Monthly Archives: October 2019


The Incredible Disappearing Farage, and Other Electoral Oddities

For a decade Nigel Farage has been flung into our living rooms continually by the BBC. Even when UKIP barely registered a blip in the opinion polls, he was a regular on Question Time and the other news, current affairs and politics programme. Farage’s celebrity was a BBC creation. He served an important purpose. At a time when the wealth gap was growing exponentially, and working conditions and real incomes of ordinary people were deteriorating sharply, Farage helped amplify the Establishment message that the cause of these problems was not the burgeoning class of billionaires sucking up the world’s resources, but rather the poor immigrants also scratching to make a living.

Having undermined the prospects of a left wing reaction to massively increasing inequality, Farage has now served his purpose. The exigencies of fighting an election under first past the post are such that Farage has become a potentially serious problem for the wealthy elite. The Brexit Party is a fundamental threat to Boris Johnson’s strategy of moving the Tory Party decisively to the hard right and attempting to win seats on the back of working class anti-immigrant votes in the Midlands and North of England. More liberal Scottish, London and South Western Tory voters have been deliberately abandoned, and consituencies sacrificed, in order to chase hard racist votes. Those indoctrinated to hate their fellow man if he has a Polish accent, are now required by the elite to vote Tory, not to vote for the Brexit Party.

The remarkable result of this is that, at precisely the point where Farage’s influence will be most crucial in determining the future of politics in the UK, he has been dropped by the media. I am extremely confident in my perception that he has appeared less in the last month than at any period in the preceding decade. Having been boosted into prominence by the BBC when they were insignificant, the BBC will do everything it possibly can to dampen down Farage and his Brexit Party now they legitimately deserve coverage as a critical factor.

I am happy to state with confidence that this election will backfire on the Tories. The strong evidence from both the 2017 election and the Scottish referendum campaign, is that once broadcasting rules on equal time come into play, the impact on voters is profound of hearing direct from normally derided people and their normally ridiculed arguments.

The Johnson/Cummings electoral strategy is catastrophically bad. First past the post rewards regional voter concentration. Cummings plan is to sacrifice votes in traditional Tory areas in order to pile them up in traditionally hostile areas. The result will be to even out their vote, lose regional concentration and lose the election. They can pile on two million racist votes in traditional Labour constituencies without gaining more than a dozen seats. That will merely cancel out losses in Scotland. That people en masse are going to forget the devastation of their communities by Thatcher or the generations of fight for a decent living is far from probable. The antipathy to the Tories in parts of the UK is not “tribal”, it is the result of generations of hard experience.

The Brexit Party may have more appeal than the Tories in traditional Labour consituencies, but neither they nor the Tories will win any significant number of them. It is in the marginals of the Midlands and Lancashire where the Brexit Party may damage the Tories’ chances, not in Sunderland and Hartlepool which will stay Labour. The SNP is going to sweep Scotland, the Liberal Democrats make substantive gains in London and the South West and the Labour Party will do much better in London and the North than anybody now expects. The Midlands, both East and West, are hard to predict and the key battleground, but the number of possible Tory gains is not enough to compensate for their losses elsewhere. The Tories could end up with the largest share of the vote, perhaps 36%, but less seats than the Labour Party. That is what I expect to happen.

The fly in this alluring ointment is that the Liberal Democrats have shifted so decisively to the right on economic policy. In general I advise everyone in England to vote tactically to defeat the Tories in their constituency, but obviously both Lib Dems and Labour have individual right wing horror candidates I could never ask anyone to vote for.

Here in Scotland, Independence remains the overriding priority. We must escape from Tory domination and the right wing jingoism that so infects English politics; but also it is simply normal for a nation to be Independent. So we all have to vote and campaign for the SNP in what could be a decisive moment in our history.
Incidentally, there is not a single constituency in Scotland where there is a plausible argument that to vote SNP risks letting a Tory in. I am hopeful that we will sweep the Tories out of Scotland completely this time. I am also quite keen about the SNP helping Corbyn pass the basis of a radical left wing reform agenda through Westminster, whilst briefly on a swift route to Independence.

Now that would be a good Christmas present.

*

I appreciate that it is really annoying to constantly read appeals for funds. Sadly it is something pretty well all independent media are forced to do. Since I started accepting voluntary subscriptions, a great many people have contacted me to say that they cannot contribute as they do not wish to use Paypal. I have therefore now designated a secure bank account to receive donations:

Account name
MURRAY CJ
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3 2 1 5 0 9 6 2
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6 0 – 4 0 – 0 5
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BIC
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Bank address
Natwest
PO Box 414
38 Strand
London
WC2H 5JB

Subscriptions are still preferred to donations as I can’t run the blog without some certainty of future income, but I understand why some people prefer not to commit to that.

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Grenfell Report Phase 1 Seeks to Blame the Firefighters

One simple fact cannot be hidden. The firefighters did not cause the fire. Phase 1 of Judge Sir Martin Moore-Bick’s report of the public inquiry into the Grenfell disaster has been released to relatives prior to publication tomorrow. According to the Guardian, it concentrates blame on the firefighters in charge of tackling the blaze. This is an entirely predictable Establishment ploy; blame the little people.

I do not doubt mistakes were made by the firefighters; there will always be well-intentioned errors by those trying to cope with such a terrible crisis. Moore-Bick may be correct in his identification of them. Adherence to the established “stay in your flat” doctrine was disastrously wrong in these circumstances. But the firefighters were not the reason the fire started and spread so quickly. The primary reason was inadequate regulation of the burgeoning fashion for cladding old buildings, and inadequate enforcement of such regulation as was in place.

Moore-Bick may, a couple of years from now, ultimately produce a most damning report of government failings that caused the Grenfell Disaster. But these issues will only be dealt with as Phase 2 of the report, by which time public emotion and recollection will have faded further. I question the methodology of producing an initial report on the events of the night, and a second on the “historical background”, when the “historical background” actually contains the fundamental causes of the tragedy. The second report, when it eventually arrives, will have far less media coverage. The abiding message in the eyes of the duped public will be that the fault lay with the fire brigade.

So let us recall now what really happened.

Deregulation is fundamental to Tory ideology. Speaking specifically on multi-occupation buildings, Fire Minister Bob Neill stated on 16 June 2011:

Over the years, regulations – and the inspections and bureaucracy that go
with them – have piled up and up. This has hurt business, imposing real
burdens and doing real damage to our economy. Reducing the number
of rules and regulations is therefore absolutely central to the Coalition
Government’s vision for Britain, removing barriers to economic growth and
increasing individual freedoms. We have given a clear commitment that where
regulation cannot be justified, we will remove it.

That is one of many examples of vital context given in an excellent pamphlet by the Fire Brigades Union. It is the background to the government’s continued failure over years to address the need for new regulation of developments in cladding.

