Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Origins Of The Specious

Predictably, the debate over 42 days detention bubbled up into Prime Ministers Questions today. I thought Gordon Brown turned in an unusually strong performance, even if his arguments for 42 days detention were, in the opinion of this scribe, a lot of specious nonsense.

Much has been made of the ‘safeguards’ which will be put in place for 42 days detention without trial, including the need to bring each case before Parliament. But how can you discuss the specifics of a case in Parliament without prejudicing any future trial? It’s a good point which has been made several times already today and as yet, remains unanswered. Fundamentally, if you can’t discuss the specifics, then Parliament merely becomes a rubber stamp and the ‘safeguard’ is rendered worthless.

Another good point so far unanswered came from Sammy Wilson, the DUP MP for East Antrim. Namely, if you want to deny terrorists the oxygen of publicity, why is the government prepared to commit to discussion of individuals each time their period of detention without charge means their case has to come before Parliament? It didn’t sound like warm-blooded support for the government to me – could we be looking at DUP abstentions this evening?

Ah, but the Government has the support of the authorities, we’re told. Really? MI5 hasn’t called for 42 days detention and neither have the prosecuting authorities, including the Lord Advocate, the Director of Public Prosecutions and a former Attorney General. All we have is vague assertions of a complex threat from ministers along the lines of “If you could see the evidence that I get to see”. Except, of course, we can’t.

Everything this government says or does is about triangulation, only Brown’s version involves a form of political navigation without reference to any fixed point. But then, Brown is a man obsessed by tactics but devoid of principle. He posed with Baroness Thatcher on the steps of Downing Street, not to invite a predecessor to tea, but to try and draw a contrast with David Cameron’s attempts to distance himself from her in ‘modernising’ the Conservative party. He threatened an election, not because one was needed but simply because he thought it might yield an advantage. With 42 days, it’s now about trying to show how much tougher he is than his predecessor, who failed in 2005 to secure a similar measure. He’ll be a good and tough leader, because he’ll have managed what Blair couldn’t.

At its heart, this is a completely unnecessary spat. If Brown wins, he will have used up much of the dwindling goodwill which exists towards him on the Labour backbenches. It’s also hard to appear tough when throwing money around left right and centre to try and buy support. After all, next time there’s a tight vote looming, backbenchers will rightly start asking ‘what’s in it for me?’. Good old WII FM – the most listened to radio station in politics…

And if he loses? Expect more guff about ‘taking the right long-term decisions for the security and prosperity of Britain’, as well as a fresh outing for my current favourite Brown soundbite: ‘I will listen and I will lead’. The problem is, on planet Brown, the before always represents the 'right long term decision' at the time, just as does the contrary position he’s invariably forced into afterwards.

I really can’t fathom why Brown seems so determined to take this one to the wire. After all, if I were a Labour backbencher sitting on a majority below 5,000, a call from the whips telling me that the future of the Prime Minister was at risk tonight if the government were defeated might only tempt me to give him a shove, in the hope that someone else might take his place.

There is another possibility. Brown may be so sick of it all that he feels he’s nothing left to lose – win, and he can portray himself as a strong leader, at least temporarily. Succumb to defeat, and it may bring the blessed relief of a hastened end. It’s going to be an interesting 48 hours.

UPDATE: So, Brown squeaked it 315-306, with the help of the DUP. Hope they got something nice for their trouble.

UPDATE 2: £1.2bn - the total cost to you and I of Brown buying the support of the DUP and his internal would-be rebels. Nice to know our oil windfall is being spent so responsibly.

18 comments:

Ricky Simpson said...

At least the PM has the guts to go for something when his mind is set, most people with a parliamentary majority feel that safe.

Ohh, but wait....Salmond has a parliamentary majority for the referendum (his entire CAUSE!!)....WHERE IS THE BILL?

Coward.

Mark McDonald said...

Deary me, Ricky, if that is the depth of your analysis I would go home and take a long cold shower.

The SNP set out its manifesto pledge for a referendum in 2010, and is carrying out the National Conversation in order to engage with the public.

I realise Labour thinks public engagement is something you do TO people rather than WITH them, but that's no excuse.

Ricky Simpson said...

It doesn't escape the fact that you have parliamentary majority for a democratic referendum on the future of our nation; the question is, if you are so confident of your success - and the eventuality of the SNP perhaps having control of defence, foreign policy and taxation - i.e. all the levers of power of a nation; and the fact that you are doing very well in the polls...then why wait?

And all the waffle about manifesto commitments is meaningless when you implement barely half (student debt, LIT, Labours school building program etc..)

I have to thank you though, you have given labour some ample ammunition for Aberdeen's next council election. People don't forget cuts.

