Prime Minister Dan Rogerson visits Widemouth Bay

image

The Prime Minister was here the other day.

My mother is as sharp as a needle. But even she gets the odd thing muddled up, sometimes to an alarming degree. She once announced that Richard Branson is “autistic”. She meant “dyslexic”.
Now, I knew that David Cameron had been holidaying in Cornwall recently. But I didn’t realise he’d had time to knock on doors in Widemouth Bay.

Who was here?

– I asked.

Dan Rogerson

– She replied.

He’s your MP, not the Prime Minister, dear.

– I explained.
Anyway, my parents were tickled pink to welcome Dan Rogerson into their home recently. They were particularly impressed by his knowledge of local church matters. I’ll have to encourage them to complete and send back the survey form he brought round.
My parents were very pleased Dan voted against military action in Syria.

An important moment for British parliamentary democracy

Free Syrian Army rebel trying to save his friend's life.I have been appalled, confused and dumbfounded by the Syrian situation, like many people.

The British parliament did a superb job today in articulating the doubt about military action and ultimately voting against it.

This has helped me to conclude that they are right.

Chucking in a few Cruise missiles, or even hundreds of missiles, is not going save a single life. Indeed, it would probably kill lots more people, none of them called “Assad”.

Over 100,000 people have been killed in the Syrian conflict. A few hundred people are killed by gas. It doesn’t make an argument for a mad throw of the dice.

I’m afraid the best the world outside Syria can do is to provide humanitarian help and diplomatic effort as best we can. …And pray for a speedy political solution.

Is Big Brother watching you?

The David PartyI saw this interesting question a day or so ago:

Are we drifting blindly towards 1984-style surveillance?

If we take CCTV, for example, I don’t think anyone is proposing or trying to put CCTV cameras in private areas (like the cameras in 1984). And given the benefits in terms of security and crime detection, there is a general acceptance that the extent of CCTV coverage in this country is reasonable. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t certain examples of CCTV which are debatable and, indeed, are debated.

On the subject of communication: If someone writes me a long letter with lots of personal details and even a proposal of some sort of criminal act, no one is going to see it except me, and, in any case, it would be fairly obvious to me if the letter had been opened.

Simlarly, if I talk to someone in a park or my house, the conversation isn’t going to be listened to. If, however, someone calls me on my mobile from their mobile or writes me an email making a proposal of a criminal act then, if it is egregious enough and contains sufficient key words, the chances are that it could be intercepted subject to a warrant being signed by the Home Secretary or the Foreign Secretary (we are told).

Up to about the mid-seventies, if you had phoned someone, the chances are that the operator at the local telephone exchange could have listened to your conversation.

Are we going down the route of electronic communication interception and surveillance “blindly”? Well, yes, until Edward Snowden blew his whistle I think we were indeed. So the debate which is being initiated by the Guardian is to be welcomed and is, indeed, vital. I certainly don’t accept any “if you knew what we knew” rubbish or “if you are innocent you have nothing to fear” rubbish. I am sure many people don’t. But I am also sure that a vast number of non-Guardian reading people don’t give a flying fig about this subject. They trust the government to protect our security and balance that reasonably with our privacy. Or they just don’t care about these matters.

I would also mention that I want to see more information on these “warrants” which are signed by cabinet ministers before officials look at certain emails and other communications. How many of these warrants are being signed on behalf of the security services? For what category of purpose are they being signed in what numbers? Does issuing a warrant for “safeguarding the economic well-being of the UK” include intercepting emails concerning a shipment of apples leaving the country? If not, then where is the line drawn in this category? There is some infomation available on the use of RIPA powers, but “The number of warrants issued to the security services is not made public” – according to Liberty. The total number (including those signed for other agencies) is made public:

The total number of lawful intercept warrants issued in 2012 under Part I Chapter 1 of RIPA was 3372.

