically be achieved, given available resources.
  5. Time-related – specify when the result(s) can be achieved.

It wouldn’t be a bad idea if we applied such an acronym to the ultraviolet dye certain police commissioners wish to add to their arsenal.  For example:

  1. Specific – will it serve to improve police-community dynamics as well as a wider societal balance?
  2. Measurable – will it make democracy more efficient and lead to a better environment for London?
  3. Assignable – will anyone in hindsight want to take ownership and be identified as responsible for implementing the policy?
  4. Realistic – will the cost, both human and financial, of implementing the policy justify its introduction?
  5. Time-related – will all of London be better for this policy twelve months down the line, or will only a certain sector benefit?

That would really be smart, now wouldn’t it?  Too smart by far, perhaps?

Aug 252013

I’ve been wondering the same.  We’re criticising and slamming and dunking with clever words this state we believe is a police state already.

Or not quite yet, as the case may be.

Yet this tweet encapsulates something I’ve also been pondering:

If you can publish an article in a national newspaper comparing your country to a police state, it probably isn’t anywhere near one.

The question, however, I think is quite different.  What – if like so many post-modern moments – this is now a post-modern police state, where the rules of the game have been utterly reconverted?

A new kind of state which has learned from previous manifestations.  Yes.  I’ve seen a tweet describe how Ceaușescu’s regime registered all the typewriters in the country in order to be able to doublecheck the origins of any communication – with the inference that such behaviours were a precursor to what we have on the table now; I’ve seen other comments appear to compare the American NSA with the East German Stasi – comments which let it be understood the Stasi were small beer compared with today.

But I’m beginning to think that the new contract drawn up – even as it has been drawn up without our cognisance – is not exactly, not quite, the police state we’re assuming it must be.

A police state it is – don’t get me wrong.  A police state where everyone is under suspicion.  But a police state which has learnt to allow social networks an important role in keeping the lid on dreadful circumstance.  In any other time, a government which allowed thousands of disabled people to die as a direct result of its policy adjustments would be massacred at the polls; in the media that cared to report it; in the parishes and grapevines that used to populate our country.

Now it would seem that people can become homeless as a result of the “bedroom tax”; the homeless can end up crushed in wheelie bins as a result of their poverty; and the poor who have nothing to eat can get sentenced to prison for stealing a sausage roll.  And nothing happens.  That is to say, nobody at government level cares to reconsider anything they are.

Anything they are, think or do.

This, then, is the new kind of state I describe above.  A state where democracy no longer pretends its main objective is to represent the will of the people through the ballot box: the function of the ballot box, instead, is to legitimise the actions of a minority.  As John Prescott describes today in a gently analogous process:

As Deputy Prime Minister I was asked by GCHQ to sign phone tap orders in order to trace the terrorists behind Omagh. I later discovered GCHQ had been tracking these individuals for weeks and my ­signature simply legitimised this State-backed phone hacking.

Writ larger, this is what has happened to representative democracy.  What politicians are going to do, like corporations and their blessed succession-planning procedures, is already well laid-out way before an election takes place.  We simply serve to rubber-stamp wealth’s instincts, justifications and objectives.  And if we don’t always act according to the unwritten script, something else happens to impulse other actions; something else happens to cloak the reality in the inevitability of a sadly-tough political medicine – a medicine which aims to make us believe our political leaders, and their sponsors, have their hands just as sadly tied.

What’s really new about this police state is it’s actually morphed into a policed state: everything we are, do or think is getting to the point where it’s liable to be recorded and copied by someone.  From CCTV in train toilets to Internet logs which register every website we go to … you know, it’s actually quite astonishing in a world where copyright law imprisons people for decades for the accessible crime of copying content in its digital form that, at least in security and marketing contexts, the very stuff of our own flesh-and-blood lives is quite easily the most broadly-copied and widely-shared sequence of events on the planet.

And I really do not hear anyone shouting out loud that our intellectual property rights over our existences are being deliberately and summarily violated.

Do you?

I didn’t think you did.

Anyhow.  Notwithstanding my intellectual bleating, this new kind of state has clearly shifted the onus of democratic representation onto the social networks.  As it has become easier to complain virtually, so representative democracy has moved away from giving space to such complaints.  Where we social-network users thought our acts made democracy better, it’s quite possible that our lords, masters and mistresses have actually invented/taken advantage of a way of venting off further requirements to respond – in any politically meaningful way – to any kind of societal dissatisfaction at all.

This is a police state which doesn’t – as a general rule – put people in prison, so much as construct virtual prisons within which we all are now living our lives.

It’s almost as if we’ve moved from being battery chickens to being their free-range cousins; from inhabiting caged zoos to inhabiting safari-parked enclosures.  The frame looks so big and beautiful now – yet frame it continues to be.

And so they’ve imprisoned all of us, and so it is true – just as wild animals and pets become domesticated in what were once very English castles.  And in this new kind of post-modern police state of ours theirs, we they no longer need to incarcerate anyone.

We’re already, most of us, more or less cheerfully behind bars.

The only possible upside being maybe one day – just maybe – we’ll be on the outside looking in.

Aug 202013

The BBC concludes a quite lavish report on David Miranda’s detention for the maximum nine hours at a London airport with this amazing admission from the Home Office:

The Home Office said: “Schedule 7 forms an essential part of the UK’s security arrangements – it is for the police to decide when it is necessary and proportionate to use these powers.”

So there you have it – in black and white.  The Home Office finally admitting it’s not for the people via Parliament to decide when powers are necessary and proportionate but, rather, the police on what appears to be a fairly ad hoc basis.  Here we have the police version, from the same report:

The Met Police said the use of the Terrorism Act to detain Mr Miranda was “legally and procedurally sound”.


He was detained under schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000. This allows police to hold someone at an airport, port or international rail station for up to nine hours for questioning about whether they have been involved with acts of terrorism.

But the BBC’s own security correspondent raises the following issue of legislation creep:

Another controversy will be over the stretching of counter-terrorism powers for something which doesn’t look like it has anything to do with terrorism. Powers are often justified on the basis of stopping terrorist attacks. But what will the reaction be when they are used for something else?

This afternoon I found myself driving the following train of thought:

Arrests like Miranda’s are markers in the sand. Show how sad our state of law has become. Just ‘cos it’s legal doesn’t mean it’s justified.

We’ve reached a state where politicos & corp leaders shield themselves in legality, forgetting what’s right & wrong. Betrayal of secularism.

Am sad that people who work with laws believe their written manifestations overtake broader universal values. History begins to repeat, no?

