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01 December 2008 Blog Home : December 2008 : Permalink

The Damien Green Affair Redux

As more details emerge in newspapers and blogs, the picture becomes murkier. Both Devil's Kitchen (not DK but a certain PDF) and the EU Referendum blog have posts up where they defend the police and the government by stating that leaking is bad and that we shouldn't encourage it. Both seem to think that Damien Green encouraged his leaker and that this is a bad thing.

I agree, assuming the allegation about the relationship between Mr Green and his leaker is accurate, that Mr Green is not the hero for parliamentary privilege that he claims to be, and that the leaker deserves to be punished.

However I also agree with the outrage that the Tories, Samizdata and others have expressed regarding the trampling of parliamentary privilege and the complete and utter over-reaction of the Met by deploying anti-terror police on this mission. Let me explain to PDF and Richard North why this matters be referring to my previous post "Then they came for the MPs". Mr Green may well be a completely amoral scumbag and his leaker a man who leaked for personal gain rather than principle but their motives and morals are beside the point. Parliamentary privilege applies to him, just as freedom of speech applies to racists like the BNP.

What is to the point was that the government has been seen
  1. Over-reacting by sending anti-terror police on a raid of an MP's parliamentary office
  2. Denying that the relevant ministers (J Smith, G Brown) knew anything about it beforehand
  3. Leaking the details about Green and leaker after the event to try and spin things their way
  4. Doing the slopey shoulders trick and leaving the police (and maybe a civil servant or two) as potiential scrificial victims
All four of these acts reflect very poorly on the government.

Firstly let's look at the over-reaction. Unless there are secrets other than the ones mentioned (and, apart from a few insinuations from J Smith, there has been no hint of that) then none of the leaks have concerned terrorism. Furthermore none of them were likely to cause the government to crumble and none were time-sensitive. In other words there was no hurry to arrest and no need to trample thoughtlessly over centuries of tradition and custom. Instead of rushing in to Mr Green's office now when parliament is in recess, the police/home office could have asked the speaker (or whomever is appropriate) to put a motion before the house which would allow MPs to decide whether the one of their own should be investigated and what to do. The fact that they didn't do this, or any of half a dozen other possible actions that would have led to more mature consideration, speaks volumes for how they (and by implication the ZANU labour government) see their needs versus the rights of others. It is this thoughtlessness that distinguishes the UK under ZANU labour from other democratic regimes and is why, despite knowing that we are potentially trivializing Comrade Bob's Zimbabwe, it is so easy to compare ZANU Labour with ZANU PF.

Secondly there is the information loop and the denials. Frankly the claim that Jaqui Smith and Gordon Brown didn't know about the upcoming actions by the Met doesn't pass the smell test. Ms Smith in particular should have been aware of what was going on since it was her deprtment that the leaker was working for and hence it was her and her top civil servant advisors who asked the police to get involved. If she really didn't know then either this was deliberate Nelsonian blindness in a far worse cause or Ms Smith is so far out of her depth as a minister that she should be fired posthaste and never allowed to take an executive role in anything ever again. Gordon Brown is also likely to have been kept in the loop since part of the drive for police investigation came from the Cabinet Office. It is possible that he was not specifically informed but it seems peculiar given that the leader of the opposition and the mayor of London were informed. A large part of the problem with the belief here is that ZANU labour has had 10 years of slicing, dicing and spinning the actualité that when they make this kind of statement they have no credibility whatsoever. The fact that large numbers of people routinely assume that government ministers are lying in situations like this is almost a worse indictment on ZANU labour than anything else because it implies that they have frittered away the trust of the electorate in the machinery of government.

Thirdly there is the spin about Green. The Wapping Liar article where it is alleged that Green was "grooming" his leaker is filled with "sources close to the investigation" and other anonymous disguises. As with the denials, having anonymous sources in government making statements to spin things their way is one of those things that causes me to be skeptical. How about having a named policeman ("In an interview, Insp Knacker stated that..") or senior civil servant ("Sir H Appleby held a press conference...") actually come out and accuse Damien Green of training his source. If someone in the government had the balls to actually address the press and the public and say something similar to Richard North's blog post I'd have a lot more respect for them and I suspect others would too. But they don't, instead they leak and speak "off the record" and thus blur what should be a clear distinction between a scummy leaker and a righteous investigation.  Furthermore they ought to have presented the basic case and perhaps some of their evidence before they arrested Mr Green (or at least synchronous to his arrest). They did nothing of the sort which is why this subsequent spinning looks so shifty.

Fourthly there is the slopey shoulders "it was a bunch of underlings who over-reacted" hanging out of the Met as potential sacrifices to public outrage. Gordon Brown and Jacqui Smith are ministers of the Crown. It is civil servants who work in departments that they are responsible for who launched the investigation and the police themselves report (eventually) to Jacqui Smith as home secretary. As ministers of the crown these two are in fact responsible for overseeing their underlings and they are accountable for the actions of their underlings. I don't say that either should necessarily resign for the police actions in this case but a willingness to shoulder the responsibility for them would be a good thing. Beyond that there is the issue of loyalty. As any good manager or military officer will tell you loyalty is not a one way street. If ZANU labour expect their civil servants to be loyal to them then they should show some sort of loyalty back again and, yet again, they fail to do so. If you want a situation where the police force, government departments and individual civil servants feel no responsibility or loyalty to the state as a whole then this blaming of scapegoats is a great way to do it. When Henry II did his "who will rid me of this turbulent priest" thing, he didn't go around blaming the four knights who heard him when they went and offed Thomas a Becket. Even though he hadn't personally ordered Becket's death, he took responsibility for their actions and performed the penance the Pope demanded. I think it is fair to say that I can't imagine any politician in the last couple of decades acting the same way and this is undoubtedly why politicians as a whole are perceived by the electorate as untrustworthy scum. It probably also helps with the general disenchantment and lack of involvement of good people in politics.

A couple of final thoughts. Of the four things that I've commented on, only one has been the "crime" the other three have been the "cover-up", thereby proving yet again that it isn't the crime but the cover-up that is important in politics. In addition, in all this reuminating over the niceties of parliamentary privilege etc. we have rather lost track of the original leaks. Whether or not they were leaked for high-minded principle or something else the papers leaked show just how disfunctional the British government is. Could we just fire the lot of them, ministers, MPs and civil servants, and get some new more competent ones instead please?