Monday, 24 January 2011

My phone was hacked when I was an MP

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Tonight I have issued a press statement regarding the strong belief and growing evidence that my phone was hacked on the instruction of a reporter when I was a Member of Parliament.

This story about phone hacking into the Royal Family, celebrities, politicians (usually Labour or Liberal Democrat) and other people in or around the public eye has been much discussed and gradually more and more information has been disclosed about the dirty tricks used by some journalists and private investigators working for journalists. The BBC, The Guardian and the New York Times have tenaciously pursued the story in the face of vociferous denials and opposition newspapers from the News International stable dismissing the allegations.

The Timeline since 2006 shows ever decreasing circles closing in on senior staff at the News of the World who appear to have been aware of the practice of phone hacking. Clearly this is far more than a single "rogue reporter", which was peddled repeatedly by the News of the World. Given the Assistant Editor, Ian Edmundson has been suspended and recently Andy Coulson, Director of Communications at Downing Street and former Editor of the News of the World has quit (again), there is going to be a lot more information coming out into the public domain.
Andy Coulson
Andy Coulson, former Editor of the News of the World
These criminal practices by journalists and those around them go much further than just the News of the World, in fact, many more newspapers including the Mirror, bought information from Steve Whittamore, who was given a two year conditional discharge for breaching the Data Protection Act. Invading someone's privacy on a mass scale can leave to court action. However, the Police have been incredibly slow and disappointingly too cautious in the way they have shied away from thoroughly investigating the widespread abuse. It hasn't helped that several witnesses have refused to co-operate but it is high time now that all victims were informed of how they were abused and what action the police intend to take.

Over the past eighteen months I have been endeavouring to get to the truth of who was attempting to maximise damage on my life back in 2003. In that year, for instance, someone impersonated a police officer in an attempt to try and find out personal information on me. It caused a huge amount of upset and anxiety for my family when first we thought a serious incident had occurred and later when until I checked with the Shropshire Police and the Metropolitan Police we found that no such 'Police Officer' existed. I was then left wondering if someone was going to threaten myself or my family's security and we lived under siege for a while fearing the worst. Likewise, my mobile was acting strangely and clearly someone was finding out private information for which there did not seem to be an explanation. It again caused so much heart ache and stress wondering day in and day out what was going on.

At the time, I assumed that given I had left the Labour Party in December 2001 over my opposition to the war in Afghanistan and demand for a vote in parliament, political insiders were involved to an obsessive level in trying to discredit me. With hindsight I was under the misapprehension that it was the Labour Party who was behind the subversion.I was angry and upset at the apparent dirty tricks and regularly attacked Labour politically on a range of issues all the time thinking I was being personally undermined by rogue elements within the party. I was wrong. I can now see from the evidence that my anger was misdirected and that the responsibility lay with a small, ugly part of the media.

My solicitor, Mark Lewis of Taylor Hampton Solicitors has prepared the following statement:-

Today Paul Marsden, former Labour MP confirmed that he has initiated legal action against a reporter and the Mirror Group following receipt of information and evidence.

Mr Marsden said, “I can confirm that I have instructed my Solicitor (Mark Lewis) to write to the Mirror regarding private stories which appeared in that paper. I have strong reasons to believe that I was the victim of unlawful hacking by a reporter who subsequently moved to the News of the World, under Andy Coulson.

“I understand that the reporter was suspended last year in respect of hacking carried out for that paper last year.

“It would not be appropriate to make detailed comments while sensitive enquiries are being made of the phone company O2.

Contact Mr Mark Lewis, at Taylor Hampton Solicitors”

We are accumulating information and evidence steadily that will allow court action against individuals. When I can say more, I will.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Vote Labour in Oldham & Saddleworth today

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Voting To Begin In Oldham East By-Election ...
Oldham and Saddleworth go to the polls today in a byelection
Today is the Oldham and Saddleworth by-election. It was brought about by the harsh judgement (but one that has to be respected) that the democratically elected Member of Parliament, Phil Woolas had lied about his election opponent. Given the tumultuous parliamentary history of these Isles, there must be hundreds of past politicians who similarly would have been stripped of their seats, if they had been prosecuted for their views on political opponents.

