Matthew Hedges needs support

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A very worrying case says the Foreign secretary as Matthew’s rights are “violated on a daily basis” by his UAE captors. Another Disappointing story that makes difficult reading. He is currently awaiting a first hearing, apparently scheduled in the next 10 days, after being detained in May at the airport.

 

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Further details about Privilege, Bercow and Bradlaugh

The spectre of being censured for bullying now hangs over the Speaker, Mr Bercow, and the Leicester MP Keith Vaz. Vaz was also in the news a while back for getting entangled with rent boys.

I find the bullying issue deeply disturbing, and, more so, because a man accused of bullying is supervising an investigation into its prevalence within the Palace of Westminster. When someone challenges a bully, they sometimes respond by saying they are the victim or asserting further power. It is odd, because it is the bullying behaviour that has become so inbred, so alot of people in power have no idea at all that this is what they have been doing. Many of these people would be quite shocked, I am sure, to be told that they are bullies. More than that, to recognise that it is a habit they have got into, and a nasty habit at that.

I am sure that both Mr Vaz and Mr Bercow, friends incidentally, would be the first to object to any suggestion that they were not in control of their actions, but moments of madness happen to us all. What is needed in this whole bullying campaign is to find a way to make people in power behave better without going to court and without recrimination. These people are in power because they do power, on the whole, rather well. Sadly, it goes to their head a bit, and they need to be reined in. This is a time to give them some serious life-changing help and to make sure that help is readily available for others further down the line who also have to learn how to manage power.

Of course, some government departments and high street offices are simply designed in the 21st Century to facilitate bullying. The whole security process on the end of a telephone help-line is institutional intimidation and needs to be called out for what it is.

I remember when the TSB was the “Listening Bank” sporting wonderfully inventive adverts. Not any more. Today, it is the bank that “is sorry we have not met your high standards and that”, because of the great backlog, “may be taking a while to process your complaints.”  It can take ten minutes to get through their security and even then, they do not function properly. Bullying masking incompetence. Shocking!

Mr Bercow’s problems lie in the alleged treatment of his private secretary, Angus Sinclair and Sinclair’s successor, Kate Emms. Mr Vaz’s problems seem greater in so far as when he posed as Jim, besides getting involved with rent boys, he also discussed buying them cocaine. His treatment of Ms McCulloch seems to be centred on the fact that she was from Northern Ireland and he had apparently suggested that she was therefore “a security risk”. Fairly shocking racism if true. She also criticises his hospitality expenses. Bluntly, much of this seems to be the sort of stuff that some timely guidance could have sorted out, but there was little of that and there looks likely to be little offered. A shame all round.

As for the abuse of parliamentary privilege, that is something that needs testing. There are astonishing stories in the last 300 years where privilege has been invoked, most notably when the MP elected to serve the constituents of Northampton, practically my own area, refused to take the oath of allegiance in Parliament. This was not disloyalty to the Queen but committed atheism. At one point, he suggested that, like John Morley who had taken the oath and kissed the testament, he might just say the words and not mean them: that was not good enough for the die-hard believers. It was God or nothing. Charles Bradlaugh was elected in 1880 and finally took his seat after 6 by-elections in 1885, taking over the India office and asserting the rights of Indians in the process. He died six years’ later, a spent man. Taking on the establishment bullies in this case as well as dealing with the intricacies of Parliamentary privilege must have “done for him”.

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The problem lay in the conflict between the courts and the House of Commons. What was acceptable in the courts was not deemed right in the House, specifically to affirm rather than swear. So there was one rule in Parliament and another outside. Absurd and yet defended by the principle of Parliamentary privilege. But I suspect there were other issues of snobbery, spite and a basic fear of the modern that were at play. Bradlaugh was a self-made man who advocated family planning and universal pension. He made enemies. He was lampooned by Churchill’s father. But after 6 elections, he won. In a way. And he has a statue in Northampton to prove the point.

Common sense finally won out against an abuse of Parliamentary privilege.

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Pork Chops

In Chapter 16 of Nicholas Nickleby, Mr Gregsbury is supposed to have a “Gammon tendency”.  He is “a tough, burly, thick-headed gentleman with a loud voice, a pompous manner, a tolerable command of sentences with no meaning in them, and, in short, every requisite for a very good Member.” He is an MP, and at this point in the book, his constituents have called on him to resign. (You are dissatisfied with my conduct, I see by the newspapers) When he hears what they are calling him, however, he says,

“The meaning of the term, gammon, is unknown to me. If it means that I grow a little too fervid, or perhaps even hyperbolical, in extolling my native land, I admit the full justice of the remark.”

It is worth noting Dickens’ punctuation here- he adopts two commas rather than interted commas to isolate the word. I was amused to hear today that the ubiqity of “like” in street-english is simply a vocal comma. Think about it!

Anyway, the word “Gammon” has re-appeared in print. The novelist, Ben Davis, was annoyed by the number of Brexiteers on Question Time and wrote that    “the Great Wall of Gammon has had its way long enough.”

The word “Gammon” was always about jingoism, describing now a right-wing white male who probably supports Brexit; it is clearly prejorative, but then there are many words that are abusive in the English language, and Gregsbury is positively proud of the insult. It does not make these words any the less authentic, or negative but it does mean we should be careful about how they are used. There is some debate about whether the word “Gammon” is today itself racist. I think not though I am sure that many “Gammon” may well be.

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Nicholas Nickleby meets Mr Gregsbury when trying to get employment as a Parliamentary secretary. Gregsbury thinks he is being generous when he offers him 15 shillings and goes on at length about his various duties; Nicholas thinks the job is beyond him and says so.

