Tony Blair

Guardian Comment upon Tony Blair's Observer email exchange

Yesterday, we saw an exchange between Tony Blair and Henry Porter printed in the Observer.

Today, there is a rather good comment piece in The Guardian on this exchange.

Blair's genius, here as so often, is to present ends that we would all find desirable, while implying that his methods are the only means of getting there. Anyone who criticises those methods, whether a judge, journalist or citizen, can thus be presented as an opponent who cannot deliver what he is seeking: a just and free society. His emotional appeal is undeniable. His logic is flawed, indefensible and dangerous.

Bang on the mark, this sums it up so nicely.

On the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill the article has this to say:

It is always impossible to know whether the prime minister is being disingenuous, or whether he is genuinely ignorant. Take his defence of the truly alarming legislative and regulatory reform bill currently going through parliament. This was blandly trailed last year as a measure to cut red tape. When it was published, civil servants were astonished to find it was nothing of the sort. It gave ministers the unprecedented power to change laws by order, rather than going through parliamentary procedures. They could, in theory, use it for almost any purpose, including ending jury trials, sacking judges, or making political protest illegal.

The government resolutely refused to limit the bill while it was in committee. It was only 10 days ago, in the face of media criticism and internal Labour unease, that the government finally conceded that they would restrict some of its powers. Yet no one knows whether this is a major climbdown or a minor tactical concession, since the details haven't been published. You would know nothing of this from Blair, who simply misrepresented the bill as something that would not interfere with basic rights. He dismissed anxieties about it as "more than far-fetched".

The Save Parliament Committee have not been able to comment on the concessions yet as nobody knows what they are.

Jenni Russell's article is well worth a read - and I encourage you to head over to have a look at the full piece.

This piece also appears on the 'Comment is Free' pages, where you can read the piece and then comment.

See also: The Independent's summary. The Sun typically takes a view which most charitably be described as 'sympathetic' to Blair. (Note the perjorative language, e.g. 'bleats'.)

Tony Blair pinned down

Via Tim Worstall I learn that in The Observer Tony Blair has been pinned down a little on issues of Civil Liberties:

For me, it's not comfortable reading.

You say people can only have blank placards outside Parliament and can't protest. Go and look at the placards of those camped outside Parliament - they are most certainly not blank and usually contain words not entirely favourable to your correspondent. Outside Downing Street, virtually every day there are protests of one sort or another.

He is referring here, of course, to Brian Haw. The only reason that he can protest is because he was there before the law was drafted, and the law is not retrospective. This was pointed out in Henry Porter's reply. This doesn't stop the Government trying to oust him. In the meantime, people have been arrested by standing at the cenotaph in Whitehall and reading the names of the dead in Iraq.

We enter the realm of fantasy with your and others' strictures on the Regulatory Reform Bill. This legislation is proposed for a straight-forward reason. Much regulation becomes redundant over time. It's a real problem for business. It costs money and causes hassle, often in circumstances far removed from its original purpose.

In that case, why were strict limits not placed upon the face of the bill? Why was it written in such broad terms? With the law, the intent is irrelevant, the letter is everything. Bad law can have consequences far removed from the original purpose of the law. (For more detail: see Save Parliament)

On the topic of the DNA database:

and as far as I am aware, no one is on the database for dropping litter!

As far as I am aware - a great get out clause if ever I heard it! The point is not whether anyone has been included for dropping litter, but whether this exists as a possibility under the legislation. It's all about loosely framing laws.

I am sorry to tell you: I want us to go further in all these areas.

Oh. Lovely.

And yes, I would go further. I would widen the police powers to seize the cash of suspected drug dealers, the cars they drive round in, and require them to prove they came by them, lawfully.

Suspected drug dealers? Not proven drug dealers? So, Tony Blair would like to have a system whereby anybody could have their assets seized until they could prove their own innocence?

I would impose restrictions on those suspected of being involved in organised crime. In fact, I would generally harry, hassle and hound them until they give up or leave the country.

There is that word, suspected again. If there is solid evidence, make a case. If not there is the presumption of innocence.

Of course the offender has rights; but so has the victim.

This is true. However as a non-offender I do not want a country where the state can 'harry, hassle and hound' people who are merely 'suspected'. This is more worrisome than any other considerations. This is a false dichotomy, protecting the rights of victims does not require the removal of protections from suspected people who may be innocent.

The Observer Blog also discusses this issue.

Update: qwghlm writes on this topic and refers back to the case with Tessa Jowell's Husband, remembering what our Glorious leader said then:

Asked repeatedly if the Prime Minister believed Tessa Jowell's assertion that the money had not come from Prime Minister Berlusconi, the PMOS said that answering the question would mean him getting drawn into the Italian investigation which he was obviously unable to do. He reminded journalists of the importance of keeping the two issues he had outlined earlier separate. He underlined the fact that, in this country, it was important for us to observe the same standards of justice in relation to a foreign case as we would expect in a domestic case. That meant maintaining the tradition that someone was innocent unless proven guilty.

