Sunday, 24 July 2011

A sense of perspective

On  Thursday night, Tom Harris emailed me to ask if I had any material for LabourHame. Not before the weekend, I replied. I’m too busy. And on Friday, the world changed.

The politics of Scotland had seemed a minor matter for the last fortnight. The lies and deceit surrounding the phone hacking scandal, slowly smouldering for the last five years, burst spectacularly into flame. For all the attempts to find a Scottish angle, relating to the SNP’s equal (to our own) past obeisance at the altar of the Murdochs, this has been a British event. The only real Scottish relevance is the background realisation that it is absurd to suggest that this is happening in what some would have as a foreign country.

But even that seems trivial compared to the events in Norway.

No country is immune from nutters. Norway is the Country our Nationalist rivals most commonly quote when searching for an example as to how an independent Scotland might conduct its affairs. That’s not a criticism of them, for Norway is an admirable example: liberal in its social policy; egalitarian in its economic policy; engaged progressively in world affairs. If Scotland were to become independent, there are a lot of worse examples, not least in the nasty wee fascist apologist regimes in the Baltic Republics, with which the Nats also, from time to time, seek to associate themselves. 

We are exceptionally lucky to live in an age and in a place where random acts of political violence are confined to nutters. No one on the left is entitled to self-satisfaction in this regard, for, while in relation to individual violent acts we are, probably, less guilty than others, when it comes to state violence, we can compete with the best.

But the lesson which emerges from the events of Utoya is a lesson for all of us, or at least all of us who believe politics should only be conducted through civilised debate. We need to be careful.

One of the Sunday papers (a British one, not a Scottish one) writes today about the violent rhetoric which hides behind the anonymity enjoyed by those posting on the internet. Its observations are all too familiar to those acquainted with Scottish cybernationalism.. Almost all of the cybernats wouldn’t hurt a fly. They must however have regard to the terms of their dialogue; not in respect of the offence  they cause to their opponents but rather to the danger that there might be the occasional nutter, on their own side, inclined to take them seriously. Just as any number of Rangers fans expressing their semi-ironic hatred of Neil Lennon appear to have lead to someone deciding to send him a bomb; just as legitimate (if misconceived) opposition to multiculturalism, expressed in intemperate terms,  appears to have inspired  Breivik. There is nothing wrong with robust debate but those who hide behind internet anonymity to express caricatured and extreme versions of their own views need to be careful that all of those who read them realise that this is all they are expressing, a caricatured and extreme view, rather than, instead, a coded “call to action”.

Certainly, we can’t let nutters constrain the terms of our debate but, equally, we shouldn’t forget that there are, regrettably, plenty of nutters out there. And that, nutters or not, the enemies of democracy are the enemies of us all.

Monday, 18 July 2011

Not good news.

This is at least my third attempt at this blog. Such is the speed of developments over the last week that blogs left half finished overnight have been completely overtaken and rendered redundant by the time it comes to finish them the next day.

So, at the point of writing this sentence I have no idea whether it will ever appear publicly. No doubt some of you who might, or might not, end up reading it will have your own views as to whether that would have been a welcome development.

Its topic is unnatural allies and their consequences.

At the point of writing (conscious repetition here) the assumption that the big losers from the eventual fall out from the News international scandal will be the Tories. That won’t necessarily be the case.

The Tories and the Murdoch press are natural allies. Since they are both free market; anti-European, indeed anti foreigner of any sort; jingoistic in their foreign policy and draconian in their approach to domestic policy, it is no wonder if the Murdoch press would encourage their readers to support the Party which most closely reflected the views of their owner. And it was therefore no surprise that David Cameron would hire a press spokesman from that stable, any more than it would be if a Labour leader hired a press spokesman from the Daily Mirror or the Guardian, a point to which I will return in spades. No, the scandal is the basis on which Murdoch offered his support to a completely different political party and what was offered in return.

