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.

Shhhh… don’t mention “Tempora”!

When my MP, Martin Horwood, refused (repeatedly) to put the relevant questions to the UK’s Intelligence and Security Committee, there seemed no option but to cut out the middle-man… Viva democracy! 😉

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Dear Malcolm Rifkind,

This is a note directed to you in your capacity as Chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee, a position that makes you accountable to the entire electorate.

I have a couple of questions, please:

1. The Daily Mail quotes you as follows: “In general, Snowden’s behaviour has been hugely irresponsible“. Could you explain why you prefaced this opinion with “in general”? Does this mean you believe *specific* aspects of Snowden’s behaviour haven’t been so irresponsible? If so, which bits?

2. The Guardian has revealed that GCHQ believes the UK’s regulatory regime to be a “selling point” to the NSA? A key part of this regulatory regime is obviously the committee you chair, the I&SC. How do you feel about this?

Yours sincerely,

Joe Sucksmith

Dear Mr Sucksmith,

Thank you for your email dated 4 August 2013 to the Rt. Hon. Sir Malcolm Rifkind MP, in his capacity as Chairman of the Intelligence. and Security ,Committee of Parliament (ISC). I am replying on his behalf.

As you will know, public comment on intelligence and national security issues, by its very nature, can rarely be detailed and specific. Sir Malcolm will have used “in general” simply to avoid confirming or denying any particular allegation raised by Mr Snowden. Sir Malcolm has also made clear that the unauthorised and irresponsible leaking of classified intelligence documents can provide information that would help those planning terrorist acts to avoid detection.

Turning to your second point, I will not comment on leaked information supposedly attributed to GCHQ. However, the UK’s regulatory regime for its intelligence and security Agencies includes numerous safeguards, including the appointment of members of the judiciary as intelligence commissioners as well as the parliamentary oversight conducted by the ISC. This year, the Justice and Security Act strengthened and extended the powers and independence of the ISC. These reforms have given the ISC even greater authority to carry out oversight of the intelligence and security Agencies, including scrutiny of their operational activities.

ISC Secretariat

Many thanks.

I’d like to submit a related query if I may, as follows:

Further to its recent investigations into the NSA’s “Prism” programme, can you confirm whether the ISC will also be investigating GCHQ’s “Tempora” programme?

For info, I asked my MP (Martin Horwood) to make this enquiry on my behalf some weeks back, but his office refuses to respond on the matter. I therefore have little choice but to submit the enquiry direct.

Best regards,

Joe

Dear Mr Sucksmith,

Thank you for your further email of 30 August 2013, asking an additional question about the investigations being carried out by the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament (ISC).

I can only re-iterate that I will not comment specifically on leaked information supposedly attributed to GCHQ. However, the Committee has announced that it is considering further whether the current statutory framework governing access to private communications, including internet-based communications, remains adequate. The Committee will therefore be examining further the complex interaction between the Intelligence Services Act, the Human Rights Act and the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, and the policies and procedures that underpin them.

ISC Secretariat

Many thanks. I have two additional follow-ups, which I’m sure you’ll be only too willing to address given interactions like this are the lifeblood of democracy.

1. You say that you “will not comment specifically on leaked information supposedly attributed to GCHQ”. Why, then, did the ISC see fit to publically comment on GCHQ’s use of intelligence gained through “Prism” – another clandestine and highly controversial SIGINT programme, details of which were revealed by Edward Snowden? It would seem entirely inconsistent to comment on one programme (Prism), but not the other (Tempora).

2. You say that the ISC will be “considering whether the statutory framework governing access to private communications, including internet-based communications, is adequate”. Does not the intelligence watchdog within a democratic state have a more substantive responsibility to pass judgement on whether a heretofore clandestine mass surveillance programme is ethical/moral, as distinct from merely legal?

I look forward to hearing from you.

Best regards,

Joe Sucksmith

“Vietcong” – what’s in a word?

