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Named Persons

I have to confess to a secret vice: I enjoy reading law reports. My favourites are the Supreme Court judgments, but even the lowly Commercial Court can provide some enjoyable reading. I am not quite sure why I read them. Partly it is because many judges write beautifully clear English, partly because I quite enjoy knotty legal problems.

My attention was recently caught by reports of [2016] UKSC 51 (the “Named Persons” case). I suppose I should pause briefly to wail against LexisNexis and its ilk. They are for law reports what learned journal publishers are for university research. The problem LexisNexis has is that it does not own the copyright of law reports, so you might think that would make it difficult to charge lawyers large fees for providing them. But no.

RELX Group plc (reg no. 02746616) (Reed Elsevier Group plc until 2002) is dual listed. So RELX PLC is listed on the UK Stock Exchange (ticker LON-REL), current price £14.40, mkt cap £29.8 billion, and owns 52.9%. RELX NV is listed on the Amsterdam Stock Exchange (ticker AMS-REN), current price €15.02, mkt cap €32.8 billion, owns 47.1%. So over £50 billion market cap for repackaging material mainly already easily available, not bad.

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[share price of RELX PLC in pounds]

relxsp2

[share price of RELX NV in euros]

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[plot of euro against pound]

Those who enjoy such things might want to figure out the scope for arbitraging the two companies and the related currencies. Note that 2016 has seen a 20% rise in the euro, a flat euro price and a 17% rise in the sterling price. One would need to look carefully at the effect of currency movements on the profits of RELX Group.

Elsevier, of course, is a major academic journal publisher. In 1991 it took over Pergamon Press, the notorious Robert Maxwell (aka Jan Hoch ) vehicle – he being the first to grasp that university libraries bought almost any academic journal, no matter how useless. See here and here for rants about journals and academia that I wrote nearly a decade ago.

The wheeze for law reports seems to be that there is copyright in arrangement as well as content. Fortunately, the UK has got much better about providing free law reports. The Supreme Court reports are easily available on its own site, and the last five years of appeal court decisions on the government site. A more extensive range of reports, including High Court cases, is on bailii, which is funded by a large collection of Inns of Court, chambers, individual barristers, firms of solicitors and a handful of major companies (see sponsors).

The Named Persons case is one of a small number where statutes passed by Holyrood have been overturned by the courts as ultra vires. It is also a horror story which might give pause for thought to those eager to extract us from the European Court of Human Rights.

It started with GIRFEC published by the Scottish government in 2008:

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Like many disastrous schemes it was begun with good intentions, in this case a desire to get better outcomes for Scottish children. The original document (revised in 2012) has bizarrely bad layout and typography as well as the expected poor English (eg Core component 8: “Maximising the skilled workforce within universal services to address needs and risks as early as possible”). After several years of consultation the scheme was enshrined in the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 (“the Act”).

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The centrepiece of the Act is Parts 4 and 5 on Named Persons and the Child’s Plan, which were due to come into force in August this year. The basic idea was to improve coordination between the umpteen agencies which might come into contact with a child by assigning every child a “Named Person” responsible for the coordination.

In practice it was hoped that two benefits would flow: parents would have a single point of contact when they wanted help, and where intervention by the state was needed it would be delivered more effectively. The second was the difficulty. This was eloquently explained by a civil liberties campaigner in the Isle of Man.

I am answering this call for written evidence because the ‘Getting it Right for Every Child’ – GIRFEC policy contained in the Children and Young People (Scotland) Bill is very similar to the ‘Every Child Matters’ (ECM) policy introduced in the Isle of Man several years ago. That policy had adverse consequences for both the local community and children’s & families social services.

