Britain, Government, Legal, Politics, Society

Trolls could be stripped of the right to vote

ELECTION LAW

SOCIAL media trolls who abuse MPs could be stripped of their right to vote.

The Electoral Commission, the elections watchdog, said existing legislation on elections, which in part dates back to the 1800s, should be reviewed to bring laws up to date.

It suggested punishments for existing electoral offences, such as losing elected office or being disqualified from being registered as an elector, could also be used for those who abused MPs and candidates online.

“It may be that similar special electoral consequences could act as a deterrent,” the commission said.

A reform of electoral legislation would help in “clarifying and strengthening” existing offences and identifying any gaps in the law, the commission said in evidence to the Committee on Standards in Public Life, which is investigating the intimidation faced by parliamentary candidates.

The commission also recommended updating electoral law to take proper account of social media posts, so people could see who is responsible for material placed online.

Tom Hawthorn, head of policy at the Electoral Commission, said: “Our strong tradition of free elections are an essential part of a healthy democracy, and people should be able to stand for election and campaign without fear or abuse or intimidation.

“However, many offences in electoral law have not been reviewed or updated since they were first created in the 19th century.”

A Downing Street spokesman said Theresa May viewed the abuse and intimidation of candidates during the election as “unacceptable”, adding: “I think what she should say is that there is a clear difference between legitimate scrutiny and conduct that is fuelled by hate and personal abuse.”

COMMENT 

This is a good step forward by the Government in dealing with internet trolls who are clearly a menace to society. In addition, this writer would like to see additional measures to be considered by the UK Government in dealing with many of these social outcasts who appear to have nothing better to do all day. Other measures to be considered should include the sanctioning of benefits against those internet trolls who encroach or border on the criminality. Internet Service Providers (ISPs), too, should be made liable in banning such individuals from the internet. These measures, and those already announced by the Government, would go some way in removing this unwanted scourge from society.

Vile, rancid and spleen-venting abuse has no part to play in any society that wishes to preserve its freedoms, not jarred by thuggish morons intent on causing misery for others. We need legislation to reflect not only the protection of MPs and parliamentary candidates – who, it has to be said, have suffered the most appalling of abuses – but all citizens of this country wishing to make their voice heard.

In an opposing view:

“There are already perfectly adequate laws. It is an offence to incite violence, to act in a way that puts anyone in a state of fear and alarm, to make a breach of the peace or to indulge in racist, sexist and homophobic abuse.

“It may also be rather more difficult to draft effective new legislation than you might think. Words such as ‘trolling’ and ‘online abuse’ are dangerously nebulous, especially in the context of our long British tradition of cheerfully pillorying those in power. And there is no such thing as a right, in law, not to be offended.” [John MacLeod, Scottish journalist – September 21, 2017]

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Government, Health, Medical, Society

Antibiotic crisis is now a global emergency

WORLD HEALTH ORGANISATION

THE world is running out of effective antibiotics, health leaders have warned.

The problem is now a global emergency, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has said.

The growing resistance to drugs that fight infections could “seriously jeopardise” progress made in modern medicine, the WHO said. The remarks come after a WHO report found a serious lack of drugs in development that can overcome antibiotic resistance.

Health experts have already warned that resistance to antimicrobial drugs could cause a bigger threat to mankind than cancer. In recent years, there has been a UK drive to raise global awareness of the threat.

If antibiotics lose their effectiveness, then key medical procedures – including gut surgery, caesarean sections, joint replacements and chemotherapy – could become too dangerous to perform because of the increased infection risk.

Around 700,000 people around the world die each year because of drug-resistant infections including strains of tuberculosis, HIV and malaria. If no action is taken, it has been estimated that drug-resistant infections will kill 10million people a year by 2050.

 

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Britain, European Union, Government, Politics, Society

Brexit: Boris Johnson’s 9 key points

BREXIT

IN a 4,000-word essay by British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson which appeared in the Daily Telegraph over the past few days, critics have accused Mr Johnson of trying to bounce the Prime Minister into backing his version of Brexit. Supporters say his upbeat assessment is a vital antidote to the gloom of Remainers. This article examines what he said – and what he meant.

. Johnson’s Red Lines

“Before the referendum we all agreed on what leaving the EU logically must entail: leaving the customs union and the single market, leaving the penumbra of the ECJ; taking back control of borders, cash, laws. That is the programme that Theresa May set out with such clarity… and that is what she and her government will deliver.”

