An insight into the delusional ideology of the Tory Party

(Or: Why we can’t afford to let them win the next election)

The Tory Party has recently released its very own ‘vision for the future’. Although it makes for disturbing reading, it does offer an insight into the inner ideologies of the Tory Party, an organisation so keen to re-brand itself and gain some distance from its unofficial title of ‘The Nasty Party’. Entitled 2020 Vision: An Agenda For Transformation, the document is available to read here.

I won’t go into the whole document, although it does give interesting insights into the Tory’s agenda. So much of Cameron and Co.’s rhetoric is steeped in doublespeak so it’s interesting to see the veil lifted and see their, albeit terrifying and destructive, agenda that lays behind the lies. The whole document gives insight into their own vision of a Tory-led UK in 2020, but I wanted to quickly examine the small section found under the heading “The Innovation Economy”. It is here that an actual fictional narrative has been created describing the horrifying implications that could happen if the Tories remain in power:

It is the morning of the 7th May 2020. Over breakfast, Mr and Mrs Jones, happily married for 50 years with three children, are reflecting on the past and their hopes for the future. Reflecting on the difficult years of 2010-2015, they now know Britain is on the right track. Britain is topping the world economic tables for competitiveness and unemployment is low. The most striking development is that it seems the whole world wants to invest in the UK.

Mr and Mrs Jones have a large proportion of their savings in bonds. Not Government bonds—which are no longer issued—but in interest-bearing bonds from mutuals, cooperatives, social enterprises and private businesses. Their oldest child, John, is a successful ‘Life Science’ entrepreneur. He is hiring 20 top class science graduates and another 20 apprentices from the local technical college. He happily invests his profits in research and development. His business benefits enormously now that the Government only accepts electronic invoices. The UK online services industry has cornered the market for electronic invoicing standards. Electronic invoicing alone has added about 0.5 percent to GDP. Their daughter, Mary, is a successful maths teacher on the road to promotion. Her husband is an orderly at the local hospital trust. Nobody can remember if it is private or public; it is just a good hospital and they both hold a stake in its future. Their youngest, David, is a perpetual student and hightech entrepreneur. Like so many others, he is also registering his own IP with the Online Intellectual Property Office.

Mr and Mrs Jones seldom see politicians on TV. The only political stories appear to be about tax reductions, high-tech exports and the massive trade surplus. Britain is confident, dynamic and at ease with itself. The only criticism Mrs Jones has is that “the Conservative Government failed to raise the tax-free threshold to £25,000. It’s such a disincentive for lower earners.” However, Mr Jones reminds her of the days of “those awful tax credits, national insurance contributions and year-end tax returns.” Mrs Jones reflects on this, adding, “at least we know where we stand with a 20 percent flat tax.” “But,” Mr Jones says, “never trust a politician, I very much doubt they will get the flat rate down to 15 percent by 2025 as they promised.” “True,” adds Mrs Jones, “but we can’t expect too much, now that Parliament only sits 16 weeks a year.”

Fantasy? Not necessarily.

Whilst making for a rather unsettling read, it describes what the Tories aim to achieve. It also describes their ideal future for the UK. There is a really good breakdown of this part here, but I will give a quick explanation of the parts I found unsettling (in no particular order).

  1. Britain is topping the world economic tables for competitiveness and unemployment is low.

    Under the current Tory government unemployment is a key concern, despite the government assuring us that unemployment is falling. The reality is that the statistics that make up unemployment are convoluted, with many on workfare schemes, and still claiming JSA, being counted as “employed”. Government workfare schemes are actually taking paid job vacancies away from workers. High street names like HMV are going bust, leading to mass redundancies. Widespread public sector cuts mean even more unemployment. With all this in mind it is really hard to see how the Tories envision a future with Britain topping the economic tables and low unemployment figures under their leadership. Unless in 2020 they are still manipulating the unemployment statistics, of course… The skwalker1969 article describes it nicely:

    Silly, silly people who opposed the Tory wage-slashing, benefit-cutting, state-shrinking ways! Don’t we realise that we’re on the path to a Shining Future? 2.5 million unemployed people, an impending triple-dip recession, Foodbanks opening at the rate of 3 a week and rising rates of suicide – nothing more than a few eggs that needed to be broken to complete the Conservatives’ ‘omelette’.

