Liam Fox accuses Snowden of 'treason' - but ignores his own past

Former defence secretary Liam Fox has been more prominent as a backbencher than he was as a minister. The Tory backbencher has constructed an identity as Washington's neo-con outpost in Westminster since standing down ignominiously in 2011. And yesterday he went to Washington to sing from the neo-con hymn sheet once more.

Freed from the stifling constrictions of British political discourse, he went native and turned into a Fox News host, angrily denouncing Edward Snowden and Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger.

"Snowden thinks of himself as a cyber-age guerrilla warrior but in reality, he is a self-publicising narcissist," he said.

"He did not find or expose anything illegal. Let us not imbue his cowardice with higher motives. Let us not confuse his egotism with public service. Let's not call his treachery by lesser terms. For once, let's say what we mean. Let us call treason by its name."

Moving on to the Guardian, Fox added: "Their toxic mixture of ignorance and arrogance is compounded by basic incompetence in the way in which information has been handled."

Rusbridger has shown "no sense of understanding, never mind remorse, about what damage might have been done to the security of the country," he said.

"This attitude is testament not only to the egotism and self importance of the man but the feeling of impunity that both he and Greenwald seemed, and still seem, to exhibit."

So while we are on the topic of treason and basic incompetence, topics which Fox himself has raised, it may be worth casting our mind back to the heady days of 2011, when he was forced to stand down from his job over his relationship with a man called Adam Werritty.

Werritty and Fox were best friends forever. He attended meetings and fundraising dinners with Fox. His business cards described him as an "advisor to the Rt Hon Dr Liam Fox MP". He met with a string of world leaders, including the president of Sri Lanka, Mahinda Rajapaksa. He was hosted at the Ministry of Defence headquarters in Whitehall 22 times. They even went to Larry Flint's Hustler Club topless bar in New York together. And Fox took Werrity, who had not been vetted and had no official role, into meetings with senior figures in the defence world, including one with an American general.

Where did Werrity get all the money to tag along on these various trips and functions?

The answer to that question was left to Gus O'Donnell, then-Cabinet secretary. His report into the affair found funding came from Pargav, a company which paid over £140,000 towards Werritty's first class airline tickets and five star hotel rooms.

And who funded Pargav? According to media reports, the money came from high profile Tory-donating businessmen, an international investigation company, a corporate intelligence company with a close interest in Sri Lanka, supporters of close UK-US relations and prominent pro-Israel advocates.

Whatever it was they thought they were doing when they funded the friendship between Fox and Werritty, they were willing to spend hundreds of thousands of pounds on it.

Fox could have avoided all of this by simply making Werritty a special adviser, funded by the government and security cleared. But he did not.

So was it "treason" or "basic incompetence"? If one wished to be unkind, one could make the case for the former. One could certainly make the case for the latter, regardless of generosity.

Of all Liam Fox's many faults, throwing stones in glass houses may be the most pertinent of all.

The MoJ inadvertently disproves Grayling prison book ban defence

Chris Grayling has a fistful of excuses for the prisoner book ban.

The most consistent of these is that it would be impossible for prisons to allow a free flow of parcels to inmates.

In a letter to the Poet Laureate, the justice secretary wrote:

"There have always been pretty tight rules about the receipt of parcels in prisons, under both this government and the last one.

"There is good reason for this. Our prison staff fight a constant battle to prevent illicit items, such as drugs, extremist materials, mobile phones, Sim cards and pornography getting into our prisons.

"I'm afraid that it is inconceivable that we could impose the additional operational burden on our staff of carrying out detailed assessments of an unlimited number of parcels coming into prisons.

"This is something that has never happened before and could not happen now."

In private conversation, otherwise critical MPs say they sympathise with the logistical security nightmare of parcels being sent into prisons. It's this issue which has prevented several of them taking a tougher stance against Grayling.

Unfortunately, it's nonsense - as the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has inadvertently admitted.

Last week, shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan asked justice minister Jeremy Wright what types of contraband were found in items of post being received by prisoners in the last four years.

