The Professors passion for "The Science of Deceit" started here...

Employed by the Ministry (in a covert capacity) to help introduce the law ending dishonest politics, you can see his hand all over the posts of past.

Current political circumstances have forced him to reveal himself and as we speak, MPs are signing up to re-introduce The Elected Representatives (Prohibition of Deception) Bill for debate with over 80,000 voters supporting them.

Posts before Jan '08 are purely for the record (with hindsight they make fascinating reading). Posts after May 13th mark the Professor's return.

Meet the Professor

Friday, December 22, 2006

Quote of the Week

Figured we'd leave you with this thought for xmas...

"Members shall at all times conduct themselves in a manner which will tend to
maintain and strengthen the public's trust and confidence in the integrity of
Parliament and never undertake any action which would bring the House of
Commons, or its Members generally, into disrepute."
Code of Conduct for Members of Parliament
Prepared pursuant to the Resolution of the House of 19th July 1995

We're off on hols with a stack of law books and statutes. Back the first week of Jan. Don't forget to vote in our poll - top of the right hand column.

Happy Holidays.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

The Real Deal

What started off as a simple question to the Citizens Advice Bureau - "I'd like to prosecute an MP for lying" has turned into a real eye-opener. Here's the real deal...

There is a simple fact obscured by a very sophisticated, highly evolved set of smoke and mirrors which lead the casual observer to believe there are healthy checks and balances keeping Parliament (especially Government) honest and accountable. Numerous Codes of conduct, Committees and Commissioners (we've got 'em coming out of our ears). Many of them are staffed by dedicated individuals of the highest integrity - the problem is they all report back to Parliament or Blair - the guys they've been appointed to investigate.

The need for the smoke and mirrors is simple : We, the people, are sovereign.

We elect a set of MPs to represent our sovereignty in Parliament at a general election. Those with the majority form a government and run the country on our behalf. Their obligation is to legislate in our best interests.

That means ;

1) Our transfer of sovereignty to MPs at a general election is based on two things - party manifesto and past performance.

and it follows...

2) We can’t accurately assess past performance or promises if they can mislead us and misrepresent the facts (lying is an un-parliamentary word).

However, as we've discovered…

  • There are no truly independent organs (such as the judiciary) which we can invoke to hold them to account for misleading/misrepresenting to us.


  • A general election - is our only legal means of redress if MPs or Government lie.
So ...

How the hell are we supposed to seperate the good guys from the bad ? More importantly, without the threat of direct redress from the electorate, where's there incentive to be honest ?

These thoughts will be keeping us busy over Xmas.

Our question has shifted focus, but still remains gloriously simple...

“Why can't the electorate prosecute their representatives for lying to them ?"

We’ll be researching hard for some kind of legitimate answer.

Tomorrow will be our last post until the New Year.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Into the belly of the beast...

Parliament really is some kind of alternative reality, a kind of Disneyland in the heart of Whitehall - empty parking meters beckon, Policemen smile beatific smiles, Traffic Wardens are polite/helpful. The combined effect was to totally throw any scepticism severely off balance - and then the weirdness started...

Nothing could've prepared us for the cunning psychological tom-foolery these Parliamentarians employ. We're sitting in reception, waiting for Lord Pendry and a chubby, bald civil servant with predatory eyes, sashays past as if he's on a catwalk. Stopping at the toilet door he turns, to beam at us with a mouthful of gleaming pearly-whites, then minces through, slamming it behind him.

Unsettling. Eh ? And then he delivers the sucker punch...

With clear knowledge that we can hear his every move through the flimsy bathroom door, he unzips and at full volume proceeds to give us a perfect falsetto rendition of "I believe I can fly" by R Kelly whilst emptying his bladder.

By the time he exits, we're visibly shaken. The elderly lady sitting next to us has turned the same shade of purple as her hair. He smiles once more and sashays down a corridor.

If we seem distracted during the interview - it's down to that (and the fact that halfway through the same man pops in to deliver the post).

These Parliamentarians are devious in the extreme. We're out of our depth, swimming with sharks.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Lord Pendry

Lord Pendry enjoys a cigar, is a keen boxer (not averse to dishing out a clip round the ear) and looks not unlike Donald Pleasance.
Having served as an MP for 30 years before moving to the upper house, we figured he'd be perfect to explain why we can't hold an MP to account for lying to us.

We were wrong.

Turns out, our first true Whitehall experience was more than a little unsettling
- we were thrown a sucker punch before we'd even got the camera kit unpacked.

