Jun 292014
 
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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?


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Aug 252013
 
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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.


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May 152013
 
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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?


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Apr 282013
 
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This is what’s happening to Legal Aid.  Essentially, citizen access to due legal process is being dramatically reduced and gamed in favour of people and organisations with loads of dosh.

This is what’s happening to the NHS.  Essentially, patient access to due medical process and the right to doctor-patient privacy is being dramatically controlled and gamed in favour of people and organisations with lots of power.

This is what’s happening to our police.  Essentially, the subjects of this green and pleasant land are becoming just another monetised calculation in the deep pockets of transnational law-and-disorder.

This is what’s happening to our education system.  Essentially, the students and teachers of England are, both, becoming part of a secretive and overbearing experiment to change the ideological bent of society in the future.

And this is what’s happening to our social cohesion.  Essentially, the government – having failed in its attempt to impose a full quiver of mean-tested benefits through its attacks on the disadvantaged – now aims to shame the elderly well-off into giving up their rights. Attempting once again, this time at the other end of the spectrum, to achieve the aforementioned objective.

Essentially, old against young; rich against poor; sick against healthy … people like Iain Duncan Smith playing their favourite game of bloody divide and rule.

Essentially, what’s happening is that legal rights, health, policing, education and the ability of our society to band together are all being pulverised by the monetising ideology of those who run the world: those who have the time, energy, knowledge and resources to fill in forms, understand documents and read executive summaries.

Which ain’t going to be you or me.  Which ain’t going to be any of those who struggle in evermore precarious lifestyles to get to the end of the month.

Essentially, what’s happening is that our blessed unwritten constitution is being radically rewritten in the most underhand of ways.  No consultation.  No public recognition of their aims.  No voter awareness that the law, patient care, justice, learning and the socialising nature of humanity are being progressively re-engineered to fit “one best way” only.

To fit just one way.

Quite covertly, these people have analysed every significant centre of human liberation, of equal opportunity and of citizen empowerment which we’ve managed to fashion in the last sixty years.

And having done so, they’ve worked out how to dismantle each and every brick which made up those walls that served to protect us so – that served to protect us from the wolves.

The wolves that have never left the doors of poverty.

The wolves that now await each and every one of us.

This is a revolution conducted by a group of people who have burrowed into the very innards of the establishment.  They have turned it inside out as a hedonist may pick away at the meat of a lobster.  Rather pink and expensively pursued by the money-mad, this is the call to independence of the corporates.

Independence of ordinary people; independence of ordinary lawyers; independence of ordinary police officers; independence of ordinary health workers; independence of ordinary educationalists … independence, that is to say, of the general desire that societies have to work together.

Sounds a bit mad of me to suggest that this might be the case?  In truth, how else can we describe it?  If someone takes over your legal, health, police and education systems – as well as attempting to detonate the ability of a people to defend themselves judiciously as one – what could we call it if not a call for someone’s savage breaking away?

A breaking away, if you like, from all that England and the United Kingdom used to mean.

No wonder some Scots are burning to escape.

Who wouldn’t want to leave such a sorry state of constitutional hijack?


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Jan 302013
 
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We had this headline a couple of weeks back:

Tom Winsor says outsiders will ‘enrich’ the police service

By “outsiders” it seemed, at the time, that he meant those who were not primarily police officers.  In their wide-ranging efforts to de-professionalise our society – and at the same time rid the hold such evidence-based individuals apparently have over the same – it looked like this government was now setting its attack dogs on the police as they looked to apply to allegedly hidebound practice the synergy and synchronicity of other ways of seeing.  Just one more profession in a long line already under fire: lawyers, doctors, nurses, teachers … well, the list could be as long as you wanted it to be – as long as it didn’t include politicians themselves.

Today, however, we have a truly pleasing development.  The outsiders Tom Winsor was describing weren’t just other professions: they were – actually – people from abroad.  Yes!  It’s official!!!  The Tory Party comes out in favour of immigration:

Senior officers from overseas will be able to run police forces in England and Wales for the first time, under a government overhaul of recruitment.

