Friday, August 21, 2015

Jeremymandering the Labour Leadership Election


Leon Trotsky, Corbynite
The Labour Party is celebrating the 75th anniversary of Stalin's assassination of Leon Trotsky by having a purge of the party.

The whole Labour leadership election, especially the anti-Corbyn onslaught, has been fraught with contradictions.

Jeremy Corbyn will be unelectable said Gordon Brown, a prime minister who was never elected.

Corbyn's policies are unpopular, says Iraq-invading Tony Blair.

Corbyn would be a throwback to 1983, say the people who want it to be 1997.

Corbyn's too left wing to win, say supporters of Tony Blair, even though every Labour prime minister before Blair won with a greater share of the vote and more left wing manifesto.

Corbyn is dodgy for his links to Sinn Fein, say the same people who praised Mo Mowlam for talking to the IRA in order to bring about the Good Friday agreement.

He is evil for his links to Hamas, say the New Labour stalwarts who spent their time in government using public money to subsidise sending vast arsenals to Saudi Arabia.

We need to be tough on benefits says Andy Burnham, who claims £17,000 of public money a year to rent a flat whilst he owns one round the corner that he rents out.

Hillsborough justice campaigner Andy Burnham advertising The Sun

You can't join a party and alter its historic fundamental politics to suit you, say the people who came into Keir Hardie's socialist party and abolished Clause IV.

We need to win over people who didn't vote for us in May, say the whole party as they purge anyone they suspect of recently supporting other parties. At least, if it's parties from the left. Quentin Davies beat Labour candidates in seven general elections during his thirty years as a Tory MP. He defected to Labour and was eligible to vote in both the last and current leadership elections.

As Paul Bassett Davies said,

“I wouldn’t want to belong to any Labour party that would have me as a member.”
 - Karl ‘Groucho’ Marx.



THROWING IT BACK IN OUR FACES

I lose count of the number of times in the past when some Labour bod has seen my political enthusiasm and urged me to join the party. I have always replied that they don't reflect my ideas. Invariably, I was told that's exactly why I should join the party, to change it from the inside.

Now that people are joining up, Labour don't want them. Twenty years ago the newly elected leader Tony Blair promised a million members. He peaked at about 400,000. Since Corbyn has been a serious challenger membership has soared to 600,000, its biggest spike since 1951. They got 150,000 of those - the size of the entire Tory membership - on a single day last week.

Labour would have us believe that these are Trotskyite entryists. Half a million people in the UK will pay money to have a dictatorship of the proletariat. Who knew?

Mhairi Black's maiden speech went viral because it articulated so much of what people are consciously feeling, yet are not seeing in our elected representatives. She described growing up in a socialist Labour household but

we didn't leave the Labour Party, the Labour Party left us.

So many lifetime Labour people - either active supporters or 'lesser of the evils' voters - left because of the Iraq War, PFI, sticking to Tory spending plans, failure to build council homes, clampdowns on civil liberties and breaches of basic human rights like detention without trial (the Tories are worse, sure, but if Labour had won in 2010 we'd all be carrying ID cards by now).

The mushy merging of politics into the same ideas spun by the same kind of people means there's nothing to choose from. If Labour agree with the mainstream parties that the problems are immigration, the deficit and benefit claimants then it's no surprise that everyone votes for parties who will deal with these 'problems' properly. It's notable that three of the Labour contenders are from the cosseted Armaniworld career path of Oxbridge > special advisor > safe seat.

The SNP, Greens and UKIP have benefited hugely from this, sharing six and a half million votes between them in May. With Corbyn polling as the Labour contender most likely to take votes from those parties, and his policies such as renationalisation of railways popular with the majority of voters of every party taken separately (even the Tories & UKIP), the idea that he is unelectable is yet another heehawing from the gullet of New Labour's pushmi-pullyu.

Under our absurd electoral system, adding more votes in Labour heartlands won't help Labour win more seats. But, irrespective of whatever they take back in Scotland, if they act in alliance with the SNP, Plaid Cymru and Greens (and the LibDems if they reject their neoliberalism and reclaim their position as a party that champions civil liberties) then a win in 2020 is more than feasible. More to the point, a win on a platform of social welfare and compassion.

LOOKING FURTHER AHEAD

It's about more than poaching votes from other parties, though. Perhaps the 5% Labour need isn't in the 24% who voted Tory, but the 34% who didn't vote. The biggest group of non-voters are young people. The biggest group of Corbyn supporters are young people. People who were 10 in 1997 are 28 today - Corbyn is the first time they've heard anything from a mainsteam party politician apart from oleaginous spin and focus-grouped management speak.

There is also something stirring beyond the ballot box. A sense of anger at the rich taking from the poor, a fierce will to defend beloved public institutions like the NHS and BBC, a desire to engage and actively create justice. There is a thirst for compassion so profound that an unrevolutionary old-school Labour centrist (Corbyn's policies are no further left than Neil Kinnock's) can seem like a messiah. This bodes well for the potential of more radical change that is never found in any party's manifesto.

A massive social movement millions strong is poised, asking Labour to lead it. The party is doing its best to fend it off. People whose only sin was to join the Greens for a few weeks in the run-up to the general election are being denied the chance to vote. The deregistering of people who have already voted Corbyn and the binning of their votes is blatant Jeremymandering.

As the person who sent Trotsky's assassin said,

The people who cast the votes decide nothing. The people who count the votes decide everything.

= = = =

If you have been knocked back in the purge, try calling the Labour party on 0845 0922299. They appear to be realising this is backfiring and say some people were sent the email 'by mistake'. 

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

7/7 - Ten Years On

7/7 Bomb factory, 18 Alexandra Grove, Leeds
Today is the tenth anniversary of the 7/7 bombings of London in which 52 random people and their four Islamist killers died. It's also Mark Kennedy's 46th birthday.

On 7/7 I was at the Horizone, a camp near Stirling in Scotland of several thousand people protesting against the nearby G8 summit. Mark had been central in the organisation of it, responsible for all the transport. He usually left us to spend his birthday elsewhere, presumably with the wife and kids that none of us knew about. But in 2005 he was at the Stirling camp, a much less cake and candles party.

