Why isn’t there a pedestrian crossing outside Bournside School?

Ever since moving to Warden Hill Road about 18 months ago, I have been appalled that there is no pedestrian crossing (or crossing patrol) outside Bournside School to service the needs of pupils walking to/from one of four schools clustered in the immediate vicinity: Bournside, Belmont, Bettridge and St James.

Indeed, as a parent who walks two young children to St James primary school, I have personally observed the carnage on a weekday morning: kids stepping out to cross as impatient motorists scream round the corner of Loweswater Road, young mothers with push-chairs dashing between gaps in traffic, wheel-chair users reliant upon the goodwill of motorists stopping and allowing them to cross. “Make no mistake”, I said in a comment beneath this Echo article back in March, “…with things as they are, it is only a matter of time before someone – possibly a small child – gets killed on this road”.

Well, fortunately, no-one has been killed since I wrote those words. On the other hand, three children have been knocked down, in separate incidents all occurring on 20th June as reported by the Echo…!

So how is it that no crossing has ever come to be installed on this insanely dangerous stretch of road?

The answer would appear to be a double-whammy of spending cuts AND a form of local representation that no longer seeks to organise and challenge, but instead to administer and, ultimately, facilitate cuts… even, it seems, where so doing compromises the safety of children.

Of course, I’m aware that these are controversial claims, so – in the interests of (a) not misrepresenting the relevant protagonists and (b) allowing readers to judge the situation for themselves to the extent possible – I’m posting below, in their entirety (with stylistic edits only), two sets of correspondence with local councillors on the issue of the lack of a pedestrian crossing on Warden Hill Road. The first dates back to Nov 2014 with borough councillor Anne Regan, the other to the past few days with county councillor Iain Dobie, with whom responsibility ultimately rests for ensuring constituents’ concerns about road safety are addressed.

Comments – supportive, critical, or otherwise – are most welcome.

Finally, for the avoidance of doubt, I want to make clear that my goal here is not to harm reputations but to achieve the best possible result for the swathes of children – my own included – who need to cross a very dangerous Warden Hill Road on a daily basis.

Exchange with Anne Regan (Nov 2014):

Dear [Anne],

As a new resident of Warden Hill, I am – frankly – baffled that there are no pedestrian crossings on the section of Warden Hill Road outside Bournside School, for use both by young people attending Bournside and parents/children using the cut-through to St James C of E Primary. This section of road is so busy on a morning that I have had to resort to stopping traffic like a lolly-pop person, in order to allow my two young children plus lots of others to cross safely, which is absurdly dangerous.

Would appreciate your thoughts on this matter.

Best wishes,

Joe Sucksmith

—–
Dear Mr Sucksmith

I have received the following confirmation from the Highway Dept regarding the usefulness of a crossing and the control of students in their use of it. We would need to be assured that such expenditure would be well spent, we cannot guarantee that it would used by a majority.

Highways comments;-
“The points you make are correct. The other reason for not installing a crossing is that students cross the road over a long distance as the desire lines for their routes home. A crossing would only be suitable and effective if there was a common desire line the majority of students already used, as studies show people are unlikely to deviate from their intended route to use such features.” end.

I am very willing to contact Highway traffic at the County Council to monitor the road again and contact the police with your concerns.

Please contact me if I can be of further help.

Regards

Anne Ward Cllr
Warden Hill

—–

Dear Anne,

I have to say that I am baffled by the central argument advanced here – that children would continue to cross along the length of the road whatever – since surely part of the logic of a crossing is that it would act to funnel pedestrians (particularly those with young children) to cross at a particular point! No, it couldn’t be guaranteed that a majority would use a crossing – but then, this argument, applied universally, would mean no new crossings anywhere!

More generally, the arguments put forward don’t accord with the reality I observe on a daily basis, namely children – lots of them, including some very young ones using the cut-through the St James – primarily crossing near the main entrance to Bournside, where I note the kerb has already been lowered, as if this is a suggested crossing point. Do children cross at other points along the road? Yes they do, just as they do along all other roads where there are crossings. Yet this, clearly, should not be considered decisive in this case, since a crossing would both serve the many who already cross opposite the main entrance (please note: the vast majority of parents taking young children to St James cross at this point!), while also encouraging others who presently cross elsewhere to cross instead at the designated safe point.

