Sunday, November 30, 2008

The prodigal returns

Not that I have been away all that long but blogging has been a little light (or lite as the blogosphere keeps calling it to my dismay) recently as other matters interfered. Time to pull up one’s socks, probably with a very quick disposal of the Damien Green affair, which seems to have excited journalists and commentators a great deal more than events in India did.

Innocent until proven guilty applies to an MP as much as anyone else but so does another important part of democratic existence (in so far as we have one but more of that later): nobody, not even an elected member of the House of Commons, is above the law. Parliamentary immunity applies to what they do and say in the House; it does not apply to their speech and actions outside it.

The story is, and I had better be careful until there is more information, that a junior civil servant in the Home Office has leaked certain confidential documents to Mr Green for various reasons, mostly, it appears, to do with the desire to promote the Conservative Party and Mr Green’s standing with the media. Such leaking of information has been against the law since the passing of the Official Secrets Act in 1911.

However, runs the argument, those documents were needed for Mr Green to do his job as a legislator who holds the executive to account. So they would, if Mr Green had used them in the House, the proper place to hold the executive to account. Apparently, he preferred to leak them on to various newspapers and these are fighting for their recently acquired position as the co-legislators in this country. Let me add that no newspaper appears to want to fight for its right to reveal names of people who are on the Interpol list of known terrorists because they might be sued for libel. That far they do not go in their love of freedom of speech.

Allow me to remind people what has really undermined democracy in this country and destroyed people’s faith in politicians and the political system. (Incidentally, my colleague on EUReferendum has written extensively on the subject so I need to add very little. His recent and best summary is here.)

First, we have the undoubted fact that something like eighty per cent of our legislation comes from the EU. Most of it does not even touch Parliament for various reasons, such as they are Regulations that are directly applicable. Even when Parliament is generously consulted there is nothing those self-important elected Members of the House of Commons can do about it because European legislation cannot be rejected. I must admit I have not heard Damien Green MP complaining about that or demanding that he should be paid 20 per cent of his present salary as he does only 20 per cent of the job that he was supposedly elected to do.

Secondly, we have the growing power of quangos, a subject that deserves several postings by itself. It was one of the issues raised by Douglas Carswell and Daniel Hannan in their recent booklet “The Plan”. Sadly, the Conservatives have already explained that part of their solution to the financial crisis is to set up another quango that would oversee the Treasury and, presumably, the elected Chancellor of the Exchequer. When I asked somebody from CCHQ about the need for it I was told quite pompously that sometimes quangos were good and necessary. I am glad to say that there was much laughter in the room about that form the non-ToryBoys.

Thirdly, we have a bunch of MPs who have no idea what they should be doing. I shall spell it out: they are supposed to be legislating but they can’t do that (see first point above) and they are supposed to be holding the executive to account. The place to do that is in the House of Commons, where they seem to do little but live-blog debates or pass messages on their pagers and blackberries; the executive is not held to account by feeding tit-bits of information gleaned from civil servants who were breaking the law for their own purposes, to the media. That is not what democracy is about.

Fourthly, we have a problem with the civil service, who has acquired far too much power with so much of the legislation not being enacted by Parliament and because its members have decided that they want to play party politics. How are Ministers to trust their civil servants if some of them have decided to pass on information of various kinds to members of the opposition? Are the Conservatives, who hope to be in government after the next election, going to be happy for junior bods in the Home Office to pass on correspondence between Ministers to a member of the Labour Shadow Cabinet in order for him or her to further his friendship with some hacks in the media? I think not.

The ever more hysterical coverage of the Damien Green story, especially on the blogosphere and the internet in general, has convinced me that the political and media establishment (but I repeat myself) of this country is quite terminally frivolous. We are told at length that the fact that the Home Secretary did not intervene in what was operational procedure makes Britain a police state. Actually, quite the opposite.

We are told that this undermines Parliamentary privilege. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Parliamentary privilege stops outside Parliament. It protects members of the two Houses inside the building and its land. Constituency offices do not come under any kind of privilege and neither do negotiations with journalists.

We are told that this country has become like Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe. That is so fatuous and so insulting to the people of Zimbabwe that I do not need to respond to it. An inability to put things into perspective is the result of an inability to be serious on any matter. How can the arrest, done according to all the rules, of two people (one of whom is, as the phrase goes, singing like a canary) for definite law breaking compare in importance with what has, in the meantime, been going on in India?

