Keir Starmer: he thinks the government and its agents should be above the law.
The Tories bid to allow spies working for government agencies like the Financial Conduct Authority to commit crimes like murder and rape without fear of prosecution has been foiled by the Lords.
Peers supported amendments to the Covert Human Intelligence Sources Bill as follows:
Peers inflicted two significant defeats on the government on Wednesday evening over a bill to regulate the use of undercover informants, passing amendments to stop them participating in murder and rape, and to curtail the use of children as informants.
The government was also defeated by 299 to 284 on an amendment from the peer Doreen Massey, which proposed explicitly banning those acting undercover from being allowed to participate in a list of serious crimes, including murder, torture, rape or other sexual offences as they gained information.
Ministers had ruled out introducing such a list previously, arguing that creating a list of forbidden offences could give terrorists and serious criminals ways to unmask infiltrators by asking them to engage in such banned activities.
Campaign groups welcomed the result, arguing that it would put the UK on a par with similar western countries in setting clear limits.
Sadly, this result is notable for another reason – Labour leader Keir Starmer’s unacceptable support for the Bill with all immunities against criminal prosecution intact.
If he had whipped Labour to oppose it in the Commons, it would never have got as far as the Lords. But he didn’t.
Worse still, after former shadow attorney general Shami Chakrabarti put forward an amendment to remove immunity from prosecution for crimes from government agents who commit them, saying there would otherwise be a “grave risk” of human rights abuses by undercover agents, Starmer whipped Labour peers to abstain and it failed:
Have YOU donated to my crowdfunding appeal, raising funds to fight false libel claims by TV celebrities who should know better? These court cases cost a lot of money so every penny will help ensure that wealth doesn’t beat justice.
We’ve made the claim before; now Scotland’s Daily Record says it has proof. The Tories have tampered with benefit claims to starve us of cash.
Think about that.
Think about all the people who have died after being denied benefits – either after being driven to despair and suicide, or by the worsening of their illnesses and disabilities, or by starvation.
How many of those happened because the Tories changed their benefit claims – lied about them?
See for yourself:
We lifted the lid on the practice over a year ago when a Scot with multiple sclerosis and mental health problems was accidentally sent before-and-after copies of his assessment for a Personal Independence Payment (PIP) claim.
The paperwork had been submitted by a health professional after a face-to-face meeting, but was then secretly audited by officials without any follow up conversation.
Both versions were sent back, showing he would have qualified for additional support until his scores were lowered.
The altered copy removed a nurse’s observation that the man needed help to prepare a simple meal. References to his top being on inside out were removed.
The original said he has regular specialist input while the audit brazenly stated he has none.
This is not the only example. Last year, according to the Record, 2,300 claims were altered or refused.
In 460 cases, the applications were said to be unacceptable. In 1,840 more, the paperwork was amended to lower or remove the claimants’ entitlements.
In the benefit system, trust has always been a lopsided concept. The DWP questions everything claimants say, while they are supposed to accept every decision the DWP makes as fair and just.
And now we know that it simply isn’t true.
I guess it just proves the old adage that a liar won’t believe anybody else.
The big question is: what is to be done about this?
And – let’s be honest – why haven’t we done it already?
Have YOU donated to my crowdfunding appeal, raising funds to fight false libel claims by TV celebrities who should know better? These court cases cost a lot of money so every penny will help ensure that wealth doesn’t beat justice.
MPs voted on the European Union (withdrawal) bill at midnight [Image: Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images].
Read through the changes to the EU Withdrawal Bill proposed by Dominic Grieve, John Penrose and others, and you will see that they agree with Labour’s reasoned amendment to it.
But they voted down that amendment. Why? Spite?
It seems to This Writer that they simply couldn’t bear to admit that the Bill is no damn good and should be rejected, to be replaced by one that supports the fundamental principles of democracy that the UK brought into the world, rather than scrapping them.
