Secret state rules

THE REAL nature of the British bourgeois “democratic” state was revealed last week with the news from the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT) that that the secret intelligence surveillance force at GCHQ is authorised to monitor the communications of all MPs, peers, MSPs, AMs and MEPs — all our elected representatives.

Effectively the power of these unelected spies is rated above that of the people who are elected to represent us in Parliament — our votes have no impact on the ultimate power in this country.

It is even more concerning when we remember that GCHQ works hand-in-glove with the American NSA and the two together monitor billions of electronic communications all around the globe, including elected heads of state, as revealed by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

Previously it was generally thought that the so-called Wilson doctrine prevailed, which allowed the communications of elected representatives to be truly private.

This doctrine protected their constituents who wanted to report corruption or make complaints about government departments — including the police — failing in their duty of care to the general public.

Just a week ago Home Secretary Theresa May told Parliament the doctrine still applied. So the IPT announcement has come as a surprise to most MPs. The IPT judgement is in response to a claim brought by two Green party parliamentarians — Caroline Lucas, MP for Brighton Pavilion and Baroness Jones. They had complained that disclosures by the whistleblower Edward Snowden made it clear that GCHQ was capturing their communications in breach of the so-called Wilson Doctrine.

The convention is named after former Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson who was himself a target of secret service smears and plots and who pledged in 1966 that MPs’ and peers’ phones would not be tapped. In December 1997 the then Prime Minister Tony Blair said the doctrine extended to electronic communication, including emails.

The tribunal said it was “satisfied that the Wilson doctrine is not enforceable in English law”, and that it was merely “political statement in a political context, encompassing the ambiguity that is sometimes to be found in political statements”.

In its judgment, the investigatory powers tribunal said: “The Wilson doctrine does not operate so as to create a substantive legitimate expectation. The Wilson doctrine has no legal effect but in practice the (intelligence) agencies must comply with the draft code and with their own guidance.”

So we are supposed to trust the self-guidance of unelected, unknown spooks to be honest and fair and the Wilson doctrine is just a pretty illusion to make us feel comfortable when we should be getting angry.

Responding to the judgment, Lucas said: “This judgment is a body-blow for parliamentary democracy. My constituents have a right to know that their communications with me aren’t subject to blanket surveillance — yet this ruling suggests that they have no such protection.”

Lucas and Jones are now are calling on the government to include specific protections for MPs and peers in upcoming legislation on surveillance. But it is an illusion to think they ever could be protected from surveillance that is so secret only the people doing it know. And this has been the case for a very long time.

On the whole these spooks will not intervene unless they believe they have to because it just draws attention to their existence. So by and large few people notice they are there.

But the class struggle is now sharpening; the working classes are being oppressed by cuts in wages, benefits, pensions, the social wage and civil liberties. Now with Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party they have a voice and, even more important, they have become aware that they are not a tiny fringe minority but a massive mainstream movement with the potential to really change things.

No doubt the intelligence services will play a big role on behalf of the ruling class in trying to undermine Corbyn but there is nothing they can do to stop people who are angry at increasing oppression being aware that they are part of a mass movement. If Corbyn were to disappear tomorrow that movement would still be there — only even more angry.

They can intimidate and attack individuals but they cannot stop a mass movement.

So long as we keep fighting together and educating, agitating and organising this movement will grow and develop structure no matter who is reading our emails and Facebook posts.

Eventually these spooks will be blown aside like mould on the rotting carcase of capitalism when the workers do rise to take power.