Recent Our democracy Articles
Almost all the debate about the Leveson Report so far is over whether the Government should introduce statutory regulation of the press. The other grave issues covered by the Inquiry, and Lord Justice Leveson’s recommendations for how to fix them, seem to have prompted less discussion.
He offered a detailed plan for how a new self-regulatory body might be emboldened by some kind of law, but fewer ideas on how to regulate the way the media interacts with the police and politicians.
It was the failure to properly investigate the phone hacking that made this controversy into a bona fide ‘gate’. Had the police done their job, and not sought friendship and favour with the News International titles and other tabloids, then the entire controversy would have amounted to nothing more than a few criminal prosecutions.
What does Leveson recommend for this malaise affecting our boys in blue? A vague sense that the police should be… better. He speaks of “inculcating the right sense of professional pride” (Executive Summary, para 92) in the police and that they self-report the off-the-record briefings they give to the press.
It is for the club of Chief Police Officers to decide how junior officers should interact with journalists. Chief Constables themselves should “lead by example”. And “serious consideration” should be given to the idea of a 12 month cooling-off period between leaving a police force and working for a news outlet.
Lord Justice Leveson also considers the relationship between politicians an lobbyists, and in particular the collusion between Adam Smith (Jeremy Hunt’s right-hand-man) and Fred Michel, Public Affairs advisor to News International.
120. I have concluded that a combination of these factors has contributed to a lessening of public confidence in the conduct of public affairs, by giving rise to legitimate perceptions and concerns that politicians and the press have traded power and influence in ways which are contrary to the public interest and out of public sight. These perceptions and concerns are inevitably particularly acute in relation to the conduct by politicians of public policy issues in relation to the press itself.
A few paragraphs later, Leveson exonerates Jeremy Hunt of wrongdoing, and attributes Adam Smith’s failings to some kind of man-crush (“when faced with the intimacy, charm, volume and persistence of Mr Michel’s approaches, he was put in an extremely difficult position”).
As with the police failings described above, the fact that the political elites acquiesced to this kind of behaviour compounds the scandal.
Leveson’s recommendation to correct this is that politicians be more “transparent” in their meetings with lobbyists like Fred Michel (paragraphs 134-136). But in this crucial area he does not suggest legislation. The regime he proposes instead reads very much like, well, self regulation for the politicians! His prescription for the malaise is that that ministers give “serious consideration” to giving “some degree” of information over and above what the law requires.
Lord Justice Leveson produced a report that recommends legislation to keep the press in order, but suggested self-regulation and guidelines for the police and politicians.
If there has to be legislation, why not regulate the behaviour of the police and politicians in relation to the press?
And now, watch twitter EXPLODE! #royalbaby
— robertsharp59 (@robertsharp59) December 3, 2012
The Duchess of Cambridge is pregnant, and my Twitter timeline and Facebook wall were immediately filled with curmudgeons complaining that the issue of #Leveson and other important stories will get buried. I think this may be an over-reaction – there will be other news reported in the papers tomorrow.
Most of the comments in my timeline were meta – discussions about the discussion, not a discussion about the news itself. This is unsurprising because of course, there is no actual analysis that can be done on this kind of story: Kate is pregnant. The kid will be born about 7 months from now. They will one day be monarch, regardless of gender.
I have little patience for those complaining about the level of coverage. Britain is an immensely influential country, and a new head of state – one that could potentially reign for decades – has just been designated.
We went nuts for discussion of the US Presidential election, and the French Presidential election. The opaque appointment of a new Chinese leader was also well documented.
Why should the emergence of a new British Head of State be any less talked about?
The madness is not the level of coverage given over to this story. The madness is that British heads of state are still chosen by the hereditary method. If you are annoyed, irritated or angered by the news overload, but you’re not a republican, then you’re just being inconsistent.
I think such criticism is misplaced. He did absolutely the right thing by not focusing much on the internet.
Firstly, and obviously, it wasn’t in the remit.