Choice we have is between piling content into cloud, so avoiding need to take gadgets to frontiers, or keeping it confiscateably on gadgets.

Either way, privacy becomes a privilege and a premium; the preserve of those who have the resources and connections to maintain it.

And from Facebook on a separate story from New Zealand:

Oh that’s really quite awful. It mirrors so much in the UK. is there nowhere in the world where politicians and corporate leaders value universal truths over the spiteful letter of the law?

Yes.  This is indeed a police state.  A state which forgets so many of the lessons of the Nuremberg Trials.  A state which no longer believes in right and wrong but, instead, in legal and illegal.  A state which is configuring itself for the following reasons:

  1. Those in power know the future.
  2. Those in power know they are incapable of delivering the future we – and they – know we deserve.
  3. Those in power fear for themselves.
  4. In order to properly protect themselves, those in power need to plunder our resources and nation-states before our very eyes without us clearly understanding what is happening.
  5. The easiest way to control people like ourselves and hide such a reality from us is to reserve the right to detain us without explaining why; to detain us without explaining why; and to frighten us without explaining why.
  6. Terrorism does exist, that is true – and it is a most fearful beast.  But it’s even more fearful when you add your own sliver of it into the mix in such a way so people like ourselves don’t know if it’s terrorism that hurts or our own nation-state.
  7. Totally disorientated, totally confused, totally unable to see the future with any degree of clarity, people like ourselves do not perceive how the threat of terrorism is being abused in order that those in power can strengthen not our bulwarks against our very real pain but their bulwarks against their very real fears.

When a Home Office spokesperson says it’s the police who must decide, and not Parliament nor appropriate individuals with the corresponding obligation to oversee what the police are doing, we know what – inside the Home Office – people really think.

And what they think is we already live a de facto police state.

This is, as I say above, a profound betrayal of what once could have been a secularism of real and ennobling choice.  But in the absence of that God who might look over and remind us of what we should do, we have this overriding anti-Nuremberg remittance to the concepts of legal and illegal above all.

We’ve forgotten entirely about those universal human rights.  Right and wrong have been substituted everywhere with very poor hand-me-down cousins.

Universal doesn’t exist any more.

All that exists is the Home Office’s reliance on weasel-worded declarations which abdicate all responsibility for running the country on behalf of its citizens.

So what on earth do we need our politicians for?  Why not do away with them altogether?

Live our lives, instead, under the empty obfuscating Kafkaesque instincts that Schedule 7 so perfectly exemplifies.  Even write more of the same.  Spread the crap liberally (this is, after all, a liberal democracy) to as many other countries as there are peoples.

Either that, of course, or – alternatively – choose to remember and commemorate Nuremberg itself: remember and commemorate the millions who died whilst people went through the motions of being “legal”.

This is the real fascism.

This is the day we hit rock bottom.

Not what the police did – but how that Home Office spokesperson reacted.

May 152013

Theresa May clearly likes getting brownie points.  This story from Left Foot Forward today makes it all too plain:

The home secretary Theresa May announced today that under the Conservatives those convicted of killing a police officer will have their sentences raised to the ‘whole life’ category, usually reserved for the very worst types of murderer.

As the article goes on to remind us, there have been 376 people killed as a result of contact with the police since 2005.  But whilst in the same period seven police officers were killed, I wouldn’t like to get into a numbers game here.  The police clearly face an awful frontline every day of their working week – and, perhaps, outside work too – and it must be almost impossible to quantify how the stress and strain of that frontline affects the quality of those lives.

What I would like in this post to better understand, however, is exactly what frontline we are talking about.  In response to this article, and some time later in the day, I tweeted the following thought:

The police don’t only need protecting from those who would kill them. They also need protecting from politicians who would misuse them.

I was thinking in particular of Hillsborough, Orgreave, the life and times of Margaret Thatcher and the covert actions on left-wing activists.  Especially when I added in exchange with Mark, a Twitter friend of mine:

@MILivesey Yes but politicians seem to have used the police where that option, for us as simple subjects, doesn’t exist.

Mark then responded interestingly in this way:

@eiohel The Police are they’re to serve and enforce the Law. The problem is politicians use Law to enact policy.

This, for me, in my generally self-taught self and situation, is an astonishing revelation.  And it leads me to wonder if it isn’t time we developed the potential for separating the law and policy-making more profoundly.  Is it at all possible, in fact, to contemplate processes of national and local policy-making which don’t use as a tool for their implementation the law?

That don’t sully such a law with their political notions …

What if politicians were able to enact policy without using the courts, the police or legal processes at all?  What if the courts, the police and the law were only there to defend the people from abuse from their politicians, business leaders and other concentrations of power and wealth?  What if we could create a circumstance whereby the police were always on our side?  What if the police simply operated to sustain a sensible and sensitive raft of inalienable rights?

For this does seem to me to be the nature of the problem.  Although unproven, I think it hardly tendentious to suggest some police forces became politicised under Thatcher’s rule; some police officers covertly stepped over the line between protecting and oppressing; some of the machinery of law and order became the machinery of political control.

New Labour barely did much better: CCTV mushroomed under Blair; ID-card schemes were proposed and very nearly introduced; laws to manage and control people’s behaviours were passed hand over fist.

So in the middle of all of this, the real frontline for our police clearly becomes much more one of abuse at the hands of elected government officials than one of getting voluntarily involved in a delegitimising process of rather underhand social organisation and reorganisation.

At the mercy, that is, of entirely politicising forces.

Can, as Mark seems to indicate, we ever get to a place where the police and the law are there to primarily defend the rights of ordinary flesh-and-blood people over almost anything else that makes waves in our civilisation?

Where ordinary flesh-and-blood people come way before politicians, their prejudices, their party structures, business leaders, globalising forces and corporate entities?

Where the sole and specific purpose of the police is to defend the voters and their families from any attempt at repression – instead of ending up flailing tools of those who would use their elected positions to repress?

It seems to me, if you really want me to say what’s on my mind, that we need the police on our side much more than we need to denigrate them.  But in order to make that connection, we must work out why we are fed – so systematically – with stories and tales of their bad behaviours.  Theresa May’s bald attempt to cuddle up to the police, even as Coalition cuts savage their structures, is about as highly political as anyone could ever get.  That “life” should mean the “whole of one’s life” when the servant of the people is killed by the people but that the same relationship should not exist when the people are killed by the servant is so manifestly repressive in its dynamics and shape to make it almost laughable.  Except that this is no joke.

