Labour MP Peter Dowd earned himself a small place in Parliamentary history yesterday (December 14), when he destroyed the credibility of both Theresa May and Boris Johnson in just 15 seconds.
That is the amount of time it took him to ask this question:
Mr Speaker, in the light of the Foreign Secretary’s display of chronic foot-in-mouth disease, when deciding on Cabinet positions, does the Prime Minister now regret that pencilling FO against his name should have been an instruction not a job offer.
That was enough to send the occupants of the green benches into prolonged hysterics. A discomfited Mrs May had to wait for an interruption by the Speaker, John Bercow, before the laughter abated and she could respond. She said:
I have to say that the Foreign Secretary is doing an absolutely excellent job. He is in short an FFS, a fine foreign secretary.
How nice. But those of us who are familiar with Internet slang also know what “FFS” actually means, and in context it seems Mrs May was ill-advised to use it when referring to Mr Johnson.
You see, when referring to a man who embarrassed the Conservative Government by referring to its Middle East ally Saudi Arabia as “puppeteering and playing proxy wars”, and who – as London Mayor – wasted more than £300,000 on water cannons that cannot be used, the original meaning of the abbreviation “FFS” certainly comes to mind.
Perhaps that is why Canary writer Carlyn Harvey penned the following:
There’s one clear ‘instruction’ we should all give the prime minister: FFS, can you please tell the foreign secretary to FO? For all our sakes.
The title of this series of articles is supposed to be ‘Great Coalition Failures’ – but even a cursory examination of its record on today’s subject reveals that it is not adequate to the depth of the betrayal that is evident.
Considering the oppressive behaviour of the Conservative and Liberal Democrat administration in destroying British citizens’ freedoms, one can only conclude that David Cameron, Nick Clegg and all their representatives actively set out to deceive the British public on the subject of:
3. CIVIL LIBERTIES
We will be strong in defence of freedom. The Government believes that the British state has become too authoritarian, and that over the past decade it has abused and eroded fundamental human freedoms and historic civil liberties. We need to restore the rights of individuals in the face of encroaching state power, in keeping with Britain’s tradition of freedom and fairness [In the light of the Coalition’s record, this can only be seen as a very sick in-joke for the benefit of the writers].
We will implement a full programme of measures to reverse the substantial erosion of civil liberties and roll back state intrusion [It seems state intrusion in our lives has never been higher].
We will introduce a Freedom Bill [This happened. It was a Nick Clegg idea and includes measures mentioned elsewhere on this list. Of the others, the proposed restrictions on police stop-and-search powers seem laughable, following the furore over the stopping and searching of people during the ‘racist advertising van’ debacle of 2013 – because they looked foreign].
We will scrap the ID card scheme, the National Identity register and the ContactPoint database, and halt the next generation of biometric passports.
We will outlaw the finger-printing of children at school without parental permission [This is in the Protection of Freedoms Act].
We will extend the scope of the Freedom of Information Act to provide greater transparency [Attempts to secure up-to-date figures on the number of benefit claimants who have died as a result of government ‘reforms’ shows that the Coalition has made a mockery of the Freedom of Information Act. For a run-down of the ways in which government departments may dodge their responsibilities, see this article].
We will adopt the protections of the Scottish model for the DNA database [DNA database protections are in the Protection of Freedoms Act].
We will protect historic freedoms through the defence of trial by jury [A lie. The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have started ‘secret’ trials, in which a person can be convicted without ever knowing the offence of which they are accused, seeing any evidence or having any chance to mount a defence against it].
We will restore rights to non-violent protest [This has not happened. It seems clear that the response to any such street protest that our current government dislikes will involve the employment of water cannons. Free speech is covered by changes in the libel laws that protect outsourced government services from criticism, and then there is the Gagging and Blacklisting Act, which was supposed to be about government lobbyists but became a tool of repression].
We will review libel laws to protect freedom of speech [Conservatives blocked changes that would force private companies to show financial damage before being able to sue others for libel. This means government-owned prisons may be criticised without fear of legal action but privately-run prisons cannot. With so many government services being outsourced or sold off, this effectively neuters any relaxation of libel law as far as criticism of the government itself is concerned].
We will introduce safeguards against the misuse of anti-terrorism legislation [This is in the Protection of Freedoms Act].
We will further regulate CCTV [This is in the Protection of Freedoms Act].
We will end the storage of internet and email records without good reason [Depending on your point of view, this is a lie. What constitutes “good reason”? The Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act tramples all over any definition].
We will introduce a new mechanism to prevent the proliferation of unnecessary new criminal offences.
We will establish a Commission to investigate the creation of a British Bill of Rights that incorporates and builds on all our obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights, ensures that these rights continue to be enshrined in British law, and protects and extends British liberties. We will seek to promote a better understanding of the true scope of these obligations and liberties [This is an outright lie. The Bill of Rights, as proposed in recent weeks, will remove obligations that were placed on us by the ECHR, and lay the British people open to abuses of their civil liberties on a scale not seen for many years. The stated desire to promote a better understanding of civil obligations and liberties may be discounted as it is not in the government’s interest to tell people about freedoms that are being legislated away from them].