Recently, as I was doing a rare spot of ironing, I caught part of a TV discussion between John Simpson and a BBC anchor about, amongst other things, the US government decision to open negotiations with the Taliban. In the context of this discussion, Simpson mentioned the “Vietcong”, or “Viet Cong”, on several occasions, as an example of – inevitably – an “enemy” with whom the US was eventually forced to negotiate.

Recalling from my university days that the term “Viet Cong” was anything but neutral, I decided to write to Professor Ngo Vinh Long (of the University of Maine) to establish the facts concerning the term’s origins…

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Dear Professor Ngo Vinh Long,

Please excuse the unsolicited mail, but I wondered if you might be able to shed some light on the origins of the label “Vietcong”, which has entered the (western) vernacular as a descriptor for the Vietnamese who fought against the US during the “Vietnam war”?

My current understanding is that the label derives from a longer phrase “Viet Gian Cong San”, originally used by the US-backed Diem regime to tar all those within, or sympathetic to, the NLF as “communists”. But is this accurate?

With best wishes,

Joe Sucksmith

Dear Mr Sucksmith,

The term Việt Cộng was invented by Colonel Nguyễn Văn Châu, director of the Central Psychological War Service of the South Vietnamese Armed forces from 1956 to 1962. I knew him personally because from 1959 to late 1962 I was also a military map maker, making 1/25,000 military maps of the entire South Vietnam and parts of Cambodia and Laos. At that time there was also a “Communist Denunciation Campaign” (Phong trào Tố Cộng) and Colonel Châu intentionally coined the term as a homonym for “Diệt Cộng” (Annihilate the Communists) since the D and V are pronounced like a Y in Southern accent. He was very proud of this play on words and kept on repeating it to me and others many times.

Colonel Châu gave a detailed interview on this and other psychological warfare techniques that he and the Saigon regime used to Richard Dudman, known as the dean of American journalism (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Sept. 24, 1972.)

From what I know, I don’t think the term comes from Việt Gian Cộng Sản, which is certainly never used in any official documents from South Vietnam.

Regards,

Ngô Vĩnh

Dear Ngo Vinh,

Many thanks for the response, which I find fascinating. Perhaps I could ask a brief follow-up…

What term is used most often within Vietnamese literature to describe the South Vietnamese who resisted the US-backed Diem regime, and later invading US forces?

Joe

The term “quân kháng chiến” (resistance fighters) and “quân giải phóng” (liberation fighters) were used the most.

Ngô Vĩnh

Many thanks. Does it follow from this that most Vietnamese would consider the term “Viet Cong” to be essentially pejorative? Or just merely inaccurate?

Joe

Pejorative. The majority of the people fighting with the Front for the National Liberation of Vietnam did not consider themselves communists in anyway. They considered themselves nationalists or patriots. That was one of the reasons why Hanoi disbanded the PRG (Provisional Revolutionary Government, which composed of the “NLF” and other groups) almost immediately after “Liberation.”

Ngô Vĩnh

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So there you have it: “Viet Cong” – a pejorative term, coined by the propaganda wing of the US-backed Diem regime, and designed to characterise those resisting US-backed aggression as “communists”.

Small wonder its use is so widespread at the BBC… 😉

Martin Horwood’s Syria moment

A letter to the Gloucestershire Echo, further to MP Martin Horwood’s decision to support UK involvement in the illegal bombing of Syria…

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Dear Sir,

In his “House notes” of 02 Sept, Martin Horwood suggests that the 285 MPs who opposed the Government’s motion on Syria were either pacifists (by which he means naifs), Little Englanders (by which he means xenophobes) or, well, Labour (who, by definition it would seem, could only possibly be motivated by a desire to damage the coalition).

Absent from this analysis is an appreciation that a great many MPs and constituents opposed the motion because they understand that the drive to bomb Syria has little, if anything, to do with deterring the use of chemical weapons, and everything to do with securing key strategic interests (the removal of a recalcitrant leader allied to Iran and Hizbollah and the shoring up of Israel’s regional hegemony); and furthermore that, to this policy end, “intelligence” is once more being cherry-picked, spun and – in parts – almost certainly fabricated (bless those “Israeli intercepts”, which, lo and behold, “cannot be disclosed”!).

