Thursday, 27 June 2013

On the spectrum of deceit, ministers have gone off the scale

Statistics have long been argued one way or the other, but this government twists them beyond reality to suit its ruthless agenda
Matt Kenyon on political lies
Illustration by Matt Kenyon
"Lies, damn lies and statistics," they say. "Torture a statistic enough and it will tell you anything," they say. Aphorisms that once sounded sound wry and urbane now make me want to set fire to things. I know, it is a risky old business, making a threat of arson, but I've already done it in an email, so this will hardly be news to GCHQ.
Worldwide, the era of post-truth politics began some time ago; during the last US elections, there were how-to guides for media outlets. "How does one evolve for the post-truth age?" asked the Atlantic, and it was a serious question. If you were trained in the "he-said, she-said" mode of reporting ("the chancellor says we are on the road to recovery; the shadow chancellor says, on the contrary, we are up shit creek with a baguette for a paddle") that will seem to you to be the fair and defensible way of doing things. If, however, one party starts to peddle a deliberate falsehood ("the chancellor says the deficit has gone down; the shadow chancellor says, on the contrary, the ONS figures show the deficit has gone up" – this is an example from real life, and happened on Tuesday), then the act of reporting both positions, in a tone of impartiality, serves to give them equal weight. Your neutrality shores up a lie.
Also Read

Ministers who misuse statistics to mislead voters must pay the price

Lies, damned lies and Iain Duncan Smith


This is for newshounds to tie themselves in knots over; I have never aimed at nor pretended impartiality. But I did prefer it when politicians, broadly speaking, told the truth. I have a pretty high tolerance for personal fibbing, who did and didn't have sex with whom, who was driving when the speed limit was broken. I don't enjoy, but I accept as the price of human variety, perspectives so different to mine that we exist in the orbit of extra-fact, our ideological magnets repelling one another so strongly that facts wouldn't help, because we'd never get close enough to jointly examine them (examples: Osborne on the Philpotts' benefits lifestyle; Hunt on the unaffordability of the NHS; Gove on most things). I used to get riled by the misuse of statistics, but at least that's done on the shared understanding that people should tell the truth in public life. A fact may turn out to have so much topspin that it isn't really true, but so long as the politicians have plausible deniability the contract isn't broken.
That deal is over. As Daniel Knowles of the Economist pointed out, more in impatience than in anger: "Over the last few months, as welfare cuts have started, questionable numbers have floated out of Iain Duncan Smith's office into the public debate like raw sewage." The protest group Disabled People Against Cuts collated 35 major untruths to emit from the government since 2010, and almost half of them came from IDS, who is well known to the (statistics) authorities, and has been reprimanded many times. If I were in charge, I would institute an asbo system in parliament; beyond a certain number of lies, MPs would have to sport a visible tattoo so that the casual onlooker would know to double-check their remarks.
The key things to watch with IDS are claims that the benefit cap is working; claims that the Work Programme is working; claims that the benefit system is rife with fraudsters; any claim about jobless households; most things he says about foreigners (with the caveat that if he is talking about a specific foreigner, José Mourinho or Angelina Jolie, it's likely that defamation laws will keep him on the straight and narrow); and everything he says about family breakdown.
But what chilled me most was the (relatively) minor lie, put about in November 2010, that private sector rents had fallen by 5% the previous year, while the amount paid by local authorities in housing benefit had gone up by 3% (Inside Housing analysed and rejected the claim). The clear implication was that people claiming the benefit were on the take – it was never said outright because it would have been functionally impossible (housing benefit is paid directly to the landlord); yet there it was, an impression hanging in the air, yet more craftiness from the feckless spongers.
David Cameron, meanwhile, has been reprimanded by the Office for Budget Responsibility (for lying about what it had said); and by the UK Statistics Authority for lying about the direction of the national debt (he said we were "paying it down", when in fact we were beefing it up). Osborne, besides lying this week about the deficit, has been reprimanded by the OBR (for lying about the nation's risk of bankruptcy) and by the UKSA. Amusingly, the Office for National Statistics was recently reprimanded by the UKSA for allowing the chancellor to pretend that a raid on the Bank of England's cash pile was equivalent to tax receipts. It's a carousel of meta-rebukes, as Osborne pulls ever more agencies into his circle of deliberate untruth.
There is a point on the spectrum of deceit at which the totally unprincipled, who will say anything to hold sway (I put Osborne in this category), meet the deeply religious, who are so sold on the notion of their own superiority that it is not necessary for reality to support them, merely for us all to be quiet, while they set us on the course of righteousness (and IDS in this one). But more important than any of their motives – there must, surely, be conservatives who would rather lose the argument than win it like this.

