Friday, October 26, 2007 

Buying the Lords.

Ey, calm down, calm down!

Last night's Question Time saw Charles Falconer appearing for Labour. Why the BBC wasn't able to track down any of the current 353 Labour members actually elected to the House of Parliament wasn't up for discussion, but it didn't stop Falconer, a man who has had his whole recent career as a politician handed to him by his former flatmate from defending that bastion of democracy the House of Lords, which coincidentally also provides him with the only legitimacy he has to talk about anything.

There are 99 different reasons for abolishing the House of Lords, the fact that Falconer is a member being 97 of them, with the affront to democracy that an appointed house of so-called representatives still existing in the 21st century and the corruption involved in the appointing of those "representatives" being the other two. Today's Grauniad helps to remind us of the just how the latter goes hand in hand with almost everything the Lords does:

A Labour peer has admitted taking money to introduce an arms company lobbyist to the government minister in charge of weapons purchases. The case of "cash for access" in the House of Lords is likely to ignite fresh concern about ethical standards in parliament.

The lobbyist paid cash for an introduction to Lord Drayson, the defence minister in charge of billions of pounds of military procurement, according to evidence obtained by the Guardian.

Quite why you would pay to meet such a man as Lord Drayson is on its own difficult to fathom. It's on the level of buying a ticket to see Jim Davidson, or putting your face into an angle grinder. Drayson, aka Lord Smallpox, is best known for the completely innocent coincidence of donating £50,000 to the Labour party at a time when the government was deciding who to award the contract for producing Smallpox vaccines to. Seriously, it was completely innocent; the National Audit Office said so, and we can trust a man like Sir John Bourn to have told us the complete truth. Shortly after being made a peer of the realm, Drayson made a further donation of £505,000 to the Labour party, a sort of reversal of how Blair and another Lord, Levy, were alleged to have offered, perhaps not in words but in nudges, peerages in return for loans.

The lobbyist, Michael Wood, who trades as "Whitehall Advisers" and has worked with those completely incorruptible arms merchants, BAE Systems, coincidentally has the equivalent of the key to city of the palace of Westminster, as he holds a security pass as a "research assistant" to the Tory MP and shadow defence minister Gerald Howarth. Howarth had the following to say when it was announced that Saudi Arabia would be purchasing BAE's hopelessly outdated Eurofighters:

"The decision by the Saudi government to purchase the Typhoon is welcome news for the UK defence industry and demonstrates the enduring relationship between Saudi Arabia and the UK.

"The UK defence industry continues to be at the forefront of cutting edge defence technology.

"The Typhoon is a truly world class aircraft and today's announcement confirms the esteem in which UK equipment is held worldwide."

As Politaholic points out, Doug Hoyle, the man accused of taking money from Wood to meet Drayson, stood down so that the Tory turncoat, Shaun Woodward could have his safe seat, realising that he would lose his safe Tory seat of Witney (now occupied by David Cameron) for changing parties. Hoyle was duly rewarded with a peerage.

As might have been expected, as this is after all the House of Lords, taking money to introduce a wannabe arms dealer to the minister for defence procurement isn't "specifically outlawed", although it is "frowned upon". Like so much else, rather than it being out and out sleaze, this just has a stink about it. The same stink that pervades a house that includes those who are there through no other reason than what family they were born into, others purely there because of the religion they belong to, and oh, then there's Digby Jones. Every single reason you could ever need for abolishing the place wrapped together in one bloated corporeal body.

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Wednesday, June 20, 2007 

Overcrowded with the same old nonsense.

It's incredibly rare that I feel even slightly sorry for this government, for the simple reason that it has brought nearly all of the problems it faces now down directly on its own head. The prison overcrowding crisis is most certainly of New Labour's own making, but it definitely isn't the fault of Lord Falconer, the hapless minister now taking the flak. He's been made to look idiotic because of his promise that there would be no early releases only a month ago, but this is a mess of John Reid's creation, with him handily being outside the frame due to the creation of the new Ministry of Justice. In any case, both he and Falconer are likely to be out of a job by next week - Reid already having announced his return to the backbenches, and Falconer unlikely to keep his position in Brown's reshuffle.

To treat New Labour with a fairness they don't deserve, they weren't the architects of the "prison works" mantra which has become gospel to the tabloids and right-wingers and is the true root cause of this latest stupidity; Michael Howard was. The murder of James Bulger almost certainly also had a similar chilling effect on penal policy, even though his death was a macabre, disturbing, freak crime which only tends to occur once in a generation. It did however make people question how two ten-year-olds could possibly do such a thing, with a sick society being one of the easy things to point the finger at. At the heart of this was the belief that criminality in general was being treated with too light a touch, something reprised today when the Scum blames judges for being soft when the prison statistics bear out the fact that they are anything but.

