Open newslist 6

OK, it’s time for one of these.

Books: I’ve recently read Mike Martin’s An Intimate War: An Oral History of the Helmand Conflict, Ian Fraser’s Shredded: Inside RBS, the Bank That Broke Britain, Agata Pyzik’s Poor Sexy East, and Phil Lapsley’s Exploding the Phone.

I’ve also got the MOD Lessons Learned Compendium on Iraq hanging about. It’s more like a “Lessons Not Learned in the Slightest” report.

I’d also like to compare LGI/Jimmy’s, per Savile report, and RBOS/Bank of Scotland, per Fraser, but someone will have to hold the bucket while I heave.

We might have a chat about what the hell a “systems house” is and what it has to do with Eric Pickles.

Tories and thugs (#Savile warning)

The Leeds post on Savile required subtlety; it dealt with things like culture and class that only work that way. So what about Broadmoor, the asylum where the Tories put the psychopath in charge? Well, Leeds was about the things nobody was willing to say. As we will shortly see, Broadmoor was about precisely the things people said right out there in the open. The report is here.

If you followed mainstream media or indeed this blog, you’ll know that the minister responsible for putting Savile in charge of Broadmoor Special Hospital was none other than Edwina Currie. Here’s what she has to say for herself, at paragraph 7.14 of the report.

“He’d had a look at everything he could use to blackmail the Prison Officers’ Association…I thought it was a pretty classy piece of operation. He knew how to pin people to the wall and get from them what he wanted

She wasn’t wrong.

What was it Currie was talking about? Well, Savile claimed per paragraph 7.13 to have discovered that the Broadmoor staff were fiddling their overtime, that some people who weren’t working there had managed to keep tied accommodation, and that some £5 million was missing from a construction project. The reference to blackmail is that he proposed to leak this to a newspaper if the POA didn’t cooperate.

As the report says, the corollary of this is that he, Currie, and senior civil servants were willing to accept the alleged fraud in exchange for cooperation. As it doesn’t say, quite, the government in the person of Currie was also OK with using Savile’s gangster tactics as well as putting up with the illegality. Currie thought this “classy”.

The motive was, per paragraph 7.13, as follows. It is what you might guess.

He intended to bring the POA to heel

In 7.14, Currie says:

The principal question was “how can [the government] break the hold the POA has on the hospital

She also (reference 7.20) says:

a racket run by the union was like manna from heaven

In a brief for ministers dated February 1989, reference 7.19, we get this:

As a direct result of Mr Savile’s determined and at times ruthless leadership, 15 militant senior nurse managers are set to leave the hospital

It seems only surprising they were not found in a ditch in Guatemala, going by the style and tone here.

But, you say – a racket run by the union is still a racket. The report repeatedly points to the fact that many Broadmoor staff lived in tied accommodation as a reason why Savile got away with it. They were scared of being evicted. The racket didn’t end – he muscled in on it. Clearly, he provided some service and that service was putting the fear of God into people who were after all just in a union. It’s normal. It was the thuggery that impressed so much.

By the way, in fact he made a pass at the minister herself; an annexe to the document contains a civil service note of the meeting in which she says he tends to kiss right on the mouth. We’ll break here to pass round the brain-bleach.

If the convulsions have passed, we’ll continue. One of the big issues in Broadmoor and in the NHS at the time was the emergence of “management” as a thing as opposed to “administration”. “General managers” were appearing and gaining influence as a new profession. In Leeds, this was almost certainly a good thing. Professionalisation removed niches in which the roots of his tolerance lay. Access was reviewed. Policies were drawn up for things like protecting patients from abusers. The dual hierarchy of consultants and nurses, neither of whom necessarily took responsibility for basic security, was subordinated to management.

In Broadmoor, though, Savile was the agent of the rise of the manager. His appointment occurred in the context of efforts to create a management structure for the special hospitals. DHSS officials who believed strongly in “entrepreneurs” were instrumental in appointing him. The launch of playing-at-shops internal markets was closely bound up with it. The man who pressed the button, Cliff Graham, did so over the summer while key civil servants were on leave, ministers were out of the country, and Edwina Currie, bless her heart, was “covering but doing most of it from Yorkshire”. Graham acted, and then informed the minister when the damage was done. It is surely interesting that the report quotes another civil servant describing him as “a thug”. Graham has since died.

