Aug 082014

Dan Hodges suggests the following:

There’s only one thing worse then the US being the world’s policeman. And that’s the US not being the world’s policeman.

I’d take issue with the use of the monolithic singular (no state, however useful, is ever that monolithic – nor should be in a modern liberal democracy) and the exclusive gender – policeman (though my linguistic side understands why he’s felt obliged to use the idiomatic phrase this way).  But more importantly, I’d take issue with stuff he’s written previously on quite separate subjects.  This, for example:

Unfortunately, that’s just about all they came up with. Ed Miliband will say: “Clearly the next Labour government will face massive fiscal challenges, including having to cut spending.” But that’s just one of those tick-box phrases he likes to sneak into his tick-box speeches. He has this little throwaway line about cuts, but if anyone actually asks him what cuts he’s contemplating he refuses to answer. That’s because he doesn’t really mean it, and he secretly wants everyone to know he doesn’t really mean it.

Now, I don’t necessarily take issue with the ideas Hodges sardonically communicates – apart from anything else, he does sardonic very well.  But when coupled with today’s tweet, I do object to the underlying assumption that 40,000 Iraqis on the point of being butchered can be policed and rescued – should be policed and rescued – by Big Government and the Big State when the very same Big State and Government must not – is unable to – continue its historically ameliorating business at home in the UK and US.

Especially when the plans of some of Hodges’ fellow travellers seem to include brutal cuts to the aforementioned public sector which will lead to a drop in headcount of forty percent:

The biggest cull of public sector jobs for at least 50 years will see vulnerable parts of the state endure reductions in headcount of up to 40%, Britain’s leading tax and spending thinktank said today.

A report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies found that the reductions planned as part of the coalition’s deficit reduction programme would hit the poorest parts of Britain hardest, and warned they would prove “challenging” for those parts of government bearing the brunt of austerity.

Piling misery upon misery for the most unprotected in our societies.

So let’s try and be a little bit more coherent, shall we?  If Big Government and the Big State are still cool enough ideas to save the developing world from encroaching dictatorship and the cruelty of the backward (though I suspect the motives behind such strategies have more to do with a Western self-interest of wanting to keep political contamination well at bay in distant dirty countries, quite a la Ebola, than a truly pure perception of right and wrong), let us also accept that we in the West – ordinary people who live in Europe, North America, the Antipodes etc – have the very same right to be treated, by our own Big States and Governments, in the humanitarian way those currently suffering in Syria, Iraq, Gaza and Israel also merit and clearly deserve.

Jul 232014

Two bloody awful pieces of rubbish which came my way today.

Rubbish not because they themselves are rubbish.  Rubbish because they just had to be made.

The first is this brilliant website from Open Rights Group.  The video they crowdfunded is below.

It explains quite clearly the idiocy of British government Internet filter policy.

Meanwhile, from the current Kafkaesque world of UK control-freakery we find ourselves off to the US world of Original Sin 2.0.  In such a paranoid environment as the Intercept article portrays, you’re not only dangerous at the age of two but also way after death overtakes you.  And as it becomes for such terrified security professionals so easy to contemplate real-life terrorists assuming the identities of those now dead – those now dead but previously suspected of thought crime when still alive – anyone who ends up shuffling off their mortal coil in these paradigms will remain a potentially violent citizen forever.

And on his tombstone, may RIPP mean “Revolve In Pain and Perpetuity”.

The grand virtue (or disgrace, depending on your point of view) of the Intercept article is to publish the guidelines which determine whether you’re going to be on the list or not.  But since they’re so opaque, self-serving, anti-legible and – ultimately – downright inexplicable, I don’t suppose many of us will be much the wiser.  Except inasmuch as it does become jolly clear from the tenor of the reporting that few people will find it inconceivable they won’t be on the list one fine day.

Actually, I’m not sure if that last sentence means what I meant to say – it comes of reading too much 21st century bollocks.  No matter.  What I would now like to ask of the Intercept and its really cool team is whether it mightn’t petition the US government to start drawing up a list of people who aren’t potential terrorists.  That would be much easier to structure, implement and work with – and presumably wouldn’t require so much funding.  And, for sure, would allow the rest of us to forget the need to oversee the legality of what they’re doing with us.

After all, when the aforementioned concept of inescapable and automatic guilt becomes the state’s modus operandi, who needs anyone to administer the idea that we’re innocent until anything is proven?

Let’s, then, make that two things, the Intercept: first, encourage the American security sector to operate not with a list where to be a human being is, by default, to be dangerous (they’re already doing that) but, rather, to have just a simple couple of pages of those you can trust – citizens you can concentrate your time and energies upholding the Constitution for; and second, over the next couple of weeks (or months, if you prefer), publish some interesting stories about “regular” people – those ordinary souls who are deemed dangerous at two and forever risky after death; souls whose lives have been interfered with, intervened in and generally wrecked as a result of the unacceptably unreasonable inclusion on such wide-ranging lists as we have read today exist.

