Will May’s terrorism clampdown restrict freedom of speech?

Police at Finsbury Park after latest terrorist attack

Police at Finsbury Park, north London after the latest terrorist attack this week Pic credit: BBC

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Theresa May promised ” Enough is Enough”  after the two vicious terrorist attacks in Manchester and London Bridge during the election campaign. Since then we have a third attack in Finsbury Park, north London targeting Muslims.

Today a much slimmed down Queen’s Speech promises new laws on security and possibly a U-turn on police cuts. But we need to be vigilant on what measures are taken and ensure that in a rush to clamp down on extremist perversions of the Muslim faith that the law is not used against other people to restrict freedom of speech and robust debate.

This threat was highlighted by none other than researchers at the House of Commons library who produced a timely review of terrorist legislation and also pointed out the pitfalls of badly drafted legislation and loose definitions of extremism.

As I wrote in Tribune last week:

In the Tory manifesto Theresa May had committed herself to creating Commission for Countering Extremism. The Commons library paper says the last Tory government has already got a Counter-Extremism and Safeguarding Bill in the pipeline – which was never introduced because of the snap election.

This included powers to regulate all official out-of-school activities to prevent extremists from using them and banning people with extreme views from teaching in schools by extending the scope of the debarring system, at present used to prevent criminals and sex abusers from getting jobs.

It also included new powers to block people streaming extremist videos from outside the EU and new action to be taken against local councils that did not act to stop extremism in schools.
What is not clear is whether the new legislation would also include measures to disrupt extremist activity, including outlawing some organisations and some individuals, barring them using premises and trying to criminalise people who say they do not believe in democracy and advocate violence even if they have no intention of committing offences themselves. Some of this would involve issuing civil orders against individuals.

The  Commons report  raises a lot of questions:
• Can extremism be defined in a way that offers legal certainty?
• Is it necessary to resort to new civil orders instead of existing criminal offences?
• How will proposals avoid unjustified interference with freedom of religion and expression?
• Is it justified to limit speech which is not in itself illegal?
• How can online extremism be dealt with both by government and social media companies?

It warns: “Unless a consensus can be reached as to what constitutes extremism in the first place, the development of effective measures will continue to prove problematic.”

And the government can hardly introduce a law that singles out Muslims.

These are wise words because the direction of travel is to try to prosecute people for what they say not for what they do – and somehow try and control what is on the internet.

It is a law of unintended consequences as the Commons paper reveals. For while naturally Liberty objected it also led when the idea was debated in 2015 to objections from Christians.

They were protesting that people advocating gay marriage should be banned could face prosecution or denial of access to buildings because they would be described as extremists.

It is delicious irony that tough talk to clamp down on radical extremism could end up alienating  the Tory’s preferred government partner, the Democratic Unionist Party , who oppose gay marriage, unless of course there will be a special exemption for Northern Ireland.  Even Dominic Raab, Conservative MP for Esher, now a government minister at the Ministry of Justice, objected to curbs on free speech, warning it could be used to prosecute other groups – including Christians opposing gay marriage,

People should scrutinise the proposed terrorism bill very carefully when it is published today. The Commons research paper is here.

Revealed: Thousands of Britain’s top bankers become Euro millionaires while workers pay clipped to 1 per cent

HSBC pic credit BBC

HSBC. Five senior executives due to share £33.4m Pic credit: BBC

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The day  after the general election the House of Commons library released a flood of papers which had been held up because of  purdah rules until after the result was known.

One of the most revealing papers was one on Banking Executives’ Renumeration in the UK. It drew on two sources – Britain’s submission  ( required by EU rules ) to the European Banking Authority and British sources such as company reports and details from the banks themselves about long term incentives for senior executives.

The facts revealed in the annexes to this report confirm what a lot of people have suspected but have not always been able to prove. There is-a widening gulf between the top and the bottom that has been going on during the fiercest period of austerity which has seen real wages for million falling. If John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, and Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader, had access to this information during the election it could have been dynamite.

Two facts are extraordinary. This boom in higher executive pay came under the coalition between 2012 and 2015 when David Cameron and George Osborne were actively pursing wage freezes and minimal wage rises in the public sector.

Second it is the scale of it – it is not a handful of  new bankers becoming Euro millionaires, it is thousands of them.