The real reason for May’s curious statement then?  Perhaps a) to ensure the police remain on the side of the politicians despite the dreadful environment of austerity; and b) to ensure the people continue to fear the former as keepers of both general order and the law politicians so love to pervert.

Who’d be a police officer in such a landscape?  Not me.

But then, right now, as austerity bites deep, you could ask any Western citizen pretty much the same question.

Given a free choice, who’d be on that frontline which ordinary police officers must so clearly struggle with – that real frontline between political perversion and civil society so obviously corrupting everything?

Jan 142013

This report came my way via Patrick on Twitter just now.  It’s published over at the Independent and describes the following set of circumstances (the bold is mine):

From October 2011 to the end of September 2012, HMRC was given 172 authorisations for “directed surveillance” – covert surveillance, mainly in public places – down slightly from the previous year.

HMRC refused to disclose how many times it had been given warrants to intercept and read peoples’ private emails, or listen to their phone calls. This is the most intrusive type of surveillance, which needs to be authorised by the Home Secretary. It also refused to disclose the number of times it had carried out “intrusive surveillance”, which can include covertly filming a person’s house, or bugging their property or car.

As a specialist in tax law goes on to state:

Adam Craggs, a partner and tax specialist at law firm RPC, said: “It is not immediately apparent why such communications data would be useful to HMRC for the purpose of tax investigations. Why does HMRC require details of the nature of web sites visited, which may be perfectly legal but potentially embarrassing, such as dating sites?”

To be honest, I think that’s the least of it.  Embarrassment, I mean.  Whilst we can all agree that measures and procedures must be in place to protect us from the really bad guys in society – the paedophiles, terrorists, fraudsters and assorted expense-accounted MPs – it gets a little harder when we begin to wonder if exactly the same measures as the above-mentioned might instead be used to interfere with the development of small and medium-sized businesses.

Especially in an Internet world where barriers to entry are really rather low.

Spying on the enemy has always been sold to the public at large as necessary to defend freedom and democracy – but it is surely of far greater utility when the big-business-and-government nexus of revolving doors decides its interests need protecting over that of approaching political and commercial upstarts.

Just think what a government department which had cosy relationships with massive corporations, which frequently agreed massive tax deals behind closed doors and which was accustomed to steering clear of public disagreement with transnational bodies of all kinds, might be able to engineer with such commonplace activities and instincts as the Independent reports.  It is, after all, one small step from “intrusive surveillance” to “active interference in the internal workings of a company”.

How easy would it therefore be to go beyond watching and waiting for tax infractions to proactively sabotaging new ideas and giving existing players the economic and logistical breathing spaces they needed in order to regroup and, as a result, maintain the status quo so sought after by politicians and business leaders alike.

A police state, that is – only without the police.

Not a politically repressive regime.

Rather, an economically repressive regime.

So is this what we’ve now arrived at?  Something cloaked in democracy but smelling as rank as any one-dictator republic?

Something perhaps as bad as anything 20th century Communism was able to dream up?

Dec 182012

This report from Channel 4 on the #plebgate affair throws up another video worth your time.  Watch it first.



Several immediate reactions, in no particular order of importance:

  • If Andrew Mitchell is telling the truth, and our government is so tardy about investigating and getting at the truth of what its own allegedly get up to (or not), what does this tell us about its ability to devise and engineer policy for a whole society?  I mean if it can’t get right one piddling little report into events which supposedly took place in an area crammed full of CCTV cameras the government itself owns, what are the implications for their ability to fashion the destination of the NHS, Legal Aid, the Budget and its aftermath and a whole host of other matters of national importance?
  • If Andrew Mitchell is telling the truth, and both the Sun and the Telegraph duly followed their journalistic procedures, what does this say about the quality of their procedures?
  • If Andrew Mitchell is telling the truth, and the newspapers which reported this affair were prepared to use material leaked by a person who had a close relationship with the police, doesn’t this indicate they’ve done this on far more occasions beforehand – during #hackgate for starters and inevitably since?  Doesn’t it, in fact, indicate such behaviours are par for the course?
  • Finally, if Andrew Mitchell is telling the truth, and now – on the basis of what he alleges happened to him at the hands of some individuals or other – wants something to be done in order to re-establish the belief he had in the police prior to these aforementioned events, aren’t we allowed to ask him why such a firm and definite trust wasn’t already severely damaged by the revelations around Milly Dowler, Hillsborough and Orgreave onwards?

Yes.  I feel for Andrew Mitchell if the situation is as he describes it.  Just as I feel, as any human being surely must, for the aspersions cast on the reputations of others in recent times.  But I can’t help also feeling something bigger is happening here.  Andrew Mitchell doesn’t want what has happened to him to happen again in Britain.  I agree, of course.  But I’d go much much further.  Personally, I wouldn’t want the sex abuse scandals to repeat themselves; I wouldn’t want the fuel poverty scandals to repeat themselves; I wouldn’t want the Hillsborough cover-up to happen again; I wouldn’t want my unhappiness with and distrust of my government’s ability to manage a country to perpetuate itself any longer.

Yet what I believe is really taking place here is that all of us – all of us as a society – are being stitched up by forces quite beyond our ken.  If Andrew Mitchell truly tells it as it has occurred, and he’s not now spinning the revelations for his own purposes, then this is really a rather unsatisfactory – even severe – matter.  If someone like Mr Mitchell, at the heart of government, cannot get the truth out when a frame is being engineered around him by other institutions, what hope do any of the rest of us have when faced by analogous circumstances?

Are we really saying our society is so very corrupt/inefficient/inept that one of the most senior figures in government can be removed from his position after a cursory and inconclusive investigation by people on his own side into accusations splashed by the same old media dynamics which Tom Watson, the Guardian and others spent so much time, money and resources trying to unmask?

The stitch-up I talk about?  This – that is to say, everything I describe above – is all leading us to a situation where we simply can’t trust anyone again to be telling the unvarnished truth.  Instead of engaging enthusiastically and directly, immediately and sincerely, with our peers and representatives and leaders and enablers, we are slowly but surely going down the path of an encroaching and cynical disengagement.

A cynical disengagement where we will be forced to end up concluding that nothing – but nothing – can be relied on any more.

And who really benefits from such a reaction and such a dispiriting conclusion?  Who really benefits from such a bankrupting of democracy?

Well, I think it’s actually time that you told me.

But what I can say for sure is that it ain’t going to be people like us.

