Anthony Barnett (London, OK): A group of the motley great and goodish waited patiently in the sweeping British Library foyer last night for the official opening of the Taking Liberties exhibition by the Prime Minister - who was delayed because he had to see the Queen. The symbolism of this I leave to the reader. Brown had been given a personal tour before the rest of us were allowed in. There is an inter-active aspect to the glorious display of documents. Brown remarked,
And I see that there are questions being asked for a running poll as people go around the exhibition. I am afraid to say that one of the questions is what do you think of the government’s 42 days policy for liberties and for security.
When he finished Peter Tatchell shouted at Gordon Brown to answer for his government's assult on liberties but answer came there none. Linda Colley, the exhibition's guest curator gave a skillful short speech saying that she hoped the exhibition would help recuperate our exceptional constitutional culture and show that we are not too "pragmatic" to write things down. I feel that a quite deep change of culture is underway and that this exhibition will be seen an important marker and contributer to it.
Andrew Blick and Emily Hamilton (London, Democratic Audit):This is a government that makes a thing of ‘consultation’, and a good thing too, you might think. Certainly there are loads of them nowadays. Government departments currently launch around 600 annually, with approximately 150 likely to be open at any given time. In this series of posts, we look at what has happened in practice in consultations in three areas: the question of nuclear power; English classes for non-English speakers; and quashing convictions. We invite readers of OurKingdom to add their experiences in the consultation, or non-consultation, processes, briefly or at length.
There is of course a lot of non-consultation, usually on really significant policy decisions, like the government’s plan to spend £3 billion to replace the UK’s 160 nuclear war heads announced to the arms industry at a time when we are told that money is in short supply at the Treasury; or even say, the long pre-meditated plan to invade Iraq or the decision to establish a supreme court (which preceded consultation). But as the official Cabinet Office document, Effective Consultation, says, ‘how and when the Government consults will depend on the circumstances in each case’. Quite so.
Guy Aitchison (London, OK): In his calculated endorsement of Barack Obama in the Telegraph last week, Boris Johnson felt a clear need to justify to his readers how he had come to reach a conclusion different to that of the great sage on all things America and the West: Melanie Phillips. The Mayor does "revere" the Speccie columist and author of Londonistan, you see, and has "carefully studied her blog entires about Obama", but in the end he just couldn't buy into the idea that the next likely President of the US is a "Marxist subversive loony Lefty" on the basis of whatever tenuous associations he once held.
It is perhaps reassuring to know that the mayor of a city as international and diverse as London is unconvinced by some of the wilder more racially-charged smears coming out of the GOP. But in the neo-con world inhabited by Johnson's former colleagues at the Speccie (not to mention his current colleagues at City Hall) Phillip's clash of civilizations narrative, in which Obama plays the role of appeaser, still carries influence. That is why it is helpful to have Kanishk's Tharoor's calm measured demolition of Phillips in openUSA.
Tony Curzon Price (London, openDemocracy): Darling is going to announce that the budgetary prudence rules of his predecessor---to balance the budget over the cycle, unless the spending is on long term public good investment---don't apply. And he is right. But why does a rule that sounds so sensible have to be thrown out so soon after it was proposed?
Tom Griffin (London, OK):The Scottish Government's plans to replace council tax moved centre-stage in the Glenrothes by-election yesterday. On a visit to the Fife constituency, Chancellor Alistair Darling condemned the SNP's local income tax proposal as a "ridiculous idea."
In the past few days, SNP Ministers have announced significant changes to the policy, with councils being given the power to set their own income tax rate of up to 3p in the pound. This could prove crucial in winning the support of the Liberal Democrats, who have long called for a local income tax that is truly local. Without Liberal Democrat support, the SNP minority government stands little chance of getting its proposals through the Scottish Parliament.
The revamped proposals seem to have got a fair wind from Lib Dem blogger Stephen Glenn. If his colleagues at Holyrood feel similarly, council tax could yet be on the way out north of the border.
Here's just one example - the amount that UK banks will need tofind next year to pay back loans that are coming due.
