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Cameron’s Ability To Neutralise Opponents Is Brilliantly Illustrated By His Handling Of The New Surveillance Law

Last Updated: Friday, July 11th, 2014

David Cameron will always do what the Establishment considers to be prudent.  The Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Bill, sprung upon the Cabinet on Thursday morning, is a case in point.

Cameron has been told by the security services that these powers are needed. He has therefore set out to square Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband: an act which is in his own political interest. He has assured them that it is simply a question of maintaining the surveillance powers which the authorities already have. There is nothing unreasonable or irresponsible about the proposals: the unreasonable and irresponsible course of action would be to oppose them.

Clegg and Miliband may have haggled about one or two details. But they felt, essentially, that they had no choice but to go along with what Cameron was suggesting. They allowed themselves to be bounced into presenting Parliament with a fait accompli. Our parliamentarians do not have much to do, but they are not going to get the chance to fill their empty days with careful scrutiny of The Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Bill.

This style of politics makes Cameron a very dangerous opponent. He behaved like this when he formed the coalition: Clegg was presented with what sounded like an overwhelmingly reasonable offer, and was given very little time to think about it. The Establishment did not want the risky prospect of a second election within a few months, after a period of minority government: it wanted stability, control, predictability, safety.

These are some of the qualities Cameron offers. By embracing Clegg, he ensured that there would not be another election for five years. Clegg was converted into a pillar of the Establishment. The Liberal Democrats lost their independence: no longer could they be the insurgents of British politics. At the next election, they will probably lose a large proportion of their MPs. Cameron has inflicted terrible damage on them, and will walk away with an innocent smile on his face.

Can Cameron do the same to Ed Miliband? He is certainly trying to do so. Miliband too gets presented with the horrible choice between becoming a pillar of the Establishment, or an outright rebel. On the question of surveillance powers, he has allowed himself to be drawn into Cameron’s system of control. At Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday, Miliband likewise went along with the appointment of Lady Butler-Sloss to head the inquiry into child abuse: an appointment which anti-Establishment people, including some on Miliband’s own benches, found highly objectionable.

The same thing happened a few weeks ago when Cameron opposed Jean-Claude Juncker’s appointment as President of the European Commission: Miliband felt obliged to go along with what the Prime Minister had already decided to do. The Labour leader is in the process of allowing himself to be emasculated.  He detects fewer and fewer subjects on which he can attack Cameron. For the last two weeks, he has had to get through PMQs by wrangling about National Health Service statistics.

During the European elections, Nigel Farage led a successful insurgency against Cameron. But it is doubtful whether Farage can sustain that rebellion on the less favourable terrain of a general election.

Boris Johnson has the temperament of an insurgent, but cannot rise against the leader of his own party. And the same applies to the many Tory backbenchers who oppose at least some of what their leader is doing. In Thursday’s debate about the European Arrest Warrant, Jacob Rees-Mogg compared the Prime Minister to a jelly fish.

Rees-Mogg meant Cameron has no back bone. But jelly fish are also able to inspire fear in anyone who wants to swim in the same bit of sea. For his opponents, Cameron has become a terrifying figure, who offers them an impossible choice between becoming yes-men or turning into wild-eyed rebels.

By Andrew Gimson



Peter Hoskin: Immigration restrictions are here to stay – but what should be restricted and why?  “Folk like me point to the piles of cash that British universities are missing out on. Folk like Sir Andrew Green point to the persistence of bogus colleges and fake courses. But something that isn’t said enough is this: the information that both sides rely on is terribly incomplete. For instance, did you know that it was only in 2012 that the Office for National Statistics started asking departing migrants what their original reason for immigration was? Until then, we knew whether incoming migrants were arriving for study. But we didn’t know whether outgoing migrants had first come over for study. So a comparison couldn’t be made between the numbers arriving and the numbers leaving. The information wasn’t there.” Read More

Paul Goodman: More spies, less snooping    “The easiest course for the security services and police to take is to argue for a simple extension of surveillance powers.  This may be understandable, but it should be resisted. Very simply, human intelligence is more likely to turn up evidence of terror plots than mass trawls.  There will always be voices to claim that the latest security threat – yesterday, Al Qaeda; today, ISIS; tomorrow, another Islamist terror group (in all likelihood) – justifies sweeping surveillance measures.  But the best means of preventing future 7/7s and protecting other Lee Rigby’s is intelligence. As it happens, the perpetrators of both atrocities were on the security services’ radar.  The latter argue that they need more resources to keep us safe – and the threat is real and their work invaluable.  The clear and present danger to our national security is from violent Islamism.  The case for shifting defence resources from external to internal security is thus as strong as ever.  We need more spies and informers.” Read More

Nicholas Boys-Smith and James Wildblood: Interview with Alice Coleman, housing visionary   “She despairs of what is being built in London now (‘A lot of the things Boris said seemed quite good but lately he seems to have gone to the other extreme’) and of current estate regenerations. Indeed she is a forceful critic of the whole planning system. The length of her perspective permits her to countenance a world – or at least a Britain – without much of a planning system at all, as was the case for over a quarter of her life. She sees the basic evils in urban design – anonymity and sameness – still marring the outcomes of the town planning system. She complains that the insertion of a planning authority between property purchaser and builder disrupted the reciprocal relationship of buyer and seller.” Read More

Mark Wallace: The figures which show today’s strike was a damp squib  “The fact is that a remarkably low proportion of trade unionists chose to strike today – and public services are far better able to continue without them than in the past. As I’ve written before, most people don’t join unions to strike, they join them for moderate, pragmatic reasons…The popularity of left wing militancy and the power of its main tactic are on the wane – and ignoring it cannot hold back the tide forever. Despite the rhetoric about years of the ‘ConDem’ government, mounting anger etc etc, today’s strike was far less effective than those early in the parliament. One wonders how long the union bosses can hold on to control and sustain their claims of mass political support while, outside their bunkers, their own members are going to work rather than standing on the picket lines.” Read More

Andrew Gimson: Profile: Simon Danczuk, the tough Rochdale MP unafraid to ask the difficult questions on child sex abuse  “If the Labour Party had more MPs like Simon Danczuk, the Conservatives would have scant chance of winning the next general election…Danczuk, first elected as MP for Rochdale in 2010, has come to prominence as one of the few MPs prepared to ask why child sex abuse committed by public figures has for many years been covered up. This role was thrust upon him by his discovery that one of his predecessors in Rochdale, Cyril Smith – who captured the seat for the Liberals in a by-election in 1972, stood down undefeated in 1992 and only died in 2010 – was a brutal and prolific abuser of boys. Some politicians who found themselves in this position would have done the minimum…Danczuk, together with Matthew Baker, has instead written a book on the subject, Smile for the Camera – The Double Life of Cyril Smith, published earlier this year by Biteback.” Read More

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