Nevertheless, the decision of the court stands and maybe in the future will help raise the level and quality of debate in elections. It will certainly act as a deterrent to any candidate who thinks it safe to engage in dirty tactics or personal attacks.

Today is decision time as to who would make the best MP for the constituency.
Debbie Abrahams is the Labour Party candidate and is someone who stands up for what she believes in. Back in 2006 she resigned in protest at changes brought in by Labour over healthcare reform. That shows she is not afraid to stick to her convictions and principles and not just speak out but to take action. It's not a weakness but an asset. Oldham and Saddleworth need someone who will be a tough constituency MP and based on her past record Debbie looks like she will be a great champion for the area in the House of Commons.

Debbie has spoken about her concerns with transport, policing, jobs and the economy and especially healthcare. Those are the words of someone who cares about real issues affecting real people and her confidence is apparent when speaking.

Voting Labour will also send a strong signal to the Coalition that in spite of winning a court battle to overturn the election result and highlighting lies that were allegedly made by Phil Woolas and his election team, that the voters in Oldham and Saddleworth want to be heard. Their concerns about rising tuition fees, rising taxes, fewer jobs and the affects of the public sector cuts need to make their way into No. 10. The Coalition has made the wrong choices about how to improve the economy and have failed to distribute the burden fairly.

Bankers do not need a tax cut (compared to last year) whilst ordinary folk are losing jobs and seeing the standard of living plummet.

Today I hope Debbie Abrahams is elected as the new Labour MP for Oldham and Saddleworth.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Sarah Palin - a refusal to make a new start in political debate

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Sarah Palin
Sarah Palin has posted a video on FaceBook, which is long on diplomatic aloofness and polished phrases but an utter failure to accept and grasp the poisonous degeneration of US political debate. A debate that she has assisted in dragging down to new lows.

Sarah Palin had an opportunity to think deeply about how to move her own supporters away from gun metaphors and toxic ripostes to political opponents. But instead she ignored the hate filled airwaves and bitter condemnations that have become commonplace. She just blamed purely the individual and seemed to naively think that the environment of debate has no impact on the actions of the individual.

I fear for the coming storm of the Presidential election that the poison will re-appear.

Sarah Palin you are no Jack Kennedy nor Ronald Reagan. No, you are a Joe McCarthy. You base you political philosophy on threats and viciousness dressed up as freedom of speech. Shame on you.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

US - crisis of conscience

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Maybe just maybe at long last America is finally having a real debate about the causes of the slaying of six people in Tucson and the 14 injured, including the attempted assassination of Congresswoman Giffords. Thank goodness she seems to be making good progress. However, I say maybe, as I fear that the Right will fall over itself to divert attention away from its poisonous rhetoric and vitriol by finding all sorts of reasons why someone picked up a gun and tried to kill Gabrielle Giffords, her staff and those around her.

When I posted a link to the previous post on the LinkedIn social media network, I received various comments. Those comments ranged from protestations that the President was well protected and unlikely to be assassinated through to my post being "wholly inappropriate" and concluding with wanting to report me to the FBI and CIA (no idea why but presumably highlighting the appalling language used in political debate and the consequences of that language makes me a threat in some way). Frankly, I doubt whether some had actually read my post. I apologise to any one who took offence and yes the headline was hard hitting, but it is time that the vitriol ends.

As someone who has a solid antiwar record and a long-standing commitment to peace resolution of international disputes through the United Nations, some of the comments are rather bizarre. Nevertheless, the most curious outcome was that some readers entirely missed the point of the post. 

Here is the advert used by Gabby Giffords' opponent, Jesse Kelly:-

 

Right winders can squirm and make all the excuses they like but civilised democracies do not shrug and accept so called mainstream political candidates preaching such contentious one liners as "remove Gabrielle Giffords from office Shoot a fully automatic M16". The Republicans will argue that it was just a regular fund-raiser and that guns are part of the American DNA. May be they are correct but now is the time to take a step back and ask; perhaps its time we stopped associating our gun culture with defeating political opponents. 

Guns belong on the ranch or in the hands of professional soldiers and police officers. It is inevitable that those who are mentally unstable and/or extremist right-wingers will pick up on this language as being normal and acceptable. They will also take it to the next logical level. 

