Friday, March 31, 2006 

Vindicative Clarke to charge full price for passports with ID - even for those who don't want it.

Charles Clarke has come up with a wicked wheeze for revenge over the Lords battering that his beloved ID scheme took - which reached royal assent yesterday after the compromise which meant that those who renew their passport can opt out of actually having a card until 2010 - those who do opt out will still have to pay the currently projected £93 cost for both passport and card, in effect, an ID card tax.
People who opt out of having an identity card when they renew their passport will still have to pay the full £93 combined cost of both cards, the Home Office disclosed yesterday.

The decision is a setback to anti-ID card campaigners hoping to develop a boycott on the back of the last minute opt-out compromise which defused parliamentary opposition.

Those who renew their passport until 2010 will be given the choice of not being issued with an identity card, although their details will still be registered on the database.

But Mr Clarke's insistence that they would not get a discount on the £30 ID cost of the combined ID card/passport is likely to prove a powerful disincentive. Ministers are hoping that only a small minority will refuse to have the card while it is voluntary.

Mr Clarke said he believed there was a public appetite for ID cards and that the opt-out was only agreed to allay fears expressed by the Lords that the cards were being foisted on people.
Ah yes, a public appetite for the cards. Could this be because the Sun newspaper supports them? The Sun also supported the loathed 90 days detention for terrorist suspects, which the government also claimed had huge public support. As for it being a blow to the anti-ID card movement, over 12,000 have already pledged to refuse to register for such a scheme, also pledging to donate £20 to a public defense fund for anyone who is prosecuted for not doing so. Today NO2ID has gone further, more or less declaring war on all those who support ID cards at the upcoming local elections:
In May, there are local elections.

We ask that, before the elections, every NO2ID supporter and ID opponent in the country asks every single one of their potential representatives their position on ID cards, and makes it clear to them (especially those who defend the ID scheme) that they will NEVER vote for a supporter of compulsory registration or ID cards. This is not (yet) a 'decapitation' strategy, nor are we proposing tactical voting in May - but if enough people do this, the aspiring political class will begin to sit up and take notice.

How many letters, e-mails or meetings will this take? We cannot say. But if you get no response, send another letter - always keep copies - and start writing to your local paper, too: "This candidate refuses to engage with the genuine concerns of a potential constituent, how fit for office can (s)he be?". Turn up at hustings and wave copies of your unanswered letters. At some point you'll get a response - and the longer it takes, the worse the candidate looks. If you do get an interesting response, e.g. vehement opposition to the scheme by a Labour candidate, do let us know [send an e-mail to].

None of this is hard to do. It just requires that enough of us get organised and DO it.

Please start this weekend - find out who your candidates will be. Get their addresses. Write the first letter, construct a questionnaire, see if any of them will respond to e-mail (but don't rely exclusively on it). And follow through.

In the next five weeks you could sow the seeds of defeat for the ID scheme in your area, but you'll never know unless you try.
This government, despite all its arrogance, can only stand so much adverse publicity. This scheme can still be stopped, or at the least cut down to size, but not if we have already signalled defeat. The real battle is only just beginning.

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Thursday, March 30, 2006 

The first of many reasons not to vote Labour at the next election.

No Trousers Charles Clarke, fresh from lying yet again about his encounter with Rachel North's father, has said today that ID cards will be made compulsory if they win the next election.

Let's pray that the election ends in a hung parliament, with Labour forced to go into coalition with the Lib Dems. They should then use their influence to demand an end to scheme. Yes, even the most cynical can dream.

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The fake Sheikh exposed: Mazher Mahmood and the Dirty Digger foiled by Galloway.

George Galloway has come good. After stroking his ego by appearing on Celebrity Big Brother, he's managed not only to avoid being entrapped by the News of the World's infamous "investigative" reporter, the fake sheikh Mazher Mahmood, but he's now exposed the NotW for exactly what it is: the very worst of "journalism".

