Thursday, 26 April 2012

The wettest drought I've ever seen

This is apparently the wettest April on record. Yesterday it absolutely chucked it down and there are four days more of heavy rain to come. There are currently 40 flood warnings in place. The ground is waterlogged. The streams are full. In short, it is very, very wet.

However, officially, we are still in the middle of a drought due to low levels of water in the resevoirs and aquifiers. This is meant to be the result of a dry autumn and winter. But they weren't especially dry and there's certainly no shortage of rainfall. So to blame it on the weather is nonsense.

The real cause of the so-called drought is lack of capacity. Most of this rain pouring down at the moment will be wasted. It will go into the streams and the rivers and right back out to sea.

So it's not a question of lack of rain, it's a question of lack of ability to collect it. And the reason for that lack of collection capability is because there haven't been any new resevoirs built since the 70s. In the thirty or fourty years since then, the UK's population has increased by over ten million people. It's ruddy obvious that ten million more people will mean more water being needed.

But the response of the water companies over these years has been to do nothing more to meet increased demand than digging new boreholes and draining underground aquifiers - aquifiers which take many years to refill.

So the real cause of the drought is massive underinvestment in infrastructure by water companies who've been busy raking in money hand over fist over the past three decades while putting hardly any of it back into infrastructure.

And this, of course, is nothing more than what's to be expected when a bloody moron (e.g. Thatcher) gives away a key national resource to private investors. They're not concerned about making sure that the infrastructure is sufficient. They're not concerned about preventing hosepipe bans. All they're concerned about is making money. And it's the rest of the country who has to pay the price for that.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Lib Dem MEPs kill the ACTA web snooping plans

Some good news for a change when it comes to authoritarian plans to spy on what people are doing on the internet.

Today Lib Dem MEPs, and the group they sit in in the European Parliament (the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe), announced that they are killing the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA). Because they've done so, there's now a majority in parliament against ACTA, which means that it's as good as dead.

This is a good thing because, despite the name, ACTA would have done very little to stop counterfeiting as it wouldn't have included China and other developing countries where most counterfeit goods are produced. On the other hand, it would have done all sorts of other nasty things - such as:
Here's what Fiona Hall, leader of Lib Dem MEPs, said on the matter:
"We have had a very close look at ACTA because the protection of intellectual property rights is important for our knowledge-based economy and for our consumers who need to be protected from potentially dangerous counterfeit products such as toys, medicines and electronics.

"On balance, however, ACTA falls short on too many fronts. First, it does not include many emerging economies, such as China, which are the main sources for counterfeited goods. Second, according to the European Data Protection Supervisor, ACTA would allow 'indiscriminate or widespread monitoring' of internet users without providing sufficient safeguards. This is why Lib Dem MEPs have decided to pull the plug on ACTA"  
So, three cheers for Lib Dem MEPs. Great to see them standing up against illiberal and regressive plans. Now if only we could get Clegg to do the same...

Monday, 23 April 2012

Sharon Bowles MEP on the future of the eurozone

A few days ago I was in Strasbourg as part of a scheme of trips to the European Parliament for various political bloggers. While I was there I was fortunate enough to be able to interview six Lib Dem MEPs - who were generous enough to give up time to talk to me.

Finding an MEPs office is not an easy task in Strasbourg. From the press room you must go down a corridor, down another corridor, up a lift, down a corridor, across a bridge, into a rabbit warren of yet more corridors and offices, up another lift and then back into the rabbit warren again before you finally find the correct numbered room. Nevertheless, I manage it, getting lost only a few times, and find myself outside Sharon Bowles' office.

Sharon Bowles MEP is a busy woman. She is the chair of the EU's Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee (ECON) - making her one of the most influential people in the world when it comes to financial matters. In fact, people in the markets are more likely to pay attention to what Sharon Bowles says than to George Osborne.

