Saturday, April 12, 2008

Freedom Under the Rule of Law is Being Eroded

If I wanted to live in East Germany, I would have moved there in the 1980s. I don't want to live in a country where local councils routinely spy on dog owners, or people who only want the best education for their children. I don't want to live in a country where surveillance becomes a watchword, where 1984 is considered a template rather than a work of fiction. And I do not want to live in a country where my government connives with arms dealers to tacitly condone bribery, corruption and worse and then cowers in the face of threats from a foreign government.

We have so far not heard a squeak from Number Ten in response to the Saudi Arms deal judgement in the High Court. We still don't know whether Gordon Brown will side with Tony Blair or do what's right. What we do know from this morning's papers is that the Conservatives are siding with the Government (despite not knowing what the government's position actually is). I am sorry they felt the need to say anything yet. Perhaps I am being too much of an idealist on this issue, but like Sam Leith in the Telegraph today I just do not buy the arguments here about the "national interest". As a country we are supposed to believe in freedom under the rule of law. Without the rule of law there can never be complete freedom. If the government decides that it will sidestep the rule of law on a big issue like this, it is open season for others to follow suit. And if the Opposition follows them in doing so, then are we to be surprised when people accuse politicians of being "all the same"? Leith writes...

'No one, whether within this country or outside is entitled to interfere with the course of our justice," is the ringing refrain of Lord Justice Moses's judgment on the Al-Yamamah fraud inquiry. It is a wonderfully fierce and lucid restatement of the principle of separation of powers and, in its context, an object reminder of why it is so important. It says, at root, that the law is the law: and that it operates independently of political convenience, diplomatic horse-trading, and calculations of personal or even national advantage. Bravo to that.

The argument for turning a blind eye to corruption in the arms trade is much the same as the one applied against closing tax avoidance loopholes for the super-rich. And it is, for all that it gets dressed up in the pompous language of international realpolitik, a playground argument: if we don't do it, someone else will.

If we didn't call off the dogs, we were told before the Serious Fraud Office's inquiry was halted, the Saudis would buy their fighter planes from France instead of us. So, for the greater good, we ought to let this one slide.

The problem with this reasoning is that by "recognising the reality" of corruption and conniving in it, you also perpetuate it. You forfeit not only your ability to talk without hoots of derision about an "ethical foreign policy" (remember that?), but any chance of applying pressure to others. "You go first" and "just this once" are shoddy principles on which to form policy.

Say you are a shopkeeper, caught selling a 14-year-old lad a two-litre bottle of White Lightning, some fireworks and a grab-bag of huffable solvents. What sort of defence is it to maintain that "everyone's doing it" and "he would have had got it from someone so it might as well be me"?

We recognise that excuse as pathetically childish and self-serving. So why, if the person concerned is an arms dealer, do we suddenly regard this as a sophisticated and hard-headed defence of British interests and a regrettable example of the way the world wags, but there it is old boy? Piffle, poppycock and monkey nuts.

I couldn't agree more.


Anonymous said...

Iain, I agree with you entirely. Dave's actions in siding with Brown in an attempted retrospective cover-up rather blow Dave's image of the 'decent guy' out of the water.

This must rank as one of Dave's poorer decisions, on a par with him still going to Africa while parts of his constituency were under water last summer. That decision nearly ended up with a General Election that Brown stood a good chance of winning.

If I was a Lib-dem supporter who was considering that the new Conservatives represented a change from the Aitken and co. arms-trading sleaze of the '90s then now I would be thinking again.

David Boothroyd said...

You do realise that the Al-Yamamah arms contract was negotiated under the Thatcher government, and signed on 17 February 1986? The National Audit Office started to inquire in 1989 and completed a report on it in 1992, which has been suppressed.

We can't have a selective washing of dirty linen in public; if the later aspects of the contract are revealed then the earlier bits must come out as well.

Iain Dale said...

I would have thought my views were crystal clear. We cannot have governments - of whatever colour - ignoring the law. If they want to change the law and allow this sort of thing then fine, put it to the electorate and we'll see how far it gets them.