George was invited to meet Sam Fernando and Pervaiz Khan at the Dorchester Hotel in London. He was apparently suspicious of their motives from the beginning, but nonetheless following cajoling from some of his associates eventually met them last Saturday night. During a meal, the two asked whether they could sponsor members of parliament, on which Galloway quickly corrected them and rejected any such suggestions that they would do so. They then went on to make a number of anti-semitic remarks, clearly trying to get Galloway to either agree with them or somehow incriminate himself. They questioned how many Jews died in the Holocaust, and when Galloway mentioned that the Daily Express was the most anti-muslim and pro-war paper in the land, one apparently asked, "because it's owned by a Jew?" Galloway said, "no, it's because it's owned by a pro-war pornographer." The clincher though seems to have been the appearance of a man with a mouthful of gold teeth, who asked to have his picture taken with Galloway. This man with gold teeth has appeared in other tales about Mazher Mahmood, and is apparently his bodyguard. Both Andrew Marr and Carole Caplin have seen him while they were with Mahmood. Roy Greenslade, in his article on the Victoria Beckham kidnap plot that never was (see below), identifies him as Mahmood Qureshi, a second cousin of the fake sheikh.

Galloway also reports that Mahmood tried the same trick with Jeremy Corbyn. What links Galloway and Corbyn? They are both the leading MP members of the Stop the War coalition. It's worth remembering that not a single one of the newspapers owned by Rupert Murdoch opposed the war in Iraq. Every one of them, including those in China, supported Bush and Blair's adventure. Murdoch had his own idea about what would be the best thing to come out of the Iraq war. It wasn't freedom for the Iraqi people, oh no.

"The greatest thing to come out of this for the world economy, if you could put it that way, would be $20 a barrel for oil. That's bigger than any tax cut in any country."

Murdoch and his minions are out to smear all opponents of the war as corrupt, or as having ulterior motives. Instead of investigating the corruption at the heart of the Labour and Tory party loans, they are more interested in attacking politicians who actually have some principles.

The News of the Screws is predictably licking its wounds, but says that it was investigating the campaign funding loans-for-peerages scandal. How Galloway and Corbyn relate to the scandal which not even Jack Dromey or Gordon Brown knew about is unclear. The News of the Screws entrapment attempt on Galloway is remarkably similar to its story a couple of years ago about a plan to kidnap Victoria Beckham, aka Posh Spice, and demand a ransom from her husband, the footballer David. The men in that case were entrapped by Florim Gashi, who was the one who kept bringing up Victoria. The trial of the men collapsed once it became clear the Gashi was a convicted criminal, who had been paid £10,000 by the News of the Screws. Whether the plot was Gashi's idea, or indeed the fake sheikh's, is unknown. Roy Greenslade called then for an investigation in the "investigator". That now seems even more urgent.

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Wednesday, March 29, 2006 

The ID cards compromise which isn't.

The compromise reached between the House of Lords and the government today over the ID cards bill has its heart in the right place, but it misses the point of why so many are actually opposed to the scheme in its entirety.

Under the new plans, accepted by Home Office minister Baroness Scotland of Asthal, anyone applying for a passport before January 2010 can opt out of having an ID card.

The move follows months of wrangling between the Lords and Commons on this issue with peers rejecting "compulsion by stealth" five times.

Earlier today MPs had overturned the latest Lords amendment but the home secretary, Charles Clarke, indicated he was prepared to accept a "workable compromise".

The compromise was backed by 287 to 60, a majority of 227, with only the Liberal Democrats still opposing it.

Home Office minister Andy Burnham said in a statement: "I am delighted that we have been able to give our backing to an amendment tabled by the cross-bencher Lord Armstrong.

"The amendment preserves the integrity of the national identity register by ensuring that everyone who applies for or renews a passport or other designated document has their biometric information and other identity details placed on the register.

"However, it also goes towards meeting the concerns of those who have argued that the card itself should not be compulsory at this stage by allowing those who apply for or renew their passport before 1 January 2010 to opt-out of being issued the ID card itself, even though their identity details will be entered onto the register."

First of all, the Lords who stood up to the government over this should be thanked for their dedication in holding it to account. 5 rounds of "parliamentary ping-pong" is no mean feat. Without them we wouldn't have even got this slight compromise.