As Sharon explains to me, ECON covers four major areas. "The entire financial services area, so all the rules concerning markets, banks, and so forth," Sharon tells me, are under the control of her committee. It also has oversight over the European Central Bank (ECB), which sets interest rates for the eurozone, to provide public accountability and ECON also has new powers over economic surveillance - what Sharon says she dubs as "governments behaving badly".

Sharon also tells me that there's been a lot of work on this since the eurozone crisis and says that "it's not as difficult and detailed as all of the financial stuff but its obviously very highly political when you start trying to make countries coordinate their budgets with each other for better effect and mandate that their budgets should be balanced."

ECON also has influence on tax where it's currently working on the proposed Financial Transaction Tax on banks and also oversees the EU Commission on competition matters where ECON has joint decision powers on whether to bring damages against corporations breaching competition law.

As a result of the financial crisis all these areas are on overtime, Sharon tells me - with "a whole swathe" of regulation on markets and banks coming in.

I take the opportunity to ask Sharon about the eurozone debt crisis and how bad it actually is.

"It's very bad, in reality, because it's something that has been brewing a long time.There are various causes of it, I mean there were flaws in the original way in which the eurozone was designed - flaws which the UK pointed out at the time - there have been countries that haven't necessarily been sensible with their budgets and their spending, but a lot of it was tipped over the edge by the financial crisis.

"It is very serious, it's not something that's ever going to be fixed in a few months. I mean, the markets tend to have a cycle of a few months with the latest round of bailouts or rescue mechanism and then they get happy and they start selling their assets that they want to get rid of, that the clever people tend to gain and the less clever people tend to lose - but it's a long haul to get the debt levels back down to what they should be and to get everyone on to balanced budgets.

"And I, realistically, don't think they're necessarily going to be able to do it without going to having a Eurobond whre there is a pooled sovereign bond issuance you can put various conditions around that so you're not, in a sense, giving free money to people who are wantonly spending - you can have some conditionality around it - but I think that that's the only long term way we're going to get out of it.

"And slowly we're moving towards it, as the bailout mechanisms are a kind of eurobond if you look at it that way, the intervention by the European Central Bank could indeed be modified into a kind of bond. It's something that I might - I just launched it into the arena that that's a possibility - today, or last night and Barroso [President of the EU Commision] sort of looks at me. He keeps telling me 'Have you given Olli Rehn [EU Commissioner for Economic and Financial Affairs] all your ideas', you know.

"So it is very serious - in just the way that the UK deficit is serious and we've got to pay that down. But it's harder of course because they've got to juggle with more factors."

Blimey. I've heard about a Eurobond - which would essentially be government debt bonds backed by all the coutnries in the EU - as a possible solution to the sovereign debt crisis before but this is the first time I've ever heard it from someone who is often described as one of the best economic minds in Europe.

Of course, the idea of a Eurobond is a contentious issue, not least among the richer eurozone countries (especially Germany) who don't want to have to subsidise the borrowing costs of poorer countries. I ask Sharon whether she thinks the various national governments will actually be able to agree on Eurobonds before it's too late.

"Well, there are always dangers in these things. I mean the big question is where is Germany going to be on this. And, you could say that Germany realises that, at least I think at the highest political levels, that it is almost in a position that it is too big for Europe and too small for the world. But it actually needs to be in Europe, it needs the single market. It can't, the benefits that it has, its exporting engine are only enabled because of the single market. So ultimately, to put it bluntly, they have to pay to save the thing that enables them to be profitable.

"And so they will have to do it. There will come a moment - I mean this is partly why I've been looking at long term refinancing operations of the European Central Bank, in that everyone's already talking about how are you ever going to be able to get that money back out of the banks, but a lot of banks at the same time, because they're scared to put money anywhere else and are going and depositing it back with central banks. It would be very simple just to issue that as, for the ECB to do one year sovereign bills, or something, that would fund the debt of the eurozone and get into it through that kind of mechanism.

