PROROGUE STATE

A mate of mine recently indulged in a bit of cash-in-hand work roadying for – wait for it – ye olde Goth band Fields of the Nephilim (yes, they still exist); for those who weren’t regular readers of the music press in the mid-80s, the Nephilim were the Boyzone to The Sisters of Mercy’s Take That. Never major league players, the band nevertheless continue to attract a committed cult of hardcore followers on the road, some of whom have clearly experienced mental health issues according to the reports I received of the ones camped outside every venue on the tour. Acting as a makeshift security guard to keep said fans away from the band, my friend exchanged a few civil words with them and was a little unnerved by their stalker-like, delusional conviction they were on intimate terms with individual members; if they could just say hello, all would be well with the world.

I only thought of this because I noticed those bloody flags being waved once again outside Parliament yesterday; the brandishers of both EU and Union Jack varieties are now a seemingly permanent fixture whenever a live broadcast takes place from Westminster – and there have been plenty of those of late. The same old shouting in an attempt to drown out updates on Commons events has become a tedious accompaniment to the sight of the flags themselves. Yes, this is an issue that provokes passions (which is putting it mildly), but to be there apparently every day all day long takes either incredible stamina or simply reflects the same absence of any other purpose in life as evident in the Nephilim stalkers. At least that guy who set up a ‘peace camp’ on Parliament Square and lived in a tent there for years appeared quite chilled-out; this lot seem to be akin to noisy neighbours engaged in a never-ending back-garden barbeque.

Within the walls of the establishment they’re intent on besieging, behaviour was rather less dignified, however; and it started as it meant to go on. Confronted by the unprecedented protocol-breaking threat of the Tories planning to put forward a candidate to stand against the Speaker (still a member of their own party) at the next Election, Bercow bowed-out at last – or at least announced the date of his departure. The fact he chose 31 October was entirely in keeping with the relentless exhibitionism of his ego, eager to steal the headlines on a day he knew even the dependable vanity of his puffed-up posturing might not be enough to make him the centre of attention.

What followed Bercow’s announcement – delivered in the curious manner of an Englishman abroad trying to make himself understood to a native – was a nauseating outpouring of sentimental arse-licking listing the Speaker’s achievements in the chair, albeit praise that mysteriously overlooked recent bullying allegations or even Bercow’s membership of the horrible pro-Apartheid Monday Club back in his Young Conservative days. The standing ovation Little John received from the Opposition side of the House was in stark contrast to the sedentary reaction from the Government side, though both were equally stage-managed with all the childish petulance we’ve sadly come to expect from the tenants of this particular Palace.

But, of course, despite Bercow’s desperation to be the lead story on the bulletins, the latest instalment in the exciting adventures of Boris the Prime Minister inevitably claimed top-of-the-bill status when the time came for debate. The resignation of Amber Rudd over the weekend has been portrayed by some as a catastrophic blow to the Government, yet her presence as a prominent Remainer in the PM’s Cabinet seemed incongruous from the off, especially when there was no room for a vocal Brexiteer like Penny Mordaunt. Rudd attempted to justify her survivor status as one of the few leftovers from the Maybot’s lot by claiming she had been converted to No Deal as an option, though few were convinced; she cited the expulsion of 21 colleagues from the party as the main reason for her walking, but her tiny majority at the last General Election suggested she might not be around to hold another Ministry come the next one.

Ah, yes – the next General Election; that was the main issue under the spotlight as Monday evening seamlessly segued into Tuesday morning and the Commons paid no heed to the clock. Considering Boris had begun the day sharing a podium with the Taoiseach over in Dublin, he didn’t appear sleep-deprived when stating his case for giving the electorate the opportunity to decide. That the Prime Minister even has to plead for the right of the people to elect or evict their representatives is a farce; that a majority of those elected last time round won’t sanction that right does far more to demean the standing of honourable members than the PM proroguing Parliament. The double-standard hypocrisy of Labour, Lib Dem and SNP members in decrying the decision to suspend proceedings whilst simultaneously refusing the electorate the chance to play their democratic part is rich indeed. Fine for the plebs to participate in a bloody referendum – whether on the EU or Scottish Independence (remember – those ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ opportunities?); but when it comes to determining the futures of their elected representatives, forget it.

The grandstanding stunts the opposition parties engaged in when the time finally came for the Speaker to relocate from one House to the other in the bizarre prorogation ceremony were further unedifying examples of their detachment from the voters. To an outsider following events live on BBC Parliament, their theatrical behaviour added to the surreal spectacle of the obscene, otherworldly bubble these people inhabit once they set foot inside that crumbling Gothic edifice whose decaying fixtures and fittings are more than an apt metaphor for the whole rotten institution. I almost felt I was witnessing a scene from the superb 1972 satirical movie on the madness of the British aristocracy, ‘The Ruling Class’, when the three wise peers solemnly sat before the gathered executive and officially announced Parliament’s slide into suspended animation. It was certainly a viewing experience straight from the imagination of Lewis Carroll, but as a portrait of Great British democracy in 2019, it kind-of said everything.

So, Party Conference season up next, and then we’re back in five weeks for the Queen’s Speech. Boris and his team will have hoped to have evaded a No Deal grilling by then, despite demands (and apparently legal requirements) for confidential correspondence on ‘Project Yellowhammer’ to be made public. The PM is insistent he can achieve a deal with the EU before Halloween, but remains adamant he won’t beg for yet another extension to the endlessly delayed deadline, regardless of the new law saying he must do so and the additional threat of a possible spell behind bars if he refuses. And even if the postponed General Election Labour have spent the last two years calling for won’t sort out a shambles entirely of Parliament’s making, it would at least give voters the chance to show the door to so many whose arrogant entitlement and superiority complexes have put us where we are.