Nevertheless, the argument has never simply been opposition to a piece of plastic which we carry around. The argument has been about the database behind it, how much of our information is held on it, the costs of the scheme and whether it will actually work. It has also been about whether it will become mandatory to carry it as well as whether it can be demanded to prove who you are, but those have always been lesser concerns. If you now renew your passport, your "biometric information" will be taken, which means both your fingerprints and photographs of your irises will be required. In addition, you will have to give numerous pieces of personal information (the bill sets out 50 categories of registerable facts), all of which will now be entered on a national database which numerous layers of government will have access to. This compromise does to a certain extent meet the Labour manifesto pledge that they would introduce a "voluntary" scheme, but there is nothing voluntary about giving personal information about yourself to the government which they will keep for their own use, when its only use should be on a passport that intends to prove who you are so you can travel.

The typical refrain is that if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear. Every single person has something that they are not proud of, that they are embarrassed about. If they didn't, they wouldn't be human. It's a false argument that believes the government's intentions are entirely pure; that if you are unwilling to give them your personal details that you must be guilty of something.

What the government scheme is going towards is permanent surveillance of the person, with a database behind it, constantly updated, most likely eventually with someone's whereabouts from day to day, thanks to the largest amount of CCTV cameras in a single nation on the face of the planet. That this database will get things wrong and that as a result people may be falsely accused is incredibly likely. After all the IT fiascoes of this government, you would have thought they would have learned that databases are a disaster waiting to happen. They haven't, and the dedication this government has shown to pushing through this bill, which would have made the scheme compulsory in violation of the manifesto after last year (they're breaking their promises earlier and earlier now, it took a few years to break the one not to bring in top-up fees) shows just how intent they are on keeping tabs on everyone. This is without even getting into the cost, which is likely to hugely spiral, and will then be offset by raising the amount you'll have to pay for the card. (£93 is the estimate at the moment for a passport and card.) Then you have the difficulties surrounding biometrics, which for some people simply refuse to work, as their irises currently aren't able to be recognised. The control freakery which began with the media is becoming deeply personal.

The government has instead spent its time saying how much they will solve identity fraud, without explaining how or countering the fact that almost as soon as they come out they will most likely be forged, that benefit fraud and otherwise will magically disappear overnight thanks to the scheme, and that terrorism will be made less likely, even though it didn't stop the Madrid bombers and it wouldn't have stopped the 7/7 bombers. The scheme should be seen as the worst of this government's illiberal excesses, even more onerous and oppressive than attempting to lock up terrorist suspects for 90 days without charge, or locking up non-British citizens suspected of terrorism indefinitely. At the same time Labour demands that the public learn to "respect" each other, while it denies it to its own critical supporters. Blair carries on, apparently intent on staying on to "fix" the NHS before he'll consider stepping down. Even the Guardian has finally got it, after years of mild criticism: He must go, and now.

Related post: Hot Water at Bloggerheads.

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Diana-watch: All the news that's fit to burn.

The remarkable Express group obsession with the dead princess shows no signs of abating. Private Eye today reports that Richard "Dirty" Desmond, pornographer and owner of Northern and Shell, has told the Daily Star editor Dawn Neesom to follow Peter "Mentally" Hill's lead and splash Diana on the front page as often as possible. With impeccable timing, today's Daily Star does just that:

I don't have any idea who the lover is, and I also don't care. That other Daily Star obsession, namely printing a photo of a young woman in her underwear on the front page is taken up today by the Sun, which prints one of their own page 3 "idol" Keeley, along with a story about Whitney Houston, which alleges that she is addicted to crack cocaine. How people lived before the tabloids followed the rich and famous everywhere I just don't know.

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Tuesday, March 28, 2006 

The complicit behaviour of the security services in rendition.

