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DEMOCRACY WATCH - archive

2004

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Mikhail Gorbachev said, "The most puzzling development in politics during the last decade is the apparent determination of Western European leaders to re-create the Soviet Union in Western Europe"

"The more corrupt the state, the more numerous the laws." -- Tacitus (A.D. c.56-c.115)

Transcript: John Humphrys and Tony Blair. Sept 29 2004 Extract:

" ..Look. - in the end with this thing, I totally understand why people have a very strong view on it and, you know, you're entitled to have a view and everyone is entitled to have a view. Just understand why I took this decision. I took the decision - I, you know, as I said yesterday - I'm as fallible as anybody else, I may be wrong in it, but I don't believe I'm wrong..."


Feb 23 2005 ~ Labour backbencher Bob Marshall-Andrews has declared the Prevention of Terrorism Bill " the greatest attack on the nation's liberty in three centuries."

February 2005 ~A spokesman for Amnesty International has said: "Just as the internet is a tool for freedom, so it is being used as an excuse for repression"

February 2005 ~ Conspiring in torture, betraying our freedom. Charles Clarke is a disaster

February 2005 ~ How even the Chief Scientific Adviser was gagged by Number 10

February 2005 ~Sir Alistair Graham: 'Tony Blair and the Government are open to the charge they want to control everything'

6/7 February 2005 ~ “What is he really saying? Provided somebody raises the words ‘national security’ you can do anything to anyone? But is that not exactly the same that any right wing dictatorship has ever said?"

6 February 2005 ~ Sir Humphrey's top tips

4 February 2005 ~ ID cards 'could fall foul of human rights law'

2 February 2005 ~ Government attacked for 'hypocritical' attitude to Freedom of Information Act

30 January 2005 ~ "the most audacious ministerial power grab ever tried in peacetime. .."

30 January 2005 ~ "..By its over- reliance on spin, its corruption of the civil service and its mendacious presentation of evidence for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the government has lost its reputation for honesty.

Without trust, many people simply will not believe that the Home Office has a case for detaining suspects when it fails to produce evidence. ..." Leading article in Sunday Times

28 January 2005 ~ "The Home Secretary's plan to intern British citizens without trial stinks. He must know it. His colleagues must know it.

27 January 2005 ~ Lord Hoffmann suggested that the Anti-Terrorism Crime and Security Act itself was a bigger threat to the nation than terrorism.

January 19 2005 ~ "many of the measures contained in this bill, particularly relating to arrest powers and restricting protest give disproportionate power to the authorities..." Liberty.

Sept 24 ~ High Court Writ to be Served on Deputy Prime Minister by No Campaign

See Press Release from North East No Campaign "Following the notice served on the Rt. Hon Nick Raynsford yesterday and the failure of the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister to take any positive action to correct the factually incorrect leaflet 'Have Your Say' for all 1,900,000 voters in the North East Referendum, the North East No Campaign has been left with no choice but to launch an action in the High Court today..."

Sept 23 2004 ~"Decision-making in the Labour Party today is a closed loop.

The Prime Minister appoints the party chairman, who then ensures that the party supports the Prime Minister. The National Policy Forum recycles Downing Street's ideas through a bogus consultation process ..... All this might be tolerable if the conference was remotely entertaining..." George Monbiot on the European Social Forum taking place in the UK in mid-October ".... if you choose your seminars carefully, you will hear the world's newest thinking on everything from agriculture to xenophobia...."
But, points out George Monbiot, there is the age-old paradox...
"...We all know what's wrong with the world. We are much less certain about what needs to be done, and have only the faintest idea of how to do it. As Susan George has pointed out, unless we move on to questions two and three, we are wasting our time. And so we encounter the age-old paradox of transition. For a political movement to remain large, it has to remain diverse. For a political movement to be an effective agent of change, it has to pursue a programme. The process of choosing a programme involves a battle against diversity. In battling diversity so as to produce a set of workable proposals, you run the risk of losing the popular support on which the proposals are supposed to be founded. This is the battle the Labour Party has fought, and in which it has suffered a crushing and disastrous victory...." Read in full

Sept 21 ~ "We are being manipulated into a regional assembly up here."

An emailer from the North Eastfinds the adoption of NESNO as official opposition to the Yes Campaign in the run-up to November’s referendum deeply disturbing. She has sent two letters which should be taken very seriously indeed. Extract:
    "...On 15 September, within minutes of being designated the official No Campaign and awarded £100,000 of taxpayers’ money, a representative of your chosen people, NESNO, should have appeared before a House of Commons Select Committee to give evidence. NESNO said sorry, none of them could make it. Neil Herron has since stated in the Newcastle Journal that he was fully briefed and ready to go to Westminster to argue the No case. Your decision made this impossible, thus depriving many north-east voters of fair representation before the committee.
    What have NESNO done to deserve selection? Any undecided member of the electorate consulting their website would find nothing at all in the section entitled “Our Case”. They have issued no press releases since the initial one in July. They have no plans for public meetings. How did all this lack of activity qualify them for government funding?
    Intriguingly, NESNO were listed by name as the chosen opposition to the Yes Campaign in an ODPM Committee Press Release issued on 9 September, a whole five days before you made your decision. How was this possible? Is the Deputy Prime Minister clairvoyant? Was he given prior information regarding your choice? Or did he lead, and you follow? The implications are disturbing..."
Read in full

Sept 21 ~ Mr Blunkett frees the " terrorist supporter and a threat to national security.."

The Home Office is tight-lipped. Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) confirmed he was a threat to security, Mr Blunkett frees prisoner D while his solicitor, Natalia Garcia, said: "I told him this morning that he was to be released. He was absolutely choked. All he could say was 'I don't understand, I don't understand'. He feels he's been locked up for three years just on a whim."
Deputy Mayor of London and Green Party MP Jenny Jones told a rally at the beginning of April that it was a "complete injustice" that people should be held without trial in a country which prided itself on its democracy and justice system
Today's Herald: ".... even though an independent commission 11 weeks ago confirmed he was a terrorist supporter and a threat to national security.. the home secretary, announced his decision to revoke the detention certificate of prisoner "D", who was removed from his home under anti-terrorism laws brought in after the attacks on the US on September 11, 2001. Mr Blunkett said: "I have concluded, on the basis of all the information available to me, that the weight of evidence in relation to D at the current time does not justify the continuance of the certificate. I have therefore decided to revoke the certificate with immediate effect. In revoking D's certificate I have made clear that any further activities that are assessed to be a threat to national security could lead to him being certified again."

Sept 18 2004 ~ This bill would give, not Parliament but the government of the day, in times of peace, far greater powers than were ever granted to any of our coalition governments in times of real war.

Cumberland News - one of the very few papers to warn about the Civil Contingencies Bill ".....If this bill is passed in its present state, it would certainly be possible for the Government, upon a whim, to declare any strike unlawful, to ban any march or public meeting, to censor public communications (though, surprisingly, the BBC seems to enjoy special exemption from this clause) to prohibit travel between specific places or at specified times and to requisition or confiscate private property. It may also order the evacuation or relocation (to a place of its own choosing) of individuals or groups of people.The original bill was heavily criticised by a joint Parliamentary scrutiny committee, but the Government's predictably arrogant response to its report was to reject the majority of this committee's recommendations and to re-introduce those few which it did accept, albeit with different, but even more inclusive wording, in the small print of section two of that bill.Overall, this bill would give, not Parliament but the government of the day, in times of peace, far greater powers than were ever granted to any of our coalition governments in times of real war...."

Sept 13 ~ The Civil Contingencies Bill permits the government to suspend parliament and ban all rights to assembly whenever it decides that it is confronting an emergency

Wednesday's debate in the House of Lords grows closer. Legislation these days is impenetrable - except for a few wholly misleading phrases placed clearly near the beginning designed to give a false sense of security - and busy MPs and peers may well not have read the bill properly.
Michael Moore in his latest book expresses disbelief that the majority of the British people - particularly those millions of us who marched cheerfully to oppose Mr Blair's involving Britain in the Iraq war - should not have forced an election
    "My God, you actually have a mechanism to remove him - ­elections! We have to wait four years and then we can't even be sure the ballots will be counted. You can force elections right now. But then, of course, you have the same problem the liberal major­ity has in America-who the hell is going to lead you? Where is the alternative? .."
But perhaps even Moore is not aware of just how far towards the US Patriot Act we are heading - and that such a peaceful march may soon be a thing of the past. As George Monbiot says,
    "..When some of us complained that the Terrorism Act 2000 was so loosely drafted that it could be deployed against almost anyone seeking political change, the government told us we were being hysterical. Since then peaceful protesters all over Britain have been arrested as potential terrorists....
    ... The Civil Contingencies Bill, which permits the government to suspend parliament and ban all rights to assembly whenever it decides that it is confronting an emergency, passed its second reading in the Lords last month. It could become law later this year."
And will - unless the peers can once again (before their powers are completely removed) ride to the rescue and raise awareness of its dangers. See Civil Contingencies Bill page

Sept 12 ~"... it is getting so Orwellian that we no longer know if we speak our minds whether we will be risking a year-long investigation or not"

Booker's Notebook (Sunday Telegraph) makes for grim reading.
On district councillors and the so-called Standards Board which prevents them from voicing concerns: "... the conduct of local councillors is being policed by the Standards Board of England (with its army of Ethical Standards Officers on £61,000 a year), it has become increasingly baffling for those prepared to serve their communities in this way to know what it is safe to say...."
On the ignorance of Ben Bradshaw: ".... Mr Bradshaw first claimed he was not aware that it existed, then said that he was "not interested in some communication by the Commission to the European Parliament which I have not seen". In fact, not only is COM130 the key text on the subject that Mr Bradshaw is paid to know about, but it was addressed last year to the EU Council of Ministers, of which Mr Bradshaw is supposed to be a member..."
On documents produced by both Government and Conservatives on the proposed EU constitution: "...Just why, as taxpayers, we should fund the Government's White Paper is a mystery. It is simply empty propaganda, and almost every line cries out for a commentary to show which bits are half-truths, which wholly false and which just laughable..." Read in full

Sept 10 2004 ~ Delete records, or profile the whole UK, says DNA print pioneer..

The Register ".. geneticist Sir Alec Jeffreys speaking at a briefing marking the 20th anniversary of DNA fingerprinting at Leicester University yesterday, also expressed doubts about current UK policy on DNA record retention. Suspects have their DNA recorded, but for several years now the police have been allowed to retain the DNA profile whether or not the suspect is subsequently charged or convicted. This make it a lot easier for them to grow their National DNA database, and indeed here we find the Home Office salivating over bigger and better DNA retention when it passed the two million mark last year.
According to Jeffreys it's now over 2.5 million, which suggests nearly one per cent of us were suspicious or worse in the last 14 months. ...
.Jeffreys' concern is that in some parts of the country retention will lead to an overrepresentation of certain ethnic groups. His solution is either for the DNA data to be destroyed if a suspect is cleared, or to extend the database to include everyone in the UK. We fear the Home Office will greet his words with enthusiasm. No prizes for guessing which option it's going to like.."

Sept 10 ~ "Public service broadcasting can and must make an important contribution to the democratic process. It can do so only if not cowed by those in power..."

"Today's Humphrys censured by BBC for continually interrupting minister - Guardian "...Humphrys became increasingly frustrated with her (Hazel Blears') refusal to accept that the Home Office bore sole responsibility for some of the failings identified in the Bichard report following the murder of schoolgirls Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman. Focusing on the Home Office's failure to fund a computer project, he asked pointedly: "How much money are children's lives worth?"
In response to another question, Ms Blears replied: "We take this really seriously." Humphrys interrupted and said: "Pity you didn't take it really seriously at the time."
......Humphrys declined to comment yesterday, but in the MacTaggart lecture in Edinburgh last month he warned that BBC staff could, quoting a phrase from the Hutton report, be "subconsciously influenced" into shying away from difficult subjects. He said he would quit if he was ever told to tone down his interviews. "The idea that tough questions prevent politicians from giving answers, and gentle chats seduce them into candour is, frankly, risible. We need more, not less, investigative journalism. We need much more straightforward political analysis. Public service broadcasting can and must make an important contribution to the democratic process. It can do so only if not cowed by those in power." .."

Sept 8 2004 ~ "Government ministers who want to dodge awkward questions from MPs

are being given powers from this month to put the queries in the bin.....Adam Price, Plaid Cymru MP for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr, said: " It takes long enough to get answers as it is. This would simply allow ministers not to give them at all."
Norman Baker, Liberal Democrat MP for Lewes, said: "Even when you get an answer after a long delay it is often unsatisfactory. I am planning to take one cabinet minister, Margaret Beckett, to the parliamentary ombudsman for failing to provide an adequate reply." .....The changes followed protests from MPs about the huge increase in ministers' promises to write to them during the recess and put the answer in the Commons library. These answers are never published in Hansard - and are sometimes never deposited in the library. Such cases have jumped from 432 in 2000 to 1,556 last year. The worst offenders are the Home Office and Ministry of Defence, the latter partly because of the Iraq war." Guardian

Sept 8 2004 ~ Independence of the BBC?

In the Independent today Director General Mark Hudson ".. is phlegmatic about the increasingly active role played by the BBC governors and is reconciled to the fact that there may be "bumps" along the way. "This is going to be a different relationship than for previous DGs," he said, adding that two of the last four director generals were dismissed by the governors."
There may well be bumps if the BBC tries actually to earn its reputation for being objective and uninfluenced by the powerful.
The "two posh ladies" referred to by Greg Dyke in the Observer, it seems, were those who bayed most loudly for Mr Dyke's removal. They are still BBC Governors.
Baroness Sarah Hogg served as head of the Prime Minister’s Policy Unit between 1990 and 1995.
Dame Pauline Neville-Jones DCMG, is a career diplomat who served in various diplomatic missions. She was the deputy secretary to the Cabinet office before becoming Head of the Defence Secretariat of the Joint Intelligence Committee. She is the former managing director and head of global business strategy for NatWest Markets and chairman of NatWest Markets France. She became vice chairman of Hawkpoint Partners Ltd., the corporate advisory arm of NatWest Bank. She is chairman of the Information Assurance Advisory Council and also currently the chairman of the Qinetiq group plc ( UK privatised military research/services company)
A QinetiQ webpage says, "... Although information operations are traditionally considered a military activity QinetiQ also develops information campaign strategies that can benefit governments, businesses and other organisations."
Dame Neville-Jones is a member of the Bilderbergs, the group of rich, powerful, and influential people from around the world who meet behind closed doors with no press releases and no available information on topics discussed.
See also The BBC and the Propaganda model By Alex Doherty

Sept 6 2004 ~ an Act which would in effect permit the setting up in this country of a dictatorship as sweeping as anything achieved under Hitler."

" In 10 days' time the House of Lords will be debating one of the most extraordinary pieces of legislation ever placed before Parliament, the Civil Contingencies Bill.(see warmwell Civil Contingencies Bill page) ..... Only in Part Two, after 13 pages, does the truly extraordinary nature of this legislation suddenly explode off the page, as Section 21 sets out the powers it will give to a tiny group of ministers and "regional co-ordinators" in the event of an emergency being declared.
The conditions for this could hardly be more loosely or widely defined, including anything from a terrorist incident to flooding, a chemical spill or a recurrence of foot and mouth. .......senior ministers (including whips) will be given virtually unlimited powers to do anything they think fit, virtually without parliamentary control. They will be empowered to "disapply" any law or act of Parliament they choose, simply by issuing regulations. .....
Yet when this Bill had its second reading in the Commons on January 19, MPs were only allowed time to discuss its innocuous Part One. (One or two honourable exceptions, such as Richard Shepherd and Bob Marshall-Andrews, did try to ring alarm bells on Part Two.) The Bill was then approved by 286 votes to 138.
When it first came before the Lords late on the evening of July 5, again one or two peers protested at its more extreme provisions. But unless they are joined on September 15 by enough others to provoke a real rebellion, we shall have an Act which would in effect permit the setting up in this country of a dictatorship as sweeping as anything achieved under Hitler. It would be scant consolation to know that this was sanctioned by Parliament, even if MPs had scarcely been given a chance to discuss it." Booker's Notebook Read in full

Sept 5 2004 ~ to undermine our civil liberties and live in fear because of the possible

is "a life-paralyzing agent worse than any biological or chemical weapon." Elie Shneour, a biophysicist and head of the Biosystems Research Institute in San Diego strenuously objects to the current definition of weapons of mass destruction – a term that grows looser by the day. "Chemical and biological weapons are not weapons of mass destruction. Nuclear, high explosives and incendiaries are the only weapons thus far devised that can cause real mass destruction." To think otherwise, he argues, is not only imprecise, but dangerous." Article at San Diego.com

Sept 5 2004 "... realisation dawning that John Prescott's forthcoming referendum on an elected regional assembly for the North-East could presage a mighty earthquake in England's local government."

Booker's Notebook "Speakers for both sides deplored the fact that Mr Prescott had linked an elected assembly with the reorganisation of local government, which they argued should have been kept as separate issues. The linkage was made, it is believed, on the personal insistence of Tony Blair...
...a completely new system of local government. The provision of services will be taken away from genuinely local councils, and given to a remote authority which cannot be properly accountable to local people " Read in full

Sept 5 2004 ~ "... last week's events in Italy show what happens when people are deprived of their democratic right to oppose policies with which they strongly disagree.

The only way the Government can hope to meet its obligations (to the EU's landfill directive 1999/31 ), as scores of landfill sites are declared illegal, will be for John Prescott to introduce "guidance" allowing central government to override local planning procedures and dictate where incinerators are to be built. (Mr Prescott made a similar provision last month for windfarms, in order to meet our obligation to the EU to produce 10 per cent of our energy from "renewable sources" by 2010.)
Whether British protesters will be prepared to take their opposition to the same lengths as the residents of Acerra remains to be seen. But last week's events in Italy showwhat happens when people are deprived of their democratic right to oppose policies with which they strongly disagree." Read in full

Sept 3 2004 ~Labour 'cowardly' on Whitehall reform

Yesterday's Guardian "Labour has failed to tackle Whitehall's "culture of amateurism", says a leading consultant with close family connections to the Blair cabinet and top reaches of the civil service. .." (read in full)

Sept 3 2004 ~ "We claim to be citizens of representative democracies.

Our democracies are built on a foundation of law, and our success as democratic societies stipulates adherence by all - governed and governing - to this law. For our societies to function, the means are the ends; due process must be respected. "How western we are," says another chorus member, chiding us for allowing ourselves to fall victim to the trap of putting democratic process before the elimination of a dictator. I look back at my years of defending this process and respond, with pride, "Yes, how western I am." Thank you, David Hare, for helping to remind me. .."
Scott Ritter on David Hare's new play "Stuff Happens" in the Guardian

Sept 3 2004 ~ "a deliberate attempt by the prime minister, not by Campbell, to fabricate the evidence of an imminent Iraqi threat"

Gavyn Davies on "Stuff Happens" "Hare's version of the history of 2003 wisely gave no truck to the war against the BBC waged by Campbell from Downing Street, a diversionary and irrelevant tactic that sucked in the British media but which is now laid bare for what it always was. However, Hare does have a strong view about the production of the flawed "intelligence" dossier produced by No10 in September 2002 to justify the war. This is depicted as a deliberate attempt by the prime minister, not by Campbell, to fabricate the evidence of an imminent Iraqi threat to UK interests because this falsehood was needed to make the war legal. Surely this can't be true, at least according to the gospels of their hand-picked lordships, Hutton and Butler? Presumably not, but the Olivier audience seemed disposed to view their lordships' exonerations as works of fiction, while placing credence in the Hare version of history.
And as for me? All I have learned is that, in the murky world of Whitehall politics, stuff happens."

Sept 2 2004 ~ Blunkett announces 'spy in the sky' satellites to track criminals

Big Brother's latest scheme for our protection. The Independent reports on Mr Blunkett's "pilot scheme"
    ".....Up to 120 offenders in three police force regions ­ Greater Manchester, West Midlands, and Hampshire ­ are to be fitted with the tracking devices in a year-long pilot study.
    The scheme is aimed at people convicted of sex crimes and domestic violence and persistent offenders. Criminals who have served part of their sentence and have been released from jail on licence could be fitted with the tags, as well as those placed on home curfew.... "
Children may be fitted with tracking devices "for their safety" http://library.lp.findlaw.com

Aug 30 ~ "Sir John Stevens, the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, has attacked the prospect of an American detective replacing him as the country's top policeman as an insult and outrage

to his British colleagues. Sir John has also criticised the fascination with US-style policing and argued that politicians and the public ought to have more pride in what the police have achieved in the UK.. David Blunkett's apparent love affair with American policing styles and officers is causing disquiet nationally among police chiefs. Last September, he appointed Paul Evans, the head of the Boston police, to run the Home Office's standards unit, which oversees national police performances. He has also paid for Mr Bratton to come to London to give British police chiefs a pep talk.... ." Independent

Aug 29 ~ "...Mr Prescott's desperation is evident in the latest "information leaflet" put out by his office, in eight languages, to the North-East's 1.9 million voters.

Although this paean of praise for the benefits of regional government purports only to be giving "information", the game is given away by its carefully staged illustrations. These contrast young, attractive, affluent-looking Yes voters, giving the thumbs up to an elected assembly, with "typical" No voters, such as an old man with a cloth cap and a stick, a diminutive Asian shot in shadow and an Afro-Caribbean lady: a selection so blatant it should earn Mr Prescott an interview with the Commission for Racial Equality..." Booker's Notebook

Aug 27 ~ Electoral Commission condemns all-postal ballots - but North East Region referendum will be 100% postal "because it is too late to make changes"

Trials in June's European and local authority polls were beset with logistical problems and claims of fraud. The Independent says: "The experiment, designed to increase turnout, saw chaotic scenes before the elections as thousands of voters failed to receive their ballot papers in time. "The Commission acknowledges that based on the evidence gathered in these pilots, and in particular the strength of public criticism of a single voting method, all-postal voting should no longer be pursued for use at UK elections," the Commission said in a report. It added it was too early to conclude whether the increased use of postal voting had led to a rise in fraud, as only two allegations leading to an arrest have so far been made across the country despite widespread allegations of abuse in the media. ...... It called for more to be done by the government to ensure postal voting was efficient and secure. ..... However, the Commission said a referendum in November on whether the North East should get its own regional assembly should be an all-postal ballot as planned because it was too late to make changes."
Telegraph: "Yesterday the commission admitted that it had made a mistake, and that in future it would be best to offer voters a choice of electoral systems, including the option of going to a polling station."

Aug 25 ~ under the draft Bill they would have the power to destroy the constitution -- to abolish judges and Parliament and create a dictatorship...

Lord Lucas commenting on the Civil Contingencies Bill.
Speaking at the second reading of the bill in the House of Lords on 5 July, he added: "Are we opening up our system to the equivalent of what happened in Germany in 1933, where it became possible for an extreme party legitimately to hijack a democracy and turn it into something totalitarian? .
Bryn Wayt sends this detailed email about the Civil Contingencies Bill. Like Lord Lucas, he reminds us of the parallels with 1933. He urges all to take some action about what he, Lord Lucas and many others who are awake, see as a real and present threat. The bill goes back to the Lords on September 15th. See warmwell's page on the Civil Contingencies Bill

Aug 24 2004 ~ Robin Cook ".. raids under the Anti-Terrorism Act which are now running, staggeringly, at 10 times the level of three years ago."

Independent ".... the "staggering" rise in numbers of anti-terrorist raids by police threatened to alienate British Muslims.
... "There were 30,000 raids under the Prevention of Terrorism Act last year, from which less than 100 individuals were charged with offences relating to terrorism."
"There's a real risk that if we continue ... we will end up alienating the very people we need for a successful multi-cultural society and a successful appeal to people around the world of a different culture." Mr Cook ... warned Tony Blair that such a military campaign could not be repeated in another part of the world. He said: "Iraq is unique, it's a one-off. It's exhausted Tony Blair's capacity to take the nation to war against any substantial resistance...If he hopes to bring back to the Labour Party all those millions who opposed the war or those who supported it on the basis he sold it to them, he's got to make it plain that he's learned the lessons from the past two years and that [he] is going to be different in the future." Read in full Remember too that the a recent US State Department report into patterns of global terrorism found that terrorist attacks are at their lowest ebb for years. In spite of all the hype about al-Qaeda in Britain, there is little sign of terrorists queuing up to attack. ...." Important article - 'War on Terror' games

Aug 22 ~ Civil servants improperly sought advice from the Home Office about whether to delay publication of embarrassing immigration statistics to head off criticism

Reuters "...David Davis, home affairs spokesman for the Conservative Party, said the files showed that the independence of the ONS had been compromised. "It is wholly wrong of the ONS to seek instructions. It just shouldn't be offering those options. An independent statistical organisation shouldn't be seeking any views on what to publish," he told the paper. A Home Office spokeswoman was not immediately able to comment on the accusation that the department had sought to have the publication of the statistics delayed. The ONS was not immediately available for comment."

Aug 21 ~Matthew Parris quotes from a Man for All Seasons

"As Robert Bolt puts it in A Man for All Seasons (in the mouth of Sir Thomas More), we may cut down all the laws of England in pursuit of the Devil if he tries to hide behind them, but when he turns round and comes for us, we will have flattened the very protection that we need. .." Read Mob rule rules: the law now panders to primitive emotion in the Times.

Aug 18 ~" Any self-respecting judge would take one look at this tower of garbage and demand that it never darken the door of a British courtroom again.."

Simon Jenkins in the Times today asks, Why isn't your conscience torturing you, Mr Blunkett? "...Three appeal court judges inexplicably found in favour of Mr Blunkett, albeit one of them with reservations. Lord Justice Laws declared himself “quite unable to see” why the Home Secretary should not rely on evidence “gained by torture”...
..evidence against the detainees, so they claim, was based on material passed to British intelligence by interrogators in Guantanamo Bay and Bagram base in Afghanistan. Such intelligence is utterly tainted. Horrifying stories of torture are now emerging from these prisons, from jailers, soldiers and prisoners alike, and from prisons in coalition-occupied Iraq. Charges based on such material are vulnerable to a prima facie defence of duress. Three recent British detainees in Guantanamo confessed under extreme pressure to having “met Osama bin Laden”. They had not done so, and British intelligence validated their previous alibis which was presumably why there were released.
....Lord Justice Laws appears to give the Home Secretary licence to do what the Pentagon has been doing for years. He can sub-contract the gathering of intelligence by illicit methods to private agencies and less-fastidious states abroad. The removal of any “duty of inquiry” into how evidence has been gathered is a green light to British prosecutors to trawl that murkiest of oceans, for “global terrorist” accusations.." Read in full

Aug 17 ~ "The fact is that we have not had a proper discussion of the most important part of the Bill, which affects our civil and political liberties"

The Civil Contingencies Bill - now has its own page on warmwell. It is the UK equivalent of the notorious "Patriot Act" in the US. Only a few amendments have been made in the Commons. On 15 September it will be discussed on the floor of the House of Lords. Lord McNally quotes Richard Shepherd MP who said in the House of Commons: "The fact is that we have not had a proper discussion of the most important part of the Bill, which affects our civil and political liberties" [Official Report, Commons, 24/5/04; col. 1406]:

Aug 17 2004 ~ "security" triumphs over freedom and justice every time

The EU Directorate General Justice and Home Affairs is to be renamed: "Justice, Freedom and Security" It has been noticed by more than Sir Humphrey Appleby in happier days that "many good words and phrases ... are contradicted by others that undermine them. ." The current thinking seems to be that the people (including journalists) lack concentration and the will to look very far. They will latch on to a few significant sounding words and fail to notice that they are merely the sugar coating around noxious contents. Mr Buttiglione is now Commissioner for ""Justice, Freedom and Security". Tony Bunyan, of Statewatch comments: "This simply scrambles the "Area of freedom, security and justice" into a new EU acronym which changes the wrapping and leaves the same policies in place, where security triumphs over freedom and justice every time" Statewatch also links to Moderning police powers to meet community needs (pdf) The Home Office consultation paper on: "Moderning police powers to meet community needs". Includes dropping restriction on arrest to "serious offences", extending use of search warrants, allowing fingerprinting outside of police stations to establish "identity" (no requirement of an offence being suspected), "covert DNA and fingerprints", protests outside homes and powers to impose conditions on demonstrations "in the vicinity of Parliament Square" (ie: including Whitehall and No 10)

Aug 16 ~ Beware rise of Big Brother state, warns data watchdog

The Times "... Richard Thomas, the Information Commissioner, says that there is a growing danger of East German Stasi-style snooping if the State gathers too much information about individual citizens. He singles out .... David Blunkett’s identity card scheme; a separate population register planned by the Office for National Statistics; and proposals for a database of every child from birth to the age of 18.
...His job is to promote greater public access to official records while ensuring that the State does not collect more information about citizens than is necessary. ... “I don’t want to start talking paranoia language, but data protection has a strong continental European flavour. Some of my counterparts in Eastern Europe, in Spain, have experienced in the last century what can happen when government gets too powerful and has too much information on citizens. When everyone knows everything about everybody else and the Government has got massive files, whether manual or computerised.”
..... “I don’t think people have woken up to what lies behind this,” he says.
.... Mark Oaten, Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, said he was concerned about the proliferation of databases: “While the Government can sometimes justify each measure individually, the danger is that we are slipping into a Big Brother society by stealth.” Read in full

Aug 15 ~ EU orders health ID cards for all tourists

Independent on Sunday Britons travelling in Europe are to be issued with a new card to give them swift access to the health service when they fall ill. The technology for issuing the cards - which could be a forerunner to more widespread identity cards - is being prepared by the Department of Health, on instructions from the EU Commission, which wants a standard card in use across all 25 EU states. ....... Simon Davies, director general of Privacy International, warned: "We knew from the very beginning of ID cards' gestation that access to the NHS was one of their core targets. If there is an economic argument for ID cards, this is it." David Blunkett....says that all British adults should be compelled to register for the purpose of obtaining an ID card, just as they are compelled to register to vote. However, since the cards are likely to be replace driving licences and passports, they would in effect become compulsory for anyone who wants to drive, travel abroad, use the NHS, or receive state benefits.
His plans were criticised by the CBI last week, because the Government is not prepared to accept responsibility when companies use information that appears on the ID registry which then turns out to be incorrect. Another problem, which neither the Home Office nor the Health Department has yet solved, is that there are many foreign residents in Britain who would not be entitled to an ID card, even though they do qualify for free health care."

Aug 15 ~ "...Mr Prescott is railroading through the greatest revolution in local government that Britain has ever seen.

Its centrepiece is his plan to divide the UK under 12 regional governments, as part of the creation of a "Europe of the regions".
He has already given four regions their governments: Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and London. He hopes to embark on the final stages of the process in November, when the first referendum on creating similar governments for the eight remaining English "Euro regions" is held in the North East.
Prescott's further plan to create "sub-regions", which will override much of the existing county and borough council structure, is still largely under wraps. The starting point is four "sub-regional" bodies for London. It is a condition of the new regional governments that county councils be abolished, to be replaced by "unitary authorities". Contrary to their name, these will be subordinate to two tiers of regional government above them.
The masterstroke in the engineering of Mr Prescott's revolution has been to make sure that he never explains clearly what he is up to. .." Booker's Notebook Please do read this week's Booker's Notebook in full. It is impossible adequately to summarise the importance of what he says.

Aug 15 ~ we are faced with a new system of government, like nothing the world has seen before.

Booker "....Dennis McShane, our "Europe minister", was rightly excoriated last week for wheeling out, yet again, the tired old claim that anyone who dares criticise the EU is a "xenophobe". The point is that we are faced with a new system of government, like nothing the world has seen before. To suggest that this system is inefficient, corrupt, undemocratic and doomed ultimately to collapse, is not a matter of xenophobia. To those of us who observe its workings in detail, alas, it is simply common sense." Read in full.

Aug 15 ~ "Eurocodes": 57 incredibly complex technical manuals which by 2010 will radically change the way in which Britain's buildings are designed and constructed

Booker's Notebook "...Until now, construction has been governed by a mass of British Standards and codes of practice, refined over decades. Soon, in the name of EU "harmonisation", these standards will be replaced by a new system known as "Eurocodes": 57 incredibly complex technical manuals which by 2010 will radically change the way in which Britain's buildings are designed and constructed. Switching over to this new system will impose huge costs on Britain's engineers, many of whom fear that the new codes - patched together after years of argument between the 15 countries responsible for drawing them up - may result in structures considerably less safe and efficient than at present. .." Read in full

Aug 14 ~ The use of torture to obtain evidence against suspected terrorists was endorsed on August 11th 2004 by the British Court of Appeal.

Independent
    ".... The controversial guidance emerged in the court's decision to reject appeals from 10 foreign nationals held for more than two years without charge or trial in British prisons under emergency terror laws introduced by David Blunkett after the 11 September attacks.
    None of the men is accused of terrorist acts, only that they belong to banned terrorist organisations. Two of the 10 have voluntarily left Britain and are bringing their appeals from abroad. But Mr Blunkett, writing in today's (12th Aug) Independent, says yesterday's judgment on the fate of the detainees is a clear vindication of his policy on terrorism. "As Home Secretary. I must balance legal theory with the practical job of protecting people,"
It was a two-to-one judgement. The dissenting judge, Lord Justice Neuberger, warned that by "adopting the fruits of torture" Britain would be weakening its case against terrorists.
    "by using torture, or even by adopting the fruits of torture, a democratic state is weakening its case against terrorists, by adopting their methods, thereby losing the moral high ground an open democratic society enjoys."

Aug 13 ~ Police to get wider arrest powers - Crime is at a record low, so why does Labour talk of crackdowns?

Alarm at plan to use community support officers to tackle beggars, drinking and carrying weapons Guardian
"..The overhaul includes a new power to impose conditions on all demonstrations at Westminster and ban long-term protests in Parliament Square.... The police will also gain powers to fingerprint and photograph suspects without having first to return to the police station, wider powers to demand drug tests of those arrested, and stronger powers to use search warrants. ...
...But it is the proposals to extend the powers of community support officers - civilian patrol staff whose numbers are set to rise from 4,000 to 24,000 in the next four years - that attracted most criticism. ....Even the Association of Chief Police Officers voiced their reservations. Vice-president Denis O'Connor said there was a need to rationalise some of the powers CSOs held. "However we would sound a note of caution at any major extension of powers for CSOs before the Home Office evaluation [of them] is complete."
Crime is at a record low, so why does Labour talk of crackdowns? asks John Kampfner in this Guardian comment article ..."

Aug 13 ~ Blunkett appoints former MI5 chief

Associated Press "A former head of MI5 will play a key role in the government's new "British FBI", the home secretary, David Blunkett announced today. .Sir Stephen Lander was named chairman of the Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca) - the first time an ex-spymaster has played such a crucial role in British policing. "

Aug 10 ~ Blunkett faces revolt over terror powers

Nigel Morris in the Independent ".... A powerful coalition of ministers opposes the renewal of emergency powers to detain foreign terrorist suspects without charge. They also warn that measures designed to combat domestic terrorism could backfire because they cause resentment among a generation of young Muslims.
Mr Blunkett's critics include the Government's senior law officers, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, the Lord Chancellor, and Lord Goldsmith, the Attorney General, Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, and Patricia Hewitt, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. The Home Secretary has already encountered resistance among senior ministers to proposals for compulsory identity cards and a national DNA database.
Hostility has intensified as Mr Blunkett draws up a new package to replace anti-terrorist legislation of 2000 and 2001. Most contentious is his determination to keep the power to detain suspected international terrorists without trial. A total of 12 foreign nationals, including several at Belmarsh prison in south-east London, have been held under the power, rushed in shortly after the 11 September attacks in 2001.
Some ministers argue the measure is "disproportionate" to the threat faced by Britain and could even play into the hands of terrorists. They also fear the recent US Supreme Court ruling that more than 500 foreigners held at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba had the right to challenge their indefinite detention could leave Britain exposed if a similar policy continues to be applied at Belmarsh. They have also noted hints that the US Democratic presidential contender, John Kerry, could act on the ruling if he wins power later this year. .."

Aug 9 ~ " Social democracy and capitalism cannot be triangulated - more of one means less of the other."