After Tucson, Sarah Palin had a perfect opportunity to calm the rhetoric and take it down a notch. Did she? No she did nothing of the sort. Palin needs to show some political maturity and leadership but saying that some language has gone too far.


Examples of the 'gun language' in politics (from The First Post):-
  • "Don't retreat, reload" was one of Palin's lines to her supporters when one of her Tea Party picks was whacked in the polling booth in November. 
  • Other Tea Party maenads had their own punchy lines. Michele Bachmann, from Minnesota, truly over the top and now locked up by nervous Republican leaders in the House Intelligence Committee, where by definition she has to keep her mouth shut, has been in the habit of saying, "I want citizens armed and dangerous".
  • Tea Partier Sharon Angle, who nearly defeated Senate Majority leader Harry Reid last November in Nevada, liked to invoke the possibility of "Second Amendment remedies" – the Second Amendment being the one that sanctifies in the US Constitution the people's right to bear arms. 
  • Conservative Florida radio host Joyce Kaufman, designated staff director of a newly elected Florida congressman, quit her job after two days in Washington when a video clip surfaced displaying her exclaiming at a political rally last July 4: "If ballots don't work, bullets will".

Equally, some vitriolic attacks by those on the Left have gone to far. MoveOn.Org have very commendably petitioned Congress to drop 'violence' from political language. Absolutely, but do they seriously think comparing George Bush to Adolf Hitler was a reasonable discourse of her foreign policy?

YouTube Preview Image

Likewise, for over 2,000 people to befriend a FaceBook page stating "I hate it when I wake up and Sarah Palin is still alive".  Frankly that is just appalling. The examples of abuse on that page send shivers down my spine. The posts are talking about political opponents, as if they are enemies to be killed in a war.

As a Member Parliament, I faced death threats and threats of physical harm in my constituency office resulting in two court cases against unstable individuals. I shudder to think what would have happened if they had access to guns. So speaking from experience, I urge the American people and its leaders and influencers of public opinion on all sides; tone down the language of debate and engage in consensus building.

As Gabby Giffords said, "We are on Sarah Palin's targeted list. The way that she has it depicted has the crosshairs of the gunsight over our district. When people do that, they have got to realize there are consequences to that action."

It's time America woke up, otherwise more unstable and extremist people are going to get whipped up in the intolerant, violent language and pick up the guns. With an election coming and candidates out in the open more regularly, there is an increased risk that someone somewhere will try another assassination. My fear, is that there will be an attempt against the President.

Sunday, 9 January 2011

How long before an attempted assassination of President Obama?

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The terrible shooting of Congresswoman Giffords, Judge John Roll and others including a nine year old child born on 9/11, yesterday demonstrated how the US is a bitterly divided nation to the point that those with extremist views or who are mentally unstable are killing and injuring political opponents. It could have been a random shooting but first indications are that the main suspect had posted ominous warnings about his actions and was caught up in the prejudice and hatred of the hard Right.
Was Congresswoman Giffords shot as a result of the febrile, hate filled atmosphere of the rabid Right?
Sarah Palin as the Tea Party's pin up girl, must take responsibility to a degree. You cannot place gun sights over the seat of a Congresswoman and not expect (in the hate filled noise of political argument) for someone somewhere to take up a gun and use it. 

