In 2020 it will be 25 years since the Nolan report on standards in public life was published. My article arguing that we have reached the end of the Nolan era has been published in Political Quarterly.
We lost Carl two years ago today. On the afternoon of his death I was asked by friends to undertake an interview with BBC’s Good Evening Wales programme. Felicity Evans undertook the interview with great sensitivity.
Love to Bernie, Jack and Lucy.
Like many others, I miss Carl still.
My membership of the Labour Party lapsed in March. I’d decided months before that I wasn’t going to be caught out by an automatic renewal and cancelled my direct debit.
I might still have voted Labour, and the choice not to would have been harder in Wales if Derek Vaughan had stood for re-election or one or two of the other Labour candidates like Mary Wimbury, whom I’ve known for years, had been top of the Labour list.
But ultimately I decided not to vote for the pro-Brexit anti-Semitic shambles that the Labour leadership has allowed the party to become. In 2017 I voted Labour, and my vote has been waved around with that of millions of others as an endorsement of the leadership’s plans for a better Brexit. Well, stuff that. We won’t get fooled again.
When my postal ballot arrived two weeks ago, I returned it immediately with a cross against the Greens. Caroline Lucas has been the outstanding Parliamentary leader for a People’s Vote that I’ve now marched for several times in London. Green MEP Molly Scott Cato has done great work on the regulation of Facebook in the European Parliament, and I’ve just finished writing a book on this subject.*
There’s a bigger reason for voting Green of course, and that’s to do with the ceaseless drive of capitalist consumption that threatens our planet and human and other life on it. I’m voting for my grand-daughters and their future.
I know others will have made different choices, and there are good people standing for a number of the other anti-Brexit parties. I’m not saying the Greens are perfect, but strategically I’d like to see them to do well in these elections and in 2021 see them sitting in our National Assembly.
I’d like to come home, Labour friends, but hey, have you got work to do. If Labour enables Brexit I won’t be back. If Brexit happens, and we end up in Ukania, then I’m not sure what future the unionist parties have in any case. The Leavers don’t care for the Union, after all. If we have to face life after Brexit, then other political choices may have to be made.
There’s no joy in this, by the way. Only sadness.
Ukania beckons, and the far-right is on the march. Labour leadership could have pointed the way to a progressive alternative. Instead, it ducks the key decision of our time.*For Labour, both Jo Stevens and Ian Lucas have also done brilliant work on this subject in the U.K. Parliament, let me say, in the most exceptional Parliamentary Select Committee inquiry I have ever seen. But that’s another story.
I said yesterday I would publish my evidence to the leak inquiry. It’s quite short. I gave verbal evidence in December then followed up with the following email, from which I have redacted the name of a Labour MP:
I just wanted to place on record the key issues that I raised with you when we met last week:
– I was told directly on 10 November by a BBC journalist that they had received a text on November 3 from a Deryn employee well before the reshuffle announcement stating that Carl Sergeant was losing his job;
– that a Labour AM told the Assembly Labour Group on 9 November that he had received a text on 3 November in advance of the reshuffle stating the same but without specifying who sent this: you have other sources on this who can give direct evidence of what was said
– that NAME REDACTED MP would be willing to speak to you about what [they were] told on 3 November in advance of the reshuffle being announced about Carl losing his job.
Obviously since then, Lee Waters has confirmed that he was the AM who told the Labour Assembly Group about the text he received. He has said that he doesn’t want to reveal who sent him the text because he doesn’t ‘wish to contribute to a trail of breadcrumbs which can lead to the identification of any of the people who came forward’.
That in itself is a perfectly reasonable justification for not revealing who sent him the text – as long as it isn’t simply covering up another leak by another consultant from the public affairs company Deryn, on top of the previously confirmed leak by that company to the BBC.
Last week I had a letter from the Welsh Government saying they had received an FoI request related to any complaints about me in my time as Minister for Education and Minister for Public Services. The FoI requests were detailed and precise in terms of my time in those roles, so they clearly came from a political insider. I reproduce the letter below.
Those of us who have spoken up for the family of Carl Sargeant over the last six months – and yes, it is six months yesterday since we lost Carl – have grown accustomed to being on the receiving end of these bullying tactics designed to undermine us. Letters and FoI requests sent to employers have become the norm. In other cases, these have affected public sector employees unable to speak out to defend themselves.
Most people in the small circle of Welsh Labour politics know who the likely source of the letter is. I won’t stoke his ego by naming him.