I’m afraid this all seems like a complete no-brainer from where I am sitting… :-(

To help me understand the issues more clearly, perhaps I could request, from Highways but via my councillors, copies of all previous studies that have been conducted on this issue to date (i.e. a potential crossing outside Bournside School)? And perhaps I could also reply in the affirmative regards your offer to contact Highways again and request a further monitoring of the road, preferably on a date that I can arrange to be present (to ensure it is conducted impartially)? I think I might also take it upon myself to canvass the opinion of parents and students of both Bournside and St James, some of whom I know are already very much in favour of a crossing…

Joe

Exchange with Iain Dobie (23-27 May 2015):

Dear Ian,

Further to (protracted) discussions with borough councillors regards the lack of a crossing measure on Warden Hill Road, I have just been sent below [press release]…

22nd May 2015
Bollards for Bournside School and Leckhampton Primary School
Work already planned for outside of two Gloucestershire schools has been brought forward to help make crossing the road easier. Twenty bollards, dropped kerbs and tactile pavements will be put outside of both Bournside School and Leckhampton Primary School next week as part of the Highways Local Scheme. Local county councillor for Leckhampton and Warden Hill, Councillor Iain Dobie, has been working with the schools for some time on potential road improvements, and has agreed today that the work to install the bollards will be brought forward to next week’s half term break. So that the work can happen as quickly as possible, temporary bollards will be installed next week which will be replaced by permanent ones in July. The roads affected will be open as normal. Cllr Iain Dobie, county councillor for Leckhampton and Warden Hill, said, “I have been calling for road safety improvements outside both schools and I am pleased action has finally been taken to install these long called for safety features, which are being paid for out of my highways local fund.
“By introducing bollards, school children will be able to cross the road outside their school more easily, with a crossing point that is more obvious to drivers and pedestrians.” Cllr Vernon Smith, Cabinet member for highways and flood, said: “The highways local scheme is a great way for members, who know their communities best, to make a real difference. “I am very supportive of Councillor Dobie’s improvements which will be a real benefit to some of the youngest members of our community.” Highways Local Scheme provides £22,500 to each county councillor to spend on improving roads in their area.
ENDS
Issued by Melissa Warren, Gloucestershire County Council media team, 01452 425093, melissa.warren@gloucestershire.gov.uk

While not an expert, I am not persuaded that bollards and (more) dropped kerbs are sufficient.

Could we meet to discuss please?

Thanks,

Joe

—–

Dear Mr Sucksmith,

Thank you for your email below, and also for copying to me your correspondence with your Borough councillor. I note all the arguments with interest.

In the meantime I have used my “Highways Local” county council funding to get road safety improvements outside Bournside done – I spent yesterday in Shire Hall to put pressure on the GCC contractors to install the improvements immediately (the recent 3 accidents in one day highlighted the need to get the work done as Top Priority).

I note that you are not persuaded about the value of what I am having done, paid for out of my County Councillor’s fund. Let’s give the measures a period of time to prove themselves (either way) before we consider meeting.

Yours Sincerely

Iain Dobie
County Councillor for Leckhampton and Warden Hill

—–

Hi Iain,

Thanks for this. A few points:

1. I’m annoyed I didn’t engage with you sooner on this. I’ve wasted literally months with [borough councillors], on the mistaken assumption that [they were] the appropriate point of democratic liaison.

2. I absolutely take on board that you are funding these measures out of your fund and do not doubt this action is well-intentioned. I am concerned, however, that measures be taken that actually address the problem, namely the danger to pedestrians that have to cross the road on a weekday morning (and, to a somewhat lesser extent, in the afternoon). This in mind, I think it would be useful if you could explain in a bit more detail how you envisage the measures outlined achieving this, as it isn’t immediately obvious.

3. My observations of the road on a morning (I live on the road and take two young children to St James, via the Bournside cut-through) are that a crossing and/or lollipop person is required, at a minimum, and ideally in combination with a reduced speed limit of 20mph (which would help more generally – cars absolutely rocket along this road at 50+). I am fully aware this would be more expensive/controversial, but feel it might be achievable via a wider, community co-ordinated response (most crucially involving the schools themselves, which, to date, do not seem to have fully comprehended the extent to which they bear responsibility for the situation that has developed).

I’d still be interested to meet to discuss, but can’t force you obviously… ;-)

Best,

Joe

—–

Hi Iain,

Disappointed not to have received a response to this, particularly in view of the work having started today.

For info, I’ve just chatted with the workmen and they are as baffled as I am that there are no plans to install a crossing. They also mentioned that the reflective bollards are not actually available until next week, meaning they are having to install temporary bollards for now, with a view to installing the proper bollards next week. This also seems quite bonkers.

Best,

Joe

—–

Dear Mr Sucksmith,

I’m sorry that you feel disappointed.

Personally I think it a Good Thing that safety work has started so quickly after my representations at Shire Hall following 3 children being hit by cars last week. The sooner the better, in my opinion. The safety improvements had previously been discussed with the head and had also gone through the County Highways specialist engineer. The bollards indicate the safest place to cross and also prevent vehicles from mounting the pavement. I specified the particular bollards to be purchased out of my “Highways Local” fund as long ago as last year – the failure to prioritise purchase and installation before now is entirely down to the contractors and the Conservative administration at Shire Hall which manages the Highways contract delivery.

