This last week something little-noticed happened which could have very worrying consequences for the future. All local authorities, NHS trusts, schools, universities, further education colleges, and prisons had a new statutory duty imposed on themto prevent extremist radicalisation taking place within their ambit. These new duties will be vastly intrusive. Local authorities will have to make checks on the use of its public buildings, its internet filters, and on any unregulated settings such as school clubs and groups and tuition centres. In case there is any backsliding, government inspectors will check to make sure all necessary actions are taken. And most sinister of all, the target for all this isn’t just extremist behaviour (whatever exactly that means), but ‘non-violent extremism’. Read more “Tories talk of freedom, but authoritarianism is their hallmark” »
David Anderson QC, the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation commissioned by Cameron, has just produced a 373 page report, ‘A Question of Trust’, which, partially at least, restored the fundamental principle of a free society into the toxic atmosphere of MI5/GCHQ’s (and the government’s) obsessive desire to introduce a snoopers’ charter in which the whole population is potentially targeted for algorithmic monitoring, with all the abuse, error and hacking that that entails. He rightly condemns the current Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) as “incomprehensible, undemocratic, unnecessary and intolerable”. But his central proposal is to shift oversight of the surveillance process from the Home Secretary to a new independent body and in particular to pass the power to authorise surveillance away from government to a panel of senior judges. This is long overdue and should be strongly supported. Read more “The spooks are still playing dirty tricks to get their snoopers’ charter: they must be stopped” »
Accountability in Britain has reached a new nadir today. The report that the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPPC) refuses to investigate claims of police criminality at the mass picket at Orgreave during the 1984-5 miners’ strike really stinks. They have already found evidence that police officers assaulted miners and then perverted the course of justice, committing perjury in later prosecutions which still failed. Even senior officers of the South Yorkshire police admit the perjury, but did not want it made public – who are they to block the course of justice? The IPCC in their report today try to dump blame on them for being complicit – so why is the IPCC now seeking to withdraw from the case? Read more “Are the IPPC and the DPP fit for purpose?” »
Tory policy over the last 3 years has been a desperate effort, against all the odds, to introduce a feel-good factor. The sell-off of housing association homes, the hotspot in the Tory manifesto, was the latest attempt, seeking to regain the momentum of Thatcher’s Right to Buy when now the crisis in housing is not about ownership but about lack of house-building. Another piece of chutzpah was Cameron’s seeking to rebrand the Nasty Party as the party of ‘working people’ whilst at the same time virtually prohibiting the capacity of trade unions to defend the living standards of their members by introducing a 50% minimum turnout threshold for strike ballots, a restriction imposed nowhere else in the world. Then he announced that workers on the minimum wage of £6.50 an hour would pay no income tax, provided they worked less than 30 hours a week, whilst ignoring that they have been hit hard by higher VAT and tax credit cuts, let alone the huge £12bn welfare cuts still to come which are bound to hit low-paid workers because more than half of all households in poverty have a member in work. Read more “Tory manifesto like Emmenthal – more holes than cheese” »
Just as the Blairite official infamously emailed on the day of 9/11: “This is a good day to bury bad news stories”, so the Tory government took advantage of the last day of Parliament a fortnight ago to launch a similar device to slip through a deeply unpopular measure they would never have dared put to Parliament when it was in full session. It enables the government itself to decide where nuclear storage dumps will be located however much local inhabitants or pressure groups may object or demonstrate. Previously this was decided on the basis of consent; now it will be settled on the fiat of a government minister. The Tories have taken it upon themselves to bypass local planning procedures in order to enforce the burial of 4.5 million cubic metres of radioactive waste which for 50 years has remained unburied because no local population wanted it near them, even if they were bribed to take it.
The Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution in 1976 made the key judgement that it was ‘morally wrong’ to go on turning out nuclear waste without having first demonstrated that there was a safe mechanism and a safe location to store it. But such was the lobbying power of the nuclear industry and so besotted were MPs and particularly the DTI with nuclear that the failure to find any solution by agreement has now led to dictatorial powers being vested in the hands of the Secretary of State for Energy (ironically, the current incumbent, Ed Davey, is a LibDem whose party are supposed to be against nuclear power). The way this was pushed through Parliament was flagrantly underhand: MPs who had not already departed to their constituencies were asked in an unusual paper ballot to pass a short statutory instrument which, innocently, merely adds nuclear waste storage to the list of nationally significant infrastructure projects, without explaining the significance of this.
