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Archive for the ‘Conservative Party’ Category

Monday
May 28,2012

Seven and a half years ago, I warned in a debate in the House of Lords about the risk to the nation’s critical national infrastructure of a concerted cyber-attack, saying:

“As a nation, the systems that are essential for our health and well-being rely on computer and communications networks – whether we are talking about the energy utilities, the water and food distribution networks, transportation, the emergency services, telephones, the banking and financial systems, indeed government and public services in general – and all of them are vulnerable to serious disruption by cyber-attack with potentially enormous consequences.  …

The threat could come from teenage hackers with no more motivation than proving that it could be done, but even more seriously it could come from cyber-terrorists intent on bringing about the downfall of our society. “

The Ministerial reply I was given at the time bordered on the complacent – even though I was assured that it wasn’t:

“there are also terrorists who would challenge and seek to undermine democratic society using any methods within their grasp. It is not complacent to say this; but perhaps it should be made plain that at the moment they do not appear to be interested in attacking us electronically.”

Late last year, the Wall Street Journal reported that:

“British intelligence picked up “talk” from terrorists planning an Internet-based attack against the U.K.’s national infrastructure, a British official said, as the government released a long-awaited report on cyber security.

Terrorists have for some time used the Internet to recruit, spread propaganda and raise funds. Now, this official said, U.K. intelligence has seen evidence that terrorists are talking about using the Internet to actually attack a country, which could include sending viruses to disrupt the country’s infrastructure, much of which is now connected online. The official spoke on condition of anonymity and didn’t say when the infrastructure threat was detected and how it was dealt with.

Terrorists, however, are still more focused on physical attacks that lead to high casualties and grab attention. “For the moment they prefer to cover the streets in blood,” he said.”

Again, the official line was inclined to dismiss the likelihood of an attack …
Now comes news that a video captured by FBI agents last year and now released by the Senate Committee on Homeland Security purports to show an al Qaeda leader calling on ”covert mujahidin” to launch cyber attacks against The video explicitly calls for cyber attacks against the networks of both government and life-sustaining critical infrastructure, including the electric grid, and compares vulnerabilities in U.S. critical cyber networks to the vulnerabilities in our aviation system prior to 9/11.
PHOTO: In this screenshot obtained by the FBI, an Al Qaeda video calls upon the ?covert Mujahidin? to commit ?electronic jihad?.
So – boringly – I was right (again).
The question remains are our cyber-defences going to be adequate.
Saturday
May 26,2012

UNITE has produced a powerful and compelling video on police privatisation.

It should give a clear message to the Home Office as well as to Chief Constables and putative elected Police and Crime Commissioners that simply out-sourcing large chunks of the police service will attract substantial opposition and is potentially hugely unpopular with the public.

There are no doubt some functions currently performed by in-house staff or by warranted officers that could be provided more efficiently by external providers.  However, there are some functions which should never be allowed to fall outside the personal direction and control of the chief officer of police.  This means that any out-sourcing proposals need to be clearly defined and consensus should be sought on whether the areas of activity can genuinely be provided from outside the police service without harming the coherence and integration of police services.  The other key question that will have to be addressed explicitly is the accountability of those providing the service and the governance arrangements that are to be put around the activities.

So far, this has not been a convincing element of the proposals that have been floated.  However, the next few years are likely to bring unprecedented reductions in policing budgets.  These issues are not going to go away.  And that is why the debate should start now.  The UNITE video should be a catalyst for this process.

Friday
May 25,2012

I have just returned from seeing “Posh” at the Duke of York’s Theatre.  I regret to say I was disappointed.  The acting is good and the play itself is quite powerful, but the reviews and write-ups had led me to expect something funnier with more pointed satire and a clearer political message.

However, don’t let me put you off – it is still worth seeing.

And it is certainly a potent reminder of the social background and early lives of those currently running the country.  The “Riot Club” is clearly based on the Bullingdon Club and you can draw your own conclusions as to who is meant to be the David Cameron or the Boris Johnson character in the play ….

Thursday
May 24,2012

It may not always be obvious, but I do try to be fair to the Government.  However, I do find that their arguments about the BSkyB bid are becoming increasingly convoluted.

To recap, after the Telegraph sting on Vince Cable the Prime Minister ruled that Cable’s comments to two undercover reporters were “totally unacceptable and inappropriate” and prejudiced his ability to act in a quasi-judicial role in determining whether to accept any Competition Commission decision that the News International takeover of BSkyB could go ahead.

The  quasi-judicial responsibility was then transferred to the Department of Culture, Media and Sport and its Secretary of State, Jeremy Hunt.

Now it transpires that Jeremy Hunt had sent a memo to the Prime Minister saying that the UK’s media sector “would suffer for years” if the deal was blocked.

However, the Prime Minister is now arguing that these comments did not prejudice Jeremy Hunt’s ability to act in a quasi-judicial role.

Is that because the Prime Minister knew about them?

Or is it because the personal views were ones he agreed with?