The camp's model of direct democracy and minimising environmental impact were replicated for the following five years by the Camp for Climate Action. Mark was the transport guy for the first three. The policing escalated with each one. Initially they restricted themselves to searches under the Terrorism Act and riot police busting on site.

KINGSNORTH

Then at Kingsnorth in 2008 there were riot cops coming to the perimeter every day at 5am, staying for half an hour while everyone got up and prepared for the worst, then they left. There were daily violent incursions, illegal stop-and-searches of everyone going to and from the camp including children, confiscating items such as toilet roll and vegetable oil, stories fed to the media about 'a cache of weapons' (a padlock and chain, with a block of kitchen knives). It cost around a million pounds for every day of the camp.

Remember that when Kennedy and his superiors give us that guff about him only being involved so they would know how to police a protest proportionately. This is intimidation of people whose ideas are politically unacceptable and in danger of becoming popular and effective.

We were targeted like this for the extremist demand of not wanting a new coal power station at Kingsnorth (something that was agreed in 2010) and we wanted the old one shut down (it's being demolished the day after tomorrow).

LYNN WATSON

Back at Stirling in 2005, the action medics team included Lynn Watson. She lived in Leeds and was treasurer of the city's new radical social centre, The Common Place. She was, like Kennedy, an undercover police officer from the National Public Order Intelligence Unit.

When the Kennedy story hit the press he hired Max Clifford to hawk him round the tabloids. He says the G8 was one of the occasions when his superior told him his intelligence was being given directly to Tony Blair.

The then-Prime Minister was hosting a conference of some of the most powerful people on earth. Did he really go "Sorry, I must take this call..... wow, Mark's hired some minibuses, great stuff..... anyway, what were you saying, Vladimir?".

It's that, or Kennedy is a self-aggrandising narcissist. I leave it up to you to decide.

PRIORITIES

The following year I was part of the group who swooped in the night to occupy land and set up the first Climate Camp, near the UK's largest point of carbon emissions, Drax power station in North Yorkshire. I've never been involved in anything with tighter security. Even people involved did not communicate about it to one another. The briefing was given to me in strictest secrecy by its co-ordinator, Lynn Watson.

That was at her house in Ash Grove, Leeds. It was less than five minutes' walk from 18 Alexandra Grove, the 7/7 bomb factory. But neither Lynn, nor her colleagues, knew about that. They were too busy infiltrating us.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Equal Marriage is a Feminist Victory

For those of us who remember the power of the Catholic Church in Ireland before the last 20 years, the Yes vote for equal marriage can't be anything but astonishing.

In a secularising society accustomed to a slew of Church scandals, it's hard to remember how unusual it was a generation ago for anyone Irish not to go to mass. The country was effectively a theocracy, with Church representatives checking on you from the highest levels of government to your own living room.

Whereas now, the referendum emboldens LGBTQ status in Ireland. It helps make homophobia the thing to be ashamed of rather than homosexuality. In a generation's time, when most people have had out LGBTQ people running their pubs, on their board of school governors or whatever, people will be incredulous that it was ever criminalised.

It's a reaction already to be found among young adults in England, where homosexuality was decriminalised a generation earlier. It was still criminal in Ireland until 1993, a mere 22 years before Friday's equal marriage vote.

Complaints from the No campaign that they lost because Yes was well funded are risible. You guys have the backing of the Catholic fucking church. You are never in need of a fiver until Friday. This wasn't about publicity campaigns. This is about a huge change in social values far beyond marriage.

MORE THAN MARRIAGE

'We're getting married because we love each other' is a non-sequitur. What is romantic about saying 'I want you to sign a contract with the state so if you ever leave me it'll be an expensive process involving lawyers and stuff'?
 

But nonetheless, the institution of marriage continues to have great social significance. To exclude any group is not just to ban them from marriage, it demonstrates and entrenches the fact that they are not allowed autonomy or equality. So, even for those who don't merely choose not to get married but actively oppose it, the advent of equal marriage is something to be welcomed.

I fucking hate Fleetwood Mac. Their mogadon music is a waste of ears. But I wouldn't ban their gigs, and if there were laws preventing non-whites from going to Fleetwood Mac gigs then, even though it reduced the number of people hearing that execrable twaddle, we should oppose such legislation. In the same way, even those who challenge marriage can support the Yes vote.

HOMOPHOBIA IS SEXIST

Musical comedian is a profession teeming with mediocrity. It is a real challenge to be anything more than a passing chuckle-raiser. Whilst Mitch Benn - perhaps best known for his songs on Radio 4's Now Show -  is consistently worthwhile and puts social comment into his material, it's still nonetheless a largely superficial trade.

But social media changes our understanding of public figures. For every Billy Bragg who disappoints with their conservatism, there is a Mitch Benn who's actually even better on Twitter than the stuff they get paid for. He's not only a savvy thinker but his comic training gives him the pithiness needed to make Twitter come alive.

His series of tweets on Saturday as Ireland counted its votes were frankly the most insightful thing I read all day.

It's amazing just HOW much of the misery in the world, on every scale from personal to international, is all about men's need to OWN women.

When you unpack most religions, that's what you find; the codification and justification of the ownership by men of women.

It's no good blaming "religion" for everything; they're all human inventions. We created our gods in our own image. WE did it to ourselves.

Oppressive religious rules aren't the work of cruel gods; men wrote the rules and invented cruel gods to blame them on.

And it's not just religious cultures; every society finds ways to justify misogyny, whether it's women's "vulnerability" or "emotionality".

This is why feminism might actually be the most important movement ever; breaking that ONE bad idea would solve so many problems.

I think a lot of homophobia's tied up with misogyny; the idea that a man who has sex with a man is feminising - ie DEGRADING - himself.

Anyway, fuck all that today. Go Ireland!

