About Guy Aitchison
Guy Aitchison was a co-editor of openDemocracy's UK section, OurKingdom, and is now a PhD student in politics at University College London.
Articles by Guy Aitchison
...protesting peacefully about climate change for example. Yep - more anti-terror idiocy, this time courtesy of the UK border police, who stopped climate campaigner Chris Kitchen from travelling to Copenhagen and interviewed him along with afellow climate activist under Section 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000. Paul Lewis has the full story in the Guardian.
This, then, is how the police are using their databases of activists - to cut back their freedom of movement and pre-emptively stop them from taking part in protests. How much longer are we going to stand for this rubbish? The Tories are talking the talk when it comes to certain parts of the "database state" and the "surveillance state". But what have they got to say about the freedom to protest and the ways in which protesters are being surveilled and tracked by sinsister Forward Intelligence Teams who collect profiles to be stored (probably illegally) on police databases along with criminals? Nothing, so far as I can tell.
Perhaps they think the freedom to protest is only of concern to left-wing trouble-makers. They couldn't be more wrong. Think, for example, of the rough treatment dished out to Countryside Alliance protesters at a rally in 2004. The right to protest is a fundamental democratic right common to us all and it must be protected.
I haven't heard anything on this coming from the Tories, despite the high profile of the issue since the G20. Until they start talking about reversing some of the draconian incursions on the right to protest their latest pose as the party of civil liberties looks very superficial indeed.
As I'm sure you know by now Trafigura has dropped the gagging order against the Guardian which prevented the paper from reporting a parliamentary question mentioning the company, a freedom supposedly guaranteed by the 1688 Bill of Rights.
Trafigura and law firm Carter Ruck scored a spectacular PR own goal - within minutes of the gagging story appearing on the Guardian website last night it was all over Twitter and the blogosphere. As I went to bed at around 1am last night the words "trafigura" "carter ruck" "dumping" and "toxic waste" were being tweeted over and over by Twitter users, including me, to spread the word and raise awareness by getting the topic trending on Twitter. By the time Stephen Fry tweeted this morning dubbing the injunction "a barbaric assault on free speech" hundreds of thousands of people who had never heard of Trafigura before knew all about their evil actions dumping toxic waste off the Ivory Coast.
Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger was preparing to challenge the injunction in court at 2pm when the news arrived that Trafigura had buckled in the face of the barrage of a negative online publicity. At around 12.50pm he tweeted "Victory! #CarterRuck caves-in. No #Guardian court hearing. Media can now report Paul Farrelly's PQ about #Trafigura".
You can listen to Rusbridger discuss the whole affair in this Guardain podcast - it seems that the Guardian was under a "super-injunction", which prevented it both from reporting on Trafigura and from mentioning the fact it was under an injunction. When it learnt that a parliamentary question about the company was going to be asked by Paul Farrelly MP, it contacted Carter Ruck who happily provided the public cause the paper was after by replying that the question was covered by the injunction and the Guardian would be in contempt of the court's order in reporting it.
Although I've not yet had this confirmed, I'd be very surprised if the Guardian didn't work with Farrelly, who is a vocal critic of our libel laws, on this. Indeed, as Sarah Ditum writes, the whole course of events from the carefully coded initial Guardian non-coverage of the story, to the Farrelly question, to Rusbridger and his colleagues' hyper-active tweeting, suggests that the Guardian "gamed" Trafigura and Carter-Ruck with a brilliantly executed counter-punch.
If you haven't checked out The Third Estate already then I recommend you do. Named after the definitive tract for French bourgeois revolutionaries, by Abbe Sieyes, it's a multi-author blog ran by a group of recently graduated lefties. They post regularly on a wide variety of topics and also publish reviews and interviews with note-worthy politicos. In the short time it's been around The Third Estate has climbed to the upper echelon's of Iain Dale's Total Politics blog list. Do take a look. I have a guest post up there today which is a kind of post-conference overview of the parties and the prospects for democratic reform.
This letter appeared in Saturday's Guardian:
MPs returning to Parliament this week might like to think that the fury they faced earlier in the year due to the expenses scandal is now behind them. Yet the storm was as great as it was because of an underlying sense of alienation that has been developing for years.
