Messages on mugs: deaths in the Med

Immigration remains a key topic in this election – and not just on the lips of UKIP.  All the main parties are part of what is effectively a consensus on immigration: that immigration is essentially ‘bad’. It’s that consensus that leads to the hideous inhumanity that makes it somehow politically acceptable to let people drown in their hundreds. It shouldn’t be like that, if we have any humanity left.

The Tories and Lib Dems, who passed the Immigration Act 2014, have both been fuelling this message. Amongst other things that act – in many ways the most xenophobic piece of law in recent times – brings into action an increasing need to ‘check’ people to see if they’re illegal immigrants or not. Doctors, landlords, bankers etc etc are expected to check people’s papers to see if they’re what might loosely be called ‘the right kind of people’. That in itself fuels a process that suggests that some people are better than others. It’s not just immigration that is essentially ‘bad': it’s the immigrants themselves.

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Labour are far from innocent. They abstained on the Immigration Act 2014, and have taken on the whole ‘immigration is bad’ agenda in a big way. The infamous ‘controls on immigration’ mug isn’t an accident: it’s part of an overall agenda, accepting the ‘immigration is bad’ view, despite the strong moral, economic and cultural evidence to the contrary. Anti-immigrant feeling is strongest where there are fewest immigrants, migrants claim less in benefits than natives and make net contributions and so on and so forth, but somehow that is not worth arguing for. Instead we have three parties all pandering to the prejudices fuelled by UKIP and certain elements in the press. We have what ultimately amounts to a dehumanisation of immigrants. They’re not people, they’re migrants. They’re not men, women and children, they’re migrants, and a drain and a strain on resources.

Slap that message on a mug, make a pledge here and a statement there. We need to keep ‘them’ out. They’re ‘flooding here’ (humans don’t ‘flood’ anywhere, only migrants). Better cut their benefits (even though they don’t actually claim many). Better to stop them coming (over) here.

That kind of an approach leads in only one direction – to a place where Katie Hopkins can call migrants cockroaches. A place where letting men, women and children drown in their hundreds is acceptable.

We need to rethink this from top to bottom. And yes, that means everyone involved in fuelling the myths. Whatever Labour strategist came up with the ‘five pledges’, let alone that hideous mug’, is part of the same story. They’re part of the spectrum that leads to calling people cockroaches and setting the gunboats on them. All the pious statements in the last couple of days by politicians – notably Lib Dem and Labour politicians – should be viewed in that context. You’re part of what brings this inhumanity to bear. Part of the problem.

Storm in a tea-cup?

Screen Shot 2015-03-30 at 07.34.32I have to admit, I was one of the ‘lefties’ upset by the ‘controls on immigration tea cup’ over the weekend. Maybe I got too upset – some Labour stalwarts said it was a ‘storm in a tea cup’, others that I was missing the point in a number of ways. Maybe the fact that I’m married to an immigrant makes me extra-sensitive to this kind of issue – or perhaps it makes me more aware of the impact of the UKIP agenda really is.

Others told me ‘it’s just one of the pledges, we do mugs for all the pledges’ – to which I say that’s the bigger, and even worse point. Why is controlling immigration one of Labour’s five pledges at all? To start with all the evidence suggests that immigration isn’t really a ‘problem’, except in the false agenda driven by the likes of UKIP and the Daily Mail. ‘Health tourism’ and ‘benefits tourism’ are scare stories with no basis in fact – migrants use the health service and benefits system less than average, and indeed are critical for the success of the NHS. Migrants contribute more to the economy than they take out of it. They don’t even have an effect on local wages and jobs – the evidence as it is gathered and analysed is increasingly clear. No surprise, then, that anti-immigrant feeling is stronger in places with fewer immigrants, who haven’t experienced the reality of immigration to see that the scare stories are just that: scare stories.

