Saturday, November 12, 2005 

Did the public really support 90 days?

Before the vote on Wednesday, we were told repeatedly that public opinion supported the police and government push for up to 90 days detention for terrorist suspects. Out of the few opinion polls which actually tested that assertion, there were two which suggested they did. A poll in the Times suggested 64% supported the clause, while a poll either on the Wednesday or Thursday morning quoted by John Reid suggested that over 80% supported the government position.

Today a poll in the Guardian disputes the government's fallback position that the public supported them and not the Labour rebels, Tories and Lib Dems. Asked the question "The government could have compromised with MPs determined to vote against the 90-day period. Which of the following comes closest to your view?" 29% said the government should have compromised because it would have got longer than 90 days, 28% said 28 days is about right and 18% said 28 days is too long. 20% said the government should propose what it thinks is right, even if it is defeated. 5% either didn't know or didn't answer. That means that 75% did not support 90 days, whether they wanted 28, a slightly higher figure lower than 90, or felt that it should remain at 14 days. This is based on an random sample of 511 interviewed on Thursday and the results have been weighted to the profile of all adults.

This does not mean that the public did not support 90 days before the vote. We have to take into account hindsight and wanting to be on the winning side after the event. What it does show though is that the government's and Sun newspaper's claims that the public was fully behind 90 days is in short, piffle. John Reid has not learned his lesson though, and today seems to be taking back up his position as the government's attack dog, saying that the Tories have slurred the police. The fact he has to come to the government's "rescue" as he did repeatedly over the Iraq war shows how serious this is to Blair.

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Friday, November 11, 2005 

Muslim taskforce shames government with workable and excellent suggestions.

It's a shame that the seven working groups involved in coming up with this plan didn't publish their suggestions before the vote on 90 days. It would have shown the government up even further, with its distasteful politicisation of the police. The immensely unlikable Hazel Blears has to her credit said the government will attempt to implement most of it.

Main recommendations

The working groups call for:

· A training programme for imams in non-theological skills, including interfaith dialogue and conflict resolution

· A public inquiry into the root causes of 7/7 and 21/7 terror attacks and their consequences

· Muslim "beacon centres" to develop leadership and promote integration

· A Muslim affairs media unit to provide rapid rebuttal to extremist sentiments and maintain a database of talking heads

· British Islam-online website to provide an information one-stop shop for the young to represent all the mainstream schools of thought

· Roadshow of scholars in big Muslim centres across the country

· UK youth parliament to train young Muslim MPs to run debates with young Muslims in their communities, to provide a safe space for youth to debate issues and register dissent

· Education programmes for Muslim prisoners, and greater support for Muslim chaplains

· A mentoring scheme for Muslim women to shadow figures in public life

· A national campaign to increase visibility of Muslim women

· Seminars and training schemes to develop women's skills and knowledge

· A better reflection of Islam in education

· Measures to improve public-sector understanding of Islam through secondments and short-term contracts into and out of government

And they haven't been silent in criticising the terror bill, either:

Their findings published yesterday are sharply critical of "inherent injustices" in British foreign policy which they say are a contributory factor in triggering "radical impulses" among British Muslims.

They are also scathing about the potential impact of the new terror law, saying that creating a criminal offence of glorifying terrorism could stifle legitimate support for self-determination struggles around the world. They also criticise the Home Office plan to produce a list of extremist websites, bookshops and organisations, saying this will be seen as censorship of those critical of British foreign policy. They also renew the demand for a public inquiry into the underlying causes of the July attacks - an initiative the home secretary says he is considering.

An inquiry into the attacks is crucial. Blair is likely to resist such a move, mainly as unless it follows the same route of the Hutton and Butler inquiries, it'll uncover a trail of poverty and radicalisation linked inextricably to British foreign policy. Such findings would go not down well, as Blair and most of the tabloids continue to stick with the cliche that terrorists are evil and that they are nihilists intent on destroying the west. While some no doubt are that caricature, others are those who have been misguided into believing only violence is the answer. The Muslim task force's's plan would help to stop that indoctrination for happening.

