Friday, April 29, 2016 

Deep soul.

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Thursday, April 28, 2016 

Where would we be without Leninspart, eh?

It's not often these days anyone can say they agree with Nick Clegg, as was oh so achingly funny a few years ago, not least as he wisely keeps a low profile.  He couldn't however have been more right, finding himself stuck at the side of Ken Livingstone by grim chance this morning after what even by Ken's standards was a clusterfuck of remarkable proportions. "I never ever thought I would see the day that mainstream, well-known politicians like you would start raking over Hitler’s views in a way that people would simply not understand," Clegg said, in what also has to be one of the more understated reactions to a few hours of pandemonium via interview and Twitter.

I mean, it's not like this is difficult or complicated.  Here's a very simple rule all would do well to follow: unless a debate is about Hitler and the Nazis, don't bring Hitler and the Nazis into it.   It doesn't matter if someone else made reference to Hitler first, don't then follow their lead.  For instance, if someone ill-advisedly made reference to Hitler even if only through an image meme, don't then try and defend them by saying that well actually, Hitler supported this or that, even if your intention is not to make an allusion to the modern day.  Moreover, especially don't suggest that Hitler only "went mad" later.

In the grand scheme of things, Ken's remarks this morning to Vanessa Feltz, of all people, were less offensive than Naz Shah's.  He was completely and utterly wrong about Hitler supporting Zionism, obviously, which he didn't even in 1932, but he also didn't say Hitler was a Zionist, as some have wrongly claimed since.  There is a difference, however subtle.  It's true that Nazi policy until later in the 1930s was to in the main force Jews to leave Germany, to begin with encouraging them to do so, before then making it ever more difficult involving payments to the state and confiscation of assets, but there was not a concerted attempt to direct Jews towards what was then Palestine.  A German Foreign Ministry circular from January 1939 makes clear the opposite was the case.

Ken was not setting out to be antisemitic, and probably just about avoided being so.  He did however allow the impression to arise, as Rabbi Danny Rich has said, of equating Zionism and Nazism, as antisemites routinely do.  As Laura Janner-Klausner has also stated, Ken has form in this area, and while not a Nazi apologist, has in the past failed to apologise for being unpleasant rather than outright racist.

His suspension from the party, with the leadership moving slightly more quickly today than previously, is deserved.  Had though Ken not decided to make himself available today for interviews, defending Shah and the party when neither want or need Ken to speak up for them, it's likely the claims of antisemitism in Labour would have began to blow over.  If instead of following up his interview with Vanessa Feltz by appearing on every show going he had read the tweet from Sadiq Khan, the man battling to become the second Labour Mayor of London, calling for his suspension, realised the furore he had already caused and retracted what he said, he wouldn't then have got in a slanging match with fellow professional idiot John Mann.  But then, Ken doesn't apologise.  He doesn't think.  Exactly why it is the leadership has not made this clear to him before that his "help" is more hindrance than it is support I don't know, unless Ken has simply ignored their advice.

We're now in a situation where thanks to Livingstone's stupidity the race to discover more "evidence" of antisemitism is bound to continue.  Ken has without question helped Jeremy Corbyn's enemies in the party, all of whom were exceptionally quick to call for his dismissal, for which they can hardly be blamed, many of whom have no compunction about having their party portrayed as hostile to Jews if it hastens Corbyn's departure.  It makes those who have pointed out and argued that the claims of antisemitism against Labour members so far have been weak to non-existent look foolish, and encouraged groups that have long opposed the party's attempts to be even-handed between Israel and the Palestinians to declare this proves the "evidence is there for all to see".  Most damagingly of all, it will have an effect, no doubt small, but an effect nonetheless on the elections next Thursday.

A great day, all told.

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Wednesday, April 27, 2016 

The antisemitic muppetry of Naz Shah and connected silliness.

Naz Shah, it's fair to say, is a bit of a muppet.  After scrabbling around for months for evidence of antisemitism within Labour, turning up little more than allegations against students at Oxford and idiotic tweets by one or two activists on Twitter, some poor sap at Guido Fawkes was apparently tasked with going through years' worth of timeline updates by MPs on Facebook.

With Shah, they finally hit paydirt.  Back in 2014 she shared one of those wonderful image memes that tend to be prevalent there, suggesting a "solution" to the Israel-Palestine conflict was to relocate the country to America.  Transporting the population to the States would also only cost the equivalent of 3 years' worth of US aid to the country, so everyone would be a winner.  Shah was so taken with the idea she suggested she would send it on to both David Cameron and Barack Obama, not apparently in the least bit troubled by the history of the transporting of Jews, to focus on merely one of its objectionable aspects.