Neal Lawson and Paul Thompson in the Guardian " The job of social democratic governments is to draw and redraw the lines between democracy and the market, the individual and the collective, the public and the private. If we give in to the principle of market supremacy then we won't know where or how to draw those lines. Worse still, we end up not knowing that lines have to be drawn at all. Social democracy cannot take root in the shadow cast by neo-liberalism. Ultimately we have to define our own agenda for a realisable radical transfor mation. If others offer an alternative leadership, then we want to hear their ideas. If the party is to survive, it must relearn the habits of critical debate. Behind the scenes, the next manifesto is being posed by Downing Street as consolidators (read Brownites) v radical reformers (read Blairites). The battleground is choice, but the initial one is to be made by the party and movement. Are we prepared to risk defeat with the bogus radicalism and burned-out legitimacy of the New Labour project, or can we remarshall our forces around a genuine social democratic programme? "

Aug 8 ~ a 'Faustian bargain' between the media and politicians over terrorism.

'I am acutely aware that there is a Faustian bargain on offer for those who want it: airtime, in exchange for ratcheting the fear factor one notch higher,' Mark Oaten, the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman in the Observer

Aug 5 ~"...the Government intend to publish as much of the final report as is consistent with the need to protect any operationally-sensitive material."

Hansard Llew Smith: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what arrangements he is putting in place (a) to make available paper copies of the final report of the Iraq Survey Group on its publication and (b) to place the text on a Government website; and what plans he has to publicise its publication.
Mr Rammell: There is no set timetable for reporting by the Iraq Survey Group, nor is there any deadline for the completion of the Group's task.
At present, the Government have not drawn up any plans for publication of the Group's final report but, as with the Group's interim reports, the Government intend to publish as much of the final report as is consistent with the need to protect any operationally-sensitive material."

Aug 5 ~ the world community should be more alert to a growing trend to label as "terrorists" groups seeking to exercise the right of self-determination.

Reuters reports that a United Nations investigator has called on governments to stop whipping up exaggerated fears of terrorism among their populations, in an apparent reference to the United States and Britain. " Fear of terrorism "out of proportion to its actual risk and generated by states themselves or other actors" can be exploited to make people accept "counter-terrorism measures that unduly curtail human rights and humanitarian law," the report declared "

Aug 5 ~ Britain and the US stood accused of a shocking catalogue of human rights abuses yesterday

by three Britons who were held at Guantanamo Bay. Reuters reports that they "have published a dossier that describes systematic abuse at the U.S. Naval Base, including being beaten, interrogated at gunpoint and photographed naked.... rights lawyer Michael Ratner ... said the three men released the document to help other detainees and were not seeking monetary damages. "

Aug 3 ~ Protest is inseparable from democracy: every time it is restricted, the state becomes less democratic.

Guardian George Monbiot ".... Parliament chose to believe a string of obvious lies. The media repeated them, the civil service let them pass, the judiciary endorsed them. The answer to the age-old political question - who guards the guards? - .........we should expect those in power to seek to prevent the public from holding them to account. Whenever they can get away with it, they will restrict the right to protest. They got away with it last week. The demonstrators who have halted the construction of the new animal testing labs in Oxford command little public sympathy.....For fear of being seen to sympathise with dangerous nutters, hardly anyone dares to speak out against the repressive laws with which the government intends to restrain them. .....All protest in residential areas, in other words, could now be treated as a criminal offence. ..... The government will also seek to "suggest remedies" for websites which "include material deemed to cause concern or needless anxiety to others". As my own site has already been blacklisted by at least one public body, I have reason to fear this proposal, alongside every online dissident in Britain. If all this goes ahead, in other words, legal protest will be confined to writing letters to your MP. Or perhaps even that could be deemed to cause "concern or needless anxiety" to the honourable member. ...... By the time we have lost our freedoms, we will have forgotten what they were. The silence with which the new laws were greeted last week suggests that the forgetting has already begun." Read in full

Aug 3 ~ "... so controversial now is Mr Scarlett, the necessary element of public confidence will be lacking."

Comment by Menzies Campbell in today's Independent - which says, "The Government refused yesterday to deny an authoritative report that John Scarlett, the former head of the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC), asked the Iraq Survey Group (ISG) to include 10 "golden nuggets" in its report on weapons of mass destruction.." Read in full - and see below

Aug 2 ~ "Inclusion of Scarlett's nuggets would have been grossly manipulative of the truth. Let's face it, he wanted us to include lies.

Independent "...John Scarlett suggested that the Iraq Survey Group report should include claims about Saddam Hussein's supposed arsenals - which had already been proven unreliable, an unnamed member of the ISG was quoted as saying in The Mail on Sunday.
Mr Scarlett - who takes up his role as head of the secret intelligence service this week - sent a confidential email to the head of the ISG on 8 March with a list of 10 "golden nuggets" for possible inclusion in the report, it was claimed. His suggestions were rejected. But after pressure from the US and Britain, the ISG produced only a bland, 20-page document about the failure of their 1,400-strong team to find any trace of WMD in Iraq, rather than the expected 200-page analysis, The Mail on Sunday said. .....
"Everything Scarlett wanted in was based on very old evidence which we had painstakingly investigated and shown to be false," he said." Read in full

Aug 1 ~ Timing is all, and notice of the curtailment of John Morrison's employment did not emerge until after the House had risen

and the Prime Minister had conducted his inevitably difficult end-of-term press conference...." Brian Jones in the Observer

Aug 1 ~ Blair defies watchdog over jobs for the boys

Independent on Sunday "... Members of the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments, the watchdog designed to vet appointments, are furious at the move, which they say will lead to a relaxation of the rules designed to prevent corruption in Whitehall. The body has sounded a clear warning over the number of officials - particularly from the Ministry of Defence - moving into well-paid jobs with firms bidding for Whitehall contracts. ....the anti-sleaze watchdog raised concerns on at least four occasions..... The focus on the appointments will be particularly unwelcome this week, coming just days after trenchant criticism of the MoD's procurements from MPs. A report by the House of Commons Defence Committee was scathing about billion-pound cost overruns and years' delays to key projects. "The performance of the Defence Procurement Agency in 2002-2003 can only be described as woeful," concluded the report.
Nevertheless Mr Blair remains determined to make it easier for officials to move in and out of the private sector...." Read in full

August 1 2004 ~ "...The response from Mrs Beckett and Mr Morley, abetted by Tim Yeo for the Tories, is simply to threaten tougher enforcement of laws..."

Booker's Notebook in the Sunday Telegraph "An avalanche of high-minded directives have created regulatory pressures that are now in complete conflict with each other, rendering our waste management system increasingly unworkable.
On one hand, Brussels classifies ever more items as "hazardous waste" - used oil, paints, old vehicles, electrical equipment, asbestos, contaminated soil - so we now have to dispose of 5.2 million tons of these each year, a figure that has doubled in four years. On the other hand, as of two weeks ago, the number of landfill sites licensed to take hazardous waste has been reduced from 218 to fewer than 10 - so that, according to the Government's own figures, we only have the capacity to bury less than half the hazardous waste we are generating.
One entirely predictable result is an epidemic of abandoned cars, roadside heaps of paint cans and other examples of fly-tipping. The response from Mrs Beckett and Mr Morley, abetted by Tim Yeo for the Tories, is simply to threaten tougher enforcement of laws.." Read in full

July 31 ~ Playing politics with science issues

"The substitution of manipulable focus groups for House of Commons policy debate and select committee inquiry neglects the accumulated wisdom and cultural resources of the British constitution," wrote the former Labour MP for Motherwell and Wishaw, Dr Jeremy Bray. The Herald last Thursday published this article about the late Dr Bray's "devastating critique of New Labour's record"
    "Blair's use of a lawyer's casuistry in arguing a case for the prosecution or defence is likely to land him in trouble if he is in a tight corner.".... Dr Bray, who had been referring to Mr Blair's handling of the foot-and-mouth outbreak, adds: "Playing politics with science issues like this does not augur well at a time when we may be facing the use of chemical or biological weapons by terrorists."
    He says: "Unfortunately, even with the previous experience of BSE, the Blair government proved itself incapable of getting to grips with its own food and agriculture-related disaster. Politics – the desire to hold and win an early election – was given precedence. The price to the taxpayer was huge … has he learned anything?"
Read in full

July 30 ~ Regional Assemblies:"The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister is quite clearly losing the battle for hearts and minds."

Graham Booth, UKIP member of the EU Parliament is concerned at the way he was heckled at a meeting of the "South West Regional Assembly". He had three minutes in which to give a report but was heckled by members of the chamber, while the Chairman " kept interrupting, saying my report was too political." The WMN reports:
    "...UKIP claims that the assembly - which promotes the economic, social and environmental well-being of all who live and work in the region - is undemocratic because its members were never elected. It says the assembly, and those like it in other UK regions, was set up by the Government in response to a push by the European Union to split the country into regions and take power away from central Government. .... Mr Booth argued in his report that the postponement of referenda in the North West showed that regional assemblies were not wanted." Read in full

July 30 ~ ID cards plan is "secretive" and poorly thought out

David Blunkett's plan for compulsory identity cards will be condemned by the home affairs select committee today as " improperly costed, poorly thought out, secretive and "lacking in clarity both over the scheme's scope and practical operation".
See Guardian today. As John Humphrys says, "We don't exactly have a good track record on this sort of thing do we?"
The National data base will hold an enormous amount of information about each of us. Why? And why should so many government departments have a right to see the information while we do not?

July 26 ~ "... These are people who for a lifetime have been loyal hard-working servants of the State , well used to not breaking ranks. and now they have so it is a very serious thing."

Air Marshall Sir John Walker spoke out in the Today Programme on behalf of John Morrison, (sacked it seems for saying "When I heard him using those words I could almost hear the collective raspberry going up around Whitehall") and on behalf of the "great 400 year old democracy of ours" Sir John said:
    "....with what has gone on in terms of the whole dossier effect, the politicisation of the JIC, the decapitation of the BBC and the way this whole matter has been handled - I think to ask people to believe that this is just a normal end of contract would be beyond belief."
The Telegraph reports that " Sir David Omand, the Cabinet Office permanent secretary, was reportedly infuriated by Mr Morrison's appearance. The ISC, unlike Commons select committees, reports to the Cabinet Office and Mr Morrison was told last week that his contract was being terminated." (Read from one year ago "All the Prime Minsiter's Men" in the Telegraph )

July 25 ~ A national database containing confidential details about every child in Britain is to be set up by the government.

An identifying number will be assigned to each child so that the authorities can access their records. Sunday Times

July 25 ~"... the information on each of us being put in the hands of the state is vast."

Observer Leader "....Last week the Transport Secretary, Alistair Darling, proposed that every car in Britain be installed with a satellite receiver that could track every journey it makes and charge for it. The idea is to limit traffic congestion by extending the idea of a congestion charge. By 2013 every British citizen will have to carry an identity card with a biometric imprint. The idea is to cut welfare fraud and illegal immigration. By then the mergers of the Inland Revenue and Custom and Excise will have taken place so that all tax records will be held centrally. Each individual initiative is justifiable; cumulatively, they represent a step change in the state's capacity to know where we are.
Nor is this confined to the public sector. Banks and building societies can track our record in paying off our debts to which the entire industry has access; phone companies register every phone call and mobile phone companies can identify where we are. We need a national debate about the degree to which a new Big Brother is emerging and how we can protect the most precious quality of all - individual liberty. .."

July 25 ~ "The principles of Runnymede could finally apply to the unregulated Brussels super-state."

"Magna Carta is often invoked, yet its freedoms are being violated .." writes Tristram Hunt in yesterday's Guardian "....This is perhaps the key to the enduring currency of Magna Carta down the centuries: its perpetual ability to be invested with different meanings by utterly divergent parties. Yet even as politicians eulogise its place in our national heritage, governments remain keener than ever to undermine its principles." Read in full

July 24 2004 ~ All the historic checks and balances.... disregarded or casually discarded.

From today's Guardian Leader ".....The distinguished insider was describing a situation in which a prime minister presided over a massive parliamentary majority (including a largely tame and quiescent backbench) and over a form of cabinet government which, by any conventional measure, was all but dormant.
The parliamentary opposition was as feeble as anyone could remember.
Parliament itself was treated with scorn, with information carefully channelled through favoured media outlets rather than on the floor of the house.
The security services, as we have now learned, were being treated as a district office of the executive.
As if all this was not enough, the same prime minister toyed with the notion of abolishing the office of lord chancellor while simultaneously bringing the judiciary under the tender care and control of the Home Office.
All the historic checks and balances; all the restraints of parliamentary democracy and consensual decision-making; all the traditional, if unwritten, means of separating powers - all were disregarded or casually discarded.
We know to our cost the unhappy ending to that particular story: a woefully misguided war cynically marketed to a sceptical public by the misleading abuse of intelligence and and with a total absence of effective parliamentary challenge or scrutiny."

July 24 ~ "...when the Freedom of Information Act 2000 goes into operation on January 1 2005, we shall only be marginally better placed"

Peter Hennessy in the Guardian "..... But for two contingencies - the suicide of Dr Kelly and President Bush's decision to commission an inquiry into WMD and intelligence - we would have precious little to go on as electors reaching a judgment retrospectively on what the Butler report called "the vital matter of war and peace". And, when the Freedom of Information Act 2000 goes into operation on January 1 2005, we shall only be marginally better placed. For, by my estimate, around three-quarters of the material Hutton and Butler published will be within the intelligence-related exemptions in that statute and, therefore, immune from disclosure." Read in full
See also on warmwell "Freedom of Information" by Richard Wakeford - a worrying read. "..... weaker than the voluntary Code of Practice on Access to Government Information that was introduced by John Major in 1993 "

July 24 ~ I used to think he had persuaded himself of his duff information, but after Butler I can no longer believe it

Matthew Parris in the Times "....even Mr Blair’s admirers confess that in pursuit of his goals, this is a prime minister who is careless of the proprieties, cynical in his disregard for the lies his servants tell, and ready to twist the truth.
The alternative is unthinkable. It is that before he relayed the warning to to the nation, Mr Blair honestly never thought to ask for details of the attack Saddam could launch within 45 minutes; that he honestly overlooked the word “tonight” in Jacques Chirac’s refusal to support a United Nations ultimatum; that Jack Straw honestly thought the Prime Minister did not need to hear how key evidence for his case had been kicked away; that John Scarlett brushed aside caveats, not because he knew his boss preferred to do the same, but because in his professional opinion they did not matter; that, in short, the Prime Minister is an idiot served by idiots rather than a cynic served by cynics. By accepting Mr Blair’s good faith, Lord Butler can be argued to have launched an excoriating attack on his competence.
I do not doubt his competence. I used to think he had persuaded himself of his duff information, but after Butler I can no longer believe it. Mr Blair is a playground cheat and — frankly, my dear — Britain does not give a damn. The dogs may bark but the caravan moves on. Well, this dog is still barking." Read in full

July 23 ~ " The Government has changed its position but that's good for democracy..." John Prescott

John Prescott has delayed two pathfinding referendums aimed at establishing England's first regional assemblies. Referendums in the North West and Yorkshire and the Humber, planned for 4 November, were postponed. But a poll in the North East will go ahead as scheduled, MPs were told.
Ministers cited concerns about fraud during last month's pilot all-postal European and local elections, but opposition MPs said the votes had been scrapped because ministers feared a backlash against proposed regional assemblies among their own MPs..
Bernard Jenkin, the shadow Local Government minister, said: "When you use the word postpone, you mean cancel, scrap ... consign to the dustbin of failed ideas. The truth is that nobody wants an extra layer of professional politicians leeching more tax out of the pockets of hard-working people. "The reasons you've given for pulling these referendums is a fig-leaf to disguise the real reason," he said. "The fact is a majority of Labour MPs were in covert or open rebellion in the North West and Yorkshire this week." ." Independent

July 23 ~ The prospect of creating Lord Mandelson of Hartlepool was judged a step too far, even for a rejuvenated Mr Blair

Peter Mandelson " had been expected to jump at the chance of a return to a frontline post in Brussels. But he had a last-minute wobble and asked Mr Blair to let him "sleep on it" last night. Mr Mandelson told friends he was having second thoughts about leaving Parliament, his Hartlepool constituency, the New Labour project and his role as an adviser to Mr Blair at a time when a general election was looming.
His critics at Westminster were quick to interpret this as an attempt to secure a second comeback to the Cabinet after the election, which is expected to be held next May. That was flatly denied by his allies.
Mr Blair had been expected to reshuffle his Cabinet yesterday or today but left for his Sedgefield constituency last night without announcing any changes. John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, shouted across the Commons chamber: "There is no reshuffle.....
.., the Government had planned to move the writ for a by-election in Mr Mandelson's Hartlepool constituency. This would have allowed a short, sharp campaign with voting in three weeks' time....Downing Street considered moving the writ during the summer recess, but discovered that, under parliamentary rules, it could only do so if Mr Mandelson was declared dead, mad or bankrupt or was appointed a peer. The prospect of creating Lord Mandelson of Hartlepool was judged a step too far, even for a rejuvenated Mr Blair..... " Independent

July 22 - " In their disagreement, Cook and Hague exposed the leadership of both their parties.

The former foreign secretary rightly criticised the tone of his leader's speech. Struggling at first and pinned down by astute interventions, the prime minister wallowed in point scoring as he dismantled the unhappy leader of the opposition. It was a cheap performance that dug him out a hole but did him no credit. He left the chamber before Mr Cook spoke - and no other cabinet minister remained. The impression was of a government dusting itself down and grinning at a cheeky escape. The prime minister may hope that he will return after the summer and put Iraq behind him. If he thinks that, he is wrong." From the Guardian Leader July 21

July 21 ~"...the system puts almost all the cards in a single pair of hands."

Jonathan Freedland in the Guardian "The four Iraq-related inquiries have only underlined the point. Reid and Blair may call them "independent", but the investigations by the Commons foreign affairs committee, the intelligence and security committee, Hutton and Butler all share one characteristic: they were led by people hand-picked by the prime minister. .....if the prime minister wants something badly enough, he gets it. In the Iraq case, his laser-like resolve to stand with George Bush burned through every obstacle: the JIC, the cabinet, parliament, British public opinion. He overcame them all. What is the solution? I have a maximalist answer and a more modest one.......
No prime minister ever cedes power voluntarily. The trick is to use politics to wrest some of it from their grasp. The lesson of Iraq, and the poll tax for that matter, should be engraved above the desk in Downing Street, for all future prime ministers to read: "You have vast power, but use it at your peril." Twice in two decades, it has brought disaster." Read in full

July 20 ~ "the media have allowed themselves to be carried away by the question of secret intelligence, and have ignored equally or even more important questions of policy.

Senator Kerry has accused President Bush and his administration of misleading the public about Saddam's weapons of mass destruction and specifically about nuclear involvement. They "misled America... And they were wrong. And soldiers lost their lives because they were wrong". In Britain, now that it is clear that US and British policy has been based on a deception, it is equally clear that Iain Duncan Smith and the shadow cabinet were also deceived..." Oliver Miles in the Guardian

July 20 ~ A poll released yesterday indicates a majority of Britons believes Mr Blair lied over Iraq.

Fifty-five per cent of respondents to the ICM poll for The Guardian said Mr Blair had lied, while 37 per cent said he told the truth. Just 38 per cent of those polled said the war was justified, while 56 per cent felt it was not. Independent

July 20 ~Ten questions the Prime Minister has to answer

Independent
  • When did Mr Blair learn that some intelligence underpinning the dossier had been withdrawn? Did he learn of any doubts about that intelligence before the war?
  • What changes did Downing Street ask Lord Butler to make to his inquiry report? Did Mr Blair's office try to tone down criticism of the Prime Minister?
  • Why did Government witnesses not tell Lord Hutton that crucial intelligence on Saddam's chemical weapons production had been withdrawn?
  • Why was the Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee not told the intelligence had been withdrawn?
  • Did Mr Blair challenge the fact that important caveats in intelligence reports were removed from the Government's dossier on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction?
  • Did Mr Blair ask intelligence officers what sort of weapons the "45-minutes" claim related to?
  • When Lord Goldsmith said he needed "hard facts" to make the legal case for war, on what basis did Mr Blair reassure the Attorney General that the intelligence on Iraq warranted military action? Why will Mr Blair not publish the Attorney General's full advice?
  • Why was the Cabinet denied detailed papers on Iraq and given only oral briefings in the run-up to war?
  • Does Mr Blair accept that his statement to MPs on 24 September 2002 reinforced the impression that there was fuller intelligence behind the Government's dossier than actually existed? Will he now apologise?
  • Would Mr Blair have voted for the motion which authorised war in March last year if he knew then what he knows now?

    July 19 ~"There was never an honest debate in cabinet"

    Clare Short writes in the Independent today "Most ministers saw little intelligence and knew only what they read in the press".....
      "the report draws attention to the Prime Minister's very informal style of decision-making. It tells us there were papers written to inform cabinet discussion that were not circulated, therefore cabinet members were unable to take advice or reflect on issues in advance. However, we are told that the Cabinet discussed Iraq on 24 occasions. But most members of the Cabinet saw little intelligence, read no papers and knew only what they read in the press.
      Mr Blair raised Iraq after the summer recess of 2002 at every cabinet meeting. He would start by saying a few words, inviting Jack Straw or Geoff Hoon to speak and then intervening repeatedly to inform the Cabinet of developments. Their advice was never sought. They were kept informed and most were willing to go along with the Prime Minister but there was no collective decision which was thrashed out in honest debate and to which the Cabinet then adhered.
      In fact, since 1997, there has not been cabinet government in Britain. Power is centralised around the Prime Minister's informal entourage and patronage is used ruthlessly to keep people in line. The Prime Minister does not hold himself responsible to Cabinet or Parliament but to the media, which is why Alastair Campbell and Peter Mandelson have been so powerful.
      Under the Blair regime, much more than under Margaret Thatcher, British constitutional arrangements are crumbling. The votes of one in four of the people in the 2001 election produced a majority of 64 per cent in the Commons. This means almost anything can be rammed through the Commons and the only resistance comes from the House of Lords. Power has been sucked into No 10 and policy is driven by headline-grabbing announcements. It means that checks and balances have broken down, and that leads to ill-considered policy - most tragically in Tony Blair's policy towards Iraq."
    Read in full

    July 19 ~ ...cabinet members were not given a copy of the attorney general's advice of March 7 2003

    Guardian " Butler makes no reference to a rumoured January 2003 advice by the attorney general. After resolution 1441 was adopted, giving Iraq one final chance, Britain pushed hard for a further resolution that would explicitly authorise the use of force. Legal advice must have been given on whether a further resolution was needed. But Butler makes no reference to a rumoured January 2003 advice by the attorney general. ...The report suggests that Straw and the attorney general did not follow the views of the Foreign Office legal advisers, who are best placed to express views on the international law issues..
    .....we can now say this: even on the widely discredited basis put forward for the lawfulness of going to war - Iraq's material breach of its security council obligations - the use of force could not be justified. ." Philippe Sands QC Read in full

    July 19 ~ "... There was no clear response to a report that Downing Street managed to water down criticism

    in the Butler report, allowing the Prime Minister to say he acted in good faith. ..." Independent

    July 19 ~ "So Geraldine Smith MP was misled. Well, millions of us were not and we were ignored.

    We marched and we wrote and all we got was Tony Blair accusing us of being pro-Saddam Hussein, which we were not. Far from there being intelligence in this government there is an awful lot of naivity and arrogance."
    Kathleen O'Neill whose letter is one of many in today's Guardian

    July 19 ~ "...Closer inspection of Butler reveals that the processes of government were turned into something more akin to a banana republic

    than an advanced Western democracy. You do not have to be a liberal, middle-class journalist to find these contradictions frustrating and want to "get" the man responsible for it all...."
    "...Sir: That the Government lied to us to justify the war in Iraq is no longer in dispute. The shocking thing to me is that there is no consensus that this matters...."
    "...Sir: The Prime Minister and John Scarlett acted in good faith. So did Andrew Gilligan, Greg Dyke, Gavyn Davies and David Westwood. Is it then only when your misjudgement kills tens of thousands of men, women and children that you get to keep your job? "
    several letters in the Independent

    July 19 ~ How intelligence was bent to one will and purpose

    Anthony Sampson, in yesterday's Observer, assesses the faults of Scarlett and Campbell over Iraq and says both were acting for one man - the Prime Minister . Lord Butler's ... findings. ... show clearly that the blame can be shifted, in each case, to the very top - to the Prime Minister...
      It remains an unsolved mystery as to why Blair, who had no personal experience of the Middle East, became so convinced about the immediate danger of Saddam, and so determined on war, against much advice from diplomats as well as military and political colleagues. It was not just his desire to please Bush, strong though that was. Blair has described how when he first met Bush in early 2001, months before 11 September, it was he who warned Bush about the twin dangers of WMDs and terrorism. When Blair visited Bush on his Texas ranch in April 2002 some diplomats believe that he was actually stiffening Bush's resolve to go to war, if the UN route failed. Yet none of the documents quoted by Butler or Hutton reflect that same urgency about Iraq. Instead they show that Number 10 was always making the running, encouraging the JIC to provide judgments which went (as Butler says) to 'the outer limits of the intelligence available'. The crucial dossier was carefully redrafted to satisfy the Prime Minister; and when a precious piece of evidence about the 45-minute weapon was later withdrawn (as we learnt last week) he was not even informed. "
    Read in full

    July 19 ~ Only 5000 corpses uncovered - not the 40,000 quoted by Blair

    " Downing Street has admitted to The Observer that repeated claims by Tony Blair that '400,000 bodies had been found in Iraqi mass graves' is untrue, and only about 5,000 corpses have so far been uncovered. ..The claims by Blair in November and December of last year, were given widespread credence, quoted by MPs and widely published, including in the introduction to a US government pamphlet on Iraq's mass graves...." Read in full

    July 18 ~ a wilful refusal to seek the truth.

    (The Butler Report) cemented the impression that Tony Blair decided on war first and sought the justification later. But nobody expects him to admit that, not even to himself. Independent on Sunday
    "Tony Blair will stand up in the House of Commons on Tuesday and attempt, yet again, to conclude the long debate about the invasion of Iraq. This may be the last chance for Mr Blair's critics to put the questions that still remain, even after four inquiries, about his decision to go to war. ... Lord Butler revealed that both the "45 minutes" information and the intelligence from the "new source" had been withdrawn last July....the IoS has learned that MI6 discovered the untrustworthiness of its new source a lot earlier.
    .......The realisation began to dawn that he (the Iraqi military officer ) was as unreliable as MI6's other main source; it is even possible that he was planting disinformation. Be that as it may, the Butler committee found that three of MI6's five main sources on Iraq's CBW had been discredited. The two still considered accurate were painting a far less alarming picture. ....
    ...neither the Government nor the intelligence agencies thought it necessary to reappraise their views on Iraq's WMD after the UN inspectors repeatedly followed up MI6 and CIA leads and drew a blank. Butler found this omission "surprising". Others might say it demonstrated a wilful refusal to seek the truth..." Read in full

    July 17 ~ " ...a lightning flash illuminating a spectrum of failures from human and political shortcomings in the Cabinet room to the unreliability of some of the human intelligence garnered inside Iraq."

    Peter Hennessy in today's Independent "Perhaps the most surprising revelation from its nearly 200 pages is the degree to which intelligence did not pave the road to war. From the spring of 2002, when the Blair government switched from a policy of containing Saddam to one of "enforcing Iraqi disarmament" - a shift which, in Butler's words, "was not based on any new development in the current intelligence picture on Iraq" - to the very eve of the war a year later, when the Attorney General's opinion that the imminent war was legal did not rest on new intelligence, the story is one of negatives...." Read in full

    July 17 ~ "...The Prime Minister has lied when there was no possibility of justification.

    On the evidence now clear, he is also a liar. He has kept at it. He is, very likely, also more dishonourable than an open liar. He is confused about what matters most. He has dragged down democratic politics further." Professor Ted Honderich in a letter to the Independent

    July 17 ~ As late as February this year the Government was still insisting that the dossier provided a balanced view

    (Independent) "On each of the three occasions where intelligence was withdrawn, MI6 told the JIC and Mr Scarlett of its decision. According to MI6, it was up to the JIC to pass this on to Downing Street. The Cabinet Office refused to comment yesterday on whether this was done, or when MI6 informed the JIC"
    Mr Blair will be questioned about the new controversy in a Commons debate next week

    July 16 ~ "So far, four journalists and editors have lost their jobs but not a single politician or public official has been held to account for the botched road to war. .."

    New Stateman".. In his statement to MPs, Blair resorted yet again to his "What's the problem? We've got rid of a bad man" refrain. But this time he had to temper it with an acknowledgement of "full personal responsibility". He said he had searched his conscience "not in a spirit of obstinacy but in genuine reconsideration in the light of what we now know". Then he resorted to his tried and trusted tactic of triangulation. Even though it was now clear "that the evidence of Saddam's WMD was indeed less certain", he could not go to the "opposite extreme" and conclude that he posed no danger. The logic of this is utterly flawed. This was Blair's opportunity to put his hands up and say simply that - as Butler suggests time and again - he had got the intelligence wrong, no ifs, no buts.
    So far, four journalists and editors have lost their jobs but not a single politician or public official has been held to account for the botched road to war. Blair will escape not because of a lack of rigour on the part of Butler but because of a lack of political accountability. ......... Blair's lack of political accountability was also highlighted in the events immediately after publication of Butler's report. In the Commons, Michael Howard asked the right questions. Why were the caveats, the qualifications, the cautions left out of the dossier? How did qualified judgements become unqualified certainties? And the most important question for the future - if Blair had to commit British forces into action on the basis of another intelligence assessment, would anyone again believe him? Blair had no answer, but he did have the wounding riposte that Howard and the Conservatives were staunchly behind the war.
    ... In immediate political terms, Blair has been let off the hook, but such were the terms of the inquiry no other outcome was possible. Butler could not remove Blair. But he has proved beyond all reasonable doubt that, on the biggest decision of his premiership, Blair's judgement was found wanting, woefully so." Read in full

    July 15 ~ Now for the other Butler report. This is not about cooking books. It is about handling the caterers.

    Simon Jenkins in the Times "In his final chapter Lord Butler turns to Mr Blair’s style of regime. He is unequivocal. This style, he says, “lessened the support of the mechanism of government for the collective responsibility of the Cabinet”. Its “informality and circumscribed character” meant that ministers could make little input to decisions. Mr Blair’s use of “frequent but unscripted” meetings and the neglect of official papers beforehand was “of concern”. This was the more dangerous where “in the vital matter of war and peace . . . the quality of judgment is all the more important”. ........ ...... To Lord Butler, the Iraq intelligence debacle was a case history of what Mr Blair and his cronies had done to his beloved Civil Service. The degeneration of carefully nuanced intelligence as it rose up the assessment hierarchy might be no different from what happened before the Falklands. What was new in the case of Iraq was that Downing Street itself was stripped of normal checks and balances and denuded of independent-minded advice. Even the Cabinet no longer operated. ......
    Lord Butler clearly believes that no government can be run on Napoleonic lines. The Northcote-Trevelyan Civil Service was created 150 years ago to replace a corrupt and incompetent executive based on ministerial patronage, an executive for which Mr Blair seems to yearn. ..." Read in full

    July 14 ~ The most damaging fallout from Butler will be the light it sheds not on the machinery of government — but on Mr Blair’s character as leader.

    Simon Jenkins today "... Before the war Mr Blair said a dozen things that turned out to be untrue, and his staff induced others to do likewise. But this was for a specific cause. That cause was not confronting Saddam Hussein as such. It was the decision, taken by Mr Blair personally in mid-2002, to support whatever action George Bush and Donald Rumsfeld might take in Iraq.
    The Downing Street dossiers that form the raw material for Hutton and Butler were never intelligence reports as such. Such documents are always nuanced, detailed and confidential. These were pro-war tracts. In language and presentation they were the base metal of intelligence turned to media gold by the conjurers and bullies with whom Mr Blair had filled Downing Street. Even professional Washington was aghast...." Read in full

    July 14 ~ House of Lords throws out plans to abolish Lord Chancellor

    Independent "....Lord Kingsland, a Conservative frontbench spokesman, said: "The Government is risking our future with its uncontrollable obsession with obliterating our past." He told peers: "The Government wish to expunge the office of Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain from our constitution. This office still has a vital role in protecting the rule of law."
    Lord Lloyd of Berwick, a former law lord, warned: "The task of defending judicial independence in Cabinet is a task of such critical importance that it should be given to a senior judge or lawyer who is a member of the House of Lords and not a politician on his way up the greasy pole." He added: "The necessary check would be there if the Lord Chancellor is in the Cabinet. We will get rid of that at our peril."...." Read in full

    July 13 ~ "....why journalists help governments to lie to the people."

    George Monbiot in the Guardian "....When starving people find food, they don't worry too much about the ingredients. Michael Moore's film is crude and sometimes patronising. He puts words into people's mouths. He finishes their sentences for them. At times he is funny and moving, at others clumsy and incoherent. But I was shaken by it, and I applauded at the end. For Fahrenheit 9/11 asks the questions that should have been asked every day for the past four years. The success of his film testifies to the rest of the media's failure. Tomorrow the Butler report will reopen the debate about who was to blame for the lies with which we went to war - the government or the intelligence agencies. One thing the news networks will not be discussing is the culpability of the news networks. After this inquiry, we will need another one, whose purpose is to discover why journalists help governments to lie to the people.
    .....When most of our journalists fail us, it's hardly surprising that the few who are brave enough to expose the lies of the powerful become heroes, even if their work is pretty coarse. When a scruffy comedian from Michigan can bring us closer to the truth than the BBC, it's time for a serious examination of why news has become the propaganda of the victor. " Read in full

    July 6 ~ The Chinese military doctor who blew the whistle last year on China's SARS cover-up is reportedly undergoing " interrogation and indoctrination "

    The claim has been made by the Washington Post "...in late February, Jiang sent a letter to the leadership urging them to admit the party's 1989 military assault on student-led, pro-democracy demonstrations in Tiananmen Square was wrong....the doctor said he wanted to use the political capital he had accumulated during the SARS crisis to speak out on behalf of the victims of the 1989 massacre and their relatives. ..".
    " When the family pressed officials to name which regulations Jiang had violated, one of the officials was quoted by the source as replying: "Not being consistent with the party's Central Committee." ... officials have shown family members at least two handwritten notes from the doctor. In one, the sources said, Jiang said he was fine, urged the family not to worry about him and made the vow to "seek truth through facts." .."

    July 6 ~ GMB Union will no longer automatically back Labour.

    With £750,000 worth of electoral funds at its disposal, the union has decided not to give it to the Labour party but to back the individual candidates that it feels best reflect the union's interest. (Channel 4 news update)

    July 6 ~ to govern better, we have to govern less; we have to let people make more decisions with less interference from politicians and bureaucrats

    Oliver Letwin in today's Telegraph "...... The desire to be seen to be active in every aspect of life has created a new logic of big government. Bureaucrats and administrators in units, boards and panels devise regulations and set conditions on specific grants in order to implement initiatives, so that compliance with targets can be monitored by inspectors in the ever-growing layers of government that control local activity.
    How can we unwind this logic? Since the Government has grown too big, we need to make it smaller.
    We cannot shrink the Government just by cutting out waste. We have to change the approach to governing: to govern better, we have to govern less; we have to let people make more decisions with less interference from politicians and bureaucrats" Read in full

    July 6 ~ "My son died because he was lied to."

    The Western Mail on the reaction of the father whose 20-year-old son Tom, from Bala, was one of six Royal Military policemen shot dead in Iraq last June. The hand-written letter he received from Tony Blair was leaked by an unknown source - Mr Keys said he did not release the information - to a Sunday tabloid.
      ".... He put pressure on Greg Dyke to go because he didn't double-check Gilligan's story; Piers Morgan was sacked because he didn't check the authenticity of the pictures allegedly showing British troops abusing Iraqi soldiers; and now Blunkett is forcing the chief of police of Humberside to resign because his force did not double-check Huntley's background.
      "The Prime Minister didn't double-check MI6 intelligence and now 60 British servicemen are dead and thousands of innocent Iraqis.
      "My son died because he was lied to." Read in full

    July 6 ~ "Some aides want Mr Blair to try to turn the Butler report to his advantage"

    Spin is so much taken for granted now that even the idea of an apology is seen merely as a possible vote-winner. All depends on what Butler actually reports. " he will accept that mistakes were made if that is what Butler concludes " See the Independent today:
      "... there is an intense debate inside Downing Street about the tone that Mr Blair should adopt when he describes what went wrong over the intelligence about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. Some aides want Mr Blair to try to turn the Butler report to his advantage by issuing a frank admission that he was wrong to base the case for war on WMD. "This could be a cathartic moment - but only if we say it strongly enough," one said yesterday. Other advisers are arguing that Mr Blair has nothing to apologise for despite the failure to find WMD in Iraq....Although the Prime Minister's statement will not be finalised until he receives the Butler report, close allies believe he will adopt a middle course. "He won't say sorry but he will accept that mistakes were made if that is what Butler concludes and he will promise that lessons will be learnt," one said..."