Jul 182014

I’m a member of Open Rights Group, the Fabians and Labour.  I also remain an associate member of the small trades union Accord.  The latter is more out of sentiment than practicality.  I no longer work in the sector where it operates, but the people who run it treated me well.  The add-on legal and travel services are also good value-for-money factors in my membership.

When I return to Britain after my working holiday here in Spain, I have decided – today – to curtail my membership of both Labour and the Fabians.  I shall continue to pay my dues to ORG.  This open letter to the current UK Home Secretary is the reason why:

Dear Theresa, see you in court

Parliament has a done a terrible thing. They’ve ignored a court judgment and shoved complex law through a legislative mincer in just three days.

But in doing so they won’t have had the final word. You’re already shown them the growing public opposition to mass surveillance. There was incredible action from supporters: 4458 of you wrote to your MPs with even more phoning up on the day of the vote.  Together we helped 49 MPs rebel against the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Bill. It may have passed, but thanks to you they know that we do not agree.

Help us challenge DRIP: Join now

Meanwhile, my own political party was rolled in ways I never expected possible.  And the process that was #DRIP, as described above in ORG’s letter, showed that:

When they’re of a mind, the political class is just that: a class, quite separate from the voters who vote for it. Able to decide anything.

#DRIP, as a process, for me, is just one drop too far.  Politics, if it is anything meaningful in liberal society, is process.  But if the process is no longer liberal, the society is just bald dictatorship.  And that is precisely what we are getting here.  Government diktat in the absence of proper scrutiny:

Tom Watson MP described the process as “democratic banditry, resonant of a rogue state. The people who put this shady deal together should be ashamed.”

The fact is that they are neither ashamed of what they are doing nor dislike the idea of giving other rogue states a lead.  And I know exactly what I am talking about.

Eleven years ago, almost to the day, I was hospitalised for believing the state was tracking me for my political beliefs.  I was hospitalised for a month, informed in their clinical judgement that I would be unable to work for more than two hours unpaid work a week on being released – only to then start, after a month’s poking and prodding, a full twenty-hour shift in a fast-food restaurant in Chester.

What did I believe was happening to me?

  1. My Windows computer was being intervened.
  2. My mobile phone was being hacked.
  3. My landline was being interfered with.
  4. My email was being intercepted.

I was – as a result – terrified, of course; my illness was manifest and real.  But the causes were not so clear, especially in retrospect.

The killer question I was asked at the time (in particular by the psychiatrist who insisted on interviewing me at 5 am in the morning, in the presence of an abusive family member and their doctor friend, but never in consultation with my wife – either before or after) ran as follows:

If all these things are happening to you, what have you done for them to happen?  Why are you important enough for anyone to want to do any of the above?

I now fast-forward to today, to #DRIP’s passing and what it really means.  #DRIP sanctions and makes real for us all what happened to me eleven years ago.  For it’s not just, as Paul Bernal has suggested, the normalising of surveillance worldwide that is so terrible (clearly the case here, it is true; clearly a reality which would have made that killer question, which destroyed my moral resistance at the time, entirely unreasonable).  It’s also the normalising of their absence of shame.  The fact that they don’t care we see them all as so undemocratic; the fact that they don’t care other truly rogue states now fully enjoy the cloak of precedence that #DRIP’s process provides; the fact that the trampling of democracy doesn’t make them bewildered in any way … all of this and so much more is the real and quite terrifying normalisation which is taking place.

Yes.  The example will be repeated.  But I can promise you, for many unimportant people like myself, at a personal level only satisfaction emerges from the shenanigans that is the current British body politic.  What happened to me, what I suffered for and had to make my family suffer too, was happening to you as well I am sure.  It’s just that you didn’t perceive or understand it.

And so now I enjoin you to become an associate member of the paranoid.  Don’t worry.  It won’t mean you’re ill.  It’ll just mean you understand what’s happening.  Whatever we are, do or think in our lives will now be important enough to be tracked, exchanged and intercepted by the state.

For as paranoia, it is manifestly no longer the case.  That is exactly how personal it gets.

Jul 152014

I posted recently, unwisely I suppose, on the Facebooking of the political party I belong to – the Labour Party.  Today, I realise this has extended to the whole British body politic, state, security services and every citizen who lives on our islands.

The Guardian reports the so-called #DRIP lawmaking process thus:

Forty-nine MPs have voted against rushing the government’s emergency surveillance legislation through all its Commons stages in just one day.

A deal between the three major parties, however, secured the fast-track timetable by 436 votes to 49, despite accusations from one Labour MP that the move amounted to “democratic banditry resonant of a rogue state”.