This idea - that once you act on feminism then the patriarchal religions and associated values like homophobia inevitably start to crumble - is startling, huge, and rings true. It points to the victories we are heading towards, it acknowledges that the equal marriage referendum is a key milestone on that road, but also says that rather than letting this victory make us sit back, it should spur us onward.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Bringing Englishness to the English

I usually love Paul Mason's stuff, he's both radical and reasonable, credible enough to be given a job on Newsnight and, latterly, Channel 4 News.

In the wake of the SNP's march on Westminster, he's written about the lack of an English identity beyond the things that connect it to the wider world. His failure to see anything in English culture beyond 'public schools and the officers class... the tennis club belt around London' is frankly baffling.

Billy Bragg picked him up on it on Twitter and Mason replied that he felt

northern, British and proletarian [rather] than English. It has no resonance for me.

There's something of an irony there as he's from the Wigan area. The 'northern' he identifies with is northern England. If you look at Britain instead, as Mason says he does, that area is central.

People in socially oppressed groups are forced to be conscious of that part of their identity. Those in the privileged groups often don't even see the existence of their group, let alone the myriad mechanisms of oppression it foists on the rest. To them, they inhabit an unbordered blank, normal space that lets them act as they wish. A lack of consciously seeing yourself as English is, in some ways, a very English trait.

Someone may not think about, say, their cis-maleness and so would say it isn't part of their identity, but it has provided the norms that they embody, the behaviours they use every day. They are granted treatment and opportunities denied to people of other gender identity. They're playing the computer game on the easiest difficulty setting.

The three things Mason cites aren't English, they're class based. He sees them as salient because he's from the lower classes who are disadvantaged. Those actually in the tennis club, public school officer class are as likely to think of themselves as 'just normal' as any other socially dominating group. Seems implausible from down here, doesn't it? But remember the time when David Cameron said his wife was unusual for not going to boarding school? That.

The fact that English people tend not to see their cultural identity is a measure of its long-standing, unchallenged superior social position. As our immediate neighbours move towards terms of equality, we will start to see ourselves with the kind of depth that they have always had. We will begin to understand what we've been. And that's a lot more than public schools and tennis clubs.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Repealing Our Humanity


Six months ago it would have been quite a funny joke - if the Tories get a majority they'll repeal the Human Rights Act and replace it with a bill of rights drawn up by Michael Gove.

As axeman Education Secretary, Gove tore through at such a pace that by the time the opposition had mobilised his plans were all inked and in train. We can expect the same style in his new role as Justice Secretary. Already the Tories are making loud noises about prioritising their manifesto promise to repeal the Human Rights Act (except in Scotland) and having it in the forthcoming Queen's speech.

The tabloid press hate human rights because they protect us from the kind of breaches of privacy that make stories that editors salivate over.

Despite Tories, Ukippers and other right wingers using the blanket term 'Europe', the rights enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights are nothing to do with the EU. Leaving the EU wouldn't affect our human rights at all.

It's part of being a member of the larger, older Council of Europe. It was formed by the Treaty of London in 1949 as part of the rebuilding of Europe after the war and the effort to create stable structures that prevented such legal state horrors from being perpetrated again.

Far from being something imposed on us from outside, the UK was the first country to ratify the ECHR after years of enthusiastic input from someone who features on Tory and UKIP leaflets to this day.

Then there is the question of human rights… We attach great importance to this… we hope that a European Court might be set up, before which cases of the violation of rights in our own body of twelve nations might be brought to the judgement of the civilized world.

- Winston Churchill, Consultative Assembly of the Council of Europe, 17 August 1949

The court came ten years later, in Strasbourg. It cost a lot of money to bring a case there. But in 1998 Labour brought in the Human Rights Act, which made the Convention enforceable in UK courts (and obliged government to ensure new legislation is compatible with the ECHR).

Repealing the Act doesn't actually remove our rights. It means that once again, you'll have to have the greater levels of time and money required to take a case to Strasbourg. So human rights will only effectively exist for the rich. The rest of us become not human, the rest of us become untermensch.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Sitting in the Spycops Priority Area

Further to the last post about police authorisation documents for Mark Kennedy's deployment for the Drax coal train action in 2008, there is a page in that sheaf by Anton Setchell, who was then the National Co-ordinator for Domestic Extremism (NCDE).

This was the person with oversight of three political policing units - Kennedy's National Public Order Intelligence Unit, the corporate advisory National Extremism Tactical Co-ordination Unit, and the National Domestic Extremism Team (if the tangle of units dizzies your brain, see this post).

That Setchell took the time to hand write a side of A4 just to be supportive of the renewal of Kennedy's deployment is significant. When they try to make out that Kennedy was some sort of rogue officer cut adrift, or lost in the murk of a shady unit nobody knew about, remember this detailed level of knowledge, oversight and approval from an Assistant Chief Constable.


I have today been briefed by [redacted] on this operation prior to it being forwarded to ACC Sampson [Assistant Chief Constable of West Yorkshire Police John Sampson who gave authorisation for Kennedy’s deployment on the Drax coal train protest].

My role is not that of authorising officer, but as NCDE, to have the opportunity to comment on this deployment prior to the AO [authorising officer] reviewing the authority.

This operation has now had an SIO [senior investigating officer] appointed to help oversee it – [redacted]. The [redacted] aspect now has an investigative strategy developed which will seek to exploit evidential opportunities when they arise (amongst other things). 

[redacted] has reviewed this operation and some recommendations in his report (to be distributed soon) will be considered by [redacted], the SIO and the AO in due course.

This operation/deployment is focused on key areas of Domestic Extremism which I can say sit in the ‘priority area’ of DE for England and Wales and without this asset in place, our intelligence picture would be significantly reduced and I would seek to replace this asset very quickly to regain our understanding of the intentions of the DE groups that are listed.

I recommend that the authority continues.

Anton Setchell – National Co-ordinator DE
 

The authorisation for Kennedy's deployment on the Drax coal train action says it may lead to

involving Source [Kennedy] in actions connected to Climate Camp where the threat to the public is greater.

