All Things Politics – w/e 10 November 2013

What a week:
– An alleged terror suspect escaping and disguising himself by wearing a Burka
– BAE shipyard jobs lost mainly in Portsmouth
– Falkirk row
– Intelligence Agencies coming under scrutiny and being called to answer questions from a select committee
– Pay Day lender loans and high risk of personal debt with Christmas around the corner
– ‘Plebgate’ and the police officers being called in front of a select committee

Before I start with dissecting a few of the main stories this week, I’d like to take a minute and speak about Remembrance Day. Many of us wear poppies and donate to The Royal British Legion but do we really know why. So a little bit of history…..

The First World War ended on the 11th hour on the 11th day on the 11th month, 1918, known as Armistice Day. The act of a 2 Minute Silence began on the anniversary of Armistice Day in 1919 by those who did not want to forget the millions killed, injured and affected. Now generally called Remembrance Day, people stop what they are doing and observe a 2 Minute Silence at 11am on 11 November each year in the memory of those who have been affected in all conflicts. 
Remembrance Day is observed by all Commonwealth countries: Australia, Barbados, St. Lucia, Canada, India, Kenya, Mauritius, New Zealand, South Africa, United Kingdom, Northern Ireland and Bermuda. Similar memorial services are held in France, Belgium, Germany, Hong Kong, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Netherlands, Poland and United States.
Remembrance Sunday is the second Sunday in November and typically is when all the memorial services take place; including the one lead by The Monarch at the Cenotaph, London. Some photos from todays service (courtesy of the SkyNews and twitter):
Now, many people think about the Soldiers who fought (and are fighting currently) but we should also take a minute to think about their families and loved ones who supported (and supporting) their loved ones to go and fight for our freedom. 
I hope that was insightful.
The two stories I’d like to look at this week are: the Falkirk row and the intelligence agencies coming under scrutiny and being called to answer questions from a select committee.
Falkirk row
Some of us will remember that Falkirk came under attack when it came about that Unite may have acted unfairly to get its favoured candidate chosen to stand in that area. 
On Tuesday this week, Ed Miliband gave a speech on ‘the cost of living’ but during the Q&A Falkirk and its inquiry took precedence. Miliband was asked 7 times whether he would re-open the inquiry into vote-rigging and he did not answer. Many senior Labour figures such as Jack Straw, Alistair Darling, Johann Lamont (Scottish Labour leader) are calling for Miliband to re-open the investigation. 
Lets look at the facts:

March 2013: Unite union, who have donated over £9m to Labour, are accused of trying to rig the Falkirk parliamentary candidate selection

July 2013: Labour place the Falkirk Constituency Labour Party into special measures, suspending Karie Murphy, Unite’s preferred candidate, and local Unite organiser Stephen Deans

September 2013: Miliband backs down. He reinstates Karie Murphy and Stephen Deans to the Labour Party, and a Labour internal inquiry claims that no-one broke any rules – despite Miliband previously admitting there was evidence of ‘bad practice’

October 2013: E-mails passed to the Sunday Times show that Unite deliberately subverted Labour’s inquiry

November 2013: Extracts of Labour’s report show widespread concerns about Unite’s activities, including ‘forgery, coercion, trickery and manipulation’

So do you think Ed Miliband should re-open the investigation?
Should Labour publish their inquiry report?

Other sources of information:

Emails show Unite ‘broke Labour rules in Falkirk’

Why Falkirk is a ‘cesspit’ for Ed Miliband

New evidence of Falkirk vote-rigging “puts further pressure on Ed Miliband”

Now Len McCluskey faces allegations over his own Unite leadership election

How Unite plotted ‘socialist takeover’ of the Labour Party

Union boss elected by phantoms’ – new vote row hits the union that is pushing Ed Miliband around

Intelligence Agencies

The Boss’ from GCHQ, MI5 and MI6 were called, for the first time, in front of the Intelligence and Security Committee this week over allegations of ‘phone tapping’ and listening in on the publics conversations. The full Committee open session can be seen here:
The committee, who asked for this open session a year ago, are looking at this as a route to provide a more ‘transparent’ security service. 
A little of background information about the three Intelligence Agenciesand their ‘official’ tasks:

Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ): Safety and security of the UK’s cyber- connections and infrastructure
Security Service (MI5): Protection of national security against threats from espionage, terrorism and sabotage
Secret Intelligence Service (MI6): Collects Britain’s foreign intelligence

The Intelligence Agencies were asked whether they are failing to predict events like the end of the Cold War, 9/11, the Arab uprisings. The response was ‘we are not crystal ball gazers. We are Intelligence Agencies. We need to understand, part of our work is to understand foreign countries……… But I think you need to understand what Intelligence Agencies do. We acquire the secrets that other countries don’t want us to know or other organisations don’t want us to know; we are not all, all-knowing specialists in what is going to happen next month or next year.’
We were told that 34 terror plots had been disrupted since the 7 July, 2005, attacks in London.
There was a lot of controversy regarding the ‘phone tapping’ or ‘snooping.’ The Intelligence Agencies have been accused of ‘widespread snooping’ particularly after the leaks from ex-US security contractor Edward Snowden.

First of all, just to clarify a couple of things, we do not spend our time listening to the
telephone calls or reading the e-mails of the majority, of the vast majority. That would not
be proportionate, it would not be legal. We do not do it. It would be very nice if terrorists
or serious criminals used a particular method of communication and everybody else used
something else. That is not the case. It would be very nice if we knew who all the
terrorists or serious criminals were, but the internet, as I said earlier, is a great way to
anonymise and avoid identification.
We have to do detective work and I will give you an analogy and it has been used in the
press recently, but I will just try and draw it out a bit more. If you think of the internet as
an enormous hay field, what we are trying to do is to collect hay from those parts of the
field that we can get access to and which might be lucrative in terms of containing the
needles or the fragments of the needles that we might be interested in, that might help our
When we gather that haystack, and remember it is not a haystack from the whole field, it is
a haystack from a tiny proportion of that field, we are very, very well aware that within that
haystack there is going to be plenty of hay which is innocent communications from
innocent people, not just British, foreign people as well. And so we design our queries
against that data, to draw out the needles and we do not intrude upon, if you like, the
surrounding hay. We can only look at the content of communications where there are very
specific legal thresholds and requirements which have been met. So that is the reality.
We don’t want to delve into innocent e-mails and phonecalls. I feel I have to say
this: I don’t employ the type of people who would do. My people are motivated by saving
the lives of British forces on the battle field, they are motivated by fighting terrorists/serious
criminals, by meeting that foreign intelligence mission as well. If they were asked to
snoop, I would not have the workforce. They would leave the building.

My fundamental belief is that everyone should be held to account. If an individual breaks the law, they are held to account by the courts. Similarly the Press should also be held to account on things that they publish – and if they publish something that would put the security of this country at risk, I feel something should be done to prevent this. 
My last thought on this topic is:  if you have nothing to hide I don’t see why letting the security forces listen in is an issue. I would state though: I don’t think that the Agencies would just listen in to anyone conversation, they have a hard task in front of them and we should support them and let them get on with the job as with proper regulations are already in place.
Other sources of information:
BBC News – UK intelligence work defends freedom, say spy chiefs 

Spooks are too vital to be given this much power and funding

Spy Chiefs: Terrorists ‘Rubbing Hands In Glee’

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