It would have been slightly less embarrassing, albeit only slightly, if Shah hadn't also recently denounced a local Tory councillor for his alleged racism, demanding that he be suspended from the party.  That it took Labour the best part of today to do the same with Shah despite knowing about the post yesterday, with Shah resigning as John McDonnell's PPS, also doesn't look great.  Shah has at least made an unequivocal apology, and did so in the House of Commons, saying that her views have changed greatly over the past 2 years.

Whether that turns out to be that, and the claims that Shah has associations with others with exceptionally dodgy views on Israel stay only that, with Shah regaining the whip at some point in the future remains to be seen.  So long as other unacceptable posts are not forthcoming, I'd like to see Shah given the benefit of the doubt and for her to be judged by her deeds rather than past words.

We have though been going through another of those periods where accusations of racism and extremism have been chucked around liberally by all sides, all in the belief that there is some political advantage to be gained.  If it seems a bit rum for a prime minister involved in the smearing of Sadiq Khan as being a pal of Islamists to then comment on Labour's alleged problems with antisemitism, that's because it is.  It also ignores how all of us will have at some point come out with some misjudged, overwrought or plain wrong commentary; social media has only made it easier to discover and make an issue of at a later date.  

Nor is this necessarily of much interest to the wider public, whom if anything would prefer politicians to sound more like they do.  When you have people texting into phone-ins declaring themselves relieved that unaccompanied refugee children in Europe won't be coming to this country, describing them as "vermin" and "leeches", as I heard on the local BBC station earlier in the week, it's worth reflecting for the most part our representatives resist the temptation to use inflammatory language.

The same cannot be said for our allies.  When you consider how former Iranian president Ahmadinejad's Holocaust denial and remarks on how Israel would "disappear from the page of history" were brought up every time he made the news, it's somewhat odd we don't hear much about the views of Azerbaijan's president Ilham Aliyev.  This is even more surprising when you consider he makes them in English, on Twitter, and to over 200,000 followers.  His most objectionable by a considerable margin was a tweet from a couple of years back when he declared that his country and Turkey were working together to counter the "myth" of the Armenian genocide, but he regularly insults neighbour Armenia, whether or not the on-going Nagorno-Karabakh conflict over the disputed territory is blowing hot or cold.  Such remarks from the head of state didn't stop Tony Blair from "advising" on the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline, despite Azerbaijan's turn-around on human rights in general being described as outpacing even Russia's, of which we've heard much more about.  

Far be it from me to suggest we should care far more about genocide denying leaders of men than Labour MPs sharing viral images on Facebook, completely unacceptable as it was, but well, you know.

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Tuesday, April 26, 2016 

The bitterest of ironies.

The findings at the Hillsborough inquest are a landmark in many respects.  The 9 members of the jury who attended the hearings for that period of time deserve some kind of special recognition for their service, not least when so many aspects of the events of the 15th of April 1989 in one corner of Sheffield were and remain so harrowing.  That the crush both outside the ground and then in the Leppings Lane end of Hillsborough were captured by cameras that didn't stop rolling, providing a vital document of the events, helped to ensure that after 27 years, justice is at last in reach for the 96 who died that day.

It still isn't guaranteed, however.  Yes, today's verdict of unlawful killing for every single one of the 96, and the further finding that Liverpool fans' behaviour did not in any way contribute to the disaster is a further vindication of the at times lonely campaign fought by the Hillsborough Family Support Group and others.  It does not automatically follow though that charges will be brought against organisations, or especially individuals, despite the Crown Prosecution Service's statement that prosecutions will be considered once Operation Resolve and the Independent Police Complaints Commission's renewed inquiry are completed.  Even if prosecutions are given the go ahead, it's extraordinarily rare for juries to find against the police in criminal cases, where beyond reasonable doubt is the standard as opposed to on the balance of probabilities.  It's one thing for a jury to state someone was unlawful killed; to find an individual or group responsible for manslaughter is something else entirely.

That it has taken 27 years, multiple inquiries and a second two-year long inquest to reach the point where all blame has finally been lifted from the victims in itself needs to be quantified.  Some will say today should not be the day for recriminations, and instead be purely about justice finally being in sight, but that is to ignore why it has taken this long in the first place.  As stated above, this was a tragedy that was captured from multiple angles, that was broadcast live on TV and radio, that was reviewed that night in depth on Match of the Day.  Photographers expecting to record an FA Cup semi-final instead turned their cameras on the crowd, many of the shots of the death throes and agony of those caught in the crush far too distressing to ever be published.  If there had been behaviour like that subsequently claimed by South Yorkshire police, the local Tory MP and most notably, the Sun, then it would have been captured.  That it wasn't didn't stop the myth of "tanked up mobs" being responsible from becoming accepted.