David, please don't tell me you can defend Blair on this! Even your loyalty must be stretched.

Anonymous said...

Iain, I normally agree with your comments, however, in this instance I have to take a different view.

The UK has done the same as France, Iran, Libya, China, India, Pakistan etc and paid a bribe.

What would you prefer Iain?, that some other country got the contract, this entire issue has nothing to do with the Rule of Law, instead it is a political issue that your are making into something it is not.

As a Conservative voter, I find no fault with Labours behaviour, for once they are beaving in the public (economic) good.

Anonymous said...

agree with you completely Iain. its a shameless position for Cameron to take and will be very harmful for him. he must oppose every shabby, illegal and corrupt act of this government with gusto. that alone would gtee victory in 2010

Curbishly said...

Iain I am in so much agreement with you here.

We have a vacancy for Bob Spinks seat in Castle Point, I know it's an unfashionable part of Essex but it was good enough for Sir Bernard Braine.

Send us your C.V.

Anonymous said...

I totally agree, but worryingly I can't find a freer country to move to. Just when I think I've found the right place I discover some barking mad intrusive law that puts me off completely.

So, which country should we all be moving to?

Malcolm Redfellow said...

Gosh: at last a chance fully to concur with Dale on something.

The intervention on BAe was calculating, short-termist and cynical in the extreme: the Blair cabal must fully have appreciated their Lordships would chew it over and spit it out. In other words, that we would be where we are.

The political and commercial basis for the veto was obvious: BAe management, trades unions, electoral pressures. None of which justifies winking at blatant corruption. What we will never know is if other sub-rosa pressures were applied. Perhaps from the anonymous Saudi mentioned in yesterday's Times? Or by some "usual channels" shenanigans to preserve the reputation of the Lady? (In which case, which is the more likely: the £2M generally mooted to have been trousered by the Boy Mark, or the stupendous £12M suggested in that same Times item?)

As for Poole Council's venture into Stasi-land, what amused me was that none of the three accounts I read pointed out it is Tory-controlled. Now, had it been a different political persuasion ...

Anonymous said...

What makes the government's actions even more hypocritical is that bribery of this sort only became illegal under a treaty they signed! Previously it was not illegal to pay "commissions" overseas to win trade orders

David Boothroyd said...

I don't have the information necessary to make an informed judgment on this issue. It should be noted that the decision to drop the case took no account of the argument that the contract helped the British economy and employment at British Aerospace. It was justified on the basis of national security.

Taking at face value the suggestion that the Saudis had threatened to cut off intelligence co-operation should the investigation continue, the information lacking is the extent to which such co-operation occurs at present, and the views of the Intelligence agencies about how useful it is, and will be in ensuring national security.

Without this information any judgment either way would be taken in ignorance of the implications. The maxim "let justice be done even though the heavens fall" may be attractive but the consequence of it may be that the heavens do indeed fall, and I would not like to be the person who had to explain to someone killed in a terrorist bombing that we might have been able to stop it but for information denied to us.

Anonymous said...

'Freedom Under the Rule of Law' has been eroded for decades- we just can't blame ZaNuLabour! I say connivance by the 'political elites' our 'establishment' and 'financial sector' have ignored the 'will of the people' for ages- over immigration and the EU- and will continue to do so. We live in a surveillance society. Nothing to do with 'protecting the people' but everything to do with 'controlling' the people. We may despise ZaNuLabour, but i suspect we will replace one bunch of tossers with ANOTHER bunch of tossers. Looks like Orwell was right.

Anonymous said...

This is one of your strongest posts yet, with a very clear premise. Don't let them off the hook.

Anonymous said...

Dear Iain,
"1984 is considered a template rather than a work of fiction" has almost become a cliché now and alarmingly this happened without setting off all the alarm bells that the book was intended to create. Some Blairs should be better honoured.

Yes Minister described for all time the slippery ethics of this arms deal. I think the episode was called the Moral Dimension (summary: moral codes vary from place to place and baksheesh is a fact of business in the Middle East).

It didn't include a threat to end security cooperation though. People with knowledge of how valuable this intelligence is, and the chances of the threat being followed through, should make the decision. It is the heavy duty of political representatives to be morally ambiguous on our behalf.

