The return of the rave should put nightclubs on the Government’s radar

4 Jul

When I borrowed the interviewer’s chair for the Moggcast earlier this month, I took the opportunity to ask about the Government’s approach to the nightlife industry.

My concern was that as lockdown gradually eases, there was a danger that particular groups or sectors risked getting left behind, trapped in a system which is gradually getting less onerous for society as a whole.

Of course, clubs aren’t the only part of the cultural sector under threat: some theatres are already closing. And it isn’t difficult to see why the Government isn’t in a hurry to let nightspots re-open, as their high-footfall, low-margin business models are almost uniquely ill-suited to the era of social distancing.

But clubs pose a challenge which things like theatres don’t, namely that young people seem decidedly unwilling simply to wait for the Prime Minister’s say-so to go out.

Instead, frustrated clubbers are helping to fuel a dramatic resurgence in illegal raves. (Wildcat stagings of popular plays and musicals are not yet in evidence.)

This isn’t entirely a new phenomenon. The UK rave scene has endured, albeit with a much lower profile, since its Nineties heyday, sustained by a backbone of amateur enthusiasts and privately-owned soundsystems. These events occasionally get shut down by the police but are no scourge on society.

Yet there is a big difference between this semi-private fringe and a party scene which replaces shuttered clubs outright. Larger crowds of less-experienced party-goers means an increased likelihood of injury and crime, not to mention much greater disruption to nearby communities.

If this situation continues over the summer, it also becomes more and more likely that organised crime will start moving into this space. Such groups can clear huge sums off ticket sales, use their events to push drugs, and have the infrastructure to rebound from equipment seizures or other setbacks in ways the amateurs can’t.

Worse still, if dire industry predictions do come true and hundreds or thousands of nightlife venues shut their doors, the gangsters moving into the party scene could be well-positioned to buy up vacant clubs and move into the official scene when Covid restrictions are finally eased.

Speaking on LBC today, the Prime Minister was pressed on the timeline for opening various businesses, including gyms. But there is little sign that clubs, which probably lack much of a constituency at Westminster, are on the Government’s radar: Resident Advisor notes that the ‘Our Plan to Rebuild’ document mentions them only once. This needs to change.

There may not be a good answer. It is indeed difficult to imagine how such venues could operate with social distancing in place. But this must be weighed against not only the relatively low risk Covid-19 poses to the young, but the obvious fact that they appear ready and willing to take those risks with or without the Government’s permission. The question isn’t whether people will go out this summer; it’s who profits.

Henry Hill: Johnson prepares to take a more ‘robust’ line on the Union… but muzzles devosceptics

2 Jul

Fight for the Union: Government mulls ‘devolution revolution’… but tries to muzzle Tory critics

Earlier this week, the Times reported that ministers are considering setting up new, UK-wide economic and security bodies as part of a bid to enhance the standing of the British Government in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.

This move could finally mark an end to the previous practice of feebly handing over reserved powers to the devolved institutions, even when this risked great damage to the Union, in the name of the “spirit of devolution”.

Apparently, “Tory ministers are preparing to be more “robust” with their SNP counterparts in taking responsibility for macroeconomic and security issues”, and ideas will be brought forward by a new Union Policy Implementation Committee, supported by a Downing Street-based ‘Union Unit’.

This may be some comfort to the Scottish Conservatives, many of whom are deeply concerned that the Prime Minister doesn’t grasp the scale of the danger posed to the Union by the next Holyrood elections. (Of course, holding a referendum is one thing ministers could be ‘more robust’ about.)

It also comes in the same week as Boris Johnson’s high-profile clash with Nicola Sturgeon over the latter’s threat to start quarantining visitors from England. Following the ugly politics we have already seen from the Welsh Government, this highlights once again the real damage the ‘Four Nations’ approach to the Union, so thoughtlessly endorsed by minister after minister, is doing to the integrity of our country.