Yet the first official report into the spycops scandal was unequivocal about who Kennedy and his unit targeted. It said they

were not individuals engaging in peaceful protest, or even people who were found to be guilty of lesser public order offences. They were individuals intent on perpetrating acts of a serious and violent nature against citizens going about their everyday lives.

This is, by any measure, complete fucking horseshit.

Throw bricks or don't, it makes no odds as to whether your group is targeted as a threat by police. This could scarcely be more starkly illustrated by the Drax train action with its impeccable health and safety considerations, and Climate Camp which, try as they may, police couldn't get a riot out of, nonetheless finding themselves in the 'priority area' for the police's most intensive and intrusive infiltration. Meanwhile, a leaked email from Setchell's successor, Adrian Tudway, says that the English Defence League are not even considered extremists.

This is surprising not just because of the lack of threat to life and limb from Climate Camp, to some extent it's also what was represented politically. The primary target for 2007's Climate Camp had been Heathrow's proposed third runway, a plan that was scrapped in May 2010.

The Climate Camps at Drax and Kingsnorth were, like the Drax 29, trying to stop a new generation of new coal fired power stations. This is something that also became settled policy soon afterwards with the dropping of plans for a new station at Kingsnorth in October 2010, ending the age of new coal power in the UK.

In a peculiar twist, the announcement of the Kingsnorth plans being dropped came on 20 October 2010, the very day that Mark Kennedy was confronted and exposed. When that sort of thing is put in a film we think it's over contrived and wouldn't happen in real life.

In another, more predictable, turn of events Anton Setchell is now Head of Global Security for Laing O' Rourke, one of the construction firms involved in the illegal construction industry blacklist, which was illegally assisted by National Extremism Tactical Co-ordination Unit when it was under Setchell's command.

Rather than the terrifying 'threat to the public' that Kennedy's managers depicted, with the abandoning of airport expansion and new coal facilities Climate Camp can now be seen, by results, as heralds of the new orthodoxy.

There was a lot more radical intent behind Climate Camp politically, of course. It was always explicitly anti-capitalist, a position that seemed wackier when it started in 2006 but, since the crash of 2008, is another position that's proven itself more level-headed than its opponents. Yet, as the police response to fracking protests shows, such groups still 'sit in the priority area'.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

It's Not Just Activists

In June 2008 a group of 29 climate activists stopped a coal train bound for Britain's biggest source of carbon emissions, Drax power station. They were all convicted, but it was a miscarriage of justice as evidence had been withheld  from the defence - reports from one of the drivers, Mark Stone aka undercover police officer Mark Kennedy. The convictions were quashed last year.

Quite how many other wrongful convictions are being left to stand - hundreds? thousands? - is unknown. It's worth noting that Mark Ellison QC's report into it was projected to take a year and be published in March, yet we've still seen nothing, implying that it's turned out to be a larger task than aniticipated.

In the partially redacted papers that were disclosed in the overturning of the Drax 29's convictions we get an insight into the political secret police units' paranoia about political dissent and their cavalier attitude to citizens. with each authorisation they are forced to consider the 'collateral intrusion' into lives of those who aren't targeted, but in this instance it is blithely batted away.

On 24 April 2008 they write:

It is very rare for collateral intrusion to occur because [Kennedy’s name redacted] spends the majority of their time with likeminded people engaged in activism. [Kennedy’s name redacted] does have contact with ‘non activists’ (neighbours etc) which is unavoidable whilst appearing to live a ‘normal’ life but no product from these contacts is reported or retained.

[Kennedy’s name redacted] is an experienced UCO [undercover officer] well aware of their unique situation in the lives of members of the public and remains entirely focused on the objectives and subjects of the authority.
 

Kennedy's notebook describes dropping some of the Drax 29 on the protest and then glosses over 'a gathering' that he spends the next two days at. The word is 'gathering' common among grassroots activist groups that don't have hierarchical structure.

Friday 13th June 2008

I drove a van with a number of people in the back to a holding point for 0600 hours. A number of spotters were positioned along the train’s route to call in when a coal train was spotted.

At 0755 I drove to Gowdall level crossing. I pulled up and people got out the back of the van. I saw them walk up the track. I saw people in bright orange uniforms with a red flag walk along the track towards the Aire River rail bridge. I also saw a person using the telephone box linked to the signal box to warn the signal man that people were on the line at Gowdall and called C/O [probably ‘cover officer’ – Kennedy’s handler and link with the wider structure of the police].

I returned to Nottingham where I collected a number of marquees belonging to the ATC which were destined for a gathering in the Hope Valley. I travelled to the Hope Valley and co-ordinated the setting up of the marquees.

Sunday 15th June 2008

I co-ordinated the taking down of the marquees and returned them to the ATC in Nottingham store.




The 'gathering' was actually a wedding. Kennedy was the long standing friend of both partners, the following year he had a joint birthday party with one of them. There were many people there - children, partners, friends and relatives - who were not activists, and a number of them knew Kennedy well and had already formed significant friendships with him. He will forever be in the wedding pictures.

Did Kennedy tell his cover officer, with whom he was in contact numerous times a day, what was going on? Or are we expected to believe he made stuff up about it being a two day gathering of political discussion and planning? Essentially, was it approval or negligence by his managers?

He and his superiors were 'well aware of their unique situation in the lives of members of the public' and had no compunction about abusing it. There was no need for him to be at the wedding, apart from clocking up overtime. If this does not qualify as 'collateral intrusion' then nothing does.

As we already knew, you don't need to be an activist to have your life intruded upon by the political secret police.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Hillsborough: Why The Lie?

Former Chief Superintendent David Duckenfield
It's been an extraordinary week at the Hillsborough Inquests. The police officer in charge on the day of the disaster, David Duckenfield, gave evidence for four days.

Duckenfield was woefully inexperienced in 1989. With a poorly organised flow of fans arriving, there was a late build up of people outside the ground. Duckenfield ordered an exit gate open to give them access and that, combined with poor signage inside, led to the crush that killed 96 people.

Even as the disaster was unfolding, Duckenfield started lying. With their view from the press box down on to the terrace, Graham Kelly of the Football Association asked him what had gone wrong. Duckenfield said fans had forced the exit gate open.