Even so, New Labour has not just continued with Howard's stated aims, it's accelerated them, and with every passing year a new criminal justice bill has brought ever tougher penalties and the creation of new imprisonable offences. When Labour came to power the prison population stood at just over 60,000; within 10 years it's increased by 20,000. Labour additionally, despite the claims of the Scum, has also in that time built 9 new prisons, creating those 20,000 places which have been filled as soon as they were available.

By the reaction which both the Scum and the Tories have opted to go for, you'd imagine that the ministers had suddenly decided to throw the doors of the prisons wide open and let anyone and everyone walk out. Instead, the plans for early release are so timid that within months we'll have the same problem again, with the Home Office admitting that by October crisis point will have been hit. Only those serving sentences of 4 years or less, and not imprisoned for violent or sexual offences will be considered for early release, and even then they'll have to go before a parole board which will consider if they pose a danger to the public or not. Those released will in effect spend the last 18 days of their sentence out on license with a tag, not just let out scot free. Around 1,500 to 1,800 will be immediately eligible for early reason, which will free up places for those currently being held in police and magistrates cells at an obscene cost of up to £1million a week, where facilities consist of a bare cell, toilet and a hard bed, which is not exactly conducive to rehabilitation.

This is why the howls of anguish and outrage from the Scum and Tories are so self-serving and pathetic. They've never had it so good: a party with a prime minister who cares more what the Scum thinks about criminals and prisons than it does what criminologists and reformists do, which has gone along completely with their ever tougher stance on even minor crime, even while crime itself has been shown to have fallen to a historic low, completely ignoring the fact that overcrowding itself is the main cause of re-offending, as it means that rehabilitation is nigh on impossible when prisoners find themselves banged up for increasingly longer periods, unable to get access to education, schemes to ween themselves off drug addictions, or to the health care that many with mental health problems so desperately need. To read the Scum's George Pascoe-Watson with a straight face write how wonderful today's prisons are, with a choice of seven different meals and a television in the cell, ignoring completely how you don't happen to be on your own but instead with other highly dangerous people who you can't trust for a second, not to mention the mind-numbing boredom involved in being banged up is to look into a world where highly-paid hacks who've never so much as been questioned by police except when they're asked how much they'll be paid for providing information about what murder victims were wearing when they were killed spit on their own readers.

The government, having been aware that this was going to happen, has had two options. It either continues on the path it's taken, continues to build more prisons or make places available, or it about turns, emphasises that prison does not work except to keep the public safe from the truly dangerous, makes community sentences for lesser offences more attractive to judges and takes on the newspapers that argue otherwise. It has instead done neither, and Reid didn't help himself by telling the Scum that he'd turn old MoD bases into makeshift open prisons, something that local communities would have rightly opposed, as they are completely unsuitable for such use, as well as look into buying "prison ships", when none of the ports want them and when the only one that was in use
was condemned by the inspector of prisons.

It's difficult to stomach a newspaper that has been instrumental in creating this fiasco, with New Labour almost in effect making Rebekah Wade the home secretary, having the balls to criticise ministers for their failings, but then nothing will ever be good enough for Murdoch's minions, a trap which Blair has repeatedly fell into.

THE prisons crisis is a stinking national scandal.

Much like this very newspaper.

And the Labour government has only itself to blame.

True, for indulging your fuckwitted arguments and petty prejudices for 10 years.

Ministers have known for years that we need more jails — but wilfully refused to build them.

And just where pray are they meant to? Has the Scum ever offered a single sensible proposal for a prison other than pie-in-the-sky nonsense about camps and ships?

While they dithered, the jail population has hit a record 81,000 — double the number 15 years ago.

As a direct result of the Scum's ceaseless campaigns and own sheer lack of backbone.

That record will be broken again next month, with lags crammed three to a cell — fertile ground for riots.

Really? I thought prisons were idyllic, happy places where you get your meals brought to you and where Sky Digital is plentiful?

How does the government respond?

Laughable Justice Minister Charlie Falconer is setting 25,500 drug peddlers and burglars loose early.

This is a nonsense figure which the Scum and Tories have arrived at by looking at the projections for the number of prison places that are going to be needed by the end of next year, then ignoring that those serving sentences longer than 4 years are still going to be getting out in the meantime, freeing up places, coming to the wrong conclusion that 25,500 prisoners are going to have be released to cover those newly sentenced. Surprisingly, it doesn't work like that.

This crisis did not come out of a clear blue sky.

The Sun has been campaigning for years for prison ships.

We called for thousands of foreign criminals to be sent home.