When did the phone hacking scandal start? Milly Dowler was murdered in 2002 and in the immediate aftermath of her death we now know the Police knew her phone was being hacked and at least at some level, decided not to investigate. The unrelated  Devon and Cornwall investigation into the News of the World’s illegal access to the Police National Computer took place between 2003-05 when,  I have already pointed out, the charges brought were discontinued by a judge in the most curious of circumstances. The Metropolitan Police seized Glen Mulcaire’s notebooks in 2006, the same year the Sun, having obtained the details in what as yet remain unexplained circumstances, decided that the serious illness of Gordon Brown’s son was a legitimate story. Any one of these events might  have given rise to an independent investigation of the activities of the Murdoch press.  None did. The Prime Minister at the time? Anthony Charles Lynton Blair. And the Commissioner?  His namesake, Sir Iain, that most politically sensitive of all senior Police Officers.

At the highest level, the Police are not immune to the signals they receive from politicians. Policing has to have priorities like any other profession and senior Policemen know that there is unlikely to be much support in political circles for investigating those with a close relationship to the Governing party. And let us be in no doubt that when the inquiry into this gets under way, we are likely to hear a great deal about the signals they received to that effect.

I find it simply inconceivable that the Police were directly bought off by News International.  But I do think that if they decided that they could give the investigation little or no priority, as this coincided with the wishes of the Government of the day, they would have been entirely justified in their conclusions.

The most distressing but unavoidable conclusion of all this is that if Tony Blair hadn’t fallen, even now, it is highly unlikely any of this would ever have seen the light of day. For while the Tories and Murdoch might have had ideological reasons to travel together, the only basis for our dealings with him could be on the basis of mutual self interest. Our interest was in the endorsement of his papers; his in ensuring we didn’t interfere with him making money in whatever way he saw fit. And if the Dowler’s of this world got hurt in the process, who cared? We certainly didn’t.

Gordon didn’t do himself any favours in his speech last week by failing to acknowledge any personal responsibilty. There is no doubt that his administration did not serve the Murdoch’s interests as slavishly as did Blair but equally it cannot be avoided that they continued to seek Murdoch’s  support and that until the 2009 Party Conference they perceived that the price of that support was that they would fail to act against their excesses.   That was a failure of morality which, if only to expected of Blair, was unworthy of Brown. While the quite shocking specific detail of the deletion of Milly Dowler’s phone messages might have been new and while there might even have been a “Hell mend them” attitude to the invasion of the privacy of so called celebrities, every Constituency MP knew of the appalling treatment the Murdoch Press routinely visited upon entirely innocent members of the public, often for having been no more than the victims of crime. And every person in public life knew that the Press Complaints Commission was an utterly useless safeguard against these excesses. Yet nothing was done because of the Faustian Pact Blair had struck with Murdoch and which, to his eternal shame, Gordon would have continued given the chance.

But, do you know, I don’t think anybody believed that extended to the tolerance of active criminality and that’s where, I think, Cameron may himself prove to have been a victim. When he employed Coulson, surely he was entitled to assume that, if what was being said about this man was true, something would have been done about it by the Government: not acting as a Labour Government but simply as the type of Government expected to put the law of the land above any Party advantage as, notwithstanding the political damage, Cameron is doing now.  He was deceived not only, allegedly, by Coulson but by the naive belief that New Labour was a creation operating within the basic rules of morality. That doesn’t excuse his recklessness in making the appointment, a recklessness that might yet cost him his own job but, to be fair, in this mis-assessment of New Labour, he was not the first to make that mistake.

That even at the height of this row, Ed Miliband’s more Blairite advisers cautioned against speaking out in the hope that silence might, in time, allow the return to the status quo ante in Labour’s relations with Murdoch says just about everything. It is to Ed’s eternal credit that he saw clearly that this was not something which could be framed in the parameters of right versus left; it was rather, instead, a matter of right versus wrong.
But when the immediate furore subsides, as it inevitably will, and the detailed evidence gathering starts, regrettably the general public are unlikely to reward our Party with support for two weeks of action when it is seen to be weighed against thirteen years of inaction, and possibly worse.

So, it is good that Murdoch’s power has been broken but let’s not assume the examination of the wreckage will play out to the advantage of the Labour Party.  Blair’s legacy can’t be so easily renounced. 

