The Brexit court case: Much ado about nothing

daily-mail-enemies-of-the-people

The absurd and despicable take by the Daily Mail on the court judgement

CROSS POSTED ON BYLINE.COM

The reaction to the High Court decision saying that Parliament should be able to debate and trigger Britain’s application to leave the EU has been both depressing and ludicrous.

Newspapers like the Sun, Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph have treated the judges as ” enemies of the people ” just for having the temerity to lay down what is a perfectly valid constitutional decision.

They have NOT ruled that Britain should never leave the European Union but only that our leaving should follow proper constitutional procedures.

The papers have whipped up popularism on a totally false premise and played to the ignorance of people about what is actually happening.

The people who voted to leave the European Union should be delighted not furious about what has happened.

Their main case for leaving the EU was that they didn’t want to be ruled by Brussels and wanted to take back our sovereignty to rule ourselves.

Well what has happened. A British court composed of British judges has ruled that a British Parliament should have the last word and decide how we leave the EU. Brussels or any other foreign power has not said a word.

That seems perfectly reasonable to me. We are a Parliamentary democracy who elect MPs to pass laws and take up issues on our behalf. What we had earlier this year was a referendum not a general election in which the people decided to leave the EU. Therefore it  is Parliament not the government that should be guardian of that referendum.

The last general election was won by a party that promised a referendum on whether we should leave the EU, not on a mandate that we will leave the EU – you had to vote UKIP for that.

The other criticism of media coverage of this ruling is the  despicable attack on both the person who brought the case and on the judges themselves. Anybody has a right to bring a case and the idea they should be pilloried for doing so is anathema to democracy.

And the attack on the judges – particularly the homophobic criticism of one of them – was absolutely beyond the pale. What right has the Daily Mail to highlight that one of the judges was gay. Do we have ruling that no gay judge can pass judgement in this country? That is utterly despicable – worthy more of Donald Trump than Paul Dacre.

There is another profound reason why Parliament should make the final decision. Yes we voted to leave the EU but nobody was given a clear picture of how we were going to leave the EU during the referendum. The No camp did not have a plan.

So given there  about 57 Heinz varieties of doing so – it is right that our MPs and for that matter peers under the present system  should  debate  how we are going to do it and question the government on their plans.

The government is arguing that to do so would give away their hand. This is ridiculous and untenable. If the government think they can negotiate in secret  they misunderstand the role of the press in this country and Europe. their plans will inevitably be leaked and when it comes to the negotiations to leave in Europe- journalists will have the resources to tap officials from 28 countries to find out what is going on. Theresa May is living in cloud cuckoo land if she thinks she can keep a lid on it.

So what is all this sound and fury about this decision by the judges – in my view it is much ado about nothing. People should grow up and accept in a mature democracy the issue should be debated and decided in the best forum to safeguard our sovereignty- Parliament.

 

 

 

The Keith Vaz Westminster fan club: Why do they protect this man

keithvaz2

Keith Vaz MP: Now on the Justice committee

CROSS POSTED ON BYLINE.COM

An extraordinary event took place in Parliament last night only hours after Amber Rudd, the home secretary, made the really bad decision to turn down an inquiry or independent panel into the  ” battle of Orgreave ” in the 1984 Miners’ Strike.

Andrew Bridgen, Conservative MP for Leicestershire North West, moved a rare motion objecting to the appointment of :Labour MP, Keith Vaz, to the Commons Justice select committee.

Keith Vaz, the MP for Leicester, East stood down  as chair of the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee after an exposure in the Sunday Mirror, that he was involved in sex with two male prostitutes while posing as a ” washing machine salesman” in a flat he owned in North London. Police are at present assessing whether Mr Vaz committed any offences as a result of the scandal.

Mr Bridgen’s main point was that he should not stand for the post – because he himself had ruled out standing a home affairs committee chairman.

During his speech, Mr Bridgen told the Speaker Mr Bercow: “You have often spoken that this place must reflect the society with which we make the laws and I agree with you.

“I respectfully point out to the House that in any other sphere of activity a candidate with so much hanging unresolved over him would be very unlikely to be considered for such an important office.

“I believe and if (Mr Vaz) was in his place today I’d ask him to stand down from his nomination, but he’s not.”So I’d ask this House to reject his appointment otherwise I think we cannot blame the Great British public for having a low opinion of its politician and its politics – we can only blame ourselves.”

Earlier he had been warned by Mr Bercow to ” desist” after he also referred -under Parliamentary privilege- to a current historical child sex investigation said to be being conducted by Leicestershire Police where four people had come forward alleging child sexual abuse crimes.

