Print Friendly and PDF
only search

This week’s front page editor


Francesc Badia i Dalmases is Editor and Director of democraciaAbierta.

Constitutional conventions: best practice

We are openDemocracyUK

Welcome to openDemocracyUK, the British section of openDemocracy.

What The Guardian’s Banned From Telling You

Written by: Owen Reposted from The Third Estate

The Guardian has been served with a gagging order forbidding it from reporting parliamentary business. To quote the article in the paper itself:

Today’s published Commons order papers contain a question to be answered by a minister later this week. The Guardian is prevented from identifying the MP who has asked the question, what the question is, which minister might answer it, or where the question is to be found.

The Guardian is also forbidden from telling its readers why the paper is prevented – for the first time in memory – from reporting parliament. Legal obstacles, which cannot be identified, involve proceedings, which cannot be mentioned, on behalf of a client who must remain secret.

The only fact the Guardian can report is that the case involves the London solicitors Carter-Ruck, who specialise in suing the media for clients, who include individuals or global corporations.

The right to report on what’s said and done in Parliament is traditionally seen as pretty fucking important in a democracy, so in an attempt to aid transparency, the Third Estate can exclusively report that the question is (probably) this one:

61 N: Paul Farrelly (Newcastle-under-Lyme): To ask the Secretary of State for Justice, what assessment he has made of the effectiveness of legislation to protect (a) whistleblowers and (b) press freedom following the injunctions obtained in the High Court by (i) Barclays and Freshfields solicitors on 19 March 2009 on the publication of internal Barclays reports documenting alleged tax avoidance schemes and (ii) Trafigura and Carter-Ruck solicitors on 11 September 2009 on the publication of the Minton report on the alleged dumping of toxic waste in the Ivory Coast, commissioned by Trafigura.

Trafigura, of course, is the company that was recently revealed to be not only dumping toxic waste into the sea near Ivory Coast, but also trying very hard to make sure no one found out. Why they and Carter Ruck would be so keen for this question not to be revealed I’m not sure, (especially as it’s clearly publicly available), but they have a history of this kind of behaviour.

All the questions due to be asked in Parliament from tomorrow (Tuesday) onwards can be found here, so feel free to have a browse through the rest of them – it’s possible I guessed wrong, though I think it’s unlikely. And please, please re-post this – the more places publish it, the harder it is to justify a gagging order and the worse Carter Ruck and Trafigura will look.

Edit: This guy found it too (and a bit sooner than me I think).

Edit edit: You can download a copy of the Minton Report, which Trafigura is so keen you don’t read, from Wikileaks here. (H/t Chicken Yoghurt)

A call from Helena Kennedy to oD's UK readers

Britain's politics is in trouble. And it's not hard to see where the problem lies.

Our politicians abuse expenses. They pay fines when they break their own laws – but stay in their jobs.

We need to take back control -- of our government, of our politics, and of our democracy. That's why we've started POWER2010, a new movement that will reinvigorate our politics from the bottom up.

Do you believe power should rest with the voters and not with politicians? Click here to sign our declaration for change.

It's too late for us to bring change to our current set of MPs, but the general elections are coming up. We can make sure that the next Parliament is a reforming one -- and we want you to play a leading role in making sure that happens.

First and foremost, democracy is about the involvement of the people -- people like you and me. We need to act to take power from the hands of the politicians and put it back in ours where it belongs.

Our movement is young – but growing.  This is our chance: I hope you take it by signing our declaration for change:

Together we can fix our politics.

Thank you and best wishes,
Helena Kennedy
POWER 2010 Chair

What's happening with the 118800 database?

Craig McLean: As you may recently have heard, the providers of directory services at "118800" have announced that they will be adding millions of UK mobile phone numbers to their database, and begin making these available to customers. This announcement has prompted a storm of emails, articles and commentary, much of it conflicting. So what is really happening?

