Hooray! Paddy socks it to the self-serving spooks

One of the minor mysteries of British political life is the awe with which the pronouncements of the security services are often greeted – even though empirical experience clearly shows that those pronouncements are no more reliable, and quite often less, than in any other branch of the bureaucracy.

Today Lord Ashdown, former Lib Dem leader and ex-intelligence operative, delivered a very welcome slapdown to Sir Richard Dearlove, former head of MI6, who with other senior members of the security establishment criticised Lib Dem security policies for “deviat[ing] from the cross-party consensus.” Among the deviant policies: the Lib Dems’ willingness to “expose our intelligence and security services to relentless inquiry and investigation” and their “unilateral abandonment of control orders.”

Paddy fired back: “This is the man who delivered erroneous intelligence on WMD to Tony Blair in the Iraq war. I’m not about to take advice… from the man who after Tony Blair is probably the most responsible for the biggest foreign affairs blunder of our age.”

Along with many of my fellow-citizens, I happen to believe that the “cross-party consensus” has got the vital subject of our national security just about as wrong as it is possible to get. We have been harsh where we should have been liberal: on control orders, detention without charge, and blanket stop-and-search. There is increasing evidence that we have been complicit in torture. These and other measures have have had very little anti-terrorism value, but have undermined the rule of law for which we are fighting, energised the terrorists and alienated middle-ground Muslims whose support we need.

And we have been liberal where we should have been harsh. Under the so-called “compact of security,” the intelligence services allowed dangerous Islamic radicals to operate freely in Britain until 9/11. Even now, the British state continues to give money, legitimacy and influence to Islamist groups in Britain who have nothing but contempt for the democratic and pluralistic values of this country.

And yes, there is Iraq, and Afghanistan.

It is no accident that it is Britain which faces the most serious Islamist and terrorist threat of any country in the Western world. It is no coincidence that Britain is the only Western country to have come under suicide attack from its own citizens. These things are direct consequences of the calamitous “cross-party consensus,” and of the misjudgments of Sir Richard Dearlove and the rest of the security establishment.

So we really need that “relentless inquiry” into the failings of the spooks. We have to change that flawed “consensus.” Thank God one political party has the courage to say so, and to stick to its guns, however unhappy it makes the securocrats.

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Labour blogger: calling me Labour is a slur

A stiff little email arrives from one Adam Bienkov, objecting to my description of him in my last post as a “Labour blogger” and demanding a “correction” to this monstrous libel. (No correction, interestingly enough, was sought for my claim that he has a “reliable record of not knowing very much.”)

No can do, old chap. My clue to your political allegiance is in your declaration at the last London elections: “It will come as little surprise to readers that I will be voting for Ken Livingstone on Thursday.” Our memories of Ken may be fading, but I am reasonably sure he was the Labour candidate!

Lest it be thought that I am in any way critical of Adam, let me say that I revere his London politics blog, and visit often for its exciting scoops about paperclips irregularities at the fire authority. It is a priceless sociological document: a pitch-perfect expression of the sectarian Left’s impotent rage that a Tory mayor – a Tory! – can be funny and popular. Its astute deployment of Nazi slurs against its opponents blazed a path now followed by the Daily Mail.

I am slightly surprised, however, that a Labour supporter should regard the party label as so toxic that he demands a correction. Another sign of what awaits on Thursday?

New Tory policy: Boris Johnson to walk on water

The new Tory proposals to give greater power over the River Thames to Boris Johnson are a useful step forward in a campaign that I and the think-tank Policy Exchange have helped wage to make the river a genuine public transport highway.

Our pamphlet, At a Rate of Knots, describes how – in under three years, and for an initial outlay of just £30 million – we could create a new, waterborne Tube line, with a frequent service of high-speed boats at 20 piers from Putney to Woolwich. That is about a quarter of the time, and less than a hundredth of the money, that a similar project would need on land.

It would never be stopped by traffic or points failures. It would bring new links to places badly served by the transport system, and much-needed relief to the whole network. It would seize imaginations and raise spirits. Hundreds of thousands of Londoners would be liberated from their subterranean holes, travelling instead with the wind in their hair and the matchless spectacle of the world’s greatest city before their eyes.

But it’s never happened – has, indeed, become one of the oldest chestnuts of London transport – and one of the most important reasons for that is the bureaucratic resistance of the Port of London Authority. Probably the single greatest power on the river, the PLA is also among the most important roadblocks (mixed metaphor alert) to greater use of the Thames. So it’s good that Boris is likely to be given powers to appoint members of the PLA board. As the Tories say, the PLA needs to become a “more transparent and accountable body, better able to deliver innovative solutions on how we get the best use possible out of the Thames.”

I smiled to myself a few months ago when a rival, Labour blogger with a reliable record of not knowing very much announced that Policy Exchange’s river report had “sunk at a rate of knots“. (One more triumph for London Labour, by the way – opposing yet another transport project which is popular with the public, purely on the grounds that the hated Johnson supports it!)

I’ve known for a while that today’s news was going to happen – though the way it emerged suggests that the national Tories were slightly bounced into announcing it today. It is the first of several tangible steps forward which I and the other authors of the report have been discussing with TfL and City Hall. Increasing the use of the river won’t happen overnight – nothing ever does in Britain – but there are strong grounds for hoping that it will happen.