  2. Government bonds are no longer offered

    I won’t profess to say I understand the whole government bonds aspect, but the blog I mentioned earlier, skwalker1969, has given a decent description of what it all means:

    “The idea that government bonds – which is how governments finance their spending – ‘are no longer issued’ is far more revealing than you might think at first reading.

    That the report thinks such bonds will no longer be necessary betrays the extent to which the Tories, in their secret ‘heart of hearts’, want to slash the state on which many people inevitably have to rely.

    Only in a country where virtually everything is provided by private companies, and paid for by direct charges on each individual ‘customer’, could a government even conceivably do away with government bonds. Either that, or we discover that we’re sitting on oil reserves that make those of Saudi Arabia look like a duck-pond.

    Without that unlikely event, a country that does not fund its spending through bonds is going to be one that has no place for the vulnerable, for those who through disability or circumstance are unable to pay their own way. Such people are too expensive, and too unprofitable for private providers if the government is not footing the bill.

    That this is how the Tories see the future speaks volumes about their plans and ethos – far more than their coded, public statements will ever admit to. Life sciences and electronic invoices Here we see what the Tories are pinning their hopes on.

    The economy is circling the drain because of policies that are either misguided or, more likely, deliberate; full-time jobs are disappearing while poorly-paid part-time jobs replace them if we’re lucky; decision after decision sucks cash – and therefore demand – out of the UK economy. And demand is everything, for economic recovery.”

  3. Nobody can remember if hospitals are private or public

    Perhaps one of the more relevant and eye-opening aspects of this Tory vision is this statement, though it might seem unsurprising to many. It is clear that the Tories want to sell off the NHS to private corporations, privatising the National Health Service that even Thatcher left alone. However, in their ideal future, the public can’t remember, and don’t seem to care, if hospitals are private or public; they’re just seen as “good hospitals”. The NHS will be privatised and sold off bit by bit, and in the Tory Party’s ideal (and delusional) vision of the future, nobody will care. Well, maybe they will care when the private corporations cut corners and place profit before quality, efficiency before patient care, inflated management bonuses before…

  4. Mr and Mrs Jones’ youngest son is a “perpetual student”.

    One of the more delusional aspects of their vision is the notion that the average couple, Mr and Mrs Jones, have a grandson who is a ‘perpetual student’. This is laughable considering this government tripled tuition fees. Enough said, really.

  5. Politicians are seldom seen on TV anymore

    This bit is rather scary, though I suppose the whole ‘vision’ itself is one big nightmare trip. So, in the crazy world of Tory-led 2020, politicians are “seldom seen on TV anymore”, and the only political stories that do appear are all about “tax reductions, high-tech exports and the massive trade surplus”. So in their vision of the future, politicians rarely feature in the news. Clearly an uninformed and ignorant public is a Tory wet dream. With a government rarely featuring in the news, it would be free to get away with… well, anything it wanted. Such as privatising public services, for instance. Although maybe it’s not as sinister as all that. Maybe the Tories aren’t on TV much because they don’t actually do much in the future. In fact, it’s probably explained by the fact that:

  6. Parliament only sits 16 weeks a year

    I guess in the Tory world of 2020, corporations and business run everything, and Parliament is just there to occasionally  lower taxes for the wealthy elite. Maybe by 2020 Parliament is more like the Royals, where they’re just there as a tourist attraction and a hark back to the “old” days where elected governments actually ran the country. Maybe, despite the attacks on the poor, the disabled, the vulnerable, the public services, the council cuts (etc, etc.) – maybe despite all of that, Cameron’s “Big Society” was actually implemented and a lot of public organisations and local services are run by volunteers in the community, and everything else is controlled by multinational corporations that pay 0.5% corporation tax, or something. Ah, those crazy Tories…

    The funny thing is, even the Tories (in their crazy scenario) admit that they won’t be able to do much with only 16 weeks out of the year. Mr Jones is moaning that the flat tax rate of 20% (more on that in a second) isn’t the 15% that they promised (at least the Tories still envisage them breaking promises in 2020), to which Mrs Jones replies:

    True,” adds Mrs Jones, “but we can’t expect too much, now that Parliament only sits 16 weeks a year.”