Though not an MP when parliament infamously voted in favour of illegally invading Iraq back in 2003, Martin Horwood has always claimed that he strongly opposed the invasion at the time. Indeed, as recently as 13 June, Martin was making a speech in parliament lamenting the fact that weapons inspectors had not been given more time and chastising the Government of the day for “tactically deploying” arguments and cases to support their “real political objectives”.

The Syria vote therefore represented a golden opportunity for Martin to “walk the walk”; to demonstrate he’d understood the scale and significance of the intelligence deception in the run up to Iraq; and to prove to increasingly sceptical voters that his opposition to the Iraq war has been genuine, and not merely a “tactical deployment”.

He blew it. Big time.

Mass state surveillance – some questions for Martin Horwood

A letter to the Gloucestershire Echo, published Monday 29 July 2013.

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Dear Sir,

Back in 2008, Liberal Democrat MP for Cheltenham, Martin Horwood, could be found encouraging UK citizens to set limits on GCHQ’s eavesdropping capabilities. As reported by the Echo at the time, Martin was “deeply concerned about the civil liberties implications” of government plans to “monitor and store every single text message and e-mail sent in Britain, as well as records of every single website visit made within the country”.

Fast forward to the present and Martin Horwood can now be found lambasting whistleblower Edward Snowden for revealing that GCHQ, via a programme codenamed “Tempora”, indiscriminately (and almost certainly illegally, given current UK statutes) intercepts, stores and scans colossal volumes of communications data sent/received by UK citizens. More worrying still, Martin Horwood’s office has recently confirmed to me, by email, that Martin does not consider this mass surveillance programme to represent a threat to privacy!

The above in mind, I’d be grateful if Martin could grace the Echo’s letters page to explain:

(a) The dramatic shift in his perspective between 2008 and 2013; and

(b) How his 2013 views square with the Liberal Democrats’ manifesto pledge to “protect and restore [our] freedoms” and “end plans to store [our] email and internet records without good cause”.

Yours faithfully,

Joe Sucksmith

Will the BBC Trust investigate axing of Ilan Ziv’s “Jerusalem – An Archeological Mystery Story”?

Dear BBC,

Further to Ilan Ziv’s rendition of the pulling of “Jerusalem – An Archeological Mystery Story” (available at: http://ilanziv.com/2013/04/28/the-exiling-of-my-film-exile-a-myth-unearthed-in-the-bbc-2/), I wish to request the following: (a) a full, official explanation of WHY the programme “does not fit editorially”; AND (b) the identity of the person who described the programme as “propaganda”, and the circumstances under which this person came to exert influence over the airing of the programme; AND (c) under all relevant FoI statutes, copies of all relevant internal BBC communications that considered the programme’s “editorial fit”, to include minutes of any meetings that took place on the same subject. I look forward to hearing from you.

Joe Sucksmith

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Dear Mr Sucksmith

Thank you for your follow up comments regarding about our decision not to broadcast ‘Jerusalem: An Archaeological Mystery Story’ on 25 April. Your concerns were brought to the attention of senior management in BBC Vision who responded as follows:

“Ilan Ziv’s film was originally acquired earlier this year to supplement BBC Four’s season exploring the history of archaeology. Acquisitions are often prepared for transmission close to broadcast and it was only at this point that it was decided that the film did not fit the season editorially and was not shown. We would like to assure you that this was an internal decision and there was no political pressure involved in the decision to suspend this programme. We’re sorry for any disappointment caused but please be assured we are talking to the director about future plans for the film, the outcome of which will be published on the BBC’s FAQ website: http://faq.external.bbc.co.uk/ in due course”.

With regards to your FOI request, I can assure you that this matter is currently being looked into for you. You will receive a response in due course. Thank you once again for taking the trouble to share your concerns with us.