Palin is not fit to be a Governor let alone a President and yet she (at least before the shooting of Giffords) had a very good chance of becoming the Republican Nominee. A recent poll showed Obama would comfortably beat her in a contest (the poll showed a 22 point lead) but there is two years to go before an election and poll leads can easily change. 
Poll: Obama vs. Palin in 2012
Will Obama face Palin in 2012?
In 1988, Michael Dukakis had a poll lead of 55 to 38 percent (17 points) and went on to be trounced by George HW Bush in the election 53 to 45 percent. The question is; will her current rhetoric secure the Republican nomination before she rows back towards the centre to try and win the election? By then the consequences of her rabble rousing could have devastating consequences. 
As the Huffington Post reported, "Giffords expressed similar concern, even before the shooting. In an interview after her office was vandalized, she referred to the animosity against her by conservatives, including Sarah Palin's decision to list Giffords' seat as one of the top "targets" in the midterm elections.
"For example, we're on Sarah Palin's targeted list, but the thing is, that the way that she has it depicted has the crosshairs of a gun sight over our district. When people do that, they have to realize that there are consequences to that action," Giffords said in an interview with MSNBC." Quite.
The Huff went on to report:-
"Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik described the gunman as mentally unstable and possibly acting with an accomplice. He said Giffords was among 13 people wounded in the melee that killed six people, including a 9-year-old girl, an aide for the Democratic lawmaker and U.S. District Judge John Roll, who had just stopped by to see his friend Giffords after celebrating Mass. Dupnik said the rampage ended only after two people tackled the gunman.
The sheriff blamed the vitriolic political rhetoric that has consumed the country, much of it centered in Arizona.
"When you look at unbalanced people, how they respond to the vitriol that comes out of certain mouths about tearing down the government. The anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous," he said. "And unfortunately, Arizona, I think, has become the capital. We have become the mecca for prejudice and bigotry."

There have been at least 20 serious attempts to kill US Presidents and four have succeeded - Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley and Kennedy. As the 2012 election draws ever nearer so the political rhetoric is in danger of increasing to new highs. In that kind of atmosphere how many more right wing, unstable characters will come forward with a loaded gun? It takes one mistake by the President's Secret Service or for a gunman to get lucky in getting close to the President on a walk-about and we will tragically have another assassination and the US engaged in hand wringing. 
The President needs all the security protection he can get, to prevent an attack from succeeding. Nevertheless, the coming storm of a bitter election campaign can be prevented, if the likes of Sarah Palin take a step back and tells supporters to calm down. Otherwise, a progressive, visionary President may well pay a heavy price and the US will be left wondering how its shredded political system can ever be repaired.

Sunday, 2 January 2011

New Year, new rant by IPSA 'enforcer'

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It is with a little sadness that I learnt that Tom Harris MP has stopped blogging (yes I am slow in catching up with the world of the Tinternet). Now Tom hasn't always been very complimentary about me mentioning me in a column tagged 'Taleban' and as a self confessed Blairite, I have disagreed with Tom on various wars but the attack by the IPSA chief, Ken Olisa on Tom and others, demonstrates that Ken should resign.

Ken Olisa
Ken Olisa - ranting about MPs
I know there is zero sympathy for MPs by the public who have enough of their own problems in this very tough economy to worry about people who can enjoy a secure income for the next four and half years. However that does not mean that painfully obvious problems with the new parliamentary expenses system  should not be pointed out and made better. So let's call a spade a spade and make clear that it is time the new failed expenses system should have its grave dug. We can't return to the old system of claiming for duck houses but nor do we need a system that is highly complicated and highly flawed, wasting time and money in the desperate attempt to convince the public that only genuine expenses are being paid out. You don't need to build a system as complicated as a NASA space rocket when you want to cycle to work.

There was a time I recall that civil servants were polite and friendly to democratically elected MPs and respected the fact that they had slogged their guts out getting elected and then got on with helping perhaps 100,000 constituents. MPs are a fickle, opinionated bunch (ok one or two are down right rude and offensive) but any confident civil servant would know how to deal with them. Those civil servants have been replaced with a quango that is more costly and less efficient. The nominated quango 'enforcer', Ken Olisa is useless in knowing how to deal with genuine complaints.

Publicly attacking Tom Harris amongst others, demonstrates Ken has lost the plot and ranting to a newspaper is not the way to make the system work effectively. The debacle of the expenses scandal the current scheme has clearly gone too far. Punishing this parliamentary intake for the sins of the past parliamentary intakes is not the way to develop a new fair, cost effective and secure system.

The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA), needs to concentrate on making its new shining, business plan work and develop better communications with MPs. The voters are losing jobs, seeing their living standards fall and the cost of living rise. They don't want to hear MPs publicly criticising the expenses system and they certainly don't want to hear a bloated bureaucracy ranting against MPs in public.

Ken should report any abusive MPs to the Speaker, get his head down and make the system work. If he thinks it is too hot in the kitchen, he should get out. Engaging in a war of words with MPs through newspaper columns over the homeless is pathetic and worrying.