Meet Baroness Henig, Stoking Fear Of Terrorism To Benefit Her Private Security Business

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Baroness Henig’s exploitation of the Paris Attacks anniversary to advocate new laws demanding that concert venues invest more in security – while herself employed as chair of a private security firm which just so happens to provide these services – showcases British politics at its most tawdry and corrupt

There are innumerable reasons why the House of Lords in its current state is an utterly intolerable affront to democracy and ethical decision-making, but an example from today really takes the biscuit.

We are coming up on the one year anniversary of the heinous coordinated terrorist attack at the Bataclan concert hall and across Paris, and Baroness Ruth Henig – a Labour peer appointed in 2004 – decided that today would be the perfect day to pop up on the BBC News Channel to declare that private concert venues should do more in terms of anti-terrorism security and training, enforced by law through a potential change to the Licencing Act 2003.

From BBC News:

Licensing laws should be changed to force entertainment venues around the UK to undergo counter-terror training, a private security expert has said.

Baroness Ruth Henig told the Victoria Derbyshire programme that some venues did not take such training “seriously”. The former chair of the Security Industry Authority now plans to table an amendment to the 2003 licensing act, to include counter-terror training. Her comments come nearly a year after 130 people died in attacks in Paris.

[..] Baroness Henig said: “There are clearly a number of venues, often the larger venues, I think, but not always, who have airport-style security, who, for example, do have metal detectors, who do have very well-trained security personnel and they top up this training regularly.

“But I think at the other end there is a tail of venues who aren’t taking it seriously, we know this from the police, who don’t co-operate, who don’t take up the offers that are made to them and where I think there are some concerns.

“And the issue is how do you get to that tail of venues who are perhaps not doing as much as they should be about security.”

So far, so noble, you might think. After all, Baroness Henig only recently completed two terms as chair of the Security Industry Authority (SIA), the government regulator for private security firms run under the auspices of the Home Office. Who better to make a reasoned, fact-based case for more necessary security regulation than somebody who was in charge of holding the industry to account?

Only that is no longer Baroness Henig’s role. Rather than regulating the industry and ensuring that professional standards are upheld, Ruth Henig can now be found on the board of SecuriGroup, a private security consultancy and provider itself regulated by the SIA – and not just as any board member, but as the Chair of that organisation.

Here’s her official company bio:

Baroness Henig joined SecuriGroup after completing two successful terms as Chair of the Home Office Regulator, the Security Industry Authority (SIA). Baroness Henig’s commitment to security and policing is well documented having held the post of Chair of Lancashire Police Authority and the Chair of the Association of Police Authorities in England and Wales which led to the award of a CBE in 2000 for services to policing. The Baroness also served on the National Criminal Justice Board and Street Crime Action Group, chaired by the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair.

She was appointed as Deputy Lieutenant for Lancashire in 2002 and made a life peer in 2004 as Baroness Henig of Lancaster. As a Deputy Speaker of the House of Lords, Baroness Henig takes her place on the European Security Committee on Foreign Affairs and is a member of the Independent Policing Commission.

And most conveniently, some of the services offered by SecuriGroup include counter-terrorism strategy training, security guarding, door supervision and event security. One might say that SecuriGroup are perfectly poised to provide the very services that their CEO is currently insisting are made mandatory from her unelected seat within the UK Parliament.

To move instantly from a position regulating an industry to the chairmanship of one of those companies being regulated is concerning in and of itself. In fact, the free flow of individuals back and forth between regulator and regulated organisations is one of the primary symptoms of “regulatory capture,” a phenomenon whereby a government body established to regulate an industry “instead advances the commercial or political concerns of special interest groups that dominate the industry or sector it is charged with regulating”.

In this context, Ruth Henig’s sudden concern that smaller music venues are not stumping up for expensive anti-terrorism security countermeasures starts to look a lot less like high-minded public interest and a lot more like grubby concern for the bottom line. Is Henig worried about “that tail of venues who are perhaps not doing as much as they should be about security” because the safety of concertgoers has been keeping her up at night, or because a valuable revenue stream for SecuriGroup has been going unexploited? Given that she now derives her pay cheque from a private security firm, one has to assume that it is at least partly the latter.