"But something's got to give. I mean there are long term options, there are short term options - they're not necessarily incompatible. It's just a question of, it does seem to me that we have to get to a precipice and be half way to falling over before action is taken. Simply because it tends to take that long for individuals in countries to realise what the scenario is. I mean think, in the UK, people don't think there should be any sense, while w're in debt, in helping to rescue others. But actually there's always an element of self-help in it - that if you don't keep the single market going, and if you don't have healthy countries around you, then you can't be healthy as well."

We move onto discussing some of the financial regulation ideas that she and ECON are pushing. An indication of the powers of ECON in this ares comes when we discuss plans politicians are proposing in the UK at the moment - such as ringfencing investment and retail arms of banks, or breaking up the banks completely. Sharon says they "may not be allowed to do, dependent upon how the legislation we do at the moment... [is] transposed into European law." Indeed, as Sharon goes onto explain, ECON makes "all the rules which the FSA [the Financial Services Authority], or their successors, and the Bank of England have to put into place and supervise."

Sharon's keen to emphasise that this isn't anything new but that "the detail with which they're being done, and the level of harmonisation has become much greater" due to the cross border implications of the financial crisis.

And with that Sharon has to go off to the parliament chamber to vote with barely enough time for me to thank her for doing the interview. As I said before, she's a very busy woman.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

My email to the FCC on conference accreditation

I agree with the motion passed by conference [link] and feel that accreditation for Federal Conference is illiberal and unnecessary and should be rejected. As such I completely oppose its use in the future.

All those entering conference already have to pass through security checks which would reveal any weapons or other harmful devices, and all successful terrorist attacks against conferences in recent history have not been ones that would have been prevented by accreditation. The Brighton bombing involved a bomb that was planted at a hotel months before the conference so, unless the FCC proposes to vet everyone staying at the conference hotel for months beforehand, accreditation would not have prevented it. All major organised terrorist attacks have been carried out by people with the correct paperwork who would not have been caught out by accreditation and the shootings in Norway last summer were conducted by a man who impersonated a police officer and who therefore would not have been caught by accreditation.

Accreditation would do little or nothing to improve safety and goes against fundamental liberal values - especially in the requirement for people to specifically ask that their data be deleted following the accreditation procedure.

I am also extremely disappointed that the FCC seems to feel that the clear will of conference was not sufficiently clear. It is not the place of the FCC to overrule conference and this "consultation" held for just one week in the middle of the local election campaigns smacks of an attempt to undermine party policy. I hope that members of the FCC will be judged on this in the elections to the FCC later this year.

Yours sincerely,
George Potter
Membership number: XXXXXXX

Friday, 20 April 2012

My postcard from Strasbourg

I got back from Strasbourg late last night after a very interesting trip. I'll be doing blogposts about the MEPs I interviewed and about my overall impression of the European Parliament but it will take me a while to write them.

So, in the mean time, here's my postcard from Strasbourg.

Monday, 16 April 2012

Off to Strasbourg

Tomorrow I'll be off to the European Parliament in Strasbourg for three days as part of an EU scheme to give bloggers and journalists a better understanding of the EU.

I've arranged to meet and briefly interview several Lib Dem MEPs and I'll naturally be blogging about my experiences.

It should be fairly interesting to see what my impressions are as I'm going there with an open mind yet have, so far, gone from being devoutly pro-EU to radically eurosceptic (I once voted UKIP, ugh) and then back to the Lib Dem brand of euro-reformism. So I can't wait to find out what impact the trip will actually have on my views.

Plus it'll also be the first time I've been to Strasbourg and the Alsace Lorraine region as a whole. On top of that, it's my first solo trip abroad.

While I'm away blogging and communication on my part will be practically nil due to the outrageous prices the phone companies charge. So see you all in three days or so :)

The death count of the welfare system

I came across these absolutely appalling figures, via the Daily Mirror, the other day.

My regular readers (all twelve of them) might recall that one of the topics I'm most likely to get ranty about is the welfare system and the government's welfare reforms which are basically taking support away from the sick and disabled purely in order to save money - without any regard to the human cost.

