Bye bye Blair

June 30, 2007 – When Tony Blair became Prime Minister in the UK, I suspect like most people I was glad to see the back of the previous Tory Govt.

However, at the time I wasn’t that impressed with the replacement. Tony Blair’s first real act as Prime Minister was to push for a ban on handguns. The reality was that the previous Govt. had already banned handguns in the wake of the Dunblane massacre, and the limp three section Act that Blair pushed through Parliament simply removed a very narrow exemption that allowed .22 pistols to be possessed if they were stored at secure gun clubs.

I got the impression then that what we were dealing with was a man who was obsessed with style over substance, and the ensuing ten years more than proved me right.

What will Tony Blair be remembered for exactly? It’s hard to actually pin something to his chest that speaks of a major success, either on the domestic scene or overseas. The only thing that comes to mind really is the peace process in Northern Ireland.

Unfortunately what he will be remembered for is failure more than success. Or at best, mediocrity.

The number of “spin” disasters is frankly too long to go into, such as infighting with Gordon Brown, or successive embarrassments caused by being overly attached to Peter Mandelson or Alastair Campbell.

Various major incidents involving university fee hikes, pension fights or public/private partnerships to build hospitals, etc. were more a case of economic reality that any Govt. would have been forced into.

The list of promises broken is frankly too daunting to list, and was replaced instead with endless Acts of Parliament foisting huge amounts of legislation on the British public that spoke more of Blair’s barrister background than a real connection with making Britain a better place.

Most of these Acts were not even new legislation, they were simply amending Acts designed to increase criminal penalties and to expand the range of criminal offences. Many things associated with the Blair administration, such as Anti-Social Behaviour Orders (ASBOs) were in fact a creation of the previous Govt., and Blair’s Government simply enacted legislation making them easier to issue.

So expansive did the creation of new legislation become that Blair himself apparently lost track of the major provisions of it. The only real piece of legislation I can recall that was a positive development was the Human Rights Act 1998, which incorporated the European Convention on Human Rights into domestic law. This achievement was however overshadowed by successive Home Secretaries attempting to gut it in the name of fighting terrorism and a limp defence of the Act which made it sound as though people actually having civil rights was more of an unfortunate inconvenient reality than a positive development.

And then, of course, there is the war in Iraq.

A lot of people excuse Blair’s mistake in taking the UK into a war in Iraq to find non-existent weapons of mass destruction on the basis that he had to do it because the UK is allied with the US, and in fact Bush made the mistake.

In reality, this is a perception caused by the fact that the US is the dominant power.

But in fact, as Paddy Ashdown’s (former leader of the Liberal Democratic Party) autobiography illustrates, Blair himself was concerned about Iraqi WMD before he became Prime Minister, and certainly a long time before anyone had an inkling that George W Bush would become President.

President Bush himself quoted British intelligence sources during his State of the Union address in 2003.

It may be hard to hear this, but the reality is that Bush was Blair’s poodle rather than the other way around, at least to begin with. Although in fairness, I doubt even Blair could have imagined the scale of the disaster the US has made of the Iraq war.

Personally I supported invading Iraq to get rid of Saddam Hussein, however it was obvious that the WMD issue was smoke and mirrors from the very beginning. And Blair totally discredited himself forever by wedding himself solely to the idea of getting rid of Iraqi WMD. I can’t recall him ever making the statement that Iraq should be invaded to get rid of Saddam Hussein, only that that would be a helpful by-product of the invasion.

So basically to sum up, Tony Blair appears to have been little more than an opportunistic PR guy whose most major decision while he was Prime Minister was gravely mistaken.

At least he lived up to the tagline on this website! [Since removed – ed.]

Gordon Brown cometh…

It’s too early to say whether Gordon Brown will be more successful as Prime Minister, however the omens are not good, neither for the country or for gun owners, based on the appointment of Jaqui Smith to be Home Secretary.

To date, her CV doesn’t indicate that she is up to the task, having only been a Minister of State in various much lighter weight roles, her most significant former post being Minister of State for the DTI, which is hardly in the same league as the Home Office.  Especially considering her new role as Secretary of State, rather than being merely a minister.

She appears to have been appointed to the role merely because she is a Brown loyalist, rather than because she has any particular talent for dealing with terrorism or immigration.