As I wrote to you on Saturday, let’s give the changes a chance before we meet.

Yours Sincerely,

Iain Dobie
County Councillor for Leckhampton and Warden Hill

—–

Hi Iain,

My disappointment is that this hasn’t been adequately discussed. There are four schools in close proximity – have all the Heads had an input or is it just Bournside’s? Have views of pupils and parents been canvassed? Has the local community been consulted in any way?

To be clear: it isn’t about whether something needs to be done – on this we are all in agreement. Rather, it’s about WHAT should be done. This in mind, I would be really grateful if you could explain the logic of bollards over and above a crossing.

Thanks,

Joe

—–

Dear Mr Sucksmith,

Regarding the crossing proposal. I have a lot of sympathy for this idea, but your earlier correspondence with your Conservative Borough Councillor, which you kindly copied to me, included input from a highways engineer about this subject which was less than positive.

Additionally, I have been informed that the cost of a new electronic crossing would be far more than I have available within my “Highways Local” pot (which is meant to be supplementary discretionary spend to benefit the 10,000 people living in my division).

To persuade the GCC Highways professionals of the need for major capital expenditure on an electronic crossing at this time of major cutbacks on local authority spending dictated by the Conservative government would be a major task. Statistics on road accidents over an extended period of time demonstrating an ongoing risk would help (GCC officials have told me their own stats are not supportive of the need for an electronic crossing).

However, you might consider organising your own petition along the above lines to be presented to the County Council. I would be very happy to present your petition at Shire Hall.

Wishing you all the best,

Yours Sincerely,

Iain Dobie
County Councillor for Leckhampton and Warden Hill

—–

Hi Iain,

On the move, but very quickly…

I spoke again with the workmen earlier who confirmed that, due to unavailability of the required bollards, the effect of bringing the work forward is that the job now needs to be done twice. This is insane!

The above in mind, can I suggest that this work is paused and an urgent meeting convened to discuss the issue and assess the potential for a joined up campaign to install a crossing?

With three children being knocked down in a single day, I’d say we’re in a pretty strong position to make the case…

Works undertaken in the meantime will, I believe, make this case much harder to sell and ultimately harm our ability, as a community, to implement a measure that addresses the primary issue – the lack of empowerment for pedestrians.

Look forward to hearing from you.

Joe

—–

Dear Mr Sucksmith,

I appreciate your position. But there is no indication in your email that you have taken on board the points I have made in my email.

I believe the current safety work needs to be completed ASAP to protect children.

If you wish to start a petition or call a meeting of like-minded people then you are of course at liberty to do so.

Yours Sincerely,

County Councillor Iain Dobie

—–

Hi Iain,

Thanks. Some (hardly inconsequential) rejoinders…

>I appreciate your position. But there is no indication in your email that you have taken on board the points I have made in my email.

The arguments you have made are the same ones made earlier by Chris/Anne, and that I dealt with in the separate email exchange I forwarded you. I’d say these arguments were always pretty weak vis-à-vis this being a busy road servicing FOUR schools in close proximity, but they are even weaker now that we have had three accidents in a single day. Incidentally, I requested all data held by Highways regards assessments of safety on Warden Hill Road several weeks back, and they have refused to even respond. I chased this up yesterday and was told that Chris Riley would call me back the same day. He didn’t.

The broader argument you make about finances is true, but only to the extent that GCC is intent on pushing through ideological cuts. I’m not content with my children’s safety playing second fiddle to ideology, which is why I’m suggesting we act with a bit of bravery and mount a campaign to get the issue properly resolved (with a crossing and reduced speed limits – measures that nearly everyone concerned seems to be in agreement with). To be clear: the money is there, and should come from reserves if necessary.

>I believe the current safety work needs to be completed ASAP to protect children.

As I’ve said already, I do not doubt your good intentions, but it is obvious to anyone who has observed the road that bollards will bring marginal safety gains. The primary issue, as I have personally observed, is that pedestrians are not empowered to cross the road and thus run a gauntlet, dashing between cars that are not required to stop. Only a crossing and lower speed limit can address this.

Just to note also that the installation of the bollards has been very badly planned. As the workmen explained to me earlier, the required bollards are not yet available, and they are therefore having to complete the work with standard bollards. Once the appropriate bollards become available (estimated to be next week), they will return, dig out the bollards they have just installed and install the new ones. This is utterly ridiculous, and seems very much like gesture politics. In addition, I note that bollards are being erected in two locations, one of which is barely used on a morning, which indicates a lack of research by the planners.