What he means: This might appear to be a simple restatement of government policy. But Mr Johnson’s decision to highlight it days before the prime minister makes a major speech on Brexit is designed to stop her moving an inch on his key red lines.

. Not A Penny More

“We would not expect to pay for access to their markets any more than they would expect to pay for access to ours. Once we have settled our accounts, we will take back control of roughly £350million per week.”

What he means: This is the point on which Mr Johnson is most at odds with Mrs May. He appears to set himself against making payments during a transition out of the EU. And his claim that the UK will repatriate £350million a week leaves no scope for any ongoing payments to Brussels.

Boris Johnson, the British Foreign Secretary, has set out his vision of post-Brexit Britain.

. A Pledge To The NHS

“It would be a fine thing, as many of us have pointed out, if a lot of that [£350million a week] went on the NHS, provided we use that cash to modernise.”

What he means: Mr Johnson has been stung by claims that he lied about increasing funding for the NHS in last year’s EU referendum. He and other Cabinet Eurosceptics are pushing hard for an increase in NHS funding after Brexit.

. Slashing Red Tape

“As we take back control of our cash, and our borders, and our laws, we will of course not jettison what is good… But over time we will be able to diverge from the great accumulated conglomerate, to act with regulatory freedom.”

What he means: Mrs May is expected to use her speech this week to reassure EU leaders she will not lead a regulatory ‘race to the bottom’ after Brexit, giving the UK a competitive advantage over the EU. But Mr Johnson is anxious Britain does not abandon the opportunity to ditch decades of red tape blamed for stifling innovation and the economy.

. Taxes

“We should seize the opportunity of Brexit to reform our tax system. Andy Haldane, the Bank of England’s chief economist, argued in 2015 that our system is currently skewed so as to discourage investment. He believes that reform could raise output by around 20 per cent.”

What he means: Mr Johnson is keen to ensure that Mrs May and Chancellor Philip Hammond do not lock Britain into following the EU’s high-tax model after Brexit.

. Border Control

“We will have an immigration policy that suits the UK, not slamming the door, but welcoming the talent we need, from the EU and around the world. Of course we will make sure that business gets the skills it needs, but business will no longer be able to use immigration as an excuse not to invest in the young people of this country.”

What he means: Taking back control of Britain’s borders was a key Vote Leave message. Mr Johnson is serving notice to business leaders that they will have to start training British youngsters rather than relying on an endless supply of cheap migrant workers.

. Don’t Trust Corbyn

“We have a glorious future, but hardly any of this would be possible under the bizarre and incoherent plans of the Labour Party. It seems that [Jeremy] Corbyn has chickened out. Now it appears he wants to remain in the single market and the customs union. He would… turn an opportunity into a national humiliation. It would be the worst of both worlds, with the UK turned into a vassal state – taking direction from the EU but with no power to influence the EU’s decisions.”

What he means: Mr Johnson saves his fiercest criticism for Labour, pointing out that Mr Corbyn’s flip-flopping on the issue has betrayed traditional Labour supporters who voted in vast numbers to leave the EU.

. Proud To Be British

“When people say that they feel they have more in common with others in Europe than with people who voted leave I want to say, ‘But that is part of the reason why people voted leave.’ You don’t have to be some tub-thumping nationalist to worry that a transnational sense of allegiance can weaken the ties between us; and you don’t have to be an out-and-out nationalist to feel an immense pride in this country and what it can do.”

What he means: This is very much in line with Mrs May’s attack on self-proclaimed ‘citizens of the world’ who end up being ‘citizens of nowhere’. Both believe Britain is in danger of being undermined by a lack of patriotism in sections of society and key institutions.

. Forget Project Fear

“I do not underestimate the scale of the task ahead as we take back control of our destiny. All I say is that they are in grievous error, all those who write off this country, who think we don’t have it in us, who think that we lack the nerve and the confidence to tackle the task ahead. They have been proved wrong before, and believe me they will be proved wrong again.”

What he means: Mr Johnson fears gloomy talk about Brexit will become a self-fulfilling prophecy unless challenged publicly. He notes that many of the ‘Project Fear’ claims made by the Remainers turned out to be utterly baseless.

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Britain, Economic, Government, Politics, Society

Britain’s bright future

BREXIT

IT was twenty-five years ago to the day, on September 16, 1992, when Britain crashed out of the European Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM) – the prelude to the euro. John Major’s government was humiliated, the pound was devalued overnight by 15 per cent and most economists predicted a protracted slump.