The first step, and probably the most important is the training for imams, many of whom are of the old-school and focus on the old teachings of Islam which are now out of touch with many of the young who see their religion as defining them. While those young men increasingly see Islam as also defining their political views, they do not want sharia. They want to see their views taken on board and not completely ignored by the elite establishment. This desperately needs to happen.

The media affairs unit would help with countering the extremist statements we see of the Zawahiris and similar militants, which are often only those which the average person will see on the news. Islam also needs to be better taught in schools - while religious education in the UK is actually very good compared to many other countries, it could still be vastly improved as it only touches on Islam, Judaism and Hinduism briefly, concentrating on Christianity. It is also usually poorly attended at schools, with teachers and pupils alike seeing it as worthless. That needs to be changed.

Also worthy of praise is the attention the action plan puts on the role of women. Often seen as marginalised, the suggestions would certainly help. I'd like it to be even more radical, and see women be encouraged to learn English, as many of the older generations do not speak it. If this was attempted, it would need to be a lot subtler than Blunkett's past attempts at demanding all immigrants learn English. English would greatly help to improve their visibility - no longer should they be seen as the quiet women walking the streets either in brightly coloured saris or hijabs.

Now the government needs to keep its word. Unless these plans are accepted and implemented, the Muslim community will be embittered and feel even more ignored than before. That must not happen.

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It's the Sun that lost it.

Steve Bell's take on a wretched week for the worst newspaper in Britain.

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Thursday, November 10, 2005 

ID cards savaged again.

Another day, another blow to Labour's "reform" agenda, this time on the wholly unnecessary and illiberal identity cards bill:

Fresh questions over the government's costings for the introduction of the national ID card scheme were raised yesterday by its own consultants who doubt that the plastic cards will last for 10 years.

The Home Office published only an extract from the KPMG study yesterday, which omitted any of the actual figures in the confidential report. The consultants raised fresh doubts over costings in three areas. These were:

· the 10-year lifespan of the cards: KPMG said information from suppliers was inconclusive on this point and therefore their durability was questionable. It suggested that the costs of replacing damaged cards as they wore out needed to be revised;

· lifespan of the biometric pods: the Home Office expects the advanced scanners to be used to take everybody's "biometric" - an electronic scan of their fingerprints, irises and facial images - to last five years. But KPMG said this appeared to be optimistic given their "very heavy use and the rate of technology advance", and a three-year life would be a better assumption, leading to higher initial costs;

· offices to house the national ID register staff: The Home Office needed to house the staff to set up the central computer database within two years but there were few suitable buildings on the market outside London and the south-east and it would take three years to build new offices. Extra costs would be involved in renting temporary office space.

The Home Office said card manufacturers believed it was possible to develop an ID card that lasted 10 years. Estimates for the programme's contingency levels would be updated early next year.

The Home Office minister stated that the study confirmed the majority of the cost assumptions surrounding the scheme, but the neglected to actually publish the evidence which the report supposedly has. I wonder why? The whole programme ignores the facts that iris recognition technology is at the moment nowhere near close to being ready for use for confirming identification. The cards may well not last 10 years; the machines which scan might not even last five; they need a building which currently doesn't exist; pensioners and the poor will still have the pleasure of having to pay £30 for a card, even at a discounted price. It'll likely be much higher for everyone else, and oh, let's not even get started on what plans the government has for the database all this information is going to be stored on.

The Liberal Democrats position at the election was that the money spent setting up the scheme should be spent on the police. Following yesterday's humiliation for Blair, he'd be wise to heed some advice and actually support the police by helping them to train new recruits properly, instead of banging up suspects for longer because of their incompetence.

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Sun-watch: Predictable traitors.