Now, back to the figures from the Daily Mirror. Via a freedom of information request they found the following:
We've used the Freedom of Information Act to discover that, between January and August last year, 1,100 claimants died after they were put in the "work-related activity group".

This group - which accounted for 21% of all claimants at the last count - get a lower rate of benefit for one year and are expected to go out and find work.
This compares to 5,300 deaths of people who were put in the "support group" - which accounts for 22% of claimants - for the most unwell, who get the full, no-strings benefit of up to £99.85 a week.
We don't know how many people died after being found "fit to work", the third group, as that information was "not available".
But we have also found that 1,600 people died before their assessment had been completed.
 Yes, you have read that right, eleven hundred people who, according to the welfare system, were healthy enough to work in the near future, were actually so unhealthy that they died. Now, the problem with these figures is that they don't tell us what the causes of death were - so some of those 1,100 could well have been hit by a bus. But even so it's a shocking indictment of the way the welfare system works and how it cocks things up and puts people in the wrong groups.

After all:
The Government has boasted that more than half of new ­claimants are found "fit to work" - failing to mention that over 300,000 have appealed the decision and almost 40% have won.
So yeah, an error rate of up to 40%. Fan-fucking-tastic. And yet this is the system that Chris Grayling and other tories think is "too soft". A system which insists that people, who are so unwell that they die, are fit to work is one which the government thinks isn't tough enough on these "scroungers". After all, according to the actual model used by the DWP, the psycho-social model biopsychosocial model, disability is "all in the head" and any problems the sick and disabled face are their own fault for not having the right mental attitude. And I'm not making this up. And, what's even better is that the government is now using this assessment system as the foundation for making the system even tougher and for time limiting how long people can receive contributory ESA for. Because, you know, clearly the current system is working perfectly and now is an ideal time to push forward radical changes on the assumption that the system gets everything right.

Oh, I forgot to mention:
But we have also found that 1,600 people died before their assessment had been completed.
This should take 13 weeks, while the claimant gets a reduced payment of up to £67.50 a week, but delays have led to claims the system is in "meltdown".
£67.50 a week! What luxury! Not.

You see, when people talk about impoverished pensioners, who get a winter fuel allowance, a higher tax allowance and concessionary rates on a lot of things, yet who still can't afford to eat properly or heat their homes, what you've got to bear in mind is that these pensioners get almost wice the amount to live on as someone who, for example, was juse blinded in an industrial accident.

I wish I could see Chris Grayling and the Lib Dem MPs who signed off on the welfare reforms have to live on £67.50 a week for three months. Preferrably while in constant discomfort from some illness or disability which is bad enough to make life miserable but not bad enough to get them into the unconditional support group. And then, at the end of the three months maybe they could then find out, after struggling to travel to an inaccessible "assessment centre" that their assessment has been cancelled, that it's their own fault for not having received the letter notifying them of the cancellation, and that they'll have to keep on trying to scrape by on £67.50 a week for yet another month.

That would be justice.

Unfortunately in real life the best that could be hoped for is for someone in the coaliton to wake up and have the guts to do something about the hideous mess of the welfare system - preferrably something which doesn't just continue the New Labour/Tory trend of fucking over the sick and disabled.

Oh, sorry, nearly forgot. Here's the best part:
The work capability assessments are carried out by private firm Atos, on a £100million a year contract.
The firm made a £42million profit in 2010 and paid boss Keith Wilman £800,000, a 22% pay rise on the previous year.
Fucking brilliant.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Signal Boost: For those who think I rant about the patriarchy and misogyny too much

This is a reblogging of a note that is being shared on facebook. It's very sobering and well worth reading:

By Julia Maddera, Georgetown University '13

To the first man, who I met by the Eiffel Tower my second week in Paris, when I didn’t know better. Who took me out four times, who waved little red flags that I tried to ignore. Like asking me outright if I was a virgin on the first date, like calling me five different pet names when I’d asked him not to throughout the second, like saying he’d heard that feminists were not real women during the third, like disappearing for a week and a half after the fourth. Who, as it turns out, was not the bullet, but the careening fourteen-wheeler that I narrowly managed to dodge. Who admitted that he hit the young woman that his mother was trying to force him to marry. Who didn’t want to marry her because he believes in romantic love. Who doesn’t see the contradiction in those two sentences.

