Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Off on my travels again

With the winter nights drawing in, I'm about to embark on another round of meetings with community groups and parish councils around the Borough.

I tried this last year (when I held the Health & Leisure portfolio) as part of the Council's listening exercise, and it seemed to be well-received. It certainly helped me understand better some of the challenges faced by our community at first hand.

The 'peg' on which I intend to hold these visits is the introduction of the new waste collection service in April 2009. These will mean big changes for refuse collection in the Borough, and a step-change in improvement as far as our recycling rates are concerned.

Very kindly, last year almost all the groups I wrote to invited me along at some point, and I'm looking forward to meeting some old and new faces when I repeat the exercise now.


Paul Cain said...

Hello Coun. Wallis
Can you let us know what you think about the arrest of Tory MP Damien Green, by nine anti-terrorist officers?

Paul Cain said...

More than 12 hours since I posted and no response from you.
I'm sure you're busy, so a polite reminder: do you agree with arrest of Damien Green?

Anonymous said...

Yes he does because he is a Stalinist.

Anonymous said...

Note to Councillor Wallis... when Paul Cain posts, drop everything and reply within 12 hours...

Paul Cain said...

The reason for asking for a quick response? The story cuts to the heart of our political process. Coun Wallis is standing as an MEP and, as such, I'd love to know what he thinks about this.
It's an on-going and developing story. Even here in the US they're reporting that the British government has had a political opponent arrested.
Coun Wallis?

Anonymous said...

Damn, it must be like 15 hours now. The world waits with baited breath.

Anonymous said...

He's asking the Great Leader for the answer.

Darlington Councillor said...

Ahem. Well, I could have let this run for another 24 hours, but that would have been rude. Paul - I've very busy, which is why I haven't been blogging or indeed replied to your post - sorry.

I also wanted to see if there were any fresh developments nin the story because I thought there had to be more to this than met the eye. I can't believe that an opposition MP would be arrested for being involved in the leaking of confidential dcouments which did not breach national security as far as I'm aware.

So on the basis of what's clear at the moment (and I'm relying on the BBC website and the Times/Guardian/Telegraph websites for most of this) I'd comment as follows;

(1) Government has every right to keep certain information confidential. Equally, oppositions can profit from leaked information, where that doesn't damage national security or otherwise break the law of the land.

(2) "Leak enquiries" when material is given to the press/opposition are a fixed part of national life. It's not unusual for the Police to be brought in, although I'm never clear why.

(3) It would seem that Ministers have gone to great lengths to ensure that they are not involved at any stage of the enquiry. On one hand, that's very sensible - it prevents politicians being accused of pursuing a vendetta against their opposition.

In this case, however, the Police acted with such a spectacular lack of judgement in the arrest and the circumstances of the search, that it might have been better if they had been contacted - I'm sure Jacqui Smith or the PM would have vetoed this ill-judged exercise immediately had they known about it.

(4) Finally, these things have happened under Governments of both colours - remember Sarah Tisdall?

At the end of the day, this all looks far more like cock-up rather than conspiracy. I do find it astonishing, however, that Davbid Cameron and Boris Johnson were told of the raid in advance, but not the Home Secretary. I'm sure she'll be asking some very searching questions of officials and Met officers right now!

Paul Cain said...

Coun Wallis: Thanks for the reply.

Like, I imagine, most people, I do not believe that Messrs Brown and Smith knew nothing about such a high profile arrest, when half the Tory party, even, was told ahead of time.
That bit really does beggar belief and the assumption has to be that your party's leaders are lying. It's not as if it's the first time.
If Jacqui Smith knew nothing in advance, that's just as bad, surely? Isn't she supposed to be in charge?
And isn't the real issue that your Party has spent 11 years creating the moral and legal framework that can allow such shocking things as this to happen?
In the Tidsall and Ponting cases, they were civil servants who were arrested and prosecuted. At no stage did anti-terrorist cops go around arresting Labour MPs and, presumably, taking their DNA for the national database.

Your attempt to lay it all at the door of thoughtless plods is less than convincing.

It looks like what it probably is - an attempt to intimidate opposition MPs and whistleblowers - the kind of thing, I imagine, that sends frissons of pleasure up the spines of New Labour politicians at all levels.

It's in your party's DNA to bully and intimidate - look at Dr David Kelly - but I seriously think that this will backfire spectacularly this time.
I really hope so, anyway.
First you use the anti-terror system to arrest a woman at the Cenotaph for reading out the names of war dead; then you ban legal public assembly at the Houses of Parliament; an 81-year-old man, Walter Wolfgang, is held under anti-terror laws at your own conference for shouting "rubbish" at one of your leaders; and then you arrest an opposition front bench spokesman because he shows that you've lied (again) about immigration policy.

Who's next, do you think?

Paul Cain said...

Another point, Councillor.

If government has the right, the duty even, to pursue the source of leaks, then I await with anticipation the announcement of an inquiry into the leaks from the Chancellor's office before last week's pre Budget report.
I look forward to the BBC's Robert Peston having his office raided and his DNA taken over the leaks he received from 10 Downing Street during the banking crisis.
Why stop there?
Will The Great Leader Gordon Brown himself, praise be upon him, have his collar felt in retrospect because of the leaks he received in the mid 1990s on welfare, defence and economic policy, and which he used to such good effect against the Major government?
Perhaps Tam Dalyell should be doing time because he received leaks about the Belgrano affair, which he used to embarrass Margaret Thatcher?