In the hours that followed, he did not correct that. In the days after, he was part of the South Yorkshire Police's narrative that drunken, ticketless fans had caused the crush, an assertion that has since been comprehensively disproven.

There was a concerted effort to protect Duckenfield and the other senior officers. Officers were told not to write in their official pocketbooks and not to have clear memories before writing notes. Hundreds of police witness statements were altered to remove phrasing critical of the police.

When West Midlands Police were brought in to examine the South Yorkshire investigation, they harassed and threatened fans into retracting criticisms of the police. One fan who persisted had an officer question if he'd even been at Hillsborough, saying he could have got his bruised ribs anywhere.

All this stood for 24 years until the Hillsborough Independent Panel's report established a clear picture in 2012. There was no drunken mob of ticketless fans - the size of the crowd matched the number of tickets issued. The original inquests' assertion that everyone was dead of traumatic asphyxia by 3.15pm (thus preventing examination of anything that happened after that time) was nonsense. Many fans could have been saved.

THE TRUTH, THE WHOLE TRUTH?

The Panel's titanic work is not the end of the story. The new inquests are part of the ongoing process of uncovering the truth. To the surprise of many, this week David Duckenfield gave an unreserved apology to the families of those who died. Michael Mansfield QC, representing 75 families whose relatives were killed, asked why he had remained silent for 26 years.

Duckenfield said that he had been prompted to finally tell the whole truth after the publication of the report by the Hillsborough Independent Panel in 2012 and a television programme he had seen about the disaster’s effect on the families.

He said he had post traumatic stress disorder, and “hid myself away and could not bear the word Hillsborough” after the report was published, but then said he had begun to face the truth two years ago, with the help of doctors.

Whilst we must reserve our strongest sympathy for the victims and their families, whose pain has been prolonged by Duckenfield's silence, nonetheless it's obvious that anyone in his position would be highly traumatised and cannot be blamed for the impulse to hide from their actions.

But if he accepts responsibility he lays himself open to prosecution. So even now, after his appeal for sympathy and declaration that he's ready to tell the truth, he is avoiding basic admissions.

Coroner Sir John Goldring asked: “You are saying, are you, that a reasonably competent match commander would have foreseen where fans should go?

Mr Duckenfield said: “Yes.”

The coroner asked: “You are saying that a reasonably competent match commander would have closed the tunnel?”

Mr Duckenfield said yes.

The coroner asked: “Does it therefore follow - tell me if I have misunderstood - that on the day you did not act as a reasonably competent match commander?”

Mr Duckenfield said yes.

From this bald admission Rajiv Menon, lawyer for 75 families, tried to get an admission of gross negligence. Duckenfield, aware of his legal position, prefers trivialising terms for the 96 deaths that he is primarily responsible for.

Sir, my view is, it was an oversight, a mistake. I don't view it as negligence, and certainly never gross negligence.


An oversight. A mistake.

PERPETUATING THE LIES

He went on to explain that fans were partly to blame for their own deaths. What evidence does he have?

I cannot say from first hand evidence that drunken and ticketless fans attended at the stadium. What I can say is I have heard various stories and I have picked up things as things have gone along, but my first hand experience is, I did not see any drunken ticketless fans... I hold the view that football fans played a part.


This unquoted, unattributed, unspecified assertion of stories and 'picked up things' is apparently enough to convince him that he's not to blame. It is a slap in the face for the people to whom he has said he will speak frankly and honestly. He still can't tell the truth.

Going back to the start of this, why did he lie on the day of the disaster? He told the inquests

I said something rather hurriedly, without considering the position, without thinking of the consequences

We all say wrong things in moments of panic. But that's not what Duckenfield did. He lied, then he repeated the lie.

After lying to Kelly, Duckenfield acknowledged he went to the boardroom at Hillsborough, where Tony Ensor, Liverpool football club’s solicitor at the time, has testified Duckenfield told him and others that Liverpool fans “forced open a gate”.

Duckenfield said he could not recall saying that, but agreed with [counsel to the inquests Christina] Lambert that he missed a “golden opportunity” at that meeting to correct the lie he had told Kelly. He said it was “a terrible fall from the standards that one would expect”.


But instead of any climb back up to decent standards, he chose to accelerate the fall. He actively, persistently wove the lie into a narrative that blamed his victims.

Last week he said

I’m an honest person, I don’t lie, I set high standards. Nobody can understand my behaviour least of all me.


AUTOMATIC LIES

Many of us really can understand his behaviour. The more power we hold, the more we have to lose. The first job of authorised power is to protect its position. There are few places that illustrate it more starkly than the police.

Even without Duckenfield's distraction from honesty and civic duty due to his personal position and loyalties (he was promoted to the masonic position of Worshipful Master the year after Hillsborough), this deflection of blame is second nature to police. We see it in routinely colluded statements that all give the same false story of an event, that exaggerate the threats they face.

Ian Tomlinson was killed by a police baton strike whilst standing in as unthreatening a position as humanly possible, yet the immediate police story was a complete lie claiming he had a heart attack whilst brave bobbies tried to save him under a hail of bricks and bottles.



Even after the footage came out showing the lethal attack, police refused to admit responsibility or even basic facts. The officer leading the investigation, Detective Superintendent Anthony Crampton, suggested to Tomlinson's family that the assailant was an anti-capitalist protester in a stolen police uniform. The Independent Police Complaints Commission said the idea was credible.

Imagine the gall, the overconfidence and the level of personal denial it takes to do that. Imagine how marrow-deep they must be. This isn't a family liaison numpty saying something off the top of their head. This is a high ranking officer with machinery and accomplices around him to fortify the lies that armour his - and, by extension, the police's - near-impregnable power.

It's exactly the same as Duckenfield and the officers of all ranks who collaborated in the lies, intimidation and destruction of evidence that formed the Hillsborough cover-up.

This is the inevitable result of a default tendency in the power of authority. Until that is consciously understood and addressed, automatic lies will continue.