It concludes with the following summary of the powers being rushed through:

The bill requires internet and phone companies to store the communications data generated by phone calls, email, texts and internet use for 12 months and make it accessible to police and security services.

So why do I call this a “state-run Facebook imposed on every UK Internet user”?  Mainly because once you’re a part of Facebook, the most you can do is delete your osmotic public persona – if you’re looking to remove your data from their servers, however, think twice, three times, as many times as you want: it won’t ever be clear whether it’s happened or not.

A similar issue with this #DRIP bill.  (Bill?  How naive of me.  Probably law by now … they’ve had two days, after all, bless ‘em, to get through the complexities of the process.)

In the same way as I’ve never been very clear about what happens to your Facebook data – even on deletion of your account – so I’m not clear about the implications of the conclusion of the Guardian‘s report; and it’s a fact I’m sure is not due to the reporters themselves.

How can I ensure Facebook has removed my data, likes, posts, comments and photos from every single server it owns, when I ask for us to go our separate ways?  I can’t be.

Equally, after the last twelve months of my Internet activity’s been released to the police et al, what happens next month to the first of that last twelve months’ block?  Do the police et al conscientiously remove the first half of a telling email thread from their files because it started thirteen months ago and is now out of my best-by date?  Or do they realise – for the security of the nation, its peoples and paedophile political classes (or not as the case may unjustly be alleged) – that they actually need to hang onto not only thirteen months of my Internet history but, now, as I slowly progress down the evil road they believe I am taking, fourteen, fifteen or even twenty-four long months – whilst they wait for me to make my surely criminal moves?

Really, what I’m asking, much as I’d ask in the case of a data subject’s desire to be permanently removed from Facebook’s servers, is who is possibly going to be able to oversee the correct removal of tens of millions of British citizens’ datasets on a 24/7 rolling basis, week after week, month after month, year in and year out – until the end of civilisation as we know it?  (This latter date being probably July 16th, when #DRIP will clearly be law.)

I suppose if we really cared to do it right, we could solve unemployment overnight.

In the 20th century, they talked about digging holes, burying bags of money – and then proceeding to dig them up again.

In the 21st century, they now may talk about invading privacies, hollowing out voters’ lives – and then proceeding to pay other people bags of futile dosh to ogle the multiple intimacies of the obviously guilty multifarious.

The principle’s the same, of course.  The utility, creativity and imagination required too.

Aug 282013

Just received, in my spam box, the following email from my local MP, Stephen Mosley.  I’ve communicated on a number of occasions, some less unhappy than others – but, in writing at least, I’ve always received a proper and correct response.  This time, however, for some curious reason, it would appear that the aforementioned public servant is producing copy which Google’s algorithms most certainly do not like.  For those of you with a tribal bent, it may amuse you to know that the technology behemoth advises me in that ever-so-warningly red-bannered way:

Be careful with this message.  Similar messages have been used to steal people’s personal information.  Unless you trust the sender, don’t click on links or reply with personal information. [...]

Google blocks Mosley

So Google blocks my local MP – the question which then occurs to me being, why?

Any ideas, anyone?

How about this one for a humdinger?

Maybe Gmail’s decided to revise its full algorithm-set and, in the process, reject all communications from the West’s representatives  – reject them, that is, as being a possible extension of our surveillance state in action?

That’s a joke, by the way.

We can still joke, right?

May 232013

This happened yesterday:

The brutal murder of a serving soldier in Woolwich in broad daylight has shocked the country.

The prime minister has flown back early from France to lead the government’s response to the suspected terrorist attack and security across London barracks has been stepped up.

I’m sure there will, on the back of this awful event, be plenty of calls for the surveillance state to be reinforced.  I say reinforced for two reasons.  Firstly, way back in 2006 the BBC was minded to report in the following manner:

The report’s co-writer Dr David Murakami-Wood told BBC News that, compared to other industrialised Western states, the UK was “the most surveilled country”.

“We have more CCTV cameras and we have looser laws on privacy and data protection,” he said.

“We really do have a society which is premised both on state secrecy and the state not giving up its supposed right to keep information under control while, at the same time, wanting to know as much as it can about us.”

The BBC then added:

The report coincides with the publication by the human rights group Privacy International of figures that suggest Britain is the worst Western democracy at protecting individual privacy.

The two worst countries in the 36-nation survey are Malaysia and China, and Britain is one of the bottom five with “endemic surveillance”.

Referring to the same 2006 marker-in-the-sand, Wikipedia underlines the history:

Examples of fully realised surveillance states are the Soviet Union, and the former East Germany, which had a large network of informers and an advanced technology base in computing & spy-camera technology. (Castells, M. The Rise of the Network Society, 2000)

But they did not have today’s technologies for mass surveillance, such as the use of databases and pattern recognition software to cross-correlate information obtained by wire tapping, including speech recognition and telecommunications traffic analysis, monitoring of financial transactions, automatic number plate recognition, the tracking of the position of mobile telephones, and facial recognition systems and the like which recognise people by their appearance, gait, etc.

