Wednesday, 21 November 2007

A timely cock-up

The glum faces on the Treasury bench at today’s Prime Minister’s Question Time spoke volumes, as Bruiser Brown floundered under the taunts of his bantam-weight Conservative and LibDem opponents. The Prime Minister’s honeymoon is well and truly over, and he increasingly comes across as boastful, bothered, and inept. 25 million personal confidential records have gone astray, and all Brown can muster is a tepid apology for the “inconvenience”[!], while protesting that there was no systemic failure – just a slip-up by an incompetent junior, and the error was, like the Victorian maidservant’s baby, just a little one.


This, coupled with £25 billion of public money being shovelled in to shore up the reckless banking practices of Northern Rock, constitutes the writing on the wall for this increasingly tired and clueless administration. But will it deter control-freak Brown from his hot pursuit [egged on by the Sun, and so presumably with Rupert Murdoch’s blessing] of a national identity card data base and the amassing of yet more personal data which spells the end of personal privacy as we have hitherto known it in Britain? That is, I fear, unlikely.


Last weekend a few – too few - journalistic voices sounded the alarm at the continuing governmental rape of our freedoms. In the Observer, Henry Porter said: “Welcome to Fortress Britain…a state that requires you to answer 53 questions before you’re allowed to take a day trip to Calais. Welcome to a country where you will be stopped, scanned and searched at any of 250 railway stations, filmed at every turn, barked at by the police…There is no end to Whitehall’s information binge…In a few years’ time…there will be very little the state won’t be able to find out about you. And because this is a government database, there will be huge numbers of mistakes that will lead to suspicion and action being taken against innocent people.” A prophetic forecast in view of today’s stunning news, following hard on the heels of the revelation that thanks to Home Office ineptitude, upwards of 10,000 ‘security guards’ may be illegal immigrants.


More sinisterly, Porter reveals that the £1.2 billion cost of this Big Brother operation – which WE, the taxpayers, will have to stump up – is largely going into the pocket of Raytheon Systems, a US company that developed the Cruise missile “and which, no coincidence, has embedded itself in Labour’s information project by supporting security research at the party’s favourite think-tank, the Institute for Public Policy Research.”


In The Times, Simon Jenkins castigates Brown as “a tentative, uncertain leader, reluctant to confront admirals, bankers, property developers, American presidents, and now his own security apparatus.” The public realm, says Jenkins, “is being medievalised at the bidding of Osama bin Laden. We are witnessing a drift towards banana republicanism, towards regimes that survive on perpetual states of emergency, in thrall to some bullying police chief or paranoid spymaster. This is not responsible government.”


And in the Telegraph, Jenny McCartney forecasts a ‘Shambles Britain’, in which the dull threat of terror hangs permanently in the air, making every journey a nightmare.


Finally, a newly released DVD, Taking Liberties, rehearses the successive encroachments on traditional civil liberties perpetrated by the Blair/Brown ‘New Labour’ government since 9/11: infringements of the right to protest, the right to freedom of speech, the right to privacy, the right not to be detained without charge, the right to be deemed innocent until proven guilty, and the right not to be tortured, or handed over for torture by others.


We live in perilous times and, as in the 1930s, find that our personal and private lives – which are the most important and precious aspects of our existence – are increasingly encroached upon and disrupted by the outside world.


Of all the threats – terrorism, international military and economic lawlessness, the spectre of nuclear attacks, religious and cultural conflict, ecological meltdown – by far the most immediate and menacing is this onslaught by our own government upon the historic civil liberties which, until this opening decade of the 21st century, British citizens assumed had been finally won and could be taken for granted.


One crucial aspect of this, which is hardly ever mentioned, is the competence and integrity of the faceless super-snoopers who will police all this mountain of data. As Jenkins points out, “Whitehall’s 450 counterterrorism officials [doing what all day?] are to be reinforced with hundreds more to run courses on terrorist detection for all staff in cinemas, theatres, hotels and shopping centres.” And quite junior civil servants [including illegal immigrants?] will be charged with the juicy task of monitoring all our movements and communications – including our phone calls and emails – to sniff out suspicious behaviour. Well, as we have just seen, junior – and senior? - civil servants are more than likely to make monumental mistakes.