‘Good-morning, sir,’ said Nicholas.

‘Door, Matthews!’ cried Mr. Gregsbury.

 

Aaron Banks and Andrew Marr

The details about Mr Banks’ apparent deception of Parliament along with the opening of a police investigation mark a new stage in the misery of Brexit, but not really one we could not have anticipated. It is surely right to ask whether, if the Leave campaign was funded with dodgy money, it is time to call for another properly organised referendum. This would not be a second referendum or even a referendum about the preferred exit details, but rather an entirely new process as the previous efforts are rendered null and void by potentially criminal activity.

We could run the same question again, and see what happens this time. There is now good reason to rerun, and more than that, we now have enough evidence to know what both “Leave” and “remain” might mean in practical terms. Somehow, I suspect the result would no longer be in favour of Leaving. But if “Leave” is so confident it is right,(Farage says “Leave would win by a much bigger margin”) it should be prepared to be tested again, when the competition can be properly monitoring and judged to be fair.

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Indeed, before Banks, the Electoral Commission had already castigated the Leave campaign. It found that ‘Vote Leave’ officials were guilty of overspending £449,079.34. A criminal offence. More than that, the Facebook fiasco during the Referendum debate still threatens a £500,000 fine from the Information Commissioner. To cap it all, the House of Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee on ‘Fake News’ concluded Russia has engaged in ‘unconventional warfare’. So there are three strikes and all pointing to wrongdoing to secure a Leave vote.

When MPs and Councillors are found guilty of electoral fraud, they are suspended and  in the case of Bob Spink, for instance, given a prison sentence (admittedly suspended). In the case of the Leave campaign, no real action is taken.

This is what happens as a rule: four people were jailed and a fifth person was given a suspended prison sentence for electoral fraud after a local by-election in Maybury and Sheerwater in Surrey in 2012: Shaukat Ali, Parveen Akhtar, Shamraiz Ali, Sobia Ali-Akhtar and Abid Hussain, from New Haw, were charged over claims that postal votes were being fraudulently submitted. They were all convicted of conspiracy to defraud at Reading Crown Court. Shaukat Ali was jailed for 15 months, Parveen Akhtar and Sobia Ali-Akhtar were both jailed for nine months, and Shamraiz Ali was jailed for six months. Abid Hussain was given a six-month prison term suspended for 18 months.

In other words, in normal cases of Electoral fraud, there are consequences for the people who tried to benefit from criminal activity. The electoral result that was skewed by their malpractice is voided, the people involved punished and the election run again.

Not so with Brexit. Not so for those involved in damaging the integrity of the Leave Campaign.

One might argue, of course, that there were only a few “bad boys of Brexit”…

But so far, nothing is emerging about naughty Remainers. Their campaign, which was almost successful was not dogged by suspicions of outside interference, the abuse of facebook, or proven overspending. Now, finally, at the 11th hour, the Banks’ stuff emerges.

Now is the time to act.

Today the Observer ran an article exposing what seem to be dodgy dealings in the Banks’ empire. Allegedly, Eldon Insurance employees were made to work on the Leave campaign, some against their will. Together with the racism that invaded the campaign, some of it apparently printed by Rock services, and much of it informed by the darker forces allied with UKIP, the questions surrounding Mr Banks at least demand a proper debate before it is too late and we are fully committed to Europe in the half-way house peddled by Mrs May’s Chequers’ agreement.

As for Banks’ performance on Andrew Marr, well- the question was asked: “Where did the 8m come from?” and the answers that emerged were a mixture of obfuscation, aggression and arrogance that had Marr floored (“this is what you do, you smear other people” was what Marr was left to observe).

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But Banks says he would have voted remain if he had known what a Leave vote might mean. This from the man who is alleged to have bullied his staff into working for the Leave campaign. If there was another vote today, in other words, the leading Leave campaigner would be voting to remain. That beggars belief!

Banks is a great puzzle. A former vacuum machine salesman, he amassed a fortune quite suddenly and then bankrolled UKIP. His CV needs a good deal of explaining- he may or may not have worked for Norwich Union or Warren Buffett and he may have made £100 million out of his sale of Brightside, though records suggest the figure was closer to £22. His mother-in -law, Olga Paderina, says today that he has done nothing wrong. Nevertheless, a cloud hangs over him.

If Banks is dodgy, and it remains to be seen- any trial will be too late to repair the damage he has done.

The risks of Brexit alone, with or without Banks, as they have emerged, might make it expedient to hold another public vote.

In any other situation we would have called time. Instead, we persist with a charade that we are doing “democracy”. We are not even doing that.

There are a number of ways to analyse the events of 23rd June 2016. the Brexiteers might cite the 263 that voted to leave in contrast to the 119 that voted decisively to remain. That would be a 68.85% majority vote. But this is never the figure put forward. Instead, people concentrate on the overall percentage of voters throughout the kingdom who voted to leave. That is just 17,410,742 votes.

In other words, with 51.89% voting leave out of a 72.21% turnout, that is not even a 50% majority. This is hardly decisive.

My friends in the Leave group, particularly from UKIP, tell me that should the Leave vote be ignored, there will be riots in the streets. I suppose that is a threat and we should not give in to that sort of thing. Maybe they will turn on Aaron Banks now he has said he would vote to Remain.

But much more than all that, the possibility that there was major wrong-doing behind the campaign makes the strongest case for pulling the plug now. We cannot do so after March. Stronger than expedience, stronger even than resisting bullies who threaten disorder is we do not do what they want. No. If we do nothing about electoral mal-practice, we condone it. That means the integrity of our political system is under threat.