I was even told yesterday that the five pledges aren’t actually Labour’s priorities, just pledges – but be serious, it’s all about the message. These are five simple message to be put on post cards and billboards as well as mugs. Of course they’re intended to show Labour’s priorities – which is why having ‘controls on immigration’ on one is so disappointing. Labour could have chosen any number of alternatives. Here are the original five:

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Now I’m not wildly happy with any of them except the third – the first one smacks a little bit of austerity, the second uses that overused and exclusionary phrase ‘working families’, and the last is ultimately pretty meaningless – but it’s the fourth that’s the real problem – so here are seven alternative suggestions for pledge number four, some of which are based on actual Labour policies.

1: Build more homes

Build 200,000 genuinely affordable homes every year – we have a real and growing housing crisis, and it’s not caused by immigration but by a dysfunctional housing market and not enough building. Labour knows this – why not talk about this rather than dog-whistling for education

2: Make education work for everyone

Michael Gove (and now Nicky Morgan) have done huge amounts to damage the education system, to lower teachers’ morale, to shift scarce resources from where they’re needed to where there are already enough schools – Labour will repair that damage, support teachers and help rebuild the education system after five years of destruction

3: Make tax fair!

For too long have tax avoiders and tax evaders – whether they be individuals or companies – been able to make ‘little people’ pay more than they can afford while they, the tax avoiders and evaders, find ways out. Labour will tighten the rules, make sure those that who can afford it do pay their share, and make the whole tax system fairer.

4: Control energy prices

Ed Miliband’s energy price freeze was a very popular policy – and Labour have promised a complete review of the energy market. Let’s do it, and make sure that the energy companies no longer have the scope to take advantage of consumers.

5: Nationalise the railways

Labour has been making tentative steps towards this seemingly popular and effective policy – why not go the whole hog, and shout about it too!

6: Restore access to justice

The damage to our legal system – and particularly to our legal aid system – by Chris Grayling has been one of the most devastating of any area of government. On the anniversary of Magna Carta (and all the myths around it) surely access to justice can be made into a message that hits home?

7: Protect the vulnerable

Yes, I realise this isn’t popular in the days of acceptance by Rachel Reeves of the scrounger/striver agenda, but shouldn’t Labour be the party that does protect vulnerable people? Isn’t that part of the point? From the Bedroom tax to the WCA, from the leaked £12 billion planned cuts, vulnerable people and their carers have been hit hideously hard by this government – surely Labour can take a stand and protect them!

 

Better messages?

Wouldn’t any of these seven look far, far better on a mug than ‘controls on immigration’? Aren’t the underlying issues – housing, education, tax, energy (and cost of living), transport, justice and social security – more important than immigration, particularly when immigration is actually beneficial not harmful? I haven’t dared suggest ‘Civil Liberties’ on a mug, as that would clearly be pushing Labour too far, but why not one of these?

Sadly, I think we know why not. This really is dog whistle politics, and pandering to racism and xenophobia – which is why I was upset in the first place. A storm in a tea cup? Perhaps. But tea cups matter, as do the messages on them.

A shout out for the Open Rights Group!

Screen Shot 2015-03-17 at 10.04.26Today is #DigitalRightsMatter day – and yes, I know there are days for many things (including, despite the complaints from some, an International Men’s Day (November 19th)). I’m usually fairly cynical about these days – but they do serve a purpose – to focus minds on significant issues, and hopefully to find ways to actually do something about them. In this case, the issue is digital rights – one close to my heart – and the thing to do is to support the Open Rights Group (ORG).

I should say, right from the start, that I’m on the Advisory Council of ORG so I have something of a vested interest – but I’m only on the Advisory Council because I think what ORG does is of critical importance, particularly right now. Never has there been a time when digital rights have been more important, and never has there been a time when they are more under threat. We use the internet for more and more things – from our work to our personal life, from our political activism to our entertainment, from finding jobs to finding romance. Indeed, there are pretty much no parts of our lives that are untouched by the internet – so what happens online, what happens to our digital freedoms and rights, is of ever increasing importance.