Quick off-topic thought, has our 'banana republic' postal voting system been changed? I hope I'm wrong, but I cynically suspect not because most of the previous vote-rigging seemed to benefit Labour and all the fraudsters escaped unscathed. Roll on Gordon's lectures to Mugabe.

Chris Paul said...

I'll blog on the schools thing later and let you know.

The law has changed AFTER the behaviours which as Richard Dale reported yesterday in your comments may be immoral but were not then illegal. And then is what matters.

And also waste of public money. And jobs. And security. And all.

Tories would have done exactly the same. Even you would have if you'd actually had to make a decision yourself.

I detest the arms industry and have lobbied against various sales to dodgy states, but even I can see this being a sensible decision in the law.

Anonymous said...

So Iain, for various reasons you no longer wish to live in the UK. Where would you rather live? I've never managed to come up with an alternative which is better overall though Lord knows I've tried.

Roger Thornhill said...

IIRC one cannot bring in the Thatcher years as the law about bribery conducted abroad was not in force at that time. It would be retrospective. Correct me if I am wrong.

However, is not the current law an example of extraterritorality - what happened abroad within another jurisdiction?

Anonymous said...

There Lib Dem vacancies too Iain.

Anonymous said...

"As a country we are supposed to believe in freedom under the rule of law."

When the law was made by elected persons who cared for the welfare of this country (plus a bit of judge made law to fill in a couple of gaps) that was true. It isn't now.

What we now have are (a)politicians who hate Britain making laws as damaging to Britain as they can manage and (b) totally out of control lawyers making gigantic strides to cause even more destruction to Britain whether by direct attacks on the economy and security of the country or by sneaking in international agreements subjugating us to our foreign enemies.

They must all be punished.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately you appear to be on your own here -- the Tories have just sided with Brown over keeping this mum.

Iain Dale said...

Cinnamon, did you actually ready what I wrote?!

Anonymous said...

Aren't there are at least 2 separate issues here?

Anyone who deals with the Middle East and Africa knows that bribery is necessary. Like it, don't like it, it's a fact.

So the Al Yamama deal involved 'douceurs'. You could take the stance that it was wrong, it won't happen again.

Stopping the investigation because of threats from a foreign State is a whole 'nother issue, which makes one long for the days of Palmerston.

Anonymous said...

Erm, oops -- I must have skipped that sentence, probably because I totally agree with you (and more).

I guess I'm just gutted, first the Tories support the drug dealer mafias that support the Taleban's terrorism by insisting on the impossible that simply will not happen (abstinence), now they are totally selling out our sovereignty and, our justice system to the Saudis.

The entire thing is totally cringeworthy :(

British politics is like a chav fish'n'chip shop: plenty of fattening, empty calories to eat, but nothing that tastes like actual food or would nourish you.

Anonymous said...

Remember the 1980s when we were all considered to have an inner mental life. Concepts such as motivation, desire and aspiration have gone and has been replaced with behavioural control.

Anonymous said...

"The maxim "let justice be done even though the heavens fall" may be attractive but the consequence of it may be that the heavens do indeed fall, and I would not like to be the person who had to explain to someone killed in a terrorist bombing that we might have been able to stop it but for information denied to us."

What a stupid way of arguing, you're blaming the victim for the attack here.

If anyone holds information about such an act, the moment they do not share this for whatever reason, they are an equal part of the crime.

Someone trying to 'sell' you such information is commonly called an extortionist, and should be treated as such, not be caved into.

Look up 'Danegeld' for more information...

Also, contact your local NHS butcher to ask for an urgent spine transplant, methinks you need it.

Anonymous said...

Come on Iain, where is freer? Your fans demand your infinite wisdom be revealed.

Anonymous said...