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

My best pal is a journalist. I have accepted the less than occasional drink from journalists and even reciprocated when it was my round. Scottish Labour Action, an organisation of impeccable motive, prospered for many years on the basis of "off the record" briefings to journalists and, if we could plant a story with a tabloid, so much the better, as a lot more people would read it.

Politics and journalism are natural bedfellows. What has happened this week has got (expletive deleted) all to do with that.

If the Sunday Times tried to find out, by dubious means, if Gordon Brown had been allowed to purchase a house at a knock down price in the hope of future personal financial favours, that is legitimate investigative journalism. It wasn't true and they didn't publish. But if it had been true, then peripheral "law breaking" to establish the truth would have been of no interest to anyone; as indeed it was when the Parliamentary expenses scandal was exposed by the Telegraph on the basis of "stolen" data. At no point did Woodward and Bernstein pause to consider whether they were breaking the US equivalent of the Official Secrets Act, nor would we, any of us, have expected them to do.

And if some b list celebrity wants to hold themselves out as a model of marital fidelity to improve the value of their supermarket appearances while actually shagging anything in sight, then Hell mend them. Exposing them might not be my chosen occupation but it has a legitimate role, not least in defence of those genuinely entitled to the financial bonus of true moral virtue. And if the exposure sells newspapers, no harm to those who invested the time to seek it out. That's capitalism.

Everybody (and excepting Lord Ashcroft and and a handful of writers (I don't give them the distinction of "journalists")) understands the difference between that and what has caused so much genuine outrage in the last fortnight.

Some people can't help  becoming involved in the news. They didn't seek it and they almost certainly wouldn't have wanted it. But, such is the prurient interest of the public they are newsworthy nonetheless. Proper regulation of the press would have accepted that premise but, and I'm sorry to resort to cliche, distinguished between what interests the public and what is genuinely in the public interest.  It didn't,  but it failed to do so in the most cynical ways. It created an Editor's Code of Conduct which was beyond reproach but it then appointed (and well remunerated) guardians of that code who were, as the great V.I. Lenin put it, useful idiots: at worst because they feared losing that remuneration or, at worse still, because they were, actually and truly, just idiots.

But what of the politicians, charged with defending the public interest? Well they failed to act, not for support for these appaling activities but in the belief, at best, that they could trade the interests of the innocent for political support or, worse still, that if other innocent victims could be found, then they were less likely to become victims themselves. Innocent or otherwise.

There is nothing wrong with self regulation of professions, but professions have standards of entry and procedures by which those, once admitted, can nonetheless be expelled. That Clive Goodman, having served a prison sentence for illegal news gathering on one tabloid, was then employed on his release by a different tabloid is simply inconceivable to anyone with experience of other models of professional regulation. If I did that with a bent lawyer, I'd be struck off before you could say Andy Hayman.

So here's my suggestion for the regulation of the Press. It was my proposal when I sought inclusion on the Labour Party's panel of candidates in 1998 and it remains my solution today. We let the Press regulate themselves. BUT if a complaint is made to the PCC and rejected there is an appeal to the Courts. All however they can do is declare that the PCC has failed to apply its own rules (and award expenses). That's all; nothing else; just put it on the record. I fail to see how that would be an intrusion on press freedom; it only involves an objective commentary on the rules the press set for themselves. Indeed , if the PCC was actually applying these rules (Ho, ho, ho) it could have anything to fear from such an external monitor. Even the useful idiots.

That's it. Off to bed (with my wife).

Sorry, nearly forgot. In the midst of all these resignations and demanded resignations, why is Baroness Buscombe still in office?

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Reflections on events, political and judicial

I wrote not too long ago about Lord Rodger’s funeral.

One of the stranger elements of that day was my reaction to one of the other mourners. As I sat in the crematorium, looking out for familiar faces, as one regrettably does on such occasions, my heart was suddenly chilled by the entry of Lord (Andrew) Hardie.