… First indications that ECM was causing problems [came a year after its introduction] when the Government had to ask the Tynwald for £498,000 additional funding for a further 10 children’s social workers. The Minister stated that due to new policies “workloads for new cases and for support to the Courts have risen by approximately 500% in the last year”. Fierce debate ensued in Tynwald …

The statistics are startling because there are just under 1000 children born per year in the Isle of Man. So, with circa 959 referrals to children’s social services per year, it is likely that most children will be the subject of a referral before they are 18 – with at least 70% of the referrals being utterly unnecessary. In plain terms, nearly three quarters of all children will be the subject of intrusive enquires by social services at some stage in their childhood. This hugely intrusive policy is a direct consequence of over broad referral criteria …

Evidence … cited a range of adverse consequences and public health issues resulting from over involvement with children’s social services. These include including fear of accessing medical care, distrust of health visitors, concealment of post natal illness, more marital separations and breakdowns and lack of help for those in need. The point being that parents, entirely understandably, fear needless involvement with children’s social services and, consequently, avoid contact with public authorities …

GIRFEC makes further deep inroads into the sanctity of family life. For example, the National Risk Framework 11 says a child is at risk if he/she is under 5 years, has more than 3 siblings, is adopted or a step-child, has a ‘difficult temperament’, parents are contesting contact, does not speak English, has a parent aged under 21, or a parent whose partner is not a biological parent, is a child that lacks trust towards ‘workers’ or shows culturally inappropriate behaviours. These risk indicators are over broad.

A miscellaneous group of parents and pressure groups sued, lost in the Court of Session (the top Scottish court), and appealed to the Supreme Court, where they got a unanimous judgment in their favour at the end of July this year.

The somewhat coded language of the (single) judgment indicated that the judges thought the Act was a dog’s breakfast of bad drafting, because of its obscure interaction with the Data Protection Act 1998, but ultimately concluded that was not sufficient reason to strike it out as ultra vires the Scotland Act 1998 (which gave Holyrood its limited powers).

On the other hand, they found that the Act did fall foul of article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (the right to privacy) and so Parts 4 and 5 had to be suspended whilst the Scottish government tried to redraft them.

The last word should go to the Scotsman (21 Oct 2016):

The ease of access that … [pressure groups] have to the centre of political decision making is one of the key characteristics of Scottish politics. This has led to the development of a revolving door … Former lobbyists now sit as MSPs and former MSPs work as lobbyists. Similarly, former civil servants have taken jobs with … [pressure groups]. Often these organisations receive a substantial part of their funding from the public purse and can have an important influence in shaping the development of Government policy and legislation …

The Scottish Government claimed that owing to the success of the [pilot] scheme in the Highlands in reducing referrals to the Children’s Panel, the scheme should be rolled out across the country. It worked closely with various children’s charities in developing the legislation. Understandably, these groups are keen to support any measures which they think might improve the outcomes for disadvantaged children.

[Deputy First Minister John Swinney claims] that … the pilot scheme … was responsible for a 68% decline in referrals to the Children’s Panel between 2007 and 2013. The problem is that a closer look at the data shows that the results in the Highland Council area are far from exceptional. Over the last 10 years there has been a decline in referrals across the whole of Scotland by 72.6 per cent. Highland ranks only 11th out of 32 local authorities in its track record on reducing referrals. Other councils which piloted the Named Person scheme, such as Angus and South Ayrshire, performed much worse, with Angus sitting at 20th and South Ayrshire at 30th in the ranking. Councils which did not pilot the scheme, such as Aberdeen and Glasgow, performed better than Highland with drops in referral rates of over 80 per cent. It appears, therefore, that the decline in referrals to the Children’s Panel is due to other factors …

One lesson … is the need for improved scrutiny of the evidence base which underpins new legislation. Too often decisions about which organisations to take oral evidence from are taken very early in the legislative process, before the deadline for submission of written evidence has expired. Parliamentary committees should wait until all the written evidence has been collated and read before deciding from whom to take oral evidence.

In other words, they meant well, but listened exclusively to charities and pressure groups worried about child abuse – and then, having made up their minds what to do, closed them to the evidence and tried to spin the data.

Box Office Phil

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[photo from government website]

Hammond’s ironic nickname is because his boring interviews are guaranteed not to contain unpleasant surprises, witness this extract from his recent Conference speech:

Successful negotiation with the EU27 will demand patience, experience, meticulous planning and steely resolution. And I know of no-one better-equipped to lead us through those negotiations than our brilliant new Prime Minister, Theresa May. And we should approach that negotiation with self-confidence.