  7. There is a 20% flat tax. For everyone.

    Another scary aspect of this ‘vision’ is the fact that taxes are lowered to the extent that there is a “flat tax” of 20% for everyone. That means that even the millionaires and billionaires pay the same rate of tax as the working classes. Actually it will probably be much like today, where they pay even less due to tax evasion/avoidance, etc. However, in the future, and even with a 20% flat tax rate for everyone, the Tories aren’t happy. This future government of 2020 wants a lower flat tax rate of 15% for everyone. It’s hard to see how further tax reductions will help support the government and the country, but then again by 2020 (under a Tory leadership) everything will be run by the private sector so there probably won’t be any sort of welfare system or “public” services to speak of by this point anyway. Maybe we won’t even need a welfare state, because by that point all the poor and disabled will have died out (so they hope?). Even schools will be fully privatised, run for-profit, by the time the Tories are done. The flat tax gained will just go towards paying the MPs salaries, I suppose.

There’s much more to dissect from that scenario, and the 2020 document as a whole, but I only wanted to do a quick run-down of the impressions I got from it. It’s clear that the authors behind the document are delusional, and potentially dangerous (!!). If this is representative of the Tory ideology and real vision for the future (and I cannot see anything to counter this), then it is clearly very worrying. If anything puts you off voting for them in the next election, let it be this. Unless you want a future government who only sits for 16 weeks a year, and lowers taxes for higher earners to the point where a welfare system and public service sector becomes impossible to maintain; a future where big business runs everything and the government doesn’t even feature on the news… It’s not that I love seeing politicians and government policies talked about on TV all the time, but surely they need to be in the public eye to be held accountable? Surely the public should be kept informed?

Damian Hinds, the Conservative MP who is one of the authors of the report, said that the ideas aimed to encourage social mobility, supporting those from disadvantaged backgrounds who wanted to get on in life.

“The electorate gave our party half a chance in 2010,” said Mr Hinds. “This work is about showing what we could offer the country if voters give us a full opportunity to govern on our own in 2015.

See what I mean? Anyway, let me know what you think below.

University tuition fee rises may end up taxpayers more than scheme it replaced

The Coalition’s £9,000-a-year tuition fee hike could cost taxpayers more than the scheme it replaced, a think-tank has warned. A £1bn-a-year “black hole” in university funding shows that the rushed tuition fee reforms are coming back to haunt both the Lib Dems and the Tories, despite all their claims that the reforms would save the country money.

The Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) says that the government “seriously understated” the cost of its higher education reforms and will either have to implement drastic cuts to student numbers or ask graduates to make higher repayments – a result that will deeply embarrass the Lib Dems.

So as well as having an impact on social mobility, lumping a lifetime of debt on future graduates and deterring future students from attending higher education, the drastic cuts to higher education will actually end up costing taxpayers more in the long run. However, this was clear from the start, and it has often been said that you do not cut public spending in a recession. This government’s policies may reduce debt in the short run, but in the longer-term the “austerity” programs may lead to irreparable damage to the public sector, to education, and to the UK as a whole.

None of this is new, however. A report published in 2010 stated that with state funding for University teaching being cut by a monumental 80% by 2014-15, the government will have to borrow more to fund the higher loans and pick up a bigger bill for those debts “written off” after 30 years; The report argued this will leave taxpayers worse off.

This is what happens when austerity reforms are pushed through as legislation before MP’s have had a chance to properly review and debate the proposals. The student protests of 2010 fell on deaf ears. It’s clear that either the Coalition MP’s who passed this legislation were either so short-sighted, they could not see the implications of their reforms, or the reforms themselves were ideologically-driven. But the Tories are anything but ideologically-driven, right?

Females win landmark equal pay victory

A landmark Supreme Court ruling means that equal-pay disputes can be heard in the civil courts, not just employment tribunals, for the first time. Over 170 women, who worked in low-paying jobs for Birmingham City Council, claim that they were paid less than their male colleagues and have won the right to have their cases heard in the courts. This could have implications for thousands of workers, and could mean that female employees at local authorities across the country could potentially receive payouts for pay discrimination.