Just remember what many Tories thought of Nelson Mandela in the apartheid years

Soon we will be inundated with heartfelt speeches – but we mustn't let those who opposed Mandela's struggle pretend they didn't
Nelson Mandela
A smile that came from the centre of the Earth ... Nelson Mandela. Photograph: Media24/Gallo Images/Getty Images
As the vigil continues outside the hospital, we don't know how close to the final freedom Nelson Mandela is. But after the strange denials that this old, sick man is dying I want to talk not with pity but of his power. Before the pygmy politicians line up to pay tribute to this giant, I want to remember how he lived so much for so many. Part of my memory is that he was not a living saint to the very people whose staff will now be writing their "heartfelt" speeches.
Really, I have no desire to hear them from leaders of parties who described his organisation as terrorist, who believed that sanctions were wrong, whose jolly young members wore T-shirts demanding he be strung up. Of course, not all Tories were pro-apartheid, but I can already feel the revisionism revving up.
So we must recall how it really was. The struggle against apartheid was the one thing that unified the left. I came to it accidentally. Isn't that how politicisation happens sometimes? Via extraordinary people, unlikely meetings, chance encounters?
Like this one: in 1981 I had just come back from travelling around South America and got a job in a care home with Haringey Social Services in north London. Some of the local kids were in big trouble – the girls were on the game at 14, the boys breaking into houses and stealing cars. A large, in every sense of the word, African woman became my ally there. She was always encouraging them to be lawyers despite their constant truanting. We were an unlikely pair, but she believed in "discipline" and I believed in "manners" so we would talk late into the night. She was one of the poshest people I had ever met – she drank Perrier water, which at that time was exotic beyond belief. Sometimes she would weep after receiving calls from South Africa and talk of murders and assassinations. Sometimes she would take me out for cocktails and get diplomatic cars from embassies to take me home. Her name was Adelaide Tambo, the wife of Oliver. They were the exiled leaders of the ANC.
I began to know what this meant. How Mandela had ridden to power in 1952 in the Defiance Campaign, how he was harassed and, of course, finally taken to Robben Island. To that tiny cell. The Tambos had to leave much later. One night she called me as she was locked out of her house in Muswell Hill. "Can't you just break a window? "No Suzanne," she said. "The windows are all bullet proof glass." That's how they lived.
This personal introduction to the ANC is my story but everyone I knew opposed apartheid. Indeed, who could support such barbarism? This was more than racism – there is only one race, called the human race. Botha's regime did not regard black people as humans but as animals.
By 1984 Jerry Dammers had written Free Nelson Mandela. But apartheid continued to exist, propped up by the Tories. Some of their elder statesmen, such as Norman Tebbit, still see Thatcher's policy as a success. David Cameron denounced it in 2006, saying she had been wrong to condemn the ANC as terrorists and to have opposed sanctions. Too late for those veteran campaigners such as Peter Hain, who had seen the massacres in the townships and knew it was a life-or-death struggle.
Indeed, when I saw Mandela in later years having his garden surreally being "made over" by Alan Titchmarsh or being cuddled by random Spice Girls, I wondered if they had ever heard Gil Scott-Heron's Johannesburg (1975) or been at the anti-apartheid demos outside the South African embassy where we were all kettled.
When we hear Cameron's inevitable tribute, don't forget that in 1989, aged 23, he went on a "jolly" to South Africa paid for by a firm that did not want sanctions busted. This does not mean he supported apartheid, but by then it would have been impossible not to know of the regime's brutality. Many people knew, and boyotted South African goods.
I see Dylan Jones, a Cameron fan, has written a book on Live Aid, defining the 80s as caring: more anodyne revision. The key concert of the 80s was the more political and consciousness-raising Free Nelson Mandela one, not long after. Mandela himself was there on stage with that smile that came from the centre of the Earth. The glare of his grin made us cheer and cry. The glare of the sun, when he was breaking rocks in Robben Island, had permanently damaged his eyesight, but not his mind. When he walked to freedom he wrote, that unless he left bitterness and hatred behind, "I would still be in prison."
This is wonderful, but do not let his story be rewritten, do not let those who opposed his struggle pretend they didn't.
"There is no passion to be found playing small," he said. He told his own people to recall the past. I ask simply, before we are inundated with those who want to bask in his afterglow, that we remember our own past too. It is sad, but let him go. I just wanted to remind you of how it was before he passes and before the "official" rewrite of history begins. Forgiveness is possible. Forgetting isn't.

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Politicians who demand inquiries should be taken out and shot

From Stephen Lawrence to Bloody Sunday, an inquiry serves as the establishment's get out of jail free card
lawrence inquiry 1999
Neville Lawrence, Stephen Lawrence's father, at a press conference responding to the publication in 1999 of the report of the Macpherson inquiry into the Stephen Lawrence killing. 'The call for yet another inquiry into the Stephen ­Lawrence murder – by some counts the 17th – must make it the most interrogated death in history.' Photograph: Sean Smith for the Guardian

