Eyes to see?

The arrest of Damian Green, shadow immigration minister, has understandably led to a firestorm of internet coverage. I won’t link to them all, but just assume that every UK blog I can think of has weighed in, quite rightly.

Like most people, I have no idea what the police investigation is uncovering, or why the decision to arrest was taken.

I do believe, like Mike Smithson, that the consequences of such a decision are overwhelmingly negative for Labour. It’s one of the reasons that like Tom Harris I’m confident that this wasn’t a political decision. Why on earth would any minister take a bite of this particular sh*t sandwich?

So on the question of whether Damian Green should have been arrested, I have no idea. It depends on so many things that are unknown. If it is a simple matter of recieving leaks, then I’d argue definitely not. It would seem to be very similar to the Tony Clarke/Leo O’Connor case, where the MPs researcher passed on a secret document to MPs, and the researcher was arrested and charged but the MPs weren’t.

However, we have no idea what the investigation is looking at. The police may have evidence that they think warrants such action. Or they may not. We can’t tell.

What we do know is that an arrest of an MP is a very serious issue – especially when it concerns “political” issues. For that very reason, it’s a decision that shouldn’t be made, or influenced by politicians. This isn’t just because politicians might prosecute their enemies, but also because they might be tempted to protect their friends.

If a leak investigation, or a cash for honours investigation, or any other sort of investigation leads to an MP being of interest to an investigating officer then politicians just have to get out of the way.

All we know at the moment is that the police went to the Mayor of London before arresting Mr Green (who is also Chair of the MPA), who protested in the strongest terms, and then they went and did it anyway.

So either a) the police were being pressured even more strongly from elsewhere or b) they thought they had a justified arrest despite what the Mayor said.

Personally, I’m sure that we’ll discover that ministers had nothing to do with the decision to arrest Mr Green. If I’m wrong, those ministers would be (rightly), in serious trouble. I have no evidence for this, merely an argument from non-suicidal stupidity (oh, and the denials of everyone involved).

All that said, I do think some reaction has been completely over the top.

When Lord Levy, Ruth Turner and John McTernan were arrested by the Metropolitan police, It was Labour people who were outraged by police tactics, and right wing blogs who were cheering on the arresting officers and calling for the Prime Minister to be arrested. I don’t remember too many comments about the politicisation of the police or how similar it was to the age of Stalin.

So I’m suspcious of the instant assumption that this case is some sort of political operation. From that assumption comes the accusation that Mr Green’s arrest is Stalinesque, Zimbabwean and so on. That’s been adamantly denied, and I’m sure it’s not the case.

In fact, I’d argue that it’s likely to be a result of a clear seperation between ministers and operational decisions. Back in the sixties and seventies, it’s much more likely that such an investigation would have been handled without arrests (as it was with Albert Roberts, John Cordle and Reggie Maudling, who weren’t charged in the Poulson scandal). Now however, such discretion is unlikely to be allowed, which is probably a good thing.

If it turns out that this arrest was the result of police work and investigation, and had nothing to do with ministers at all, allegations about Stalinism and so on should be publicly withdrawn.

Equally, If a minister did encourage or order this arrest (which I cannot imagine them doing), they are in the wrong, and should pay a very heavy price.

27 Responses to “Eyes to see?”

  1. madasafish

    “I do believe, like Mike Smithson, that the consequences of such a decision are overwhelmingly negative for Labour. It’s one of the reasons that like Tom Harris I’m confident that this wasn’t a political decision. Why on earth would any minister take a bite of this particular sh*t sandwich?”

    You mean like no Minister with any political nous would abolish teh 10p tax rate and replace it with one which makes the poor poorer. AND then deny it for nearly a year.

    Since the Government has form in doing politically stupid things , your argument is like the sandwich: sh#t.

  2. ani

    Hopi, your blog is a haven of calm in a sea of fermenting hyperbole.

    “sh*t sandwich” ;0) and funny with it.

  3. ChrisP

    Much more nuanced today, but I think the wind will blow in several directions next both bad for labour.

    Either they had some sort of knowledge / sanction similar to Boris Johnson, that is an advisory role, but not influencing operations, which will rightly put someone in the firing line, and get the press on the wrong side.

    A longer version of the above is that Labour have done nothing wrong apart from be incompetent. Anti terror powers have now been used against protestors, icelandic Banks and an opposition frontbencher. The fact the yet another poorly drafted bill is being used for a remote intention will stick in the throats of joe public. And the media theatened with being locked up for publishing leaks will be only to happy to point the finger. I mean how many people will have a positive view of labour when police resources are being used in this way, and for instances relating to immigration. If this was defence or MI5 they may have got away with it.

  4. wrinkled weasel

    So what you are saying, is that the Labour Government and Gordon Brown in particular, is incapable of telling lies.

    You are also suggesting that the leadership behaves rationally.

    These are two propositions that most intelligent people might want to challenge.

    “adamant” denials mean nothing to New Labour. They lied about taking us to war with Iraq and refused to have a proper inquiry. Gordon Brown could not even admit he planned an election last year, deciding instead to “share” his vision with us.

    Do you like his “vision” Hopi? Do you think that we now live in Utopia?

  5. hopisen

    Weasel, I have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about.

    I’m not sure how you got to your comment from what I said. Seriously, what do you mean? Please explain.

    Chris, my expectation is that either a) Minister weren’t told at all or b) ministers were told something general/non-specific and wisely said “nothing to do with us, do what you think is right”.

