On OpenDemocracy’s OurKingdom blog, Oliver Huitson draws attention to the way in which the right-wing media has shifted the focus of its attacks in recent days: from ad hominem assaults on Ed Miliband, to warning about the danger of SNP influence on a possible minority Labour administration. Continue reading Constitutional coups and the decline of media influence
Thursday evening saw another party leaders debate. This time it was a BBC production, hosted by David Dimbleby.
David Cameron, the Prime Minister, chose not to take part. One assumes that he and his strategists had good reasons for his decision. He has presided over many unpopular policies and would have been exposed to continual criticism. Perhaps he and his advisers felt that he could only lose.
But his absence felt odd. All the other participants were able to hammer the Coalition Government policies with impunity (Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat Leader and Deputy Prime Minister, was not there either). Ed Miliband was able to take up the Prime Ministerial mantle unopposed.
Of the five parties that did show up for the debate, four are clearly to the left of David Cameron’s Conservatives and one, UKIP, are very much to the right. Their closing statements were different and appealed to different demographics, but throughout all I could hear was the sound of the Comservatives hemorrhaging votes.
My hunch is that the nationalist parties will do very well on 7 May, and that UKIP will pick up votes that should otherwise have gone to the Tories. I think this will allow Labour to prevail in a few seats that they may not otherwise have won, and that Miliband’s offer will persuade enough other voters. Taken together, all these results will put Labour in a position to form their own minority or coalition government. Of course, the campaign still has a few weeks left to run… but right now, I think Ed Miliband will become Prime Minister in May.
There’s a new app in town, called Meerkat. It allows you to stream live video direct from your mobile phone or tablet, with the link appearing in your Twitter stream.
Dan Pfeiffer, a former senior advisor to Barack Obama, writes:
If 2004 was about Meetup, 2008 was about Facebook, and 2012 was about Twitter, 2016 is going to be about Meerkat (or something just like it).
(He is of course talking about US politics). I wonder whether that’s true though: I fancy there may be a premium on asynchronicity—sending messages to people to read when they have time, rather than in the moment. How much value is there in This Is Happening Literally Right Now over the Twitter news model of This Just Happened? Meerkat does not seem to have any catch-up functionality—if you click on a link to a stream that has ended, there’s no way to view it back. Other services like Ustream and Google Hangouts do offer that functionality and I bet the Meerkat devs are beavering away (or whatever it is a meerkat does) to get this feature into the app. Continue reading Why not do an extra leaders’ debate via #Meerkat?
In the past few months, I’ve given over a couple of posts to the Labour Party and human rights. See my report of Yvette Cooper’s speech, or Sadiq Khan’s speech, for example. As such, its worth bookmarking a recent Daily Telegraph piece by Khan, on the Human Rights Act, and Britain’s relationship with the European Court of Human Rights.
The lay-reader may appreciate a quick overview of these human rights mechanisms. First, the European Convention on Human Rights incorporates basic protections into a Europe-wide treaty. The UK government must protect human rights because it has signed a treaty saying it shall do so—the rights have not been ‘imposed’ on us by European bureaucrats. The convention also establishes a court (at Strasbourg) to hear cases of human rights abuses. We in UK and the other signatory states are bound by the rulings of the court because we chose to sign the treaty. Continue reading How British values influence the European Court of Human Rights
According to the Mail on Sunday, David Cameron recently learnt of a sex-scandal involving prominent members of his government. ‘For legal reasons’ the paper cannot name the people involved.
On Twitter, people are cautious. Many cite the injunction that prevents anyone naming names. The judgement in the Lord McAlpine vs Sally Bercow is fresh in everyone’s minds. Even guessing may amount to contempt of court.
During the ‘super-injunction’ furore in 2011 (which culminated in Ryan Giggs being named in Parliament as having taken out such an order to prevent a kiss-and-tell story by Imogen Thomas) I recall that both the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph printed ridiculous puff pieces about an actor who had been named on Twitter as having used a prostitute and then taken out a super injunction to prevent the story from vein reported.†. Both pieces called the actor a family man, and the Telegraph cleverly worked certain film titles into the piece that, for those in the know, referenced the sordid tale.
For those in the know.