Outside the fetid little world of self-important Westminster denizens and watchers, there has been a great deal of coverage of what was a horrific and still, naturally enough, unclear event. The storming of two hotels and Jewish centre in Mumbai, holding of hostages and killing numerous people was, on the one hand, a terrorist act but, also, like a miniature uprising.

It is still unclear how many people have been killed. The BBC says 172, another article in the Telegraph suggests that the total might be as high as 300. One story talks of bodies showing signs of torture but the doctor’s evidence is not worth a great deal as quoted in the article. The Daily Mail reports that one captured terrorist/insurgent told police that he had been instructed to go on killing until his last breath and that the plan was to kill 5,000. It is not entirely clear how the Daily Mail knows all the details of what the detainee told the police. There is much more to come out.

I am not going to waste any time expostulating about the evil of those who perpetrated this. I think that goes without saying. They were, as far as anyone can tell, Islamists though whether they were connected with Al-Qaeda is unclear. Nor is it clear what the immediate as opposed to the long-term aim was. The destabilization of India is clearly what these people want but were they also specifically intending to put off Western businessmen from investing in the country? Why were those particular targets chosen? Again, one can but hope that we shall find out more as time goes on.

There are a few points that need to be made. There is a persistent story that several of the gunmen were British. If that is so, we are back with the agonizing problem we have faced before: why does Britain continue to breed more terrorists than any other Western country? Surely, this is a more important question than the arrrest of Damien Green.

The Indian government’s immediate reaction was to blame Pakistan and to announce that it was raising security on the borders to “war level”. That is probably a good precaution but let us recall that this is not the first terrorist attack inside India this year. The people of that country have every right to ask what the security services are doing. Why are they finding it impossible to prevent attacks, even when they are large-scale, well co-ordinated ones like this latest one in Mumbai.?

The Home Minister, Shivraj Patil has resigned but the resignation of the National Security Adviser M. K. Narayanan has not been accepted. Still, there are signs that the government is going to move towards an enquiry and, perhaps, some reforms. Possibly, it will now accept responsibility, not for the attacks as only those who carried them out are responsible, but for being unable to prevent them.

Scott Johnson on Powerline quotes a friend who knows India. The posting discusses these and other problems that the country and its government must deal with in a far more knowledgeable fashion than I can. (For anyone who wants to attack me, nothing I say about India exonerates the terrorists or makes light of the far worse situation in Pakistan. Nevertheless, some things need to be said and I am glad that Indians are saying it.)

There is the very curious story of the police officers who refused to shoot at the terrorists, again on Powerline but this time there is a link to the article in the Belfast Telegraph and an interview with the photographer, Sebastian D’Souza, who was there, took some superb pictures and saw the police in its inaction. This, too, will have to be explained. Neo-neocon tries to analyze. In fact, the American blogosphere is writing about Mumbai and all its aspects. I just wish ours did as well. But, hey, we have more important matters to discuss. I suppose I ought to be grateful for Damien Green taking “I am a celebrity…” off the front pages of all the newspapers.

After this longish rant normal service will resume.


Anonymous said...

So why does Britain "breed" terrorists?

So when the sacred months have passed away, then slay the idolaters wherever you find them, and take them captives and besiege them and lie in wait for them in every ambush. (Koran 9:5)
And fight against all the polytheists, as they all fight against you. (9:36).

Fight against those among the People of the Book who do not believe in God and the Last Day, who do not forbid what God and His Messenger have forbidden, and who do not consider the true religion as their religion, until they pay the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued. (9:29).

O you who believe! fight those of the unbelievers who are near to you and let them find in you hardness; and know that Allah is with those who guard against evil. (9.123)

O Prophet! wage jihad against the unbelievers and the hypocrites and be unyielding to them; and their abode is hell, and evil is the destination. (9:073)

O True believers, when you encounter the unbelievers, strike off their heads. (47.4)

We will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve, because they set up with Allah that for which He has sent down no authority, and their abode is the fire, and evil is the abode of the unjust. (3:151)

Therefore let those fight in the way of Allah, who sell this world's life for the hereafter; and whoever fights in the way of Allah, then be he slain or be he victorious, We shall grant him a mighty reward. (4.74)

Yes, you are terminally frivolous. Not surprising considering you defamed Russia's account of what happened in the Caucasus as "Kremlin Propaganda". This has now been verified as true by the Pravda of the U.S. establishmet, The New York Times.