Here's today's front-page banner-boost splash:

That the Sun call representatives of the people traitors is pretty low, especially considering if MPs did exactly what a majority of public opinion supports, we'd probably withdraw from Europe and bring back hanging tomorrow. Still, nothing like being honourable in defeat. Instead of accepting that is something that was unacceptable to parliament, it's quite easy to be a bad loser instead. Inside the Sun prints a full list of the "traitors" who dared vote against 90 day detention without charge. It also printed that they voted for a "cut" to 28 days before charges must be brought, a blatant piece of misinformation when 28 days is actually a doubling of the current limit. Its leader piece, written in short monosyllabic verb less sentences, somewhat like the prime minister occasionally tends to speak in, is a piece of trash which condescends to its readership. Compare the Sun to the Mirror on most days and you'll find that the Mirror doesn't patronise its readership the way the Sun does. Wade and Murdoch think that the average prole is too stupid to make up their own mind, making demands of their readership to oppose legislation to save their hero Blair. If anything, some MPs said they received more messages condemning 90 days as a result of the Sun's campaign.

Most damning of all though is the story of the man whose photo they used on their frontpage on Tuesday. You'd imagine that they would have consulted him before using his picture in such a way to suggest that he supported Blair and the Sun campaign. They didn't, and he doesn't. He is in fact a professor of Media Studies, and has professorships at both Brunel and Cardiff. His own words:

"This is using my image to push through draconian and utterly unnecessary terrorism legislation. Its incredibly ironic that the Sun's rhetoric is as the voice of the people yet they don't actually ask the people involved, the victims, what they think. If you want to use my image, the words coming out of my mouth would be, 'Not in my name, Tony'. I haven't read anything or seen anything in the past few months to convince me these laws are necessary."

"This is a classic piece of media manipulation demonstrating the cronyism of New Labour and the Murdoch press. You don't even have to be a sophisticated analyst to see what they are doing with the visual rhetoric and verbal anchorage. The words are tying down my image to a particular political interpretation of that event, making it seem as if they come from my mouth. I'm reminded of the famous essay by the semiotician Roland Barthes, who analysed an image of a black soldier saluting the French flag. What we've got here is: I am being made to salute the Blair flag."

Maybe Rebekah Wade should take Michael Howard's advice to Tony Blair and consider her position. The real traitors are those who will take away habeas corpus and the right of innocence until proven guilty. If the Prime Minister had suggested it, no doubt the Sun would have supported it. When you can't even be bothered to ask someone you use on your front-page to make a political point what they think, it's time that you shut up.

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Wednesday, November 09, 2005 

Sun-watch: Wade and Murdoch are the true dumb and dumber.

Here's today's hilarious Sun front-page:

Now ignore the rather pathetic photoshop and instead admire the banner that claims 100,000 of their readers supported 90 days possible detention. That's a rather impressive number when the Sun sells around 3,300,000 copies a day. However, the Sun often boasts that it actually reaches at least 10 million people each day. So, taking their boast at face value, that's just 1% of their readership who could be bothered either to register their support or who actually supported the 90 days proposal. Doesn't look so convincing and worth crowing about now, does it?

In other Wade news, the new Private Eye is out and manages with its front page to be crude but effective:

And inside:

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Government annihilated on 90 days plan, 28 days passes through.

I wrote a long post about this originally and then my browser decided to crash, so if this is shorter or not as good as my original would have been, I apologise.

This may be the only time I ever say this but: thank god for the Tories. Their principled stand, not political opportunism as described by Blair, has resulted in the government being defeated on their plans to hold terror suspects for up to 90 days in custody before bringing charges by 31 votes. The government has a majority of 66. Early reports suggest that 41 Labour MPs rebelled against the whips. They should have won, and instead they have been humiliated.

