Archive for the ‘Checks and balances’ Category
“unless we all start to believe in conspiracy theories and that the officials are lying… that behind this there is some kind of secret state which is in league with some dark forces in the United States… there simply is no truth in the claims that the United Kingdom has been involved in #rendition.” – Jack Straw, December 2005
“The idea that in #GCHQ people are sitting working out how to circumvent a UK law with another agency in another country is fanciful. It is nonsense”, William Hague, June 2013
“Guess who’s also on the Murdoch payroll? The Scotland Yard cop who headed up the failed investigation”
From the Columbia Journalism Review
Politico astutely pointed out the other day that Fox News now employs four of the leading Republican presidential candidates: Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, Mike Huckabee, and Rick Santorum.
It’s hardly news that Fox News is more propaganda outlet than news organization. But this ought to be a more troubling development than it seems to have been thus far…
…it’s uncertain how other news organizations can cover the early stages of the presidential race when some of the main GOP contenders are contractually forbidden to appear on any TV network besides Fox.
C-SPAN Political Editor Steve Scully said that when C-SPAN tried to have Palin on for an interview, he was told he had to first get Fox’s permission — which the network, citing her contract, ultimately denied. Producers at NBC, ABC, CBS, CNN and MSNBC all report similar experiences…
Murdoch, at least, is a naturalized American citizen, and who can forget the heart-warming story of why he became one: To get past legal requirements so he could snap up TV stations here.
But I’ve never understood why the UK allows a foreigner like Murdoch to have so much control over its press—he controls some 40 percent of newspaper circulation and has huge influence over television, too…
That News of the World scandal and coverup continues to unravel, and Murdoch’s influence is one of the key stories there. It looks for all the world as if Scotland Yard was so in debt to and/or scared of News Corporation that it wouldn’t investigate the crimes properly—and even helped cover them up.
Guess who’s also on the Murdoch payroll? The Scotland Yard cop who headed up the failed investigation….
Jack of Kent has written a characteristically thoughtful blogpost about this week’s ‘flashmob’ protest outside Carter Ruck’s offices. Here is my response, which I’ve also posted as a comment on the article itself:
Thanks for this post, David. As one of those involved in this week’s Carter Ruck protest I’m happy to debate the wider questions that you rightly point out such tactics raise.
In my view, companies who abuse human rights and/or pose a threat to democracy need to be named and shamed. This would surely include an oil company whose negilence led to 18 deaths and 30,000 injuries, and who then fought tooth and nail to silence media coverage of the issue. But it would also, I believe, include a legal firm who sought to advance their client’s interests by exploiting a demonstrably unjust law in order to suppress the right to freedom of speech. Should such a firm then seek to do the same by using similarly unjust laws to attack the fundamental underpinnings of the liberal democracy in which they exist, it is then time, in my view, for ordinary people to get on the streets and challenge them directly.
Carter Ruck this week sought, on behalf of their client, to use the law to prevent media coverage of Parliamentary proceedings. They then wrote to both the Speaker of the House of Commons, and every MP, in an apparent attempt to stop next week’s debate on freedom of speech. This was not the normal behaviour of a law firm in a healthy liberal democracy. In my view, these were political actions, and they were political actions characteristic of a dictatorial regime, not a free and open society. If a law firm starts playing politics (whether or not they do so on the instructions of a client), I believe that they then become a legitimate target for peaceful political protest.
Many people were killed, tortured or imprisoned to win and defend the democratic rights that we still largely enjoy in this country. These freedoms are now in danger, and our democracy has already been outrageously degraded by the attacks we’ve seen on civil and political rights over the last decade. If we want to remain a largely liberal and democratic society, rather than sliding slowly towards some form of corrupt pseudo-democracy, I believe that we will need to start mobilising political action now against all those now chipping away at our democratic traditions – including, where necessary, law firms.