Now is when we need them

The threats that we face to our freedoms are growing at a seemingly exponential rate. Surveillance is almost everywhere, and the political pressure to increase it is frightening. Censorship, the other side of that authoritarian coin, is growing almost as fast – from more and more uses for ‘web-blocking’ to ‘porn’ filters that hide vastly more than porn, from critically important sex education websites to sites that discuss alcohol, anorexia and hate speech. David Cameron talks about banning encryption without seemingly having any idea of what he’s talking about – or the implications of his suggestions.

This last point highlights one of the reasons ORG is critically important right now. Politicians from all the mainstream parties seem to have very little grasp of how the internet works – and they reach for ‘easy’ solutions which get the right headlines in the Tabloid press but are not only almost always counterproductive and authoritarian but actually encourage the perpetuation of damaging myths that will make things continue to get worse. The media, left to their own devices, also have a tendency to look for easy headlines and worse.

That’s one of the places that ORG comes in. It campaigns on these issues – current campaigns include ‘Don’t Spy On Us’ dealing with surveillance, Blocked! which looks at filtering, and 451 Unavailable which tries to bring transparency to the blocking of websites by court orders. It produces information that cuts through the confusion and makes sense of these issues – and tries to help politicians and the media to understand them more. And it works – ORG representatives are now quoted regularly in the media and when they make submissions to government inquiries they’re the ones who are given hearings and referred to in reports.

They do much more than this. They help with court cases working with other excellent advocacy groups like Privacy International – the current challenge to the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act (DRIPA) is just one of many they’ve been involved in, and these cases really matter. They don’t always win – indeed, sadly they don’t win often – but they often force the disclosure of critical information, they sometimes bring about changes in the law, and they raise the profile of critical issues. ORG are also part of the critical European organisation EDRi who bring together digital rights groups from all over Europe to even more effect.

Now is when they need us

ORG, like other advocacy groups, regularly punches above its weight. It doesn’t have the massive resources of the government agencies and international corporations whose activities they often have to campaign against. There are no deep pockets in ORG, and no massive numbers of staff – they rely on donations, and on volunteers. That’s where #DigitalRightsMatter day comes in – ORG is trying to find new members, get more donations and find access to more expertise. Can you help?

ORG’s joining page is here

Their blog about #DigitalRightsMatter day is here

I would encourage anyone to consider joining – because Digital Rights really do matter, and not just on #DigitalRightsMatter day.

Rifkind of the ISC…

Sir Malcolm Leslie Rifkind, KCMG, QC, MP, former Defence Secretary, former Foreign Secretary, distinguished member of Margaret Thatcher’s cabinet, long standing member of parliament, has become ensnared in a ‘cash for access’ scandal. This has many implications – and many different angles to examine, from his claim that it would be ‘unrealistic’ to expect an MP to live on £67k per annum onward – but the one that may be the most important is his role as Chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee, the ISC. The ISC is the only parliamentary body that oversees the activities of the intelligence services – MI5, MI6 and GCHQ. It is a body that is made up only of people personally nominated by the Prime Minister, and given the nod by the leader of the opposition – and until last year, it operated effectively in private. It has had one public session (about which I have written before) in November last year, and it wasn’t exactly impressive – it felt rehearsed, and scripted, the heads of MI5, MI6 and GCHQ having been given details of the questions beforehand.

In practice, therefore, there is an enormous amount of responsibility on the ISC, and on its chair in particular. What they do is largely behind closed doors – so we have to trust that they do a good job. The latest events for Sir Malcolm Rifkind make that seem very doubtful. I have met Rifkind – I sat next to him at the ‘Round Table’ events as part of the ISC’s inquiry into surveillance – and I have to admit I liked him. He was charming, affable, a good listener, clearly intelligent, and in some ways what appears to be a consummate politician. His experience is enormous, his ability to ‘manage’ meetings very impressive – but does that make him suitable for the key role overseeing the UK’s intelligence services?

