Monday, 24 November 2014

Labour Betrayal

Here's an interesting article from The Independent by a chap called Michael Collins who argues that the Labour Party's contempt for the working class should come as no surprise, presumably because its leaders lead lives which are far removed from those of ordinary everyday people - like the man with his white van. 

Now I haven't read Michael Collins' book and although his main concern seems to be the impact of large scale immigration in parts of the country, I can see what he's driving at as I think there's something of a parallel when it comes to equal pay.

Because the 1999 Single Status (Equal Pay) Agreement in Scotland was intended to benefit tens of thousands of low paid (working class) women employed in Scottish local government as carers, cleaners, catering workers, classroom assistants and so on.

And the cost of implementing this ground breaking agreement was put at £450 million, or thereabouts, to Scottish councils which were mainly Labour controlled at the time, as was the employers' organisation, COSLA.

Now the employers reneged on this landmark agreement for low paid workers, but the following year in 2000 they managed to find £800 million to pay Scotland's teachers an eye-watering 23.5% pay increase and that figure of £800 million remains part of councils' budgets to this day.     

The point being that while I don't grudge the teachers a pay increase, what does it say about the priorities of the Scottish Labour Party that it could find the money for one group but not the other?

Quite a lot, I would say.

Rochester by-election: Forget Emily Thornberry, Labour long since betrayed the working class

The party has simply failed to address concerns among the multitude

BY MICHAEL COLLINS - The Independent

What is striking about the Emily Thornberry affair is not that a Labour minister has “shown contempt for the working class”, as has been suggested, but that this should be a surprise.

This contempt wasn’t a clause in the party’s constitution, but increasingly it came close to being a policy within the past fifty years - finally becoming official in the 1990s when the Labour government embraced an open-door approach to immigration, fully aware that it would be opposed by the masses. And so - it didn’t tell them. It kept the news within its ranks in the hallowed halls of Westminster, and at north London dinner parties far from the postcodes where white vans are parked and the flag of St George flies. Well, it certainly smelt like contempt.

Part of the Labour party story - beyond the fleeting triumphs and the false dawns - has been that of championing an image of the working class, while showing contempt for the working class that fails to fit this image. Way back, this was anyone who wanted to own their own home, run their own business, watch ITV, send their kids to grammar school, or live next door to people they felt they had something in common with. This changed over time, thankfully. The party realised that the multitude didn’t exist in some folksy, prelapsarian, mythical north somewhere in the 1930s.

The perennials of unemployment, housing lists and the north-south divide persisted, but essentially the outlook and the aspirations of the working class changed. What didn’t was the party’s failure to address concerns among the multitude - immigration, multiculturalism, Europe - that didn’t fit with the image in which it had cast the average bloke, whoever he was. (As a cub reporter the late Gilbert Harding charged into a pub and bellowed: “Where will I find the average man?” Only to discover that every example was the exception to the rule).

From the off, those early supporters of the Labour party, the Fabians Beatrice and Sidney Webb, showed contempt for the leisure of the working class. Those steeped in the internationalism of the hard left, and the self-loathing of the soft-centre, never understood the patriotism of the British working class - something that was an extension of the neighbourhood, as surely as this was an extension of the street, and the street an extension of the home, for those that had little else to align themselves with. Along with this came an insularity, localism, collectivism (that was celebrated), but equally, a negative reaction to outsiders arriving en masse and changing the cultural landscape (which was condemned).

Seeing the image tweeted by Labour’s now former shadow attorney general, it’s as though this concept of the working class is being held up to ridicule. The absence of an accompanying comment appears to underline this. Thornberry’s fatal faux pas has been compared with that of Gordon Brown’s almighty slip-up, when he was heard to refer to Labour voter Gillian Duffy as a bigot for daring to raise the taboo of immigration. Chances are this might have a similar impact.