There should be a public inquiry. Indeed there should be a judicial inquiry, a veritable "judge-led" inquiry. Into what? That does not matter. An inquiry has become the cure-all for any political argument. Whether the subject is a dud police force, a dud hospital, a dud quango or a dud war, only a judicial inquiry will atone for wrongdoing and do penance for public sins.
An inquiry defers blame. It throws the ball into the long grass and kicks the can down the road. This week's call for yet another inquiry into the Stephen Lawrence murder – by some counts the 17th – must make it the most interrogated death in history. As withBloody Sunday and Hillsborough, a British scandal is measured not in deaths but in juridical longevity.
Politicians who demand inquiries should be taken out and shot. In almost every failure in a public service – run by or regulated by ministers – we know perfectly well what happened and who was in charge. Guilt should lie at the top, or at some recognised cut-off point. An inquiry merely replaces the straight, sure arrow of accountability with the crooked line of pseudo justice. It is the establishment's get out of jail free card.
For a minister to set up an inquiry – or his opponent to call for one – is like a bankrupt board of directors calling in consultants. The hope is that it may soften the line of blame, fog the argument, postpone the day of reckoning. A minister declares, "I have asked the distinguished Lord Justice So-and-So to leave no stone unturned." By the time he does, the minister prays he may have moved on. The furniture of blame will have rearranged itself.
Almost all public inquiries are nowadays political. In 1998 Tony Blair, eager to push forward his Ulster peace process, set up yet another inquiry into Bloody Sunday. The Saville inquiry became a scandal of judicial extravagance and delay (into which, of course, there was no inquiry). In 2009 Gordon Brown wished to take the heat out of the Iraq war before an election. He set up the Chilcot inquiry, now so dormant it can be of use only to scholars of latter-day Blairism. Two years later David Cameron, under attack for his links to News Corporation, sought a judge known to be eager for higher office and chose Lord Justice Leveson to investigate press ethics. From the resulting shambles Cameron escaped scot free.
In the Victoria Climbié inquiry of 2001, thunderbolts of damnation were hurled on to the heads of hapless social workers. Trials and inquiries cursed officials, police, councillors and local managers. Lord Laming's subsequent report came up with 108 recommendations, so many as to allow responsibility to disperse like seeds from a dandelion. When a minister says "we are all to blame", he means no one is.
The recent bevy of inquiries into the Staffordshire and Cumbrian hospital scandals has shone a mesmerising light on modern quangocracy. Highly paid officials with ill-defined jobs that are nothing to do with health argue over who said what, when and to whom. The row cannot save a single patient, while the resources diverted must jeopardise thousands. The salaries and fees roll on.
Government by retrospective inquiry is not government at all. It is a first rough stab at history. Its strangest feature is the deference shown to lawyers and legal process. All professions have their biases and the law is no exception. The sanctity of court process, important in trying a criminal case, is hardly relevant to the politicised context of a modern public inquiry. Judges, for good reason, do not speak the language of politics. As we can see from their hysteria over legal aid, they certainly have no comprehension of budgetary priorities.
Those attending the 2003 Hutton inquiry into the death of David Kelly found it an eerily legalised process. It led to a whitewash so unconvincing it had to be repeated, in effect, a year later by Lord Butler. The Leveson inquiry was likewise conducted as if it were a trial of the press for the mass murder of celebrity reputations. No attention was paid to the ethics of the electronic media, let alone to those of lawyers who were equally assiduous users of hacking services. The reality is that inquiries set up to get politicians off a hook usually do so by finding some other individual or group to hang on that same hook.
De Tocqueville remarked that the intrusion of lawyers into every corner of government meant that "scarcely any political question … is not resolved into a judicial question". A lawyer is to a modern politician what a priest was to a medieval one – someone on hand to help in a scrape, to dispense indulgence for wickedness.
If political accountability were truly a matter for judicial determination, parliament could pass laws and go home, leaving judges to decide on their efficacy. Everything could be rolled into one ongoing, everlasting public inquiry, to which every political upset could be referred for trial and execution. Parliament could be removed to the royal courts of justice with the lord chief justice as Mr Speaker.
We know what this would be like. We can see it today following the centralisation of town and country planning by Cameron's eccentric commissar, Eric Pickles. Local plans and decisions based on them have been superseded by Pickles's targets and instructions to his planning inspectors. This plays so fast and loose with local discretion that any planning application is worth taking to appeal. Planning is no longer a local function but determined ad hoc by Whitehall inspectors, followed by public inquiries and potential judicial review. It is not planning but financial combat.
As a result, planning is set to join immigration in the soaring total of judicial reviews. What was once a relatively smooth mechanism for deciding what sort of building should occur and where has become a judicial free-for-all (or rather costly-for-all). Expediting government through legal process is a contradiction in terms.
Democracy cannot work without a clear line between a decision and someone who can be held responsible. That means clear when the decision is taken, not clear to subsequent inquiry. Big centralised organisations such as the NHS stretch that line to breaking point. Public inquiries validate that breakage. They are a menace. Lawyers should stick to the law. Elected politicians who screw up should come clean and resign.