>If you wish to start a petition or call a meeting of like-minded people then you are of course at liberty to do so.

I can’t begin to convey my frustration at this response. The relevant community of stakeholders i.e. staff/students/parents of all four schools) has clearly not been consulted, and the proposals therefore lack legitimacy. Worse still, the measures currently being implemented actually undermine the ability of “like-minded people” to mount a successful campaign for a crossing (even if a petition is raised, the council’s response will inevitably now be to wait and see, since money has already been spent…!). I notice you haven’t addressed this matter in your email, which is disappointing.

To allow me to assess the value in taking these matters further off my own, non-elected back, I would be grateful if you could supply me with the following asap:
– Cost of the bollard installation, with a breakdown into cost for the initial installation (as carried today and yesterday) and cost for installation of the appropriate bollards next week.
– A copy of the rubric governing the Highways Local scheme and/or any best practice guidelines for ensuring measures funded in this scheme have the consent of the community and stakeholders concerned.
– In lieu of a response from Highways: any data you have solicited from Highways regards safety assessments conducted on Warden Hill Road.

Many thanks for your continued co-operation on this matter. Should you change your mind regards a meeting for stakeholders (by way of pragmatic consultation), please let me know.

Please also note that I will be blogging these issues up shortly, so that they are in the public domain.

Joe

Lib Dem denial

You would have thought, given the severity of the Lib Dem General Election wipeout, that local activists would be in the mood for an honest accounting of how this situation came to pass.

Alas, this doesn’t appear to be the case in Cheltenham, where prominent activists are claiming that the only reason for Martin Horwood’s defeat was Tory scaremongering about the SNP. This tweet by local councillor Max Wilkinson, in response to a tweet of mine calling for honesty, is illustrative:

To be clear: I think it’s absolutely true that a contingent of right-leaning Lib Dems voted Tory this time round out of (irrational) fear of a Labour government propped up by the SNP.

But is it possible that this dynamic alone could account for the Tory triumph?

My arithmetic (which, admittedly, makes large assumptions) would suggest that this isn’t the case. To explain…

In 2010, when of course there was no SNP factor, the Tories received 21,739 votes, which could be taken as a measure of the Tories’ core vote. In 2015, the Tories received 24,790 votes, which was an increase of 3,051. Even if we take these votes off the Tory and re-allocate ALL of them to the Lib Dem, the Lib Dem is still short of the Tory by 414 votes (= 21,739 – [18,274 + 3,051]).

Yes, I’m aware that this is reductive, but the point is that the SNP factor alone doesn’t seem to explain the Lib Dem defeat.

So what other reasons might there have been for the collapse in the Lib Dem vote?

Well, one blindingly obvious reason is the MASSIVE disaffection generated by the Lib Dem-Tory coalition, which, by my reckoning, resulted in the migration of around 4000 votes to the Greens (who of course didn’t stand a candidate in 2010) and Labour (whose vote share recovered somewhat).

The conclusion?

If local Lib Dems are serious about re-establishing themselves, they need to come to terms with the fact that they lost 2015 to both the right AND the left.

Why I’m voting Green in Cheltenham on May 7th…

Because the Greens’ policy platform is broadly socially democratic, which positions them well to the left of both Labour and the Liberal Democrats.

Because the Greens’ macroeconomic plan, the Green New Deal (GND), demonstrates an understanding of the need for and appropriateness of expansionary, targeted fiscal policy to achieve important social goals, i.e. full employment, plus transition towards a more sustainable economy.

Because the expansionary nature of the GND represents a clear rejection of the specious orthodoxy of cuts and “deficit reduction”.

Because, while not as supportive of trade unions as they perhaps could be, the Greens’ commitment to workplace democracy (and their acknowledgement of the central role trade unions should play in achieving this) is superior to Labour’s narrower conception of employers and trade unions working in “partnership” to achieve greater “business efficiency”.

Because the Greens have a progressive set of foreign policy proposals (including a position on Palestine that sets them apart from the mainstream parties) and a clear track record of opposing UK militarism (most notably in respect of Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya).

Because voting tactically presumes, wrongly, that the party in waiting – Labour – offers a meaningful alternative to the Tories’ ideologically-motivated austerity.

Because, as left voters in Cheltenham are painfully aware, a tactical vote can just as easily facilitate the Tories as impede them.

Because a good showing from the Greens and other parties hampered by first-past-the-post will increase the pressure for a progressive shift towards proportional representation.

