POLITICS

Mehdi's Morning Memo: RIP Lee Rigby

24/05/2013 09:20 BST | Updated 24/05/2013 09:24 BST
Ministry of Defence

The five things you need to know on 24 May 2013...

RIP LEE RIGBY

RIP Drummer Lee Rigby, who was named yesterday evening as the victim of Wednesday's barbaric and brutal murder in Woolwich. The soldier, aged 25 and cherished by his colleagues for his sense of humour and compassion, had a two-year-old son.

His image is on the front of most of this morning's newspapers, which all want to know whether his killing could have been prevented.

"Security services knew of soldier murder suspects," says the Guardian splash, which reports that "the two suspects in the butchering to death of a British soldier had been known to the domestic security service MI5 and the police over an eight-year period, but had been assessed as peripheral figures and thus not subjected to a full-scale investigation, it has emerged".

"Woolwich suspect inspired by banned hate imam," says the Independent splash, referring to the banned preacher and former UK resident, 'Sheikh' Omar Bakri Mohammed.

"MI5 had killers in sight for 8 years and knew one had tried to wage jihad in Africa," says the Mail, noting how the security services "had been monitoring the two fanatics responsible for the slaughter of a young soldier near Woolwich barracks for eight years."

"Why was he free to kill?" asks the Telegraph, pointing out that, seven years ago, "Michael Adebolajo.. the man videoed by witnesses with his hands red with blood following the killing of the soldier... was arrested after being involved in violent protests by extremists outside the Old Bailey. He was a regular member of a small group of hardcore fanatics who regularly protested alongside some of Britain's most notorious hate clerics."

A parliamentary inquiry - led by the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) - has been ordered into who knew what and when. Personally, I sympathize with the view of Sir Ian Blair, former Met Police chief, who told the Today programme earlier this morning that it's "very, very difficult" for the security services to surveil and monitor every suspected "lone wolf" - or even identify such individuals in the first place. After all, even spooks can't peer inside every bedroom in the land to check on which websites are being visited and which aren't...

Meanwhile, we saw yesterday, in the words of the Guardian's Patrick Wintour, "a calm and authoritative" David Cameron. This prime minister is always good in a crisis - poised, assured, articulate. His statement outside Downing Street yesterday morning, after the Cobra meeting, was pitch perfect in tone and content - the PM called the attacks a "betrayal of Islam and of the Muslim communities who give so much to our country. There is nothing in Islam that justifies this truly dreadful act.”

He also rightly pointed out that "one of the best ways of defeating terrorism is to go about our normal lives."

Note: During the parliamentary recess, this Memo goes down from 'ten things' to 'five things' you need to know...

2) RETURN OF THE SNOOPER'S CHARTER?

Every time there is a terrorist attack, the security services and their patrons in parliament try and get new powers enshrined in statute. Civil liberties suffer. And, despite David Cameron insisting there would be no "knee­ jerk responses" to the murder in Woolwich, as the FT reports, "the killing has renewed calls for the coalition to press ahead with its communications data bill, which would extend the ability of the security services to track email, phone and internet use":

"One Conservative minister said on Wednesday the bill was 'still on the table' and that the Woolwich tragedy would be a factor in attempts by Ms May to revive such measures. 'This had never gone away anyway,' the minister said.

"Lib Dem aides said there was no suggestion that security services did not have the powers they needed to keep tabs on the terrorist suspects, who were on a watch list. 'We should be careful of leaping to conclusions,' said a spokes­ man for Mr Clegg. 'There is currently no suggestion that the proposals in the draft communications data bill would have had any relevance to [Wednesday's ] sickening events.'

"However, senior political figures in favour of the bill have begun mobilising to push it back up the agenda. Lord West, former Labour security minister, Lord Carlile, a Lib Dem peer and former independent reviewer of UK anti-­terror laws, and Lord Reid, former Labour home secretary, have urged ministers to look again at introducing the legislation.

"'They need to look again at the bill, which has a lot of changes to stop it being a snoopers' charter,' said Lord West."

Yet, as communities secretary Eric Pickles pointed out on the Today programme this morning, there is no evidence that the communications data bill would have helped security services thwart Wednesday's attack.

3) HOW'S THAT NOBEL PEACE PRIZE WORKING OUT FOR YOU?

From the Independent:

"President Barack Obama yesterday combined a vigorous defence of his controversial use of drones with a no less impassioned demand for the closure of the notorious prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, which he called 'a symbol around the world for an America that flouts the rule of law.'

"In a sweeping public reassessment of the evolving threat facing the US, Mr Obama directly addressed two of the most controversial aspects of the country's 'war on terror': the use of armed unmanned drones to pre-emptively kill suspected militants thousands of miles from America's borders; and the future of Gitmo, where some inmates have been held without charge or trial for more than 11 years.

"On drones, Mr Obama argued that such attacks were not only legal, but that they were the most efficient and least bloody means of going after terrorists who posed an imminent danger, in remote and lawless places beyond the reach of government. Drones had caused 'heartbreaking' civilian casualties, he admitted, but they were safer than the alternatives, when an armed intervention by US troops on the ground could cause both more deaths among innocent civilians and also trigger an international crisis."

