Re-Moaners and Trump’eters

Another few weeks drift past and yet the same issues which seem to have been in the news all year, remain.

The US never-ending election still has over 3 weeks to run and just when you think the behaviour and approach of both camps can’t get any worse they manage to achieve it. If it’s not sexual abuse allegations it’s more leaked emails. I pity the American voter. I thought our choice this side of the Atlantic was pretty bad but the candidates there look appalling.

I watched the clip of Gary Johnson who is apparently also standing as a Libertarian Party candidate – I mean really? Over five years into a civil war in Syria and this man who wants to be President of the most powerful nation on earth does not know what Aleppo is?

At least Trump and Clinton have managed to answer some questions on the subject. It’s not unusual for foreign affairs (not the sexual kind) to play little part in a US election, but one might have expected that confrontations with Russia over Syria, Ukraine and Crimea, to have some impact. Likewise relations with China over the Spratley Islands rather than ridiculous notions of simplistic arguments over manufacturing jobs in the US should have some policy. It remains completely unreported what either candidate’s plans for North Korea are. Better not ask Trump but his rhetoric can’t be worse than the accusations from US Security services that NK was behind the Sony attack.

What still amazes many commentators is that Trump is still popular with large swathes of the US electorate despite all the gaffes. It demonstrates how unpopular Clinton is but more importantly how upset many American voters are with the established political class which Clinton embodies.  Here we have some of the parallels with the UK EU debate despite the referendum.

Although there is an element of the moaning bad loser side in some of the pronouncements from what was the remain side, many did set out the risks to the economy an no-vote would bring. Several senior economists have stated that the currency changes that we have seen since end of June were a long overdue correction to Sterling’s position just exasperated by the vote for exit and on-going uncertainty of what that means. In the percentages shown everything is referred to the currency position post 23rd June, failing as usual to mention that Sterling’s value had risen significantly in the lead up to the vote.

Euro over 5 years from here shows a different story than the headlines might have you believe on 19th Oct 2011 the exchange rate was 1.14 and it closed on 14th Oct 2016 at 1.11. In particular, the rise of the pound in 2015 and the lead up to the vote is dramatic. US Dollar to Sterling is a significant fall over the same period 1.57 to 1.21 and the comments on reserve currencies should be concerning, but at the same time interest rates have been signaled upwards in the US and stay the same or lower in the UK which does not help Sterling investors. By the way Euro to US Dollar has gone down from 1.37 to 1.11 in the same time period.

I have picked an arbitrary period but some of us can remember much better and worse Pound to Dollar rates. It reached a low of 1.05 in February 1985 after the ERM fiasco and was as high as 2.11 in November 2007 as sub-prime crashed the dollar

What do we learn from that brief history- currencies fluctuate – sometimes a lot – thousands of traders around the world make money doing that.

Final discussion for today is on Credit Rating Agencies and their comments – yes the same folks that branded those sub-prime investment funds as AAA, are doing all their warnings on where the pound might go next. All the discussion is based on what the UK might do as if what might happen in the Euro (How is Greece by the way and Italy, Portugal, Spain?) will have no impact. Remember Euro zone and other EU exports to the UK, exceed UK Exports to the EU – we both have a lot to lose if we are stupid and put in unnecessary tariffs.  World trade will be damaged if Trump introduced tariffs to protect American jobs and cancels NAFTA. Likewise what will be the impact on the dollar if Trump wins and implements that piece of rhetoric.

Guess what the pound might go up or down or sideways.  Can we moan about currency traders instead?

Migrants and Refugees

It seems ages since I wrote a blog, work and proper writing interfering with Internet broadcasting.

As it is all over the news I thought I would add my views on the current crisis impacting Europe. Refugees and migrants are attempting to escape their own countries and find a hoped for better or safer life in Europe. The European politicians of all persuasions struggle to come up with a suitable soundbite that can demonstrate a caring attitude whilst maintaining their pre-held opinions.  The UK is held up as either not doing enough or doing far too much, whilst facts are mangled and as usual the politicians throw as much mud as possible. There are multiple aspects to this. First some of my definitions:

  • Migrant – an immigrant or transitory person for whatever reason
  • Refugee – someone escaping persecution or seeking safety – can be internal to a nation as many in Syria already are
  • Asylum seeker – Someone who claims that there is a fear of persecution or worse in their own country and thus seeks asylum – but can also be some person hiding out in the Ecuadorian Embassy.
  • Economic migrant – someone seeking a better life for themselves – in and out of UK

The humanitarian urge to do what we can, evidenced in Hungarian people doling out food and water to walking migrants (most may well be refugees), is only one aspect. There needs to be a practical assessment of what can be done realistically. For example Turkey is host to 2 million Syrian refugees escaping the civil war of which ISL or Dash is only one element http://data.unhcr.org/syrianrefugees/country.php?id=224

So let’s try and stick to facts – the UK net population increase (official government 2013 figures) due to migration was 300,000.  The vast majority of these 200,000 were from the  EU. These are either family and friends of existing residents or economic migrants searching for work in a growing economy. These are all legal migrants as no one has accurate figures on illegal migrants i.e. persons form outside the EU. The remainder are those that have temporary or permanent rights to stay e.g. students or key workers.