Secondly, it’s a topic he doesn’t know much about and if he had tried to offer suggestions on regulation, he would have faced much more ridicule. It would have backfired massively.
Third, Lord Justice Leveson is actually much more nuanced than press reports suggest. He writes that the internet works within an ‘ethical vacuum’, but this too has been misinterpreted. He clarifies this:
This is not to say for one moment that everything on the internet is therefore unethical. That would be a gross mischaracterisation of the work of very many bloggers and websites which should rightly and fairly be characterised as valuable and professional. The point I am making is a more modest one, namely that the internet does not claim to operate by express ethical standards, so that bloggers and others may, if they choose, act with impunity.
The press, on the other hand, does claim to operate by and adhere to an ethical code of conduct. Publishers of newspapers will be (or, at least, are far more likely to be) far more heavily resourced than most, if not all, bloggers and websites that report news (as opposed to search engines that direct those on line to different sites).
This is absolutely right, and I fully agree with it.
David Banks tells the Guardian: “Leveson is referred to as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and by ignoring the internet, it’s missing an opportunity.” – but there couldn’t conceivably be any regulation that Lord Justice Leveson could demand of bloggers.
I’m not opposed to a voluntary code of conduct that blog editors could sign up to. There could even be a kitemark that blogs could display to signal this to readers. But this wasn’t within his remit and a new regulatory body could easily draw this up if it so wished. In fact, British bloggers could draw up such a code themselves. There was no reason for the Leveson report to interfere.
Lastly, there is criticism that the internet itself makes press regulation obsolete. I don’t agree with it and the Leveson report addresses this too:
In my view, this argument is flawed for two reasons. Putting to one side publications such as the Mail Online which bind themselves voluntarily to the Editors’ Code of Practice (and which is legitimately proud of the world-wide on line readership that it has built up), the internet does not claim to operate by any particular ethical standards, still less high ones.
This then refers to the earlier point about an ‘ethical vacuum’, and Lord Justice Leveson rightly says that it would be impossible to get regulation going on the internet. But that doesn’t make press regulation redundant.
The second reason largely flows from the first. There is a qualitative difference between photographs being available online and being displayed, or blazoned, on the front page of a newspaper such as The Sun. The fact of publication in a mass circulation newspaper multiplies and magnifies the intrusion, not simply because more people will be viewing the images, but also because more people will be talking about them.
Or to put it another way – the front page of Reddit doesn’t break stories about Westminster policy proposals or scandals like the Daily Mail or The Guardian. The newspapers have diminished power but they are still very powerful in their own right. And a lot of BBC News is driven by the press agenda, which strengthens their influence.
The internet has eaten away at newspaper sales and the rise of social media makes it harder for newspapers to push lies. But for some it also means their stories go further as people share that information. Arguably, the internet has strengthened newspaper brands (especially that of the Guardian and the Mail) than diminished their power.
Mark Twain’s famous quote, “A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes” applies even more with the internet. In that sense the internet makes the Leveson report even more relevant and necessary.
The most powerful voices talking about undercover officers and the best way to start this article, is to hear directly from the women affected:
I feel cheated, I feel I was violated in a cruel way, almost like a prostitute. That it wasn’t a real relationship. He had his real relationship, he was married with children.
This person who I spent so much of my life with and you know who I really loved and who I lived with and I don’t even know his name. All the photographs that I’ve got, all memories I’ve got are of a nameless stranger. What do you do with that?
When the scandal of undercover officers was first exposed, we heard from senior police that it was “never acceptable” for undercover officers to have sex with people they were targeting, commenting that “something has gone badly wrong here. We would not be where we are if it had not.” It was the classic bad apple defence.
I was told by the Met that no authority is ever granted for an undercover officer to engage in a sexual relationship whilst deployed on an authorised police operation. So why are there so many apparent examples?
I have faced an uphill struggle to get answers from the Met while they insist on fighting a case against eight women and one man, who claim they were deceived into forming relationships with undercover officers, and the Met seems determined to have this case heard in secret.
