This is a podcast I was invited to do today for Tom Cridland on the Greatest Music of All Time podcast site. I am expecting Joe Biden to win despite Trump’s flaying all over the place. I also talked to one of the Democrat insiders about the present impasse and situation.
A Joe Biden win is likely to be bad for both Boris Johnson and Dominic Cummings as they are seen by the Democrats to be too aligned to Donald Trump and his advisers. I was told Biden’s advisers are still not very happy about Johnson’s description of Barack Obama being a Kenyan at the time Obama’s birthright was being falsely questioned by the American far right.
I am told that Biden is likely to want to be closer to France and Germany than the UK – as Britain is no longer a member of the EU and therefore is not the gateway for US influence in Europe. He is not keen on rushing through a UK/US trade deal either.
So there will be consequences for the UK and we could end up being more isolated rather than a world leader. Interesting times ahead.
The House of Lords approved without a vote new rules which will mean that all 798 peers will have to attend behaviour training course or face being reported to the Lords Commissioner for Standards for breaching their code of conduct.
two public dissenters
The scheme had only two public dissenters – both Conservative peers – who claimed it was unnecessary. The move followed a couple of cases in the last year where two former Labour peers were found to have bullied and harassed Parliamentary staff. See my last blog here.
Lord Cormack, a former Tory MP who had a junior job in the Thatcher government said; “Speaking as one who has served in Parliament for over 50 years now, it is a very sad day when I am told that I have to be trained on how to behave. That is extremely unfortunate, and I believe that it is unnecessary. “
… “I regret and deplore it. After all, it is right that people accused of any offence should be appropriately dealt with, but I do not suppose that it would be thought appropriate for your Lordships to be given a course in how not to burgle.”
Lord Balfe, who as Richard Balfe was a former London Labour councillor and a Labour MEP until he switched to the Tories in 2002, called for the House of Lords Conduct committee to reconsider the move.
“I regret the compulsion attached to this training. I have done the training. It was largely irrelevant; most of it was about the House of Commons, or appeared to be.”
Lord Mance, a former judge and deputy president of the Supreme Court, chairs the Lords conduct committee which proposed the compulsory training, received support from a number of other peers who welcomed the move.
He said: “There is, unfortunately, a clear problem, even in this House. People sometimes behave in ways that one may not conceive of oneself, but that are recorded in great detail in the press and in the reports issued by the commissioner. Unconscious attitudes, and lack of consciousness of a problem, are real issues that the Valuing Everyone training is designed to address.”
All peers will have to either have attended or booked a training course by next April. Half of them have already attended one.
Judge warns she will block senders who flooded her office with 50 emails before hearing
Some readers of this blog will know that until two years ago I did report in a number of blogs the allegations of Esther Baker against former Liberal Democrat MP, John Hemming. Since then a judge has ruled against Esther Baker’s allegations and banned her from making them again and I have had an agreed settlement with Mr Hemming not to mention them.
There has been a sequel to this story culminating in Mr Hemming’s friend, Sam Collingwood Smith and Esther Baker being involved in a protracted dispute in the courts over tweets and forums on the Internet. The case culminated ( so far) in a hearing on the media and communications list at the Royal Court of Justice.
Today a woman judge used her discretion to refuse Mr Smith’s application to strike out her case and told Esther Baker to re-present her claim to the court within a proper legal framework.
Neither litigant is represented by lawyers. The pleadings and annexes according to the judge ran to 293 pages which shows how comments on Twitter and blogs can escalate into an extraordinary expensive dispute if they ever get into the courts.
The judge also issued an unusual statement at the end of her judgement warning she would block the email accounts of senders if they continued to flood her office over the dispute.
She said : “In the 10 days leading up to the hearing, I received well over 50 emails on this matter, not all from the parties. Some were properly alerting me to documents or issues I needed to decide or consider. Many were not. The majority of those were copied to my listing clerk had to consider them to see if there was anything she was required to do. I received a further 15 emails after the hearing and before handing down this judgment, again some of which were properly sent; others were not.”
She concluded: “If I continue to receive unnecessary emails I will block the sender and all correspondence will have to be done through the post, the court’s generic email or CE file.”
It is a long read. I will not comment but leave you to make up your mind. The ruling has absolute privilege.