And, of course, as the Prime Minister knew when he appointed Jeremy Hunt to his quasi-judicial role that he was apparently already prejudiced, the Prime Minister too was complicit in undermining the process.

Apparently, it is “totally unacceptable and inappropriate” for a Minister acting in a quasi-judicial role to have views opposing the bid, but there is nothing wrong in knowingly appointing someone to the same quasi-judicial role if he has expressed the contrary views.

Is that clear?

Of course, if Jeremy Hunt – by behaving as unacceptably and inappropriately as Vince Cable – were forced to resign, then that would call into question the judgement of the Prime Minister who had appointed him in the first place, particularly if that same Prime Minister knew about the behaviour in question.  So perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised that the Prime Minister thinks that Jeremy Hunt’s behaviour WAS acceptable (especially as his non-prejudicial views mirrored his own).

 

Monday
May 21,2012

My question on the disappearance of Ilias Ali and other opposition politicians in Bangladesh was taken in the House of Lords earlier today.

These were the exchanges, demonstrating that the UK Government is taking it seriously and has made representations to the Government of Bangladesh:

Bangladesh

Question

2.52 pm

Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what diplomatic representations they have made to the Government of Bangladesh about the disappearance and alleged kidnapping of Mr Ilias Ali and other opposition politicians.

My Lords, I am not going to have much time for any chillaxing today.

We are concerned about the disappearance of Mr Ilias Ali. On 9 May, our High Commissioner to Bangladesh and ambassadors of eight other European countries called on the Bangladesh authorities to conduct thorough investigations into disappearances, including that of Mr Ali. In meetings with the Prime Minister’s Office and senior officials in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, we have urged the Government to do all that they can to locate Mr Ali and investigate the circumstances of his disappearance.

I am grateful to the noble Lord for that reply and for the expressions of concern by the British Government, but is he aware that there are a series of similar cases, including that of Mr Nazmul Islam, a local leader of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, who was abducted and murdered last December, and that according to the BBC 30 people have disappeared in that way in the past year? There are allegations, too, that the police’s Rapid Action Battalion is involved. In those circumstances, do Her Majesty’s Government accept that this reflects very badly on Bangladesh and its obviously fairly fragile democracy? What support can be given to ensure that the individuals concerned are rescued and restored to their families and that this sort of occurrence stops?
The noble Lord is right that this kind of development reflects badly on the political culture of any society in which opposition leaders are arrested or worse. He asked what can be done. The EU had a heads of mission visit in February to Bangladesh and stated its concerns very clearly. We are fully behind that. In addition, our senior Ministers, including my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary, have been in direct personal contact with senior officials, including the Foreign Minister of Bangladesh, and we take every opportunity to express our worries. It is a concern for us. People may ask why we are worried about Bangladesh. It is an important nation and the destination of one of DfID’s largest programmes, with £1 billion due to go to support Bangladesh development from this country over the next four years. It is a nation that we want to see stable and prosperous and to build on its economic achievements, which are beginning to show dividends. That is the rather encouraging side of an otherwise bad story.
My Lords, I had the opportunity to meet Mr Ilias Ali in Luton when he visited the United Kingdom a few months ago and raised human rights issues in Bangladesh with him, as I have with the Minister concerned. Sadly, we hear that Mr Ali has disappeared, along with his driver. However, this is not an isolated case. The New York-based Human Rights Watch has expressed concern over the disappearance of at least 22 people this year. A Dhaka-based organisation says that more than 50 people have disappeared since 2010. Security agencies, including the—
Question!
Can these cases be investigated by an international human rights organisation, and can we pressurise the Bangladeshi Government to put an end to such human rights abuses? Finally, can the British Government ask—
Fair enough; those two will do.
A whole range of concerns have been expressed by my noble friend. I understand his feelings. This is not a good story at all. He asks whether we will press for impartial and transparent investigations into these disappearances. We do so, have done so, and will continue to do so. In some cases, we will be pressing at an open door and there will be investigations, but in other cases we may not be so successful. However, one has to accept that the drive for ending this dark atmosphere over Bangladeshi politics must come from within that nation. We support Bangladesh in its efforts to stabilise its politics, to move towards the best kind of elections at the next appropriate time and to develop and lift its people out of poverty and the appalling environmental challenges that they also face and with which, sadly, we are all too familiar.
Lord Avebury:My Lords, will my noble friend ask the Bangladesh Government whether they will issue an invitation to the United Nations working group on disappearances, which is the proper body to investigate not just the recent disappearances mentioned in the Question but those going back a long way, most of which are attributed to the RAB?
Lord Howell of Guildford:That sounds like a very positive thought. I will certainly consider it and discuss it with my colleagues.”
Saturday
May 19,2012

David Cameron’s flagship policy of having elected Police and Crime Commissioners is in danger of unravelling.  Despite the Tory claims that the elections would deliver high profile “serious” figures to hold local police chiefs to account, this now looks as though this is not going to happen – at least as far as the Conservatives themselves are concerned.