The questions that remain over rendition are slowly but surely dwindling. There now seems little doubt that the security services are not entirely complicit in the rendition process which has seen terrorist suspects taken to states which practice torture for softening up. It seems difficult to believe that they did not know that UK airspace has been used by CIA and charter jets that have been involved in rendition. Indeed, it seems increasingly likely that they may well have been involved with some of the cases.
MI5 knew that two British residents who were seized and secretly flown to Guantánamo Bay were carrying harmless items when it tipped off the CIA that they were in possession of bomb parts.

The disclosure is contained in high court documents released last night revealing the full extent of the government's role in the US practice of "extraordinary rendition" - in this case, of Bisher al-Rawi and Jamil el-Banna, in 2002.

The two men were seized in Gambia after a tip-off from MI5. British security officials had earlier detained the men at Gatwick airport before releasing them.

Court documents show that their detailed travel arrangements were then given to a "foreign intelligence agency". The government does not deny this is a reference to the CIA.

In a telegram sent, apparently to the CIA, on November 1 2002, an MI5 officer said an "electronic device" which could be part of an improvised explosive device had been found on the men. But in a note to the Foreign Office 10 days later MI5 stated that the men had been released at Gatwick "after it was assessed that this item was a commercially available battery charger that had been modified by Bisher al-Rawi in order to make it more powerful".

There is no evidence that the assessment that the item was innocent was passed on to the CIA. One MI5 officer, known only as A in his witness statement, questioned the accuracy of a description of the battery charger as "harmless".

The disclosures come as a report today from the group Caged Prisoners claims evidence shows that Tony Blair, the foreign secretary, Jack Straw, and the leader of the house, Geoff Hoon, "misled" the Commons "over their knowledge and complicity in illegal acts of rendition".

It also accuses Britain's secret services of involvement in "interrogations of detainees where abuse and torture" were used in countries ranging from Morocco and Pakistan to Afghanistan and at Guantánamo Bay.
The full report from Cagedprisoners is available here.


Visited by MI6 agents while in prison in Karachi who told him he would be moved to Morocco. Upon arrival, MI5 agents supplied interrogators with information to ease the extraction of confessions. He remains in Guantanamo Bay.


Fell into the hands of US forces while imprisoned by the Taliban in Afghanistan. Despite promises to help establish his innocence, the British Embassy in Kabul permitted his rendition to Guantanamo Bay.



Picked up by authorities in the Gambia on the advice of the British and subsequently rendered to Guantanamo. Still imprisoned.


Regularly questioned by British authorities in Pakistan and Afghanistan, who allowed rendition.


British intelligence supplied evidence leading to his arrest in Lusaka. Questioned regularly by British agents. MI5 still allowed US forces to render him to Guantanamo.


Interrogated by a British officer by the name of "Andrew" in Pakistan, who promised to return him home if he co-operated. Despite complying, he was sent to Guantanamo, where he remains.


Held in Pakistan where requests from the British Consulate to visit him fell on deaf ears. By the time access was granted, Belmar was on his way to Guantanamo. M15 had been permitted full access from day one.


Held by US forces in Afghanistan, where they were questioned by British officials before being rendered.


Interrogated by MI5 and MI6 in Kandahar. On hunger strike in Guantanamo.


Questioned in Afghanistan by British forces. Believing they intended to help, he complied. He was rendered to Guantanamo.
Government ministers have known about the behaviour of the security services in the cases of the men above. Some of the above may well be guilty of terrorist offences, but if so, why have we abdicated any responsibility we had towards them? Why have we not attempted to repatriate UK residents when the other British citizens were brought back from Guantanamo? It makes repeated denials from the likes of Jack Straw and Tony Blair that the UK has not in any way been involved in rendition flights which used UK airspace and airbases more and more difficult to believe. If MI5 has known about the flights, which seems increasingly likely, have they informed ministers that they had been landing here, just to refuel or not? If not, why not, and if they have, why has the government repeatedly attempted to move the argument on, as the leaked memo to the New Statesman suggested? What is so difficult about being honest about what has been going on, if the flights that have landed here have not been carrying kidnapped detainees? All the government silence does is increase speculation and make us believe the worst.

On a day when Jack Straw tells us that international terrorism is the biggest threat we face, why can the government not realise that the silence that surrounds their own actions does nothing to help the situation? Tell us the truth and be damned, or kept silent and be damned anyway.