Look at the Labour amendment:
“This House respects the EU referendum result and recognises that the UK will leave the EU, believes that insisting on proper scrutiny of this Bill and its proposed powers is the responsibility of this sovereign Parliament, recognises the need for considered and effective legislation to preserve EU-derived rights, protections and regulations in UK law as the UK leaves the EU but declines to give a Second Reading to the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill because the Bill fails to protect and reassert the principle of Parliamentary sovereignty by handing sweeping powers to Government Ministers allowing them to bypass Parliament on key decisions, allows for rights and protections to be reduced or removed through secondary legislation without any meaningful or guaranteed Parliamentary scrutiny, fails to include a presumption of devolution which would allow effective transfer of devolved competencies coming back from the EU to the devolved administrations and makes unnecessary and unjustified alterations to the devolution settlements, fails to provide certainty that rights and protections will be enforced as effectively in the future as they are at present, risks weakening human rights protections by failing to transpose the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights into UK law, provides no mechanism for ensuring that the UK does not lag behind the EU in workplace protections and environmental standards in the future and prevents the UK implementing strong transitional arrangements on the same basic terms we currently enjoy, including remaining within a customs union and within the Single Market.”
The Tories agree with most of that.
Of course democracy was undermined by the decision of seven Labour MPs – Ronnie Campbell, Frank Field, Kate Hoey, Kelvin Hopkins, John Mann, Dennis Skinner and Graham Stringer – to back the Bill, claiming that it is the will of the people. Caroline Flint abstained for the same reason.
It is not the will of the people. It was never our will to throw away democracy and let Tory ministers jigger with our rights and protections to suit themselves.
But that’s what Theresa May wants us all to think. Have you heard what she said about the vote?
She called it a “historic decision to back the will of the British people” and said the vote would give clarity and certainty through the Brexit process.
With discussion now to be based on a deeply flawed and fundamentally dictatorial piece of legislation, anybody arguing for democracy will have an extremely difficult time of it, especially with “party within the Tory party” the European Research Group supporting the switch to dictatorship.
The vast majority of UK citizens will have absolutely no right to say anything about what happens next. We just have to watch as, instead of returning democracy to the UK, the Tories hand it over to a tiny number of their own people.
Because this is what we wanted. Right?
Conservative MPs have warned Theresa May that their support for her government’s Brexit legislation is not unconditional, as they demanded significant changes to the EU withdrawal bill within minutes of backing it.
Parliament’s post-midnight vote resulted in the prime minister facing no rebellion from within her party, as the government secured a victory of 326 to 290.
Significantly, the former attorney general Dominic Grieve teamed up with his Tory colleague John Penrose, to warn against a power grab by ministers through so-called Henry VIII powers.
Penrose argues that he and Grieve want two key changes to the bill. First they are calling for a joint committee of the Lords and Commons to scrutinise the government’s planned use of the new powers, which could force parliamentary debates in the few cases where it was thought necessary.
They also want to limit the “wriggle room which ministers are given” during the process.
Grieve also planned to lay down other amendments including calling for a further bill to be required after MPs know what the Brexit deal looks like before this legislation can actually be enacted. He also criticised the removal of safeguards for people or businesses adversely affected by the application of EU law.
Meanwhile, the Brexiter Edward Leigh argued for the government to take a magnanimous approach on Brexit, both inside parliament and towards European allies and to the demands of Scottish politicians.
He said that Brexit supporters had long argued for parliamentary sovereignty called on May to be generous with amendments.
Snouts in the trough: Martin Rowson’s Guardian cartoon goes straight to the heart of the matter – fracking isn’t about ending the energy crisis, or even extracting shale gas in a reasonable way; it is about GREED.
Labour has tabled a legislative amendment to prevent fracking in the UK unless 13 outstanding loopholes in the regulation are closed.
The party first set out its conditions for fracking to take place in March 2012, but says the Government has repeatedly sidelined genuine and legitimate concerns, ignoring gaps in the regulatory framework.
“David Cameron has repeatedly ignored people’s genuine and legitimate environmental concerns over shale gas,” said shadow energy secretary Caroline Flint.
“Despite clear evidence that existing regulations for shale gas are not fit for purpose, the Government seems prepared to push ahead with fracking at any cost.
“While eight out of 10 homes still rely on gas for heating, shale gas may have a role to play in displacing some of the gas we currently import and improving our energy security. But that potential benefit cannot come at the expense of robust environmental protections or our climate change commitments.”