Emily Thornberry claims there was no malice aforethought in her eagerness to keep her Twitter followers updated on her day out. It was simply that she never comes across such sights on the Islington street in which she lives. But we all live in a culture where such cries of innocuousness and innocence are redundant. It’s a culture that the Labour party itself has created - a false triumph you could argue - and now it has come along and bitten one of its own on the rear. Before, and certainly beyond the era of the Macpherson Report and its thought crime of “unwitting prejudice”, we had to be seen to be offended, and often on the behalf of others; of being guilty until proven innocent; of giving interpretation precedence over intention. How ironic, that it should now be a character so much part of that culture who has been condemned and forced to apologise and resign - the very stereotype and caricature, no less: a multi-millionaire, Islington-living, Labour minister who married well, and created her riches in the nebulous but lucrative field of human rights law.

The stereotypical white van man with his St George flag, must be absolutely relishing this as he prepares to give his vote to another party. Just like so many of his number in Rochester, Clacton, and Heywood and Middleton.

Michael Collins is the author of ‘The Likes of Us: A Biography of the Working Class’, published by Granta

NLC and Equal Pay

I said in a recent post that I would be writing to Scotland's new First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, to highlight the ridiculous behaviour of North Lanarkshire Council over equal pay.

I plan to do so this week, but in the meantime here's a picture of Nicola Sturgeon with her new cabinet which has a 50/50 split between women and men, and a more youthful feel as a younger generation of politicians pick up the baton.

Curiously, the BBC reported the news online in the Scotland section of its web site, but not in the UK section which I find rather odd given the potential that Scottish voters have for influencing the outcome of the May 2015 general election, particularly if we sweep away all of the 'deadwood' Labour MPs who currently sit in the Westminster Parliament.  

Nicola Sturgeon announces new Scottish cabinet

Nicola Sturgeon with the new Scottish government cabinet outside Bute House

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has announced the make-up of her new senior ministerial team, with an equal split of male and female members.

Finance Secretary John Swinney was named deputy first minister, while Ms Sturgeon's close ally Shona Robison, was promoted to health secretary.

Michael Matheson was named as the new justice secretary, replacing Kenny MacAskill.

Mike Russell was replaced as education secretary by Angela Constance.

Opposition parties said the new cabinet now had to tackle the problems brought about by previous bad decisions.

The reshuffle also resulted in:
  • Roseanna Cunningham promoted into the cabinet as fair work, skills and training secretary.
  • Keith Brown promoted into the cabinet as infrastructure, investment and cities secretary
  • Alex Neil staying in the cabinet, but moving from health to social justice, communities and pensioners' rights
  • Richard Lochhead remaining environment secretary, a post he has held since the SNP came to power in 2007
  • Fiona Hyslop remaining as secretary for culture, Europe and external affairs
Ms Sturgeon said: "The aims of my government are clear: to create a nation that is both socially democratic and socially just, a nation that is confident in itself and governed effectively and a nation which will address poverty, support business, promote growth and tackle inequality.

"The new cabinet team I have announced today will pursue these priorities with verve, vigour and determination."

The first minister added: "Every member of the cabinet is part of this government's top team on merit, on the basis of the excellent work they have already done as ministers.

"The cabinet line-up is also a clear demonstration that this government will work hard in all areas to promote women, to create gender equality and it sends out a strong message that the business of redressing the gender balance in public life starts right here in government."
Nicola Sturgeon announced that John Swinney would be deputy first minister by tweeting a picture of the pair
Ms Sturgeon announced Mr Swinney's appointment on Twitter
Mr Swinney said it was a privilege to be deputy first minister
Mike Russell also took to Twitter to announce his time in government had come to an end

Ms Sturgeon began her reshuffle by announced Mr Swinney's new job on Twitter.

Mr Swinney, who led his party between 2000 and 2004, responded: "It is the greatest privilege for me to be appointed deputy first minister of Scotland. I will do all I can to serve my country."