NATO got a bloody nose. Central Asian mineral wealth is now out of Muslim hands. Russia is victorious militarily and morally. Most of all it is a victory for Georgians, Ukrainians, and Westerners in general.

It's over. Cosmic justice can't come too soon.

Helen said...

I suppose anyone as stupid as Anonymous who posted at 10.23 pm cannot reveal a name. It would be too embarrassing. I mean just how thick do you have to be to say that the New York Times is the Pravda (try spelling it correctly) of the US Establishment. Not to mention a great deal of ignorance about Russia who is not precisely doing well out of all that bullying. Still, this is an equal opportunities blog even for cowardly muppets.

shevy said...

Stupid to quote any ancient book as any kind of explanations.

'Anonymous' really only displayed that he lacks the ability to think for his own.

"Most of all it is a victory for Georgians, Ukrainians, and Westerners in general."

The worst part is, he does simple statements and does not even try to reason or explain.

I think the blog owner should delete comments which try NOT THE LEAST to explain what they are commenting about anyway.

And on the topic on hand I want to say that I thought the initial response against Pakistan was a bit too harsh - understandable - but the indian people seemed to further on to it, not only claiming Pakistan but also blaming their own government for being incompetent (quite rightly so, if it takes 10 hours to bring a special force team to a huge town like Mumbai then obviously something in the whole infrastructure is wrong).

I do however think that they should not further the aggression against Pakistan. There should be a big attempt to talk about all the problems and resolve them, a really huge shift. One that involves the whole area and ignores outside forces who influence.

I believe it is the last chance to find a peaceful solution, because I am 100% sure that there are outside factions who WANT to keep this pointless conflict going on for many more years.

And let me be clear - the US has a huge responsibility. They in fact breed terrorists by their unilateral war zones and expanding them actively into areas like Pakistan. (The Pakistani government is corrupt and should be removed. They do nothing to stop the US aggression AND they do not enough to stop the terrorists training in their OWN country. A huge, corrupt government. Poor Pakistanis. At least the indian government does better, despite those obvious problems in the security area)

Anonymous said...

Helen wrote: 'Parliamentary immunity applies to what they do and say in the House; it does not apply to their speech and actions outside it.'

This is a nice point but a side issue. Yes Members' allegiance should be to the House, not to the media. And what better way to stuff this down their throats than getting the boys in blue to raid their offices and prove that Parliamentary privilege does not extend to their conversations with hacks.

However as much as I share your general disgust at politicians and agree with your explanation as to why they are so hopeless, this is not what everyone's up in arms about. The reasons we should be concerned are as follows:

1) Leaks like this have been going on for years, not least by Gordon Brown in opposition and even in Government since the moment Blair and his nasty cronies go the keys to number 11. You don’t need to be a conspiracy theorist to question why should this case be treated so differently.

2) There's blatant evidence that the powers-that-be are lying. If Dave and Boris were told about the arrest before it happened how on earth can we believe that neither the Home Secretary nor the PM was informed?

3) Given Jacqui Smith clearly was informed and yet denies all knowledge, it is reasonable to assume that she/Gordon/Mandelson decided that tough action ought to be taken to intimidate moles and those who aid and abet them. In this respect it has nothing to do with upholding the law and everything to do with neutering political opposition.

4) God knows the government already holds enough of the powers of manipulation already and if you think we'll see an end to Sunday Times headlines on some new vice/threat/disease/plot soon to plague this country, before legislation is announced the following morning to combat said scourge then you're too clean-minded to understand politics.

5) This arrest is yet another abuse of terrorist legislation (which I’m sure you’ll agree ought to be reserved for Icelandic banks and octogenarians heckling at Labour Party conferences). Combined with the erosion of trial by jury, 42 days detention, cameras, ID cards/national database etc. these sorts of powers of arrest are good reason for concern.

6) There's often a difference between handling a situation wisely and upholding the precise letter of the law. You'll see the police exercise this discretion every Saturday afternoon on the football terraces. I've seen one policeman control a crowd of thousands where a dozen officials employed by the club lacked the skills/training to calm things down. The purpose of the law is serving the public interest. The way the Damien Green affair was handled may have been right in legalistic terms but it was also aggressive, excessively forceful and utterly inappropriate for the alleged crimes.

6) I would add that all the concerns outlined in 5) should be placed in the context of all your excellent points regarding the emasculation of Parliament and the continued transfer of powers to Brussels. When euro police are pounding our streets you'll be glad every effort was made by others to secure whatever vestiges of British freedom still remain.