Dhoni's feel for cricket

Jon Hotten in Cricinfo
MS Dhoni possesses a rare and charming combination of intuition, judgement and experience  © Getty Images

As the rain came down at Edgbaston, many blurry TV hours were filled with punditry, most of it lost on the airwaves to heaven. Somewhere along the way though, someone, and I don't recall who, said something like this: "At heart, MS Dhoni is a gambler… "
If that's so, he's the man you want to be standing next to at the roulette wheel; the chips are piling up, and there's nothing his India have not won. 
But is he? As anyone closely affiliated with actual professional gambling (not spot-fixing or bookmaking, but making a living from betting legally) will tell you, done properly, it is for the most part a boring and pragmatic assessment of odds and value. There are very few coups de theatre to be had.
What Dhoni did in offering Ishant Sharma the 18th over of England's innings with Eoin Morgan and Ravi Bopara at the crease and 28 runs required from 18 deliveries, was something altogether more instinctive, a rare and charming combination of intuition, judgement and experience that carried with it inherent risk. Here was the match, in the hands of the team's most profligate bowler.
Ishant, still coltish at 24 and with a career that often seems to be gripped by slow but inevitable entropy, was nervous - which he had the grace to admit afterwards. Morgan and Bopara had timed their charge, and both had begun to clear the boundary. Ishant began with a slow, short ball, a dot. Having got a look at him, Morgan dispatched the next over backward square leg.
Spooked now, not quite in rhythm around the wicket, Ishant bowled consecutive wides. He galloped in again, this time cutting his fingers across the ball for more control and slowing it down enough for Morgan to spoon him up wristily to Ashwin on the edge of the circle, a shot miscued to the degree that the batsmen had time to cross as it fell. Then a faster, shorter one on the line of the stumps that Bopara flat-batted straight to Ashwin, who had materialised as if by magic in the right place once more.
There was an element of Napoleon's dictum on luck about Dhoni's decision, and there is no doubt that had things gone the other way, he would have come under heavy fire
The game that was England's mid-way through the over was India's by the end, and hearteningly for all of us who love a trier, it was Ishant Sharma's, too. Dhoni applied his coup de grace, the mugging of England completed by the estimable partnership of Jadeja and Ashwin.
There was an element of Napoleon's dictum on luck about Dhoni's decision, and there is no doubt that had things gone the other way, he would have come under heavy fire. But one of his great qualities is a calm fearlessness that he has shown so often. The underlying logic behind using Ishant was sound; Dhoni knew that England would take the batting Powerplay in the last two overs, and he wanted his spinners for them. But his decision was proactively to bowl Ishant rather than Umesh Yadav or Bhuvneshwar Kumar, and that was at the heart of India's win.
It would be fascinating to hear Dhoni talk about it in depth, to know exactly where it came from. He has played so much cricket now, and so much of it under tremendous pressure, he has a deep feeling for the rhythm of the game; he hears its heartbeat acutely. It informs his subconscious, it leads what we might call intuition or instinct, but in reality it is something more weighty and useful. Let's call it intellect.
England have a great sense of order to their cricket, but they, and Alastair Cook, don't quite have what Dhoni has. It makes an eloquent argument for harmonising the calendar and allowing the players to go to the IPL and suchlike, to get game time in front of huge crowds when there is something on the line and they can absorb the kind of rhythm that Dhoni runs to. At heart he is a gambler, but beyond that, at heart he is a cricketer, in every sense of the word.

Mickey's problem - The sacking of Australian cricket coach Mickey Arthur

Australia's recently replaced coach came up against an Australian cricketing culture struggling to come to terms with a new reality
Ed Smith
June 26, 2013