The latest news is that Colonel Tim Collins has dropped out of the selection process to be the Conservative candidate to be the Kent PCC – apparently he was too busy to attend the selection meetings (which does raise the question as to whether he would ever have been able to fulfil the role even on the part-time basis on which he was offering himself).

And, if you look at the latest lists of runners and riders compiled by the Police Foundation, the Tory Party now has no significant high-profile candidates publicly in the running for selection.

By contrast, the Labour Party has already selected a number of impressive candidates and there are a number of well-known names in the frame for the remaining selections, particularly those which the Party is likely to win. (The LibDems, of course, have run away from the whole process and may not run candidates at all.)

So where does this leave the elections in November?  The turnout will undoubtedly be low.  The date chosen has only half the daylight hours of a more traditional May polling day and the weather may be unpleasant. The Government has vetoed a free postal distribution to candidates, so the elections will not be well-publicised.  And with the rejection of the other Conservative flagship policy of elected Mayors in all but one of the major cities that held referenda there will only be the Bristol Mayoral election on the same day to boost the turnout.

We can now expect the Tories to downplay the whole process and I suspect there will be a number of those in the Parliamentary Conservative Party scratching their heads to remember why they wanted to make these changes in the first place.

Wednesday
May 9,2012

The Metropolitan Police Federation have produced this video to highlight the concerns of their members about pay and conditions and about cuts in the police service.

The depth of anger that will be reflected in the number of officers joining the march through London – in their own time – should not be ignored by the Government.

The negotiations over the Winsor report have been seriously mishandled and the consequences for police morale (and ultimately public safety) are very worrying.

Wednesday
May 2,2012

As the Government potentially dilutes police accountability with the abolition of police authorities, new technology will increasingly create a new way of ensuring that the police act responsibly.

I have commented before on the impact of citizens with video-enabled mobile phones being able to post on the internet videos of interactions between the police and the public within seconds of the interaction happening.  This means that some incidents that might not previously have received wide coverage now do so.  This places a great pressure on the police to act responsibly at all times, even though what may be an entirely reasonable response to, for example, violent behaviour may not look so reasonable when a 10-second clip is viewed without the context of the preceding incident.

Today, however, I heard of another development that will also potentially have far-reaching consequences. Wired reports that three developers from Tulse Hill in south London have build an app that aims to give the public a way to hold the police more accountable:

“Users can upload information when they’re stopped by the police to the Stop and Search UK site, including the location of the stop, the badge numbers of the officers involved, and any feedback they’d like included. There’s also a guide to the law regarding being stopped and searched, to help educate people about their rights.

The hope is that, over time, a wider picture of stop and search powers will emerge across the country, which will in turn increase accountability over a police power which has drawn controversy in the past.”

This effectively creates a crowd-sourced monitoring system and, whilst the data will not be entirely systematic or representative, the information it produces will be a powerful tool for those who want to argue whether or not the stop-and-search tactic is being used fairly, appropriiately and proportionately.

No doubt this app will prove controversial with police officers who will feel that this is yet another impediment to them being able to do their job effectively.  However, conscientious officers will have little to fear and a greater confidence in the police that may stem from better accountability can only be a good thing.

If nothing else, it should act as a spur to  the Home Office and local police services to ensure that their adoption of mobile technology to properly record and document interactions with the police is speeded up.

As I have previously commented, recording such encounters is an important safeguard against the over-use or inappropriate use of the power against particular individuals or groups.  It is also incidentally a safeguard for officers who might otherwise be accused of abusing the power who will now be able to point to statistical evidence of how they have used the power properly and proportionately.

Monday
Apr 30,2012

If you like George Formby (which I do) but even if you don’t, you should watch this and be in no doubt about the depth of the anger within the Police Service about the proposed changes to police terms and conditions following on from the Winsor review:

Saturday
Apr 28,2012

I spent some time earlier today in Brick Lane meeting representatives of Britain’s Bangladeshi community to discuss the disappearance of Ilias Ali, a leading opposition figure in Bangladesh.

The apparent kidnapping was reported a few days ago by the Guardian who said:

“Ali was the latest in a series of political activists who have apparently been abducted, raising fears of a concerted campaign of intimidation aimed at opposition politicians. At least 22 people have gone missing so far this year, the local human rights organisation Ain o Salish Kendra said. In 2011, the number was 51. Estimates of the exact number vary though all indicate a rising overall total.

Many local and international campaigners have blamed security forces, accusing the paramilitary Rapid Action Battalion (Rab) and local police of eliminating opposition figures to benefit the administration of Sheikh Hasina, the prime minister.”

The pattern of unexplained disappearances of opposition politicians is an extremely disturbing symptom of Bangladeshi politics and it is important that the international community makes clear to the Bangladeshi Government that such tactics – with which they deny any connection – is unacceptable.
I will be seeking to raise the matter in the House of Lords in the new session of Parliament, although obviously I would hope that Ilias Ali will have been restored by then to his family safe and well.