A warning of what will crawl out of the woodwork ….

Having been around during the time of rate-capping and the advent of the Poll Tax, Luke Akehurst’s warning/reminder, “Exposing the Far Left”, should be taken seriously.

As he puts it:

“There are people who really want to mess up the campaign against the Tory-led government’s cuts. They aren’t all in the Tory and Lib Dem parties. Some of them are pretending to be on our side. …

The canary in the coal mine that always tells you the far left are up to something is the student movement. Why? Because it’s full of idealistic young people who are enthusiastic about politics and naive about the motives of people selling them political newspapers. That makes it the ideal recruiting ground for the 57 varieties of ultra-left faction. …

This reached its logical conclusion with the obscene spectacle in Manchester on Saturday of Socialist Workers’ Party and other far-left students throwing eggs at Labour’s Tony Lloyd MP when he tried to speak in support of students, and chasing moderate NUS President Aaron Porter down the street having interrupted his speech with chants of ‘you’re a Tory too…’ and according to the Union of Jewish Students, the anti-Semitic variant ‘Tory Jew Scum…’. Pause for a moment and digest this. What kind of leftwinger shouts antisemitic abuse at anyone? What kind of leftwinger throws eggs and shouts abuse at the people on the same side as them in the campaign against the tuition fee hike and the EMA cuts because they are not revolutionary enough? …

The student movement is just the start though. Local government is the next key target, as it was in the 1980s, as councils are about to set their budgets. Activists were dishing out leaflets outside Hackney town hall (where I’m a councillor) on Wednesday night, three quarters of the text of which attacked in aggressive and personally vitriolic terms not David Cameron, Nick Clegg, George Osborne or Eric Pickles but Labour mayor of Hackney Jules Pipe.

In the ‘through the looking glass’ world of the ultra-left, Labour councils are not the victims of Eric Pickles’ massive cuts; we are the villains ‘implementing’ them. We are to be harangued, insulted and abused until we agree to replicate the 1985 ratecapping rebellion by setting illegal unbalanced budgets. That won’t stop any cuts – they’ll just be made by officials instead, but with no Labour input into deciding which services to protect. But the people campaigning for it think it would ‘send a signal’ to government. Actually the signal it would send is that we were completely irresponsible. Eric Pickles is laughing all the way to the polling station about this because his strategy of localising the blame for cuts on councils is being implemented by the far left. It’s a classic Trotskyite transitional demand – call for councils to do something they can’t – spend money the government hasn’t given them – then when this doesn’t happen tell people revolution is the only solution. A tactical objective for the far left is to get left Labour councillors to break the whip and get themselves expelled from their Labour groups – thereby fracturing the unity of the Labour party and creating political martyrs.

On Saturday in Hackney as Labour members used street stalls to promote the 26 March TUC national demo against the cuts and explain their impact on one of the UK’s most deprived areas, the SWP counter-leafleted the people our members were talking to, attacking the Labour council and saying there was no difference between Labour’s deficit-reduction plans and the Tories’ (surely halving the deficit not eliminating it is a difference of 50 per cent, quite aside from the difference in emphasis between the parties on the balance of cuts versus tax increases?). Another unachievable transitional demand – call for Labour to support having no cuts at all.

In weeks to come the SWP have announced they will be turning up en masse at individual Labour councillors’ advice surgeries, effectively stopping residents with real problems seeing their councillors, and creating a very intimidating atmosphere.”

Is THE SUN the only national newspaper covering the story that Andrew Wakefield “plotted to make £28million a year from the MMR jab panic he triggered”?

I missed the article earlier this week in the British Medical Journal, in which Brian Deer sets out how the vaccine crisis sparked off by Dr Andrew Wakefield’s false claims about a link between the MMR vaccine, autism and bowel disease was intended to support secret businesses that were intended to make huge sums of money in Britain and America.

I would have expected this to attract a large amount of attention – particularly in those newspapers who covered Wakefield’s original claims in so much detail and carried on doing so even as they became increasingly discredited.  So far – in an admittedly cursory glance – the only coverage I can find is in The Sun:

“DISGRACED doctor Andrew Wakefield plotted to make £28million a year from the MMR jab panic he triggered, it emerged last night.

Wakefield – struck off last year – aimed to set up secret businesses to cash in on fears that the triple inoculation was linked to autism.

The ex-surgeon thought he could make a fortune in clinics offering parents diagnostic tests for their children so they could possibly sue health authorities.