Monday, February 09, 2015

Bob Lambert Controversy Intensifies

Despite the colossal array of corrupt misdeeds committed by Bob Lambert and his disgraced political secret police unit the Special Demonstration Squad (SDS), a professional associate in his new academic career, Stefano Bonino, has been moved to write in his defence in Times Higher Education.

Somewhat melodramatically it starts with a reminder of the recent politically motivated killings in France and then says

the SDS maintained a central and defining focus on political violence – most notably street violence conducted by and between far-Left and far-Right groups – and helped to save lives

A central and defining focus should leave plenty of evidence behind it. Yet among the exposed spycops is a central focus on groups who presented little or no threat to life.

As well as targeting trade unionists brandishing lethal leaflets and environmental groups with their deadly sitting in roads, the SDS spied on a swathe of justice campaigns, perhaps the most well known being the Stephen Lawrence campaign. This is now regarded as one of the most shameful acts in the history of the Metropolitan Police.

SPYING ON THE LAWRENCES

Lambert said in 2013 - just 18 months ago, well into his academic career, when he's supposedly seen the light and come clean about his past - that

at no time in my tenure as an SDS manager - which is from November 1993 until when I left in 1998, which was roundabout the time of the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry - at no time was the Special Demonstration Squad concerned in smearing their family or their campaign.

It appears that he carefully phased it to imply denial of allegations that his unit targeted the Lawrence family, and indeed the piece was headlined

'We did not target Stephen's family', says undercover boss

However, the findings of last year's comprehensive report by Mark Ellison QC are quite clear. They did target Stephen's family. Bob Lambert was overseeing spying on the Lawrences, with nine officers gathering intelligence on the family.

If that wasn't unethical enough in itself, Ellison says

The reality was that [officer deployed by Lambert codenamed] N81 was, at the time, an MPS [Metropolitan Police Service] spy in the Lawrence family camp during the course of judicial proceedings in which the family was the primary party in opposition to the MPS

The time they are talking about is not the immediate aftermath of Stephen Lawrence's murder. It is five years later, as the Met was preparing for final submissions to the MacPherson Inquiry into the killing and the police response.

Lambert brokered a meeting between his Lawrence spy N81 and the team formulating the Met commissioner's public response. The Ellison report's findings were pretty blunt about Lambert's actions.

We find the opening of such a channel of communication at that time to have been ‘wrongheaded’and inappropriate... a completely improper use of the knowledge the MPS had gained by the deployment of this officer
 

Bonino talks of

potentially violent protest groups that were attempting to attach themselves to the Stephen Lawrence campaign

Take a moment to think about the phrase 'potentially violent'. Consider how it is being used, and how it could be used to justify spying on absolutely anyone and everyone.

But even before we need to address such blanket policing, Bonino's assertion - that the concern wasn't the Lawrence family themselves - has been discredited since the Ellison report's revelation of the meeting Lambert organised. Why else would that meeting take place, except to undermine the position of the family and their campaign? Where exactly was the public order threat, five years after the murder, from the family's submission to the MacPherson Inquiry?

WHEN IS A SPY UNIT NOT A SPY UNIT?

Bonino has no choice but to concede that much of what Lambert did for years is indefensible, but then mentions the final phase of his police career. 

If his progressive calls for more participatory and transparent approaches to counterterrorism appear largely inconsistent with the activities of the SDS, the achievements of the Muslim Contact Unit are unquestioned.

Really? The Muslim Contact Unit has an untarnished reputation, as you would expect from an organisation run by a secret unit and which has never been critically examined. We should remember that Lambert's animal rights work sounded fine from his own account, but subsequent revelations indicate that it was something else entirely.

The Muslim Contact Unit was set up by Lambert and his favoured protege Jim Boyling after the 9/11 attacks. It was ostensibly an outreach unit to foster good links between police and Muslim communities, and to acknowledge that devout Islam is not a threat to the wider society. And maybe that's all it was. I have no evidence to the contrary.

But one has to wonder why Special Branch, the secret intelligence gathering wing of the police, would fund a unit if it wasn't there to gather intelligence. If you're not spying why use your most skilled spies who have little experience of anything else?

ACADEMIA COMES OUT OF THE IVORY TOWER

With all this, it's east to see why there's a furore about Lambert lecturing in criminology to tomorrow's police managers. Bonino grasps for a philosophical assault on the criticism, saying

the campaign urging Lambert’s dismissal is undermined by its own hubris. Not only does it fail to differentiate between academic expertise and morality (are all lecturers made fully accountable for their non-academic past?), it also elevates morality to an absolute virtue floating outside the realm of a complex political world.

A group of academics have responded to Bonino in this week's Times Higher Education, saying

The growing clamour from politicians, opinion formers and the wider public for Lambert to be sacked comes precisely because morality is not divorced from the political world.

Ethics must be integral to teaching, and nowhere more so than in the tutoring of those who will have privileged power over the lives of citizens and the political movements essential to democratic society.


Should lecturers made accountable for their non-academic past? Yes, if it is a profoundly unethical past that seriously undermines their suitability for the academic post. If lecturer in medicine were revealed to have performed secret, grossly unprofessional experiments on citizens, including sexual deception, that led to record compensation payouts to their victims, they could not expect to retain their post.

Likewise, when a criminology lecturer devoted decades to abuse of citizens and the counter-democratic undermining of campaigns for seemingly no reason other than they threaten established power, it demolishes their credibility and legitimacy.

DID THE LIAR LIE?

Bonino says

The campaigners disregard the authority and competence of universities to assess and monitor the fitness of their employees.

One of two things happened:

1) Lambert disclosed the full detail of his relevant past when he applied for the job - information that official reports have spent years ferreting out and are still not at the bottom of, matters that Lambert has flatly refused to answer questions about, details that he says he even kept secret from his wife and family - and the institution gave him the nod nonetheless; or

2) Lambert failed to disclose a swathe of information relevant to his post that is now embarrassing the universities and damaging their standing, deceiving them as he deceived the campaigners he infiltrated and the women he abused.