Final response from BBC Trust re axing of Ilan Ziv documentary

Damn it.  I thought I had them with my “jurisdiction” argument… ;-)

Scheduling of Jerusalem: An Archaeological Mystery Story

The complainant requested that the Complaints and Appeals Board (CAB) review the decision of the BBC Trust’s Senior Editorial Complaints Adviser that the complainant’s appeal did not qualify to proceed for consideration on appeal.

Background

The complainant had contacted the BBC after it decided to withdraw the programme Jerusalem: An Archaeological Mystery from broadcast. He had sought information about the editorial reasoning for not broadcasting the programme and who had taken the decision.

When the complainant pressed for further information, he was told:

“…we are not in a position to discuss the specific details at present. As we have said, we are talking to the director about future plans for the film and we will publish the outcome on our FAQ website at http://faq.external.bbc.co.uk/ once these plans are decided. In the meantime we regret there is no more we can add.”

The complainant had initially escalated is complaint to the BBC Trust on 3 June 2013. The Trust Unit considered that BBC Audience Services ought to give more information and, on 18 July, he was sent the following response:

“Ilan Ziv’s film about the archaeology and history of Jerusalem and surrounding areas was acquired by the BBC for transmission during a BBC Four archaeology season. It was found during the re-versioning of the film to 60 minutes in length that it covered broader issues and for that reason, it was decided to withdraw it from this particular season. The BBC is now working with the film maker on a new version of the film and will issue a further statement once that process is complete.”

Appeal

The complainant remained dissatisfied. He appealed to the Trust and stated:

“…the circumstances surrounding the original axing need to be adequately explained. And of course, the more the BBC Executive procrastinates, the greater the impression they have something to hide. To re-iterate: I am seeking a full explanation of what was meant by the phrase “does not fit editorially”. This will obviously entail reference to the specific editorial criteria that the programme was considered against, and the reasons why these criteria were not considered to have been met. I think it would also be useful to know HOW these decisions were made, and by WHOM.”

Decision of the Senior Editorial Complaints Adviser

The Senior Editorial Complaints Adviser (the Adviser) carefully read the correspondence which had passed between the complainant and the BBC, and she acknowledged the strength of the complainant’s feelings. She noted that the Executive said that the programme had been acquired to supplement BBC Four’s season exploring the history of archaeology. She noted that the most recent response from the BBC had elaborated on its first reply and had explained that it was only when the film was being shortened prior to transmission that it emerged the film covered broader issues than had initially been understood and it was subsequently withdrawn from the series about archaeology.

The Adviser noted that the complainant had been told the film would be shown at a later point and had been given a webpage that would be updated once a new date had been confirmed. The Adviser considered Trustees would be likely to conclude that the complainant had been given a reasoned and reasonable response on this point and did not believe it had a reasonable prospect of success, therefore she did not consider it should be put before Trustees.

The Senior Editorial Complaints Adviser understood that the complainant felt frustrated that the BBC had not given further details about the decision. However, she considered there was no obligation on the BBC to do this. She noted that the Royal Charter and the accompanying Agreement between the Secretary of State and the BBC drew a distinction between the role of the BBC Trust and that of the BBC Executive Board, led by the Director-General. “The direction of the BBC’s editorial and creative output” was specifically defined in the Charter (paragraph 38, (1) (b)) as a duty that was the responsibility of the Executive Board, and one in which the Trust did not get involved unless, for example, it related to a breach of the BBC’s editorial standards which did not apply in this case. Decisions relating to what programmes to include within a themed series fell within the “editorial and creative output” of the BBC and were the responsibility of the BBC Executive. The issue of how much detail to provide about the reasons for such decisions was also a matter for the Executive.

Therefore the Adviser considered that it was not appropriate for the appeal to be put before Trustees on this point.

Therefore the Adviser considered the appeal did not have a reasonable prospect of success and should not be put before Trustees.

Request for review by Trustees

The complainant asked Trustees to review the decision of the Senior Editorial Complaints Adviser not to proceed with the appeal. The complainant said that the response from BBC Audience Services had not directly addressed his concerns. The complainant said that he was looking for an explanation of why the programme did not fit editorially, and this was not provided by the BBC’s response that the programme was withdrawn from BBC Four’s archaeology season because it covered broader issues.

The complainant said that by asking Audience Services to provide more information, the BBC Trust had accepted that it had jurisdiction.

The Panel’s decision

The Panel was given the complainant’s appeal to the Trust, the reply from the Senior Editorial Complaints Adviser, and the challenge to the Senior Editorial Complaints Adviser’s decision.