At a further hearing today (Tuesday November 3) the judge refused permission for Sam Collingwood Smith to appeal her decision at the last hearing and rejected his claims that Esther Baker had breached an undertaking in an earlier case.
She also said she did accept his argument that as Esther Baker had used the definition of truth to defend herself in the proceedings that her statement that he was a Mackenzie friend to former MP John Hemming was inaccurate – as she saw no material difference between being a Mackenzie friend and a lay adviser to Mr Hemming in the various cases Mr Hemming brought against people who wrote about or helped Esther Baker.
Mr Smith does have the right to go to the Court of Appeal to seek permission to challenge the judge’s rulings.
The judge awarded costs to Mr Smith against Esther Baker and also laid down a procedure giving Esther Baker until November 27 to re present her arguments and submission and Sam Smith until December 29 to reply, Esther Baker will have until January 27 to reply to his new submission.
I have given a long interview to Dave Niven, one of the country’s leading figures on the safeguarding of children, for socialworldpodcast on the issue of justice for the 50swomen. This podcast is aimed at the social work and caring professions and is watched by 2000 people in the field.
Dave contacted me after a gap of over 20 years because he had seen my writing on the plight of the 50s born women and wanted me to do an interview for his podcast. We last collaborated on a story in the 1990s when I was on The Guardian though both of us can’t remember what the story was exactly about.
He now runs his own consultancy, David Niven Associates (firstname.lastname@example.org) which provides media training, and consultancy on child protection and safeguarding.
The podcast can be listened to here. That is the link to his site where you will also find other podcasts.
regular series of podcasts
It is part of a regular series of weekly podcasts on Thoughts on the Social World. Previous people who have been interviewed include Jim Gamble, a former national policing lead for child protection and the architect and CEO of the UK Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) Centre. He is now CEO of the INEQE Safeguarding Group. http://www.ineqe.com
He also recently interviewed Christopher Lamb, a former Australian ambassador and chief diplomat with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) in Geneva. He is now an adviser.to IFRC and the Australian Red Cross.
My own interview covers the case I have made on my blog for justice and proper equality for the 50swomen. I also talk about the exposures I did on The Guardian which led to the resignation of Tory ministers Neil Hamilton and Tim Smith over the “cash for questions” scandal in the 1990s and the first resignation of Peter Mandelson from the Labour government over his hidden ” home loan” to buy a posh pad in Notting Hill. And also my award winning story on how the former head of the Student Loans Company devised a scheme for legitimate tax avoidance which led to the government discovering that they had 2500 civil servants doing the same thing.
Today I am reproducing a blog by Alistair Parker, a solicitor, with the firm, Brett Wilson LLP, a specialist media and professional litigation solicitors, on the issue surrounding the former Tory minister under police investigation for the alleged rape and sexual assault of one of his female staff.
My position has been that he should not be named – solely to protect the claimant who requested anonymity not to spare him embarrassment. But what this article highlights is the hypocrisy over the use of Parliamentary privilege by MPs – they use Parliamentary Privilege to name other prominent people, whether it is a famous footballer or a well known businessman, knowing they cannot be sued. But when it is one of their own the shutters come down and Parliament protects them as they are supposed to be honourable members.
The irony is that probably every MP and every lobby journalist knows his name but keeps quiet – perhaps only telling curious close friends. Thanks to Brett Wilson LLP for giving me permission to reproduce the blog. The link to their media blog is here.
Suspect anonymity: The hypocrisy of parliamentary privilege – Alistair Parker
1 August 2020 marked the parliamentary revelation that a sitting MP had been arrested by police on suspicion of rape, sexual assault and controlling and coercive behaviour. All offences were alleged to have taken between July 2019 and January 2020 against the MP’s former staffer. Police confirmed the suspect was a male Tory in his 50s, and a former minister. Subject to police guidance, the name of the man was not revealed. This is because he has not been charged and is still under investigation, with a police bail date now extended until early November 2020.
A man suspected of a serious sexual offence therefore remains a serving MP. He has not had the Tory whip removed or been sanctioned at all, (apparently) for fear that this would identify him. Indeed, his anonymity has been carefully guarded by all sides of the House. Is this a proper observance of the right to pre-charge anonymity, or can we detect a whiff of hypocrisy?