I didn’t know, before reading the report, that Broadmoor played an important role in the foundation of the POA. As such, it was perhaps a sort of carceral Yorkshire coalfield. The changes going on there were socially complex. Part of the story was the movement towards a less vicious form of psychiatry, which implied that the role of the staff would be more therapeutic and less punitive or security oriented. This is clearly a good thing. However, an important social aspect of this was that it meant that they would cease to be a trade, organised in the POA, and become a profession with a chartered institute, the Royal College of Nursing.

I don’t know, but I’m guessing that the transition from a blue-collar ex-services culture to a pink-collar one probably came with a pay cut and not much future for non-graduates. Which would be why they wanted Savile and his merry gang from Leeds. Tellingly, the report says the most prison-minded old guard types were also the most successful at keeping him out of their wards – they weren’t likely to be bullied.

Which leaves us with a question I left hanging. Which newspaper was that again? It was, of course, the Sun. It goes without saying, really. And not much changed. Here’s David Hencke:

Matthew [D'Ancona] describes his [George Osborne's] view of Coulson as ”a street fighter who could take the battle to Labour and win in a media knife-fight.”

But Cameron comes over as besotted with Coulson. According to [D'Ancona] ” Cameron..was awestruck by his communications director, whom he privately described in lyrical language.”

” He treated Coulson as a red top shaman, a source of secret knowledge about the world of tabloids, Essex and kitchen- table politics..

Still far too keen on anyone who came across as: a thug.

Genuinely evil

I have been reading the Leeds Teaching Hospitals report on Jimmy Savile. Obviously, it couldn’t really be any more grim, and you’ll have heard the latest shocking revelations via the mainstream media and Jamie Kenny.

But what about really sick and perverted behaviour? Here’s some for you.

A hugely important theme in the report is the remarkably vicious competition between the consultant doctors for status, resources, and career advancement. At a higher level of abstraction, this appeared as competition between LGI and other medical institutions for prestige, high technology, and investment. The huge scale of NHS infrastructure in Leeds meant that this was a seriously big deal politically and economically. This was dramatised as a rivalry with St James’s across town, a rivalry that was rooted in class distinction, as LGI historically emerged from the university medical school and St James’ from the workhouse.

The 1960s-70s board of governors, who were personally closest to Savile, were especially exercised by the perceived need to keep up with the expansion of St James’s as the light of NHS investment shone down on the previously benighted casual wards. This was why they wanted the publicity Jimmy Savile drummed up so badly.

This had direct practical consequences for Savile’s MO. One of the reasons why there were so many people crammed into the Nightingale wards, and so many children mixed into the general population, under minimal supervision by a thin scattering of student nurses overnight, was because they were desperate to retain their accreditation as a teaching hospital and needed to save elsewhere, something of enormous financial and career significance.

As time went on, his engagement with the top management shifted, in their telling at least. Rather than being personally associated with the bigwigs, he was increasingly in touch with the ambitious middle layer who used his services as a kind of broker to contact private donors, thus getting around the NHS’s procurement rules. I suspect there is more than one sordid story about money in here*.

However, this narrative is somewhat tendentious, when you look at the astonishing attempt by cardiology professor Alistair Hall, PR director Karl Milner, and others to get their hands on Savile’s estate. To recap, Hall, who was Savile’s doctor as well as his friend, gave a eulogy for him at the preposterous pseudo-state funeral in which he claimed that Savile had left much of his estate to endow a heart institute at LGI. Savile’s will contained nothing of the sort. It turns out from the report that Hall, Milner, and company had a get-together between his death and the funeral to decide how best to get their (institutional, rather than personal) hands on his money, like some gang of scheming relatives in a 19th-century French novel.

Actually, many of the recent top management demonstrate huge amnesia about him, which is astonishing when you realise one of them (former CEO Stuart Ingham) remembered Savile directly threatening him, saying that he could have him “dealt with” by people he “knew”, although he also remembered nothing else.