Talking about engaging with the public - would that be why your shower and the libs tried to silence a meeting about your shocking cuts - attaching it to some buried part of the council agenda. Nothing like getting rid of bad news. Its ALMOST as bad as using a school for a bit of political drama, nothing like a tough decision is there?

I am sure all the councillors will be quite happy with their offices in marshall college; bugger the folk at glencraft, along with many others etc...

How very SNP.

Mark McDonald said...

Wow, perhaps when you've finished jumping up and down, you might reflect on the fallacy of most of your logic.

Firstly, the referendum will be held in 2010, that was the timetable we set out and we will follow it. You guys don't run the country anymore, so you don't call the shots, get used to it.

I appreciate the thanks from you, but you obviously don't live in Aberdeen. People are unhappy, yes. But they also recognise that the need to make £27 million of savings doesn't happen overnight, and that Labour have to share the responsibility for the mess as well.

I don't know what you are talking about in terms of burying anything, I assume you mean our intention to discuss the Accounts Commission findings on the 25th of June rather than the 16th (as Labour want)? Far from burying it, this would have discussed it within the 3 month window the Accounts Commission gave us. I would have thought a rushed response in these critical times would have been the last thing Labour wanted.

On your last point, Marischal College will not house any councillors, our offices will remain where they are. And the costs are borne from the capital budget. The pressures we currently face relate to the revenue budget.

Even if we cancelled the Marischal College project tomorrow, we wouldn't be able to spend a penny of it on services to the frontline.

It would also leave us with a building for our staff which should have been demolished in 1996, when it came to the end of its natural life, and we would need to expend significant sums to replace or refurbish it.

But then, Labour doesn't do solutions, which is why there was no budget from them on the 14th of February.

Richard Thomson said...

Seriously, Ricky, this is getting boring. You've had your answers on student debt (no parliamentary majority) and LIT (no case to answer).

Please, do your best to post on topic in future. I know its difficult, but I do give you a post and a title to guide you each step of the way. For the avoidance of doubt, this one is about 42 days.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch...

Ricky Simpon said...

Salmond is a good politician, he could present a bill to parliament cancelling student debt, then when (if?) its voted down - he can claim to be the cause of the student vote. He doesn't do this because it would cost the best part of 2 billion - you just don't have the cash and you don't mean anything you say anyway ;)

Ohh, you mean LIT is still on the cards? I thought it was dead? He wont have the guts to present the bill knowing defeat is certain.

Mark, you attached it to a normal council meeting (with many other things on the agenda) - you would think the magnitude of the cuts and the public outcry would warrant a meeting of the issue by itself?

And on 42 days - we are at war, terrorists/enemies deserve no benefit of the doubt (even presumed terrorists - for there must be some guilt for that presumption to be based.), Terrorists should be interned. Better safe than sorry.

Richard Thomson said...

So, the First Minister should present a bill on student debt knowing it will be voted down and reap the political advantage, but somehow lacks the courage to do the same on LIT even though the SNP + Lib Dems would probably be able to push it through? Tell me, Ricky, do you actually read the any of the rubbish you type before hitting 'publish'? :-)

And on 42 days - we are at war, terrorists/enemies deserve no benefit of the doubt (even presumed terrorists - for there must be some guilt for that presumption to be based.), Terrorists should be interned. Better safe than sorry.

No Ricky, terrorists should be imprisoned after trial and a guilty verdict. Suspects should be investigated promptly and either charged, or in the absence of sufficient evidence to do so, released.

Suspicion = guilt and internment is justifiable? I'm not sure there's a party in the UK authoritarian enough to contain such views. Labour must be so proud that you've chosen to bless them with such vocal and public support...

Ricky Simpson said...

Terrorists should be considered prisoners of war; we are party to the war on terror - our soldiers are dying for that cause everyday; we are still at war, and the enemy is ACTIVELY planning to attack and kill.

Hardly anyone wants the LIT (the highest income tax in the UK?) It would be pointless to go down on something that has been openly and widely ridiculed - welcomed only by the separatist bubble. Whereas, student debt would be a stand and a half - to take up the notion of FREE education and wipe away the history of paying anything towards it would be some achievement. That promise was so clear and unequivocal, that it is bordering a violation of democracy to renege in any way.

LIT is a tax on salaries, not income. High earners (with share and property wealth) will pay nothing; you are replacing one "unfair" tax with another. Those high earners will just diversify their income into property to escape the threshold (taking up more property for first time buyers and making the poorer pay the lions share - how progressive!)

There is a high chance labour, the greens and the tories will vote against (perhaps the libs if you don't back away from centrally setting the LOCAL income tax.) - I would very much doubt you get it through in the form your executive wants it.

Richard Thomson said...