After six people died due to combustible cladding in the Lakamal House fire of 2009, Tory Minister Eric Pickles’ instinct was to use this disaster to reduce regulation; “My department is committed to a programme of simplification of building regulations”. In the seven years between that statement and the Grenfell fire, the coalition government had still done precisely nothing on cladding regulation.

Meantime, Boris Johnson as Mayor of London was taking an axe to the London Fire Service, closing twelve fire stations. Firemen involved in regulation and inspection were particularly cut. Johnson effectively reduced the number of firemen involved in operational regulation enforcement by half. Total fire brigade staff were reduced by a quarter.

This is the essential background to any criticism of the operational performance of the fire brigade.

Finally, the owners of the building, Kensington and Chelsea Borough Council – arguably the UK’s wealthiest council – bear ultimate responsibility for repeated failures to address fire safety concerns and for putting flammable cladding on the building in order to improve its appearance for the benefit of wealthy neighbours in the surrounding streets. A council planning document made plain that it was clad for the neighbours’ benefit, not that of the residents, “to accord with the development plan by ensuring that the character and appearance of the area are preserved and living conditions of those living near the development suitably protected”. The aim of the cladding was to disguise the existence of accommodation perceived as for poor people.

I have not previously blogged much about Grenfell because I have a distaste for disaster journalism. But if public perception grows that the disaster was the fault of the firefighters, that would be an outrage.

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Assange in Court

UPDATE I have received scores of requests to republish and/or translate this article. It is absolutely free to use and reproduce and I should be delighted if everybody does; the world should know what is being done to Julian. So far, over 200,000 people have read it on this blogsite alone and it has already been reproduced on myriad other sites, some with much bigger readerships than my own. I have seen translations into German, Spanish and French and at least extracts in Catalan and Turkish. I only ask that you reproduce it complete or, if edits are made, plainly indicate them. Many thanks.

BEGINS

I was deeply shaken while witnessing yesterday’s events in Westminster Magistrates Court. Every decision was railroaded through over the scarcely heard arguments and objections of Assange’s legal team, by a magistrate who barely pretended to be listening.

Before I get on to the blatant lack of fair process, the first thing I must note was Julian’s condition. I was badly shocked by just how much weight my friend has lost, by the speed his hair has receded and by the appearance of premature and vastly accelerated ageing. He has a pronounced limp I have never seen before. Since his arrest he has lost over 15 kg in weight.

But his physical appearance was not as shocking as his mental deterioration. When asked to give his name and date of birth, he struggled visibly over several seconds to recall both. I will come to the important content of his statement at the end of proceedings in due course, but his difficulty in making it was very evident; it was a real struggle for him to articulate the words and focus his train of thought.

Until yesterday I had always been quietly sceptical of those who claimed that Julian’s treatment amounted to torture – even of Nils Melzer, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture – and sceptical of those who suggested he may be subject to debilitating drug treatments. But having attended the trials in Uzbekistan of several victims of extreme torture, and having worked with survivors from Sierra Leone and elsewhere, I can tell you that yesterday changed my mind entirely and Julian exhibited exactly the symptoms of a torture victim brought blinking into the light, particularly in terms of disorientation, confusion, and the real struggle to assert free will through the fog of learned helplessness.

I had been even more sceptical of those who claimed, as a senior member of his legal team did to me on Sunday night, that they were worried that Julian might not live to the end of the extradition process. I now find myself not only believing it, but haunted by the thought. Everybody in that court yesterday saw that one of the greatest journalists and most important dissidents of our times is being tortured to death by the state, before our eyes. To see my friend, the most articulate man, the fastest thinker, I have ever known, reduced to that shambling and incoherent wreck, was unbearable. Yet the agents of the state, particularly the callous magistrate Vanessa Baraitser, were not just prepared but eager to be a part of this bloodsport. She actually told him that if he were incapable of following proceedings, then his lawyers could explain what had happened to him later. The question of why a man who, by the very charges against him, was acknowledged to be highly intelligent and competent, had been reduced by the state to somebody incapable of following court proceedings, gave her not a millisecond of concern.

The charge against Julian is very specific; conspiring with Chelsea Manning to publish the Iraq War logs, the Afghanistan war logs and the State Department cables. The charges are nothing to do with Sweden, nothing to do with sex, and nothing to do with the 2016 US election; a simple clarification the mainstream media appears incapable of understanding.

The purpose of yesterday’s hearing was case management; to determine the timetable for the extradition proceedings. The key points at issue were that Julian’s defence was requesting more time to prepare their evidence; and arguing that political offences were specifically excluded from the extradition treaty. There should, they argued, therefore be a preliminary hearing to determine whether the extradition treaty applied at all.

The reasons given by Assange’s defence team for more time to prepare were both compelling and startling. They had very limited access to their client in jail and had not been permitted to hand him any documents about the case until one week ago. He had also only just been given limited computer access, and all his relevant records and materials had been seized from the Ecuadorean Embassy by the US Government; he had no access to his own materials for the purpose of preparing his defence.

Furthermore, the defence argued, they were in touch with the Spanish courts about a very important and relevant legal case in Madrid which would provide vital evidence. It showed that the CIA had been directly ordering spying on Julian in the Embassy through a Spanish company, UC Global, contracted to provide security there. Crucially this included spying on privileged conversations between Assange and his lawyers discussing his defence against these extradition proceedings, which had been in train in the USA since 2010. In any normal process, that fact would in itself be sufficient to have the extradition proceedings dismissed. Incidentally I learnt on Sunday that the Spanish material produced in court, which had been commissioned by the CIA, specifically includes high resolution video coverage of Julian and I discussing various matters.

The evidence to the Spanish court also included a CIA plot to kidnap Assange, which went to the US authorities’ attitude to lawfulness in his case and the treatment he might expect in the United States. Julian’s team explained that the Spanish legal process was happening now and the evidence from it would be extremely important, but it might not be finished and thus the evidence not fully validated and available in time for the current proposed timetable for the Assange extradition hearings.

For the prosecution, James Lewis QC stated that the government strongly opposed any delay being given for the defence to prepare, and strongly opposed any separate consideration of the question of whether the charge was a political offence excluded by the extradition treaty. Baraitser took her cue from Lewis and stated categorically that the date for the extradition hearing, 25 February, could not be changed. She was open to changes in dates for submission of evidence and responses before this, and called a ten minute recess for the prosecution and defence to agree these steps.

What happened next was very instructive. There were five representatives of the US government present (initially three, and two more arrived in the course of the hearing), seated at desks behind the lawyers in court. The prosecution lawyers immediately went into huddle with the US representatives, then went outside the courtroom with them, to decide how to respond on the dates.

After the recess the defence team stated they could not, in their professional opinion, adequately prepare if the hearing date were kept to February, but within Baraitser’s instruction to do so they nevertheless outlined a proposed timetable on delivery of evidence. In responding to this, Lewis’ junior counsel scurried to the back of the court to consult the Americans again while Lewis actually told the judge he was “taking instructions from those behind”. It is important to note that as he said this, it was not the UK Attorney-General’s office who were being consulted but the US Embassy. Lewis received his American instructions and agreed that the defence might have two months to prepare their evidence (they had said they needed an absolute minimum of three) but the February hearing date may not be moved. Baraitser gave a ruling agreeing everything Lewis had said.