This would be bad enough, but the Home Office is currently in the middle of a major upheaval with the re-organisation of the department started by John Reid, who has been cast asunder no doubt because he most certainly isn’t a Brown loyalist.

She could however redeem herself by firing the bureaucrats responsible for the following fiasco and encouraging the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police to do the same:

The persecution of Mick Shepherd

I won’t rehash this one at length, because the BBC do a pretty good job of laying out this shambles masquerading as law enforcement in their article.

I suppose one could argue that justice was done in that Mr Shepherd was found not guilty, but unfortunately it clearly wasn’t, as it is hard to see why he was locked up on remand in Belmarsh maximum security prison for nine months prior to his trial.  One can only hope that Mr Shepherd successfully sues the Met for every penny they’ve got.

My main point of disagreement with the BBC article is that the law on antique firearms is not a grey area at all.  It has in fact been on the statute books for 87 years at the time of writing, and there is literally acres of case law defining every single word of section 58(2) of the Act in excruciating detail.

The problem is that the Home Office likes to ignore all the case law that fails to agree with their own guidance.  As a result, the police are often misled into thinking they have a case against someone when in fact they don’t, although the Shepherd case has to be by far the most spectacular failure of the guidance to date.  The basic problem is that the Home Office insist that antique firearms must be chambered in an “obsolete” calibre, although there is no basis in law for that definition, and there is plenty of case law that disagrees with that definition as well.  It’s also a very vague standard, because something that is obsolete today can be manufactured tomorrow.  So at the end of the day, the Home Office cops out and says: “we’ll let the courts decide”, which isn’t really of much help to the police.

This issue has been growing increasingly messy in recent years because of the additional guidance added in 1997 in relation to section 7 of the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997, which has never made any sense to me.  If you read section 7(4) of the Act, it says quite clearly that the section is without prejudice to anything covered by section 58(2) of the 1968 Act.  The end result is that there are firearms, such as a .32 Browning 1910, which Mick was charged with the illegal possession of, that could fall under section 58(2) of the 1968 Act or section 7(3) of the 1997 Act.  In the latter case, you need a firearm certificate (or prohibited weapons authority) and need to keep the gun at a “designated site”, in the first case you don’t.

The jury decided that Mick didn’t need a firearm certificate and he was in possession of an antique, thus basically sinking the Home Office guidance on section 7 of the Act, something I tried to do unsuccessfully in court in 2000 myself (a case which the Home Office has also put a misleading spin on in their guidance).  This ruling renders section 7(1) of the 1997 Act (antique handguns that can be kept at home with an FAC) essentially redundant.  If it doesn’t, then the passage of time will in a few years when it becomes impossible to argue that a gun made in 1918 isn’t an antique.

The Home Office has been making noises for years that when and if the desperately needed firearms consolidation Act comes to pass that they will re-write the section dealing with antiques to agree with their guidance.  Don’t be surprised if this happens sooner rather than later in light of this court case.  However this won’t alter the reality that it’s a very vague definition of an antique.  I’ve always felt that simply setting a 100-year old standard would be the simplest solution, it’s generally accepted with the public, easy to understand and easy to enforce.  There may be 100-year old guns knocking about that are still dangerous weapons, but the same can be said of the swords displayed in various National Trust properties.

The other point brought out by this court case is how the police like to exaggerate the armed crime problem.  As the BBC article points out, absolutely no evidence was presented in court that any of Mick’s guns had ever been involved in any sort of criminal activity, despite Scotland Yard strongly suggesting this to the press.  No doubt the Met would say that for operational reasons they did not want to disclose information about on-going investigations, however to not present any evidence at all of any criminal misuse implies quite strongly that they were exaggerating the problem.

The police are no strangers to exaggeration, as I have detailed at great length in previous editorials, e.g. this one.  Finally they’ve been caught with their pants down in a spectacular fashion.  This is one of the few good things to come out of this fiasco of a court case and will hopefully cause the police to tread more cautiously in the future.

“Today’s verdict is a message to anyone who should try to covertly sell illegal firearms.” – Detective Superintendent Kevin Davis of Operation Trident commenting on Mick Shepherd’s case, before he found out what the verdict was.