He does not have the technical knowledge or understanding of the technology – he made that entirely clear from the start of the Round Table discussion, asking for the most basic information and demonstrating some critical levels of technical ignorance. He does not have the legal understanding either – he admitted to me directly that he didn’t understand RIPA – the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act that is central to the governance of surveillance in the UK. So what is left? His ‘gravitas’, his position as a ‘safe pair of hands’. And that, importantly, is what is now compromised. He is supposed to represent us – and from what we have seen about his ‘cash for access’ scandal, it seems pretty clear that his main representation is of himself. He was duped by a fake Chinese company, set up by journalists, for the chance of making money. What he said may (it has yet to be confirmed) be within the parliamentary guidelines, but in this context that cannot be nearly enough. Being Chair of the ISC is a huge responsibility – and it has huge sensitivity.

It isn’t just personal issues that are at stake, but national security to: just imagine the possibilities if the fake Chinese company had been a cover for Chinese Intelligence rather than journalists from Channel 4 and the Telegraph. It is almost a classic trap – the sort of thing that has been played out in many thrillers. Some thrillers, these days, would have had Rifkind compromised by people within the intelligence services, so that they can bend him to their will – but I don’t believe that is the real risk here. Rather, it shows inappropriate priorities – when priorities are particularly critical.

There is another side to this that should be deeply concerning. This kind of thing matters because companies – specifically companies involved in the development and supply of surveillance technology – are part of the problem with surveillance. They want to promote surveillance so they can be paid to develop and implement technology here that can then be exported elsewhere – there is a ready market for surveillance systems all over the world, particularly to the more oppressive and autocratic of governments. These companies can lobby, can manipulate, can bamboozle people without the technological knowledge or understanding to appreciate the risks. And Rifkind fits the bill.

I don’t believe it is just Rifkind that is the issue here – though the idea that he could remain as Chair of the ISC after this is frankly deeply disturbing – but our whole system of oversight of intelligence. Depending on individuals, particularly individuals appointed through a system which is rife with patronage and inside connections, just doesn’t work. It creates vulnerability – and destroys the possibility of accountability. It needs root and branch reform – the involvement of technical experts, civil society and the judiciary, not just politicians and civil servants. Will it happen? It seems unlikely. Eventually Rifkind will probably fall on his sword, but nothing more will change. If only it would.

UPDATE: 10:15 February 24th: Rifkind has stepped down as Chair of the ISC, though he remains a member of the committee.

10:30 February 24th: Rifkind will also be stepping down as an MP in May

The Snoopers’ Charter: Shameful Opportunism

The news that four peers are trying to bring back the Snoopers’ Charter – in its last incarnation the Communications Data Bill – is depressingly predictable, but perhaps even more shameful than other attempts at legitimising mass data gathering and surveillance. It displays shameful opportunism that seems to plumb new depths – and in a number of different way

1     Bringing it in based on an event

It is a bit of an axiom that reactive law – knee-jerk law – is a bad idea. Law by its nature needs to be considered carefully, not passed in the heat of a moment. The more oppressive and ill-considered of ‘counter-terror’ legislation, however, seems to tend to be done this way all too often. The USA-PATRIOT Act (whose long name, the Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act is worth a read in itself) is perhaps the best known example, but the Data Retention Directive worked just the same way, passed in the wake of the 7/7 bombings in London, and even making reference to those bombings in its preamble. That this directive was declared invalid by the Court of Justice of the European Union last year should give pause for thought. The CJEU said that the directive “entails a wide-ranging and particularly serious interference with the fundamental rights to respect for private life and to the protection of personal data, without that interference being limited to what is strictly necessary.” Authoritarian legislation, passed in haste, takes a long time to overturn. Even now, the repercussions are still being felt

