Yesterday, Dr No was putting together a post on Mary’s Bottom Line, a Channel 4 documentary in which the Retail Raptor revealed not only her smalls, but her softer side. It seems to Dr No there are parallels between what markets did to Britain’s clothing industry, and what markets will do to the NHS when the HSCB becomes law. He wondered if in a decade’s time we might not come across another Channel 4 documentary, Mary’s Life Line, in which a clutch of long-term unemployed doctors and nurses reoccupy derelict NHS premises and start a renaissance of NHS practice.
As he wrote the post, he became aware via twitter of a drop-the-bill rally in central London being met with not just a solid police presence, but armed riot police, kettling, and all the paraphernalia of police state control. By twitter accounts, the rally was peaceful, and the police response outrageous, but then twitter is not Reuters, so Dr No turned to the established media for confirmation. And what did Dr No find in the established media? Nothing.
Absolutely nothing. For us, neither the rally nor the police response had happened. And as he combed and googled his way though websites big and small, a growing and discomforting sense of news blackout came over him. He began to smell the hand of the state, and of control; for not one established media outlet could he find that had reported the rally. There could only be, it seemed to Dr No, one explanation: a D Notice.
The British government has long had the power to ‘request’, via a committee set up for the purpose, a media blackout on matters it considers threaten national security, and it does this by issuing a D Notice, or, to give it its full title, a Defence Advisory (DA) Notice. Although the notices are ‘advisory’, and form part of a voluntary system, the established media normally go along with the request. Dr No has no particular problem with a D Notice system sensibly used – no one wants the press inadvertently blurting out sensitive material that could damage national security. But yesterday’s rally was a legitimate demonstration against a hated bill – not a threat to national security.
Dr No has, unsurprisingly if a D Notice is indeed in effect, been unable to establish whether one was issued. Such is the nature of D notices. But the facts we do know: that the rally happened, and yet it got no established media coverage at all, suggest, at the very least, that a D notice has been used.
If – for it is only if – a D Notice has been used, then it bears the hallmarks of a desperate government trampling on democracy. And, boy-oh-boy, do they have form.
The Tories grabbed power not by winning a true majority, but by forming a coalition with a bunch of closet hair-shirt Tories. No one voted for the coalition. They couldn’t – it didn’t even exist at the time of the election.
Neither the Tories nor the Lib Dems listed an NHS reorganisation ‘so big it can be seen from space’ in their manifesto – yet they continue to force through just such a reorganisation, despite overwhelming professional and public opposition.
They have trampled on the orders of the Information Commissioner and a subsequent tribunal to release the Bill’s risk register; only last weekend, Lib Dem grandees ignored the evident will of their party…
…and now, on the eve of the Bill’s Third Reading in the Lords and likely Royal Assent this coming Tuesday, they appear – appear, because we don’t know – to have used a D Notice to suppress media coverage of legitimate demonstration against the Bill. Such tactics, collectively, from the imposition of un-mandated policy to the apparent suppression of news, are not those of a responsible democratic government: they are instead the increasingly desperate measures of a government that knows it has lost the will of the people, and of the professions, and yet intends to get its way come what may. For you, it seems, the democracy is indeed over.