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

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Evening Standard poll showing 53% of 18 to 24 year olds think Labour is more attractive under Corbyn should concern media executives

Interesting how statistics get interpreted. An Evening Standard poll says that 65% of people say Labour is becoming less electable, yet if this stat is compared to the election result, when 30% of those voting voted Labour, then more people are now likely to vote Labour. The 48% who apparently believe left activists are infiltrating the Labour Party is hardly surprising given the flow of misinformation and outright bias from the mass media against Corbyn ever since he first got the nominations to stand in the leadership election. The most worrying thing for the media must be the 53% of the 18 to 24s who think Labour is becoming more attractive - these are the prized customers of today and tomorrow. As some media executives are no doubt beginning to wonder, is it really a good idea to alienate this group with such blatantly biased coverage against Corbyn's Labour Party?

Monday, 23 November 2015

Violence begets violence - bombing Syria is not the answer

It is galling to hear irresponsible members of the government urging that Britain’s response to the tragic killings in Paris should be to join in the bombing of Syria.
David Cameron and his fellow Cabinet ministers are driven around this country in their chauffer driven government cars. They are insulated from the terror threat by their priveliged existence.
They are not like the vast majority of the population travelling on the public transport system or out on the streets living life.
There can be no denying that bombing ISIS will bring revenge attacks on our streets. The terror organisation made it quite clear that what happened in Paris was due to France’s role in the bombing of Syria.
Simply joining the bombing will just lead to more violence – with poor old Joe Public the likely victims.
Let’s not forget it was the type of ill thought out rush to bomb by Britain and America in Afghanistan and Iraq in the wake of the 9/11 attacks which started the whole vicious circle of violence that engulfs increasing numbers of people across the world today. Violence begets violence and offers no solution.

* published Evening Standard - 24/11/2015
Ilford Recorder/Wanstead & Woodford Guardian - 26/11/2015
Tablet - 27/11/2015 / Universe - 6/12/2015

Monday, 16 November 2015

Giving up liberties in exchange for security means only that the terrorists have won

Amazing to see Independent newspaper columnist Yasmin Alibhai Brown offering up liberties in exchange for a mistaken belief that this will bring security. Where is her proof that giving more surveillance powers to the security services will stop terrorist incidents? Give me your liberties and I will provide security has been the cry of dictators down the ages: today is no different - giving up such liberties means that the terrorists have won.
Neither offering up liberties on the altar of terrorism or deploying the rhetoric of vengeance and war will in any way make the world a safer place. Violence begets violence. At present the world seems to be in a vicious cycle of violence - the war in Iraq spawned ISIS. A terrorist atrocity is met with more bombing by the West and Russia in Syria and Iraq and so it goes on. A peaceful answer based on justice needs to be sought if the world is ever to return to a more harmonious state.

* see: Independent - 17/11/2015

Friday, 13 November 2015

Why should the elected leader of the Labour Party have to kneel before the heriditary monarch?

Why should the elected leader of the Labour Party be required to kneel before the monarch - a person who inhabits the role simply because her ancestors happened to head up the biggest gang around? While there are many given voice in the public discourse, who like to look backwards to the good old days of the 19th century, surely a return to the divine right of kings is not on the cards?

Monday, 9 November 2015

Secured Energy Bond Investors group actions spur MPs to challenge ongoing scam

The ongoing activities of the investors action group, seeking justice for Secured Energy Bonds (SEB), holders look to be bearing fruit.
Momentum has been picking up in Parliament, with some investors meeting with shadow justice minister Andrew Slaughter (Hammersmith) and Ian Austin (Dudley). They are just two of 85 MPs now contacted regarding the SEB scam. Both MPs are keen to help investors get their money back and push on with ensuring that a similar heist cannot be committed in the future. “Together with other MPs I’m working hard to make sure that investors are not left out of pocket. It’s important for investors to join the SEB Investors Action Group and contact their MPs to help us press the authorities for action," said Austin.
Also in Parliament, City minister, Harriet Baldwin has responded to Andrew Rosindell’s (Romford) question regarding what steps are being taken to “ensure that the Financial Conduct Authority acts to prevent companies from fraudulently using capital raised from selling ring-fenced bonds to bail out poorly-performing parent companies.”
The minister confirmed that “the Government has legislated to ensure that the Prudential Regulation Authority (PRA) and Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), are fully empowered to maintain the integrity of the ring-fence, and to take action in preventing this type of misconduct.”
She continued: “The ring fencing regime includes requirements that directors of the ring-fenced body (RFB) be able to take decisions independently of group entities; that transactions with group entities be on arm’s length terms; and that arrangements with other group entities should be managed as with third parties.
“The PRA and the Bank of England have powers to take action if such a transaction were to have a potential impact on the prudential resilience or resolvability of the RFB. The FCA can also take enforcement action for breaches of its rules or for these types of market abuse, which includes the imposition of substantial financial penalties.”
So, there may well be further action coming from the FCA at some point regarding what has happened with SEB, relating particularly to the role of CBD Energy.
The most concrete action has seen a preliminary opinion from the adjudicator at the Financial Ombudsman Service that he does feel that complaints against Independent Portfolio Managers (IPM) do fall within his remit.
IPM claim that this is not so because there is not a client relationship between themselves and SEB investors and that the activity they undertook was not as such regulated in terms of the jurisdiction of the FOS.
IPM have contested the initial findings of the adjudicator at the FOS, who will now be responding over the next few weeks.
Beyond the Parliamentary and regulatory framework, the media has remained quiet on the issue. The only recent mention being a reference in a Telegraph piece by Kate Palmer about mini-bonds. The article, which focused on the launch of a new mini-bond, then questioned the security of these instruments, with reference to what had happened with SEB. This irritated SEB investors, as it once again outlined an unhelpful media narrative on this scandal, namely that this was a risky venture, with investors taking a chance that was always likely to come unstuck.
The reality is that this was not a risky venture, just so long as the funds raised go toward the original purpose for which they were intended. The problem all along with SEB is not that the original business proposal was flawed but that the bulk of the funds were removed altogether before they could be used for the proposed purpose – namely putting solar panels on schools. This point seems to be very difficult to get over to some media.
So there is much going on, nothing further though to report on what has been happening regarding the activities of administrators Grant Thornton.