Lord Hardie is a hanging judge. His presence on the list, as being down to deal with your case, is an imperative for any defence lawyer to try anything, and I mean anything, to try and get the matter moved elsewhere. It is not unknown for genealogists to be engaged in the hope of locating a distant, recently deceased, relative whose funeral must be attended.  For, believe me, Lord Hardie is a man who, while regularly appealed by the defence for being too punitive, would probably resign and retire in self imposed disgrace if he were ever subject to a Crown appeal for having been to lenient.

But, do you know what, he is part of the system.  If anybody tried to have a quiet word in his ear that he might be more considerate of modern sentencing policy, he would dismiss them with contempt. And if anybody suggested that it might be politically convenient for a case to work out in a particular way he would undoubtedly phone the Police.

That’s what goes with living in a democracy. You get terrible, reactionary judges. But you never question for a moment that you are nonetheless dealing with an independent judiciary. I nearly wrote “for good or ill” about an independent judiciary but there is really no “ill” about it.

We have judges who make decisions, and appeal courts who, in the face of decisions taken in good faith but nonetheless incorrectly, proceed to correct these decisions.

I can’t really get my head around the events of the last week.

I love political thrillers. A rising star MP pushes their researcher under a tube train to avoid the embarrassing revelation of their affair; or a senior cabinet minister throws a journalist to her death for having deduced his earlier crimes; a political activist is murdered to cover up her discovery of an illegal nuclear weapons programme. Brilliant entertainment.

But brilliant only because you never really believe this could happen in real life. And also because the entertainment itself is predicated on the assumption that, once the conspiracy is exposed, there will be honest politicians to denounce it; honest cops to investigate it and an independent judiciary to consign the surviving conspirators to their just deserts.

The problem with the last week is not that real life has imitated fiction: it is that the re-assuring assumptions that underpin that fiction have proved to be less certain in real life. And that’s not entertaining at all; it is frightening.

Obviously the revelations about the Sun and Gordon Brown’s wee boy are horrific but let’s not lose sight of what happened here the first time round. This happened when Gordon Brown was, on anybody’s view, at least the second most important politician in Britain with an impregnable Parliamentary majority behind him. If he had decided to take on Murdoch he would have had the enthusiastic support not only of his entire political Party and, given the issue, of the overwhelming majority of the British people. Even the PCC might have felt obliged to express mild disapproval of the publication involved, although admittedly there could have been no certainty of that. So, what did Gordon actually do? He cut a deal about the terms of publication. Are we really to believe that was because New Labour feared that Murdoch might otherwise endorse William Hague?

And then there’s the Polis. Where do we start with this? Let’s just ignore the Met. It is clear the Cops investigating the Milly Dowler case knew that her phone was being hacked and that this potentially interfered with their investigation. Nonetheless, they also did nothing, not even alerting the family informally that those in the press posing as their friends might actually be the exact opposite. Why? At best because they also were too scared of the retribution that might be visited upon them and that they would look around in vain for allies if that happened.

But finally there is the judiciary. Actually, they come out of this reasonably well. It was in the end judges who forced News International or, indirectly, the Police, to disclose the full extent of the phone hacking scandal. But, there is another slightly sinister detail in the reporting of the last two days. In 2003-05 misuse of the Police National Computer on behalf of the News of the World was traced back to one specific junior police officer Devon and Cornwall who had allegedly provided a private detective agency acting for the tabloid press with PNC information in relation to Gordon Brown and two other Labour MPs. A prosecution was launched. Before the start of the trial, before a witness was called, a County Court Judge ruled that the prosecution could not proceed as it would not be “a proportionate use of public resources”.

Now, I have represented many clients over the years charged with (in the legal term) pish. I have often, objectively, thought that a prosecution was not “a proportionate use of public resources” but I have accepted that, in the end, that is a decision for the Crown who have much wider considerations than the performance of a cost/benefit analysis, not least ensuring the respect for the rule of law.

I do not think that a motion to deny a prosecution as being a dis”proportionate use of public resources” is even competent in Scotland, but it must be in England, if that was, indeed, the ruling.  Even in England however, how common is it? And has it ever previously (ever) been sustained when the victims of the alleged crime include a serving Cabinet Minister?