Following Ms Sturgeon's earlier offer to work with opposition parties on improving Scotland, Labour MSP Jackie Baillie said: "I look forward to them supporting Labour's policies to tackle the many problems that their predecessors have left for them.

"It's time to put the referendum result behind us and get on with governing the country for the benefit of the people of Scotland."

'Walking liberal'

Willie Rennie, the Scottish Liberal Democrat leader, said the new cabinet needed a new approach.

Mr Rennie attacked Mr MacAskill's handling of plans to end the requirement to corroborate evidence in criminal trials, as well as the "routine" arming of police and the carrying out of stop-and-search procedures on children.

"Nicola Sturgeon likes to talk liberal, but the real test is whether she'll walk liberal," he said.

"The SNP cabinet stood behind Kenny MacAskill's illiberal centralisation agenda at every twist and turn."

Meanwhile, Scotland's senior law officers, Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland and Solicitor General Lesley Thompson, will continue in their current jobs.

Ms Sturgeon will announce her junior ministerial appointments later on Friday.

Gender Pay Gap

Here's an interesting article from The Sunday Times about the fight for gender equality and the pay gap between male and female jobs.

Now I think I'll write to Nicola Sturgeon when she becomes Scotland's First Minister next week because the ongoing FoI battle with North Lanarkshire Council is all about forcing the council - a Labour-run council - to be open and transparent over the way in which senior officials introduced new pay arrangements back in 2006. 

I think the Labour Party in North Lanarkshire must have some kind of death wish because the council's behaviour is causing an awful lot of resentment and is, generally, bringing the Labour Party into disrepute.

And I can't imagine that the Westminster MPs with seats in the North Lanarkshire area, all Labour if I remember correctly, can be happy about this state of affairs with the next general election less than six months away. 

Sturgeon: I’ll smash gender glass ceiling

By Jason Allardyce - The Sunday Times

Sturgeon: businesses should ensure men and women are paid equally

NICOLA STURGEON, who this month becomes the first woman to lead Scotland’s government, has called on businesses to examine their payrolls and ensure that men and women are paid equally.

Writing in The Sunday Times in support of this newspaper’s #Girlsgetahead campaign, she makes clear that gender equality will be a key issue of her leadership after she takes over from Alex Salmond at this week’s SNP conference.

Last week we revealed that one in six women has discovered that men at the same level as them are being paid more. Sturgeon said: “The Sunday Times’s #girlsgetahead campaign has a role to play in the fight for gender equality.

“The campaign’s call for companies to look at their payrolls and ensure that men and women with the same levels of responsibility are paid the same wage is an important one — and of course equal pay would also boost savings and spending power in the economy.”

At her party’s conference Sturgeon will also back a resolution committing the SNP to quotas ensuring at least 40% of the boards of public bodies, such as Scottish

Enterprise and the National Galleries of Scotland, are made up of women.

She writes: “As first minister I want to act to unify Scotland and move forward as one. Smashing the gender glass ceiling to smithereens is an important part of making that happen.

“If parliament approves me as first minister in just over a week’s time, I want to send a message to all girls and young women across Scotland. My simple message is this: if you are good enough and work hard enough, you can achieve anything. There should be absolutely no limits to your ambition.”

Sturgeon said a stark reminder of how far women have to go came last week on equal pay day — the day on which the gender pay gap means that men’s average salaries overtake women, meaning women of the same level are effectively working for free until the end of the year.

“Worryingly, the gender pay gap in the UK actually grew this year for the first time in five years,” she said.

Women — who make up 49.3% of Scotland’s working-age population — are under-represented in senior roles, with only 12.5% of police chief constables being female and only nine out of Scotland’s 34 judges, while there are four female chief executives of Scotland’s 14 regional NHS boards.

Sturgeon said the nationalists had become the first administration to pay the living wage and last week announced it would rise to £7.85 per hour from next April.