The alternative to ramming nuclear dumps down the nation’s throat is of course to speed up the dissemination of renewable energy. But the Tory party in particular, as well as too many Labour MPs, remain strongly attached to nuclear irrespective of the storage problems. Perhaps the new law overriding local opposition will itself generate a new level of resistance, as fracking has, which is politically untenable. Significantly Radiation-Free Lakeland stopped Copeland borough council from setting up a nuclear dump near Sellafield on the grounds that there was no evidence that deep storage was safe and that the Cumbrian geology was unsuitable compared to, say, East Anglia (but that of course is strong Tory territory). Maybe also it will make a difference when people realise that storing nuclear waster costs taxpayers £2bn a year: when did we ever agree to that?
No section of the population has suffered worse abuses from the government over the last 5 years than disabled people – those who are least able to bear it. They are subject to assessments about their capability to work, enforced by Atos at the behest of the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP), which in thousands of cases grotesquely ignore the patent inability of many severely disabled people who cannot conceivably find work in their current circumstances.
They can then be deprived of all benefit income for at least 4 weeks (and for 3 months the second time round) and thus made destitute if they have been late for appointments or are considered by Atos/DWP not to be making enough job searches or for what are clearly trivial infringements of draconian DWP rules. In many such cases claimants do not understand why they’ve been penalised. If as a result of being deprived of all income they experience severe financial hardship, to the extent of being unable to feed themselves or their families or to pay the rent, they then claim hardship payments, they are told in all but a very few cases that they don’t qualify. So what should be done? Read more “Labour should make clear rules for disability benefits will be radically reformed” »
The security services are getting desperate. Over the last 4 years they, and their political figurehead May, have tried time and time again to push mass surveillance through Parliament. Whenever a security scare arises or a trial of alleged terrorists or belated arrests over a drugs scandal, the cry is always foisted on the public that what we need is a comprehensive snoopers’ charter which will record all the communications of all the citizens in the UK. No mention of the fact that they have already been doing this for over a decade through GCHQ’s Tempora and Bullrun programmes as Snowden revealed, and what they desperately want now is to legitimize their illegal activities. No mention that they already infiltrating our smartphones via the Dreamy Smurf programme which can turn them on even when we’ve switched them off. No mention that Nosey Smurf can turn on the microphone in a mobile remotely to listen in to our conversations, nor of Tracker Smurf which can track our location in real time. Read more “Despite Snowden May won’t take no for any answer over mass surveillance” »
It has been said that Grayling’s inveighing against the European Court of Human Rights is to spike UKIP’s guns in denouncing the EU. It is much more likely to be spurred on by another Tory personality trait – the unyielding demand for control to mould everything in their own image. They concede greater devolution to Scotland, but only at the expense of neutering Scottish MPs at Westminster to secure their own semi-permanent dominance in England. They are prepared (or at least some of them) to tolerate the EU exclusively as a trading bloc, but only on condition of junking the social, environmental and labour standards that go with it. They’ll put up grudgingly with trade unions, but only so long as they have little or no power to be effective. They want charities and voluntary groups to blossom in the Big Society, but then use the Lobbying Act to try to choke them off from having any political influence. They pretend to be champions of liberty, but then keep trying to push through the intelligence-gathering Snoopers Act to hoover up all the communications of every single citizen. And now they want to exit the ECHR and become the only European state except Belarus to dump this fundamental statement of human rights, so that they can re-write their own version to suit their own prejudices, for example to dispense with any rights for trade unionists. Read more “Tory extremists go for broke over ECHR” »
Osborne’s latest diatribe at an Institute of Directors meeting against the ‘anti-business views’ of charities, pressure groups and trade unions (he would no doubt include the churches too, but daren’t risk publicly attacking them) is yet another sign of this Tory government’s determination to suppress criticism and squeeze out dissent to ensure the paramountcy of the market beyond all other considerations. He appealed to company bosses to ‘put their head above the parapet’ to argue for ‘a country that is for business, for enterprise, for the free market’ – not for fairness, equal opportunity, public services, accountability of power, or social justice. Osborne’s sole objective is to consolidate a fundamentalist market system, dominated of course by the extremely narrow elitist group he was addressing, with all other interests marginalized. It’s the same Tory allergy to criticism that has provoked Grayling’s demand to limit political and civil rights by abandoning the ECHR, Cameron’s demand to restrict strikes to a 50% voting threshold of all those eligible to vote (a requirement that would disqualify all MPs if applied to parliamentary elections), May’s demand to override privacy by snooping on the communications of all citizens, the disgraced Newmark’s insulting demand that charities ‘stick to their knitting’, among many other examples. Read more “Osborne’s anti-business jibe is a cover for eliminating all dissent” »