Mickey Arthur watches on from the balcony, Edgbaston, June 12, 2013
Arthur's track record of success with South Africa does not "prove" he is a brilliant coach any more than his track record of relative failure with Australia proves he is a bad one © AFP 
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One of the questions asked of Australian cricketers during the Mickey Arthur era was, "How did you rate your sleep?" The idea was to encourage a holistic approach to match preparation, in which mind and body worked together in blissful harmony.
From today, if a player complains about a poor night's sleep under the new coaching regime of Darren Lehmann, he should expect the burly left-hander to reply: "Should have had an extra couple of beers last night then, mate." As for hydration, Rod Marsh used to say that if you had to take a toilet break during the hours of play then you obviously hadn't drunk enough the night before. Being a bit thirsty in the morning has its benefits.
In turning to Lehmann, there is a sense of Australian cricket coming home. He is naturally chatty and quick-witted, with a keen cricket brain and an earthy manner. When he was Yorkshire's overseas player, I remember a close four-day match between Yorkshire and Kent at Canterbury. Before the start of the final day's play, it was agreed that both teams would enjoy a few drinks in the home dressing room after the match. Lehmann was free and unguarded with his perceptions and insights, almost as though it was a responsibility of senior players to talk about the game. You could also tell he was absolutely in his element in a dressing-room environment.
Context is everything, as Mickey Arthur has found out. As coach of South Africa, Arthur enjoyed an established side, a resolute captain and an experienced group of senior players. That played to his strengths. An affable and undemonstrative man, Arthur could operate under the radar. Graeme Smith, one of the strongest captains in world cricket, already commanded plenty of authority and a clear sense of direction.
It has become fashionable in modern sport to waste a great deal of energy fretting about "job descriptions" and "lines of accountability". In real life, however, wherever the arrows may point on the flow charts, power finds itself in the hands of dominant personalities. The real determining factor in the distribution of power between a captain and a coach is their personal chemistry. A shrewd coach will empower a captain and the senior player as far as possible. And when Arthur was coach of South Africa, there was no shortage of alpha males out on the pitch.
Now transfer Arthur into a very different setting. Where South Africa had a settled side that was enjoying sustained success, Australia are adjusting - or failing to adjust - to leaner years, having gorged themselves on two decades of feasting on perpetual success. Where most of the South African team selected itself, Australia have had great difficulty identifying their best XI. That is not a criticism. You try selecting the same team during a sequence of defeats and listen in vain for the pundits shouting, "Well done on retaining consistency of selection." No, losing teams search for a new combination that will bring better results. The much-worshipped god "consistency of selection" is partly a privilege that follows from success as well as a cause of it. There is certainly a strong correlation between a settled side and a winning team, but as mathematicians learn in their first statistics class, correlation does not always imply straightforward causality.
Arthur faced another problem not of his own making: the expectations of the Australian cricketing culture. This has been an unpleasant hangover after a hell of a party. For 20 years Australian cricket celebrated a golden age that would have made Jay Gatsby blush. In terms of cricketing talent, the taps overflowed with vintage champagne. To understand how good Australia were, simply remember that Lehmann himself only played 27 Tests.
We used to hear how Australian cricket was best because they were mates who played for each other; Australian cricket was best because they were tougher and "mentally stronger"; Australian cricket was best because they had fewer first-class teams; Australian cricket was best because it didn't have to endure the "mediocrity of county cricket"
As any economist will tell you, the most dangerous aspect of any boom is the absurd way it is "explained" as a new and permanent paradigm shift (remember the view, just before the financial crisis, that modern banks had mastered "risk-free" methods?) We used to hear how Australian cricket was best because they were mates who played for each other; Australian cricket was best because they were tougher and "mentally stronger"; Australian cricket was best because they had fewer first-class teams; Australian cricket was best because it didn't have to endure the "mediocrity of county cricket"; Australian cricket was best because they knew how to enjoy a win and let their hair down; Australian cricket was best because they were "more professional". I heard all those theories put forward with huge confidence, often in tandem, even when the theories contradicted each other.
The difficulty, of course, came when results deteriorated, as they eventually had to. In a boom, you can have any explanation for why Australia were so good and still be proved "right". As a result, Australian cricket finds itself awash with voodoo doctors - convinced of their own prescience - rushing to pronounce the cure for a new and frightening malady called "average results". My own opinion is that the rise and fall of cricketing nations is harder to explain, let alone reverse, than most people seem to think.
Arthur's frustrating time with Australia reveals a broader problem. The whole notion of "a track record" is questionable, especially when the track record under discussion consists of a smallish sample size. Arthur's track record of success with South Africa does not "prove" he is a brilliant coach any more than his track record of relative failure with Australia proves he is a bad one.
Each phase of every management career is unique. The way any team functions can never be reduced to scientific analysis. As a result, credit and blame can never be exactly apportioned. We know for sure that some leaders experience success and failure. But exactly why, or to what extent they were responsible, will always remain partly a mystery. Coaches do not operate in a vacuum. What they inherit - the personnel, appetite for change, and attitude of the wider culture - matters at least as much as their methods.
Arthur encountered an Australian cricketing culture struggling to come to terms with a new reality. Quite simply, they aren't that good anymore. They may well get better under Darren Lehmann. But anxiously searching for miracles has a nasty habit of making them harder to find.

Met Police supergrass scandal - corrupt private investigators infiltrate witness-protection programme

The Independent 26/06/2013

Scotland Yard is embroiled in a new corruption crisis after it emerged that senior officers knew for years that criminal private investigators had compromised its highly sensitive witness protection programme – and did nothing about it.

Days after the Metropolitan Police was rocked by incendiary claims that officers took part in a smear campaign against the family of the murdered black teenager Stephen Lawrence, The Independent can disclose that private investigators (PIs) were employed by organised crime gangs to try to intimidate witnesses who had agreed to give evidence in high-profile trials.

Also read

With the Met Police, if you are innocent you have everything to worry about


Scotland Yard uncovered the shocking intelligence up to 15 years ago but, incredibly, did next to nothing to stop the private detectives, who also worked for the News Of The World. A registered police informant codenamed “Michael Green”, who spent years undercover working with a corrupt firm of PIs, warned his handlers at the Met that his colleagues were trying to locate “supergrasses” under police protection and “actively worked on them to withdraw their damaging allegations”.

But, for reasons yet to become clear, the Met failed to charge or even arrest the investigators for intimidating key witnesses. One of the supergrasses who was approached while under police protection later withdrew all of his original testimony, resulting in the collapse of a major criminal trial.

The news comes days after a former Met officer, Peter Francis, claimed he was asked find “dirt” and spy on Stephen Lawrence’s relatives in a bid to undermine the campaign to bring his killers to justice. Details of Scotland Yard’s witness-protection programme being compromised were included in a Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca) report which was suppressed  by the agency but leaked toThe Independent.