To the guy in my medieval literature class, who lent me one of Camus’ plays and showed me around the library. Who wants to use his French education not to escape to the West, but to go back to his developing nation to teach at its eight-year-old university. Who I admired until he asked me what my American boyfriend had thought about me coming to Paris, until he demanded to know why I didn’t have one (a boyfriend, that is), until he asked if it was required that I marry an American. Who reached out and touched my earrings, without asking, the next time he saw me. Who won’t take a hint.

To the PhD student who tried to take me up to his apartment after a five minute conversation, when I had just wanted to get lunch, who said there’s a first time for everything. Who told me that we were university students, living in a 21st century democracy, and that relations between men and women were different now, so what was I so scared of? Who recoiled in shock when I told him that I had friends who’d been raped, and by other university students, at that. Who does not have to think about rape on a daily basis. Who insisted on paying for my lunch, because “it was a matter of honor.” Who then physically prevented me from handing my money to the cashier, when I was trying to make it clear that this was not a date. Who didn’t believe me when I said I didn’t want a boyfriend, five times. Whose number I blocked the moment I stepped on the metro. Who has called me three times since. Who told me he wants to go into Senegalese politics. Who, I can only hope, will listen to the women of his country better than he listened to me.

To the delivery guy on the red motorcycle idling outside of the apartments on Avenue de Porte de Vanves, the ones I walk past every day, who said bonsoir and who, because I said it in return to be polite, followed me to the metro as I walked, head twisted down, pretending that I didn’t understand the language I’ve studied for eight years.

To the two men Thursday night in le Marais, swaggering drunk toward me, ignoring the male friend standing by my side, who leered at my chest and slurred, “Bonsoir, comme tu es mignonne,” as I shoved past them, trying to sound angry, not afraid. Who left me feeling fidgety and panicked, so when I took the night bus in the wrong direction and found myself alone with two other strange men at a bus stop at 2:30 A.M., I let the cab driver fleece me out of 25 euro just to take a taxi home.

To the group of teenage boys loitering on the corner by my apartment, who decided to sound a siren at my approach because I was wearing a knee-length dress and a bulky sweater. Who made me regret forgoing tights because I had wanted to feel the spring air on my calves for once. Who will never have to wear an itchy pair of pantyhose in their entire lives. To whom I said nothing, because I still have to walk past that corner twice a day for the next three-and-a-half months, because there were five of them and one of me.

To the three men standing on the corner of the periphery five minutes later when I was crossing the street. To the one who motioned for his friends to turn and look at me, quick, and then left his wolf-whistle ringing in my ears, shame like sunburn covering my face. Who didn’t care that it was broad daylight. Who made me wish that I could swear a blue streak back in French, without my accent betraying that I am American, which is another word for “easy” here.

To the two men at sunset on the bridge by Saint Michel, in the middle of tourist central, who made skeeting noises at me, like a pair of sputtering mosquitoes, to get my attention. Who laughed when I flipped them off, and who kept hissing at me anyway. Who forced me to keep checking over my shoulder, all the way to the metro, to make sure that I wasn’t being followed.

But also to the French friend who blamed my problems with French men on my university in the northern suburbs, a Parisian synonym for emeutes, gang violence, and immigration. Who insisted that if he brought me to his upper-crust private (white) university—where the French elite reproduces itself into perpetuity—I would meet nicer French guys. Who forced me to defend the men who’d harassed me against his barely-veiled, racist critique.

And also to the American friend at home who nearly rolled his eyes as he half-listened to my stories, who said, “Oh god, it’s hard being so attractive, isn’t it?” as if I was being vain. Who laughs and does not understand why I always duck out of the frame of photographs, who knows nothing of what my body means to me.

