Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Whistleblowing at HMRC

Certain stories emerge every so often which act as a barometer for our times. This is one. 

A whistleblower contacted the National Audit Office and two parliamentary committees under the Public Interest Disclosure Act. He wrote ‘in confidence’ but the clerk to the public accounts committee contacted HMRC to check whether the whistleblower was their employee. What followed is salutary.

Tax officials used intrusive investigative powers meant to catch serious criminals to try to prove that a whistleblower who uncovered a "sweetheart" deal with Goldman Sachs had spoken to the Guardian, it has emerged.
The belongings, emails, internet search records and phone calls of the HM Revenue and Customs solicitor Osita Mba and the phone records of his wife, Claudia, were examined by investigators, according to previously undisclosed documents.
The powers, which are supposed to be used to combat large-scale criminal tax frauds, were used because the tax inspectors suspected that Mba had been in contact with the Guardian's former investigations editor, David Leigh.
Leigh's telephone numbers and email addresses were cross-referenced with Mba's, but investigators found no evidence of contact, documents show.Guardian 30/4/13

The Guardian published a story by David Leigh in October 2011 in which he claimed that Goldman Sachs had been let off paying £10 million in tax. The Revenue reacted to the disclosure by authorising the use of powers normally applied to serious crime. Their motive in this is questionable. 

Using the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (Ripa), HMRC can see websites viewed by taxpayers, where a mobile phone call was made or received, and the date and time of emails, texts and phone calls. According to the revenue website, these powers "can only be used when investigating serious crime". (ibid)

Yet again we have a case of shoot the messenger. What has been exposed is shocking on so many levels:

  • The existence of sweetheart deals: would that ordinary taxpayers were treated with such fawning concern and consideration.

  • The lengths the authorities will go to to keep their squalid deals hidden from view.

  • The amount of money involved: four sweetheart deals are today revealed as worth £4.5 billion between 4 as yet unnamed companies. 

  • The treatment of someone brave enough to stand up and expose the scandal. This story fits the definition of Public Interest Disclosure to a ‘t’  - so what are the parliamentary committees going to do about it? And more particularly, what is going to happen to the person (or persons) who authorised the use of RIPA on Mr Mba? Will they face the full disciplinary powers available to HMRC and be dismissed? 

This case typifies so much of what is wrong in the UK today. A wealthy elite work cosy little deals with each other to their mutual advantage. Most of this mutual back-scratching goes on behind closed doors. Our politicians collude with this system while launching nasty and divisive attacks on the poor and vulnerable. The comfortable arrangement with the political parties and the major accountancy firms is yet another example of how corrupt our elite have become. 

Anyone with the balls to stand up and expose these cosy ‘arrangements’  is to be crushed, not because they have done anything wrong, but to send a message ‘pour encourager les autres.’ 

“Cathy James, the head of the whistleblowers' charity, Public Concern at Work, said the decision to use intrusive powers to examine an employee who made claims using whistleblowing legislation was "outrageous" and "sinister". (ibid)

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Two Tory Millionaires


Having squillions of cash clearly entitles a chap to offer profound advice to the great unwashed who can only touch their forelocks in gratitude. Our first sage is Richard Benyon. 

“..(who) stands to inherit an estimated £110 million from the 20,000-acre Englefield Estate in Berkshire, which is owned by his father, Sir William, according to The Times’s Daily Rich List.

As part of an annual tradition dating back to 1581, Mr Benyon has handed loaves to villagers in Ufton Nervet from the windows of the family’s manor house.
Mr Benyon, a Tory minister in the Department for Environment, said earlier this week that households were wasting up to £50 a month by needlessly throwing away “enormous amounts of food”. Sunday Telegraph 28/4/13

Benyon's advice may be sound. His intentions may be of the best. But poverty-stricken families just one step away from the food bank may ponder if Benyon knows whereof he speaks. He is the wealthiest MP in the Commons with a family fortune of £110m.
He is on a reasonable salary of £107,108 as MP and Government Minister. 

