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.
Guy Aitchison (London, OK): Over at the Fabian Society blog, General Secretary Sunder Katwala, posts a short personal reflection on the career of David Evans - the Tory MP for Welwyn and Hatfield who died earlier this week - and reveals himself to have been an early opponent of ID cards and the fledgling database state. Evans - who described himself as a "very right-wing disciplinarian" - had strenuously recommended ID cards to Margaret Thatcher as a way to stamp out football hooliganism. All matches would be 100% members only, with membership serving as a self-contained identity card - a "crude piece of unConservative central control", which, the Guardian obituary notes, "was a serious runner at the time."
Sunder's first taste of direct political action was collecting signatures against the football ID card scheme at Southend United. In the end it was the glaring holes in the scheme (nicely summed up by Ed Pearce in the Guardian), rather than the work of protestors, which led to it being dropped. But as we gear up for the issue of the first ID cards on 25 November - this time by a Labour government - it's interesting to note that the head of the Fabians has a strong pedigree when it comes to opposing this intrusive and unwanted measure.
C12 recalled that the innocent Brazilian got up and walked towards him - and kept moving even after he shouted "armed police" and pointed his gun at him.
He said: "He continued on his forward momentum towards me.
"It was at that stage that I just formed the opinion that he's going to detonate, he's going to kill us and I have to act now in order to stop this from happening."
Tom Griffin (London, OK):Most commentators may see it as a straight fight between Labour and the SNP, but that didn't stop David Cameron making his presence felt in the Glenrothes by-election yesterday:
"I think it is better for all of us to be in the United Kingdom. However, we won't solve it by frightening the Scots that they cannot make it on their own. I do not believe that. It won't win the argument. One of the first things I will do as Prime Minister is arrange to meet with the First Minister, whoever that may be, and work to further the benefits of the Union for people in Scotland."
Cameron has shown in recent months that he is determined that the Tories should be more than an English party. One aspect of this strategy has been to offset weakness in Scotland through a new relationship with the Ulster Unionists. There are signs that plan may be unravelling.
Tom Griffin (London, OK): Over at the Independent, Chris Huhne finds himself in the uncomfortable position of defending holocaust-denier Dr Frederick Toben, who is facing extradition to Germany under a European arrest warrant:
In Dr Toben's case, the European arrest warrant is being used to detain someone who lives in Australia and who was changing planes at Heathrow, but is accused of the offence of Holocaust denial in Germany. Dr Toben has not committed an offence under British law or indeed under the law of 17 of the 27 European Union member states. I respect the right of Germany, Austria and others to criminalise Holocaust denial, but I do not want to imitate them. That is why our courts should refuse extradition.
The legal controversy does not end with the use of the warrant. Dr Toben is accused in Germany but his offence is to post on an Australian website. Germany has taken on itself the role of censor, because of the capacity to download content in Germany. It is hard to see where such an attempt to extend jurisdiction might end, or what its chilling effects on freedom of speech might ultimately be.
Guy Aitchison (London, OK): The battle for privacy in the digital age is being fought on many fronts (a point last night's seminar on the database state - reported on below by Tom Griffin - made abundantly clear). Some of these battles are being fought more publicly than others. I've been aware of Jacqui Smith's Orwellian plans to permanently store the whole population's electronic communications, including browsing history, in a huge central database since the summer thanks to No2ID flagging up the plans here on OK. But only today was I made aware of Phorm, a sinister new behavioural tracking technology currently being trialled by the country's biggest Internet Service Provider, BT.
Phorm is the subject of a must-read exchange between Peter Bazalgette, formerly of Endemol, the producers of Big Brother (yes, the headlines write themselves), and Becky Hogge of the Open Rights Group. In a speech at the LSE (published this month by Prospect - excert in the FT), Bazalgette argues that by campaigning against Phorm, and other technologies which capture web browsing habits for the purposes of advertising, privacy groups like the ORG are helping to prevent the full economic potential of the web from being realized:
A website launched by the government in July to find out what 16-25 year olds think of the national ID scheme has been closed. Visitors to the site are now greeted by the message "Site off-line: The mylifemyid community has now finished. Many thanks for your contribution. We will post a notification here when the report is published". Most of the comments posted on the site, that cost £76,249 to set up and maintain, were against ID cards and the National Identity Register so it will be interesting to see the promised report...