Henig tries to cast herself in a virtuous light by pointing out the fact that the initial police consultations with event venues offered as part of Project Griffin are free. And so they are. But when the risk-averse police advise small venues operating on shoestring budgets that they need to pay for additional private security (by hiring the services of SecuriGroup or its competitors), that certainly will not be free. The sums of money involved would likely shut down or severely restrict the operations of many of Britain’s smaller music venues.

Of course there is nothing surprising about a Labour politician downplaying the cost of regulatory compliance – this is their bread and butter. But to do so because one has a direct financial interest in more stringent regulation is morally grey at best.

And this is one of the main problems with the House of Lords. Henig’s case is far from unique. It is just particularly disgusting, because it involves taking advantage of the anniversary of the terrorist murder of more than a hundred people to help drum up more business for SecuriGroup. But regulatory capture is an inherent feature of an appointed House of Lords, not an awkward and unintended quirk.

When governments appoint people to the upper legislative chamber based often on their industry experience (and that’s a best case scenario, assuming they aren’t simply cronies being rewarded for political services rendered), those people will naturally retain extensive links to the industries in which they built their careers and reputations. Sometimes this can be a good thing and lead to better, more considered lawmaking. But if the legislator in question is still working (or intends to return to work) in that field, then their judgment is inherently compromised.

Unfortunately, rather than realising the glaring conflict of interest and recusing herself from debate on the subject, Baroness Ruth Henig decided instead to roll up her sleeves and abuse her position as an unelected peer to further the interests of the company she runs – and all in the run-up to the anniversary of a terrorist attack which killed 130 innocent people.

Britain is crying out for proper constitutional reform to build up the public’s diminished faith in our democratic process. Part of that means proper reform of the House of Lords – making it a fully elected chamber (with term limits, length of terms and the candidate pool open for discussion, so long as we produce a more deliberative body), ending the “elected dictatorship” of the primacy of the Commons, kicking out the theocratic Lords Spiritual and drastically shrinking the membership.

But it also means cracking down on the kind of morally dubious behaviour exhibited by people like Baroness Ruth Henig. We must end the revolving doors which currently exist between Parliament and industry, Parliament and lobbying and between regulator and regulatee. Somebody who just completed two terms regulating the private security industry should not then immediately be allowed to go and work in that same sector. Just because it is commonplace and seen by the establishment as a “deserved reward” for having previously slummed it on the public purse does not make it right.

Using the anniversary of the November 2015 Paris Attacks to promote a bill making it mandatory for even the smallest of music venues to invest heavily in additional security is politics at its most cynical – particularly when you consider that heavily armed and well trained gunmen such as those who committed the Paris Attacks (and the previous attack on Charlie Hebdo) would hardly be deterred by the presence of additional unarmed security guards.

But promoting an ineffective course of action which also happens to result in significant monetary gain for one’s outside business interests is about as low as it is possible to get. By all account, Baroness Henig’s career thus far has been distinguished and honourable. She should reverse course and either give up her chairmanship of SecuriGroup or otherwise immediately recuse herself from any further part in legislating security issues – or risk tarnishing that good reputation forever.

 

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Top Image: BBC

Bottom Images: Pixabay, Twitter / SecuriGroup

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On Horsemeat In The Food Supply

Below is the text of the letter that I wrote to my local MP, Glenda Jackson (Labour – Hampstead & Kilburn):

 

Dear Ms. Jackson,

 

Like many others, I have been reading with shock the news about the contamination of so many food products illegally labelled as beef, which in actual fact contained horsemeat (in some cases up to 100% of their content) which have been sold in British supermarkets.

 

I find it extremely concerning that this may have never come to the public attention were it not for the investigations of the Irish Food Standards Agency, and that our own FSA has thus far responded in a way that can only be described as passive and reactionary.