Which reminds me. Far below this exalted social level, Savile’s only official role was as a volunteer porter, and he made a great deal of effort to be everybody’s best mate at that level. It’s not hard to see a parallel with his career in the Northern club trade. Famously, gangsters love to control the door staff because anything that goes in or out of the club goes through the door. Savile had his own door staff to ensure that he controlled the door. Similarly, influencing the porters and security guards gave him what he wanted: access. To put it another way, he muscled in on the door at LGI with the assistance of the new chief porter, his close friend and apparent accomplice Charlie Hullighan, in the same way as he might have imposed a new Lithuanian bodybuilder on an uncooperative dance hall.

In fact, it would probably make sense to break this post up into sections by social class, but there’s only so much Savile I’m up for wading through.

And making this an underworld story is interesting, but I think it’s worth pointing the finger firmly at the cynical and ambitious medical bureaucrats driving in from Harrogate or Ilkley. They thought they were using him; he was using them; now they remember only that he’d always been hanging about and it was somebody else’s problem. They are the Schreibtischtäter of the story, and there’s something frankly Prussian about the report’s description of LGI in the postwar era.

The parallel, not-quite-equal nursing hierarchy was as bad for different reasons. They were just as ambitious but even more authoritarian, and where their medical colleagues cared about their science, they cared mostly about whether any of the students had snuck a boyfriend into halls or been seen in a pub. Nobody seems to have cared about the patients, who were somehow beside the point. The world of Orwell’s How the Poor Die was still with us.

Speaking of How the Poor Die and workhouses, the one place in Leeds where you were relatively safe from Jimmy was…Jimmy’s. Out of thirty-odd allegations on Leeds Teaching Hospitals premises, only one is recorded at St. James’s. Clearly, he had fully entered into LGI’s tribal identity. A real LGI man didn’t set foot in Jimmy’s, and neither did he.

*One that didn’t happen was the appeal for an MRI scanner in the early 90s, where Savile made it a condition of the donation – which wasn’t actually his money or even money he collected – that the machine be procured from a specific Japanese manufacturer, not named in the report. The medics refused to accept that particular model and the deal fell through.

heywoood, always up to no goood

There’s a bit more on the war of Coulson’s Clearance here, from Robert Peston, who I seem to remember attracted attention back in 2011 as being oddly pro-Murdoch.

I know the answer to why Coulson was not given top level security vetting in 2010.

What happened was that Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood had decided that too many special advisers had access to the highest level of security clearance and wanted to reduce their number.

So he made a policy decision, without pressure from David Cameron, not to get Coulson cleared for access to such material. At the same time, Mr Cameron’s chief of staff Ed Llewellyn was given the most vigorous degree of vetting, because of his foreign policy role.

Sir Jeremy simply felt it was inappropriate for large numbers of SPADs – as special advisers are known at Westminster – to have access to this material.

He subsequently decided Coulson was a good egg and could have access to this top secret sensitive material, even though he had not been cleared. So if anyone is going to be embarrassed by the failure to vet Coulson, and Labour’s investigation into this, it will be Britain’s top civil servant, Sir Jeremy Heywood

We already knew, since July 2011, that there was a degree of pushback on vetting Coulson and others, supposedly for cost reasons. But I think the first 3 paragraphs here are probably accurate, although the tone Peston gives them is tendentious. I know the reason – closing out the story much?

Taken literally, Heywood didn’t think Coulson should have access to anything sensitive. Neither did he think other special advisers should have such access. This doesn’t, of course, reflect positively on Coulson.

Also, it sounds as if the civil service as personified by Heywood wanted to roll back the integration of the No.10 press operation with the political/operational staff. No.10 is where the wiring for the intelligence community, the civil service policy machinery, certain bits of MOD, and the prime minister’s media support come together. Revoking the spin doctors’ access to secrets would dramatically reduce their power, and increase that of the institutions.