At this stage it was unclear why we were sitting through this farce. The US government was dictating its instructions to Lewis, who was relaying those instructions to Baraitser, who was ruling them as her legal decision. The charade might as well have been cut and the US government simply sat on the bench to control the whole process. Nobody could sit there and believe they were in any part of a genuine legal process or that Baraitser was giving a moment’s consideration to the arguments of the defence. Her facial expressions on the few occasions she looked at the defence ranged from contempt through boredom to sarcasm. When she looked at Lewis she was attentive, open and warm.

The extradition is plainly being rushed through in accordance with a Washington dictated timetable. Apart from a desire to pre-empt the Spanish court providing evidence on CIA activity in sabotaging the defence, what makes the February date so important to the USA? I would welcome any thoughts.

Baraitser dismissed the defence’s request for a separate prior hearing to consider whether the extradition treaty applied at all, without bothering to give any reason why (possibly she had not properly memorised what Lewis had been instructing her to agree with). Yet this is Article 4 of the UK/US Extradition Treaty 2007 in full:

On the face of it, what Assange is accused of is the very definition of a political offence – if this is not, then what is? It is not covered by any of the exceptions from that listed. There is every reason to consider whether this charge is excluded by the extradition treaty, and to do so before the long and very costly process of considering all the evidence should the treaty apply. But Baraitser simply dismissed the argument out of hand.

Just in case anybody was left in any doubt as to what was happening here, Lewis then stood up and suggested that the defence should not be allowed to waste the court’s time with a lot of arguments. All arguments for the substantive hearing should be given in writing in advance and a “guillotine should be applied” (his exact words) to arguments and witnesses in court, perhaps of five hours for the defence. The defence had suggested they would need more than the scheduled five days to present their case. Lewis countered that the entire hearing should be over in two days. Baraitser said this was not procedurally the correct moment to agree this but she will consider it once she had received the evidence bundles.

(SPOILER: Baraitser is going to do as Lewis instructs and cut the substantive hearing short).

Baraitser then capped it all by saying the February hearing will be held, not at the comparatively open and accessible Westminster Magistrates Court where we were, but at Belmarsh Magistrates Court, the grim high security facility used for preliminary legal processing of terrorists, attached to the maximum security prison where Assange is being held. There are only six seats for the public in even the largest court at Belmarsh, and the object is plainly to evade public scrutiny and make sure that Baraitser is not exposed in public again to a genuine account of her proceedings, like this one you are reading. I will probably be unable to get in to the substantive hearing at Belmarsh.

Plainly the authorities were disconcerted by the hundreds of good people who had turned up to support Julian. They hope that far fewer will get to the much less accessible Belmarsh. I am fairly certain (and recall I had a long career as a diplomat) that the two extra American government officials who arrived halfway through proceedings were armed security personnel, brought in because of alarm at the number of protestors around a hearing in which were present senior US officials. The move to Belmarsh may be an American initiative.

Assange’s defence team objected strenuously to the move to Belmarsh, in particular on the grounds that there are no conference rooms available there to consult their client and they have very inadequate access to him in the jail. Baraitser dismissed their objection offhand and with a very definite smirk.

Finally, Baraitser turned to Julian and ordered him to stand, and asked him if he had understood the proceedings. He replied in the negative, said that he could not think, and gave every appearance of disorientation. Then he seemed to find an inner strength, drew himself up a little, and said:

I do not understand how this process is equitable. This superpower had 10 years to prepare for this case and I can’t even access my writings. It is very difficult, where I am, to do anything. These people have unlimited resources.

The effort then seemed to become too much, his voice dropped and he became increasingly confused and incoherent. He spoke of whistleblowers and publishers being labeled enemies of the people, then spoke about his children’s DNA being stolen and of being spied on in his meetings with his psychologist. I am not suggesting at all that Julian was wrong about these points, but he could not properly frame nor articulate them. He was plainly not himself, very ill and it was just horribly painful to watch. Baraitser showed neither sympathy nor the least concern. She tartly observed that if he could not understand what had happened, his lawyers could explain it to him, and she swept out of court.

The whole experience was profoundly upsetting. It was very plain that there was no genuine process of legal consideration happening here. What we had was a naked demonstration of the power of the state, and a naked dictation of proceedings by the Americans. Julian was in a box behind bulletproof glass, and I and the thirty odd other members of the public who had squeezed in were in a different box behind more bulletproof glass. I do not know if he could see me or his other friends in the court, or if he was capable of recognising anybody. He gave no indication that he did.

In Belmarsh he is kept in complete isolation for 23 hours a day. He is permitted 45 minutes exercise. If he has to be moved, they clear the corridors before he walks down them and they lock all cell doors to ensure he has no contact with any other prisoner outside the short and strictly supervised exercise period. There is no possible justification for this inhuman regime, used on major terrorists, being imposed on a publisher who is a remand prisoner.

I have been both cataloguing and protesting for years the increasingly authoritarian powers of the UK state, but that the most gross abuse could be so open and undisguised is still a shock. The campaign of demonisation and dehumanisation against Julian, based on government and media lie after government and media lie, has led to a situation where he can be slowly killed in public sight, and arraigned on a charge of publishing the truth about government wrongdoing, while receiving no assistance from “liberal” society.

Unless Julian is released shortly he will be destroyed. If the state can do this, then who is next?

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Unlike our adversaries including the Integrity Initiative, the 77th Brigade, Bellingcat, the Atlantic Council and hundreds of other warmongering propaganda operations, this blog has no source of state, corporate or institutional finance whatsoever. It runs entirely on voluntary subscriptions from its readers – many of whom do not necessarily agree with the every article, but welcome the alternative voice, insider information and debate.

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No Inquest for Dawn Sturgess

The killing of poor Dawn Sturgess was much the most serious of the events in Salisbury and Amesbury that attracted international attention. Yet nobody has been charged, no arrest warrant issued and no inquest held.

The inquest for Dawn Sturgess has today been yet again postponed, for the fourth time, and for the first time no new prospective date has been given for it to open. Alarmingly, the coroner’s office are referring press enquiries to Scotland Yard’s Counter Terrorism Command – which ought to have no role in an inquest process supposed to be independent of the police.

Congratulations to Rob Slane and to John Helmer for their excellent work in following this.

It appears very probable that the independent coroner’s inquiry process is going to be cancelled and, as in the case of David Kelly, replaced by a politically controlled “public inquiry” with a trusty or malleable judge in charge, like Lord Hutton of Kincora. This is because the truth of Dawn Sturgess’ death in itself destroys key elements of the government’s narrative on what happened in Salisbury.