She called on the Smith commission to devolve responsibility for employment policy to Holyrood to enable the Scottish government to raise the minimum wage. “With employment policy still reserved, the Scottish government can’t act to raise the minimum wage — currently at £6.50 per hour — and the majority of the 400,000 people in Scotland working for less than the living wage are women,” she said.

More Crazy People

Here's another example of a crazy person in the shape of Afton Elaine Burton who is so desperate for publicity that she is planing to marry the notorious serial killer Charles Manson, another deranged individual who has a Nazi Swastika tattooed on his forehead.

If you ask me, they both deserve each other  and although The Independent has published the story I think the world would be a better place if we all just ignored the 'happy couple' from now on.

Charles Manson, convicted serial killer, 80, granted marriage license to wed 26-year-old woman in prison

Manson is currently serving a life sentence for the brutal murders of seven people, including actress Sharon Tate - the wife of director Roman Polanski

By JENN SELBY - The Independent

Charles Manson, the 80-year-old serial killer, is set to marry a 26-year-old woman who has dedicated her young life to absolving him.

A marriage license was issued 10 days ago for him to wed Afton Elaine Burton.

Manson is currently serving a life sentence for the brutal murders of seven people, including the actress Sharon Tate (the late wife of director Roman Polanski), and one unborn child in Los Angeles in 1969.

Burton moved to be nearer to his jail in California nine years previously.

“Y'all can know that it's true... It's going to happen,” she told AP.

“I love him.”

California Department of Corrections spokeswoman Terry Thornton confirmed the license had been sent to the prison – and that Manson could be permitted to hold a wedding inside the facility.

He and his prospective spouse would also be able to invite up to 10 external guests to the nuptials and an external officiate to perform the ceremony.

The licence will apparently stay valid for the next 90 days.

Crazy People

Crazy some do crazy things all over the world; in some cases not much harm comes from their actions, other than to themselves which appears to be true in relation to a young America named Matthew Miller who went out of his way to get locked up in North Korea.

Matthew Miller: Trying to get jailed in North Korea

By Stephen Evans - BBC News

In April 2014, American Matthew Miller travelled to North Korea as a tourist. He damaged his visa on the flight and attempted to claim asylum - and he has now told a specialist website covering North Korea that he did his best to get arrested. Why?

There is a ritual to be gone through when North Korea imprisons the citizens of the United States. They are, after all, behind bars in one of the most despotic countries on the planet where the methods of punishment, as described by a UN inquiry, include "extermination, murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape, forced abortions and other sexual violence".

Every US president would move heaven and earth to get the captive freed. Personal envoys get sent - including, in the past, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton.

But what if the American captive wants to be there? Matthew Miller who was freed on 8 November is proving to be an intriguing case of the man who chose to defect - though he later changed his mind. He sought imprisonment even when the North Koreans wanted to put him straight on a plane to send him home.

NK News, a respected website which interviewed Miller over several days by email, paints a picture of a "curious tourist" who went on an extreme holiday. He told the website he wanted to find out what North Korea was like beyond the tourist trail. He said he "just wanted to have a face-to-face with North Koreans to answer my personal questions".

He didn't explain how getting arrested would help him meet North Koreans.

"My main fear was that they would not arrest me when I arrived," he said. As well as damaging his visa, he also produced a set of confused and confusing notes. "I wrote the notebook in China just before going to North Korea," Miller told NK News. The notes said, among other things, that he was a "hacker" intent on "removing the American military from South Korea".
Fellow American Kenneth Bae was also released, having been held in N Korea since 2012

"Perhaps the notebook was a little too much over the top, they instantly knew it was false and wanted to know my true purpose of visiting." In the interview, Miller also said he told officials he possessed military secrets, and that the North Koreans knew his brother was an F-35 test pilot for the US Air Force but didn't seem to care.