Some of the ideas which emerged during the conference season aimed at closing this gulf between the political class and the public have been positive contributions, but none of them amount to the sort of fundamental change which we now desperately need. In particular, while Gordon Brown's support for holding a referendum on electoral reform is a welcome shift, the promise of a vote on an electoral system hand picked by the Prime Minister will be greeted by much cynicism.
The UK needs an independent citizens' convention to ensure that such decisions cannot be skewed by political self-interest. It is too late to complete such a convention before the general election, but it could be legislated for and begin its work in a matter of weeks. Its work could then progress regardless of which party goes on to form the next government.
There's lots to be said about David Cameron's conference speech, which is being treated as his last before power, but I'll concentrate on the democracy and civil liberties stuff.
Once again with Cameron I was left with the strong impression that his fine words and rhetoric aren't backed up by a genuine commitment to reform. Listening to his speech, my over-riding sense was one of continuity, of witnessing the latest incarnation of "Blatcherite" populism, as David Marquand calls it.
There is a clear hunger in the country for a new kind of politics and a reversal of the illiberal centralising tendencies of the last twelve years. Cameron shows signs of understanding this but his carefully chosen words stop short of anything that would fundamentally re-balance power in favour of the citizen.
What now of Cameron's promise to give "power to the powerless" which he made in a speech at the height of the expenses crisis described by Anthony at the time as a "masterclass in rhetoric"? He's had all summer to think how it can be done.
In a penetrating article for the Guardian's Comment is Free before the conference, Peter Facey, of Unlock Democracy pointed out that Cameron's fine words on reform have not been matched by action and challenged the Conservative leader to engage constructively with Power2010.
After a rather dull and uninspiring Guardian fringe event on "fixing politics", at which the most radical constitutional idea was for more elected mayors, I didn't hold out much hope for the Conservative Action on Electoral Reform debate on democracy this afternoon. But it turned out to be a lively affair and good fun.
We were packed into a small room which CAER had clearly been given in the expectation that electoral reform doesn't really do it for Conservatives, but in the end it was standing room only.
Jonathan Isaby of Conservative Home chaired a panel which included Dan Hannan MEP, Peter Facey of Unlock Democracy, shadow justice minister Eleanor Laing and Lewis Baston, Keith Best and Ken Ritchie from the Electoral Reform Society. They were the "dragons", there to comment on the different ideas for reform that were pitched to them by Tory activists and thinkers.
First up was Philip Blond who pitched the idea of a second chamber made up of representatives of civil society associations, Burke's "little plattoons" as he described them. He argued that this would strengthen representation and guard against vested interests by empowering those groups we find meaning in in a way that moves us beyond an atomised society of individuals.
Hannan - in what may or may not have been intended as a compliment - compared this to similar "corporatist" schemes ran by Mussolini and the Portugese dictator Salazar. The preference of most on the panel, and in the room, was for direct elections by the people.
A primordial scream echoes across Twitter. When it comes to the avalanche of stupid petty-minded authoritarian measures there really does come a point when words fail you.
Via @alixmortimer comes this latest insult to the British people:
Members of the public could earn cash by monitoring commercial CCTV cameras in their own home, in a scheme planned to begin next month.
The Internet Eyes website will offer up to £1,000 if viewers spot shoplifting or other crimes in progress.
The site's owners say they want to combine crime prevention with the incentive of winning money.Read the full article.
I blogged Tuesday on how weak Gordon Brown's speech to the Labour conference was and how pathetic his proposals are for constitutional reform. His plan to stick a referendum on the Alternative Vote system into the next manifesto seems almost designed to piss off campaigners.
AV, despite what a lot of journalists seem to think, isn't proportional - it does nothing to ensure the number of seats a party has reflects the number of votes it receives and I know of no reformers who want that system.
The Vote for a Change campaign, run by the Electoral Reform Society, is now desperately urging people to write to Brown asking him to bring forward a referendum to election day. But relying on the PM for change really does seem like a lost cause.
Advocates of PR seized on the expenses scandal to make their case because they know that PR, which creates a more open and pluralist party system, would address the disconnect between politicians and the public which expenses brought to the fore. They also argued - and there is evidence for this on MarkReckons - that by ending "safe" seats PR would help check the arrogance and complacency of politicians who are happy to abuse the system safe in the knowledge they have a job for life.