The verdict: The Conservative and Liberal Democrat Coalition has overseen the most oppressive clampdown on British citizens’ civil liberties for decades. Freedoms that we had four years ago are now distant memories. Freedom of speech – gone. Freedom of association – gone. Freedom to join a trade union – heavily monitored, with a threat of blacklisting. Our telephone conversations and Internet communications are monitored. We can be arrested, charged, tried and imprisoned without ever knowing why or seeing any evidence against us.
Meanwhile, the government has never been so well-protected against criticism. Government departments have an arsenal of excuses to protect themselves from having to answer Freedom of Information Requests, so you can’t find out what they are doing or the consequences of their actions. Privatised and outsourced government services are immune to criticism as they may sue any critic for libel.
Your freedoms have been removed and your government is more authoritarian than ever. If the Conservatives are elected next year, you are likely to lose the few human rights that remain.
Corporate trade a-greed-ment: Notice that this image of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership has mighty corporations straddling the Atlantic while the ‘little’ people – the populations they are treading on – are nowhere to be seen. [Picture: FT]
Your rights and freedoms have been under attack from all sides.
Not only has the government been able to pass the ‘gagging’ bill, preventing you from organising large-scale campaigns against repressive right-wing Conservative and Liberal Democrat legislation; not only are the police lobbying a sympathetic Home Secretary (there’s no restriction on their campaigning powers) for permission to use water cannons to suppress public on-street political protests; not only is the government hiding legislation to shackle news reporters and ignore the democratic process within a Bill that is supposed to be about cutting ‘red tape’; but negotiations to barter away your rights in the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership are still taking place.
Now, dear reader, you have probably written to your elected representatives at the European Parliament already. You haven’t? In that case, please look them up here – MEPs are elected on a regional basis so you should write to everyone representing your constituency – and get writing.
For information, here’s the letter I wrote to my own MEPs. Do not copy this, paste it into your email program and send it as your own! You will be ignored. The best way to grab their attention is to put in your own words your concerns about this issue. Use what follows as reference, but say it your own way.
Readers of Vox Political have been accused of improper behaviour before, because they copied and pasted rather than using their own words. Let’s not allow that again.
Here’s my letter; see if you can improve on it:
May I draw your attention to the detrimental effects of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. This agreement, currently in negotiation between the USA and the European Union, has as its stated aim opening up markets for services, investment and public procurement.
Much of the groundwork has been carried out in secret, hidden from public scrutiny, but the information that has been made available has aroused serious concern that this agreement will weaken existing standards and regulations that protect workers and consumers in the EU.
In particular, the Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) would allow any foreign company operating in the UK to make a claim against the government for loss of future profits resulting from any regulatory action by the government, such as new legislation. Such claims would be considered by an unelected, unaccountable tribunal composed of three corporate lawyers whose decisions are likely to favour the corporations and would override national laws.
ISDS was set up to protect companies operating in countries with a history of political instability where the rule of law could not be guaranteed. This does not apply to either the US or the EU and you should interpret this mechanism only as a device for subverting our national and supranational legislation.
It is widely believed that the TTIP will be used by our Conservative-led government as a means of locking-in its detrimental changes to the National Health Service. I am sure I do not have to rehearse the arguments that introducing private companies to the health service in England is leading to a patchwork system in which care is provided entirely on the basis of profitability. There is now no obligation on the Secretary of State for Health to provide a high-quality service across the whole of the UK, and the new system encourages Clinical Commissioning Groups and medical practices to exclude from their lists patients with conditions that are expensive to treat. The TTIP will forbid the UK government from improving this system with legitimate public health regulation, health protection and health promotion policies as private health companies will be able to sue the state for loss of future profits. ISDS would make it impossible for CCGs to cancel contracts with private providers, even when those firms were providing inadequate standards of patient care, because they would then face a legal challenge for loss of earnings that they could not fund. It will also limit the government’s ability to regulate professional standards and qualifications regarded for healthcare workers and lower the quality of patient care. In short, it would be impossible to reverse the disastrous Health and Social Care Act 2012, and its marketisation of the NHS. Do you want the health of your constituents to depend on a foreign company’s balance sheet?
You may wish to take heart from comments by the British Medical Association that it believes the NHS will be exempt from the TTIP. There is no evidence to support this statement. In fact, David Cameron stated in reply to a Parliamentary question in June 2013: “I am not aware of a specific exemption for any particular area, but I think that the health service would be treated in the same way in relation to EU-US negotiations as it is in relation to EU rules.”
In fact, as comments from the chairman of the Liberalisation of Trade in Services Committee (LOTIS) and financial services pressure group TheCityUK make clear, no issue had been identified that would allow exclusion of any sector from the second round of TTIP negotiations in November last year. You should also note that the Lisbon Treaty provides no protection for the NHS, despite the arguments of some people.