Parliamentary privilege, which by Article 9 of the Bill of Rights 1689 guarantees that “the freedom of speech and debates of proceedings in parliament ought not to be impeached or questioned in any court or place out of parliament”, has long allowed members of Parliament, be they in the Commons or the Lords, to name criminal suspects in these situations.
Both peer and MPs have on occasion exploited this privilege, even identifying individuals who were protected by court injunctions:-
In 2011, then Liberal Democrat MP John Hemming named Ryan Giggs as the footballer who secured an anonymised injunction to prevent publication of allegations he had an affair with a former reality TV star.
Also in 2011, Mr Hemming revealed that the banker Sir (as he then was) Fred Goodwin had obtained a super-injunction protecting his identity in relation to an alleged extra-marital affair. The Liberal Democrat peer Lord Stoneham poured oil on the fire adding “How can it be right for a super-injunction to hide the alleged relationship between Sir Fred Goodwin and a senior colleague?” he asked. “If true it would be a serious breach of corporate governance and not even the Financial Services Authority would know about it.”
In November 2018, Labour peer Lord Hain used Parliamentary privilege to name Sir Philip Green as the ‘anonymous businessman’ who had used Non-Disclosure Agreements in settling numerous claims of bullying and sexual harassment with five complainants. This was despite the fact the High Court had maintained the injunction preventing publication of Sir Philip’s name and also that two of the five complainants supported this. We wrote about this matter at the time.
The past decade therefore shows that UK politicians, in both houses, have been prepared to use Parliamentary privilege even when it:-
– Breaches civil court orders with impunity, – Reveals personal details such as extra-marital affairs of high profile individuals, and – Names a suspect in a serious criminal investigation, where the allegation turned out to be provably false.
Fast forward to the present day: The complainant of ‘Former Minister X’ has apparently been lobbying for his identification by urging MPs and peers to use parliamentary privilege to put his name into the public domain. If this is true, she is doing so despite the strong chance it will result in her own identification.
However, this led to an unprecedented response last week, when the Speaker of the House stepped in to urge MPs not to do so. Sir Lindsay Hoyle warned MPs that “while the investigation is ongoing, I believe that it would be wholly inappropriate for any further reference to be made to this matter in the House, including an attempt to name the member concerned.”
The conclusions we can draw are that, in the last decade, various parliamentarians have been happy to use parliamentary privilege to name and shame those being investigated for crimes and those embroiled in personal civil proceedings – even where they have court orders protecting their anonymity. However, when the ‘shoe is on the other foot’ and the accused party is himself a parliamentarian, it seems the House of Commons is a zealous believer in the right of pre-charge anonymity.
In simple terms, if you are being investigated of a crime, then any parliamentarian can publicly name you without any consequence to themselves. But if you name a parliamentarian who is in a similar predicament, get ready for formal legal consequences.
Although the identity of “Former Minister X” remains a mystery, surely the pattern of politicians protecting themselves could not be any clearer.
This is an extraordinary biography. It is a story of one of the leading figures in Royal circles, friend of Edward VIII and mentor to Prince Charles, whose life was cut short when he and some of his closest relatives were murdered by the IRA in 1979.
But it is no eulogy for a Royal figure whose Christian name lives on in the names of two of the Duke of Cambridge’s children. As Mountbatten himself once said ” No biography has any value unless it is written with warts and all.”
This biography written by historian Andrew Lownie is full of warts as well as some startling disclosures. It draws on previously unknown information – despite many previous biographies – and still does not present a complete picture because of decisions by the British government, the United States government and his own estate at Broadlands not to release all the documents relevant to his life.
What emerges is a complicated man who is full of hubris, self importance, a natural risk taker whose life was privileged, setting himself,apart from the rest of society with his retinue of household staff. He was also extraordinarily methodical.
It goes into detail of the love life of his wife, Edwina, a wealthy socialite, whose adventurous affairs took in Hollywood film stars and India’s first leader, Nehru when Lord Mountbatten was the last governor general of India. Until World War II she lived the life of a bored heiress making exotic trips to remote places before finding an amazing drive to help with the war effort organising and looking after the interests of the troops injured in action.
