Climate camp double agent: money well spent?

Apparently it cost £2.25m to fund Mark Kennedy’s undercover exploits. Was it really worth it?

Apparently, PC Mark Kennedy's infiltration of the green protest movement, which culminated in the policeman's unmasking by the campaigners who had thought of him as their friend for the best part of the past decade, cost an estimated £2.25m.

This seems like a lot. Even taking into account the fact that he seems to have won the affection of the protesters by bankrolling some of their activities (the way to impress green campaigners, apparently, is to have your own set of wheels) it's hard to imagine how he had to spend this much. Presumably he was just the kind of guy that can't say no.

Eventually he switched sides and declined to give evidence in the trial of the six protesters charged with conspiring to shut down the Ratcliffe-on-Soar Power Station in 2009.

Anxious to be sure that as much money as possible was well and truly wasted – as well as the last nine years of his life – he waited until after the trial had already racked up costs of £400,000 before doing so. That way he made sure that his name was definitively erased from the good books of both parties.

If a gaggle of mild-mannered green campaigners were worth spending £2.25m on, you can only assume that the Met has a snoop in every protest organisation in the country. That Father 4 Justice dressed up as a paunchy batman? Mole. He's probably not even a real dad.

At this very moment, the shadowy top brass of the Taxpayers' Alliance are looking at one another in their volcano lair, trying to figure out whether Kevin who does the accounts really hates regulation as much as he says he does. He talks like a sound free-marketeer, sure, but how can you know for certain? It could just be a ploy. He could be a cop – who doesn't even care about taxes all that much.

Caroline Lucas supported direct action on climate change – does this mean that there are moles in the Green Party?

Anyway, I digress. The important things are: a) how on earth can pretending to be an eco-campaigner justify annual expenses of a quarter of a million quid, and b) what other useful things could the Met be spending all that money on?

Useful things the police could have spent all that money on

  • Employing 50 actual policemen (ie, those not on extended Smoking Dope and Messing About leave) for a year.
  • 2,812 shiny new Tasers – why spend so much money investigating suspicious crusties when you can just keep them on the straight and narrow with the occasional paralysing zap?
  • Setting up two new five-horse mounted units and maintaining them for three years. Police horses are pretty and everyone can enjoy patting their glossy noses and/or running in blind panic as they charge in terrifying unison. A much better use of public money.
  • Keeping a police helicopter in the air for 4,500 hours. Think about all that invaluable surveillance time going to waste! (Incidentally, 4,500 hours is almost as much time as PC Mark Kennedy spent chilling out with a doobie and a nifty hat in nine years of sterling police work.)
  • 30 police dogs for 10 years. The number of police dogs was cut two years ago. The credit crisis was blamed at the time, but that's only because giving the real reason – a chronic drain on funds caused by maintaining the offbeat lifestyles of undercover agents – would have risked blowing Mark Kennedy's cover.
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Is defeat in Stoke the beginning of the end for Paul Nuttall?

The Ukip leader was his party's unity candidate. But after his defeat in Stoke, the old divisions are beginning to show again

In a speech to Ukip’s spring conference in Bolton on February 17, the party’s once and probably future leader Nigel Farage laid down the gauntlet for his successor, Paul Nuttall. Stoke’s by-election was “fundamental” to the future of the party – and Nuttall had to win.
 
One week on, Nuttall has failed that test miserably and thrown the fundamental questions hanging over Ukip’s future into harsh relief. 

For all his bullish talk of supplanting Labour in its industrial heartlands, the Ukip leader only managed to increase the party’s vote share by 2.2 percentage points on 2015. This paltry increase came despite Stoke’s 70 per cent Brexit majority, and a media narrative that was, until the revelations around Nuttall and Hillsborough, talking the party’s chances up.
 
So what now for Nuttall? There is, for the time being, little chance of him resigning – and, in truth, few inside Ukip expected him to win. Nuttall was relying on two well-rehearsed lines as get-out-of-jail free cards very early on in the campaign. 

The first was that the seat was a lowly 72 on Ukip’s target list. The second was that he had been leader of party whose image had been tarnished by infighting both figurative and literal for all of 12 weeks – the real work of his project had yet to begin. 

The chances of that project ever succeeding were modest at the very best. After yesterday’s defeat, it looks even more unlikely. Nuttall had originally stated his intention to run in the likely by-election in Leigh, Greater Manchester, when Andy Burnham wins the Greater Manchester metro mayoralty as is expected in May (Wigan, the borough of which Leigh is part, voted 64 per cent for Brexit).

If he goes ahead and stands – which he may well do – he will have to overturn a Labour majority of over 14,000. That, even before the unedifying row over the veracity of his Hillsborough recollections, was always going to be a big challenge. If he goes for it and loses, his leadership – predicated as it is on his supposed ability to win votes in the north - will be dead in the water. 

Nuttall is not entirely to blame, but he is a big part of Ukip’s problem. I visited Stoke the day before The Guardian published its initial report on Nuttall’s Hillsborough claims, and even then Nuttall’s campaign manager admitted that he was unlikely to convince the “hard core” of Conservative voters to back him. 

There are manifold reasons for this, but chief among them is that Nuttall, despite his newfound love of tweed, is no Nigel Farage. Not only does he lack his name recognition and box office appeal, but the sad truth is that the Tory voters Ukip need to attract are much less likely to vote for a party led by a Scouser whose platform consists of reassuring working-class voters their NHS and benefits are safe.
 
It is Farage and his allies – most notably the party’s main donor Arron Banks – who hold the most power over Nuttall’s future. Banks, who Nuttall publicly disowned as a non-member after he said he was “sick to death” of people “milking” the Hillsborough disaster, said on the eve of the Stoke poll that Ukip had to “remain radical” if it wanted to keep receiving his money. Farage himself has said the party’s campaign ought to have been “clearer” on immigration. 

Senior party figures are already briefing against Nuttall and his team in the Telegraph, whose proprietors are chummy with the beer-swilling Farage-Banks axis. They deride him for his efforts to turn Ukip into “NiceKip” or “Nukip” in order to appeal to more women voters, and for the heavy-handedness of his pitch to Labour voters (“There were times when I wondered whether I’ve got a purple rosette or a red one on”, one told the paper). 

It is Nuttall’s policy advisers - the anti-Farage awkward squad of Suzanne Evans, MEP Patrick O’Flynn (who famously branded Farage "snarling, thin-skinned and aggressive") and former leadership candidate Lisa Duffy – come in for the harshest criticism. Herein lies the leader's almost impossible task. Despite having pitched to members as a unity candidate, the two sides’ visions for Ukip are irreconcilable – one urges him to emulate Trump (who Nuttall says he would not have voted for), and the other urges a more moderate tack. 

Endorsing his leader on Question Time last night, Ukip’s sole MP Douglas Carswell blamed the legacy of the party’s Tea Party-inspired 2015 general election campaign, which saw Farage complain about foreigners with HIV using the NHS in ITV’s leaders debate, for the party’s poor performance in Stoke. Others, such as MEP Bill Etheridge, say precisely the opposite – that Nuttall must be more like Farage. 

Neither side has yet called for Nuttall’s head. He insists he is “not going anywhere”. With his febrile party no stranger to abortive coup and counter-coup, he is unlikely to be the one who has the final say.