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Monday, March 27, 2006 

The Tories: funded by wives of arms dealers.

Despite all Labour's wrong-doing and its selling of peerages for loans, you have to sympathise with their anger about the silence over the Tories loans and funding. Dear old Dave Cameron is still refusing to publish the details of those who lent them money before 2004, despite Labour doing so, as according to them seeing as all existing declarations have complied with existing rules there is no need to. That didn't wash with Labour's original refusals to do so, and it won't with them either.

Some revelations have come out over the weekend, including that at least two of the loans were from foreign businessmen, who are banned from donating to political parties under current rules.

Two foreign businessmen who lent the Conservatives a total of £3.5m before the last general election were revealed yesterday amid continuing pressure on the party by the Electoral Commission to disclose the full list of secret lenders.

Michael Hintze, a naturalised Australian businessman, outed himself on a Tory activist website run by Iain Dale, the defeated Tory parliamentary candidate for Norfolk North, revealing he had made a £2.5m loan to the party.

The second foreign lender was named by the Observer as Johan Eliasch, a Swedish sports equipment tycoon, who made a £1m loan. He was one of the principal backers of Michael Howard, supporting his bid to replace Iain Duncan Smith as leader. The loan is on commercial terms in the form of a mortgage on the party's old headquarters in Smith Square, Westminster. It has enabled the Tories to buy back the freehold of the building, which they had sold off to cut their debts, giving them an opportunity to develop the listed property to raise cash.

Mr Hintze, who is a generous donor to the arts, notably the Victoria and Albert museum, used his offshore Channel Islands company Morain Investments to provide the loan.

Ah yes, Labour might have David Mills and his offshore tax havens for his clients, but you can count on the Tories and their supporters to be even more devoted to keeping more of their money away from the nasty revenue. It gets better:

Two minor donors were also revealed at the weekend. The party confirmed its next declaration to the Electoral Commission would reveal that Rosemary Said, the wife of foreign arms dealer Wafic Said, a Syrian-born Saudi, bid £100,000 at David Cameron's first fundraising ball, for an eight-person dinner to be provided by celebrity chef Albert Roux. Nicholas Soames, former shadow defence minister, and Boris Johnson, former editor of the Spectator and the Tories' higher education spokesman, will be wine waiters. Mr Said was the middleman in Britain's biggest arms deal, the Al Yamamah deal with Saudi Arabia signed by Margaret Thatcher and renewed by Tony Blair.

Poju Zabludowicz, a Finnish property billionaire, gave the party £15,000 through a UK property firm.

It's reminiscent of some businesses which have "slave" auctions for charity. You can imagine Boris and Fatty Soames waddling along with a gun held against the small of their back, just for emphasis. New Tories, funded by the same old indirect murderers and businessmen. Business as usual for the "party of business".

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Don't the police have anything better to do?

Yep, the police are again targetting peaceful protestors in Westminster. Why they can't treat the despicable law passed by parliament banning protests within a certain area of the House of Commons without prior permission as a joke and an outrage like everyone other than Blair and his cronies is beyond me:

Anti-war protester Brian Haw, who won a court battle to maintain his Parliament Square vigil which began in 2001, has been arrested.

The 56-year old father-of-seven, from Redditch, Worcestershire, was with a fellow campaigner when the arrest occurred, supporters said.

Mr Haw was arrested on suspicion of obstructing police.

Both Mr Haw and the other campaigner, Barbara Tucker, were taken into custody but were later released.

A Scotland Yard spokeswoman said: "A man and a woman were arrested at 2pm in Parliament Square."

The woman was arrested on suspicion of unlawfully demonstrating in Parliament Square, and she allegedly refused to give her details to police when requested.

Scotland Yard said the pair had been released pending a decision by the Crown Prosecution Service.

What purpose did this arrest serve? What was achieved by arresting either of them? On the weekend when dozens of opposition protestors were arrested in Belarus, it makes us and our supposed superior democracy look stupid.

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Saturday, March 25, 2006 

Dying to survive.