Neither of which offers are real kind of solution, as those countries unsurprisingly don't want them back, at least until they've finished the sentences.

Yet a succession of Home Secretaries failed in their most important duty — protecting the public. They’d rather see hundreds of murderers, rapists and terrorists walk through open prison gates.

I'd say that they've succeeded - crime has fallen dramatically, although it was already doing so before they came to power, and now only those who are no danger to the public will be released; the Sun's hyperbole only underlines the lack of rigour in its argument.

Villains in jail cannot commit crime.

And without those prisons, we are all more likely to become victims of crime.

Because everyone in jail is a villain, as we know, and the fact that the prisons are going to be hopelessly overcrowded whatever the government does, unless it completely changes course, means that those who are released are ever more likely to re-offend as a result. Whatever the government does it loses, all as a result of its initial mistake in even attempting to ride the Murdoch and Rothermere tigers.
P.S. The following comment on the reports into Iran capturing the 15 sailors is a complete joke:

NOBODY would say the 15 sailors captured by Iran in Gulf waters covered themselves with glory.

Nor did the hostages improve matters by selling their stories when they were freed.

This would be the same Sun newspaper which contributed towards the £100,000 paid to Faye Turney for selling her story to the err, Sun.

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Thursday, February 15, 2007 

Scum-watch: Yet more lies about human rights.

The Sun has not taken kindly to its war on the human rights act being comprehensively destroyed by Charles Falconer. In one of the rarer circumstances of ministers standing up to the tabloid media's baseless and incredibly damaging campaigns, his speech yesterday to the Royal United Services Institute, following a previous one last week, was always likely to be reported, if at all, with hostility.

TONY Blair’s law chief Charlie Falconer amazingly denied yesterday that human rights were hampering Britain’s war on terror.

The Lord Chancellor said they were one of the most effective WEAPONS against al-Qaeda.

Lord Falconer said the European Convention on Human Rights “does not in any way properly inhibit us from fighting terrorism”.

But his remarks fly in the face of court decisions which have left Tony Blair’s anti-terror laws in tatters — by ruling they ABUSE human rights.

In 2004, Law Lords blocked emergency powers to hold nine suspects without trial, saying the measure posed a bigger threat to Britain than al-Qaeda.

They didn't block the emergency powers, they ruled by 8 to 1 that they held that holding foreign terror suspects without charge did just not breach article 5, the right to liberty, but was also entirely counter-productive, and discriminatory in that it only affected foreign "terror suspects". Their ruling was not binding without the lawyers for the men taking the case to Strasbourg; the government initially threatened to ignore the ruling, but was forced by the refusal of the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats to support a renewal of the "state of emergency" into introducing control orders instead.

The Lords also didn't say that the measure posed a bigger threat to Britain that al-Qaida - those were the words of Lord Hoffman alone. In his ruling he stated:

"This is one of the most important cases which the house has had to decide in recent years.

"It calls into question the very existence of an ancient liberty of which this country has until now been very proud: freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention."

"This is a nation which has been tested in adversity, which has survived physical destruction and catastrophic loss of life. I do not underestimate the ability of fanatical groups to kill or destroy, but they do not threaten the life of the nation."

"Whether we should survive Hitler hung in the balance, but there is no doubt we shall survive al-Qaida. The Spanish people have not said that what happened in Madrid, hideous crime as it was, threatened the life of the nation. Their legendary pride would not allow it.

"Terrorist crime, serious as it is, does not threaten our institutions of government or our existence as a civil community."

"The real threat to the life of the nation, in the sense of a people living in accordance with its traditional laws and political values, comes not from terrorism but from laws such as these."

As the Guardian leader of the day after the ruling argued, of the 2001 act:

It has eroded the very freedoms for which we are supposed to be combating terrorism.

The Sun however is only interested in putting up a straw man argument: that the Human Rights Act protects the freedoms of "terrorists", while ignoring that it protects the freedom of everyone. The disproportionate response of this government in turning to legislation to "tackle" terror has undermined civil liberties and abused human rights, but when it's against those who are "enemies" this doesn't matter one iota to the Sun. It's a slippery slope, but the Sun would never admit to it being one. Just tell Tony he's right.

The Scum article continues:

Last year, judge Mr Justice Sullivan said control orders — a replacement for detention without trial — were illegal.