Equal-pay disputes have generally been heard in employment tribunals, which only deal with cases brought within six months of leaving a place of work. However the ruling means that future disputes can be heard in civil courts which has a longer six-year time frame in which a case can be brought.

The dispute over equal pay at Birmingham City Council has been running for over three years. The female employees who brought the case to court were employed in roles such as cleaners, cooks, caterers and care staff, and claimed that they were excluded from bonuses that were given to male employees. Between 2007 and 2008, Birmingham City Council ended up paying thousands of pounds in compensation to women bringing the claim, but only those who did so within the six month period of leaving their jobs. Those left out of the original compensation took their case to the High Court.

The law firm Leigh Day & Co., who represents the women, declared the ruling as “historic.” In a statement, the firm said the judgement:

“…Effectively extends the time limit for equal-pay claims from six months to six years, the biggest change to equal pay legislation since it was introduced in 1970, with huge implications for thousands of workers”.

Disability hate crimes soar to ‘record levels’, doubling since 2008 financial crisis

A Freedom of Information request has revealed that the number of disability hate crimes has soared since the 2008 financial crisis, leading to concerns that the “anti-scrounger” rhetoric employed by the Coalition is leading to hostility and aggression against the most vulnerable members of society.

The Independent reports that disability hate crime has doubled since the start of the financial crisis in 2008, yet yespite the rise, the number of people convicted for the crime actually fell last year. A total of 1,942 disability hate crimes were recorded by police forces in England, Wales and Northern Ireland in 2011 while only 523 people were found guilty of a disability hate crime – down 5 per cent from 2010.

I remember when the rhetoric from both government and the media was very much anti immigration and immigrants and asylum seekers seemed to be blamed for most of the issues that Britain was facing. Now the focus and blame has shifted towards other vulnerable members of society – those on benefits and those with disabilities. “Benefit scroungers”, as well as the welfare state itself, are being blamed for much of the economic crisis and the deficit. This rhetoric has allowed the Coalition to effectively attack and slowly attempt to dismantle sections of the welfare state and the public sector, all the while blaming “scroungers” and the most vulnerable members of society.

“There are historical parallels,” says Katharine Quarmby, the author of Scapegoat: Why We Are Failing Disabled People, who has grown alarmed by the levels of “benefit scrounger” abuse aimed at disabled people. “If you have a group that is blamed for economic downturn, terrible things can happen to them.”

“Iain Duncan Smith [the Work and Pensions Secretary] is saying ‘We’re going to push through these benefit reforms’ and hinting strongly that lots of people on disability benefits are scroungers,” Quarmby says. “That kind of rhetoric leads to disability hate crime on the streets.”

  • Last year the Glasgow Media Trust found the public believed between 50 and 70 per cent of those on disability benefits were fraudulent. The actual number is likely to be between 1 and 2 per cent.
  • The same report found that there has been a tripling in the use of words such as “scrounger”, “cheat” and “skiver” in tabloid stories on disability in the past five years.
Charities are expressing concern at the rise in these reported incidents. Guy Parckar, head of policy and campaigns at Leonard Cheshire Disability, said: “The impact of hate crime simply cannot be overestimated, and these figures suggest that police authorities and local and central government must all look again at what they are doing to tackle disability hate crime.”

Former government drugs advisor says that alcohol consumption would fall by 25% if Dutch-style “cannabis cafes” were allowed

Cannabis sativa plant

Former government advisor Professor David Nutt has told MPs that alcohol consumption would fall by up to 25% in Britain if Dutch-style cannabis “coffee shops” were introduced, the Guardian reports.

“A regulated market for illicit drugs would be the best way and we could reduce alcohol consumption by as much as 25% if we had the Dutch model of cannabis cafes,” said Nutt, who added that he believed the police would rather deal with people who were ‘stoned’ than drunk.

“The drugs trade is the second biggest international trade in the world, after oil, and it is completely unregulated … It is impossible to win the war on drugs.”

Prof David Nutt is a psychiatrist and  neuropsychopharmacologist who was a former government minister appointed as chairmen of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) in 2008. However, he clashed with MPs due to his views on drug harm and classification. This came to a head in 2009 when Nutt published an editorial in the Journal of Psychopharmacology in which he stated that horse riding held more risk than taking ecstasy. He vocally stated his beliefs that illicit drugs should be classified according to actual evidence of harm rather than as a result of politics.

