An inspector calls
As lovers of good detective stories know, the gradual accumulation of seemingly unconnected facts unerringly, but in always surprising ways, weaken the defences of the guilty, and end in a damning conclusion. And so it is proving for the British state.
First: The High Court has ruled that British security services colluded in the unlawful detention and facilitated the interrogation of Binyam Mohamed, a UK resident detained in Pakistan six years ago. Two judges found that the foreign secretary had a duty to hand over to Binyam Mohamed's legal team secret information that could support his case that he was tortured in Pakistan and Morocco before being sent to Guantánamo Bay where he remains locked up.
Second: The Home Office has lost confidential information on every prisoner in the country and more than 40,000 serious criminals. The records had been transferred to contractors PA Consulting as a consequence of the privatization of public services. The latest data scandal follows the loss of 25 million child benefit records last year and details of millions of learner drivers and army recruits earlier this year. Whitehall departments were ordered to tighten procedures in the wake of the previous crises and the latest loss has stunned insiders. There are concerns that prisoners may have the right to demand rehousing following the unlawful disclosure of their addresses. The potential costs are incalculable.
Third: The government's official statistics on property sales in the UK have been withdrawn from publication because they appear to be wrong. Or perhaps they’re just so shocking the government fears a revolt? HM Revenue and Customs said that revisions to the previous months' figures, going back to March this year, had cast doubt on their accuracy.
Figures for July were due out, but have been postponed. "Outputs obtained whilst updating the monthly series contained some significant and unexplained differences with the statistics published last month," a statement said. "All months in the statistical series are affected, with the differences showing falls in some months and increases in others," it added. "Our statisticians have come to the conclusion that something doesn't look quite right," explained an HMRC spokeswoman.
June's figures appeared to show that property sales had fallen that month to just 77,000. That was a 45% drop from the same month last year, when 140,000 properties were sold. This chimed closely with many other figures, which show that the market has gone through a sudden slump this year because of the credit crunch. For instance, the most recent report from the Land Registry for England & Wales showed that sales in April were down by 39% over the previous 12 months. The number of mortgages approved by lenders for house purchase was down by 69% in June, according to the Bank of England.
Also shaking the foundations of the economy built on property debt recycled through the City of London, comes news that - with a devastating and worsening slump in the housing market - some finance companies are paying people to take their mortgages elsewhere. Take this together with statistics from the Council of Mortgage Lenders confirming that of the few who have been taking on new loans, the bulk of mortgage lending this year has been to people who are not, in fact, moving house. Previous figures from the CML have shown that so far in 2008, only 29% of mortgage lending has been to house buyers.
Whilst the state and the economy was suffering a collective nervous breakdown yesterday, Gordon Brown was making a surprise visit to get closer to British troops serving in Afghanistan. He may well need their support the way things are going. But comparing their performance in the mad military adventure in Afghanistan to the pampered pussycats doing their thing at the Beijing Olympics may not have been the best message he could have delivered!
22 August 2008