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.