The book describes his loves which in their ” open marriage” and reveals that he was also bisexual after tracing one of his gay lovers. It also contains an extraordinary chapter entitled ” Rumours” which goes on to suggest that he may also have been a paedophile, It describes claims by a former boy , Richard Kerr who was in the notorious Kincora children’s home in Belfast , where it is proven that boys were subject to child sexual abuse, that MountBatten abused him.
Interestingly the Northern Ireland Office still hasn’t released all the documents about this home even though the events took place over 50 years ago.
The book is fascinating in its description of their wealthy life style – which might sound dated – but in fact due to the growing inequality in the UK could well be replicated today by some of the uber wealthy from Russian oligarchs, Hong Kong billionaires, tech billionaires rather than Royalty.
There are some extraordinary revelations particularly during his career in the Royal Navy. His hubris and risk taking, and a habit of not necessarily following orders, was responsible for a disaster early in World War II When he ignored orders to pick up 600 captured seamen and chase a German battleship with the result the seamen spent the war in internment camps.
The book to an extent exonerates him from the failed raid on Dieppe during the war but it shows that because of his connections to King George V and Churchill he would never be taken to task for his failures.
This hubris actually led to his assassination in 1979 when he ignored repeated advice from the security services and the Irish embassy not to go his country home in the Republic during August. They knew he was an IRA target.
The book contains a remarkable disclosure of how one young corporal, Graham Yuill, responsible for the Mountabatten’s security, spotted a car near his yacht Shadow 5 which was identified as a vehicle used by the IRA for gun running and carrying bombs. His report was ignored and not taken into account when the Garda took over security. The yacht was then blown up killing Mountbatten, his 83 year old mother, his daughter,Patricia and husband John; two 14 year old twins and a 15 year old friend.
The report has been subject to a 40 year old gagging order which was only lifted two years ago. This is just one remarkable disclosure in this fascinating book. Well worth a read.
The Mountbattens: Their Lives and Loves by Andrew Lownie. Bonnier Books. £20
While 3.8 million women born in the 1950s are waiting for a decision of the judicial review into their compensation claim against the Department for Work and Pensions about their lost pensions, the August Bank holiday weekend offers them the opportunity to let their hair down.
I will be chairing a panel at the festival in Pippingford Park. Nutley in East Sussex to discuss the issues and facts behind one of the biggest scandals in Whitehall – how such a huge generation of women were cheated out of the pensions – ostensibly in the name of equality.
The dodges and dives taken by successive governments to conceal what was happening , the false facts now being propagated about ever rising longevity and the real hardship being suffered by many of these women who thought they would now be living a life of leisure, will be highlighted in a session on Sunday.
Joining me on the panel will be Professor Jackie Jones, Barrister, Labour MEP for Wales;Dr Davina Lloyd, UN Envoy, Yvette Greenway, CEO, Silence of Suicide and Joanne Welch, Campaign Director, BackTo60.com .
The lively festival put on by Byline Times runs from Friday August 23 until Monday August 26 and will include groups like Pussy Riot ( bad news for Vladimir Putin), The Blow Monkeys, The Feeling, Jerry Dammers and Don Letts.
Other speakers include Luke Harding former Moscow correspondent from the Guardian ( again not good news for Putin), campaigners and journalists Nick Davies, Carole Cadwalladr, Gina Miller, feminists Bonnie Greer and Afrua Hirsch and comedian, Hardeep Singh Kohli.
There will also be debates on issues from the Extinction Rebellion campaign , Brexit, race and civil rights.
I am reprinting this article by an Irish academic because it not only finds a way of dealing with major providers like Facebook and Google harvesting personal data for financial gain but could help stop anonymous attacks on people and organisations by spreading hate and fake news.
It has struck me for some time that some of the most vile attacks on people – whether on anti semitism,or directed at survivors of child sexual abuse, on Brexit or the 50s born women courageously fighting for a pension come from anonymous accounts which can’t be easily verified.
This proposes a new way of identifying people before they can get on the internet without the whole system being controlled by the state.
It would stop attempts by people – particularly by those who support paedophiles and regularly abuse child sex survivors on line – being able to hide behind anonymous Twitter handles or claim websites they run are not their responsibility.