More recently, the United Kingdom is seen as a pioneer of mass surveillance. At the end of 2006 it was described by the Surveillance Studies Network as being ‘the most surveilled country’ among the industrialized Western states.[1]

If that was the situation in 2006, just imagine where we might be seven years later.  And yet a surveillance state of the characteristics Britain already clearly has didn’t serve to stop yesterday’s terrible act from being carried out.

Of course, we can’t know either how many other terrible acts have been foiled by the surveillance state I allude to – we do, however, have a pretty good idea of how unliberal the country has become.  Compare and contrast with recent US pronouncements, for example, in the aftermath of the Boston marathon bombings (the bold is mine):

[...] surveillance cameras don’t necessarily deter serious crimes. Boston’s numerous cameras didn’t stop the crime at the Boston Marathon, nor did London’s more extensive network of cameras deter the 2005 subway bombings. Boston’s talented police commissioner, Edward Davis, put it best right after last Monday’s events when he said that despite the city’s extensive security preparations, little short of a “police state” could have stopped the attacks. It is to Davis’ great credit that as police commissioner he didn’t want a police state.

And if you find it in yourself to agree with Davis, it’s not just because we prefer to be liberal – it’s also, simply, because it apparently doesn’t work.

Which brings me to my final point today: is our persistent hankering after precisely what our position during the Cold War fought to bring down something to do with a far deeper – maybe darker – instinct which possesses us?

Is our manifest desire to invest in the devices and apparatuses of surveillance states – even when we are talking about administering democracies – a result of our need to believe everything can be (even must be) controlled in some way or other?

If not by us, then by something at least …

Let’s rewind to Wikipedia’s own pithy definition of the beast:

The surveillance state is a government’s surveillance of large numbers of citizens and visitors. Such widespread surveillance is most usually justified as being necessary to prevent crime or terrorism. [...]

Now let’s look at its initial definition of God:

God is often conceived as the supreme being and principal object of faith.[1] In theism, God is the creator and sustainer of the universe. In deism, God is the creator (but not the sustainer) of the universe. In pantheism, God is the universe itself. Theologians have ascribed a variety of attributes to the many different conceptions of God. Common among these are omniscience (infinite knowledge), omnipotence (unlimited power), omnipresence (present everywhere), omnibenevolence (perfect goodness), divine simplicity, and eternal and necessary existence.

It doesn’t half seem to me that, in our secular desire to recover and perpetuate the concept of the surveillance state from the Stasi-like infrastructures of times supposedly long gone, we are actually looking to recreate the benefits of God for a non-believing age.  The features and attributes do coincide quite dramatically, after all.

Except for one sad difference perhaps: in few ways could we realistically describe that what we are aspiring to is – in any way – even distantly “omnibenevolent”.

The return of what is often understood to be an Old Testament God perhaps?

Is that where we are being driven?

If so, it’s hardly a surveillance state we’re needing to implement, surely: rather, far more urgently, a deity of sorely-missed kindnesses.

Dec 082012

We come back to the subject of legalised tax avoidance, almost as if we were talking about what it must have been like living under Prohibition in the US.  We are so unable to resist the temptation to avoid taxes – especially those of us who command those corporations out there – that we just about appear to be addicts to a game: this is a game we cannot avoid; a challenge we cannot ignore; a process we must implement; a procedure we must action.

Don’t believe me?  Read this detailed report by Reuters, published a couple of days ago, on Amazon’s $2 billion surplus – built up it would seem through plenty of totally legal tax engineering.

Not the most unhappy example, I am sure.  Just one more example, I guess.  But in that $2 billion surplus there are surely many nursing, teaching and lawyerly jobs which have gone down the drain, as our welfare state is trimmed, cut and finally slashed with the excuse that there is no resource left to fund it.

The Spectator, meanwhile, attributes the blame to the politicians who passed the laws which made such addictions legal:

[...] The people power that drove Starbucks to make its announcements should now turn its attention to political power pushing for reform of the whole tax system, not a make-do-and-mend policy where a loophole is sewn up here, and another avoidance scheme darned away there. Fraser outlined what that reform would look like in a recent column, arguing that a flat tax would remove the hiding places for tax dodgers, and remove the incentive to avoid tax, too.

I’m afraid I disagree.  For a publication which tends to find itself on the right of our political spectrum, the Spectator ought surely to be thundering on about the lack of personal responsibility in our systemic failures, instead of blaming the pork-barrel politicians owned to the hilt by their business sponsors and fund-raisers galore.