The Panel agreed with the Adviser that decisions relating to scheduling are matters of the direction of the BBC’s creative output and are therefore a matter for the BBC Executive and not the Trust. The Panel noted that the Trust Unit had asked the BBC to provide a further response to the complainant. The Panel was mindful that this was not a decision taken by Trustees and was separate from the question of whether the underlying complaint about the scheduling of this programme would be a matter for the Trust to consider on appeal. The Panel noted that the BBC’s complaints framework states “the Trust is the final arbiter if any question arises as to whether an appeal is for the Trust to determine or not.” Consequently, Trustees did not agree that the Trust Unit’s request that the BBC elaborate upon their previous responses at stage 1 could be construed as an assumption of jurisdiction by the Trustees themselves at the final stage of the complaints process.

Incidentally, the Panel noted that the BBC had confirmed that they plan to broadcast the programme in November 20131.

The Panel therefore agreed that the appeal did not have a reasonable prospect of success and did not qualify to proceed for consideration.

1 The programme was broadcast on BBC Four on Sunday 3 November 2013 with the title

Searching for Exile: Truth or Myth?

My prior request for a review:

Dear Ms Buckle,

Many thanks for your response of 13 September.

It will come as no surprise that I find your reasoning unsatisfactory, and I now respectfully request that the Trustees review your decision.

There is much that could be said by way of closing, but I’ll perhaps restrict myself to a couple of salient aspects.

First off, I respectfully note that your reasoning is inconsistent with the Trust’s previous response, which demanded that BBC Complaints provide me with a further response, and that such a response should “directly address [my] concerns”.  These “concerns”, you’ll recall, were raised in my email of 31 May, which concluded as follows:

I am seeking a full explanation of what was meant by the phrase “does not fit editorially”.  This will obviously entail reference to the specific editorial criteria that the programme was considered against, and the reasons why these criteria were not considered to have been met.  I think it would also be useful to know HOW these decisions were made, and by WHOM.”

The BBC’s most recent response, as already noted, has merely substituted the words “covered broader issues” for “did not fit editorially”.  While you evidently believe that this substitution “directly addresses my concerns”, I do not believe that a reasonable person would construe this substitution, viewed in the context of the exchange as a whole, as anything but further evasion.  What, pray tell, were the “broader issues” that merited a last minute axing??

Second, in response to your argument that the BBc Executive is not, in the final analysis, obliged to explain its editorial decisions, I respectfully note that such an argument is incongruous with the Trust’s email of 17 July, demanding that BBC Complaints not only respond, but respond in such a manner as to “directly address [my] concerns”.   If the substantive issues arising from my complaint didn’t fall within the Trust’s remit, the Trust had no business soliciting such a response from BBC Complaints.  By sending the email of 17 July, the Trust was accepting that it had jurisdiction.

I look forward to the Trustees’ considered response.

Yours sincerely,

Joe Sucksmith

 

Martin’s Mass Surveillance Muddle

MP for GCHQ, Martin Horwood, has finally responded to my letter of 29 July
.

Dear Joe

First of all can I apologise for the delay in replying to you. Sheer weight of more urgent work I’m afraid.

I don’t see any real contradiction in the two sets of statements that I made about GCHQ this year and back in 2008, although I can see that the news reports differ in tone. But I can assure you that I have always valued and respected GCHQ’s work and have often said so in public. In 2008 I said that it was “right that the rest of us, from the Government down to the individual members of society, should set the limits on what GCHQ is allowed to do with the technology available to it. It’s clear that these measures could help combat terrorism, but I’m very concerned about their civil liberties implications.”

Well, I’m still concerned about the civil liberties implications – and I have very clearly welcomed recent inquiry announcements:

http://www.gloucestershireecho.co.uk/Cheltenham-MP-confident-GCHQ-fear-major-inquiry/story-19949381-detail/story.html

But it’s also become very clear in recent months that limits are being observed and that we have probably the strongest oversight of intelligence of any jurisdiction in the world, placed in statute by a series of laws culminating in the Justice and Security Act 2013. GCHQ is scrutinised by the independent Intelligence & Security Committee (ISC) who can demand answers to questions the intelligence services would not be able to answer in public. Any request to read the content of any individual’s communication has to be signed off personally by the Foreign Secretary or another Secretary of State. Any of these permissions can be reviewed by independent commissioners who must have held high judicial office. Any complaint about almost any aspect of their work can be heard by an independent Tribunal.

The ISC has recently specifically reviewed Tempora to see if any UK law was broken and concluded that none were. You describe Tempora as ‘mass surveillance’ but sheer mathematics should persuade you this can’t possibly be true. How could 5,000 GCHQ employees possibly monitor the contents of billions of messages, even if they did nothing else all day? They have always had the right – under judicial or political oversight – to intercept letters and telephone calls and they obviously need comparable powers to access messages sent via new technology. Otherwise it would be childishly simple for those who would do us harm to avoid detection. And I assume you too would want to detect those people before they commit murder again. This is not some imagined threat: thousands of people really died on 9/11, 7/7, in Madrid and Mumbai and Bali and elsewhere.