Outsiders will be able to join forces as superintendents and recruits can be fast-tracked to inspectors.

Police Minister Damian Green said the service would benefit from a wider talent pool.

In favour indeed, as I say, of an immigration of the most blatant kind.  Right to the heart of the law and order of our state, no less.  Foreigners to be in charge of how we weave the very tapestry of the English and Welsh way of doing things.

Well, sort of anyway.

A couple of caveats, as always with this government.  First, no nasty European-types will be allowed to sully our oppressive instincts, as the Home Office only plans:

  • Opening up chief constable roles to senior officers from countries such as Canada, the US, Australia and New Zealand

We really wouldn’t want untrustworthy horsemeat-eating individuals anywhere near our command-and-control infrastructures, now would we?  Who, after all, could trust a Frenchie with our tasers, rubber bullets and CS gas?

Second, even now, even after all the above proposals have come to light, not quite all immigration is as welcome as it might be.  This, for example, also published today, on the government’s initially wizard wheeze to selfishly cream off entrepreneurial talent from other – perhaps less advantaged – countries where you might think such characters might be just as usefully needed:

Immigration rules intended to encourage entrepreneurs to settle in the UK are being abused and need to be tightened, a minister has said.

Immigration minister Mark Harper said a “meaningful assessment of the credibility” of immigrants claiming to be entrepreneurs would be introduced.

Fake businesses were being created and funds recycled to provide evidence of entrepreneurial activity, he said.

“Legitimate applicants” would not be deterred, he predicted.

Hmm.  Legitimate applicants I hear you say?

One occasion, in fact, where Cameron got it right.

So why is his government so all over the place on this surely self-evident issue?  Of course crossing frontiers and boundaries is good for the countries where this happens.  Of course the sparks that cultural dissonance generates lead to far more creative soups of productive activity.  Of course the good that globalisation can mean will only come out of exchanges of opinions and viewpoints amongst our evermore sclerotic specialisations.

What I really can’t understand, then, being as the Tories claim to be the party of those who wish to get on, is why they aren’t more consistently in favour of immigration as a grassroots process that benefits practically everyone who could participate in its primarily constructive embrace.

Which kind of football team would you really like?  Cherry-picking believers in obscenely buying in top-class players like our very own Manchester City?  Or youth-academy stalwarts investing in the long-term future of a Barcelona?

The kind of place, in fact, where foreigners are welcomed with open arms – and yet are also generously combined with carefully nurtured homegrown talent.

I know which I’d prefer.

The question is: does Cameron’s Tory Party?


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Dec 252012
 
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How do traditional police forces decide how to police?  What are the processes they follow?  Strange things certainly seem to be happening here in the UK.

Some posts ago I reported on the puzzling case of Andrew Mitchell.  Channel 4’s Michael Crick seemed to have positively proved that the #plebgate scandal was far more complex than originally seemed to be the case.  Others, more recently, have cast doubts on Mr Mitchell’s revision of events and the proof less-than-positive he has supposedly presented.

Myself, I really don’t know where the truth lies in this particular case.  All I do know is that such claims and counter-claims are becoming par for the course in the environment that interfaces social media with more traditional news-gathering.  If I didn’t know better, I’d think someone – or something – was deliberately trying to feed amateur communicators the world over with contradictory information designed to whisk out from beneath them any and all desires to fix and determine reality.

Essentially, to push control of reality-editing (more here) back into the hands of the professionals.  Whoever those professionals might be.

*

It’s getting so difficult now that we don’t just distrust our politicians – we’re beginning to even distrust those who would manage the state on our politicians’ behalf.  That is to say, the police forces I mention at the top of this post.  There was a time, I think, when the relationship between government and police was as tight as it could be.  Thatcher’s time for example?  I think so.  And look what we got (more here).  Yes.  Maybe the outlines of the state were calmer than they might have been – but significant abuse of power seems to have taken place with such a close relationship.