In my humble opinion, and this perhaps puts me to the right of Fraser Nelson’s own editorial line, it’s not our tax laws which need changing but our immoral addiction to finding ways of getting them round them.  Any and every system will be open to abuse: just take the sexual shenanigans which are unspooling before our very eyes.  You’re not going to tell me that because people abuse hundreds of young girls and boys, we should change the laws to make it more difficult to criminalise.  And yet Nelson does say (see the last link above), in relation to our tax system, that (the bold is mine):

Britain now has a tax code so monstrously complex that no one single person can understand more than a fraction of it. Avoiding tax was always possible in Britain, but for many years the rich did not really do so, and paid up in full. The mistake was to push the tax rate to the point where, the world over, widespread avoidance is the inevitable result. [...]

He then goes on to conclude (again, the bold is mine):

This is why higher tax rates end up with lower tax yields. Architects, software engineers and entrepreneurs will all have taken such decisions to lower their British tax bill, perhaps by leaving the country. [...]

So here we have the moral – or perhaps immoral – underpinning of everything people on the right of politics want to do with the British tax system.  Because rich people avoid it, because they are almost physically addicted to getting round what they should pay, we should reduce the burden on them in order that they may happily cough up more of what they are less liable for.

To return to the sexual shenanigans for a moment, if we applied the same principle it is clear what would happen: a quick feel up the skirt would lead to a simple caution from the friendly neighbourhood bobby and even abuse of a fairly disgraceful kind could mean little more than a small fine.

No.  We cannot run the justice system – our sense-of-justice system – only on the basis of how many people are prepared to easily run with and abide by a law.  And tax is nothing if not a sense-of-justice system.  We aim with our tax laws to ensure that society takes care of everyone’s needs.  Those needs do not disappear simply because the rich find it difficult not to get involved in legal but immoral tax scams.

And we shouldn’t make it easier for them to choose not to do so by taking down the moral barricades that bolster our sense of societal propriety.

Whether you work as a sole trader or you work in the accounting office of a large corporation, every decision you take is steeped in both its legal and moral implications.  That we choose to go with the first and ignore the second is surely more significant – more worrying – than the technical nature of our state.

Where the second continues to be something we refuse to occupy ourselves with, no tinkering, no reform, no widespread re-evaluation of the first will ever take us to any better place.  For a left-wing blogger – and this may sound a strange thing to say – I’m convinced that before we can tinker with the state, we must tinker with the individual.

And in order to do so, we need a new sense-of-justice system in place: a system which conceptualises our key, dearest and nearest principles in one space.  Perhaps a virtual online constitutional space where everyone can input and everyone can access.  Where everyone can be that citizen which democracy should help to create and sustain.

We can’t improve the moral workings of our systems through processes and procedures alone.  There must come a time when how we behave is just as important as what we do.

No doubt about it.

No doubt at all.

Nov 112012

I’ve been wondering on this one for a while now.  It’s clear that the Tories are engaged in a blitzkrieg of terrifying proportions as they fight alongside their American cousins to destroy the infrastructure of public-service delivery here in Britain.  It’s even been argued that they don’t care about cost: that the substitute National Health Service, as operated by private institutions, will spend far more as it does the job worse, both in terms of patient care as well as staff working conditions and pay, than the previous structures ever did.


They’re not interested in cost.

They’re not interested in delivery.

What an earth, then, are they interested in?

I think to be honest the only conclusion we can now reasonably come to is blame, culpability and responsibility in general.

The state has always been criticised quite savagely by the right here in Britain for being generally cumbersome and overly procedural – as well as lacking in responsiveness and customer focus.  Every time a disease has broken out at an NHS hospital or a child has been abused at a state school or  a police force has been accused of ignoring rape victims, we get another case added to an apparent litany of crimes which the overbearing nanny state continues to commit.

How much better would it be, then, for the state to be divided up into small and focussed gobbets of good practice which worked alongside their communities in beautiful and cogent consonance and agreement!

A kind of sociopolitical heaven on earth, don’t you think?

And that’s the way they’re telling us it’ll go.  Except that I’ve realised, today, how that’s not the real intention.

Why do makers and shakers really want to eliminate the state?  Because they’re fed up to their unprofessional back-teeth of having to respond to a public oversight of everything they undemocratically cook up on their cosy sofas behind their carefully closed doors.  Having a relatively concentrated state with relatively clear lines of responsibility makes it evermore difficult, especially in a social-media age of rolling 24-hour Internet judgement, to maintain a proper narrative which serves to win elections.

You can just hear them discussing it in one or other of their top-level strategy meetings:  “How much better then would it be if we could find a way of diluting that responsibility?  Of making it impossible to pin down – not only to the politicians but also the service deliverers themselves?”

And so this is what they’ve been doing, since Tony Blair’s time at least.  In this sense, Thatcher was anything but a diluter of responsibilities.  She shouldered them vigorously, frontally, aggressively.  Not for her this lily-livered hiding-behind-contracting-corporations.