Wakefield, 53, hoped to make even more by supplying “replacement” vaccines. But he had not even completed his MMR research – later discredited by experts – when he met managers at a top medical school to discuss business ventures.” 

Bribing Simon Hughes?

I am sure that the Conservative Coalition doesn’t need to do any such thing to keep Simon Hughes on-side as a supporter of the Coalition and all its works, but my attention has been drawn to a Downing Street press release one week BEFORE Simon Hughes was appointed to the prestigious position of “Advocate for Access to Education”

This earlier announcement recorded that Simon Hughes was to be sworn of Her Majesty’s most honourable Privy Council.  This allows him to be called “Right Honourable” and also means that he can be told very secret things …. 

No doubt this offer wasn’t quite as alluring as the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister first hoped it might be.

So does the Conservative Coalition support quackery and quasi-science? Lords Minister won’t say.

This afternoon in Lords Question Time Lord Taverne asked the Government:

“what steps they are taking to discourage United Kingdom universities from offering Bachelor of Science degrees for courses in alternative medicines such as aromatherapy, reflexology and Chinese medicine?”

The following exchange then took place:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Henley): My Lords, universities decide what they should or should not teach. This is a key protection of academic freedom and helps to maintain the world-class reputation of our higher education institutions.

Lord Taverne: My Lords, with great respect, as lawyers used to say when they meant the opposite, will the Minister convey to his department that that is not an entirely satisfactory Answer? How can the Government justify supporting universities that show no regard for academic standards and offer science degrees in courses which teach that certain essential oils cure specific diseases, areas of the foot lead to pathways to certain inner organs, and health depends on the pattern of energy flows within the body? If the Government believe in evidence-based science, can they really remain indifferent to the fact that some of their funds are used to promote quackery and mumbo-jumbo and call it science?

Lord Henley: My Lords, I again remind my noble friend that it is very important to remember that universities are autonomous bodies and it is for them to make decisions about these matters. The Government have no power to intervene. I have some sympathy with the message that my noble friend is getting across but it would be wrong for the Government to intervene in these matters.

Lord Harris of Haringey: My Lords, is it not the case that the Government have differentially removed resources from universities on the basis of some of the courses concerned? Does the fact that resources are not being withdrawn from these Bachelor of Science courses suggest that the Government are endorsing the pseudo science that is implicit within them? If they are not endorsing that pseudo science, why are they allowing the funding to continue?

Lord Henley: My Lords, the noble Lord is trying to take us back to a debate we had last week. Those matters have been dealt with. I am making clear that it is not for the Government to interfere. We offer guidance to HEFCE. The letter to HEFCE from Dr Vince Cable and David Willetts went out yesterday. That sets out the parameters for HEFCE to make the appropriate decisions about university funding, but it is not right that we should do that.

Lord Willis of Knaresborough: My Lords, given the legislation that went through this House last week, which will now see the taxpayer underwriting degree courses at £9,000 a year, does the Minister accept that the taxpayer should fund what is little less than quackery in universities such as Thames Valley which offer BSc honours courses in homeopathy?

Lord Henley: My Lords, again I make it clear that it is for the higher education institutions themselves to make these decisions. It would not be right for the Government to interfere.

Lord Krebs: My Lords, in choosing to fund these courses in universities, will HEFCE treat them as science, technology, engineering and medicine courses, in which case they will receive a higher allocation than if they were not treated as such?

Lord Henley: My Lords, the noble Lord makes a very good point. I do not know the answer to it but I will certainly make inquiries and write to him. Again, I reiterate the fundamental point that these are matters for HEFCE to decide, not the Government.

After a brief diversion, while a number of peers described their personal affection for chinese remedies, the Minister was pressed again:

“Lord Howarth of Newport: My Lords, the noble Lord says that it is at the discretion of HEFCE as to how university courses should be funded differentially. Is he actually saying to the House that it is a matter for HEFCE as to whether or not funding for the humanities and social sciences teaching is to be cut by 100 per cent?

Lord Henley: My Lords, we have offered guidance to HEFCE in the letter that I mentioned, which was published yesterday. I will make a copy available to the noble Lord. It is then for HEFCE to make its decisions.

Lord Harris of Haringey: My Lords, what does that guidance say about pseudo-science and the courses which the noble Lord, Lord Taverne, mentioned in the first place?