Simply put, the chemical that killed Dawn Sturgess could not have been the same that allegedly poisoned the Skripals. Charlie Rowley is adamant that he found it in a packaged and fully sealed perfume bottle, in a charity bin. Furthermore he states that it was a charity bin he combed through regularly and it had not been there earlier, in the three months between the alleged attack on the Skripals and his taking it from the bin.

The government narrative that “Boshirov and Petrov” used that perfume bottle to attack the Skripals, then somehow resealed the cellophane, and disposed of it in the bin, depends on the Russians having a tiny plastic resealing technology concealed on them (and why bother?), on their taking a long detour to dispose of the “perfume” in a charity bin – the one method that guaranteed it being found and reused – and the “perfume” then achieving a lengthy period of invisibility in the bin before appearing again three months later.

Those are only some of a number of inconvenient facts. Perfume does not come as a gel; it cannot both have been applied as a gel to the Skripals’ doorknob and sprayed on to Dawn Sturgess’ wrists. Gels do not spray. Neither Porton Down nor the OPCW was able to state it was from the same batch as the chemical allegedly used on the Skripals’ house.

Then there is the fascinating fact that it took eleven days of intensive searching for a vial of liquid in a small modern home, for the police to find the perfume bottle sitting on the kitchen counter.

Nobody has been charged with the manslaughter or murder of Dawn Sturgess. There is still an international arrest warrant out for Boshirov and Petrov for the attack on the Skripals. Very interestingly indeed, this warrant has never been changed into the names of Chepiga and Mishkin.

From the moment I heard of the attack on Dawn Sturgess I worried that she – a person down on her luck and living in a hostel – was exactly the kind of person the powerful and wealthy would view as a disposable human being if her death fitted their narrative. The denial of an inquest for her, and the complete lack of interest by the mainstream media in the obvious nonsense of the official story that ties her to the Skripal poisoning, tends to confirm these fears. What Dawn Sturgess’ death tells us, beyond doubt, is that the government narrative is fake and the Skripal and Sturgess cases are two separate incidents. Which makes a local origin of the chemical very much more likely. No wonder the government is determined to avoid the inquest.

I was struck today that the tame neo-con warmongering “Chemical weapons expert” Hamish De Bretton Gordon, former head of the British Army’s chemical weapons unit, appeared on Sky News. He was being interviewed on use of white phosphorous by Turkey in Syria and repeatedly tried to deflect the narrative on to alleged chemical weapons use by Syrian government forces, arguing that the present crisis was the moral responsibility of those who opposed western military action against Assad. But what particularly struck me was that he appeared by Skype – from Salisbury. When you look at the British government’s own chemical weapons expertise, you are continually led back to Salisbury, perhaps not surprisingly given the location of Porton Down.

I am aiming to make a full documentary film on the Salisbury events entitled “Truth and the Skripals”, based around the questions raised on this blog. I shall be looking to launch crowdfunding for the documentary shortly, probably within the week.

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Bad Faith Negotiation

I seldom comment on Brexit, largely because I neither see leaving the EU as a panacea nor the EU itself as a Utopia, and am alienated by the over-extravagant passions and claims on both sides. In addition to that, the FCO is largely excluded from Brexit negotiations, being perceived by the Tories as a nest of remainers, so I seldom get any interesting information fed to me by ex-colleagues.

I should admit at this point that my apparently effortless expertise on myriad subjects is something of a fake, because often posts are prompted and informed (and very rarely, even written) by someone on the inside, and sometimes it is not possible to tell you that. But sometimes I can tell you, and today this knowledge comes from the inside.

The Legal Advisers of the FCO remain the UK government’s source of expertise on public international law. When the Attorney General publishes his view on such a matter, it has been drafted by FCO Legal Advisers or at the least is based on a minute from them. The sole exception to this of which I know was when Blair’s Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, received formal advice from FCO Legal Advisers that to invade Iraq would be an illegal war of aggression. Goldsmith then flew to Washington on instruction from Blair and Goldsmith’s final advice that the war was legal was based on drafting, not from FCO Legal Advisers, but from George Bush’s Legal Advisors. That is one of those incredible facts that I often find hard to understand do not lead to active public outrage. I wish I was a more religious man and could be sure that Hell awaits Goldsmith. I comfort myself with the thought that Goldsmith might himself be religious and cowering.

There is currently considerable alarm in the FCO that Legal Advisers have been asked about the circumstances constituting force majeure which would justify the UK in breaking a EU Withdrawal Agreement in the future. The EU did not fall for Johnson’s idea that a form of Northern Irish “backstop” would only come into effect with the future sanction of Stormont, as this effectively gives a hardline unionist veto, and Barnier was not born yesterday. The situation that Johnson and Raab appear now to contemplate is agreeing a “backstop” now to get Brexit done, but then not implementing the agreed backstop when the time comes due to “force majeure”.

There are two major problems with this line of thinking. The first is that it will give unionists an incentive to foment disorder in order to justify breaking the backstop agreement – indeed there is a concern that might be the tacit understanding Johnson is reaching with the DUP. Remember the British state conspired with the same people to murder the lawyer Pat Finucane and destroyed the evidence as recently as 2002.

The second problem is one of bad faith negotiation, and this is what is troubling the diplomats of the FCO. To negotiate an agreement with the secret intention of breaking it in future is a grossly immoral proceeding, and undermines the whole principle of good international relations. I should like to be able to say that I am sure this cannot be the intention. But when I look at Johnson, Raab and Cummings, I am really not so sure at all. It is possible that Johnson will succeed in the apparently insurmountable challenge of securing a deal all parties can agree, by the simple strategy of promising some parties he has no intention of honouring it.

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Unlike our adversaries including the Integrity Initiative, the 77th Brigade, Bellingcat, the Atlantic Council and hundreds of other warmongering propaganda operations, this blog has no source of state, corporate or institutional finance whatsoever. It runs entirely on voluntary subscriptions from its readers – many of whom do not necessarily agree with the every article, but welcome the alternative voice, insider information and debate.

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Weep for Catalonia, Weep for Liberalism in Europe

The vicious jail sentences handed down today by the fascists (I used the word with care and correctly) of the Spanish Supreme Court to the Catalan political prisoners represent a stark symbol of the nadir of liberalism within the EU. That an attempt to organise a democratic vote for the Catalan people in pursuit of the right of self determination guaranteed in the UN Charter, can lead to such lengthy imprisonment, is a plain abuse of the most basic of human rights.

I was forced to withdraw my lifelong personal support for the EU when, in response to the vicious crushing of the Catalan referendum by Francoist paramilitary forces, when the whole world saw grandmothers hit on the head and thrown down stairs as they attempted to vote, all the institutions of the EU – Council, Commission and Parliament – lined up one after the other to stress their strong support for the Madrid paramilitary action in maintaining “law and order”.