She may have used the state to destroy whole communities – but, for her, the state was a tool that should continue.

These lot, however, are post-Thatcherites in one very important sense: deviating lines of responsibility to make one’s job easier is the least attractive behaviour any person at the top of a hierarchy can demonstrate.  And this is precisely what Cameron & Co are now doing.  Not only do they not care to make the public sector more efficient, they prefer to substitute it with a more expensive private sector which will act as a shield for their continued political survival and protection.

They are getting us to expensively pay for that which will assure their long-term permanence in their chosen fields of endeavour.

The great advantage of the democratic state was that everyone who worked in it used to think that bad deeds would one day come – sooner or later – to very public light.  The great advantage of the private-sector state, however, at least for this most recent crop of post-Thatcherite politicos, is that everyone who works in it just knows that responsibilities will be inevitably hidden.

That’s why it’s called the private sector.  It keeps most of the very bad things it does very much to itself.

Makers and shakers of this nature really only want one thing: not to be blamed for anything at all.

By claiming to reduce the state to its minimum expression, and – at the same time as destroying the legal aid system – proceeding to shift the burden of proof to the patient, parent and crime victim, they’ve discovered a wonderful way of absolving themselves of all direct responsibility.

For they’ve now found the perfect mechanism to achieve this hugely damaging goal.

Once named the taxpayer, we now have the newly 21st century patient, parent and crime victim: as hapless and confused consumer without enforceable rights, they become political cannon fodder to the personal and careerist enrichment of the most evil political class in Western democracy.

The cowardly right.

Apr 012012

If you’ve been paying attention over the past year or so – or even just over the past week or so – you’ll realise British politics is about as bizarre and foolish as it can get.  It’s possible that for politically tribal reasons you will find resistible the idea that New Labour laid the foundations in its Intercept Modernisation Programme – but the fact that on April Fools’ Day this story on the so-called Communications Capabilities Development Programme is published everywhere shows how resistant to irony bureaucracy can become.  The plan – in a nutshell – is for all email, website and general Internet usage in the UK to be accessible in realtime to GCHQ, the government’s electromagnetic listening arm.

A bit of history, then, from Open Rights Group’s wiki on the subject:

In the original Coalition Agreement(12th May 2010), this statement appears on page 11:

“We will end the storage of internet and email records without good reason.”

And Nick Clegg reiterated this in a speech a week later(19th May 2010) when he said:

“We won’t hold your internet and email records when there is just no reason to do so.”

However, on 19th October 2010, hidden in the depths of the government’s Strategic Defence and Security Review was this statement:

“We will introduce a programme to preserve the ability of the security, intelligence and law enforcement agencies to obtain communication data and to intercept communications within the appropriate legal framework … We will put in place the necessary regulations and safeguards to ensure that our response to this technology challenge is compatible with the government’s approach to information storage and civil liberties.”

The revival of the IMP is being spearheaded by the Home Office, which in fact as early as July 2010, planned to revive IMP, as revealed in a largely unnoticed document.

One can only read this as a revival of the Intercept Modernisation Programme. This is despite staunch opposition to the programme by both the Lib Dems and the Tories while they weren’t in government, and their original Coalition Agreement(mentioned above).

GCHQ were revealed to be installing a system for collecting the data required by the IMP in 2009, and are continuing to install this programme despite the suspected opposition of the new coalition. Tories at the time opposed doing this on the sly. Baroness Neville-Jones wanted it to be done only if it was passed as law by Parliament. Baroness Neville-Jones is now the coalition’s security minister and she will have to stick to her guns if the public is to ever see such an important development debated by their elected representatives.

On the 27th October 2010, Liberal Democrat MP for Cambridge Dr Julian Huppert asked the Prime Minister in Prime Minister’s Question Time:

“Can the Prime Minister reassure the House that the Government have no plans to revive Labour’s intercept modernisation programme, whether in name or in function, and that he remains fully committed to the pledge in the coalition agreement to reverse the substantial erosion of civil liberties and to roll back state intrusion?”

The Prime Minister had this to say:

The Prime Minister: “I would argue that we have made good progress on rolling back state intrusion in terms of getting rid of ID cards and in terms of the right to enter a person’s home. We are not considering a central Government database to store all communications information, and we shall be working with the Information Commissioner’s Office on anything we do in that area.”

Notice how he doesn’t say they won’t be extending the requirements for CSPs to retain communications data. Is this another hint that IMP will be adopted by the Coalition, just without the centralised database?