It may be that Monday’s newspapers contain similar clues. Those who usually try to solve the cryptic cross words may try their luck and deciphering the hints and breadcrumbs buried within the newspapers coverage. In the coming days, look out for odd turns of phrase, and out-of-place or fawning profiles of cabinet ministers in the newspapers. They will be the *innocent face* of the mainstream media, drawing attention to those in the know.
This is all desperately problematic. In the next few days, we may find ourselves in a situation where the majority of the political and media class will know the identity of the Downing Street adulterers. People like me, who exist on the periphery of that world and have a couple of friends in journalism, will probably find out too. That’s if Twitter doesn’t get there first. And everyone who knows will probably tell their partners and a few other close mates, “so long as you don’t broadcast it”.
And if the group of those in the know is sufficiently large, then the privacy of the people involved has not been protected. Their reputation will have been damaged.
In fact, I reckon that I am a pretty good canary-down-the-mine for this. There must be literally thousands of people like me who work on the fringes of politics and/or spend a fair chunk of time on the Internet. Assuming that the identities are not revealed in a big newspaper splash (a possibility) then I will posit that when I discover the identities, then in no sense can it be said that the privacy or the reputation of the people involved remains protected..
This is not a free speech manifesto and I will not break any injunction. Social media and blogging are both forms of publishing, legally no different from writing a newspaper article.
My point is this – there may come a moment in the next few days or week, when there will be common knowledge facts that no-one will speak about in the open, and everyone will play along with the charade that the names remain unknown.
And when societies participate in a collective omertà, we should start to get worried.
Well, that did not take long. I have now discovered the names of the people involved. My methods were so rudimentary I can confidently say that many, many people are now in the know. It will make it easier to spot cryptic clues in the Monday papers much easier (but less fun).
†As someone who likes to link to what I am referring to, it is incredibly frustrating to be unable to do so in this case… because I think the injunction may still be in place. I will investigate and post the links if it is legal to do so!
The General Secretary of the Vietnamese Communist Party Nguyễn Phú Trọng was in the UK this week, so English PEN wrote a letter to David Cameron, asking him to raise our free expression concerns during their meeting.
I was interviewed about the visit by Voice of America’s Vietnamese Service.
There is an accompanying article. This is the key quote:
Thủ tướng Anh nên quan tâm đến việc các doanh nghiệp Anh có nên đầu tư vào một nước như Việt Nam hay không khi mà nạn vi phạm nhân quyền, vi phạm quyền tự do bày tỏ quan điểm đã trở nên quá rõ ràng đến mức như vậy.
Essentially: When writers are being locked up, how can you trust what is reported from within Vietnam? Why should British buinesses invest in a country where information about the economy and corruption may be suppressed?
Those of you who don’t speak Vietnamese may appreciate a Google Translate version of the page.
The extraordinary political drama surrounding the publication of the Leveson Report yesterday leaves me with something of a dilemma.
On the one hand, I want to commend David Cameron for making a principled stand for free expression in Parliament yesterday. This Prime Minister seems hostile to the Human Rights Act, so his words on the importance of free speech are noteworthy:
The issue of principle is that, for the first time, we would have crossed the Rubicon of writing elements of press regulation into the law of the land. We should be wary of any legislation that has the potential to infringe free speech and a free press. In this House, which has been a bulwark of democracy for centuries, we should think very, very carefully before crossing that line.
Cameron also said he was “instinctively concerned” about changing the rules on Data Protection and journalistic sources (Hansard link ), which, from a free expression point of view, is also a welcome attitude. Some might argue that these are platitudes, but they are on record in Parliament and there is no reason why free speech campaigners should not trumpet these comments.
However, these statements are tempered by the concern that, in appearing to reject Lord Justice Leveson’s key recommendation, it seems as if the Prime Minister is undermining the Inquiry he himself set up. This is likely to further alienate people from parliamentary politics. Labour and the Liberal Democrats are right to ask what the point of the Inquiry actually was, if the central conclusion is summarily dismissed. In taking an early position against ‘statutory underpinning’, Cameron has aligned himself with the newspapers, rightly or wrongly symbolised by the hated Murdochs.
The Prime Minister has also placed himself in opposition to the McCanns, the Dowlers, and Hugh Grant, which politically speaking seems an incredibly risky manoevre. It is so counter-intuitive to the project of re-election that I am persuaded that he has indeed taken the position on a matter of principle.
I am no fan of David Cameron’s policies, and usually enjoy watching his poll numbers fall. But I worry about a situation in which a Prime Minister loses public support because he makes statements in favour of free expression.