Plus the ability to make lavish expense claims, including a £400 a month allowance for buying food, no receipts required. Why should MPs vote themselves such a substantial perk? Why can't they fund their daily calorific intake from their own pockets as the rest of us do?”  Tom Shields, Herald 28/4/13


Sage number two is our old friend Iain Duncan-Smith. He recently provoked one of the fastest e-petitions ever with his claim that he could easily live on £53 a week. A claim he has singularly failed to follow up. 

He is in the news today for asking ‘wealthy’ pensioners to hand back benefits such as the winter fuel payment, free bus pass and TV licence. It is an interesting concept.

He may wish to explore his idea further with his many millionaire chums in the Cabinet. Would they consider themselves ‘wealthy’ and if so, what would they give up? Ministerial cars? Second home allowance/mortgage assistance? Free food? 

How heartening it is for us oiks to have such words of wisdom graciously dispensed from two fine upstanding examples of Tory manhood. 

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Abu Qatada and the Rule of Law

Another day, another statement from the Home Secretary. More time and column inches devoted to how our useless judiciary will not do the ‘decent thing’ and send this man back to Jordan. A reaction to the latest setback appeared in the Daily Hate comment section online. 

You don't need to write some BS treaty, you just need to grow a pair of balls for once, and not give a damn what your E.U. masters will say, or do. How hard is it to put him in chains, commandeer a Cessna and fly his ass off to Jordan. You'll be home in time for a pint and a bit of X-Factor, you can deal with the fallout in the morning, but at least you will regain a little bit of self respect.” 

And there, in a nutshell is why we need the Rule of Law. Qatada is a deeply unpleasant human being. He is difficult to defend. He espouses actions and values that are dangerous and inflammatory. Yet it is vital for our system of the Rule of Law that nasty pieces of work are covered by the safeguards of the law. He has also been in custody - without trial - for many, many years. This is disgraceful. Everyone has the right to know what their accusers say and have their moment in court to state their case. This has not happened. 

He is reported to have made speeches back in the 90’s which seem to break quite a few public order laws. Yet successive governments have chugged back and forth between various courts to get him sent to Jordan. Why has he not been charged here?

It seems that to do so would compromise ‘intelligence’  .........Mmmm. 

Whenever human rights are considered, it is the appalling human beings who test their application. Doesn’t make human rights less important - if anything, it makes the case for their retention even stronger, otherwise numpties who rant in the Daily Hate will set the agenda - and we will be back to locking people up because they look funny. 

Monday, 22 April 2013


A week ago while listening to a five-live football programme the news came through of the Boston marathon bomb attack. The presenter of the radio programme went into hyperdrive. Anodyne questions poured across the airwaves. It was clear very quickly that no-one had much of a clue as to what had happened and the extent of casualties etc. Similarly no-one had an idea of who the perpetrators were. 

On the basis of the flimsiest foundations, speculation followed conjecture mingled with opinion. The few facts there were did not survive repeated scrutiny.  

Would that were an end to it. 

Fat chance.

Rolling news is making us thicker and less discerning. Analysis, of the thoughtful considered kind, provided by ‘From our own correspondent,’ is becoming rarer and rarer. Not only is there the headlong rush to put out something.....anything....now.....there is a swarm-like mentality to the coverage by media outlets. The Oklahoma bombers were wrongly identified as muslim culprits. Similarly the culprits at Boston were described as being ‘dark-skinned.’ Damage done in the first couple of days is largely uncorrected, because by the time the truth emerges, there is another hot story to drool over. 

In the meantime stories with as much - if not more - validity, are ignored and consigned to the bin. For instance on the same day as the Boston bombings, 55 Iraqi citizens were killed in several bomb attacks. Many more Americans died on that same day from gunshot wounds.

Another element in all this hysteria is the burning desire to ‘go live’ to some poor soul, usually standing under an umbrella somewhere looking fed up. The added delight is that the presenter will tell us what the ‘live’ bod is going to tell us. The bod is then asked simple questions so that the bod confirms what we have been told. Every now and then we have the jaffa cake moment when the bod has to sadly report that ‘nothing has happened/no-one has said anything.’ 