And for the very, very top executives at five of our biggest retail banks it is untold riches if they meet performance targets.

The wider picture only came out because of a  European Commission directive to collect figures from all 28 EU members on how many bankers are earning over 1 million euro (£884,300 at current rates) a year. At the time the Euro would have been worth less – but even so it is a large sum.

Britain will no longer have to supply this when we leave the EU.

The figures show startling increases in senior staff employed by the banking industry falling into this bracket between 2012 and 2015 across nearly all sectors. Altogether the number of higher earners has risen nearly 300 per cent over this period, from 1272 to 3551.

Among the bigger rises are those in investment banking where the numbers earning this figure and more has risen from 947 to 2146. In asset management the numbers rose from 94 to 415 while those in high street banks rose from 52 to 105.

The average salary among the 2146 top earners in investment banking was 2,021,000 euro or over £1.78 million a year. Among the 415 people in asset management it was even higher at 2,201,000 euro or £1.946 million a year. In retail banking the 105 people averaged a little less at 1,789.000 euro or £1.582 million each a year.

Equally damning is a survey taken from five banks in Britain – HSBC, Barclays, Lloyds, Santander and the state owned RBS.

It looked at the money the five to eight top executives could make. At Lloyds 8 people share £24.9 a million a year between them. The figure for Barclays was £27.1m and at HSBC the top five people shared a whopping £33.4m.

Figures for the state owned RBS are lower at £11.35m while at Santander it was £10.6m.

As already known the chairmen and chief executives also get good pay packets worth millions.

What this says is that the coalition of David Cameron and Nick Clegg were happy to preside over this boom and impose severe austerity, and job cuts to pay for the mess the very same bankers created  by triggering the  crash in 2008.

As the song goes : “It’s the poor what gets the blame, It’s the rich what gets the pleasure, Isn’t it a blooming shame? ”

For not much longer I suspect given the current climate.

I have written about this in Tribune magazine. The House of Commons library report is  here for those who wish to read it

 

 

 

 

GRENFELL TOWER FIRE

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I am running these series of blogs from the distraught residents association in London following this fire . They sadly speak for themselves. This absolutely tragic scandal means there must be a full scale inquiry set up by the government. These warnings from the local residents association suggest to me that something badly went wrong over fire safety concerns and that people will need to be brought to book.

The inquiry must be wide ranging and involve all tower blocks that have been recently refurbished in this way across the country not just in Kensington. In the meantime tribute must be made to the London Fire Brigade – which has been the subject of merciless cuts and privatisation – and the NHS hospitals again at the front line so soon after two terror attacks in the capital.

All one can say is that I cannot imagine the horror and fear that distraught families and their relatives are facing tonight after such an appalling event and my thoughts are with them.

Grenfell Action Group

Watching breaking news about the Grenfell Tower fire catastrophe. Too soon (5am) to even guess at numbers of casualties and fatalities. Our heartfelt and sincere condolences to all who have perished, to the injured, to those who are bereaved or are still searching for missing loved ones.

Regular readers of this blog will know that we have posted numerous warnings in recent years about the very poor fire safety standards at Grenfell Tower and elsewhere in RBKC.

ALL OUR WARNINGS FELL ON DEAF EARS and we predicted that a catastrophe like this was inevitable and just a matter of time. Below is a list of links to previous blogs we posted on this site trying to warn the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, who own this property, and the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation who supposedly manage all social housing in RBKC on the Council’s behalf:

https://grenfellactiongroup.wordpress.com/2013/01/28/fire-safety-scandal-at-lancaster-west/

https://grenfellactiongroup.wordpress.com/2016/11/20/kctmo-playing-with-fire/

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Jeremy Corbyn’s biggest victory: Revitalising democracy

Jeremy corbyn rally

Jeremy Corbyn rally – as big as a Gladstone or Disraeli rally. Pic Credit; Twitter

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Jeremy Corbyn’s good performance  in the polls last night was not just brilliant for Labour. It was also not just because he produced a left of centre detailed manifesto. It was not even because he avoided ” yah boo sucks”  attacks on the Tories or Liberal Democrats.