Blair staked most of his remaining political authority on this. He described the case that the police gave him was "compelling", while John Denham, chair of the home affairs select committee said he found it "thin". It was suggested that Denham at the vote did support the government, however, although I can't confirm that. The case was thin. It depends on the word of the police and not much else. They suggested that they needed the time to crack the encryption on computer hard drives which they recovered; then it was published that encryption was a lot less common place than they expected. They said they needed the extra time to study CCTV in-depth: the answer to that is better funding and training, not extra time for suspects locked in a cell. The government could easily provide that by dropping its potentially even worse ID Cards bill. The police said they couldn't enter the home of one of the July 7th bombers for two weeks because of the risk from the chemical concoction they had made in baths: they still didn't need 3 months. They claimed that they needed time to search everywhere possible, example being their probably fruitless digging at a rubbish dump for months. Again, specialists and quick response units are required, not extra time. As Gareth Pierce points out in a Guardian article today, the police often don't even bother interviewing suspects for a week; they leave them to stew in their cells. What judge would turn down a police request for more time when the possibility of the suspect going out on the street and blowing himself up is there? The police would abuse their powers like they have with section 44 of the current terrorism act.

Perhaps Blair's biggest mistake however was to so directly involve the police in trying to force Labour MPs into supporting the up to 90 days detention. He brought them in to meetings with waverers, repeatedly banged on about how desperately they needed it. MPs told of local chief constables phoning them up and telling them that had to support the government, angering many. It was the involvement of the other Blair, Ian, that annoyed me the most. Here is a man that should be laying low following the execution by his officers of Jean Charles de Menezes at Stockwell tube station. Instead he appears and says that he and the police would actually prefer 4 months rather than 90 days, but they would go along with it. Somewhat rich coming from the person who either lied to the News of the Screws about when he first knew that an innocent man had been shot dead with 7 bullets to the head, or who had been kept out of the loop by other officers for over 24 hours.

Those of us who opposed this measure will now no doubt be vilified by the likes of the Sun, more of which above this post. If there is another terrorist bombing, we will likely become the target for the blame, instead of how Blair led us into a war in which there were more deceptions than twists in the average Chuck Palahniuk novel. While Blair has said that he would rather be defeated and know he was doing the right thing than win and do the wrong, this will be a huge body blow not just to him but to the whole Blairite agenda. Their winning streak has been broken, the party is no longer invincible. When Labour won their historic third term in May, Blair promised that he would listen. He has not. We've seen what his listening results in: votes at conference being ignored and Walter Wolfgang being manhandled for daring to heckle. Today a majority has spoken in saying no to the worst excesses of this government. Labour now needs to look at its third term agenda in full, on the NHS, education, ID cards and the probation service, and think whether those policies are Labour. The backbenchers have finally shown they have teeth, and if the leadership does not compromise now, they should defeat measures which would only bring a Tory victory ever closer.

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Tuesday, November 08, 2005 

French riots in pictures.

Thanks to Cryptome for all of these.

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Sun-watch: Printing misinformation alongside the topless women.

Today's Sun front page focuses on the battle over the 90-day detention for terrorist suspects. Featuring an emotive picture of a man horrifically burned following the July 7th attacks, it urges readers to phone their hotline to register their support and inside it also tells readers to email their MP to demand they vote for 90 days and the glorification clause. A fairly typical Sun campaign, it's true. Too bad they then print bullshit of the highest order in their actual article. Firstly:

Mr Blair put on the “performance of his life” as he urged every Labour MP and peer to back him.

This would be the 50th or so performance of his life, following the ones he made in the run up to the war in Iraq, which the Sun backed ferociously. It printed pictures of Robin Cook and Clare Short, called them traitors and urged readers to throw darts at them. It doorstepped George Galloway and smeared him repeatedly.

Then at the bottom of the piece comes this gem:

A POLL by 24 Labour MPs revealed support among constituents for the new powers was up to 100 per cent.