Prof David Nutt recently gave his views regarding the Dutch-style cannabis cafe model to the Commons home affairs select committee’s inquiry into drugs policy. Both Nutt and Prof Lesley King, a second former government drug advisor, were invited to give evidence. Nutt told the committee that he still stands by his claim that horse-riding is more dangerous than taking ecstasy, and offered his views regarding the introduction of “cannabis cafes”. As the Guardian reports:

“Nutt told MPs the cost of policing cannabis use was only £500m a year, mainly for issuing possession warning notices, compared with the £6bn a year bill for policing the use of alcohol, including dealing with people who were drunk and disorderly.”

Nutt instead of scientific evidence, politics had influenced drug policy in Britain over the 40 years since the Misuse of Drugs Act was passed in 1971. Only one drug – cannabis – had ever been downgraded and that was quickly reversed against the advice of the ACMD.

Nutt said the decision by the home secretary to classify magic mushrooms as a class A drug alongside heroin and crack cocaine was “the final nail in the rationality of the 1971 Drugs Act”.

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Poverty set to rise in UK, as IFS warns families will be worse off in 2016 than they were 14 years ago

A recent report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) has predicted that poverty is set to rise in the UK under this government, with incomes falling, meaning families in 2015 will still not be earning more than they did in 2002  on average.

The IFS report predicted that “absolute poverty is forecast to rise by about 600,000 children and 800,000 working-age adults,” while “median income is expected to fall by around 7% in real terms, which would be the largest three-year fall for 35 years.”

The director of the IFS, Paul Johnson, said: “In the period 2009-10 to 2012-13, real median household incomes will drop by a whopping 7.4% – a record matched only by the falls seen between 1974 and 1977.”

Critics of this government have described how the coalition’s policies are affecting the lowest-income earners and the vulnerable hardest, shifting the burden onto lower-income earners to lower the deficit. Alison Garnham, chief executive of the charity Child Poverty Action Group, said: “The IFS analysis confirms that the chancellor’s new tax and benefit measures are a takeaway from low-income families with children to those at the middle and top. It is particularly perverse to reduce incomes of the lowest-paid working families by reducing tax credits when this is the group the government claims it wants to help through improved work incentives.”

(I have not heard David Cameron say: “We are all in this together” for a very long time, now.)

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said that the poorest 30% of households would lose more than three times as much as the richest 30%.

 The IFS report stated that, in the longer term, the government’s planned  introduction of Universal Credit will act to reduce both absolute and relative poverty; The long term effect of Universal Credit is to reduce relative poverty by about 450,000 children and 600,000 working-age adults in 2020–21.
However, the IFS report continued, stating that “the net direct effect of the coalition government’s tax and benefit changes is to increase both absolute and relative poverty. This is because other changes, such as the switch from RPI- to CPI- indexation of means-tested benefits, more than offset the impact on poverty of Universal Credit.”
“Absolute and relative child poverty are are forecast to be 23% and 24% in 2020–21 respectively.”

The report continued: “These compare to the targets of 5% and 10%, set out in the Child Poverty Act (2010) and passed with cross-party support. This would be the highest rate of absolute child poverty since 2001–02 and the highest rate of relative child poverty since 1999–2000.”

#MyTramExperience – Grounds for arrest?

[Warning- Video contains swearing and racist, abusive language]

A woman has been arrested and charged after a video entitled ‘My Tram Experience’ went viral, sparking off widespread outrage across the internet.

If you haven’t seen the video, I’ve linked it above. Less than a day old, the video has already gathered over 2,500,000 views, due, in part, to it being spread around social media websites like wildfire. In the video, the woman in question launches a tirade of abuse and racist comments at fellow passengers, ranting about how Britain is “no longer British” and focusing her attention on passengers of ‘ethnic’ origin who she claims are not actually British. Such inflammatory quotes from the woman include:

“You’re black; you ain’t British. Go back to where you came from.”

“None of you are f**king English. Get back to your own country. Sort your own countries, don’t come and do mine.

