Sunday, 27 December 2015

The confusion over arming the police

It does seem truly extraordinary that at the same time as questions hang over the shooting of Jermaine Baker by a police officer there are calls to relax the controls that exist on police use of firearms.  Freeing up the police to shoot people more easily will not stop terrorism but make life more dangerous for everyone. It is high time a little rationality was introduced to the arming police debate and a little less of the wild rhetoric that surrounds the subject of terrorism. Real people's lives are at stake here.

- published Evening Standard - 24/12/2015

Thursday, 24 December 2015

Secured Energy Bond investors continue to battle to bring wrongdoers to account and get their money back

It is now almost a year since Secured Energy Bonds (SEB) defaulted on interest payments to bond holders and went into administration.
Some might wonder how far things have advanced in that time. There has been much effort from investors to get their money back with the formation of the Investors Action Group (IAG).
More than 100 MPs have been contacted, with government ministers, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) and the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS) all amongst those informed about the situation.
At present a number of investors await a decision from the FOS as to whether they can proceed to consider the case against Independent Portfolio Managers (IPM). The initial indications were that the FOS believe the case does come within their jurisdiction. However, IPM have challenged this. A new FOS adjudicator is now considering matters, prior to hopefully moving forward.
There is growing frustration amongst investors. The feeling that the authorities, regulatory and otherwise, are kicking the issue around amongst themselves to little effect. The hope is that there is an effort being made to find a just resolution for investors but the ongoing delays do not foster confidence. A little more from administrators Grant Thornton wouldn't go amiss either.
There has been some media coverage of the SEB case, with notable articles in the Guardian, FT and Independent but others have remained silent.
It has been surprising that newspapers like the Telegraph, Times, Sunday Times and Daily Mail seem so disinterested in the story. Possibly even more surprising is the lack of interest shown by the BBC Radio 4 programme Moneybox, which despite several approaches has done nothing to date.
The struggle for investors is trying to get over the nature of the offence they have been forced to endure. Even those that have covered the story do not seem to have written the headline big enough, namely that the Australian company CBD Energy took out £5 million plus of the money invested to buy solar panels for schools and used it for other purposes. This is the nub of the offence that most of the money invested in good faith was not used for the purpose that those investing the money intended and were led to believe it would be.

Even those writing about the case have contextualised the story in terms of it being a risky venture that could sink at any time. The reality is that it was not a risky venture, had CBD Energy not swiped most the money for something else altogether. It has been an outrageous injustice, that really should be getting a wider audience.
The IAG is fighting not only to get the money back of investors in SEB but also to ensure that the law and regulatory framework is changed so that such an injustice cannot be perpetrated on another bunch of innocent people in the future.
At present the wheels of justice seem to be moving extremely slowly but make no mistake the IAG are going nowhere and will continue battling until this wrong is righted and cannot be repeated.

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Reporting of latest deficit figures reveal media role in manufacturing consent

Interesting to contrast the way in which the media dealt with the news that George Osborne has once again got his sums wrong on the deficit, with the relentless Tory fed line that it was the Labour government that caused the banking crisis of 2008. The latter was fed by the Tory Party and obediently delivered relentlessly in the period up to the general election. Less publicity though for the news yesterday that the deficit has risen again by £1.3 billion to £14.3 billion in ...November. This takes cumalative borrowing up to £66.9 billion for the first eight months of the financial year. This is £2 billion short of the target set for the entire year by the Office for Budget Responsibility. Or put another way the Chancellor's policies of austerity, prefaced on reducing the deficit, are way off achieving their aim.Quite a lesson in the manufacture of consent.

Monday, 21 December 2015

Why are Thatcher family allowed to flog off a government red box for £242k at auction?

Wondered why the Thatcher family were able recently to sell a government red box for £242k. Whilst the box was no doubt given to the former Prime Minister, it seems a little odd that her family are able to profit to such a degree from the sale of what was state property? I know Thatcher herself flogged off a lot of the nations assets, such as via the privatisation of water, gas, electiricity and telecommunications but surely this is a bit different?