We'll be posting the full rub tomorrow.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Quote of the Week

Two quotes this week. The first is from the Forward to The Ministerial Code of Conduct [JULY 2005 ]

"In issuing this Code, I should like to confirm my strong personal commitment to the bond of trust between the British people and their Government. We are all here to serve and we must serve honestly and in the interests of those who gave us our positions of trust."
The Prime Minister

All together now..."The People are sovereign, long live the people, hurrah etc..."

Now check out Page 1, Section 1.4 of that very same Ministerial Code of Conduct

"Ministers only remain in office for so long as they retain the confidence of the Prime Minister. He is the ultimate judge of the standards of behaviour expected of a Minister and the appropriate consequences of a breach of those standards, although he will not expect to comment on every allegation that is brought to his attention."

[Heh, heh, heh . TB.]

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

the Next Step ?

A big thanks for all your e-mailed suggestions. They ranged from the expeditious - "shoot 'em", to the economical - "drown 'em", to the insane - "try to get a law passed".

Bolstered by our first brush with the mechanics of Parliament (in the shape of Sir Philip Mawer) - we've decided to get stuck into the belly of the beast - gently at first, by interviewing some ex- MPs about this tricky business of honesty - and if that's not too scary, we'll head for the big bruisers.

First up is Lord Tom Pendry, a long serving Labour MP (30 years - that's more than you'd get for murder isn't it ?)

...then Martin Bell (O.B.E. and Independent MP who ousted the inimitable Neil Hamilton).

If you've any questions you want us to put to these guys, send us an email .

We'll be posting ASAP.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Beavering down under

We've been beavering away - searching for any kind of law which prevents government from lying to the electorate and gives the people direct legal action. Surprisingly - we think we've come across such a thing in Australia.

The statute we've found takes it's basic principle from the Trades Descriptions Act - you can't make a statement purporting to be a statement of fact, which is inaccurate or misleading to a material extent. The state of Southern Australia have applied this to election campaigns ! Can you imagine what would happen if we had the same law here ?

All well and good - but we still need to establish a contract or obligation between us (the people) and the Government and then get past Parliamentary Sovereignty (technically, Parliament is the highest court in the land, the source of all law etc. etc.) which means they're immune from prosecution.

These guys have been running the show for a while now (300 plus years) and have evolved a highly sophisticated set of smoke and mirrors that gives us the illusion of accountability via self-regulation (for example the independent investigation of MPs). But as we've discovered from the Parliamentary Commissioner - there are some critical gaps ;

  1. There's no independent investigation of Ministers (the Government)
  2. Independent investigation is a beautiful thing, but it ain't much cop if you have to report to the very people you're investigating and rely on them for sentencing.
Fact is, the combination of both these points and Parliamentary Sovereignty means effectively, our only legal redress is at the General Election once every four or five years.

Now that can't be right - if I employ an agent on a 5 year contract and he breaches one of his fundamental obligations (such as honesty to me) - there's no court in the land which would say I'm stuck with the guy until the five years are up !

Our current thinking is starting to smell like we may have found a blueprint for accountability but need to find a way of making it apply to the government, not just elections. The problem is, to legally overcome "Parliamentary Sovereignty" we've got to ask Parliament to vote for it. One of the comments you posted said something along the lines of "asking turkeys to vote for Christmas". We agree - you've only got to check out the interview with Lord Pendry to see how entrenched the notion of Parliamentary Sovereignty is.

I suppose a law banning misleading or misrepresentative statements in elections would be a good start in any case - when we interviewed Professor Conor Gearty (our guru/oracle on constitutional law) he certainly thought so.

If you've any thoughts/ideas - comment or e-mail us. We're gonna need all the help we can get. In the meantime, we'll be digging into the history and context of the statute we've found and trawling through the law libraries here for anything half relevant.

Martin Bell OBE (and ex MP) will have much to say about this - we'll be posting his interview early next week.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Post Mortem - Sir Philip Mawer

If we'd have been able to post an hour long interview I really would have. It was painful trying to bring it down to a couple of salient points. Fact is, Sir Philip's as straight as a die - no bones about it. Between a rock and a hard place, he never shirked from telling it like it is.

Two key points ;

  1. His teeth are the very Parliament he investigates.
  2. There's a ministerial code, but no formalised independent means of investigation and he strongly advocates this.
The question is, where next ?

An MP is elected by the people to represent them in Parliament, they represent our sovereignty, we "loan" it to them. Check out the Motherlode on constitutional law - Professor Gearty's interview.