“What has this country come to? … with loads of black people and a load of fucking Polish. You ain’t English either. None of you are fucking English. Get back to your own fucking, d’you know what?”
The video was posted online and was quickly spread around, with internet users quick to demonise her and assert their own moral standpoints. I was glad that there was such a public outrage to such blatant, harrowing racist abuse against docile passengers on public transport, and I actually thought it was a good thing that the video was made publicly available for people to criticise and discuss. It is encouraging to see the heightened level of public outcry at such racism.
And then I began to feel uneasy… The public outcry and the condemnation, I felt, was a good thing. Racism should not be tolerated. But I was uneasy about the extent of the backlash and the calls from members of the public for her to be arrested.
Piers Morgan even got involved, commenting on the video via Twitter and calling for the woman to be named and shamed, and deported – quite where she would be deported to remains a mystery:
“Most disgusting thing I’ve watched in years. I want this woman arrested, and deported. Makes me ashamed to be British”
“That video’s all over Twitter now. Someone must know the repulsive racist wretch. Name and shame her.”

The problem is, many of the tabloids will report this and shame the woman, despite the fact that many of her ill-informed, racist views regarding ethnicity and immigration will no doubt be fuelled by the right-wing media. Tabloids won’t ever pause and reflect on whether their biased reporting and twisted use of statistics has contributed to such examples of racist rants.

Also, the woman in the video seems a bit ‘odd’, to use a term. I don’t know her background or anything, but it seemed to me as if she was drunk, on drugs, or even mentally ill. Not because of the racism, but because of her demeanour and speech… But this is precisely it: we don’t know her, or her background, and neither do we know what led up to the video. The video begins when she is already ranting, we don’t know what set her off or what happened prior to the beginning of the recording. Now, racism is never justified and her ranting is disgraceful and shameful, but the moral outcry has negative as well as positive aspects.

The internet outcry reminded me of the backlash to the London riots this summer, which at the time shocked me, to be honest. There were calls for the rioters/looters to have their benefits removed (after being imprisoned), for them to be evicted from council housing (whole families, even if their son/daughter was the only one who was involved in the riots)… there were calls for martial law, for live ammunition- for protestors to be shot on sight, for the military to be drafted in alongside the police… calls for water cannons, tear gas… calls for social media websites to be shut down in a bid to censor the internet, and much more. Essentially, the public outcry was almost as shocking as the actual riots themselves. Thankfully, the rioting stopped without any draconian measures, backed by public calls, to be implemented, though the outcry (I believe) contributed to the harsh sentences passed on convicted rioters – designed to send a “message” rather than to dole out justice.

The issue with the woman on the tram is complicated. On the one hand, she has a right to freedom of speech. This is an important right that people often ignore; freedom of speech, it seems, is fine unless someone says something you do not agree with, or they say something inflammatory. On the other hand, she clearly was being abusive and there are laws against hate speech and the like. What is worrying is just the extent and the lengths of the public outcry at such ‘events’ – it is often reactionary, ill-informed and short-sighted, I feel.

The police already have laws in place to deal with this sort of thing, and should we be so quick to call for a woman to be arrested or even deported because of an argument? It is a touchy subject, and I in no way endorse her racism. I think it is disgusting, and like I stated I am actually happy that so many have come out to decry racism in this country, but we have to be very careful we do not set a precedent with this matter. Should all people who hold racist views be imprisoned? Should we prevent people with inflammatory or ill-informed views from speaking their mind, infringing on their right to freedom of speech? The benefit, and problem, of social media and the internet today is that such videos, events, etc., can spread virally within seconds. Public ‘campaigns’ can be created and disseminated within minutes; the first UK government e-petition to reach the 100,000 mark needed for parliamentary debate was the petition for convicted London rioters to lose any benefits that they were receiving, which I felt would do nothing to deter future looting nor would it help ‘rehabilitate’ convicted rioters back into society. As Sunny Hundal wrote:

“…to criminalise simply being offensive or swearing in public would have half of Britain in jail.”