Before you call customer services to give them a sizeable piece of your mind, please be aware that your mobile provider has not suddenly started selling your data. Well, no more than usual.

"Connectivity", the company behind the "118800" service, have acquired a database of mobile numbers harvested from marketing ‘opt-in' lists - those paragons of respect for privacy.  Connectivity says that this database contains 15 million UK mobile numbers not, as some more hysterical reports suggest "All UK Mobile numbers" (mobile phone ownership per capita stood at around 121% in 2007, that's over 72 million numbers.)

Some commentators decry the service as "an invitation for cold-calling". This is also misguided for three reasons:

Firstly: the service doesn't give out mobile numbers, they charge heavily either to connect calls to mobiles in their database or send the clients contact details by SMS to the mobile number;

Secondly: When connecting calls, they will ask your permission to connect the incoming party;

Thirdly: all of the numbers which they have on their database are already available to cold-calling parasites in the form of much more cost-effective marketing lists - the exact same lists used by Connectivity.

Unions without the union?

The British labour movement has traditionally been hostile to independence movements within these isles which are seen as a threat to the unity of the British working class. In this extract from Breaking up Britain, published as part of our series to mark the book's release, Gregor Gall argues this concern is misplaced and speculates on what a post-Union labour politics might look like.   

Left politics has traditionally been founded on internationalism, taking inspiration from the historic appeal to workers of the world, regardless of country, to unite together in common purpose. Herein lies the source of the accusation wielded by some on the left against others on the left that giving any support to any independence movements on mainland Britain will lead to a fundamental, irrevocable and unwelcome fracture to the working class. The fear is that the unity of the working class movement in Britain will be broken, leading to retreat and defeat as well as the end of the socialist project. 

Those on the left who support the right of the peoples of Scotland and Wales to national self-determination are castigated as nationalists while those arguing against these nations' self-determination are held by the other side of the left to be unionists. Such a division reflects of an age old schism amongst the left between the polarities of what pass for understandings of nationalism and internationalism.

Time for Magna Carta 2.0

Guy Aitchison, Thomas Ash & Clare Coatman: Few legal documents resonate in the collective consciousness like Magna Carta. Imposed on King John at Runnymede in 1215 by a consortium of feudal barons, the Great Charter has come to symbolise the idea that collective action is a proper and successful way to protect our rights and freedoms from arbitrary and unaccountable power and the ambitions of an over-powerful, self-seeking and avaricious state. Nearly eight hundred years on, it is an idea we aim to draw inspiration from in an open and democratic way. It is time for Magna Carta 2.0.

We want to make Magna Carta 2.0 a call to people and organisations of all political persuasions across the country to put a stop to the threats to our liberty, clean up the way we are governed and ensure that the state respects the people. We want to do this now and engage with parliamentary candidates ahead of the next general election over the dangers and what they intend to do about them. We believe such dangers manifest themselves in at least six ways.

  1. The corruption and suborning of parliament as a check on the executive which accelerated after its support for the Iraq invasion now exposed by the Lords cash for amendments scandal and MPs on the make.
  2. The rise of a surveillance society, from the blanket logging of all our electronic communications to CCTV to travel scrutiny
  3. The sharing of personal information on official and commercial databases: the rise of the so-called database state
  4. Growing police autonomy, both nationally - the Association of Chief Police Officers, for example, is an independent corporate entity not a public body - and internationally, especially within the EU
  5. Exploitation of the threats of crime and terrorism to excessively enhance state power and undermine our fundamental rights often accompanied by encouraging populist fears and alarms
  6. The exercise of arbitrary and unaccountable power by government agencies and quangos

An important step in overcoming these threats is to educate politicians, ourselves and the wider public on their real nature and significance. In February the Convention on Modern Liberty showed there is both a clear need and a hunger to connect the issues and to debate them in an intelligent and democratic way. This is especially true of our generation, which has come into politics since 1997 and feels alienated from a political system and culture that is contemptuous of democracy and regularly exposed as being corrupt and venal.