Tom Greatrex MP, Labour’s Shadow Energy Minister, added: “Labour have always said that shale gas extraction cannot go ahead unless there is a system of robust regulation and comprehensive inspection.
“The Tories have belatedly acknowledged that the current regulations are inadequate, conceding to Labour pressure for reform on a small number of issues. But these piecemeal concessions cannot overturn a Tory mindset which is zealously opposed to any further regulation of shale gas in the UK, despite clear evidence that this is necessary.
“There are significant concerns about independent inspection of well-integrity, fugitive emissions and protections for national parks. Labour will force a vote on Monday to prevent shale gas developments in the UK unless these loopholes are closed.”
The message is clear: Unless these dangerous loopholes are closed, Labour wants all plans for fracking in the UK to be abandoned.
This may not be as much as many anti-fracking campaigners wanted, but it is much more than the Coalition Government has offered – and offers a suggestion that Labour may move still further away from any support for the controversial mining method in the future.
Swivel-eyed loon: And Jeremy Hunt is a member of the government, not a grassroots Conservative association.
The Conservative Party is eating itself from within. It is therefore an odd time for members to go into Labour marginal constituencies, trying to undermine support with a loaded questionnaire.
That, however, is exactly what we have seen this weekend. But then, what did you expect from the Party of Doubletalk? The Nasty Party? The Party that sows Divisive-ness wherever it can, while mouthing platitudes like “We’re all in it together”? The Party that claims it is responsible with the nation’s finances, while threatening to run up greater debts than any of its rivals ever did?
Let’s start on financial responsibility: Sir Mervyn King, who retires as Governor of the Bank of England next month, has warned that the ‘Help to Buy’ scheme for new mortgages must not be allowed to run indefinitely. The scheme has the state guaranteeing up to 15 per cent of a mortgage on homes worth up to £600,000, and is intended to run until 2017. Sir Mervyn’s fear is that the government will expose the taxpayer – that’s you and me – to billions of pounds of private mortgage debt. He said the UK must avoid what happened in the USA, where state-backed mortgage schemes had to be bailed out.
This particular scheme has already run into flak from those who claimed it was a “second-home subsidy” for the very rich. The new criticism raises fears that the Conservatives are actively engineering a situation that will create more unsustainable debt – and we all know what they do to resolve that kind of problem, don’t we?
They cut. Most particularly, they cut parts of the public services that help anyone who doesn’t earn at least £100,000 per year.
And no – before anyone pipes up with it – nobody receives that much on benefits.
For doubletalk, let’s look at Michael Gove. The Education Secretary was heckled and jeered when he appeared before the National Association of Head Teachers’ conference, where members passed a motion of no confidence in his policies.
The BBC quoted Russell Hobby, general secretary of the NAHT: “What I think he’s failed to pick up on is the short termism of the targets and the constant change, [which] means that people no longer feel that they’re doing the job that they came to do, which is to teach children.”
Mr Gove said he had been “delighted with the warmth and enthusiasm” that had greeted some of the government’s education policies.
But he went on to say there would be no change of course: “What I have heard is repeated statements that the profession faces stress, and insufficient evidence about what can be done about it. What I haven’t heard over the last hour is a determination to be constructive. Critical yes, but not constructive.”
Doubletalk. At first he was saying one thing when we know he means something else entirely; then he went on to ignore what he had been told – by the experts – because it did not support his policy.
Meanwhile, of course, the Conservative Party is eating itself alive over Europe. There are so many angles to this, it’s hard to know where to begin!
We know that Conservative backbenchers tried to amend their own government’s Queen’s speech with a motion regretting the lack of intention to legislate for an in/out referendum on membership of the European Union, and we know that 116 of them voted in favour of that motion. That wasn’t anything like enough for it to pass, so David Cameron didn’t have to worry about resigning (as suggested in previous articles on this blog).
Next thing we knew, the Telegraph‘s political editor, James Kirkup, told us a government figure close to the Prime Minister had said the backbenchers had to vote the way they did because they had been ordered to do so by grassroots Conservative association members, and they were all “mad, swivel-eyed loons”.
Downing Street has denied that anybody said such a thing, but Kirkup has tweeted “I stand by my story” – and anyway, the damage has been done. Conservative association members were already at loggerheads with the Parliamentary party and the government, we’re told, because they believe their views are being ignored.