Yet, what happened? The lower pound led to a surge in exports and just three years later the economy was booming.

Following the Brexit result, a similar devaluation of pound sterling has happened and all the indicators are that it’s having the same effect, with figures published over the last few days showing that exports have risen by 9 per cent in the last year.

Despite this, not a day goes by that the BBC, Financial Times or Confederation of British Industry don’t paint an apocalyptic picture of Britain’s future outside the EU. These organisations are constantly talking this country down at the very time it’s crucial we should be showing unity.

For people like Sir James Dyson, arguably Britain’s greatest living entrepreneur, and for many other dynamic business leaders, Brexit is not a problem. It’s a massive opportunity.

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Arts, Books, History

Book Review: The London Cage

REVIEW

Synopsis: In a Kensington basement after the war, a British colonel drew a confession from the brutal Nazi who massacred 100 of our surrendered troops. So, were we guilty of torture too?

THE FORMER member of the Gestapo was arrogant and defiant as he faced his interrogators. No, he snarled, refusing to discuss his part in the murder of two of the British airmen who had tunnelled their way out of Stalag Luft III in the Great Escape in 1945.

Fifty of the captured escapers had been summarily shot on the orders of Hitler, and, with the war over, British investigators were rounding up those suspected of the killings.

One of them, Erich Zacharias, was brought to the so-called London Cage, a clandestine interrogation centre run by the Secret Service behind closed doors in an exclusive, leafy private road in Kensington, London. Elegant rooms had been turned into cells and dormitories. The basement billiard room housed the interview rooms.

There, the man in charge, the redoubtable and fearsome Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Scotland, staged a special scenario to loosen his captive’s tongue.

“The blinds were drawn, the lights were on. Zacharias was brought in with handcuffs and made to kneel in front of a table. Four of us faced him.”

This was a deliberate re-enactment of the scene when Zacharias tortured the two escaped airmen in his charge before killing them – as Scotland knew from other witnesses.

“A statement was read out giving the facts about his part in the murder. I put my hand on his shoulder and said: ‘What is the truth?’” Shocked, unnerved and intimidated, Zacharias broke down immediately and blurted out his admission of guilt to the shooting.

For Scotland, it was job done – in just five minutes. He recorded: “It is true we tried a little showmanship with Zacharias but this was a matter of psychology, not force.”

Certainly no direct physical violence was used to extract the confession, but did his actions still amount to putting undue pressure on the suspect? Did Scotland contravene the standards of behaviour towards prisoners laid down by the Geneva Convention?

These sorts of moral questions have always hung over what went on in the mysterious London Cage, and they are raised again by historian Helen Fry in this impressively forensic study, which not only throws light on an intriguing (and murky) backwater of World War II but also on an unresolved ethical dilemma still with us today.

The Cage – housed behind the ornate facades of numbers 6,7 and 8 Kensington Palace Gardens and backing onto the Palace grounds – was not a cosy place to find yourself in, and was never meant to be.

It was intended for the extraction of vital intelligence, initially information from German PoWs and then, after the war, evidence to convict those suspected of war crimes.

Scotland, as tough and motivated as any Nazi but outstandingly clever and psychologically perceptive, ran it with a rod of iron. He claimed an intimate knowledge of the mindset of Germans, and that they responded only to a figure of authority.

So he barked and bawled, demanding submission and cooperation from the thousands of inmates who passed through it. His penetrating gaze alone could make strong men quail. Those who chose to take him on were humiliated.

In his memoirs – which went unpublished because MI5 banned them under the Official Secrets Act – he maintained that “it was necessary to discipline tough, arrogant and impudent prisoners and we had our methods for these types”. But he insisted that “no physical force was used, no cold-water treatment, no third degrees”.

Fry comes to a different conclusion. “Few can deny he went too far,” she concludes as she examines evidence of prisoners being deprived of sleep, doused with cold water and made to carry out humiliating chores, such as scraping a toilet with a razor or toothbrush. Some were exercised to exhaustion on the parade ground, others kept in solitary confinement for extended periods.

The most uncooperative found themselves in Room 22 in the basement, which was dark, damp and kitted out like a dungeon. Prisoners were forced to stand naked for hours, sometimes chained, or kept for prolonged periods in a cold bath.

There was talk of electric shock treatment and the use of tongue-loosening ‘truth’ drugs. Four Cage prisoners committed suicide.