If the case is heard at the Investigatory Powers Tribunal, as the Met wants, rather than in Court it will be so secretive that if the women lose their case they will not be told why and will not have the right to appeal. They also do not get to see any of the evidence being presented nor will the lawyers acting on their behalf, who are also shut out of this Tribunal. How can these women have any confidence in a system they are not able to participate in?
It looks like the Met are adamant to prevent these women – who have had their lives disrupted in the most invasive way – from hearing evidence or scrutising police actions. The Mayor and the Met should admit that what has happened was wrong and simply apologise to the women whose personal lives have been intruded upon, rather than fighting an expensive court case and wasting public money on lawyers.
There are allegations that undercover officers have fathered children with woman they were targeting. Does this not mean the Met has some parental responsibility for these children? Do the children, who are now young adults, not have the right to know the real name of their legal father?
Continually I am told lessons have been learnt and guidance to officers changed. However, the guidance is confidential so I am told to trust the Met. Just as I was told to trust them over phone hacking. With each new revelation the Met’s response has been that this was a one off and could not happen again.
Of the undercover officers exposed, seven of the nine that I am aware of engaged in long-term relationships and approached the women in each case in a similar way – this indicates a pattern of behaviour rather than the actions of lone officers. Meanwhile the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime claims to have no specific political oversight of domestic undercover operations despite the Metropolitan Police Authority agreeing to have oversight in this area before it was abolished. If the police continue to refuse to be scrutinised by the people who are elected to oversee their work, then a full public inquiry is the only solution.
Jon Cruddas may have been asked to lead the Labour opposition’s policy review but the Dagenham MP is not, truth be told, especially interested in policy. ‘What interests me is not policy as such; rather the search for political sentiment, voice and language; of general definition within a national story. Less The Spirit Level, more what is England’, he said, speaking on ‘the good society’ at the University of East Anglia (Cruddas, 2012).
The public lecture series was entitled ‘Philosopher kings? How philosophy informs real politics today’, making contributions from Cruddas and Conservative David Willetts perhaps inevitable. But the utility of philosophy in political battle is not universally acknowledged. ‘Perhaps when they find out what is England they will let us all have the answer’, said Chancellor George Osborne, deploying this Cruddas passage for a little partisan political knockabout. The mockery will have chimed with Labour MPs who worry about whether their new policy chief leading Ed Miliband on an elusive quest for the essence of national identity will prove a particularly direct route to a winning agenda on the deficit, growth, jobs and housing.
Ed Miliband has placed a significant political bet on Cruddas as Labour’s philosopher king. It was not just a bet on the man himself, and his ability to somehow cajole the disparate actors within the byzantine, opaque, and dysfunctional Labour policy review and manifesto-making process into some sort of coherence. It was also a significant endorsement of the Cruddasite disposition about what matters most in politics, a view with which his leader has increasingly come to empathise.
That Cruddas world-view is well captured by his contrasting the state of England, an allusion to his political hero, the 1930s Labour leader George Lansbury, with The Spirit Level (2009), Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett’s influential best-seller which was hailed by many on the left as the most important book for a generation. It tells a story through comparative data, painting its picture by amassing graphs demonstrating correlations of various social harms associated with increased inequality.
This enabled Guardian and New Statesman columnists and leftish wonks to declare that they had found the Holy Grail: knock-down proof so that, surely, anybody could now see why the left was right and the right was wrong about inequality all along (Hattersley, 2009) (1). Mysteriously, these factual proofs seemed altogether less convincing for Telegraph or Spectator writers, and wonks on the right proved curiously stubborn in refusing to concede the argument (Saunders and Evans, 2010). This fierce partisan battle over the book’s merits demonstrated what the emerging application of brain science to political psychology would predict: that very few political arguments can ever be settled by appeals to ‘the facts’.