Plenty of Sharp-bait in the media this morning. David Cameron will give a speech today criticising the European Court of Human Rights, for going against the laws and judicial decisions of Council of Europe countries.
I’ve argued before, in a post on paedos and prisoners, that in the human rights framework, a judgement that frustrates the populist sentiment is a feature, not a bug. The case of Abu Qatada is cited as an example of a problem, but I see it as the system working well. The man (odious as he may be) hasn’t had a proper trial, and the European Court pointed this out. What’s wrong with that?
The response from the reactionaries is “he doesn’t deserve a fair trial”. This implies a two-tier system of liberty and justice, an Us-and-Them approach which eventually dehumanises certain groups. We need an effective justice and security system to provide some protection against violence and extremism. But it has to apply a consistent set of rules and procedures if it ismto woeffort perky. And we also need an external court of human rights, to protect us from the careless elements in our own society, who are happy to dispense with due process whenever it is not to their taste. it’s a shame that our Prime Minister is pandering to these “careless elements” and I hope the other party leaders, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband, do not follow suit.
The phone hacking scandal is becoming increasingly confusing. During the debate on the issue today, I confess I became utterly lost by Ed Miliband’s long explanation of the relationships and personalities involved. David Cameron was able to use phrases like “conspiracy theory” and “tissue of intruige” which brand the scandal as a Westminster fabrication. John Rentoul is right to say that Cameron’s critics need much simpler language to explain the problem with the Prime Minister’s judgement and relationships.
Labour’s tactic is to doggedly pursue the ‘smoking gun’ of lore: the archived e-mail or the scribbled note that proves that Cameron knew more, and knew it earlier. At yesterday’s select committee hearings, the questions were pitched to discover similar key facts that could skewer Murdochs R and J.
This is risky in both cases, because such evidence may never emerge. It is also counter-productive, because on the meantime, both the politicians and media barons get to punt the difficult questions with “let’s wait until the inquiry” or “I don’t want to jeapordise the criminal investigation”.
A narrow fixation on evidence that could further damage the Prime Minister, or ruin Rebakah Brooks, means that the wider issue – polical, police and corporate corruption – is left to fallow. Rupert Murdoch presided over the expansion of a corporate culture in which the phone-hacking of murder victims and other obscenities were the inevitable end result. Whatever he knew and whenever he was told, he is at fault, he is to blame. Meanwhile, David Cameron’s first act as Prime Minister was to employ someone who he knew had come straight from that morally barren Hades. There may not be a smoking gun, but you can almost see the steam coming off this scandal.
A few quick comments on the unfolding phone hacking scandal, and what it says about the double-standards of our society and politics.
First, let us note that the images featured on the front pages of many newspapers yesterday were those of the most iconic cases of recent years. Sarah Payne, hollyandjessica, Millie Dowler, Madeline McCann: the news-stands appeared to be some macabre Abduction Hall of Fame. This is actually a dream come true for rivals of News of the World. It is the invasion of privacy of these families that the rival newspapers are keen to report, because they too know that it is images of these children that sell. And by pasting the famous images onto Page 1, I would say that they too are stepping, once more, into the grief of these families.
Meanwhile, black men and boys (the victims of inner-city stabbings that are far more common than the abduction of white school-girls) don’t seem to be mentioned in the reports. Is this because Glen Mulcaire and his News of the World handlers did not think the stories were sufficiently interesting? Or that today’s politicians and editors judge that an invasion of the privacy of (say) Damilola Taylor’s family would not sufficiently motivate the public, in a way that the Soham murders apparently do? Whichever explanation is closer to the truth, it says something unpleasant about our society and our media. It is ironic that, in expressing outrage at the practices of the tabloids, we fall back on the precisely those assumptions and values that we otherwise claim to despise.
A final note, also related to public opinion. In the chamber of the House of Commons yesterday, the Prime Minister made some throwaway comment about how the phone-hacking scandal was no longer “just about celebrities and politicians”. It is sometimes difficult to remember that both those groups are humans beings too! They deserve precisely the same protection from the law as the families of murdered schoolgirls. The Rule of Law is the Rule of Law. When it is broken, the Prime Minister’s outrage should not be contingent on who the victim is.
They’re discussing similar issues in the USA too.
Now cross-posted with comments at LiberalConspiracy.org