Scotland, however, always maintained that he only ever used “moderate” physical force – such as boxing an inmate’s ears – as a disciplinary measure, not as a way of extracting out information. Allegations of serious misconduct generally came from those whose necks were literally on the line, such as Zacharias.

When he went to trial in 1947, his German defence lawyer accused the British of obtaining his confession by force, and Scotland spent three days in the witness box denying that he had struck Zacharias or used electrical devices on him. The court believed him, accepted Zacharias’s confession as genuine and sentenced him to hang.

In explanations of his actions, Scotland wrote: “You don’t allow tough Gestapo criminals to imagine they have arrived at a kindergarten or for a rest cure. But there were ways of putting a cocky prisoner in his place without beating him up.

Another who alleged misconduct was SS officer Fritz Knochlein, responsible for the massacre of nearly 100 British soldiers who had surrendered en route to Dunkirk in 1940.

 

SCOTLAND admitted he was tempted, describing him as “the worst German we ever had in the Cage. I could hardly look at him without wanting to hit him.

“He aroused the worst side of my nature. His evilness, lying and brutal nature and the thought of the brave men he had caused to be slaughtered, made me long to give him a taste of the SS medicine.” But he was adamant that he had not done so.

In court, Knocklein alleged that he’d been whipped, kicked, beaten and tortured, but the judges who heard his war crimes trial decided that, even if true, the allegations were irrelevant to the charges against him. He, too, hanged.

For Scotland, the verdict did not amount to a vindication. Rumours and innuendo clouded his reputation, and still do.

Seventy years on, it’s easy to be shocked by the excesses that undoubtedly went on at the Cage. The liberal conscience is offended, as if Scotland were equivalent in evil to the atrocities of the Nazis.

Fry is aware of this, urging us to keep the backdrop of the Cage in proper focus. They had to deal with some of the toughest prisoners ever held by the British, perpetrators of the vilest acts of inhumanity, genocide and cruelty on an unprecedented scale.

But how rough is rough? There’s the rub. The line crossed at the Cage was a thin and uncertain one, with which we still struggle.

We were at war then, and are in a war now, against terror. To what lengths should those charged with our protection be allowed to go, compiling information to secure our safety?

That was Colonel Scotland’s dilemma, and it’s the same not only for the security forces of the 21st century but for every citizen, too. I only wish there were an easy answer

– The London Cage by Helen Fry is published by Yale for £18.99

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Aid, Britain, Government, Politics, Society

Immoral aid rules as restrictions apply to victims of Hurricane Irma

FOREIGN AID

MINISTERS have been frantically trying to change rules that prevent Britain from spending its aid budget to help UK territories hit by Hurricane Irma.

Priti Patel, the International Development Secretary, fired off a letter to the global body which ruled that the UK cannot use its aid cash because the three overseas territories are too wealthy.

She wrote to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development to demand reforms to end the farce.

But other ministers said she should go ahead anyway and use the aid budget to help the victims of Irma even if that means breaking the law.

A senior source within the Conservative Party said: “It’s a waste of time asking the OECD to change its mind. We’ve been asking them to change this stupid definition for years and they are not interested. We should just get on and do it ourselves.”

“Our law says we have got to spend 0.7 per cent of GDP on aid, which is good, but it also says we have to spend it according to a ridiculous definition, which is bad. The rules do not allow development spending on these islands because they are not considered poor enough. It is immoral and a lot of people are saying we should just ignore the rules and spend the money.”

Charlotte Petri Gornitzka, who chairs the OECD’s development assistance committee (DAC), suggested the door was open to change. “The DAC is always open to discussing issues of concern with its member countries,” she said.

Downing Street has made clear that Theresa May is “frustrated” with the OECD rules which excludes British Overseas Territories like Anguilla, the Turks and Caicos islands and the British Virgin Islands from receiving money from the aid pot.

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson says Whitehall is working furiously to get the rules changed.

As MPs anger grew, one branded the OECD “out-of-touch morons” while a Conservative backbencher pledged to introduce a bill to change the law, whether or not the OECD gives the green light.

Miss Patel’s letter to the DAC has called for the current rules to be torn up. She said she had asked the committee “as a matter of urgency to develop options to ensure the aid rules reflect the needs of those impacted by natural disasters”.

She added: “We believe that the international rules should take into account the vulnerabilities of small island states.

“These rules were first established over 40 years ago. The world has changed dramatically since then, and we will work constructively with international partners to ensure the rules remain relevant and up to date.”

