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Wednesday, October 16, 2013 

Consistency, thy name is the Conservatives.

One of the complaints about modern life you tend to hear repeatedly is that there just isn't any consistency in the decisions made by those in positions of authority.  Whether it's councils and the existence of postcode lotteries, the funding of said councils by central government, or less seriously, (yes, really) the calls made by football referees, if we see what seems to be a lack of fairness we usually hear voices raised about it.  Of course, this doesn't mean those doing so are necessarily right: there's nothing intrinsically wrong with different areas focusing on different services, and it's expecting the impossible for different referees to always agree on whether a bad tackle deserves either a yellow or red card, just as we ought to be used by now to how what's a foul outside the penalty box can't always be one inside it.  Unless you really want a penalty almost every time there's a corner.

Which brings us, in an extremely roundabout fashion, to the Tory view on what is and isn't an abuse of power.  Both David Cameron and Theresa May have now stated that they support the IPCC's view that the three representatives of the Police Federation who completely misrepresented their meeting with Andrew Mitchell to the TV cameras should face misconduct hearings, as well as apologise.  While governments in the past haven't always been so swift to say they believe the police are in the wrong, we shouldn't hold that against this particular one.

More to the point, it's quite remarkable what exactly the police are defending in this instance: forget this involves a politician, and just think of the deserved uproar there would be if they had lied about a meeting they'd had with a family of a victim, or a celebrity.  You can't describe the PF three's version of the meeting, when they said that Mitchell refused to elaborate on what he had said, with the transcript which makes clear he did, as anything other than an outright lie.  It wasn't an untruth, or a different subjective view of what took place, it was a lie designed to keep the pressure up on a minister fighting for his position.  If one of us proles either lies to the police or refuses to assist with their inquiries, we can be charged with assisting an offender or even, at the extreme end, perverting the course of justice.  If we were to lie to our employers, we'd expect to face a written warning or even more severe consequences.  Is it too much to expect for that to be the case here?

Just as incredible is that the police and crime commissioners for West Mercia, West Midlands and Warwickshire have all stated they support the original decision not to bring proceedings against the officers.  Those of us who imagined the introduction of the PCCs was designed to increase political control over the police, as they surely were, can at least now be safe in the knowledge it hasn't quite worked out as the Tories had hoped on that score.  Less welcome is it hasn't improved police accountability one iota, and on this rare occasion when the IPCC has bared its teeth, the first thing that happens is the likes of Hugh Orde and other chief constables come out and either criticise it or say it should be replaced.  After all, what right has the IPCC to complain when it decided only to supervise the West Mercia investigation rather than carry it out itself?  Expecting the police to recognise when their officers are so obviously in the wrong might be reflective of the IPCC's continued naivety, but do their representatives really think this is a strong argument or one that's likely to resonate with the public?

Compare though the ire of the Tories towards the police for their apparent attempts to get Mitchell and in turn the party as a whole with the continuing position taken by the leadership on the Snowden revelations about the intelligence agencies.  Here we have another arm of the state acting at the very edge of its remit, with GCHQ able to suck up unimaginable amounts of personal data, aimed by its own admission at "mastering the internet", and all authorised by a ministerial signature every six months.  We now know almost everyone was kept in the dark about Tempora, whether it was ministers on the National Security Council, the committee set-up to examine whether the data communications bill was necessary, or the Intelligence and Security Committee, the very body meant to monitor the spooks' work.  Indeed, as has been pointed out, this seems to amount to misleading parliament, let alone breaking if not the letter then most definitely the spirit of the act used to authorise the programme.

Rather than so much as accept the revelations necessitate at the very least a debate over the current oversight of the security services, the response from ministers has been to continually shoot the messenger, and as we saw last week, encourage rival newspapers to accuse the Guardian of outright treachery.  Yesterday Theresa May claimed the public interest had been damaged by the revelations, while at prime minister question's David Cameron took the opportunity presented by Liam Fox, of all people, to call for the Graun to be investigated by a committee.  He also had no qualms about misrepresenting exactly how the government approached the paper, with the cabinet secretary apparently "politely" asking it to destroy its local copies of the Snowden files, and also presented their willingness to do so as accepting that their mere presence in this country was dangerous to national security, rather than as a pointless gesture when they had backups overseas.  Indeed, the continuing imperial arrogance of our politicians and securocrats is such that they attempted to intimidate the New York Times as well, who told them exactly where they could go.

While the government is more than prepared to stand up to those opposed to its reforms and present its own as a victim, it has no compunction in smearing and slandering others who want those with the ultimate power and responsibility to be more accountable.  When journalists are compared to terrorists and their work the equivalent of hacking the phones of murder victims, shouldn't it be clear that if you give it, you should able to take it?  Or is that a consistency too far?

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