But there are apparently limits to the boldness of this approach. This week Guido Fawkes reported that the whips have been cracking down on Conservative MPs who want to break ranks and criticise devolution. This is further proof that the divisions we revealed in May are not going away, and will continue to exacerbate the coalition-building dilemma faced by the Welsh Tories.

For their part, the ruling devophiles amongst the Cardiff Bay leadership are reportedly doubling-down on their efforts to excise wrongthink on this question: apparently expressing devosceptic views is enough to get even already approved candidates summoned back for re-assessment.

But silencing such critics will only slow (even further) the Government’s painfully slow awakening to the dangers of the current constitutional situation. We must hope that, like the Eurosceptics before them, it will not be long until some true believers slough off the whip on this particular question.

Elsewhere this week Joanna Cherry MP, an ally of Alex Salmond and prominent figure on the SNP’s ‘fundamentalist’ wing, called on the Nationalists to be prepared to make a bid for independence without a referendum.

Plaid Cymru launches investigation after Senedd candidate accused of antisemitism

The Welsh Nationalists have launched an investigation after a prominent Jewish organisation called for one of their candidates to be permanently barred from the Party over an antisemitic tweet.

According to Wales Online, high-profile Plaid activist Sahar Al-Faifi tweeted the same claim about Israel training US police officers which ended up seeing Rebecca Long-Bailey sacked from the Labour front bench.

This is not the first time this has happened: Al-Faifi was previously suspended from Plaid over a series of antisemitic social media posts published in 2014, but was since reinstated. Apparently the Nationalists would not confirm whether or not she remains a candidate.

DUP call for O’Neill to ‘step aside’ over funeral attendance

The Democratic Unionist Party are calling on Michelle O’Neill, the leader of Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland and Deputy First Minister, to step aside to allow a police investigation into a republican funeral held earlier this week.

O’Neill, who has repeatedly urged the public to maintain social distancing and obey other public health guidelines, flagrantly breached them at the funeral of Bobby Storey, an IRA terrorist and senior Sinn Fein official.

Now the DUP are saying that it will be difficult for Arlene Foster, the First Minister, to appear alongside O’Neill at the Executive’s coronavirus press conferences. For her part, the Sinn Fein leader says that she is “satisfied” that her actions were within public health advice.

Anglesey constituency protected from ‘radical’ boundary shake-up

ITV reports that the Government has committed to protecting the boundaries of Ynys Môn, the parliamentary constituency which corresponds to the Isle of Anglesey, ahead of “the most radical shake-up of Welsh parliamentary seats in more than a century”.

Under the proposals, Wales’ seats will be brought into line with England’s in terms of size. As a result, the Principality’s representation in the House of Commons will be cut by almost a quarter, from 40 to about 32. This is part of a broader push to equalise constituencies across the UK.

Anglesey will now join four other island-based exceptions to the new rule: Orkney & Shetland and Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Western Isles) in Scotland, and two seats on the Isle of Wight. The move may help the Conservatives, who won the seat at the last election, as the adjoining area of mainland Wales is slim pickings for the party.

The ‘Peelian Principles’ do not prohibit much tougher public order policing. They mandate it.

27 Jun

Earlier this month, I wrote about how the Government needed to get a grip on public order policing, and Mark Wallace argued that the police’s limp-wristed tactics in Bristol and elsewhere were emboldening the mob.

The past two weeks have done nothing to diminish that assessment. We have seen the inevitable ‘counter-protests’, and now an establishment which bent over backwards to facilitate one form of allegedly unsafe mass public gathering is spitting feathers at Britons flocking to be beach.

We have reached the point where at least one force is now operating an explicit double standard, ‘facilitating’ a Black Lives Matter vigil whilst reminding the public that all other mass gatherings, “including counter-protests”, remain illegal.

As with universities and so much else, there is no excuse for the Conservatives to simply lament such conduct when they’re in government with an eighty-seat majority. It’s time for action.