2     Bringing it in based on this particular event

Hanging legislation on a hideous event is one thing – bringing it in based on this particular event, the Charlie Hebdo shootings, is even worse, as a careful examination of this event should have revealed not that more mass data gathering and surveillance is necessary, but rather the opposite. As I have written before, the shootings in Paris damage rather than enhance the case for mass data gathering and surveillance. The perpetrators were known to the authorities – they didn’t need to be rooted out by mass surveillance. The authorities had stopped watching them six months before, because, it seems, of lack of resources, resources that might have been available if a targeted rather than mass surveillance approach had been taken. This is part of an almost overwhelming trend – the killers of Lee Rigby and the suspects in the Boston bombings were also known to the authorities. There was no need for mass data gathering and surveillance to stop them – so to use this particular event as an excuse for bringing back the Snoopers’ Charter is particularly shameful.

3     Trying to rush the legislation through

It is almost never appropriate to rush legislation through – but sadly this is also all too familiar. Last summer, Parliament brought itself into significant disrepute by rushing through the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act (DRIP) in a matter of mere days, with no real time for scrutiny, no opportunity for independent expert analysis, and no real opposition from any of the main parties. This is not the way to legislate – it wasn’t right then, and it wouldn’t be right now.

4     Doing this in the midst of investigations and legal challenges

The one saving grace in DRIP was that it was intended to give breathing space, to allow proper, detailed and careful consideration to the many issues involved in surveillance. At the same time, there are a series of reviews over surveillance legislation in process – from the Intelligence and Security Committee and by the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation to start with. Moreover, DRIP itself is subject to legal challenge. To try to pass much more comprehensive and far-reaching legislation even before these reviews have been completed and their reports scrutinised, and before the legal challenges even make their way into the court room, is also deeply shameful – prejudging the results of those reports, and, in effect, disrespecting all those involved.

5     Doing this in the face of a clear CJEU ruling

What is perhaps even worse, is that on the face of it the planned legislation flies directly in the face of the CJEU ruling on data retention. The ruling was strong, clear and direct – but does not seem, on immediate reading of the legislation, to have been taken into account at all. Of course this may be wrong – but as the new legislation only appeared yesterday, and is planned to go before the Lords on Monday, there has not been time for proper, detailed analysis – and nor has there been any kind of explanation or reconciliation presented. This again highlights the point of taking time over legislation – and going through proper, detailed procedures.

6     Using a highly dodgy political method

The method which has been chosen to try to introduce this law is, to put it mildly, somewhat doubtful. Rather than a full Bill, the four peers have tabled an amendment – 18 pages of additional clauses – to an existing bill, the Counter Terrorism and Security, which has already gone through most of the processes necessary before becoming law. It’s like slipping in an entirely new law just before the first law is passed – it makes a mockery of parliamentary process, and in effect disrespects the whole of parliament.  Describing it as trying to sneak in the Snoopers’ Charter by the back door may even be too kind.

7     Ignoring the committee

The original Communications Data Bill was subject to analysis by a full parliamentary committee – and that parliamentary committee came out with a highly critical report, a report which ultimately led to the abandonment of the Bill.  By trying to bring it back now, seemingly virtually unchanged, the peers proposing the amendment are ignoring the committee and its findings – and as a consequence ignoring the whole process of parliamentary scrutiny.

8     Doing it at this time, in the run up to the election

To try to push through legislation like this in the run up to the election is in itself highly dubious tactics. Politicians have their minds on other things – and many of them may care much more about being re-elected than about whether the details of legislation to be passed are a good idea or not. Whether they ‘look’ good is what matters, and whether that makes them more electable. Right now, in the light of the anger and fear resulting from the Charlie Hebdo shootings, to oppose something that might make people safer, will be difficult – and may hinder the electoral prospects of MPs. This kind of thing has happened before – the way that the Digital Economy Act was passed in 2010 springs to mind – and again makes the timing of the bringing forward of the amendment feel very wrong

Why are they doing it this way?