The worry is that the political bubble dwellers who inhabit the same space as much of the mainstream media know exactly how to play the system. Get your version out quickly despite it being as flimsy as gossamer. Tell your lies big and often (adopt sincere tone and an air of gravitas). When challenged blame the messenger. 

It worked for Goebbels. 

Saturday, 20 April 2013

Politics can make a difference and still be civilised

Compare and contrast

From the Guardian letters page yesterday. A woman writing from outside the political bubble said that her mother had her funeral on the same day and at the same time as the 'non-State' one held in London. Each funeral used the same quote from St John. In her family affair, the passage was quoted as, ‘In my father’s house there are many rooms..’ 

Whereas the lesson read by Cameron had this, ‘In my father’s house there are many mansions..’ 

Following a really divisive period it is good to see something which gladdens the heart. New Zealand became the 13th country to legalise gay marriage. Click on the link to see how politics can be done.  

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Thatcher Funeral

An Era Ends 

“The end of an era? The current political landscape suggests the Thatcher legacy remains. But for many this is something to oppose. Rejoice? Not over the death of a frail and confused 87-year-old lady. This one’s for the miners, the steelworkers, the firefighters, the shipbuilders, the millions unemployed, the injustices the Hillsborough families were forced to endure, the Poll Tax protesters, hose who lost their lives on HMS Sheffield, and the Belgrano, for what? It’s for the women of Greenham Common and the Trident missiles we didn’t want. For the Gay men and Lesbians and the prejudice of Clause 28. For Blair Peach and all those who suffered at the hands of the SPG. For Peter Wright and Spycatcher. For those affected by the racism sparked by suggestions of a ‘swamped’ culture. For the NHS and the nurses, our schools and teachers, the council houses sold off, the privatisation of our public utilities, railways and buses. For our school milk. And for the reputation of St Francis of Assisi. 

In remembrance of all we lost 1979-90, much of it never returned to us. An individual life we remember with decent human sympathy. But lifetimes remembered too, scarred by divisions we’ll never forget.” philosophyfootballkeynotes Spring 13

“Already several arrests in London, for 'not looking solemn enough'. Police viewing 'anyone whose eyes aren't moist' with suspicion” Mark Steel 17/4/13

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

The United States, Afghanistan, Pakistan and casualties

Compare and Contrast

Listening to the coverage of the Boston bombings it became harder than ever to remain dispassionate. 3 people killed and over a hundred injured is a significantly bad incident. Significant because it happened in the States. Bad because it was the worst such bombing since 9/11and registered very high in the American media. 

As coverage continued tonight on the PM programme, there finally came some email pleas for context. The quoted comment mentioned recent attacks in Iraq and Afghanistan which produced many more deaths yet which received barely a mention. 

That is not the full story. 

Try these for starters:

2001  Airstrike hits an Afghan wedding -110 guests killed.

2008 July: Airstrike hits an Afghan wedding - 47 guests killed.

2008 August: an estimated 78-92 people killed by an airstrike - mostly children.

2008 November: Airstrike hits another wedding - 37 guests killed.

2009 May: drone attacks a wedding - one count reports 86 guests killed, the Afghan govt.         claim 140.

2010 Feb: US Special Forces helicopters attack a convoy of trucks carrying mainly women and children - 27 killed.

2011 Feb: 65 including 50 women and children killed by air attack

2011 March: US helicopter gunship kill 9 Afghan boys aged 7-13 collecting firewood.

2011 May: 75 guests at a wedding killed by air attack according to one source - local source puts figure higher at 120.

2011 May: Helicopter gunship kills 14 civilians - 2 women, 5 girls and 7 boys. 

2012 Feb: Airstrike kills 7 children.

2012 May: 8 members of an Afghan family killed by air attack.

Almost all of the airstrikes were carried out by US forces . Those listed above are just some of the incidents which stand out for numbers killed. There are many, many more incidents which have left smaller numbers killed. The US defend their attacks on weddings and funerals because leading figures of the Taliban attend these events. The matter of ‘collateral damage’ seems to be of little consequence. The attempt to win ‘hearts and minds’ has been long abandoned. Drone strikes have also been used in the Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan. The actions of the US inside Pakistan sovereign territory give a whole new meaning to ‘friendly fire.’ 

