Monday, 4 February 2008

The Late Lunch Briefing

Another week, another scandal...

A new week, a new political scandal. This latest one is, I suspect, a storm in a teacup in terms of the government and opposition. The bugging of Tooting MP Sadiq Khan having a private conversation with a constituent whilst visiting him in prison is today's headline story. There are a few interesting things that have struck me about this latest story - though I am sure that after we hear Jack Straw’s statement there will be a few more.

Was the letter sent?

Firstly, David Davis’ claim that he sent a letter to Downing Street last December telling them of this story and No.10 denying all knowledge of any correspondence. Why would David Davis lie about this? And why would no.10 deny this?

The case against DD

Well, it does seem strange that if DD did write to No.10 nearly two months ago about something he considers very serious, why has he only decided to follow it up now? Perhaps it is just coincidence that this story has come out at the same time as the first negative press the Tories have received since last summer. Perhaps not.

The case against No.10

The motive for No.10 denying this is if they were the ones who authorised the bugging directly and are attempting a cover up. This seems highly unlikely to me. The government will be seriously damaged (again) if they are found out to be behind this – particularly if it was either Brown or Jacqui Smith who is directly behind it. I just don’t think they are though. I suspect this is either the police or MI5’s doing. Again, it may well be damaging to either of them – especially if it turns out Sir Ian Blair had a say in it – enough people want to see his head roll to make this story big.

The case against the Wilson Doctrine

The second interesting part of this story is the idea of the Wilson Doctrine. Why should MPs be exempt from having their phones bugged, but the rest of us aren’t? This just sounds a little bit like the MPs having one rule for themselves and another for the rest of us. It just adds to the perception of double standards that the expenses debate is showing up. I understand that an MP should have a the right to private conversations with their constituents, but then again I should have the right to a private conversation with my friends. If the powers that be see the need to bug an individual then I don’t see why an MP is any different.

Not who was bugged, but who authorised it and why that are the important elements

Surely this whole story should be not so much about who was being bugged but who authorised the bugging and why. If it turns out that it was some two-bit copper who didn’t go down the correct channels then heads should roll. If there was a legitimate reason – e.g. a serious threat to national security - and the right and proper processes were taken, then I do not see a problem.

Personally I am very suspect of the growing surveillance society and this may well be a good opportunity for the government not only to move on from an outdated 1960s convention but also to review who and what is ethical to be bugged. Maybe if our MPs were under the same laws and conventions as the rest of us, they might not be so quick to allow our conversations to be listened in to.


Just seen this on the BBC. It looks like it was a "Thames Valley Police Officer" who took the decision. As I suspected Ministers were not consulted. Nick Robinson is also saying that Khan was not the intended target of the bugging. A storm in a teacup indeed.

The real plus out of this is the exposure of the Wilson Doctrine again and maybe we can update this outdated convention that paints the picture of MPs being above the law.

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