When the North Koreans agreed not to deport him, he was held not in some Stalinist gulag but at a big hotel, and then in a guest house - admittedly, under lock and key - where a number of other people including fellow American Kenneth Bae were also living. It was only after he was sentenced in September to six years' hard labour that he was transferred to a more conventional prison facility - "kind of a farm place" as he put it, to NK News.

Shortly after the sentencing, a Reuters report revealed that Miller - aged 25, and originally from Bakersfield, California - had an obsession with Alice in Wonderland, the great work of Lewis Carroll, and had spent two years in South Korea. He had an alter ego - Preston Somerset - a name he used when he commissioned art works illustrating scenes from Carroll's book.

"He recruited a gaming programmer to produce music for him, artists to draw men dressed as Cheshire Cats, and a ghostwriter to help piece the whole thing, named 'Alice in Red', together, according to posts on the deviantArt website," Reuters reported.

Miller cited steampunk, a genre of science fiction, as a favourite of his. As well as Lewis Carroll, he also admired George Orwell and Oscar Wilde.

So Miller was immersed in a fantastic underworld, but it's more Mad Hatter's Tea Party than James Bond.

Most Americans who get arrested in North Korea are missionaries who weigh up the risks of spreading Christian belief in an aggressively atheistic state and who get caught - for example Robert Park, who entered North Korea illicitly in December 2009, and was released two months later, protesting he would rather be martyred. He says he was tortured, and continues to suffer serious mental trauma to this day.

North Korea's policy on visitors

  • Most of the country's tourism comes from neighbouring China
  • Most travel operators say visas are granted freely to any Westerner who is not a journalist
  • Tourists' visits very strictly regulated 
  • In 2013, officials loosened some curbs by allowing visitors to bring their mobile phones into North Korea, but mobile phone calls between foreigners and locals are prohibited
There has also been at least one case of an American blundering into the country. According to North Korea Travel, which documents arrests of foreigners in the hermit state, Korean-­American Evan Hunziker swam across the Yalu river from China in 1996 for a bet and was found drunk and naked by North Korean famers. He was released after his family paid the authorities $5,000 (£3,200).

Miller seems to be in a class of his own.

He told NK News that he repented his escapade, which came to an end after he appealed for help and the head of the US national intelligence services, James Clapper, arrived in the country to intercede.

"I do feel guilt for the crime. It was a crime. I wasted a lot of time of the North Koreans and the Americans," he said.

On the other hand, he said, he spent five months having conversations "with various people" and did achieve his goal of seeing more of North Korea.

"I think it was a mistake, but it was successful."

It was, in a way, a trip to Wonderland - though not the kind most travellers would want.

Gender Equality in NLC

The BBC reports that two of the candidates in the Scottish Labour leadership race, Jim Murphy and Neil Findlay, have both announced proposals aimed at achieving gender equality which are perfectly worthy of public debate, but in practical terms are years away from making any difference to people's lives.

So instead of titling at such windmills, politically speaking, I have an idea - why don't readers in North Lanarkshire ask these gentlemen what they think of Labour-run North Lanarkshire Council and its behaviour in relation to equal pay?

Because thousands of low paid women workers have been badly let down by this Labour Council, there has been widespread and systematic discrimination against female dominated jobs - yet the Labour hierarchy in Scotland has nothing to say, which tells me that Jim Murphy and Neil Findlay have their priorities all wrong.  

So if readers would like to drop Jim and Neil a note to ask what they would do about North Lanarkshire Council, as potential future leaders of Scottish Labour, then here are their respective email addresses:

Jim Murphy, MP -

Neil Findlay, MSP -     

In recent years North Lanarkshire Council has also been paying its most senior officials big 'performance bonuses' worth hundreds of thousands of pounds, while the rest of the workforce has faced a policy of public sector pay restraint.

Now what does that say about a major Labour-run Council, Scottish Labour and the party's MPs and MSPs who have all kept their heads down during the long fight for equal pay in North Lanarkshire?

Everything you need to know, if you ask me.