The same documents led to last week’s revelation by this newspaper that private detectives had been hired by major companies to hack, blag and steal personal information about rival companies and the public. The latest disclosures have heaped fresh pressure on the Met and Soca, who are thought to have withheld crucial details of the criminal world of private investigators from a parliamentary inquiry last year.Keith Vaz, the Labour MP who chairs the House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee, said: “These claims are absolutely devastating. The committee has agreed to call Soca to give evidence next week and [the Met Commissioner] Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe will be giving evidence on 9 July. It seems they will have some very difficult to questions to answer. We were very clear in our report that the link between private investigators and the police needs to be broken, so they can be properly investigated without fear and favour. However, no action was taken and we are still awaiting a Government response. This industry needs to be brought out of the shadows and be properly regulated.

“I have today written to request all the information Soca has on private investigators and their links with the public and private sector. We need to be certain there are no more skeletons to come out of the closet.”

The eight-page Soca memo referred to intelligence that PIs were employed by the “criminal fraternity” to “frustrate law enforcement”. The Independentunderstands that the same corrupt investigators have also worked for the News of the World. The Soca report includes intelligence that crime bosses were hiring PIs to access “internal police databases, including those containing serving officers’ private details” and “deleting intelligence records from law enforcement databases”.

The most shocking practice, however, involves attempts to trace protected witnesses. Soca noted that PIs often had an “abundance of law-enforcement expertise either through corrupt contacts or from a previous career in law enforcement”, and they were “attempting to discover location of witnesses under police protection to intimidate them”.

The Independent has spoken to the registered police informant “Michael Green”, who did not wish to be named for fear of reprisals.

He infiltrated a team of private investigators who worked closely with a corrupt former Met police officer, who is well-known to Scotland Yard but has never faced any criminal charges. He cannot be named for legal reasons so the informant referred to him as “Mr Brown”.
He said the gang used to “boast” of locating supergrasses in the witness protection programme and “actively worked on them to withdraw their damaging allegations”.

Mr Green said: “Indeed on one occasion I managed to get possession of a CD ROM disc which was a recording of a person in the witness protection programme being interviewed by Mr Brown who had traced him. Basically, Mr Brown wanted him to retract his evidence.
“My handlers wanted to have the disc copied, but I knew I had to hand it back, and I was concerned that if it was copied it might be discovered. I asked them to check with their own experts to see if that was possible.

Mr Green said his handlers told him that forensic experts claimed it would not be traceable. He said: “I persisted and asked for a second opinion which I believe they obtained from the security services. Their experts stated that it might be proven that the disc had been copied. As a result a sound recording was taken and the disc was not used to burn another copy.”
Despite being handed this extraordinary intelligence, the Met took no action against the private investigators or Mr Brown. The supergrass, whose identity is known to The Independent, later dramatically changed his evidence and caused several convictions to be overturned, to the great embarrassment of the Met and the Crown Prosecution Service.

The Met declined to comment and referred enquiries to a SOCA spokesperson who said: “This report remains confidential and SOCA does not comment on leaked documents or specific criminal investigations.”

Disclosures over the Met’s inability to maintain the security of its witness protection programme have also raised fresh questions over the decision by the Leveson Inquiry to ignore the bombshell SOCA report.

The confidential document was offered to the public inquiry into the press and police by Ian Hurst, a former British Army intelligence officer whose computer was hacked by private investigators employed by the News of the World.

However, in an email to Mr Hurst’s lawyer, Kim Brudenell, the solicitor to the Inquiry said: “The Inquiry does not propose to go into further detail or take further evidence regarding these matters and so will not be pursuing the [informant], utilising Mr Hurst’s statement as evidence or calling him to provide further oral evidence.”

Lord Justice Leveson then embarked on a fortnight of hearings dominated by arguably far less evidence from union officials, civilian police workers and press officers from provincial police forces. Mr Hurst told The Independent: “Leveson obviously considered the media officer for Staffordshire police to be far more relevant to his Inquiry than the experiences of a man who had spent years infiltrating a criminal gang with direct knowledge of Metropolitan police and News of the World corruption.

“There is no more sensitive system within the police than the witness protection programme. I would have thought evidence of it being compromised almost at will by corrupt detectives, private investigators who work with newspapers and organised crime syndicates would have been relevant to culture, practice and ethics of the press and police.”

However, the Met’s former deputy assistant commissioner Brian Paddick did manage to publicly reveal that the witness protection programme had been compromised during his evidence to the Inquiry.

He told Lord Justice Leveson: “That is something I would expect the (Met) to take with the utmost seriousness. However, there is nothing in the documents disclosed to me to suggest that anything was done.”

Despite the acute sensitivities and the Met’s bizarre, decade-long inaction to tackle the corrupt private investigators, Lord Justice Leveson barely referred to the matter in his final report, published last November – for fear of compromising ongoing criminal investigations. He said: “Although I understand the concern, it would not be appropriate for me to go further.”
Tom Watson, the campaigning Labour MP, said: “It is absolutely shocking that the media-criminal nexus could have got anywhere near compromising the Met’s witness protection programme.

“These new revelations are the strongest argument I have heard for Lord Justice Leveson conducting Part Two of his Inquiry as soon as the criminal cases are over.”