Today we see the same thing. As the Catalans are imprisoned for efforts at democracy, the EU Commission stated that it “respects the position of the Spanish judiciary” and “this is, and remains, an internal matter for Spain, which has to be dealt with in line with its constitutional order.” The Commission here is simply ignoring what is very obviously a fundamental breach of basic human rights. This is far worse than anything Poland or Hungary have done in recent years, and the Commission is also showing a quite blatant hypocrisy in its relative treatment of its Western and Eastern members.

There was a time when the EU was a shining example of economic and environmental regulation and of regional wealth redistribution. My fondness for the institution dates from it being one of our few defences from economic Thatcherism. But it has evolved into something very different, a mutual support club for neoliberal political leaders.

I do not much blog about Brexit because I am less concerned about it than the majority of the population. I neither think remaining inside is essential nor that leaving it is a political panacea. I do desperately wish to retain freedom of movement, and believe leaving the customs union would be economic self-harm on a large scale. A Norway style relationship would suit me fine, but by and large I prefer to stay out of the argument. I do believe that, as a matter of democratic legitimacy, having had the 2016 referendum the result should be respected; England should leave and Scotland and Northern Ireland remain.

But I also say this. A million people are expected to march on Saturday in support of the EU. That is the EU which has just expressed its active support for the jailing of Catalans for holding a vote. They join Julian Assange as political prisoners in the EU held for non-violent thought crime.

I say this to anyone thinking of marching on Saturday. It is morally wrong, at this time, to show public support for the EU, unless you balance it by showing your disgust at the fascist repression of the Catalans and the EU’s support for that repression. Every single person going on Saturday’s march has a moral obligation to balance it by sending a message to the EU Commission that their support for this repression is utterly out of order, and carrying a flag or sign on the march indicating support for the Catalan political prisoners. Otherwise you are just a smug person marching for personal self interest. Alongside the progenitors of the Iraq War, who doubtless will again dominate the platform speeches.

——————————————

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The Foreign Office Must Be Challenged Over Sacoolas’ Immunity

The government has stepped up its lies about immunity in the Sacoolas case to a breathtaking degree. I genuinely am astounded by the sheer audacity of the lies now being told, including a staggeringly mendacious FCO-briefed BBC article yesterday stating that “23,000 individuals in the UK have diplomatic immunity” and that it extends to “drivers and cooks”. This follows up the breathtaking FCO statement to Sky News that RAF Croughton “is regarded as an annex to the US Embassy in London” – a total falsehood.

What I cannot understand is why. The entire incident is extremely strange. On the face of it, Harry Dunn’s death was a tragic accident caused by somebody who had not long been in the UK driving on the wrong side of the road. This dreadful mistake is forgivable, as Harry’s very sensible parents have said; there seems little reason to believe the justice system would have been more harsh. There was no conceivable need to run away. That is what they cannot forgive.

Make no mistake; the spiriting of the Sacoolas family out of the UK was a considered act by the US Government and, in the case of a manslaughter in an allied state, the decision not to waive immunity would have been taken right at the top of the State Department. Make no mistake about it either, the FCO would have been informed and complicit in the decision and has only pretended to protest after massive public pressure, got up by Harry’s admirable family a full three weeks after the incident had been, the government would have hoped, successfully buried.

But why? It should be stated that it is the norm to waive diplomatic immunity in serious cases between allied or friendly developed states, where each has confidence in the other’s justice system. Unless the accident did not happen as stated, or there is a Chris Huhne type blame switch involved (Trump yesterday very carefully made the point that cameras had confirmed the identity of the driver – I was not sure why he brought this up when nobody had questioned it), it is very hard to understand why diplomatic immunity has been insisted on in this case. Assuming that Anne Sacoolas was the driver and the incident was as described, the only explanation I can think of is that it was hoped by getting them out the country to avoid all publicity and scrutiny of Jonathon Sacoolas’ real job, which is to spy on British citizens communications’ for GCHQ, who face legal impediments in doing so.

I would like to be able to say that if that cover-up is the plan, it has backfired, except that the media has unanimously censored all reporting of what Sacoolas actually does in the UK. Which is quite extraordinary given the massive but (deliberately) wildly misleading coverage of this case. I wish there were many more places than here you could come to learn the truth, but there are not. In which context, it is worth noting that both Buzzfeed and the Huffington Post have joined the DSMA Notice Committee and become willing tools of the UK security services.

After I pointed out that Sacoolas does not appear on the Diplomatic List, does not hold diplomatic rank and is not accredited to a diplomatic mission, and therefore cannot be a “diplomatic agent” under the Vienna Convention, the FCO first admitted this and claimed his immunity stemmed from a separate bilateral agreement, as reported by Sky News.

Having negotiated many international agreements in my time in the FCO, I know that they need to be given effect in UK domestic law, usually by Order in Council. I therefore searched for legislation giving the Secretary of State authority to grant immunity from criminal prosecution under bilateral agreements for spy bases, and I could find nothing. The legal basis for granting immunities under the Vienna Convention is the Diplomatic Privileges Act 1964, which enacted it into UK legislation. The legal basis for granting military immunity under Status of Forces Agreements, or for NATO personnel, is clear and set out in the Visiting Forces Act of 1952.

I could find nothing that would give legal powers to a Secretary of State to grant immunity to US spies on military bases working on communications interception of UK citizens. No legislation was passed to give legal effect in the UK to the reputed bilateral agreements which cover this.

I therefore wrote to the FCO asking for a copy of the bilateral agreement under which Sacoolas has immunity, and a copy of the UK legislation giving the authority to grant the immunity to the Secretary of State. I have not received any reply, but apparently it concentrated minds because the FCO has now switched to make an aggressive – and nonsensical – assertion that Sacoolas is a diplomat in terms of the Vienna Convention.

Not only that, the FCO’s admission to Mark Stephens, reported in that original article by Sky News, that Sacoolas was not a diplomat under the Vienna Convention has been expunged from history. The Sky News defence correspondent Alistair Bunkall had tweeted a reply to me copying this report, as evidence there was no DSMA notice controlling the reporting of the Sacoolas case.

Yet this article, held up by Bunkall as evidence of a free media, was within 24 hours totally rewritten to remove the FCO’s admission that Sacoolas was not on the diplomatic list, and replace it with the new FCO attack line of strong assertion that Sacoolas is covered by the Vienna Convention, and to highlight Dominic Raab’s entirely insincere and pretend effort to request Sacoolas’ return. The story has in effect been completely rewritten by the FCO. This is what the same page, the same url, Bunkall tweeted out looks like now:

Pretty well all that remains of the original – accurate – story is the url, now totally at odds with the content https://news.sky.com/story/husband-of-us-woman-granted-diplomatic-immunity-not-registered-diplomat-11830734. There is no acknowledgement that the story has been changed, and the original is strangely not available even on the wayback machine. If Bunkall has not tweeted it, it would be difficult to prove this brief moment of reporting the truth had never existed. The irony of Bunkall’s tweeting a now completely censored report as evidence of press freedom is stunning.