However the view of Vaz’s supportive  MPs was that it was perfectly proper for him to be a member of the justice committee -despite the recent scandal. And it was 159 Tory MPs and ministers that came forward in droves to support the Labour MP. Labour MPs were remarkable in their absence – though a number of MPs who have raised child sexual abuse cases did vote for him – notably Simon Danczuk and Tom Watson.

But it was the Tory Cabinet that stood out in support of him. They included Amber Rudd, the home secretary, who decided that there has been no ” miscarriage of justice in Orgreave” and was obviously happy to think that Mr Vaz had committed no offence.

Other key supporters included Jeremy Hunt, the health secretary, Liam Fox, the International Secretary; James Brokenshire, the Northern Ireland Secretary and  former home office minister: David Gauke, chief secretary to the Treasury;Andrea Leadsom, the environment secretary,and Karen Bradley, the culture secretary, who is advised by Craig Woodhouse, a former Sun journalist and David Lidington, leader of the House.

Only nine MPs supported Mr Bridgen’s motion. They were Nicholas Soames; Jake Berry, Conservative MP for Rossendale and Darwen; James Duddridge, Conservative MP for Rochford and Southend East; Philip Hollobone, Conservative MP for Kettering; Scott Mann, Conservative MP for North Cornwall;Matthew Offord, Conservative MP for Hendon; and Mr Bridgen himself. Two other MPs acted as tellers, Karl McCartney, Conservative MP for Lincoln, and Nigel Mills, Conservative MP for Amber Valley.

On these occasions Parliament seems to resemble more a members’ club than a body representing the nation. And it does itself no good. I have a feeling that the loyalty of MPs to Mr Vaz’s rehabilitation plan will be misplaced and a large swathe of the Cabinet might regret their hasty decision to follow their whips advice. Parliament should not be used to play games or it will fall even more into disrespect.

 

 

 

 

” Darth Vader” mandarin’s unstellar performance on crime mustn’t pay

home affairs committee christmas-cards

Mark Sedwill as Darth Vader centre right next to Theresa May

CROSS POSTED ON BYLINE.COM

Earlier this month I railed about the extraordinary findings of a report by the National Audit Office which showed Whitehall’s abject failure to confiscate the stolen assets of  criminals.

Theresa May’s claims that crime musn’t pay were torn into tatters by a report which showed  what a woeful record the present government has in confiscating them.

You would think that her top Home Office civil servant – permanent secretary Mark Sedwill – would do everything to make amends for this poor performance.

But think again. When he came to account for missing almost every target set by Parliament a few years before his complacent response so angered MPs on Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee that he was sent packing by the chair Labour Mp, Meg Hillier.

I have written about this in Tribune magazine.

Now Mark Sedwill has a stellar nickname – thanks to a jokey reference in a  recent Christmas card put out by the Commons Home affairs Committee, which monitors the home office.

He is proud to be depicted as” Darth Vader ” the evil figure in the Star Wars movie – to Theresa May’s Princess Leia as part of cast of characters on their Christmas card ( see picture above.)

As he told Civil Service World  ” It’s always better to be one of the stars, even if you’re the dark lord, than to be disregarded. I think he’s the coolest character in the pantheon – so I’m not that bothered.”.

His performance before the committee was anything but stellar. And the criminals would be delighted that the man representing the Dark Side was happy to pretend he had recovered their loot.

He obfuscated, denied reality and pretended that he had never agreed with the report’s findings in the first place. He even started quoting government propaganda that  ministers were delighted with his efforts – which left at least £203m worth of assets uncollected.

So angry was one Tory MP, Stephen Phillips, a QC and member for Sleaford and North Hykeham, that he accused him of turning the hearing into ” a farce”and said his performance was ” an exercise in Sir Humphreyism.”.

And the committee abruptly halted the hearing – an almost unprecedented event- when Meg Hillier told him:” I do not think we have any option but to adjourn this. This is something I never wanted to do in this Committee. As Mr Phillips said, we want to get answers. This is a hugely important area and I am really disappointed that we are going to have to take this form of action. I do not think we are going to get very much further today.”

He has a chance to redeem himself next Tuesday when he will have to come up with some real answers at a resumed hearing.  We have to hope  this time the  MPs will turn into Jedi knights to get some explanations.

You can watch the hearing here..