A Leveson Inquiry spokesperson said: “The terms of reference for the Inquiry were absolutely about the culture, practices and ethics of the press and how they engaged with the public, the police and politicians. Evidence on other issues would have been considered to have been outside those terms of reference.”

Generation Y: why young voters are backing the Conservatives

 Young people are supposed to be left-leaning idealists, but polls tell us that today's under-34s don't believe in handouts and high taxes – and they're voting for David Cameron
David Cameron Speaks At A Campaign Event In Bury
David Cameron at a secondary school in Bury in 2010. Photograph: Oli Scarff/Getty Images
If you want a good idea of where Britain might be headed, go to Peterborough. The city centre is smattered with the usual high-street names, and scores of empty shops (51, at the last count). Plenty of people complain about youth unemployment. The area of the city around a thoroughfare called Lincoln Road is a little Poland, smattered with businesses that also see to the needs of people from Portugal, the Baltic states, and more. Mention immigration, and you tend to get two kinds of response: tributes from recently arrived people to the kind of life that's possible in the UK, and angry, sullen opinions from locals who think advantages and opportunity are flowing in the wrong direction.
I spent a few days in and around the city a couple of months ago, and as well as all those issues, I was reminded of another very modern syndrome: the fact that as you progress down the age range, opinions about the job market and welfare state tend to harden, to the point that droves of twentysomethings sound like devout Thatcherites. In my regular trips around Britain for the Guardian's Anywhere But Westminster series, this has become almost a given. Quiz people under 30, in short, and you're more than likely to hear echoes of the kind of on-yer-bike, sink-or-swim values that decisively embedded themselves in British life when they were mere toddlers.
So it was in Peterborough, where I stopped for a chat with a young woman – born and raised in Cambridgeshire, it seemed – who was selling subscriptions to LoveFilm, next to a row of empty retail outlets and a branch of Caffe Nero. "British people are rubbish," she said. "Lads especially need to be pushed into jobs more."
"I think they need to stop letting people into the country, to start with," she went on, and then paused. "And stop jobseeker's, as well. I don't think it's right."
This was a reference to jobseeker's allowance, the benefit that pays unemployed people under 25 the princely sum of £56.80 a week. "There are hardly any people that are willing to go and get any job that's out there, just to say: 'I've earned that money'," she continued. "They want the best, don't they?"
At this point, my lefty, bleeding-heart soul could take no more, and I blurted out a riposte. Don't they just want to be paid seven or eight quid an hour and be treated with some respect?
"I was on £6.55 in my last job," she said. "If you don't want to go to college, start at the bottom and work your way up."
Such are the prevailing opinions of what pollsters call Generation Y, the millions of people born between 1980 and 2000, who have grown up in a country in which postwar collectivism is increasingly but a distant memory, and the free-market worldview handed on from Thatcher, to Major to Blair and Brown and now Cameron, is seemingly as ordinary and immovable as the weather. I have heard much the same stuff in Manchester, Birmingham, Swansea, Brighton and beyond. This is not a view of things, moreover, solely borne out by random vox pops: careful, long-term research highlights exactly the same things, in spades.
Earlier this year, the polling company Ipsos MORI began to publish the fruits of its work on 17 years' worth of polling results, spread across four generations, starting with those born in 1945 or before, and ending with Generation Y. Among the most striking examples of a yawning gap between the generations was their respective responses to the claim that "the government should spend more money on welfare benefits for the poor, even if it leads to higher taxes" – a signifier for the principle of redistribution, support for which has fallen among all generations over the past 20 or so years. Here, though, is the remarkable thing: whereas around 40% of those born in 1945 or before still agree, the numbers tumble as you move down the age range, reaching around half that figure among those aged 33 and under. Similarly, among Gen Y, the claim that "the creation of the welfare state is one of Britain's proudest achievements" is now supported by around 20% of people; when it comes to the prewar cohort, the figure always hovered at around 70%.

Adele  Adele said her tax bill made her: 'ready to go and buy a gun and randomly open fire'. Photograph: Jason Merritt/Getty Images