I agree with much of what you write Ian however anyone who deals with Middle Eastern countires knows that backhanders (bakish) are part of the DNA,,yes have an inquiry, but take the chance on thousands of people losing their jobs when the orders are stopped.
There is a much more urgent local need for the Tories to attend to "Our freedoms being eroded".
Ref,Council spy cases reach 1000 - Telegraph.
As the Tories are the majority party of local government in England and, hopefully a larger majority after the May 1st elections, I would like to see David Cameron giving them all a clear order that they will put a stop to this disgraceful Stasi like spying on the public.
The story of Poole Council in Dorset spying on the parents of a 3 year old child was on Newsnight last evening.
I haven,t checked if its Tory run but assumed not otherwise the pro left BBC would have delighted in pointing that out.
I know David Cameron, David Davis, etal are great belivers in putting a stop to the increasing theft of peoples privacy and liberties by the NuLab government and its acolytes so David, please prove it by ordering Tory councils to give a commitment they will not use the draconian powers of the Anti-Terrorist legislation to spy on innocent people.
As for those newspapers like the Sun, Times, Mirror etc and the majorities of the public in opinion polls who supported the legislation,, shame on you for letting the NuLab government con you out of your Freedoms.
Posted by John F in Aberdeen

Anonymous said...

At 12:10 PM Anonymous asked where you would rather live. Iain?

Iain Dale said...

If I wanted to live somewhere else I would do so. That doesn't prevent me from saying I don;t want to live in a country where this sort of thing happens. Which is exactly why I write and such things and which is why I wanted to go into politics - to change things and make this a better country to live in - one where those in power understand the concept of freedom under the rule of law.

Anonymous said...

If there's no country in which you'd rather live does that mean that you think Britain is the country that most respects the rule of law Iain?

Iain Dale said...

Are you Tim Ireland in disguise? Read the above answer. And if you want to enter into a debate, give your name. I do not enjoy debating faceless people.

Anonymous said...

Iain. Congrats on this post. My respect for you as a commentator is on the up given your ticking off of the Conservatives for siding with Labour on this. It's refreshing when a blogger isn't unceasingly partisan (David Boothroyd could learn a lesson from you!).

Anonymous said...

My understand is that Poole is Tory controlled, which I why I find their actions, and explanations even more unacceptable. I would half expect some Labour or Lib-dem zealots to act in this way - but a Tory Council???

Come on Dave be explicit in deploring these actions, this council and say what you will do to tighten up matters so the trivial does not get mixed in with the serious.

Unsworth said...

Anyone care to define 'the national interest'?

Blair's definition (if he ever had one) seems to have been forgotten, Brown doesn't seem to understand the concept anyway, as for the others on the Government Front Bench - which of them has the slightest idea?

All we are left with is Brown's occluded 'vision'.

Anyway, at least the judiciary have an inkling. If it was in the interests of 'security' that the inquiry should be abandoned then no doubt the Government will be able to provide chapter and verse on this. They introduced the legislation and, presumably, understood the implications of so doing.

Still, 'hoist' and 'petard' come to mind. Which particular genius thought this one up, eh?

Anonymous said...

I'm not trying to debate you Iain, I'm asking a straightforward question - where is freer than the UK? I want an answer because I want to move there! I am sick of this government's authoritarian policies and want to move to a country where I'd be freer but unfortunately I can't find one. My name's Timothy Price but I can't see how that's in any way relevant or meaningful.

Tapestry said...

So you don't want an aircraft industry.

I was trained in the arts of bribery and corruption working a sales representative in my youth. I didn't like doing it but that is the way that most business works where the customer is not self-employed, or where the customer is a sovereign power in a part of the world where such things are normal.

Britain's own government ran like that for centuries, and possibly still pays off more officials etc than we will ever be told.

Question - Would you be prepared to forego possession of your beautiful car to achieve your moral ideals?

(Thought not!)

Anonymous said...

no one either within this country or outside in entitled to interfere with our justice.

Does this include,or exclude Brussels?

DiscoveredJoys said...

Spot on in your analysis Iain, and I can't tell you how much that depresses me.

Trouble is, almost everything we want is coupled with an unwanted consequence. Want high value arms deals, but don't want to deal in bribes - tough. Want to catch dole cheats, but don't want covert surveillance - tough. Want a good standard of living, but don't want to generate pollution - tough.