Karen Armstrong's moving piece on her mother's lingering death is a sharp reminder of the way society deals with what now seems to be the very last taboo yet to be broken: leaving this mortal coil.

In a world where youth, and with it, sex, has become fetishised, not only has growing old itself become something to fear, but death has become the unspoken ultimate horror. This seems in stark contrast to less than a century ago, when whole towns of young men went off to the trenches, never to return. What has changed since then has not only been the advent of modern medicine, but a sea change in the attitude towards life itself. This may well be because there has been no mass cull of human lives during the baby boomer generation, at least not in the west. There has been no Spanish influenza, no holocaust or war which has extinguished millions of lives in what now seems like a stroke. Famine here is a thing of the past; death, while still as certain as taxes, has been made to behave.

As well as not experiencing a mass loss of life, few actually face the stench of death. A slightly larger but still small number face death, or face up to, but are then pulled away, their time not yet come. As a result, our understanding and resistance to people dying has been both diluted and heightened. The modern existential problem is that of not being able to understand the motives or reasoning of the suicide bomber. Sure, we can make fun of them, question what makes them tick (groan) and condemn them for their final fit of selfish pique which takes innocents and those not in same mindframe along with them, but very few of us can sympathise or indeed, even be allowed to. To do so is to offend the relatives of the victims, or give credence to their twisted, wicked, mistaken ideology.

The suicide bomber is just a piece of the puzzle surrounding our modern take on mortality. The contradictions of the pro-life movement, which vehemently wants to stop what it sees as innocents slaughtered because of the whims of an individual, is usually part of the same far-right wing political movement which is vociferous in defence of capital punishment. Another parallel is those of us who believe in the right of individuals to die with dignity, at a time of their own choosing. Many of those who support such a right are against capital punishment, seeing it not only as an act of revenge, but as legitimised killing by the state which makes us no better than the one sentenced to die for their crime.

The fact, really, is that death just isn't sexy. It can be fetishised and idolized just as anything else, but it will always leave the majority cold. As a result, we seem to be prepared to let a lot of seriously ill people suffer. We hear the heartbreaking cases such as that of Baby MB, who a judge decided should not have life support withdrawn from him, despite doctors describing his life as "intolerable". The baby has type one spinal muscular atrophy which usually kills 80% of babies before they are a year old. He is going to die, yet his parents want him to live, and a judge agrees. Who are we to disagree with his parents wishes, even if the child itself is incredible pain which it cannot show? We hear of cases such as that as Karen Armstrong's, where our loved ones go through months and at times years of pain, with they themselves wishing they were dead, yet we can do nothing to help them towards that cause, even if they tell us they want to die now, for fear of prosecution. It has got worse in Britain since the antics of Harold Shipman, where now doctors are even more cautious in prescribing killer doses of morphine which would relieve the suffering of their patients, even when all parties are able to make such a decision, when they might have done in the past.

The deaths of just below 3,000 people on one day in September, 5 years ago has lead, directly or indirectly, to the deaths of 10 times that number at the lowest estimate in Iraq. Do such figures matter? The position of the US military is still that they don't do bodycounts, yet we know the exact number of the US servicemen who have died since the beginning of the US invasion. (2,482 according to Cryptome.) This perhaps shows the difference in our attitudes to death across the globe. We showered money on Indonesia after the tsunami (it may well have helped that some of "our" number were also the victims), yet we do little to help stop what the US has declared is genocide in Sudan. Having the pictures of the suffering helps us to remember, and what could be more burnt on the memory than what happened on September the 11th? There are no such images from Iraq, except for the opening "Shock and Awe", which had no actual sight of people dying or jumping, just explosions and smoke. The aftermath of suicide bombings is censored (although such images are easy to find if you are so inclined), and even the sight of the coffins of US soldiers returning from Iraq has been stopped from being published or broadcast, lest it affect morale.