Qwghlm says in response to this: 'You're a suspect. My mate is innocent. Remember that difference.'

An appropriate observation

Tony Blair: Rock Star

We're in the middle of the docu-drama - 'Tony Blair: Rock Star' on channel 4. If you see this and it's still on, tune in, it is hilarious. It recounts Tony's gap year, when he dreamed of becoming a rock star - it has just dealt with his last days at school (and memorably getting caned... oooh! ahhh!... big grin.... sweaty armpits......thank you sir)

There was also the school play: 'Friends, Romans, Countrymen... lend me... YOUR ears....'

It's just a shame that the actor playing Blair doesn't really look the part, he seems to be mimicking Cheri's grin rather than Tony's.

Reply from Downing Street

Downing Street have responded to my letter about electoral reform.

Number 10 Letter Head

The Prime Minister has asked me to thank you for your recent letter.

Mr Blair would like to reply personally, but as you will appreciate he receives many thousands of letters each week and this is not possible.

The matter you raise is the responsibility of the Department for Constitutional Affairs, therefore he has asked that your letter be forwarded to that Department so that they are also aware of your views.

Yours sincerely

KIMBERLEY WELLS

Or in other words: 'The prime minister hasn't seen your letter, when we say he asked that it be forwarded we didn't mean your letter precisely, but rather that he left an instruction not to bother him with these things. In this way he can have the honestly held belief that people aren't concerned with this issue'.

Or is that overly cynical?

Still listening, Tony?

P.S. I'm not naïve enough to assume that he would reply personally, but I do resent the implication that the PM has read the letter without actually saying he has explicitly. If he has read a letter include 'The Prime Minister read your letter and asked me....', if not, use the above form to give that impression without saying so..

Letter to my New MP on electoral reform

Today, I wrote my first letter to my new MP, Michael Gove.

Dear Mr. Gove,

Given that Labour have attained a substantial majority of seats, almost double that of the Conservatives despite having only achieved about 3% more of the popular vote, I am writing to learn your views on electoral reform.

In 1997, Labour promised electoral reform as part of their manifesto. Despite a 1998 recommendation to move to the AV+ system, this promise was quietly dropped. AV+ maintains a constituency link and allows voters to select individuals (as opposed to the list based PR system)

If you support the current system, I would be interested to learn your reasons, especially as it seems self evident that the electoral system itself is responsible for much of what politicians like to call "voter apathy".

If you do support electoral reform, I would be pleased to hear how you intend to challenge the government and promote this issue.

In addition, England remains the one part of the United Kingdom without national representation, Scottish MPs in Westminster vote on matters which they know will not affect their own constituents. I would like to learn your views on this matter, and how you plan to redress this democratic deficit. This topic holds some potential interest given that your party has beaten Labour in England, a cynic may wonder if this is the reason that powers haven't been devolved to England.

As with previous letters, when I get a reply I'll scan it for you. (I did forget to scan a couple in the past, oops, sorry, nothing too important!)

I have sent a modified version of this letter to Number 10.

Dear Mr. Blair,

I am writing this in the hope that this makes its way to your desk and that you are continuing to listen to the electorate as you said this morning. Labour have attained a substantial, albeit diminished, majority of seats, almost double that of the Conservatives despite having only achieved about 3% more of the popular vote. Given this, I am writing to learn your views on electoral reform.

In 1997, Labour promised electoral reform as part of their manifesto. Despite a 1998 recommendation to move to the AV+ system, this promise was quietly dropped. AV+ maintains a constituency link and allows voters to select individuals, thus not penalizing independents (as opposed to the list based PR system).

If you support the current system, I would be interested to learn your reasons, especially as it seems self evident that the electoral system itself is responsible for much of what politicians like to call "voter apathy". It might seem that your support for first past the post stems from the advantage which it gives the Labour party. I would hope that this appearance is incorrect.

If you do support electoral reform, then I am thrilled. I would be pleased to hear how you intend to promote this issue.

In addition, England remains the one part of the United Kingdom without national representation, Scottish MPs in Westminster vote on matters which they know will not affect their own constituents. I would like to learn your views on this matter, and how you plan to redress this democratic deficit. Given that the Conservatives won the popular vote in England, a cynic may wonder if this is the reason that powers haven't been devolved to England. I am sure that this is not the case, and I would like to understand the reasons why England seems to be treated as a special case within the UK.

Edit 6th May: Make My Vote Count points out an article from the FT.

Edit 13th May: A good letter to Gordon Brown

Edit 24th May: A holding letter from Downing Street. As of now, my MP has yet to reply.