I suspect that there is an underlying cause - there are too many people in the world and all the 'slack' in resources is now gone. It was the 'slack' which let people who disliked local conditions move on elsewhere - but as you now find there are very few places to go.

Most likely outcome? I guess that in a few years time there will be more and more social unrest in the 'developed' countries, and outright war over water, land or fuel elsewhere.

The alternative (that people rein in their appetites) seems too unlikely to be credible. Now you know why I'm depressed.

Unknown said...

I think everyone will be pleased by the tone of the judges' remarks on the rule of law, and the way the government seems to have caved in shamelessly in the face of one man's threat does seem a convenient pretext.

But I don't think this is an area in which moral absolutes answer every question. I agree (and so did the judges) that it should be lawful to stop an investigation or prosecution on grounds of national security. I think that's what the Tories have agreed with, and if that's the case then I think they're right. My own view (contrary to what seems conventional opinion right now) is that a decision like that should be made by a minister accountable to Parliament - i.e. the Attorney, who'd have to be invented if she didn't exist - and not by an official.

And I think it's worth considering other scenarios involving the absolute rule of law vs. other considerations. First, every prosecution has to pass a "public interest" test - I don't think anyone is proposing abolishing that. Second, what about US attempts to extradite British citizens under the one-sided arrangements we have with them, or at least had until recently. Do with think the behaviour of the US authorities should be unbending, and take no account of British attitudes and the risk of our scrapping the treaties?

Finally, what about those parents in Poole? If all criminality is always to be pursued no matter what other consequences to the public interest there may be, then Poole certainly should be snooping, shouldn't it?

Anonymous said...

"The story of Poole Council in Dorset spying on the parents of a 3 year old child was on Newsnight last evening.
I haven,t checked if its Tory run but assumed not otherwise the pro left BBC would have delighted in pointing that out."

Poole Council is Conservative controlled.

Anonymous said...

Sorry Iain, I didn't know you were in politics. In what way?

Anonymous said...

The regular use by the government of ' in the interests of national security' to justify dubious decisions and policies, and erode freedoms, is a real worry. And all too often, when their decision is questioned, they will not give their reasons for - you guessed it - 'reasons of national security.'

'National Security' is becoming a Rogues' Charter.

Laban said...

Your parallel with the off-license selling drink is way off the beam - because that putative offence takes place in the UK. If a UK company pays bribes in Suadi Arabia that's an issue for Saudi law, not UK law.

While I'm not completely against the extension of UK law to the rest of the world, I'd like the government to make a start by enforcing UK law in the UK, something they seem to have a major problem with.

Anonymous said...

I like this surveillance society.

Come the revolution all ex-members of ZanuLabour will get the GPS tracking implanted. Along with the head removing explosive charge.

Then we can play Lemmings the fun way

Anonymous said...

The size of the bribe on the second, Euro fighter contract was ridiculous - 10% of the deal! About 1% used to be the going rate. Essentially they gave back any profit in the deal. The Saudis are getting the planes for less than cost.

Jonathan Aitkin got them to buy Tornados (the crap fighter version) for a few million. His backhander included.

Next time we try and sell anything, anywhere, everyone will want 10%.

I dislike corrupt scum. But, I really, really hate incompetent corrupt scum.

Anonymous said...

Stick to your position Iain, in this instance I couldn't agree more with you. It is a shame the Conservatives appear to agree with the government. Perhaps they will review their position if they want to be seen as the party of ethical behaviour.

hatfield girl said...

The Anon. who keeps asking where might be a better place to live than England could give Italy a try. Tomorrow Italians go to the polls to choose between a party coalition offering decent pensions, financial stability and low public debt, a high minimum wage, stable work contracts enabling proper life planning, and further investment in the physical infrastructure to enhance economic growth.
Or, offered by the opposition, there is the re-abolition of inheritance and gift taxes, slashing of capital gains tax, reduction in the size and costs of the state leading to lower taxes over all, the abolition of road and car tax, and a reining-in of government snooping into business conformity with trade union inspired regulation.