What shape such action takes is an open question. In my last piece, I floated the idea of hiving off public order policing from the regular forces and assigning responsibility to a new, UK-wide specialist constabulary, in a similar – but not identical – fashion to the way many European nations employ a gendarmerie.

In response, Will Tanner of Onward suggested on Twitter that such an ‘oppressive’ policing model was contrary to the British policing tradition, and the ‘Peelian Principles’ upon which this is founded. Fleshing out his thoughts in Prospect, he described the proposal as ‘militaristic’.

This is misleading. For starters, the model outlined above employs no structures or strategies not already employed in British policing. The Ministry of Defence Police and Civil Nuclear Constabulary are two already-extant specialist forces, and the Territorial Support Group the existing specialist public-order unit. I’m simply applying one existing organisational model to another existing operational model.

(It’s also worth remembering that Theresa May, Tanner’s former boss, employed double standards on such issues, waxing pious about how water cannon had no place on British streets whilst they were deployed on British streets in Northern Ireland.)

On the subject of actual gendarmeries, France is by no means the only European country to operate one: they are also employed by such authoritarian regimes as Portugal and the Netherlands. As for concerns that the UK might follow America down the path of hyper-militarised policing, this has arisen there in large part via the US Armed Forces selling off vast quantities of military surplus. Britain, which has a patchy record of equipping even its on-duty soldiers, is unlikely to face this particular problem.

But Tanner’s interpretation also misrepresents the Peelian Principles themselves. If one actually reads the ‘Nine Principles of Policing‘ set out by Sir Robert Peel in 1829, one finds little support for the indulgent, conflict-averse tactics favoured by many senior officers today.

For example, the very first duty laid on the police is “to prevent crime and disorder”. ‘Prevent’. Not peacefully facilitate in the hope of picking up the perpetrators afterwards from video footage.

The next one reminds them that their ability to operate effectively is “dependent on public approval of their existence, actions and behaviour, and on their ability to secure and maintain public respect.” This is where ‘policing by consent’ comes from.

But note that it is the consent of the broad public, not the rioters, and in 2011 polls clearly showed that voters strongly disapproved of the feeble initial response of the police to the riots in London and elsewhere.

In fact, not only did the public ‘consent’ very strongly to a broad range of ‘militaristic’ tactics – the only one which polled under 50 per cent support was live ammunition, which still got 33 per cent – but fully 77 per cent of those polled backed deploying the Army. This put the police in violation of the First Principle, which mandates them to maintain order “as an alternative to their repression by military force”.

What about the Fifth Principle: “To seek and preserve public favour, not by pandering to public opinion, but by constantly demonstrating absolutely impartial service to law, in complete independence of policy, and without regard to the justice or injustice of the substance of individual laws…” How does that square with the current, pronounced tendency towards what Sam Ashworth-Hayes has dubbed ‘morality policing?

There are sections of the Principles which advise restraint in physical force policing. But take a closer look. Here’s the Sixth Principle, my emphases:

“To use physical force only when the exercise of persuasion, advice and warning is found to be insufficient to obtain public co-operation to an extent necessary to secure observance of law or to restore order, and to use only the minimum degree of physical force which is necessary on any particular occasion for achieving a police objective.”

So that’s simply counselling the police against using force where the law can be upheld and order maintained by other means. It very much does not say that it is better for the law to be peaceably broken than forcefully maintained.

The Peelian Principles remain a sound basis for British policing. But too often they are trotted out only in defence of ‘weak policing. In point of fact, a robust and pro-active approach to maintaining order and protecting public and private property is entirely consistent with Sir Robert’s vision.

It’s the alternative that isn’t. To defer to the judgement of rioters and vandals is to turn the idea of ‘policing by consent’ into a bad joke. Theirs is not the consent required.

Starmer sends several messages by dismissing Long-Bailey

25 Jun

One doesn’t imagine that Sir Keir Starmer will be terribly sorry to have dismissed Rebecca Long-Bailey from her post as Shadow Education Secretary.