We then have asylum seekers, some key points from http://migrationobservatory.ox.ac.uk/briefings/migration-uk-asylum

Key points

  • Asylum applications (excluding dependents) rose from 4,256 in 1987 to a peak of 84,130 in 2002. They stood at 24,914 in 2014.
    More…
  • Asylum applicants and their dependents comprised an estimated 8% of net migration in 2013, down from 49% in 2002 but up from 4% in 2010.
    More…
  • In 2014, 59% of asylum applications were initially refused. A majority of refused applicants lodge appeals. In 2014, 28% of appeals were allowed.
    More…
  • Men made up nearly 3 out of 4 (73%) main applicants for asylum in 2014.
    More…
  • In 2014, the UK received 5% of asylum claims made in EU countries (plus Norway and Switzerland), making it the sixth highest recipient of asylum claims.
    More…

The latest estimated migration figure for 2014 is 330,000 of which the asylum seekers make up approx 25,000 so 7.5%

I heard Kent Council state on the radio that the numbers of migrant unaccompanied children under 14 had gone from an average of 240 per year to 720 last year all of whom needed initially foster parents, schooling and support. A huge increase in workload http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-kent-34139364

At the same time we have an alleged housing crisis with organisations like Shelter claiming we need to build 250,000 new homes per year just to keep pace with current population growth http://www.thehomesweneed.org.uk/ The UK’s population is now also growing for many complex reasons see the ONS statistics here but this adds a further 200,000 or so on top of the migration impact. Therefore, we are adding a city population the approximate size of Sheffield to our overall population every year.

On the BBC this morning it was explained that during the 1956 Hungarian uprising the UK took over 40,000 refugees. This has also been discussed as one of the tens of thousands estimates and comparisons for asylum to be offered.Note on 7 Sep the UK Prime Minister announced the number is 20,000

In terms of the overall net migration and population increase numbers this would be a further 10% increase.

The problem for the UK and many other countries is not the humanitarian support. We have the money and the food and water we are after all a rich nation in GDP terms. It is the very practical question of where they are going to live, go to school, get health care. We do not have many large old military bases sitting empty but they can help. Do we want tented villages near ports of entry? Where in the UK will they go. How will they be transported there? For all the claims that we must do something we need to have answers first.

Not An Election Post

Aside

I was making a major effort not to write about the election. With this I have just failed – sorry.

First rant on the way is about coverage. This is a vote for MPs standing in 650 constituencies across the UK. The MP once elected is supposed to represent all the constituents not just the minority that actually voted for the individual, whatever the rosette.

Second rant concerns who we can vote for. I cannot vote for David Cameron, Ed Milliband, Nigel Farage, Nick Clegg or any of the other party leaders. They are not standing in the constituency in which I live. They are not standing against each other either. The constant portrayal by the media of the battle between them is factually and practically wrong. Another reason why the TV debates were farcical. Yes, as leaders of their parties they may be involved, if re-elected by their constituencies, with one exception for one leader. Nicola Sturgeon is not actually standing for Westminster but she seems to be the only focus of much of the coverage. She is so convinced that she knows what is right for the UK she has decided to stay as an MSP. This fact has not even received any coverage – democratic deficit anyone? Her former boss Alex Salmond is standing (after allegedly retiring) this reminds me of Putin becoming Prime Minister so that he could comply with re-election rules in Russia before returning as President. Is there something the SNP is not telling us.

It was supposed to be a six week campaign leading up to the vote on the 7th May but thanks to the new fixed terms it seems we have gone straight from the Scottish referendum into the General election. As I have previously covered, when discussing the referendum, the media seem to be totally focused on the role of the SNP and the likely results in Scotland deciding what the rest of the United Kingdom should do. Whereas in the referendum we had over 6% of the electorate deciding whether to breakup the UK we now have the potential for the similar 5% deciding who governs. The lower percentage is due to the 16 and 17 year-olds who could vote in the referendum but cannot vote in the General Election.