There are no certainties at the moment except that there do, hopefully, remain some people of integrity at the top of British public life. Somehow however I would be altogether happier if the Judge to lead the public inquiry was to be announced to be.............. Lord Hardie.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Hello follower!

Just going to ramble a bit tonight, since on my happiest day since Thatcher resigned I admit to having had a celebratory libation.

Some guy I've never heard of but who is apparently the Labour MP for East Kilbride (I thought that was Adam Ingram) has made the front page of the Telegraph. Don't worry, its nothing to do with his expenses. He is concerned that the Scottish Labour Party is going too far down the nationalist road. Oddly, if the straw man he identifies were to be true, then I wouldn't entirely disagree with him. But in reality it's just a straw man. A devolved Parliament (which this chap, admittedly, seems to have reservations about in its entirety) means logically a devolved Party. That's all. The only danger, in Party terms, as in wider terms, is to polarise the debate between the status quo and complete independence. Thesis, antithesis, synthesis, as I'm sure they often observe in East Kilbride.

Anyway, what of the Government of Scotland? They are on holiday.

Now, anyone who knows me knows that I love my holidays. Three weeks in the warm South every Summer is essential to my personal well being and if they would only bump legal aid rates up a bit I would happily make that four weeks. But I'm also employed in a service industry. I am wise enough to know that my absence abroad will not lead to a three week hiatus in the client's need for legal advice.

So, before I go, I make contingency plans, roping in colleagues to fill the gaps that might not be within the competence of the Firm's other permanent staff. "If there is an offer on this injury claim, you can phone............; for an urgent domestic violence matter phone............; if there's a me and I'll get the first plane back."

This is what comes of having a proper job.

And, to be fair, Governing a Country is a proper job. But who is really governing Scotland this week?

I am not party to the holiday plans of the current administration or even, with a few exceptions, to those of the official opposition. But this has been a big week and from the devolved political class of Scotland there has been a deafening silence. Raymond Buchanan appears to have found "A Scottish government spokesman" to comment that the Scottish Government did not need to withdraw its advertising in the News of The World, as it didn't advertise there in the first place.

In the micro politics of the law the collapse of any effective advice to suspects in custody, imperiling not just the rights of the innocent but potentially the conviction of the guilty, finds another "Scottish Government Spokesman" (or possibly the same one) assuring us that there is nothing to worry about.

And that's about it.

And the opposition is no better: while legitimate questions are asked as to whether the Tories were/are too close to News International; or, indeed, New Labour were; whether the SNP might regret their former patrons remains an unanswered question as there appears to be nobody about to ask it.

All of this kind of leads me back to the man from East Kilbride. There is no real danger that the Scottish Government will become the Government of Scotland because nobody is serious about the idea. Stop an average citizen in the street of any Scottish City and ask them: "Who is in charge of the Government and, while a few might seek to define the question "Scottish or British", most would reply "David Cameron." (Admittedly one or two more might say "Rupert Murdoch" but they would just be clever b................. (I've foresworn swearing))

That's because Real Government is, in management speak, a 24/7/365, responsibility. It doesn't stop at the end of June and begin again on the last day of the school holidays anywhere in Scotland. But that is what passes for Government in Scotland, even under a Nationalist administration.

What we have in Scotland is public sector Government.

It may surprise my follower to learn that every child protection department in the former Strathclyde Region closes at 4pm on a Friday and re-opens at 9.30 on Monday. Now you might think that the overwhelming demand for child protection services would take place at weekends and you'd be right (just ask the Polis) but Child Protection Departments are not run for the benefit of children in need of  protection (don't be silly!), they are run primarily for the benefit of their staff. And surely these staff are entitled to go home early on a Friday? After all, four other days they work till 4.30. Is it any wonder so many of them are off with stress?

Within these parameters, why shouldn't our hard working politicians, kept at it three days a week, week in week out, thirty five weeks of the year, be entitled to a decent break?