Pakistan is supposedly an ally. 

2012 US airstrike kills 28 Pakistan soldiers

2013 March: The Pakistan Government says, “At least 400 civilians killed in drone strikes

The London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism has estimated that U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan have, over the years, killed at least 168 children.” Socialist Worker.

President Obama has authorised the use of far more drone attacks than his predecessor. He has even taken the extra-ordinary step of seeking to use drones against American citizens, not just in terrorist hot spots around the world, but also within the borders of the United States. Drones (or more accurately the CIA who control them) have become the prosecutor, judge, jury and executioner. 

Whatever happened to the Rule of Law? And innocent until proven guilty? And also just how accurate are these weapons? The stated line is that they are highly specific and are as good as the intelligence they depend on. Well that is alright then. We all remember with great pleasure the spectacle Colin Powell made of himself before the UN justifying the Iraq war. That was top intelligence. 

More evidence is emerging that drones do go wrong too and occasionally miss their intended target. Hey ho - a few more ‘collaterals’ for the record. 

Who said:

"Any time bombs are used to target innocent civilians, it is an act of terror,"  

and (the Boston bombings) were, “A cowardly and heinous terrorist act.” ?

Step forward Barack Hussein Obama, 44th President of the United States.

Monday, 15 April 2013

Thatcher and Blair

There are many bubble-dwellers who are quite beside themselves. They have discovered that their rosy-golden-dewy-eyed view of Thatcher is not shared by millions outside the South-East. And not by many millions in inner London either.

Michael Portaloo tried to write a measured article in the Observer yesterday, claiming that Thatcher had put the ‘Great’ back into Britain. Others have said the same. Mainly fawning tory dimwits. The self-same dimwits who vehemently oppose the ‘nanny state’ but seem to regard Thatcher as their Ultima Nanny.

Portaloo rather gave the game away when he mentioned that his first meeting with Thatcher was when he was a newly minted Special Adviser aged 22. TWENTY-TWO. Clearly a life well lived then. A classic example of the political class at work. He went on to justify the defeat of the miners but said little or nothing about the damage to vibrant communities across the land - or the creation of a benefit culture in the same places - which - irony of ironies - the tories are now savaging - to save money to pay off their banking chums’ calamitous search for bonuses. 

The creation of the greed culture so prevalent from the 80’s onwards was not mentioned. 

Neither was much made of the sell-off of the ‘family jewels’ - odd that at a time when Ofgem has condemned the big six power companies for ripping off the public. As Ken Loach so aptly put it, the funeral should have been put out to tender with the contract going to the lowest bidder. To see the Daily Hate condemn ‘lefties’ for opposing a state funeral - paid for by the state - takes some comprehending.

The guff award for the most cringeworthy contribution (so far) goes to the Reverend Blair. He clearly identified with Thatcher - and in return was rated as someone who would not overturn the damage done.  

To listen to Blair waxing lyrical was the final straw. To think that this unconvicted criminal has the nerve to advise Miliband the Younger, along with his acolytes Milburn, Blunkett and Mandelson, shows just how far to the right New Labour became. All four of them made themselves extremely rich by ‘serving the nation’. 

Anyone desperate to avoid the incandescent rage of the Daily Hate, the slobbering of the Torygraph or the arslikhan festival carried on by the rest of the mainstream media should try the following link. 

It gives a different point of view.

Saturday, 6 April 2013

Grace Dent rates Mrs Justice Thirwell

Writing in today’s Independent, Grace Dent gives a different point of view on the Philpott case. 

