A Matter of Sovereignty

Let me say up front that I agree with David Cameron: Abdelbaset Ali Mohamed Al Megrahi should not have been released from prison. I think he was a fall guy for what was a Libyan government planned and executed operation, but he was convicted and barring a successful appeal, he should have stayed in prison.  However, I think the U.S. Senate is way out of line in investigating his release.

This goes back to my most recent post: it is consistently the view of the US government – at least of the Executive and Legislative branches – that the sovereignty of other countries is always secondary to American interests. The Senate has invited Scottish Justice Minister Kenny MacAskill, Scottish prison health director Andrew Fraser, former UK Justice Secretary Jack Straw, and former Prime Minister Tony Blair to appear before it to answer questions as to how and why Megrahi was released from prison on compassionate ground. (This despite the fact that Blair had been out of office for nearly two years at the time of the release.)

Though I have no political affinity to any of the Brits invited, I have to agree with the assessment of Jack Straw:

“It is, in my experience, highly unusual for the legislature of one sovereign state to conduct an inquiry into decisions of another sovereign state, including, as in this case, decisions by a devolved administration on the release of a prisoner. There are therefore important issues of principle here which could affect UK governments of any party, and which will need carefully to be considered before I come to a final view.”

In other words, it is none of their business. The crime occurred over Scottish airspace. Even if the bomb was put on the plane somewhere else, at no time in question was the plane in the United States or its airspace. Neither was it even in international airspace, as the death of 11 Scots killed on the ground in Lockerbie made clear. Scotland had jurisdiction then and it has jurisdiction now. It may come as a shock to a lot of Americans, but killing Americans somewhere in the world does not give the government of the United States jurisdiction over that place or the power to investigate their killing. If Americans leave the sovereign territory of the United States, they assume the risk that they may come to harm without the US Government having the right to vindicate their cause.

Perhaps it is David Cameron’s admission that the UK is the junior partner in the Special Relationship both now and for at least the past 70 years that has emboldened the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to think its senior status carries some sort of weight.

Even if, as has been strongly insinuated by New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez, BP lobbied – or even, as has been suggested – bribed UK or Scottish officials or ministers, it is not the business of the US Senate. That is true even though BP is responsible for that terrible oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and apparently needs to be punished further, whatever excuse can be found. If there has been impropriety, it is for the UK government to investigate.

Let’s put the shoe on the other foot, since 67 British people died as a result of the 9/11 attacks. Mohammed al-Qahtani, the alleged 20th hijacker, has been tortured and charges against him have been dropped, re-instated, and dropped again.  Should the British Government open an inquiry and invite US officials to appear before it to answer for how they have dealt with it? Should British parliamentarians and ministers be demanding explanantions? If the American public learned of such an inquiry – that is, if the American press even took it seriously enough to report it – the public would be everything from bemused to outraged that another country would think it had jurisdiction to demand American officials explain themselves.

Sovereignty is sovereignty. It’s time the US respected the sovereignty of other nations to the extent it demands respect for its own.

It’s Still the British Government

As the euphoria of Labour’s ejection from Government recedes and the novelty of the new coalition Government wears off, it’s time to realise that the more things change the more they stay the same.  Here’s what to expect:

There wasn’t much conservative left about the Conservative Party before the General Election. David Cameron was already on the left side of his party with the Thatcherites severely marginalised. Now that he in in coalition with the LibDems, he has sold off the rest of the family silver. That was the price of the deal.

There is no question about the UK becoming less socialist. In this country it is not a matter of whether socialism but whose socialism. The new Government promises to spend more on the NHS year-on-year, but it will be spending less than was being spent. All the other money went to the banks. There will still be rationing. After promising that everyone will have access to the health care they need, the new Health Secretary admitted that there will never be enough to meet the demand, but that by shuffling around the nurses into various roles everything will be gloriously better.

Having poured the public purse into the bankers’ bonuses, new money to run the Welfare State will have to come from somewhere. They aren’t talking about the tax increases. It’s all about the spending cuts. However the reality is that the Conservatives have dropped the marriage (and civil partnership) tax break they promised during the campaign. That’s £150 per year per couple. They have dropped plans to raise the inheritance tax limit. (Inheritance tax is the tax penalty for dying after saving any of the money that has already been taxed.) There will be a very significant rise in capital gains tax (this means that everyone will dump whatever shares they can before it comes into effect and will drive down the market). VAT (that’s sales tax) will rise to at least 20%, though it could very conceivably go higher. The Tory promise of not implementing the Labour Government’s rise in National Insurance tax is being kept in part. Employers will not have a rise in their NI contribution, but employees will pay more.

The new Conservatives are every bit as liberal on social issues as Labour. They partners the LibDems are even more so. The man who would have been expected to take over as Home Secretary has been left out of the Government because he unwisely sided with a family who would not let gay couples share a double bed in their Bed and Breakfast. Since David Cameron took over from Iain Duncan Smith (an actual conservative Conservative), the Tories have tried to be pinker and greener than any other party. Abortion is not even a political issue in this country, despite the 200,000 that are performed every year.