* If you a bondholder you can join the email group to keep up to date with what is going on – details can be obtained from the GT portal, letter to investors, July 2015.

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Why should Jeremy Corbyn go to the CBI conference?

So Jeremy Corbyn is not going to attend an "important" conference hosted by the CBI - why should the leader of the Labour Party who opposes much of what the CBI stands for attend such an event? Why should Corbyn, who is leading the opposition in Parliament to the unjust Trade Union Bill - backed wholeheartedly by the CBI - attend their conference in order to exchange pleasantries and thereby convey some sort of legitimacy on that organisation's stance on workplace matters?

Monday, 2 November 2015

TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady attacks the shambles of a Trade Union Bill

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady attacked the government’s Trade Union Bill as “ a shambles.”

Addressing a TUC rally at Westminster Central Hall, Ms O’Grady declared “we are going to oppose this anti-worker, civil rights denying trade union bashing shambles of a bill.”

She questioned if the Bill is not about attacking the right to strike, then why are employers being given so many more ways to take unions to court and take away their funds.


“They can take away our rights but never take away our spirit,” said a defiant Ms O'Grady, who declared the Bill "unfair and undemocratic."


The TUC general secretary challenged the government to allow unions to conduct electronic balloting if it is serious about wanting higher turnouts on strike votes. “If electronic balloting is good enough for the Tory Party to select its mayoral candidate, then it is surely good enough for trade unions,” said Ms O'Grady, who claimed that the Bill amounted to not just an attack on trade unions but all working people. “Sisters and brothers today is just the beginning, let’s show that this bill is bad for workers, bad for democracy and bad for the economy.” 



The rally at Westminster Central Hall was followed by lobbying of Mps in Parliament, with a particular focus on Tories, some of whom have shown a willingness to speak out about the legislation. Former Conservative Party leadership contender David Davis has likened elements of the bill on restricting picketing to something out of General Francos dictatorship in Spain.

The rally got off to a lively start with bag pippers heralding in a group of firefighters joining the protest. The Unison staff choir gave a rendition of “Something inside so strong” whilst a representative from the Police Federation took a bow.

Comedian and Equity member Andy Parsons brought some light relief to proceedings, suggesting that the six million trade unionists in Britain, all email and phone business minister Sajid Javid to tell him what they will be doing in two weeks time.

Andy suggested twitter messages could be sent to #SajidJavidwants to know and if reinforcements were needed agency twitterers should be brought in to keep the flow going. “If trade union officials have to wear armbands, then all trade unionists should wear armbands, then when one is asked his or her name the answer should come I’m Spartacus,” said Andy.


Communication Workers Union General Secretary Dave Ward called for every trade union to organise a day of action to protest against the Bill.

“This bill is more vicious than anything Margaret Thatcher’s governments did against trade unions. I’m saying that every trade unionist should receive a letter from their general secretary stating that their union has a programme for a day of action,” said Mr Ward.“We have to go further; we have to be prepared to make the sacrifices our forefathers made. We have to be prepared to do all things necessary to stop this bill being made law.”


Liberty director Shami Chakrabarti  warned that the government was trying to divide and rule with its application of the TU Bill. She quoted how the right to strike was lined up against the right of the public to receive a service. “Who are trade unionists if they are not the public,” said Ms Chakrabarti. “This government is on the wrong side of liberty, equality and history. “We have solidarity on our side.”


General Secretary of the FBU Matt Wrack accused the Tories of seeking to remove red tape for business whilst piling it on for trade unions.


He described the bill as an attack on the rights of every single working person in Britain today. “They intend to destroy our public services, pay and pensions,” said Mr Wrack, who called for the creation of a mass movement that makes the Bill irrelevant.

More personal debt due to ongoing low pay

Why the surprise about the growth of individual debt? The government continues to take from the poorest in our society so how are people meant to cope? The comment about failing to learn the lessons of the credit crunch seems disingenuous. The lesson was the bankers acted recklessly, spent all the money and continued as if nothing had happened. It was the poorest and most vulnerable who were made to pay.

-see:Metro, 2/11/2015