For those who have failed to notice him entirely over the last few years, here are the basics:

b 4 Dec 1995 (60)
Shenfield School (local state school in Essex, now an Academy). 1st in PPE University College, Oxford.
1977-83 Speywood Medical Ltd, a small medical equipment company, long since taken over.
17 Jan 1984 set up Castlemead Ltd (reg no. 01783537), a housebuilding company. Its main subsidiary appears to be Castlemead Group Ltd (reg no. 02985505) inc 1 Nov 1994, 2/3 owned. Its most recent accounts showed turnover down to £10M and £0.75M loss. Castlemead Ltd is now owned by a trust, presumably for Hammond’s benefit – the standard device for claiming that a member of the government has no influence over a commercial company which he owns.
He also seems to have made a significant income from consulting work before entering Parliament.

An article in the New Statesman in 2009 claimed he was worth £9M, £5M of which was Castlemead. There does not appear to be enough information yet in the public domain to assess what Castlemead is worth today (if anything).

chairman Lewisham East Cons Assoc 1989-96
Elected 1997 (newly created) Runnymed & Weybridge, majority 9875
1997: Hague made him front bench spokesman for Health
2001: Duncan Smith moved him to Trade & Industry
2002: Howard moved him to Local Government
2005: [post election] Howard promoted him to shadow Chief Sec
2005: Cameron moved him to Work & Pensions
2007: [when Brown became PM] Cameron moved him to Chief Sec
2010: [post election] SoS Transport
2011: [post Liam Fox resignation] SoS Defence
2014: Foreign Sec
2016: May moved him to Chancellor

I have just wasted an hour trying to find out rather more about him than the bare bones above, with precious little success. I could find nothing that might give me some insight. His Conference speech was loyal, but fairly dull and uninformative.

Curiously, Anthony Hilton, the long-standing Evening Standard business columnist in the Evening Standard, whom I quite like, found much to criticise in Hammond’s Conference speech. His article yesterday was headed:

Phil’s six impossible things to do before Brexit

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Hilton’s first point was to quote some data from a recent report by Simon Tilford (its deputy director) for the Centre for European Reform ( pdf ). The CER is a think-tank founded 20 years ago, broadly pro-EU, which appeared to campaign for Remain. Tilford (an economist formerly with the Economist and Nomura) claims that whilst the UK’s GDP growth appears better than other leading European countries:

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that is because we are looking at GDP in local currency (in 2010 prices). But the pound has fallen over the period since 2000 from about 1.6 Euros to 1.14 Euros

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If one adjusts for that, and indeed goes further using “purchasing power exchange rates”, then one gets a different result

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I think I mainly come away thinking that this kind of comparison is tricky, but that we seem to have done better than Italy and Spain recently, and not too much worse than Germany. I certainly cannot see much reason to share Hilton’s gloom about the UK’s growth prospects outside the EU.

He is obviously correct to dismiss Hammond’s

We will do it by making the British economy the most outward-looking, most dynamic, most competitive, high wage, high skilled, low tax economy in the world” as hype. His comments on UK productivity require a whole article to analyse properly.

as hype, and I agree with him that the thorny subject of the UK’s productivity requires a full article, but then he has a canard about all our best (academic) researchers will be leaving because of worries about losing their EU research grants. The government has already indicated that it will essentially made good those grants post-Brexit from UK funds.

He then worries that many Silicon Roundabout entrepreneurs are immigrants but they would no longer be allowed in under a points-based system. That is obviously a reasonable concern, but we are way off getting that kind of detail about future immigration policy agreed. The domestic pressure for less immigration is hardly coming from high-tech areas in London, it is coming from depressed Northern towns in low-tech or old-tech areas.

Hilton then went on at some length about the housing shortage and the difficulty of dealing with it. I agree, but it is hard to complain about Hammond’s passing praise for one of his colleagues getting started in that area. Finally, Hilton complains:

Sixth was a statement breath-taking it its audacity from a Chancellor and a government about to embark on the biggest and potentially most reckless economic gamble this country as ever seen. “Conservatives … carry the burden of ensuring that Labour can never again wreck the British economy”.

I find that a revealing complaint. Surely democrats have to take democracy seriously. Hilton may spend his time hobnobbing with overpaid businessmen who would rather not face the challenges of leaving the EU, but the electorate decisively decided that was what it wanted. Fighting a rearguard action to reverse the decision is not helpful. What we need now is to make Brexit as successful as we can.

