David Davis warns of “executive stretch”

Further to the last post about the Convention on Modern Liberty, the Guardian reports today on statements made by David Davis MP at a press conference to launch the Convention.

“Oppressive” laws that erode civil liberties are passing through parliament unnoticed by MPs, supporters of a new campaign, the Convention on Modern Liberty, said yesterday.

Describing Britain’s parliamentary system as amounting to “terrible democracy”, the Conservative former shadow home secretary David Davis said MPs were partly to blame for the “wholesale removal of rights”.

“There are systemic problems with the way legislation is dealt with in parliament,” Davis said. “Every bill is now programmed. Large chunks of legislation are effectively going unchallenged.”

Launching a report documenting more than 50 measures since 1998 that he claimed eroded civil liberties, he described the situation as “executive stretch”, where counter-terrorism laws were used beyond their intended purpose.

The full Guardian article is here.

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The cumulative loss of freedom

Yesterday’s article by Timothy Garton Ash in the Guardian was yet another timely commentary on the headlong rush that the British state is taking into the extinction of substantive civil liberties for its citizens. To quote just one passage from his article:

I have woken up – late in the day, but better late than never – to the way in which individual liberty, privacy and human rights have been sliced away in Britain, like salami, under New Labour governments that profess to find in liberty the central theme of British history. “Oh, these powers will almost never be used,” they say every time. “Ordinary people have nothing to fear”.

For me, “the innocent have nothing to fear” is the siren song of tyranny. When the innocent hear these words the innocent are strongly advised to head for the hills.

A case in point of the Labour government’s determination to drive state control into every part of our lives was illustrated in another report in the same day’s paper. The government are now proposing, on the grounds of interfering with the activities of ticket touts, the photo ID will be required to get into gigs. Now, cynical old Hector that I am, I don’t see this as part of a strategy to protect music-lovers from the predation of the ticket e-selling trade, but rather part of a concerted programme of actions to reduce the resistance of young people even further to the idea of having to carry, and produce, identification cards for just about anything they might want to do and, hence, reduce the overall civil resistance to ID cards.

Bear in mind that there are some parts of the UK that you can’t now travel to at all using public transport without holding, and producing, photographic identification papers such as a passport or ID card. Surprised? Well, I’m even more surprised that no-one’s made a bloody fuss about it. I’m talking about travel to the Orkneys and Shetlands where you can’t even board the internal ferry, which is state-owned, without producing a passport. And bear in mind that the arm of the state which owns the ferry services is the Scottish Government who have publicly and very strongly vowed never to predicate the delivery of public services in Scotland upon the possession or production of ID cards. No doubt this is all about “maritime security”, but no-one ever checks what’s being driven onto the car decks of ferries – that’s too difficult – but it’s easy enough to use the spectre of terrorism yet again to lower the resistance of the population to the idea of having to hold and produce ID cards even to exercise the simple liberty of freedom of movement within the state.

You can be sure that these measures will have been agreed at an inter-governmental level between states and based on European directives or regulations. It is still the imposition of law without democratic control on the convention that the Royal Prerogative permits the making and agreement of treaties without the intervention of the Houses of Parliament. Another way of saying, what America wants from its allies, America gets.

I predict that the last open border, that between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, will be closed to those who don’t carry ID cards or passports within the next year. It will then be too late to leave.

It is for these, and many other reasons, that I am now standing up to be counted. This is why I’m attending the Convention on Modern Liberty on the 28th and why anyone who cares at all about their future in the UK needs to think seriously about these issues and decide for themselves whether to stand up now or lie down later.

Airplot

I signed up to Greenpeace’s Airplot campaign as soon as I heard about it. The UK government’s plans to permit the unconstrained expansion of air travel is nothing less than environmental sabotage in the name of corporate greed. Air travel is one of the fastest-growing contributors to global warming and there are no demand constraints to inhibit that growth.

George Monbiot has written lucidly on this particular issue here.

What Greenpeace did, in partnership with three other legal owners – Emma Thompson, Alastair McGowan and Zac Goldsmith – was buy a one-acre plot of land slap-bang in the middle of the proposed extension to Heathrow airport, where the proposed, and unecessary third runway, would be located. This small piece of the village of Sipson now has over 36,000 “beneficial owners”, including myself, who have a right to be notified about any proposed compulsory purchase of the land.

To quote the Airplot website: “We’ve bought the plot at Heathrow to make sure that climate change cannot be ignored. We will challenge the proposals every step of the way – with a building a strong community to oppose the runway, creating a legal block against any planning applications or attempts to buy the land, and if necessary physically blocking construction – standing with the people of Sipson, whose 700 homes would be flattened to build the runway, to stop the bulldozers.

We have four legal owners on the deeds: Greenpeace UK, Oscar winning actress Emma Thompson, comedian Alistair McGowan and prospective Tory parliamentary candidate Zac Goldsmith. That’s the maximum number of owners we can put on the deeds, but we’re inviting everyone to join the plot as a beneficial owner and stand beside us to resist all attempts to build the runway.”

All I can say to you is that, if you care about halting the accelerating progress of climate change, initiatives such as Airplot must be part of your personal campaign. Go on, sign up, and put your foot down on a small piece of Britain that you wish to see ever above the waves.