I don’t believe there is an absolute dividing line between liberal democratic societies and tyrannical ones. A largely liberal democracy may have unjust laws on its statute books, such as the law which led to the prosecution for homosexuality of one of our national heroes, Alan Turing, within living memory of our grandparents’ generation. More recently, it was still possible to be prosecuted in this country for “blasphemy”. Today, someone who writes an entirely truthful article about another living person can be spuriously prosecuted under a libel law which, due to the financial cost of obtaining adequate legal representation, effectively denies many defendants their right to a fair trial.
Where a lawyer chooses to collaborate with the enforcement of an unjust, undemocratic law, they cannot, in my view, insulate themselves from the moral consequences of that choice, even if they are working within a still-largely-democratic society, even if they are acting on the instructions of a client.
I fully agree that cheap shots at the entire legal profession are lazy and unhelpful, but in a way that’s exactly my point. Lawyers are (notwithstanding those cheap shots) human beings. Human beings are moral agents. Moral agents make choices for which they are morally responsible, including choices within their professional lives. Perhaps it’s true that some other lawyers would have done exactly the same as Carter Ruck did this week, but I know that there are many others who would have refused, and would have done so not on legal grounds but on moral ones. In a situation where, as we are now seeing, what is legally acceptable begins to drift away from what is morally right, the role of individual conscience becomes crucially important.
The 98 MPs who tried to cover up their expense claims by exempting themselves from the Freedom of Information Act
In May 2007, 98 MPs voted to exempt themselves from the Freedom of Information Act, with the apparent aim of stopping the public from finding out the details of their Parliamentary expense claims.
The measure was ultimately defeated, and after a long legal battle, the courts last year ordered the publication of the expense claims made by MPs. The government, however, continued to drag its feet until the information was finally (and now famously) leaked to the Telegraph newspaper, amid much wailing and gnashing of teeth from the Parliamentary authorities.
Amid the uproar that the last week of revelations has caused among the wider public, attention has understandably focussed on the worst excesses of the worst offenders – the claims for non-existent mortgages, exorbitant gardening bills, and the famous “moat-cleaning” expense.
But alongside this, it now seems worth taking a closer look at the people who helped create the environment in which this behaviour was able to flourish – and who fought so hard to stop the truth from being exposed.
Interestingly, several of the MPs – such as Elliot Morley, Julie Kirkbride and Tony McNulty – who have now been identified as serial abusers of the Parliamentary expenses system, were also among the 98 MPs who, in May 2007, voted to exempt themselves from the Freedom of Information Act. But there are also many others who, to date, seem to have largely escaped public scrutiny. There’s a detailed summary here by the Campaign for Freedom of Information of the bill in its various stages. From this we can see that:
78 of those who supported the bill are Labour MPs:
Adrian Bailey (West Bromwich West)
Alan Campbell (Tynemouth)
Alun Michael (Cardiff South and Penarth)
Andrew Dismore (Hendon)
Angela C. Smith (Sheffield Hillsborough)
Angela Eagle (Wallasey)
Anne Snelgrove (South Swindon)
Bob Ainsworth (Coventry North East)
Bob Laxton (Derby North)
Brian H. Donohoe (Ayrshire Central)
Caroline Flint (Don Valley)
Claire Ward (Watford)
Clive Betts (Sheffield Attercliffe)
Clive Efford (Eltham)
Colin Burgon (Elmet)
Dari Taylor (Stockton South)
Dave Watts (St Helens North)
David Cairns (Inverclyde)
David Clelland (Tyne Bridge)
