Democracy vs Ochlochracy

Simpsons Angry Mob

The Government’s hideous Rwanda asylum plan has been ruled unlawful by the Supreme Court.

Under the plan, people who applied for asylum in the Uk after arriving via an irregular route would be deported to Rwanda, and have their claim processed there. Not everyone realised that successful applicants would be granted asylum in Rwanda.

My view is that the policy was wrong on the most fundamental level. We take far fewer refugees than we should, if they were dispersed proportionally throughout the world. And there are reasons why people choose particular countries for their asylum claim and it’s often to do with prior links to that country. It’s absurd that a person who already has family living in the UK, and who applies to the UK government for asylum, should be sent elsewhere.

Continue reading “Democracy vs Ochlochracy”

Call to the Bar

Both readers of this blog will have noticed that posting has slowed in recent months. Only three additions in all of 2022! A decade ago I would easily post that many in a week.

The reason for this has been a major distraction: I’ve been studying for a Bar Practice LLM. This year I conceived of myself as living in a movie study montage, with a singular focus on the work required for upcoming seminars. Resisting the urge to distract myself with a 2,000 word blog-rant about free speech or the Bill of Rights (et cetera) has been difficult but necessary. And I haven’t read a novel in months.

But the sacrifice paid off. I was called to the Bar at Middle Temple in July. Here’s the proof:

Of course, the demands on my time have not been alleviated. I’m now doing advocacy work and seeking pupillage, so logging my thoughts on current affairs is still a lower priority, and the paucity of posts will be prolonged.

Reversing the Ratchet

Busy times for me at the moment, but this is an aide memoir / place-holder for some later posts.

Its now undeniable that the current British Government is damaging our democracy. Several measures either proposed or enacted that strengthen the power of the executive, reduce accountability and/or threaten free speech.

  • The intent to scrap the Human Rights Act
  • The measures in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 which allow the suppression of protests which cause a ‘nuisance’
  • Eroding the independence of the Electoral Commission
  • Insisting on the regressive ‘First Past The Post’ method for elections that previously used something more proportional.
  • The Online Safety Bill, which would impose impossible moderation standards onto social media companies and hand too much power to the Government to suppress speech it doesn’t like
  • Measures to constrain Judicial Review
  • New plans to curb the rights of workers to strike
  • The undermining of ministerial standards and accountability, as demonstrated by the way the Prime Minister ignored the findings of a report that the Home Secretary bullied civil servants
  • The Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Act 2021 allows the security services to authorise criminal conduct in new, unaccountable ways.

These are the ones I can think of off the top of my head. There are probably more.

Continue reading “Reversing the Ratchet”

When newspapers conspire to suppress free speech

Earlier this week, eminent legal journalist Joshua Rozenberg wrote about a legal battle between the BBC and the government over the naming of a ‘spy.’ The Attorney-General, Rt Hon Suella Braverman MP, had sought to prevent the BBC naming an intelligence operative in one of their reports.

Such skirmishes over the limits of freedom of expression, balanced against national security, are nothing new. We recall the Spycatcher affair; and the highly questionable detention of David Miranda.

What piqued my interest about this case was the fact that the Daily Telegraph twice published briefings against the BBC, quoting anonymous and therefore entirely unaccountable government “sources.”

In January, that source told the Telegraph that the person whom the BBC wanted to identify was a “spy … working abroad.” Earlier this week the same newspaper reported that “there would be huge disquiet” if the report went ahead, and that national security would be compromised.

But now it turns out that was nonsense. The spy was a domestic informer (those who work for the police, or who watch Line of Duty, will be familiar with the term ‘CHIS’) who told women that he worked for MI5 in order to terrorise and control them.

So here we see something quite depressing: a news outlet has been manipulated by the government into publishing misinformation about, and veiled threats against, other journalists.

Now I’m sure that Helen Cahill, Charles Hymas and Christopher Hope, authors of the Daily Telegraph stories, would be mortified to think that they were complicit in the chilling of press freedom. But that is the effect of their quoting of an anonymous source that has, as Joshua Rozenberg points out, misled them.

This is not an argument for ending the practice of off-the-record chats and anonymous sources. Indeed, anonymity is a crucial aspect of free speech.

But there are, I suggest, two kinds of anonymous briefings.

  • Those where the anonymous source provides negative or ‘inculpatory’ information about the government or powerful organisation; and
  • Those where the anonymous source provides positive or ‘exculpatory’ information about the government.

Sources providing ‘exculpatory’ information carry far less of a burden than whistle-blowers. They are unlikely to be hounded by anyone investigating a leak. Whatever it is they say is unlikely to be met with a campaign of denial.

The difference between the two kinds of leaker is stark. When a leaker is ‘exculpatory’ the journalist and their editor need a different — and probably less credulous — approach to the source. Otherwise they risk becoming government stenographers and freelance propagandists for people who have a large enough platform already.

Note: This was written in February but for some reason wasn’t actually published at that time time. This post went ‘live’ on 27th July 2022, when this issue was no longer a ‘live’ story.

Perfidious Home Office

“Are you going to blog about it?” I was asked, last week, about the fall of Kabul.

“I don’t think so,” I replied.

It’s not that I don’t think the return of the Taliban to power Afghanistan is not noteworthy. On the contrary, I’m sure it will be one of the 21st Century’s historical milestones. It is just that it is clearly the product of a hundred different factors, ranging from the geopolitical to the local, that I probably don’t understand. It seems to me that any piece of writing that seeks to say “we should have done things differently” must start a couple of centuries ago. And even with the understanding of how we got here, I’ve not seen or read anything that presents a plausible plan to make things better.

Best to turn past the images of geurillla fighting, and read instead about the pandemic, the wildfires, the ‘point of no returns’ climate warnings, and the incel massacre in Plymouth.

But one very particular aspect does, I think, warrant a very particular comment, and that is our failure to support those Afghans who have supported British military and diplomatic efforts in the country.

Continue reading “Perfidious Home Office”