Rather, evidence tends to be used as ammunition to reinforce existing views, while even contrary counter-evidence will very often reinforce long-held views too, once the motivation behind its production is brought in to play. Every quarter’s economic statistics on growth, jobs, and unemployment shows us much the same phenomenon. Any expert analyses of the evident need for austerity measures, or their evident futility, will usually repolarise and rehash the existing debate, rarely bringing rivals together in the disinterested pursuit of evidence-based policymaking. If the facts don’t fit the frame, it is the facts that get rejected, not the frame.
Drew Westen, author of The Political Brain (2007), has characterised much liberal progressive advocacy as demonstrating an ‘irrational commitment to rationality’ in seeking political support through policy arguments, based on a belief that appeals to the evidence are a political trump card. Jon Cruddas would see these research conclusions from political psychology as providing further ammunition to reinforce what had long been his own gut instinct, that for Labour to connect, it needs less of the spirit of the LSE and rather more of that of Lansbury.
As Cruddas put it in the UEA lecture:
Politics for me is not a variant of rational choice theory. It is about base, visceral connections, sentiment, themes and language that grip people; stories and allegories that render intelligible the world around them.
This demands that his party understands politics as being driven by questions of identity as much as interests; to see persuasion as depending more often on stories than facts, and to put policy in its proper place, by understanding that the policy manifesto pledges which provide a necessary route-map of priorities for government will not resonate unless they fulfill a vital symbolic purpose too, speak to ‘political sentiment, voice and language’, so as to explain what motivates a political party and how that is reflected in what it wants to say about the nature of the country which it seeks to govern, and what its ambitions to change it are.
This is the Cruddas starting point: identity matters. And it matters for party and country alike. He sees the 2008 economic crash and 2010 election drubbing as creating Labour’s third ‘great identity crisis’ in not much more than a century of existence, comparable to its lost decades in the 1930s and 1980s.
There is a crisis of belonging in society, with a particular concern for the sense of social and political dislocation arising from the loss of traditional class identities among those who were once solidly Labour. In response to the dizzying changes of the global era, there is a foundational question about national identity, and how the form that it takes may shape the possibilities and contours of partisan political competition.
If Dr Cruddas has diagnosed the identity crisis facing Labour, he feels it much more viscerally and directly than that. His own personal political journey can be seen to represent a living out and working through of the strands, tensions, and contradictions of the Labour tradition in an attempt to discover, or to forge, its contemporary meaning and mission.
This is the intro to a long essay published by Renewal Magazine. The longer version is here.
The Mitt Romney campaign suffered a huge setback last night after Mother Jones magazine published videos of Romney talking disparagingly of 47% of Americans who he claimed never paid income taxes.
Mother Jones’ David Corn wrote: “When he doesn’t know a camera’s rolling, the GOP candidate shows his disdain for half of America.”
Romney’s hastily organised press conference to explain his remarks didn’t go so well either.
The New York Times has published a scathing piece by the conservative commentator David Brooks on Romney’s comments.
But one point strikes me: Mitt Romney’s comments aren’t so far removed from current mainstream conservative ideology.
Attacks on the poor – calling them lazy and state-dependent have become standard fare even in the UK.
Only last month a group of Tory MPs published a pamphlet saying the UK “rewards laziness”, and that, “too many people in Britain prefer a lie-in to hard work”.
The Cabinet minister Iain Duncan Smith too has taken to branding the poor as “lazy” for the failure of his own plans.
There is near-identical rhetoric and victim blaming on both sides of the Atlantic. Chris Dillow thinks this is happening because the Tories’ class base is splintering.
I think its something different: conservatives are running out of reasons to explain why their policies have stopped working, and why an increasing number of people dislike them.
In fact, the column by David Brooks, which I mentioned above, has a good critique of this approach:
In 1987, during Ronald Reagan’s second term, 62 percent of Republicans believed that the government has a responsibility to help those who can’t help themselves. Now, according to the Pew Research Center, only 40 percent of Republicans believe that.