David Lammy (Tottenham)
David Marshall (Glasgow East)
David Wright (Telford)
Denis Murphy (Wansbeck)
Desmond Turner (Brighton Kemptown)
Doug Henderson (Newcastle upon Tyne North)
Elliot Morley (Scunthorpe)
Frank Doran (Aberdeen North)
Frank Roy (Motherwell and Wishaw)
Fraser Kemp (Houghton and Washington East)
Gareth Thomas (Harrow West)
George Mudie (Leeds East)
Gillian Merron (Lincoln)
Graham Allen (Nottingham North)
Harry Cohen (Leyton and Wanstead)
Ian McCartney (Makerfield)
Ian Stewart (Eccles)
Ivan Lewis (Bury South)
James Plaskitt (Warwick and Leamington)
Janet Anderson (Rossendale and Darwen)
Jim Dowd (Lewisham West)
Jim Fitzpatrick (Poplar and Canning Town)
Jim Sheridan (Paisley and Renfrewshire North)
Joan Ryan (Enfield North)
John Heppell (Nottingham East)
John McFall (West Dunbartonshire)
John Robertson (Glasgow North West)
John Spellar (Warley)
Jonathan Shaw (Chatham and Aylesford)
Keith Hill (Streatham)
Ken Purchase (Wolverhampton North East)
Kevan Jones (North Durham)
Khalid Mahmood (Birmingham Perry Barr)
Laura Moffatt (Crawley)
Liz Blackman (Erewash)
Malcolm Wicks (Croydon North)
Maria Eagle (Liverpool Garston)
Mark Tami (Alyn and Deeside)
Martin Salter (Reading West)
Martyn Jones (Clwyd South)
Meg Munn (Sheffield Heeley)
Michael Foster (Worcester)
Mike Hall (Weaver Vale)
Nick Brown (Newcastle upon Tyne East and Wallsend)
Parmjit Dhanda (Gloucester)
Phil Woolas (Oldham East and Saddleworth)
Ronnie Campbell (Blyth Valley)
Shona McIsaac (Cleethorpes)
Siôn Simon (Birmingham Erdington)
Stephen Pound (Ealing North)
Steve McCabe (Birmingham Hall Green)
Stuart Bell (Middlesbrough)
Thomas McAvoy (Rutherglen and Hamilton West)
Tom Harris (Glasgow South)
Tom Levitt (High Peak)
Tom Watson (West Bromwich East)
Tony Lloyd (Manchester Central)
Tony McNulty (Harrow East)
Wayne David (Caerphilly)
The remaining 20 are all Conservative:
Andrew Pelling (Croydon Central)
Ann Widdecombe (Maidstone and the Weald)
Ann Winterton (Congleton)
David Maclean (Penrith and the Border)
David Ruffley (Bury St Edmunds)
David Tredinnick (Bosworth)
Greg Knight (East Yorkshire)
James Duddridge (Rochford and Southend East)
John Butterfill (Bournemouth West)
John Randall (Uxbridge)
Julian Lewis (New Forest East)
Julie Kirkbride (Bromsgrove)
Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin)
Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)
Peter Atkinson (Hexham)
Robert Neill (Bromley and Chislehurst)
Simon Burns (West Chelmsford)
Tim Boswell (Daventry)
Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth East)
Strikingly, only 26 of Parliament’s 650 MPs turned up to oppose the bill – 5 Conservatives, 9 Labour, 9 Liberal Democrats, 1 Plaid Cymru MP and the Respect MP George Galloway.
Amid the growing furore over the £93 million of public money that UK MPs claimed last year for various arcane “expenses” – whilst also attempting to block full disclosure of the details – the broadsheet columnists have been coming out in force to defend our poor beleagured politicians.
Writing in the Times, David Aaronovitch suggests that the publishing of Home Secretary Jacqui Smith personal bills – for which she had submitted a public expense claim and which included the cost of two “adult movies” watched by her husband – was “as big a breach of privacy as one can imagine”.
Aaronovitch clearly needs to try imagining a bit harder, and obviously hasn’t been paying attention to what Jacqui Smith’s own department has been up to recently. Sadly, there’s nothing “imaginary” about the sweeping powers that the government has been seeking, to monitor every email sent, every phone call made, and every website visited by every person in the UK – or about cases like that of local journalist Sally Murrer, who was bugged for weeks, then arrested, strip-searched and put on trial on trumped up charges (she was acquitted in November last year after an 18-month ordeal) as part of the government’s vindictive campaign of harrassment against the police whistleblower Mark Kearney, who Murrer happened to be friends with.
