The idiocy of Jonathan May-Bowles

There will be yet more "security" at the House of Commons.

Yesterday an idiot made it worse for many other people, and without any gain for anyone but "security" officials. The "pie" gesture was not even funny on its own terms; and an attack on any eighty-year old man is that of either an imbecile or a bully. The immediate consequence was that all the public, many of whom had waited up to eight hours, were cleared from the committee room.

But there will perhaps be another longer-lasting effect. Those charged with security at the Houses of Parliament hardly need any more excuse to add to their grand theatre of anti-terrorism. When I first visited the Palace of Westminster in the late 1980s, there was relatively little security, even though there was the clear and present danger of Irish republican attacks. And once you were in, you could walk around reasonably freely.

Now, there is as much ceremony getting into Parliament as when the Queen actually opens it. There are queues, photographs, machine guns, elaborate bag-searches, and very serious faces. The uniformed officials seem to revel in taking even trivial items from frightened visitors and exercising their moment of power. By the time you get through all this you are highly conscious of the power of Parliament's officials, and also the lack of your own.

And thanks to the idiot Jonathan May-Bowles this will undoubtedly get worse. It may well be that the public will be excluded from certain hearings, or partitioned off. Those seeking to legitimately lobby their Members of Parliament will be subjected to more intense searches and, indeed, humiliations by "security" officials.

One has no idea what he was hoping to achieve with his stunt; but we can be fairly certain what "security" officials will try to achieve off the back of it.

Addendum

Jonathan May-Bowles has now set out his account of the incident here.

 

David Allen Green is legal correspondent of the New Statesman. He is the author of the Jack of Kent blog and can be followed on Twitter and on Facebook.

David Allen Green is legal correspondent of the New Statesman and author of the Jack of Kent blog.

His legal journalism has included popularising the Simon Singh libel case and discrediting the Julian Assange myths about his extradition case.  His uncovering of the Nightjack email hack by the Times was described as "masterly analysis" by Lord Justice Leveson.

David is also a solicitor and was successful in the "Twitterjoketrial" appeal at the High Court.

(Nothing on this blog constitutes legal advice.)

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Amber Rudd's ignorance isn't just a problem for the laws she writes

Politicians' lack of understanding leads to the wrong laws - and leaves real problems unchecked. 

Amber Rudd’s interview with Andrew Marr yesterday is not going to feature in her highlights reel, that is for certain. Her headline-grabbing howler was her suggesting was that to fight terror “the best people…who understand the necessary hashtags” would stop extremist material “ever being put up, not just taken down”, but the entire performance was riddled with poorly-briefed errors.

During one particularly mystifying exchange, Rudd claimed that she wasn’t asking for permission to “go into the Cloud”, when she is, in fact, asking for permission to go into the Cloud.

That lack of understanding makes itself felt in the misguided attempt to force tech companies to install a backdoor in encrypted communications. I outline some of the problems with that approach here, and Paul Goodman puts it well over at ConservativeHome, the problem with creating a backdoor is that “the security services would indeed be able to travel down it.  So, however, might others – the agencies serving the Chinese and Russian governments, for example, not to mention non-state hackers and criminals”.

But it’s not just in what the government does that makes ministers’ lack of understanding of tech issues a problem. As I’ve written before, there is a problem where hate speech is allowed to flourish freely on new media platforms. After-the-fact enforcement means that jihadist terrorism and white supremacist content can attract a large audience on YouTube and Facebook before it is taken down, while Twitter is notoriously sluggish about removing abuse and hosts a large number of extremists on its site. At time of writing, David Duke, the former head of the Ku Klux Klan, has free use of YouTube to post videos with titles such as “CNN interview on Bannon exposes Jewish bias”, “Will the white race survive?” and “Stop the genocide of European mankind”. It’s somewhat odd, to put it mildly, that WhatsApp is facing more heat for a service that is enjoyed by and protects millions of honest consumers while new media is allowed to be intensely relaxed about hosting hate speech.

Outside of the field of anti-terror, technological illiteracy means that old-fashioned exploitation becomes innovative “disruption” provided it is facilitated by an app. Government and opposition politicians simultaneously decry old businesses’ use of zero-hours contracts and abuse of self-employment status to secure the benefits of a full-time employee without having to bear the costs, while hailing and facilitating the same behaviour provided the company in question was founded after 2007.

As funny as Rudd’s ill-briefed turn on the BBC was, the consequences are anything but funny. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.