    July 5 ~ Referendum for Regional Assemblies "The Government will not be showing the leaflet to the Electoral Commission in advance of publication."

    Hansard "To ask the Deputy Prime Minister what steps he will be taking to ensure that the content of leaflets distributed to households in regions due to hold a referendum on an elected regional assembly is objective; whether he will be consulting the Electoral Commission on their content..."

    July 5 ~ No Excuse for Denial - letter in the Washington Post

    WP "The Justice Department is reported to have denied a request made under the Freedom of Information Act for a copy of its database of foreign lobbyists because making such a copy might crash the system and destroy data [news story, June 30].
    If that's true, one might ask Thomas J. McIntyre, the official quoted, how the department backs up the database, which is nothing more or less than creating a copy.
    Only two responses are possible: Either the department backs up the database with no ill effects, in which case the original claim is specious, or the department doesn't back it up, in which case the entire information technology department ought to be fired for incompetence."

    July 4 ~" Is No 10 running scared of Butler?"

    Independent on Sunday "What will be Downing Street's reaction to the report? Unlike with the Hutton inquiry, Mr Blair is likely to know its contents at least a week in advance, since it is a report to him, not an independent judicial inquiry. He will have plenty of time to prepare what is being dubbed a "non-apology apology". ..
    ....A host of measures prepared in case Lord Hutton issued a critical report have been readied for the Butler report..." Read in full

    July 4 ~ "intelligence services would be allowed to block out passages of the (Butler) report before it is made public.."

    "A draft report of the inquiry by Lord Butler of Brockwell singles out the roles of John Scarlett, head of the joint intelligence committee (JIC), Sir Richard Dearlove, the head of MI6, and Lord Goldsmith, the attorney general, for censure, insiders say..." See Sunday Times, and
    "Spy chiefs to censor hard-hitting Butler report No 10 to be rebuked over Iraq intelligence. Campbell and Scarlett may be singled out..." Independent on Sunday
    Read both articles in full and note "A senior government source admitted last night that the intelligence services would be allowed to block out passages of the report before it is made public on 14 July."

    July 4 ~ Blunkett plans EU criminal database

    Sunday Telegraph "A European Union criminal database to store DNA and fingerprint records from hundreds of thousands of suspects will be proposed by the Government this week. David Blunkett,..... envisages a central database, probably controlled by Europol but accessible by national police forces. .....
    ....Barry Hugill, a spokesman for Liberty, the civil rights group, criticised what he saw as an obsession with and over-reliance on technology, which he feared was flawed. He suspected errors in Britain's existing crime database and said: "If it becomes a European-wide system, this seems to be a recipe for muddles, confusion and mix-ups." The new proposals are also expected to anger the Liberal Democrats, who lead the opposition to wholesale storage of biometric records in Britain."

    July 4 ~ Mr Blair must now decide which way Britain will jump.

    Booker's Notebook ".....The US is so worried by this threat to its military security that it is discussing a plan to spend $3 billion on a jamming system, and even to put up satellites that could blow Galileo out of the sky.
    Britain is helping to foot the bill for Galileo, which will be under the personal control of the EU's "foreign minister", and the US is sufficiently alarmed by our support for the project that, as is now being openly stated in Washington, this could prove the end of any "special relationship". Mr Blair must now decide which way Britain will jump." Read in full

    July 2 ~ "Power is at the centre, and that's where the political classes like to keep it"

    Home Secretary David Blunkett won a High Court ruling suspending David Westwood.Jon Snow's Channel 4 update comment " Poor chap, once he might have been Sir David, now he's suffering public suspension in the face of failures in his force. Failure in particular to spot that Ian Huntley, convicted of the Soham murders, was a serial sex offender. So he's gone and the Home Secretary has proved what we've all known - power is at the centre, and that's where the political classes like to keep it."

    June 30 ~“I intend to keep under review the question of whether those who make limited or no use of covert activities should continue to be entitled to authorise them.”

    Scotsman "Public agencies such as Government departments mounted more than 6,000 surveillance operations on staff and members of the public last year, it emerged today.
    It was the first time data had been disclosed on the scale of surveillance by non-police organisations.
    Standards in some Government departments which use the controversial techniques were condemned as “consistently poor” by watchdogs. ........
    .......... Twelve Government departments and quangos were inspected during the year – including DEFRA, the Home Office’s Immigration Service and Prison Service, the National Assembly for Wales and the Financial Services Agency.
    The group was singled out for particular criticism, although individual organisations were not named and shamed by Sir Andrew.
    “It is unfortunate that a few remain consistently poor,” said his report. “I intend to keep under review the question of whether those who make limited or no use of covert activities should continue to be entitled to authorise them.”

    June 30 ~ "Lord Butler intends to deliver his verdict on 14 July, which would probably ensure that it dominates the news agenda as the by-elections take place.

    His move is seen by No 10 as a sign that he is determined to demonstrate his independence from the Government. The timing could wreck ministers' plans to ensure public services dominate the by-elections campaign. The Treasury announced yesterday that Gordon Brown would release his three-year spending programme on 12 July, and ministers planned to follow it with a series of "good news" announcements. Some Downing Street aides want to urge Lord Butler to delay .......One minister said: "There is a lot of anxiety in No 10. Butler has interpreted his remit widely and has been asking searching questions. The expectation is that he will produce a thorough and hard- hitting report."
    The speculation is that the Butler committee will look into the way in which decisions were taken by Mr Blair's tight but informal inner circle in the run-up to the Iraq war...." Independent

    June 30 ~ "....the Pentagon should aim, by the end of this year, to release, repatriate or to put on open trial all those originally captured in late 2001.

    Times yesterday "It would also be sensible for officials of the Administration to provide more information explaining why these individuals were arrested. It is too early to tell how many, if any, of these prisoners will eventually win freedom in US courtrooms. That the ruling is a victory for the American judiciary over its misguided critics should not be doubted. The Supreme Court was described by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes as “quiet”, but only because it was the “quiet of a storm centre”. This court has correctly placed itself at the centre of this political storm and re-emphasised the importance of the rule of law."

    June 29 ~ Guantánamo detainees granted access to US courts

    Guardian "The US supreme court has ruled that prisoners seized as potential terrorists and held for more than two years in Guantánamo bay may challenge their captivity in US courts.
    The ruling will come as a blow to the Bush administration, which has argued that the so-called "enemy combatants" are not entitled to the rights provided for prisoners of war by the Geneva conventions nor the constitutional protections guaranteed criminal suspects under US law.
    The six-to-three ruling passes no judgment on the guilt or innocence of the approximately 600 foreign-born men held in the US navy-run prison camp in Cuba. Neither did the justices address the broad issues of human rights and civil liberties surrounding the prisoners' seizure and detention without trial or guaranteed access to a lawyer. ....The case concerns only Guantánamo detainees, although the US holds prisoners in numerous other places overseas.
    Central to the Guantánamo case is the definition of US control at the naval base. The detainees claimed it was under the de facto control of the United States, even though it remains a part of Cuba. .."

    June 29 ~ It is the first time the Home Secretary has used powers under the Police Reform Act 2002 to order the suspension of a chief constable in this way

    Independent. ".....Earlier in the day the authority revealed it had written to Mr Blunkett explaining why they want him to reconsider. The move comes amidst mounting criticism of the Home Secretary's own handling of the Soham inquiry.
    * Mr Blunkett said yesterday he wants to stay on as Home Secretary if Labour win the next general election. The politician said he would like to build on the foundations he has laid during his first years in the department..."

    Jun 28 2004 ~ "Mr Blunkett is exercising his powers under the controversial 2002 Police Reform Act

    which gave the Home Secretary greater powers to intervene in local policing. Tony Travers, an expert on local government at the London School of Economics, told the BBC: "There is no doubt that the law gives the Home Secretary the right to command a police authority to remove a chief constable, although it has to be done reasonably and in accordance with the legislation as it is written down."
    The local government expert added, however: "It does point to a much bigger question, which is how far do we want politicians directly to control the activities of police authorities and, crucially, police officers themselves." Independent

    June 28 ~ Holly Wells' father gives his support to Humberside's police chief but the Home Office insists he should be suspended.

    BBC "The father of murdered schoolgirl Holly Wells has given support to Humberside's police chief, who faces suspension over his handling of the murder inquiry. ...On Sunday, Humberside Police Authority chairman Colin Inglis said that Kevin Wells' support for the chief constable was "a measure of the relationship he's developed with the families". He also said he believed Mr Westwood had been the victim of bullying at the hands of the government. Mr Wells told the Mail on Sunday newspaper: "The inquiry into the murders has become a major political issue and we have found that shocking. "We have always understood Mr Westwood to have our best interests at heart and to be willing to take the blame for troubles which pre-dated his promotion. "If that brought an end to his career it would be a travesty."

    June 28 ~ "... The Patriot Act is so radical a departure from the American Civil Liberties tradition

    that if its most radical provisions are made permanent, as Bush desires, I think it would be legitimate to date from 2001 the Second American Republic. It is a much impoverished republic compared to the first, and ominously intertwined with Imperial themes. If Moore makes anyone angry about anything, I hope it is this..
    ...I thought the point that Bush spent a lot of time away from Washington in his first 8 months in office was well made, and dovetails with the revelations of former anti-terrorism czar Richard Clarke about Bush's unconcern with the terrorism threat. The way in which the Iraq war was a manipulated get-up job was also graphically and well portrayed. Likewise the cynical use of the "war on terror" to erode Americans' basic civil liberties is appropriately presented in canny and strident tones." Juan Cole reviews Fahrenheit 9/11 He admires some parts and is very sceptical of others.

    June 25 ~ Fears on postal vote fraud are ignored

    Times "....a few days ago, the Electoral Commission advised the Government not to lay the regulations until it had published its evaluation of pilot schemes in the European and local elections, in mid-September. .....The concern comes after a Times investigation which disclosed widespread allegations of intimidation and fraud in two of the biggest pilot areas — the North West and Yorkshire and the Humber. There are six police investigations continuing into alleged fraud. ....... The referendums on directly elected regional assemblies are due this autumn in three of the four areas which participated in the postal trials — the North West, Yorkshire and the Humber and the North East. Sam Younger, the commission’s chairman, confirmed its concerns yesterday. “We recognise that the June pilots raised issues around public confidence and appropriate safeguards that will need careful consideration,” he said. ....."

    June 25 ~ "... in the end Gordon will always funk it"

    Matthew Parris in the Times contemplates Gordon Brown. " Nobody should underestimate the power which a sense of tide can have in politics and history. Nobody should understimate how fatal to a new leader’s manifesto can be the inkling that the Force is no longer with his army. Nobody should overlook how unfair, yet how unanswerable, is the feeling that it is all slipping away and nothing can bring it back. Ask John Major.
    ... The switch to his premiership needs to attract the excitement of revolution. " Read in full

    June 23 ~ The AER campaign ".. saves culture, education, health and social services from being mere commercial commodities"

    Press Release 21 June ".... It seems that Member States have finally realised that, contrary to the arguments put forward by the European Commission, international agreements such as the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) could pose a risk to social, educational, cultural and health services in Europe"

    June 23 ~"...the UK government believes that policies for Culture, Education, Health and Social Affairs are better off in the hands of the European Institutions"

    Press Release 15th June "... In a letter to the Assembly of European Regions (AER), UK Minister for Europe Denis MacShane, sets out the UK Government's intention to give up core decision-making powers in the fields of Culture, Education, Audiovisual, Health and Social Services during the final round of negotiations on the European Constitution. The Assembly of European Regions calls upon the Intergovernmental Conference not to support the line followed by the UK government, and to retain national Sovereignty over these policy areas..In view of the opposition of the UK Government to Qualified Majority Vote in areas such as Security and Defence and Financial policy, the AER comes to the conclusion that obviously the UK government believes that policies for Culture, Education, Health and Social Affairs are better off in the hands of the European Institutions than at the level of national and regional governments."

    June 23 ~ Fake ID cards 'openly available'

    BBC "Fake identification and qualifications are openly for sale on the internet, allowing a person to become "virtually anybody", a study has revealed. Bogus proof of age, student, national ID and employee cards are all on offer from UK companies ....."

    June 22 ~ "....a case-study in the decline of British journalism."

    Guardian comment "... Kelner's appearance on the Today programme yesterday as a pro-EU protagonist is all of a piece with the partisan approach that has marked his editorship of the Independent. Under Kelner, Independent front pages have become relentlessly engaged and committed. Yesterday's consisted of a series of rebuttals of "Eurosceptic fictions". I'm not sure that this is significantly closer to Kovach's ideal than the Mail's front pages. Whatever else the Independent may be today, it is certainly not independent.
    These are the conditions under which the EU referendum debate is fated to be argued out. It explains, in part, why Blair's decision to fight for a yes vote has a certain heroic quality. Until now, Blair's Labour party has taken it as given that the press is hostile. That is why it always preferred accommodation rather than confrontation with powerful media interests. But that option no longer exists, which is why most press people assume that Labour will lose the referendum. In the longer term, however, there has to be a better alternative to an already strident and confrontational press becoming yet more strident and confrontational. And, increasingly, there are signs this alternative is being articulated. Significant voices are beginning to be heard setting out the case for a more truthful, more aware and, above all, a better British press.
    One of the most recent is that of Onora O'Neill, the former Reith lecturer, whose 2003 lecture Rethinking Freedom of the Press has just been published by the Royal Irish Academy in Dublin..." Read in full

    June 22 ~ ".....The influence of the market is manifest in multiple ways.

    The funding of parties now moves solely to its rhythm: big business and the rich are as important to New Labour as they are to the Conservatives. The same interests fund, and therefore influence, the parties. Big money calls the tune. Nowhere is this truer than in American politics, which has become a plutocracy mediated by democracy, rather than the reverse. As the media has displaced traditional forms of discourse and mobilisation, ownership of the media has become increasingly important in the determination of political choices and electoral results. The most dangerous example is in Italy, where Silvio Berlusconi's ownership of the bulk of the private media has enabled him to transform Italian democracy into something verging on a mediaocracy, leaving politics and the state besieged by his immense personal power and wealth. ..." Guardian Democracy isn't working

    June 22 ~ "Throughout an hour-long debate in which he was accused by the Conservatives of offering "myths" about the agreement he signed in Brussels at the weekend

    the Prime Minister pointedly declined to use the word "constitution" even once, instead referring to "the treaty". The referendum must be held by the end of 2006, and the Chancellor yesterday insisted that the Prime Minister will take charge of the drive to reverse voters’ scepticism about the constitution. ..." Scotsman

    June 21 ~ The EU Referendum blogspot has received 10,000 hits in the eight weeks it has been going.

    Like warmwell, it is wholly unfunded and updated daily. Today on the EU Referendum blogspot: "....After seven years as prime minister, he has acquired that patina of arrogance that so often infects the holders of this office. He is beginning to treat his electors as if they were stupid. If I know my fellow man at all well, there is one thing which I believe they will not tolerate. The will accept being kept in the dark – on occasions – they do not particularly object to be neglected, and don’t even mind being insulted, pace "the weakest link".
    But what they will not put with is being patronised. That knowing, sneering demeanour that says "I know best" and "You're too stupid to understand so I can feed you any old crap and you'll believe it".
    As The Times pointed out today, people can read. A very large number of people are going to read the constitution – or attempt to. There, they are going to find the reality and thus identify the myth-maker that is Tony Blair. Then there will indeed be a "fascinating political battle", as Blair puts it. But he ain't going to win it. ." See also Helen's posting on "wavering red lines"

    June 21 ~ "...If he invites the British people to trust him on a matter of such magnitude as the European constitution, he will get a resounding raspberry.."

    Guardian Comment by Max Hastings "...Winning a referendum on Europe will be a huge and politically dangerous task. " To achieve victory, Britain's prime minister will need to persuade the public to a proposition that was once one of Tony's most successful: "Trust me." If Brown were prime minister, he could draw upon relatively undamaged credit to say such a thing.
    Yet faith in Blair seems damaged in a fashion that cannot be undone. If he invites the British people to trust him on a matter of such magnitude as the European constitution, he will get a resounding raspberry. Indeed, the more personal the campaign Blair conducts on behalf of the constitution between now and a referendum, the less effective it seems likely to be..."

    June 21 ~ "There is a pervasive belief in the U.S. that what happened in Nazi Germany could never happen here..."

    "Read in full this essay Creeping fascism by S. Rowan Wolf, Ph.D. from the OnlineJournal website
      " ...new legislation......All of these in the name of "security," and argued as "necessary in the war on terrorism." Wasn't it Ben Franklin who said something to the effect, "That he who gives up liberty for security gets neither"?...
      ...had their fears quieted by the Hitler propaganda machine. They blindly and unwittingly gave up their democracy to fascism because those "rules and punishments" applied to someone else—the Jew, the Gypsy, the immoral, the homosexual, the anti-Reich resister—not to them. Those extreme government actions were for "their" protection and for a greater Germany. It is more than hauntingly familiar. It is playing out day by day in front of our eyes..."

    June 18 ~ "...The danger is that information about British citizens will be shared with the Americans

    and there are very few safeguards on how this can be used by the US authorities who have a very different idea to privacy and data protection from us." Guardian report Biometrics - great hope for world security or triumph for Big Brother?

    June 18 ~ Blunkett admits diplomat was right over visas fiasco

    Independent "The diplomat who blew the whistle on the chaos over East European visas, losing his post as a result, was "substantially right" in his complaints, David Blunkett conceded yesterday. The Home Secretary's admission came as a government inquiry disclosed that nearly 23,000 Romanians and Bulgarians came to Britain under the controversial work permit system over two years.
    The investigation concluded there had been serious failures in issuing visas and widespread exploitation of the system by fraudulent applicants, but cleared ministers and senior officials of responsibility.
    The fiasco led to the resignation of Beverley Hughes as Immigration minister, while the whistleblower, James Cameron, Britain's consul in the Romanian capital, Bucharest, was hauled back to London.
    Mr Cameron, who leaked details of the visa irregularities to the Tories, is understood to be taking legal advice after being given a final disciplinary warning, a pay freeze for a year and a three-year block on promotion. ....." See below

    June 17 ~ "..... If UKIP can be said to be tapping into anything it is people’s anger at that kind of patronizing rubbish doled out by the media and the political classes.

    Still, the times they are a’changin’. On Monday evening I was asked to take part in a discussion on Radio Five Live. Its theme was unexpected. The two questions asked were: Can we get out of the EU? What will happen if we do?
    The consensus was that we can and should get out (with some demurral on the second point) and nothing much will happen if we do. By the end of the programme, it became obvious that the real question was: Why bother to stay in?..." Read in full this posting by Helen

    June 16 ~ "This weekend several sorely wounded European leaders meet in Brussels to agree a new constitution.

    They mean to do so in flat contradiction to a rising fifth of the European electorate. If I were Mr Blair I would declare the constitution unacceptable and come straight home. ..
    ...I have visited constituencies in three areas in the past two months and found hardly one Conservative who does not sympathise with the UKIP’s policy of withdrawal, whether or not preceded by renegotiation.
    They regard the Euroscepticism of Mr Howard and his colleagues as lukewarm and unsustained in practice. Did these leaders not sign the Single European Act and the (amended) Maastricht treaty? They spent 18 years handing 70 per cent of lawmaking and regulation over from Westminster to Brussels. They claimed constantly to renegotiate, but they never did. ..." Simon Jenkins in the Times "Now Howard must make peace with the UKIP"

    June 16 ~ Information Commissioner 'increasingly alarmed' by ID card scheme

    From the Register.co.uk "David Blunkett's ID card draft bill came under fire yesterday (June 8) from Information Commissioner Richard Thomas, who told the Home Affairs Committee ID cards inquiry that his views on the subject had changed from healthy scepticism to "increasing alarm." ....... he said to the Committee, he now likes it even less, and draws attention to its Sir Humphrey/Yes Minister statement of statutory purposes of the register. Clause one subsection two, for example, defines one purpose as being to provide "a record of registrable facts about individuals in the United Kingdom." That is the purpose of the register is to be a register, which is possibly not a great deal of help.
    He declined to state absolutely that the draft bill was taking us into 1984 territory, but the Committee chairman responded that the Committee could draw its own conclusions on this." Read in full

    June 15 ~ Campbell: the wages of spin

    The Independent" In this extract from a new biography, Peter Oborne and Simon Walters reveal how Alastair Campbell's skill in handling the media rebounded against him and his boss....
      ".....when the PM's plane took off, Campbell called the two journalists to the front of the plane. "I've had to do something a bit unconventional," he told them. "I have filed copy in your joint names announcing that we have nominated George Robertson to be the new secretary general of Nato."
      "You've done what?" asked an incredulous Smith.
      "Don't worry, it's a joint byline," said Campbell.
      Smith was shocked. "I thought, Christ I'm dead." He feared that if his editor discovered that the Prime Minister's press secretary had filed copy in his name, he would be in serious trouble. Smith leaned towards Campbell and said: "Alastair, you are going to have to tell me very slowly, exactly what you have done. Every detail."
      Campbell replied: "I wrote a story with the pen and paper you gave me and used the PM's secure communications to get it to Godric [Smith] at Number 10 and told him to ring Reuters and PA and file it as copy by you two."
      A seething Smith inquired: "And are we going to be allowed to see the story you have filed in our name?"
      ....
      ... a classic example of the Campbell media operation - so hands-on he wrote the story himself. He would say to Whitehall press officers at Downing Street meetings: "Do you know what is going to be on the front page of The Sun tomorrow? I want you not just to know, but to help me to write it." For him, it was the only yardstick that mattered...." Read in full
    warmwell note - we have never satisfactorily heard the answer to the important question - "Did Alastair Campbell receive sufficient security clearance for his role in the run-up to the war in Iraq?" Despite numerous parliamentary questions - the Prime Minister refused to give an unequivocal answer.

    June 14 ~ James Cameron - immigration whistleblower says charges against him include providing " political ammunition to attack the Government".

    Independent "A British diplomatic whistle-blower whose exposure of immigration scams led to the resignation of a government minister is facing investigation over visa applications. James Cameron, the British consul in Romania, has been recalled to London to answer allegations of "misconduct" and "improper dealings" with a travel agency in Moldova. The diplomat's exposure of abuses of the immigration system resulted in the immigration minister Beverley Hughes leaving her post. Ms Hughes had originally denied any knowledge of concern among officials over the issue. But she was forced to resign after it was disclosed that she had been told about the problem by a ministerial colleague...."

    June 14 ~ "Across the EU, sitting governments were punished as disgruntled voters opted for opposition politicians, mavericks or Eurosceptics."

    Independent " ..... Few governments escaped, with the exception of recently elected ones, such as the Greek centre-right administration and the Spanish Socialist government, elected after the Madrid terror attack of 11 March.
    Centre right parties are expected to be the biggest group in the new European Parliament, with between 247 and 277 of the 732 seats.
    Michael Howard. the Tory leader, will now come under pressure from some Eurosceptic MPs to harden his party's line on Europe to win back its "lost" supporters. Some senior Tories fear another outbreak of the party's civil war over Europe.
    Eurosceptics claim Mr Howard's pursuit of a "middle way" on Europe lost votes. .....According to a YouGov survey of 7,400 people for Sky News,Tory supporters favour UKIP's policy of pulling out of the EU by 47 per cent to 40 per cent...."

    June 13 ~ Blair backs electronic border checks

    Sunday Telegraph "Britain is preparing to move to a system of electronic border controls within the next three years, reveals leaked Cabinet documents A confidential memo shows that Tony Blair, the Prime Minister, believes that a new electronic system is "unavoidable".. ... Electronic border systems, once in operation, would enable immigration officials and airline staff to check fingerprints and other biometric data, such as iris identification, on people seeking to come to Britain, rather than relying simply on passport checks.
    ......Fully integrated systems would include fingerprint-checking machines and iris-recognition devices that would operate by passengers staring into lenses.
    These could be combined with new credit-card style "passport cards" which could in time replace the traditional passport. Travellers would simply swipe their cards through a machine to be granted access to a country - so long as the information tallied with the recorded biometric data.
    It was revealed last week how the memo also contains secret plans to set quotas that would keep out thousands of black and Asian immigrants from countries such as India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nigeria and Sierra Leone." Read in full

    June 13 ~"..... One of the greatest mistakes made by the political establishment in assessing this phenomenon is to imagine that this revulsion against the EU is due to "xenophobia".

    What the British people have instinctively most come to resent - as I know from thousands of letters I have received in recent years from readers who will have supported UKIP last Thursday - is the realisation that we are being taken over by a wholly new form of government.
    They view this system as alien, not because it is "run by foreigners" - they are well aware that our own political class plays just as active a part in it as those of other countries - but because it is undemocratic, oppressive and because it does not work. ..." Booker's Notebook

    June 12 ~ "...Do you not get the impression, as I do, that the three largest parties in England regard the representation of the people as a kind of closed shop: theirs by right?

    We hear all three of our mainstream parties openly and without shame discussing what system of voting, weighing votes, funding political parties and requiring deposits from candidates, will be best calculated to prevent the rise of small or “extremist” parties. .." Matthew Parris in the Times.
    "...Europe poses one of the biggest questions ahead of us. We do not have to be part of the EU; it is not divinely ordained; we could undoubtedly leave. The EU does not know where it is going and we do not know whether or how far we are going with it. My own belief is that we should string along for the time being, but there is nothing mad about thinking we should not. I fail to see how a party which places one solution to these uncertainties at the centre of its manifesto can be dismissed as either pointless or mischievous..." Read in full

    May 29 ~ "... Blair has damaged the culture but I don’t think it’s irreversible. In the end British people have a habit of reasserting their anger against overbearing rulers. .."

    Open Democracy net."... Both of you, in different ways, welcomed the arrival of New Labour in 1997. Now, in different ways, you have become not just disenchanted, but seriously worried about what is happening to British government. Both of you have written books that are a wake-up call to your compatriots about how you see public life in Britain, its system of parliamentary democracy, and fundamental rights like trial by jury being threatened – all now intensified under the pressure of fighting terrorism and the way the United Kingdom was led to war in Iraq.
    Anthony Sampson: .....any government that determines its performances around a public relations effort, as Tony Blair set out to do, is also inevitably centralised. It comes from the need to control the message or “spin” delivered to the public. This sucks power into the centre, and even though you may think this is temporary in order to achieve reforms, it gives tremendous power to a very small group of people – a very serious mistake which has never really been rectified. ......
    .......
    Helena Kennedy:....I’ll have the last word, and it’s this: the leverage has to come from us, from “we the people”, that things have to be done differently. ..." Read in full

    May 29 ~ All kinds of misgivings are aroused by the experiment with all-postal voting, almost casually undertaken, and now under way in Britain.

    This particular pilot looks like a complete shambles. ...." Matthew Parris in The Times
    "....Here’s what I think we should do about declining voter turnouts. Nothing.
    We have a system, a kind of ritual, for electing our representatives in Britain; we have done it this way for a long time; it contains an element of theatre — curtain up, roll of the kettledrums, cast vote, count votes, cue returning officer, cheer, boo, curtain down. It is straightforward; people understand it; and millions do take part. Let those who opt out enjoy that luxury: they will opt back in soon enough when it matters. In our anxiety to pursue the truants, we are in danger of losing the stage, losing the curtain and losing the plot." Matthew Parris in Saturday's Times. Read in full

    May 28 ~ The arrest of Abu Hamza - .." He has been given far more coverage than he is worth. But that does not take away from his human rights, and it ought not to."

    Extremist cleric faces extradition to US over al-Qa'ida links. So is he a dangerous terrorist - or just a political pawn? asks the Independent "...Suspicions that the timing of the extradition hearing was a stunt to help focus attention away from the Iraq war were heightened when John Ashcroft, the US Attorney General, held a press conference in New York to publicise the charges. His planned arrest was also leaked to The Sun's political editor hours before it took place, ensuring a positive front page story on anti-terrorism. ..
    The grand jury indictment contains little new information about his alleged activities, adding to suspicions that the timing of the cleric's arrest has as much to do with the Bush administration's problems as anything else. Anas Altikriti, a former president of the Muslim Association of Britain, said: "I see it as a backhand way of getting through to a person who the judicial system in Britain see no reason to charge or have standing trial. The Muslim community do not see him as worthy of speaking on their behalf ... He has been given far more coverage than he is worth. But that does not take away from his human rights, and it ought not to ." ......"

    May 28 ~ Dalai Lama is back in Britain on his endless peregrination around the world's capitals and will probably hear the usual pious but insincere expressions of support.

    "As China looms ever larger in the world, European leaders are increasingly shunning the Buddhist monk and the cause of Tibetan independence grows dimmer...Alison Reynolds of the Free Tibet campaign group attacked the decision. "Given the world's pre-occupation with the 'War on Terror' it seems extraordinary that the Prime Minister would pass up the chance to meet the most prominent man of peace," she said. ..
    ....Beijing routinely threatens to punish those that deny its edicts. Chinese officials threatened to strip Liverpool of its status as a twin city to Shanghai unless it withdrew its invitation to the Dalai Lama." Independent

    May 28 2004 ~ Britain's 'red line' strategy is wearing thin as the referendum campaign stalls

    The Government has observed strict radio silence on selling the case for Europe Robin Cook in the Independent
    "Does Tony Blair have any idea how he is going to win his referendum on the European constitution? I ask this not as a rhetorical question, but really wanting to know the answer. If anyone in Downing Street does have a winning strategy I cannot spot it in the conduct of the Government since they committed themselves to a referendum. On the contrary, ever since they performed a gloriously inelegant U-turn over holding a referendum, the Government has behaved in a manner calculated to increase their prospects of losing it..."
    (This is a portfolio article which costs £1 to view for 24 hours...)

    May 28 ~ The British journalist Peter Hounam will leave Israel today under threat of deportation

    (Independent) after being detained for 24 hours over his work on a planned BBC documentary about Mordechai Vanunu, jailed for 18 years for revealing the country's nuclear secrets.
    Mr Hounam, who first broke the story of Mr Vanunu's revelations while working on the Sunday Times in 1986, was released last night by Shin Bet, the Israeli domestic intelligence agency.
    Shin Bet agents, who arrested Mr Hounam in Tel Aviv on Wednesday night on the grounds of suspected espionage have seized several versions of a videotaped interview with Mr Vanunu conducted by Yael Lotan, a leading supporter of the former nuclear technician last Saturday. Mr Hounamís release followed representations by Simon McDonald, the British Ambassador in Tel Aviv. ......
    ....Mr Hounam said last night as he left the Russian Compound detention centre in Jerusalem that the authorities had made a "terrible mistake'' by arresting him. He said they had been working on the apparent assumption seemed to think (sic) that the interview contained revelations of new secret information about Israel's nuclear programme but it had not. He said: "Mordechai Vanunu has no more secrets to reveal." He said he had been held in an excrement-smeared cell, questioned for over four hours and allowed only two hours sleep."

    May 27 ~ "tell people, tell The Sunday Times that I am being arrested".

    Independent Peter Hounam, the Sunday Times journalist who broke the story of Mordechai Vanunu's revelations about Israel's nuclear weapons programme 18 years ago, was arrested by plain clothes agents in Tel Aviv last night...he was driven at high speed back to his hotel in Jerusalem where he broke away from his captors long enough to grab a fellow guest by the hair to attract her attention and urge her to "tell people, tell The Sunday Times that I am being arrested"....Donatella Rovera, the Middle East specialist for Amnesty International, who like Mr Hounam has been staying at the Jerusalem Hotel in Nablus Road, was sitting at a table near the door of the hotel's garden restaurant at around 9.30pm. "He grabbed me and told me to tell people that he was being arrested," she said. Ms Rovera said that he was with about five men, wearing T-shirts and jeans who then ushered him upstairs to his room. When he came downstairs about 20 to 30 minutes later he seemed less agitated ....
    A government spokesman said last night that he was unable to give details of Mr Hounam's arrest and detention because of a gagging order." (See entries about Mr Vanunu)

    May 27 ~ Abu Hamza arrested on US extradition warrant

    Independent "......Iqbal Sacranie, secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, said: "It is only fair and appropriate that we should wait for the full process of law to be completed. Naturally, one is innocent until proved guilty, and especially with the recent cases, where a very large number of people have been arrested and then subsequently released without any charges." (See also Amnesty reporton the Belmarsh detainees and "although 572 people were arrested on suspicion of "terrorist- related" offences, just one in five have faced charges.")

    May 26 ~ UKIP Manifesto Pledges

    European Union - Immediate withdrawal.
    Asylum-seekers - Strengthen border controls and turn away asylum-seekers who have come to Britain via a "safe" third country. Abolish detention centres and welcome genuine asylum-seekers but throw out all failed applicants.
    Local issues - Give people the chance to take part in local referenda on significant issues such as local planning decisions.
    Tax - Abolish VAT, council tax and uniform business rates and replace them with a local sales tax.
    Crime - To "do whatever is necessary to reduce crime and criminality to the levels of the 1950s".
    Defence - Use a portion of funds from withdrawal from the EU to "regenerate all three arms of Britain's defence forces".
    Healthcare - Reform the NHS to reduce central bureaucracy and allow more local control.
    Independent

    May 25 ~ "Adam Ingram the armed forces minister, has turned down a demand for a public judicial inquiry into the deaths of young army recruits at the Deepcut Barracks.

    Instead a little-known outfit called the Adult Learning Inspectorate will go into all 3 forces and tell them how not to bully people and still get the best from tomorrow's soldiers. Won't please the relatives one bit...Also tonight -- for the first time, the Prisons Service is forced to admit responsibility for the suicide of a young teenage inmate. Why? Because the prisoner's mother took the service to trial under human rights legislation... " (Jon Snow's Channel 4 update last night.) In the Scotsman we read: "Deepcut families bitter as MoD rules out public inquiry" In the same edition is the report of progress for other grieving families who still want answers. "Tony Blair told families of Lockerbie victims yesterday that he would use his renewed links with Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi to press for further information about the 1988 Pan Am tragedy...".Scotsman

    May 23 ~ ID cards - The government plans for ID cards may be presented as a fait accompli but there is still plenty of opposition brewing.

    BBC "At a packed lecture theatre at the London School of Economics on Wednesday, some of its most vehement critics assembled for a debate on the proposed government legislation. The government itself declined to join the debate. Many of the speakers concluded the reason lay in the "flimsy" case the Home Office had put for compulsory biometric ID cards. ..." Read in full

    May 23 ~ "...The pity is that this may deprive us of that real national debate through which we could reflect on whether we wish to remain part of such a shambles at all."

    Booker's Notebook. "... the bid to give the EU a constitution is in far more trouble than most people have yet realised; and the problems arise, not just from Mr Straw fighting for Britain's "red lines", but from almost everyone involved.
    Last summer, when Giscard d'Estaing handed over his draft constitution to the heads of government, he warned them to approve it as it stood, because otherwise it might unravel completely - which is precisely what has happened.
    Since the first talks on the draft foundered last December on the insistence by Spain and Poland that their voting rights must not be reduced, behind-the-scenes negotiations have thrown up more and more disagreements.
    Reflecting this, the Irish presidency two weeks ago published 130 pages of amendments already agreed to Giscard's draft treaty, followed a week ago by 99 pages of new proposals.
    Spain and Poland are still banging the table on voting rights, opposing German demands that a "qualified majority" must be reduced to only 55 per cent of the EU's population, which would give the Franco-German alliance the power to call the shots.
    Poland's position is further complicated by the fact that its new prime minister, Marek Belka, recently lost a parliamentary confidence vote. This leaves him as a powerless lame duck until a general election in August, when he is likely to be replaced by a fiercely nationalist successor.
    Hungary's "red line", contradicting one of Giscard's key proposals, is that each country must still have a commissioner. The Poles, Italians, Maltese and four other nationalities have laid down another on the inclusion of "God" in the constitution.
    There are now proposals on the table for no fewer than three separate EU "presidents' - one for the Commission; another, according to a cumbersome troika formula, for the Council of Ministers; a third, chosen for two and a half years, for the European Council, which is now to be included in the treaty for the first time as a fully-fledged "Community institution" and as, in effect, the government of Europe. The council will also have the power to change the constitution without further treaties.
    Compared with all this, the breaching of Mr Blair's own "red lines" over foreign policy and judicial law is little more than a sideshow.
    The fact is that Giscard's draft is dead, and the prospects of having a constitution on which Mr Blair can hold his referendum look more distant by the day. The pity is that this may deprive us of that real national debate through which we could reflect on whether we wish to remain part of such a shambles at all." Read Booker's Notebook in full

    May 23 ~ in a democracy it's not history but voters who judge the leaders

    From "A spin too far" by Geoffrey Wheatcroft, published on the Australian Financial Review ".....Most British people are discontented with the government, and yet they are mostly better off than they were seven years ago, and mostly contented with their own lives. They have been silently offered, in the famous phrase, private affluence and public squalor, and have silently accepted them. They are happy enough, but say that they neither trust nor admire the Prime Minister.
    Lately Blair has taken to using several transatlantic phrases: just as his religion makes him far more at home in US politics, so he has borrowed from American jargon of the moment. The war was the right thing to do, and "history will be my judge"; we must draw a line, and move on. But in a democracy it's not history but voters who judge the leaders, and it is also voters who decide when to move on." Read in full

    May 21 ~" Taking the pulse of our democracy nowadays, it doesn't feel very healthy, does it?"

