Reid jeopardises the fight against terrorism

Guest blogger Sunny accuses John Reid of jeopardising the fight against terrorism and calls on the h

It should be accepted wisdom by now that however liberal or progressive an MP may be, as soon as they are made Home Secretary they start spouting the most vile of Daily Mail editorials with gusto only Richard Littlejohn can muster.

Only in March John Reid was accused by Jon Cruddas MP of a "race to the bottom" for trotting out the typically misinformed and xenophobic diatribe that "foreigners" (was that any immigrants, illegal immigrants or asylum seekers?) of "stealing our benefits" (most are deliberately not allowed to work). Typically, all he did was add to the current confusion around the issue.

And then there are his constant warnings of "devastating consequences" of a terrorist attack, while he simultaneously warned against "scaremongering" on the nature of the threats. Typical.

But crunch-time for Reid has surely come over the alleged leaks from his own department over the recent terrorist raids. To briefly summarise: during the nine arrests in February of men who allegedly wanted to behead a Muslim soldier in the British army, journalists were briefed by an aide to Reid over the nature of the raids.

The Prime Minister rejected an independent inquiry on the basis that "as far as [he] was aware" there had been no leaks from ministers or civil servants. Except that many in the media already know this to be rubbish. So who will break ranks and reveal the culprit?

The Guardian investigation found that, “an aide to John Reid, the home secretary, was responsible for one of those leaks”.

Although the right of journalists to receive and report from anonymous sources must be protected, these breaches of confidence are an entirely different problem. As deputy-commissioner Peter Clarke pointed out last week, they compromised investigations, revealed sources of life-saving intelligence and "put lives at risk" during major investigations.

Even worse, wild speculation in the media, which was perhaps best illustrated during the Forest Gate raids, dents the confidence that British Muslims place with the police and intelligence services. And that, as Clarke pointed out, made it more difficult for the police to cooperate with those it needs to fight terrorism.

The leaks cannot be characterised as anything other than a gross act of unprofessionalism. Clarke rightly said the people responsible should be "thoroughly ashamed" of themselves. Since the buck stops with John Reid at the Home Office, who is likely to have had some knowledge of the leaks, why shouldn't he be held culpable?

It beggars belief that the Home Secretary should be allowed to get away with jeopardising the fight against terrorism for the sake of political expediency. We need a proper investigation into the issue. And it is time he stepped down.

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Britain's shrinking democracy

10 million people - more than voted for Labour in May - will be excluded from the new electoral roll.

Despite all the warnings the government is determined to press ahead with its decision to close the existing electoral roll on December 1. This red letter day in British politics is no cause for celebration. As the Smith Institute’s latest report on the switch to the new system of voter registration shows, we are about to dramatically shrink our democracy.  As many as 10 million people are likely to vanish from the electoral register for ever – equal to 20 per cent of the total electorate and greater than Labour’s entire vote in the 2015 general election. 

Anyone who has not transferred over to the new individual electoral registration system by next Tuesday will be “dropped off” the register. The independent Electoral Commission, mindful of how the loss of voters will play out in forthcoming elections, say they need at least another year to ensure the new accuracy and completeness of the registers.

Nearly half a million voters (mostly the young and those in private rented homes) will disappear from the London register. According to a recent HeraldScotland survey around 100,000 residents in Glasgow may also be left off the new system. The picture is likely to be much the same in other cities, especially in places where there’s greater mobility and concentrations of students.

These depleted registers across the UK will impact more on marginal Labour seats, especially  where turnout is already low. Conversely, they will benefit Tories in future local, Euro and general elections. As the Smith Institute report observers, Conservative voters tend to be older, home owners and less transient – and therefore more likely to appear on the electoral register.

The government continues to ignore the prospect of skewed election results owing to an incomplete electoral registers. The attitude of some Tory MPs hardly helping. For example, Eleanor Laing MP (the former shadow minister for justice) told the BBC that “if a young person cannot organize the filling in of a form that registers them to vote, they don’t deserve the right to vote”.  Leaving aside such glib remarks, what we do know is the new registers will tend to favour MPs whose support is found in more affluent rural and semi-rural areas which have stable populations.  

Even more worrying, the forthcoming changes to MPs constituencies (under the Boundary Review) will be based on the new electoral register. The new parliamentary constituencies will be based not on the voting population, but on an inaccurate and incomplete register. As Institute’s report argues, these changes are likely to unjustly benefit UKIP and the Conservative party.

That’s not to say that the voter registration system doesn’t need reforming.  It clearly does. Indeed, every evidence-based analysis of electoral registers over the last 20 years shows that both accuracy and completeness are declining – the two features of any electoral register that make it credible or not. But, the job must be done properly.  Casually leaving 10m voters off the electoral resister hardly suggests every effort has been made.

The legitimacy of our democratic system rests on ensuring that everyone can exercise their right to vote. This is a task which shouldn’t brook complacency or compromise.  We should be aiming for maximum voter registration, not settling for a system where one in five drop off the register.