Forgive me but I here must insert my original post on Sacoolas to make plain the actual legal position:

There is no Jonathan Sacoolas on the official Diplomatic list. Neither Sacoolas nor his wife has any right to claim diplomatic immunity under the Vienna Convention.

Article 31 of the Vienna Convention states that:

A diplomatic agent shall enjoy immunity from the criminal jurisdiction of the receiving state

Article 37 extends this privilege to family members living in his household. A “diplomatic agent” is defined in article 2(d).

The “members of the diplomatic staff” are the members of the staff of the mission having diplomatic rank;

Jonathan Sacoolas does not hold, and has never held, a diplomatic rank. He has never been a member of staff of a diplomatic mission. (All those with diplomatic rank appear in the diplomatic list, see above link. That list also includes some attaches who do not have diplomatic rank (depending on the type of attache), but there is nobody with diplomatic rank not in the list).

Jonathan Sacoolas does not have, and has never had, any entitlement to diplomatic immunity in international law. Sacoolas works as an NSA technical officer at the communications interceptions post at “RAF Croughton”. His role is support to the interception of communications from British citizens. As I explained in Murder in Samarkand, the NSA and GCHQ share all intelligence reports, but each faces legal constraints on mass spying on its own citizens. So the NSA has staff here fronting the spying on British citizens, while GCHQ has staff in the US fronting the spying on US citizens, and the polite fiction is that the results are transmitted back over the Atlantic to the US or UK respectively, before being “shared” with the partner intelligence agency.

None of which has anything to do with diplomacy, and Sacoolas must be the subject of a DSMA notice given that all mainstream media are referring to him constantly as a “diplomat”, when they all know that is not true. The irony is of course that if Sacoolas actually was a real diplomat, the US would very probably have waived the diplomatic immunity of his wife, as the issues around his presence and function would be much less sensitive.

The UK has no Vienna Convention obligation to acknowledge the “immunity” of Sacoolas’ wife, contrary to all reporting to date. What does apparently exist between the UK and US is a secret, bilateral agreement to treat GCHQ and NSA staff as if they had diplomatic immunity. That is not at all the same thing as Vienna Convention protection under international law. I cannot conceive the grief of Harry Dunn’s parents, but I do hope that they are not deceived by the pretence at intervention in this case by Johnson and Raab.

I am not at all convinced, as a matter of law, that the government has the power to grant, by bilateral treaty or otherwise, immunity from criminal prosecution to foreign nationals, plainly outside the provisions of the Vienna Convention. This should be tested by the courts.

ENDS

With this in mind, let us examine the claims made by the FCO to the media in response. From that Sky News report we have:

This is utter nonsense. It is simply untrue. RAF Croughton is not an annex to the US Embassy. The FCO has invented this lie to counter the fact that, to qualify for diplomatic immunity under the Vienna Convention, Sacoolas must be attached to a diplomatic mission. RAF Croughton is not a diplomatic mission. A RAF base cannot be a US Embassy.

That RAF Croughton is an annex of the US Embassy can be immediately disproved. An Embassy is the sovereign territory of the nation which owns it. Within Embassy premises, the law which applies is the law of the Embassy’s state, not the host state. That is not the case in RAF Croughton. That RAF Croughton is not an Annex of the US Embassy can be instantly proven beyond any doubt or argument by the fact that the bye-laws applicable within it are promulgated by the UK Secretary of State for Defence.

If the base were an annex to the US Embassy, the UK Secretary of State could not make bye-laws for it. There is no mention within the bye-laws covering security and management of and access to RAF Croughton of any area within it being part of the US Embassy. The claim is a simple and straightforward lie, and a rather desperate one.

Finally, if RAF Croughton were an annex to the US Embassy and if Mr Sacoolas were a diplomat, the cars of both he and his wife would have diplomatic CD plates. Mrs Sacoolas was not driving a diplomatic car – an obviously vital fact in this case, again omitted from all mainstream media reporting.

There are further lies in the Sky News report.

On the contrary, the Diplomatic List is a comprehensive record of every diplomat notified to the FCO as having diplomatic status by Diplomatic Note – and as specified in Article 10 of the Vienna Convention, a person must be so notified to become a “diplomatic agent”. There are no “diplomatic agents” not on the Diplomatic List.

I was in the Foreign Office for 20 years and a member of its Senior Management Structure for 6 years. It would be nice if you took my word for this, but you don’t have to – it is very neatly explained at the very start of the Diplomatic List:

The entire purpose of the list is to record those with diplomatic immunity and the legislation under which they get it. From page 127 to 137 it lists those who have diplomatic immunity not under the Diplomatic Privileges Act – which only covers national Embassies and High Commissions – but under other legislation as they work not for nations but for international agencies: and in every individual case the Diplomatic List names the specific legislation which confers the immunity.

The major purpose of the London Diplomatic List is to be a compendium of diplomatic status with a precise attribution of immunity and its source. As Sacoolas is not listed as a diplomat of the US Embassy in the Diplomatic List or the Consular List, he is not a “diplomatic agent” entitled to full diplomatic immunity. Full stop. As explained below, Sacoolas’ wife would only have diplomatic immunity while driving privately if he held a full diplomatic rank (in which case her car would have diplomatic CD plates, which it does not).

The FCO claim that the Diplomatic List only covers London is also ludicrous. The same government webpage gives you the full list of consulates, with their consuls, and even of honorary consuls, outside of London. It does not list Embassy annexes outside London because there are none and the concept does not exist in international law. Embassy outposts from the capital are consulates or consular offices.

The FCO is trying to convince you that their entire section of staff who work on diplomatic accreditations and constantly update the Diplomatic List, are wasting their time on an entirely pointless exercise producing futile and incomplete lists. I wonder how those employees’ morale is today.

But Raab’s FCO did not stop there with the lies. They then briefed the BBC to produce an article on diplomatic immunity so full of lies as to be truly astonishing. I am prepared to confess that I could not complete this blog entry for three days because I was genuinely emotionally upset by the realisation that the UK now has a government whose noted penchant for “aggressive” media and opinion management means it is prepared to employ the big lie on any occasion and subject.

The BBC article is plainly based entirely on an FCO briefing and written with the express and sole intention of obscuring the fact that Sacoolas is not a diplomat. It contains so many outrageous lies that I am afraid this article is going to get still longer. If you have had the patience to stick with me so far, please bear with me a bit further.

This is another quite extraordinary lie, as anybody can easily confirm simply by reading the Vienna Convention. As explained above, full diplomatic immunity is enjoyed only by “diplomatic agents” who must be persons “Having diplomatic rank”.

As very plainly set out in articles 37 of the Vienna Convention:

Article 37
1.The members of the family of a diplomatic agent forming part of his household shall, if they are
not nationals of the receiving State, enjoy the privileges and immunities specified in articles 29 to 36.