 

 

Vaz defeats Mactaggart in ight for home affairs chair

 Keith Vaz MP


Keith Vaz MP

Updated: Keith Vaz easily saw off Fiona Mactaggart for the chairmanship of the home affairs committee winning by 412 votes to 192. This will make him one of the ;longest serving chair of any Commons select committee as he will remain chair for the next  five years.

Keith Vaz, one of the more controversial Labour MPs, is facing a strong challenge for the chairmanship of the influential  House of Commons home affairs committee.The MP is being challenged by a former home affairs minister – the equally forthright Fiona Mactaggart. MP for Slough, and a doughty campaigner on human rights, civil liberties and race equality with strong views about prostitution -linking it to people trafficking and comparing the men who used prostitutes as little more than child  abusers.

The battle seems to have divided MPs – all of whom have a vote including ministers and shadow ministers – at next Wednesday’s elections.

The divide can be shown by the list of people nominating each candidate – which has to include political opponents – as well as people of their own party.

Vaz has been backed on the Labour side by Sir Gerald Kaufman, Jo Cox, Chris Evans, Mr David Winnick, Mrs Emma Lewell-Buck, Mr Chuka Umunna, Clive Efford, Ms Diane Abbott, Conor McGinn, Gareth Thomas, Mary Glindon, Steve McCabe, Tristram Hunt,  and Jonathan Ashworth .

Among Tories he is backed by Zac Goldsmith, who organised the all party pressure for the establishment of the child sex abuse inquiry, and MPs  like  Tories Chris Heaton-Harris and Nicola Blackwood, Scots Nat, Angus MacNeil. and Democratic Unionist,Sammy Wilson.

Fiona MacTaggart MP

Fiona Mactaggart MP

Fiona Mactaggart, is backed by Labour MPs, Margaret Hodge, Ian Mearns, Kate Green, Nia Griffiths, Jeremy corbyn, Jess Phillips. Bill Esterson, Alison MKcGovern, Liz McInnes, Rupa Huq, Daniel Zeichner, Gavin Shuker, ann Coffey, Diana Johnson and Yvonne Fovargue. Outside Labour she has got support from Tories, Daniel Kawczynski, Guto Bebb, ex home office minister,Damian Green, SNP member Tommy Shepherd; and SDLP member Mark Durkan.

Commons insiders say Fiona will have to campaign strongly to defeat Vaz who has been chairman since 2007 – and also been able to stand again because he has not served two full terms.

Parliament: Computer says No (again!)

Just when Parliament’s IT boss had promised that their new computer system was up and running again and ready to expand, guess what happens.

 It takes just 90 minutes for another crash with a hasty call  to IT experts to convene to sort out why so many MPs and peers offices still can’t access the internet.

 Full details of the story are on the Exaro News website and in Computer Weekly .They come from the latest leaks from inside Parliament – one general memo to all staff telling them everything is working well  and another to the IT team saying everything has started to go wrong.

At this rate it looks as though Parliament with its thousands of internal subscribers  is going to join other institutions in Whitehall and the NHS with a system plagued with problems.

 

Crash, bang wallop: Parliament’s computer system keeps cutting out

Tried to email your MP?  Waiting for a reply from their office? Before you blame our public servants for being lazy, it may just be that their tools of the trade are on the blink.

 As I report on the Exaro News website Parliament’s computer system is getting and all singing, dancing upgrade so MPs can get super access to the internet.

Only the subcontractors installing it  have made one big mistake – they have programmed the system to get LESS access to the internet. The result: furious MPs, bad tempered office staff as the system regularly crashes and can’t cope.

 How do we know this? Well the mother of all democracies has not made the usual public announcement.. Instead it has used its private email; system to tell its 7500 users that they have got it wrong and issued a private apology.

Details of the email from Joan Miller, director of the parliamentary IT service, are on the Exaro website.

She wrote:“The problems may have shown themselves in freezing or slowing down of your web browsing, video via the web, slower delivery of e-mails sent outside Parliament, use of [Microsoft] Office 365 and other internet-dependent systems.

“I know that this has been very frustrating and inconvenient for those affected.  I therefore wanted to write to you to apologise for the ongoing problems and for any difficulties caused, and to tell you about what we have been doing to fix the problem.”

She admits:“We therefore commissioned work to upgrade and expand our links out of the estate to the internet. Unfortunately, in January, one of our suppliers involved in this upgrade inadvertently introduced an error into the supporting software. This had the opposite effect of that intended, that is, it reduced the capacity of the access to the internet.”

Officially Parliament  says it is OK. A spokesman said: ” “The company that provides this fully managed service made an error, which it has rectified at its own cost. This caused some disruption to parliamentary services.”