Any wonder the banks are hoarding all that taxpayer investment they
are getting and not lending on? And if you were asked to invest in a
business that you knew had to stump up these sorts of sums next year,
would you worry that your investment was just going to stright into the
pocket of a creditor whose lending terms are tougher than your
I'm all for the State being the bank of last resort, but I don't have any taste for the taxpayer being the dupe of last resort. Why don't we let these banks go under while putting in place an emergency financial system. I am glad to see that Walter Munchau has started to suggest this option.
Some may now hail the legacy of Enoch Powell's British nationalism, but his pessimistic vision was a recipe for greater strife, argues Sunder Katwala.
UKIP - the United Kingdom Independence Party - is led by Nigel Farage who has become the modernising voice within his Eurosceptic party. His party conference message in early September got little coverage. But he insisted that UKIP needed a more positive vision of Britain's 'sceptic future:
"I think we have got to change some of the things that we have been saying and some of the things that we have been doing. Because I think too often it's been easy to characterise UKIP as people who just knock and knock and knock and knock. We have not been offering good positive alternatives.
Now he has given an interview to the new British magazine Total Politics. It shows how uncomfortably his mission of shedding his party's image as an organisation of backward-looking naysayers sits oddly with Farage's nomination of Enoch Powell as his political hero.
Shadow justice secretary Nick Herbert said: "First a national motto, then an oath of allegiance, now a patriotic day - one token initiative after another in Gordon Brown's Britishness agenda has sunk without trace".
Without trace may be optimistic. But with Wills defending the database state on yesterday's Panorama programme how much of Brown's Green Paper agenda for restoring trust in politics can survive?
Oops: oh dear, the denial has been denied, it's on again and we are not to confuse being comotose with rigor mortis - thanks for the comments and see also Rumbold - silver? perhaps there is a case for uranium.
Anthony Barnett (London, OK): The V in TV now stands for vacuum not vision. I watched this evening's Panorama followed by the much trailed part I of John Prescott on class. There was a time when the BBC's "flagship" programme was an hour. Now it is 30 minutes and much of this is dedicated to atmospheric cutaways - all drama and little thought.
Tonight's was a first on the database state but jumped from data losses, to the ECAF monitoring of children, to the ANPR tracking of all car movements, with fragmented discussion of a single, central database. There was no discussion of a national information register, nothing on ID cards. It was designed to alarm not explain. There was no analysis. It was out to lunch when it came to reporting on why total surveillance was happening and what the consequences might be if it works. Sometimes I have the feeling that a report has been carried, a story 'run', with the main purpose of being able to say that the issue was "covered" and not censored or ignored. However, it is a form of death by kindness, a form of quasi-cover-up - tucking up the duvet rather than uncovering the body below it.
Labour and many of the left parties have argued that Scottish and Welsh nationalism is regressive – a diversion that undermines British working class unity, which should be opposed. They refuse to acknowledge the inevitability of both countries becoming, at some point in the future, independent.
And when we leave the union, what will England then do? The loudest expressions of English national identity have until recently come from the far right. Often confusing Britishness and Englishness, theirs has been an imperialist, exclusive and racist nationalism, one that progressives rightly abhor.
But there are growing signs of progressive voices in England who are seriously addressing the issue of post-devolution English identity.
Tom Griffin (London, OK): "Occasional slowdowns are natural and necessary features of a market economy." That's the message from a group of leading economists who wrote to the Sunday Telegraph yesterday in protest at Alistair Darling's attempts at Keynesian reflation.
Over at our sister blog oD Today, Tony Curzon Price gives the arguments of the 'rump monetarists' a thorough fisking.
Well done to Nick Clegg for becoming the first major party leader to take on Policy Exchange over its unscrupulous approach to Islam. (hat-tip Sunny Hundal)
In a statement carried by the PoliticsHome website on Friday, Clegg criticised the think-tank over for a privately circulated briefing against the Sunday's Global Peace and Unity event in London.
The Policy Exchange briefing I have seen seeks to raise alarm over a number of the speakers planning to attend the conference. The accuracy of the allegations is variable, with a notable lack of evidence to support many of the claims.