Scottish Labour leadership: Findlay and Murphy in gender equality pledge

Jim Murphy and Neil Findlay are standing in the Scottish Labour Party leadership election

Two Scottish Labour leadership candidates have announced a series of measures aimed at achieving gender equality.

MP Jim Murphy has proposed reforms including a requirement for equal representation in the Scottish Cabinet.

MSP Neil Findlay has made policy pledges including a Scottish law to address the gender pay gap.

The pair are standing in the leadership contest alongside MSP Sarah Boyack.

On his campaign website, Mr Murphy wrote: "If I am elected first minister, I promise the women of Scotland that equality will be at the heart of everything a Labour Scottish government will do."

The MP for East Renfrewshire has pledged to fill at least half of a future Labour Scottish government Cabinet with women.
Sarah Boyack is also standing as a candidate in the Scottish Labour leadership election

The addition of ministers Shona Robison and Angela Constance to the current Cabinet in April this year means women currently make up 40% of its members.

The move came after the SNP administration announced it wanted to achieve at least 40% female representation on public boards, and called for powers over equality to be passed to the Scottish Parliament.

As well as his cabinet commitment, Mr Murphy also wants to introduce equal representation for women and men on the boards of public bodies accountable to the Scottish government.

He has also committed to conducting a government impact assessment of the new powers for Holyrood to determine their effect on women in Scotland, and to campaign for private firms with more than 250 employees to publish their pay gap.

Mr Murphy said: "There are some male politicians who maybe shy away from getting involved in campaigns for women's rights. 
"But a big part of leadership is listening. And that's why I am announcing a radical package of reforms today to advance the cause of women. It is because of the campaigning work of strong, passionate, powerful Scottish Labour women that this issue has risen so far up the political agenda.

"And it is because so many women in our movement have demanded change that the country has sat up and taken notice."

Mr Findlay's pledges also include more free and affordable childcare, better access for women to further and higher education, a "modern day slavery bill to protect vulnerable women from physical and sexual exploitation", and making tackling domestic violence a top priority.

"I'm in politics to tackle inequality, and inequality is at its most glaringly unjust as it applies to women. In society as a whole, and in the workplace in particular, women don't get a fair deal," Mr Findlay said.

"If we are going to win in the future women need to know that Labour will deliver policies that will change their lives - I'm advocating policies that will do that."

The outcome of the leadership election will be known in mid December.

Human Rights Gone Mad

The BBC reports on another crazy legal challenge in which two convicted murderers seek to exploit the UK's human rights legislation.

Needless to say, I hope their case gets thrown out on its ear and what a waste of public money into the bargain.

Murderer paedophiles sue ministers over hurt feelings

O'Neill and Lauchlan murdered Alison McGarrigle and dumped her body at sea

Two paedophiles who murdered a woman are suing Scottish ministers over lack of contact in jail and for £35,000 compensation each over "hurt feelings".

William Lauchlan and Charles O'Neill killed Allison McGarrigle after she planned to reveal their sex abuse.

The pair say they were previously in a long-standing relationship.

They claim the Scottish government has breached their human rights in relation to inter-prison visits and contact by telephone and letters.

O'Neill, 51, and 37-year-old Lauchlan are serving life sentences in different prisons in Scotland. The authorities have not granted permission for them to see each other in visits.

They argue the Scottish government has failed to respect their rights under Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights, which provides protection for private and family life. They also claim they have been discriminated against on the basis of their sexual orientation.

They say they were in "a long-standing intimate and sexual relationship" before being imprisoned after their trial in 2010.

Both are seeking damages of £35,000, claiming they are entitled to an award for "hurt feelings" among other things.

'Callous and depraved'

It is said: "Their relationship has suffered as a consequence of the treatment they have suffered. They have both felt frustration and distress at being unable to communicate with each other to a greater extent or to have face-to-face contact."

"This is particularly so when heterosexual couples have apparently been afforded greater contact with each other," it is maintained.