Either way, the universities that employ him have questions to answer. But it doesn't stretch credulity to imagine a state-trained liar with decades of experience being able to deceive a university's recruitment staff.

Bonino thinks the campaign against Lambert

ignores the specific context in which Lambert acted and the morass of moral ambiguities inherent in covert policing.


Even in that world, Lambert and the SDS were exceptionally corrupt and depraved. The way he and his charges behaved was, in the words of people with a higher level of policing authority than Lambert ever achieved, 'grossly unprofessional' and an 'abject failure'.

He did not merely make a personal mistake but developed a methodology using tactics that have shocked the public and been unequivocally slammed by senior police officers. Under his management, that methodology was emulated by those he was in charge of.

This is neither intrinsic to covert policing as Bonino asserts, nor is it the 'extremely rich experience in professional practice' that London Metropolitan University's spokesperson claims.

WHAT MORE DO YOU NEED? IT MAY BE COMING SOON

The question should really be approached from the other side - if all this is not enough to render him unfit to teach in this field, what is?

Unlike someone contrite, he has not readily admitted his wrongdoings until they have been revealed by others. This is the measure of the man today.

Even after he was exposed he did not make contact with his activist ex-partner and their son despite knowing of the risk to the child's health from a genetic condition. Instead she found out the truth by seeing it in a newspaper in 2012. She has said that, had she not done so, Lambert would have taken the secret to his grave.

So one wonders what else the range of ongoing official inquiries, criminal investigations and court cases will add to the already appalling list.

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Political Secret Police Units

Don't let the police self-investigations like Operation Herne fool you with their focus on the disbanded Special Demonstration Squad (SDS) - this is not a historic problem. The political secret police are still with us.

The shifting names and different units leave us awash in acronyms. Here, as far as I'm able to tell, is what's what (corrections welcome!). It's an alphabet soup that swirls before the eyes, so thanks to Jane Lawson for designing the diagram to make it easier to grasp (click to enlarge; right click and open in new tab to have it alongside as you read the post).



IN THE BEGINNING

The SDS was a secret unit within Special Branch from 1968 to 2008. Formed as the Special Operations Squad after an demonstration against the Vietnam War kicked off in March 1968, its temporary infiltration was decided to be useful and made permanent at the end of the year. Somewhere in late 1972 or early 1973 it was renamed the Special Demonstration Squad, a moniker it kept until 1997 when it was renamed the Special Duties Section.

There were other units who amassed and collated intelligence from the SDS and other sources.

The Animal Rights National Index (ARNI), had been set up in 1985 as 'the ALF squad' before changing its name a year later. It seems that it may have expanded to include activists from other movements. From the early 1990s the Southern Intelligence Unit (SIU) was based in Wiltshire and, with its Cumbrian sister team the Northern Intelligence Unit (NIU), ran a database of eco protesters, ravers, travellers and free party types. There is some indication of a third unit that focused on hunt saboteurs. These units had no 'operational role' of fake-identity spies in the field, they just gathered information and advised police forces.

Now comes the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO). Sounds like a cosy staff body, and indeed it was more like that when it was formed in 1948. But in 1997 it became a private company and got itself funding to flog police information. Then it took on running the spy stuff by establishing the National Public Order Intelligence Unit (NPOIU).

NATIONAL PUBLIC ORDER INTELLIGENCE UNIT (NPOIU)

Established in March 1999 the NPOIU was, along with the Terrorism Act 2000, ID cards and detention without trial, part of a raft of New Labour attacks on civil liberties (those who think of state repression as being a right wing tendency should note that the SDS was also founded by a Labour government). Operation Herne, the police's self-investigation into secret political policing, says that the NPOIU was formed as a reaction to the large 1995 protests against the export of live animals from Shoreham in Sussex.

The running of the NPOIU was given the the Met, and so it was, to all intents and puposes, a unit within the Met's Special Branch. Although it used serving Met officers for NPOIU spies, because ACPO was (and still is) a private company it was exempt from Freedom of Information (FoI) legislation and so protected even further from public scrutiny.

Like the SDS, the NPOIU was directly funded by the Home Office, which hints at an answer to the big question - who ordered all this spying and authorised its methods?

The NPOIU absorbed SIU/NIU and effectively replaced ARNI running a database of political activists. It also had an 'operational role,' that is to say they deployed undercover agents in target groups under the aegis of its Confidential Intelligence Unit (CIU). Whilst the SDS was London-based, the CIU officers from the NPOIU went national. The NPOIU was granted a huge budget and began by putting an officer using the stolen identity 'Rod Richardson' into a group of anti-capitalist activists in Nottingham.

Within a couple of months of Richardson's departure in 2003, those activists were joined by Mark Kennedy, aka Mark Stone. It was his exposure by activists in late 2010 that alerted the world to the existence of the political secret police.

For Operation Herne and other inquiries to focus on the long-defunct SDS but leave out the most notorious undercover officer of them all shows how incomplete an SDS-only picture is. Some managers worked for both the SDS and NPOIU, and officers from both units knowingly overlapped in deployments. Whilst SDS and NPOIU officers knew each other, nonetheless there may well have been some rivalry. As the case of 'Rod Richardson' shows, the NPOIU wasn't initially warned against using the woefully anachronistic practice of stealing the identities of dead children.

As an aside, in 2001 the former ARNI boss Rod Leeming left Special Branch to set up a private spy firm Global Open. In early 2010 he head-hunted Mark Kennedy before his police contract had even finished. This indicates that that it's a fairly standard career path, and suggests such firms are tipped off about officers who are leaving and cold-call them. It seems unlikely that Kennedy was the first one they got. With virtually no oversight or firm rules, private spies can stay in the field indefinitely. Indeed, had Kennedy been smart enough to change his name by deed poll to Mark Stone, he'd have had ID in the right name and would probably still be spying today.

