UK Government Watch

 2009: April-June



13th June   

Carted Off...

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Another government internet censor to quit
Link Here

Stephen Carter Gordon Brown's Communications Minister, who was made a peer after a brief period in Number 10, is to leave the Government, The Times has learnt. His departure will surprise Westminster, where Brown's enemies will see it as more evidence of an administration low on energy and ideas.

Lord Carter of Barnes, previously Stephen Carter, hired by  Brown to mastermind an earlier government relaunch, is now set for a highly lucrative return to the private sector.

In October last year he moved from being Brown's chief of strategy to become a communications minister. He was given a powerful role in shaping internet and media regulation.

Lord Carter was listed as one of ten ministers below Lord Mandelson in the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills after the reshuffle on Tuesday. He is believed to have told Brown that he was willing to serve only until July and hoped to return to business after a low-key exit over the summer recess.

Lord Carter declined to deny that he was planning to leave the Government after the publication of Digital Britain, a report intended to shape the future of creative industries. I'm beavering away feverishly on my report, that's my only preoccupation, he told The Times. He dismissed suggestions that he had already lined up another job but failed to say whether he would still be a minister by the autumn.

The sensitive nature of his current role means political and industry opponents will be watching closely to see what he does next. His report, to be published next Tuesday, will propose measures to extend access to broadband internet services and changes to how public service broadcasting is funded. Most controversially, it will tackle the rapid growth of illegal downloads, which are hitting the revenues of the film and music industries. The Government is thought to have backed away from proposals to require internet service providers to bar customers caught repeatedly accessing pirated material.

Instead, insiders expect Lord Carter to recommend the introduction of premium-rate internet services that will allow users to access what they wish. Providers would then be expected to compensate music and film producers from a share of the additional revenue.

 

6th June   

Update: New Government Censors...

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Reshuffling Ministers for Censorship
Link Here  full story: Minister of Nasty Cultures...Andy Burnham as UK government internet censor

DCMS logo Health minister Ben Bradshaw has been appointed as the new culture secretary, replacing Andy Burnham, in a move that comes at a crucial time for the media industry as the government weighs up crucial decisions about the final Digital Britain report.

Bradshaw, a former BBC journalist and the MP for Exeter, is to take over as secretary for culture, media and sport. Burnham is heading the other way, to become health secretary.

The culture department faces some crucial decision over the next few weeks, with the Digital Report set to be published on 16 June.

Lets hope that Burnham's departures means an end to his madcap idea to classify the internet.

Meanwhile the government censor, Jack Straw stays as Minister of Injustice and Jacqui Smith's replacement Home Secretary has been named as Trade Unionist and party leadership contender, Alan Johnson.

Johnson's political leanings are hinted at on his profile from theyworkforyou.com :

  • Voted a mixture of for and against a transparent Parliament.
  • Voted moderately against introducing a smoking ban.
  • Voted strongly for introducing ID cards.
  • Voted very strongly for introducing foundation hospitals.
  • Voted strongly for introducing student top-up fees.
  • Voted very strongly for Labour's anti-terrorism laws.
  • Voted very strongly for the Iraq war.
  • Voted very strongly against an investigation into the Iraq war.
  • Voted very strongly for replacing Trident.
  • Voted moderately for the hunting ban.
  • Voted very strongly for equal gay rights.
  • Voted for laws to stop climate change.

Sounds like Henry Porter is being a bit hopeful in his Memo to Alan Johnson from guardian.co.uk :

On Monday he should announce a review of the government's ID cards policy, an increasingly unpopular measure which is going to cost the taxpayer a minimum of £4.5bn and probably cause every adult in the country irritation and substantial expense, and yet will produce none of the significant gains in security the government has claimed for the scheme.

Stepping back from ID cards will check the advances the opposition have made in this area, as well as signal a change of tone in Labour thinking; moving away from New Labour's emphasis on increasing the authority of the state, against the power and self determination of the individual.

 

3rd June   

Offsite: Good Riddance to a Bad Home Secretary...


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Britain is a worse place thanks to Jacqui Smith
Link Here  full story: UK Parliament Expenses Scandal...Claiming Television X on expenses

Mondo Extreme: To the Last Drop Smith's expenses claims were never any worse than many others' in Westminster, although the porn angle did make them slightly funnier.

In any sensible, decent political system, she would have had to have quit a long time ago. Not over money, but over ethics. Smith's tenure as home secretary marked another sustained attempt by the government to undo some of the best aspects of British politics.