For why you have to look at how football was regarded and fans treated in the late 80s.  Hooliganism might have already been in decline, but that didn't prevent the Thatcher government from wanting to introduce an ID card scheme for supporters, such was the contempt they were subject to.  It's not an exaggeration to say fans were seen as another part of the "enemy within", and SYP had shown how they were to be dealt with at Orgreave.  The ban from Europe that followed the Heysel disaster was a national embarrassment, the blame for which could only be laid on Liverpool.  That it was the same club involved again couldn't possibly be a coincidence.

When SYP then set out to lay the blame squarely on the fans and on Liverpool, a process that began within minutes of the unfolding disaster with chief superintendent David Duckenfield telling FA chief executive Graham Kelly that fans had forced the gate he had ordered be opened, they knew what they were doing.  The media (and the public, too) tend to believe the word of the police over other eyewitnesses at the best of times; combined with all these other factors, it was hardly surprising the tabloids reprinted the most reprehensible, despicable of lies as supplied to them by the Whites agency, sourced from Conservative MP Irvine Patnick, who was in the police Niagara club the night of the disaster, and heard "the truth" from senior officers including Inspector Gordon Sykes.

Not surprising, but still a fundamental betrayal of their duty as journalists.  The same editors who reprinted the claims of fans urinating on and beating police officers trying to save lives, as well as robbing the dead were the ones who reviewed the thousands of photographs sent in of the disaster.  They would have watched the reports of the disaster, perhaps seen that night's Match of the Day, which showed extended footage of events as they played out, where Des Lynam, who had at Hillsborough that afternoon repeatedly said there had been no violence involved, where Jimmy Hill said there was no hooliganism involved whatsoever.  They would have carried the reports of the fans on what happened, none of whom made such claims, who in the main were already blaming the gate being opened and everyone rushing in as a result, although at that point it was unclear if all who had done so had tickets.  The other papers that published the claims quickly retracted them, not least because of the anger and incomprehension in Liverpool at what was being said.

The Sun was the exception.  It doubled down.  Editor Kelvin MacKenzie never apologised unless forced to by the courts or Murdoch.  The day after it splashed with "THE TRUTH", it led with "THE TRUTH HURTS", a front page editorial defending its report, not backing down for a second.  For all these years later for not just MacKenzie, but Trevor Kavanagh to still not be taking any responsibility, putting all the blame on what they were told, rather than doing the absolute minimum expected of journalists which is to be sceptical, to check sources again and again, speaks of how they still don't accept they did anything wrong.  The media as a whole helped spread the lies, helped the SYP to carry on blaming the fans, laid the ground that allowed the first coroner Dr Stefan Popper to turn the first inquests into a charade where the SYP disputed the interim findings of Lord Justice Taylor's report, which had exonerated Liverpool.

It comes back fundamentally, as Flying Rodent writes, to where football and its supporters still were in 1989.  In the eyes of many, both inside and outside of the game, they were fit only to be caged.  Not only did the players have to be protected from them, but so did the general public also.  Not all big grounds had such fences penning in supporters preventing them from easily escaping if such a crush developed, but the one chosen for a showcase event, an FA Cup semi-final, did.  Had those fences not been there, had there been more gates which could have been opened, if the cages had been easier to break down, then fewer if any of the 96 would have died as a result of the other catastrophic mistakes made by the SYP.

It comes back to contempt.  Contempt from the government, contempt from the media, contempt from a public that puts its trust in authority when asked to chose between those depicted as among the lowest in society.  It was only coincidence that it was Liverpool, which made it even easier, when it could have been any club in that semi-final.  It could have been Nottingham Forest's fans in the Leppings Lane end had the decision over which side of the ground to allocate to whom gone differently.

There is of course a coda to all this, and not just that finally, a form justice looks like it will be done.  We all know what happened partially as a result of Hillsborough, partially as a result of England's performance the following summer in Italy, partially to where the game was already beginning to head.  The Premier League.  Sky.  Enormous amounts of money, massive amounts of hype, ambition never really properly fulfilled.  The obscene irony that it was football that saved Rupert Murdoch after he had pumped so much of his money into satellite, when it had been his flagship paper that had so cruelly and unforgivably slandered a club and its mourning, traumatised fans, by extension a whole city, by extension an entire game.  That it took that paper until 2004 to make a proper apology, that today it refuses to comment, that it has never and will never make amends for its reporting on a disaster and yet still prospers, as its owner prospers, is the bitterest of ironies.