Just three days ago, Jacqui Smith was being quoted in the Telegraph (where else?) denouncing those who have raised objections about such government encroachments as “people who take an approach to rights which puts the right of privacy above a pretty fundamental right for us to be safe”.
But now that the privacy of Jacqui Smith and her husband have been compromised – albeit chiefly through their own greed and carelessness – the government is threatening to launch a criminal investigation into how the information was leaked.
Writing in the Guardian, Polly Toynbee insists that “Our politicians are among the cleanest in the world” and warns that “Those who abuse, belittle and encourage popular contempt for MPs should consider that we need more good people in politics”. Toynbee suggests that “the excruciating public humiliation of the home secretary’s husband for watching a couple of porn movies” may deter decent candidates from seeking a political career.
This seems entirely to miss the point. What’s primarily at issue is not that Jacqui Smith’s husband watches pay-per-view porn movies – it’s that he got his wife to make an official claim requesting that the costs of his private habit be reimbursed with public money. If Smith hadn’t submitted her husband’s extracurricular activities as a supposedly legitimate “expense”, then the media would never have found out about them in the first place. Anyone who’d be deterred from going into politics by the fear that their dodgy expense claims may lead to public humiliation would clearly be better off out of it for everybody’s sake.
But the prize for the most slavishly forelock-tugging display of deference to our self-serving political elite must surely go to the historian Geoffrey Alderman, also writing in the Guardian. Jacqui Smith and her husband have done nothing wrong and have nothing to apologise for, he insists, and anyway “the rules governing the reimbursement of MPs’ expenses are very unclear”.
Furthermore, says Geoffrey Alderman, for an assistant of the home secretary (Smith’s husband is paid £40,000 from the public purse to do her admin for her), it “might be argued” that watching pay-per-view porn “is legitimate research”. Pure genius…
Labour elite’s slapdash approach to personal privacy comes back to haunt them as MP expense details rumoured to be in the hands of data thieves…
Following revelations that the UK taxpayer has been helping to fund the Home Secretary’s husband’s porn habit, and former trade minister Nigel Griffiths’ unconventional use of publicly-funded office-space, the government appears to have been dealt further humiliation by rumours that the full, unedited list of MPs expenses has been stolen by data thieves and is being offered for sale to the highest media bidder.
Given the government’s notoriously slapdash approach to everybody else’s personal data, it seems fair enough that information which should never have been deemed confidential in the first place has now escaped into the public domain by similar means. The fact that our engorged mediocrats aren’t even capable of keeping their own dirty secrets secret does seem to raise further questions about the wisdom of giving them an uber-database with all of the UK’s most personal data gathered together in one, easy-to-hack-and-duplicate place.
Barclays Bank gags Guardian newspaper over leaked tax avoidance documents – info still available on Wikileaks
On Monday 16th March 2009, The Guardian newspaper in the United Kingdom published a series of leaked memos from the banking giant Barclays, together with the article:
The next day, these documents were removed from The Guardian web archive, as a result of a court injunction obtained in the middle of the night:
Barclays’ lawyers, Freshfields, worked into the early hours to force the Guardian to remove the documents from the website. They argued that the documents were the property of Barclays and could only have been leaked by someone who acquired them wrongfully and in breach of confidentiality agreements.
The Guardian’s solicitor, Geraldine Proudler, was woken by the judge at 2am and asked to argue the Guardian’s case by telephone. Around 2.31am, Mr Justice Ouseley issued an order for the documents to be removed from the Guardian’s website.
The documents are copies of alleged internal memos from within Barclays Bank. They were sent by an anonymous whistleblower to Vince Cable, Liberal-Democrat shadow chancellor. The documents reveal a number of elaborate international tax avoidance schemes by the SCM (Structured Capital Markets) division of Barclays.
According to these documents, Barclays has been systematically assisting clients to avoid huge amounts of tax they should be liable for across multiple jurisdictions.