Saturday, April 18, 2009

Christopher Galley MP?

This is an odd thing for me - an old leftist - to say but I think Government ministers must be able to have discussions with civil servants or other ministers without fearing that these will appear in the Daily Mirror or The News of the Screws the following day. Without this expectation of confidentiality there will be much more decision-making by an inner cabal, with no paper trail, and no input from anyone but a core of trusted cronies. Of course, a civil servant ought to be able to offer a "public interest defence" for leaking information; but there is a great deal of difference between "what is in the public interest" and "what the public might be interested in" (a distinction the DPP's statement elides). And there is a big difference between leaking in the public interest, and leaking merely in the interests of the opposition party, and in the expectation that this might help one in a future political career. For example, on September 1 The Daily Mail ran with a leaked letter from Jacqui Smith to Gordon Brown which predicted that the credit crunch would lead to a rise in crime. Now: (i) this is to state the bleeding obvious; (ii) it is ludicrous to pretend that the leaking of such information is a threat to national security, (iii) the civil servant who leaked this cannot plausibly offer a"public interest" defence; this is just the sort of thing ministers ought to be able to discuss in confidence (It's not as if we are talking about the government concealing from the public key facts about the sinking of the Belgrano. Christoper Galley is no Clive Ponting). As I read the DPP's statement, there is a "high threshold" before a criminal prosecution can be justified and in this case "there is insufficient evidence for a realistic prospect of conviction". This falls far short of a general commendation for either Christopher Galley or Damien Green. True, the DPP does dismiss the idea that the leaks were a threat to national security; but he does say they damaged the "proper functioning" of the Home Office (why did the government not take this line?). Contrary to what almost everyone else is saying, I do not think Galley or Green come out of this well. Galley in particular is not someone I would trust as far as I could spit. I don't know what assurances Damien may have given you, Chis, old son, and maybe in your dreams you can already see "Christoper Galley M.P."; but I wouldn't bank on it...


The Guardian front page says that the policeman who struck Ian Tomlinson may be charged with manslaughter. Mmm. Is there a hope in hell he will be convicted of manslaughter? The blow he struck was unprovoked, and pretty nasty, but in all fairness I don't see how he could reasonably have anticipated that it would lead to Tomlinson's death. It would be different if he had forcibly struck Tomlinson on the head with his truncheon (as apparently happened at Bishopsgate). Is he going to be charged with the most serious offence with which he could be charged on the expectation that there will be a much lesser chance of a guilty verdict? That's how it looks to me. He deserves to lose his job; and he ought to be charged with a lesser offence. But manslaughter? He will be suspended on full pay while the trial takes place; he will be acquitted; he will return to duty a canteen hero; and after a while it will all be forgotten. I think that's what the police call a "result" It smells a bit fishy to me.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The arrogance of authority

It isn't so much the amount of violence involved; there was worse, much worse, at Bisopsgate - the police attacked when there was no media around for a reason. But there is a whole world of meaning in that slap by the back of the hand. It tells us a great deal about the attitude of the police, and for that matter of this government, towards protest. There is an arrogance, a contempt for the right to protest, an incomprehension of dissidence, the worship of power. The violence - the slap then the truncheon - is not used in self-defence, and is not used against someone who is "tooled-up", it isn't even used "man-to-man"; it is used by a large hulking copper against a woman who cannot possibly defend herself. He hits her because he can. Would that particular policeman even understand the proposition that one of his duties - not his only duty, to be sure - ought to be to ensure that the protestors are able to protest, to guard their right to protest. I doubt it.

Last came Anarchy: he rode

On a white horse, splashed with blood;

He was pale even to the lips,

Like Death in the Apocalypse.

And he wore a kingly crown;

And in his grasp a sceptre shone;

On his brow this mark I saw -


Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The first commandment of spin

Monday's Guardian cartoon was spot on. It had Alistair Campbell handing out the ten commandments of spin, a cowed Brown and McBride before him, a shadowy Blair behind him. And the first commandment? "Don't get fucking caught". I doubt if anyone in politics is quite as shocked by the McBride/Draper affair as they affect to be; there is a certain amount of thespian artfice to the parade of outraged Tories we have seen over the last few days. Politics is a hard old game and no party is quite innocent of dirty tricks. Guido - a Tory outrider - and Dale (a Tory candidate) are not exactly strangers to gossip. Guido's blog - and even more so the comments of his band of faithful public school interlocutors - are so scurrilous and so vulgar as to beggar belief, and the sight of Guido heading for the moral high ground is a little incredulous. You can't be a "louche libertarian" (as he styles himself) and the Vicar of Dibley at the same time. You can bet your life that if it were rumoured that a Labour politician had taken cocaine in the past Guido would be after him like a bloodhound. I have no doubt McPoison is a nasty piece of work and Dolly Draper a social-climbing catastrophe-prone dimwit (whom no sane person would touch with a bargepole); but it isn't as if the Tories don't have a few nasties and dimwits of their own. Remember Bernard Ingham? Aitken's "shiny sword of truth"? Brown envelopes? Jeffrey Archer? And as for Andy Coulson (formerly of that guardian of the moral high ground, The News of the Screws) his past form does not suggest he is a choir boy.
Running the McBride/Draper operation out of Downing Street and inviting Draper to Chequers (I mean, why?) was, apart from anything else, inept. Leaving an electronic paper-trail is a bit daft (what happened to quiet off-the-record chats over a few beers?). But there are other questions. Just how did Guido get hold of the e-mails? It seems clear the Tories have a mole or two inside the government machine (and - aided by friends in the media - they have just neatly dispatched the copper who tried to look into this, his replacement being - apparently -"one of us"). The Tories are certainly determined to milk this for what's its worth; but, as I say, I doubt if the average voter is quite so shocked as the parade of outraged Tories touring the TV and radio studios purport to be. We know a performance when we see one.