I do not like the putrid smell of this panicky government. Nor, I hope, do you. It is all too reminiscent of the Stasi-policed East German regime, where no-one knew who was a friend and who was a government spy.


I have always believed much more in the cock-up theory of politics than in the paranoid conspiracy version. Yes – sinister and unsavoury people in powerful positions DO cook up schemes to disadvantage and rip off the long-suffering public – but the real danger and evil of the ‘surveillance society’ is that it is bound to be not only corrupt, but crassly incompetent in crucial respects, and so it is actually no protection against terrorism or any other danger.


It’s time for us all to wake up, before we sleepwalk into a post-1984 Orwellian world.

8 comments:

Merkin said...

The 'so called' mistake by a Junior Official may have longer legs.
This 23 year old paper shoveller has fallen on his sword, but there is a bit more to come out.
Hardly noticed was the news that 2 months ago the Public Records Office was closed except for those able to register online.
People doing the family tree were obviously inconvenienced - but so were those who may want to complete a profile using the sort of data which has been lost.
More to find out, I am sure.

Emmett said...

A Point I make often in my 'web-log' & lectures, and on the radio doing local-history interviews here, in southern Minnesota, is that we are now in the early decades of the so-far-inadequately-called 'post-modern' age. That is is attested by many signs; and, for a fact, the most of our attempts at governance are trammelled in -- /anachronism/.

THE Vicissitudes of the 'information state' are but another signifier.

IT Is because, no doubt about it, all of this intensification of means /looks/ un-Godly impressive, like all of our electronics; but, it is meant to serve merely (& unconsciously) the superseded late-modern age goal of universal surveillance: and so, all of the hullabaloo is /a priori/ doomed; but, likely, the flounderings of fools & careerist half-wits will cost us dear, in the interval.

anticant said...

See Boris Johnson in today's 'Telegraph':

http://www.worldnetdaily.com/news/article.asp?ARTICLE_ID=58778

anticant said...

Well, well folks - here's a bargain!

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2007/11/21/hmarc_ebay_auction/

Better be quick, though.

anticant said...

Until recently I had a next-door neighbour who originated from South Africa and was the neighbourhood nosey parker. He had a compulsive need to know everything about everybody's business, and regaled you with his findings in great detail. Consequently, I was always very careful not to let him find out things I preferred him not to know.

I sometimes wondered whether he'd been a BOSS informer back home, but decided he was probably harmless. His relentless snooping was however very offputting, and verged on the paranoid.

Do we really want a state of affairs where people of this stamp are employed by the government to spy upon their neighbours and report loads of misinformation to the authorities?

ben trovato said...

Desert Island Discs

Kirsty Young's next guest is Alistair Darling.

However, the programme will be shorter than usual because he has lost four of the eight records.

Jose said...

I've all the time been under the impression that Gordon Brown was "chosen" to succeed Blair because there was very short time left before the elections. But Gordon Brown's politics is in pure fact a continuation of Blair's and the powerful lobby that backed him.

In my opinion Brown has no charisma and Blair's charisma was spoilt by his lying mania.

Those times of illustrious orators in the British political world are long gone. The make-believe ways of ancient politicians had really an impact on the ill-educated people then. Now is different.

I say this because I believe the ends have always been the same, only the means have changed to the worse.

The target of course always being profiteering.

anticant said...

There's a very interesting article in today's "Times" by Matthew Parris, who's one of the shrewdest commentators on politics. He too says Brown lacks charisma and is visibly not up to the top job. [Serve him right for all those years of gloomy brooding and 'Iron Chancellor' pose.]

I agree with Parris that a stench of decay is starting to hang around this government - not least because I remember how quickly 'Supermac' unravelled when it became clear that he had lost his grip.

All 'powerful' politicians are like the Wizard of Oz. It only needs Toto to twitch away the curtain.