What remains to be seen is just how the new Government will deal with Labour’s surveillance society. Both the Tories and the LibDems have promised to get rid of ID cards. How far they will go in otherwise getting out of the lives of individuals and families has yet to be seen.

There will be no conserving of the British constitution. The House of Lords, already nearly bereft of the hereditary peers who populated it for 800 years, will be turned into an elected Senate, elected by the LibDem’s preferred method of proportional representation. Like the Lords it will be an upper chamber in name only, with the centre of power still firmly in the Commons, even if it will no longer have the claim to the greater legitimacy of being democratically elected.

As a trade off for the Conservatives taking on the LibDem tax increases, the LibDems only lose one significant one significant policy, which is the only one for which I had any sympathy. The Tories are opposed to amnesty for long-term illegal immigrants, so there will be no amnesty for at least the length of this fixed-term five-year Parliament.

I’m glad to see Labour gone. I’m hoping that the new Government will not be as arrogant as the last, though the British Government is typically quite arrogant, regardless of who is in power.

Government Terrorising the Opposition

It’s all over the top of the news – the BBC, the Daily Mail, the Telegraph, the Times. The Government of the United Kingdom has just upped the totalitarian stakes.

It’s the sort of thing that happens in tinpot dictatorships. The Opposition spokesman on immigration, Damian Green, MP, has been arrested on allegations that he leaked stories to the media that he received from a Home Office whistle-blower. The police raided his home, his parliamentary office, and his constituency office.

There were allegedly four leaks between November of last year and September of this year. Green let the press know about:

an illegal immigrant that had been employed as a Commons cleaner,

a letter from the Home Secretary to the Prime Minister warning that a recession could lead to a rise in crime,

that the Home Secretary was warned that thousands of illegal immigrants had been cleared to work in sensitive Whitehall security jobs but accepted advice from her officials for a news blackout on the affair, and

a list, prepared by Labour whips, of MPs’ likely voting intentions on legislation to extend to 42 days detention without charge.

The Tory Leader, David Cameron has rightly noted, “As Shadow Immigration Minister, Mr Green has, on a number of occasions, legitimately revealed information which the Home Office chose not to make public. Disclosure of this information was manifestly in the public interest. Mr Green denies any wrongdoing.” Instead, he was arrested by counter-terrorism officers.

Those officers came from the Metropolitan Police. It is no coincidence (and even the mainstream media are saying this) that today is the last day in the job for Met Police Commissioner Sir Ian Blair, forced out of office by the Conservative mayor of London Boris Johnson.

It is also no coincidence that it came as the House of Commons was in recess. The matter would have been immediately raised with ministers. As it is, they can operate without challenge for several days.

George Osborne said moments ago on BBC’s Question TIme, “It has long been the case in our democracy that members of Parliament have received information from civil servants. I think to hide information from the public is wrong.”  Labour MP Diane Abbott, not being very supportive of the Government, just said on This Week, “Civil servants have been leaking information to politicians since the dawn of the photocopier. The Metropolitan Police do some daft things. They would never arrest a Member of Parliament without getting some form of political cover.” In other words, as much of the media is saying, this has to have been cleared at a very high level, despite the statement by a Downing Street spokesman that the Prime Minister had no prior knowledge of the arrest.

Green is being questioned on allegations of the offence of conspiracy to commit misconduct in a public office. This carries a possible life sentence.

There is terrorism involved here. The Government is terrorising the Opposition to keep it from raising questions about the Government’s competence and honesty at the highest levels. As one not surprisingly anonymous insider question has been quoted in the media, this is “Stalinesque . . . unprecedented in its high-handedness”.

Fewer Men in the Judiciary

The Times claims today that women “are finally breaking through the glass ceiling of senior judicial appointments.” A Telegraph headline asked last month, “Why are there so few women in the High Court?” Of course I’m going to ask the opposite question: why are women more successful in getting on the High Court?

There were 22 High Cout posts available in the latest round of appointments. Five of the successful candidates were women. That’s nearly 23% of the posts given to women. However, there were only eleven female applicants, so the success rate for women was 45%. There were 118 male applicants from whom were filled the remaining 17 posts, so the success rate for male applicants was 14%.

While the Government claims that all judicial posts are filled on merit, this would appear to be more discrimination based on gender. Just like they are intent on having a certain number of female MPs, but to a certain extent are dependent upon the electorate. The judiciary is different. They are appointed by the Lord Chancellor.

But don’t expect things to change when the Tories take power at the next election. David Cameron already has a policy of forcing more women on safe and key marginal parliamentary seats. I have no doubt his Lord Chancellor will follow the same affirmative action policy.