His biggest victory last night was because he galvanised democracy and got a new generation of young people to take an interest in politics and bother to register to vote. He did this in the extraordinary space of two months.

On  March 24 Tribune published an editorial highly critical of Labour’s performance in general and Jeremy Corbyn in particular. It said simply Labour isn’t working and this was from a left of centre magazine not the Daily Mail.

Lest it be forgotten then the Tories had a 19 per cent lead over Labour and crucially had a 41  to 29 per cent lead among the  18-24 year old group.  Thus at that time Theresa May even had a lead among students and young workers.

Now in the remarkable space of  just 10 weeks Jeremy Corbyn and his election campaigning team has totally transformed the picture of politics for youth.  Not since the barnstorming performances of Gladstone and Disraeli in the nineteenth century and Churchill in the early twentieth century have such huge crowds turned up at rallies to hear a party  leader speak.

And remember these huge meetings predate the invention of radio and TV let alone the internet and the smartphone.

To get youth as enthusiastic to think they can change events in an age of so many other distractions is a mega achievement which leaders of every other political party should be profoundly grateful to Jeremy. For if the idea of change through the ballot box is not passed from one generation to another democracy dies and dictatorship looms. And given it was against a background of two random terrorist attacks aimed at the young is even more remarkable.

Sadly I must say his dream of encouraging young people to participate in democracy did not seem to be shared by the Conservatives. They did not appear to be encouraging the young to  register to vote – presumably because Lynton Crosby thought it would not get many new votes for the Tories.

And worse on polling day some people – including one person with a blue rosette in Enfield and a UKIP and Tory run council in Plymouth – lied to young first time voters that they needed an ID card to vote at polling stations- presumably in a desperate move to keep  Labour from winning marginal seats. Theresa May does want to introduce ID cards for voting – but I am afraid it is not the law at the moment so it is illegal to mislead voters.

The contrast between Labour and the Tories over democratic rights is still continuing after the election. Theresa May is behaving like a headmistress of a rather badly run prep school  – by pretending that she is still running a successful operation when people are stopping paying the fees. She has lost authority and seems to be developing a  “bunker type”  mentality ignoring the reality that the game is already half up.

There appear so far to be no concessions to the democratic process from the Tories – and the main aim seems to be to ally May with the Democratic Unionist Party in Northern Ireland – probably adding to division there between them and Sinn Fein. Would she ban abortion in the rest of UK if the DUP demanded it? Would she concede to some of their antiquated views about gays? How will this play out over the present crisis in Stormont?

But I profoundly believe that what Jeremy has started cannot be stopped. There may have to be yet another general election after a few months to complete the transformation – though this will be highly risky in the middle of Brexit negotiations. Theresa May called the election believing her own propaganda that Jeremy was a no hoper. Now she has found out the hard way  that he isn’t and no matter how many pages of propaganda Paul Dacre and Rupert Murdoch use to smear him it no longer works.

 

Pollsters to lose tomorrow’s General Election

Jeremy Corbyn Pic Credit BBC

Jeremy Corbyn Pic credit:BBC

Theresa May

Theresa May Pic credit:BBC

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Today’s last minute polls show the volatility of the electorate and why it is has been such a difficult election to call. It started as a guaranteed ” slam dunk ” win for Theresa May with a  lead over Labour of 24 points. Then the prediction was that with an unpopular Labour leader who was not supported by many of his MPs would help Theresa May increase her lead as Opposition parties tend to lose their momentum during a general election and see their  position decline. Hence the initial predictions that Labour already 101 seats behind the Tories could lose another 70 seats or even more giving her a majority of 150 to 200. Instead every poll has pointed to a narrowing of the lead, Jeremy Corbyn, has surprised everyone by leading a very energetic campaign on a left wing manifesto and even passionate Tory supporters admit their own campaign has been a mess. Theresa May has not appeared as the self confident stable leader  unafraid of debate. She has positively avoided it.

Then there is an expected swing to the centre  which should accompany Labour moving Left..  Based on this  Tim Farron  hinted at first that he could replace Labour as  leader of the official Opposition on the back of the 48 per cent Remain vote. Instead – and all the polls  are agreed – the Lib Dems look like making little progress and could be pushed back. The electorate has become  totally polarised – just like during the referendum.