The judicial review brought by the prisoners stated that Scottish ministers failed to provide them with "suitable and sufficient contact" with each other.
The men murdered Allison McGarrigle, who intended to report them for abuse

O'Neill was sentenced to at least 30 years in prison, while accomplice Lachlan was sentenced to a minimum of 26 years after they were found guilty of murdering 39-year-old Mrs McGarrigle in Largs, Ayrshire in 1997. Her body, which they disposed of at sea, was not found.

They were also sentenced for sex abuse offences following two trials.

The sentencing judge, Lord Pentland, told them that they were relentless and murderous paedophiles who represented a high risk to the safety of the public.

The judge said that when they became aware that Mrs McGarrigle was intending to report them to the authorities for sexually abusing a boy they "conceived a callous and depraved plan to murder her and to dispose of her body".

He added: "You then put this plan into effect with chilling composure."

He told them: "The consistent theme which permeated the evidence in both trials was your calculating and devious manipulation of vulnerable individuals in order to further your appetites for sexually abusing young men and boys."

'Fundamental rights'

David Leighton, counsel for the men in the judicial review, told the Court of Session in Edinburgh: "This is a court of law and not a court of morals."

He said the men were seeking to relying on "fundamental protections and fundamental rights which the law affords to all persons."

O'Neill is detained in Edinburgh's Saughton prison and Laughlan is held in Glenochil jail, in Clackmannanshire.

Mr Leighton said the men were aware of heterosexual couples, each of whom was in prison, being allowed face-to-face contact, but were not aware of homosexual couples with the same opportunity.

He argued that the state was obliged to assist prisoners to maintain effective contact with close family members.

In the action for judicial review the prisoners are seeking a declaration that the Scottish ministers have failed to respect their rights and that their treatment has been unlawful.

It is also argued that prison rules that require "exceptional circumstances" for inter-prison visits should be set aside. The action maintains that the murderers are discriminated against because of their sexual orientation.

Scottish ministers are contesting the action and maintain that none of the orders sought from the court is justified.

The hearing continues.

Human Rights Gone Mad (24 April 2014)

I read this comment piece by Dominic Rabb, MP which appeared in The Times a week or two ago.

Despite the fact that I don't share his general poltical outlook - I think Dominic Rabb makes a fair point about the European Court of Human Rights.

The Strasbourg court decided that Abu Qatada faces a potential risk - of evidence previously obtained by torture being used against him if he is sent back to Jordan - where he faces trial on charges of being a terrorist.

But the risk is a potential one, perhaps negligible, since the UK Government seems to have done all it reasonably can - or so it would seem - in obtaining assurances from the Jordanian Government that such a situation will not arise if Qatada is sent back to Jordan to stand trial.

Now quite how the court has assessed and quantified the risk to Qatada is unclear - because Jordan has agreed not to use any torture-based evidence in a future trial - yet this was still not enough and no one seems to know what would be enough - to satisfy the judges in Strasbourg.

To my mind the whole business is making a mockery of the Human Rights Act - which I strongly support, by the way.

Because the potential risk that Abu Qatada presents by remaining in this country is simply ignored - despite being characterised as a truly dangerous individual - while another potential risk associated with his deportation to Jordan is elevated into an all-powerful trump card. 

Now if you ask me - this is human rights gone mad.

Abu Qatada is still here because our leaders rolled over

By Dominic Raab

We’re stuck with Abu Qatada because the Government let Strasbourg’s whims trump our law

Yesterday the Court of Appeal upheld Abu Qatada’s appeal against deportation. A cacophony of blame will be directed at judges and at Europe. The truth is that since 2005 successive governments have lacked the will to get rid of this odious man.

