Sir Humphrey breaks up: change in Downing Street’s constitutional furniture

by Frederick Cowell

You may have missed it but God resigned last week. Don’t worry there won’t be four horsemen of the apocalypse thundering over the horizon – God in this case is the acronym of Sir Gus O’Donnell the Cabinet Secretary who after nearly six years at the head of the Civil Service is stepping down.  His resignation and replacement has marked the most significant constitutional reform the government has undertaken to date but it has fallen squarely into the category of the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it news story.

The traditional role of the Cabinet Secretary, since 1916, is three fold; firstly he (and it has always been a ‘he’)  sitting at the Prime Ministers right hand side runs the Cabinet, minuting the proceedings in long hand. Secondly he is head of the home civil service and finally, and perhaps most controversially,  he is the permanent advisor to the Office of the Prime Minister. They are not Alistair Campbell like figures they advise Prime Minsters of all stripes; Robin Butler served as Cabinet Secretary for Thatcher, Major and Blair.  The Cabinet Secretary exists to join government together and acts as a giant signal box for the Prime Minister  to convey  his instructions and orders to the Civil Service machine and is a living embodiment of the UK’s unwritten constitution. Read more of this post

May’s cat incident sets the HRA into a wider context

(c) ukhomeoffice

Frederick Cowell

Much like the Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland, Theresa May’s cat vanished leaving only a cheeky grin as bloggers pounced on the Home Secretary’s rhetorical feline prop. For May the worst thing, in long list of horrors supposedly created by the Human Rights Act (HRA), was “the illegal immigrant who cannot be deported because – and I am not making this up – he had a pet cat.”

Ken Clarke, himself a Queen’s Council, (he may know a thing or two about caselaw) dismissed the case as made up, and it was; the grounds that the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal cited for reaching their decision had nothing to do with moggies. Why get all worked up about a cat? It’s because it is yet another, and the most high profile example to date, of an anti-HRA campaign that uses distorted and selective facts to simultaneously scare the public and whip up anger against the act. Read more of this post

Has the Arab Spring run dry?

(c) Al Jazeera English

Georgia Lewis

News of Bahrain’s special security court jailing 13 doctors for 15 years each for various crimes against the state after they treated wounded protesters in the anti-government uprisings has spread across the world, although it has not been met with too much in the way of public condemnation by world leaders.

As well as the doctors being jailed for doing their job of treating patients without checking their religious or political affiliations, two more got 10 years, five were sentenced to five years and a protester has been given the death penalty on charges of killing a police officer. Yet it’s the despotic leaders of Syria, Libya and Egypt who have received more criticism from supposedly democracy-loving nations. Read more of this post