2.Members of the administrative and technical staff of the mission, together with members of
their families forming part of their respective households, shall, if they are not nationals of or
permanently resident in the receiving State, enjoy the privileges and immunities specified in articles 29
to 35, except that the immunity from civil and administrative jurisdiction of the receiving State specified
in paragraph 1 of article 31 shall not extend to acts performed outside the course of their duties. They
shall also enjoy the privileges specified in article 36, paragraph 1, in respect of articles imported at the
time of first installation.

3.Members of the service staff of the mission who are not nationals of or permanently resident in
the receiving State shall enjoy immunity in respect of acts performed in the course of their duties,
exemption from dues and taxes on the emoluments they receive by reason of their employment and the
exemption contained in article 33.

So “diplomatic agents” “having diplomatic rank” – which, remember, Sacoolas does not have – hold full immunity as do their families.

“Administrative and technical staff” have immunity from prosecution only while performing acts “in the course of their duties”. That is while actually engaged in work for their governments, not outwith their working time. Their families also have exactly the same immunity, and as the families do not have any official duties to be engaged in, in practice their immunity is only civil ie from taxation.

In the case of another spy, Shai Masot, not on the diplomatic list, when challenged as to his diplomatic status the FCO claimed he was not a “diplomatic agent” but only “technical and administrative staff”. As an NSA communications interception expert Sacoolas could arguably be “technical and administrative staff” if it were true that RAF Croughton were an annex of the US Embassy – but that plainly is not true.

However even were Sacoolas covered by immunity as “technical and administrative work” he and his family would only be covered for events that happened in the direct course of his work, and very, very plainly Anne Sacoolas would not have had diplomatic immunity when she hit Harry Dunn. She only had immunity if Sacoolas is a full blown “diplomatic agent” – which he isn’t. We are yet to be told what “diplomatic rank” he allegedly holds. So for the BBC to try to obscure the case with cooks and gardeners – who as “service staff” have even less immunity and their families none at all – is deliberate obfuscation.

This is an utterly tendentious claim. As explained above, the only people with practical diplomatic immunity outside their actual work are full blown diplomats, and there are just over 3,000 of them, all captured in the Diplomatic List. The BBC report attempts to make out that categories such as “international organisations” account for significant parts of this alleged horde of diplomats, but as noted above those from international organisations entitled to diplomatic immunity are all in the London Diplomatic List pp 127 to 137 and amount to just 220 people. It is also worth remembering that the majority of family members who have immunity are children.

There is a much larger number of military personnel who enjoy immunity under the Visiting Forces Act – a total disgrace, in my view – but this is not diplomatic immunity and it is not claimed Sacoolas has it. I have no idea where the ridiculous 23,000 figure for diplomatic immunity originates. Dominic Raab’s arse seems the best bet.

The Johnson/Raab PR strategy here is plain – to drown investigation of Sacoolas’ extremely dodgy claim to political asylum in a sea of tens of thousands of fictitious holders of dodgy political asylum. The government has decided to make us overlook Sacoolas by pretending that there are 23,000 obscure foreigners roaming our country as “diplomats”, each of whom has the license to burgle your home, piss on your floor, kill your daughter and rape your son without facing any possible criminal prosecution or comeback. If this were true, it would be a catastrophic and alarming state of affairs. Thankfully it is a great morass of fiction the government has created within which to try and bury Sacoolas.

This fake “diplomatic immunity” needs to be challenged in court, but I am not sure anyone except Harry Dunn’s family has the locus to do this. Their son was killed by the wife of a spy and to avoid political embarrassment about his activities, the government has falsely connived at a status of diplomatic immunity and then pretended to be trying to get Mrs Sacoolas back. That is an awful lot to take in for people in a terrible state of grief. After losing a son, the cognitive dissonance involved in uncovering state secrets, and learning that the state is malevolent and senior ministerial office holders are liars, is a huge hurdle to surmount. The Dunn family have first to summon the will to fight it, and then to avoid the attempts to hug them in the suffocating embrace of an establishment lawyer – believe me the powers that be will be covertly thrusting one at them – who will advise them they are most likely to make progress if they rock no boats.

The only people I know of who effectively enjoy secret diplomatic immunity are spies from CIA/NSA like Jonathon Sacoolas or from Mossad like Shai Masot. There are not any other categories of pretend diplomats having immunity, and the elaborate charade to pretend that there are is a nonsense. It must not distract from the fact that the claim that the government can grant US and Israeli intelligence agencies diplomatic immunity at will is a lie. The government is acting illegally here. There is no legislation that covers Raab in allowing Mrs Sacoolas to kill – albeit accidentally – with impunity.

I pray both the government and Mrs Sacoolas will be brought to account. I hope Mr and Mrs Dunn find what peace they can with their loss, and are able to remember with due warmth the eighteen wonderful years that I am sure they had with their son.

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Jonathan Sacoolas Is Not, and Has Never Been, a Diplomat

UPDATE: Since I published this article the mainstream media, including at least Sky News and the Guardian, have started to report that Sacoolas does not have diplomatic immunity. This is a massive reversal in the MSM line, though to date none have published that he works for NSA or explained the NSA/GCHQ relationship. The MSM are all quoting the lawyer Mark Stephens, rather than this blog, as the source of the information. I would gently note that I can so far find no evidence of Stephens pointing out Sacoolas is not on the Diplomatic List until some hours after I broke the story, and that when he gave radio interviews yesterday Stephens was unaware of the fact.

Ultimately however it does not matter that I am not credited; what matters is my lead has in practice been followed and there is now a much stronger point of pressure available to get justice for Harry Dunn.
END OF UPDATE

There is no Jonathan Sacoolas on the official Diplomatic list. Neither Sacoolas nor his wife has any right to claim diplomatic immunity under the Vienna Convention.

Article 31 of the Vienna Convention states that:

A diplomatic agent shall enjoy immunity from the criminal jurisdiction of the receiving state

Article 37 extends this privilege to family members living in his household. A “diplomatic agent” is defined in article 2(d).

The “members of the diplomatic staff” are the members of the staff of the mission having diplomatic rank;

Jonathan Sacoolas does not hold, and has never held, a diplomatic rank. He has never been a member of staff of a diplomatic mission. (All those with diplomatic rank appear in the diplomatic list, see above link. That list also includes some attaches who do not have diplomatic rank (depending on the type of attache), but there is nobody with diplomatic rank not in the list).

Jonathan Sacoolas does not have, and has never had, any entitlement to diplomatic immunity in international law. Sacoolas works as an NSA technical officer at the communications interceptions post at “RAF Croughton”. His role is support to the interception of communications from British citizens. As I explained in Murder in Samarkand, the NSA and GCHQ share all intelligence reports, but each faces legal constraints on mass spying on its own citizens. So the NSA has staff here fronting the spying on British citizens, while GCHQ has staff in the US fronting the spying on US citizens, and the polite fiction is that the results are transmitted back over the Atlantic to the US or UK respectively, before being “shared” with the partner intelligence agency.