Sunday, 20 December 2015

Siobhan McDonagh and other members of the Right of the Labour Party should leave if they can't get behind Corbyn's leadership

Siobhain McDonagh speaks of bullying from the Left of the Labour Party but the Right has bullying in it's DNA - just look at the way it has tried to bully Jeremy Corbyn since he was elected.
First, there were the efforts of Tristram Hunt and Chuka Umunna who found "the resistance` against the Mr Corbyn's leadership before disloyal Mps turned their back on Mr Corbyn during the Syria vote.
Ms Mcdonagh and the Right need to decide is whether they support a leader backed by the membership. If not, maybe they should leave and join another party?
-published in Evening Standard - 18/12/2015

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Let's hope the Ilford Recorder's move to Barking does not signal the path to more desk bound journalism and fewer journalists

The east London based Ilford Recorder is moving its offices out of the borough of Redbridge to Barking.
Editor Chris Carter assured readers that the move would not mean the Recorder “will not have a presence in Redbridge far from it.”
He added: “The march of technology means reporters can work remotely from almost anywhere, so, besides having a presence in Ilford, we are actively exploring hot desking sites in other areas of the borough.”
The Recorder does a decent job of reporting what goes on in Redbridge – it has kept up its compliment of reporters, unlike many local newspapers.
The nature of news coverage though is changing. The story of a veteran reporter comes to mind, when on retirement he recalled how 25 years ago the news editor would come into the newsroom at lunch time and if there was anyone there would ask why? The implication being they should be out chasing down stories and making contacts.
More recently in the digital age, the news editor would come into the newsroom, if someone was missing they’d want to know where they were. The era of internet journalism coupled with bean counter dominance over editorial has changed the culture to one of being chained to the desk, surveying the internet, rather than getting out to meet people and make contacts.
Another effect of technological change has been a reduction in staff. Reporters are pushed to do more for less. Few stay on local papers very long, as pay is poor and career prospects not much better.
The days of a journalist staying on a local paper for many years, building a historic knowledge of the area, have long since passed. Some would-be journalists start their careers on local papers before moving off to better remunerated and more secure jobs on the other side of the fence, working in PR, often for local authority press offices. A lucky few may graduate onto national papers but this route is far less well travelled than in the past.
Despite the arrival of online journalism, local papers have spread themselves ever thinner when it comes to personnel. Yet, arguably there is more to do, with a daily new service to be provided online as well as the hard print version of the paper. All this is being done with fewer journalists than previously. Technology has ofcourse made a difference but the product has in some ways also been devalued.
Take the Redbridge area, the Ilford Recorder’s main rival in the area are the Newsquest run Guardian newspapers. Newsquest are a big group of papers spreading across the area but sometimes maybe the resources are spread too thin.
The weekly paper, the Wanstead & Woodford Guardian covers the major stories but progress in only a few pages and the paper starts to pull in material from other areas. Stories from other papers in the group, serving adjoining areas like Epping, Chingford and Enfield make an appearance.
The person living in the Wanstead and Woodford area is left wondering why am I reading these stories, is there so little happening here?
Who knows, is it lack of resources, lack of journalists or is Wanstead and Woodford simply a news light area? Or are the owners of some newspapers, guided by accountants, simply spreading the resources too thinly. 
In defence, no doubt there would be the argument that the papers are in transition with the emphasis moving increasingly from print to online but this only carries a certain amount of weight.
The tendency identified in east London is by no means unique – titles across the country operate in similar fashion.It is a real race to the bottom culture that is bad for journalism and local communities seeking to know what is going on in their areas.
So good luck to the Ilford Recorder with its move but don’t cut the journalistic team that reports the news from the Redbridge.. oh and let them out at lunchtime.

Monday, 14 December 2015

Goaless draw provides much entertainment at the Boleyn Ground

West Ham 0-0 Stoke City
This entertaining game ended goaless, despite chances aplenty for both sides.
West Ham manager Slaven Bilic was pleased with the team work and spirit of his injury ravaged side.
Minus five first team regulars, Bilic had to turn to other members of his squad to fill the gaps.
The manager had special words of praise for Michail Antonio, who made his first start. “Antonio was good, he had the pace to run behind them and he fought to win the ball back and used it well,” said Bilic, who noted the high tempo nature of the contest and how both sides defended well. “It was a fair result, a very entertaining draw. With a bit of luck we could have won this game but so could they.”
Stoke manager Mark Hughes acknowledged a fine defending performance from his side but thought they could also have won it.
In the first half, the two sides tended to cancel each other out, with some intricate interplay but a lack of clear cut chances resulting.
Stoke conjured a slick passing move between Ibrahim Afellay, Glen Johnson and Marko Arnautovic, only for the latter to squeeze his shot wide.
In the second half, West Ham stretched Stoke with the slick interchanges between Mauro Zarate and Cheikhou Kouyate as well as Anotonio getting in behind defenders.
An early Zarate cross saw Andy Carroll forcing a save from Jack Butland, then Antonio had a point blank effort pawed away.
Both sides rocked the woodwork. Arnautovic saw his deflected free kick bounce off the top of the bar. The industrious Zarate, though, was not to be outdone, working his way across the penalty area before firing in a shot that bounced off the upright.
Enner Valencia nearly nicked the points late on with a dipping free kick but again the Stoke keeper was equal to the challenge, pushing the shot over the bar.
West Ham nearly took the spoils at the death with a scramble in the Stoke area which saw defender James Tompkins hook the ball back, only for a thumping header from Kouyate to be pushed out from under the bar by that man Butland again.