Indeed he did, but John Reid then appealed. Reid subsequently lost the appeal, and those under the control orders had the restrictions placed on them slightly loosened. Control orders are still in effect, even though at least 2 men have subsequently managed to go missing despite being under them, which brought into sharp focus the reality of both how discriminatory and useless they are. The government's continuing refusal to make intercept evidence admissible in British courts, at the behest of the ever secretive spooks, means that we're depriving those under control orders both of the right to hear the evidence against them, and to defend themselves from the very evidence that the authorities claim to have. It's Kafkaesque, and it's little wonder that some have decided to actually return to their home country rather than continue to put up with a breach of liberty in a nation that once prided itself on it. The government has had more than enough of an opportunity to come up with a solution that doesn't breach the Human Rights Act, in line with other European countries, but it has refused to do so.

A month later, the same judge ruled that nine Afghan plane hijackers had a “human right” to stay in Britain.

No he didn't. He ruled that the refusal to give the men leave to remain, a decision made by an immigration panel who decided their lives would be at risk if they were deported back to Afghanistan, was an "abuse of power". The men had brought the case in the first place because they were being treated as failed asylum seekers, and so could not work, which is what they wanted to be allowed to do. In return for wanting to contribute to British society, they were treated to this libelous and deeply distorted Scum front page:

Charles Falconer has since accepted that the way John Reid and Tony Blair reacted to the ruling only encouraged the tabloids to act outraged:

Yet in the cold light of day the lord chancellor, Lord Falconer, had accepted "unequivocally" that it was right that human rights law should prevent the hijackers from being sent back to Afghanistan if there was a risk they faced death or torture.

But Lord Falconer, who last week called for “common sense” over human rights, yesterday even had a dig at judges. He said: “Policy must come first and the law second. We need to get away from where human rights are viewed as a ‘terrorists’ charter’.

Had a dig at judges? The Sun would never do that! I wonder who is chiefly responsible for making the Human Rights Act become viewed as a "terrorists' charter"?

“Our freedoms are embodied in that convention. We shouldn’t be ashamed by it. We shouldn’t be embarrassed by it. It doesn’t prevent us fighting terrorism.”

It's about time this was made clear, but it's been this government that's only been too willing to join in with the Sun and others in undermining the Human Rights Act. It they had fought back from the beginning, either legislated better or not at all, then none of this would have ever occurred.

Then we have this idiocy from the Tories' constitutional affairs shadow:

The Tories have pledged to replace the 1998 Act with a Bill of Rights.

Shadow constitutional affairs secretary Oliver Heald said: “Lord Falconer is talking about the Human Rights Act he should have passed, not the flawed Human Rights Act we have.”

Seeing as the Human Rights Act was simply introducing the European Convention into UK law, with a number of omissions, then Heald ought to take his problem with the HRA up with those who drew it up in 1950. The Human Rights Act was mainly brought in so that those seeking judgment under the ECHR no longer had to go to Strasbourg to do so. The Tories idea for a Bill of Rights would presumably contain much the same rights that the HRA does, and even Ken Clarke described it as "xenophobic nonsense". It's a non-starter of a plan, but it's enough to get some kudos from the tabloids.

The Sun's leader gets off to a great start with an insult:

IF you were caught red-handed for mass murder, smooth-talking Charlie Falconer would try to get you off with an Asbo.

Geddit?!? He's an idiot brief?!

Which is pretty much what the Lord Chancellor tried to do yesterday when he insisted human rights laws are no bar to the war on terror.

He ignored the fact that police today are paralysed by fear of legal action if they make an arrest.

Obviously. That's why the police in Birmingham didn't make any arrests... err, wait a minute. The police in fact have very little to worry about, as this week's IPCC report into the Forest Gate raid made clear. The police who arrested Abu Bakr and another men and held them for a week while only questioning them for at the most at four hours and about nothing to do with terrorism haven't had to as much as explain their actions to the men.

Or that law lords banned round-the-clock surveillance on dangerous suspects because it infringed their liberty.

Which we've already discussed, was the right decision and was the British equivalent of Guantanamo Bay, even if the men weren't abused as those at Gitmo have alleged they have been.

Tony Blair once vowed to tear up human rights laws if they hampered the fight against terror.

He did so after unveiling tough laws which, he claimed, would have been rejected on human rights grounds before London’s 7/7 catastrophe.

And it was Charlie Falconer who claimed at the time that those 52 innocent civilians might never have died . . .

Had Mr Blair’s anti-terror laws already been in place.

I don't recall Falconer doing so, and if he did then he should have resigned for making such a specious statement. The Scum is also ignoring its own role in making sure that Blair's doomed 90 days legislation was heavily defeated, its hysterical attempts to get support for the law which involved using the image of one of those injured on 7/7 who vehemently opposed Blair's measures, then turning on those who dared to vote against by calling them "traitors". As then, the Sun and Rebekah Wade are the true traitors; conniving in the dilution of civil liberties, supporting the very measures which remove our rights in order to fight those who have no respect for them.

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