Spoilt brats

Homage a Melanie Phllips (65), commentator.

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My father’s father – who, according to family mythology, was given the name Phillips because the immigration officer couldn’t pronounce his Polish name – would stand on the street corner every week in the often unrealised hope of being selected for work.

[From her “Guardian Angel: My story, my Britain”, 2013, revised for CreateSpace Aug 2016]

It is just over two weeks ago that we heard the bizarre story of the six-hour closure of London City Airport (LCY). It has proved a magnet for commentators. Nine people rowed across to the runway and chained themselves in a line as a protest that “Black Lives Matter”. So far, so good.

We all have our hobby horses. One of mine is the bizarre length of time it takes the police and other authorities to clear away obstructions to transport links. I am in danger of apoplexy every time I read yet another account of the police closing a motorway or other key link for hours whilst they prat about collecting evidence about the death of one of those involved. Just as bad are the endless delays whilst London Underground gets a “sick” passenger off a tube train (although to be fair that one has speeded up a little over the last few years). Any attempts to protest about this nonsense tends to bring outrage from those who think I should have more concern for the dead or sick. It has nothing to do with that; it is about devising and implementing procedures to avoid holding up thousands of people (at huge cost) unnecessarily.

But even by normal standards leaving the protesters alone for six hours seems to me completely bizarre. I would have thought a runway was a protected space under the Terrorism Acts, but even if not there is clearly good reason to clear them away in the first five minutes. The idea that a chain is a significant problem is ludicrous. Any cycle thief can give you a pair of bolt cutters that will cut through almost any chain effortlessly. For once I agree with Jeremy Clarkson who published a rant about it at the weekend. He could even be right that the basic reason for this kind of nonsense is the self-importance of the minor officials involved who see it as their moment of glory.

So my main interest when I first heard about LCY was why on earth it had taken so long to clear away nine protesters. But there soon turned out to be some other odd features. News junkies and others will know that Black Lives Matter started in 2013 with the acquittal of George Zimmerman, a security guard at a gated community in Florida, for killing Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager, in 2012.

Black Lives Matter is not an organized protest movement. According to Wikipedia, the moniker first appeared as hashtag #BlackLivesMatter on Twitter. I first noticed it after the 2014 incident in Ferguson, Missouri when the local police apparently shot and killed Michael Brown (18) as he was running away. After endless investigations it seems (from blood spatter evidence) that Brown was actually moving towards the shooter (see Wikipedia for more details).

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[a CNN interview in July 2016 with a London activist supporting the US protests]

Clearly too many black Americans are getting shot by the authorities. Of course, the picture is complicated and protesters are often getting it wrong, but on the whole they seem to have a good deal to protest about. A few months ago, we started to get “solidarity” protests in Europe. Fair enough.

But early radio accounts suggested that the nine at LCY were protesting about the lack of respect for Black Lives in the UK. Specifically, global warming was killing disproportionately many blacks because the resulting smog was worse in London than elsewhere and blacks lived disproportionately in London. So bizarrely mad as to defy rational comment. Bring on the comedians.

Indeed, there was a kind of stunned silence for a few days. Then the first comment I saw in the serious press was by a comedian with a comment column. Then two days ago came a lengthy article by Melanie Phillips (MP) in the Times.

I quite enjoy listening to MP – she is a regular on Radio 4 – and reading the occasional article, although she seems to suffer from a common tendency amongst those with Jewish ancestry of being over-eager to excuse Israel’s failings. On this occasion she started by referring to Radical Chic ( pdf ), a 1970 essay by Tom Wolfe on how New York’s cultural elite ludicrously lionised the Black Panthers.

She went on to name one of the Nine as Natalie Twisleton-Wykeham-Fiennes. The surname will be familiar to Old Wykehamists. I am fairly sure that the boy who at the end of the half offered the entire Odyssey, Iliad and Aeneid, plus several other works, all in the original Greek and Latin, as the lines he had learnt during the half, was a Twisleton-Wykeham-Fiennes (but I have just spent five minutes failing to pin down the name, or indeed find the story online).