Hillsborough and Orgreave being just two manifest examples.  Perhaps adding broadly to the mix those blind eyes so cruelly turned to widespread paedophilia and sex abuse.

Or not as the case may be.

Only the future can confirm where our pasts really lay.  And even then there will be those who defend the indefensible.

Back to my original question.  How do those who police our societies decide which general directions to take?  The above histories would seem to indicate that there is plenty of room for political intervention – whether charismatically coaxing or directly deliberate.  A recent case from India only serves to underline what can happen when the guardians no longer guard honestly.  Whilst the Times of India headlines its story today as “Cops begin to pay the price for anger over rape”, Russia Today reports that the hacker group Anonymous has decided to take down the Delhi police website in protest.

It would seem that when law-enforcement agencies lose touch with their prime mission, other forces will eventually – perhaps systemically – kick in (more here).   Whether these be lynch mobs furious that those they should trust laugh in their faces or hacktivists who use what appears to be a certain crowdsourced common sense to determine how to act, in reality there would seem to be little difference from Thatcher’s apparently close compact with the security forces in the processes thus latterly observed.

Yes.  The justice system is there to offer guidance and shape – but where was the justice system in the case of Jimmy Savile?  Where was the justice system when Milly Dowler and the phone-hacking scandals refused to unravel themselves?  Where was the justice system in the above-mentioned pain of Orgreave and Hillsborough?

Whenever, in fact, did justice and the system we use to administer it ever properly or entirely coincide enough for us not to distrust its operation?

So much of what our guardians have done – and surely still do – seems to be determined by conversations held behind closed doors, in well-furnished rooms and on many and various club-ridden understandings.  Democracy is hardly their namesake; egalitarian representation hardly their objective.

Is, then, a lynch mob of furious offline thousands or a thought mob of clever online computer users – citizens, both, spending their time interpreting what our societies want in such ways as I have already described – too radically a different set of processes from what our most sacred institutions have done, and will do in their inimitably sordid ways, from put-upon and surly generation to generation?

Really what I’m suggesting here is that perhaps the solution in the future won’t lie in politicising the police – and the security forces more generally – with top-down figureheads such as these recently miserable police commissioners but, rather, by giving a direct and open space to ordinary citizens in order that they might participate in the crowdsourcing of that societal common sense I have alluded to earlier on.

If we could but sensibly examine how Anonymous reaches its decisions to attack – and replicate its often sharp sense of right and wrong within the framework of a Western democratic state where the rule of law operates for all – we might discover a new way of policing and administering justice.

A way which could protect us all from the abuse of power that being a guardian of the guardians inevitably engenders.

Perhaps we are already part of the way to having achieved it.

Perhaps this is what a free and open Internet is all about.

Perhaps this is why so many governments seem to be against it.

The crowdsourcing of common sense – and, as a result, justice itself – by the anonymous masses.


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Dec 182012
 
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This report from Channel 4 on the #plebgate affair throws up another video worth your time.  Watch it first.


http://www.channel4.com/news/andrew-mitchell-plebgate-police-cctv-downing-street

*

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.


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Nov 252012
 
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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?


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Nov 182012
 
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This tweet just flitted past my eyes:

RT @SophieBryce Yvette Cooper totally right to say we shouldn’t read that much into a vote with such a low turnout. #bbcsp

I don’t think I agree.  I assume they’re talking about the Police and Crime Commissioner elections.  In this case, the Daily Mail – as quoted by the BBC – would seem to have got it about right:

The Daily Mail describes the elections as a day of apathy at the polls and a day of political bloodbaths for the three major parties, a dark day for democracy and a crushing rebuke to Britain’s political class.

To be honest, if Yvette Cooper does seriously think we shouldn’t read too much into a vote with such a low turnout, then she’s on the point of losing her erstwhile honed and sharp political touch.

That an election which apparently cost the taxpayer a hundred million quid should have generated such a resounding lack of interest surely does require us to read quite a lot into it: not only into what happened but also into what didn’t.