This was Wright's reply:

"The number of individual items of post sent to prisoners is not recorded by prison establishments. Finds of contraband are recorded on a central incident reporting system as either a drug-related incident or a miscellaneous incident. In order to establish the number and type of contraband found in post received by prisoners, in each of the last four years, would require the interrogation of over 62,000 individual electronic incident files. This could be achieved only at disproportionate cost."

This is the standard government response to something it does not want to talk about: It simply does not record it. Then it cannot be forced to reveal it.

But the fact the MoJ took zero interest in how much contraband was being smuggled into prisons using parcels suggests this may not have been as big a problem as Grayling was making out.

If the MoJ elected not to track it, one can only conclude it wasn't much of an issue.

That corresponds to what we've heard from prison staff, who were surprised to learn that they had struggled so much with parcels.

Steve Gillan, general secretary of the Prison Officers' Association, said:

"For decades prison officers have dealt with parcels. They searched them.

"The reality is it was never really a problem. Now and then people tried to smuggle drugs in that way. But as professional prison officers we found these items.

"The majority of these books and magazines that came in didn't have any drugs in them at all.

"People have been having their books sent in for 20, 30 years and now all of a sudden it's become a big issue for the secretary of state."

Not content with this level of misdirection, Grayling's people sent sympathetic newspapers photos of contraband being smuggled into prisons through parcels. The most prominent of the photos, which led their relevant pieces in the Daily Mail and the Telegraph, was of some hash buried in a hollowed out Weetabix.

Grayling said:

"The routes used to try to do so are wide-ranging and ingenious. We see drugs and weapons sewn into the lining of shoes, concealed in clothes, and hidden in essential household items.

"We have even seen drugs concealed inside a hollowed out Weetabix."

What was not mentioned by the MoJ or the newspapers is that it was already illegal to send prisons food, or bring in food during a visit - and had been since 1998.

It's unutterable, made-up, desperate nonsense.

Before November it was up to individual prison governors to decide on their parcel policy. Grayling overruled that and imposed a blanket ban. He has been unable to show any demand for the action, which runs against the Tories' reported commitment to devolving power away from the centre.

Grayling might be able to defend his ban on the basis of "right-wing solutions" to reoffending. He has done a pitiful job so far, but good luck to him. But let's not pretend it has anything to do with prison security.

Will the Home Office really appeal a definitive legal judgement?

When it comes to supporting destitute asylum seekers, the Home Office keeps a firm grip on the purse strings. But when it comes to court cases, it is decidedly profligate.

James Brokenshire, the new immigration minister, looks set to waste even more public money on an unwinnable court case.

There is no limit to how much cash the Home Office is prepared to waste. The reason there is no limit, of course, is because they do not bother counting. So even if there was a limit, we wouldn't know what it was. The department does not collect data on the amount spent on Theresa May's various legal battles and her knee-jerk appeals against even the most comprehensive legal defeat.

They don't count because they do not care. The press do not hound them for it. So they do what they like.

May's latest legal defeat was so definitive she was told by the high court that she was irrational.

Let's restrict ourselves merely to her grasp of maths. It found much else wrong with her decision making, but the maths alone makes the point rather well.

Mr Justice Popplewell found that May's assessment of the living requirements of asylum seekers assumed that the level of support had risen by 11.5% since 2007, whereas it had decreased by 11%.

He found she had failed to take into account inflation eroding the value of support. She had "misunderstood and misinterpreted" Office of National Statistics data. She had failed to gather the information necessary to come to a rational judgement. And she had misdirected herself in law as to her duties towards 16-and-17-year-olds.

It was as comprehensive a legal defeat as you could imagine. Open and shut.

(There's a great Refugee Action briefing on it here if you want a bit more detail.)

And yet standing in the Commons today, Brokenshire repeatedly said that the Home Office had not yet read the judgement - it's now 24 hours old - but that they might appeal.

He said there would be a review of support for asylum seekers, but went so far out of his way to defend current payments that only the most optimistic of observers could conclude that it would prove more generous.

When it comes to helping the needy, there's no money to be found. When it comes to protecting the home secretary, it emerges out of nowhere.

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