The Republican Party, and apparently Mitt Romney, too, has shifted over toward a much more hyperindividualistic and atomistic social view — from the Reaganesque language of common citizenship to the libertarian language of makers and takers. There’s no way the country will trust the Republican Party to reform the welfare state if that party doesn’t have a basic commitment to provide a safety net for those who suffer for no fault of their own.
The final thing the comment suggests is that Romney knows nothing about ambition and motivation. The formula he sketches is this: People who are forced to make it on their own have drive. People who receive benefits have dependency. But, of course, no middle-class parent acts as if this is true. Middle-class parents don’t deprive their children of benefits so they can learn to struggle on their own.
The United States may be more to the right, but both Bill Clinton and Barack Obama have recently offered a full-throated defence of the welfare state and role of government that I think the Labour party should look to adopt.
More broadly, Labour cannot shy away from hitting back when the right attack people as “lazy” – the recent debate in the US shows there is a way to hit back about Conservative mentality, without being scared that voters will run away.
Last night the Respect party leader Salma Yaqoob published her resignation letter from the Respect party, effectively signalling its eventual demise.
In her statement she said:
The last few weeks have been extremely difficult for everyone in the party. I feel necessary relations of trust and collaborative working have unfortunately broken down. I have no wish to prolong those difficulties, and indeed hope that they may now be drawn to a close.
I’ve heard from multiple sources that the disagreement over George Galloway’s comments on rape was the final straw – not an abrupt decision based solely on that incident.
There have long been skirmishes and disagreements, including the persistent rumours that Salma was never really kept in the loop about the Bradford by-election.
Nevertheless, Salma Yaqoob held the Respect party together. She was a strong voice in the media and a popular local figure that rallied people to support the party.
With two women now the victim of Galloway’s refusal to admit he was wrong, this incident reinforces the obvious: George Galloway is only interested in promoting and supporting George Galloway.
He didn’t even bother to apologise or retract his comments to keep his party leader on side. That is how much of a team-player he is. He did nothing for the constituents of Tower Hamlets while he was an MP, and he will do nothing for the people of Bradford West.
Last week Socialist Unity’s Andy Newman said it was, ‘Time for the Left to stand up for Galloway‘. The sentiment was so ridiculous I could only laugh at it.
The latest developments only serve to justify my point: there isn’t a single justifiable reason for left-wingers to support Galloway. He would rather throw his party leader under the bus than apologise for his mistakes. The Galloway worshippers, who would rather tell women to shut up about rape than listen and take their points on board, have been exposed.
Lastly, I know that Salma Yaqoob hated the Labour party under Blair and Brown for going into Iraq, but I hope she will reconsider. Ed Miliband should be applauded for admitting Labour was wrong to go into Iraq (it wasn’t his war to apologise for, I believe, Blair and Brown should do that) and she should take that into account. The party would be better off with having campaigners like her.
contribution by Dr Matthew Goodwin
For political parties, the arrival of a new leader is often a catalyst for change. But as the relatively unknown Natalie Bennett will quickly find, the wider environment offers the Greens both problems and opportunities.
Like their counterparts in other Western democracies, over past decades the Greens have benefitted mainly from a broad process of value change that has seen more educated and secure citizens increasingly embrace progressive and post-material values, such as concern over the environment, human rights issues and economic equality.
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contribution by Kate Hudson
As the cabinet lurches – or should it be shuffles? – to the right, it’s a shame to say good-bye to Nick Harvey MP, now former Minister for the Armed Forces.
One of the casualties of what is widely interpreted as an attempt to please grass-roots Tories, Nick Harvey was a breath of fresh air in the MoD. He was open to discussion with campaigners and then the only LibDem minister within those hallowed portals.
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The vigour with which the British government is pursuing Julian Assange makes me think his paranoia about being extradited to the United States may be somewhat justified.
There are countless examples of the authorities ignoring cases around rape. In fact I’m about to get involved in a campaign on how badly the police handles rape, and the stories I’ve heard would horrify any right-thinking person.
So this latest kerfuffle raises some uncomfortable questions for me.
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