Personally, I’ve always been in two minds about what’s been touted by its proponents as a process which would increase public oversight over our policing.  That such oversight is needed is absolutely clear: phone-hacking, Hillsborough, Orgreave and the most recent paedophile and sex abuse scandals just show us how operational decisions can go astray when the “danger” of the light of democratic examination is kept well away.  But I’m really not sure that concentrating such oversight in yet another “elected” and potentially populist public figure of demagogue-like instincts is precisely the best way to go.

We need more democracy but not more personality politics, and I’m afraid what the PCC elections appear to be delivering – to a populace which clearly doesn’t care for it – is rather more of the latter and rather less of the former.

This election is clearly an example of pathetic politics: a politics which hasn’t known how to communicate with its voters, hasn’t known why it should communicate with its voters and doesn’t care too much whether its voters voted or not.  In truth, these PCC elections are a perfect definition of Coalition politics.

We  half-voted for them in 2010 – and they’ve now gone and transmuted a once vibrant and discursive body politic into a cadaver of banal promises and underhand machinations.

The turnout, financial cost and degree of acceptance from the public all define, as never before, what Cameron & Co have failed to deliver. This is a paradigm for a group of political leaders who see politics not as a public good which needs to be tended to but, rather, an aggressive tool to be used in order that they may remain in a job.

Remain in a job whilst so many others lose theirs.

So bright ideas, maybe.

But implementation, a big fat zero.


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Nov 152012
 
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Today, we have the opportunity to vote.  I’ll be voting for our Labour candidate in the Police and Crime Commissioner’s election.  I don’t know much about the role and I’m not sure many do.  Though I did tweet last night the following thought:

How can you be a police *and* crime commissioner? Surely oversight of one precludes involvement in the other. Should be two separate people.

It does seem to me that the whole role itself is fatally compromised from the beginning.

And if you think this means the vote today isn’t important, I’d refer you back to a post I wrote back in June on the experience other countries have had of different ways of managing crime control.  It’s pretty horrifying, I have to say.

Anyhow, just so that you know – those of us who live in Cheshire – this excerpt from an email I received from 38 Degrees yesterday gave the responses to a number of key questions of all the candidates up for the job.  Firstly, 38 Degrees’ introduction to their own very focussed interests:

Here’s what the Cheshire candidates said to 38 Degrees members about privatisation. Not all of them have given a clear answer about privatisation, some have made a distinction between “back office” and “frontline” privatisation. Others have said they won’t privatise but may consider outsourcing – having a private company take over some parts of the work that police forces do.

Now the candidates’ replies to some relevant questions:

Ainsley Arnold (LibDems):

I am firmly committed to policing being undertaken by Police Officers.

The Police and Crime Commissioner is replacing the police authority and it will be that person who will formulate the policing plan and hold the Chief Constable to account over policing performance in Cheshire and set the budget.

Companies like G4S have demonstrated that they are incapable of running of services efficiently, so I would strongly resist any initiative that I considered would be to the detriment of Cheshire Policing.

To answer your final question I have no connection with any company that would be interested in police contracts.

As a past Vice Chairman of the Police Authority I am acutely aware of the excellent work our police officers do in keeping Cheshire a safe place for us all to live, and if elected I want to ensure that our police officers are fully supported in their roles.

John Dwyer (Conservatives):

No response forwared to office

John Stockton (Labour):

I will not be allowing the further expansion of private sector contracts in Cheshire Police (currently 9% of budget is spent in private sector – I will be looking to return these contracts to the public or voluntary sector, where I can). I will not let companies like G4S become involved in Cheshire policing. I have no connection to any private sector companies interested in police contracts.

Louise Bours (UKIP):

No candidate can make ‘promises’ regarding budgetary commitments, if they did they would be disingenuous – this is a new role, completely uncharted waters, the entire scope of the Commissioner will only be revealed to the successful candidate, however, considering the recent Olympics fiasco created by G4S, I would be amazed if anyone considered privatizing any aspect of the police service. I believe G4S lost several prison contracts just yesterday.