The whole process – all these layers of opportunism – should make the alarm bells ring. This is a hugely significant piece of law – not just in terms of what it does but in terms of what it signifies, in terms of what kind of society we want to be living in, what kind of an internet we want to have. If we are going to make decisions like this, we should make them in careful, considered ways, weighing the evidence and seeking expert opinion. That’s the idea behind the parliamentary committee system, and the time it takes to bring laws in through normal procedures.

Why, then, are these procedures being avoided, and why are these underhand methods being used? It is hard to escape the conclusion that it is because those pushing it are afraid that if it is given the appropriate amount of time, of attention, and of scrutiny, then it will once again be defeated, as it was the last time around. In the cold light of day, do we want to live in such a surveillance society? I’m not sure – but I do think that trying to make those decisions in this way, in the heat of the moment and without the opportunity to give proper thought and proper scrutiny, is a disastrous way to proceed. Those behind it should be ashamed.

Dear Labour supporters…

As a long-time Labour voter who has since joined the Greens, and is still not absolutely certain which way to vote in the General Election, I keep finding myself saying the same thing on Twitter when discussing the election. Rather than repeat myself so many times, I thought I’d put a few of the standard questions and answers down here for reference. Just so you don’t have to ask me again and again, directly….

“Vote Green, get Tory”

I can’t count the number of times I’ve been told this. Firstly, in my constituency that simply isn’t true. The Tories don’t really have a chance here – and anyway, if they did (and I’ll be watching the polling closely) I would almost certainly vote Labour. Secondly, we can’t just be cynical about this – if we think only in those terms, we’d never get the kinds of changes that brought the Labour Party into existence in the first place. Elections aren’t just about the immediate short-term result. If you want real change – and I would hope most progressive (not to say radical) people do want real change – we have to think in longer terms, and in deeper ways.

Vote Labour, get Tory Policies

Thirdly, this brings up the next argument. Right now, it looks as though – for many of the issues that matter to me – a more accurate statement would be ‘vote Labour, get Tory Policies’. Yes, I know the policies over the NHS are different, and I know the austerity wouldn’t be quite as harsh, and I know the bedroom tax would be repealed, but that’s not enough for me. The appallingly xenophobic immigration policy is near identical, Gove’s ‘reforms’ to education seem to be being embraced by Tristram Hunt, the authoritarian civil liberties policies (not to mention counter-productive puritanism on things like internet filtering/censorship), and the overall acceptance of the false ‘scrounger/striver’ (including regular reference to punitive measures or use of coercion on benefit claimants) dichotomy is tantamount to Toryism.

Yes, I agree on the NHS, but given the amount of apparent denial among Labour ranks about PFI and so forth, I’m not fully convinced. When I see Labour’s unwillingness to be brave in relation to rail renationalisation, and the tentative nature of the opposition to the privatisation of the Royal Mail, I’m even less convinced.

And yes, I know that Labour’s austerity wouldn’t be as ‘bad’ as the current Tory austerity – that just makes Labour ‘ordinary’ Tory, and the current Tories ‘extreme’ Tory. And yes, I know that the lesser of two evils may be the ‘better’ choice in the end, but have we really come to that point? I hope not.

How NOT to get Green voters back…

Overall, my interactions with Labour supporters have reinforced the feelings that made me join the Green Party in the first place. I’m accused of stupidity by some, of being too posh by others, of not understanding how politics works by more – the whole ‘vote Green, get Tory’ idea suggests that I haven’t thought it through. It’s an insult to my intelligence – and to my understanding of politics. I’ve been told Greens are just sandal-wearing middle-class hand-wringers. Again, not true – and insulting. Do you really think that insulting people will make them like you more?