And that’s just two months in Paris.

To all the Italian men who made me wish I had dyed my hair black before studying in Florence, who kept me from going out dancing because I got sick of feeling them creeping up behind me, sneaking their hands around my waist (and lower) when I’d already said NO three times.

To the six-foot-something Georgetown student who prided himself on protecting the girls from being groped on the dance floor. Who chose to write about the rape of the Sabine woman for that week’s assignment. Who described the way her breast slipped free of her tunic when she fell, as if he was writing a porno, not a rape scene, who had the woman fall in love with her Roman rapist the next morning, after he spun her a tale of the coming glory of his country. Who said “in a fit of passion, she thrust herself upon his member” and was not joking. Who ended the story with the titular character saying to her children that she had been raped, but only at first.

To the seventh-grade boy who told my younger sister that he could rape her, if he wanted to.

To the gang of twenty-five year-olds in the Jeep who hollered at her as they drove past, leering at her thirteen-year-old body dressed in sweat pants and a tank top. Who made my sister, fearless on the soccer field and in the classroom and in the karate studio, run home crying. Who were the reason she became afraid to walk the dog by herself in our “safe, suburban” neighborhood.

To my father, who said, “What white male privilege?” Who was not being ironic.

Saturday, 7 April 2012

The EU wants to make me a criminal

A proposed law has just been presented to the European Parliament. If it passes and is implemented by EU states then I will be made a criminal.

Let me explain.

The law is an anti-hacking law - despite the fact that hacking is already illegal in all EU states.

But, if you look deeper into the law this is what you find:
The proposal also targets tools used to commit offences: the production or sale of devices such as computer programs designed for cyber-attacks, or which find a computer password by which an information system can be accessed, would constitute criminal offences.
Now, the problem with this might not be apparent to someone without a technical background but trust me, there's a massive problem with this.

You see, hacking tools have two purposes. The first is for hackers to break into things. The second is for security professionals to test IT systems to make sure that they're secure. In fact, a term used in hacking is "Black Hat" and "White Hat". Black Hat being criminal hackers and White Hat being security experts who attempt to hack systems in order to find weaknesses so that they can then be fixed. But both groups use the same tools. And both groups would be criminalised by this law.

These kind of tools are also used by law enforcement and intelligence agencies to check computers and phones seized from criminals in order to look for evidence - because, surprisingly, most people with incriminating evidence on their computers tend not to be happy to give the police their passwords.

An example of how this works is a company like CCL Forensics - who I found through a quick google search. They're a private company that acts as a contractor for various police forces. If there's, for example, a murder enquiry where the police think that there might be texts from the murderer on the victim's phone, but the phone is locked with a password, then they'll send it off to a company like CCL who will use a program to break the password and get the evidence off the phone.

But this law would make all of that illegal. And an offence under this law would carry a minimum prison sentence of two years. So that means that hundreds of innocent people, using software for legitimate purposes, would be criminalised.

Now, I found about this law through my work. I am not able, or willing, to go into detail about the kind of work I do or who I work for but, suffice to say, if this law was passed and implemented, I'd be facing either two years in prison or losing my job.

A law similar to this was passed in Germany a few years back and the result of it was that a hell of a lot of IT and security specialists simply upped and left the country or gave up working completely. And IT security in Germany suffered as a result. Because hackers already face a prison sentence for what they do so they're hardly going to stop what they're doing because of a new law. But now, in Germany, they don't have to worry as much about security experts hampering their work. So all the law accomplished was to make the lives of hackers easier.

And now the EU wants to repeat this across the whole continent. Brilliant.

I'd like to hope that someone in the EU parliament will see this massive flaw with the law and get it changed. Unfortunately, however, someone already tried to amend this law to change it to only punish people who possessed tools for the purpose of committing a criminal offence - but the amendment was killed during committee.

Of course the real problem here is that, just like with plans by the UK government to snoop on people's internet use, these are laws about technical matters being made by politicians and civil servants with absolutely no technical backgrounds whatsoever.