Nov 252012

Last year, for some reason I never properly understood, I was invited to a number of briefings by the Law Society on the encroaching cuts in Legal Aid which this government quite unnecessarily proposed.  The Law Society produced its own suggestions which quite reasonably proposed greater savings than the Coalition thought necessary whilst simultaneously protecting citizen access to Legal Aid in many of the highly sensitive areas the government was aiming to take out of scope.  The government, running as it did – and still does – on petrol tanks of prejudice far more than the evidence-based approach which tends to guarantee equanimity, ignored those suggestions and the campaign failed.

More recently, I have heard that an American tendency to number-crunch crime statistics is under consideration here in Britain.  Predictive policing, if I understand correctly, involves analysing data in relation to what crimes and where have already been committed in a community to ensure that a police presence is maximised, refined and optimised in terms of where such crimes might take place in the future.

The crimes that generally get mentioned tend to be similar to burglary – I am unaware whether this is to soften up and ensure blind public acceptance of the technique’s potential implications or whether it lends itself especially to such activities (just as I ask myself why we couldn’t initiate our investigations with these new technologies in the fields of potential banking fraud, for example, before we deal with the petty lowlife) – but it does occur to me that perhaps such a concept could be introduced elsewhere with equally constructive results.  What if those who might commit crime – but unknowingly, through some complexity of the law and a wider general inaccessibility to the same – could access similar predictive systems which might inform them of their transgression before it actually managed to unknowingly consummate itself?

A kind of predictive Legal Aid, in fact, where the law would be democratised and made more understandable using the very same algorithms that the police are currently applying to catch criminals before they actually get to act on a “decision cycle” – but which in this case could be of very significant use to a wider population which wishes to remain law-abiding wherever they can properly understand how to.

A bemused population, in fact, which is already massively confused by the increasing number and penetration of laws into what is essentially an evermore domestic environment.

Now I do understand that in the ideal world we should still aim for, such a system of Legal Aid would never fully replace a face-to-face and sympathetic consultation.  We do not, however, live in an ideal world – and resources, they tell us, are short.  Just imagine, then, if we could harness the concept of predictive policing to help lawful citizens remain so: a preventative justice system, that is, which didn’t just help the police stop the baddies but helped the goodies proactively stop themselves from falling into the abyss of unconscious misdemeanourship.

I wondered the other day whether Twitter mightn’t do this for its own software constitution.  It’s a simple example: an automated system such as that which legal eagles, scraping the web for intellectual property infringement, might already use – but adapted to the needs of certain updateable keywords and phrases.  The tweet in question, before it was sent, would be parsed by the system and flagged up to the user if potentially libellous for a particular jurisdiction.

So just imagine a similar principle applied far more widely and comprehensively to the law: like a competent National Health Service, don’t only put the patients back together again when they fall ill but also provide them with the tools to avoid falling ill in the first place.

Too difficult to achieve?  Right.  OK.  Like putting a man on the moon was too difficult to achieve half a century ago.

The right political will can still move mountains of achievement.


To this moment in my essay, all well and good.  The question I now ask, with a modicum of bad faith, runs as follows: do the police and their evermore privatising colleagues – as well as lawyerly folk more generally – really want to reduce the number of crimes and misdemeanours committed or not?

Is it, in fact, in their interests to promote the prevention of crime?

Would they really like to make us all law-abiding?

Or do they actually need us to continue providing them with work – the kind of work which fills their profitable timesheets, their profit-driven prisons and their profiteering contracts for managing the underbelly of our societies?

And if you think I am being harsh, answer me this question: why start with those criminals who would wish to cause crime – and not with those who do not wish to fall foul of its consequences in the first place?

Why not start with prevention when it’s so manifestly better than the cure?

Nov 112012

This is clearly what people in the trade call a hatchet job.  It’s written by two journalists: one, unfortunately, called David Rose; the other, rather more identifiably, called Bob Woffinden.  More background to this complex and unclear situation, with corresponding links, can be found at the moment over at Tom’s place.

The only thing I’d add to Tom’s piece, which I don’t think I found included, is this story which came my way via Ally Fogg’s Twitter feed this evening:

Can anyone confirm that the David Rose who wrote the hatchet job on Messham in the Mail today is same DR writing here? newstatesman.com/politics/2007/…

The link and story it directs us to, written indeed in 2007 by a certain David Rose, admits quite openly to the following introduction to a deeper world of editorial collusion:

My secret life began, as if scripted by P G Wodehouse, with an invitation to tea at the Ritz.

The call came at the end of the first week of May 1992. I was the Observer’s home affairs correspondent, and at the other end of the line was a man we shall call Tom Bourgeois, special assistant to “C”, Sir Colin McColl, the then chief of the Secret Intelligence Service. SIS (or MI6, as it is more widely known) was “reaching out” to selected members of the media, Bourgeois explained, and over lunch a few days earlier with McColl, my editor, Donald Trelford, had suggested that I was a reliable chap – not the sort, even years later, to betray a confidence by printing an MI6 man’s real name.

I suggest you read on to get a full flavour of what was about to happen – though I suppose even the most naive of us out here might already realise the essence of the game …

  1. that just over a week ago a man – who most are prepared to admit was seriously and sexually abused in his youth whilst under the care of the state – should speak up in public to the BBC‘s “Newsnight” programme, and then proceed to retract his accusations …
  2. that the “Newsnight” journalists should fail to properly check the story having previously dropped an investigation into Jimmy Savile’s activities in the same organisation …
  3. that another man who was pinpointed by some in the mainstream and social media as having been one of the abusers, Lord McAlpine, should then have to issue this statement, denying – before he had actually been officially named by anyone of repute – that he had done anything of which he could be reasonably accused …
  4. and then that two journalists, one of whom has the same name as a host of other selfless individuals sadly labouring under public suspicion through mere association, should proceed to destroy what little reputation the accuser apparently had in any case …

… well, it does seems all rather weird, to borrow a term going the rounds at the moment.

In fact, there’s far more weirdness in all of this from the establishment side of things than anything a clearly sad and suffering survivor of sexual abuse could ever promulgate.

Just to underline two finally salient points.  Firstly, as Tom reminds us in another piece he posted today:

The fact of the matter is it wasn’t the BBC that wrongly implicated Lord McAlpine in the child abuse scandal.

It was North Wales Police.

Abuse victim Steve Messham – and the widow of another victim – told Channel 4 News that they were shown a photo and wrongly given Lord McAlpine’s name by police when they were interviewed by them in the early 1990s.

Now I’m aware that the McAlpine family tree is fiendishly complicated but it’s an extraordinary mistake to make on the part of the police – which is why it’s even stranger that the harsh, critical light of opprobrium is being concentrated in the direction of the BBC (and on Steve Messham too) and not in the least bit on North Wales Police.