What I love most about this is the name the Home Office bods (or whichever private consultancy firm the 76k went to) came up with to try and make ID cards appealing to people of my age group. You can just imagine them - "The yoof love MySpace don't they? How about calling it 'mylifemyid'?"...only to be swamped by a tsunami of hostile comment, most of which was probably unpublishable. Makes yer proud, doesn't it?
Tom Griffin (London, OK): The database state is moving forward at an increasing pace, but it is not inevitable, and there are far better ways of dealing with the identity challenges of the information age. That was the conclusion that emerged from a Rowntrees Governance Seminar on the subject at Westminster on Wednesday.
In the opening presentation Phil Booth of NO2ID defined the database state as "using computers to manage society by watching people."
He suggested that the Government has lost the argument on every front, but was developing a narrative that the database state is inevitable. Stressing that those who oppose the Government's plans are not Luddites, he said that, in many cases, their technical awareness exceeds that of the Home Office. Booth outlined three approaches that offer an alternative way forward.
- Information privity: a new sort of enforceable property right, with some of
the features of confidentiality, but extending to all personal information.
Analagous to leases of property or licenses of copyright, which occur
through a chain of contracts - each of which gives specific, limited rights
to the recipient, no rights to those outside the chain and direct redress
against any infringer.
- Authentication/verification rather than identification: In many cases it is only necessary to verify one particular fact about a person. This can be achieved by a market of overlapping identity tokens, rather than putting all our eggs in one basket as with a centralised database.
- Precisely targeting problems: for example by allowing people to freeze their own credit records, a radical departure from the database state approach which has already been applied in the United States.
Booth stressed that individual control, choice and consent were vital principles: "In an information society things done to your data can have as much effect as things done to you in person. We have to get this right now."
Anthony Barnett (London, OK): I have a feeling that the Deripaska affair could lead to a political crash that interlinks with the financial crash. There is a bubble element to the Corfu gathering and its ill-gotten billions with journalists afraid of saying what they suspect about our Russian friend for fear of being shot or chemically disposed of. The BBC insists that the actual story concerns the specific allegations against George Osborne while the Mail says that the Beeb is covering up for Mand. I suspect that Charles Moore in the Spectator gets the larger point.
Why is it so important for Mr Rothschild to divert attention from Lord Mandelson? It must surely have something to do with Mr Deripaska, for whom Mr Rothschild works, and to whom, before everything went wrong, he introduced Mr Osborne four times in three days. It must matter very much indeed to Mr Deripaska that his dealings with Lord Mandelson are not pursued, and Mr Rothschild must be so devoted to keeping in with Mr Deripaska that he feels it necessary to fall out with someone who may well be the next Chancellor of the Exchequer. What is at stake for the Russian, the Rothschild and our new Business Minister? It feels as if it must be a great deal.
Or at least one aspect of it. I'm looking forward to Peter Oborne's reflections, after all could there be a more enjoyable example of a political class in action - with the Murdoch print and TV media, Eurocrats, party funders, hedge-funders galivanting together in a honeypot atmosphere with the promise of more goodies to come? An essential part of the argument in Peter's book being that there is a political class that is also a reincarnation of the old corruption.
The scoundrels are all in it together. But there is one twist not commented on so far. The Tory Party made a wager on Cameron because he was from the gilded class and because he had the polish and attraction of Blair in the era when globalisation was sweeping all before it. His opponent was, of course, David Davis who seemed much less glamorous and fashionable. But what a difference it could have made now if DD's duller but gritty integrity was the defining material of Tory opposition to Mandelson and Brown.
Tom Griffin (London, OK): Could victory in the Glenrothes by-election set the seal on Gordon Brown's political comeback? Labour pollsters have told the Prime Minister that they will win on the back of his handling of the banking crisis, according to the BBC.
As the Sunday Times noted at the weekend, the credit crunch has prompted a reassessment of the viability of Scottish independence. Brown himself has not been afraid to make the argument, citing the UK bailout of HBOS and Royal Bank of Scotland:
"We were able to act decisively with £37bn. That would not have been possible for a Scottish administration.
"We've seen the problems in Iceland, we've seen the problems in Ireland, we were able to put the whole strength of the United Kingdom's resources behind these two banks and I think it's important because I value the Scottish banking tradition, I think that everybody does."