In any case, it emerged the day after the incident that none of the Nine was actually black. MP’s headline was

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MP claims that the rationale was not the effect of global warming on London, but its disproportionate effect on sub-Saharan Africa and hence on blacks. That makes slightly more sense, although still bizarre. But MP was unsympathetic. After noting that a colleague of the Nine in the self-elected Black Lives Matter UK had jetted off to a luxurious beach resort in Brazil to address a crowd of feminists, she continued

… such people want to do good but their hypocrisy is epic. Posing as anti-racists, they stigmatise the whole of white society by smearing it as institutionally hostile to black people. Yet they themselves hardly achieve what they aim to do …

I think I can live with being smeared by the likes of Natalie TWF, but MP’s basic point is correct. She goes on to quote from Shelby Steele (70), whom I had not previously heard about. He claims white anti-racists have turned black people into permanent victims and that

no group in human history has been lifted to excellence or competitiveness by another group

So I have just ordered

contentchar

to find out more …

Unfortunately MP then starts to go slightly off the rails. After

Obviously, only the spoilt and self-indulgent can afford to posture in this way

which borders on the gratuitously insulting, she goes on to berate Robert Fisk, one of my favourite Middle East correspondents:

This pathology of self-hatred was brought into ironic relief in 2001 when … Robert Fisk was beaten up in Afghanistan by a gang of young robbers who smashed stones into his face and head. Whom did Fisk blame for this brutal assault? Why the West, of course, for inflicting humiliation and misery on the Muslim world.

That is not quite the way I read him. I thought he was attacking Western policy in Afghanistan. There is then a bizarre finale in which she claims that

… white guilt creates disorder … The weaker society is, the more protest is likely even when there is no injustice.

That seems to me fairly confused. Maybe it is influenced by her “Israel can do no wrong” credo.

Quick wins

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[George Joffe lecturing in Saudi Arabia in April 2016]

Q63 [Crispin Blunt, Tory chairman] … Sticking with Libya, is it also a fact that there has been a lack of investment in our foreign policy apparatus, in the sense that we simply do not know what is happening on the ground? …

[George Joffe, Kings College, London] I think that if you want to understand that particular problem, you need to go further back, ironically enough, to the Thatcher Government and the way in which the relationship between Downing Street and the Foreign Office changed at that time. That marked the beginning of a decay of the role of the Foreign Office as a key element in the construction of policy in this country.

[extract from the Oral Evidence preceding this report:]

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Last week the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee came out with an surprisingly critical report on the UK’s role in toppling Colonel Gaddafi in Libya in the first half of 2011. You may recall that, despite memories of Iraq and Afghanistan, the UK’s intervention was supported by the Commons 557 to 13. Yet now a Committee on which the Tories have an absolute majority has unanimously slammed David Cameron (who declined to give evidence). This is almost half of the summary:

… the Government failed to identify that the threat to civilians was overstated and that the rebels included a significant Islamist element. By the summer of 2011, the limited intervention to protect civilians had drifted into an opportunist policy of regime change. That policy was not underpinned by a strategy to support and shape post-Gaddafi Libya. The result was political and economic collapse, inter-militia and inter-tribal warfare, humanitarian and migrant crises, widespread human rights violations, the spread of Gaddafi regime weapons across the region and the growth of ISIL in North Africa. Through his decision making in the National Security Council, former Prime Minister David Cameron was ultimately responsible for the failure to develop a coherent Libya strategy …

I found that sufficiently surprising that I read almost the whole of the report and the oral evidence. No doubt part of the explanation is that Theresa May is not unhappy to see her predecessor criticised. The Committee has: 6 Tory members, Crispin Blunt (chairman), John Baron, Adam Holloway, Daniel Kawczynski, Andrew Rosindell, Nadhim Zahawi; 4 Labour members, Ann Clwyd, Mike Gapes, Mark Hendrick and Yasmin Qureshi; and one SNP member, Stephen Gethins. John Baron was the only Tory MP to vote against on 21 March 2011. Yasmin Qureshi was one of 10 Labour MPs who voted against. Stephen Gethins did not vote. The other 8 members of the FAC all voted in favour. So it is unsurprising that John Baron wanted a hostile report and unsurprising that the 5 opposition members did. But that still leaves 5 Tory members (including the chairman) who voted in favour of action in Libya and now went along with a highly critical report.