In particular I was appalled to see ‘evidence’ quoted from the Society for American National Existence, an organisation which seeks to make the practice of Islam illegal, punishable by 20 years in prison. I need hardly point out how illogical it is to attempt to criticise one set of extreme views by citing another.
My concern is not limited to the facts in the document, however. Your attempt to raise a boycott of this event by privately briefing against it is bizarre, and underhand behaviour for a think-tank supposedly interested in open public debate. The information you are disseminating is extremely narrow in focus and as a result tars with the brush of extremism the tens of thousands of Muslims who will be in attendance.
This looks exactly like the kind of activity which led the Charity Commission to identify 'a need for greater transparency' from Policy Exchange earlier this year. The briefing is now available from PoliticsHome. There is a very fair assessment at Wouldn't It Be Scarier?.
One point worth making is that the Society of Americans for National Existence are not just some bunch of marginal crazies. SANE is actually a project of the Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies. IASPS was where key neoconservatives like Richard Perle, David Wurmser and Doug Feith worked out the clean break strategy, which many believed formed the basis of the Iraq War agenda they went on to pursue in the Bush administration.
Read the rest of the post here.
Since 9/11 there has sprung into being a war-on-terror version of the “military-industrial complex”, against which Eisenhower warned Americans as the cold war developed in the 1950s. The complex roams seminars and think tanks with blood-curdling accounts of what Osama Bin Laden is planning. Visitors need go no further than the biennial defence sales exhibition in London’s Docklands to see Eisenhower’s monsters on parade. They feed on the politics of fear, a leitmotif of this government. The entire nation is regarded as under suspicion....
A feature of this campaign is its sheer mendacity. Smith last week promised that her surveillance regime would cover only details of electronic communication, not contents. This is incredible. It reminds me of the old Home Office lie that all phone taps “require the home secretary’s personal authority”. Smith’s apparatchiks want to read the lot...
Peter Facey (London, Unlock Democracy): Last Sunday night (19th October) I was watching the end of Simon Schama's documentary The American Future on the BBC waiting for Steven Fry’s excellent programme about America. It had a US General giving a speech to World War Two veterans. The General called upon all Americans to engage in the debate at this critical time and vote in the election in November whether they voted Democrat or Republican.
As the final credits rolled I was struck that it was a speech that was unlikely to be made in the UK. I speak as someone who spent much of my childhood growing up on RAF bases and who feels a strong affection the UK military. Our military has been, and on the whole remains, strictly outside formal party politics, for which I am thankful.
Anthony Barnett (London, OK): It took a few years after they came to power to understand how New Labour under Blair, Campbell and Mandelson pioneered a form of presentation that was deliberately misleading and actively diversionary, without 'actual lies' being committed. Is a smokescreen dishonest? Is camouflage a form of fiction or the means to win a battle? Four years ago I examined what I termed "The Campbell Code" after the Hutton Report was published. The Code has three elements.
- It correctly understands that, in the age of software, presentation is substance - because appearances are also relationships they are part of the content of any policy.
- Presentation is therefore part of the war over content, as it will always be attacked by the vermin media who live by exposing failure - the vermin have to be controlled, policed, brutalised and counteracted.
- A warrior code is needed to win this war, its banner is “truth”. Whenever a policy-maker is caught out with a lie, or partial lie, they must immediately apologise or they will lose - because you can't beat the vermin when it comes to a cover-up.
But, “truth” according to the Campbell Code, is not something that we try to discover. It is not about reality, "It is a weapon without a soul or spirit of its own. It is a device to be used, focused, confined and disciplined, in order to deliver certainty and support".
Today, this is the operating procedure behind Mandelson's letter in this morning's Times, which strikes me as deceitful.
Before I say why, two other points, one really important and one about George Osborne that follows from it.
In today's Daily Mail Peter Oborne sets out the case that the whole lot of them are up to their necks in a profoundly corrupt 'restructuring' of British power,
The influence over the British political system by a relatively small and, in some cases, corrupt group of super-rich individuals is the single most poisonous legacy of Tony Blair's decade in government.