This, says Ipsos MORI's accompanying blurb, "clearly raises important questions about the future of the welfare state". It certainly does, and the point is fleshed out by poll after poll. In research done by ICM in March, for example, the idea that most unemployed people receiving benefits were "for the most part unlucky rather than lazy" was rejected by 48% of 18- to 24-year-olds, and 46% of 25- to 34-year-olds, who apparently agreed with what we now know as the striver/skiver divide.
Look at the polling data relating to other issues and one thing becomes clear. In many ways, Gen Y is admirably socially enlightened: its support for gender equality and gay rights is overwhelming, and on such ideas as the wearing of traditional dress in state schools, its live-and-let-live mores tower over those of older generations. Moreover, among its younger members, the fusty, nostalgic politics of Ukip seems to have very limited appeal: when the party scored its highest ever ICM poll rating back in May, though its support among the 25-34s stood at 21%, the figure for the 18-24s was a comparatively paltry 8%.
A large share of Generation Y seems to build its opinions around a liberalism that is both social and, crucially, economic. This, conveniently, also forms the core of the modern Toryism espoused by David Cameron and George Osborne.
Which brings us to the next revelation, which reached the media last week. Though the under-34s are less keen on the idea of political loyalty than older cohorts, latter-day Tories have apparently managed to speak to a creditable swath of Gen Y, and pull off an amazing political feat. When Cameron took over the Tory leadership in 2005, the party's support among Generation Y stood at 10%. It has since more than doubled, to 20.5%: when Osborne gets up to deliver his latest spending review and serve further notice that the state must be hacked back, and the economy must somehow be rebalanced between private and public, large numbers of young people will apparently be in full agreement.
One recent YouGov poll put support for the Tories among the 18-24s at 31%, with Labour trailing at 27%. By way of a contrast, Tory support among those aged 40-59 was at 29%, with Labour on 40%. In other words, the time-worn wisdom about politics and the young may be in the process of being turned on its head. Welcome, then, to yet another element of the New Normal, and a sobering fact: when it comes to questions about the welfare state, work and the like, the younger you are, the more rightwing you're likely to be.
At which point, some caveats. I'm a comparatively ancient 43, and it has always seemed to me that my own generation – X, the pollsters call it – has been something of a washout. We seemed to be rendered punch-drunk by Thatcherism, holding on to a vague affection for the postwar welfare state – we could get the dole with no questions asked, after all – and being stunned into silence by the social and political revolution that began in our childhood, and was firmly embedded by the time we reached our 20s. For a time, many of us switched off from politics altogether. On that score, I have always liked a sentence written by that eminent Gen X-er Zadie Smith: "I saw the best minds of my generation accept jobs on the fringes of the entertainment industry."
At least part of Generation Y, by contrast, seems to be not just angry with the ever-rightward drift of politics, but more than prepared to take the kind of action at which most of my lot would have balked. It seems outraged by such issues as the marketisation of higher education, the position of the super-rich, and the all-pervasive effects of austerity. If you doubt this, consider the events of November 2010, when all those students laid siege to the Conservative party's HQ at Millbank, and trashed it, along the way spurning the kind of tepid politics espoused by the leadership of the NUS. Note also the fired-up voices who have given Generation Y a huge political visibility: the columnist and author Owen Jones, the left-feminist Laurie Penny, the people who have clustered around such brilliantly trailblazing groups as UK FeministaPeople and Planet and UK Uncut.
And yet, and yet. Might the true views of Gen Y have been better summed up by 23-year-old Adele Adkins, whose response to the brief era of a 50% top rate of tax oozed the stuff of post-Thatcher individualism? Just to recap: "I'm mortified to have to pay 50%. I use the NHS, I can't use public transport any more. Trains are always late, most state schools are shit, and I've got to give you, like, four million quid – are you having a laugh? When I got my tax bill in from [the album] 19, I was ready to go and buy a gun and randomly open fire." Lovely. 
Not that one should set huge store by the often frazzled views of mere pop stars and celebs, but it may also be worth noting that Harry Styles (19) issued a mournful tweet about the death of Margaret Thatcher, and that the Marx-like oracle Rylan Clark (24) described her as a "legend" before affecting to think better of it. At the upper end of the Gen Y age range, consider also the infamous views of Frank Turner, the 31-year-old old-Etonian singer who apparently thinks that when it comes to the relationship between government and the individual, there should be an emphasis on "minimising the impact on ordinary people's lives … allow[ing] them to get on with their lives and not be bothered by the state. Then you've suddenly got a range of things to talk about that are achievable. Like everything from not having ID cards and trying to dismantle the surveillance system we've put together in this country on the one hand, trying to remove government from people's lives, social services. Letting people be freer, health and safety, whatever it might be." On the face of it, that all chimes brilliantly with the aforementioned polling.
But never mind pop stars and singer-songwriters. In the real world, what's often most remarkable about the Gen Y worldview is the way it extends even to people who, on the face of it, might have very good reason to think that economic liberalism and hostility to the welfare state have done them very few favours at all.
Last year, I went to Warrington, the sprawling Cheshire town that shares with Peterborough the sense of somehow being modern Britain incarnate. I was there to have a look at the local version of the Work Programme, the government initiative that aims to get people suffering long-term unemployment back into work, apparently by convincing them that joblessness is usually the result of character failings rather than the state of the economy.
There, I met a 27-year-old man who had just managed to re-enter the world of work, though the only thing he could find was a temporary contract delivering sofas. Around us were shelves peppered with self-help books; the people in charge assured me that even if work seemed thin on the ground, the people they supervised could always look for "hidden jobs". So I wondered: did he think that the fact he was unemployed was his fault?
His reply was just this side of heartbreaking. "Yeah," he said. "I do. I think I should have applied for more. I should have picked myself up in the morning, got out, come to a place like this – tried more. When you're feeling down, you start blaming the world for your mistakes – you feel the world owes you. And it doesn't. You owe the world: you have to motivate yourself, and get out there, and try."
There it was again: the up-by-the-bootstraps Conservatism of Norman Tebbit and Margaret Thatcher, largely unchallenged during the New Labour years, and now built into millions of young lives as a simple matter of fact. Oh, Generation Y. Why?