Help with legal challenge to kettling

Stuart White: News just in that the Climate Camp is trying to move forward with a legal challenge to the police kettling at Bishopsgate on April 1. As I argued in an earlier post, there is good reason to think that the kettle at Bishopsgate was illegal even if the Law Lords’ decision in the Austin case earlier this year is good law. There is a strong case that the kettle in question did not meet the tests of reasonableness and proportionality which the Law Lords laid down.

However, the Climate Camp needs money to mount the legal challenge:

‘We really, really, need to raise £40,000 quickly to challenge the kettling. It may seem a lot but we think we can do it - small amounts from lots of people will get us to this target. See the Camp Donate page to donate to the Legal fund. Please tell all your friends and rich aunties.’ Relevant links are here (Legal Team) and here (Donations). Let’s give generously!

cross-posted from Next Left

Flippinggate - Purdy versus Hassan

David Purdy and Gerry Hassan disagree on the significance of recent revelations about MPs expenses.

David Purdy: The current hue and cry about MPs' expense claims is both grossly disproportionate and worryingly dangerous. The media, including the BBC, are engaged in their favourite activity of witch-hunting. Intentionally or not, the effect of the daily flow of revelations from the Daily Telegraph's cheque-book journalism is to displace public anger at the state of the country on to an issue which certainly needs to be sorted out and cleaned up, but is trivial by comparison with the effects of economic recession, social disintegration and environmental degradation.

I readily accept that the current rules governing expense claims for second homes rented or purchased by MPs are over-generous and under-scrutinised and that some MPs have blatantly abused the system.

The Met must stop spinning G20 policing

Guy Aitchison and Andy May: The Metropolitan Police Authority met yesterday for the first time since the policing of the g20 protests. Defend Peaceful Protest put its questions directly to MPA chief executive Catherine Crawford. The Met were represented by acting deputy commissioner Tim Godwin (standing in for Sir Paul Stephenson) and temporary assistant commissioner Chris Allison.

The good news is that the MPA, which is made up of 11 independent members and 12 London Assembly members, were largely supportive of the protestors' rights and had critical things to say about the G20 policing (see Anna Bragga's post for a full report).

The bad news is that we were not satisfied with the Met's response which, when not actively misleading, amounted to "we're conducting an enquiry, so we're not going to answer any of your questions yet." 

Probably the most disturbing thing is that the senior police officers are still attempting to spin their way out of trouble.  Chris Allison defended the tactics of "containment and controlled dispersal" (the police's preferred term for "kettling") which he said was the least violent option.

We believe there were at least 3 police defences for the containment tactics used which are extremely misleading if not totally untrue.

Our campaign to Defend Peaceful Protest launches

Guy Aitchison and Andy May: Tomorrow morning the Metropolitan Police Authority meets for the first time since the policing of the G20 protests. We will be there along with other members of a new campaign group, Defend Peaceful Protest, to question the Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson on how he plans to ensure the kind of brutal and intimidatory police tactics used in the City on April 1st, which resulted in the death of one man, hundreds of assaults and the systematic violation of the rights of thousands to peaceful protest and assembly, aren’t repeated.

We now have had confirmation that the Chief Executive of the MPA will receive the following questions submitted by us:

1. Why were many police at the G20 demonstrations not wearing shoulder ID or deliberately concealing ID when categoric assurances had been made by Silver star commander Broadhurst to MPs that this would not happen?

2 Will there be a wider independent investigation into allegations of systematic use of excessive force by police against individual protestors?

3 Will there be a broader review into policing strategy at protests in general, in addition to the review of policing at the G20 protests?

4 Will the chair of the MPA meet with Defend Peaceful Protest and other groups who were at the G20 protests to ensure that any review of the tactics deployed at the G20 includes the experiences of the protestors themselves?