A disaster on the scale of Hillsborough might never happen again, but is the contempt still there, is the potential for blaming the victims still there, is the ability of those in power to try their hardest to prevent justice being done still there?  It's never gone away.

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Monday, April 25, 2016 

Always bet on Boris going mad.

Peter Mandelson might not get much right, but when he does, he tends to hit it right on the head.  Speaking to the Graun last week ahead of President Obama's visit, he said: "With luck Boris Johnson will go mad again and say it is all part of a CIA conspiracy."

Which he didn't.  At least not quite.  No, Boris just chose to bring up Obama's being "part-Kenyan" as a possible explanation for why he hates us so and yet still deigns to tell us what to do.  He did this in the pages of the Sun, the newspaper owned by an Australian turned American who sees no problem in telling us Britishers how to vote not just in referendums, but in elections proper.

It was an odd weekend, all told.  Normal roles were reversed.  Usually it's the left that complains about America regarding Britain as the 51st state, or at least that was the case until Obama came along and rewired US foreign policy to a certain extent.  Generally it's the right that is pro-Atlanticist, for the very reason they dream of Britain detaching entirely from Europe, floating across the ocean and everyone through osmosis developing a disdain for our remaining social democrat foibles.  Instead the hissing from the right against Obama making a pretty vanilla case for staying in the EU was all but deafening, while the adulation from the left for a US president telling us what to do was embarrassing.

To suggest this was all a bit over the top when there's little evidence that Obama's intervention will have anything like the impact either side seem to imagine it will would have been to spoil the fun, it seems.  We do after all pretty much know what the two major motivating factors will be when it comes to voters making up their minds: the economy and immigration.  This is why the remain campaign has been banging on incessantly about how leaving the EU will lead us inexorably back to the days before we discovered fire, while leave focuses on little other than how remaining in the EU will inevitably result in every single Turk, Serb and Albanian coming to this country when they join (eventually, if they ever do) and then gain free movement (years after they join), laying waste to the NHS, schools, et al.  Michael Gove, who only last week was attempting to be slightly smarter than this, apparently felt the need to go back to basics after Bozza tossed his dead cat onto the table.

Boris's resort to the argument made most noisily by US right-winger Dinesh D'Souza, that Obama's heritage and especially his father are key to understanding why he "doesn't believe in American exceptionalism" obscured the fact that he made some very decent points about err, America's exceptionalism.  Like the refusal to sign up to the International Criminal Court, or the failure to ratify the UN Rights of the Child Convention, which the US had a major role in drawing up.  Of course, signing up to these institutions or conventions can be all but meaningless when some of the worst human rights offenders in the world are signed up and carry on executing children regardless, yet it's the message such aloofness sends.  Who is any US president to lecture us on our membership of the EU when America is one of the most insular, solipsistic nations on earth by choice, not by design?  It might not be Obama's choice, sure, but it is of much of the rest of the political establishment.  Obama's message was effectively one of telling us to accept our decline; that might be the most realistic option, and yet who would ever embrace such an option willingly?  It's self-evident nonsense that Obama has presided over an American decline, as well as an obvious dog-whistle, yet it's hardly coincidence the candidate promising to "Make America Great Again" still looks set to be the Republican going up against Hillary Clinton come November.

Indeed, there's a major refraction of America's role in setting up organisations and conventions only to reject them later in Theresa May's declaration today that we should leave the European Convention on Human Rights, rather than the EU.  You have to wonder if this is the first attempt at reaching out to the Leavers by Number 10, with the plausible May delivering the message, or if it's instead May still holding out hopes of becoming leader.  When you bear in mind that repealing the Human Rights Act and replacing it with a British Bill of Rights was in the Tory manifesto, something that makes no sense whatsoever unless you also withdraw from the ECHR, it's almost the next logical step.  Logical in as far as the HRA is going to be repealed; it isn't, as every time it comes up for discussion the can gets kicked further along the road.