(One wonders what those views might, in fact, be. This could be one case in which ignoring the will of the people is actually the more sensible thing to do!)
Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary, has said the Conservatives are “united” in their view of Europe – but then, Jeremy Hunt – as Health Secretary – told Parliament that spending on the NHS has risen in real terms since the Coalition came into office, and we know from Andrew Dilnot, head of the independent UK Statistics Authority, that this is not true.
Lord Howe, on the other hand, has accused Crime – sorry, Prime – Minister David Cameron of “running scared” of Eurosceptics and losing control of the party. This is the man whose resignation speech, which memorably included a comment that being sent to deal with the EU was like being in a cricket team whose captain had broken his bat, signalled the end of Margaret – later Baroness – Thatcher’s career as Prime Minister.
Who do we believe, the silly youngster or the boring old guy? That’s right – we believe the old guy who already brought down one Prime Minister. Perhaps he can do the same to another.
Meanwhile, we were told on Sunday that members of Parliament are all set to receive a pay rise of up to £20,000, starting in 2015, the year of the next general election. The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority has been considering an increase of between £10,000 and £20,000, with the lower figure most likely – despite a consultation revealing that some MPs (all Conservative) thought they were worth more than £100,000 per year.
Backbencher pay is around £65,000 per year at the moment. This means the pay rise they are likely to get is 15 per cent, while those Conservatives who wanted £100 grand expected a rise of 54 per cent.
Average pay rises for working people over the last year were less than one per cent.
Do you think this is appropriate remuneration for the political organisation that said “We’re all in it together?” Because I don’t.
And this is the time the Conservative Party decides to float a proposal for a two-tier benefit system, in a survey sent to residents of marginal seats held by Labour.
One question asked whether benefit payments should be the same, regardless of how many years a person has paid National Insurance or income tax. If people answered ‘no’, the next question asked what proportion of benefits should be dependent on a record of contribution.
This is insidious. If benefits become dependent on contribution, that means young people without a job will not qualify for benefits – they won’t have paid anything in, so won’t be able to take anything out. Also, what about the long-term sick and disabled (don’t start about fraud – eliminating the 0.4 per cent of fraudulent claims does not justify what the Conservative-led Coalition is already doing to 87/88 per cent of ESA claimants, or what it has started doing to PIP claimants)? Their claims are likely to continue long after their contributions run out.
This is, I think, a trick to allow rich people to get out of paying higher tax rates. Think about it – rich people pay more, therefore they subsidise public services, including social security benefits, for the poor. Get people to support benefit payments based on the amount of money people pay in and the rich get a nice fat tax cut while the poor get their benefits cut off.
Fair? All in it together?
There’s a lot of doubletalk, so sections are headed “helping with the cost of living” (they tend to make it impossible for people to meet that cost) or “making our welfare and benefits system fair” – Tories have never tried to do this in the entire history of that political party.
And respondents were asked to agree with one of two statements, which were: “If you work hard, it is possible to be very successful in Britain no matter what your background” and “In Britain today, people from some backgrounds will never have a real chance to be successful no matter how hard they work”. The correct answer is to agree with the second statement, of course. And this government of public schoolboys have every intention of pushing that situation to its utmost extreme, so if you are a middle-class social climber and you think there are opportunities for you under a Tory government, forget it.
The whole nightmarish rag is prefaced by a letter from David Cameron. It’s very funny if you accept that it’s full of doubletalk and nonsense. Let’s go through it together:
“I’d like to know what you think about some of the steps we’ve taken so far – and I’d like to know your ideas about what more the Government can do to help families like yours,” he begins. He means: I’d like to know what we can say in order to get you to vote for us in 2015. We’ll have no intention of carrying out any promise that does not advantage ourselves and our extremely rich friends. The correct response is: Your policies are ideologically-motivated twaddle that are causing critical damage to this country and its institutions. Your best action in the future will be to resign.
“I think helping people through tough economic times means making sure our welfare and benefits is [sic] fair. That means ensuring the system helps those who do the right thing and want to get on. That’s helping rich people through tough economic times. We’ll make welfare and benefits as unfair to the poor as we can. That means ensuring the system helps those who support us and are rich enough for us to want to help them.Your changes to welfare and benefits have led to thousands of deaths. That is not fair. You are breaking the system.
