Being complimented by Dorries and Delingpole

I was delighted that yesterday Nadine Dorries MP mentioned me in a tweet with the “herooftheweek”hashtag.

After all, I rarely tweet about her.  There is usually no need; everything one really should know about Dorries is ably provided by my friend Tim Ireland.

The only time I have written about Dorries at length was when she was found by the Parliamentary Commissioner and her fellow MPs to have been deliberately misleading her own constituents.   She often asserts she was “cleared” by the Commissioner; and so she was, but it was on the curious basis of the Commissioner holding that what she blogged about was knowingly untrue.

It is nice to know that my libel-safe November 2010 post still resonates so much for her to mention me in a tweet in April 2012.

Dorries linked in turn to a supportive post by James Delingpole, which praised my work on civil liberties.

This is especially kind of him, for when he congratulated me on the post exposing Johann Hari as David Rose, I remember mentioning something about Hari still being a better journalist than Delingpole.

So it is rather gracious of him not to repeat that exchange in a post which – flatteringly – seems devoted entirely to me.

In return, it is only right for me to recall what was perhaps Delingpole’s greatest moment.

Compliments like these, and from such quarters, make blogging worthwhile.

The national security and anti-terrorism party

What is a political party?

So familiar are we with the established, big-P political parties, one may miss the real parties which dominate our political system.

A party, as Burke almost said, is a body of people united for promoting by their joint endeavours the national interest upon some particular principle in which they are all agreed.

Applying this neutral definition, one quickly sees the real parties: there is a privatisation party, pushing for “market-based” reforms in ever-more unlikely situations; there is a defence party, always urging more military spending; there is a European party maneuvering so that more decision- and rule-making is done on a EU level; and so on.

Instead of, say, three main parties and some fringe ones, what we have in effect are dozens of parties which dominate public bodies and which all remain in office, regardless of elections and the politicians passing through.

One of the scariest and most formidable of these parties is the national security and anti-terrorism party, which dominates the Home Office, the police, and the “security services”.

It matters not for the national security and anti-terrorism party if the ministers are Labour or Tory.

It is irrelevant that there is a coalition with Liberal Democratic votes supporting it.

This party will keep on with the ratchet-effect of more illiberal legislation.

Today this illiberal party is reported as having their latest success: the Coalition is now warm to monitoring emails and social media usage.

The Home Office is quoted as saying:

It is vital that police and security services are able to obtain communications data in certain circumstances to investigate serious crime and terrorism and to protect the public.

But they may as well be saying:

It is vital that police and security blah obtain data blah serious crime blah and TERRORISM KLAXON blah and to protect the public.

The depressing thing is the sense of sheer relentlessness in the promotion of such policies; and one knows that the Tories will generally nod-a-long, just as the Labour politicians did before them.

Having the Liberal Democrats in the Coalition seems to be making no difference at all.

Fortunately, for most parties there is an opposite party, even if there is often not any equality of arms.

The human rights and civil liberties party still exists, and will challenge this illiberalism in the courts and elsewhere even if the battle is lost in the legislature and government departments.

But what will be missing is any sense of democracy: no one can stop the national security and anti-terrorism party by voting.  The big-P parties are not providing any efficient way of making political choices by allowing us to use our vote.  This lack of alignment between the form and subtance of political parties is saddening, but it is difficult to see any way it will be changed.

And in the meantime, how long before the national security and anti-terrorism party entices the Coalition into reviving ID Cards?

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My Trousers and Airport Security

(Originally posted on 13 February 2011 at my old Jack of Kent site here.)

(11 April 2012 – the post below has now been featured on the great Bruce Schneier security blog, and I can confirm that notwithstanding the 1 April 2012 date, it was first posted over a year before as a faithful account of what happened to me when I flew from Heathrow to a middle eastern country early last year. The security officer in question and his manager were employed by the airline, not the airport.)

Late one recent Saturday evening, I am standing at a departure gate at Heathrow Airport. It is the furthest gate from the main terminal, and I am flying on the last plane out.

By now, it is just the passengers and the airline’s own staff.  The passengers are having the final passport and boarding pass check before getting onboard: a formality after a great deal of security and bag searching.

Everyone is a little tired; the rest of the airport looks dark and closed down for the night.

“Excuse me, sir. We would like to do a search?”

“Pardon?”

“We would like you to give us your handbag and step this way.”

“OK. It is a manbag, or hand luggage. But not really a handbag.”

“Yes, sir. This way.”

My hand luggage is taken off to be searched again. I am now the last passenger at the gate. The flight is due to leave in about ten minutes.

“Sir, could you go behind the screen.”

There is a screen in the corner of a kiosk, in the opposite corner to where my bag is now being searched and unpacked. The young security official from the airline follows me.

“Sir, can you take your jacket off.”

“OK.” I take off my jacket.

“And your shoes.”

I take off my shoes.

My shoes are looked at very carefully.  I think of the shoe bomber, who also lived near Bromley.  I begin to wonder if they are profiling people from urban north Kent.

“Sir, your trousers.”

“Pardon?”

“Sir, please take your trousers off.”

A pause.

“No.”

“No?”

The security official clearly was not expecting that response.

He begins to look like he doesn’t know what to do, bless him.

“You have no power to require me to do that. You also haven’t also given any good reason. I am sure any genuine security concerns you have can be addressed in other ways. You do not need to invade my privacy in this manner.”

A pause.

“I think you probably need to get your manager, don’t you?”.

I am trying to be helpful.

He nods, hesitantly, and goes to get his manager, a middle-aged chap in a brown baggy suit.

“Hello sir.”

“Hello.” I smile.

“You won’t take your trousers off?”

“No. It will be embarrassing and humiliating. You can’t require me to do so, and you have no good reason to ask.”

A pause.

I smile again and nod encouragingly.

“Oh,” he says.

Another pause.

“Sir, there is actually no need for you to take your trousers off.”

“Thank you. I thought not.”

I put on my jacket and shoes.

“But sir, there is a problem with your handbag.”

I pause.

This is the Edith Evans moment I have waited for all my life.

“My manbag?”

“Yes sir. It will have to travel separately.”

“Why?

“We have concerns.”

I think of those who have teased me about my manbag, but I guess their doubts about me are not the same concerns as this security manager.

“You think my manbag could be dangerous?”

“It will need to go separately.”

He gives me a plastic bag with what had been the contents of my manbag.

“In the hold?”

“No, too late. It will have to travel business class.”

“My manbag is going business class?”

“Yes, sir. You can be reunited at the destination.”

Later I think I should have offered to swap, but I was too stunned to be so opportunistic.

“This way for the plane.”

I walk with the manager, me with my new carrier bag, him with my empty mangbag. We go down the slope to the aircraft.

“I bet this makes you feel safer?” he says.

“Actually, it doesn’t. Either security required me to take my trousers off, or it does not. Either my bag is too unsafe to travel, or it is not. I think this just shows bad decision-making. Bad decision-making by security does not make me feel safe.”

A pause. I am hoping he is thinking about my sensible, heart-felt words.

We get to the aircraft. The chief steward takes my manbag for its trip by business class. I go into economy class: I am stared at as the one who may have delayed the plane.

I find my seat. The chap next to me asks what happened.

“Oh, just security stuff.”

“No worries. It makes you feel safer, doesn’t it.”

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