I can confirm that neither I nor any members of my family, have any connection to any kind of company who would seek tender for any service already provided by the constabular

Sarah Flannery (Independent):

1. Privatisation of Cheshire police services.

I don’t think that private sector expertise, in and of itself, is negative. In some instances such as technology it makes sense to look at the best that is available and utilise it where there are clear benefits for public safety. There are also many examples I can think of, such as victim support, where commissioning services from outside the police service could be of benefit.

That said, I am implacably opposed to privatisation by stealth. I believe in our public services. I want to support their development, their value for money, and our confidence in their ability to deliver successful delivery of results.

So my first response will always be to consider how they can evolve and develop, using private/community/voluntary/third sector involvement only where I believe it can accelerate best practice.

In those instances I would make the commissioning process as clear and transparent as possible and seek to commission any such work or services from within Cheshire if possible to benefit the local economy and community cohesion.

I can also promise that I will never allow profitability to compromise public safety.

2. Will you allow companies such as G4S to be involved in running Cheshire police?

My remit as PCC is to be democratically responsible for the strategic direction of the Cheshire Police force. In all of my campaigning, I have not witnessed any desire that companies such as G4S be involved and, as the voice of the people, I will respect the wishes of the people. The Chief Constable retains responsibility for all operational running of the Cheshire Police force.

3 Do you have any connection to companies which may be interested in police contracts?

No, neither I nor any members of my family have ever had any connection to companies that have, or may have, an interest in police contracts.

It’s notable, I think, given the current anti-democratic climate of this government, that the Tory candidate couldn’t find the time to reply.

Come to your own conclusions.  I’ve come to mine.  And don’t vote in these elections on the basis of giving the Coalition a kicking.  That would hardly be in the democratic spirit we should be entertaining.

Though it might make some of us feel less unhappy at the end of the count.


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Nov 102012
 
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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.


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Sep 212012
 
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This morning, the big story was about a Tory toff swearing at the police for acting like plebs (translation: for doing their jobs) (I reserve the right to allegedly use the word toff, by the way, precisely because the toff in question allegedly used the word pleb).  As the BBC‘s Nick Robinson points out, the sequence of events was thus:

That the new Conservative Chief Whip, Andrew Mitchell, lost his temper with a member of Scotland Yard’s Diplomatic Protection Group, is not in dispute. What is disputed is what he said.

The officer’s Police Federation representative has confirmed his account of the row – first reported in The Sun: “Best you learn your f—ing place. You don’t run this f— government”

He is also said to have added another politically toxic four letter word – calling the officer a “pleb.”

Mr Mitchell insists he did not use any of the offending words although he has now apologised to the officer for failing to” treat the police with the respect they deserve”.

Now before we proceed, let’s examine that word “pleb”.  Wikipedia says this:

The plebs were the general body of free land-owning Roman citizens (as distinguished from slaves and the capite censi) in Ancient Rome. They were the non-aristocratic class of Rome, and consisted of freed people, shopkeepers, crafts people, skilled or unskilled workers and farmers[1]. Members of the plebs were also distinct from the higher order of the patricians. A member of the plebs was known as a plebeian (play/plɨˈbən/Latinplebeius). This term is used today to refer to one who is or appears to be of the middle or lower order; however, in Rome plebeians could become quite wealthy and influential.

Curious how being a free person, shopkeeper, crafts person, skilled or unskilled worker or farmer could morph itself – in what we thought was a meritocracy, at least of sorts – into an insult of such awfully class-ridden proportions.

Anyhow, from what I saw on Channel 4’s main news programme this evening, the police would appear to be sticking by their version of events.  Which leads one to wonder if Mr Mitchell, an influential Tory figure, has actually lied at some point in the proceedings – despite his apology for failing to “treat the police with the respect they deserve”.

If Mr Mitchell did indeed say what it is alleged he said, I am moved to ask the following question: assuming Mr Mitchell told even a small porkie when he initially claimed he didn’t use the vocabulary he was accused of using, was he acting out of a desire to attack or defend?  Was it hubris that motivated him – or more simply shame? Was it a mechanism of fight or flight?