Where to start? With drugs. When she reclassified cannabis, the home secretary managed to do several pitiful things at once. Firstly, she took a step backwards, undoing one of the only sensible, liberal actions taken by her predecessor, David Blunkett. But it also flew against the facts, which showed use was down since the drug became Class C. The government's own advisory council, the view of experts and scientists, asked for the Home Office not to do it. She did it anyway. She put Daily Mail headlines over and above an effective drug policy which finally saw usage drop and she put shabby politics above scientific advice, setting an awful precedent.

Her efforts to basically scrap habeas corpus deserve a special mention. Smith and the prime minister managed to scrape through the vote on 42-day detention, albeit relying on DUP votes. It's been pretty much kicked into the long grass now, but the attempt reflects just how little respect and understanding she had for the things that make this country great, such as the rule of law and freedom from state tyranny.

Similar attitudes were on display this time last year, when journalists read her letter to the NUJ with a mixture of horror and resignation. In it, she stated that police could restrict photography in certain circumstances , going against a long-standing principle in British law of a free press. We got a good indication of why the press should be able to photograph the police a few months ago, during the G20 protests.

Throughout the summer, we were briefed of a progressive new policy on prostitution when parliament sat again. Instead we were treated to an abominable piece of law, which made it an offence to have sex with a woman controlled by a pimp. Legal experts exploded, because the law paid no attention to whether or not the client actually knew the woman was under control. But far more importantly, sex worker groups, who were not even considered worthy of consultation, immediately said the law would make them less safe. By effectively outlawing prostitution, Smith had forced it further underground, preventing sex workers from organising and cooperating when they sell their services. But then, it's only evidence and empirical data which tells us that when we adopt such a policy, there are more prostitute deaths, and the home secretary had already proved how little she thought of such things when she upgraded cannabis.

...Read full article

 

25th May   

Offsite: Andy Burnham: Minister of Tax Avoidance...

Preacher of 'standards' perhaps should reflect on his own
Link Here  full story: Minister of Nasty Cultures...Andy Burnham as UK government internet censor

Andy Burnham Andy Burnham, the culture secretary, has apparently avoided thousands of pounds in capital gains tax by channelling a £16,600 property windfall through the parliamentary expenses system.

Burnham was given the money by a property developer to persuade him to move out of a flat he rented in Dolphin Square, a desirable apartment block near the Palace of Westminster. Tax experts say he would normally have been liable for a tax bill of up to £6,665 on the windfall.

The Commons authorities instead agreed to bend their own rules, and added the windfall to his second home allowance, which is exempt from tax. The special deal meant he was able to claim more than £32,000 on his second home allowance for a single year - far beyond the maximum £21,643 then permitted under the Commons rules. It is believed to be the highest amount ever claimed.

Martin Bell, the antisleaze campaigner and former MP, said: Both he [Burnham] and the fees office have made very serious errors. He should explain himself to the Labour party’s star chamber. They cannot overlook this case just because he’s a minister.

...Read the full article

 

8th May   

Offsite: Hands Off Our Data!...

Flash game to shoot government vermin stealing data
Link Here

Hands off our data game Britain's Conservative Party is against the Government's Big Brother database plan and that opposition is the basis for t-enterprise's latest online political parody, Hands Off Our Data!

In the game players assume the role of Conservative leader David Cameron. Wielding an old school raygun, players must blast data mining spiders bearing the likenesses of Gordon Brown and Home Secretary Jacqui Smith while allowing e-mail packets and search engine traffic to pass by.

...Play the game

 

7th May   

Offsite: No Sex Party...

Why Labour is prudish about sex in the UK
Link Here

Puritans When sex and politics collide, it is usually no more than an excuse for some good old-fashioned crudity, along with a hefty dose of journalistic double standards and, more often than not, ministerial embarrassment. How else to deconstruct the serious but essentially misguided furore over expenses-gate, in which it was revealed that Jacqui Smith had signed off expenses for home entertainment (serious breach) that also happened to feature some smuttiness (mostly trivial)?

However, recent developments in Australia, coupled with a serious Labour obsession with sex – quite distinct from gender – raise the question of whether the issue might not eventually find its way on to the UK political agenda as a vote-winner (or loser) in its own right.

...Read full article

 

6th May   

UK's Hate List...

UK Secretary names those excluded from the UK
Link Here

Home Offie logo Individuals banned from the UK have been named for for the first time, the Home Secretary announced. The list covers people excluded from the United Kingdom for fostering extremism or hatred between October 2008 and March 2009.