Further to this point, you can find more from a couple of days ago from the BBC itself here:

A victim of sexual abuse while he was a resident of a north Wales care home has apologised for making false allegations against a Conservative politician.

Steve Messham said police had shown him a picture of his abuser but incorrectly told him the man was Lord McAlpine.

Secondly, Lord McAlpine’s own carefully couched statement already linked to above had this revealing sentence in its very first paragraph (the bold is mine):

“Over the last several days it has become apparent to me that a number of ill-or uninformed commentators have been using blogs and other internet media outlets to accuse me of being the senior Conservative Party figure from the days of Margaret Thatcher’s leadership who is guilty of sexually abusing young residents of a children’s home in Wrexham, North Wales in the 1970’s and 1980’s.

In a document I am sure was so obviously parsed and approved by his lawyer, that he should choose to say “the senior Conservative Party figure […] who is guilty of sexually abusing young residents” and not choose, for example, to say “who it is alleged was guilty of sexually abusing young residents” is surely revealing in itself.

Now I may be reading far more into this than is fair.  It may be true that – under Thatcher – we lived in a policed state and not a police state (more here).  But whilst the least shadow of a doubt remains, it is clear – at least to me – that something feels as wrong now as it did a decade ago during the lead-up to the Iraq War.

That furious pitter-patter of guilt-ridden establishment brogues was never louder or more worrying than today.

From banking to the BBC, from Murdoch to the police, from MPs’ expenses to democratic deficit, from the destruction of public services to the reconstruction of private-sector graft … well, little it now seems is out of the frame of our suspicions.

Little it now seems is too incredible.

Who can we turn to?  Who can we trust?  Who can help clear up this mess?  Who has the moral authority and right?

These are the questions our politicians need to answer.  These are the issues of the day.

Nov 102012

Puffles summarises in one tweet tonight what I have been feeling for longer than I can remember:

Puffles (*notes*) the crisis of establishment institutions continues. BBC, politics, banking, newspapers, police…all in a v short time space

Now some of you already know that in 2003 I was almost sectioned for an illness which came over me as a result of the lies told around the Iraq War.  The illness came over me because of other reasons too – but principally it involved me furiously writing a blog where I tried to demonstrate that what the politicians were saying was false.

I failed, and fell quite seriously ill as a result.

I was interviewed by a highly unsympathetic psychiatrist at three o’clock in the morning for about two hours – and condemned myself to a month in hospital through the very words I spouted in those two hours.  I was undoubtedly ill, I can’t deny it; had, indeed, done some very strange thing in the weeks leading up to that moment – but my recovery was so much quicker than my social worker said it would be (she told me I could expect to be able to do no more than two hours a week voluntary activities for months once I got out when in fact I started work almost immediately for a fast-food company on a twenty-hour shift) that although it took a while for me to get my wits together, it did finally become sufficiently self-evident that my savage distrust as exhibited by the diagnosis in question was not entirely due to illness: in massive hindsight there is for me a grand sense that the reality was closer to my perceptions and the illness was a consequence not of seeing falsely but – rather – of seeing all too clearly.

I mention all of this today because what is happening in our society, as Puffles summarises so presciently and accurately, may lead far more of us down similar roads of mighty distrust.  I suspect that it no longer really matters whether Mr Murdoch is doing cartwheels over the latest revelations at the BBC (more here), whilst his own irresponsible leadership disappears over the media event horizon; nor should anyone worry whether Hillsborough and Orgreave will finally get the justice they deserve; nor, even, should we care if Masonic paedophile rings riddle the country or not.  No.  In truth, the wider damage has already been done.  Those of us of a paranoid bent are becoming the commonplace, not the exception.  Those of us who see shadows everywhere are seeing we are right to see them anywhere.

In truth, the reality is that the mighty distrust which in other times was judged ill-founded has become a normalised and common reaction to everyone and everything we perceive.


This evening my son was walking home from playing football.  He popped into the local Spar to buy himself some Ben & Jerry’s.  Whilst he was there, a blonde woman of around fifty looked him over in a way which called his attention.  He then left the shop and continued his way home.  At the top end of Caughall Road, near where we live, the lady in question, sitting alongside a man who my son didn’t properly see, stopped her car across the road and offered him a lift.  My son didn’t know her; had never seen her in his life prior to the Spar; couldn’t understand why she should even know where he lived.

A case of potential paedophilia?  My son is seventeen, so I don’t think so.  But I phoned 101, all the same, with the details.  The police also found it quite disconcerting.  They didn’t take my details as there was little detail to report, beyond that the car was green and was driven by a blonde woman in her fifties, but did remark that whilst they would have recognised the pattern if my son had been a child, a couple attempting to pick up a seventeen year old was certainly rather strange.

My family called me paranoid for phoning the police.

Was I?

Surely, in the light of all that’s going down, they should see me as foolishly trusting.

To go to the police in precisely that part of the world where accusations of alleged and historical investigatory reticence have recently surfaced is – you could argue – a sign of madness in itself.

Anyhow.  The broader conclusion we might come to could not really be worse.

In the light of all the terribly uninvestigated things that it would now appear have been taking place over the past forty years, one thing ties all these establishment institutions together: all of them – from politicians, the BBC, News International, the police, banking and the Church to business leaders and organisations various – have committed the same mistake.  Lines of command, where authority breeds an unquestioning allegiance, have proved to have been responsible for rotting our institutions from within – to such an extent, in fact, that the whole bloodied pack of cards is tumbling apart in evil procedural slow-mo … even as they attempt so ineffectively to devise a better truth.

The haemorrhage of good was never so terrible as of late.

In the absence of a true war, we seem to have stumbled across an awful instinct to reproduce the conditions that lead up to civil war.  Only the English, as we know all too well, have such a stiff upper lip that they can but ignore these conditions; they can but ignore the implications.

This is, nevertheless, a war of civil characteristics: a war where people begin to side with their tribes; a war where tribes begin to form like puddles in the park; a park which ends up dramatically flooded by a superstorm; a superstorm which terminates communities as it rapes their sense of trust.

The damage is done – as I said above.

Right and wrong don’t really matter any more.

All that matters is fear.

And a growing – encroaching – violently destructive sense of horrific disbelief in almost all the things we once held dear.

Sep 142012

I see via Twitter, fleetingly I must admit, that Iain Dale has defended Thatcher’s memory in relation to the Hillsborough cover-up.  I didn’t hear the programme itself, I believe it was “Any Questions” on BBC Radio, but assume that what we had was a vigorous and convincing separation of action from event.  I imagine the discussion would have gone as follows: Margaret Thatcher did not anywhere say or let it be understood that anyone should cover up anything.  That evidence will not appear because it did not happen.  End of argument.