He sacked her after the Salford MP, who was the hard-left candidate in the most recent Labour leadership contest, retweeted an article by Maxine Peake which contained, predictably enough, anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.

By taking prompt action, Starmer has taken another opportunity to draw a sharp distinction between himself and his predecessor on the antisemitism issue, which remains a stain on Labour’s reputation.

It also illustrates the waning strength of the Corbynites. Including Long-Bailey in the Shadow Cabinet might have seemed a deft nod to party unity in the immediate aftermath of the vote, but since then the hard left’s rout through the institutions has continued apace.

Yet the implications aren’t all internal. The Labour Leader probably hopes that observers will contrast his willingness to dismiss senior colleagues with Boris Johnson’s reluctance to do the same, especially with Robert Jenrick still in the headlines.

Henry Hill: Sturgeon sets out plan to ‘unlock’ Scotland… one day before England

25 Jun

Sturgeon unveils timetable for ‘mass unlocking’ of Scotland

Nicola Sturgeon is planning a major easing of lockdown restrictions, the Daily Telegraph reports, including lifting a five-mile travel limit and opening up access to holiday homes.

In proper devocrat fashion, this new regime will kick in one Friday, July 3rd – the day before Boris Johnson’s own changes take effect south of the border.

This comes as the Scottish Government faces continuing criticism over its handling of schools, with its plans for so-called ‘blended learning’ coming under attack from both the press and SNP politicians. Scientists have also attacked the evidence base (or lack thereof) underpinning Nicola Sturgeon’s approach to lockdown.

(The Welsh Government is not doing any better, with their Education Secretary unable to say when schools will reopen and likewise committed to ‘blended learning’.)

Local government in the spotlight

The Scotsman reports that several Scottish councils are facing severe financial black holes as a result of the pandemic. Three council have deficits adding up to hundreds of pounds per resident – the highest is £411 – which adds up to hundreds of millions of pounds in total.

This is the latest twist in a long-running battle between the Nationalist administration at Holyrood and Scottish local government. Arch-centralisers, the SNP have been using Scottish Government financial support to reduce the independence of councils.

In Wales, meanwhile, the Centre for Welsh Studies has published a new report which suggests that the Shared Prosperity Fund – the UK-administered scheme which will replace EU funding post-Brexit – should be administered by Westminster and local councils, rather than being handed to the Senedd.

This proposal will doubtless outrage the devocrats, who are consistently opposed to letting Westminster control UK-level policy in the way that Brussels controls EU-level policy. But if the SPF is to become an instrument for strengthening the Union, keeping it out of devocrat hands is essential.

DUP again press Johnson on post-Brexit border arrangements

Their moment in the Commons sun may have passed, but the Democratic Unionists are still trying to hold the Prime Minister’s feet to the fire over his promises to Northern Ireland.

Speaking at yesterday’s PMQs, Sammy Wilson challenged Boris Johnson over the fact that the Port of Larne is reportedly making preparations for extensive customs infrastructure, ready to receive shipping from the British mainland.

In response, the Prime Minister said that “I can tell him absolutely, categorically that there will be no new customs infrastructure”, citing the Withdrawal Agreement’s recognition that Ulster remains inside the British customs territory.

Abolish the Assembly get their first MS

After a few months of growing media attention, following some good poll showings and the defection of their first councillor, the Abolish the Welsh Assembly Party (‘Abolish’) have secured their first representative in that institution.

Gareth Bennett, an independent MS who previously served as leader of UKIP’s Assembly group, has now signed up to the group. (And if you want an idea of why devosceptics might be rare in Welsh political life, check out the extraordinarily aggressive interview he got from Wales Online).

Apparently Abolish, which recently launched a membership programme, will consider it a good result if they win three seats at the next Senedd poll.

(In other devosceptic news, I spoke to David Leask at the Herald on Sunday about why opposition to devolution appears to be waxing during Covid-19. Most of my section seems to be missing from the online version, but it may return.)