Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Damian Green Scandal

The Damian Green scandal just isn't going to go away, is it? I've been avoiding the issue because, well, what can I say that hasn't already been said or at least thought by everyone who's read a newspaper over the past week?

For slow readers, the story goes something like this: officious looking bobbies from London's Metropolitan Police arrested Conservative MP Damian Green last week, detained him for 9 hours and searched his home, his constituency offices and, most controversially, his office at the House of Commons. Why would the rozzers do this, apart from the obvious reason that Green is an MP and therefore shady by definition?

Cast your mind back a few months to a time before the news was dominated by the credit crunch, when Gordon Brown-Trousers' job was in daily peril and the Home Office was being battered by a storm of dodgy revelations about illegal immigrants - how many were working in the security industry, one employed in the House of Commons, etc. The government, and particularly the Home Secretary Jacqui Smith and PM Gordon Brown-Trousers, were being exposed as ever more incompetent, a laughing stock and a political liability.

Damian Green was, and is, the Conservative Shadow Immigration bod, and his was the delightful task of publicly humiliating the Home Secretary and Prime Minister. Information was allegedly passed to him by a mole in the Home Office, which he then felt obliged to reveal in the public interest, and quite right, too. As a member of the public, I found the revelations fascinating, though I'm afraid the news that the country was being run by a bunch of brainless incompetents didn't come as any surprise.

As you might imagine, Smith and her conies didn't like this one little bit. The idea that people - ordinary people, such as might vote in Parliamentary elections - should find out quite how badly their elected representatives were screwing things up was just unacceptable, and a police investigation into the leak was launched at the request of the Home Office. That led to the arrest of a civil servant, which, in turn, brought plod to Green's door.

It doesn't take a political genius to imagine the circumstances surrounding the investigation. Smith, in fits of indignant fury at being so soundly exposed as a prize prat, calls in the dibbles. As Home Secretary, she's responsible for appointing the Met's Commissioner - the then politically beleaguered and now ousted Sir Ian Blair - making her his boss, of sorts. Nobody ever kept their job by pissing off their boss, and Blair was badly in need of support at the time. Can it be coincidence that Green's arrest took place on Blair's last day in the job? Plod obliged by investigating the "leak" in the Home Office, suggesting that the much-vaunted "police independence" that Smith and Brown-Trousers keep harping on about is illusory, at best.

It must have seemed like an ideal revenge - an inconveniently well-informed MP arrested, the Tories humiliated and shown to be sleazy yet again, just as Gordon Brown-Trousers sucks his way into deeper financial ruin to the cheers of millions. Only it didn't quite work out like that, did it? MPs of all colours, particularly the wonderfully vicious Vince Cable, are outraged by the prospect of big booted policemen barging into an MP's office, not to mention the arrest of an MP on such a petty matter. They're all being very careful to stress that MPs are not above the law, but they're equally concerned that those laws should not be used to prevent an MP from exposing deficiencies in the government. That is the job of an opposition MP, and to interfere with that is a serious threat to democracy.

Of course, Smith, Brown-Trousers and all the other unsavoury characters involved in this saga deny any political motivation, but they would, wouldn't they? They even deny knowing about the arrest and search until after it happened. A look at their record in office, the company they keep, who they accept donations from and a host of other interesting news articles about their conduct is enough to seal their fate as far as I'm concerned - it looks to me like a stitchup that went very badly wrong and is going wronger by the day.

For a while, it looked like Gorbels Mick, Speaker of the House Michael Martin, Mr Sleaze himself, was going to carry the can for allowing coppers into an MP's office without bloody good justification. But now even he's ducked his responsibility, passing the buck to the Serjeant at Arms, Mrs Jill Pay. She, it seems, took it upon herself to let Smith's enforcers rampage around an MP's office on her own authority, without a search warrant. Can you say scapegoat?

Of course, Mrs Pay should have done no such thing, and plod should have advised her that she didn't have to. Then again, the Met is not famous for telling people what they can do, only what they can't, even if they have to bend things a little to get their own way, as this article in the Register points out [New Terror Guidelines on Photography]. Strangely, the Met weren't too keen on being photographed as they took Green's office apart, either, demanding that Andrew Mackay, Senior Parliamentary and Political Adviser to the Conservative leader, should go away and take the film crew with him, according to the Telegraph and this video:

Isn't it odd that police officers - whom we, the public, employ - don't like the public to see them working, and really, really don't like us to commemorate those rare occasions by snapping photographic evidence? Yet they watch us working, via CCTV and other means, 24/7 - all in the name of our own protection, of course. A little more in the way of transparency and a little less of the sweeping new powers to demand identity papers etc wouldn't go amiss there, I think.

Until this story broke, I've always been pretty tolerant of the Great British Bobby. They're not necessarily the sharpest knives in the draw, especially those commonly found on the beat, and they do have a liking for off duty beer and totty that puts most larger louts to shame. But, by and large, they're ok. They work hard as well as playing hard, job conditions are getting worse for them all the time, pay isn't great, but they do their best, such as it is. Can't fault them for trying, has always been my view, even if I was a little concerned about the extra powers they seemed to be acquiring.

But the revelation that accepting information that embarrasses the government from a civil servant can lead to an MP's arrest has changed all that. It seems that some elements of the police, at least, have given up on their duty to protect the public in favour of enforcing the political will of Smith and Brown-Trousers. Oh yes, there have been veiled hints that there was more at stake than just some toe-curlingly embarrassing immigration figures, but do we believe that when we consider who's making those allegations, and when? I don't, and I'm very much afraid that the il-judged actions of one or two over zealous bobbies have tarnished the cherished reputation of the British Bobby and damaged public trust in them.

Besides, Damian Green isn't the first MP to accept leaked information from a Government department and gleefully use it for political gain in the "public interest". Cast your mind back to 1985, when a much younger, far less grey and flabby Gordon Brown (this was before he shit himself over not calling an election) cheerfully told Frank Bough about information he'd obtained from a mole, just as Green has now been accused of doing:

Didn't he look smug? Haven't heard anything about the PM being arrested, though, despite his admission to doing exactly the same thing as Damian Green. Didn't Brown-Trousers think this interview would come back to haunt him? Did he and his cronies really think they would be allowed to bring the full force of the state down on an opposition MP in revenge for a little humiliation without the whole thing going badly wrong? Apparently so, clearly demonstrating that our government is not just corrupt, but dangerously stupid too.

Can we have an election now? Please? Before it's too late?

Billy Seggars.

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