How TO get Green voters back…

Well, a starting point would be an acknowledgment of why people feel abandoned by the Labour Party. For me, there was one pivotal moment – when Liam Byrne effectively supported (by abstaining) the retrospective legislation on Workfare, something which even now does not seem to have been acknowledged to have been a mistake. There have been other ‘facepalm’ moments when I’ve been reminded that the Parliamentary Labour Party is not on the same page as me. I know lots of excellent people in local Labour Party politics, but it’s still very hard to see how local activists get their views into the national arena. It’s hard to see any comprehension of why people might be upset – instead, when there’s a mention of something good, it’s almost always immediately matched by something appalling and retrogressive. An attack on David Cameron for not being nasty enough over immigration. An absurdity like the ‘oath’ for teachers. More support for internet censorship by Helen Goodman.

That’s why I felt the need to go elsewhere. I don’t think Labour wants to listen to people like me. Maybe I’m a dinosaur. Maybe I’m an extremist. Maybe I’m too focused on particular issues. If I felt, however, that there was even a decent chance that Labour might change on some of these things, that they might not feel the need to ape Tory/UKIP xenophobia, that they might be willing to be a touch braver, a touch more radical – then I’d be much more likely to vote Labour, even to rejoin Labour.

If, on the other hand, I get the same, tired arguments and insults, that’s likely to do precisely the opposite. Every time I’m told ‘vote Green, get Tory,’ my heart sinks for Labour – and I’m less likely to vote for them.

Prime Minister Ed?

Don’t get me wrong, I very much want to see Ed Miliband in number 10 – but I want to see an Ed Miliband not shackled to Tory policies, wedded to a Tory agenda. Right now, for me, the best way to do that seems to be, counterintuitively though it may seem, to support the Greens. How else can I tell Labour that I want a more radical, more left wing agenda? I’m very glad there are people within the Labour Party fighting to make Labour more radical – but to me, it feels as though Labour needs pressure from outside as well as inside. If pressure only comes from inside, it’s easy to ignore – and has been ignored, to a great extent, for the last few years. If, however, Labour feels as though it’s losing members, voters and supporters, then it has to react. The question is how it reacts. By insulting and patronising, or by listening and (possibly) changing. I know which one I want – and which one is likely to work on me.

 

Politicians of the year…

‘Inspired’ by The Times nomination of Nigel Farage, here is my wholly biased, evidence-free and not exactly serious set of ‘politicians of the year.

Politician of the year: Caroline Lucas
Honourable mention: Dennis Skinner

For sticking to her principles (hell, for even having principles in the first place!) listening to debates and generally being a good human being – something far beyond the reach of most MPs, Caroline Lucas took this award with relative ease – though Dennis Skinner’s NHS speech towards the end of 2014 took the breath away.

Liar of the year: Iain Duncan Smith

Extensive research has yet to find anything that IDS said in 2014 that was actually true. Full reviews of Hansard as well as of all his official speeches have failed, but close friends believe he may have been honest when telling the time once in late October.

Villain of the year: Chris Grayling

For his sadly partially successful attempts to destroy our justice system, Chris Grayling is my villain of the year. Hardly any aspect of the system has not felt his malign touch – what he has done to legal aid is nothing short of criminal, whilst probation and the prisons have been hit horribly and his judicial review plans are hideous. He’s been beaten many times in the courts, but his viciousness lumbers forward all but unabated.

Disappointment of the year: Yvette Cooper

Yvette Cooper had a real opportunity to change the authoritarian direction Labour has been heading since Blair’s embrace of the so-called ‘War on Terror’, and make Labour once again a party that understands the importance of civil liberties. Sadly she’s done pretty much precisely the opposite, seeming to want to ‘out-tough’ Theresa May, to love the surveillance state and out-Farage Farage on border controls. Sad, and totally unnecessary.