Rrrright. Supposing that Labour MPs had even bothered to conduct a poll, seeing that they've been at Westminster, I somehow find it doubtful that the poll involved numbers high enough to make it representative. Also, the Sun's sister paper, which actually took the time to conduct a proper poll and not make one up, showed that only 64% backed up to 90 days detention.

Then again, why am I even bothering with a so-called newspaper that on its website on the sidebar from the article has links leading to a picture of 3 "beach beauties" one of whom has only her hair covering her breasts? Further down you can click on the Page 3 link, which promises Katie, 22, from Liverpool. 2 clicks and you can see her topless, along with many other one-handed delights. Or of course, you could click on Bizarre and find out about all the celebrity goings-on, like Joe, who now has heart problems as well as brain problems. Who Joe is anyone's guess.

The Sun also doesn't list a number you can ring to register your opposition to the equivalent of a six-month prison sentence for those just accused of "acts of terrorism". I can however link you to a website where you can register your opposition to your MP, like the Sun demands you to do. Write to Them is here.

edit hurr link fixed

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Monday, November 07, 2005 

Blair continues to demand 90 days, while everyone else wants nothing to do with it.

Is Tony Blair finally losing his mind, as all prime ministers are supposed to? His stand on the draconian up to 90-day without trial detention plan is either an highly principled stand which he truly believes in, or is evidence of his psyche on the edge of cracking. Does any other politician apart from him actually believe that 90 days are necessary? Charles Clarke is just being supportive; it's obvious that he always felt 90 days was a stupidly long figure. The opposition leaders are united in saying 90 days is a length of time too far. The Labour rebels have been woke up thanks to Blair's insistence on what amounts to a six-month jail sentence for those suspected of terrorism.

Blair's monthly press conference was full of the usual hyperbolic rhetoric which he always turns to when his plans are being opposed.

"If we are forced to compromise, it will be a compromise with the nation's security."

"We do not want to compromise on the 90 days at all," he said. "It is not the right thing for the country. Be under no doubt about that at all."

So, those who are arrested now under the current legislation who can be held for 14 days are in effect threatening the nations' security if they have to be released due to the police not having enough time to acquire incriminating evidence? This is plainly nonsense. If they have some evidence of any small misdemenaour, they could charge the offender and remand them in custody to continue the investigation. It would also be stupid to imagine that anyone arrested under suspicion of terrorism but then released is not going to be monitored by MI5 - you only have to look back at the way Special Branch and MI5 operated against left-wingers right up until the beginning of the 90s to realise that they will be under close surveillance. Blair's claims that this is what the police are demanding is probably accurate - but it is not what the intelligence services are necessarily demanding, as the Scotsman has revealed. It also whispered that many chief constables around the country are by no means convinced that 90 days is necessary or would even be helpful.

I'd like to think that Blair's position can be attributed to one of the two things I started this post with. It's actually once again more likely to be posturing to a tabloid press that continues to demand blood, that covered last week's remembrance service as if it was a royal coronation and not the deeply politicised event which some relatives of the bereaved boycotted. Blair is still trying to gain capital from the attacks on the 7th of July, and if the opposition backs down, he will have succeeded not only in denying that the attacks had anything to do with Iraq, but also in trying to regain control of his party and the country through the blood-letting of commuters.

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Moss dross returns.

Once you think it's safe to gaze at the front pages of the tabloids again, Kate Moss comes back and rips your face off. The Mirror, not content with melting our eyeballs with a picture of Kate Moss in some hideous lingerie on the front page in the Sunday edition, today prints a topless photo of her on the front page. Well, not topless but with her breasts covered by the "massager's" arms.

If you want to see her breasts, then the Mirror delivers by printing the more revealing photos on their third page. How nice of them.

In other Mirror news, the Sunday Mirror almost completely stole the Guardian's weekend interview with Christopher Meyer, former American ambassador, and printed it under an "EXCLUSIVE" banner. Exclusive to those who hadn't read it the day before, obviously. Fleet Street isn't called the Street of Shame for nothing.

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