-says the 2012 report of the Interception of Communications Commissioner, which is a ripping read. It was re-issued on the 18th July this year after hasty revisions to keep up with events. It has thousands of words which can be summed up in two words: “Trust me”. It includes the enticing tidbit that, in 2012, MI5 and MI6 made seven errors each in obtaining warrants. Fascinating stuff. That’s seven errors each that came to the attention of the commissioner, of course. LOL. Laudably, Mark Pack has been more vigilant on this topic than me.

How does anyone know what is in the emails, and therefore whether their revelation is justified, if they haven’t looked at them (the emails) before a warrant is signed? Or do they have an advanced “sneaky peaky”? We have to trust the commissioner, Sir Anthony May (Bradfield College and Worcester College Oxford). The Office of the Commissioner hasn’t exactly had a good press. Sir Anthony’s recreations are listed as “gardening, music, books, walking and bonfires”. Bonfires? Should we trust an Information Interception Commissioner whose hobby is “bonfires”? I only ask the question. One never knows what old correspondence and documents creep into bonfires sometimes does one? (Note: the last four sentences were an attempted joke).

The detention and debagging of David Miranda, plus the crunching of the Guardian’s hard drive, is profoundly and gravely shocking to me. I am particularly aggrieved that these events cast a shadow over the perception of the Leveson proposals which actually proposed enshrining in law a duty of governments to guarantee the freedom of the press, a measure similar to that in the USA which would have avoided this Miranda/crunched hard drive scenario in the first place, it is plausible to suggest.

Finally, a word about books being used as shorthand for certain phenomena. People often use the phrase “we’re entering a brave new world”. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, for starters, projected a future world where “Natural reproduction has been done away with and children are created, ‘decanted’ and raised in Hatcheries and Conditioning Centres” (Wikipedia). When people say “we’re entering a brave new world” they don’t actually mean that we’re entering a world where natural reproduction is stopped in favour of baby farms. Well, I don’t think they mean that, anyway.

Similarly, the words “We’re becoming like 1984” are often bandied around to mean that we’re getting over-surveilled. When people say this, I would guess that they do not mean that we have a state camera in every single room in every single building and that critics of the state are put in a room where they are threatened with their worst nightmare, such as having a rat in a container strapped to their face. (Because, from memory, those are two of the main features of the novel, 1984.)

So I just think that questions like “are we moving towards 1984?” tend to misdirect our debating efforts. Are we becoming like the dystopian world presented in a novel written by a dying man on the remote island of Jura some 64 years ago? No. I realise that this fantastic work of fiction has become very fêted and famous – quite deservedly so. But I think our debating efforts can be a little more accurately targetted by not aiming at questioning whether a quite extraordinary fictional scenario exists in full or part. It is a slightly nebulous discussion to have. It’s like trying to eat a wobbly half-set jelly with a paper fork on a ship during a force ten storm.

It is a more useful exercise to ask something like: Is the balance between personal privacy, liberty and security correct in this country? To that question, without the rather distracting spectre of a fictional world being introduced, I would answer: No, or, at least, “the jury is out”. The balance isn’t right, it seems. It has tipped, it appears, too far towards state surveillance.

Meet Nick Clegg's friend, who will feature heavily in the leader's conference speech

Der ElferA handsome fellow, isn’t he? He’s a very good friend of Nick Clegg. Our leader brings him out at every conference speech of his. He’s called Mister Strawman.

Take the 2011 Brighton conference. Nick Clegg worked himself up into an almighty lather as he introduced Mister Strawman – the simple 1/0 binary choice of being in coalition and not being in coalition:

I know that there are some in the party – some in this hall even – who, faced with several more years of spending restraint, would rather turn back than press on. Break our deal with the Conservatives, give up on the Coalition, and present ourselves to the electorate in 2015 as a party unchanged. It’s an alluring prospect in some ways. Gone would be the difficult choices, the hard decisions, the necessary compromises. And gone too would be the vitriol and abuse, from Right and Left, as we work every day to keep this Government anchored in the centre ground.