Kind Regards
Richard Carey

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Dear BBC,

Your response is merely a re-statement of the original response to other complainants that prompted my complaint! To repeat: I would like a full, official explanation of WHY the programme “does not fit editorially”. Put another way, I would like you to explain the phrase “does not fit editorially”, with reference to the specific editorial codes infringed, and why.

Many thanks, Joe

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Dear Mr Sucksmith

Thank you for your follow up comments about our decision not to broadcast ‘Jerusalem: An Archaeological Mystery Story’ on 25 April. We recognise you continue to feel strongly about this but we have explained the reason for the decision (including why it was made very close to transmission) and 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. Thank you for contacting us.

Kind Regards
Gemma McAleer
BBC Complaints

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Dear Gemma,

Many thanks for your further response, received yesterday, and which reads:

“We recognise you continue to feel strongly about this but we have explained the reason for the decision (including why it was made very close to transmission) and 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.”

No, you have NOT explained the “reason for decision”. Rather, you have issued a generic cover-all response that the programme “did not fit editorially”. The crucial question, and the one that I’ve now repeatedly asked, is WHY the programme was considered not to fit editorially. This would 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. It is tiresome in the extreme to have to go to these lengths to get an honest response from a publically funded organisation 😦 Please consider this email a request for this complaint to be elevated to Stage 2 of the BBC’s complaints process.

Joe

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Dear Mr Sucksmith

Thank you for your follow up comments about our decision not to broadcast ‘Jerusalem: An Archaeological Mystery Story’ on 25 April. We recognise you continue to feel strongly about this but we have explained the reason for the decision (including why it was made very close to transmission) and 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. Thank you for contacting us.

Kind Regards
Gemma McAleer

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Dear BBC Trust,

Please find attached recent correspondence with the BBC regards the BBC’s decision not to broadcast ‘Jerusalem: An Archaeological Mystery Story’ on 25 April.

In my professional capacity as an Administrative Officer at a university, I regularly have to assess [various kinds of] student applications. Every now and again, I have no choice but to refuse a student’s application. Can you imagine the student’s consternation were I to respond with a generic “I’m afraid your application did not meet the criteria”? Would such a response inspire confidence that my assessment had been carried out objectively? Would the student not be entitled to an explanation that covered the precise reasons for refusal? I trust this gives an insight into why I remain dissatisfied, and I why I wish the Trust to now investigate further.

Please note: while the BBC clearly believes its continued discussions with the director of the programme to be a mitigating factor, I consider this a red herring. Irrespective of any future transmission, 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.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours faithfully,

Joe Sucksmith

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Dear Mr Sucksmith

Further to my email of 6 June 2013, the Trust Unit has reviewed your correspondence and agree that BBC Complaints should have provided you with a further response.

We have therefore asked BBC Complaints to respond to you again directly addressing your concerns. This response should also explain how to take your complaint further should you wish to do so.
I hope this helpful.

Yours sincerely
Christina Roski
Complaints Adviser, BBC Trust Unit

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Dear Mr Sucksmith

Thank you for your email sent to the BBC Trust, which was forwarded to me for reply. Your concerns were again brought to the attention of senior management in BBC Television (formerly BBC Vision) who responded as follows:

‘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.’

Please accept this as a response at Stage 2 of the BBC’s complaints process. If you remain unhappy you may ask the BBC Trust to consider an appeal within 20 working days. You can write to the BBC Trust at 180 Great Portland Street, London W1W 5QZ, and you should quote case number CAS-2218615-RZF0C3.

Full details of the complaints and appeals processes are on the BBC Trust website: (http://www.bbc.co.uk/bbctrust/contact/complaints_appeals/appeal_trust.shtml

Yours sincerely
Sarah Greatrex
Senior Complaints Advisor
BBC Audience Services

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Dear BBC Trust,

I have just received the [above] response from BBC Complaints.
This seems to be a perfunctory re-formulation of what has gone before (only with “did not fit editorially” replaced by “covered broader issues”), and most certainly does not evidence any effort to “directly address my concerns”.

I would be grateful, therefore, if the Trust could now investigate further.

Best wishes,

Joe