This is the tired old argument of the hawks - there is always only ever a simplistic, loaded, binary choice. In this case: kill terror suspects with drones or mount a ground invasion. Here's a thought: why not arrest them? After all, some of the biggest al Qaeda figures - e.g. 9/11 plotter Khalid Sheikh Mohammed - were arrested by local police forces. Also, the claim by Obama that drone strikes are only used in self-defence is deeply disingenuous - there have been plenty of recent reports revealing that the unmanned aircraft are used to attack low-level insurgents in the Pakistani tribal areas who pose no threat to the United Stats and have even been used against targets unknown in so-called 'signature strikes' (where anyone seen in the vicinity of armed men is automatically considered a terrorist and targeted for killing).

Meanwhile, the Indy also reports that the Obama administration also "acknowledged for the first time that four US citizens have been killed by drone attacks, outside the formal battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq. The deaths of three of them - the radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, his son and another militant - in a drone strike in Yemen 18 months ago were widely reported, but the killing of a fourth, Jude Kenan Mohammad, allegedly involved in a terrorist ring in North Carolina, was not previously known."

BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...

Watch this video of renowned US antiwar activist and Code Pink founder Medea Benjamin sneak into Obama's speech on national security and repeatedly heckle the US president over drone strikes. (Key bit is at 2min27secs in...)

4) MAY'S WAR ON FOREIGN STUDENTS

From the Guardian:

"Net migration to Britain has shrunk by a further 10,000 people to 153,000 in the 12 months to September 2012 compared with the previous quarter, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS)."

But hold on - why?

"The drop in the politically sensitive figure has largely been driven by a further fall in the number of overseas students coming to Britain and a decline in the numbers coming under the family reunion route largely to join spouses."

Ah, hit the foreign students. That tried and tested Tory tactic. The BBC quotes the IPPR's Sarah Mulley as saying:

"This decline in international student numbers comes at considerable economic cost to the UK at a time when we can ill afford it."

Indeed. But the net migration figure has never been about economics. It's about (crude and populist) politics. As the Guardian notes:

"The continuing fall represents significant progress for the home secretary, Theresa May, towards meeting the Conservatives' target of reducing net migration to below 100,000 by the time of the next general election in 2015."

5) 'SPOUTING RUBBISH'

We've had Michael Gove take on the teachers; we've now got Jeremy Hunt vs the doctors. From the Daily Mail:

"Doctors yesterday accused Jeremy Hunt of 'spouting rubbish', after he said their controversial contracts had led to worse services for patients.

"The head of the British Medical Association's GP committee said doctors were being made the 'whipping boys' for wider problems in the NHS. Dr Laurence Buckman said it was unfair to blame doctors for the increased pressure at accident and emergency departments.

"The war of words has escalated in recent weeks, with the Health Secretary insisting family doctors must once again take ultimate responsibility for roundthe-clock care.

"Mr Hunt has angered GPs by suggesting the out-of-hours arrangements introduced in 2004 are partly to blame for the A&E crisis, and he stepped up his criticism by condemning the scandal of out-of-hours services where 'you speak to a doctor who doesn't know you from Adam'."

Perhaps Hunt should stay away from Twitter: "He 'keeps on tweeting and speaking a childishly superficial and misleading analysis of a very complex problem,' British Medical Association committee chairman, Dr Laurence Buckman said," according to the Independent.

Meanwhile, the Guardian's Polly Toynbee says Hunt's attack on GPs "makes for bad politics":

"Jeremy Hunt, the health secretary, has some gall in blaming GPs, when the entire NHS plan was designed with the pretence of putting the service into the friendly hands of your trusted family doctor. In the government's lexicon of blame, GPs have gone from hero to zero in no time. Yesterday's BMA conference made plain they won't stand for it."

PUBLIC OPINION WATCH

From the Sun/YouGov poll:

Labour 42

Conservatives 29

Ukip 13

Lib Dems 11

That would give Labour a majority of 120.

140 CHARACTERS OR LESS

@bernardjenkin Intel&Sec Ctee should check performance of MI5, but highly unlikely that they could possibly blamed for failing to anticipate Woolwich.

@mrjamesob Is it really so difficult to see that restricting freedom of speech as a response to terrorists who hate freedom of speech is a bit stupid?

@whitehouse Obama: "There is no justification beyond politics for Congress to prevent us from closing a facility that should never have been opened."

900 WORDS OR MORE

Simon Jenkins, writing in the Guardian, says: "This echo chamber of mass hysteria only aids terrorists."

Ed Balls, also writing in the Guardian, says: "George Osborne puts his pride before the national interest."

Philip Collins, writing in the Times: "Tories should not be prisoners of tradition."

Plus, I have a column in the Telegraph on the Woolwich attacks: "The Muslim faith does not turn men to terror."

Got something you want to share? Please send any stories/tips/quotes/pix/plugs/gossip to Mehdi Hasan (mehdi.hasan@huffingtonpost.com) or Ned Simons (ned.simons@huffingtonpost.com). You can also follow us on Twitter: @mehdirhasan, @nedsimons and @huffpostukpol