And it would make it much easier for the police and other regulatory authorities to identify people behind these attacks and prosecute if necessary. It is an interesting read.
Four ways blockchain could make the internet safer, fairer and more creative
The internet is unique in that it has no central control, administration or authority. It has given everyone with access to it a platform to express their views and exchange ideas with others instantaneously. But in recent years, internet services such as search engines and social media platforms have increasingly been provided by a small number of very large tech firms.
On the face of it, companies such as Google and Facebook claim to provide a free service to all their users. But in practice, they harvest huge amounts of personal data and sell it on to others for profit. They’re able to do this every time you log into social media, ask a question on a search engine or store files on a cloud service. The internet is slowly turning into something like the current financial system, which centrally monitors all transactions and uses that data to predict what people will buy in future.
This type of monitoring has huge implications for the privacy of ordinary people around the world. The digital currency Bitcoin, which surfaced on the internet in 2008, sought to break the influence that large, private bodies have over what we do online. The researchers had finally solved one of the biggest concerns with digital currencies – that they need central control by the companies that operate them, in the same way traditional currencies are controlled by a bank.
The core idea behind the Bitcoin system is to make all the participants in the system, collectively, the bank. To do this, blockchains are used. Blockchains are distributed, tamper-proof ledgers, which can record every transaction made within a network. The ledger is distributed in the sense that a synchronised copy of the blockchain is maintained by each of the participants in the network, and tamper-proof in the sense that each of the transactions in the ledger is locked into place using a strong encrypting technique called hashing.
More than a decade since this technology emerged, we’re still only beginning to scratch the surface of its potential. People researching it may have overlooked one of its most useful applications – making the internet better for everyone who uses it.
Help stamp out hate
In order to use services on the internet such as social media, email and cloud data storage, people need to authenticate themselves to the service provider. The way to do this at the moment is to come up with a username and password and register an account with the provider. But at the moment, there’s no way to verify the user’s identity. Anyone can create an account on platforms like Facebook and use it to spread fake news and hatred, without fear of ever being identified and caught.
Our idea is to issue each citizen with a digital certificate by first verifying their identity. An organisation like your workplace, university or school knows your identity and is in a position to issue you with a certificate. If other organisations do the same for their members, we could put these certificates on a publicly accessible blockchain and create a global protected record of every internet user’s identity.
Since there’d be a means for identifying users with their digital certificate, social media accounts could be linked to real people. A school could create social media groups which could only be accessed if a student had a certificate issued to them by the school, preventing the group being infiltrated by outsiders.
Never forget a password again
A user could ask for a one-time password (OTP) for Facebook by clicking an icon on their mobile phone. Facebook would then look up the user’s digital certificate on the blockchain and return an OPT to their phone. The OTP will be encrypted so that it cannot be seen by anyone else apart from the intended recipient. The user would then login to the service using their username and the OTP, thereby eliminating the need to remember passwords. The OTP changes with each login and is delivered encrypted to your phone, so it’s much more difficult to guess or steal a password.
Vote with your phone
People are often too busy or reluctant to go to a polling station on voting days. An internet voting system could change that. Digital currencies like Zerocash are fully anonymous and can be traced on the blockchain, giving it the basic ingredients for a voting system. Anyone can examine the blockchain and confirm that a particular token has been transferred between two parties without revealing their identities.
Each candidate could be given a digital wallet and each eligible voter given a token. Voters cast their token into the wallet of their preferred candidate using their mobile phone. If the total number of tokens in the wallets is less than or equal to the number issued, then you have a valid poll and the candidate with the most tokens is declared the winner.
No more tech companies selling your data
People use search engines everyday, but this allows companies like Google to gather trends, create profiles and sell this valuable information to marketing companies. If internet users were to use a digital currency to make a micropayment – perhaps one-hundredth of a cent – for each search query that they perform, there would be less incentive for a search company to sell their personal data. Even if someone performed a hundred search queries per day they would end up paying only one cent – a small price to pay for one’s privacy.
Blockchain technology started as a means for making online transactions anonymous, but it would be shame for it to stop there. The more researchers like me think about its potential, the more exciting possibilities emerge.