At the end of the 2010 election we had the Liberal Democrats forming a formal coalition with the Conservatives who were by far the largest party and had the largest share of the UK vote. The Conservatives missed out on forming a non coalition government by 23 MPs. The SNP in its public statements has already ruled out any support for a Conservative led government (although in the Scottish Parliament the SNP has in the past relied on Conservative support). The public statements have been made by Nicola Sturgeon the SNP leader who is not even standing in the election! She next stands for election in 2016 in the Scottish Parliamentary elections. Therefore she is saying that regardless of the result in the rest of the UK she will not support potentially the largest democratic vote.

Of course combined with Labour the share of the vote may well exceed that of the Conservatives, but previous results have shown this not to be the case. Boundary changes were supposed to correct the anomaly. Scotland’s 5% of voters 9% of population equates in Westminster MPs to 9% of MPs (59 out of 650). Polls seem to indicate that the SNP may win over forty of these, predominantly from Labour. As with public sector spending per head Scotland seems to be batting above its position. UKIP proposes to change this position by reforming the Barnet formula for devolved spending. Of course UKIP may have some MPs itself to support or otherwise any planned coalition.

Meanwhile the polls tell us it is too close to call but that some informal or formal arrangement nay have to exist. Labour has said no to any formal coalition with SNP. Liberal Democrats have said they will work with anyone depending on the results. The Conservatives only talk about overall majorities. If the Conservatives do have an overall majority will the SNP respect the democratic decision of the majority of the voting population?

Enough politics I have books to write!

Ramblings

There has been a lot going on since my last commentary blog. The Paris attacks are a notable case in point. These have once again prompted the powers that be to insist that they need more powers to monitor communications as a way of preventing further attacks.

Once again no specificity is provided on how exactly the systems proposed would have prevented an attack, given that the purveyors of the UK’s 7/7/ and Lee Rigby attacks and the Paris attackers were already known to the security services and could therefore have had a warranted watch put on them.

In the House of Lords in the UK a small group of peers attempted to re-introduce the proposed “Snooper’s Charter” via a back door amendment into another bill. It failed but all the main political parties seem to be keen to re-introduce such legislation in the next Parliament. It may only be a temporary reprieve. I am torn between the need for the security and police services to have the tools they need against the wider civil liberties objections. It would really help if actual facts were provided rather than meaningless ascertains.

What was truly astonishing was the demonstrable lack of expertise exhibited by any of the speakers. By their questions they could not describe how the technology works, why current systems cannot do what they want, or how they can be circumvented? This against a back-drop of Post-Snowden cynicism. Itself created by the continuing release of so much information on how the 5 Eyes have already misused their powers. Then there is the misuse of existent legislation, like the use of RIPA to spy on everyone from journalists to dog fouling pedestrians. The bland statements of we acted within the law whilst pressing for changes to those same laws. Of course with CCTV on every corner even private face to face meetings can be monitored if only the pictures were not so rubbish – traffic enforcement does not seem to have the problem.

Frankly if the security services or police want to intercept get a warrant. This gives them all the power they need. Of course it may help their argument if tapped phone calls etc were admissible in UK courts; yet these same organizations do not want that. So what is the information for?

Even where full surveillance is in place in the immediate aftermath of a terrorist attack the security services and police managed to kill the wrong target (Mendes) or used their authority to investigate the family of innocent victims (Lawrence) Both of course actions under the stewardship of the then Met Police Commissioner Blair. The same Blair who tried to get the amendment through parliament.

Another Blair (ex PM this time) of course has stated how keen he is for the Chilcott inquiry to finally report on the actions leading up to the second Iraq war. The report has again been delayed until after the next election. Much like the Bloody Sunday Inquiry – good job if you can get it – unlimited budget, no delivery timescale and a no requirement to come up with interim or other conclusions. Even parliamentary scrutiny can be ignored or not answered. Independent judiciary or cover up for their mates? It is difficult to decide. Of course I would love to see the outcome in light of the background story to my own books (needed to get a plug in somewhere) An Agent’s Demise and An Agent’s Rise. One reviewer thought my story was far fetched – clearly they have not read about the machinations of the politicians and spy agencies to justify their actions.

Still another election is looming and the electorate are far more concerned with who will win Big Brother rather than who is behaving as Big Brother!

Innocent Until Proven Guilty

Not for the first time the media this morning is full of allegations against senior people. The glee of the witch hunt is in the UK media over anything to do with sexual assault or sexual abuse. This fevered reporting has been going on since the death of Jimmy Saville. Barely a day goes by without some new scandal or alleged cover up of abuse. Mere association is enough to sometimes be dragged through the mire of a newspaper’s indignation. Saville nor his alleged victims (I know they claim their is no alleged involved) will never have their day in court to legally judge his guilt or innocence. Nor can his reputation be tested with civil proceedings for libel or slander. Instead redress is being sought through various on-going inquiries which in turn has snared many others. Some will and have been found guilty, others have been cleared. The basic tenant of our legal system is innocent until proven guilty. With all these widespread allegations and smears it would be wise for the media and in particular newspaper editors to remember that.