I agree with Sunny, who also said:

“I would much prefer such racism to be open and visible because there are still far too many Westminster commentators who think racism is a thing of the past”

It is very encouraging that the video was disseminated online and in the public domain. It opens it to public debate, and does help to show that racism is very much still alive, especially in ‘tolerant’ Britain. My issue arises with the way the online discussion is conducted, and the way some people seem more keen to assert their moral standpoint than actually denouncing racism. Calls for the woman to be deported, for example, are ridiculous, and should we be so keen for the police to arrest people? To imprison people we do not agree with? You cannot consistently lock people up because you feel insulted, or because you disagree with their comments… So I feel uneasy about the whole affair. On the one hand, perhaps she should be arrested for hate speech. On the other hand, perhaps she should be entitled to freedom of speech, to speak her mind, whether her views are ill-informed or shameful. Is it not enough that this woman is publicly shamed online? Is it not enough that fellow passengers stood up to her and disagreed with her comments?

It is a difficult issue, no doubt.

The Metropolitan Police: Ushering in a covert UK police state?

Earlier this year I reported on the Metropolitan Police’s purchase of the digital tracking software Geotime. The security program, used by the US military, collates digital data and then can generate a three-dimensional graphic showing an individual’s movements and communications with other people. It can collect the information from social networking sites, satellite navigation equipment, mobile phones, IP logs, and even financial transactions.

The purchase led to an outcry from civil rights campaigners. At the time, there were reports of the undercover police who infiltrated green activist groups, sometimes sleeping with activists to gain their trust. There was also the report of John Catt, an 86 year old man, who has had his presence at peaceful protests and demos logged in secret by police units over four years, despite never having been convicted or accused of illegal activity. Rightly so, people were worried about the implications of the Met Police having such advanced surveillance technology. Could they be trusted to use it conservatively? Legally?

Now the Met has purchased more covert surveillance technology, this time in the form of technology that allows them to directly control and intercept mobile phones within a 10 sq km radius. The technology masquerades “as a mobile phone network, transmitting a signal that allows authorities to shut off phones remotely, intercept communications and gather data about thousands of users in a targeted area.”

Strictly classified as “Listed X” under government protocol, “it can emit a signal over an area of up to an estimated 10 sq km, forcing hundreds of mobile phones per minute to release their unique IMSI and IMEI identity codes, which can be used to track a person’s movements in real time,” the Guardian reports.

So far, The Met has refused to confirm whether the system is used in public order situations, such as during large protests or demonstrations. The Met would not comment on its use of the technology or give details of where or when it had been used.

The use of the technology by The Met raises serious concerns. Nick Pickles, director of privacy and civil liberties campaign group Big Brother Watch, warned the technology could give police the ability to conduct “blanket and indiscriminate” monitoring: “It raises a number of serious civil liberties concerns and clarification is urgently needed on when and where this technology has been deployed, and what data has been gathered,” he said.

“Such invasive surveillance must be tightly regulated, authorised at the highest level and only used in the most serious of investigations. It should be absolutely clear that only data directly relating to targets of investigations is monitored or stored,” he said.

Such technology, coupled with the Geotime software, could allow The Met to gather highly sensitive data about innocent people without their knowledge, for example with large numbers of protestors at a peaceful demonstration. The technology could not only track their movements, but also record and intercept any SMS messages sent or phone calls made. It could also transmit a signal that allows authorities to shut off phones remotely, leading to a scenario such as in Egypt when mobile phone networks were shut down at the behest of the government during a time of civil unrest.

This is also coming after the UK riots, when Cameron is stated to have wanted to shut down the internet. There were fears that the riots were largely organised through the use of mobile phones and social networking sites. As a result, the government was considering options that included shutting down internet access, and closing or monitoring the Blackberry network. Although Cameron was persuaded against such measures, it is still worrying that such measures were considered. As technology improves, it will become easier to enact such control measures with ease. Future rioting, and further pressure from the media and the British public, could lead to such proposals becoming a reality.

Although the government did not enact these proposals, The Met has the technology to enact such policies, with the ability to shut down mobile phone networks within a large radius [10 sq km]. The transmitters can be about the size of a suitcase, and can be placed in a vehicle or at another static location and operated remotely by officers wirelessly. This could possibly lead to several such transmitters, covering a radius over several kilometres. Even if The Met does not shut down mobile phones, they have the ability to monitor and collate information covertly from thousands of users in a targeted area.