    This story from the Seattle Weekly appears to confirm some of our own nightmares. A public-spirited woman, running her own website in America has become America’s leading critic of electronic voting. She now fears that the the government wants the names, forum messages, and computer addresses of all who visit her website. She also fears an entrapment scheme to indict her:
      "So, yesterday, they call me up and tell me they are going to subpoena me and put me in front of a grand jury. Well, let ’em. They still aren’t getting the list of members of blackboxvoting.org unless they seize my computer—which my attorney tells me might be what they had in mind.”
    Read article

    May 20 ~ Purple passage

    It's hard to find much to say about the act of utter frustration yesterday by Ron Davies. Here is Jon Snow's comment: "Bang goes the mother of Parliaments. The chucking of harmless purple powder over the personage of the British Prime Minister has triggered fantastic soul searching about security. It could have been anthrax, could have been anything, and the protestor and his cohort might have been Al Qaeda, but was in fact a chap complaining about the lack of visitation rights for separated fathers from their off-spring.
    But of such ingredients these days are great mountains made. Antediluvian place that the Commons is. The man got in courtesy of a Baroness. Lynn Golding used to be one of those perennial backbenchers in the Commons you never noticed. So perennial we thought she was still there. Not a bit of it, she was made a Peeress for life to make way for a Blairite. So there she is, in the Lords until she dies, and Bob's yer Uncle, 'fame at last'. She dishes out a pass to a 'terrorist'.
    But now it's the end of the Peer show, because from henceforth a Peer's word will no longer be his or her bond. They'll all be just like us, ie: mistrusted. Fabulous scenes of security mayhem in the Lobby, and the PM unscathed, unruffled, strangely er heroic..."

    May 19 ~ IC cards "a huge white elephant"

    The Register ".... Passport applications, including photograph, will still be accepted via mail, and the picture will then be encoded, added to the database and put onto the chip that goes in the passport. As you may note, a picture is in these terms a biometric, while a camera is a biometric reader, which they are. But don't noise it around, or you'll screw the revenues of an awful lot of snake-oil salesmen.
    Back in the UK, we are of course rather more rigorous in our interpretation of the matter, and the system and its schedule will be priced accordingly. But should we worry about losing our lead? No, not exactly. We should worry about spending a great deal of money on a system which will largely police ourselves, and which - in the event of it actually working - will probably turn out to be a huge white elephant...." Read in full

    May 19 ~ Straw softens us up

    Telegraph Leader "You can always tell when a British minister is about to sell us down the river in Europe: he first wraps himself in the flag. Jack Straw was at it again yesterday when he told the BBC and the CBI that he was "battling for Britain" in negotiating the European Constitution."

    May 19 ~ "The fudging has already started, and the red lines are suddenly turning a washy pink."

    The Telegraph: Britain yields to EU over criminal justice "...Mr Straw said bluntly yesterday that there would be no deal unless Britain got its way. "If we do not get the key red lines for the United Kingdom then we won't sign up for this constitutional treaty."
    EU officials noted the term "key" red lines, taking it to mean that lesser lines could be rubbed away.
    In the negotiating room, Mr Straw - who is adopting an increasingly sceptical approach to the constitution - complained about being bitten by mosquitoes. As they buzzed irritatingly around the room, Mr Straw suggested they were anti-British insects. Joschka Fischer, the German foreign minister, who earlier accused Mr Straw of using "salami tactics" to slice more concessions, said they were in fact "pro-European mosquitoes"..." Read in full

    May 19 ~ Supreme court 'will lack independence

    ' By Joshua Rozenberg, Legal Editor The Telegraph A leading law lord has said Government plans to create a supreme court in place of the House of Lords would leave the judges open to political interference. ... Lord Hope, Scotland's most senior judge until his promotion to the House of Lords in 1996, criticised Lord Falconer over the Constitution Secretary's comment in March that he had not heard any "principled argument" against separating the country's highest court from the legislature.... Lord Hope noted that responses to the Government's consultation paper - such as his own - which went outside the paper's assumption that there was to be such a court, "were ignored and not even acknowledged" when Lord Falconer's department published its summary of responses...... Lord Falconer insisted yesterday that the Supreme Court should be established before a building was ready...." Read in full

    May 19 ~ Open debate is the only way to set the Upper House in order

    By Peter Riddell in the Times "The debate over the House of Lords is, at last, addressing the central questions of functions and powers. Yet again, however, the Government risks making a mess of reform. Since 1997 the focus has been on composition: first, the removal of hereditary peers; then, the lengthy debate that ended in the rejection by MPs of all options in February last year.
    This stalemate, just like the one over the Crossman plans in 1968, has arisen largely because most MPs did not want a significant elected element that might produce a stronger Lords to challenge the Commons. Yet hardly anyone has wanted to spell out the implications, apart from the 172, mainly Labour, MPs who voted for abolition of the Lords.
    Otherwise, everyone has hidden behind the mantra that the Commons will remain supreme and that the Lords should remain a revising and scrutinising chamber. ....... Labour risks unbalancing the relationship by suggesting an indirectly elected House with members chosen (it is unclear how) in proportion to the votes cast for parties at a general election. This ghastly hybrid would be worse than now. ..." Read in full

    May 18 ~ Watery eyes fail the iris ID card test

    Telegraph (last week) "Trials for a planned ID card have shown that long eyelashes, hard contact lenses or watery eyes can make it difficult to scan the unique iris patterns on which identity will be based.
    Members of the Commons home affairs select committee who tried out the new technology yesterday were told that up to seven per cent of scans could fail...."

    May 17 ~ "plans for a new supreme court are to be put into "cold storage"

    for up to ten years after the failure of efforts to find a suitable site." (sic) The Times
    In a move which removes a main plank of the Government2s legal reforms, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, the Lord Chancellor, will amend the Constitutional Reform Bill to say that the new court will not come into being until a building is ready. FLAGSHIP plans for a new supreme court are to be put into “cold storage” for up to ten years after the failure of efforts to find a suitable site. In a move which removes a main plank of the Government’s legal reforms, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, the Lord Chancellor, will amend the Constitutional Reform Bill to say that the new court will not come into being until a building is ready.
    The Lord Chancellor had previously indicated that plans to divorce the law lords from the House of Lords could go ahead without a new building.
    ......The delay is the latest in a series of embarrassments for the Government over the reforms, which were attacked as ill-thought-out when they were announced in last year’s reshuffle. The passage of the Bill was delayed when peers insisted that it be sent to a select committee. ..."

    May 17 ~ Reporters loyal to Piers Morgan ­ sacked as editor on Friday ­ are thought to be unhappy at the readiness of management to abandon the journalistic principle of confidentiality of sources.

    Independent The Mirror made no official comment yesterday but an insider at the paper said it would be a matter for the acting editor, Des Kelly, to decide.
    Only a handful of people at the newspaper are thought to know the identity of Soldiers A and B, the servicemen linked with the Queen's Lancashire Regiment (QLR) who sold the staged photographs and who were widely quoted in the newspaper's subsequent attempts to prove their authenticity.
    Soldiers A and B first contacted the Mirror's newsdesk in mid-February offering evidence of the mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners. Reporters interviewed them but the newspaper did not see the photographs until late April, a few days before they were published. ..An executive at the newspaper was reported as saying yesterday that there would be resignations and "blood on the walls" if the Mirror was forced to compromise the soldiers' identities. .."

    May 16 ~ "Before any further British troops are sent, the Government should consult with and listen to Parliament about the role they are expected to undertake."

    Sunday Telegraph Alan Simpson, a Left-wing Labour MP who opposed the war, said: "There is absolutely no case for the commitment of further British troops without a fresh political mandate. To do anything else would set up the new troops as a turkey shoot."

    May 16 ~ "Shepway council is in the process of closing down all its public lavatories in Folkestone.

    A factor in its decision has been the excessive cost of converting them to allow wheelchair access." Booker's Notebook this week

    May 14 ~ I.D cards: a top-secret military research firm/organisation, ‘QinetiQ’ (pronounced ‘kinetic’) will play a crucial role in the scientific/technical aspects

    QinetiQ is among the largest science and technology companies in Western Europe, with 42 locations in Britain...
    From the "Need to Know" website http://www.ntk.net/2004/05/07/:
      "... Sheesh - you wait all year for a public meeting on the Government's proposed National Identity Card, and then two come along at (almost) the same time. Privacy International's MISTAKEN IDENTITY (from 1.30pm-5pm, Wed 2004-05-19, Old Theatre, LSE, London WC2A, free but RSVP) currently has the best lineup - Ross Anderson and at least 3 MPs - but the BRITISH ASSOCIATION FOR THE ADVANCEMENT OF SCIENCE will also be wondering whether these biometric advancements are really such a good thing at their X-CHANGE event (6.30pm, Wed 2004- 05-26, Dana Centre, near Science Museum, London SW7) in the company of UCL Professor Steve Miller and BBC Science Correspondent Christine McGourty. Adding to the overall sense of deja-vu is reader BRIAN MADEUP, who wants to know what happened to the last "six months", "10,000 volunteer", "large- scale" trial of biometric passports which we were previously told was planned to run from "January to June 2004"? (Go to site)

    May 13 ~What is the crime of being "anti", and why are "suspects" kept indefinitely in prison?

    An emailer writes, in response to the WP article below, "There is also an interesting characteristic shared with an earlier Republican administration: keeping (what they thought were) private records of their wrong doings. If the Watergate tapes led to the downfall of Nixon, the Abu Ghraib photos should surely lead to the downfall of Bush since they reveal far more sinister behaviour. Nixon was obsessed with having power and control of the American voters. Bush is obsessed with a fundamentalist crusade to have power and control of the world. Blair shares his missionary zeal but apparently has no desire to keep records (or even minutes of important meetings). "Anti-coalition suspects" are still be thrown into Iraqi prisons. What is the crime of being "anti", and why are "suspects" kept indefinitely in prison?"

    May 12 ~ OLAF chief to be questioned over Tillack case

    EUobserver"The supervisory committee of the EU anti-fraud office (OLAF), is to ask the director, Franz-Hermann Brüner, a number of questions over a recent case of alleged bribery which resulted in an office raid of a Brussels-based journalist....Belgian police are still sifting through the seized materials of Mr Tillack. Mr Tillack's lawyers claim this is a breach of article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights and have called on the supervisory committee to ensure that the investigation takes place in compliance with human rights. .." See below

    May 12 ~ Poor Management at the top

    The Washington Post article today on War Management Follows the Wrong Corporate Model By Steven Pearlstein could surely apply equally to Number 10
    "... the same characteristics at the top: an overemphasis on hierarchy and orderliness; a penchant for secrecy and keeping decisions closely held; an instinct to discount information or dismiss views that don't comport with the company line; a habit of pronouncing rather than engaging intellectually with those outside the inner circle; an unhealthy arrogance and sense of entitlement.
    When something goes wrong, the all-too-typical corporate response is to downplay its importance or bury it in bureaucratic processes. And if that doesn't work, the next line of defense is to pin it all on a few "bad apples" and move aggressively to "put the issue behind us," without ever really admitting serious error.
    That should sound familiar to anyone who has watched Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld ....or heard what Richard Clarke told the 9/11 commission about warnings of terrorist attacks that fell on deaf ears. It also describes to a T the process by which the administration has dealt with Iraq, from the original decision to go to war to the handling of the prison scandal. ..."

    May 12 ~ UKIP ".. insists the country should say "no" to EU rule, corruption, unlimited immigration and bureaucracy."

    Robert Kilroy-Silk: "They are not listening to us. They are not taking any account of what we want. They are not representing our interests..." and that people he had met "want their country back and this campaign is about doing that. I want my grandchildren to grow up in a country called Britain - I don't want my grandchildren to grow up in a country called Europe," he said. Mr Kilroy-Silk then rounded on journalists, accusing them of talking in "the same language as the politicians". (The BBC report contains the extraordinary sentence - which has no connection with anything else - "while UKIP concedes it does not have many women or ethnic minorities standing in the election, the party's leader Roger Knapman insists it is not associated with the British National Party". This is a disgraceful piece of loaded writing to discredit UKIP. Mr Kilroy-Smith's criticism would appear to be justified as far as the writer of the BBC article is concerned.)

    May 11 ~ Tillack has also raised the ire of many within the European Commission, OLAF and the Belgian police for consistently breaking EU fraud stories.

    A letter from lawyers representing Hans-Martin Tillack, a correspondent for Germany’s Stern magazine, alleges the original suspicions that the journalist had paid officials for sensitive information, emerged from the European Commission’s press service.
    The bribery accusations, which OLAF transmitted to the Belgian authorities, prompted a police raid on Tillack’s home and offices, the seizing of his documents and computers, and a ten hour detention without legal representation.
    .... The Stern correspondent was responsible for originally exposing the scandal at the EU’s statistical agency, Eurostat, which saw millions of euros siphoned off into secret bank accounts. ....... Tillack’s lawyers have pointed to the “extraordinary vagueness” of the case, which seems to have been entirely on allegations, suspicions and rumours. ..." EUpolitix.com

    May 10 ~ The Constitutional Reform Bill, as drafted, would abolish the Lord Chancellor, create a supreme court and reform the system by which judges are appointed. "That would be a major constitutional amendment, though no one has proposed a referendum to approve it.."

    William Rees-Mogg in The Times "...... it could be carried — or, indeed repealed — by a simple majority of both Houses of Parliament.
    The theory of the British constitution is still that sovereignty belongs to the elected House of Commons. Yet for considerable periods of time, a strong prime minister may become the effective sovereign......not all Labour prime ministers would have gone to war over Iraq.
    .....Mr Blair may well suffer Mrs Thatcher’s fate, either at the hands of his colleagues or of the electorate.
    The supremacy of the elected House of Commons may still be the central doctrine of the British constitution, but it is being undermined by the overmighty Prime Minister. It has little to fear from the House of Lords, but much from the whip system. It could be wholly destroyed by the European constitution, though that is likely to be rejected in the referendum even if it is accepted by the Government. But the rule of Parliament is also challenged by the growth of judicial interpretation, which amounts to legislation by judges. If Parliament does agree to create a separate supreme court, this process will be accelerated. The danger is one of cumulative interpretation. ....
    ..... I believe that free speech is the foundation of democracy...." More (the article deplores the Naomi Campbell ruling) "Three of the Lords of Appeal, with two dissenting, have made a new law which means that the principle of free speech has been eroded. That is constitutional amendment by judges. It has been a bad thing in the US, despite its occasional benefits. It will be bad for British democracy."

    May 10 ~ Police 'sorry' for Iraqi Kurd terror revelation

    Three weeks ago 400 officers took part in "anti-terror" raids in Greater Manchester, Warwickshire, Staffordshire and South Yorkshire arresting 10 people. The detainees were stunned by their arrests and at least one of them was not told during their interrogations what they were supposed to have done. All 10 were released without charge the following week. The headlines such as "Soccer suicide carnage averted" News.com.au 20 April 2004 became "Man U bomb plot probe ends in farcw" Observer, 2 May 2004 ( See Josie Appleton's article below)
    The police have now apologised - not for the fiasco of the raid - but for ".. revealing that some of those detained in anti-terror raids last month were of Iraqi Kurdish origin." See report in Manchester Online

    May 10 ~ BBC chiefs cleared by 'kangaroo court' - but fury remains

    Independent "......The manner of the interrogations is still an open sore at the BBC, and has exacerbated the resentment felt against Mr Byford - particularly in the news and current affairs departments - over his handling of the post-Hutton fallout.
    Serious concerns have been raised about the length of the inquiry and the failure of those conducting it to set out clearly what, if anything, people were accused of.
      "Not to know what you're supposed to be accused of and for it to go on for so long is quite unacceptable," said John Fray, deputy general secretary of the National Union of Journalists.
    In February, a group of senior BBC journalists including Newsnight presenter Jeremy Paxman, political editor Andrew Marr, Today presenter John Humphrys and world affairs editor John Simpson, wrote to the acting chairman of governors Lord Ryder to express their concern at the inquiry. The group were planning to write a follow-up letter this month, but held fire when they learned the process was drawing to a close..." (See also item for February 15)

    May 9 ~ "...another attempt to speed up the creation of a European super state."

    Sunday Telegraph "...Among the amendments are moves to greatly strengthen the powers of the proposed EU "foreign minister" - an unelected commissioner - enabling him or her to give orders to the foreign ministers of member countries, including Jack Straw, and to control the EU corps of diplomats.
    The ability of Britain and other member states to veto the appointment of the president and vice-president of the European Central Bank also comes under renewed threat, as does the independence of the bank itself.
    The powers of the European Parliament in rejecting the Commission's budget - itself a contentious issue - would be greatly increased and there are even possible threats to Britain's right to levy taxes independently.
    More decisions across a range of areas should, according to the proposed amendments, be taken by qualified majority voting, effectively removing the ability of Britain and other countries to wield a veto...." Read in full

    May 9 ~ "Voters have to believe that politics is about the issues that matter to them. As things stand, not nearly enough of them do"

    Sunday Times "....Ministers believe that using voting techniques pioneered by popular television programmes such as Pop Idol will encourage more young people to participate in polls...." See also Sunday Times Leading article: E-vote gimmick
      ".The Electoral Commission, the government’s own watchdog, says that pilot schemes involving e-voting made no difference to turnout..... Politicians love gimmicks but increasing political participation requires more than making it easier for today’s fast-fingered young folk to vote. Voters have to believe that politics is about the issues that matter to them. As things stand, not nearly enough of them do."

    May 7 ~ Scarlett runner

    Leader The Guardian ".... his appointment verges on the hubristic.
    ....... Sir John emerged as a Downing Street insider, part of the sofa culture that makes policy not at the cabinet table but in the prime minister's den. Even Lord Hutton's exceptionally cautious report concluded that Sir John may have been "subconsciously influenced" by Downing Street's desire for the strongest possible case against Saddam Hussein...... Six months ago, it struck us that Sir John's reported ambition to be the new head of MI6 would be an uncomfortable development. The confirmation of that appointment now - by the foreign secretary - pre-empts the Butler review and leaves the impression, once again, that leading figures in government can be dangerously offhand about respecting the views of the ordinary voter. "

    May 7 ~ What is happening at Belmarsh raises fundamental questions of law, justice and liberty.

    It is a melancholy fact of political life that such ministers, whatever their history and previous commitments, tend once in office to become routinely impatient of legal processes and hostile to civil liberties concerns which they come to see as obstructive. ..."
    An article by Geoffrey Bindman on the opendemocracy.net website explains the history and function of SIAC and concludes, "The Siac bail decision should have led the Home Secretary to act swiftly to implement the changes recommended by the committee of Privy Councillors. Unfortunately, David Blunkett’s reaction was to condemn the Siac judges in abusive language and threaten to change the law to prevent future releases on bail. He should think again – or he should be replaced. Fundamental liberties must be cherished."

    May 6 ~ John Scarlett - in the real world. Promotion to head of MI6

    Richard Norton-Taylor wrote in September "..The 45-minute claim was inserted at the last minute on the word, we now know, of an MI6 informant - whether a defector or not remains unclear - talking to a senior Iraqi armed forces officer. MI6 allowed Scarlett to include that "intelligence" despite opposition in an intelligence community concerned - as much now as it was before the war - about how its work was being abused. This is the most damaging episode for MI6 since the Falklands. But then it was about complacency. Now its integrity is in question. As long as Scarlett remains in his post, that damage will not be repaired. ..."
    In the same Hutton-filled month Henry Porter wrote, " the analysts in Room 243 of the Cabinet Office and the committee under John Scarlett's chairmanship do look a bit like courtiers, trying to conform to the current mood in Number 10.
    A novelist might suggest that Scarlett was playing the long game, perhaps nurturing an ambition to succeed Sir Richard Dearlove as 'C' at MI6, a post he has already been passed over for once. Can we seriously suggest that the JIC's chairman would go so far as to manipulate the evidence in a matter of war and peace to suit his plans? That is certainly the stuff of thrillers, but it seems highly unlikely in the real world..."

    May 6 ~ "A recent US State Department report into patterns of global terrorism found that terrorist attacks are at their lowest ebb for years. "

    "While fantasy terrorism booms, real terrorism seems to be on the decline. After Madrid, Europe's capitals were all expecting that they would be next - but it is more likely that Madrid was the exception rather than the rule. A recent US State Department report into patterns of global terrorism found that terrorist attacks are at their lowest ebb for years. There were 190 in 2003, compared to 440 in 1995 and 665 in 1987. Moreover, the bulk of the attacks over the past five years occurred in Latin America and Asia, rather than North America or Western Europe. In the main, terrorist attacks tend to be sporadic, and are carried out by small isolated groups to varying degrees of success (8). And in spite of all the hype about al-Qaeda in Britain, there is little sign of terrorists queuing up to attack. Although Dr Magnus Ranstorp's report won headlines such as 'Britain will be target of terrorism attack "sooner or later"', the report actually concluded that the danger from Islamic suicide bombers was small, and arguably little different to that posed by the IRA. ...." Important article

    May 6 ~ After 11-year battle, CPS dashes last hope Lawrence family had of jailing son's killers

    Independent "... Mr Brooks (Duwayne Brooks, who had witnessed the murder): "This is a day of shame, but I am not surprised. The police investigation was doomed from the start at the scene of the attack."
    Imran Khan, the family's solicitor, said that despite the CPS announcement they were still hopeful that there would be a prosecution in the future. But because of the damage caused by the past bungled inquiries into the case, the collapse of a private prosecution and the weight of prejudicial publicity, the chances of anyone being charged are remote. The Lawrence family's legal team is now considering whether it can - or should - challenge the CPS's decision with a judicial review.
    .... " The Independent, along with other newspapers, names the men suspected of the murder. The Guardian says, "Detectives investigating the murder of Stephen Lawrence gathered evidence that two of the main suspects bragged of their involvement in the racist attack that killed the talented student" The Telegraph concludes its report: "Sir Ian Blair, the deputy commissioner of the Met, said: "We will not close this file. But for the time being we have given it everything we know how to give."

    May 6 ~ Iraq Families Shown 'Contempt' Claims Lawyer

    PA News The Government has shown "contempt" for the principles of human rights and democracy in its actions towards relatives of those killed by British forces in Iraq, it was claimed today.
    Solicitor Phil Shiner, who lodged today's application for a judicial review at the High Court, claimed troops had not been properly trained to deal with the situation in southern Iraq.....
    ..."We are doing these cases for nothing and we are doing these cases because as human rights lawyers we believe that human rights apply on each side equally. There's no such thing as victors' justice whereby those who lose the war find themselves facing allegations of war crimes and those who win get away scot-free."

    May 6 ~ EU fraud doubles in a year to cost £700m

    Scotsman " ...Last year, the Court of Auditors provoked anger when it sacked a Scottish whistleblower, Dougal Watt, after he exposed a culture of nepotism and misconduct. Mr Watt, who joined the court in 1995 from the NAO, had accused senior members of securing jobs for family. He also accused it of dragging its feet on investigating corruption at the European Commission in the Nineties.
    In a letter, he wrote: "Since external controls upon the court are absent and the court’s internal control environment is very weak, there is consequently a high inherent risk of abuse." Frauds identified by member countries in 2002 include bogus expenses claims, customs duty avoidance and fraudulent claims for work. Up to £300 million of the cases involve the Common Agricultural Policy, while aid programmes to the third world accounted for another £14 million of fraud. ..... The European Commission placed Neil Kinnock, its vice-president, in charge of bringing in measures to tighten up financial probity, but today’s report suggests that there is still a long way to go. .."

    May 5 ~ ID card trials put back by technical glitches

    Times "A pilot scheme for the proposed national identity card system is beset with technical difficulties even before it has started, MPs were told yesterday. Problems with the project forced officials to delay its launch by three months because of difficulties with the hardware and software. .... As a result, the planned length of time the pilot will operate has been cut from six to three months. A briefing paper from the Passport Service, which is testing how the public react to having iris, facial and fingerprint recognition, ran into problems even though the equipment had been fully tested by the contractor, ATOS Origin, before its delivery. There had been “a series of hardware, software and ergonomic problems leading to inconsistent enrolment”, the paper prepared for the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee said. ..... The trial, involving 10,000 people at four sites in the United Kingdom, had been due to start on February 2 but did not begin until last week. ... .ATOS Origin had to make a number of improvements to the pilot project’s testing booths, known as “enrolment pods”. ... .."

    May 4 ~ the Government's decision to block state support for asylum seekers from the ten new EU members has been attacked as "unlawful and discriminatory" in two test cases at the High Court.

    Mr Blunkett hoped to order two and half thousand asylum seekers from the newly joined European states thrown out of their homes on the grounds that anybody who was an asylum seeker whilst the new countries were out of the union can no longer deemed to be so now. The judges decided today that they do not agree.
    No doubt there will be more "modernisation" - as in the clause rushed through last week - (see below - to ensure that the Home Secretary is not stymied by such judicial impediments in future.

    May 3 ~ "The appointment of 46 new life peers, half of them Labour, is a reminder of just what a hash Tony Blair has made of Lords reform.

    Telegraph "Though the new list includes a handful of people of real distinction who will adorn the second chamber, the wheat is greatly outnumbered by the chaff.....the sheer scale at which the Lords is being packed with placemen is breathtaking. Lloyd George was never so brazen. .....Not long ago, it was still a real honour for a former Governor of the Bank of England, say, to sit in the Lords, alongside other robust individualists, most of whom owed their presence, like him, to merit, or at least to the accident of birth, rather than to prime ministerial patronage. Now only a sense of patriotic duty could impel the genuinely great and good to accept a peerage, thereby joining the ranks of the political has-beens and never-wases. How the Upper House has come down in the world. .....
    That expertise is irreplaceable, least of all by Mr Blair's entourage in the Labour Party, the bureaucracy and the quangocracy. A takeover bid for the Lords by the very people who have least respect for our delicately balanced unwritten constitution is not in the interests of the shareholders - the British people." Read in full

    May 2 ~ we have discovered a pattern of torture in the British zone as well.

    Scotsman "... Amnesty International leaders...complained that the British commanders were unwilling to investigate all the alleged breaches of law and military discipline that had been brought to their attention. "It comes as no surprise to us that there are allegations of torture involving British forces in Iraq," said Nicole Choueiry, AI's Middle East spokeswoman. "It is true that the Americans are in general involved in more incidents of brutality than the British, but we have discovered a pattern of torture in the British zone as well. "We welcome the fact that they have ordered an inquiry into this incident but we do not think it should be for the coalition forces themselves to investigate their own behaviour."

    May 1 ~ New Lords - "Among the party faithful rewarded...

    are Prof Anthony Giddens, the inventor of the so-called Third Way; Garry Hart, Lord Falconer's special adviser; the ex-union leaders Richard Rosser, Margaret Prosser and Margaret Wall; and Jan Royall, a former aide to Neil Kinnock...
    Paul Drayson, the founder of PowderJect Pharmaceuticals, who donated £100,000 to Labour, will join Philip Gould, Mr Blair's favourite pollster, and Margaret McDonagh, a former party general secretary, on the red benches. ...." Telegraph

    May 1 ~ Prune the shrubbery to expose a terrorist, says spooked MI5

    The the Guardian reports the latest "advice" from supposed intelligence with scepticism.
    That we can no longer trust the probity of those in whom we used believe is self-evident now. Having just finished it, we think it is highly significant that a writer of the stature and insider knowledge of John le Carré should have ended his latest novel with a sham terrorist siege in which a set-up complete with planted hand grenades, guns and terrorist literature is used both to instil increased fear in Western populations and to justify the unjustifiable. Le Carré, (like the 52 diplomats and today, Douglas Hurd), pulls no punches in his opinions of the situation in Iraq. His suggestion of what may lie behind is terrible and plausable. On World Press Freedom Day, it is interesting to note that the press reports and reaction from the White House and Downing Street at the end of this novel about gross deception at the highest levels should sound so familiar. Read "Absolute Friends" and see if you share our grief at what is so blatantly obvious and - in Britain at least - can be suggested clearly only in the pages of fiction. (The book is magnificent and life-enhancing - but the fate of its good-hearted protaganists is inevitable. Especially interesting is the reaction of the British intelligence official, a decent man throughout but, at the end, beset by terrible doubts.)
    America - paradoxically - seems more open. Comment from the Independent on the list of books now appearing in the US for those who have eyes to read.

    See The Great Deception: The SECRET History of the European Union


    April 30 ~ "... plans to replace the traditional manual votes and counts with e-voting had run into a storm of criticism

    from parliamentary opposition parties in Dublin and other groups.." The Scotsman "...More than £25 million (euro 40 million) has already been spent on putting in place machinery for the new voting method, and a publicity campaign is also under way.
    But opponents of the concept have insisted that further tests have to be carried out in advance following the emergence of fresh doubts about the new poll system earlier this month.
    Leading critics claimed documents made available under the terms of Irish Freedom of Information legislation showed up flaws reported by officials when e-voting was used on a trial basis in a handful of constituencies in the last Irish general election two years ago."

    April 28 ~ "will we be allowed to see the revised version before we debate it, or only afterwards?"

    Lord Lester of Herne Hill asked
      "Whether, following comments by the Home Secretary on the release of an Algerian man suspected of having terrorist links, criticism by Ministers of the Crown of decisions of the courts in cases to which they are party is an attack on the rule of law....Would he look favourably on an amendment to Clause 1 of his Constitutional Reform Bill to make it clear that his duty and that of any successor will be not only to guarantee judicial independence but to secure and maintain the rule of law?"
    This preceded the debate - on the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Bil in which an amendment to clause 24 was moved
      Where the Special Immigration Appeals Commission determines an application for bail, the applicant or a person who made representations to the Commission about the application may appeal on a question of law to the appropriate appeal court.
    Lord Goodhart asked, "With respect to Clause 14, will we be allowed to see the revised version before we debate it, or only afterwards?" Hansard Baroness Scotland blamed the "usual channels" for disappointing him.
      That is a temptation that I regret I must resist, for the same reason that the noble Baroness could not be tempted into commenting. The usual channels are dealing with this matter. I know that all Members of this House want us to get these amendments right, and the usual channels will be anxious to ensure that all noble Lords who need to see these amendments will get them at the earliest possible moment, as soon as we can practicably arrange for that. I hope that I can say that without being remonstrated with by the usual channels for saying too much

    April 28 ~ "David Blunkett's defence of his big idea is muddled and his arguments do not stand up to scrutiny.

    Liberal Democrats ".. It is time for politicians and the public to wake up to the dangers of this scheme, both to our pockets and our civil liberties. The Conservatives in particular must make up their minds, because a cross-party coalition could defeat the government in the Lords."
    The Lib Dems give 10 reasons to oppose ID cards, whose headings are:
    1. It will cost a fortune.
    2. It will turn into another expensive IT fiasco .
    3. It will lead to discrimination and harassment.
    4. It will create a bureaucratic nightmare.
    5. Our personal data will be shared without our consent.
    6. It will encourage fraud.
    7. It will not prevent illegal working.
    8. It will not help to fight crime or terrorism.
    9. We do not have a written constitution. (....The relationship between the state and the citizen is not properly defined in law. Every other country that has a system of compulsory identity cards also has a written constitution. We will be passing a law on the understanding that this government will not use the system to spy on its citizens or restrict civil liberties - even if that were true, can we be so trusting of future governments?)
    10. The money would be better spent on other things.
    Read in full.

    April 28 ~ "Blunkett is pitching the scheme far more widely than simply as an entitlement, immigration, crime or terror control mechanism.

    Rather, it is intended as the cornerstone of identity and identity-management in the UK. The draft bill covers the setting up of a national identity register, which is described as "the key database of personal information which the biometric cards would link to," and envisages the creation of "a 'family' of ID cards, based on designated existing and new documents." This suggests far broader purposes than simply identifying individuals, and the Home Office announcement makes no bones about this..." The Register's page of responses to the ID card scheme with links

    April 28 ~ terrorists on an awayday are entirely immune to the £3.1 billion biometric checking regime.

    (The Register) Blunkett still shows little sign of having a sound grasp of the actual capabilities of ID systems.... he told Today that ID cards "couldn't solve Madrid [the bombings] because nobody has biotechnology today." In the cases of both 9/11 and Madrid the attackers appear to have had valid ID, so biometric valid ID is neither here nor there, but despite having had this put to him by numerous interviewers Blunkett seems unable to stop presenting biometrics as some kind of magic. He went on to explain the situation of countries who didn't have biometric ID: "Those without biometrics will be known as the easiest touch. That's why we need to be ahead."
    The logic of this situation, that those countries where it is easier to obtain ID can be used by terrorists to establish valid ID which can then be used to visit and bomb the UK, seems to elude him. The Home Office does have schemes for biometric ID for non-UK passport holders in the UK, and is already fingeprinting asylum seekers and some visa applicants, but the scheme as announced today actually rules out biometrics for visitors who are staying less than three months. Which would seem to suggest that terrorists on an awayday are entirely immune to the £3.1 billion biometric checking regime.

    April 28 ~ A person has to "apply" thus implying consent but in reality there will be no choice.

    " .... It is likely too that access to the data held on the card will be given to all law enforcement agencies, many state agencies (eg: welfare payments, tax and customs), employers, insurance companies, credit agencies and banks.
    The only protection against the misuse and abuse of this mountain of personal data is the Data Protection Act which quite simply does not work because it lacks resources and real powers of enforcement - even the European Commission's belated review admits this.. " (Statewatch.org)
    The watchdog group Privacy Internationalhas reacted "with disbelief to the publication of the government's draft Bill on identity cards. Privacy international's Director, Simon Davies, described the draft legislation as "draconian and dangerous". He said the Bill had the potential to permanently change Britain for the worse..." Read in full

    April 27 ~ Abuse of police power won't defeat terror

    Palm Beach Post Editorial "All Americans have a stake in the arguments the Bush administration will make to the Supreme Court this week, when the government tries to explain why it is holding two U.S. citizens indefinitely, without charges or hearings, as enemy combatants.... The detainees are seeking basic due process: information about the charges against them, access to families and lawyers, and some forum for resolution. Plaintiffs aren't asking to be heard in U.S. courts and would be willing to appear before military tribunals -- which the administration has promised but not delivered. Most of the detainees were captured in Afghanistan or Pakistan and have been confined for more than two years. The open-ended state of their internment violates principles of U.S. and international law. Even the president should not have the right to imprison people indefinitely -- in this instance, until he decides that a war on terror has been won -- without allowing them due process in a judicial forum.
    How the high court rules on these cases will determine the limits of the executive branch's power to suspend judicial protections during times of crisis. A crisis greater than terrorism would be the legal precedent that an administration can define justice to suit its needs."

    April 26 ~ Police will be able to order eye scans under ID card plan

    Independent "Police will have powers to stop and check people against a national biometric database under plans for a compulsory identity card scheme to be unveiled today.
    David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, confirmed that police would be able to compare people against national fingerprint or iris records even if they did not carry the controversial document. .... Civil liberties campaigners expressed alarm at the proposals, but a defiant Mr Blunkett insisted that legislation would be put before Parliament by the autumn after consultation on technical issues are resolved. ....
    ... The cost of the scheme, estimated at £3.1bn, will be met by increasing the price of passports to around £73. ...... Under the draft legislation, the scheme can become compulsory without fresh legislation. But Mr Blunkett promised a full debate in both Houses of Parliament before such a move was confirmed.
    .....civil liberties campaigners expressed alarm at the prospect of compulsory ID tests. .... director of the pressure group Liberty, told GMTV: "He is too quick to offer various draconian measures as a magic bullet to whatever our fears are this week: terrorism, illegal immigration and so on. It does not actually solve these deep-seated problems we face."
    David Winnick, the Labour MP for Walsall North and a member of the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee, said: "David Blunkett says that the British card will be more sophisticated than the existing Spanish card, but where is the evidence that any type of ID card would have stopped the massacre in Madrid? "This is a costly exercise which will not do what is claimed by the Home Secretary and other enthusiasts."..."