    If it’s c) Minister were encouraged, or pressured such a move, or similar, then they should be in trouble.

    Finally, AIUI no anti terror legislation was used, it was an arrest uner common law. Happy to be shown to be wrong though as the story is fast paced and I’m trying to do my day job too!

  6. Leon

    Unity over at Liberal Conspiracy has an excellent piece on this, with some insights into why it was anti terror police that did the arresting…

  7. ChrisP

    Yes – apparently special branch have merged with counter terror and now investigate political enquiries.

    Still it doesnt look good when BBC reports anti terror police going into HoC in order to search MPs office, when he only seems to have been doing his job (perhaps not?)

  8. Mike

    If Ministers were not told in advance of the arrest than they should have. Now they should at least give the impression they are outraged. This will be extremely damaging for Labour unless they now
    criticize the arrest and stand up for Parliament rather than just hope the story will go away.

  9. hopisen

    Mike hold on, now this is confusing me-= I’ve seen this argument on conhome and pb.com too. Are people now really arguing that ministers should have been informed of an impending arrest of an MP so they could have the opportunity to block a police investigation? that seems like a very dangerous precedent to set.

  10. madasafish

    Oh come on:
    Cameron was told before hand.
    And if the Police are so dumb as to arrest an MP – let alone a front bench Opposition member – then they deserve to be fires.

    Cos rules are : arrest an MP: tell Home Secretary first – as there is ALWAYS a political comeback.

    If J Smith was not told, someone in police will swing.

    Simple arse protection..

  11. asquith

    “Why on earth would any minister take a bite of this particular sh*t sandwich?”

    Because they hold the firm conviction that the state can & should ratchet up unlimited power. There’s no chance of that power being abused because they, New Labour, are righteous.

    They reach for the authoritarian “solution” to just about every problem going, & cannot help themselves.

    I look forward with great pleasure to their defeat & the demise of sneering bullies like Woolas, Hutton, Flint, Hoon etc. Camoron may be a knobhead wouldn’t dare do half what New Labour have done in terms of state intrusion into our lives.

  12. hopisen

    Asquith, I’m not entirely sure that your conviction as to the nefarious intentions and misguided beliefs of our ministers is an argument from proof, evidence, benefit or anyhting else

    You’re basically saying “they’d do this really stupid thing because they’re bad..” which isn’t a particularly convincing argument, mostly becuase it just makes me want to say “No, they don’t think like that, you’re wrong” and neither of us are any further on.

  13. Liam Murray

    Perhaps it could be stated better but arguably Asquith’s argument is an argument from evidence – disavowing any partisanship at all I think you can still fairly say (as a general statement) that New Labour have favoured authoritarian solutions – ID cards, extended detention etc.

    There are complex arguments for & against all of these but it’s fact rather than opinion to point out that they all amount to enhanced authority for the state over the individual. Asquith is simply suggesting against that that instinct may have got the better of those involved even if it wasn’t politically astute to let it.

    In this case I doubt very much there was any ministerial involvement and your measured post is a welcome one. I just hope when all the facts are known and assuming Green has done nothing wrong then Labour Ministers will have the courage to condemn the police actions – they’re very quiet today.

  14. wrinkled weasel

    “Weasel, I have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about.”

    Now you are taking the piss.

  15. hopisen

    WW. No, I’m really not.

    Liam – I think one thing that would be helpful is transparency after this investigation completes. One of the things I don’t like about these discussions is that we have no idea why the police took the decisions they did, which makes it rather hard to condemn or praise (which is right) but when it’s all done, it would be better to know, I think.

  16. septicisle

    Thing is, we’re not just relying on the government lying, we’re also relying on the police also lying, as they have also said that no ministers were informed before. If they’re both lying, that also suggests that they’re colluding, which would be even more unprecedented, and going by what happened during cash for honours, even more unlikely. Until someone comes up with some evidence, something which no one yet has, I’m putting this down to police over-exuberance which has been wilfully encouraged at every turn by Labour. That doesn’t however mean that the government knew about or that it wouldn’t have advised against it if they had known.

  17. newmania

    I feel this is a good example of a story where the people and the blogasphere /media /political types are on different planets .
    Recently children and trying to pay for everything has dragged me out of that solipism and I suspect that almost everyone would do what I did .Have glance , decide it was just the police showboating or some byzantine constitutional squabble and get bored.
    Cash for homours was different because it was part of a far wider story of New Labour` ditching its grass roots and financing through wealthy friends . It was also part of a pattern of exploiting power to retain power which is clearly far more serious and potentially the beggining of what Mandy called ” The post democratic age”. The actual mechansim of the resistance was not the story .

    Ruth Turner is sucking up her EU sinecure payoff right now . Nice to know the £56 billion we don`t need is going to a good cause

  18. jane

    the police action has not only been praised by a Labour member of the Home Affairs Select Committee, but he makes the assumption that this was done on behalf of government, saying that the Home Office deserves protection of this kind because it is responsible for national security. See him saying it here:


  19. Bobbie

    Surely the real question needs to be, “Why are our Ministries, seemingly far too regularly, doing things that need to be leaked?”

    That is not what Government is supposed to be about, is it, and they are ‘OUR’ Ministries after all!

    Do we perhaps need to employ Neil Kinnock that adept whitewasher, to further ignore and stuff ‘our’ whistleblowers, that blow the whistle on the totally unacceptable, maybe?

  20. yorksranter

    I have to say, I really don’t want the precedent setting that the Government has to be informed before the police can act against anyone who’s grand enough.


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