Let’s be clear. Since Carl’s death there has been an active cover-up. There has been a deliberate attempt to intimidate witnesses. Lawyers’ letters have been sent to independent media outlets to silence them. One of the sources of the leak of Carl Sargeant’s sacking was only named by the media after the Leader of the Opposition went on the record in the Assembly Chamber.
The personal attacks are getting boring now. No doubt they will get worse once the QC-led inquiry commences.
Tomorrow I think I will publish my evidence to the leak inquiry.
I was interviewed a couple of weeks back by the Belgian newspaper De Standaard as to how Facebook might be regulated. You can find the article here. I tried out a couple of ideas I am thinking about for the book for Routledge that I am currently working on.
Alternatively, if you don’t speak Dutch (nor do I!), the translation is below:
After the Cambridge Analytica scandal, the last few days there have been calls to regulate Facebook. But how do you do that?
Europe already has a lot of rules and regulations that restrict Facebook. And of course Facebook will also be subject to the GDPR, the new privacy legislation that will come into force at the end of May. Europe also wants internet companies to act more quickly against hate messages. And there is the controversial proposal to impose a special tax on the turnover of large internet companies.
“It’s patchwork,” says Leighton Andrews, a professor at Cardiff University and a senior manager at the BBC and minister in the Wales Regional Government. He is one of the academics who have made proposals in recent years for a real legal framework for the internet giants Facebook and Google. ‘This is a new kind of business, so we also have to regulate it in a new way.’
Medium or utility?
Many in the media sector see Facebook and Google as competitors, and would like to see that they are considered media companies. That would impose clearer obligations on them when passing on news reports. But Andrews and others think that you should compare Facebook with a public utility such as electricity, water, or telephone. “Because of the enormous scale and power of Facebook and Google, no one will ever build a new Facebook or a new Google,” says Andrews. ‘De facto they are a utility company. A piece of essential social infrastructure. And most countries regulate their essential infrastructure.’
Andrews calls Facebook a utility company of a new order: an information utility. This must be supervised by a specialized regulator. He compares the situation with the moment that the British telecom giant BT was privatized. In order to avoid BT becoming too powerful, it was stipulated, among other things, that it was not allowed to venture onto the TV market.
In the same way, Facebook could be forbidden to develop certain activities. Or could thresholds be defined – such as: how many percent of the advertising market can the company get?
According to Andrews, Facebook should also report on a regular basis to a special regulator, as the telecom in our country is regulated by the BIPT and the media in Flanders by the VRM.
Two American authors, David Gunton and Justin Hendrix, presented a somewhat less far-reaching model last week, with an emphasis on transparency. “We propose that Facebook should register as a social media platform and report publicly every quarter,” Gunton, a lecturer at the University of Georgia, summarizes via e-mail. ‘Among other things about their privacy practices. The public can then decide informed, and perhaps Facebook will behave better ‘. Gunton and Hendrix propose that the existing market regulator FTC exert control.
In the report that Facebook should submit, a signed statement from CEO Mark Zuckerberg should also state that his company complies with legal obligations. The social networks should also open up their computer systems to external researchers, so that they can check whether all rules are being respected. Gunton and Hendrix believe that the US also need its own privacy legislation ‘based on the European’.
The big internet companies have always maintained that they can keep themselves under control – self-regulation, no laws was the motto. After the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Zuckerberg suddenly said he was not against regulation. He knows from where the wind blows. ‘The question is rather what the right regulation is’, he added in a recent interview. He explicitly referred to the Honest Ads Act, the bill that states that Facebook must disclose who paid for a political advertisement. Now that Zuckerberg has been called on the floor at the American Congress, chances are that there will be far more far-reaching proposals.
But can we allow companies such as Facebook, Google, Amazon and Apple to exist in their current form? The American professor Scott Galloway, author of the book The Four, thinks that because of their enormous power, they stifle the functioning of the free market, and that they have to be split up. According to Galloway, Facebook has to be divided into three companies: Instagram, Whatsapp and the social network Facebook. He has for the time being few supporters, but it is not out of the blue: telecom giant AT & T was once divided, and Microsoft barely escaped it in 1999.
The American antitrust think tank The Open Markets Institute goes one step further in an opinion piece in The Guardian: Facebook’s advertising department also has to become a separate company. And on top of that, the US must enforce strict privacy rules. Remarkable: The Open Markets Institute is also pushing the GDPR, the new European privacy legislation, forward as an example for the US.