    April 26 ~"....yesterday Joe Haines, the grandfather of political spin, announced he was tearing up his party card after more than 40 years.

    Independent "Mr Haines, who as press secretary to Harold Wilson was the forerunner of Alastair Campbell as a political figure in his own right, condemned Tony Blair's administration as a "flat-pack government" and denounced its U-turns on everything from university top-up fees to the referendum on the proposed European constitution.
    The departure of such a well-known figure will be a psychological blow to the party, as it struggles through one of Mr Blair's most difficult periods since gaining power...Yesterday, he named a string of cabinet ministers whom he claimed were not suited to their jobs..."

    April 25 ~ Straw leads bid to wreck Blunkett ID card scheme

    Sunday Times "Cabinet opponents of identity cards have succeeded in wresting concessions that could prevent them from becoming compulsory, leaked cabinet papers have revealed.
    Jack Straw, the foreign secretary, is leading the bid to scupper plans by the Home Office to make it compulsory to carry a card. He and several colleagues have managed to put a triple block on the scheme ahead of its launch tomorrow.
    First, it will never be mandatory to carry a card and, second, it will require a future vote in the Commons before police can require a member of the public to produce one. Crucially, Straw has also secured a promise from David Blunkett, the home secretary, that nobody will ever be required to produce an ID card to obtain hospital treatment, welfare benefits and other public services. Patricia Hewitt, the trade secretary, has also ensured that the same will apply to private sector services, such as banking. .....
    .... The government is to make it a criminal offence to carry false identity papers. Anybody found with a forged passport, driving licence or other official ID will face up to 10 years in prison. The inclusion of biometric details is expected to become compulsory for passports that are renewed or newly issued after 2007. Biometrics will later also be introduced into driving licences. .....
    Lord Selborne, chairman of the Royal Society’s science in society committee, said yesterday that the public needed to “wake up” to the hidden dangers of identity cards. Technological advances will make it possible for ID cards to carry daily updates on people’s most personal details, he said."

    April 25 ~ Nothing better revealed the surreal nature of Mr Blair's statement last week announcing his U-turn on a referendum than his sudden, mad rant about "Euro-myths".

    Booker's Notebook " A referendum campaign was necessary, he suggested, to counter all the lies peddled about the EU in certain sections of the press - ranging from the claim that, under the constitution, the EU would have a "common foreign policy" (true), to nonsense about "bent bananas". ...... that hoary favourite about "bent bananas". Why do the Europhiles persist in denying, year after year, that there is any EC regulation laying down "quality standards" for bananas, including a ban on those of "abnormal curvature", when anyone with access to the internet can look up Commission Regulation 2257/94 in less than a minute.
    Compared with most of the horrors I report, such as the ecological catastrophe created by the Common Fisheries Policy, this may seem trivial. But if Mr Blair plans to fight his campaign on such flimsy irrelevances, we shall be ready for him - since, on the evidence of his outburst last Tuesday, some of us are considerably better briefed on the curious form of government he favours than he is himself." Read Booker's Notebook in full

    April 25 ~ New cronies for old in the Lords

    Sunday Times "Tony Blair is to appoint some close aides and allies to the House of Lords this week, which is likely to provoke a fresh row over cronyism. In an attempt to avoid controversy by excluding donors from its quota of 20 nominees, the government has instead chosen unelected apparatchiks and trade union leaders to act as working peers.
    Labour party insiders claim the appointment process has been delayed because Downing Street has struggled to find enough good candidates and has had to vet multi-millionaires nominated by the Conservative party.
    The Tory party, too, is bracing itself for a backlash because it has awarded four of its five allotted peerages to donors or personal friends of Iain Duncan Smith, the former leader.
    The working peers are being shoehorned into the Lords to boost Labour’s numbers in an attempt to prevent further painful defeats at the hands of Tory, Liberal Democrat and rebellious Labour peers. An announcement of the names was expected yesterday.
    The most controversial appointment is expected to be Philip Gould, the prime minister’s personal pollster. Gould, acknowledged as one of new Labour’s principal architects, is derided by some party members for his obsession with focus groups to refine policy, sometimes at the expense of core principles. .."

    April 24 ~ EU blueprint no tidying-up exercise, says Kinnock

    icWales "....The forensic truth is, however, that EU law has always had primacy over member states' law and the UK signed up for that when joining the Community in 1973, which the people of the UK endorsed by voting by a two-to-one majority in the 1975 referendum."

    April 24 ~ A letter to Mr Kinnock from a warmwell reader

      Dear Mr Kinnock,
      I understand that on Friday, 23 April, 2004, in a speech at Cardiff, you said that, "EU law has always had primacy over member states' law", a situation "which the people of the UK endorsed by voting by a two-to-one majority in the 1975 referendum."
      But we were only persuaded to under false pretences, Mr Kinnock.
      It's as if, in good faith, you bought a used car which had a forged log book, a forged tax certificate and forged insurance, and later discovered, to your own great cost, that you'd been had. You certainly agreed to the sale - but only because you'd been lied to. So what would you think of anyone who said you'd knowingly chosen to rob yourself?
      The same applies to the "Common Market" scam. The British electorate was the buyer, the UK government, backed by politicians of all parties, the shady dealer . and you the person who is now telling us that we knowingly chose to cheat ourselves.
      Perhaps we were suckers - but only because our "representatives" didn't tell us the truth about what they'd signed us up to.
      Please drop the pretence - it's past its sell-buy date.
      Yours sincerely,
      Gillian Swanson,
      Whitley Bay, England.

    April 24 ~ Resolved, That this House approves the installation of a permanent security screen between the Chamber and the Strangers' Gallery.

    Four extracts from the very long security screen debate - Hansard
    Paul Tyler during the debate on the security screen in the Strangers Gallery. "our constituents are now greeted in their Parliament with a fortress-like response. ... There must be some way in which we can mitigate that. Nowhere else in the United Kingdom are our free citizens greeted not by someone who says, "Can I help you? What do you want to see or hear?" but by somebody armed with a weapon. ...There is no evidence that the screen will assist in the security of all those who work in this building.... We are told that there are 12,500 passes, excluding those of Members of the two Houses... a far more serious security risk to us, our staff, our visitors and all the people who work in this building....I hope that there is some more effective scrutiny, not just of the way in which they are brought in and out of the House, but of their issue and of what happens when they are lost. .
    ....there must be a balance between access, transparency, visibility and security. To pretend that the most sensitive area is in this Chamber suggests to me that we are more worried about people shouting than about weapons, which would be an extremely unfortunate signal to give. .......
    ..As we have already heard, £600,000 has been spent on the temporary screen. Why not just see whether it is sufficient? There is no rush, despite what we have been told. The cost will be £1.5 million if the motion is passed this afternoon, for a screen still on that alignment, and still with many of the difficulties that I have mentioned."....
    ...
    Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): - I yield to no one in my affection for this House. I love this place, and I love this Chamber. One of my great regrets is that the Chamber has seen much of its life depart from it over recent years, but that is another issue. I believe that it is absolutely crucial that this Chamber should be available to any citizen of this country, or indeed to any visitor to this country, who wants to come to listen. It is very important that we should have adequate screening processes, so that people are not put at risk. Only the other day, I was walking out through St. Stephen's entrance. Someone had one of those pepper-shakers. The police—those who serve us so very well in this place and have not yet been mentioned in this debate—apprehended that chap, and he was not going to come in. It is right and proper that we should have the most careful surveillance of those who want to come to listen to our proceedings. However, when the evidence was brought to the Commission earlier this year by the head of the security services and subsequently by the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, I was very reluctantly persuaded that the screen is a price that we have to pay for the tragic times in which we live. It is a price that we have to pay if we are to continue to allow people to queue on the pavement and to come in to listen. I believe that it is a reasonable price. ...."

    Kate Hoey: .... I was horrified when I saw how much had already been spent and what will be spent if the proposal goes through: more than £1 million, give or take a few hundred thousand. Many of my constituents live near this place and many actually work here; few of them will be protected by the screen. In my area, we cannot find a community police officer because all the policemen have been moved from Lambeth to protect the Palace of Westminster. Is it not just as right to provide protection for my constituents? Instead, we have this pathetic knee-jerk reaction, which simply plays into the hands of terrorists? ...

    Bob Marshall-Andrews: ...this building does not belong to Members of Parliament. It is a royal palace but it is also, in the best sense, the people's palace. They come here not because of sufferance or invitation from us but as of right. They have a right to be here, not as voyeurs or listeners, but to participate in the process. Of course, they cannot speak while they are here, but their very presence alters the warp and weft of what we do. When the House laughs, as its does, fortunately, on occasion, that laughter is echoed by the people who sit there and are with us. When the place is sad or solemn that sadness and solemnity is felt not just down here but throughout the Chamber. Any interference with that is a gross distortion and intervention with the body politic—they will know it, and we will know it. There could not be a stronger metaphor for the alienation of people from politics than what we are proposing to put up.

    April 24 ~ "expensive, ineffective and damage community relations"

    Reuters on the ID card pilot. "....The last compulsory identity papers were abolished in 1952. Prime Minister Tony Blair indicated on April 1 that Britain would speed up the launch of compulsory ID cards following a series of arrests in anti-terror raids.
    "I think the whole issue of identity cards, which a few years ago were not on anyone's agenda, is very much on the political agenda here, probably more quickly even than we anticipated," he told reporters.
    The cards would include basic personal information, a digital photo and biometric details which can include iris scans or fingerprints.
    The plans have met a storm of protest from human rights groups who say they are impractical and infringe people's privacy and rights. Campaign group Liberty said evidence from other European countries suggested ID cards were "expensive, ineffective and damage community relations"...."

    April 23 ~ "... This is not what should happen in a civilised society"

    From the Guardian story, Blunkett may change law over suspect's bail "Gareth Peirce, G's solicitor, said after yesterday's hearing: "The home secretary has been fighting this to the death.
    "He has tried to stop this man from getting out and getting sane. He drove this man to madness. This is not what should happen in a civilised society."
    G was being detained under the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act, (see pdf file) which was passed within weeks of the September 11 attacks.
    The act allows foreigners to be detained indefinitely without charge or trial if the home secretary rules they are suspected of involvement in international terrorism. In October, as they rejected G's appeal to be released from detention, the commission panel said: "We have no doubt that he has been involved in the production of false documentation, has facilitated young Muslims to travel to Afghanistan to train for jihad and has actively assisted terrorists who have links to al-Qaida."
    G will remain at home on bail, for which his wife put up a £500 surety under a list of stringent conditions. These include being electronically tagged and having no equipment such as a telephone, phone or computer with which he can communicate to the outside world."

    April 23 ~ Blunkett angered by suspect's bail

    Guardian "The Home Office yesterday condemned judges who ordered the release on bail of a man who became mentally ill after being detained for two years without charge or trial. ......
    ...Mr Justice Collins, the chairman of the Siac panel, said yesterday: "Were he to remain in custody there would be a very real risk of a deterioration in his condition. House arrest with very stringent conditions ... will mean the public can be adequately protected.
    "If the secretary of state intended to submit that the situation had improved ... we would have expected a medical report to be produced. None has." ....Ian Robbins, head of the traumatic stress service at St George's hospital in London, said G was "very fragile". He said G's condition had improved because he was "hanging on" to the prospect of bail and that he was vulnerable to deterioration if it was refused. ....
    On Wednesday the Home Office announced the introduction of a right to appeal against the granting of bail. Last month the court of appeal ruled that Mr Blunkett had no right to appeal against a Siac decision." (The UK is the only European nation to have suspended article five of the European Convention on Human Rights which prevents arbitrary detention without trial. see below)

    April 23 ~ For detainee M, still no explanation why he was locked up for 16 months

    Guardian"...It has been more than a month since the 38-year-old Libyan was released from Belmarsh prison in south-east London, where he was confined to a small cell for at least 20 hours a day on what has since been described as "exaggerated" evidence. Last night M, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, said the system put in place by David Blunkett to deal with men he suspected of being international terrorists in the wake of the September 11 attacks was reminiscent of the courts in Libya, the country from which he sought asylum..."

    April 23 ~ Tony Blair admitted yesterday he has effectively staked his career on winning a referendum on the European Union constitution

    - but has refused to make clear whether he would accept a "no" result. Scotsman Other headlines: Yes, no, maybe ... that's his final answer (Guardian), 'No' campaigners desperate to sideline hardline Eurosceptics ( Independent), Blair and Straw at odds on referendum (Financial Times) Mixed messages from Blair over Europe No vote (Telegraph)

    April 23 ~ "...the less accountable an organisation is, the more corruptible it is likely to be."

    Telegraph today " In practice, democratic accountability can be effective only at the national level. All power tends to corrupt, but supranational power corrupts endemically. ... For unelected bodies, the only real accountability is in the scrutiny of a free press. The EU institutions have consistently sought to silence criticism by the use of carrot and stick, but the entire European Commission would not have been forced to resign five years ago without a few journalists brave enough to defy the supine EU press corps. Now the Brussels bureaucracy is striking back.
    Hans-Martin Tillack, European correspondent of the German magazine Stern, is well-known in Brussels as a scourge of corrupt officialdom. Last month, Mr Tillack was suddenly arrested by detectives on the orders of a Belgian judge, acting on instructions from his crony, the head of the European Commission's anti-fraud office, OLAF. Mr Tillack's office was ransacked and he was held for 10 hours. He has now been raided a second time, his computers and files have been removed - and he still does not know what he is accused of. .Not one of the officials named in the recent Eurostat scandal has yet been arrested - only the man who exposed them: Mr Tillack. The same Belgian authorities that took eight years to put Marc Dutroux on trial for murder did not hesitate to arrest a journalist and expose his sources. Something is rotten in the superstate of Europe."

    April 23 ~ "... part of a pattern in which EU whistleblowers were singled out for harsh treatment."

    Brussels accused of 'police state tactics' is the headline in the Telegraph Ambrose Evans-Pritchard in Brussels writes, "The European Union was accused of using "police state tactics" to stifle criticism after police raided the offices of a Brussels journalist and seized a vast archive of documents identifying his sources.
    Hans-Martin Tillack, Brussels correspondent for Germany's Stern magazine, said Belgian police took computers, mobile telephones, address books, bank statements, and 17 boxes of documents. They were acting on instructions from the EU's anti-fraud office, Olaf.
    Mr Tillack was held incommunicado by police without access to a lawyer for 10 hours last month. The second raid occurred on Wednesday. He is suspected of bribing an official to obtain an internal Olaf dossier in 2002.
    He dismissed the claim as pure fabrication intended to justify a "fishing expedition" through his files.
    Herbert Bosch, an Austrian Socialist MEP in charge of overseeing Olaf, said: "What is happening is absolutely unacceptable. I don't believe there is a scrap of evidence against Tillack". Chris Heaton-Harris, a Tory MEP, accused Olaf of "police state tactics" and said it was part of a pattern in which EU whistleblowers were singled out for harsh treatment. Mr Tillack has clashed repeatedly with Olaf, accusing it of dragging its feet on serious corruption cases."

    April 23 ~Euro MPs mount legal challenge to US air travel deal

    Independent yesterday ".... 34 types of data can be passed to the US. MEPs are concerned that the plans undermine European civil liberty protections because of a lack of safeguards over the use of the information and its transmission to other agencies. They are also concerned that passengers will have no chance to correct inaccurate data passed to the US....Under the agreement, 34 types of data can be passed to the US. These include passenger booking information, such as e-mail addresses, phone numbers, credit-card details and dietary requirements, and can be kept for up to 30 months.
    Since March last year, airlines including British Airways, Lufthansa and Air France, have faced the prospect of fines of £3,400 per passenger if they fail to provide passenger data within 15 minutes of departure. They are passing the information on but, without the EU-US deal, have no guarantee that they are obeying civil liberty laws.
    Graham Watson, leader of the EU Liberal Democrats, said: "This agreement represents a bad deal for privacy which is legally flawed. There are legitimate grounds for requesting the European Court of Justice to rule on the procedure and the substance of the agreement."

    April 22/23 ~ Law to curb bail for terror suspects

    Guardian"..... Mr Blunkett announced the new legislation on the eve of a hearing today of the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (Siac), where he will make a new attempt to prevent the release of a 35-year-old Algerian who has been made mentally ill by his detention. .."
    (He failed. The Special Immigration Appeal Commission (SIAC) upheld its January ruling that the 35-year-old should be freed on bail under house arrest. BBC) The judges recommended that G, who has polio and cannot walk unaided, should be released from Belmarsh prison, south London, but be placed under strict house arrest. They accepted that Mr Blunkett had reasonable grounds for believing him to be an international terrorist. The home secretary took the ruling to the appeal court last month, but three judges there held that there was no right of appeal from a decision by Siac.
    Last night the Home Office announced that it was tabling amendments to the asylum legislation now going through parliament to give the Crown just such a statutory right of appeal. "

    April 22/3 ~The UK is the only European nation to have suspended article five of the European Convention on Human Rights which prevents arbitrary detention without trial.

    Part 4 of the Anti-Terrorism Crime and Security Act 2001 (pdf) allows foreigners to be held indefinitely without charge.
  • Foreign terrorist suspects can be detained indefinitely without charge, if deportation is not possible
  • Police have power to stop and search suspects, whether or not they believe they hold articles which could be used for terrorist acts
  • Unlike old terror laws, MPs need not approve the new legislation annually - it will remain on the Statute Book unless repealed
    The detainees at Belmarsh "...don't know the evidence against them, they just know they are locked up. The hearings are held in secret and the lawyers are not told either."
    Deputy Mayor of London and Green Party MP Jenny Jones told the rally (on April 4th) it was a "complete injustice" that people should be held without trial in a country which prided itself on its democracy and justice system.
    In March, Sir Brian Barder, a lay person sitting on the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (Siac), said he "could not conscientiously play any further part" because the home secretary did not "have to prove anything against the person he wants to deport". Sir Brian complained that recent high court rulings gave David Blunkett "such wide discretion as to make his powers virtually unaccountable". (Guardian) However, David Blunkett has lost his legal bid to stop a suspected Algerian terrorist ("G") being released on bail today.

    April 22 ~"Why should people in the north-west be expected to foot the bill for a costly new tier of politicians which they neither want nor need and that won't result in one extra nurse, doctor or teacher?"

    "At a time when trust in Government politicians is at an all-time low, why is the answer to create yet more bureaucrats, more regulations and more politicians?" asked Mrs. Caroline Spelman (Meriden) (Con) when the deputy prime minister was asked about Regional Government yesterday.

    April 22 ~ "Let the Eurosceptics whose true agenda we will expose, make their case.

    Let those of us who believe in Britain in Europe not because we believe in Europe alone but because, above all we believe in Britain, make ours..." Mr Blair's speech can be read in full on the Number 10 website.
    But it is not the so-called "Eurosceptics" who are the Little Englanders. It is not the countries and peoples of Europe that are mistrusted nor the laudable notion of a bulwark against an increasingly corrupt superpower elsewhere. The true agenda behind the European Union? One might start with a glance at The Great Deception: The SECRET History of the European Union
      "... the Italian ex-Communist Altiero Spinelli wrote that the post-war construction of a 'United States of Europe' would have to take place in the shadows, and that only when it was all but complete could the project come out into the open, with the calling of a 'convention' to give it a constitution..... Macmillan and Heath were both made fully aware that the aim was political union, while deciding for 'presentational' reasons to conceal this from the House of Commons and the British people. ..
      ..the Foreign Office and Geoffrey Howe concealed from Mrs Thatcher the fact that, in the early 1980s, plans were already afoot - led by Spinelli, now an MEP - for a further giant leap forward in integration, to turn the Common Market into a 'European Union'.
      ...Tony Blair was from the start completely out of his depth in 'Europe', showing even less understanding of how it worked than Major, and being shut out of the 'inner ring' just as firmly, not least for his failure to join the euro, which was viewed as a crucial step towards full political integration ...
      ... a muddled and highly unpopular constitution, with the increasingly obvious failure of the eurozone and the threatened disaster of an 'enlargement' on terms grotesquely unfair...."
    As the authors say, "...For 40 years our politicians have, like true 'little Englanders', consistently failed to understand or face up to the 'project's' real nature and purpose, and they have therefore concealed it from the British people. In particular they have totally failed to explain to the British people just how much of the government of their country is now in the hands of this new supranational system of government in Brussels. Probably not more than one MP in 100 could even define the term 'supranational'. But the British people are gradually waking up..."

    April 22 ~ "In other words, if the British people did not vote the way he wanted, Tony Blair would make them vote again until they did.."

    BBC Asked what he would do if there was a "no" vote while he was still in office, Mr Blair said: "We will be in exactly the same position as Ireland after its rejection the first time around of the Nice Treaty. "Which means that if we were in government, we would sit down and have to discuss the way forward with other European countries." Ireland rejected the Nice Treaty in a referendum only to be ratified by a repeat of the poll 16 months later. The comments prompted a fresh offensive from the Tories. In a speech to the British Chambers of Commerce, Mr Howard said the government planned to renegotiate the treaty if there was a "no" vote. "In other words, if the British people did not vote the way he wanted, Tony Blair would make them vote again until they did," he said.

    April 21 ~ Guantanamo "...the most significant national security issue to reach the Supreme Court in years."

    "The case also has larger ramifications, cutting to the heart of questions about executive power in times of crisis, says the BBC's Ian Pannell in Washington.
    The lawyer, John Gibbons, " representing about 600 prisoners held at the US military base in Cuba has accused the government of creating a "lawless enclave". .... In what turned out to be an intense exchange, John Gibbons said "it's been plain for 215 years" that people in federal detention may file petitions in US courts. But US Solicitor General Theodore Olson defended the Bush administration's controversial policy - beginning his arguments with "The United States is at war". BBC

    April 21 ~ Archbishop Rowan Williams says restoring trust lies "above all" in "patient" accountability and the freedom to think again and admit error or miscalculation.

    Independent "The failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq has damaged the public's trust in politicians, the Archbishop of Canterbury hinted yesterday.
    Dr Rowan Williams suggested that the "political health" of the country had suffered in the aftermath of the war and that owning up to mistakes might restore trust.
    The Archbishop's remarks were made in a commemoration sermon at St Benet's Church, Cambridge, on the theme of Christian obedience. He did not mention Iraq directly.
    He said that part of the "continuing damage" to the political health in the UK was linked to a sense of the events of the past year "being driven by something other than attention".
    "The evidence suggeststhat obedience to a complex truth suffered from a sense of urgency that made attention harder," Dr Williams said. He said restoring trust lay "above all" in "patient" accountability and the freedom to think again and admit error or miscalculation.

    April 20 ~ "....why they should bother to vote in local elections again if those who are elected have no power over some of the most significant issues that affect our area ..."

    Mr. David Lidington (Aylesbury) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that it is disgraceful that the examination in public at Northampton is considering major housing proposals for his constituency and mine without any rights for local amenity groups or parish councils to make their views known? Is he aware that, according the Aylesbury Vale district council, the Government office for the south-east proposes to bring forward from the second half of the communities plan yet more housing for the first half of the plan? The Government office will not even accept any responsibility for telling local people that that is what it plans to do.
    Andrew Selous: My hon. Friend makes a powerful point with the lucidity that we have come to expect from him. He is right, and similar affronts to the feelings and needs of local people occur in every area we look at. We are all concerned about the low turnouts in local elections, but many of my constituents ask why they should bother to vote in local elections again if those who are elected have no power over some of the most significant issues that affect our area most deeply. The Government try to assume the mantle of new localism, but that is far from the truth.
    Hansard Debate on the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Bill Andrew Selous (South-West Bedfordshire) (Con) remarked, "The Minister talks about public consultation, and we would all welcome that provided that what the public say is occasionally listened to and acted on..."

    April 20 ~ "Asked if ministers would be able to campaign on either side of the referendum campaign

    the prime minister said it was the government's collective position to support the constitution...." The BBC's page on the referendum statement today.
    Mr Howard mocked Labour MPs as being the "loyal foot soldiers of Grand Old Duke of Spin". They had been "marched up to the top of the hill" to oppose a referendum three weeks ago and now were being marched back down again, he said...."

    April 20 ~ "... Europe’s government will be more centralised and less democratic, and can never be turned out by any vote of the British people.."

    William Rees-Mogg in the Times " ..... Those of us who have ever had to perform U-turns ourselves, with or without the benefit of a reverse gear, will not reproach him. On the contrary, we admire the skill with which he is handling it, starting with Trevor Kavanagh in The Sun, running through The Times and some of the Sundays, and virtually completing his process on the Today programme.... ....
    When the Maastricht Treaty was ratified, an amendment to require a referendum was moved in the House of Lords. Baroness Thatcher was in favour; she made the finest speech I have heard her make in the Lords, but the amendment, for which I voted, was lost.
    I am sure that on this occasion it would be won. I do not believe that the Government would feel able to use the Parliament Act procedure to overrule the Lords amendment and prohibit a referendum. At this point the House of Lords is the protector of British democracy. .....
    ....The Prime Minister’s worst difficulty is the weakness of the constitution itself. It establishes Europe as a state, with greatly increased powers, extending the primacy of European law over national law to an ever-widening circle of functions. It does not reserve or return any exclusive powers to the individual states. Europe’s government will be more centralised and less democratic, and can never be turned out by any vote of the British people. The draft constitution reminds one much more of Napoleon than of Locke; it comes from French administrative law rather than from British individualism. In terms of our tradition, it is neither liberal nor democratic. There is a clash of cultures.
    The process of ratification, followed by a referendum campaign, will give British voters an intensive education in the realities of this constitution. There is very little in it they are likely to relish. They will see that it extends the powers of European administration at the expense of the independence of our elected House of Commons. It is not what the British people are likely to choose, now or later. The British will not vote for a government of bureaucrats, by bureaucrats, for bureaucrats." Read in full

    April 20 ~ If the government couples the Euro with the constitutional vote we really would have a full-blown debate on whether we wanted still to be at the 'heart of Europe'.

    Jon Snow's Channel 4 news update "Crunch time for Britain's relationship with Europe? Strange that the great Anglo-American Iraq adventure has not generated a greater interest in the UK in trying to forge some counter-power-bloc that might challenge the American hegemony. Tonight we are looking at the government's change of heart on a referendum on the proposed European constitution. Europe rarely interests the Brits until, of course, we suddenly find we have afforded equal rights to a whole lot of post-Soviet satellite states and the I (for immigration) word gets conjured.
    If the government couples the Euro with the constitutional vote we really would have a full-blown debate on whether we wanted still to be at the 'heart of Europe'. Truth to tell, one senses that Labour politicians have taken a look at the forthcoming European elections (June) and countenanced an abyss that might deepen without a pledge to accept the Tory call for a referendum. That abyss is deepened still further by the reality that the Euroepan vote is a classic moment for rebellion.
    Greens have done well in the past. This time one suspects that, whilst the turnout will be bad, the Labour rebellion over Iraq may be worse. It could be that the Labour result is so bad that Blair himself is unhorsed by it.
    Tony Blair has just let us know he's going to address the matter of Europe etc himself tomorrow at 3.30pm in the Commons. He's bumped Straw from doing it, so it must be the most, er, personal of... er... U-turns. Read more here: http://www.channel4.com/news/2004/04/week_4/19_referendum.html

    April 19 ~ emergency legislation imposed during the British mandate in 1945 and never revoked by Israel.

    Emergency legislation riding roughshod over civil liberties can be imposed quickly when a population has been made to feel threatened - but then, as the story of Mr Vanunu shows, is far harder to repeal. It can be so useful to the government of the day in silencing opposition.
    Israel has never officially admitted to having nuclear weapons although the CIA has estimated that it has between 200 and 400 of them. In Israel this week, Mordechai Vanunu, the man who first revealed that Israel does indeed have nuclear weapons, ends his 18-year prison sentence. But his liberation will be hardly that. He will be subject to "a series of heavily confining restrictions, amounting to a form of internal exile....These were laid down in emergency legislation imposed during the British mandate in 1945 and never revoked by Israel." See Independent today "....His supporters say the restrictions - which they intend to challenge in the High Court - bar him from talking to foreigners, including by telephone, fax or even email, and from going within 100 metres of a foreign embassy and within 300 metres of ports, airports, or border crossing points. Mr Vanunu will be allowed to live in a town or city of his choosing but will be forbidden to leave its limits unless he first reports to local police...." See Read in full

    April 19 ~ Just a 'tidying-up exercise' or a drastic loss of sovereignty?

    Independent "..... According to the draft constitution, the presidency of Europe would no longer be rotated among the member states. Instead, the president would be elected by heads of states of member countries for a term of two and a half years. ..... A new European foreign minister would work alongside the president and would conduct, in the words of the constitution as currently drafted, "the Union's common foreign and security policy". The foreign minister would be selected by a vote of the heads of state.
    The eventual aim is to have a common foreign policy. Member states "shall support the Union's common foreign and security policy actively and unreservedly in a spirit of loyalty and mutual solidarity".
    ...... The European Commission, the EU's civil service but also the body responsible for proposing EU legislation, is also set for a shake up. Each country would have one commissioner (big countries currently have two) but only 15 of the 25 would have a vote. The voting commissioners would be rotated among the member states.
    The constitution plans to give the European Parliament - currently under the presidency of Ireland's Pat Cox - a much more prominent role in the running of Europe. ...."

    April 19 ~ Blair warned not to turn EU referendum into question of membership

    Tony Blair was last night warned not to play games as he prepared to announce that the British public would have its say on the new European Union constitution. Scotsman Key points
  • Tony Blair expected to confirm UK to hold referendum on new EU this week
  • Conservatives warn against turning vote into question of EU membership
  • Cabinet ministers signal U-turn in government opposition to referendum
  • Blair warned opposition could damage Labour at June European elections
    Key quote
    "The government must not play games with the question [in the referendum on the constition ] or the timing" - Michael Howard, Conservative leader .....Senior Cabinet ministers all but confirmed the Prime Minister was poised to make the most significant U-turn since coming to power....early indications suggest the government could face resistance from voters, with more than half ready to reject the constitution. At least 53 per cent would say ‘no’ to signing the treaty, a YouGov survey for the Sun found. Just 16 per cent would vote ‘yes’, while 23 per cent are unsure. ..."

    April 18 ~ Nowhere to hide as Britain tops CCTV league

    Sunday Times "People in Britain are monitored by more surveillance cameras than anybody else in the world, according to research. There are believed to be more than 4m closed- circuit television (CCTV) cameras - one for every 14 people in the country. A four-fold rise in cameras in just three years has alarmed civil liberties groups. They are calling for tighter controls over their use and over the retention of images on film.
    ..... ..successive Conservative and Labour governments have funded CCTV throughout Britain over the past decade as part of the fight against crime and antisocial behaviour.
    Legal controls over CCTV use were introduced in 2000 as part of the Data Protection Act. It says signs have to be erected to inform people they are being filmed and gave the public the right to see footage of their own image. The act also says businesses or councils must have a legitimate reason for installing cameras. Earlier this year the Information Commission - a government watchdog responsible for enforcing the act - suggested camera operators should destroy images of people caught on film as soon as possible. But the move, which failed to stipulate a maximum time for the retention of images, is perceived as guidance rather than law. There have been reports of security companies selling images of couples having sex in public.

    April 17 ~ Watchdog warns of postal voting fraud

    Independent "The official elections watchdog yesterday warned about the dangers of postal voting fraud in the forthcoming European and local elections.
    The Electoral Commission published a draft code of conduct for political parties, candidates and canvassers setting out guidance on how to avoid any taint of impropriety. The draft code includes advice to candidates and canvassers not to handle postal ballot papers or volunteer to return completed ballot papers on behalf of voters.
    More than 12 million people in the East Midlands, the North- east, the North-west and Yorkshire were to receive postal votes for the elections to the European Parliament on 10 June. Many more people around the country will be voting by post for the local council elections on the same day. The Electoral Commission said that it was issuing the draft code of conduct now "to help retain the real and perceived integrity of the postal voting process". ...... A former Conservative councillor was sentenced this month to four months' imprisonment for vote-rigging in an all-postal voting election pilot in Guildford, Surrey."

    April 13 ~ The Lords is the more democratic house

    Telegraph Why does Labour want to reduce the delaying powers of the Lords? Surely not even Tony Blair can believe that there are currently too many checks on the Government’s power. ...ministers now plan to sweep away one of the few remaining limitations on their power, namely the ability of the upper chamber to hold up legislation for a year. ........ Yet in almost every case where the peers have balked at a Bill, they have done so on the soundest of constitutional grounds.
    .....The reason that Britain, like most democracies, has a second chamber is precisely so that it can act as a brake on the radicalism of the lower house. Governments will sometimes legislate with excessive haste or from bad motives. They might be overreacting to a transient public mood (witness the Dangerous Dogs Act, the Football Supporters Act, the War Crimes Act, the Firearms Act).
    They might be behaving in a brazenly partisan way, as when Labour recently disregarded the recommendations of the Electoral Commission to push ahead with all-postal ballots in its own areas for the forthcoming European election. .... they might have botched the drafting, as with the recent attempt to abolish the office of Lord Chancellor and create a supreme court. In such cases, it is the duty of the upper chamber to ask the elected house to think again, and this duty their lordships have carried out to the letter.
    Labour may have a more specific motive for proposing this change now. Tony Blair is known to want to push through the proposed EU constitution without a referendum. . ..."

    April 13 ~ There are profound reasons to defend the little stubby pencil on a piece of string against new Labour’s “modernisers”.

    letters in the Times " I believe abolition of traditional polling methods is a step too far. Risk of fraud is higher; dignified public civic participation is scrapped; and voters may be subject to pressure behind closed doors.
    What if secret ballot-box voting was banned in a general election or in a referendum on the EU constitution? If a campaign was preceded by a storm of publicly funded, pro-constitution “government information”? If ballot papers were made available only a few days into the campaign, before opponents could make their case? Is that part of the Government’s thinking? Why else would it want to ban the securest and most familiar voting system in the democratic world? .." More

    April 13 ~ Sir John Stevens, said: "We don't actually know who is in London at the moment." I hope he will forgive me, but I cannot see what business it is of his whether I am in London or not

    Comment in the Telegraph on friday by Tom Utley ."then came the news that these cards would cost us up to £77 each, plus that extra £60 a head to implement the scheme. That set me wondering what exactly we would be getting for our money. The answer to that is absolutely nothing, except for a piece of plastic. ID cards will be as fatuous a waste of money as passports for babies.
    I cannot think of a single terrorist atrocity that would have been prevented by an ID-card scheme. (All Spaniards have to carry them from the age of 14, but that wasn't much help to the victims of the Madrid train bombs.) Nor will ID cards help to fight benefit fraud. The problem there is not that claimants are hard to identify. It is that they tell lies.
    Explaining his conversion to ID cards, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir John Stevens, said: "We don't actually know who is in London at the moment." I hope he will forgive me, but I cannot see what business it is of his whether I am in London or not. The high-minded civil libertarians are right. But it is the money I mind most."

    April 11 ~ US worry about privacy

    AJC.com "As hundreds of thousands of New Year's Eve revelers flocked to Las Vegas last year, most had no idea that the FBI knew their names, the flights they took and the hotels where they were staying. In an effort to derail an unspecific terrorist threat, the FBI requested hotels and airlines turn over all passenger and guest lists between Dec. 22 and Jan. 1, 2004. The businesses complied, electronically transmitting personal information for 270,000 visitors.
    While the FBI contends the move was necessary to ward off apotential terrorist attacks like those on Sept. 11, 2001, privacy advocates see the action as an example of the government intruding on individual privacy.
    "Is the world such a different place since 9/11 that we should throw out constitutional protections?" asked David Sobel, general counsel at the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a nonpartisan research center based in Washington. "To say that we are going to examine the activities of everyone to look for something suspicious is a change in the fundamental way our government has behaved in the past." In an era of companies monitoring employees on the Internet, cameras zooming in at the nation's monuments and data mining, privacy appears at stake, experts say. From small businesses to the federal courts, institutions are struggling to balance the privacy rights of individuals with the public's right to know and the government's fight against terrorism. The struggle is being played out in hospitals, schools, city council chambers, state houses and Web pages across America. .......... Personal privacy is at stake on many fronts, from Florida state prosecutors seizing radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh's medical records to the government collecting data on citizens in the name of homeland security to private companies reading personal employee e-mail...... "In every possible sense, from every level of government as well as from the private sector, privacy is being trampled on..." read in full

    April 11 ~ "... the identity card scheme is going to be the biggest administrative boondoggle in British history."