As outsiders to this process we have an interest in hearing of the failures of various authorities to even investigate the allegations. We all believe that the state’s apparatus will be used to at least investigate. From what is public knowledge it is clear that this failed, for several reasons. Disbelief, ignorance, lack of evidence, or conspiracy and cover up may all form part or all of these reasons. Even proposed leaders of one of the proposed inquiries have had to step down for merely knowing one of the politicians involved. Further delay will incur.

I am not a victim, by that very fact I cannot fully understand the pain and grief that victims have gone through. I can sympathise with their plight. I can express anger with the authorities for their failings to investigate properly. I too can be sucked into the maelstrom of accusations and lack of surprise as to who is next.

All this assessment of guilt or innocence, allegation and denial comes on the 800th anniversary of one of the most important documents in English law if not world law. The Magna Carta was signed at Runnymeade in Berkshire by King John on 15th June AD1215. This date is O.S. For old style as thanks to changes in the Gregorian Calendar the date is 13 days different – Britain only adopted the calendar in 1752 – I do not want to start about numbers and relative dates again! I have to ask when was Christmas Day, Winter Solstice, New Years Day? Even the year was only calculated in the 6th century as we now calculate AD. The method of its calculation is disputed.

The document contains some 63 clauses, many of which confirm the feudal nature of society and demonstrate that King John was in serious trouble with his barons. Two clauses though are held up as the foundation of the UK’s legal system. (I’ll include Scotland in the UK definition although King John was not King of Scotland. Sorry Scots but you voted to stay in.)

39. No freeman shall be taken, or imprisoned, or disseized, or outlawed, or exiled, or in any way harmed – nor will we go upon or send upon him – save by the lawful judgment of his peers or by the law of the land.

40. To none will we sell, to none deny or delay, right or justice.

Both these clause apply to the current situation. The first is taken to ensure the right of a fair jury trial. The second for the right to justice for all. This is reflected in subsequent legislation including the European Convention on Human Rights and the workings of the International Criminal Court. Unfortunately, in both the current UK and USA we have secret courts in action where this process is denied. In the second the alleged victims have been denied justice for many years.

To be very cynical, the Magna Carta was not about the rights of the common man. It was about the rights of the privileged few, the monarchy and the aristocracy in the form of the co-signatories King John and the Barons (full list here) Unlike many other nations, Britain does not have a formal written single constitutional document where these rights are listed. Judging from abroad, even where such a document exists (e.g. the USA) most legislation is designed to work around protections provided for the common man (or woman) and create years of legal dispute. For example the holding without trial of possible enemy combatants in illegal prisons. These prisons deliberately set up outside normal jurisdictions in third-party countries. Then there is the complicit activity of various other nations in supporting these actions.

Unfortunately, in the sexual abuse cases, Lawrence Inquiries, Hillsborough Inquiry and ongoing counter-terrorism and security service activity, it is apparent that the Magna Cart has failed. The people we have placed in power (the few who bother to vote that is) have decided that Clause 39 does not apply and Clause 40 should be delayed as long as possible.

The problem for our society in the 800th anniversary year is that if victims wish to deny clause 39 for the alleged perpetrators (broadcasting in the media creates the harm) then they should not be surprised that clause 40 is not implemented. Mud sticks, not all allegations are true.Clauses 39 and 40 are supposed to ensure this does not happen.

We do have a legal system; however, flawed, it is beholden on all of us to uphold both clauses. That means insisting on the rights of victims and the accused; however unpalatable that might be; however heinous the alleged crimes. What is not acceptable is a failure to investigate.

November

There is no moustache to join in the fund raising of a Movember. It is long gone like the career I once expected that went with it. Seventeen years of no upper lip shaving swept away with the clip of some scissors and the scraping of a sharp blade. There was not even a tan line left behind, once the sink was rinsed. The face in the mirror was a shock, almost as much as the look on my children’s faces.  They had never known a non-moustached father nor one permanently out of uniform.

The moustache was a reminder from an earlier beard and other changes from my young adulthood. Like hair which occasionally was quite long. Now that is nearly all gone too. My multiple ages of man (The Seven Ages) may match Shakespeare’s words, but it feels like multiple adult lives.  There was the work time before the armed forces, then the military career which in turn encompassed multiple locations, jobs, stages, phases but not as many ranks as I had hoped.