None of which has anything to do with diplomacy, and Sacoolas must be the subject of a DSMA notice given that all mainstream media are referring to him constantly as a “diplomat”, when they all know that is not true. The irony is of course that if Sacoolas actually was a real diplomat, the US would very probably have waived the diplomatic immunity of his wife, as the issues around his presence and function would be much less sensitive.

The UK has no Vienna Convention obligation to acknowledge the “immunity” of Sacoolas’ wife, contrary to all reporting to date. What does apparently exist between the UK and US is a secret, bilateral agreement to treat GCHQ and NSA staff as if they had diplomatic immunity. That is not at all the same thing as Vienna Convention protection under international law. I cannot conceive the grief of Harry Dunn’s parents, but I do hope that they are not deceived by the pretence at intervention in this case by Johnson and Raab.

I am not at all convinced, as a matter of law, that the government has the power to grant, by bilateral treaty or otherwise, immunity from criminal prosecution to foreign nationals, plainly outside the provisions of the Vienna Convention. This should be tested by the courts.

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An Unpopular Article

This article is probably unpopular. The point of this blog is not to make you agree, but to make you think; if I did not express views which are not the view of the majority, there would be no point in writing at all. This is not an applause seeking echo chamber of popular sentiment.

Boris Johnson has no more ardent political opponent than I. But some of the hysteria about him is overblown.

As a teenage delegate to a Liberal Party conference in 1976 (I think in Llandudno), I had to fend off the amorous advances of a politician who persisted even after I plainly told him I was not gay, and I ended up stabbing his wandering hand with the pin of my delegate’s badge, after which he went away. I regarded his behaviour as over drunken and over randy, but took the attitude then and now that humans are not perfect and inclined occasionally to fall prey to their basic instincts, especially when drinking. If we expected everyone to be perfect, we would live our entire lives in a state of disappointment. I expect a majority of sexually active adults have similar experiences at some time. I do not believe it healthy or sensible to elevate them to serious crimes.

(For the sake of clarity, I should add that I have never personally been accused of an unwanted physical advance).

I really do not care whether Boris Johnson squeezed Charlotte Edwards’ leg 20 years ago. I firmly believe women are every bit the equal of men, and I do not understand why it is somehow reckoned that Ms Edwards, and others in the same position, were unable to stab his hand with a fork, throw a drink in his face, or embarrass him by telling him clearly to stop. I do not accept the notion that difference of age and status between full adults makes firm rejection impossible – that thought did not cross my mind with the politician in Llandudno, who was a good deal older, more famous and wealthy than I, and in a position to further my political ambitions. Ms Edwards saying nothing at the time, saving it up for twenty years and then attempting to use the claim to cause major damage, appears to me behaviour as bad as the original.

I do realise that in this I have outlived the mores of the times. But no matter how fiercely I oppose a no deal Brexit – and I think it would be disastrous for every one but a few nasty financial speculators – I do not think the approach of throwing the kitchen sink of accusations against Boris Johnson is good for the long term health of politics. It also obscures with chaff the allegations of real wrongdoing, like directing public funds and assistance to the company of a woman with whom he was in a sexual relationship. That should be investigated. That is real wrongdoing.

Johnson’s arrogance before the Commons in refusing to apologise for the prorogation of parliament was deeply unpleasant, but I do not approve of the effort to delegitimise his use of language. Words like “surrender”, “betrayal” and “traitor” have centuries of political use behind them. Boris Johnson is as entitled to free speech as anyone else. It is perfectly legitimate for opponents to argue that his language is deliberately divisive and thus people ought to vote against him in the interests of harmony. The electorate can pay heed or not to such argument, as they see fit. But it is quite another thing to argue that such language should be excised from public life. Robust debate is an important aspect of free speech. Controlling the language of your opponents is the antithesis of democracy. I am firmly with John Stuart Mill on this one.

People were offended by Galileo and Darwin, by Gandhi, by Jesus and Mohammed. Causing offence is important to human development. Everyone is entitled to do it, even Boris Johnson.

Finally I had the misfortune to see Jess Phillips on BBC Breakfast TV yesterday morning and she gave, as an example of abuse of MPs the fact that every time she speaks about anti-semitism in the Labour Party she receives emails stating that she is exaggerating, or is a puppet of Israel. A great deal of what MPs plainly see as abusive online activity looks to me simply like people expressing their disagreement. People can be entirely right or entirely wrong in their views, but they still have a right to express them to Members of Parliament. I found Ms Phillips objection to people expressing disagreement deeply worrying.

I have no doubt MPs do receive death threats – I do myself sometimes, generally originating in Florida for some strange reason. But I do wonder how much exaggeration there is of this.

The Laura Kuenssberg case is seminal here. You may recall that 35,000 people signed a 38 Degrees petition calling for her removal for pro-Tory bias and after a major headline news campaign headed by the Guardian and BBC, claiming that the petition was full of abusive and misogynistic comments, 38 Degrees deleted the petition. However I went through all the comments personally and could only find one comment and a single related tweet which was in any way abusive or misogynistic. When I challenge 38 Degrees to produce the evidence of abuse, there was none. That was a very worrying example of the limiting of perfectly legitimate protest against Kuenssberg, on an excuse of “abusive social media” which was a lie.

There is insufficient plain speaking already in politics and the attempt to further contain and constrain, and limit political thought to acceptable channels and vocabulary, is worrying. Let Johnson say what he wills, and let the electorate judge that.

As for behaviour, I do not wish to see any further correspondence of the Overton window with sex negative feminism. I can personally think of one mutually fulfilling physical relationship in my own history, where the crossing of that difficult line from friendship to physical intimacy did indeed start with the squeeze of a leg under the table. The initiation of more intimate physical contact is the most critical point in the complex courtship rituals of developed human societies. To insist that verbal agreement must always be sought before a move to kiss or an exploratory caress of a leg or a shoulder, is a fundamental change in culture which I am not at all sure is desirable. The essential qualifier is of course that, if the other person either verbally or by action does not welcome the tentative first move, then the initiator must desist immediately. It is my own belief that sex-negative feminism seeks quite deliberately to invalidate perfectly normal heterosexual courtship and that the chattering classes have far too readily adopted this, in the interests of identity politics.

I am perfectly aware that what I have written will offend some pleasant people and is against current fashionable thinking. I am also well aware that less pleasant people will utterly misrepresent what I have written as a justification of sexual assault. I deplore entirely any non-consensual sexual activity forced on anyone, and I believe that the slightest indication of disapproval should lead to an instant stop. But to deny the existence of non-verbal communication, and make an issue of non-violent initiation of contact outside an erogenous zone, is to me not legitimate. I would also refer you to my last post, and the extraordinary difference in the treatment in these matters by the media and political classes purveying identity politics of those within the neo-liberal “centrist” consensus, like Bill Clinton and Brendan Cox, and those outside it, like Boris Johnson, Alex Salmond or Julian Assange. This is a misguided and an extraordinarily selective outrage.

——————————————

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