    Jonathan Miller in the Sunday Times "....I have a friend who sent off to the British Horse Society in January for her horse’s passport. Three months later, she still has no passport, the British Horse Society has all her original documents and the only apparent progress on the case is that her cheque has been cashed.
    Why should those of you not of the equestrian class give a hoot? Consider this. The government that has made a complete bollocks of introducing passports for an estimated 600,000 British horses is about to embark on a much grander project to introduce identity cards for 60m humans.
    So here is a prediction: the identity card scheme is going to be the biggest administrative boondoggle in British history."

    April 11 ~ Opposition fights ID card plans

    Shadow Chancellor Oliver Letwin says there is no evidence that ID cards would help fight terrorism. BBC

    April 6 ~"... In all these cases, victory against some of the world's biggest corporations was achieved by small groups of local people and roving campaigners, armed with a tiny fraction of their opponents' budgets."

    "... ....Having exhausted the most accessible reserves of oil, minerals, timber, fish and freshwater, they (corporations) are now forced into ever wider conflicts with the local people whose land and water they must seize to maintain production. .... so many of those who claim to be defending science instead appear to be defending corporate power. ...
  • Bayer, the company which just a month ago received permission to start growing GM maize commercially in Britain, pulled out. This means that no GM crops can be grown in Britain until at least 2008, and perhaps never.
  • On Thursday, the European commission, having prevaricated for 14 years, ordered the nuclear power station at Sellafield to clear up the plutonium it has been dumping. Since the 1950s Sellafield is believed to have thrown 1.3 tonnes of plutonium - enough to make 162 atom bombs - into an open pond.
  • On Friday executives from the Lafarge conglomerate visited the Hebridean island of Harris to announce that they had abandoned their plans to turn Mount Roineabhal, part of a protected landscape, into roadstone. The mountain, according to one of the quarry's backers, would have become the biggest hole in the world.
  • On Saturday, the British Foreign Office, after threatening to sink it, finally dropped its objections to a new treaty, enforceable in British territorial waters in the south Atlantic, protecting albatrosses from longline fishermen. So many albatrosses were being caught on baited hooks that all 21 species are now threatened with extinction. .... "
    George Monbiot in the Guardian

    April 6 ~ "...obviousness clearly drives David Blunkett..."

    The Register " He is unshakably convinced that, as biometrics identify the individual with a high degree of certainty, it stands to reason that biometrics provide a sound foundation, probably the only sound foundation, for ID systems. On the one hand we shouldn't be too hard in him for this, because it's a conviction shared by much of the population, but on the other he is part of the team that supposed to be running the country, so it seems to us he has a certain responsibility to think it through. Just a bit.
    Given that the alleged free world is already barreling down this route with little or no sign that anybody has paused to think it through, we don't hold out a great deal of hope that they'll do so now, meaning they're all going to have to learn the hard and expensive way. But just in case there is the odd politician out there still prepared to consider the possibility that it does not stand to reason, we here propose a short, readily-understood Register explication of why it does not, and why, if we don't wake up very soon, we will end up spending several billion on proving to ourselves it does not." Read in full

    April 6 ~ "We go for the ID card without the strong law of privacy and, in addition to constitutional and privacy concerns, there are grave, grave practical concerns ...."

    The Home Affairs Committee on February 3 2004 questioned, among others, Ms Shami Chakrabarti, Director, Liberty: "....What we have yet to see in our view is clear evidence and a coherent argument as to how it is that a single national compulsory or indeed voluntary ID card would meet these problems of terrorism, illegal immigration and so on, and we feel that the Government's whole approach to this debate has been to call upon people like myself to say what is wrong with an ID card. We think that the proper constitutional approach and the proper approach in terms of the Convention on Human Rights is to look at what the specific problem to be addressed is and, in the light of concerns about privacy, personal autonomy and so on, how an ID card will actually solve that specific problem and indeed whether any such redress is necessary proportionate to our concerns...
    .....to create a single national compulsory identifier (and a voluntary identifier becomes de facto compulsory) creates a shift in the relationship between the individual and the state, so that in fact you are required to identify yourself/to be called to account whether in practice and in an individual circumstance it is justified or not.
    In addition, there are the privacy concerns, the lack of privacy protection in this country.
    Germany has an ID card but also an incredibly strong law of privacy. We go for the ID card without the strong law of privacy and, in addition to constitutional and privacy concerns, there are grave, grave practical concerns about, for example, public authorities, policing and so on. " Read the uncorrected minutes of oral evidence in full

    April 5 ~ Blair is facing a constitutional crisis

    George Trefgarne in the Telegraph "..... it is on the rocks of the constitution that Mr Blair's ship may founder. How so? It is an issue over which there is serious, emotive political disagreement. On the one hand, Mr Blair wants to sign up; on the other, the electorate does not. Admittedly, most people have got other things to worry about, but research suggests that, once they are aware of the issues, voters' hostility rises to 60 to 70 per cent against. Even the Queen is taking an interest and has called for papers.
    Needless to say, the constitution is impenetrable to ordinary mortals. Whereas the American Constitution - crafted by brilliant prose stylists such as Jefferson and Adams - is only about 20 pages long, the European version runs to 265 pages of tedious and opaque legalese. It is a classic example of boredom being the great ally of evil. For insomniacs who want to see for themselves, a draft text is available on the internet*.
    ..... Any sensible person can see that such a huge change - supposedly necessary because of EU enlargement - should have the consent of the people. After all, it was not in Labour's manifesto. Indeed, about seven countries are already expected to have a referendum and any one of them might block it. The constitution even quotes Thucydides on democracy in its preamble and Article 1 begins: "Reflecting the will of the citizens and states of Europe to build a common future…". But Mr Blair evidently has not read it, or at least, if he has, he did not take it in. For he says there will be no referendum. Ergo, the constitution does not reflect the will of the British people, merely his will. ....." Read in full

    April 5 ~ ID cards 'to be enforced by 2008

    Independent Everyone in Britain could be forced to have identity cards within five years under a fast-track plan by David Blunkett which is backed by Tony Blair and gaining support within the Cabinet.
    Last month's bombings in Madrid and last week's arrest of suspected Islamic terrorists in Britain have persuaded more ministers that compulsory ID cards will have to be introduced much sooner than they originally envisaged. The Government announced last November that it would phase in voluntary identity cards from 2007-08 and decide in 2013 whether to make the scheme compulsory.
    But Government sources said yesterday that the "centre of gravity" in the Cabinet was now moving towards a "big bang" introduction of a compulsory system....... Ministers agreed last week that MPs would be able to vote on a compulsory system without the need for fresh legislation........
    Sir John Stevens, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, said yesterday he wanted to see ID cards introduced as soon as possible to combat terrorism and illegal immigration. He told GMTV's Sunday programme that cards would be "of great assistance", adding: "I think the sooner they're brought in the better and as a professional police officer I have to tell you we need them." (Read in full)

    April 5 ~ letters on ID cards

    The Times ID cards and crime
    Sir, Mr David Lindsay (letter, March 29) seems to think that ID cards will help the police to identify and apprehend criminals. All that will happen is that criminals will carry forged ID cards, which will make them safer and leave the rest of us less safe.
    Whatever technology is used to create ID cards can be used to forge them. And the more sophisticated the technology used, the more difficult it is to spot the forgeries.
    Yours faithfully, WILLIAM HAINES,
    Telegraph Re: Preoccupied
    Date: 5 April 2004Sir - The Government is cutting more than £1 billion from the defence budget (News, Apr 2), yet Tony Blair is proposing to spend the equivalent amount to force British subjects into carrying ID cards.
    The message is clear: Tony Blair fears the British people more than a potential occupying force.
    From: Derek Bennett, Walsall, W Midlands
    Telegraph Re: Plastic woes
    Date: 5 April 2004Sir - I have a valid passport; several credit, debit and store cards; a National Trust for Scotland membership card; a Historic Scotland membership card; a National Art Collections Fund membership card; and a library card. They all bear my name. Why should I have to pay for an ID card?
    From: Cdr Hilary Foxworthy, Forfar, Angus

    April 5 ~ House of Lords Letters to the Times

    The Times House of Lords' power to revise From Lord Goodhart, QC
    Sir, Lord Carter, the Government Chief Whip in the Lords in the last Parliament (letter, April 1), attacks the Liberal Democrat peers for trying to block the European Parliamentary and Local Elections (Pilots) Bill, which provides for all-postal elections on June 10 in four of the English regions.
    We have not succeeded in doing this, but we were right to try.
    The Government, in deciding to run all-postal elections in the North West region as well as three others, is overriding the clear advice of the Electoral Commission. Leaving decisions on changes to electoral systems to the sole decision of a Government with a massive majority in the Commons is like making one team’s manager the referee in a football match. The Lords’ functions must include, in cases where the constitution is involved, the right to insist on revisions as far as the Parliament Acts allow.
    Lord Carter’s suggestion that the Conservatives are “being used as patsies by the Liberal Democrats” is absurd. The opposition parties were united in objecting to the Government’s refusal to act on the independent advice it was given by the commission.
    Yours, etc, WILLIAM GOODHART,
    (Liberal Democrat spokesperson for the Lord Chancellor’s Department),
    From Lord Dixon-Smith Sir, Lord Carter calls for the reform of the relative powers of the Lords and the Commons if the Lords is to fulfil its proper function of scrutiny and revision and the elected government is to secure its programme of legislation.
    Governments always appear to believe that they will govern for ever. Lord Carter should advise his successor as Government Chief Whip how to get more of his own party’s supporters in the House of Lords through the division lobby, rather than suggest constitutional changes which he may regret when Labour are once again in opposition.
    Yours faithfully, DIXON-SMITH,
    From Dr Andrew Bamji
    Sir, Lord Carter bemoans the fact that Bills have been returned from the Lords to the Commons once every six months under Labour, in comparison to once every six years during the previous Conservative administrations.
    Perhaps this gross disparity might be explained by the hypothesis that, under the Conservatives, good law was sent for approval, under Labour there has been more bad law, and that the Liberal Democrats (and other crossbenchers with no political axe to grind) have actually noticed this.
    I find such a rational explanation is far more appealing than the suggestion that there is some conspiracy to undermine the democratic process.
    Yours faithfully, ANDREW BAMJI,

    April 4 ~ "the Home Office might be best advised to sort out the loopholes and system failures it already has before introducing new ones to fix. "

    "...he's he's not saying that civil liberties objections have gone away, simply that the objectors have now been sufficiently isolated for the government to introduce cards without sustaining political damage..." The Register
    ".... What seems obvious can often turn out to be wrong, especially when acted on by politicians. The UK, however, is about to commit one of the primary sins of IT system specification by commissioning a project without first figuring out how (or whether) it can achieve its stated objectives. Which is how all the Great British Government IT Disasters commence. ...
    .....If we had ID cards, what would have been happening? At the same time as Blunkett's Home Office has been thumping the ID card tub on the basis of its efficacy against crime, terrorism and illegal immigration, that very same Home Office has known as a matter of record (this is not, we accept, the same as actually knowing or even noticing) that it's been granting immigrant status to people who are not going to perform in accordance with what it says on the tin they just bought. Granted they're a lot more likely to be one-legged Bulgarian plumbers who don't know anything about plumbing than terrorists, but still... Their application rubber-stamped, under the future system they would then have been issued with ID cards, and would have happily acquired a perfectly legitimate UK identity on the basis of whatever it was they'd chosen to fill in. Moral: the Home Office might be best advised to sort out the loopholes and system failures it already has before introducing new ones to fix." Read in full

    April 4 ~ Blair Warned of Battle over ID Cards

    Scotsman Tony Blair was warned today that he faces a Cabinet battle if he tries to rush through plans for compulsory identity cards. Trade and Industry Secretary.....Patricia Hewitt said "....My view is that if we are going to make it compulsory for everybody to have one, even if they don't need it for those other purposes, we need to be absolutely clear that will deliver additional benefits. ....Ms Hewitt's concerns about ID cards are reportedly shared by Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and Chancellor Gordon Brown. But the scheme has been championed by Mr Blunkett, the Home Secretary, who now appears to have the Prime Minister fully behind him. Mr Blair insisted that civil liberties concerns had been overcome....."

    April 4 ~ "....David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, has also won his battle for compulsory identity cards to be approved without fresh primary legislation."

    The Cabinet agreed last week that the Cabinet would be given the final say over whether ID cards should be made compulsory, after a trial period. Some Cabinet ministers, including Patricia Hewitt, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, protested that Parliament should be allowed to decide whether ID cards should be made compulsory. Tony Blair made clear in his monthly press conference at Downing Street last week, however, that the introduction of ID cards was being accelerated to help combat the rising threat of terrorism. Once the Cabinet has approved the ID cards, a report will be presented to Parliament, and it will be included in a parliamentary order, which will go through in a single vote in both the Commons and Lords. It will not require a separate Bill. The legislation will be introduced in the next session of Parliament and cards could be made compulsory after 2010.
    Mr Blunkett said in an interview with The Telegraph last week: "We will go ahead by offering identity cards until we get to a point where the density of take-up makes it sensible for the Cabinet at that time to take a view on it becoming compulsory, because then you can bring into play all the measures that make the card worth having." Sunday Telegraph (in an article about Mr Blair's meeting with Mr Bush to include a request to postpone fingerprint checks for British citizens "They are introducing them in October and that is far too soon."....)

    April 4 ~ Even the Cabinet Office website admits that "almost half of all major UK laws start off in Europe".

    Booker's Notebook "..Yet in general our politicians and media have not even begun to realise the extent to which Britain's laws and policies are decided by the new system of government centred in Brussels.
    That this is so is made clear by the debate over the proposed EU constitution, which Mr Blair and his European colleagues hope to agree by the end of June. The constitution is commonly discussed as if it were something entirely new, marking a quantum leap in European integration. Yet the fact is that we already have such a constitution, as anyone can see merely by looking at the existing EU treaties. ...
    ...most people still do not grasp how thoroughly a slow-motion coup d'etat has removed from us our power to govern ourselves. Furthermore no one has ever consulted us as to whether or not we are happy about it, apart from that sad joke of a referendum in 1975 when politicians of all parties concealed what we were letting ourselves in for. ..."

    April 3 ~ Immigration policy, under governments of all colours, has been conducted on the basis that the electorate cannot handle the truth.

    Matthew Parris - Beverley can be melted down to make a new robot minister in the Times " ... Ms Hughes struck me as one of those figures who emerge in moderately senior roles in the former East German Stasi, the Church, Oxfam or the Zanzibar police: functionaries so expert at applying the required filters to reality that man and mask merge, and it becomes imaginable that they have gone a step beyond refusing to acknowledge the inconvenient, and genuinely cannot see it any longer. When such ministers break, one imagines they can be melted down to make new ones. ....
    ... Let ministers join the discussion. They might be surprised at the variety (and, among many, the maturity) of opinion. We are ready to hear about the difficulties, discuss the solutions and accept that some will not be ideal.
    Instead, wary and defensive, ministers have ducked the debate. That is why, when we catch one out as Beverley Hughes was caught out, things turn nasty. On the radio and at the dispatch box she sounded frightened. There was no need to be."
    (As always with the best journalism, it is difficult to choose what to quote from this article. Please do read in full)

    April 2 ~ There is "no longer a civil liberties objection" to compulsory ID cards - claims Tony Blair

    There are several reports in the papers referring to this month's Prime Ministerial press conference The Scotsman quotes the prime Minister as saying of compulsory ID cards,""There is no longer a civil liberties objection. There is a series of vast logistical questions to be resolved and, in my opinion, logistics is the only time delay. Otherwise it needs to move forward", while the Guardian says
      " the prime minister asserted, most of the civil libertarian objections to hi-tech ID cards had been resolved, but "practical and logistical" problems remained. "I think we will need to readjust our terrorism laws still further," he said. "I think the whole issue of identity cards, which a few years ago were not on anyone's agenda, are very much on the political agenda here, probably more quickly even than we anticipated."
    The Herald says,"Tony Blair yesterday signalled that the government was preparing to draw up further anti-terrorist legislation in the wake of Tuesday's alleged plot to unleash a bombing campaign in Britain. Following the suspected attempt to use half a ton of ammonium nitrate fertiliser in a terror campaign, the prime minister indicated he was prepared to bring forward measures to introduce identity cards."
    There are many "civil liberties" objections. For a start, Mr Blair might perhaps read what Charles Kennedy wrote in the Independent: "we don't need a police state".. ..."We don't need identity cards to protect us from terrorists. They would be ineffective, ill-judged, and unnecessary," he said. "ID cards do not prevent the massacre of innocent civilians in Spain."

    April 2 ~".... Beverly had to go because of one of the oldest questions in journalism: who knew what - and when did they know it?

    Guardian "... David Blunkett, is badly exposed.
    For his remarks that no one would "take the scalp" of a minister in his department, he looks a fake. And for his pretence that somehow this was all about a feeding frenzy by the rightwing press he looks a fool. After all, he was the one who - in a state of panic - had to suspend all immigration applications from Romania. But delve a little further into his recent remarks and things look even worse for the home secretary.
    On Tuesday during the debate he castigated officials in his department saying that "some of us agree that action should have been taken ... some of us believe that if material is placed before senior management they should act on it". Yet what we now know for certain is that this information - that the embassies in Romania and Bulgaria were overwhelmed with bogus applications and that the system was nearing collapse - was put in front of ministers as well. One of them was his own minister, Bob Ainsworth (now deputy chief whip), who thought it so serious that he wrote to the immigration minister and told her to do something about it...."

    March 31 ~ politics dies when policy answers to no one.

    Simon Jenkins in today's Times on the Beverley Hughes affair. "....Everything is part of a complicated fiction designed to reassure the public of what is not true, that ministers are in control of this human tide. Thus does a lively Romanian lawyer reckon to process 500 British visa applications at £1,000 a time, with a “99 per cent guarantee” that the Home Office will not question them, however dodgy. Someone should make him Immigration Minister.
    .......Not just immigrants already here but those applying to come were being “fast-tracked” to meet bureaucratic targets. In the Romanian case the practice was in effect condoning organised crime. An earlier case, cited by Steve Moxon in Sheffield, accused the Home Office of fast-tracking now to reduce an apparent flood later when the expanded European Union relaxed its borders.
    Ms Hughes’s response was not a sensible one. She did not accept that all immigration policy is managed impotence. She did not explain the need for fast-tracks and backlog reductions. She merely refused to defend her officials’ decisions or take responsibility for them. ..."

    March 31 ~ The UK has until October of this year to ensure all passports have the capacity for biometric information

    See BBC "Concern over biometric passports - Civil rights campaigners have voiced concerns over plans to implement a global biometric identity system for air travellers. The International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) is set to agree an international standard for facial recognition on all new passports. The plans have the backing of the US government and the European Union. It could create a global database of over a billion people by 2015, warned Privacy International. The ICAO standard, being agreed at a meeting in Cairo this week, would require all newly issued electronic passports to have space for additional biometrics such as fingerprinting. "We are increasingly concerned that the biometric travel document initiative is part and parcel of a larger surveillance infrastructure monitoring the movements of individuals globally," said civil liberty groups Privacy International and the American Civil Liberties Union. Millions of air passengers could end up on a computer system that could be accessed by governments across the world, said Dr Gus Hosein from Privacy International. .."

    March 31 ~ Terror panic could turn Britain into police state, says Kennedy

    Independent today "Mr Kennedy condemned the emergency provisions that have allowed foreign nationals suspected of terrorism to be detained indefinitely without trial in Belmarsh prison. "Once fundamental liberties are withdrawn to deal with one emergency, it is easy enough to find other emergencies to apply them to," he said. "Salami-slicing of civil liberties is unacceptable." Explaining his philosophy of "tough liberalism", he said: "There are times when it is appropriate to strike a compromise between safety and liberty". But he said the correct balance must be struck with the utmost care. "There is a big difference between empowering the police to tackle crime on the one hand and stripping society of its hard-earned freedoms on the other hand," he said. Mr Kennedy said, "we don't need a police state"...
    ...."We don't need identity cards to protect us from terrorists. They would be ineffective, ill-judged, and unnecessary," he said. "ID cards do not prevent the massacre of innocent civilians in Spain."
    He said the detention of terrorist suspects by the Americans in Guantanamo Bay operated outside any recognised legal framework. He added: "The Liberal Democrats have never argued for special treatment of these men, but for fair treatment according to the law. They are entitled to no less."
    Mr Kennedy also criticised government attempts to restrict the right of appeal for asylum-seekers. He said Britain should be a safe haven for the persecuted without being "a soft touch". "If there is abuse of the asylum process, you remove the abuse," he said. "What you don't do is circumvent long-established and fundamental judicial practices like the right to appeal." He said failed asylum-seekers should be thrown out of the country "as soon as possible" while assessment of asylum cases should be "swift and accurate"..."

    March 31 ~ Lords reject plan for postal ballots

    Independent "The Government's plans to experiment with all-postal ballots in June's European Parliament elections were thrown out for a fifth time by the House of Lords yesterday. Peers voted by 136 to 130 to water down the scheme, thwarting the Government's proposal to include four areas in the trial --the East Midlands, North-east, North-west and Yorkshire and parts of Humberside - a total of about 14 million electors. But peers again voted to remove the North-west from the experiment. The defiance in the Lords means the Bill is in danger of running out of time. Nominations close for the elections on 13 May, and the timetable would be very tight for town hall electoral staff if the measure does not become law by Easter. Lord Rennard, chief executive of the Liberal Democrats, said: "The Government can now avoid accusations of gerrymandering by agreeing to the compromise put forward by the Lords. If the Government will not compromise, they risk losing the whole of this Bill and will only have themselves to blame."
    But Lord Filkin, a minister at the Department for Constitutional Affairs, said: "It defeats me to understand how this House can believe this is a point of principle on which it should stand in the face of the Commons for potentially five times." He added: "This is not an issue which I believe the Lords has any strong case to claim they have a constitutional right to stand in the face of the will of the Commons because at heart this comes down to the judgment of the Government that it is desirable to have four regions rather than three."

    March 30 ~ As expected, MPs voted to insist on four all-postal vote trials for June's European and local elections.

    The Lords has defeated the Government's plans four times and now want the experimental scheme restricted to three English regions. But the Commons voted by 307 to 172 to stick to four. As we read in the Herald on Sunday "nobody should be taken in by Labour politicians who claim to be worried by apathy."

    March 29 ~ EU arrest warrant and identity cards

    A letter today in the Times from Mr Colin Bullen
      Sir, Undemocratic authorities always seek to use real or manufactured emergencies to increase their power at the expense of democratic freedom. The EU arrest warrant, of which you seem to approve (leading article, “Taking on terror”, March 24), is a disgrace, permitting British subjects to be accused of crimes which are not recognised as such in these islands and to be incarcerated for indefinite periods awaiting trial, without benefit of domestic judicial overview. The introduction of ID cards would see law-abiding people forced to obey the arrogant cry of “Papers!” Meanwhile, more power will be transferred to centralised EU institutions, which would undermine further our right to govern ourselves.
      Which is the greater danger to our long-term freedoms — terrorists inspired by medieval fanaticism but who hold none of the levers of power, or a political elite determined to build a European state, which will be ruled not by the people’s will but by bureaucratic fiat? Clearly we must confront and defeat the former but not at the expense of surrendering our freedoms to the latter.
      Yours faithfully, COLIN BULLEN, 19 Douglas Road, Tonbridge, Kent TN9 2UE. colinbullen@hotmail.com

    March 29 ~ MPs to demand referendum on EU constitution

    Telegraph "Tony Blair will face demands from MPs on all sides of the Commons today to grant a referendum on the European constitution amid signs that a deal could be struck before the European Union's new, self-imposed deadline of mid-June. Michael Howard, the Tory leader, will step up his calls for a plebiscite when Mr Blair reports on last week's Brussels summit where EU leaders agreed to push for agreement within three months. With the Liberal Democrats and about 30 Labour MPs also backing a referendum, some of the Prime Minister's advisers now believe it will be difficult to head off the pressure ahead of the European elections on June 10 and beyond......
    An opinion poll yesterday showed that most people reject Mr Blair's argument that the threat of terrorism makes it more important that Britain should agree to a constitution. ....."

    March 28 ~ "...British institutions can still provide obstacles to overbearing Prime Ministers.

    The law lords can deliver devastating judgments on the Government's abuses of power, which no Minister can suppress. The House of Lords, for all its natural conservatism, can still produce original and independent views to compel the House of Commons to think again. The prestige of the monarchy, with all its pomp and ceremony, prevents the Prime Minister from acquiring too much splendour. The 'wise men' of academia can provide a much longer historical perspective than short-term politicians. Civil servants are bound by their own professional standards to resist party political corruption. ...
    ....Today the circles of Britain's power centres look very different from the pattern of 40 years ago. The palace, the universities and the diplomats have drifted towards the edge. Many institutions - including Parliament,the Cabinet, trade unions and industry - look smaller. The Prime Minister, the Treasury and Ministry of Defence loom larger at the centre. The bankers are more dominant while the nationalised industries have almost disappeared as separate entities. The media are more pervasive, seeping everywhere into the vacuum left by the shrinking of the old powers.
    In fact the British concept of pluralism is looking less credible, as established institutions have lost autonomy and confidence. Judges, professors, permanent secretaries all feel less secure, while the clergy have almost vanished from the political scene. There is less diversity of public views at the top as rival powers have been marginalised. 'The Establishment,' wrote the late Hugo Young in 2002, 'whether in politics, in business or in intellectual life, is all of one colour. There is little point in being anything else.'
    The colour is the colour of money. ...
    ....multinational firms hardly need to make the point that if they are not granted special terms they can take their money out of Britain.
    New Labour is especially mindful of the need to oblige rich individuals as donors. The explosion of personal fortunes has made all parties more dependent on a handful of individuals than on company donations.
    Above all, the rich feel much less need than their predecessors to account for their wealth, whether to society, to governments or to God. Their attitudes and values are not seriously challenged by anyone. The respect now shown for wealth and money-making has been the most fundamental change in Britain over four decades."

    Observer article today "Who Runs Britain" by Anthony Sampson. He is author of the ground-breaking book Anatomy of Britain, is also Nelson Mandela's biographer and has written bestsellers on banking and oil. Read in full

    March 28 ~ Give us a referendum

    Sunday Times Leading article: Give us a referendum
    " ... the constitution is back.....the EU probably cannot afford another collapse.
    Mr Blair......intends to come out fighting his critics, accusing them of peddling Eurosceptic myths. “I think it is important first of all to debate according to reality, not according to myth,” he said. “Neither, incidentally, is anyone pushing us to give up British policy on tax, or foreign policy, or defence, or the criminal justice system. The idea that people round the table, many of whom, the new members, have fought for years to achieve nationhood, want to give it all away is a bit dumb.”
    So there you have it: those who oppose the constitution are dumb. It is dumb, the prime minister says, to trouble ourselves over it. But is it dumb to worry about the loss of sovereignty when it comes to our criminal justice system, and the right to have national laws, investigative procedures and prosecution standards? ...... Ministers have stopped talking about the constitution as “a tidying-up exercise”. ......
    This newspaper has called for a referendum on the constitution; we repeat that call today. Mr Blair will not concede such a vote, of course, because he knows he would lose it. An ICM poll today shows an opposition of 3-1 to the constitution. The prime minister’s message to voters is “trust me”. After seven years, and with the question of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction hanging over him, Mr Blair is the last person most voters will want to trust. He needs to reflect harder before trying to ram a constitution through against public opinion and the national interest." Read in full

    March 28 ~ Apathy In The UK

    Sunday Herald "Across the world, voters are exercising their democratic right to voice opposition to government. So why can’t Britain be bothered? Last week’s Electoral Commission figures quantified the extent of disaffection in this country. But what will it take for the electorate to wake up and be counted? Ian Bell Read in full ".. .... Belief in politics is evaporating.
    What, though, is wrong with abstentionism? If there is little actually to choose between Labour and the Tories, why not demonstrate contempt for the bunch of them? Vote for either and racist immigration policies remain. Vote for either and your country’s foreign policy will still be run from the White House. Vote for either and you will get, by and large, the same economic prescriptions. Europe might throw up some linguistic nuances, but we would still remain outside the euro zone. Why not simply ignore the whole charade?
    A couple of reasons. First, there are several repositories for conscience, particularly in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, where nationalism (or Unionism) provides alternatives. Equally, there are now socialist parties across the United Kingdom and the Greens for those seeking something new. As things stand, none of these parties can achieve much in general elections, but they could be influential if the next government has a small majority.
    Equally, nobody should be taken in by Labour politicians who claim to be worried by apathy. ..."

    March 26 ~ Blair's new spinner 'risks Whitehall war'

    The Guardian " Tony Blair's new chief of publicity (Howell James) was told by the chairman of the Press Complaints Commission yesterday that he had taken a flawed job which could prove cumbersome and ineffectual and end up unleashing a permanent turf war between himself, Downing Street and the rest of Whitehall.
    .....The Liberal Democrats said: "Spin doctoring rules the roost in Blair's Britain." ...
    ... two further announcements yesterday: that the government spokesman Tom Kelly, who notoriously described David Kelly as a "Walter Mitty character", will become the prime minister's only official spokesman, while his colleague Godric Smith becomes head of strategic communications at Downing Street. Darren Murphy, a special adviser, becomes a press officer.
    "In just one day Tony Blair has invented a new permanent secretary to oversee government communications, hired yet another political special adviser in an already bloated Number 10 team - and the very press officer forced to apologise for calling Dr David Kelly a Walter Mitty character after his suicide is now the prime minister's only official spokesman," Matthew Taylor, the Liberal Democrats' chairman, said. ....."

    March 26 ~ Fourth postal vote defeat

    Telegraph "Peers defeated the Government for the fourth time yesterday over its plans to extend postal voting in this summer's European elections.
    The Tories and the Liberal Democrats offered ministers a compromise by agreeing to postal voting to be piloted in three regions. They had voted for two on previous occasions. But ministers still want postal voting pilots to be held in four regions and may seek to reverse the defeat for the fourth time when the Bill returns to the Commons on Monday.
    The issue is controversial because the Government originally proposed to pilot all-postal voting, which involved people having to vote by post and not being able to go to a polling station, in just two regions this summer: the East Midlands and the North East. Then the Government announced that it wanted the pilots to cover Yorkshire and the Humber and the North West, too. The opposition parties objected because postal voting was susceptible to fraud and because there were suspicions that, by increasing turnout, it would benefit Labour. Peers have defeated the Government on three occasions by voting for the pilots to be held in just the original two regions. Yesterday, after hearing that the Electoral Commission has recently come out in favour of a pilot being held in Yorkshire and the Humber, the Tories and the Liberal Democrats voted for pilots in three regions. They defeated the Government by a majority of 37. Lord Filkin, a constitutional affairs minister, told the House that the Government still wanted the North West to be included. "Ultimately the Commons should have its way and we grant it. That is not for petty reasons. It is because this House is not elected." (Inbox comment)

    March 25 ~ If you feel that the issue of the European Constitution should be put to the people in a referendum...

    On the Today Programme Michael Howard has said that if the European Constitution is ratified then he'll, "talk about it." Neil Herron writes, "... it is now in our hands to crank up the agenda and DEMAND that the issue of the European Constitution is put to the people in a referendum. The petition forms need filling in and sending back to us. They can be downloaded here http://www.referendum04.co.uk/pdf/referendum%20form.pdf ....ours is a grass roots People's Campaign. Please go to www.referendum04.co.uk for more information or telephone 0871 700 2004."

    March 23 ~ " details of the government's proposed national identity card scheme emerged in advance of the publication of the draft legislation "

    The Guardian Government will track ID card use "The pattern of everyday use we make of our identity cards, known as the audit trail, will be logged and kept on a central computer to allow abuses to be investigated once the scheme is introduced..... Mr Harrison also outlined the latest Home Office thinking on on whether or not the one million Irish nationals living in Britain will have to carry UK identity cards.
    Mr Harrison told a Law Society conference yesterday that ministers had started with the assumption that information on the pattern of everyday transactions involving each card would not be kept on the central computer database. But following representations from the information commissioner they were now minded to keep information "about the audit of transactions" to allow the authorities to investigate abuses of the scheme. Although no final decision had been taken he said there would need to be safeguards to prevent abuse of such information.
    Mr Harrison confirmed that individuals will be able to check that the data held on them under the identity card scheme was accurate and to put it right if there is an error. He said they were looking at ways in which this information could be accessed using the identity card rather than the traditional data protection method of writing a letter and paying 310. However, it would not allow each individual to check on all the government data held on them or on the "audit trail" of checks that others make on their identity. Read in full

    March 23 ~ MPs demand wider access for inquiries

    Press Association via Guardian yesterday
    "Tony Blair was today facing a fresh call to allow MPs to question Downing Street policy advisers about their work at No 10. The Commons liaison committee - made up of the chairmen and women of all the select committees - complained they were given less access to information than official inquiries like Lord Hutton's investigation into the death of David Kelly. .... It called the government's refusal to cooperate fully with its inquiry into the decision to go to war in Iraq a "failure of accountability to parliament". Read in full

    March 22 ~ "The electoral system is no more Labour's to tinker around with than is the constitution, whose ancient structures are being so casually dismantled in the name of "modernisation". "

    Now they want to abolish polling day, writes Philip Johnston in the Telegraph "..... In the autumn, the people of Yorkshire and Humberside, the North-East and the North-West will decide whether they want to establish elected regional assemblies. These referendums, significant constitutional changes in anyone's book, will be conducted by post.
    Without any real public debate, a mainstay of the British electoral system since Gladstone introduced the secret ballot in 1872 to prevent landowners pressuring tenants into voting for particular candidates is quietly being eroded. The justification is given as poor turnouts in recent elections. ....... Surely, this is a matter that requires all-party agreement. The electoral system is no more Labour's to tinker around with than is the constitution, whose ancient structures are being so casually dismantled in the name of "modernisation".
    Postal voting, while superficially attractive to politicians who think we are all too bone idle to get off our backsides to go to a polling station, is wide open to fiddling, intimidation and fraud. It will mark the final disconnection between politicians and the electorate. That, after all, is the principal reason why people do not go out to vote."

    March 21 ~ Tribute to Steve Thoburn, Save Our Supplements, the Sturminster Newton Spring Clean fiasco and Mrs Beckett's stark warning to orchard owners.

    Booker's Notebook in the Sunday Telegraph. Christopher Booker's weekly roundup of disturbing absurdities. extract:
      "...John Mills, regional policy director at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, recently startled the National Farmers Union annual conference by boasting that Britain's countryside is now home to eight times as many civil servants as farmers. Only 3 per cent of rural inhabitants are farmers or fishermen, he claimed, whereas 25 per cent are on the public payroll, working in "rural administration".
      Mr Mills did not point out that the first of these groups is rapidly diminishing (according to official figures by 140,000 in the past six years), while the other has been expanding - let alone that these facts might be connected."

    March 21 ~ Blunkett plans ID cards 'by stealth'

    Independent on Sunday "The Cabinet battle over identity cards intensified last night as it emerged that David Blunkett is being accused by senior colleagues of introducing a compulsory scheme by stealth.
    The hostility to the Home Secretary's proposals, to be published within weeks, is revealed in letters leaked to The Sunday Times. Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, Alistair Darling, the Secretary of State for Transport, Paul Boateng, the Chief Secretary of the Treasury, and Patricia Hewitt, the Secretary of State for Trade have all voiced alarm.
    They are angry that Mr Blunkett's proposed legislation introducing a voluntary scheme could lead to citizens later being forced to carry identity cards without a further act of Parliament being passed. Early last November, the Cabinet struck a deal on ID cards under which, Downing Street said, ministers agreed to put off a decision on a compulsory scheme "until later this decade.......In practice, given the size and complexity of the scheme a number of issues will need to be resolved over the years ahead." ......
    In his letter, dated the week before last, Mr Straw added: "I should like to emphasise that the ID card scheme must be designed in a way that is compatible with our obligations under international law, in particular EU law." .... Mr Boateng is said to have written: "I remain concerned about compulsion - an issue that cuts to the core of the political and public acceptability of the scheme." Tonight, a Home Office spokesman said: "The Government position was set out in the Home Secretary's statement to the House last November, and in the Next Steps document published at the same time. Nothing has changed."