It is naturally frustrating and disconcerting not to know what answers GCHQ give to the ISC in private about their work but such a system simply has to operate behind closed doors. I’m afraid we do have to trust the ISC to ask the right questions as you would have to trust those who did this under whatever system you might devise. I agree their questioning in public the other week looked pretty gentle and I would hope that it’s tougher in private. Perhaps we should look at the ISC’s membership. But, looking at it more broadly, I can’t really think what other kind of system could safely set limits on the intelligence services and make sure those limits were adhered to without revealing sensitive secret information to the world.

As for Edward Snowden, he didn’t notify anyone in the NSA of his concerns or go through any of the whistleblowing channels available in the US. He didn’t expose outright government lies as Clive Ponting did back in the 1980s over the Belgrano. He simply revealed thousands of pages of secret information to the media, and through them to hostile governments, terrorists and anyone else who cared to wade through them for useful information. It is now pretty clear he did enormous damage to our national security in the process. And unlike Ponting, he didn’t have the courage to face the consequences in court, taking refuge instead in Putin’s Russia which is currently intimidating and locking up journalists, businesspeople, peaceful environmental protesters, feminist and LGBT activists, artists and rock groups and where the secret intelligence services act with far greater impunity than GCHQ. Some friend of liberty.

I’m sorry again for the delay in replying.

All the best

Martin

—-

Aaaaaaand, my reply:

Hi Martin,

Many thanks for (finally) responding. Since I don’t currently have any “urgent” projects aside from working full-time, looking after two young children, and doing up a house for said children to live in, I thought I’d get back to you sharpish with some comments/further questions… ;-)

1. You say that you “have very clearly welcomed recent inquiry announcements“.

Indeed you have. But transparently *not* because you are “concerned about the civil liberties implications”, but rather because you have already decided that GCHQ has nothing to hide and clearly believe that a stage-managed inquiry will provide a means for GCHQ to clear its name.

2. You say that “we have probably the strongest oversight of intelligence of any jurisdiction in the world“.

If this is so, how do you interpret the internal GCHQ view that the UK’s regulatory regime is a “selling point” to the NSA?

3. You say that the “ISC has recently specifically reviewed Tempora to see if any UK law was broken and concluded that none were“.

As far as I am aware, the ISC has “reviewed” aspects of Prism, not Tempora. Could you please provide the basis of your assertion that the ISC has “reviewed Tempora”?

4. You say: “You describe Tempora as ‘mass surveillance’ but sheer mathematics should persuade you this can’t possibly be true“.

Well, maths never was my strong suit, but common sense tells me you’re either misunderstanding or misrepresenting the nature of the problem. The issue isn’t that GCHQ staff are actively reading everyone’s emails, but that they *could* if they so wished, at the drop of a hat. In other words, it’s the capability itself that’s the problem, as your party seemed to understand back when it evinced some principles…

5. You say that “This is not some imagined threat: thousands of people really died on 9/11, 7/7, in Madrid and Mumbai and Bali and elsewhere.”

Where “else” did you have in mind, exactly? Iraq, perhaps (upwards of one million dead)? Afghanistan (tens of thousands dead)? Waziristan (where civilians continue to be assassinated by US drones, facilitated by GCHQ locational intel)? No, you’re right, the terrorist threat isn’t “imagined”, it’s very real and has been for decades… for those living in resource-rich parts of the world coveted by the US/UK. And to the extent that there *is* a threat to the UK, this is almost entirely a product of UK aggression, as those who have committed acts of violence tell us at every available opportunity. If the UK government were serious about reducing the “terror threat”, it would ameliorate its terroristic foreign policy, not build a “vast, systemic, institutionalized, industrial-scale Leviathan surveillance state“.

6. You say that “it is now pretty clear [Snowden] did enormous damage to our national security…”.

Actually, this is about as clear as mud. Are you willing to adduce any evidence to back up this charge?

7. You say that “[Snowden] didn’t have the courage to face the consequences in court, taking refuge instead in Putin’s Russia…“.

With respect, this is complete nonsense. Snowden had wished to travel out of Russia, but was prevented from doing so as his passport was revoked by the United States government, which – in an attempt to apprehend Snowden – then proceeded to pressure European states to force down the aircraft of the President of Bolivia! Some friend of liberty.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Joe


UPDATE – 25 January 2014 – Response from Martin Horwood:

Dear Joe

I had a fine Christmas, thanks, apart from a persistent lurgy that had me coughing and spluttering through most of it. I think we may have to draw a line under this conversation eventually but here we go for now, in answer to your specific points:

1. Oh yes I did. “GCHQ should welcome the inquiry and have nothing to fear about it. It is very important in a democracy to know our civil liberties and our privacy are being safeguarded.” Echo 18 October 2013.