Then there was the moustache-less rebirth as a civilian, jobs then as a self-employed consultant then back to the attractions of permanent roles. Again different jobs in different locations with one huge difference. I have stayed in one home. I have lived in this house longer than anywhere else, whilst jobs changed, children grew to adulthood and my little hair changed to grey.  Why this retrospective now, it is not an anniversary, but an anniversary has prompted these thoughts.

I worked from home on Tuesday and walked in the dull drizzle to the war memorial where at 11:00 I stood for the requisite two minutes and contemplated the war dead. The memorial was ill attended on Armistice Day although on Remembrance Sunday it had been busy. Then we had stopped the car for the two minutes, on a journey to see family. As I stood with my wife and the dozen others, cars drove by seemingly oblivious. The silence was in my head. The memories were in my head.

I have written before about my annoyance at not commemorating proper dates and I was glad to see the BBC make an effort on Tuesday with its coverage from The Tower of London and Ypres. Perhaps in 1918 we will commemorate the 100th anniversary of the end of the war on the proper day. I find it hard to enjoy the commemoration of the start of the war. On Monday I used my lunch break to join the crowds at the Tower of London for the stunning display:

IMG_0406Wednesday provided a shock, as my daughter’s boyfriend broke his leg during training on an Army course. This flooded memories of other notifications and more remembrance, from my service days of delivering bad news or hearing it.

The growers of the Movember Moustaches raise funds for Men’s Health. By raising funds they hope that there will be fewer notifications or treatments required. I shall not be growing one to join in although for an unshaven weekend I was tempted, but I can support them. My son is growing one – so well done him, He’s growing the one I once had my wife has just commented. I wonder, if, at the end of the month, the growers will be glad to cut, trim, and shave, the hair away. Perhaps some will remain for several years or return next year for an anniversary.

Will They Ever Change – The Price of Fish

An old saying – It won’t change the price of fish.

It’s a deeply pessimistic or cynical view of the efforts of our government to actually make a difference.

The next UK General Election will be held on 7th May 2015. Between now and then we have a further By-Election which comes hot on the heels of the two on 9th October 2014. In those By-Elections UKIP won one and came a close second in another. It now has it’s first UK Member of Parliament (MP) via the First Past the post election system for Westminster. This achievement goes with its 24 Members of the European Parliament (MEP) elected under proportional representation. Before the next General Election it may have another MP. All this turmoil for the main political parties comes after the Scottish Referendum and poll ratings that should concern any political leader from any party, apart from Nigel Farage of UKIP.

In the usual dull analysis that has followed the By-Elections the usual culprit of the immigration debate has been raised as the main source of discontent with Labour, The Conservatives and the almost forgotten Liberal Democrats. The SNP and Plaid Cymru have their support in Scotland and Wales respectively as do the Northern Irish political parties yet UKIP has made inroads even in these areas.

Why?

My personal view is that this goes back to the the scandals before the last election i.e. MPs expenses and behaviour. I had hoped that after the scandal and the anger caused that there would have been a sea change in attitude form the political class and a huge change in representation in Westminster. It did not happen, of the 650 sitting MPs before the last election…

In all, 148 MPs (100 Labour, 35 Conservatives, 7 Liberal Democrats, 2 Independents, 1 Independent Conservative and 1 member each from Plaid Cymru, the DUP, and the SDLP) decided not to contest the election. Alex Salmond did not stand for re-election in order to focus on the role of First Minister of Scotland but the SNP retained the seat with a different candidate and a reduced majority over the Conservative Party. (Wikipedia)

What is still amazing to me is that 502 MPs carried on regardless.

Now not all those MPs had behaved wrongly in the scandal but they all followed the expenses regime even if they technically did not abuse it. I personally challenged my sitting MP during the hustings on his behaviour. Along with many others in the audience we pointed out that if we had behaved as he had done in our military careers we would have been subject to a court-martial. He apologised, stated that he had paid the money back, then got re-elected alongside his fellow 501. The old saying that the British Electorate would elect a pig if it wore the right rosette remained true, but might that change?

Despite the so-called expert analysis that it’s Immigration and Europe that account for UKIP’s popularity, I am not sure. Nearly every interview I have seen recently with actual UKIP voters explains that there is more than this. The words Westminster elite, which the SNP has used in its campaigns, are reflected in the comments from these voters. There is an underlying anger with all our current politicians. Their weasel words, their blatant insincerity but mostly their sheer failure to address problems. These problems remain irrespective of which colour rosette is in office or which white middle class male is heading the other white middle class males (one notable exception I know but she behaved no differently). It is no use blaming the school they went to after all that choice was their parent’s not theirs.