Whether it is Brown's interests to preserve the Scottish banking tradition is open to question. Many now believe that the Downing Street-arranged merger of HBOS with Lloyds-TSB is unnecessary. The deal will inevitably weaken Edinburgh's status as a financial centre, and thereby, incidentally, the case for Scottish independence. One cannot help but wonder whether this was a factor in Brown's pursuit of this option.
Anthony Barnett (London, OK): Now that I have attracted your attention, I'll lead with an answer. If there is a Churchill in our moment of financial need, to withstand the advancing hordes of neo-liberal meltdown is is Vince Cable. He has just emerged as far away the most admired politician in the recent Politics Home survey.Andrew Rawnsley reports that:
His predictions of the financial crisis, and performance during the mayhem in the markets, have clearly impressed the political experts and insiders.
He gets a predictably high score from Lib Dem panellists who rate him 8.5. He also impresses non-aligned panellists who give him an even better 8.6.
He has plenty of admirers among left-leaning panellists who score him at 8.0, a higher rating than they give to any member of the Cabinet.
Least generous are right-leaning panellists who award him 7.3. Even then, that is equal to the highest rating that right-leaning panellists give to Tory politicians.
Anthony Barnett (London, OK): CiF has launched a new Henry Porter blog. It opens with a post on Ken Macdonald's valedictory lecture as the outgoing Director of Public Prosecutions. He warns, and he should know, "we should take very great care to imagine the world we are creating before we build it". I'm going to reproduce the whole of the section on Terror because it is so strong and well said.
But first, two things about the speech and one about Henry P. I'm struck that Macdonald says we should imagine the world we are creating. oD is about to run an article by Tom Nairn on globalisation that discusses the power and importance of imagination. Macdonald uses it in a matter of fact way, and this is right. It is a critical aspect of our politics and culture, and an explosive one to be treated with respect.
Second, the speech is a must read simply because it is so clear and so well set out. It tells us the history of the development of an independent public prosecution service. I read the papers a lot but I never understood what had been done, or why. A really profound change in our constitution took place with no effective public debate. Once again our parliamentary system and its attendent media has proved cretinous. You don't read speeches like this from our politicians either. This one is about saying clearly what is meant, setting out a case and how it came about. It's not a seeking for influence with the tabloids, or full of windy rhetoric or tortured positioning laced with pseudo-show-off references.
Now for Henry - our most consistent critic of the world that Macdonald warns us against and which is being created (imagined and implemented) as we blog. He is now adding to his Observer columns this new, regular on-line service. Also we are working with him and others on a project to bring everyone together in the new year - to debate all the implications of liberty in the modern context as our fundamental rights and freedoms are threatened; perhaps, if the outgoing Director of Public Prosecutions is right, irreversibly.
As I near my conclusion, let me, in my final public speech as DPP, repeat my call for level headedness and for legislative restraint in an age of very dangerous movements.
We need to take very great care not to fall into a way of life in which freedom's back is broken by the relentless pressure of a security State.
Over the last thirty years technology has given each of us, as individual citizens, enormous gifts of access to information and knowledge. Sometimes it seems as if everything in the world is at our fingertips and this doubtless has made our lives immeasurably richer.
But technology also gives the State enormous powers of access to knowledge and information about each one of us. And the ability to collect and store it at will. Every second of every day, in everything we do.
Of course modern technology is of critical importance to the struggle against serious crime and, used wisely, it can and will protect us.
But we need to understand that it is in the nature of State power that decisions taken in the next few months and years about how the State may use these powers, and to what extent, are likely to be irreversible. They will be with us forever. And they in turn will be built upon.
So we should take very great care to imagine the world we are creating before we build it. We might end up living with something we can't bear.
Of course our country faces very significant risks.
And I have enormous admiration for all those in the police and in the security and intelligence services who work with such energy and verve to combat those risks.
The prosecutors in my Counter Terrorism Division have similarly distinguished themselves time and again since we set it up it three years ago.
I've not forgotten, indeed it is salutary to remember, that when I took up my appointment five years ago, some people questioned my suitability on the grounds that I had, in my career at the Bar, defended terrorists of almost every hue.