More widely, too, when Cameron & Co pull the wool over our eyes, as I firmly believe they are doing every day of the week, should we feel angry at them for the aggression they are committing or sorry for them for the bind that the real world of shabby government is now placing them in?

That is to say, are they running cruel circles around us – or are events beginning to encircle them?

*

One final thought.  If people like Mitchell, Cameron and Osborne are finding the weight of government so heavy as to make them fall into the casual habit of snapping aggressively at every symbol of an order which continues to stubbornly resist their charms (think of the lawyers, the doctors and now the police), only then to tell tall tales about what really happened, just imagine what they might be saying – or not saying – about the stuff they manage, even now, to keep hidden behind closed doors.

As I tweeted earlier in the day:

Govt reminds me of bit of Hitler: at trickiest time in its war against English, it sure knows how to alienate on all fronts. #historylesson


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Sep 142012
 
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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.


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Sep 142012
 
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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?


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Sep 142012
 
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Yes, I know.  It’s pretty hackneyed to say so.  It’s a cliché – yet, even so, a truth.

Is that why publishing empires like Murdoch’s have grown to such a size?  He has, after all, specialised in giving people what they allegedly want.  And perhaps, for some decades, what people have wanted is precisely not the truth.  The truth consists in the following:

  1. Those in charge will always remain in charge.
  2. Those in charge are not those best suited to rule.
  3. Those in charge will always try and make your life more miserable.
  4. Those in charge are there to win every bloody battle.
  5. Those in charge are there to win every bloodless battle.
  6. Those in charge are bloody, full stop.
  7. Those in charge are greedy and money-grabbing.
  8. Those in charge are always lying.
  9. Those in charge feather their nests at our expense.
  10. Those in charge are permanent cuckoos in the nests of democracy.

Mind you, one truth that Murdoch does sell runs as follows:

  1. Given the chance, we’d all love to be like those in charge.

Or so, at least, I used to believe.  But I do truly think things are changing.  My last post kind of reaches, in a nakedly rambling sort of way, a quite precise conclusion:

I don’t know about the civilisation you live in – but it seems to me that something really dirty is about to unspool out of the civilisation I habitually inhabit.

It’s probably a consequence of all that social media honesty.  If you start doing it for fun in your everyday life, how can you avoid not ending up doing it for real in your work?  We’re all, little by little, acquiring whistleblowing instincts, aren’t we?  Even those people in the middle levels of organisations, who generally find their job is to filter away reality from both the public and workforce’s gaze.

Who said Facebook and Twitter couldn’t conquer the world?  Maybe what’s really happening here is that these environments are actually retraining us all in the twin, unassailable and universal virtues of honesty and good faith!

With truth becoming a natural instinct again, perhaps there really is a chance for hope on the horizon.

Perhaps we are seeing a changing of the guard in the publishing world.  Murdoch’s penchant for avoiding the truth in his papers, that hackneyed clichéd boring truth which no wage slave on a daily basis would be able to survive, is being undermined by the amateur realities we generally honestly transmit in our social media communications.  And even when you avoid your truth in such communications, it’s eventually clear to the gathered audience what you’re really about – as well as where that truth is to be found.  So whether you tell the truth or not, the multi-directional nature of social media makes it impossible to convincingly sustain for any length of time a posture which does not approximate to reality.

Think of the tabloid empires throughout history and how they managed to support establishment inexactitudes.  Think of phonehacking and the police; think of certain MPs’ outrageous privileges; think of Hillsborough and maybe the miners too; think of Iraq and other points of intellectually brutalised conflict, wiped out in a tide of impositional politics.

The age of editing reality – without a productive and immediate comeback from those who might know differently – is coming to an end.

In a sense, therefore, so is traditional newspaper publishing.

The future lies once more in the hackneyed and clichéd realities that fairly paint our world as it actually is – instead of as the powerful would have it be shaped.

Thank goodness it’s Friday, eh?  Thank goodness it’s Friday.


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Sep 122012
 
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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.


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