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Why is there always money for war but not to address climate change?

Funny how when it comes to combatting climate change the debate is immediately dominated by cost. When it comes to war, cost hardly gets a mention, the pockets are endlessly deep.
Similarly, compare the rhetoric of the approaching apocalypse applied to the terror threat, with the restrained tones of doubt that still permeate the climate change debate.
The reality ofcourse is that the real apocalyptic threat comes from climate change.. and as the floods in Cumbria so aptly demonstrate need urgent attention now.

* published Independent, Evening Standard & I- 9/12/2015

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Internal division in the Parliamentary Labour Party cannot be allowed to continue – opponents of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership should knuckle under or leave

At some point in the very near future the Labour Party leadership is going to have to address the question of those opposed to almost everything Jeremy Corbyn stands for. The debate over the vote on bombing Syria quickly turned into a question of leadership. Too many in the Parliamentary Labour Party have a real problem accepting the line set out by the leader (the argument that Jeremy himself rebelled many times, really does have a limited shelf lifeas an excuse).
The Syria vote nicely crystallises the situation with Jeremy apparently opening in opposition to the bombing, whilst shadow foreign secretary Hilary Benn closes supporting the bombing. This is not a new politics, as some suggest, but a mess.
The MPs voting for the bombing are ignoring the 70,000 members plus who indicated over the weekend that they opposed such a move. There do seem to be a number of serial bombers in the Parliamentary Labour Party ranks, with a number of MPs set to support the Syria bombing, who also voted in favour of the war in Iraq in 2003.
At some point, the MPs who oppose Jeremy’s leadership have to make up their mind whether to knuckle under and support or leave. Things cannot go on as they are now, with part of the PLP operating as an internal opposition to the leader – no doubt in the hope that he will be overthrown and replaced by one of their number. This is simply not going to happen – Jeremy Corbyn won a strong mandate from the membership, which remains fully behind him – as the 70,000 who showed support over his stance on Syria proved. If a coup were executed, there would be such revulsion in the party as a whole inside and outside Parliament that it is doubtful that the new leader would have a party left to lead.
It is time for those in the PLP to either support Jeremy Corbyn wholeheartedly or consider their own positions. If they want to join another party then go ahead, a by-election would ofcourse have to be called in their seats in such a circumstance. What is for sure is that the simmering civil war cannot continue.   

*Published - Independent, Morning Star and Evening Standard - 2/12/2015

Saturday, 28 November 2015

Move to outlaw dissent with attacks on civil liberties through the Trade Union, Investigatory Powers Bill and repeal of the Human Rights Act

The attack on civil liberties, evident in the Trade Union Bill (TUB), needs to be viewed in the wider context of an increasingly authoritarian government determined to outlaw any form of dissent.

The anti-libertarian elements seen in the TUB also find resonance in the Investigatory Powers Bill and the efforts to scrap the Human Rights Act and replace it with a watered down Bill of Rights. The measures taken together amount to an attempt to advance the powers of the authoritarian state at the cost of the rights of the citizen.

Liberty, Amnesty International, the TUC and Conservative MP David Davis are amongst those who have condemned the negative impact that the Trade Union Bill will have on civil rights if it is made law.

The thrust of the TUB is a direct attack on the right of trade unions to exist and operate effectively in the workplace and beyond. The right to strike is being made more difficult, with the new thresholds of a minimum 50% turnout and at least 40% of those eligible needing to vote in favour.

Then there are the efforts to restrict assembly by insisting that a picket supervisor must be appointed with a letter of authorisation to that effect. Details of the supervisor have to be provided to the police. The supervisor also has to wear an armband or badge identifying themselves. Unions are to be required to give two weeks notice of industrial action rather than the present seven days.