Now, I'll probably try writing to an MEP about this and see if there might not be someone with a bit of sense but that's about all I can do. Other than that I'll just have to trust in the collective sense of the European Parliament and hope that I don't find myself on the way to prison. Bloody brilliant.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Nick Clegg ruined my blogging


I just published a blog post (80% written on the train this morning) about plans by the government to allow police to monitor the internet use of anyone and everyone without needing a warrant. But, because I was at work today, I wasn't able to finish and publish the blog post until this evening. Which means I have just found my entire blogpost made redundant by this piece of breaking news:

Web and email monitoring plans will not be rammed through, says Clegg

The article then goes on to say:
The government will not "ram legislation through Parliament" to increase monitoring of emails and web usage, Nick Clegg has said. 
The deputy prime minister said the proposals would be "published in draft" first to allow them to be debated. 
Earlier, the Home Office said it planned to "legislate as soon as parliamentary time allows".
Now, this can mean either that the government is kicking the proposals into the long grass or that they're going to slow down to try and placate critics but are still determined to get the proposals passed.

I'd like to hope it's the former, but Clegg and Lynne Featherstone have also been very defensive, and, come to that, misleading about what the proposals will mean. And, at the end of the day, there is no justification for a law which allows people to spy on you online without even needing a warrant.

So, I'm going to give Clegg and Co the benefit of doubt until the end of the week to firmly crush these proposals. It's obvious that the tories are gagging to pass this draconian legislation as soon as possible which is why it'll probably be politically impossible to kill this other than by kicking it into the long grass - but that's the bare minimum which Lib Dems should demand.

Incidentally, why do British Home Secretaries always look at countries like Iran and China as inspiration rather than examples of "how not to do it"? Just wondering...

But yeah, what pisses me off about this, even given the news announcement, is that Lib Dems had to yell so loudly about this before our leadership abruptly switched from supporting it to kicking it into the long grass - they really do seem to have gone completely native on a hell of a lot of fundamental issues.

FFS Lib Dems

Or, to be more accurate, FFS Lib Dem parliamentarians in government.

Let me tell you a little story.

Once upon a time there was this big nasty Labour government who loved nothing better than to extend the power of the state and its power to spy on people's lives. They had a brilliant idea to spy on everyone's email and internet use so a police officer could see anything anyone was up to online without even needing to go to a judge to get a warrant. But fortunately there were these brave people called the Lib Dems who stood up to Labour - and with them stood some of the tories and all the civil liberties groups. And, despite everything, they won. The plans to monitor the internet (like other thriving, open democracies - such as China and Iran - do) were scrapped. The End.

That's the story Lib Dems have always been able to tell ourselves about the idiotic idea of monitoring anything and everything that takes place online. And, now we're in government, that kind of draconian, authoritarian, police-state nonsense is meant to be gone for good.

But, unfortunately, tories are tories. So Mrs May has brought back the same plans that Labour proposed a few years ago and the same plans that the Lib Dems and Tories opposed at the time. Well, I say "the same". A few things have changed in the plans but essentially the aim of the proposals is the same. And that's because the plans haven't come out of thin air - they're the same recycled plans, drawn up at the urging of the security services, that the last government used.

Just to summarise, this is what the proposals actually are. The security services and the police will have the power to demand internet service providers (ISPs) show them, in real time, what someone is doing online. ISPs will also have to record and store what people are doing online in case the police ask to see it. If the police suspect you of being a criminal or a terrorist (that is, they don't have proof, just a suspicion) then, without a warrant, they will be able to monitor, in real time, every facebook message you send online, every email, every website you visit, every skype call or instant message. Now, they won't be able to actually read the contents of each message, they'll just be able to see who the sender was and who receives it. So, if Mr Terrorist Suspect sends a one-of happy birthday message to an old school chum, that said school chum could then have all of their internet use monitored because they're in contact with a suspect. Wonderful. The real life equivalent of the proposals is to allow the police to follow you around 24/7, standing right behind you to note down who you talk to, but not listening to the details of the conversation.