So what is the pattern since the Tory-led Coalition got into power?  First, it’s started by putting into place long-term strategies to both disempower and anger the following groups in society:

  • women
  • the unemployed
  • the disabled
  • the sick
  • those in need of legal support
  • those who live anywhere but Tory heartlands
  • the so-called squeezed middle
  • small businesses
  • evidence-based professionals such as doctors and lawyers
  • scientists
  • teachers
  • pensioners

Meanwhile, it’s kept onside the managing elites in:

  • higher education (eg the tuition fees hike)
  • corporations and those ideologically related to the Coalition itself, including those involved in health and education provision (eg the NHS bill, the free schools agenda, HMRC tax liabilities and so on)

And in general, it’s been sympathetic to the lifestyles and interests of:

  • the rich and wealthy (eg the recently announced 50p to 45p reduction in the top rate of income tax)

Now, after all the above, and building on New Labour security plans from as far back as 2006, it suddenly discovers (or suddenly reveals – not quite the same thing I think you’ll agree) that it needs a ferocious plan of thought control to defend us from … exactly what?

In years past, in Tony Blair’s time for example, we had the War Against Terrorism to conceptually deal with.  Even I gave him the benefit of the doubt whilst it still looked like the situation in Iraq was as he pitched it – though I did find evermore unhappy the company he was keeping.  But that War Against Terrorism, whilst always an ongoing matter of some preoccupation, can hardly be seen as the real justification for what is proposed now.


On a day that David Cameron’s approval ratings go through the floor, the real enemy our state needs to be defended from is that long list I described above of those voters this government has chosen to disempower and anger.

And the real reason it needs to be defended is because whilst New Labour took ten years to reach the levels of hubris and disconnect from reality which led to its necessary downfall, the Coalition has managed to achieve all of this in less than twenty-four months.  In a blink of a political eye, the Coalition has committed the massive and always inevitable error of all governments past and future: identify completely the broader interests of the nation with the individual interests of each and every politician who forms a part of its inner circles.

Whilst seriously enough the voters and their families are losing in droves their trust in this Tory-led Coalition, far more dangerously for the wider population is the fact that the individuals at the top of the Coalition have lost all trust in the voters.

The announcement today that it’s time to potentially put the whole nation under continuous government surveillance is a blanket recognition that we as subjects cannot be trusted to run our own lives in collaboration and consonance with the state.

And I would agree.  It, the state that is, is right to be worried.  Essentially because the state itself, under this Tory-led Coalition, has converted itself into the nightmare New Labour was always accused of aiming to become.

Through Cameron it is now clear that Thatcher’s legacy of a land fit for the small shopkeeper has been finally destroyed.  This is not Thatcher’s doing that we see on our TV and computer screens but Blair’s very own twist on the elitist’s approach to micro-managing ordinary people’s lives.

Through Cameron we see Blair finally breaking away from his inspiration and revealing what another decade of New Labour would have meant.

Through Cameron, this government is in the process of breaking very sacred contracts.   And it knows on the inside far better than the rest of us on the out exactly what measures of control it is going to require.

Meanwhile, as we try and comprehend how matters got to such a point, all we can do is battle to remain sane in the face of such insanity.  There is no political beast more dangerous than he or she that is wounded – especially when they believe such attacks have happened and been effected not just through a rank betrayal from their own side of the House but also well before their longer sell-by date could normally have justified.

We would do well to remember this as we witness the April foolishness that is British politics today.

And as we bemoan the real unravelling of that complex travesty of misguided justice: that once-glorious Blairism of the Noughties.

Oct 272011

Paul has an interesting and apposite post on the difference between money lenders and money changers here.  This paragraph, in relation to the #occupylsx movement outside St Paul’s in London, catches my eye in particular:

The protest movement, I suggest, should steer clear of a campaign against the fundamentals of credit and debt as a way of making the world work.  As David Graeber has shown, such concepts may well be hardwired into human existence, and what we really should be campaigning for is some form of democratic control of banking institutions and the money supply rather than an end to the whole idea of banking itself.

In essence, what Paul is suggesting here is that the “fundamentals of credit and debt” are tools which may be abused – but, equally, can be rewired for the good of all.  This was the same argument I used yesterday in relation to Tim Worstall’s criticism of the Vatican’s supposed naivete in the matter of creating a new world government, when I said:

But surely this is giving up entirely on any chance of improvement.  Politics is but a tool.  It’s the politicians who are currently abusing it – perhaps with our connivance.  If we want to regain its utility, we need structures which tie politicians closer into the people they govern – which ensure the people they govern also become the governors.

We need enablers, not leaders; facilitators, not teachers.  We need to change how we use the tool – not disregard and dispatch it forthwith.

So I think I’m inclined to agree with Paul on this one – however much it may pain.  Credit and debt are tools we will continue to need – whatever society we engineer.


A warning, however.  I quoted from the beginning and end of Craig’s piece yesterday, but didn’t quote from the middle.  The middle said the following:

The economic system in which most of our readers live is little to do with capitalism. The value of goods traded is an insignificant fraction of the flow of funds around the world, much of which relates to either bets on the future values of goods, or bets on the consequences of the vectors of financial flows of which the bets themselves are a part.