And what if a major scandal breaks while they are away? Don't worry, they can always leave that to the Government.

That's me finished. Off to watch the telly. The good news is that I'll can watch Newsnight and Question Time back to back as I've got a Sky Player. What's wrong with that?

Monday, 4 July 2011

Some thoughts on a free press.

I was today at the funeral of Lord Rodger of Earlsferry.  A very great judge.

It was however also an occasion for the gathering of the legal great and good and, while I am not among them, by virtue of my former office, now demitted, I am, as they say, known to them. So it was a natural topic of conversation as to what I was now “getting up to”.

I explained that I had returned to the political fray and had my own blog: In consequence I suffered the light hearted teasing that I would become an internet lawyer; offering online advice to those whose cases were so hopeless that no real life lawyer would take them on.

All very jovial.

Politics however remains my hobby: the law my business.

Generally therefore, if you want my legal advice, you need to pay for it. Here however is one piece of gratuitous advice. Do not waste your time complaining to the Press Complaints Commission.

I say that not as an abstract or political observation but one based on professional experience.

Now, confidentiality is the single most important requirement of a lawyer, so, even in what follows, I have altered the detail insofar as it might allow the client to be identified. You will have to take my word that it is true.

My first experience involved a Labour representative whose son had committed a minor drugs offence. A very minor offence committed by quite literally thousands of young people. This offence had however attracted the attention of a tabloid newspaper not because of its seriousness but because of his father’s identity, his father being mentioned in the article more often than the actually perpetrator of this (far from) heinous crime.

The Press Complaints Code on this was clear.

i) Relatives or friends of persons convicted or accused of crime should not generally be identified without their consent, unless they are genuinely relevant to the story.

A slam dunk you might think. Don’t be ridiculous. The PCC ruled that the reporting was justified because the client had never spoken out against the current provisions of the Misuse of Drugs Act. And the reporting was thus “in the public interest”. Not, you understand, because the client  had spoken in  favour of the current law, or suggested his son be made an exception of in relation to its provisions. In reality the determination proceeded on the basis that the PCC code was no more than a form of words and it was certainly no part of the role of the PCC to do more than publish these words. And then find reasons to ignore them.

I gave up at this point but the client did not. He had spotted a report in the same publication that the daughter of a minor Scottish country and western singer had been arrested for shoplifting. Let’s accept your excuse in my case, he asked, how do you justify this? With the greatest of respect (meaning contempt) the Commission replied, since you have no connection to the Parties named, you have no locus to complain!

I could happily list any number of other examples but I will jump to something else. When, in 1998, the Labour Party created its Panel of Candidates for the Scottish Parliament, one of the tests was to give an example of legislation one might introduce to the Scottish Parliament if elected. My own, evidenced based example, was that the PCC code should be placed on a statutory footing: not, for the avoidance of doubt,  that the terms of the code should be anything other than self-imposed, but rather that if the Commission declined to apply its own rules there should be an appeal to the Court of Session.  This was an example of the Scottish Tail being able to wag the British dog. Since the red tops publish UK wide, an appeal in Scotland effectively meant an appeal anywhere.  I had no problem with that.

One might think however that a submission for acceptance to a panel of candidates was a matter of very minor interest indeed. Oddly enough, far from it. After my admitted acceptance to that panel, a very senior member of the Party’s leadership advised me that, if I wished to be actually selected, it would be as well not to press this proposal as it had come to the adverse attention of the Prime Minister’s Office.

What the (word omitted) was going on here? One could only conclude that Labour needed the tabloid press and the price of that dependence appeared to be that the self same press should be entitled to do what they like, hidden behind the charade of self-regulation.

Tonight, we have heard quite shocking revelations about the Milly Dowler case. The most sad element of this however was the perceived need of Tom Watson to appeal publicly for his own Party leadership to say something about this. Which they still haven’t.

So, freed from the need, once again, to climb the greasy pole here is what I suggest should happen.