Furthermore, evidence to the House of Lords European Sub-Committee on External Affairs has shown that public health measures such as warnings on food labels, pesticides and chemicals, and other potentially toxic or unhealthy products may be restricted to bring the EU in line with the narrow approach to risk assessment taken in America (that promotes sales) and away from the EU’s broader precautionary principle (that promotes safety). Are you in favour of sales or the safety of your constituents?
You will know that the USA has not implemented fundamental labour rights such as the rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining. Regulatory harmonisation brought about by the TTIP will lower European labour rights to American standards – the agreement will always bring standards down to the lowest common denominator. This means that workers in all sectors, including (again) health, will lose vital rights in their struggle for fair pay and conditions of work. Do you support attacks on workers’ rights?
To sum up: The TTIP is ill-judged in its entirety and neither the UK nor the European Union should have anything to do with it. It would give huge power to transnational corporations while stripping away member states’ rights to regulate them and, in that sense alone, represents an enormous threat to democracy. British people fought long, arduous battles to gain the few rights they have, and neither you nor anybody else in the European Union have a mandate to sign those rights away.
This agreement may safeguard the profits of large multinational companies, ensuring that huge amounts of money go into their shareholders’ bank accounts (wherever they may be), but it will undermine the wages of everybody who works for them – again, according to the principle of the lowest common denominator. Yet it is workers’ wages that support national economies – by necessity they spend most (if not all) of their income as soon as they get it, on rent, utility bills, groceries and other vital supplies. The TTIP will harm national economies.
There is an argument that the TTIP will create growth and jobs – but there is little evidence for this, and even that is poor. The European Commission’s own impact assessment admits that a 0.5 per cent increase in growth would be “optimistic”, and independent research suggests that a meagre 0.01 per cent increase in the growth rate over 10 years is more likely. The North American Free Trade Agreement between the US, Canada and Mexico led to a net loss of almost a million jobs in the US.
Negotiations on the TTIP represent a test on where your loyalties lie. Do you support the people who elected you – or are you a puppet of the corporations?
As my representative, I am asking you to take all steps necessary to publicise this attack on democracy and on our sovereignty, and to take any action – individually or collectively – to put an end to it.
Please let me know what you intend to do.
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Gone in a penstroke: If the Deregulation Bill becomes law, Acts of Parliament that protect your freedom could be removed from the statute book at a minister’s whim.
I have spent much of today putting old paperwork through the shredder in advance of tomorrow’s debate on the Deregulation Bill.
Why? Hidden among the plans to revoke ancient laws regulating pigsties is a clause that revokes the freedom of the press – in particular, the freedom of journalists to protect their sources.
The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats don’t want reporters to be able to protect political whistleblowers and the information they release from state harassment and confiscation.
Vox Political has long warned that the Coalition government was pushing us towards totalitarianism, and that is exactly what this apparently innocuous – but in fact deeply pernicious – piece of legislation proves.
We’ve had the gagging law, to silence organised dissent; we know that police chiefs want to use water cannons to stifle public protest; now we are faced with a cloak-and-dagger scheme to silence the press.
The removal of these privileges means the media will be unable to report anything that does not meet government approval – or face confiscation of equipment including computers, notebooks, recordings and correspondence that will lead to the identification of people who provide information that the government wants hushed up.
As a blogger who is also a qualified journalist, this directly affects me – and that is why I have been destroying paperwork. Tomorrow is only the Bill’s second reading – it must go through the committee stage, report stage and third reading before moving on to the House of Lords – but it is better to be well-prepared than to be caught napping.
Far more insidious than this, however, is the other part of this ‘red tape-cutting’ Bill that goes unmentioned. The really harmful part…
The part that says ministers should have the power to revoke any law they like, using statutory instruments (at the stroke of a pen) rather than taking the issue to a democratic vote in Parliament and, you know, actually telling anybody about it.
This means freedoms we have enjoyed for centuries- or just a few years – could be removed with no prior notice, under the pretext of getting rid of ‘red tape’.
We would certainly be living in a police state if this were allowed to happen.
So here’s the big question: Do you think your MP even knows about this?
I only know because I read it onAnother Angry Voice– from which site this article has swiped much of its information.
In his article, AAV creator Thomas G. Clark points out: “The Tories that devised this scheme… are clearly relying on the vast majority of Coalition MPs voting this through as the whips instruct them, without bothering to even read the documentation, understand the intricacies or even participate in the debate.
“If you chose to ignore the wealth of evidence and refuse to believe that David Cameron and the Tories would use these new powers to… stamp out dissent for their own sociopathic reasons, then at least consider the possibility that they are enabling the possibility of an unimaginably invasive totalitarian regime in the future. One where open justice is abolished, the population permanently monitored for signs of dissent, and dissenters are silenced in secretive Stalinist style legalistic proceedings.”
Obviously AAV and Vox Political will be right in the firing-line if this happens.
You need to contact your MP and ask what they’re going to do about this appalling assault on your freedom. Tell them about the clauses in the Deregulation Bill that have nothing to do with removing archaic regulations and everything to do with clamping down on your freedom and tell them in no uncertain terms that you won’t have it.
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