May's decision to call directly to leave the ECHR does though make you pause.  Would the Tories be cynical enough to sacrifice the ECHR to attempt to heal the wounds left by the referendum?  It doesn't matter that the ECHR is a nuisance rather than a real blocking measure; the old perennials May mentioned of Abu Hamza, Abu Qatada and votes for prisoners are notable precisely because Hamza was sent to the US, Qatada was deported to Jordan (although more because Qatada himself became fed up with constantly being detained rather than May being victorious) and the government is intent on dragging its feet indefinitely on votes for prisoners.  May seemed to infer we could all but enshrine the same rights as in the ECHR/HRA and add to them, such as guaranteeing right to trial by jury, which the ECHR doesn't; in which case, why don't we just rename the HRA to the British Bill of Rights the Tories are so very keen on?  Presumably for the reason that our own courts would still stop the home secretary from doing whatever he or she feels like, which is the real reason governments of both left and right have come to loathe the ECHR/HRA.  It's not because of what it says, it's because judges dare to disagree with them on the basis of their interpretation of the law.

If nothing else it would set up a new battle between the EU over whether or not you do have to be signed up to the ECHR to be a member once you're already in.  And as Robert Harris pointed out, the major point of the referendum has been to give the Leave crowd something to bitch and moan about, despite having been those most vociferous in demanding it in the first place.  It's enough to almost make you want Obama here telling us what to do all the time.

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Friday, April 22, 2016 


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Thursday, April 21, 2016 

90 glorious years.

From world war to World War Z, reluctant heir to hair apparent, Lilibet to I'm now so old that my pussy is haunted, Septicisle reflects on nine decades that have shaped a royal dynasty.

1926-1936: The nappy years
When the home secretary, Sir Tolbert Jingobird-Pustule is torn away from the pressing matter of giving his manservant a damn good thrashing to witness the birth of Princess Elizabeth, no one imagines that the ugly little bag of flesh and bones, remarked upon by the Queen Mother to more resemble the royal wastepaper bin after one of her gin parties than a child, will be Queen.  Elizabeth, soon known to everyone as Lilibet after the amount of drink she is slipped most nights by her parents to shut her up, was third in line to the throne.  Growing up in a life of the utmost privilege, Lilibet spends most of her days chilling out, maxing, relaxing all cool, shooting peasants outside of nothing I put here is going to scan, is it?

1936-1946: That American woman, and mass death
Entering her teenage years Lilibet dreams of nothing more than being a country fishwife, settling down and spending her days nagging away at a husband, who as a matter of course cheats on her on a regular basis.  This is all shattered when her uncle Teddy insists on marrying some American brass everyone regards as a bit common and is duly forced to abdicate.   Now second in line after her father, who apart from his Kingly duties stars in a film about declaring war on Germany but not being able to get the right words out, a happenstance that ends with life imitating art, Elizabeth hides her parents' contraceptives in an attempt to escape her fate.

Happily, she shortly afterwards meets "Blockhead" Phil of Greece at Royal Navy College Croydon, where the straight-talking seagull puncher is the only student in the entire school not to be a raving homosexual.  Noted royal commentator Vincent Bandersnatch described it as destiny.  It was in an attempt to meet Phil that Elizabeth and Margaret famously sneaked out from Buckingham Palace into the crowds on VE Day, only for the pair to become caught up in the moment and get drunk on half a pint of Watneys Red Barrel.

1946-56: Apple pie and dressing up
In a still garlanded radio broadcast, Liz pledges to "devote" herself to "your service".  This is an offer quickly taken up by the rest of the royal household, the future Queen banished to the backstairs for months on end as punishment for showing them up.  She and Phil marry in November 1947, despite it being well known to all, including Liz, that Phil spent the night before the event in the bed of prominent society hostess Kitty Malone.  Malone dies in mysterious circumstances within a week.  Most of the royal families of Europe are invited to the wedding, except Phil's sisters who married Germans, naturally, and Ted and his tart, whom spent the war years trying their best to convince the rest of the royals that Hitler wasn't a bad sort really, just misunderstood.  It is on a trip to what Phil calls "Bongo Bongo Land" that George IV dies from complications arising from his haemorrhoids, and Lilibet the Unlikely duly becomes Queen.

1956-66: Tramp stamps and Johnny Foreigner
With the country at war with Egypt, Phil puts the royal household on a similar footing.  Servants are shot at dawn for the most minor of alleged misdemeanours, while savage beatings are administered by the precocious Charles as punishment for not wiping his backside properly. The young prince is soon known to everyone alternately as both Ronnie and Reggie.  Exposed in the News of the World, the prime minister Rab C Nesbitt orders that Charles be sent to borstal; instead Nesbitt is found hanged the next day.  After a drunken frisson with a Hackney sex worker in December of 1963, Phil is arrested.  The entire matter is quickly hushed up, but not before the press gets wind of a VIP with a tattoo of a crown on his lower back having been accused of cottaging.

(Continues interminably for thousands of pages, broadcast hours, Commons debates, etc)

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