Conservative MP Davis questioned the need for pickets to give their names to the police force. “What is this? This isn’t Franco’s Britain, this is Queen Elizabeth II’s Britain,” said Davis.

Liberty, Amnesty International and the British Institute for Human Rights have described the TUB as “a major attack” on civil liberties.
“By placing more legal hurdles in the way of unions organising strike action, the TUB will undermine ordinary people’s ability to organise together to protect their jobs, livelihoods and the quality of their working lives,” said a statement by the three organisations. “It will introduce harsher restrictions on those who picket peacefully outside workplaces - even though pickets are already more regulated than any other kind of protest.

“It is hard to see the aim of this bill as anything but seeking to undermine the rights of all working people.”

The thread of denying the most basic civil rights is taken forward in the Investigatory Powers Bill or as it is more commonly known the “Snoopers Charter.” The Bill seeks to make phone companies keep records of websites visited by every citizen for 12 months so that they can be accessed by police, security services and other public bodies.

The Bill makes explicit in law the power of the police to hack into and bug computers and phones. The phone companies will also be required to assist with the operations to bypass encryption.

Judges are to be given a role but this is not to authorise or dismiss interception requests but instead to oversee whether politicians are exercising that power correctly.
“We expect the State to obtain a warrant before entering our homes, never mind searching them and taking away our belongings.  Why should it be any different when it comes to our communications?” said a Liberty spokesperson

The authoritarian intent of the government has been clear since it won office last May, declaring it wanted to do away with the Human Rights Act. This head of steam to take away human rights was engendered by some selective reporting of particular cases brought under the Act by the right wing media and tapping into a xenophobic anti-Europeanism.

The Conservative Government wanted to pull out of the HRA, which simply enshrines the European Convention on Human Rights into domestic law. The ECHR has nothing to do with the European Union and is something that Britain has been signed up to since its creation post World War II. Ironically, Britain played a major role in the creation of the ECHR in the first place. The HRA merely gave the full power of the ECHR at first instance through the British domestic courts. Prior to incorporation of the ECHR individuals had to appeal their cases to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

In the first instance, the government realised that it was not going to be able to get repeal of the HRA through the House of Lords. However, Justice minister Michael Gove now appears to have revived the idea, with a consultation underway on a Bill of Rights.

These three developments are symptomatic of an overall effort to clamp down on dissent. Over recent years, there have been ongoing efforts to make public protest more difficult. Most recently this saw the Metropolitan Police seeking to make protest organisers pay for the policing of their own events.

There has been a steady drip drip approach to taking away human rights over recent years, on the basis of the need to provide security. Former Chief Constable of Devon and Cornwall John Alderson has warned that this has been the claim of dictators down the years. He was not wrong.  

One dictator who knew the value of this mantra was Adolf Hitler, who said: “The best way to take control over a people and control them utterly is to take a little of their freedom at a time, to erode rights by a thousands, tiny and almost imperceptible reductions. In this way, the people will not see those rights and freedoms being removed until past the point at which these changes cannot be reversed.”

Some would argue that it is this erosion of rights process that is now underway, with the most  visible evidence coming with the moves to implement the Trade Union Bill and Investigatory Powers Bill and repeal the Human Rights Act. Human rights organisations certainly seem in little doubt.  
“Cracking down on civic space is a global phenomenon that is deeply worrying to Amnesty, and it’s very concerning that it’s happening in the UK too.  Recently, we’ve seen the UK government pursue a shameless policy of prioritising business interests over human rights concerns,” said James Savage, director of Amnesty’s Human Rights Defenders Programme. “As the British government rolls out the red carpet for autocratic leaders, it is rolling back the rights agenda here in the UK, through its threat to replace the Human Rights Act with a weaker British Bill of Rights, placing growing restrictions on rights of assembly and association with the Trade Union Bill, and ever-more-invasive infringements on the right to privacy via expanded surveillance powers and practice."
Liberty claim that “just six months in the government is showing an arrogant disregard for our rights and freedoms.”
While the Investigatory Powers Bill will undermine the security and freedom of everyone who uses a computer or phone. Combine with this vindictive Trade Union Bill, attempts to curb the Freedom of Information Act and the proposed scrapping of our Human Rights Act and it seems the Government is intent on dismantling the most effective tools ordinary people have to protect themselves against the whims of the powerful,” said Bella Sankey, director of policy at Liberty.

 What is for sure is that human rights are under attack across the board, failure to stand up and fight for these hard won protections will severely damage everyone in the long run. 

* Basic rights under threat - Tribune - 6/9/2015