Margaret Thatcher was a charismatic leader.  But not in the sense most of us generally understand the term.  Most of us understand charismatic as meaning attractive in some dashing way – plenty of personality, the kind of person who manages to sweep you away despite yourself.

Tony Blair was perhaps closer to the latter understanding of charismatic.

No.  The charismatic I mean when I talk of Thatcher is a different charismatic – one I posted on recently in relation to Rupert Murdoch.  Part of the Harold Evans quote contained in that piece bears repeating here in relation to Thatcher:

[…] The concept of charismatic authority as applied to the Murdoch empire may be best understood – as a concept, I emphasise, and not a personal comparison – in the use made of Weber’s definition by Sir Ian Kershaw, historian of the Third Reich. Kershaw argues that Hitler was not much absorbed by the day-to-day details of Nazi Germany’s domestic policy, but was nonetheless a dominant dictator. Kershaw explains the paradox by adopting the phrase of a Prussian civil servant who said the bureaucrats were always “working towards the Fuhrer”. They were forever attempting to win favour by guessing what the boss wanted or might applaud but might well not have asked for. Similarly, in all Murdoch’s far-flung enterprises, the question is not whether this or that is a good idea, but “What will Rupert think?”. He doesn’t have to give direct orders. His executives act like courtiers, working towards what they perceive to be his wishes or might be construed as his wishes. […]

In my previous post today, on the subject – in part – of Thatcher’s reign, I suggested the following:

When those bodies which exist in representative democracy in order to protect the people are, in reality, there only to represent themselves … well, this is when we do really have to ask questions.  For example, is the common and underlying factor in all these unspooling scandals actually very English kinds of self-elected and autocratic leaders?  Is the nature of our police leaders as allowed to unfold under Thatcher – and perhaps tolerated under New Labour for whatever reasons – an issue which now requires a proper airing?  Orgreave and now Hillsborough?  News International?  Is there really not enough evidence to pull together a broader understanding of what has happened in the past quarter century?

And as Peter in the tweet I linked to first of all rightly concludes:

Ian Dale is being disingenuous. The background created by Thatcher contributed massively to the attitude of S Yorks police.#bbcaq

Absolutely!  Spot on, in fact.  And this was exactly because Thatcher was a charismatic leader with the kind of power to get things done at a societal level just as she wished – even when she didn’t specify exactly what or how.  In a certain impositional way which was bound to feed down to the lower levels, her leadership style contained, as much as Murdoch’s own, that ability to command without specific orders or any dangerous audit trail left behind.  That surely, after all, is the purpose of a certain kind of leadership: not micro-manage underlings into a shaky inefficiency but encourage them to flock around one in effective consonance.

So when we all finally conclude Thatcher wasn’t to blame, because the evidence simply won’t exist, we will have to accept that she wasn’t.

Except, of course, inasmuch as she set the national tone through a system that eminent historians concluded was used – in other awful historical circumstances – by a very unhappy, and arguably evil, führer.

Does that make her guilty of anything?  The fact that she only set a tone which may have encouraged very specific centres of police power in crucial moments of her government to act as autocratically as she had shown herself able to?

I’m inclined to believe it does.  And I’m also inclined to feel that life under Thatcher was so awfully violent and cruel not because she brought it upon us but rather because she brought it out of us.  Charismatic authority does that: whilst it leads by example, it succeeds through understanding us far better than we care to understand ourselves.  And then it proceeds to work on those instincts and use them to take us all in one horrible direction.

So she didn’t actually do it, did she?  She just enabled it.

A paradox.  All this time I’ve been arguing against pyramid politicians who impose their will – and in favour of enablers and facilitators who empower the people.  Yet it’s quite possible that, in the event, Thatcher was an enabler and facilitator like no other.

Empowering the people doesn’t automatically mean the people will do good.

Especially if the enabler and facilitator in question looks to empower autocracy.

Time to reopen the book on Margaret Thatcher then?  I think it is.  Her legacy, the past quarter of a century, is now unspooling before our very eyes.

Sep 142012

Yesterday, the BBC quoted Jack Straw as saying the following:

Mr Straw said that it was “a matter of great regret” to him that Labour had not ensured that the disaster had been investigated thoroughly enough earlier in its time in office, between 1997 and 2010.

But he also told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “The Thatcher government, because they needed the police to be a partisan force, particularly for the miners strike and other industrial troubles, created a culture of impunity in the police service.

“They really were immune from outside influences and they thought they could rule the roost and that is what we absolutely saw in south Yorkshire.”

I do wonder if it isn’t becoming a lot clearer here that some police forces are popping up with an ever-increasing frequency as the very worst guys of establishment behaviour.  We had the apparently cosy relationship between the Met and News International which allowed the phonehacking scandal and other alleged behaviours to be unreasonably ignored for far too long – an ignorance which arguably led to the publishing empire’s iron grip over the vast majority of British politicians for decades; we had the South Yorkshire police in Hillsborough and Orgreave where incorrect policing – blunders or otherwise – were manifestly demonstrated in both cases without, apparently, any corrective actions being taken by anyone in charge.  In all these cases, we just happened to have police forces close to the epicentres of the profoundest power struggles going on at the time under Thatcher’s reign.

So I do wonder if any of what Straw says is accurate, and – if it is – whether this doesn’t explain to a certain extent New Labour’s often secretive ways of running itself.  If some key police forces really did act with an impunity certain people in Thatcher’s cabinet were able to tolerate, they weren’t going to lose the habit when New Labour came into power.  And where any of the policies New Labour wanted to put into practice ended up challenging those who were really in power, the outcomes were never going to be easy – or, indeed, perhaps, safe.

I don’t know about you but certainly for me, in Straw’s words there is a degree of latent paranoia which makes me – as an outsider – think twice.  What really went on inside those levels of British society so accustomed in Thatcher’s time to undemocratically exerting the levers of power?  How did they negotiate the change between the Tories and Blair?  Was it all down to Blair himself selling a donkey to the populace?  Or did Blair & Co really have a fight on their hands – a serious and profoundly scary fight, as Straw’s comments would seem to indicate might have been the case?


When those bodies which exist in representative democracy in order to protect the people are, in reality, there only to represent themselves … well, this is when we do really have to ask questions.  For example, is the common and underlying factor in all these unspooling scandals actually very English kinds of self-elected and autocratic leaders?  Is the nature of our police leaders as allowed to unfold under Thatcher – and perhaps tolerated under New Labour for whatever reasons – an issue which now requires a proper airing?  Orgreave and now Hillsborough?  News International?  Is there really not enough evidence to pull together a broader understanding of what has happened in the past quarter century?