© The Editor

RUDDY HELL!

I’m sure we all recall the unique interpretation of the Joint Enterprise law as practiced by teachers back in the day. One pupil has broken one of the school rules, but won’t confess to it, despite Sir or Miss’s entreaties for him or her to come forward. The teacher’s solution is to keep the entire class entombed in the classroom until the guilty pupil speaks up; the knowledge that others are aware of the criminal’s identity is paramount, but the teacher expecting these others to break the code against grassing is futile. Nobody will admit anything, so every child is punished for one child’s misdemeanours because there’s always somebody spoiling it for everyone else.

If we take this collective memory from ‘the happiest days of our lives’ and use it as a metaphor for the Government’s attitude towards online security, then Amber Rudd is the teacher and we – an estimated 4 billion global users – are the class. A few of us have been very naughty indeed, posting terrorist propaganda and Hate Speech (surely that’s for the Wiltshire Constabulary to deal with?); and Mrs Rudd’s solution is to apply the tried and tested school version of Joint Enterprise as a means of dealing with it. According to the Home Secretary, ‘Real People’ don’t want secure encryption on their messaging mediums. As she declared in the Telegraph – ‘Who uses WhatsApp because it is end-to-end encrypted, rather than because it is an incredibly user-friendly and cheap way of staying in touch with friends and family?’

On the eve of her visit to Silicon Valley, the Home Secretary has been making it clear her predecessor in the post taught her well when it comes to the subject of cyber civil liberties. In her Telegraph piece, she referred more than once to that exalted demographic, ‘Real People’, a new twist perhaps on David Cameron’s more favoured ‘Hard-Working People’. One presumes these are the same Real People who reside in Nick Clegg’s Alarm Clock Britain; and in Alarm Clock Britain as perceived by Amber Rudd, those of us who don’t mind those nice chaps at GCHQ acting as internet traffic cops are Real People; those of us who do are obviously hate-fuelled ISIS sympathisers who have something to hide.

Rudd intends to challenge the most popular online services such as Facebook and Twitter, as well as Microsoft and Google, to up their game in ‘removing extremist content’. However, one man’s extremist content is another man’s democratic expression of freedom. Outside of gruesome ritual beheadings, the definition of extremist content can vary depending on our individual perspective. Naked breasts are viewed by some as a feminist statement; to others, they’re just a pair of knockers to drool over; and to others, they’re virtually pornographic and should never be seen in public. Context is vital, of course, but tits are tits. You either have a problem with them being exposed or you don’t. Twitter and Facebook often do and censure the mammary offenders whilst being a little more lenient on things most of us would regard as not quite so benign.

Rudd evidently doesn’t have the same kind of problem with the business practices of Google and Facebook as she does with some of their content. Were her justification of the nosey parker principle to be applied to some of the internet’s multi-billion dollar corporations, we’d all be able to see how they masterfully evade the paying of taxes and maybe we could have a crack at it too once we’re shown the way it works. The Government she’ll be representing in San Francisco at the inaugural gathering of ‘The Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism’ also doesn’t have a problem with selling arms to the very country from which the current nihilistic strand of Islam originated as it bombs Yemen into bloody submission. That some of those Great British Weapons occasionally find their way into the hands of those same nasty people (not Real ones) who are prone to aiming them back at us is quite ‘extremist’, isn’t it?

A preview of Rudd’s expected lecture…sorry, speech reads ‘Terrorists and extremists have sought to misuse your platforms to spread their hateful messages’ (unlike the Tory press recycling Jeremy Corbyn’s past ‘association’ with the IRA, then?). She will then go on to say ‘This Forum is a crucial way to start turning the tide. The responsibility for tackling this threat at every level lies with both governments and with industry…we have a shared interest: we want to protect our citizens and keep the free and open internet we all love.’ In her Telegraph piece, she claimed ‘This is not about asking the companies to break encryption…Real People often prefer ease of use and a multitude of features to perfect, unbreakable security.’ Perfect and unbreakable to all but governments and their snooping secret services, lest we forget.

The Chief Executive of Big Brother Watch, Renate Samson, reacted to Rudd’s self-justifying waffle by calling it ‘at best naive, at worst dangerous’. He added ‘Suggesting that people don’t really want security from their online services is frankly insulting….once again, the Government are attempting to undermine the security of all in response to the actions of the few. We are all digital citizens; we all deserve security in the digital space.’

As part of the Home Secretary’s showy bragging about how the Government is dealing with this problem, she’s also expected to highlight how one police unit in Blightly has removed 28,000 examples of ‘terrorist content’ along with securing the closure of millions of online accounts over the past seven years. Rudd may well believe dredging up facts and figures of this nature supports her argument, but imagining any government can play at being a cyber Sgt Dixon giving mischievous Jihadists a clip round the ear-hole without stooping to snooping on everyone is pure Cloud Cuckoo Land. The only way any government can curb the antisocial tendencies of the badly-behaved internet is to apply the Joint Enterprise rule to all of us who use it. If we want to be ‘safe’, we have to sacrifice our privacy. Just be honest, Amber – or let us have a read of your emails.

© The Editor