THE UNHOLY TRINITY - NPOIU, NETCU and NDET

In 2004 ACPO created a new post, the National Co-ordinator Domestic Extremism, which oversaw both the NPOIU and a new unit, the National Extremism Tactical Co-ordination Unit (NETCU). NETCU was established during the drafting of the 2005 amendment Serious Organised Crime and Police Act which made it illegal to 'interfere with the contractual relations of an animal research organisation' or to 'intimidate' employees of an animal research organisation. Run from Huntingdon in Cambridgeshire, NETCU's remit was defined as 'prevention' and it was tasked with helping companies such as Huntingdon Life Sciences frustrate campaigns waged against them by animal rights activists.

NETCU didn't just advise corporations about threats to their profits from campaigns, it took a proactive political role in discrediting and undermining those campaigns. Its website linked to the pro-vivisection Research Defence Society, and the unit issued several press releases boasting of activists being prevented from doing street collections.

NETCU's 'mission-creep' saw it move to encompass environmental and climate activists. It also helped the illegal construction blacklisting company the Consulting Association (as documentation from a November 2008 meeting between NETCU and the Consulting Association obtained through an FoI request confirms). Additionally, the Independent Police Complaints Commission says it was likely that every constabulary's Special Branch will have supplied information about citizens to the construction blacklist.

A third ACPO unit, the National Domestic Extremism Team, was set up in 2005. It was intended to provide an investigatory function, drawing on intelligence gathered through NPOIU spies as well as Forward Intelligence Teams and Evidence Gatherers, for use by forces across the country. All three ACPO units - the NPOIU, NETCU and the NDET - were overseen by the National Co-ordinator Domestic Extremism, or NCDE. Around the same time, direct management of the NPOIU (and presumably the two allied units) passed to ACPO.

GOODBY SDS, HELLO NDEU

In 2006 the Metropolitan Police's merged its intelligence-oriented Special Branch (aka SO12) with the investigatory Anti-Terrorist Branch (SO13) to form Counter Terrorism Command (known as SO15).

SO15 is currently headed by Richard Walton. He was moved from his post following revelations about his key role in the SDS' spying on Stephen Lawrence's family in the Ellison report last year. He was quietly reinstated in December even though he is still under investigation.

With Special Branch, the SDS' parent unit, now part of Counter Terrorism Command and much of the SDS's work superseded by the NPOIU, the SDS faded. It has been suggested that when Counter Terrorism Command officers took over the SDS they were alarmed at its targets and methods and moved to close it down. The unit is described as 'having lost its moral compass' by the time of its closure in 2008 - as if it ever had one in the first place.

The three ACPO units (the NPOIU, NETCU and the NDET) were merged into the National Domestic Extremism Unit (NDEU) in early 2011. At that time they had a combined budget of around £9m per year.

At the same time as the name change, management of the unit was then passed from the FoI scrutiny-shielded ‘private company’ ACPO to the (not exactly accountable themselves) Metropolitan Police under the ‘lead force’ model. There had been several reviews pushing for this, including Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary's report 'Counter Terrorism Value For Money'.

Certainly, it will have taken a lot of discussion and planning so it seems very unlikely that the exposure of Kennedy in October 2010 played a part. This didn't stop government ministers trying to portray it as a response a mere week after the Kennedy story hit the media.

The NDEU was brought to operate under the umbrella of the Met's Counter Terrorism Command.

As happened when they were three separate units, all the ACPO political police operations under the NDEU were overseen by the National Co-ordinator Domestic Extremism, though the rank for the post was downgraded from Assistant Chief Constable to Chief Superintendent, the first holder of the post being Detective Chief Superintendent Adrian Tudway.

Despite the budget for political spy units being public when they were run by ACPO, in 2012 the Met refused to follow suit, and with its gift for exaggerated flourishes it cited text from an Al-Qaeda training manual by way of a reason.

MODERN TIMES: MERGERS AND YET ANOTHER ACRONYM

The unit's remit changed at the same time as its restructure and it no longer carries out undercover operations. It has taken on the 'prevention and detection' tracks previously associated with NETCU and NDET, maintaining a database of activists and working with companies and organisations that activists campaign against. Kennedy-style deployments of undercover officers are now run either by the Special Project Team (SPT) of the Metropolitan Police's Counter Terrorism Command, or one of the regional SPTs run by North West, North East and West Midlands Counter Terrorism Units.

Official reports say that this change is, indeed, a result of the exposure of undercover officers as the established anti-terrorism units were felt to have 'more robust procedures for the deployment of undercover officers' than their NPOIU/SDS-derived police equivalents.

In April 2011 Tudway sent a private email confirming that the English Defence League were not domestic extremists. Organising racist violence on the streets is fine because it's understood and safe, whereas fluffy but explicitly anti-capitalist things like Climate Camp get multiple officers like Mark Kennedy and Lynn Watson. This isn't key to the story, it just illustrates the fact that it's not threat of political public disorder, damage to property or violence to citizens that concerns the secret police - it's threats to the present parliamentary political norm and police credibility.

In 2012 the NDEU split its work into two subunits. The Protest and Disorder Intelligence Unit (PDIU) collates and provides strategic analysis relating to protest and disorder across the UK, whilst the Domestic Extremism Intelligence Unit (DEIU) provides strategic analysis of domestic extremism intelligence within the UK and overseas.

Quite how they define 'protesters' as separate from 'domestic extremists' isn't clear. Given their very wide and loose use of 'domestic extremism' in the past, it is worrying that they feel the need to spy on even less dangerous campaigners. But it was ever thus. As Merlyn Rees, Home Secretary in the Labour government 1976-79, said, the role of Special Branch is "to collect information on those who I think cause problems for the state".  Although the two subunits are physically separate, they share an intelligence database, the National Special Branch Intelligence System (NSBIS), implying that there is no clear boundary between protesters and domestic extremists.

As if in an attempt to close the book on an embarrassing subject, in May 2013 the NDEU was renamed the National Domestic Extremism and Disorder Intelligence Unit (NDEDIU).

But there is no reason to believe that the outrages perpetrated by the SDS, NPOIU and associated units have stopped, despite the musical chairs and name changes. When political campaigns are counter-democratically undermined by the state, and participants subjected to sustained psychological and sexual abuse, changing the acronym doesn't change the immorality and injustice.