For the difference between a policed state and a police state is often not all that easy to perceive.

And once we have slipped from the former to the latter, who’s to say we will ever know how to return?

Sep 122012

Steve is an expert in Freedom of Information requests.  He does a damn good job of trying to wheedle out of generally unforthcoming institutions the kind of information we need to run a democracy properly.  He does more than most of the rest of us manage together.  He deserves a medal.

He is, however, operating under a conceptual con – a con I am sure he is aware of.  Douglas Adams had it best described when he gave us the answer to the Ultimate Question.  This, of course, if I remember rightly, being the number 42.

The problem, of course, if I remember rightly, being the question which 42 was the answer to.

In fact, if truth be told, we know the answers for most of our important life issues.  We knew the reality behind, for example, the Hillsborough tragedy way before its facts were published today.  We just couldn’t prove it.

That Rupert Murdoch’s publishing empire was in some way mixed up in the governance of the nation was also patently obvious to so many citizens – and yet very little could be done before a phonehacking tragedy, and a very small group of convinced citizens, served doggedly to uncover an awful trail of behaviours and apparent cover-ups.

The burden of proof that our legal system requires is based on providing hard evidence.  But what if the citizen’s right-to-know is deliberately tied down by strategies designed to make it far easier and safer to declaim answers in private than ask any daring and appropriate questions in public?

It’s not Freedom of Information we need: not that terrible game of often half-blindly identifying the areas of thought which might be in play.  It’s the whenever-and-wherever right to see the questions and assumptions that lie behind the answers.  It’s the frankly democratic right to know what their goals really are when our governors cross the thresholds of a supposedly representative democracy.

It’s the mindsets they hide which we should have every right to access.

It’s what they say behind closed doors and really think inside closed minds which – in the 21st century – needs to be in the public domain.

Not Freedom of Information processes which allow us to ask the questions we may already know the answers to but, rather, a much wider right: a right we could term a Freedom of Anytime Access to the documents and strategies of state which invisibly underpin our lives and our futures.

The con is the game that is Freedom of Information – clued-up citizens playing an intellectual cat-and-mouse with poker-faced upper-handed leaders.

The solution must surely lie in that Freedom of Anytime Access I mention above.  By default, an inside track on the real intentions of the powerful.

Only then can there be any chance of any kind of reconciliation between those who know what they’ve done but so frequently don’t admit it – and those who damn well know the truth but are unable to prove it.

Jun 212012

Some thoughts first from Louis on the experience of private prisons in the US:

[…] Privatizing social works and services is a generally bad idea and in prisons, as with medical care and education, all the more fraught. Private prisons exist by housing prisoners, meaning that the more the local juridical system produces them, the better the locality where the private prison is located (employment, taxes). It goes further. Prison labour is cheap and not unionized. These, alas, are not idle connections.

Then, also via Louis, and from the New York Times recently, a report on how privatised halfway houses are allowing a stream of criminals to escape from their privatised care:

After decades of tough criminal justice policies, states have been grappling with crowded prisons that are straining budgets. In response to those pressures, New Jersey has become a leader in a national movement to save money by diverting inmates to a new kind of privately run halfway house.

The report goes on to say:

Yet with little oversight, the state’s halfway houses have mutated into a shadow corrections network, where drugs, gang activity and violence, including sexual assaults, often go unchecked, according to a 10-month investigation by The New York Times.

With a final damning conclusion:

Since 2005, roughly 5,100 inmates have escaped from the state’s privately run halfway houses […].

Finally, we go to the Guardian, where the head of G4S is reported to be pushing the following line on police privatisation:

[…] “For most members of the public what they will see is the same or better policing and they really don’t care who is running the fleet, the payroll or the firearms licensing – they don’t really care,” he said.

He is also quoted as saying:

Taylor-Smith said core policing would remain a public-sector preserve but added: “We have been long-term optimistic about the police and short-to-medium-term pessimistic about the police for many years. Our view was, look, we would never try to take away core policing functions from the police but for a number of years it has been absolutely clear as day to us – and to others – that the configuration of the police in the UK is just simply not as effective and as efficient as it could be.”

Meanwhile, the contracts that are apparently being tendered for could:

result in private companies taking responsibility for duties ranging from investigating crimes to transporting suspects and managing intelligence.

So what exactly is this definition of core policing?  How does it not include investigating crimes, transporting suspects or managing intelligence?  As the Guardian report goes on  to underline:

In the £1.5bn deal being discussed by West Midlands and Surrey police, the list of policing activities up for grabs includes investigating crimes, detaining suspects, developing cases, responding to and investigating incidents, supporting victims and witnesses, managing high-risk individuals, managing intelligence, managing engagement with the public, as well as more traditional back-office functions such as managing forensics, providing legal services, managing the vehicle fleet, finance and human resources.

What the hell, after all that lot, is left for the public servant to carry out?


A final thought to be going away with: this much vaunted procedure whereby private companies supposedly square the circles of efficiency, the pursuit of shareholder gain and the ethos of public service – the latter also mentioned quite aggressively, as well as questionably, by the head of G4S in his declamations to the Guardian – is little short of a return to Soviet-style socialism for the rich.  Once the contracts have been duly tendered for, the competitive choice of the real end-user – that is to say, the taxpayer who foots the bill that ends up in the pockets of private shareholders – is limited, by virtue of the very structure of the tender, to one private company instead of one public body.

So where the devil is the difference in that?  Except, of course, that private shareholders who already own deep pockets get to deepen them even further on the backs of the livelihoods and tax pounds of ordinary citizens.  Which, in the case of public services and civil servants, didn’t happen all that often.

And with the additional dangers of a hands-off relationship between state and privatising industry which, to paraphrase Louis’s words and the conclusions of the New York Times, can only lead to a degradation of the service provided.

I tell you what.  Here’s a bright idea which would convince me there was really something in this.  How about if prisoners and criminals were able to choose between a range of corrective institutions as one would choose between a range of MP3 players?

If we truly believe in the virtues of private business over public administration, surely we need that daily vote that a consumer-driven market involves.  Without such incessant consumer input, we’re simply back to the bad old days of monopoly and pretty easy dosh.  Long-term exclusive contracts which tie a direct customer – the state – into a deal they can rarely wriggle out of when expectations, if ever set, are inevitably unmet.

Daylight robbery, in fact.

Interestingly enough.