We believe the Met’s handling of the G20 protest reveals the danger to the democratic rights and safety of protesters when aggressive police tactics are deployed. The police’s decision to indiscriminately detain thousands of individuals (including passers-by) without access to food, water, toilets or medicine, fomented a dangerous and unpredictable atmosphere.

In our view this technique of “kettling” protesters, which was also used at the Gaza protests in January and the Countryside Alliance rally in 2004, is provocative and counter-productive and amounts to a serious infringement of civil liberties and human rights. There are now numerous accounts and lots of online footage of police officers, concealing their ID numbers, physically assaulting peaceful protesters who offered no resistance in return.

Trapped and beaten by police in Climate Camp

Media coverage of the G20 protests has focused almost entirely on the violence outside the Bank of England and, following the release of Guardian footage, the tragic death of Ian Tomlinson. Events at the Bishopsgate Climate Camp, which was cordoned off in an aggressive operation by riot police, went largely unreported by the BBC and other major media outlets. Most of the reporting has come from online sources (see Stuart White and Beth McGrath for example). Here we publish another eye-witness account of the aggressive police action.

Chris Abbott: I went down to the climate camp after work on Wednesday as I had heard that it was completely peaceful and I wanted to see what it was like. Unfortunately, I got trapped there when the police first charged and then penned everyone in early in the evening and none of us could get out (this was about 7.00-7.30pm). Footage of this is now on YouTube. During this first, entirely unprovoked, attack I lost my girlfriend in the crowd - but I later found out she was punched by a policeman while trying to stop another girl being trampled on after being knocked to the floor.

Once that had calmed down, my girlfriend and I found each other and were sat with others in front of the line of riot police on the south side of Bishopsgate. It was completely peaceful once again and we were even joking and talking with the police. We were there for a couple of hours when they suddenly charged again without any warning (this was about 9.30-10.00pm). We were still sat down and offered no resistance at all. My girlfriend was pressure pointed on the neck (extremely painful), dragged backwards off me and had both her wrists bent behind her back by two policemen who threatened to break them. They dragged her outside the police cordon and then said "what should we do with her now?" before the other said "let's throw her back in", which they did - head first, with her hands behind her back. She landed on the floor and has now got severe bruising on her legs (which we have photos of) and very painful wrists (which we actually thought might be broken).

Demonstrating respect for rights?

Matthew Brian (London, CML): The right to protest is undeniably one of the most essential pillars of a free society. The suppression of dissent often draws the international media spotlight when it comes to the actions of regimes and governments around the world whom we in the West describe as repressive. Britain styles itself as a champion of freedom and democracy, able to lecture those nations it regards as less democratic than itself , but these lectures are now sounding more and more hypocritical as we witness a steady decline in the rights and opportunities for British people to protest, and a steady rise in heavy handed police tactics when they do.   

It would be going too far to label Britain a police state, of course. But, as David Davis pointed out in his keynote speech to the Convention on Modern Liberty, by the time we are a police state it'll be much too late. At best these increasing restrictions on the right to protest embarrass the notion of British democracy: at worst they are the beginning of a parting of Britons with a  fundamental human right.

Ex Senior Police Officer Petitions Against Police’s ‘Sweeping Powers’

Alice Dyke (London, CML): In his blog Henry Porter writes of a petition launched by retired senior police officer David Gilbertson, who has spoken of his concern regarding the police powers to ‘arrest any person for any offence'.  Mr Gilbertson became concerned with the introduction of section 110 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005, which has since allowed members of the public to be arrested for "not wearing a seatbelt, dropping litter, shouting in the presence of a police officer, climbing a tree, and building a snowman."

Below is a copy of the email petition Mr Gilbertson has posted, and Henry Porter encourages those who are interested in the cause to "copy, paste and circulate it to as many people as you can, and of course sign the petition yourself." The Convention's co-director Anthony Barnett has also signed, and it seems the petition expresses many of the concerns that were there on the 28th.