And as for UKIP who once boasted that they would replace Labour in the North as the main opposition to the Tories – their collapse has been phenomenal – they are unlikely to have any representation in Parliament and  have lost seats hand over fist in the local elections.

But can we trust the pollsters today? Just as in 2015 when the majority got a hung Parliament wrong – and the one poll that predicted a Tory victory over egged the size of it.

Unlike last time there is no consensus – with each poll coming to wildly different conclusions.

They range from a Tory majority of 124 and 100 – with the Lib Dems also losing every seat in England including their leader Tim Farron and former leader Nick Clegg ( to Labour) to Labour gaining seats and the Tories short of majority in Parliament. In the middle are Lord Ashcroft -Tory  majority of 64 – and Nowcast with Labour losing 13 seats and the Tories gaining 23.  The latter last two give Theresa May full command of the House of Commons.

Much will depend on who will vote. The young are pro Corbyn so if they turn out in substantial numbers – the result will be good for Labour. But pollsters don’t expect them to vote – and the elderly – despite the row over paying for social care  to rush or even limp to the polls to ensure a big Tory victory.

Mind you if people keep telling the young they won’t vote – they may well be bloody minded enough to turn out to defy expectations.

Whatever happens it will be bad news for pollsters. Because someone is going to get the result awfully wrong – they can’t all be right.

 

 

 

 

My billet-doux from Theresa: Push Brexit from the comfort of your own home and register your vote plan at Tory Central Office

Theresa May

May’s billet doux campaign to her supporters Pic credit:BBC

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One of the more amusing things about this election is that Conservative Central Office appear to have registered me as a Tory supporter, How this has happened I do not know but as a result nearly every day I receive a Dear David  billet-doux from Theresa May, Boris Johnson, Amber Rudd and Patrick McLoughlin telling me what line to take against Jeremy Corbyn.

They were especially active when Theresa May  and Jeremy  Corbyn were facing separate Paxman interviews – with five lines to take – emphasising Corbyn’s support for the IRA .

But in the last week it is clear that the Tories have gone back to basics and  even after the Manchester terrorist attack – are now trying to get a big majority on Theresa May’s stance over Brexit.

As this letter shows:

Dear David,

I’m excited about the future.

If we make a success of Brexit, there are great opportunities ahead.

My plan for Brexit will return control to Britain – and help us shape a brighter, fairer future for our country.

But David, I need every Conservative supporter to get behind my plan to make Brexit work.

So please join our team speaking to voters around the country by signing up to make calls today.

As we approach the final week of this campaign, it’s crucial that everybody remembers this fact: Britain is about to enter into the most important negotiations of my lifetime.

Brexit negotiations are set to begin just eleven days after polling day. And the European Union is already adopting an aggressive negotiating position.

That’s why Britain needs a strong government and a strong Prime Minister capable of standing up to Brussels.

Your support is more important now than ever. Because every vote for me in this election will strengthen my hand in the negotiations that are about to start.

So, David, help me make my case to the country – and help me make a success of Brexit – by signing up to make calls today.

 

Thank you for your support

Theresa May
Prime Minister and Leader of the Conservative Party

If you click on the link you will find three choices – join a phone bank, go to Conservative Central Office ( you get a special rousing address from Boris if you do) or make the calls under Tory guidance from your own home. Fascinating to know how many people have received calls in the last few days – and whether this appeal has been launched because the Tories have not had enough support from members to do the work despite overflowing with cash donations.

On polling day Theresa has asked me to have a plan on how I am going to vote – suggesting I might go with the family, friends and neighbours to stop Jeremy Corbyn Diane Abbott and  John McDonnell going into government.

As she says here:

Dear David,

Today I’m asking you to do one crucial thing: make a plan to vote.

If the Conservatives lose just 6 seats next Thursday, we will lose our majority: and Jeremy Corbyn will be in charge of Brexit, Diane Abbott our national security and John McDonnell our economy.

There is so much at stake David – and I need your support.

Please make a plan to vote on our website today, so you know what time you’ll be voting next Thursday, and who you’ll be going to the polling station with.

And then forward this email on to every Conservative supporter you know, so they can make a plan to vote too.