    March 21~ Blunkett fast-tracks ID cards

    Sunday Times "Cabinet ministers are accusing David Blunkett, the home secretary, of attempting to sneak through compulsory identity cards after they blocked the scheme, leaked cabinet papers reveal. ..... In a concerted campaign, four senior ministers — Jack Straw, Alistair Darling, Paul Boateng and Patricia Hewitt — have written letters protesting against the move by Blunkett, who is due to publish a draft ID cards bill before Easter. They are furious that the home secretary has inserted a clause that would grant the power to introduce compulsory cards with a single vote in the Commons and without another act of parliament being passed. ..... Most MPs, like the public, are in favour of ID cards and the bill would easily get passed in a climate of fear about terrorism.
    The home secretary has allowed colleagues to read his draft bill, but only under the tightest security for fear of leaks. The Sunday Times first disclosed Blunkett’s plans for compulsory cards costing £40 each, and the cabinet row that ensued, in a series of highly damaging leaks last year. Blair was forced to intervene after Brown’s allies were joined by Straw in condemning the plan as too controversial. "

    March 20 ~" they would retaliate... "

    Labour hits back in Lords battle By Benedict Brogan in the Times "The Government threatened to limit the powers of the House of Lords yesterday after Tony Blair was forced to abandon plans to abolish hereditary peers and introduce an all-appointed second chamber. Ministers made clear they would retaliate by drawing up plans for Labour's general election manifesto to change both the composition and the influence of the Upper House. .... The decision prompted Tory claims that the Government's "secret agenda" to marginalise the revising chamber had been revealed.
    The Prime Minister surprised Westminster on Thursday by jettisoning the Bill that would have removed the remaining 92 hereditary peers, admitting it would be unable to get it past concerted Tory, Liberal Democrat and Labour opposition.
    Despite the prospect of a substantial rebellion among Labour MPs who want to see some or all members of the Lords elected, Lord Falconer blamed the Conservatives for obstructing the will of elected MPs. He said what was at stake was the primacy of the House of Commons. .......
    Thursday's climbdown is an embarrassment for Mr Blair, who chose to make confrontation with peers one of the main planks of his campaign to focus on domestic issues following the war in Iraq.
    The Government was forced to back down after peers voted to postpone the passage of the Constitutional Reform Bill last week by referring it to a special select committee....
    ....... Robin Cook, the former Leader of the Commons, said the Government's decision was "realistic" in the face of widespread opposition. "Most MPs last year voted for one or other form of majority elected second chamber," he said."

    March 19 ~ Tony Blair has dropped plans

    to get rid the remaining hereditary peers before the next general election BBC

    March 18 ~ Peers reject extension of postal voting

    Guardian "...the government has been trying - against the advice of the Electoral Commission and three separate votes by peers - to extend the "pilot" to around 14 million voters. Opposition to the plan comes over fears that the security and integrity mechanisms for checking voters' identity against possible fraud are not robust enough..."

    March 17 ~ Peers block polls Bill

    The Times "THE Lords squared up for another confrontation with the Government yesterday by defeating for the second time plans for all-postal ballots in the European and local elections in June. Peers voted by 174 to 130, a majority of 44, for a move by the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats to restrict postal-only voting to the East Midlands and North East England. In a second defeat the Lords also voted for postal ballots to be countersigned by a witness. " Read in full

    March 17 ~ Power to wage war 'should be curbed'

    Telegraph " Tony Blair should give up the power to go to war without the approval of Parliament, a Labour-dominated committee of MPs said yesterday.
    .... In a report called Taming the Prerogative, the committee said a decision to engage in armed conflict should be approved by Parliament, either before war starts or shortly afterwards. "In these most serious of cases, the decision whether or not to consult Parliament should never be dependent on the generosity or goodwill of government," it said. "A mere convention is not enough when lives are at stake. The increasing frequency of conflict in recent years is proof enough of the importance of ensuring that, when the country takes military action, Parliament supports the government in its decision." ....... Often known as the "royal prerogative", the right to take certain executive decisions without reference to Parliament is a constitutional hangover from the days when the Sovereign ruled. ................ Other ministerial decisions that can be taken using prerogative powers include organising the Civil Service and awarding honours. The committee ruled out scrapping all prerogative powers, saying they offered "much-needed flexibility to government" and were a well-established part of the constitution".

    March 16 ~ Downing St forced to reveal secret meetings

    Guardian "...the parliamentary ombudsman has forced Tony Blair to reveal his pattern of meetings with commercial lobbyists. This has been a fiercely preserved Downing Street secret, which critics argue has long tainted democratic government in Britain. Ann Abraham, the ombudsman, has found No 10 guilty of unjustifiably keeping secret contacts between ministers and commercial companies who are seeking to influence them..... Downing Street has been compelled to admit that a Labour donor met the prime minister at a sensitive time when he was seeking to win a lucrative contract from the government.
    Dr Paul Drayson, who donated £100,000 to Labour, provoked controversy when the government awarded his company PowderJect, without any competition, a £32m contract to produce smallpox vaccine. What was never disclosed was that Dr Drayson was one of a select group of businessmen invited by Mr Blair to a private Downing Street breakfast on December 6 2001. At the time, the government was deciding which company should be awarded the contract, and within weeks, decided that there should be no tender. ..... In the past two years businessmen have been invited to breakfasts with Mr Blair on at least six occasions. ......
    Releasing the information after the ombudsman's ruling, Downing Street said the breakfast had been "held as a private event". "The prime minister holds such events on a regular basis to discuss issues with a range of people, such as health workers." ............. The ombudsman ruled that such blanket secrecy was unacceptable ...."

    March 15 ~ What constitutional crisis? An enlightening article for the bewildered

    appeared in yesterday's Scotland on Sunday. "....unprecedented scenes of anarchy and chaos that engulfed Britain last Monday night. The House of Lords voted by 216 to 183 to send the Constitutional Reform Bill for scrutiny to a special select committee. It did so on the recommendation of a Labour-dominated House of Commons committee that followed both precedent and common sense in recognising the responsibility of the revising chamber...
    ...It would be difficult to conceive of a more text-book example of the Upper House doing what it exists to do. Unfortunately, the basic concept of what the House of Lords is for has not registered with its own Leader, Baroness Amos. The noble lady, after the government’s defeat, subjected her peers to a school-marmish lecture, laced with puny menace. ..
    ...Make no mistake: this is arbitrary rule and the Lords last week proved to be the thin red line that is all that stands between Blairite fascism and the extinction of our civil liberties. ...." Read in full

    March 14 ~ The Observer removed the news story about Lord Sainsbury on Feb 22 after he put pressure on them to do so.

    "so much for the independence and back-bone of the press" Alan Beat's smallholders newsletter, which quotes from warmwell, received the following message:
      "Regarding the news report carried in your last newsletter on Lord Sainsbury: http://politics.guardian.co.uk/labour/story/0,9061,1153538,00.html
      Minister 'broke Cabinet rule' over business The Observer. It only ever ran in the first edition of the Observer - it was pulled by the paper after pressure from Sainsbury - so much for the independence and back-bone of the press."
    We note that the story is still - for now - on the internet. The article -
      "...Lord Sainsbury, was fighting for his political life last night after he was accused of breaching strict government guidelines over his business interests. Leaked minutes obtained by The Observer reveal that the Science Minister, who has extensive business interests in the biotechnology sector, was at a key Cabinet meeting which drew up a top-level strategy to promote the fledgling industry..
      ...At the meeting, Ministers discussed a number of key ways to support the UK's biotechnology sector. These included limiting the EU's ability to raise ethical issues surrounding biotechnology, launching an awareness campaign to change MPs and the public's perception about the industry, and encouraging European leaders to push its potential benefits on their health Ministers. Sainsbury seemingly played a crucial role during the meeting, with Foreign Secretary Jack Straw tasking the Science Minister to contact the Prime Minister on ways to win support within the EU for the biotech industry... "
    was put on warmwell in full on Feb 22 2004 An unfunded and independent website is not subject to high placed, cynically self-serving pressure; one reason for being very grateful to the internet.

    March 14 ~ "...an astonishing breach in the code of confidentiality which governs the relationship of professional advisers and their clients.

    Booker's Notebook "The professionals are being forced to act as (unpaid) government informers.
    What most people caught up in this new legal minefield do not realise is that the Money Laundering Regulations went through parliament under the European Communities Act, to implement EC directive 2001/97.
    It is the EC's legislation which now makes it impossible to open a bank account without particular proofs of identity often so hard to obtain that, as one victim wrote to The Times on Friday, if he is seen going into a bank waving a gun it will not be because he wants to steal money but simply because he wishes to open an account to deposit some...." Read in full

    March 13 ~"... the victory will finally go to those governments which enjoy the full and informed consent of their people to the policy they pursue"

    Joyce McMillan in today's Scotsman "....the possibility of a more intelligent and adult dialogue between people and government at every level, about how to strike the right balance between freedom and risk, security and restriction, about whether we want a public park with no swings because children might fall off them, a Scottish Parliament with a "secure perimeter" rather than an atmosphere of openness towards the people it represents, or a world armed to the teeth and increasingly contemptuous of human rights, because of the threat of global terrorism. Heaven knows, conducting intelligent public conversations about risk has never been our political strong point. From the GM debate to child protection, the air rings with hopeless public demands for "absolute safety", and with the irresponsible and patronising sound of governments pretending to meet that demand.
    But in the global confrontation with terrorism, the very future of the open societies we prize depends on our ability to strike the balance between security and freedom, and to get it right. And under 21st-century conditions, the victory will finally go to those governments which enjoy the full and informed consent of their people to the policy they pursue, and not to those who, Campbell-like, imagine they can make all the complex decisions by themselves in their bunkers, while outwardly bamboozling the public with a simplistic rhetoric of crackdown and triumph, and which are likely, if they follow that path, to find themselves sooner or later where Alastair Campbell finds himself today - angry, misunderstood, defensive, short of public trust, and out of power."

    March 13 ~ "Controversial plans for postal voting have been pushed through by MPs, despite the House of Lords attempting to throw them out."

    Wakefield Today "... Fears over electoral fraud and lack of agreement had led the House of Lords to reject the plans, but House of Commons MPs backed the proposals on Monday. .... The trial postal voting plan allows people in Yorkshire and the Humber to get voting papers by post and send them back the same way. Barring further objections from the House of Lords, it means the only way to vote at the local council and European elections in June will be by post. House of Commons MPs also voted down proposals to tighten the rules on postal voting."

    March 12 ~ "More than 50 years ago, George Orwell was asked if his book 1984 was written as a prophecy. "No", Orwell replied, "It's a warning. Don't let it happen!"

    That warning echoes today with ever-increasing urgency." See letters in yesterday's Independent

    March 12 ~"We are not a "participatory democracy" as the EU would have it, but a representative democracy.

    The people to whom we should express our views, and who in turn should express them for us, are our Members of Parliament in Westminster. By consulting with us directly, the Eurocrats and their fellow travellers in the UK are in fact by-passing our elected representatives, making them marginal players. Small wonder we are losing faith in the political process..."
    This article by Richard North for First Voice - Consultation will find echoes in the minds of those of us who also smell a rat at the so-called "consutation process"

    March 9 ~ Blair's supreme court rejected by lords

    Scotsman "...Voting was 216 to 183 - a majority of 33 - for the move by Lord Lloyd of Berwick, a senior law lord, to send the Constitutional Reform Bill to a special select committee. Peter Hain .... has threatened to reintroduce the bill in the Commons and invoke the Parliament Act to push it through - although sceptics doubt there would be time before an election next year.
    The outcome was an embarrassing defeat for the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, who ordered the changes to Britain’s ancient system of legal appeals during his much-criticised Cabinet reshuffle last year ... ......
    The defeat had not been expected following an eight-hour debate in which senior figures had signalled they would countenance an end to the centuries-old tradition of the Lords as the highest appeal court in the land..."

    March 9 ~ Government crisis as Lords scupper supreme court Bill

    Independent "The Government was plunged into a constitutional crisis last night when the House of Lords voted to halt a Bill establishing a supreme court and refer it to a special committee for further scrutiny. .."

    March 9 ~ Labour's reforms are an insult to democracy

    Telegraph "....To what problem is a new supreme court a solution? Is the Lord Chancellor abusing his office? Are the Law Lords failing to dispense justice? Are our judges creatures of the government? Not according to Lord Falconer of Thoroton, the author of the Government's proposed reforms. When he first put forward his scheme last July, he declared that "this proposal does not imply any dissatisfaction with the House of Lords as our highest court of law. On the contrary, its judges have conducted themselves with the utmost integrity and independence." Indeed. So why the pressing need for change?....What Mr Blair wants is the trappings of a rationalist constitution without any of the inconvenient checks and balances that such a constitution would bring. The British model depends, to a large degree, on the restraint of its governing party. Yet, once again, the Prime Minister is failing to exercise such restraint. It is somehow symbolic that his instrument in this case should be Lord Falconer of Thoroton, a man who owes his position wholly to being Mr Blair's former flatmate....
    ....virtually every constitutional innovation introduced by his Government has strengthened the executive and thus Labour itself: the change in Commons working hours, the abolition of the hereditary peers, the introduction of party list systems in European elections, and the unprecedented guillotining of constitutional measures. When this, of all administrations, says that it wants something to be free from political control, we should start counting the spoons. In pushing ahead with abolishing the oldest office in the country, Mr Blair is displaying all his vices: contempt for established institutions, unthinking support for anything that can be portrayed as modern and intolerance of dissent. It is he, not his opponents in the Lords, who is failing to uphold democracy.

    March 9 ~ Expanded post voting criticised by watchdog

    Times PLANS for a big extension of postal voting in the June local and European elections were publicly questioned by the elections watchdog yesterday in a rebuff to ministers.
    The Commons voted to reverse a Lords move to block postal trials in two additional areas on Super Thursday, the June 10 elections for London, local councils and the European Parliament, even after the Electoral Commission intervened to suggest that postal elections on such a large scale might pose risks. ...... The unspoken reason for the growing dispute is that Labour believes that it is easier to increase its turnout in elections using postal voting, making the Tories and the Liberal Democrats wary of their plans. Peter Hain, the Leader of the Commons, said, however, that turnout was declining across the democratic world and it was in everyone’s interest to try to boost it. Mr Younger said in his letter that the commission had been expecting the Government to nominate three regions. The commission, he said, had been surprised to learn that the legislation was being amended to name four regions. He said that if the system were to be extended fully, there should be new statutory measures. He added that pilot schemes that would cover more than a third of the English electorate in June went further that the commission considered necessary. The Commons voted by 269 votes to 166 to keep all-postal voting in four regions. The revised Bill now returns to the Lords. "

    March 8 ~ Peers threaten to revolt over plans to scrap law lords

    Independent "Tony Blair faces his most serious threat yet from peers today over proposals to replace the law lords and abolish the centuries-old post of Lord Chancellor.
    Critics of the scheme are threatening to back a motion by the former law lord Lord Lloyd of Berwick to put the Bill before a select committee before it goes through the normal legislative process..."

    March 7 ~ his concerns were 'transmitted' to the Attorney-General Lord Goldsmith through the Prime Minister. This disclosure adds weight to a suggestion that Tony Blair pressed Goldsmith to change the legal advice at the last minute....

    Observer "Admiral Sir Michael Boyce, who led Britain's forces to war in Iraq last year, has dramatically broken his silence about the legal crisis...will fuel pressure on Blair to release full details of how Goldsmith came to his decision. The fact that it still took several days during this critical period to give Boyce his assurance provides further evidence of uncertainty in Government about the legality of the war.
    It emerged last week that an earlier draft of the advice, produced around 7 March , prevaricated on whether an invasion of Iraq was legal without a second United Nations resolution. The Attorney-General was then 'sitting on the fence', said a senior Government legal source. He was forced to redraft this advice as the countdown to war continued. ....was concerned that, without the legal cover from Goldsmith, military personnel could be prosecuted for war crimes. Boyce hinted that if Goldsmith had not provided him with this, he might have resigned, which would have precipitated a major political and military crisis, with 60,000 British troops stationed in Kuwait prepared for war. .."

    March 7 ~ "...the line between the rule of law and the rule of Blair has been damagingly blurred.

    An administration already accused of playing fast and loose with international law now stands accused of undermining the domestic variety.
    Anti-immigration Tories have been made to sound wise and Government backbenchers to look craven. Clause 11 was whipped through the Commons last week with 35 Labour dissenters, roughly half the number who voted against the tuition fees that so appalled the privileged middle classes. The pillars of the constitution are still standing and no blood has yet been shed. Even so, a tariff of liberty and humanity is forfeit. When elected social improvers display so little care for the lives of refugees, you wonder what sort of democracy we inhabit." Mary Riddell in the Observer

    March 7 ~ a joint counter-terrorism exercise, simulating an attack on both sides of the Atlantic.

    BBC Mr Blunkett will also give a speech in Boston on the challenge of balancing anti-terror laws with human rights.

    March 6 ~ Terror plans unnecessary - Tories

    BBC (March 3 ) " New terrorism laws being considered by the government are either unnecessary or unjustified, the Conservative shadow home secretary David Davis says. Mr Blunkett wants a debate on lowering the standard of proof needed to obtain a conviction in a terrorism trial. Such an idea was hardly evidence of "an advance in our justice system", David Davis said on BBC Radio. ... He told Radio 4's Today programme that terrorists attacked the west because they "hated our civilisation". He said there was a risk of "throwing away the very freedoms we are fighting for" - and called the proposals "yet another of David Blunkett's kite-flying operations".

    March 5 ~"... The vitality of Lord Woolf’s vocabulary has ensured that the public is aware of this crucial conflict

    which will determine the nature of British democracy. The Lord Chief Justice’s complaints must be addressed by a government that has attempted to push through quickie constitutional change." Times

    March 5 ~ Lord Steyn fired an even more explosive second

    suggesting for the first time that the courts might be entitled to ignore an Act of Parliament implementing the changes. If the courts did rule along these grounds, the principle of parliamentary sovereignty, the cornerstone of our constitution, would be at risk..
    ... Yesterday's proposal made by a retired Law Lord, Lord Lloyd, to refer the Supreme Court and Lord Chancellor proposals to a select committee for closer scrutiny is an admirable one. ." Telegraph

    March 5 ~ Law lords vow to block supreme court bill

    'Unprecedented' action deepens crisis for Lord Falconer The Guardian
    Lord Falconer's constitutional reforms were in disarray last night after an alliance of former law lords, cross benchers and Conservatives vowed to block government plans for a supreme court next week by referring the issue to a special select committee. .... The crisis for Lord Falconer came to a head when the lord chief justice, Lord Woolf, on Wednesday launched a scathing attack on the panapoly of the government's judicial reforms, warning a supreme court could create new tensions between the judiciary and parliament. Lord Woolf backed deferral of the supreme court bill, due for its second reading in the Lords on Monday, if no suitable new building for the new supreme court has been identified. The government wants to take the 12 law lords out of the Lords in a bid to separate judiciary from the executive. .....the former law lord Lord Lloyd of Berwick has tabled a motion, with Conservative support, calling for the bill to be referred to a select committee for further scrutiny. Mr Hain conceded that if Lord Lloyd's motion is supported: "It will be impossible to get this bill through parliament in this session." Lord Lloyd, a law lord between 1993 and 1998, has the open support of at least five serving law lords,....."

    March 4 ~ "Where are the Barbara Castles and Shirley Williamses of today?"

    Better Clare Short than the politics of yah-and-boo Jackie Ashley in the Guardian
    "....It is not all Whitehall's fault, or even Westminster's: the press bears some responsibility, being as hostile to powerful women as it was in the 60s or 70s.
    The fundamental question is this: why, back then, did we want more women in politics? Was it head-counting, or was it because we yearned for a less confrontational, more open, less tightly disciplined and partisan style in public life ... not just female ministers, but a less male kind of governing? More emotional honesty, more collaboration, more acknowledgement of mistakes?
    Look at the political scene now. Look at some of the I-speak-your-weight-type ministers that adorn the cabinet. Look at the student union debating style across the despatch box and how the male commentators love it. Look at our politics of Butler inquiries and yah-and-boo, and the logic-chopping language used by the prime minister to defend himself over Iraq, as bombs erupt and blood sprays. Look at all this and ask: is it Clare Short and too many outspoken women that are really the problem with politics now?"

    March 4 ~" Is Lord Woolf right?" asks John Humphrys. "Well I think so," says Lord Donaldson, former Master of the Rolls.

    "We don't believe in the separation of powers in this country." Listen Again BBC Today programme
    " The Lord Chief Justice Lord Woolf criticises the government's plans for constitutional reform." Listen to item "Is anything going to change as a result of all this? Not according to the government...Lord Woolf said he hoped that the Asylum Bill would be given "short shrift"over the plans to restrict the right of appeal. ( in the House of Lords next week.)..the government is determined to reverse this if they are defeated - and they will."

    March 3 ~ "What areas of government decision-making would be next to be removed from the scrutiny of the courts?"

    The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Woolf, the most senior judge in England and Wales has attacked the Government's constitutional and asylum reforms. Woolf launches twin attack on reforms Mar 3 2004 "...In a speech at Cambridge University's Faculty of Law, he made for the first time direct criticism of the Lord Chancellor, Lord Falconer of Thoroton. And using remarkably informal language, he described the senior Cabinet minister as a "cheerful chappie". Lord Woolf, the most senior judge in England and Wales, said the proposals by Home Secretary David Blunkett to reform the asylum appeals system - in clause 11 of his Asylum and Immigration Bill - were "fundamentally in conflict with the rule of law".
    He backed calls to delay the asylum changes - which would stop failed asylum seekers going to the High Court for judicial reviews - adding: "It is particularly regrettable that the Lord Chancellor ... should find it acceptable to have responsibility for promoting this clause."
    Describing the Lord Chancellor as "that engagingly friendly and cheerful chappie", Lord Woolf went on: "So far we have coped without a written constitution. I am not over-dramatising the position if I indicate that, if this clause (to remove asylum seekers' appeal rights) were to become law, it would be so inconsistent with the spirit of mutual respect between the different arms of government that it could be the catalyst for a campaign for a written constitution.
    "Immigration and asylum involve basic human rights. What areas of government decision-making would be next to be removed from the scrutiny of the courts? What is the use of courts if you cannot access them? The package of reforms could lead to the Home Office becoming too powerful, he warned."
    ( See also link to BBC video extract " The BBC's James Blatch "Lord Woolfe's attack is both direct and unprecedented")

    March 3 ~ Yet another Labour snub to the Queen

    By Joshua Rozenberg Telegraph "The role of the Queen as Head of State was further eroded yesterday as the Government announced plans to drop the word Crown from the Crown Prosecution Service, without consulting Buckingham Palace.
    For the third time in less than a year the Queen's ministers chose not to pay her the courtesy of consultation, but rather kept her in the dark until just before reforms were announced... It is accepted that under the constitution the monarch "has the right to be consulted, the right to encourage and the right to warn". Without the first, the Queen is being denied her rights to the second and third. ....
    Dreary Blunkett (Telegraph Opinion) "...it isn't for clarity's sake that the Home Secretary is taking an axe to regal symbols. He just wants to smash up anything old and supposedly hidebound; so he has announced that prisoners will no longer be sentenced at "Her Majesty's Pleasure", prison warders will drop all royal insignia from their uniforms and offices, and Her Majesty's Prison Service will be renamed the National Offenders' Management Service, or Noms for short.
    Is there any drearier word than Noms? It sounds like a brand of chewable indigestion tablet - "A Nom a day keeps wind at bay". .."

    March 2 ~ "...not a promoter but a destroyer of law."

    Guardian Comment "The prime minister's own attitude means that Iraq will still dog politics" writes Martin Kettle "....... Blair's attitude to law. This may seem a perverse thing to say about a lawyer married to a lawyer, who is also the brother of a lawyer and best friends with so many lawyers. Yet Blair is increasingly ill at ease intellectually and politically with law. The Goldsmith episode illustrates that neatly. But so do many other episodes, not all of them Iraq related. Certainly, there are few subjects other than the law that bring out Blair's populist instincts more readily and on which he can be more contemptuous. .... Blair has persistently failed to reconcile two immensely powerful aspects of his approach to politics. On the one hand, he is an emblematic politician of the universalist post-1945 and post-1989 era of law. This Blair believes that norms and rights know no boundaries, and are the bedrock of multicultural societies in the globalised era. This Blair is therefore a promoter of law.
    On the other hand, Blair is also the apostle of the view that, since 9/11, things can never be the same. This Blair argues that the threat from terrorism is such that we must be prepared to cut corners and get down and dirty to deal with people who, if they could, would murder us all in our beds. This Blair is therefore for many people, including Helena Kennedy in a new book, not a promoter but a destroyer of law.
    Iraq embodied this contradiction in the most extreme way. So it is not surprising that British politics are now so dominated by the unresolved consequences. Can things continue like this? Well, yes, they probably can. It is an illusion to think that post-Iraq politics will be freed from the problems of Iraq. Post-Iraq politics is what we have got now. It is unlikely that there will ever be a clean break.
    · martin.kettle@guardian.co.uk

    March 1 ~ Be honest. Sir Humphrey is no longer independent

    The civil service is so politicised that its impartiality is just a myth"
    John Chapman in Guardian today "...Tony Blair knows full well that Sir Humphrey was castrated in 1986, when the then head of the civil service, Sir Robert Armstrong, snuffed out the public interest defence following the case of Clive Ponting, the civil servant who blew the whistle on the sinking of the Belgrano. Servants of the crown meant servants of the government of the day, Armstrong ruled, and the civil service had no responsibility separate from that government.
    Sir Andrew Turnbull, the current head of the civil service, responded to Blair's calls for reform by saying that an impartial and independent civil service was a major national asset. Maybe, but he, too, must know that we no longer have one.
    The war on Iraq showed a politicised civil service in a particularly unsavoury light. It is now widely believed that Blair would not have won parliament's support for military action if the weapons of mass destruction report had not been heavily politicised. And some believe that America might not have acted without our barrister prime minister pleading its case...
    ...Before the 1980s, civil servants owed an immediate duty to the government of the day, but, as servants of the crown, they could retain some independence by advising in the national interest - a conveniently undefined concept. If ministers strayed too far from the national or public interest, they were admonished by a "permanent secretary's letter". Such a letter might have questioned why an attack on Iraq was being justified by the questionable WMD argument when many thought the real motivation was oil and a strong military presence...." Read in full

    March 1 ~ The whistleblower, the loose cannon and the case for war

    Independent ... The Prime Minister's phrase of the moment is that he wants to "move on", which means that he would like the public to forget the Iraq war and pay attention to political questions such as the sharply focused differences between Labour and the Conservatives. Yet thanks to three women - Katharine Gun, Clare Short and Elizabeth Wilmshurst - Mr Blair has spent another week on the back foot. Comment from around the world on the former minister's sensational revelations emphasised that the Prime Minister still suffers lingering damage to his reputation from the Iraq war. Whether he can answer the questions which remain from that conflict, and dispel the clouds of mistrust that remain, is likely to determine how his premiership is judged..." Read in full

    Feb 29 ~ There was no such resolution. The invasion was unlawful.

    Peter Carter's article "America and Britain had no right to act as vigilantes on behalf of the UN - The Legal View" in the Independent on Sunday " The draft resolution put before the Security Council by the UK in an effort to give authority for war did include the expression "all necessary means". Try as the apologists might to argue that was purely to err on the safe side, it reflects a proper interpretation of what the law required, namely a clear authorisation by the Security Council for member states to invade Iraq. There was no such resolution. The invasion was unlawful." Read in full

    Feb 29 ~ "It was interesting that out of probably only two lawyers who would have argued for the legality of going to war, one of those was the person to whom the Attorney General turned."

    ITN news Baroness Helena Kennedy QC said the "vast majority" of lawyers thought the conflict without a second UN resolution would be unlawful. In a TV interview, she said: "The vast majority of lawyers were of one view. It was interesting that out of probably only two lawyers who would have argued for the legality of going to war, one of those was the person to whom the Attorney General turned."
    She added: "I think the lesson from this is that actually law matters. Before you make those commitments to your friend or ally you have to talk about law because it is not some side issue. It is the way we have tried to civilise the world and we must not forget that."

    Feb 29 ~ Whistle Blower tipped by Downing St Mole

    Scotland on Sunday "...A source close to Gun’s lawyers has told Scotland on Sunday that a government insider told them there were serious concerns within Blair’s administration about the legal justification behind the decision to go to war. Armed with this crucial information, the GCHQ translator’s legal team planned to go into court and demand from the government highly sensitive documents on which the Attorney-General, Lord Goldsmith, based his advice.. ." ."

    Feb 29 ~ Mr Herron plans to make the chaos of metrication a centrepiece of his campaign to be elected as an independent for the European Parliament next June

    "The legal battle which ended in Strasbourg last week has much wider implications than just a debate over weights and measures. The issue at its heart, which led to a historic judgment by Lord Justice Laws in the Court of Appeal, centred on who has the ultimate right to make Britain's laws: Westminster or Brussels?.." Booker's Notebook

    Feb 29 ~ ".. what affronts us is not the truth, of which we were more or less aware, but a change in the status of the truth."

    Matthew Parris : "I was listening to the Today programme when Clare Short dropped what we have decided to call her bombshell..." Times I heard the very slight hesitation in her voice. I heard John Humphrys’s brain whir. I heard him decide this was interesting. I heard her near recoil as it struck her just how interesting he had decided to find it. I heard her mental shrug — “in for a penny, in for a pound”. I heard his gear change from “hm, what’s this worth?” to “roll up, folks: now what am I bid for this prize bombshell?” And I heard something else: the scratching of a hundred editorial heads across the nation. “Cripes — she said it! Mind you, we knew it already. So do we yelp — or do we yawn?” That was the question. Read in full

    Feb 29 ~"... In this matter our old friend, Lord Hutton, paid journalism a compliment.

    Last month he demanded of it higher standards than from other merchants of reality, such as those operating in central government. Journalists, he said, must pass the most rigorous test of accuracy and “soundness”. He took no such puritanical view of civil servants. They were excused of lying if subjected to “subconscious influence”, even in the highest affairs of State. .." Simon Jenkins in the Times Mount Truth is besieged by a faction of dramatist

    Feb 29 ~ Hutton "... confidentiality ..... We have nothing further to add."

    http://www.parliament.the-stationery-office.co.uk/pa/cm200304/cmhansrd/cm040223/text/40223w06.htm#40223w06.html_sbhd8 Hutton Report
    Andrew Mackinlay: To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Department for Constitutional Affairs who authorised, and for what purpose, members of the Intelligence and Security Committee to be given access to the contents of the Hutton Inquiry Report on the morning of 28 January in advance of its publication. [152520]
    Mr. Leslie: I refer my hon. Friend to the answer provided on 3 February 2004, Official Report, column 758W, by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, to the hon. Member for Southend West (Mr. Amess).
    Mr. Amess: To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Department for Constitutional Affairs who in his office saw an embargoed copy of the Hutton Report.
    Mr. Leslie: I refer the hon. Member to the answer provided, by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on 3 February 2004, Official Report, column 758W.
    http://www.parliament.the-stationery-office.co.uk/pa/cm200304/cmhansrd/cm040203/text/40203w01.htm#40203w01.html_sbhd10
    3 Feb 2004. PQ
    Hutton Inquiry/Report
    Llew Smith: To ask the Prime Minister if he will publish his witness statement to the Hutton Inquiry. [152312]
    The Prime Minister: Lord Hutton set out the process for his Inquiry with which we agreed.
    Mr. Amess: To ask the Prime Minister who in his Office saw the embargoed version of Lord Hutton's report. [152599]
    The Prime Minister: Lord Hutton set out the process for those to receive embargoed copies of his report. The number of advance copies and the associated undertakings of confidentiality were agreed between each of the parties and Lord Hutton. We have nothing further to add."

    Feb 26 ~ the threats to the BBC are deep and real.

    Guardian ".... the BBC is at the mercy of the Labour government. Even now, it is just not true that the corporation has no friends in Whitehall. The war of Gilligan's Palm Pilot was so vicious partly because it was a family feud - Greg Dyke was a New Labour man, and Gavyn Davies was close to Gordon Brown. With the vengeful Alastair Campbell gone, the mood in Downing Street is less aggressive. Tony Blair's own instincts are said to be conciliatory, though he will also lean heavily on Lord Birt, who has no reason to forgive the regime that replaced him. The culture secretary, Tessa Jowell, who called yesterday for a strong and self-confident BBC, independent of government, seems to have a strong commitmnt to public service broadcasting. More perhaps than some of her colleagues, Jowell recognised the importance of the BBC, bound by a duty of accuracy and impartiality, as part of the architecture of the media generally.
    But the threats are deep and real..
    .. the decision about the BBC's future is not only about the country's single most important independent institution and its cultural self-confidence; it is also about whether the government really has the long-term vision to understand that a healthy public culture requires strong independent institutions. As well as valuing public service, New Labour says it believes in a diverse, plural and liberal society. It is almost impossible to imagine that without the BBC.
    jackie.ashley@guardian.co.uk " ."

    Feb 26 ~ Lord Falconer is not as cuddly as he looks

    Telegraph "Every now and then, governments bring forward proposals which are extremely foolish and should be opposed by all sensible, intelligent people. This happened yesterday when Lord Falconer, the constitution secretary, released his Constitutional Reform Bill, which will abolish the office of Lord Chancellor and create a separate supreme court.
    It sounds innocuous enough, but the Bill is another example of Labour's illiberal attacks on our institutions. The new supreme court will simply replicate the functions currently carried out by the appellate committee of the House of Lords, but will cost as much as £32 million to set up, and then £12 million a year to run. The Bill abounds in provisions, such as clause 10 (1): "The Great Seal Act, 1688 ceases to have effect"; and clause 12, "The office of Lord Chancellor of Great Britain is abolished", which should horrify anyone who has a sense of history or respect for due process.
    Lord Falconer claims it is a long overdue reform, which will make the judiciary "entirely independent" of the executive. But the present system, where judges are appointed by the Lord Chancellor, who sits both in the Cabinet and the House of Lords, already has plenty of checks and balances which have been built in over the years. By contrast, the Bill could allow any future government to mould the judiciary as it wants. Judges will be appointed by the constitution secretary, on the recommendation of a commission. But the minister can reject the recommendations, and the commission itself will be appointed by him. He can also give it guidance, and even, bizarrely, define "merit" for it. The judges are to be expelled from the House of Lords, so if they object to anything, there will be no public forum where they can air their grievances.
    Lord Falconer was a good trial lawyer and is seen at Westminster as the cuddliest member of the Government. Yet this Bill, and his other radical ideas, such as removing the remaining hereditaries from the Lords so the chamber is entirely appointed, show the reality is altogether different. Concerns over his proposals are widespread. The judges are angry; the House of Lords has already voted against them; and even Tony Blair's brother, William, has led the opposition to the abolition of QCs. Our constitution is not something to be ashamed of, to be tinkered with by politicians for their own advantage, but rather our basic law, handed down from one generation to the next. It worked fine, until Mr Blair and his friends decided it needed "modernising", rather like a football team which tries to rewrite the rules of the game."

    Feb 26 ~ Downing Street forces Blunkett to back down over secret terror trials

    Independent David Blunkett backed off yesterday from controversial proposals for a draconian strengthening of anti-terrorism laws in the face of opposition from Cabinet colleagues.
    .... Downing Street is understood to have shared the concerns over the move expressed by civil liberties groups and lawyers.
    Yesterday Mr Blunkett set out a range of options for preventing a terrorist attack that omitted the most contentious of his earlier suggestions. He admitted he had been "surprised by the ferocity" of the reaction he had provoked. The only main proposal to survive is the idea that tapped telephone conversations and intercepted e-mails can be used in the prosecution of terrorist suspects. But that may run into hostility from MI5 and MI6 who fear it could reveal too much about their methods. ..."

