Jonathan Fryer

Posts Tagged ‘Home Office’

Lynne Featherstone’s African Remit

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 13th November, 2012

During her two years at the Home Office, Lynne Featherstone did great things to promote the equalities agenda, even if she and Theresa May did not always see eye to eye. The Equal Marriage consultation was a real win for the LibDems within the Coalition, and to his credit David Cameron “got” the issue, even if some of his backbench headbangers didn’t. So there was initially some disquiet among LibDems when Lynne was moved in the ministerial reshuffle earier this year to the Department for International Development (DfID). However, as Lynne made clear at an informal briefing to the International Relations Committee (IRC) of the Liberal Democrat Party in Westminster this evening, she has taken equality issues along with her (with the PM’s blessing), and it is especially important that she is able to champion the central role of women in development. She has just returned from a mission to South Sudan, which was rather jumping in at the deep end, though other states she has visited this year include Kenya and Uganda, and Africa is now central to her remit. DfID has of course been directed to phase down its involvement in India (now one of the BRICs) but Africa remains a main area of concern, not only for the traditional problems of famine and disease (including HIV/AIDS) but also for the way that women are excluded and often oppressed within many African societies, including through the persistence of female genital mutilation (FGM). It was interesting that FGM was a major topic in the discussion after Lynne’s presentation at the IRC, but then it is a quintissentially Liberal issue, relating to human rights and gender matters as well as to health. Lynne was a shadow International Development Minister some years ago, so she is not entirely fresh to the field. But it is clear that Africa is offering her a steep learning curve, from which both she and Africa’s development should ultimately benefit.

 

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Shami Chakrabarti and Toffs in Wigs

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 18th June, 2009

Shami Chakrabati‘Unelected toffs in wigs, be they in the Courts or in the House of Lords, have been the defenders of civil liberties in many cases, during the current government,’ according to the Director of Liberty, Shami Chakrabarti, who was the guest speaker at a lunch given today by the UK Section of the Association of European Journalists at the London office of the European Parliament. Because of the so-called War on Terror,  disturbing new powers have been granted to both the government and the police. For example, Section 44 of the Terrorism Act relating to stop and search requires no necessary grounds for suspicion at all. Tony Blair famously said that he would give the police whatever powers they needed. Shami opined that an ‘authoritarain arms race’ began in Britain when Michael Howard and Tony Blair became responsible for the Home Affairs brief in their respective parties — well before 9/11.

Liberty ID card bookletLiberty is currently celebrating 75 years of existence, having previously been known as the National Council of Civil Liberties (NCCL), in which, interestingly, several now prominent New Labour figures were previously involved. It’s always a spectacle to see them squirm when they try to defend the proposed introduction of ID cards in Britain, about which Liberty has been running a campaign. Shami Chakrabarti — who was a barister before working for six years for the Home Office — has no such ambitions to be sucked into politics with all its compromises. ‘I’d sooner be a rock-star before I’d be Home Secretary,’ she declared. She paid tribute to the work that Liberal Democrats have done in defending human rights (though she opposes the European arrest warrant, which the party has championed) and she sharply criticised Conservative plans to scrap the Human Rights Act, suspecting that their main objection to this important buttress to civil liberties is its essentially European origin.

Link: http://www.liberty-human-rights.org.uk and http://www.aej-uk.org

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Tom Brake, Facebook and the Snoopers’ Charter

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 25th March, 2009

The Labour government is making plans to monitor people’s Facebook traffic, in its latest move to turn Britain into an Orwellian society. The Home Office has told the BBC this surveillance is necessary to tackle criminal gangs and terrorists who might use Facebook and other social networking sites for their own nefarious ends. Our phone calls, emails and details of the Internet sites we visit are already deemed by Labour to be of legitimate government interest, in the name of national security. But as Tom Brake, Liberal Democrat MP for Carshalton and Wallington, rightly points out, ‘it is deeply worrying that they now intend to monitor social networking sites which contain very sensitive data like sexual orientation, religious beliefs and political views.’  Thank God the Liberal Democrats are there in the Houses of Parliament to protest each time Labour chips away at our civil liberties. Public opinion now needs to be mobilised, before we are led blindfold by Gordon Brown and Jacqui Smith into a police state.

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Now a “Snooper’s Charter”: Where Will It All End?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 13th August, 2008

The latest advance in furthering New Labour’s dream of a surveillance society is coming with the right that will be given to local councils, health authorities and hundreds of other public bodies to access details of people’s Internet use, as well as email and text messge traffic, under new Home Office proposals. The government says this is to comply with an EU directive, but before all the blame is pushed onto Brussels — as I am sure some will try — it is worth pointing out that the European Union adopted related measures after the ’7/7′ London bombings, under pressure from the then British Home Secretary, Charles Clarke.

He justified this on the grounds of the fight against terrorism and organised crime — sounds familiar? — but the Home Office proposals would mean that all sorts of personal data would become available for investigations relating to a wide range of matters which have nothing whatsoever to do with either. As the Guardian reports this morning, the government has already indicated that it intends to introduce a new communications bill this autumn which will require all the telecommunications companies to hand over all relevant data to one, central “super” data-base, so that the police and other public bodes can access it directly without having to ask for permission each time. Big Brother has truly arrived!

Chris Huhne (who is really making the political running on civil liberties issues these days) has pointed out that government ministers have shown that they cannot be trusted with sensitive data, yet they seem determined to press ahead with the new measures. “We will be told it is for use in combatting terrorism and organised crime,” Chris says. “but it will soon be used to spy on ordinary people’s kids, pets and bins!” 

The Tories have mumbled some discontent about the new Home Office document. But as I outlined in my blog posting yesterday, they cannot be trusted to protect civil liberties either.

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