An example – I am a fan of Grand Designs yet in virtually every design the builder gets their windows, materials etc from Germany because they are the only country that manufactures to the right specification. Is it really the case that our manufacturing and construction industries cannot build a window frame to the right high-tech standard? Come on Mr Branson, Sugar et al or the Dragon’s Den entrepreneurs why are you not investing in this capability or do we really need another branded train/bank,sauce experience! Where is government in this, why can BT take public money for fibre broadband then only deliver it to the cabinet up the street. Why aren’t new house built with fibre to the property with solar panels built in and with those high tech windows that save energy. The old manufacturing centre of the North of England are apparently desperate for work so why would I have to go to Germany to get a descent set of windows?

Instead we have proposals for hundreds of thousands of new homes. Homes that are built to the same poor standards we currently have. Homes that will be plopped into villages and small towns with no additional infrastructure, no new schools doctors etc. At least when the garden cities were built this was included. Now adding an estate of 200-300 homes results in a playground if you are lucky.

I believe there is an underlying unease with the political establishment and those that report on them alongside the bureaucrats that implement policies so badly. There smugness, their unnamed sources reported and constant manoeuvring for their own gain. If we are to have a better election with better MPs then our media need to do a much better job, but of course if they are to critical then they won’t get the inside story. It is in no one’s interest to have a reasoned sensible debate. Instead minor differences are blown up into fake huge rows where no facts are present just interpretation of carefully selected statistics.

Perhaps UKIPs rise is due to protests on immigration, Europe or is it something broader. The votes that used to go to Lib Dems in by-elections are now UKIPs, because the Lib Dems in government have shown themselves to be no different from the rest.

As I wrote earlier I had hoped for a major change in attitude if not parties after the last election. Perhaps it will come this time round but somehow, after months of campaigning I doubt that it will. We will have a combination of white middle class men from the same schools and universities carving up the offices of state for their own fulfilment.

What we can all be certain of is – it won’t change the price of fish.

Ramblings on a Referendum

IMG_0169 I’ve just returned from a week in Las Palmas in The Canary Islands of Spain, don’t worry this is not trip advisor. Away from the UK my wife and I missed the Scottish referendum election and much of the ongoing horrors in Iraq, Syria, Ukraine alongside the Ebola crisis. Not that these events have gone away, even the referendum will have ramifications for months in the UK as the politicians will decide which of the bribes they proposed to the Scottish electorate will be fulfilled – oh and England, Wales and Northern Ireland may get some constitutional change too. How generous, although the argument now seems to be either: from Labour on what the impact will be on reducing the ability of Scottish Labour MPs to vote on English matters; the Conservatives need something to continue their fight with  UKIP.
Meanwhile another group of MPs continue to receive their salaries and benefits of MPs without ever attending Parliament or taking up their seats. Sinn Féin step forward no news there.

As I discussed in a previous post the whole referendum process for Scotland was anything but democratic for the rest of the UK in the end 55% of those voting which was 85.5% (thanks for bothering, but what happened to the other 15%) of the 4.3m, or 3.6m decided the future of 64m. We had the unedifying view of all the main political parties disappearing to Scotland with vague promises on DevoMax which they had all decided previously should not have been on the ballot. Promises put forward by Gordon Brown, so we can all believe those!. I think the SNP were right to describe this as a pointless halfway house if Scotland really wanted control it had to vote yes. Further devolved powers do not make us more united. Of course the independence movement failed to mention the real problem – with so much legislation decided by Brussels or other treaty obligations even an independent Scotland would not have had that much control just like Westminster does not. That was if the EU (Spain may well have vetoed), NATO (would take defence commitments) and the UN (they will take anyone) accepted applications. What about the World Bank, IMF, World Health Organisation these international institutions are all part of legislative and economic power base of the world. Would an independent Scotland have joined the European Space Agency? Perhaps it was this and the currency uncertainties that tipped the balance in favour on a no. Who knows perhaps it was the colour of the flag that appealed.

The Liberal Democrats (remember them they are still in the Coalition) have proposed a federal organisation of the UK as part of the reform. My son who has studied this stuff likes the idea. If it creates another layer of bureaucracy which the previous Labour regional assembly proposals did then I would be against. Labour wants to follow the example of London for more power to big cities but then what about those of us that do not live in big cities? Whatever happens Parliamentary reform is long overdue we should have far fewer MPs given the devolved powers already and even fewer in the Lords. Perhaps 500 MPs with devolved powers to regional parliaments and 250 in the Lords – elected please.