Or is it only right to pursue leaks which embarrass the Labour Party?

What do you think, Councillor?

Anonymous said...

Alan Macnab writes...

Nick this issue is very serious indeed.

To have a prominent opposition MP arrested for doing his job and the police ransacking his office in Parliament is unprecedented since the Civil War.

I read this morning in the Mail on Sunday of a reporter in Milton Keynes who was subjected to arrest, detention and the full majesty of the law for doing her job. Her case was subsequently thrown out of court at a cost of millions to the taxpayer. The reporter was detained under the same law as Damien Green.

The truly frightening thing in this reporter's case was her phones were bugged and the police had access to her mobile phone records.

How many of us are having our phones bugged and the police are riffling through our mobile phone records?

Chris Close said...

I commented about this on my blog and also posted some facts.

This Government is becoming stalinist in its approach to the people of this country.

Damian Green is in my view an unlikely martyr.

If you look at Nick Robinson's blog on the BBC, you will see how out of touch Nick Wallis is...........

And about time too!

Anonymous said...

Alan Macnab writes again....

I meant to mention that the lady reporter was subjected to humiliating and degrading treatment and endured months and months of hell between arrest and trial and acquittal of all charges.

Just who sactioned the police to enter Parliament? That is clearly an illegal act.

I read Sir David Normington's statement on the Home Office website. Ministers were informed after the arrest on Damien Green. My questions are how soon after the arrest and why did they not intervene to inform the police that they were committing an illegal act in entering Parliament?

This could bring down the Government. It is that serious.

Darlington Councillor said...

Thanks, Alan.

I agree with you - this is a very serious matter. If my earlier comments seem a little timid, it's because I've learned not to assume the worst when the press get up a hue and cry over certain issues. I always prefer to wait for the facts rather than rely on speculation. I think there is enough daylight into this matter now, however, for some conclusions to be drawn.

By the way, I understand that the Police were able to enter Commons' offices only after the agreement of the Speaker. I don't think it was an illegal search. As you probably know, the Speaker isn't accountable to the Government or indeed the Crown, but to MP's themselves. The powers and privileges of the office of Speaker have grown up over centuries, and are jealously guarded by MP's. Whether they will want to review those powers in the light of this incident remains to be seen.

I've also had a chance now to read an account of the Murrer case which you've mentioned. It raises some profound questions about what seems to be the routine bugging of prisoner/lawyer conversations at a remand prison, as well as the extent to which journalist's conversations should be considered to be confidential.

Bugging can be necessary of course - and not only when issues of national security are raised - but there has to be clear accountability and judicial oversight when it is undertaken. That appears to be very far from the case as far as this matter was concerned.

As far as Paul's points are concerned - well we'll have to see if the PM or Home Secretary were implicated in the decision to arrest Green, but (as you might expect) I take them at their word. Given the level of national focus on this matter, and the scrutiny of the workings of the Police and Government, I can't imagine that the decision-making process, formal and informal, won't be laid bare either now or via a future inquiry. Unless very senior politicians' fingerprints are all over this, Alan, I really don't think this will bring down the Government, although clearly the whole episode is very embarrassing.

It's not for me, Paul, to defend the way in which both parties have authorised leaking of information in previous years in the run up to big announcements - personally I don't condone it. As for Gordon Brown benefitting from leaks in the 1980's and 90's - well, yes, I agree with you, and it is the role of oppositions to bring such matters to public attention (with the usual national security caveats). That's why, as I said earlier, I'm so surprised that the Police were involved in this leak enquiry at the Home Office, where it seems very dubious that any crime was committed.

Finally, it's nonsense to say that a bullying approach is somehow in the 'DNA' of the Labour Party. What I do think is that the climate of what was and wasn't permissible as far as surveillance was concerned changed markedly after 9/11, and in some cases, the bounds were overstepped (I remeber Walter Wolfgang receiving some very fulsome apologies, for example).

I think we as a society (and we're not alone) are still working through the ramifications of this, and the shake-out after the arrenst of Damian Green will prompt more soul-searching and changes.

Paul Cain said...

A last comment from me on this, Councillor (and thanks for your full reply, by the way).

You think it's cock-up. I think it's conspiracy. Time will tell.

This shifts the focus back on to what I believe is New Labour's real achilles heel - the authoritarian streak within some of its ministers, or among those who advise it.

42 days.
ID cards.
The attempted removal of trial by jury.
The catch-all anti-terror laws, examples of which I gave in an earlier post.
And now Damian Green.

Look, I understand as well as anyone the need for heightened security after 9/11. I live within 200 yards of Ground Zero, for heaven's sake. Every day the families of those killed seven years ago pass my front door on their way to the various memorials at the site.

But if what your government is doing is the price for so-called security, then it's a price I, and I suspect most others in Britain, am not prepared to pay.

New Labour has changed the relationship between the people and the state in a way that is alien to our traditions and culture.

From your replies to a number of posts on this issue, I detect that you, personally, know and agree with this.

Your loyalty to your party probably prevents you from being more explicit. I understand that and don't blame you for it.

But I think you are on the side of the angels on this one and I urge you to accept that this is not a party-political issue, but a democratic one.

I apologise in advance if you think I am patronising you. I am not trying to.

Elected people such as yourself have a higher duty than ordinary punters like me to oppose these developments.

This is not about party advantage, it is about our democracy and our country.

Speak out, Councillor. You'll earn a great deal of respect if you do.

Anonymous said...

Alan Macnab writes.....

Thanks Nick.