“We are working with the supplier to ensure that the services remain resilient in the future.”

But today one of my sources says it is as bad as ever. More cover ups?

 

Since the publication on Exaro and on my blog the story has been taken up by Hugh Muir in the Guardian diary -with a typical wry commentary

New year and a new defence for bloggers over defamatory comments

The law offering a new defence and a remedy for bloggers besieged by defamatory comments from unknown sources will come into force on New Years Day 2014.
The regulations highlighted in a previous blog on this site have now been approved by both Houses of Parliament and will form the first move under the Defamation Act affecting websites.
The law will also set out a procedure on how complaints should be handled and also put an onus on the person complaining to explain what grounds they have for a complaint.
The changes on the law are outlined pretty comprehensively on the Inforrm blog which also includes a comment from a sceptical blogger about how useful they will be.
The new law was welcomed in the Lords. In a debate Lord Lester waxed lyrically about them. He said ” my noble friend Lord McNally [the Lib Dem government minister] is like Moses in the splendid portrait, bringing down the tables of the law to the Israelites, in seeking the approval of the House to the regulations what he is doing is important not only in this country but throughout Europe and in the wider world.”
Other peers admitted they knew nothing. Labour’s Lord Beecham said “when it comes to the world of computers, information technology and social media, I confess to being an utter novice. At risk of being labelled a Marxist by the right-wing press or Conservative Central Office, I recall some words of Marx—Groucho, I hasten to add, and not Karl. In one of his films, which might have been “A Night at the Opera” but I would not swear to that, he is seen poring over a map and declares that a child of five could understand the map. He continues: “Bring me a child of five”. I am tempted to make the same request when confronted by matters of the kind encompassed by these regulations.”
At least one peer was honest!

Should ministers be able to snoop on your calls and e-mails? Enter a competition to have your say.

computer snoopers? pic courtesy itelegraph.co.uk

Update: Since this was published the deadline has been extended to December 14, so you still have a chance to enter.

Can you out Craig  John Craig on Sky News? Are you more outrageous than blogger  Guido Fawkes?  Can you be more angry than Richard Littlejohn or Peter Hitchens? If you are a budding journo aged 14 to 18 and take an interest in politics, there is rather good competition you can enter. The subject this year is privacy and the internet – and whether  the government should be able to access stuff on your mobile phone calls, trace your e-mails and see which websites you have visited. The competition is run by the Parliamentary Press Gallery – the hacks who write for the press, write blogs and broadcast on radio and TV from Parliament. You must have a view on this – so why not write an article or a blog or put together a radio or TV report.

You can get all the details at http://www.writenow.org.uk  . But hurry you only have until November 10 to get an entry in. If you win you will get a day in the House of Political Intrigue and be able to meet some of the more colourful characters in the media and MPs.

Why charging for Freedom of Information requests will be utterly wrong

Freedom of Information: Charges will put it under threat

This blog was written for the London School of Economics British politics and policy website (the link is http://bit.ly/H7C8lD) and is now up on the site. I have reproduced it here for my followers who may miss it  at the LSE.

It must be very tempting in these times of austerity for government to introduce charges for freedom of information (FOI) requests. Tempting it might be but it would be utterly wrong.

Giving evidence to the Commons Justice select committee’s post legislative inquiry into the FOI Act, I got the strong impression that some Conservative MPs might want to do this. The example of the Republic of Ireland which has introduced charges for requests, internal reviews and appeals to the Information Commissioner, has provided an excuse.

The fact that the new act has been a resounding success with the public, journalists and also private businesses is not a reason to introduce charges. My reasons for not going down this road are not such much to do with limiting the public’s right to know – although as Ireland has shown – this would be the inevitable consequence. They are more fundamental.

As a taxpayer I am obliged – I have no choice – to fund public services from my income. Therefore if I wish to know whether my money has been spent wisely and people have taken the right decisions – I should have the right to ask questions and ferret for information. As a journalist rather than a private citizen I have more time to do this – it is part of my job – and the information I discover can be communicated to thousands, if not millions, of people.

As one recent example showed – the disclosure under FOI that Ed Lester, the chief executive of the Student Loans Company, had found a legal way to avoid tens of thousands of pounds of tax – it can even lead to alerting ministers to something they were unaware.

To introduce charges would in effect be double taxation. I would be charged once for providing the service and again if I wished to find out what officials and ministers had done with my money. This is why I believe it is unacceptable.