Failure of the year: Michael Gove

From leadership contender and the Man Who Would Save Education, Mr Gove has suffered a sacking, been stuck in the Commons toilet and been revealed to be a thoroughly incompetent Chief Whip – losing votes he should have won, having MPs defect just after having lunch with him. The world’s smallest violin is playing the world’s saddest song…

Racist Dog-whistler of the year: Nigel Farage

There are many awards that Nigel Farage could win – ‘Best Actor’ for his impersonation of an anti-establishment figure, despite being as establishment a politician as they come, right down to the employment of his family and full-scale exploitation of expenses rules – but the racist dog-whistles are his real forte. ‘You know the difference’ he told James O’Brien once. Yes, Nigel, we know the difference. And we know exactly what you mean.

Tragic figure of the year: Julian Huppert

Julian Huppert was one of the heroes of the commons in the way he was pivotal in the defeat of the Communications Data Bill – the snooper’s charter – but he went from hero to zero in 2014 by allowing himself to be used by Theresa May to ‘legitimise’ the passing of DRIP. That episode – the act was passed in mere days – was one of the most shameful in parliament’s recent history, and Huppert didn’t just fail to prevent it, he helped make it happen. It didn’t need to, and Huppert’s role in it was simply tragic.

Authoritarian of the year: Theresa May
Dishonourable mentions: David Blunkett, Hazel Blears

For her desire to bring back the snooper’s charter, preferably with all its powers strengthened and made less accountable, for her love of secret courts, and for all-round authoritarianism – and I’m not making this up – Theresa May is a shoe-in for the Authoritarian of the Year award. David Blunkett is past his prime, but still brings back memories of 90-day detention – while Hazel Blears’ supine efforts on the Intelligence and Security Committee make her seem positively starry eyed in the face of authority. Still, neither are a match for Theresa May!

The Mary Whitehouse Award for Puritanical Nanny of the year: Claire Perry
Dishonourable mentions: David Cameron, Helen Goodman

Fairly stiff competition for this award, but Perry wins in for her championing of ineffective, over-blocking Internet filtering systems. Cameron came close by championing of Perry, and Goodman would have loved to have had the chance. Perry, Cameron and Goodman would also have been in the running for the ‘technologically incompetent politician of the year’ award if it were not for the fact that more than 95% of MPs reached world-championship levels of technological incompetence.

Curate’s Egg of the year: Simon Danczuk

Danczuk is a quintessential Curate’s Egg: brilliant in relation to child abuse, abysmal over welfare and even worse about immigration. Tirelessly seeking out the truth about child abuse – but accepting the worst and most damaging of myths over ‘scroungers’ and strangers.

Cock of the year: Penny Mordaunt
Dishonourable mention: Brooks Newmark

It was a close run thing between Penny’s speech and Brooks’ Paisley pyjamas, but Penny’s cock was calculated whilst Brooks’ was essentially a cock-up, so Penny has the edge. She is the cock, rather than just having one.

Peacock of the year: Keith Vaz

Want a quote? Ask Keith. Want a photo? Ask Keith. Want to meet a Romanian at Luton Airport? Ask Keith. You ask for it, Keith will do it, and shake his tail feathers too.

‘The wrong tie’ award for MPs representing the wrong party: Danny Alexander
Dishonourable mention: Tristram Hunt

Danny Alexander just pips the rest of the Lib Dems and pretty much the entire Labour Front Bench for this critical award. He’s a Tory’s Tory, and if it wasn’t for the fact that his constituency is in Scotland he would probably have defected years ago. Tristram Hunt attempts to emulate Alexander’s Tory imitation, mostly by channelling mid-period Michael Gove, but doesn’t have Alexander’s sheer shamelessness in following Tory policy to the finest detail. Nice try though.

The Bulldog Award for persistence: Tom Watson

Not content with taking on Murdoch, Tom Watson is still pursuing the historical sexual abuse cases with patience and persistence – let’s hope 2015 finally starts to see some results.

…and finally…

The Clegg Award for broken promises: George Osborne

Osborne has shown a knack for missing every target he sets himself. He hasn’t quite matched Clegg for direct promise-breaking, nor has he managed an apology, let alone an auto-tuned one, but his record for missing targets is nothing short of remarkable.