1. The Police should be instructed to determine the facts as a matter of the utmost priority. (Even for these people I stand by the presumption of innocence)

2. Assuming the facts are prima facie established, all of those involved should be arrested and, if they maintain their innocence and are released on bail, their bail conditions should include having no part in the production of any publication until trial. If convicted they should receive lengthy periods of imprisonment, even if they have been dinner guests of the Prime Minister at Chequers.

3. For the avoidance of any misunderstanding, the DPP should be instructing the Metropolitan Police that the Crime they are investigating is not a technical contravention of the Data Protection Act or RIPA but rather an attempt to pervert the course of justice.

4. The PCC should be put on a statutory footing with immediate effect: its current membership dismissed and a new membership appointed through a proper “Nolan” process.

5. No final decision should be made on the takeover of BSKYB until the trials are concluded and if conviction follow not only should Murdoch be prevented from that takeover, he should be required to relinquish his existing shareholding under penalty of otherwise losing the company’s licence to operate in the UK.

I write all of this with no expectation at all that any of it will happen. After all, Murdoch has probably got the photographs.

And the last client I saw who nurtured a naive belief in self regulation?  We’re about to sue. God bless the European Convention on Human Rights.

Saturday, 2 July 2011

The Strange Case of Dominique Strauss-Kahn

Let us assume that next month Ed Miliband decides to visit New York to discuss the world economic situation. He stays there for a few days and goes to the airport for his return flight.

A few hours before, in another part of town, a man is found murdered. The Police interview his neighbours, On one side they advise they have seen nothing but did hear an argument the previous evening in which one of the participants had an English accent. On the other side, the neighbours had been out for the evening but, just as they returned home, they had seen a middle aged man pass them by who, keen watchers of British Prime Ministers Question time on PBS as they are, looked very like "that young man who debates with The British Prime Minister". CCTV footage confirms this and on looking into the victim's movements the police also discover that the deceased was in the Audience when Ed spoke to a Democratic Party Think Tank the previous day. Still sceptical of any link, they nonetheless are surprised to find that Ed's Amex Card has been used at an ATM near the victim's apartment the previous evening and more disturbed still when the corpse is identified as possibly belonging to the delegate who denounced him as "holding out no hope for progessive politics" at the self same Think Tank event. By this time they are thinking the unthinkable and are more alarmed still when they discover at Ed's Hotel that he has cut short his visit and proposing to return to the UK two days ahead of schedule.

Not unreasonably, they need to speak to him and alert the airport.

Now, what would you expect might happen next?

The Polis, on any view, have a prima facie case. On the other hand, their suspect is hardly likely to "do a runner" without his political career coming to an abrupt end irrespective of any ultimate outcome of the judicial process and, even then, is unlikely to escape justice for very long given that he is a pretty well kent face anywhere in the world. You might therefore expect that he be invited to remain in the USA, at an address known, with the implied threat of arrest if he indicates his preference for any alternative course of action.

Now, I mean no disrespect to Ed when I say he is hardly as well known as Dominique Strauss-Kahn, nor as certainly, or imminently, likely to be his Country's next political leader. Yet, were the hypothetical Ed to be treated other than I suggest in the circumstances I posit above, British public opinion would be outraged. And not just left wing opinion.

I have no reason to doubt that the authorities in New York had equally reasonable grounds to believe that DSK required to account for his actions faced with what appeared to be an allegation of serious wrongdoing. It is the rest of it which causes me serious disquiet.

Why was he arrested in the first place? Why then was he remanded in custody like, and I make no apology for the phrase, a common criminal? Why, when he was eventually released, was he made subject to such ludicrously over the top bail conditions? And why, when the case against him appears close to collapse, is he still prevented from leaving America to return to his home country? After all, I repeat, he is hardly likely to "do a runner" without abandoning all possible role in public life in France or anywhere else and, even then, be unlikely to be able to run very far.

I am congenitally unpredisposed towards conspiracy theories. I have no doubt JFK was shot by Lee Harvey Oswald; that Elvis is really dead and that the only reason Princess Di passed on is that she was unlucky enough to be driven in a fast car by a drunk man. Even to me however the DSK case stinks to high heaven.