The whole edifice is based not on a market for exchange of goods and concrete services, but on an astonishing matrix of state enforced legal instruments creating an extraordinary pile of paper money produced by states, but ultimately worth nothing real. This legal framework was designed to shift the great bulk of this wealth from people who actually work for a living to a small financial elite, most (but not all) of whom create little or nothing real.

If the state compelled everyone to play a pyramid scheme, then you could keep it going for decades. As the system started to reach inevitable collapse, the state moved in with bank bailouts and quantitive easing, both of which simply moved yet more money from ordinary people to the super-rich. In fact the last three years have seen the biggest transfer of resources from poor to rich in human history.

It cannot last, and whether it is Greece or Italy or Spain which is this week’s fashionable media focus is irrelevant. In making these vast levied and leveraged transfers of resources from poor to rich, states have exhausted the capacity of their people to actually pay them. That is true all over Europe, the UK and US. The currency crises are a tiny symptom of a very large impending crash.

Perhaps, then, this is not the end of banking as we loved it but rather – far more disturbingly – the end of the state as we knew it.

Have you thought of that?

Aug 212011

This, today, is happening in England:

[...] Dane’s solicitor Kerry Morgan has criticised the judicial system for pursuing instant justice so much it resulted in an innocent man being locked up.

As well as leading to the following, where this innocent man, as well as having being charged and shamed publicly by the police:

  • has lost his home and all his possessions after being arrested;
  • was labelled a firebug by prison officers and told he would be jailed for life;
  • was locked up for 23 hours a day as a category A and then category B prisoner;
  • suffered panic attacks because of the stress;
  • has five alibis to prove it was not him.

More comment and background can be found at Liberal Conspiracy right now.

It does make me wonder if we are right – when we do so – to complain about the wheels of justice turning as slowly as they sometimes may.  A little more contemplation, a little less reaction, might have avoided all the above – and would’ve, in any case, surely led to a better investigation being carried out.

Perhaps it’s time we reconsidered the responsibilities of the police – law enforcers and crime investigators both.  There is clearly a conflict of interest which shows itself especially in times of crisis and sometimes appears to lead to certain decisions being taken which prejudice the sensible and objective assessment of crime.  If the Guardian‘s recent overview of the crowd-like dynamics of many magistrates wasn’t enough, then this individual case today should be enough to make us think twice.

For when the people act like a mob is precisely when we don’t want the state to follow suit.

Aug 182011

The state is always supposed to be the preserve of the left whilst the right are seen as out-and-out defenders of the individual.  But if we accept the establishment is inevitably a right-wing construct, whether the government in power is nominally progressive or not, it does occur me to think quite otherwise.

It’s recent sentencing policy, as the Mirror describes it, which makes me want to beg to differ.  Whilst the danger to an established order posed by the looting carried out by thousands would seem to indicate that David Cameron’s zero tolerance to crime is a shared response – by many on the right – to the need to uphold the integrity of the rights of victims, I do begin to wonder exactly who that victim is – and whether we couldn’t argue that the state as a whole takes priority here over any other.  The fact that the police and a wider establishment appeared to do everything it could to brush under the carpet the thousands of crimes against the privacy and integrity of individuals – apparently committed by people working for the News of the World newspaper – would suggest something quite different from the line Mr Cameron is currently trying to spin on the subject of protecting us all: that is to say, it would suggest that the right loves the state a jolly lot more than the left has ever been accused of so doing.
If we are happy to leave unchecked for more than four years more than four thousand examples of phone-hacking because they only affected individuals individually (that is to say, they didn’t threaten the oneness of the state), and yet manage to rush through in less than a week more than one thousand convictions in London alone related to the recent rioting and looting, what does this say about our regard for the integrity of the individual?  Individuals’ property – and what this represents – I’ve no doubt has weighed heavily on people’s minds (and quite rightly so).  But individuals’ right to privacy and to the integrity of their communications?  Doesn’t that count for anything any more?  For what we’ve been talking about in the recent phone-hacking scandals is the making of money out of the unhappy privacies of ordinary people.  The invasion, in fact, as painful and psychology hurtful as any looting might be, of personal spaces we surely all have a right to maintain.
If we are willing to intervene and interrupt Blackberry Messenger when and if it is necessary to protect the state from being perceived as too brittle, we should be more than willing to also intervene and interrupt – as well as duly, and in a timely manner, pursue and prosecute – the misdemeanours of those who attack the fabric not of the state as an entity but rather, quite separately, of its component parts – component parts which also serve to generate tapestry and wholeness.

By which, of course, I mean to say individuals’ lives we all experience and which form at an individual and discrete level

Any other response might lead the cynical amongst us to conclude that – even in Coalition Tory-land – the primacy of the state is far more of a priority than the reality and true needs of the individual.