But conference, I tell you this. The choice between the party we were, and the party we are becoming, is a false one. The past is gone and it isn’t coming back. If voters want a party of opposition – a “stop the world I want to get off” party – they’ve got plenty of options, but we are not one of them. There’s a better, more meaningful future waiting for us. Not as the third party, but as one of three parties of government.

The Cleggster invested at least the equivalent of a 2lb bagful of sugar in energy into imbuing those words with the strongest rhetorical force at his disposal. So, all eyes were on the Mister Strawman 1/0 binary choice between being in coalition and not being in coalition. The Cleggster spiel places the blinkers on the audience so that the third choice, staying in coalition but ceasing the string of misjudgments at the leadership level, is effectively hidden from view.

So, we look forward to Mister Strawman’s appearance this year. We can only wait to hear what guise Mister Strawman will take. Could it be the guise of “we cannot be in government and make “immature” statements about national security”?

We can only wait and see.

Party responses to events

MicOver on Liberal Democrat Voice, Caron Lindsay writes a very timely article entitled “The lessons we must learn from for Nick Clegg’s next holiday”. This refers mainly to the David Miranda and Guardian drive crunching news stories.

Beneath the post, Mark Pack comments:

…the party’s slowness isn’t just about the Home Office or when the DPM is on holiday. Too often the party is too slow to get its message out in the media and even slower to communicate properly with members.

I agree. Nick Clegg was totally not on holiday when thumb screws had to be applied to him over the course of several weeks (which included the plum communications opportunity of the Spring conference) before he begrudgingly issued anything approaching a cogent defence of the Commons parliamentary party’s agreement to secret courts.

The problem is that Nick Clegg is not a thoroughly instinctive liberal, like most of the party. He is generally a strong leader and a very good DPM. He can work himself up into a most convincing liberal lather when it suits him, but it does not come altogether naturally to him. This ripples down to the party’s communications behaviour. Meanwhile we get weekly (mostly) platitudes in his email letter to members.

The communications operation of the party is , and continues to be, often shambolic when it matters. The response to the Chris Rennard issue was typical. They had weeks of warning to prepare a “one shot” defence statement but instead made a complete horlicks of the whole thing, issued one position then changed position several days later. That is, of course, completely the opposite from what you should do in a PR crisis, after weeks of warning. A complete shambles.

But sadly, I don’t think Nick Clegg realises any of this. He has a tin ear where many matters considered important by the party membership are concerned. A sixth former could have issued a perfectly acceptable liberal statement on the Miranda and drive crunching issues by email within minutes of them surfacing. It has nothing to do with Nick Clegg being on holiday.

Idyllic little ferry rides across the world

IMG_0269
We went across the Hamble on this yesterday. It really is the most “cute, ickle” ferry across such a beautiful estuary!

It reminded us of another idyllic ferry ride we were fortunate enough to take last year in Pittwater, New South Wales from Great Mackerel Bay to Palm Beach. It really was out of this world. My photo is below.

In both these cases, the ferry ride was gentle, with just the trickle of the water to disturb the peace….

great mackerel bay

The impeach Obama movement proves that Jeremy Clarkson was right

Clagett Farm CSA 2008 Week 5The New York Times reports that there is a growing movement amongst Republicans to impeach President Obama. – Just for the hell of it, by the look of it. It proves finally that Jeremy Clarkson was right when he said, after being chased out of Seminole, Alabama by locals outraged at Richard Hammond’s “Man love is best” and “Vote Hillary” vehicle signage:

I honestly believe that in some parts of America they’ve actually started mating with vegetables.

David Axelrod comments on the development:

I think there are a lot of challenges ahead but impeachment is not one of them. The bottom line is that it would be enormously self-destructive for the Republicans to waste time on what is a plainly empty expression of primal, partisan rage.

And the last word goes to a Republican representative from South Carolina:

Representative Trey Gowdy of South Carolina, a conservative former prosecutor, acknowledges that voters raise the issue with him, which he said he deflects with, “Have you met Joe Biden?” The exchange usually ends with laughter.