Lord Henley: My Lords, I will make the letter available to the noble Lord as well.”

So the Government have given “guidance” about funding but can’t say what it is ….

Should Mayor Boris Johnson have had more of a grip on Parliament Square?

When the Home Secretary’s statement on last week’s student protests was repeated today in the House of Lords by the Leader of the House, Lord Strathclyde, I asked about the fencing around Parliament Square, which was pulled up and used to attack police officers, and about the failure to board up statues (as has happened on previous occasions when there have been big demonstrations).

This was the exchange:

Lord Harris of Haringey: My Lords, I declare an interest as a member of the Metropolitan Police Authority, and it would therefore probably be inappropriate for me to ask any questions about the detailed policing arrangements. The noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, raised the issue of the tented community opposite the Houses of Parliament and I would also like to ask about Parliament Square. I believe that the arrangements for who is in charge of what in Parliament Square are immensely complicated, but my understanding is that the grassed area in particular is the responsibility of the Mayor of London, and I assume therefore that the fences surrounding the grassed area are the mayor’s responsibility as well. It was those fences which were broken down and used as weapons against the police. Given that for previous demonstrations the statues in the square were boarded up—particularly the statue of Sir Winston Churchill—I was surprised that that was not done on this occasion. What representations have the Government made to the Mayor of London about his stewardship of Parliament Square under such circumstances?

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I think that responsibility for Parliament Square was handed over to the GLA when it was set up, and therefore to the Mayor of London, so I can confirm that there is a confusing and sometimes disjointed ownership of different parts of the square. The grass is the responsibility of the mayor and the GLA, while the pavements are the responsibility of Westminster City Council. I can also confirm that the fences were therefore the responsibility of the GLA. The noble Lord might well ask why other precautions were not taken to protect the statues or to firm up the fences, but these are precisely the questions that not only the Commissioner for the Metropolitan Police but also his commanders on the ground will be posing. No doubt we will learn lessons from that.”

It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that Mayor Boris Johnson should have done more.  Another example of needing to get a grip on the details?

“It’s all so exciting” for Lynne Featherstone

Seeing a tense-looking/miserable Lynne Featherstone MP, sitting on the Government Front-bench in the House of Commons, showing her “solidarity” with her LibDem colleague, Vince Cable, (there weren’t many Tories sitting there with him) during the tuition fees debate, I wonder if she still feels “it’s all so exciting”.

No “unexpected disorder” at Metropolitan Police Authority

The Metropolitan Police Authority is in session and Deputy Mayor Kit Malthouse AM DCiC* PSPCC** is in the Chair.  Sir Paul Stephenson, the Commissioner, is reporting on the student protests both yesterday and two weeks ago when what he describes as “unexpected disorder” took place.

According to the Commissioner, the Metropolitan Police “got it wrong” two weeks ago and that they were slow to recognise that “the game has changed” – presumably meaning that the Conservative Coalition is going to attract a higher level of protest than its predecessor (presumably the demonstrations against the Iraq war and those organised by the Countryside Alliance were a piece of cake compared with the National Union of Students).

He also made the interesting comment that “social networking sites are not intelligence” – a comment that may have a wider relevance than he intended.

Although there was no “unexpected disorder” within the meeting, a surreal discussion then developed about the welfare of those who were “contained” (Sir Paul)/”kettled” (Jennette Arnold AM)/”imprisoned” (Jenny Jones AM) in Whitehall and, in particular, when toilet facilities were provided to them, about whether the coldness of the weather was considered and what arrangements were made to communicate with the parents of any schoolchildren who were within the area.  Until I intervened, there was no mention of the personal responsibility of those choosing to go on demonstrations to ensure they are suitably attired or communicate with their parents where appropriate.

*Dog Catcher in Chief

**Putative Surrogate Policing and Crime Commissioner

Policing the students – now the Metropolitan Police moves to the other extreme

The Prime Minister was very critical about the failure of the Metropolitan Police to protect Conservative Party HQ on the occasion of the last demonstration by students. 

In planning for today’s demonstration, it seems that Sir Paul Stephenson has taken to heart the comments about “a thin blue line”.  When I went through Trafalgar Square earlier the entire Square seemed to be surrounded by police carriers and a former Commissioner of the Met has just informed me that he had seen three rows of police horses a few minutes earlier. 

And kettling is back – as called for by Gareth Bacon, a Conservative member of the London Assembly.