May 072012

Wikipedia Commons

Paul has just posted a terrifyingly measured piece over at his blog.  It describes the dangers of creating a surveillance state with the supposed justification – perhaps the essential requirement – of wanting to protect us all from terrorist attack.  A couple of salient quotes from a piece you should really read in its entirety.  First this:

[…]  In yesterday’s election in Greece, the far right Golden Dawn party gained a disturbing 7% in the elections, and held rallies that had distinct echoes of Nazi Germany.

“No one should fear me if they are a good Greek citizen. If they are traitors – I don’t know,” their leader Nikolaos Michaloliakos told the media. The words, the images – and indeed the election results – have sent shivers down a lot of spines, not just in Greece but around the world.

Then this:

[…]  It should remind us of the origins of a lot of the human rights conventions, declarations and so forth in the second half of the 20th Century: as a reaction to the atrocities of Second World War. We recognised the needs of people for protection from their own governments – because governments can’t be trusted to protect people at all times.

And finally to his conclusion:

As Bruce Schneier put it, in one of my favourite quotes:

“It’s bad civic hygiene to build technologies that could someday be used to facilitate a police state”

He’s right. We shouldn’t. Those election results from Greece should remind at that most forcefully. Wake up. Smell the coffee.

We in Britain are, of course, no strangers to these dynamics.  In its desire to achieve the parliamentary power the Party had so long been excluded from, Tony Blair’s New Labour sustained and implemented more fully so many right-wing policies from Thatcher’s time that it seems impossible to contemplate that what this current Coalition government has carried out could’ve been done without the ten years of spadework which that intervening and supposedly socialist triangulation may in part represent.

In reality, the mixing up of public and private interest started off in Blairite times as a tactic to ensure the private sector and its sponsors in the media would continue to support some form of public interest.  But whilst Tony Blair & Co could probably be trusted – at least to some degree – with the NHS, our education system and the Welfare State in general, the tools they built and configured in a slew of legislative acts for one set of purposes simply made it easier for utterly untrustworthy examples such as Cameron and Osborne to turn them to the purposes of their own – as well as our – destruction.

Our Welfare State, principally the NHS and Legal Aid, has been torn asunder by the mindsets Blair used, arguably in a cowardly way, to cement in his time its medium-term future.

And so to the CCTV, online surveillance and information sharing policies we now face today: in the hands of the good guys, a whisker away from the fascist state (more here) we should always fear; in the hands of the bad guys, however, a better set of ready-made procedures and processes could not be fashioned if one wanted to.

The lesson for the future?  Don’t rely on your love of a charismatic authority or political figure to sway you from your basic principles: whether we’re talking about private involvement in the public sphere or we’re talking about surveillance strategies against terrorist threats, you cannot predict what economic crisis will do to the way people decide to vote.

After all, democracy has shown throughout history its ability to swallow its own tail and vanish entirely from the scene of the crime.

For democracy is not a steady-state theory.

Rather it is quite often a Big Bang of extreme destructiveness.

A policed state which slyly and incongruously slips into a police state simply makes it easier for the bad guys to go ahead and do their badnesses.

And it’d be mightily ironic if – after a decade of warring against terrorism – our own home-grown internal disaffected individuals, our extreme nationalists and their hangers-on, the Breiviks and EDLs and BNPs of this world, were somehow to take control of our democracies with the very tools we had insisted we acquire in order that, as democracies, we could protect ourselves from external attack.

Nov 102011

The hashtag #nov9 was used on Twitter in the days leading up to yesterday’s march in London – a march which involved students who continue to protest the tripling of tuition fees.  I spent most of yesterday working online, though did not follow this hashtag myself.

I did, however, have cause to favourite a handful of tweets which seemed particularly relevant to what appears to have become a Titanic of a country, as we lazily rearrange the green benches of Parliament whilst everything else around us collapses.

These are the tweets in question.  I’ll include the times I received them in square brackets, so you can see why they struck me as so incongruent:

RT @MissEllieMae: Protesters in an impossible catch 22: mask up and get arrested; stay uncovered and get filmed #nov9 < democracy in action [16.47]

Democracy is meant to be disruptive. That’s why the right to demonstrate is an integral part of it. We forget that at our peril. [16.57]

Bedford entrepreneur Lance Haggith is the Prime Minister’s latest #bigsociety award winner bit.ly/stCwIw [17.02]

What a joke our Govt are. Kids are protesting about being priced out of education, yet #hoc debate footballers being allowed to wear poppies [17.03]

And then, last thing at night just before I signed off, we had this one from Fraser Nelson:

@oflynnexpress afraid I am in the minority that wants to save our eu membership, albeit by renegotiating terms then holding referendum. [23.06]

A few of us might argue with the idea of a referendum – but saving EU membership, in the light of Europe’s traumas over the past two centuries, is hardly something anyone should care to disagree with.

I do wonder if the terrain we are entering is not dissimilar to the sandwich of chaos that was eventually the Weimar Republic.

Anyhow, back to the first four tweets.  I bet you can’t guess which one belonged to the Prime Minister’s office.

Or – which is what I really mean to say – I bet you can.

Whilst the majority of the people I follow seemed worried about the attack that police threats, police tactics and an overwhelming police presence may be doing to our concept of democracy, Mr Cameron is most interested in promoting the dead duck of a concept that is the Big Society – a concept I have previously argued is actually designed to exclude.

The truth of the matter is that if modern politicians were a bank, we’d have bailed them out three times already: over the first credit crunch; over MPs’ expenses; and over the ongoing saga that is the Murdochs and the spells they cast – with relatively few exceptions – on all our political class.

We pay them what we pay them – to get it right!  Failure isn’t an option, I’m afraid.  Failure is only an option for those of us who earn what our work is actually worth.  For those who earn far more than they should … well, there is really no excuse.  And allowing light-touch regulation, the expenses issue and the insidious influence of the people who work in tabloids to get as out of hand as they have all got is a clear sign we have corrupt individuals who like to game the system in their very own interests.

Which brings me to this post – which I strongly urge you to read and weep.  Is it true?  The comments below it would seem to indicate it is.

So for these CEOs, who in some cases earn 475 times what an ordinary worker takes home, the option to fail is even less appropriate than in the case of our highly-paid politicos.  And yet, as banks disintegrate and at least one of their leaders has to take time off due to the weight of his onerous responsibilities, they continue to maintain such ratios in the face of all reasonableness.

If the world is really on the edge of total upheaval, why can’t we put aside our combative ways and try and work together?  This would require a change in behaviours, of course – but, as most big companies would like to argue, surely everyone is retrainable …