Friday 17 April 2009

Ministers try to close stable door after RIPA horse has bolted

Today the Government kicks of a consultation about the use of RIPA surveillance powers - brought in some years ago.

The review is being headed by Notts MP and Police Minister Vernon Coaker and Local Government Minister John Healey.

Healey said: "These powers must be used in a way that commands the public’s confidence and should be used properly and proportionately."

Here's an idea. Why not decide who should have the powers and exactly how they should be used before bringing them in?

If the media hadn't exposed the misuse of RIPA I doubt ministers would have stepped in and voluntarily checked councils.

The ministers will write to council chiefs in a letter...

"use of covert surveillance powers to deal with minor offences such as dog fouling and littering, is not appropriate."

This is as close as we get to an admission that RIPA powers have been badly misused.

Thursday 16 April 2009

Balaclava clad bobbies

THE police raid that snatched 114 eco-protestors from their hidey-hole at a Notts primary school this week must have been a finely tuned operation.

Just imagine the briefing – a room full of balaclava clad bobbies and a sergeant in body armour at the front, standing next to a flip chart with a picture of a see-saw on it.

“Stay sharp men,” he’d say. “I’ve seen better officers than you lot taken out by less than a see-saw before – and we haven’t even talked about the adventure playground yet.”

Pick up a copy of the Post for the Parliamentary Correspondent's column tomorrow.

UPDATE: Read it here.

Note the timing of Brown's apology

Am I the only person who thinks it suspicious that for days the PM refused to apologise for the McBride Scandal and then when he did, it came as another big, long-awaited story was breaking?

An effective comms man at Number 10 would have noticed the Green arrest story coming out this morning and realised the apology would not get as much coverage if it was done at the same time.

Brown’s “sorry for what happened” comment came less than an hour before Green’s statement on his arrest, release and the overall investigation.

A lucky coincidence?

Andy Burnham booed

I can't think of anything more daunting than giving a tricky speech to 70,000 emotional scousers.

This was the Culture Secretary speaking at the Hillsborough memorial service yesterday – at least they clapped at the end.

Damian Green looked emotional

Just got back from Damian Green’s briefing in the press gallery, he looked like he’d been through a lot.

Triumphalism was suppressed and he came across magnanimous.

The shadow immigration minister called Jacqui Smith a poor Home Secretary but declined twice to call for her resignation.

He confirmed his DNA had been taken, and demanded it be removed from any database, also highlighting bugs used during his arrest.

He said: “The Government is very keen to use the full power of the state to investigate other people, but seem very unkeen to have any of its own activities investigated.”

You can hear the political gun turrets turning, expect the backlash soon.

Smith back in the spotlight

Just when she thought everyone was finally looking the other way, Jacqui Smith will find a good few fingers pointing at her again today.

The Home Affairs Select Committee report into the Damian Green affair concludes the Cabinet Office exaggerated national security implications of leaks that led to Green’s arrest.

Indeed, it was evidence from the Home Office that convinced committee members national security was not at such a risk.

If that was the case why didn’t Smith realise things were getting out of hand and do something?

Vaz seemed to suggest today that the exaggeration was not sanctioned by ministers, only officials – if so, why didn’t officials speak to their ministers about such a crucial matter?

A Home Secretary in a strong position might find this one a toughie.

Wednesday 15 April 2009

Vaz - people's hero

Keith Vaz will be licking his lips at the chance to grill Denis O’Connor over police brutality in his select committee next Tuesday.

O'Connor is the Government’s preferred candidate for the top cop job – Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary.

His session at the Home Affairs Committee provides Vaz with a chance to capitalise on publicity around the G20 riots.

Remember, this is the man who brought Shilpa Shetty into Parliament.

In the mean time here is the vid which is causing more anger – it shows a sergeant whacking a woman at the protest, with a bit of commentary from the BBC.

More al-Ikea than al-Qaida

The Evening Post has printed a bit by Alan Simpson MP on the arrests of 114 eco-protestors planning a demo at Radcliffe-on-Soar power station.

Memories flood back of the Kingsnorth demo, at which police action was provoked by savage attacks launched by bees and sunshine.

Simpson writes: It started to look clumsy and heavy-handed - an operation conceived by people who spend too much time watching American police movies...

...The trouble with the pre-emptive arrests is that you don't have a crime.

All pertinent given G20 shenanigans.

Balls on emailgate

There was an edge of discomfort in Ed Balls’ voice as he discussed emailgate on Radio Four just now.

Initially the Children's Secretary comfortably walked in line – branding Damian McBride’s behaviour as inexcusable – but it wasn’t such a stroll when discussing his knowledge of the former special advisor’s activity.

He tried two diversionary tactics – firstly trying to shift the focus of the interview by criticising the fact that offending e-mails had been published by the media.

It didn’t last because Naughtie rightly pointed out that if the story hadn’t come out the behaviour would have continued.

He then tried a direct attack on blogs, claiming he and his wife had been subject to defamatory comments on the web and naming Guy Fawkes’ blog in particular.

In the end, predictably, all he would say of emailgate is that all parties had to “look in upon themselves” and change the way politics is done.

In truth Balls will feel the loss of McBride a little more keenly than other senior Labour figures – many of whom have been the target of attacks.

McBride’s bullish talents would have been at the behest of Balls in a post-Brown leadership contest.

Cruddas on the up

Mike Smithson over at Political Betting is looking at how emailgate might alter a Labour leadership contest.

Lobbydog put his money on Alan Johnson a while back, but Smithson says he and Ed Balls may be the losers. Meanwhile Jon Cruddas is the one to watch.

Tuesday 14 April 2009


Frank Field has written a soul-searching, yet damning, post on his blog in the wake of e-mailgate.

It's called Darkness at the Heart of the Labour Party.

He writes: Week after week MPs have been turning up but with almost no serious work to do.

There is the odd bill to be sure. But there is no legislative programme to speak of.

Even the debates that are put on to fill in time are ones that deny MPs a vote. The whole exercise is vacuous.

McBride won’t get severance pay-off…

…said the PM’s spokesman Michael Ellam earlier. It would’ve been more surprising if he had considering McBride threw in the towel himself.

Apart from two questions this morning’s entire lobby briefing was consumed with the detail of “e-mailgate”.

Ellam said the PM was furious about the whole affair, but wouldn’t expand on how Brown viewed accusations that he’d personally encouraged a conniving culture in Downing Street.

He also wouldn’t commit an answer on whether the PM felt the activity was “out of character” for McBride.

Many of the questions focused on the role of Tom Watson, who Ellam said the PM still had full confidence in.

The official position is that Watson had no involvement in any proposed smear campaign – but hacks this morning were asking if he had any knowledge. To which Ellam replied that Watson had no involvement.

When challenged that having “no involvement” was different from having “no knowledge”, Ellam said he refused to get into a conversation over “sematics”.

It seems Watson is safe, for now. But who knows what other e-mails are lurking in shadows?

How dare Guido...

...start such a fracas while I was out of the country.

I return to find Guido has not only taken a major scalp, but also dealt a potentially lethal wound to Labour.

It’s not a “knock-out blow” sort of wound, more of a precision cut that will bleed them to death between now and the next election.

The kind of thing that makes people demand change no matter what it is.

There were still a few hacks in Westminster who doubted the significance of blogs. This will be a turning point for them as well as the Government.