It follows the Home Secretary’s introduction of new measures against such individuals last year, including creating a presumption in favour of exclusion in respect of all those who have engaged in spreading hate.

The Home Secretary Jacqui Smith also announced today that the government is now able to ban European nationals and their family members if they constitute a threat to public policy or public security.

In the period from 28 October 2008 to 31 March 2009 the Home Secretary excluded a total of 22 individuals from coming to the United Kingdom. It is not considered to be in the public interest to disclose the names of six of these individuals. The remaining 16 individuals are:

Considered to be engaging in unacceptable behaviour by seeking to foment, justify or glorify terrorist violence:

  • Abdullah Qadri Al Ahdal. Preacher
  • Yunis Al Astal. Preacher
  • Wadgy Abd El Hamied Mohamed Ghoneim. A prolific speaker and writer.
  • Safwat Hijazi. Television preacher.
  • Nasr Javed
  • Abdul Ali Musa
  • Samir Al Quntar
  • Amir Siddique. Preacher.

Others

  • Stephen Donald Black Set up Stormfront, a racist website. Considered to be engaging in unacceptable behaviour by promoting serious criminal activity and fostering hatred, which might lead to inter-community violence in the United Kingdom.
  • Eric Gliebe. Has made web-radio broadcasts in which he vilifies certain ethnic groups and encourages the download and distribution of provocative racist leaflets and posters. Considered to be engaging in unacceptable behaviour by justifying terrorist violence, provoking others to commit serious crime and fostering racial hatred.
  • Mike Guzovsky. Leader of a violent group and actively involved with military training camps. Considered to be engaging in unacceptable behaviour by seeking to foment, justify or glorify terrorist violence in furtherance of particular beliefs and to provoke others to terrorist acts.
  • Fred Waldron Phelps Snr and Shirley Phelps-Roper. Pastor and leading spokesperson of Westboro Baptist Church. Considered to be engaging in unacceptable behaviour by fostering hatred which might lead to inter-community violence in the United Kingdom.
  • Artur Ryno and Pavel Skachevsky. Leaders of a violent gang that beat migrants and posted films of their attacks on the internet. Considered to be engaging in unacceptable behaviour by fomenting serious criminal activity and seeking to provoke others to serious criminal acts.
  • Michael Alan Weiner (also known as Michael Savage). Controversial daily radio host. Considered to be engaging in unacceptable behaviour by seeking to provoke others to serious criminal acts and fostering hatred which might lead to inter-community violence.

Under the unacceptable behaviour policy, the Home Secretary may exclude from the UK any non-British citizen, whether in the UK or abroad, who uses any means or medium including:

  • writing, producing, publishing or distributing material
  • public speaking including preaching
  • running a website
  • using a position of responsibility such as teacher, community or youth leader

To express views which:

  • foment, justify or glorify terrorist violence in furtherance of particular beliefs
  • seek to provoke others to terrorist acts
  • foment other serious criminal activity or seek to provoke others to serious criminal acts or
  • foster hatred which might lead to inter-community violence in the UK.

Update: Savage Defamation

7th May 2009, thanks to Alan

A US radio talk show host say he will sue the British government for defamation after being placed on a list of people banned from entering the UK. Conservative political commentator Michael Savage, real name Michael Alan Weiner, is one of 22 people barred for fostering extremism or hate.

 

1st May   

Update: Fitzpatrick on Speed...

Media and Jeremy Clarkson blamed for speeding
Link Here  full story: Top Gear and the Grand Tour...Top Gear and Jeremy Clarkson wind up whingers

Top Gear DVD Computer games, television programmes and Hollywood films are encouraging a dangerous culture of speeding among UK drivers, according to a report.

High-speed chases in movies and programmes such as Top Gear have built up a cachet of excitement and glamour around speeding, the report from Co-operative Insurance found.

Launched at a parliamentary reception attended by Road Safety Minister Jim Fitzpatrick, the report showed that more than a third of drivers aged 17-18 and a quarter of those aged 19-21 broke the speed limit at least once a day.

Just 17% of teenage drivers said they never exceeded the limit, compared with more than half of older drivers. Based on responses from 3,000 people, the report found almost twice as many men as women break the speed limit at least once a day. The report found that speeding was endemic across both sexes and all age groups with three in four drivers admitting to speeding regularly.