Meanwhile the Pope thinks World War 3 is effectively under way due to the conflicts throughout the world. Not quite; however brutal and the number of conflicts. Clearly it makes no difference to the victims whether the Pope thinks it’s a World War or not but human history is full of mostly unreported conflict. The battles in Africa seem never ending mostly based on tribal divisions made worse by the colonial false borders. There seems no easy resolution of the Syria conflict without supporting Assad, the very man the Western powers (and others) wanted removed, in order to defeat the allegedly bigger threat of ISIS, IS or ISL.

The appalling beheading on video of hostages adds to the fear element in the West allowing/forcing the politicians to act as if that one death is worse than the death from Ebola, Malaria, AIDS, or cancer. Horrific yes but so is a bomb from a coalition aircraft or a shell from an ISIS fighter. Remember those wonderful pictures of precision bombing. Someone’s son, brother, father, daughter, sister or mother has just been publicly killed. No squeamishness from western media in showing that video, but of course the victims are not journalists or aid workers. Not that we know who was in the vehicle or building alongside the fighter. The famous unverified reports beloved of BBC speak especially when dealing with sensitive subjects, must not get in trouble with the government when the next license fee discussion is under way even to the point of not reporting a story about a famous tennis player in case his view influences (only during voting day) the Scottish Referendum – really? The BBC’s efforts not to fall foul or the Electoral Commission are sometimes laughable, just like the promises of constitutional reform which we will now have to sit through.

NSA and Snowden – A Year On

Another anniversary this past week. After the commemoration of D-Day 70 years ago on the 6th June, something far less significant in multiple nation’s collective memories, it is one year since The Guardian first printed Edward Snowden’s revelations about the activities of the NSA, GCHQ et al.  For an excellent commentary and summation read the article on The Register.

The article covers not only the scope of what was revealed but also discusses the impact of these revelations. It is clear there is still much to be revealed, and there is also the on-going reluctance of the British Press in particular to publish some of the revelations. Most notably, the Register also published details about the international fibre and communication link tapping operations notably in Oman. Quoting from the article from 2nd June.

Exclusive Above-top-secret details of Britain’s covert surveillance programme – including the location of a clandestine British base tapping undersea cables in the Middle East – have so far remained secret, despite being leaked by fugitive NSA sysadmin Edward Snowden. Government pressure has meant that some media organisations, despite being in possession of these facts, have declined to reveal them. Today, however, the Register publishes them in full.
So not only do we have hidden spying activity, no surprise there, but a marked reluctance by our own media to discuss the issue. The often quoted excuse for not discussing the issues is that it put lives at risk and harms the nation. This is made as a statement with no factual information to back it up. Proof of a negative is always difficult, but really lives at risk from the UK public knowing that a location in Oman is built and operated for the entire purpose of monitoring Internet communication links, something that the locals in Oman. all the people who built and service the staions and all the agencies know, but the British public must not.

This reminds me of the farcical situation a few years ago when Ordnance Survey Maps and road atlases would show blank empty spaces where UK military and other sensitive bases were. Meanwhile the then Soviet Union was scanning those places with satellite photography almost hourly. So our prospective enemy knew what was there (at least what building were) but the British Public was not allowed to see that just inside the main gate was the entrance to the Officers’ Mess and NAAFI next to the tennis court. I have never been able to understand why this was the case, this in built secrecy left over from the war, like changing the road signs around as if an invader would not have a compass and discover our ruse.

Back to NSA and the latest series of revelations. The sheer scope and scale of the observations are in one way comforting, our spies are spying, protecting us. They claim to have prevented all sorts of illegal actions like Germany stealing a march on trade negotiations or when Chancellor Merkel was getting home from the state dinner. The plumbed into the content not just metadata of every single telephone call in the Bahamas. How many pizza takeaway orders were there? We should be told about this vital contribution to national security. The sheer scale of the monitoring beggars belief yet it has raised the merest flicker of interest in the UK. I believe that some of this is down to media jealousy. Much like the Telegraph when it broke the MPs’ expenses scandal. The Guardian had an exclusive and the rest of the media seemed reluctant to follow up.

Whether Snowden was right to release the information will be a matter for history to judge there has been a media backlash against him pushed forward by the self same agencies he has allegedly harmed. The bottom line is that like MPs these agencies work for us. GCHQ is funded by the taxpayer, if it is wasting needed national resources discovering how many of us posted tweets on our favourite dogs isn’t it justified that we question what they are spending our money on. At a time of national austerity with ongoing cuts still impacting numerous government spending, what exactly are we getting for our money. Our MPs don’t seem to want to find out as I have previously blogged here. Our media for spitefulness , boredom or just plain laziness have not followed up. Where is the probing Channel 4 or BBC Panorama expose? Yes, they have reported on the Snowden allegations but where is their own investigation adding to the story. The NSA intercepting and tampering with Cisco routers was an allegation without specificity from Snowden. Then film emerged of the NSA doing it, it’s referenced in The Register’s article but still the doubters question Snowden’s authenticity.  This week, having claimed for months that they had no emails from Snowden complaining about anything, they suddenly released one email from him. How did they manage to find that? No emails means no emails, not one. Where are the others he cannot have sent just one?  Another scandal waiting to happen unreported in the mainstream press.