Like I say, I'm not sure there's a party authoritarian enough to contain such views. Such ferocity of opinion, and so little apparent intelligent consideration to back it up. I bet not even Talk Radio take your calls during their graveyard shifts :-)

I don't need any lectures on how soldiers are putting their lives at risk every day, but you could perhaps do with learning about how hard won some of our liberties were and how many lives were lost in their pursuit.

Ricky Simpson said...

For the safety of the majority, the liberty of the minority is an easy trade off.

Only those who do wrong need fear. The amount of checks and balances in the act make it more of a necessity measure rather than an attack on civil liberty. Why does our liberty survive unchecked at 28 days but then falls apart at 29? It makes no sense.

Bearing in mind that those who need fear detention for 42 days have no love for our nation and would delight in the destruction of our institutions.

I know very well the wars of liberty and freedom. Like the British facing the treacherous/absolutist band at Culloden - most British take a strong line against those that wish to break a nation.

Nothing on LIT? Its hard to defend the indefensible....

Richard Thomson said...

The argument that if you've nothing to hide you've nothing to fear is just rubbish. If you believe that the state is always benign and that only the bad guys end up in trouble, you've got an awful lot to learn.

As for LIT, the median level of unearned income in Scotland according to HMRC is £160. Just over a million Scots have less than this, just over a million have more. Making unearned income subject to 3% LIT would mean sending bills to over 1m Scots for less than a fiver, while the handfull of super rich use their accountants to escape the tax. That's why LIT excepts unearned income - it's just not worth the effort of collecting.

If you know a way of getting income and spending it on property to exempt it from tax, please do drop me a line privately. I suspect that the taxman might have something to say about it, though.

Nothing on LIT? Its hard to defend the indefensible....

On the contrary, it's very easy to explain the many advantages of LIT. It's just very tedious going through it for the nth time with someone who is either unwilling or unable to take it all on board.

Ricky Simpson said...

why would someone settle in Scotland when they would pay more tax on their take home pay than they would in any other part of the UK? Business is going to love that.....

Radical Islamic extremism is the number one threat our nation faces, the Iraq/Afghanistan wars must succeed and a party that spews nonsense about "illegal' war has no leg to stand on when it comes to securing our nation. Who the hell are the UN to tell us when OUR wars are legal.

Do you support withdrawal [read: defeat] in regards to our current commitments?

Ricky Simpson said...

I think you should give the DUP the benefit of the doubt - the conspiracy theories are all well and good; but lets not forgot that they were on the frontlines of that other war on terror.....at considerable risk to themselves.

Here's hoping you dont win Gordon ;)

Richard Thomson said...

why would someone settle in Scotland when they would pay more tax on their take home pay than they would in any other part of the UK?

Because they want to work here, because the job they want is here, because of the quality of life, because there's a fantastic Scottish Government in place making the country a much better place to live. Oh, and because they won't have to pay a penny in regressive council tax.

Radical Islamic extremism is the number one threat our nation faces, the Iraq/Afghanistan wars must succeed and a party that spews nonsense about "illegal' war has no leg to stand on when it comes to securing our nation.

Sounds great, means nothing. You'll only win 'The War Against Terror' (great acronym, BTW) with valid intelligence, by using effective and limited military intervention where necessary, by winning hearts and minds in the ideological war and one by one removing the reasons for people to be attracted towards terrorist activity.

Who the hell are the UN to tell us when OUR wars are legal.

Great attitude. By that token, who are we to tell others when their wars or actions are illegal?

Do you support withdrawal [read: defeat] in regards to our current commitments?

In Iraq, yes. In Afghanistan, no.

I think you should give the DUP the benefit of the doubt - the conspiracy theories are all well and good; but lets not forgot that they were on the frontlines of that other war on terror.....at considerable risk to themselves.

No conspiracy. Go and read today's papers...

Here's hoping you dont win Gordon ;)

Thanks for your good wishes. Please, please do go out and campaign for Labour, though. With opposition like you, I don't see how I can fail :-)

fred barboo said...

As a first time visitor and comment poster on this blog, I would like to say good work to both Mark and Richard.

I have now read all the comments from Ricky and feel emotionally drained and a good deal more stupid.

Let's now hope that the Lords/EU/Davis resignation will do to this legislation what it deserves and banish it to history...

Richard Thomson said...

Welcome, Fred, and thanks for the comment. Do call again!

Mono said...

First time visitor too. I have to say that I have to agree wholeheartedly with Mark, and it's such a shame Ricky Simpsons arguments are deeply flawed.

Is he a troll or just poorly ill informed?

Funny to read though!

ricky tomlinzon said...

Isn't amazing how the Labour party sounds so much like the Tories these days.

Do they actually stand for anything they were founded for any more?