Gaddafi had seized power in a coup in 1969. In the UK he was widely considered undesirable, partly because he helped the IRA over an extended period with money and weapons, and partly because of the shooting of PC Yvonne Fletcher in 1984.

Then we had the downing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie on 21 Dec 1988. This is a confusing story which I have never had time to look into properly. Rightly or wrongly, a Libyan was blamed by the UK and German authorities and Gaddafi was regarded as beyond the pale for refusing to extradite him. There was always a vocal minority in the UK who doubted this version of events, but not in the US whose citizens constituted a majority (188) of the 270 people killed.

Tony Blair decided the time had come for a normalisation of relations with Libya and had a series of meetings with Gaddafi and his son Saif, widely tipped to be his eventual successor. The 2004 “deal in the desert” led to substantial compensation from Libya for the Lockerbie crash, and an apparent normalisation of relations, with intelligence cooperation and commercial deals.

Reading the oral evidence, it seems fairly clear that the Labour members saw an opportunity to put the deal in the desert in a positive light and to suggest that it should have been possible to resolve the crisis by negotiation, given the UK’s unusually good relations with Libya since the Blair initiative.

Read on its own, the oral evidence from William Hague is convincing. He expressed no enthusiasm at all for the UK’s intervention.

Q153 … We faced the imminent possibility, in effect on the borders of Europe, of very widespread bloodshed. There was an international request for assistance and intervention, and facing that possibility or probability in a situation where you can intervene—of course, there may be other situations where you do not have the means to intervene—I think that is the right thing to do. That is not to say, as the Committee will know, that everything subsequently turned out to our satisfaction, to put it mildly, but I think it was the right decision to take and I would take it again …

Q286 … Foreign policy and decisions of this kind are a choice between unpalatable alternatives. Of course, when you start a military intervention, you are taking a step into the unknown. Very few military actions in history have had a certain course once embarked on. But, on the other hand, as we discussed when I came to the Committee before, we had to make a decision about what to do in the face of the threat to Benghazi, and the possibility—indeed, the stated intention—that the Gaddafi Government would kill large numbers of people.

The UN had rapidly passed a resolution authorising military action. There was subsequently some dispute about its wording. The pretext for the action was to stop Gaddafi slaughtering civilians. Initially, the discussion had been about a no-fly zone. There was no enthusiasm from any Western power for “boots on the ground” – Iraq was too fresh in every politician’s mind. Obama declined to participate at all (except maybe by providing electronic intelligence), but convinced the other leaders that a no-fly zone was a waste of time. To stop bloodshed you would need more than that. So Resolution 1973 (pdf) passed by the Security Council on 17 March 2011 included:

The Security Council … Acting under Chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations …

4. Authorizes Member States that have notified the Secretary-General, acting nationally or through regional organizations or arrangements, and acting in cooperation with the Secretary-General, to take all necessary measures, notwithstanding paragraph 9 of resolution 1970 (2011), to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, including Benghazi, while excluding a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory, and requests the Member States concerned to inform the Secretary-General immediately of the measures they take pursuant to the authorization conferred by this paragraph which shall be immediately reported to the Security Council;

The Russians and others subsequently complained that they had not realized this wording was wide enough to allow planes to attack (for example) a desert convoy including Gaddafi, but it manifestly is (on standard “command and control” doctrines), so that did not get them anywhere.

I found interesting Hague’s evidence that the initiative had come entirely from Nicholas Sarkozy (then president of France) and that the UK had agreed to tag along extremely quickly.

Various Committee members tried quite hard to dent Hague’s line, particularly the imminence of widespread bloodshed, but with little or no success.