 

As a voter, I tend to lean Conservative – I believe in small government and limited regulation of industry wherever possible. However, I believe that a situation where the largest food retailers in our country can sell mislabeled produce for so long, and yet wash their hands of any responsibility and blame their (often overseas) suppliers, is appalling. A supermarket selling a food item under their own brand – be it Tesco, ASDA, Waitrose, ALDI, Sainsbury’s or any other – should take responsibility for their supply chain. This must include legal liability for any contaminations such as the recent horsemeat scandal. Furthermore, the FSA should have the ability, and power, and conviction, to levy serious fines for any systemic breaches such as this. As blame is clearly shared among multiple parties in this case, the British retailers affected should then be free in turn to sue their suppliers in order to recoup some of their regulatory, financial and legal costs.

My questions to you, as my local MP, are these:

1. What steps do you believe need to be taken, and will you actively promote in Parliament, in order to ensure that the UK Food Standards Agency has both the manpower to better police the nation’s food supply, and the regulatory “teeth” to effectively deter retailers and food manufacturers from taking shortcuts or turning a blind eye to malpractice such as horse meat contamination?

2. As the food supply chain reaches far beyond British shores, to Europe and beyond, how can we better ensure that food products imported by British manufacturers, processors or retailers, conform to British standards of quality and labelling?

I don’t consider this at all to be a partisan issue – clearly the mislabelling and misselling has been taking place under both Labour and Conservative administrations for some time. What matters now is a swift and effective response, adequate legal frameworks in place for affected consumers to seek redress with the guilty British retailers, and a way for those same retailers to take action against their negligent suppliers. Unless the financial pain is felt all the way up the supply chain, such practices will continue.

I thank you for your work on behalf of our constituency, and look forward to your response.

Many thanks –

best regards,

Live-Blogging The Leveson Enquiry

22.38 – I’ll live blog about something worth covering next time

15.13 – Tony Blair’s evidence has finished, and immediately the BBC stops caring. I guess I missed all the “interesting” stuff.

15.11 – There are people who go out in the world and do things, and accomplish stuff, and change peoples’ lives for the better (or the worse), but leave an impact either way. And then there are the people sitting in this room at the Royal Courts of Justice. Tony Blair is the former; everyone else…not so much

15.09 – I DON’T KNOW WHAT’S HAPPENING OR WHY I AM PAYING FOR ALL THESE PEOPLE TO SIT HERE

15.07 – Oh geez, why don’t you just get a hotel room and invite Blair up if you like him so much, Leveson? Enough pointless flattery, let’s accomplish something today!

15.06 – Tony Blair is a broken man. William Hague and David Cameron at their fiery best never exacted such a toll on the former PM as Leveson’s pointless question

15.05 – Why is Leveson at pains to say he has no interest in imperilling the freedom of expression in the press? Isn’t the whole point of this goddamn enquiry to hear evidence from other people, not to hear this gasbag preening in front of a load of TV cameras? His so-called “question” just lasted 10 minutes

15.05 – Leveson has heard of the internet! He mentioned twitter and the internet just now! Gosh, isn’t he modern? Looking at all of the angles on press and media regulation here

15.04 – Why can’t Leveson just join his local bowls club like most old people? It seems cruel to the general population of the UK to devise this elaborate and boring way of keeping him occupied

15.03 – So glad I’m not a lawyer (sorry, solicitor or barrister), especially in this country

15.02 – I wish the director would show the expression on Tony Blair’s face as Leveson’s multi-part non-question enters its fifth minute…

15.01 – Leveson postulating about some bizarre scenario about what to do if someones’ leg is going to be chopped off. No idea.

14.59 – Leveson clearly thinks he is being paid by the word, God only knows what he is talking about at the moment.

14.58 – BBC News is showing rolling coverage of Tony Blair’s evidence to The Leveson Enquiry,  set up to analyse and recommend changes to press regulation in the wake of the “phone hacking” scandal. This is such a freaking exciting topic, and such great stewardship of our taxpayer money, that it seems to be the perfect candidate for the first live blog on SemiPartisanSam.