Category Archives: Politics

Just go BoJo! (Including homage to Bernard Levin)

For some time I have considered Boris Johnson to be arrogant, amoral, asinine, blundering, brash, bombastic, contemptible, contemptuous, callous, conniving, cavalier, deceitful, dissembling, disloyal, damnable, degraded, discreditable, egotistical, execrable, equivocating, flagitious, felonious, fraudulent, greedy, grasping, grandstanding, hopeless, hoggish, incorrigible, incompetent, insidious, insincere, juvenile, knavish, lascivious, lying, lazy, mendacious, nasty, nefarious, narcissistic, oafish, overweening, perfidious, piggish, predatory, rapacious, roguish, rascally, sneaky, shifty, swinish, self-obsessed, treacherous, two-faced, unreliable, utterly unscrupulous and unfit for office. His announcement this week has merely reinforced my view.

Boris has finally come out and admitted what everyone assumed would be the case, that he wants to become an MP once more. But don’t worry London – he will serve out his term as Mayor. Obviously he feels that representing millions of Londoners and running a £15bn budget is something that can be done on the side. So, Boris will sort out policing issues over a panini. Then, instead of whiling away spare time on tindr, design a decent cycling infrastructure in the loo. His barmy bubble lift scheme certainly seems like an idea that plopped out after a heavy night on the sauce. Then again, maybe this is unkind – he has often given the impression of serving only in his spare time up till now anyway.

He will supposedly be serving Londoners and his new constituents simultaneously but the reality is that he is only interested in serving himself and his overweening ambition. His actions show contempt for those who have elected him and whatever constituency he parachutes into. The sheer arrogance of his belief that he can adequately do both jobs part time when his mayoralty has been a melange of mediocrity, marked primarily by his remarkable talents for self-promotion, is mind-boggling.

His tenure has seen massive hikes in bus fares (despite promises to “bear down on fares), which disproportionately affect the poor. He has performed a volte-face from his 2008 opposition to ticket office closures, now proudly announcing the closure of all ticket office and the resultant mass job losses, all necessary in order to prevent fare hikes. His opposition to tube fare hikes would be welcome were it not for the fact that he has overseen above-inflation fare increases every year he has been in office. Perhaps most pertinently, in London’s over-heating property market his planning policy has failed. The continuing decline in affordable housing in the capital is, in part, a result of his laissez-faire approach.

Despite this record Boris remains popular, a state that has long puzzled me. His Bullingdon buffoonery, pretending to be a cheerful cheeseboard Charlie, seems to be such an obvious shtick. This calculated blimpishness serving primarily to distract from his connivances while he weasels his way closer to power.

This popularity has led to an orgasmic outpouring from the right wing press hailing the return of their joker in the pack. The Telegraph thinks his “stardust” can single-handedly neutralise UKIP. The Mail and the Express tried to outdo each other in fawning obsequiousness, the Express proclaiming him to be on his “way to greatness”, a conclusion with which, despite his unconvincing self-effacement, Boris no doubt agrees.

I am sure that there will eventually be a scrape that Boris is unable to extricate himself from with a “Golly, gosh, cripes”. Hopefully, that day will come before he is in a position of even greater importance.

In the meantime, if you agree that the position of Mayor of London is one that should be full-time I would urge you to sign this petition: https://www.change.org/en-GB/petitions/boris-johnson-stand-down-as-mayor-of-london

The DRIP effect of pernicious legislation

This evening I will be putting a resolution to my local Labour party that any legislation such as Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act (“DRIP”) should always be subject to proper parliamentary scrutiny and debate. Whilst I accept that surveillance can be a vital tool in tackling terrorism and crime it should not be used indiscriminately. Surveillance needs to be more accountable if it is to maintain public confidence. One step to attain such accountability would be to require surveillance to be legally authorised by a judge.

I was dumbfounded by the lack of transparency and debate that accompanied this legislation which was rushed from announcement to enshrinement in 8 days, or roughly half the time it takes to circumnavigate Eric Pickles. There is staggering arrogance in a bill that places private individuals under greater scrutiny being passed through parliament with none. The fact that this bill requires some level of technical expertise has been ignored in this ‘emergency’.

The government’s definition of emergency would lead to constant hysteria if generally applied anywhere else in life. There was no pressing need identified that made this an emergency. The government has known since April that the European Court of Justice had rejected mass data collection as incompatible with our right to a private life and the protection of personal data.

In part DRIP serves as a legal fig-leaf for corporate entities that are already complying with intercept warrants for much of the information requested by government (see here for fuller explanation: http://jackofkent.com/2014/07/why-drip-matters/). Indeed, it seems that the legal departments of e-mail providers are being given more weight than the individuals who are to be the subjects of this surveillance.

The right to privacy is a qualified right and can be limited in the interests of national security or the prevention of crime. However, the balance is one that requires careful monitoring. The fallacy of the argument that I have nothing to hide and so I have nothing to fear is that it always accords primacy to other interests than the right to privacy.

The nothing to hide argument is false in several ways. For example, we have often seen the potential for abuse or misuse of surveillance powers.  Doreen Lawrence and the De Menezes family had nothing to hide – does that make their being spied on harmless or acceptable? Others to have been subjected to unwarranted intrusion in their private life have been powerful organisations such as Amnesty International, charities like UNICEF, unions, and prominent individuals in the Labour Party like the Shadow Justice Secretary Sadiq Khan. If those with power can be so abused we need to think of how it could impact those with none.

All these abuses occurred under what I would consider relatively benign governments. It does not take an enormous leap of imagination to consider less benign forces abusing these powers. A government pursuing a more aggressive stance against trade unions, political activists and charities is not hard to contemplate. We have seen this government criticise charities such as the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and Oxfam for having the gumption to highlight some of the consequences of their iniquitous policies.

Data abuse need not even arise from malign intent. We have seen cases of poor data handling resulting in wrongful arrest, such as Khaled El Masri.  (http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/dec/13/european-court-human-rights-cia-abuse-khaled-elmasri) It seems plausible to me that the more ubiquitous the data the more likely it is that these errors will occur.

There is also the obvious potential for this information to spread beyond the confines of government, either through memory sticks being left in the pub, or the government selling “anonymised” data.  

In order to play to the nothing to hide crowd the government has called upon the perennial bogeymen of terrorism and paedophilia to stifle debate. The impending paedogeddon is yet again being used to keep unruly civil libertarians in line. This red-top thinking must be avoided in government. Anything that fundamentally disrupts the balance between the individual’s right to privacy and national security must be very carefully examined and the onus must surely fall on the state to demonstrate why further impingements of our liberty are necessary. This has assuredly not happened with DRIP.