The UK has pledged £57million towards disaster relief and the public has helped to raise £1.3million. This figure would have been significantly higher without the strict international rules governing the allocation of the £13billion aid budget – but the Government disputes this.

A spokesperson for the prime minister insisted the UK’s aid effort had not been hampered by the OECD rules, saying: “The Prime Minister is frustrated with the rules as they stand. We began detailed work after the election to change the rules to prevent precisely this kind of scenario.”

It was indicated that the UK could be prepared to act alone if there was no agreement on changing the international rules.

Mr Johnson said the hurricane was “absolutely catastrophic” and that anybody with an “ounce of compassion” would want to see government spending to “get these people on their feet”.

“We are looking now across Whitehall at ways we can make sure that our aid budget is used in that way,” he said: “Priti Patel, all my colleagues are looking at how we can do that.”

James Duddridge, a former Foreign Office minister and now member of the Commons international development committee, said he would introduce a ten-minute rule bill to rewrite the law on the 0.7 per cent target.

“The Government should change development assistance rules, and if they don’t, they bring forward legislation to change the International Development Act,” he said.

“If they don’t, I will bring a bill to Parliament to redefine what our excellent 0.7 per cent commitment should cover.”

His colleague Philip Davis, who called the OECD “out-of-touch morons”, told the Commons: “It’s bad enough that we have a bloated and wasteful and unaffordable overseas aid budget but it’s even more ridiculous that we now learn that we cannot spend it on our overseas territories.”

Conservative MP Nigel Evans said: “These rules are grotesque if they prevent us from giving the right amount of money that is needed. If we can’t bend the rules then we have to go outside those rules.”

. Why we can’t spend it how we want

BRITAIN is free to spend its aid wherever it wants – what is at issue is whether it counts towards the Government’s 0.7 per cent of national income on international development. But aid money only counts towards the target if it meets rules set by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.

So under current rules, any money we give to the three overseas territories cannot count towards this total. Cash is only eligible if it goes towards a country on the OECD’s list of states which are deemed poor enough.

Countries are ranked according to need, which is intended to ensure the poorest countries take priority. While some UK territories are on this list, the three affected by Irma are not.

Britain has sent £57million to Turks and Caicos, Anguilla and the British Virgin Islands. But it cannot count towards “official development assistance”, the name for the total eligible under the rules.

COMMENT

AFTER inexorable stories of waste, mismanagement and corruption, it seemed as if there was nothing about Britain’s bloated foreign aid budget which had the capacity to shock.

Now we have learned that not one penny of the £13billion (and rising) which is earmarked for development can be used to help those small island states which were devastated by Hurricane Irma.

The reason? When David Cameron put the target of spending 0.7 per cent of national income into law, he signed Britain up to a Byzantine set of rules laid down by the OECD.

Perversely, this global body has decided that these British Overseas Territories do not qualify as recipients for aid because… they are too rich. To the thousands of people left without power or water, whose communities have been decimated by 180mph winds, will feel that the rules are nothing more than a sick joke.

They might not have been in dire poverty before the storm hit, but surely they are now, after losing everything?

It is bad enough that Britain hurls taxpayers’ money at economic powerhouses such as China, at corrupt regimes where money just disappears, while many public services in the UK are starved of cash.

But it is immeasurably worse that when a truly deserving cause comes along, ministers are forced to scrabble around to raid cash from other budgets or by further inflating our country’s debts.

Whilst it is true that Downing Street is promising to change these mindless rules, that could take months or years and depends on approval from other countries.

Far better would be for ministers to damn the consequences, tear up the rules and do the right thing: spend the money on our people who are – without doubt – in desperate need. The OECD might not applaud, but the public surely would.

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Arts, Literature, Poetry

Anthology: William Blake (1757-1827)

from Auguries of Innocence

To see a World in a Grain of Sand

And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,

Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand

And Eternity in an hour.

                                                William Blake

 

Born in 1757, William Blake was an English poet and artist. His poetry became part of the prominent Romantic Movement along with other great poets such as Wordsworth and Coleridge.

Romantic poetry is typically characterised by lyrical, descriptive language and central ideas which embody Nature and Art. We can clearly sense this in the extract given. Its themes often examine, too, the principles of Freedom and Equality.

Blake’s poetry often rebelled against injustice, rigid class systems and the hypocrisy inherent in organised religion at the time. Some of this feeds through and into later stanza in Auguries of Innocence.

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