Index on Censorship, a British free speech organization, warned that the right to freedom of expression in the country was at risk after the UK riots saw the government announcing potential plans to censor and restrict internet access. Their letter to William Hague is still relevant:

“The government’s record on freedom of expression and privacy is less than ideal. Britain’s desire to promote these ideals internationally are being hampered by domestic policy,” the group said.

“The government is currently considering greater controls over what legal material people are allowed to access on the Internet. This is clear from recent public support by the Prime Minister, and through Claire Perry MP’s ongoing inquiry, for plans to filter adult and other legal material on UK Internet connections by default. The new PREVENT counter-terrorism strategy contains similar proposals for the filtering of material that is legal but deemed undesirable. Earlier this year the Prime Minister suggested there should be more powers to block access to social media, a policy that drew praise from China and which the government swiftly backed away from. There are also plans for more pervasive powers to surveil and access people’s personal information online.”

The group concluded: “We call for the UK government to seize this opportunity to reject censorship and surveillance that undermines people’s rights to express themselves, organize or communicate freely. That is the only way to both enshrine the rights of citizens in the UK and to support these principles internationally.”

Walking into a Police State?

The procurement of such technology in the hands of the UK’s biggest police force is potentially worrying. There is nothing to ensure that innocent people, in their hundreds or even thousands, are not covertly spied upon. The technology now allows vast amounts of data to effortlessly be collected on thousands of people simultaneously. Such data would include movements through time and space, SMS messages sent, recorded phone calls, IP logs, social networking info, and much more. Such technology also allows for the police to wirelessly shut down mobile phones within a very large radius, leading to a mobile phone blackout in a specific, controlled area.

Next time a riot occurs in London, I would find it difficult to imagine The Met not utilising such technology.

During the last riots, the media and the British public were frenetic, calling for draconian measures to stop the looting. Such reactions have led to harsh prison sentences designed to “send a message” rather than enact proper justice, calls for the internet to be shut down, measures to ensure that the police have access to water cannons for the first time, and more. There were even calls from some members of the public to enact martial law.

If another riot broke out in the future, which is not implausible, I would find it difficult to believe that The Met would not utilise their Datong mobile surveillance technology, in conjunction with Geotime. Such technology would allow them to track and monitor, covertly, the movements and communications of thousands of people simultaneously.

Initially, thousands would be monitored covertly but, after calls from the public and the government, The Met would (undoubtedly) shut down mobile phone communications across specific areas.

But this is not all.

Now it has been revealed that The Met has a fleet of spy planes, each costing around £3m each.

The planes have been in use since 1997, though their existence has never been publicly disclosed. The planes cost around £3m each, and many hundreds of thousands more to operate. Despite the vast cuts (around 20% of their budget) the police face, the spy planes are still in use, flying regular sorties.

As The Independant reports: “The planes have apparently been fitted with secret surveillance equipment capable of intercepting mobile phone calls or eavesdropping on conversations.”

So now we have secret spy planes, military-grade digital tracking software and technology that fits in a suitcase, intercepting and controlling thousands of mobile phone technology. Yes, it reads like a dystopian, science fiction text, along the lines of Ghost In The Shell, Blade Runner or even 1984.

My question is, are we walking into a covert police state? Is it, perhaps, becoming an electronic police state? Wikipedia defines such a state as:

Electronic police states are characterized by government surveillance of telephone traffic, cellular telephone traffic, emails, Internet surfing, video surveillance and other forms of electronic (including fiber optic) tracking. A crucial characteristic of this process is that the data is gathered universally and silently, and only later organized for use in prosecutions in legal proceedings.

The inhabitants of an electronic police state may be almost fully unaware that their communications and activities are being recorded by the state, or that these records are usable as evidence against them in courts of law.

It also goes on to say:

The United Kingdom is often seen as an advanced electronic police state, with mass surveillance and detention without trial having been introduced by the government, followed by Home Secretary Jacqui Smith’s MTI program, which aims to intercept and monitor all e-mails, website visits and social networking sessions in Britain, and to track telephone calls made over the internet as well as all phone calls to land lines and mobiles.

Do we trust The Met to hold such technology, and to use it appropriately and legally? Is technology developing too quickly, outpacing civil liberties we once took for granted?