“That’s why we’ve capped the amount an out-of-work household can receive in benefits, so this can’t be more than an average working family earns. Again I’d like to know what you think about the actions we’ve taken so far, and your ideas to the future.” It’s nothing near what an average working family earns, because they would be on benefits that top up their earnings to more than £31,000 – but you couldn’t cap at that level because almost nobody would have been knocked off the benefit books (all your talk about people taking more than £100,000 in benefits was nonsense). Resign, join a monastery and vow never to enter public life again.
There is no doubt about it – the cracks are beginning to show. Last summer, the Olympic Games gave us spectacular firework displays. As public unrest mounts, it seems likely that we’ll see even more spectacular fireworks this year – unplanned.
But then, that is why the Conservatives bought the water cannons that are being tested at Petersfield. When they go into use, we’ll all know what they really think of the general public.
Run, David, run: UK Crime – sorry, Prime – Minister David Cameron has found a reason to be in America while his party tears itself apart over Europe. Nice one, David! We all thought the Tories were turning their Lib Dem Coalition partners blue but in fact, they’ve turned you yellow!
Look at all this political theatre over Europe. It’s for the entertainment of you, the voter – even though you won’t actually gain a thing from staying in or leaving the Brussels-based bureaucracy.
The Conservative Party is going into meltdown about it, certainly – but that’s because individual Tory MPs fear losing votes to UKIP at the next election, making it possible for their party to lose the only thing that matters to them: Power.
UKIP wants out because it is composed – or was, back when it began – of businesspeople who believe that they are being over-regulated by the European Union. They want the freedom to sell inferior products to you, without being penalised for it.
The Tory amendment to the Queen’s speech is nothing but a performance, put on for the benefit of the plebs. It’s a pantomime, with the British public urged to shout “Look out behind you!” at David Cameron’s Widow Twanky, whenever we see the Eurosceptics creeping up out of the shadows.
Note that, in this scenario, Education dunce Michael Gove and damp squib Defence sec Philip Hammond play the ugly sisters; they say they want out of Europe, but they won’t actually do anything about it. Straw men.
The amendment, which condemns the Queen’s speech for failing to include a bill preparing the way for a referendum on whether we stay in the EU, is not only pointless but dangerous. As mentioned previously on this blog, amendments to the Queen’s speech are traditionally taken as confidence votes. The fact that this is a Conservative Party amendment suggests that the government no longer has confidence in itself. If the amendment succeeds, the Prime Minister should resign and the government should fall.
Perhaps I am mistaken. This is not pantomime – it’s farce.
And the amendment is certain to be defeated, according to the pundits, because all the Liberal Democrats, most of Labour and a significant proportion of the Conservatives will vote against it. This means that even the question of confidence in the government can be avoided because nobody will be able to raise it as an issue.
That’s why I said, elsewhere on the internet, that Labour should abstain.
On the Huffington Post site, I wrote: “Labour’s best move is to abstain, let the Tories defeat their own government with the amendment, and then see if Cameron follows Parliamentary convention and resigns. It’s possible he’ll say that a vote on the Queen’s speech is no longer a confidence issue because of his Fixed-Terms Parliaments Act, which defined a ‘no confidence’ vote for the first time, but this may be countered by saying that, if Parliament does not support the planned legislative programme, then it does not support the government or the Prime Minister who leads it.
“If the PM ignores the resignation issue, then we can all say he is running an outlaw government and nothing he does from now on should be considered legal; if he resigns, then the amendment won’t matter because it won’t go forward.
“And let’s face it, if Labour can abstain on the Jobseekers (Back to Work Schemes) Bill, there’s no reason not to abstain on this!”
If the amendment succeeds, we can have a proper debate on whether this government is fit for purpose – at a time when people are still coming to terms with the first death directly attributed to the imposition of the Conservative Bedroom Tax, which itself follows the deaths of thousands due to the Conservative-employed Atos firm’s mismanagement of Employment and Support Allowance assessments.
It won’t, and we’ll be denied our chance to have that debate.