David Neave, director of general insurance at Co-operative Insurance, said: It is undoubtedly the case that games, TV and films have fuelled the increase in speeding. The Fast & The Furious (computer game) and Top Gear are devoted to speeding and are targeted at a younger audience who are more likely to be encouraged to speed. We need to create the same stigma for speeding that currently exists now against drink-driving.

Fitzpatrick said: Many of the most serious collisions are caused, or their consequences exacerbated, because of someone driving well in excess of the speed limit. Research shows that one in seven people are extreme speeders. These people are playing Russian roulette with their lives and those of others and they must be hit by the full force of the law.

 

11th April   

Offsite: Standard Deviation...

How the government uses dirty data to legislate morality
Link Here

Trafficking Bollox When it comes to sex and censorship, Government's insistence that laws are evidence-based is little more than hot air.

The statistics quoted in support of any given case are frequently misleading, partial, and - according to one expert in this field - subject to highly unethical collusion of interest between government and researchers.

From rape to lap-dancing, from internet harm to obscure sexual practices, evidence is used to back a narrow politicised agenda, rather than as a basis from which to develop policy.

...Read full article

 

6th April   

Offsite: Brand Premium...

Call for Ross and Brand to top up expense account funds rather than TV license payers
Link Here  full story: Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross...Winding up Andrew Sachs and Voluptua
Jack & Jacqui

  It doesn't seem fair that the tax payer
 should pay for your husband's porn.
Better if Jonathan Ross pays.

Senior government expense account holders have backed demands for Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand to pay the £150,000 fine imposed on the BBC for their antics.

Justice Secretary Jack Straw, Communities Secretary Hazel Blears and Olympics Minister Tessa Jowell all added their voices to the outcry.

There is outrage that the licence-fee payer will have to meet the fine imposed on Friday by the broadcasting watchdog Ofcom.

There are also calls for Brand's production company Vanity Projects, which produced the broadcast, to pay at least some of the money.

Straw, the most senior expense account holder to have spoken out about the fine, said the performers should pay out of their own pockets. It is wrong that licence-fee payers will have to pick up the bill for this. It is ridiculous that the penalty will be paid by the public.

Jowell, the former Culture Secretary, added: I think it would be honourable for Jonathan Ross to offer to pay it himself.

Miss Blears told the BBC's Any Questions: The BBC is funded by all of us as licence-payers, so are we having to pay the fine? Maybe Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand should pay it … that might be quite a good idea.

The BBC has said the money for the fine will come out of its general budget.

An Ofcom spokesman said: Parliament decided for very serious breaches of our broadcasting rules the BBC would be subject to a maximum fine of £250,000. These powers only allow for fines to be levied against the BBC and not individuals. 'To do so would require a change in the law.

 

5th April   

Updated: Shock Horror!...

Just what's so terrible about a man looking at pictures of naked women? We all do it
Link Here  full story: UK Parliament Expenses Scandal...Claiming Television X on expenses

Daily Mail logo S hock, horror! Home Secretary's Husband Watches Porn Movies! Government On Brink.

I'm sorry, but I can't get too worked up about this story. So what if Richard Timney watched a couple of blue movies at his home in Redditch last year? Is it really the end of civilisation as we know it?

Yes, it was wrong of Jacqui Smith to claim these films on expenses, but that is not really the issue here. Would people be equally outraged if the films in question had been The Sound Of Music and Ring Of Bright Water ? I doubt it. It is the fact that these were adult films that has caused all the fuss.

But what is so terrible about looking at pictures of naked women? The truth is that most men will have taken a peek at pornography at some point in their lives and, contrary to popular opinion, it hasn't instantly transformed us into dirty raincoat wearing perverts.

For the vast majority of us, it is just a bit of fun, an escapist fantasy that is no more harmful than watching a James Bond movie.

Don't misunderstand me. Where women have been coerced into taking their clothes off or appearing in pornographic films, that is clearly wrong and we should do everything in our power to stop it.

But anyone who thinks that such practices are common in the adult entertainment industry simply doesn't know what they're talking about. Believe it or not, 99.9% of women who have sex in front of a camera do so of their own free will. They are not being rounded up by gangs of white slavers and forced to perform degrading acts. On the contrary, it is a choice on their part, not least because they can earn good money.

...Read full article

Offsite: Look away now Jacqui Smith!

Thanks to David who points out that the above pro-porn article does have a link to this more typical porn objectifies women and men who like it will be de-evolved into rapists rant in the same issue

5th April 2009. See article from dailymail.co.uk by Olivia Lichtenstein

Playboy logo I decided to subscribe to a similar 3-in-1 package to the Home Secretary's husband: Playboy TV, the Adult Channel and Spice Extreme. (Playboy TV's website, quick to capitalise on the recent unexpected attention, has this to say yesterday: 'We'd like to offer all MPs and their husbands a special VIP subscription to Playboy.')