A more subtle variant of charging is a suggestion that private citizens still receive the free service but commercial organisations like the media, private firms and official bodies paid the cost of the request – which could be anything up to £600. Again it would unfair and also unworkable. Businesses, law firms and the media – unless they are near bankrupt – pay their share of taxes to the government and again would be charged twice for seeking to find out how and why their money was spent.

It would also be completely unworkable to run such a two tier system. There is nothing to stop me as a journalist, or indeed any business person, asking a friend to put in a FOI and getting it sent to their address. And there is no way officialdom could find out, unless they subject every private requester to a ninth degree inquisition every time they asked a public body for information.

It would be a nightmare scenario for the public sector to police and make officials extremely unpopular with the general public. It might even lead them to face legal complaints, such as falsely accusing individuals of avoiding charges.

What is required urgently is an extension of the freedom of information act to the private sector when it provides public services. The government has an active policy of encouraging private providers – whether charities, mutual or commercial companies – to provide public services. Francis Maude, the Cabinet Office minister, in an address to the Policy Exchange think tank said that turning state provided services into mutuals owned by the staff might indeed be as widespread as privatisation of state industries in the 1980s Thatcher government.

At present the mechanism for extending FOI to new bodies is rather cumbersome – requiring a designation under the Act by ministers – usually following a consultation period. This is woefully inadequate to cope with a major shift from public to private sector providers in Whitehall, local government and the NHS. One simple solution would be to include a standard clause in any private sector provider contract saying that if the company accepted public money to run a public service they would automatically be subject to FOI requests about that particular service.

No doubt they would be a howl of protest from the business community about new burdens and costs to running the service, but given the multi million pound size of most contracts it would be a small price to pay. And if it was a standard contract it would mean that there would be a level playing field for contractors bidding for the work. It could also be confined only to the services they provided in the public sector and not to normal business contracts.

This would bring within the scope of FOI private train operators and bus companies who take taxpayers subsidies but are at the moment outside the act. It would also encourage these bodies to provide a more efficient service since they would have an incentive not to encounter the wrath of the travelling public every time they failed to provide a public service.

The public could also question and challenge the companies when they cut service provision to prove they had a case and also ask for detailed policy on protecting public safety. Similarly, it would provide the public with some protection as the NHS expands the use of private hospitals for operations as they are outside the scope of the act.

The act does require an overhaul in this area. But MPs on the committee should resist the temptation to call for charges to use the act as this would be unfair to the general public and to taxpayers. The right to demand information on services you are required to pay for without being charged is a fundamental human right that should be non-negotiable, even in the present financial climate.

Margaret versus the mandarins

Margaret Hodge: Standing Up for MPs' and the public's rights

Watch out for a major speech by Margaret Hodge, chair of the Commons public accounts committee, at Policy Exchange in London this Thursday on the accountability of Whitehall to Parliament.

This is going to be a historic moment for the relationship between MPs and mandarins and I am not expecting the doughty chairman of Parliament’s most powerful committee to pull any punches. I also expect it to ignite a big debate.

 It is also important moment for people who believe that Parliament is just a talking shop. This is because it will show that MPs want action on the way our taxes are spent and even more so on who pays their taxes.

 It is also about the honesty and integrity of Dave Hartnett, the head of the Inland Revenue (HMRC), and his attempt to get away with telling lies to MPs on a deal with one of biggest bankers, Goldman Sachs.

The story of this dispute is published today by Exaro News at http://bit.ly/zHz7pP or on the Exaro News website http:// www.exaronews.com .

 Suffice to say it reveals a massive tussle between Lord O’Donnell, the former Cabinet Secretary and Mrs Hodge over whether civil servants are accountable to MPs or ministers – going to heart of the matter of whether MPs can stand up for us as taxpayers.

 Lord O’Donnell ,who wrote the letter days before he retired ,has accused the Public Accounts Committee of  publicly humiliating a senior law official at the revenue by making him swear on the Bible before giving evidence. He talks of widespread anger in Whitehall and in the legal profession about this.

 But he ignores the reason – that the man’s boss, Dave Hartnett, had misled Parliament over a sweetheart tax deal he negotiated with Goldman Sachs saving them possibly billions in tax. He pretended it was nothing to do with him.

 This is why people should back Margaret Hodge, her committee which includes very equally strong minded MPs like Tories Richard Bacon and Stephen Barclay in standing up for MPs and the public’s rights.

 Thursday will light the blue touch-paper at Policy Exchange. If there are any seats left go and watch and hear. It’s free.