    Feb 26 ~ Setting up Britain's first supreme court could cost £32 million, ministers admitted

    Constitutional Affairs Secretary Lord Falconer published a Bill aiming to set up the court, abolish the Lord Chancellorship and set up a commission to appoint judges. The 12 law lords - Britain's most senior judges - will leave the House of Lords and become supreme court justices once a suitable new building is found.....Former Master of the Rolls Lord Donaldson today hit out at the Bill, saying that setting up the supreme court would effectively remove the law lords from the House of Lords. He told Radio 4's Today programme: "This will deprive both the courts - they are much more in touch with real life if they listen to what's going on in the House of Lords - and the House of Lords, who will be deprived of technical expertise on which they have relied"
    ...many lawyers say the plans are an unnecessary expense that will threaten the independenceof the judiciary. Some have claimed the supreme court move will end up costing the taxpayer some £50million ... " ThisisLondon.co.uk

    Feb 26 ~ Dublin government is pressing ahead with a new electronic voting system despite protests from the leading Irish opposition parties

    Independent The government has bought more than 6,000 electronic voting machines for this June's European and local council elections, in a move to revolutionise Irish voting. The cost is nearly €40m (£26m). But the fact that the machines will leave no verifiable paper trail has provokedobjections from political and media circles, as well as from some electoral experts..."

    Feb 25 ~ Sir Nigel Wicks said Mr Blair's reluctance to limit the influence of politically appointed spin doctors could further erode the public's trust in government.

    Telegraph
    Independent yesterday. "Sir Nigel Wicks, the outgoing standards watchdog, has warned Tony Blair that he will face another series of damaging scandals in the wake of the Hutton inquiry unless he takes urgent action to protect civil servants from bullying...Sir Nigel said the Government's failure to curb the role of special advisers represented a "seriously missed opportunity" to rebuild public trust and protect ministers from future scandals. He said "appropriate boundaries between ministers' special advisers and civil servants" needed to be established and that he was "puzzled" the Government had ignored proposals to "make a clear statement of what special advisers cannot do" in law..."

    Feb 25 ~ David Kelly was given the highest level security clearance in 2002 having been positively vetted. "While one would assume that Alastair Campbell received the same treatment, you will find no one either to confirm or to deny it."

    The question of Alastair Campbell's possible lack of 'Developed Vetting' will not go away. On Sept 2 2003 we reported the Telegraph column "London Spy" that quotes Sir John Keegan, The Daily Telegraph's Defence Editor: ".......It is certainly rumoured that Campbell was never properly vetted. If so, he was seeing intelligence that he was not cleared to see, including the proceedings of the JIC, which is about as high level as you can possibly get." On the 15th of September, Peter Ainsworth asked the Prime Minister a Parliamentary Question http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200203/cmhansrd/cm030915/text/30915w17.htm#30915w17.html_wqn1 Mr. Peter Ainsworth: To ask the Prime Minister whether Mr. Alastair Campbell was the subject of the developed vetting procedure. [129774]
    The Prime Minister: Information relating to personnel records, including those relating to recruitment, promotion and security vetting, are not disclosed under part 2, exemption 8 of the Code of Practice on Access to Government Information.
    Earlier, in an answer to a PQ by Dr Julian Lewis, Geoff Hoon said: "The levels of security clearance that Ministry of Defence officials need in order to be granted access to classified material are those which apply across Government. They are set out in HM Government's statement of vetting policy, as announced to the House on 15 December 1994, Official Report, columns 764-66W. "
    This statement, referred to by Mr Hoon, says, "Individuals employed on government work who have long term, frequent and uncontrolled access to TOP SECRET information or assets, will be submitted to the level of vetting clearance known as Developed Vetting (DV)."
    If Mr Campbell had been subject to developed vetting, why should Mr Blair not have said so, rather than dodge the question as he did?

    Feb 24 ~ " the crime for which Dr Wakefield is being punished is everywhere."

    George Monbiot in The Guardian "....The scientific establishment is rotten from top to bottom, riddled with conflicts far graver than Dr Wakefield's. Such is the state of science today that if, for example, there has been a genuine rise in the incidence of autism, and if that rise is linked to an environmental pollutant or the side-effects of a valuable drug, it's hard to see how we would ever find out.
    Just as Wakefield was being burned in effigy over the weekend, a much bigger story passed by almost unnoticed. The Union of Concerned Scientists released a report showing how American science has been systematically nobbled by George Bush. Whenever scientific research conflicts with the needs of his corporate sponsors or the religious fanatics who helped him into office, he has sought to suppress it. ..." Read in full

    Feb 24 ~ An authoritarian state is in the process of construction

    "Without a single terrorist attack in Britain, our liberties are being removed" wrote John Upton in Monday's Guardian "The news that M15 is to increase its numbers by a thousand is merely the latest instance of David Blunkett's rampant authoritarianism. The secret state's claim that it is losing the never-ending, unprovable war against terror will play its part in the government winning a far greater prize. Across the range of his responsibilities - immigration, policing, the criminal justice system and prisons - Blunkett has either proposed or actually introduced measures whose repressive nature should shock us. That, by now, we may have become inured to them, does not take away from the fact that New Labour is trying to radically change the constitutional environment in which we live. ...
    ...Without a single terrorist attack taking place, or a single civilian in the UK being killed, a climate has been created so that when we are told by the home secretary that our liberties must be removed in order to ensure our freedom, we meekly accept. Read in full

    Feb 23 ~ Gould peerage rekindles crony row

    The Times (subscription) - Phipil Gould, one of Tony Blair's key advisers and an architect of new Labour, is set to be given a seat in the House of Lords in the next few weeks. ...

    Feb 23 ~ Blunkett to spell out anti-terrorism plans

    Times "Powers to lower the burden of proof required to convict terrorist suspects and to hear evidence in secret will be spelt out in a policy paper from David Blunkett on Wednesday. At the same time the Home Secretary will launch a six-month consultation on a range of further measures to combat terrorism, including the use of phone-tap evidence and state-appointed defence lawyers.
    Mr Blunkett wants extra powers to be in place by 2006, when emergency counter- terrorism legislation passed in the immediate aftermath of September 11, 2001, lapses. He has chosen the Commons debate on renewing the Anti- Terrorism, Crime and Security Act’s temporary powers to detain foreign suspects indefinitely as a forum in which to test opinion on extending the measures to British suspects.
    The Home Secretary will maintain that the threat from terrorism is as great as in 2001 and poses a challenge to human rights groups to balance the rights of citizens to live free from the fear of terrorism with the rights of suspects. ..."

    Feb 22 ~ The 1989 Official Secrets Act remains a cancer in the body politic.

    From David Shayler's article in the Observer: ".... Katharine Gun is exactly the sort of person we need in our intelligence services. She performed her duties in the service of this country and its security. Then, when faced with an illegal operation, she did her duty to the country and its democracy by exposing the crime.
    If the case goes to court, it is highly likely that the prosecution would only have to prove that she worked for GCHQ, and that she said something about the service without permission to secure a conviction. She will not have been able to argue that her disclosure was in the public interest, even though all the relevant freedom of expression case law under the Human Rights Act affirms this principle. So the decision would hardly be a victory in the fight for greater openness in Britain. " More

    Feb 22 ~ Sweeping new powers in UK war on terror

  • Blunkett pledges huge increase in MI5 staff
  • Phone tap evidence to be allowed in court
    Gaby Hinsliff and Martin Bright Sunday February 22, 2004 The Observer Terror suspects could be convicted on the evidence of 'electronic eavesdropping' of phone calls and emails under sweeping moves to combat the threat of an al-Qaeda atrocity. In a blunt admission that the risk of attack remains 'real and serious', Home Secretary David Blunkett will pledge a massive staffing boost for MI5. Priorities will include linguists, translators and surveillance to help infiltrate overseas-sponsored terror networks in Britain. Blunkett will also flesh out highly controversial plans for new anti-terrorism powers which would see suspects convicted on lower standards of proof than the criminal courts and of crimes not yet even committed - such as an intent to execute a suicide bombing. .................
    The anti-terrorism proposals will be seen in part as an attempt to reassure Washington of British commitment to the war on terrorism. It is unlikely however that the new system would be in place in time for Britain to offer to try the four remaining Guantanamo detainees whom the US refuses to release. Talks between London and Washington will now centre on trying to arrange a form of trial in the US for the four acceptable to British sensibilities. Blunkett is expected to backpedal on threats of internment for Britons on Wednesday, making clear that would only be likely to be exercised in the wake of a major terrorist atrocity. He will say however that the latest assessment of the terror threat still indicates a 'national public emergency', and unveil funding for another 1,000 MI5 staff over the next three years."

    Feb 20 ~".... has left many ordinary citizens feeling that they simply don’t know where business ends and government begins."

    Britain's culture of mistrust stifles the art of innovation Joyce McMillan in the Scotsman "...What is any ordinary voter to make, after all, of the position in government of Lord Sainsbury, science minister and food-industry tycoon? It’s small wonder, under these circumstances, that ordinary citizens feel not only let down, but deceived, angry and mutinous. Business, they feel, is simply doing what it always does, seeking to influence government it order to maximise profits. But government, in climbing into the pockets of corporate power and taking its scientific advisors with it, is seen as having betrayed its own deepest purposes, and cheated the ordinary people it is supposed to protect. ..."

    Feb 20 ~ Peace activists were unlawfully detained

    Independent "Police unlawfully detained a party of anti-Iraq war activists when they escorted their coaches back to London after stopping them on the way to a protest at an American air base, the High Court ruled yesterday. In what was being hailed as a landmark test case, the 120 protesters will now be able to seek damages of £3,000 each. They were stopped last March on their way to a vigil at RAF Fairford in Gloucestershire, which was being used by United States B-52 bombers for missions to Iraq in the opening days of the war."
    A reminder - March 24th 2003 (new window) See also http://www.thisiscirencester.com/cirencester/news/NEWS0.html

    Feb 20 ~ "Thank you for shouting a warning at the small minds of Downing Street, plodding down the road to doom..."

    Simon Jenkins in the TimesDemocracy is dying but we're too rich to care ".... ...The local councils were once the bedrock of Norwegian democracy, levying their own income taxes up to 25 per cent. Today they raise money to the limit of a central cap and carry out decisions imposed on them by central government Voters feel cheated ......and ignored by a shifting stage army of politicians in Oslo. The Storting has lost public respect ...... service industry underclass, mostly of recent immigrants, is excluded from power but is contained with “positive discrimination”.
    ....For me democracy is bred in the bone. It lies in somehow sharing communal decisions, which is essentially local. ....... Ringen ends his TLS review with conclusions that he shares with the commission. “The best way to repair democracy,” he says smartly, “is to repair democracy.” Constitutions must be reformed. Local democracy must be revitalised because it encompasses most of the chain of command, from people to power. ........ Good old-fashioned democracy must be returned to the fire. It must be banged on the anvil and hammered into shape. We cannot do without it. Its cutting edge must never rust. There is no safe alternative. So thank you, Norway. Thank you for shouting a warning at the small minds of Downing Street, plodding down the road to doom. Democracy is in a bad way in both our countries. But in Norway the Northern Lights shine bright through the gloom. " Read in full

    Feb 17 ~ Hilda Murrell, stabbed and left to die of hypothermia in 1984

    Guardian yesterday
      ".. Two men were arrested yesterday in connection with the murder of an elderly peace campaigner whose death nearly 20 years ago led to rumours that the security services and the nuclear industry were involved. ...
      At least two authors have claimed Murrell was killed by a team working for security services who bungled a search of her home. Murrell had been preparing to give evidence in the public inquiry into the proposed Sizewell B nuclear reactor. It later emerged that the pro-nuclear lobby had placed protesters under surveillance, although Murrell was not on a leaked list of "targets". .."
    Police investigating the attack in 1984 and again in 1994 ruled out security service involvement and said they were convinced Mrs Murrell had been killed after disturbing an intruder.
    In 1984, Tam Dalyell suspected that she was killed after stumbling upon MI5 agents burgling her home in search of records linked to the Belgrano affair. Her nephew, Mr Rob Green, was involved in naval intelligence at the time of the sinking of the Belgrano but he thought this was not a factor. He said that "she opposed nuclear power and was no doubt listed as a potential subversive because of her criticism of the Government's attitude towards nuclear waste." She had been working on a document to be presented to the Sizewell B inquiry which was read out at the inquest.
    At the time of the break-in, her telephone had been cut, leaving it so that callers could ring in but not out. She was allegedly driven in her own car to the scene of her death. Hardly the work of the labourer arrested last year who had been 16 years old at the time. The story was downplayed by all mainstream media even though Paddy Ashdown called for an independent inquiry into the matter. Detectives began a "cold case" review of the killing in 2002, saying they would re-examine 3,000 statements, 500 police reports, 6,000 lines of inquiry and more than 3,000 exhibits.

    Feb 16 ~ Inquiring as to the point of all these inquiries

    "... We are living in an inquiry culture - "Stubbed your toe, Mr Campbell? We’ll get a law lord on to it immediately" - and it’s escalating fast. After Hutton inquired, Butler was told to inquire into the stuff Hutton refused to inquire into. Now the Commons Public Administration Committee, headed by one Tony Wright, will inquire into other inquiries, inquiring into the point of their inquiries. This is going to be such fun. ....... If you’re asked to inquire into something nasty and difficult, just don’t bother. Avoid it by declaring the nasty thing is "not necessary", as Lord Hutton did when a significant discrepancy appeared between the testimonies of Geoff Hoon and Alastair Campbell regarding the naming of Dr Kelly (the key issue of the inquiry). Hutton decided it was "not necessary" to look any closer at this particular chasm of opinion. ....... Inquiries feed our need to give controversial subjects official attention, but a hearing is not justice. The Hutton Inquiry wasn’t over until the fat man resigned, but, since then, has anybody actually changed their mind about anything? Nothing - not the heads that rolled, the accusations hurled, the apologies made, nor the verdict reached - made a blind bit of difference to what people believe. So, if I may inquire, are inquiries always what are required?" Scotsman

    Feb 16 ~ Ministers urged to rule out BBC's national break-up

    Scotsman "The government was under pressure yesterday to rule out plans to end the BBC’s 80-year-old existence as the UK-wide institution.
    Leaked Whitehall documents revealed the government has considered breaking up the corporation into "separate entities for England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland".
    The internal memoranda, published in the Sunday Times, also showed that the government is considering a wider role for the broadcasting watchdog Ofcom, bringing the BBC under its jurisdiction. The move would end the practice whereby the BBC governors ensure the corporation’s impartiality and accuracy.
    The proposals will be regarded ominously by the BBC management which fears the government may use the charter review, announced in December last year, to punish the BBC in the wake of the Hutton Report. ..."

    Feb 16 ~ Terror plans 'risk miscarriages of justice'

    Independent "Tony Blair's plan to lower the burden of proof for prosecuting terrorists and gangland criminals will lead to innocent people being sent to prison, the head of the body that reviews miscarriages of justice has warned.
    Professor Graham Zellick, the new chairman of the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC), said the move would mean a return to the flawed convictions of the 1970s and 1980s.
    The proposal was "misconceived" and, if implemented, would be vulnerable to challenge in the European Court of Human Rights, he said...."

    * Two more British Airways flights, one for Washington, the other for Riyadh, have been grounded due to fears of a terrorist attack, leading to charges that security officials were "jumping at shadows". Jim McAuslan, the general secretary of the British Airline Pilots' Association, accused intelligence officials of taking bits of information and "letting their imaginations run riot".

    Feb 15 ~ "Ryder had not said a single word in the House of Lords for seven years until his grovelling statement on the BBC."

    Sunday Times "..... This month, an inquiry chaired by David Elstein, the former chief executive of Channel 5, will publish recommendations that the licence fee, which rises to £121 a year in April, should be scrapped. ....
    Byford is old friends with Hoon ..... The Today programme has already been forced to read out a 200-word “clarification” about Hoon’s position on the 45-minute claim on Iraqi weapons a day after the minister was interviewed by Humphrys.
    Leading BBC figures say the current timid approach has only made government ministers more bullish in their treatment of the corporation. One prominent newsreader said: “When Eddie Mair was interviewing Margaret Beckett she stopped him dead by saying, ‘Don’t be stupid’.
    “Geoff Hoon was interviewed by John Humphrys for 20 minutes yet the next day they had to read out another statement explaining what he meant to say for another two minutes.”
    When Alastair Campbell.....appeared on a Radio 5 phone-in programme to discuss the Hutton report, 80% of calls and e-mails to the studio were in favour of the BBC. But presenters read out e-mails or took phone calls in such a way that it appeared as if support for the government and the corporation was evenly matched.
    ....... . Some are now fighting back. Last weekend the Today programme pointed out that Ryder had not said a single word in the House of Lords for seven years until his grovelling statement on the BBC. .."Read in full
    See also John Humphrys, quoted in the Telegraph on Feb 10 "It's been suggested that the BBC shouldn't break news. What are we meant to do - discover a story and let someone else report it? One thing Today exists for is to put ministers under fair pressure so they tell you something they didn't mean to" Read in full

    Feb 15 ~ Let's have it in writing

    In the face of planned government reforms, the need for a written constitution is now imperative Mary Riddell in the Observer "....something weird is happening. Just as the Government is poised to make judges freer and more representative than some of them thought strictly desirable, it is systematically savaging the rule of law.
    Mr Blair is arguing for a lower burden of proof in organised crime cases. David Blunkett suggests secret or pre-emptive trials for some suspected terrorists, presumably on the grounds that Ministers, like the half-dead mystics in the science fiction film, Minority Report , will be able to foretell offences before they are committed. But the overshadowing worry is Clause 11 of the Asylum and Immigration Bill, due to move to report stage in the Commons two weeks from now.
    Clause 11, a battering ram against human rights, stipulates that failed asylum-seekers will lose all possibility of appeal to the courts. Public-law specialists at Matrix Chambers are calling it 'the most draconian ouster [exclusion] clause ever seen in Parliamentary legislative practice'. It is not even as if there is a crisis. ..." Read in full

    Feb 15 ~ a major new instrument of the EU's control over its citizens

    Sunday Telegraph Booker's Notebook on the Galileo system of satellite surveillance
    "...What should alarm the rest of us about Galileo is not just that it threatens to drive an immense further wedge between Britain and the USA, but that it is fully intended to be a major new instrument of the EU's control over its citizens: not least in its capacity to track down the exact whereabouts of any vehicle or person carrying a microchip, inclusion of which could be made compulsory in any car or identity card. Most worrying of all, however, is how little our politicians seem to be telling us about it." Read in full

    Feb 13 ~ Senior judges both past and present lined up in the House of Lords yesterday to attack the Government over its decision to abolish the office of Lord Chancellor and replace the law lords with a Supreme Court

    Telegraph "... Lord Hoffmann, a serving law lord, said: "It is sad that a great constitutional change should be adopted as a quick fix for personal squabbles in the cabinet. "One of the glories of this country's constitution - unique in the world - has been its continuity. Institutions such as the Lord Chancellor adapted themselves over centuries to new constitutional roles, without having to make a new start."

    Feb 11 ~ Blair's ministers are a law unto themselves

    Telegraph" For a government that includes so many lawyers, its attitude to the law is distinctly slapdash. Twice this week, it has shown that, when it comes to the legal framework of this country, policy is decided on the hoof. First, the Lord Chancellor was hammered by a Commons committee for his back-of-the-envelope vision for a Supreme Court. The new court would be set up before accommodation is available for it. For at least two years, or much longer, if the saga of the Edinburgh Parliament building is anything to go by, the same judges would sit in the same place doing the same job, with much the same staff. The only difference is that they won't be able to sit in the Lords chamber itself any more...."

    Feb 9 ~ "Local people did not need a new law-enforcement unit to know that criminals had been running illegal gangs under the noses of police....

    Telegraph ..Mr Blunkett said yesterday that "people traffickers" are responsible for "70 per cent of illegal immigrants to the EU". The Home Secretary knows perfectly well that this is bunkum. Changing the subject by talking about establishing a British FBI is no alternative to defending our borders and enforcing current asylum rules."

    Feb 9 ~ Complex judiciary reforms 'rushed through', say MPs

    Independent "Far-reaching constitutional reforms were rushed through Parliament without proper consultation, a report by an influential group of MPs said today.
    The cross-party committee on constitutional affairs called for more time to consider changes to the appointment of judges and the creation of a new Supreme Court to take over the function of the judicial committee of the House of Lords.
    Members argued that the Government's reforms have been "too rushed, the consultation process has been too short and the legislative timetable too restrictive". The MPs said more time was needed to enable proper scrutiny of the "complex, fundamental changes" and concluded that they were rushed through on grounds of political expediency..." They ......The new judges would be known as Justices of the Supreme Court. He told peers: "As the key objective is to achieve a full and transparent separation between the judiciary and the legislature, it follows that Justices of the Supreme Court, other holders of full-time judicial office or retired Justices of the Supreme Court who continue to sit will no longer be entitled to sit or to vote in the House of Lords or to participate in the work of Parliament for as long as they hold their judicial appointment."
    This will exclude the Lord Chief Justice, the Lord President of the Court of Session and the Master of the Rolls from taking part in the business of the House of Lords. Lord Falconer gave assurances that the first 12 justices would be those holding office as law lords upon the creation of the new court and that "qualifications for appointments will be unchanged".

    Feb 8 ~ 'Cutting red tape' just makes more

    Booker's Notebook "On page 8 of Monday's Telegraph, it was reported that most circuses may be forced to close by April 2005 because a new Licensing Act will require them to pay for an expensive licence in every town in which they appear. On page 19 another article reported that hundreds of riding schools may be forced to close because of the EU rule requiring each horse to have a £50 passport.
    Yet on page 29, next to the headline "Regulation being made to work in the real world", was a large photograph of two bright young members of the Cabinet Office "regulation team", claiming that the Government was making real progress with its "promises to cut red tape".
    For 12 years I have been reporting on the tidal wave of new regulations that has become one of the most remarkable features of government in our time. For almost as long I have been reporting on claims by successive governments, beginning with John Major's, that they were going to "slash red tape".
    Under Mr Blair the yearly output of new regulations has soared way past even the records set by Mr Major. When will the penny drop that, when governments claim they are going to "cut red tape", what they actually mean is that they are going to increase it?"

    Feb 7 ~ Affront to the rule of law

    Leader (Tuesday February 3, 2004) The Guardian
    Amritsar - where the British Raj introduced prison without trial in 1919 - was an appropriate place for the home secretary to tell our home affairs editor about his latest plans for combating terrorism. Not content with separate and draconian terrorist acts in 2000 and 2001, he is now proposing to take even more secure powers to put terrorist suspects in prison. Under our current laws - passed in the wake of the September 11 al-Qaida attack on New York - suspect foreign nationals can be arrested and imprisoned in the UK on secret evidence without a criminal trial. ....
    Remember, many of these cases would involve arrests not for what the suspects have done - the bedrock of our criminal justice system - but for what they might do in the future, a principle usually confined to mental health tribunals. The basis for these prosecutions would be evidence provided by the intelligence ser vices, sources which are as likely to be just as inaccurate in assessing the risk of an individual, as they were in assessing Saddam's weapons of mass destruction. ....
    Mr Blunkett said he would like a serious debate, but his opening salvo is not the best way to have one. Charles Shoebridge, a former counterterrorism officer, wisely noted that Mr Blunkett was being extreme in order to achieve something less strong........ Mr Blunkett has an unenviable task, but in his refusal to seek a balance between public safety and the rule of law, he loses all sympathy."

    Feb 7 ~ Secret terror trials are 'untenable'

    By Frances Gibb, Legal Editor of the Times "Plans to make it easier to convict British citizens suspected of terrorist offences are condemned today by a group of leading barristers as a breach of the principles of a fair trial and “untenable”. The six barristers are members of the Attorney-General’s approved panel of “specialist advocates” who act in the secret hearings involving foreign terrorist suspects. But in a letter to The Times today they strongly oppose extending such a scheme to British suspects, as suggested by David Blunkett, the Home Secretary.
    The group, led by Nicholas Blake, QC, from Matrix, the human rights chambers where Cherie Booth works, say that the special advocate scheme does not contain the fundamentals of a fair trial and would be untenable.
    They say: “It would contradict three of the cardinal principles of criminal justice: a public trial by an impartial judge and jury of one’s peers; proof of guilt beyond reasonable doubt; and a right to know, comment on and respond to the case made against the accused. An unfair trial determining guilt is not something we could be associated with.” ..."

    Feb 7 ~ Lawyers attack Blunkett's anti-terror plan

    Guardian "... The criticism is likely to embarrass David Blunkett because the six lawyers have been approved by the government to work as special advocates in immigration cases. They are experienced in working with secret evidence and therefore well-placed to comment on the plans. In an open letter the six say they would refuse to take part in trials under the proposals. " Read in full

    Feb 7 ~ This covert experiment in injustice

    Guardian "Blunkett's proposals for secret trials will shame the country...
    ...Those voicing concerns about these new proposals should be aware that they are the second part of an experiment that has been ongoing for the past two years, largely without protest. A number of men, all foreign nationals, have been locked up indefinitely without trial on the basis of the suspicion only of the home secretary that they have links with terrorism." Feb 7 ~

    Feb 6 ~ At least 72 parents serving jail terms on charges of murdering their babies

    could be included in a review sparked by the discrediting of a key medical witness, it emerged. Attorney General Lord Goldsmith said another 18 serving prisoners had been identified since the process got under way last month - on top of the 54 announced at the time. Scotsman

    Feb 5 ~ It is time that MPs.... gave parliament the real opportunity it needs to hold the executive to account ....."

    The Guardian Leader Inquiry into inquiries "...... Mr Blair was still haggling about the tortuous terms of the Butler inquiry until just before the official announcement.
    To put it mildly, this is no way to run good government. .....
    .... The argument put forward by both Mr Blair and Jack Straw this week, that a retrospective examination of the lessons of the conflict by an independent inquiry would undermine parliament's sovereignty over the decision to go to war is specious. ....
    The Iraq war is exactly the sort of issue on which parliament should and could increase its authority. If parliament had already had in place a small, senior, permanent, all-party commission of both houses, chaired perhaps by an independent, it would have been the proper body to examine all the governmental issues in the conflict, as well as the natural forum in which to resolve claims like those made by Dr Brian Jones yesterday. In a democracy, the power to hold the government to account must rest in parliament, as well as in the courts. It is time that MPs, including the members of the public administration select committee that is currently conducting an inquiry into inquiries, now gave parliament the real opportunity it needs to hold the executive to account over this most serious of all political decisions."

    Feb 4 ~ "Yesterday the British were taught a rude lesson in democracy from across the Atlantic.

    Simon Jenkins in the Times "....... ...Lord Butler will be in a dire dilemma. He must either disregard his terms of reference, reject Hutton and blame the Campbell-Scarlett nexus for distorting intelligence. Or he must blame the intelligence community itself for an astonishing misreading of events. He is not the man to do the first.
    No one of his background could brand as a liar the holder of an office which he loyally served for so long. No civil servant, present or past, has ever regarded the bringing down of a prime minister as part of his job.
    Yet the alternative is no less awful. ....
    ...Jack Straw was right when he said in the Commons yesterday that Parliament and not a “subcontracted inquiry” should be the ultimate judge of the rights and wrongs of war. Parliament calls government to account. Blame is not for retired judges and officials, or for journalists or broadcasters. If Mr Blair went to war on a falsity, Parliament must inquire and Parliament must judge.
    This accountability is crucial now that governments assert the right of pre-emptive coercion. Mr Blair claims to go to war on the “intelligence of a threat” rather than on an actual one. The Home Secretary wishes to incarcerate citizens on a supposition of guilt rather than by open trial. These are major amendments to the normal practices of democracy. If they are really to form the basis of aspects of domestic and foreign policy, they require substantive changes in constitutional practices. They demand that we put extraordinary trust in the undisclosed judgments of leaders. They are a blatant departure from what most people understand as democratic accountability.
    The antics of Downing Street before and after the Iraq invasion blew apart that trust. Whether “knowingly” or not, the public was told a monumental lie..." Read in full

    Feb 3 ~ Lady Kennedy, QC, a Labour peer, compared Mr Blunkett to Robert Mugabe, the president of Zimbabwe.

    Telegraph "He really is a shameless authoritarian," she said on BBC Radio 4's Today programme. "We can be confident that many of his colleagues in the Cabinet, including particularly the Attorney General, will sit on this, because it really is an affront to the rule of law." Lady Kennedy described the proposals as "a classic Blunkett tactic". She said: "You suggest all kinds of outrageous and awful things because then you get away with half of them." Mark Littlewood, the campaigns director of Liberty, said: "Simply introducing more laws, greater powers and stiffer penalties will go a long way to undermining British justice and will not make our country any safer."

    Feb 3 ~ Terrorism trials plan 'an affront to rule of law'

    Times "Anti-terrorism laws proposed by David Blunkett would undermine the right to a fair public trial, lawyers said yesterday. A Labour peer criticised the Home Secretary’s plan to keep sensitive intelligence evidence secret from defendants and to lower the burden of proof as “an affront to the rule of law”.
    Under Mr Blunkett’s proposal, trials of British-born terrorism suspects would be held in secret before non-jury courts, presided over by security- vetted judges and specially vetted defence counsel. The Home Secretary is suggesting that the burden of proof should be lowered from “beyond reasonable doubt” to on the “balance of probabilities” to make it easier to secure convictions. He will outline his proposals in a consultation document to be published at the end of the month.
    .....(Lady Kennedy) said: “You suggest all kinds of outrageous and awful things because then you get away with half of them,” she said. “We can be confident that many of his colleagues in the Cabinet, including particularly the Attorney-General, will sit on this because it really is an affront to the rule of law.”
    ............... Nigel Pascoe, QC, the former leader of the Western Circuit, said: “Nobody should consider changing the burden of proof in this country. What we have to do is to review the procedures and consider how we deal with intelligence evidence given in court.” ..... Louise Christian, the solicitor representing the family of Feroz Abbasi, one of nine Britons detained at the US base in Guantanamo Bay, said that Mr Blunkett appeared to be trying to create Britain’s own Guantanamo Bay. ..."

    Feb 2 ~ Dyke Lawyers to investigate Hutton Ruling

    Guardian "Mr Dyke, who is still fuming after the corporation's board of governors effectively forced him out in the wake of Lord Hutton's damning criticism, is speaking to lawyers to see whether he has grounds for appeal. Lord Hutton's verdict was not legally binding and so not open to the traditional recourse of appeal. But if lawyers believe the judge wrongly interpreted the law over what journalists can safely report when they have information from a reliable source that hasn't been verified, they could push for a judicial review of his verdict. .."

    Feb 2 ~ "The government is scrambling to convince sceptics that the appointment of the next BBC chairman will be free of its influence

    after a deep feud over the broadcaster's reporting on the buildup to the Iraq war. " Reuters

    Feb 2 ~ Blunkett anti-terror proposals condemned

    - Guardian "..... The Liberty campaigns director, Mark Littlewood, said: "Britain already has the most draconian anti-terror laws in western Europe.
    "To add to these by further undermining trial by jury and radically reducing the burden of proof is wholly unacceptable.
    "Simply introducing more laws, greater powers and stiffer penalties will go a long way to undermining British justice, and will not make our country any safer."
    Neil Durkin, of Amnesty International UK, said: "We would be extremely concerned at any further erosion of the right to receive a fair trial in the UK in the name of 'combating terrorism'.
    "What is particularly worrying about these comments from the home secretary is the suggestion that there might be some wider introduction of internment-like measures that have already created a small-scale Guantanamo Bay in our own back yard by imprisoning 14 foreign nationals without charge or trial."...The Conservative leader, Michael Howard, said that his party would back the proposals if, on further study, it found that Mr Blunkett had achieved the right balance between "giving the British people the proper protection against terrorism and not depriving innocent people of their liberty". .."

    Feb 2 ~ "pre-emptive" trials of suspects would be held in secret without juriess

    Guardian "The home secretary, David Blunkett, is considering a major extension of anti-terrorist legislation to enable pre-emptive action to be taken against British terror suspects. New laws passed in the wake of the September 11 attacks allow detentions of suspected international terrorists based on secret evidence without a criminal trial. The legislation has been widely condemned by human rights groups and any move to extend it to use against British citizens would spark a fierce debate. .."
    ITV news "Plans proposed by Home Secretary David Blunkett to combat terrorism have been branded "wholly unacceptable" by human rights groups. Under the controversial new proposals, "pre-emptive" trials of suspects would be held in secret without juries and presided over by judges vetted by the secret service. Lawyers defending terrorist suspects would also have to be vetted. To stop sensitive information being made public, not all evidence would be disclosed and some defendants could be found guilty on weaker evidence than usual..."

    Feb 2 ~ "Thousands of dissidents suffering under repressive regimes risk their lives to hear a BBC broadcast

    because it is their only source of truth. Let's hope that in this country we are not reduced to having to rely on the Sun or Fox news for ours..." Asia in Media"...Most people care passionately about the independence of the media they watch, read and listen to. It is their only real protection from the politics of politicians. The BBC does not belong to this government or to any other. It belongs to us, the public. We pay for it. When anything major happens, ratings show, we instinctively turn to the BBC. There is something reliable and reassuring about this great institution that its competitors can't match. That is why many people who have no professional link with the corporation are saddened and angered by recent events. Thousands have bombarded the media with messages of support. They didn't want Dyke to resign. They don't want apologies to this tarnished government. They want the truth and they believe they are more likely to get that from the BBC than politicians." Read in full

    Feb 1 ~ "ministers want to 'punish' the corporation by taking around £260m a year in licence money and giving it to ITV."

    Scotland on Sunday "The plan to ‘top-slice’ a 10th of the £2.6bn the BBC receives from licence fee payers will be a central demand when the government renegotiates the BBC’s Royal Charter, which is due to expire in 2006.... "

    Feb 1 ~" A massive Number 10 operation was poised to spin up findings that suited the Government

    and spin down any judgments that were discomforting. Instead, they found themselves searching for any criticism of Downing Street or Whitehall at all...." Andrew Rawnsley, political journalist of the year, in the Observer "A messy draw" "....Had Number 10's former director of communications really been in charge of the Hutton report, the great spinmeister might have issued instructions to sex it up with at least a bit of criticism of the Government in order to make the findings more credible with the public...
    ..The understandable exultation initially felt in Number 10 about Hutton has given way to a growing concern among some in Downing Street that the verdict was too good for them...
    The open process of the inquiry means that all the evidence and the revelations, many of them extraordinary, about the innermost wiring of this government have been available for inspection on the internet by anyone who is interested. Any citizen can be his or her own Lord Hutton." Read in full

    Feb 1 ~" The prospect of Hutton's findings being challenged in the High Court was raised this weekend by some of Britain's most senior lawyers."

    Sunday Times "Lord Lester of Herne Hill QC, the expert on freedom of speech, said there was no doubt the BBC had strong public interest grounds to report concerns about the government's Iraq dossier even though there may have been errors in the report.
    He cited the legal precedent of Albert Reynolds, the former Irish prime minister, versus The Sunday Times in 1999, which established this right. "Hutton failed to state the rights and duties of broadcasters correctly. He fails to be even-handed in the way he looks at the responsibilities of officials in the government compared with those of broadcasters," said Lester.
    The prospect of a judicial review might bring into the open tensions at the BBC where there are recriminations over Ryder's apology. Some members of the BBC's executive board thought it went too far. A confidential briefing document, entitled Freedom of Speech, says Hutton was "wrong in law" and ignored key evidence critical of the government..."

    Feb 1 ~ Judge Alan Levy, QC, reviewing some of the evidence said "the BBC has every reason to cry foul".

    Sunday Herald "The worst outcome of this war between the government and the BBC over who told the truth about the reasons for going to war, would be a neutered, cowed and supplicant BBC. In Britain's democracy a state broadcaster, like the BBC, with the ability to challenge, question, push and prod the government is crucial. ...
    ....That the British media (and here we must remind readers of our own coverage) is still asking questions on the very existence of Iraq's WMD, while trying to sort the spin from substance - as the BBC does 24 hours a day - is not a sign of democratic weakness, it reflects the working of a mature, and accountable democracy....... Placemen, in the job merely to carry out the subconscious commands of Number 10, would further erode trust in this government.."

    Feb 1 ~ "On many occasions in my time as director-general, the Downing Street press office under Mr Campbell denied stories that later turned out to be true. I could list half a dozen."

    The Sunday Times Dyke accuses No 10 of 'systematic bullying

    Jan 31 ~ Hutton threatens freedom of the press, journalists warned

    Guardian "....A leading libel QC said: "Lord Hutton seems to be saying that if you're going to impugn someone's integrity you can only do it if it's true. That is quite wrong and is a misreading of Reynolds v Times Newspapers. "You have a defence even if it's not true in circumstances where the journalism is responsible and the issue is in the public interest."

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