The new biometric me

I have today received in the post my first full passport. This may surprise my reader, Mrs Trellis of North Wales, who may have gotten the impression that I am a rural sophisticate, well-travelled and versed in the ways of strange folk. All right, I did spend five years in Birmingham, but don’t hold that against me – there is no trace of the accent left.
I have a beef with the UK passport authorities and the new biometric passports, which is that I don’t trust the Americans with my personal data, and for that reason, have no intention of ever darkening their shores. I put my concerns to the UK Identity and Passport Service thus in an email dated 4th February (suffice to say that I haven’t received a reply yet):
Dear Sir,
I read on your website that,
” We will pass the personal information in your passport to UK and foreign immigration authorities or law enforcement agencies responsible for border control. This will enable them to confirm that the personal information that appears in your passport is the same as that on the Identity and Passport Service database.”
I am specifically concerned that my personal data should not be disclosed in particular to the authorities of the United States of America, whose regime I consider to be oppressive and where I have no intention of ever travelling for the self-same reason. I have no confidence in the American legal system and none whatsoever in the present extradition arrangements between the United Kingdom and the USA, for which reason it is better that they should not hold an identity about a UK national in the event that it is mis-identified with an offence within their jurisdiction.
As I am about to apply for a passport for the first time, I should appreciate your assurance that my personal data will not be passed outwith the control of the United Kingdom authorities without my consent, which appears to be the intention of the IPS.
Sincerely,

Oh, and by the way, this is the working bit of the new nasty passport:

You’ll note the irony of the bug being on the page labelled, “for official observations”, but the picture of the finch is nice, anyway.

Railway fiction


The illustration on the right displays a fine piece of railway fiction – the ticket to nowhere sold on the same day that travel to one’s destination by railway was, in fact, impossible.
It beats me why, when I purchase a ticket to a station on a closed line, the railways don’t mention the fact that you can’t get there by train on the day in question, which would permit the discerning traveller to consider alternatives to the suburban iron road. Such as – DLR to Greenwich and the number 161 bus.
Instead of which, I find on arriving at London Bridge Station that the Mottingham line is closed for the day and there’s a bus from Lewisham. Got (very quickly, in fact) to Lewisham and the next bus was about twenty minutes away. Chose to travel instead by taxi and spent an additional £20 on the journey, although with some good craic with the drivers concerned.
It still p*sses me off, though.

What do points mean?

A small, if pedantic, victory over Tesco today. After we’d done our weekly up at the Oban branch, Her Maj was handed a Clubcard voucher entitling her to 300 extra points for purchasing any “DVD”. Quickly spotting the opportunity to increase my beloved’s virtual wealth with her loyalty card, I swanned off to find a pack of blank DVD-Rs, three for the princely sum of 97 pence.
You can now imagine the confusion that reigned at the till when presented with the voucher for the purchase of the DVDs. Obviously, Tesco intended their customers, in taking advantage of this bonus offer, to go off and purchase a full-price pre-recorded DVD of something banal like Only Fools and Horses Series 437 and the till computer accordingly did not compute.
Off I toddled to the customer service desk where I encountered a woman whose purpose in life appeared to be saying “No” to people. Consequently, when I explained that I’d like the 300 points added to the Clubcard account, she told me that the offer was intended for films and the like. I politely informed her that the offer voucher did not specify the nature or state of the DVDs which required to be purchased and that, had it read “pre-recorded DVD”, I would not be pressing the point. Since it only stated “DVD” and I had, in point of fact, just purchased three, I felt I should receive my contractual due. Well, she didn’t like that and, pausing only to suck another lemon, rang for the duty manager. DM duly appeared and, after the ritual recital of each party’s position, grudgingly credited Her Maj with the 300 additional points.
The moral of the tale is, if you can’t say what you mean, at least mean what you say.
Moral number two is get out there and claim your 300 points for 97 pence if you have an appropriate voucher.
Expect Tesco to change the wording on the voucher PDQ if you all start doing this.

Tiscali Customer Care

You may have noticed a little banner appearing in the corner of this small place on the interweb, but I have finally had more than enough of raging in frustration at my (former) ISP, the who-gives-a-shit Tiscali.
Tiscali is typical of those large organisations with a massive customer base who design their systems for simple customers with simple needs and little expectations. They were my first broadband ISP and, admittedly, all was fine until I had to move house. Now I was only moving 200m and taking the same phone number with me, and getting a brand-new BT line into the bargain, but it took the best part of four weeks to get a broadband reconnection. Now I now that a lot of this has to do with the way that the industry is organised, but I had to revert to using pay-as-you-go dial-up while Tiscali sat on their thumbs and pay the broadband rental for this period of lack of service. They were impossible to communicate with except through the telephone; all emails come from black-hole accounts and the company does not publish any telephone numbers apart from its call centres.
Tiscali’s call centres operate on a fragmented and dispersed model. No one single customer adviser can deal with more than one small subset of customer needs. To give you an example; when, the other evening, I found that my broadband service had been disconnected, it took me over two hours of telephone calling, six separate calls and speaking to eight different people in two continents before I finally gave up in frustrated rage.
Now, signing up with Madasafish was simplicity itself on their website and, when I rang their customer care number immediately afterwards, the person I spoke to was straight on the line (no voicemail menus) and helpful, and confirmed that everything was fine and that things would proceed okay. And they did (apart from the minor glitch of not giving me advance notice of when the service would switch to them). And I’ve now got 8MBps instead of 2MBps, so all is now sweetness and light.
Oh, and there is another moral to the tale. It doesn’t matter who is your ISP, register your own domain, set up and use your own email addresses independently of your ISP because, some time or other, you’ll change ISP and it’s a real hassle telling everyone you deal with that your email has changed, and they never remember! I use 1and1 for web-hosting and all that goes with it and the changeover of ISP made no difference at all to my emails, once I’d got the connection to Madasafish working.
By the way, this blog will eventually move to www.patthechooks.co.uk and you can in fact use that URL at the moment, it simply forwards the request to the Blogger site for the time being.