BackTo60s new guerrilla campaign to highlight the plight of the 50s born women who are waiting up to six years to get their pension took on a new dimension yesterday – and brought the displeasure of Parliament’s top official, Black Rod.
Campaigners engaged Pandora’s Box performers to do a flash mob dance performance on College Green opposite the House of Lords. This is part of a guerrilla marketing campaign that has so far seen images backing the campaign projected onto Parliament and the Bank of England at night and the appearance of campaigning graffiti washed into the pavement outside Portcullis House, the Treasury and the Supreme Court.
But little were they to know that College Green – which might seem to me or you a public green place – is in fact part of the private Parliamentary estate.
So no sooner had the music started and the dancing began, Black Rod, who is The Queen’s representative in the House of Lords instructed one of her 30 staff to come down to remonstrate with BackTo60 organiser, Joanne Welch.
A lively discussion followed only mellowed when the member of staff, Fiona Shannon, who had been instructed to ask the dancers to go, realised she was one of the women born in the 1950s who would benefit from a victory by the campaign.
She then went off however to get reinforcements – allowing the dancers to do a quick encore – before the dancers decided to disappear down a Westminster sidestreet.
Joanne Welch said: ” I genuinely thought this was a public place and didn’t think we needed permission to stage the event. It is used regularly by broadcasters and also has been used by Remainers and Brexiteers to stage noisy demonstrations. I apologise if we needed permission.We will know next time.”
A House of Lords spokesperson said that College Green is part of the parliamentary estate. Any requests for filming or other activity are dealt with by Black Rod’s office on behalf of the House of Commons.
The spokesperson added :”Protests and operating amplified noise equipment are not permitted on College Green. The participants were made aware of this and left voluntarily.”
But not without accompanying their mission.
For those curious about Black Rod,the current holder of the office is Sarah Clarke, the first woman appointed to the £93,000 a year post in 650 years.
She organises the State Opening of Parliament and the highest profile part of her role is summoning the House of Commons to hear the Queen’s Speech. She is also responsible for business resilience and planning for the House of Lords, and leads a department that includes the Yeoman Usher and the House of Lords Doorkeepers.
She was appointed last year having previously organised the Wimbledon tennis championships for a number of years.
As the Queen’s representative she now knows that her 1950s British subjects are pretty angry about the loss of their pensions.. Perhaps Her Majesty should be sent a video of Pandora’s Box great performance compliments of BackTo60,
Disruptive protests are seen mainly but not exclusively as the preserve of the young. Whether it is blocking roads like Extinction Rebellion or organising street protests they are not the natural first choice of people old enough to be grandparents..
Yet the government’s refusal to even discuss any compensation with 3.8 million women born in the 1950s who are now waiting up to six years longer to get a pension has seen the first disruptive action organised by ” oldies” in the capital.
First there was a rally in Hyde Park and march which ended in Parliament Square where spontaneously some of the protestors blocked the road forcing the police to divert traffic for nearly two hours.
Then there has been an extraordinary partnership with young people in a guerrilla marketing organisation to project on to prominent buildings like the House of Commons, the Bank of England and the law courts – slogans demanding action to redress the problem. I am told there are no laws to stop anyone projecting slogans on any building. It also included one of my blogs revealing the Thatcher government’s decision to all but end the Treasury contribution to the National Insurance Fund.
Then in the dead of night graffiti started to appear on the pavements outside prominent London landmarks with slogans as part of the BackTo60 campaign to compensate the women.
Here are some of the pictures:
None of this has been reported in mainstream media. And the public who see the graffiti may be puzzled about what it is all about.
But there is a deeper issue. This particular group of women are a large bedrock of the older generation. They have been until now mainly apolitical, bringing up their families, going to work and living normal lives.
But the total refusal of the government to even discuss the issue has transformed this. Shocked by this attitude they are becoming radicalised and for the government this is very bad news. They did form a large part of the group who traditionally voted Conservative. Very few will vote Conservative at the next general election. Some will vote Labour, some Liberal Democrat, Plaid Cymru or Scottish Nationalist, some the Brexit Party and some not at all.
This means given the antipathy to the Tories among the young that many Tory MPs who think they have secure majority may find themselves out of a job at the next general election. And the government will only have itself to blame for not listening to them.