But just remember – despite all the swagger and show – you’re being denied the chance to have a proper debate on Europe as well.
Cameron contrite while Farage laughs: The longer the Crime – sorry, Prime – Minister wavers over Europe, the more of a fool he makes himself seem.
David Cameron seems determined to make his mark on the history books as the worst Prime Minister never to be elected in the United Kingdom.
Yesterday we learned that he is giving serious thought to supporting a Parliamentary vote that would condemn the Queen’s speech – that now-notoriously sparse proclamation of forthcoming legislation, spat out by Her Majesty like a rotting carcass last Wednesday – for failing to mention any law allowing an in-out referendum on Europe.
It’s as though he’s going out of his way to make a fool of himself.
Perhaps he is running scared of UKIP, a party that won the votes of just over 7.5 per cent of the British voting population in the local elections and is therefore – still – a considerable distance from forming any kind of threat to the Conservatives, who we should remember are the oldest, ugliest and nastiest political organisation in the country.
More likely, he’s running scared of his own backbenchers, who have become considerably more restless about Europe since the (perceived) rise of UKIP to prominence. It’s a false belief, based on the fact that the Eurosceptic party got 25 per cent of the vote in the locals. Total voter turnout was only 31 per cent, so a quarter of that means only 7.5+ per cent voted UKIP.
We should also remember that UKIP supporters were more likely to vote in this year’s elections as theirs was a vote of protest against the government, supporting the party they believe to represent that protest. Others were more likely to believe the locals were irrelevant in the larger scheme of things and stay at home.
However, Tories are not highly-regarded for their understanding and good stewardship of statistics – look at the example of Iain Duncan Smith – so it seems they’re putting the screws on Cameron.
This has been accentuated by calls to quit Europe from ex-heavyweights Nigel Lawson and Michael Portaloo, and the claim by Bore-us Johnson that leaving the EU will not harm the UK’s economy.
It’s as though they are going out of their way to make a fool of him.
You see, there are two very good reasons why Cameron should not support a vote that undermines the measures in the Queen’s speech:
Firstly: He wrote it. Even if he was not responsible for the exact wording, it is the document that outlines the legislative programme for the forthcoming year, to be followed by the government of which Cameron is the leader – and it follows, therefore, that he must have had the final say about it.
If he supports a vote against it, the public can conclude either that he is not a man of principle but one who does whatever he thinks will win him the support he needs, whether it is right or wrong, or that he is a brainless fool who didn’t pay enough attention to the content of the speech.
Secondly: No Parliament can bind the next. It is likely that ‘enabling’ legislation for a vote on EU membership was left out of the Queen’s speech for the very good reason that the vote will not take place during the lifetime of the current Parliament. Cameron has always stated that it would take place after an outright Conservative victory in 2015 – partly to blackmail Eurosceptic voters into supporting his party at that poll, but also because his Liberal Democrat Coalition partners won’t support a vote while they are a part of the government.
Finally, it seems Cameron should have remembered the coda at the end of the speech. It said, “Other measures will be laid before you.”
In other words, provision had been made, already, for legislation that was not included in the speech. He didn’t have to say or do anything.
It’s as though he’s going out of his way to make a fool of himself.
Postscript: New information has been passed to me which casts the situation in a whole new light.
It states: “The first parliamentary test of a minority or coalition government is the vote on an amendment to the Queen’s Speech. If the Queen’s Speech is amended, the Prime Minister must resign.”
Let’s all hope that this amendment is won and Cameron supports it. Because, guess what?
It’s as though he’s going out of his way to make a fool of himself!
Post-postscript: According to the New Statesman, the Commons Information Office reckons a defeat on the Queen’s speech no longer constitutes a vote of no confidence in the government. That Bill offered a definition of a ‘no confidence’ vote for the first time, meaning that a defeat on the planned legislative programme or, say, the Budget, are no longer regarded as votes of no confidence in the government.
That seems wrong to me; if Parliament doesn’t support the planned legislative programme (or spending plans, in the case of the Budget) then it follows logically that Parliament does not have confidence in the government that devised it.
Whatever happens, it seems this Conservative Prime Minister is happy not to conserve an ancient Parliamentary convention, if it doesn’t suit him.
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