2. Your link doesn’t show any evidence that it is a ‘selling point’ for GCHQ and that phrase appears to be from a campaigner not the intelligence agencies themselves. Payments for services provided don’t necessarily do anything more than cover costs.

3. You’re quite right that the specific review that has already concluded was into GCHQ’s use of Prism data not Tempora but the chair of the ISC has clearly indicated to parliament (http://www.theyworkforyou.com/whall/?id=2013-10-31a.333.0&s=%28GCHQ%29+speaker%3A11660#g366.0) that the kind of surveillance involved in Tempora has been scrutinised by the ISC and, by the time of my original email, a specific enquiry by the ISC had been initiated into ‘the appropriate balance between privacy and security in an internet age’, which would undoubtedly cover this aspect of intelligence-gathering.

4. No they can’t. To read the content relating to any individual they need ministerial approval (see above debate again)

5. I think it is both misguided and rather irrelevant to suggest that Al’Qaeda terrorist threats are ‘almost entirely’ a result of US/UK violence. Misguided because, while I may not be any more of a fan of past American foreign policy or the use of UAVs than you are, to use them to excuse Al’Qaeda’s moral responsibility for these mass murders is moral blindness. Irrelevant because, whatever the cause or origin, the fact is that the threat does exist and therefore has to be countered. Or would you really rely entirely on a changed foreign policy to stop Al’Qaeda in its tracks? In which case, what kind of change in foreign policy would ever satisfy them? Presumably one which acquiesced in the violent overthrow of moderate Arab regimes – including democratic ones like Palestine, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq – in order to establish an extreme and intolerant Salafist caliphate on the model of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan which brutally oppressed women and religious minorities, stopped girls’ education, executed political opponents and petty criminals, detonated historic Buddhist monuments and provided training bases for mass murderers. I don’t think that kind of foreign policy is very likely from any western country in the near future so we’d better not rely on that as a way to defend ourselves against Al’Qaeda.

6. GCHQ have told me that intelligence from a wide range of sources has deteriorated since Snowden started leaking. Iain Lobban said as much in the open session of the ISC and explained logically why it should be the case: http://www.gchq.gov.uk/press_and_media/media_and_resources/Pages/ISC-open-evidence-session-damage.aspx You could, I suppose, suggest he’s making it all up but I don’t think he is. He also volunteered to give more specific evidence to the ISC in private session.

7. Some friend of liberty! Seeking to apprehend people who have blatantly broken the law and damaged national security and bring them to trial seems pretty reasonable to me. Liberty isn’t unqualified regardeless of what croimes you commit. And Snowden would get a fairer trial in the US courts than Mikhail Khordokovsky did in Russia, or Platon Lebedev, or Sergei Magnitsky, or Alexander Litvinenko, or Anna Politkovskaya, or Pussy Riot, or the Arctic 30, or the ecologist Evgeny Vitishko or the countless human rights activists and journalists and political opponents of Putin who risk their liberty in far more deadly circumstances without running away to other countries. If you want to see who you should be supporting in Russia right now – young people who are showing extraordinary courage in the face of real oppression, take a look at the Liberal Democrats’ sister party’s website: http://eng.yabloko.ru/?p=2884

Happy New Year!

Martin


To which I have responded thus:

Thanks, Martin.

Yes, a line must be drawn eventually, but not just yet…

1. In fact, the quote you highlight validates my statement. The crucial words are “…and have nothing to fear about it”, which indicate quite clearly that you have already decided GCHQ has nothing to hide.

2. Look at the article again. The key sentence is: “But in the documents GCHQ describes Britain’s surveillance laws and regulatory regime as a “selling point” for Washington.” Couldn’t be clearer really.

3. Better just to concede the point rather than attempt to wriggle out of your error by referring to woolly statements by the ISC.

4. You’ve completely missed the point. It’s the *capability* itself that’s important, not the rules that purportedly (yet likely don’t) guard against abuse.

5. Again, you’ve largely missed the point, which is that “our” crimes dwarf “theirs”. Resolve this fundamental asymmetry and we’re nearly the whole way in defeating the hardcore “al-Qaeda” ideology such that exists.

6. GCHQ “have told you”? Enough already.

7. So you think that forcing down a Head of State’s aircraft is “pretty reasonable” , do you? Interesting. As for Snowden getting a fair trial in the US, just look at how they treated Chelsea Manning – years in solitary (a form of torture), systematic ritualised humiliations, followed by a long-term prison sentence… for leaking material like this.

Best wishes,

Joe