The last paragraph must be read in parallel with the rest of the news. We know that Coulson was eventually put forward for his clearance, and we can reason that it happened in the autumn of 2010. Clearly, Heywood didn’t somehow neglect to have him investigated, because after all it happened. We also know that Coulson did indeed get access to high-level secrets – whether from the possibly accidental “strap one” mention or his own words.

So an exception was made for him. Some media actors will want to blame Heywood for granting it. Others will ask who requested it. The process requires that the department that employs you acts as “sponsor” and presumably pays the bill. Coulson’s sponsoring department would be…you guessed it. The Prime Minister’s Office is a thing these days, with a domain name and all. It sits in the Cabinet Office administratively, Francis Maude’s ministry.

Since the Tories’ re-org of the civil service, the roles of cabinet secretary and head of the civil service have been split up, and the new one of the No.10 permanent secretary added. Heywood has emerged as first among equals from this position. Therefore, I give you three options – Heywood, Cameron, or Maude. But Cameron is the customer for the communications director. It’s his interests that are served.

Interestingly, we learn from this that it wasn’t only Blair who gave such access to his press secretary; counting back from Coulson, doesn’t the statement that the last four No.10 press secretaries had it take us into the Major years?

The problems of Puffin Party security

Here’s an interesting story of a Russian military intelligence officer deployed into Ukraine, apparently under plausibly-deniable cover, whose communications were meant to hide in plain sight among the chaotic noise of the Internet. Specifically, he’s a gamer and re-enactor in private life and he tried to use the channels of this subculture.

Unfortunately for him, it only cuts both ways up to a point. You can’t operate in the apparent anonymity of the Internet without also accepting its distinctive threats, and Anonymous got into his e-mail account with hilarious consequences. What appeared to be a trivial and frivolous subculture providing nonthreatening space turned out to expose him to everything Putin hates in the form of a genuine security threat.

I have just been reading Danah Boyd’s fine It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens, and an important point that sticks out is that a working definition of privacy is the ability to choose your audience.

Recap: Andy Coulson, strap one

People are asking about this.

Coulon was originally subject to a “security check” level of vetting, which wouldn’t have permitted him to see documents above SECRET classification. However, a few days before that, the government also briefed that he was given access to what were described as “strap one” documents.

Much later, Coulson told the Leveson inquiry that he did indeed see highly classified documents and took part in meetings of the National Security Council at which they were discussed. No.10 Downing Street denied that Coulson took part in such meetings, or more specifically, that it could find any record of him so doing.

This article from July 2011 states, in essence, that both versions are true. Coulson was originally only subject to a security check, but was later subjected to developed vetting, following a decision after an attempted terrorist attack. This was still going on when he was sacked. The timetable for developed vetting points to a decision at the earliest in the middle of November 2010.

The “strap one” thing got lost in all this, until it turned up in one of Edward Snowden’s document dumps, in the header of a document that was both TOP SECRET and also COMINT, subject to special inter-allied procedures for the security of signals intelligence.

#crimsontide is coming for your mobile bill

This piece from Tom Watson is excellent. I can’t think of more than one other pol who understands mobile networks as well, and the other one knows more about fixed. Perhaps Watson is just well advised, but then picking good advice is a very important skill. On this strength, he’s the second best mobile analyst in the Northern Soul community.

He doesn’t, though, link to the news story that kicked the whole thing off. It’s here, at the FT. Apparently, David Cameron has:

has ordered ministers to improve mobile phone coverage across the countryside after becoming frustrated about the lack of reception in the often core Conservative-voting territories.

Ordered, eh? I thought he believed that free markets work. Presumably the Ministry of Medium Machine Building will be assigned to implement this decisive contribution to socialism. Maybe Cameron will show up at work to provide me with on-site guidance, like the North Koreans do.

The motivation is purely personal:

“We were requested to meet Maria Miller after complaints from David Cameron and Owen Paterson that calls were dropping,” said one. “Apparently this was an issue that grabbed the attention of the cabinet.”

Imagine the crimson tide that must have flowed. It’s also crassly cynical:

Mobile groups were asked to examine the costs of coverage to villages in Shropshire, Dorset and Norfolk – all with almost exclusively Conservative MPs – although work then focused on just using Shropshire as a pilot area.