It is being rather cold and wet for the season, due to global warming, but usually there is a fine climate, there are lovely cities, marvellous seaside, mountains... good schools, and everyone speaks English though they pretend they don't.

And you can have a rest after lunch.

Anonymous said...

Anon at 2.27pm: why do you think that a LibDem council would spy on people like this? It was the Tories who introduced the DNA database and it was the Tories who started sticking up CCTV cameras everywhere. Labour has indeed embraced both with alacrity, whilst only the LibDems have consistently opposed this headlong dash to make the state all-powerful.

Please try not to be so blindly kneejerk in your criticism of other parties.

strapworld said...


Your article is laudable,but does, rather, ignore the fact that Tapestry has made.

Sweeteners are made within this country. Sometimes they are called Christmas Gifts! A Bonus! A Thank you! But in the true sense of the word they are all corrupt acts!

Bribery is a way of life in certain parts of the world. In Hong Kong (when we were in charge) it was a matter of fact. One paid the Ambulance men if one wanted to get to the right hospital etc! It was so bad that they got British Police to head investigations into corruption - Did they stop it? Of course not.

One can be morally correct and say, as the Liberal Democrats are saying, that the investigation should be re-opened. But I bet, when the aircraft workers lost their jobs, they would be singing a different tune!

The French,Germans and most of all the Russians are well at it! If you want this country to have some industry left, I am afraid you have to be a little more savvy of life within and without these shores.

What do they say? There is no such thing as a free lunch! Guido has done much to highlight the fact that the BBC allows their political correspondents to have enormous expenses on dining and drinking! Now that is to obtain information .....but is it corrupt? I believe it to be so!

Is it right that children of former BBC employees appear to get employed within the BBC (and Sky and ITV) over others who may be better qualified?

Is it right that positive discrimination is used or to promise 50% of a future cabinet will be women?

It is not trivialising what you have written, Iain, I am just saying the roots of this decay go far and wide!

It would be nice to think we could stop it. But it goes far too deep into almost all walks of life. The golfclub! Masonics/old school/ university pals and good old nepotism!

Would Maude be where he is if he did not have the Father he did?

Iain. I would love to support you but the world is against us!

Anonymous said...

The mask behind which the Tory, Labour, Libdem and the Communist Party front hides, was brutally torn away for the voting public to see on Saturday, 12 April, when the Communist extremist Searchlight organisation held an anti-BNP march in Wrexham, North Wales - and proudly put their hammer-and-sickle Communist flags on display for all the world to see.

Anonymous said...

anon emmigre;


Anonymous said...

Re spying on litter criminals etc. There is a bigger issue here which is a vicious circle. As a siginifciant part of society becomes more irresponsible, the rest of society pushes for tougher laws. When those tougher laws aren't enforced, the irresponsible think the law doesn't matter and carry on, then people demand even more laws, so on and so on. At some point there has to be real action to set down the limit and break this circle. Anyone involved in political surveys will know that they receive more comments about litter and dog muck than virtually any other subject. When harder criminals see a community declining (graffiti, property damage, litter, muck) and basic laws not enforced the think there is a system they can thrive in. Lets enforce the existing laws and do so regularly. I don't care if someone from the council hangs around watching but we should be ensuring that the law is enforced. I think we should also make offenders do proper community work and I mean hard work. They should be out in all weathers scraping up dog muck and picking up litter and sod their human rights. The Telegraph also talked about needing a new Thatcher but I know what Lady Thatcher would have done! No wonder I rarely buy the Telegraph anymore and they called this an "exclusive". God help us!

Anonymous said...

My every instinct concurs with the general nausea felt about this situation, and yet...

I think it is far more to do with NuLabour's laws of unintended consequences than anything else. National Security was the reason given for halting the enquiry, which never would have been started without they legislation they introduced, but how large in their thinking loomed the loss of all those jobs? And more pertinently, all those votes?

Margaret Thatcher worked very hard to get this contract and she was no fool. She must have known that it would involve bribes & kickbacks on a grand scale; that's how things work in that part of the world. Before so roundly condemning David Cameron, might it not be interesting to know what she would be doing in these circumstances? I suspect she might not be acting with the idealism you would like.