EU Data Retention Directive endangers democracy

Jim Killock (Open Rights Group): The Irish and Slovakian governments have just lost a battle in the European Court of Justice to stop the EU's Data Retention Directive, which is already in force in the UK. This means that all EU states have to compel operators to keep network traffic we all generate - a serious erosion of our fundamental human right to privacy.

Let's not pretend that the Irish government were acting to protect our privacy however - they already force Irish ISPs to retain communications traffic data for three years. Their stance was political, standing against the use of market harmonisation procedures, with their use of qualified majorities, for matters which ought to be dealt with unanimously as police matters.

The judgement implies that retention of our data is a commercial matter, and not a policing matter; but far more fundamental - as we and forty one other human rights and privacy organisations argued to the court is the incompatibility of this directive with human rights law.

Free-born John Lilburne: A hero for our time

Geoffrey Bindman (London, BIHR): My old school in Newcastle, founded in 1545, was proud of famous former pupils. Several of them were mentioned in the school song. Eldon was the procrastinating judge caricatured by Dickens in Bleak House, Armstrong an armament manufacturer, Collingwood was Nelson’s second-in–command at Trafalgar. Absent was John Lilburne, leader of the Levellers at the time of the English Civil War, who I discovered years later had been at the school in the early 17th century.

Lilburne is only now coming to be recognised as a fundamentally important figure in our political and constitutional history. He was also a man of extraordinary personal courage and determination. Cromwell thought highly of him and made him a colonel in his army but he became disillusioned with Cromwell when he abandoned the democratic programme which Lilburne passionately advocated.

Mobilising the young: The lesson for Wales

Tomorrow's Wales (Cardiff): And so, Obama has been elected President of the United States. But does the success of his campaign hold any lessons for us here in Wales? In particular, can we learn from the success of his movement for change as we seek our own change to a law-making Parliament for Wales?

The idea that the young have become disinterested in politics is one that has become increasingly accepted as truth over recent years. However, Obama’s success in persuading young people to go out and vote shows that the young are interested in politics if they are inspired, and that their mobilisation can be key in securing change.

One of the findings of the recent research conducted by the Institute of Welsh Politics on behalf of the National Assembly for Wales was that young people are much more pre-devolution that the older generation. The results for the constitutional preference question, when broken down into age groups were as follows:

The Luck of the Draw – Sortition and Public Policy

Keith Sutherland (Exeter, Imprint Academic): Imprint Academic’s new book series on political lotteries and citizen juries is launched this week. The series is our response to the growing sense that the institutions of liberal party democracy are damaged beyond repair.

The 1997 election was a watershed as it was quite obvious that Labour was prepared to say anything in order to win power. From then on political parties would no longer ‘represent’ anything other than the whims of a few thousand swing voters in key marginals, leaving everybody else, in effect, disenfranchised.

A new leader for the Scottish Lib Dems

Stephen Glenn (Linlithgow, Lib Dems): What next for the Liberal Democrats in Scotland? They're no longer in a coalition administration but just part of the opposition to an SNP minority government. It's a dangerous position with the Tories strengthening and Labour weakening.

Three candidates have stepped forward to fill the void left by Nicol Stephen's resignation as leader, by the end of next week one of them will be leader. Tavish Scott, a close ally of Stephen, is seen by many as the continuity candidate. Ross Finnie, served eight years in the cabinet when the party was in coalition with Labour after the Scottish Parliament was created. He says the party needs to find its 'narrative' again. Mike Rumbles, who chaired the Holyrood's Standard's Committee for four years, sees a radical path ahead.

Expensive .gov website is expensive

Happy Man: Well, gosh, the Prime Minister has wised up to the tiny amount of UK residents who know what twitter is, and has launched, the official website of the Prme Ministers office. Or, as it was apparently billed for a while:
“10 Downing Street website, the official website of the British Prime Minister Tony Blair”

Oh dear. That link, by the way, from Dizzy Thinks, whose comprehensive coverage is better than anything I'll manage. As he hasn't deigned to use a convenient tag, here's the litany of fail: