19 March 2020

Shamelessly Opportunistic Power Grab

Coronavirus bill: The biggest expansion in executive power we've seen in our lifetime 

Coronavirus bill: Huge expansion of state powers.
Coronavirus bill: Huge expansion of state powers. 

Ian DuntBy   5
We've never seen a bill like this. The powers it is going to give the state are unprecedented. It is the most extensive encroachment on British civil liberties we have ever seen outside of wartime.
Let's get the obvious out the way. The government is going to need many of these powers. Most - and perhaps even all of them - can be justified in their own right, given what we're facing.
But that means it is more, not less, important to scrutinise what is going on.
Many people will not like this. Just as during a terror attack, they will want firm responses and become irritated with those who ask questions of them. That makes it doubly important to do so.
The opposition, in so far as it currently exists, is supporting the bill and Jeremy Corbyn is anyway incapable of proper forensic scrutiny. That makes it triply important.
Yesterday the government published some guidance on what the coronavirus bill will contain. That's all we have for now. We'll get a better look when the bill reaches parliament in the next few days. No.10 expects it to get royal assent by the end of the month. It's being forced through quickly, for obvious reasons.
It makes for very challenging reading. It gives you an indication of how bad the government thinks things could get.
Indemnity will be provided for clinical negligence liabilities arising from NHS efforts to deal with the virus. That suggests an awareness of how grim things could become if the health service starts to buckle under the strain.
There are also provisions for local government to take control of the death management process in their area if the number of deaths becomes too high for the current system to handle. That would involve local authorities managing and streamlining the work of funeral directors, mortuary owners and crematorium owners.
This is not a normal bill. It is not taking place in normal circumstances.
Nevertheless, the powers are extraordinary. "The bill will enable the police and immigration officers to detain a person, for a limited period, who is, or may be, infectious and to take them to a suitable place to enable screening and assessment," the notes read.
We will need a description of very precise circumstances for when that power can be enforced, because, at the moment, any member of the human race "may be" infectious, meaning that this provision effectively gives a blank cheque for authorities to detain any member of the public.
Other powers enable the home secretary to request that port and airport operators temporarily close, to cancel elections and "restrict or prohibit events and gatherings".
Again, we can understand why these powers might be necessary. But let's be clear about what they involve. The capacity to close off Britain, to suspend elections and ban all protests or demonstrations, alongside football matches and concerts. The powers must be narrowly drawn.
There's clearly a sense in government that we could be facing serious social unrest, perhaps because of the psychological effect of isolation, or a spike in deaths without NHS capacity to help, or even lack of food if there isn't an end to stockpiling.
"Maintaining national security capabilities at a time of potential widespread upheaval is critical," the guidance reads, "and it is necessary to ensure that the powers to vary specific aspects of the regime are available to the government should they be deemed necessary."
That means that they want the ability to carry out surveillance. But judicial commissioners, who oversee the surveillance activity of the intelligence agencies, are typically former judges. That means they're usually older people and are therefore precisely in the group that is self-isolating. So the bill is going to introduce temporary judicial commissioners and extend the period in which an urgent warrant for surveillance needs to be reviewed from three days to 12.
Again, you can understand the reasons, if for instance we are facing wide scale rioting. But again, we will need more details about the process for appointing temporary judicial commissioners and evidence for how independent they are. The extension on the time limit for review is also very substantial, adding up to nearly a month if those are working days. They need to justify it.
The powers last for two years. That is a very long period of time. They could have had annual sunset clauses, or monthly ones, giving parliament a regular say in them continuing. We also don't know the mechanism for how they fade out. We will need those details.
But the big issue with the bill isn't really about what it proposes exactly, but the kind of message it gives out.
We are almost certainly about to see a very significant change in data collection. Countries around the world, like Israel and China, are already starting to use mobile data to track where people are and where they have been.
The state is going to want to know whether people are staying at home and where the people who are not staying at home are going. It might usefully be able to track the movements of someone who has the virus, via their mobile data, so we can find out who they came into contact with beforehand. They could also be comparing that travel data with banking and shopping information to assess food hoarding and work against shortages.
We're not sure whether the data provided by mobiles is decent enough for that to be effective yet, but it could potentially be useful. And the thing is, there's nothing necessarily wrong with that. You can understand why the state would want to do it and most of the public would probably be supportive.
But we haven't really heard anything from the government yet about data. One of the rare mentions we do have is from health secretary Matt Hancock this morning on Twitter. He spoke about GDPR, the existing data protection rules we have from the EU.
"GDPR does not inhibit use of data for coronavirus response," he said. "GDPR has a clause excepting work in the overwhelming public interest." Then he made an interesting dichotomy. "We are all having to give up some of our liberties; rights under GDPR have always been balanced against other public interests."

He's right that GDPR has exceptions for all sorts of things. You can use data without permission to protect the vital interests of the subject, for instance - to save their life. And there is, as he said, a public interest exemption.
But it comes with requirements. You have to explain what you are doing. You have to be proportionate and there have to be safeguards. The point of GDPR is that even when things happen that you don't agree with, you at least know about them. There is transparency.
That's why the mood music of the coronavirus bill is interesting. Because although there's nothing on data, there is a lot in there on national security, and specifically the Investigatory Powers Act 2016.
Ministers can get the kind of bulk mobile data they'll want by asking for a warrant under that Act. We'll likely never know it exists. And this emphasis on national security suggests that is precisely what they are going to do, or in all likelihood already have done.
That is an error. Approaching this type of thing with secrecy does not increase their control. It reduces it. It avoids any public awareness or debate. And that increases paranoia and distrust of government.
It is also completely pointless, because the public would be highly likely to accept this intrusion into their privacy for the public good. And the government could even, when this is over, use that as an example of how surveillance has some beneficial aspects.
But instead, it feels like the direction of travel is towards secrecy and a national security application. Usually in national security, the case for privacy can legitimately be made. In this situation, it cannot. There really is no reason the public cannot know. And in fact making the public think they are not being told things is a good way of making the situation worse.
To be clear, this is not a power-grab by a cynical executive. [THE HELL IT'S NOT] This is a government taking the powers it thinks it needs to face a fast-moving emergency. But they have a choice now. Proceed on the basis of secrecy and cloak everything under national security. Or be straight with people.
Despite everything going on, we need proper scrutiny of what is happening, or the former is likely to win over the latter.
Ian Dunt is editor of Politics.co.uk. His new book, How To Be A Liberal, is out in September 2020.


25 May 2011


Those few journopukes not given over to voyeurism and gossip have latched on to the concept of "crony capitalism", blithely ignoring the fact that such is the basis of Corporativism (see here and here), which is the founding and guiding principle of the European Union.

This is not an opinion - it is a stone cold fact, readily ascertainable even on-line.

Likewise the current hoo-ha about the judges creating a ridiculous law of privacy is the inevitable consequence of adopting continental Statute Law, with the consequent (and entirely deliberate) erosion of liberties that were secured by Common Law.

The MSM is in the business of telling people what they want to hear and one must presume they are good at it. It follows that what people want to hear is salacious trivia and ill-informed commentary that does not demand intellectual effort.

Hence my sabbatical. What's the point of having the intelligence, learning and life experience to understand what's going on when people feel safe in their profound ignorance and resent any effort to change what they call their minds?

24 May 2011

Over and out

Coincident with my conclusion that I have already committed my best to this web-log and that it would be self-indulgent simply to recycle the same views, comments and criticisms, I am also going to be very busy for the next several months leading tours and finishing my book on Hawkins, Drake & Co.

Accordingly take this opportunity to say au revoir and to wish you all the best as you struggle with the over-mighty, corrupt, incompetent and mostly unelected mediocrities who rule over you.

For as long as the MSM focuses popular attention on elected politicians, the parasitic apparatchiki will continue to feather their nests and run their societies entirely to their own satisfaction. Anyone who has not worked that out is indifferent to the point of intellectual coma and does not interest me.

And you, who know that we are administered, not governed, by a bureauratic oligarchy whose personal and collective interests are inimical to free, healthy and hopeful societies, don't need me to harp on about something that is as universal as it seems to be impervious to reform of any kind. I have a T-shirt that says it all:


13 May 2011

On the road again

Tomorrow early, to guide a tour of (most of) the battlefields where the British Battalion fought in the Spanish Civil War. Seeing where they fought, badly trained, ill-equipped and more often than not horrendously badly led, one can only feel sorrow that the cause they believed in so passionately turned out to be as bad as the one they fought against.

Members of the "Tom Mann Centuria", the first organized group of British volunteers, in Barcelona, September 1936.

Left to right Sid Avner (killed 20 December 1936 at Boadilla serving with the Thaelmann Battalion), Nat Cohen and his future wife Ramona, CPGB organizer Tom Wintringham (wounded twice but survived), Italian journalist George Tioli, Aussie Jack Barry (killed 19 December 1936 at Boadilla serving with the Commune de Paris Battalion) and David Marshall (wounded with the Thaelmann on 12 November 1936, repatriated).

11 May 2011

From their own mouths . . .

The Independent has an A to Z of the Coalition's first year in office that kicks off with two statements it obviously thinks show the Tories in a bad light, but with which any thinking person can only agree:
A is for Arts, which the Liberal Democrats mostly like but the Tories don't, because they see them as being devised by, and for the enjoyment of, a predominantly left-wing, anti-government bunch of agitprop merchants, gays, chatterers and subversives who shouldn't be subsidised by public money. Hence, a big cut in Arts Council – how they hate those two words – funding, and the abolition of the Film Council.
Works for me. Then there's the Bitchy Boys:
B is for BBC, another nest of Communists and self-regarding, lefty tossers, who pay themselves too much from the licence-payers' money, almost five times as much as the Prime Minister in the case of the director-general. Well, they've had a big reminder that they are state broadcasters with a five-year freeze on the licence fee, forcing cuts in salaries and expenses, and programmes too, opening the door for, ahem, Sky (see M).
Sky gives the people what they want, hot and strong; it's called democracy.* Surely a leftist publication can have no trouble with that - can it? Or is it just a drip-pan for the ejaculatii praecox of lowmid lefties smugly trusting in themselves that they are righteous and despising - in particular - the low-brow tastes of the common people?

* Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want and deserve to get it good and hard.
   H. L. Mencken (1880-1956)

Sólo en Inglaterra - postscript

Big Brother Watch has published a comprehensive report on the Coalition's progress in dismantling the police state it inherited from the NuLabour slime that amounts to an A-.

Clearly my last post on the subject was OTT with reference to the Coalition and I grovel; to the LibDems, not to the Tories, who do not give a shit about civil liberties.

But why don't they give a shit about civil liberties? Quite simple - they are very low on the British electorate's list of nimby priorities, and the Tories have never stood for anything except getting and staying in power.
The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are chicken-shit.

Thomas Sowell - quote for today

The fatal attraction of government is that it allows busybodies to impose decisions on others without paying any price themselves. That enables them to act as if there were no price, even when there are ruinous prices - paid by others.

Thomas Sowell (b. 1930), Professor Emeritus of Economics, Stanford University


The "End of History" intellectual carpet-bagger has a piece in the NYT in which he pontificates about Hayek, having apparently only just read The Constitution of Liberty. His conclusion: 
In the end, there is a deep contradiction in Hayek’s thought. His great insight is that individual human beings muddle along, making progress by planning, experimenting, trying, failing and trying again. They never have as much clarity about the future as they think they do. But Hayek somehow knows with great certainty that when governments, as opposed to individuals, engage in a similar process of innovation and discovery, they will fail. He insists that the dividing line between state and society must be drawn according to a strict abstract principle rather than through empirical adaptation. In so doing, he proves himself to be far more of a hubristic Cartesian than a true Hayekian. 
Angels fear to tread wherein this trivial American headline-grabber political "scientist" blithely blunders. Hayek wrote that statist planners are certain to fail because their self interest makes their understanding of the needs of the people they seek to govern even more imperfect than the collective (but also imperfect) knowledge that the people have themselves.

Furthermore, Hayek argued, governments do not proceed by trial and error the way that individuals do because of institutional arrogance and the ability to use force to enforce conformity. It is precisely because governments are so resistant to "empirical adaptation" that the growth in their power leads to serfdom - as, indeed, it clearly has in Britain.

Having trimmed his sails to the Neo-Con breeze back in 1992, in recent years Fukuyama has smartly tacked to go with what he perceives to be a new statist tide. He has the intellectual integrity of a tape-worm.

10 May 2011

EU again: you couldn't make it up

This is the EU Engorgement Enlargement Commissioner demonstrating the size of the bollocks he talks.

His name is Štefan Füle.

The EU flag ceremony: Friedrich Karno's army

On You Tube Nigel Farage does the requisite number on the ceremony to celebrate the adoption of the EU flag and anthem.

Dear God, what a pathetic farce!

Orphans of Liberty

A big welcome to this new site. I've put it on my RSS and hope it will eventually subsume a number of like-minded bloggers in addition to the estimable Anna Raccoon and the eloquent Autonomous Mind.

Not for me, though. I'd just lower the tone. ;-) 

Why "progressive education" is an oxymoron

"Make men wise, and by that very operation you make them free. Civil liberty follows as a consequence of this;
no usurped power can stand against the artillery of [informed] opinion."
William Godwin (1756-1836)

Boy Wonder growing up fast

An unlikely source, but the Sun has an interview with Cameron that - if he holds to the views expressed - will mark him as the most self-confident PM in recent history.

"I'm not a great believer in endlessly moving people between different jobs", he said. "I like to think I have put in a good team of Conservative and Liberal Democrats and they've a lot of work to do."

He contrasted this with the ceaseless reshuffling under Blair and Brown. "We had 12 Energy Ministers in nine years. And the Tourism Minister changed more often than people got off planes at Heathrow. It was hopeless. I think you've got to try to appoint good people and keep them."

Security of tenure permits ministers to learn how to get their officials to do what they are told - but it also permits rivals to build up their individual standing in the public eye.

That's the reason the insecure toad Brown, in particular, played ministerial musical chairs right up to the moment when the corrupt NuLabour Titanic finally slipped beneath waves polluted with the debris of a destroyed economy and a poisoned culture.

Since the buck stops at Number 10, it takes a very self-confident PM to accept that his ministers will fuck up from time to time as they learn their jobs, and to trust that they will fuck up less as time goes by.

Gah! - don't'cha just hate it when events erode your pristine prejudices?

Exposing ministerial spitefulness is bad

Says the Press Complaints Commission of the Daily Telegraph sting that caused the wanker Business Secretary Vince Cable to be stripped of his authority to oversee Rupert Murdoch's bid for BSkyB and other media takeovers.

In a typically British whinge, the PCC is compelled to admit that Cable's vicious bias against Murdoch was indeed a matter of public interest, but deplores (and intends to prevent in future) the manner in which it was done, echoing Sir Mucho Pomposo (aka Commons Leader Sir George Young) who said undercover methods "undermined democracy".

Journalistic subterfuge may indeed undermine the little moral authority still enjoyed by the mutually masturbating mediocrities who infest the House of Commons but it is they, not the journopukes, who undermine democracy by their chronic cheating and lying and contempt for the wishes of the people who elect them.

9 May 2011

Shale gas

I'd pretty much given up blogging about the mass hysteria previously known as anthropogenic global warming (AGW) on the grounds that those who able to think for themselves already know it's bull-shit and the rest are simply frightened lowmids being herded by cynical political and commercial opportunists.

It's a religion, stupid - or a stupid religion, take your pick - that has rushed into the vacuum created when the Moscow Caliphate collapsed and therefore as impervious to reason or factual refutation as any other superstition. It is also the enshrinement of nimbyism and fear of the yellow/brown/black peril as the world's poor claim their piece of the pie and become emancipated from shackling Western aid.

However - Soothscribe Matt Ridley, echoed by Soothscribe Christopher Booker, have lately published articles so persuasive about the abundance and ubiquity of shale gas that I think I will re-engage with the topic, not to comment further on the soaring number of practical and properly scientific refutations of the whole AGW scam, but to clock the slimy wriggling of the EU and British AGW advocates like the snerge Huhne who have gone so far out on a limb that it seems impossible for them to crawl back.

On the other hand, given the functional illiteracy deliberately created by "progressive" education, I don't suppose it will affect what passes for politics in the West in general and Britain in particular. People will continue to vote for what they perceive to be their own interest, and AGW is simply the one of the poison suppositories vaselined with subsidies that a people without virtue will continue to shove up their own arses.  

Judge David Eady - wanker

Worth reading the convoluted reasoning this bewigged buffoon employed to issue a super-injunction AGAINST THE WORLD.

It is no doubt simply an unfortunate coincidence that his single-handed creation of a right of privacy seems to favour only the immensely rich.

Far be it from me to suggest that one of Her Majesty's senior justices could possibly be a corrupt son-of-a-bitch, but on the Caesar's Wife principle I think he should make public his personal finances.