Cameron’s solution, as Watson and the FT both say, is to impose a national roaming requirement on the networks. So if your phone doesn’t find Vodafone, it picks the next strongest signal, like it does under international roaming. This sounds nice, but it’s not as clever as all that. First of all, it doesn’t help you if there is no coverage from any network.

Between the 5 or 4 UK networks, depending on whether you still count Orange and T-Mobile as independent entities, there are actually only two-and-a-half sets of so-called passive infrastructure like land, towers, power and such. Vodafone and O2 share theirs under Project Cornerstone, T-Mobile and 3UK under Mobile Broadband Network Ltd, and EE’s 4G network is mostly parallel to MBNL, but also includes some original Orange sites outside it. There is also some complexity regarding how deep the sharing goes, but this is beside the point.

As a result of this, you’re less likely to find places where only one operator has coverage. Rather, you’re likely to get a dichotomy between places where both broad alliances are present, and none are.

Secondly, roaming in the mobile world implies compensation between carriers. If this is not regulated, it will be agonisingly expensive, because it’s intrinsically like a cartel. There’s no point unless everyone does it, which means there is no meaningful competition. The EU’s toughest women have spent a decade grinding this back cent by cent in the international domain. Watson notices this, which puts him way beyond most people.

Thirdly, if you can push traffic onto the competition and make a turn on the roaming, you’ll do it, so this gets rid of an incentive to build out more infrastructure. By now you’re probably wondering why we bothered to build four networks. The answer is that it would probably have been a good idea to share, but doing so requires the government to structure the market so that somebody will still bother to build out across the country. Back in the late 80s, infrastructure sharing wasn’t ideologically fashionable to say the least, and the successful example of fixed-line unbundling didn’t exist. It’s also true, though, that nobody then had any idea how this was going to turn out.

So here’s your problem: just throwing the switch on national roaming is rather like having infrastructure sharing, but without a population-coverage requirement, and also rather like unregulated international roaming. But there’s worse!

OK, who do you think will carry the most inbound roaming traffic? Obviously, the network with the most rural coverage. This won’t be the same as the one with the most base stations, because if you have spectrum in the original 900MHz GSM band, or even lower, in the 800MHz ex-TV band when that becomes available or even the 600s when they get auctioned, you automatically get a huge coverage boost from the fundamental principles of radio theory. You pay for this with a capacity/coverage tradeoff, though, so it might not please the countryside that much.

But it will make smaller operators subsidise bigger ones. This is a fundamental reality of a telecoms termination fee regime, where the network originating a call pays the network where it ends up. As a result, termination has monopolistic effects and is always regulated. OFCOM and the Euro-regulators have spent most of the last decade grinding it back. And now, we have a policy initiative that looks a lot like unregulated termination, with the downsides of roaming and of network sharing chucked in.

The worst of it, though, is the grisly contrast with the utter shambles of Cameron’s Broadband Delivery UK policy, which has so far failed to give a single contract to anyone other than BT and has also failed to deploy any end-user fibre. At the same time, community broadband projects that get public funding aren’t allowed to provide mobile operators with backhaul – i.e. the connectivity from the base station to somewhere civilised.

The market for very high speed leased lines, which is what you need, is officially unregulated even though in 85% of the UK there is a BT monopoly and in the rest, the only competitor is Vodafone, which can’t be expected to help its mobile competitors. You can follow this at BT whistleblower Broken Telephone‘s fine blog – I particularly like the bit where BT got central government money to overbuild a network the Welsh built with Welsh Assembly funds.

There are good things you can do with national roaming. Certain niche MVNO offerings and Machine-to-Machine applications can benefit. This guy used to sell Manx SIM cards to people who worried about per-operator black spots, but I think OFCOM made him stop for some reason. T-Mobile Netherlands used to do the same thing, but in tens of thousands, for machines. But this is niche stuff. Update: Revk points out that under the new EU rules, foreigners would get free roaming while UK residents would pay. I’d forgotten his mob offers you the option of switching to Vodafone.nl if you’re out of footprint.

Oh, and Tom Watson should be back in the shadow cabinet.