Thank you for your support,

Rt Hon. Theresa May MP

Theresa May
Prime Minister and Leader of the Conservative Party

 

What this does show is that even on polling day – who goes out to vote will be absolutely crucial to the result – and the Tories are planning to monitor their supporters to make sure they have voted. Interesting times.

Unison’s Special Chocolate Biscuits Scandal: An insight into murky behaviour at the top of Britain’s biggest public sector union

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dave-prentis-pic-credit-twitter

Dave Prentis, general secretary, Unison Pic Credit: Twitter

1200px-McVitie's_chocolate_digestive_biscuit

A chocolate biscuit; Pic Credit: Wikipedia

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Britain’s biggest public sector union last month escaped the embarrassment of having to rerun an election for its well known general secretary, Dave Prentis despite a judge deciding that one leading official ” flagrantly ” broke union rules to get him re-elected.

The union had faced a barrage of complaints from  three rival  candidates to Prentis – Heather Wakefield, John Burgess, and Roger Bannister  – and a long standing party member, Jon Rogers at a hearing at the end of last year before an assistant certification officer and part time judge, Mary Stacy.

She rejected demands for a rerun of the election, criticism that the Electoral Reform Services who had a £1 m fee to supervise the election  were not independent, and also threw out a complaint against Liz Snape, Dave Prentis’s long term partner,  that she had broken rules by campaigning for him in union time,

But the judge upheld a complaint against Linda Perks, now a national secretary and previously London’s regional secretary, for flagrant breaches of union rules – after reading a transcript and listening to a secret tape of a meeting held at the TUC’s Congress House, where, it is said, 50 officials were urged to break campaigning rules to ensure the re-election of Dave Prentis. The code name for the campaign was ” Special Chocolate Biscuits”.

The judge ruled out taking enforcement proceedings to force another election only because she was satisfied that Dave Prentis did not know that Linda Perks had taken such actions and because she thought he would still have won despite electoral irregularities in the campaign.

The election took place in a febrile atmosphere just after Ed Miliband’s resignation as Labour party leader and when Jeremy Corbyn was mounting his successful bid for party leader.

Mr Prentis who had won overwhelming support in previous election  but was facing a much tougher challenge with a leading union official, Heather Wakefield, standing against him alongside two other candidates.

The judge, said some of the criticism of Heather Wakefield by Prentis supporters amounted to “demonization” and she also criticised the failure of the union to apologise to Jon Rogers for threatening him with a libel action when he complained of electoral malpractice.

But she reserved her most damning criticism for Linda Perks and the way the union later handled disciplinary proceedings against her  and its failure to investigate other people who were involved.

After listening to the tape the judge ruled :“ Ms Perks tone is not just confident and swaggering in so openly breaking the rules but chilling in its brazenness and demonstration of unchecked power”.

She blatantly had known she was breaking union rules by getting officials to organise support for Dave Prentis during work time which was against union rules. The judge notes that it almost looked that for 3 or 4 days officials would do little else but campaign for Mr Prentis.

Linda Perks was suspended by the president of the union. But the judge says:

“The subsequent leisurely disciplinary proceedings of Ms Perks and outcome do not inspire confidence or serve as a deterrent for future overzealous officers. Some might think the move to National Secretary in Head Office on unspecified strategic projects retaining all pay and benefits represents reward rather than punishment, though she has endured the imposition of a final written warning.”

The judge is asking the union to review its procedures and set up a police for whistleblowers – which the union does not have – despite relying on whistleblowers from other public bodies to provide it with information.

” Work is also required to restore trust amongst its Greater London members following the activities of the regional secretary and the RMT ( Regional Management Team ) which have done so much damage to the Union’s reputation both internally and externally.”

The union’s response is this :

“UNISON welcomes the assistant certification officer’s decision to uphold the result of the 2015 general secretary election and reject the call from the complainants that there should be a re-run. The union’s development and organisation committee will be now be considering the ACO’s comments.”

It strikes me that though the union escaped an election rerun for such an important post – that it does need to put its house in order. Unions play an important part in a democracy in exposing appalling conditions and treatment of workers in  this country and abroad. They must be seen to be squeaky clean in the way they run their  affairs or their own reputations will be damaged. They can’t fight causes  against rogue employers  if the break their own rules or try to fix election results.

I have also written about this in Tribune magazine.