The extremist Islamist preacher is wanted in Jordan, where he was convicted in absentia on terrorism charges in 1998. I don’t like trial in absentia, but many democratic countries — such as France — conduct them and we deport suspects there without blinking. Abu Qatada was branded “a truly dangerous individual” by the UK courts, which found he “was at the centre in the United Kingdom of terrorist activities associated with al-Qaeda”. Add in Abu Qatada’s religious ruling that it is legitimate to kill the wives and children of apostates and the case for deportation is manifestly in the public interest.

If Abu Qatada risked torture I would not call for his being returned to Jordan. Britain should uphold its prohibition on torture; it is the hallmark of a civilised society. But the claim that he faced torture was rejected by both the UK courts and the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. So what is this case really about?

Abu Qatada claimed he would not get a fair retrial in Jordan because witness testimony against him might be tainted by torture. In 2009 the UK law lords definitively rejected the claim that he would not face a fair trial. But the Strasbourg court allowed it on appeal. It had never before, since its foundation in 1959, wielded the “right to a fair trial” as grounds to block deportation. With that novel ruling the judges were unabashedly stretching, not applying, human rights law. If allowed to stand it would create enormous scope for foreign criminals and terrorist suspects to frustrate deportation by arguing that the justice systems at home don’t meet European standards.

Faced with a constitutional clash between the UK and Strasbourg courts, what options did we have? Under the Human Rights Act our courts and Government have a duty to “take into account” Strasbourg rulings. But, as the President of the Supreme Court and the Lord Chief Justice have stated, ultimately Britain’s elected lawmakers retain the last word. So the Home Office should have revived its deportation order and made a virtue of rejecting the Strasbourg ruling as a usurpation of British democratic authority. Our courts would have been unlikely to halt the deportation.

Instead the Government rolled over. Theresa May, the Home Secretary, disclosed last December that “a decision was taken to adopt the test laid down ... by the Strasbourg court” because otherwise “it would be open to Abu Qatada to go back to Strasbourg”. That’s why his deportation was lost in the Court of Appeal yesterday.

Home Office officials bewitched ministers with a dazzling array of bureaucratic and legal excuses, shrouding the real political choice. Sure, Abu Qatada could have tried his luck with another appeal to Strasbourg. Yet Strasbourg’s rulings aren’t directly enforceable in the UK courts. Nor is there any risk of Britain being kicked out of the Council of Europe, which recently declared that in immigration cases Strasbourg should “avoid intervening except in the most exceptional circumstances”.

Officials then convinced ministers that they must follow any “Rule 39” indications from Strasbourg: requests that the Government suspend its actions while the European judges consider a case. Such “indications” were merely advisory until 2005 when — in another capricious power grab — Strasbourg simply asserted that they are binding. That has no basis in the European Convention on Human Rights either and contradicted Strasbourg’s own case law. Fortunately it also has no basis in UK law — so the UK courts would not enforce a Rule 39 indication.

The last gasp of the human rights fanatics is to claim that deporting Abu Qatada breaches the ministerial code of conduct, which requires respect for international law. Yet, the code was never intended to trump the constitutional safeguards that protect Britain’s democratic authority from Strasbourg’s meddling. As the ultimate arbiter of the code, the Prime Minister could rebuff such nonsense anyway.

There are respectable arguments against cocking a snook at Strasbourg. It would create a tension with our treaty obligation to implement its rulings. Yet Strasbourg has itself ridden roughshod over the convention and its own mandate. Human rights activists argue that snubbing Strasbourg might weaken our ability to take the high ground with the likes of Vladimir Putin. But why should we sacrifice democracy at home to promote human rights abroad, not least when Mr Putin just sees UK kowtowing to Strasbourg as a sign of weakness? In any event these are policy arguments to be weighed, not strict bars to deportation.

Once you strip away the legal and bureaucratic fig leaves, Abu Qatada is staying in Britain because of a choice. We have allowed the whims of Strasbourg to trump our own moral, judicial and political judgments. 

Dominic Raab is MP for Esher & Walton, and a former Foreign Office lawyer