“Thirlwall issued a judgement so razor-sharp that when I read the full transcript I felt like punching the air. Because while the nation bickered about Philpott’s access to housing benefit, Thirlwall spelled out the true matter at hand about Philpott’s systematic campaigns reaching back over 40 years of violence, mental abuse, manipulation and blackmail against  vulnerable women. She spelled out why many men like Philpott – regardless of class – have multitudes of  children. Thirlwall was determined there would be no neat summations of Philpott’s unfortunate “mistake” in 2012, because this was a far longer, detailed story that needed telling.
Before examining the night in question – the petrol, the plot, the screaming 999 calls, the dead children – Thirlwall said: “It is necessary to look at the history of your relationship with women.” I’ve rarely heard a judge say such a thing, although in the judicial system there aren’t that many female judges, so there’s more chance this take on events is overlooked. Across Europe, the average gender balance among judges is 52 per cent men and 48 per cent women. At 23 per cent, England and Wales is fourth from the bottom, followed only by Azerbaijan, Scotland and Armenia. The higher up the court system, the more male-dominated the bench becomes. Only 15.5 per cent of High Court judges are women. The odds were against Philpott meeting a female judge this week – one woman he had no chance of controlling, striking, or impregnating – but I’m quietly joyous he did.
Thirlwall recounted that Mick Philpott almost killed two women when he was a soldier in his twenties – employed, you might note, not remotely on benefits. Philpott was a violent and jealous boyfriend, at one point breaking his young girlfriend’s arm, another time smashing her leg with a sledgehammer.
Eventually his jealousy led to him breaking into her house, stabbing her repeatedly in a ferocious attack and then turning the knife on her mother. “You have, I am rightly reminded, served your sentence for that, but it is clear from the evidence that I excluded from the trial that you have used that conviction as a means of controlling women, terrifying them in what you might do.”
Thirlwall dissected the kingly rule that Philpott had over his first wife (unnamed), then Heather Kehoe, a 16-year-old he left this wife for when he was in his forties, then Mairead Philpott, then Lisa Willis. A crucial idea – seen commonly in abuse cases and until now rarely spoken of – is Philpott’s yearning to keep all of these women almost perpetually pregnant. Babies and more babies. Seventeen babies. Not bred to milk the benefits system. Bred as his girlfriends and wives cannot look or move elsewhere when they’re rotund and vulnerable. Bred in tribute to his enormous prowess and machismo. Followed, time and again, by court cases at Philpott’s behest to remove custody of babies from his ex-wives and girlfriends. Taking children from their mothers was Philpott’s ultimate tool of power, after mental and physical cruelty. “Women were your chattels,” said Justice Thirlwall. “You bark orders and they obey. You were kingpin and no one else mattered.”
In February last year, Lisa Willis ran away from Philpott with her children, taking only the clothes they stood up in. Again, Philpott was determined he’d take possession of them, leading to the plot that killed six children. This hogwash over Philpott’s benefits fudges the real issues of what went on in 18 Victory Road and in all the places Philpott set up home with unfortunate women who – as Mrs Justice Thirlwall pointed out – weren’t even permitted a front door key or a bank account.
It’s tiny details like this that say so much and that often only judges from diverse backgrounds can pick up on. When men like Philpott wash up in court – like he did decades ago for the double stabbing – I wish there were more women like Thirlwall to meet him and jail him for life – meaning life – the first time around.” 6/4/13

Friday, 5 April 2013


Lowest of the low

It is hard to credit that anyone could use the terrible Mick Philpott unique crime to launch an attack on the welfare system. 

Slither forward George Osborne.

He sought yesterday to link Philpott’s terrible offence with welfare benefit scroungers. 

His slimy divisive comments might resonate with Daily Wail and Torygraph readers but will leave most decent folk appalled.

His case is not helped by the picture that appeared in this morning’s Daily Mirror. It shows Osborne getting into his official car at a Service Station - while it is parked in a disabled parking bay.
Thanks to the Daily Mirror
Says all you need to know about the nasty, arrogant, piece of ordure. 

Only the poor and disabled are ‘all in this together’. 

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Jack Straw, MI6 and Libya Rendition


The reason that so many politicians are held in such contempt can be summarised in two words: Jack Straw. Although out of government and a lot quieter these days he is still a malign presence in our democracy. The Guardian reported yesterday on his latest attempt to avoid the full force of the law in relation to him being caught with his finger-prints all over the case of the two Libyans who were ‘rendered’ back to Gaddafi’s torturers. His name appeared on a letter, along with that of Sir Mark Allen, discovered among Libyan secret service files after the fall of Gaddafi. Sir Mark Allen was head of counterterrorism at the time of the rendition. 