The Defence Secretary at the time, the appalling Liam Fox (see here, here, here, and here), backed him up and also failed to give the Committee anything to support a critical report. On the imminence of the slaughter of civilians, Fox pointed to:

Q150 … Gaddafi’s 70-minute diatribe on TV against his own people—if you remember, he was talking about how he was going to repeat some of the crimes of history, praising Tiananmen Square, Waco and the destruction of Fallujah, and saying that he was going to visit this on Benghazi. On the night of 21 February, Libyan special forces landed in Benghazi and attacked with hammers and swords the protesters who were camping outside the courthouse, who included senior lawyers and judges. It was very clear what was about to happen …

It turned out that Tony Blair (who also gave oral evidence) had rung Gaddafi on his own initiative to persuade him to back off, without success, but his evidence did not help the Committee much towards its apparent goal of criticising Cameron. Nor did the evidence of David Richards (64) who had taken over as Chief of Defence Staff six months before the Libyan adventure.

At this point, I had not read the report itself, just the oral evidence mentioned above (which I always find the most interesting part of investigations by Select Committees), so I was puzzled by the newspaper headlines about the Committee’s attack on Cameron. How had the Committee justified it?

The answer turned out to lie in the oral evidence of George Joffe and Alison Pargeter (not the actress, but a researcher who was at King’s College 1999-2007 and is currently a senior research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute).

They both gave fairly extensive evidence that Gaddafi’s bark was much worse than his bite. He was well aware of the limits to his power and the need not to upset the (maybe 100 different) tribes in Libya. Anyway his bloodcurdling threats had to be qualified by the references to “beards”: he was only threatening Islamic extremists. If you looked carefully at his past actions he had behaved with moderation towards non-combatants.

I re-read Hague’s evidence with a sinking feeling. Was this, unbelievably, given the proximity of all the Iraq inquests, yet another case of politicians reacting to public emotion whipped up by the media, without troubling to establish the most basic facts?

It is well-documented that Blair added the job of Foreign Secretary to his prime ministerial responsibilities and hired a separate adviser so he did not have the bother of reading FCO briefs. But Hague was Foreign Secretary. Surely he did not ignore FCO briefing? Or was he just being loyal to his former boss? Maybe he had argued ferociously against the Libyan adventure, but now felt compelled to defend it? But if so why did he not resign at the time?

Another disturbing strand was the Dubwuh/Sarkozy parallel. Bush as Commander in Chief chose to be guided by Dick Cheney on the invasion of Iraq (for reasons I have never managed to fathom – Dubwuh is far from stupid). I eventually concluded that Blair followed him all the way out of embarrassment (a much under-rated motivation) – he kept getting sucked in deeper even as he was realizing it was all a mistake. Surely Cameron did not do the same with Sarkozy?

Charles Judson Harwood Jr (1942-2013)

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I first heard of Charles Harwood two and a half years ago when I was researching the downing of Iran Air flight 655. Unknown to me, he was already dead at that point. He had a blog on ntlworld.com.

NTL Inc was a cable television company. Barclay Knapp had set up CableTel in 1993 following the deregulation of the UK cable market. It acquired some local networks and then in 1996 acquired National Transcommunications Limited a transmission network which had been owned by the Independent Broadcasting Authority (the bizarre history of how the regulator came to own the hardware for a network is outlined here). Two years later CableTel changed its name to NTL. It spent heavily and went into Chapter 11 after the Great Telecoms Crash in 2002. I thought I had written about that crash (which dwarfed the better-known dot-com crash around the same time), but cannot locate the article! Here is a summary from the Economist of 18 Jul 2002:

The telecoms bust is some ten times bigger than the better-known dotcom crash: the rise and fall of telecoms may indeed qualify as the largest bubble in history. Telecoms firms have run up total debts of around $1 trillion. And as if this were not enough, the industry has also disgraced itself by using fraudulent accounting tricks in an attempt to conceal the scale of the disaster. WorldCom, which “misclassified” $3.8 billion in network-maintenance costs as capital spending so as to hide huge losses, teeters on the verge of bankruptcy. If it goes under, it will be the biggest failure in business history, putting even Enron’s demise in the shade.

[3 days later WorldCom, controlled by Bernard Ebbers, filed for Chapter 11. AFter much legal manoeuvring it ended up controlled by federal judge Jed Rakoff and in Feb 2005 was acquired by Verizon for $8 billion. Ebbers started a 25-year sentence for securities fraud (aged 65) in Sep 2006.]