Until 1997, standards of public life in this country were a model for the rest of the world.... However, this respected system of government was deliberately destroyed during the Blair years with the reliance on a so-called 'sofa government' of unelected advisers and hand-picked cronies.... Indeed, the connection between ministers and big businessmen was placed on a uniquely undemocratic footing.
Instead of being regulated through officials, these relationships were often brokered through a new breed of public relations men who, normally in exchange for a large fee, would massage the links between the wealthy and the political class.No one can begin to understand modern British politics without knowing who these individuals are and how they operate.
Oborne then names the top five: Alan Parker (£112m) who employed Gordon Brown's wife: Tim Bell (Thatcher's PR man made a life peer by Blair who successfully lobbied for the Saudis to prevent the BAE corruption case from proceeding); Roland Rudd (£30M), apparently close to both Mandelson and Russian oligarchs; Tim Allen, once Press spokesman for Tony Blair "who now has links with the Kremlin"; and Matthew Freud married to Murdoch's daughter Elizabeth (joint worth £160m), who flew Cameron down to meet with the press magnate off Corfu.
One of the aspects of the whole business which the better papers (see today's Saturday Essay in the Mail by Edward Lucas) are struggling to cover is that the oligarch network is dripping in fresh blood. Souls cry out as the yachts ply the sun drenched waters. But when I turned with interest to a major profile of Oleg Deripaska in today's Financial Times headlined "Close to the Wind" by Catherine Belton it was entirely about how the 40 year old multi-billionaire might not be able to pay back what he was loaned by the Royal Bank of Scotland and his over-leveraged business model, as if he was merely a regular guy who has badly over spent.
I recently quoted the New York Times on how the City was seen as a "flashy aberration pumped up by petrodollars from Russia and the Gulf". It is much more disturbing to see how this also applies to our political class as well, government and opposition.
The immediate damage will be suffered most by Cameron and the Conservatives. When Britain officially went into a recession George Osborne issued a statement but was not allowed on the air for interviews. This is ridiculous and will upset the strategy of "detoxifying" the Tories. Osborne ought to resign.
The more serious and lasting damage should be suffered by Brown and the Labour Government, whose members have been "palling around", as the saying now goes, with whatever the Russian is for mafia. This is the charge that Mandelson wants to extinguish and which his letter about the "the truth" of his meetings with Deripaska is designed to achieve. Will a craven MSM accept it at face value? Here is what he says,
Sir, During the course of this week a number of journalists have asked me about meetings with Oleg Deripaska.
During the weekend when I moved from Brussels to London and prior to me being admitted to hospital for an urgent medical procedure, a statement was released to the press which said I had had meetings with Mr Deripaska in 2006 and 2007. Some people formed the reasonable view, therefore, that my first meeting with him was in 2006. This is not the case: to the best of my recollection we first met in 2004 and I met him several times subsequently.
Anyone reading this would think that Mandelson had nothing to do with "the statement", and that it merely narrated that some meetings were held in 2006 and 2007. Mandelson then generously corrects the 'impression' that this statement was referring to his first meetings. Really?
I have not been able to find the actual statement, as such, on the web. But David Robertson of the Times reported,
Asked by The Times to clarify when Lord Mandelson first met Mr Deripaska, his press officer at the European Commission, Michael Jennings, replied on his behalf: “Mr Mandelson has met Mr Deripaska at a few social gatherings in 2006 and 2007. He has never had a conversation with Mr Deripaska about aluminium.
First of all this means that it was no 'mere statement', it was cleared by Mandelson who had it officially issued "on his behalf". Second, and more important, it was issued as an official account of when he "first met" the oligarch. It was not, therefore, merely "reasonable" to "form the view" that their first meeting was in 2006. This is what Mandelson's official statement actually stated! Who amongst us would not also now presume that a certain amount of metalically relevant language was spoken in the "several" meetings that date back to 2004.
And who would not conclude that Gordon Brown's newly enobled lieutenant was being misleading in the reply that he had issued about when he first met Deripaska? I don't know what you would call him. But you see here a perfect example of the debased and formalistic nature of New Labour's commitment to truth.