“Straw and Allen say the Official Secrets Act prevents them from presenting a proper defence. The act also means the former foreign secretary ‘can neither confirm or deny [MI6] operations’, the court papers add.” Guardian 3/4/13

The Guardian has seen the submissions made by the two men in response to allegations of conspiracy in the torture of a prominent Libyan dissident. “They do not deny being involved in rendering Abdul Hakim Belhaj into the hands of Muammar Gaddafi’s secret police in 2004 but say they did nothing unlawful”. (ibid)

So that is it then? Throw away the Rule of Law and substitute it with the Rule of Power. Many eminent legal experts warned that the introduction of ‘secret courts,’ recently approved by Parliament, will make this type of case so much harder to pursue. Simply invoke ‘National Security’ and watch justice melt away. 

The men rendered back to Gaddaffi were opponents of Gaddiffi - as were the British Government, until BP came a-calling and whispered sweet nothings into the receptive ears of the Blair government. And Lo! It came to pass that a man who had been identified as a madman and a dangerous threat to world peace was suddenly our new best mate. And BP had access to Libyan oil. The rendition was merely ‘business’ as Don Corleone would say. 

Straw also denied he lied to a Commons foreign affairs select committee by claiming that Britain had not ‘been involved in rendition full stop because we have not been...’ David Miliband later had to correct this when it came to light that Diego Garcia - an island group handed over to the yanks for an airbase - was involved in rendition. So Straw lied and what happened? Diddly squat. 

Diego Garcia is another example of how the slimy Straw operates. Rather than subject successive government’s disgraceful handling of the Chagos Islanders (Diego Garcia’s inhabitants) to the scrutiny of Parliament, Straw used ancient procedures to send the case to the supine Privy Council which (in)acts beyond scrutiny. 

Will Straw follow Chris ‘I am innocent’ Huhne into chokey?

Will the establishment leave Straw to dangle in the wind? Or will they do as they always do and recognise that if Straw falls, then who of them will be next? 

Blair? Miliband? Hoon? Reid?

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

April Fool’s Day 2013

A day of infamy

April 1st is the day in the year when the powerless play tricks on the powerful. The twist this year was that it was the powerful playing some very dirty tricks on the weak. April 1st 2013 will be the date that historians look back to and declare that this was when current politics in the UK crossed a watershed.  

Why so?

It was the day when the infamous ‘bedroom tax’ was introduced - with many more ‘cuts’ (if you are poor), ‘savings’ if you are wealthy, to follow. The actual amount of ‘savings’ are minuscule in the grand scheme of things. Barely a flicker on Vodaphone’s horizon, or Amazon’s, and not even the price of packaging for the Trident missile system.

It was the day the NHS ceased to be a national health service. Over 200 commissioning groups begin spending the cash - and many will turn to private medicine providers for help. 

It was also the day that legal aid was cut by 75%. No coincidence that this has come in to coincide with the benefit cuts. The reduction leaves the powerless even more bereft. Louise Christian, a notable Human Rights lawyer with a brilliant track record of standing up for the weak and dispossessed, declared yesterday to be the ‘saddest day of her life.’ She also castigated all three political parties for their collusion with this attack on the weak. 

Our political elite, so exemplified by Miliband senior: School –– Oxbridge –– Parliament (as a Special Adviser) –– Parliament sitting in a safe seat –– Cabinet/Shadow Cabinet, have lost whatever decency they once had. 

As they so rarely meet people who live outside the bubble, this is not such a surprise. And the shame of it is that this applies to all parties, from the Nasty Tories (no surprise there) to their quisling accomplices, the LibDems, leaving the Labour Party cowering in the corner under a blanket, desperate not to be noticed that they did not really oppose any of this, offering token resistance at best, and collusion at worst. Their leaders are also part of the bubble. 

As Louise Christian said, we need a Labour Party with backbone and values - or we need another party that will stand up for the great majority of the people who are not rich, not powerful, not well-connected and who are not supported by the mainstream media. 

Yesterday confirmed that our politics stink. 

Time for change.

Massive change.