NTL had debts of a mere $18 billion. In Chapter 11 it converted over $11 billion into shares and split itself into NTL Inc (covering UK and Ireland) and NTL Europe Inc. NTL Inc emerged from Chapter 11 and by mid 2005 had debt of £1.5 billion and 3.2 million customers. In March 2006 it organized a reverse takeover by Telewest (a UK listed cable company). More or less simultaneously talks were going on with Virgin Mobile and a further merger was agreed in June 2006. The company was rebranded as Virgin Media plc in 2007.

Harwood’s blog seems to have survived until early 2014, because the link in my article was to homepage.ntlworld.com But more recently Virgin Media must have reorganised that blog site and killed the links. The blog still survives on Wayback, although I cannot immediately locate his piece on Iran Air 655.

lastmemories1

I had not heard of last-memories.com until today, when google directed me to the pages on Harwood as I was researching a (tenuously related) story on Libya. A quick check on Alexa shows that it is a relatively small site with audience almost entirely confined to the US. It also seems to have been going downhill over the last year. But I confess that I found the account of Harwood’s life affecting:

He lived two distinctly different lives. He came from a conservative two parent Baptist Southern family raised with Country Clubs and top schools. He dutifully became an attorney like his father, married an English debutante, had two bright and shiny blond children, and settled into high society Tennessee.

But then the rebel started to emerge. He insisted on riding his motorcycle to the law firm to work. He got easily sidetracked by other things, like electrical engineering, photography, and music. And other girls. He got divorced and remarried, had two more children, lived in Saudi Arabia and then moved to London to start his own International Tax newsletter.

Eventually he shunned not only his first family, but also a second, as well as his father and sister and his many friends and admirers in Tennesse by disappearing into a different life in London with his two parrots, rarely to be heard from. He gave up his successful law practice to research politics and news like a conspiracy theory movie plot, until he was all but destitute.

But his friends and neighbors in London tell a story of a man they called “CJ”, much beloved and admired; just a very different one than the one his family knew: one who kept chickens and pigeons and lived in a big parrot cage with mounds of newspaper.

His daughter Rebecca wrote:

I remember . . .
When I was 12, a bunch of boxes showed up on the doorstep. It was a “computer”, only nobody knew what that word was, and there was nobody to help set it up. My mother told me to figure it out or get rid of it, so I figured it out. It was an Apple IIe, with the large floppy disks that you used to load the program, then swap the diskette out for a data disk. I only had a game, Wizardry, and a word processor. Eventually I got a second disk drive, and then lo and behold, a HARD DRIVE. Can you imagine, storing the programs in like a big jukebox? I think Dad was training me to type set his newsletter. I never did that, but I had such a huge jumpstart on everyone else, I became a computer tech. Thanks Dad.

I remember . . .
Dad’s magazine Taxes International generated lots of FANTASTIC stamps from all over the world. I still have an enormous collection of stamps.

I remember . . .
We would visit Dad every year until we were 14. About that time, he moved out of the house with Christy, and moved into his office with lots of parrots. There was parrot poop everywhere. I can’t believe he lived there. The last time I saw him I was 18, visiting during a year living in Germany. He called a few days before my marriage because he was in Tennesse visiting his father who had died. I didn’t get to go to the funeral or see him because of the wedding.

The Apple IIe was released in 1983 and sold for 11 years. But assuming Harwood was one of the first to buy it, Rebecca was born in 1971, so is now 45.

I understand her comments about parrots. One of the stranger people I have met lived in a vast, under-repaired house near the border between N Wales and Cheshire. It contained: a vast amount of antique furniture, which arguably belonged to a previous boyfriend, whom I also know (quite independently, because he married another friend); a vast collection of antique clothes, acquired over decades at charity shops; and a large collection of parrots, some stuffed, some alive. I can still remember sitting in the large kitchen eating breakfast as parrots periodically swooped overhead, and I wondered if, like pigeons, they were also liable to dive-bomb.

The house had been acquired for her by a later boyfriend, who believed that it would be a terrific property investment, because she was expert at refurbishing properties cheaply. Such are the follies of those who fail to realize that property is a get-poor-quick scheme unless you take it seriously. Timing is far more important than the cost of refurbishment.

But I guess the reason I found the whole Harwood saga so affecting is because it seems perilously close to my own life.