When I called to subscribe, an automated service asked me to hold, stating that all operators were busy. No shortage of new subscribers then.

The phone line operator, when she answered, sounded as bored and weary as a hooker on her final trick of the night. Since my husband's name is on our Sky package, I had to hand him the phone for him to authorise my usage. (I wonder whose name is on the Timney-Smith household's TV package?).
Playboy film

The cost is £15.99 a month, with an additional £15 joining fee and a guarantee that there will be no mention of what you have purchased on your bank or credit card statement - though that will come as cold comfort to Mr Timney after his viewing of two blue films was exposed.

After two hours of watching these channels, my conclusion was that these 'films' are degrading, exploitative, overlaid with terrible music and, once the shock has worn off, unutterably dull.

While you become an expert in female anatomy, you learn almost nothing about the male nude. The men, in any case make relatively rare appearances - 'girl-on-girl action' is the order of the day, however heterosexual the women may be. Clever camera angles stop short of actual penetration, but it's abundantly clear what is going on at all times.

In short, what I saw were unlovely people doing unlovely things.

...Read full article

Offsite: Porn isn't harmless fun - it ruins lives

6th April 2009. See article from dailymail.co.uk by Bel Mooney, thanks to Dan

Daily Mail logo It was interesting to read the comments online after Olivia Lichtenstein's article in the Mail about the sleazy TV channels watched by Jacqui Smith's husband and Toby Young's riposte. They were surprisingly liberal: men (overwhelmingly men) attacked Olivia for being uptight and said that nobody forced anybody to watch porn.

No space here to go back over all the arguments civilised people make to show that pornography is demeaning and exploitative, but to say it's always been a part of life is no defence. Cockroaches are a part of life, too, and we generally regard them as ugly

...Read full article

Offsite: What porn is really for

5th April 2009. See article from news.bbc.co.uk by Clive James

Clive James book After years of watching late-night porn in anonymous hotel rooms - for research purposes - its purpose is clear, says Clive James. To keep one's mind off sex while one's partner is absent.

Tough on pole dancing, tough on the causes of pole dancing - it's a New Labour policy in the grand modern tradition, which takes a moral view that includes the economics, or, if you like, an economic view that includes the morality.

Either way, when you hold the position of Home Secretary and have been so outspoken on the topic of adult entertainment on expenses, it isn't the best moment for headlines to be telling the world that your husband has not only been watching porno movies, he has been off-loading the cost of doing so on to the tax-paying public

...Read full article

 

5th April   

Offsite: Marvellous Irony...

Jacqui gets a taste of her ugly snooper state
Link Here  full story: UK Parliament Expenses Scandal...Claiming Television X on expenses
Jack & Jacqui

  The old one's are the best!
"You've got nothing to fear...
...if you've got nothing to hide"

There is a marvellous irony about the fact that, last week, MPs discovered just how embarrassing it can be when private information reaches the public domain. First up was the home secretary, pale-faced and tight-lipped after the revelation that her husband had been renting pornographic films at our expense. Overnight, Jacqui Smith had lost dignity and everyone felt free to comment and jeer about the couple’s attractiveness, sex lives and the state of their marriage. The rest of her expense claims provided more material for outrage or mockery; whether she was claiming for an extremely expensive sink (£550) or an extremely cheap bath plug (88p), it was hard to avoid the impression of a senior politician milking the taxpayer in an unseemly and avaricious fashion and looking considerably diminished as a result.

Some MPs privately found her discomfort funny, but the next day the rest of the Commons was faced with the possibility that embarrassing claims of their own were about to surface. It turned out that the details of every MP’s expenses had been copied and leaked and were on sale to the media for an asking price of £300,000. The claims had been due to be published officially in the summer, but only after every member had had the chance to delete any details they wished to keep private. The bad news was that both the original and edited versions were now on sale, potentially allowing the rest of us to discover just what nervous MPs didn’t want us to know.

Parliament’s indignation at this breach of security would have been funny if it weren’t for the fact that these are the very people who have voted for massive state intrusion on, and information gathering about, the rest of us.

All along we have been assured that we needn’t worry about leaks and that the security of our information won’t be compromised. Last week we saw that the state can’t even guarantee the privacy of a few hundred lawmakers, let alone their 60m constituents.

...Read full article