Fact of the matter is, if the electorate wants to hold an MP to account for lying, it has to go through Parliament or to the ballot box (once every 4 or 5 years). When an MP lies (especially if he happens to be a Minister) there's bugger all we can do if without a statute against it - and even then, it's a matter of debate - George Bathurst reported our Deputy Prime Minister to the Police for what was a clear breach of the Ministerial Code and the law (Prevention of Corruption Acts) - but Scotland Yard refused to investigate and Sir Philip Mawer was powerless to act.

Any suggestions gratefully appreciated.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Quote of the Week

"We will oblige parties to declare the source of all donations above a minimum figure. Labour does this voluntarily and all parties should do so."
The Right Honourable Tony Blair
Labour Party Manifesto 1997

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Inspector Mawers (that's enough.Ed) - the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards

If you read up on this whole self-regulation business it looks a bit like smoke and mirrors. Plenty of bodies, committees and commissioners - all independent to a man but all reporting to Parliament or the PM. Nice to be Judge and Jury at your own trial, eh ?

Needless to say,
when Sir Philip Mawer returned our call, it was a bit of a shocker. We never thought in a million years they'd let us near the Palace of Westminster - let alone interview its gatekeeper of ethics and morals.

Turns out Sir Philip's office is round the back of Westminster Abbey. Bathed in divine light, you enter through a hobbit-like gate set into a suitably intimidating wall with Westminster casting suitably ominous shadows.

Passing through that gate would be crossing the line from pissing about on the Internet and sticking our head above the establishment parapet. Were we really gonna tough it out with the guy who politics between Teflon Tony and hauling MPs over the coals ?

Who are we kidding ?

I'd had a curry before-hand and that didn't bode well.

We were in a lot of trouble.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

The end of the road ?

It was all too depressingly clearly laid out by Professor Gearty. Basically ...

  • Parliamentary sovereignty originally protected the elected representatives of the people (MPs) from the King.
  • Currently - despite sovereignty and all power flowing from the electorate - the only legal way of holding an MP/Minister/Government to account if they've lied to us is once every 4 or 5 years at the ballot box.
  • There are no other legal routes of enforcing an MPs obligation to be honest, transparent and accountable.
We took some comfort from the Professors observation that MPs "can't go about machine-gunning people they don't like". There's some folks in various distant parts of the world who may disagree.

Outside of the ballot box, our alternatives are ;

  1. The Press/Media
  2. Report the offender to the Police if the lie/misrepresentation/misleading statement happens to be covered by a statute. Then, if the Crown Prosecution Service decides there's been a breach of the statute they may or may not prosecute (see George Bathurst v. John Prescott for how this can pan out).
  3. Complaining to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards - Sir Philip Mawer.
  4. Revolution (see Guy Fawkes etc.)
Despite the fact that the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards - Sir Philip Mawer ultimately reports to Parliament (judge, jury and defendent in your own courtroom does seem very convenient) we figured given the choice between options 3 and 4, we should give Sir Philip a call.

Amazingly, he called back and agreed to a filmed interview. We'll be posting it ASAP.

Monday, December 04, 2006

the Motherlode - Professor Conor Gearty

You can't help but love Professor Conor Gearty, it's his examples of MPs "machine-gunning people they don't like in the street" and the lilt of his accent, but the similarities pretty much end there. He's advised governments all over the world on subjects as wide ranging as Terrorism, Torture and Tony (they turned to him for counsel on locking up our Prime Minister).

We've tried the Citizens Advice Bureau, the Parliamentary Ombudsman, lawyers and even George Bathurst - the man who reported our Deputy Prime Minister to the Police - none of it looks promising, but if anyone can unravel Parliamentry sovereignty and find a way for the public to put a stop to its government lying - the Professor is that man.

Hang upon his every word...

Friday, December 01, 2006

Impeach Blair ? Call Conor Gearty...

When Adam Price MP wanted the highest legal opinion on whether Blair could be impeached for the invasion of Iraq, he turned to Professor Gearty BCL (NUI), LLB(Cantab), PhD (Cantab) and Barrister for good reason - he advises governments too numerous to mention on everything from Terrorism to Torture and of course Tony .

In an effort to figure out how we can stop MPs from lying we've tried the Citizens Advice Bureau, the Parliamentary Ombudsman, Lawyers and even George Bathurst - the man who reported our Deputy Prime Minister to the Police - none of it looks good. In a last ditch attempt - we went to the motherlode. He agreed to an interview - and we'll be posting it soon. If anybody can find a way this is the man.