Of course I was not ashamed of this. Indeed I was very proud of it. Defence lawyers must never judge their clients and there is no hierarchy of righteousness in criminal advocacy.
But I made clear, nevertheless, that my period as Director of Public Prosecutions would be accompanied by a relentless prosecutorial struggle against terrorism. And so it has been.
From the start that struggle has been absolutely grounded in due process and pursued with full respect for our historical norms and for our liberal constitution. We have not feared fairness.
We all know that this has worked. Our conviction rate is in excess of 90%- unmatched in the fair trial world. We have a guilty plea rate of over 40%.
So we have been absolutely right to resist, whenever they have been suggested, special courts, vetted judges and all the other paraphernalia of paranoia.
Of course, you can have the Guantanamo model.
You can have the model which says that we cannot afford to give people their rights, that rights are too expensive because of the nature of the threats we are facing.
Or you can say, as I prefer to, that our rights are priceless. That the best way to face down those threats is to strengthen our institutions rather than to degrade them.
It is difficult to see who will maintain a cool head if governments don't. Or who will protect our Constitution if governments unwittingly disarm it.
The response to terror is multi-layered. It has to be that way.
In some contexts it is dealt with geopolitically, by engaging relations between sovereign states.
In others it is disrupted by intelligence and by other interventions. In still others the response must plainly be military.
But on the streets of our country, violent law breaking is dealt with as crime. It is taken through the courts as crime and it is confronted with in accordance with our Constitution.
In all the debates that have raged back and forth, Britain has been absolutely right, and our government has been absolutely right, to hold fast to this course.
We would do well not to insult ourselves and all of our institutions and our processes of law in the face of these medieval delusions.
As I say, the response to terror is multi-layered. But it should not include surrender.
Clare Coatman (London, oD): In an attempt to engage young people with the formal political process, the Youth Citizenship Commission (YCC) - a body set up this summer as part of the Governance of Britain agenda to "examine ways of developing young people's understanding of citizenship and increase their participation in politics" - is beginning a three month consultation on lowering the voting age to sixteen - the first of a range of proposals. The consultation paper (pdf) includes information on where we fit in internationally, the current legal picture (what rights and responsibilities come into effect at what ages) and the implications of both leaving the law untouched and reforming it.
Sixteen-year-olds can get married, have children and join the army. They are among those who will feel the long term impact of global warming, our foreign policy and the recent financial crisis. They will face major challenges from rising unemployment and will feel the full effects of our education policy.
As National Coordinator of NO2ID I suppose I should be grateful for small mercies. But this hardly includes the thin sugar-coating on the Home Secretary's speech last week when she described her promised 'consultation' on the Communications Data Bill. Hers was a transparent attempt to misdirect the argument.
The government says it won't be storing the content of your telephone or internet use, as if that makes it all right. It is however proposing to record – for life – the details of everyone you call or write to and what websites you visit.
Do you want the State (which in the UK means a large and growing number who can gain access to its systems) to have a record of your religious and political interests, your sexual curiosities, your financial and medical worries, your wider (or narrower) concerns and your special relationships; not to mention a trace of what it reckons ‘you’ have done on your computer even when it is done by someone else? You don’t?
Patrick Corrigan, (Amnesty Blogs: Belfast and Beyond): Some detailed leaks in the News Letter this morning about the supposed likely recommendations of the Eames-Bradley Consultative Group on the Past in Northern Ireland. As I have blogged before, their report isn't now due for publication until December or January, but today's news reports gives a fair few details.
The Belfast Telegraph's story describes the proposals as follows:
"… there will be a five-year commission to investigate murders – headed by an independent international commissioner. The British and Irish Governments would appoint that commissioner with the agreement of the Executive and there will be an Investigations Unit and an Information Recovery Unit.
The plan is for the Investigations Unit to take over the work of the current Historical Enquiries Team and the legacy cases that are dealt with by the Police Ombudsman’s office.
"… if prosecution is not possible — then with the agreement of families cases can go to the Information Recovery Unit. Anyone with knowledge of killings will be encouraged to “tell what they know” — and any information they would give would not be admissible in court. That means there would be immunity from prosecution."
My sources tell me (yes, I have a few!) that on this occasion the leak isn't from Eames-Bradley themselves and that they are a bit disconcerted that it has taken place, but we can probably assume that the report is fairly accurate.