My final comments for today concern the real issue. On Friday we commemorated a major step in the fight to bring freedom to Europe. Freedom what does that mean? Freedom in my view is about freedom from oppression, free to think, comment and express opinions. The Internet has greatly extended this freedom. It has also given us the freedom to shop, post dog and children videos and endless meaningless chatter. The e-commerce activities have been significantly undermined by our so called security agencies deliberate attempts to break encryption and other secure systems. There actions have made us less secure as a whole. Billions of financial transactions are at risk because of exploits they either created or left in place so that they could spy on everything else. This is akin to a policeman breaking the locks of every house in case he needs to raid it at some stage in the future or a doctor creating a virus so that he always has plenty of patients.

This is not security, this is not in my interest and it’s a colossal waste of resources. Every part of government is scrutinised about how it spends our money except this one. Perhaps our own MPs might do the job they are elected to do rather than the one their party or government tells them to do. Cosy-ing up to the security services is not their job, representing us is; I wonder if they ever will?

Brooks et al Trial Coverage

I’ve been following the Hacking phone trial with considerable interest. It would not be prudent to comment on testimony or my opinion on the evidence submitted so far. After all I may have undue influence on a juror. I don’t but for the avoidance of doubt I have no direct connection with any participant.  For any direct comment I strongly recommend the coverage provided by The Drum, which has excellent and thorough coverage.

Where though is the coverage in more mainstream media.  The trial which produces revelations almost daily has rare coverage on the BBC, ITV or C4.  Sky I would expect to be circumspect given the Murdoch connection but they are supposed to cover news and given the 24hr nature of BBC News 24 and Sky News surely they could provide some analysis and reporting rather than another fifteen reporters in Sevastopol plus the John Simpson and Panorama crews, all repeating the same thing.

Anyway back to Hacking.  The trial has raised some serious issues (as did The Leveson Inquiry) regarding freedom of speech and the conflict in my own head between the type of coverage required to uncover corruption in public officials (Expenses scandal etc.) and the right to a private life.  Why does anyone care who Hugh Grant has sex with or whether he was paying for it.

As only Rebekah Brooks of the defendants has appeared on the witness stand it is of course to early to judge any evidence, but what has become clear at Leveson and this trial is the culture, attitude and approach of a national newspaper and its reporters.  The absence or non-enforcement of management controls has also been highlighted. None of the defendants are on trial for being bad managers, but the lack of financial controls at the papers should send most Financial Directors spinning to an early grave.  What the jury believes is of course a matter for them and the evidence presented to them.  What stories are and are not printed in newspapers broadcast or otherwise reported is a matter for all of us.  Outside of true police states, what we see and hear is decided by a small elite deciding what stories get column inches or broadcast time.  The Internet has multiplied the availability and direct access of reporting to unbelievable levels yet so much remains drivel.  So much is repetitive and shows no insight.  With all the news in the world why is 24hr TV on an almost totally hour by hour repeat.  You can click on Sky News anytime of day and see the same clips repeated over and over again regardless of what else has happened.  With the advert repeats it is a continuous dose of Deja Vu and none of it is about the Hacking Trial and the behaviour of one or more  News International Executives.

Of course I am unusual in that I am concerned about freedom of speech whether it is censorship, snooping, police misbehaviour or the actions of newspaper reporters.  What do all these stories have in common?  They all reflect the closeness of a political and media elite all feeding like cannibalistic vampires off of each others actions, whilst trampling over the rights, opinions and feelings of their victims, Whether it is the family of Milly Dowler, Stephen Lawrence or one of the victims of misreporting, misbehaviour or misdeeds.  Our press and mainstream media, failed to report accurately, failed to check their facts and allowed statements by police and others to be misused or believed regardless of the evidence.  The press paid for many of these stories bribing public officials in the process.  A picture of a royal at a party more important than the corruption that paying for the story exposed.  The same press baying for MP’s blood over expenses whilst casually shipping thousands to their contacts for a snippet of gossip or paying a self confessed phone hacker thousands to keep quiet or a publicist to settle out of court.

Now some of these executives are dependent on the very legal system they have done so much to undermine and ignore.  I wonder who the jury will believe.