Though, given that to do this the ISPs will have to open every single message sent online in order to write down who sent it and where it's going to. And then each of them will have to store this data on databases the law will force them to set up. Which won't be very secure and which will be very expensive - with the cost passed on to you, dear customer.

But what's sickening about these proposals is the way that members of the Lib Dem leadership have either been shamefully silent or openly defending the proposals.

For example, Lynne Featherstone sent out an email to all our members (over 24 unrestful hours after the story was first leaked to the press) where she basically said that there's nothing to worry about because:

a) Labour are bad and we are good.
b) There won't be a big centralised database.
c) These proposals are better than Labour's proposals.
d) Trust us, we wouldn't let you down.
e) This is only updating existing powers anyway.
f) The security services say they really, really need this information - even though they can't tell us why.

To which the response of many far, far more knowledgeable people than me (including all the civil liberties campaigning organisations) have said:

a) Being better on civil liberties than Labour is hardly difficult.
b) There'll just be lots of decentralised databases instead - we feel so much better.
c) Not by much - and what we have already goes too far so extending those powers even slightly is unacceptable.
d) After all, you've never let us down on tuition fees or the NHS or welfare reform or legal aid or control orders or ending the retention of the DNA of innocent people...
e) See c).
f) The security services always want more power - but unless they can tell us why they need it then it's your job to defend civil liberties as the default response.
g) Why the jumping jesus do these proposals mean the police won't need a warrant to monitor people?
h) What happens when these powers were abused - a la RIPA being used by councils to monitor people 24/7 to try and catch out school catchment area infringements?
i) All the technical experts (e.g. people who manage internet networks for a living) say your plans are impossible to implement.

Additionally, here is what should be the default liberal response to all proposals of this sort:

Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves. 
Pitt the Younger 1783

Now, from what I've seen online, there's only been one Lib Dem member in favour of these proposals. Everyone else has been staunchly against them. As Lib Dems we might disagree on everything else but we will all fight to the death to defend freedom.

As one person said:
This is a red line for me – if it’s crossed, I’m resigning.
That seems to be the view of a lot of Lib Dems - I know that for me this is definitely a red line. I could stay a party member after tuition fees and the Welfare Reform Bill because I still believe the party can be changed. But if these proposals are implemented with the backing of Lib Dem MPs then it will be obvious, beyond any doubt, that the party is no longer liberal and that it is no longer democratic. And a hell of a lot of my fellow Lib Dems will take the same attitude. In fact, for the first time in decades the party membership is completely united - in their dismay at the proposals the government is preparing.

For example, just look at the following people, all of whom express their dismay and the problems with the proposals much better than I can:

Dan Falchikov
Nicola Prigg
Richard Morris
Alex Wilcock
Mark Valladares
Richard Flowers
Jennie Rigg
Neil Monnery
Zoe O'Connell
Linda Jack
Caron Lindsay
Lee Griffin
Paul Bernal

These people, between them, represent a cross section of the party and a good few of them know full well what they're talking about when it comes to technical matters. If it's a choice between trusting them and trusting Lynne Featherstone, Nick Clegg and the government then you can be damn sure I won't be in Nick Clegg's camp.

Basically, these proposals are WRONG. And you will not find me in any party that supports them. And I think the same can be said about the rest of the Lib Dem membership - especially given that we passed a conference motion against these proposals just three weeks ago.

If the government tries to pass these proposals with the support of the Lib Dem leadership then I predict one of two things will happen. The first option is that we end up looking for a new set of leaders for our party. The second is that our leaders find that their party has left them.

The only bright spot in all of this is that some MPs have already spoken out against the proposals. But unless we Lib Dems start to see proper movement from all of our MPs soon then there will be hell to pay.


Of course, even if the government doesn't really intend to spy on its own citizens, is the alternative explanation for these proposals any better?

Hat tip to Kevin in a Lib Dem facebook group