Is it time to re-adjust what we think about death? Surely we should not go towards the attitude of the likes of al-Qaida, who claim that we love life while they love death, but there has to be a middle way. Moralists who stop brain damaged women from being allowed to die with dignity should be ridiculed, yet we must accept that many feel abortions are abhorrent. We need laws which allow suffering to be put to an end, but which also protect us from those who wish to deal death on a large scale. None of this can happen without the freedom of the individual to choose their own way, both to live and die, as long as it does not affect the rights or lifestyles which others choose. If that involves offending others sensibilities, so be it.

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Sun-watch: The Mr Rebekah Wade list.

The Sun has got a major exclusive today, namely it's obtained the pay list for the actors who star in the BBC1 soap EastEnders. It makes for fascinating reading. OK, I'm lying, the only thing interesting about it is one simple fact.

The whole article seems to be a piece of boasting about how much Mr Ross Kemp earns from only having a six-month contract with the soap. What the article doesn't tell you, and what a casual reader of the Sun most likely doesn't know, is that Mr Ross Kemp is none other than..... Mr Rebekah Wade, the husband of the Sun editor. Telling the world how much your husband earns is of course front page news for the biggest selling tabloid in the country, so congratulations then to husband and wife, and have fun spending!

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Friday, March 24, 2006 

The 7th of July: The need for an independent inquiry.

It seems that we may well have been lied to. We were repeatedly told of how brave, how fast and how quickly the emergency services had came to the rescue of those who were trapped and injured by the suicide bombings on the underground on the 7th of July. Many of them were honoured in the New Year's list. Now at a London Assembly review hearing those who survived have been giving evidence which in places seems to contradict those reports:

The ex-fireman who was pictured helping survivors of the 7 July London bombings has criticised the ambulance service for its response to the attacks.

Paul Dadge, who was at Edgware Road, said the London Ambulance Service (LAS) was "slow to respond".

He spoke at a London Assembly 7 July review hearing which is looking at what lessons can be learnt from the attacks.

Another survivor called for aircraft style lighting, first aid kits and a reintroduction of guards on trains.

Mr Dadge told the committee: "There was a severe lack of medical supplies and equipment.

"London Ambulance Service was slow to respond in numbers and was eventually backed up by St John's and the Red Cross."

Martin Flaherty of LAS said the events of 7 July were "unprecedented" but did accept there were some delays in replenishing supplies and equipment .

"We are looking at how to speed this process up to enable us to support multiple incident sites more effectively in future," he said.

A common criticism made of London Underground (LU) and the emergency services was poor information being given to victims on the day.

Kirsty, who was caught up at King's Cross, said: "There was a complete lack of guidance.

"I went around for a while not really knowing what to do. I wasn't contacted by anyone despite giving the officer my phone number."

This proved problematic when she submitted a compensation claim. She said: "Police had no record of my involvement."

Michael, told how he escaped from a bombed train by walking down the track at Aldgate.

He told the committee: "I walked up on to the platform and asked the first group of firemen why they weren't down there - there's people dying down there - and they wouldn't look at me.

During another hearing it emerged that LU's radio systems did not work properly and it had to rely on workers running into tunnels to find out what was going on.

Survivors of the July 7 terrorist attacks yesterday condemned the emergency operation that followed and called for procedures to be overhauled.

Commuters travelling on the three targeted tube trains accused the authorities of being under-prepared and of doing too little for those injured and traumatised.

One man claimed that in the immediate aftermath of the Aldgate bombing, two passengers pushed forward to see what had occurred and said: "Great, wow."

Another told how passengers fought to help a badly injured man but were forced to watch as his life ebbed away. A third said he asked a train driver to open the first aid box but was told he did not have the key and the box would be empty.

The survivors, six men and six women, told the London assembly's July 7 review committee that as people lay injured and dying in the tunnel after the Aldgate blast emergency crews stood on the station platform, their deployment delayed because of fears of a secondary explosion. Seven people were killed at Aldgate.

None of the survivors gave their full names. One passenger, Michael, said he saw two police officers as he and other passengers made their way down the track. "I said 'where are the rest of you? People are dying down there'," he said. "I was told not to worry about that. I walked on to the platform and asked the first group of firemen 'why aren't you down there?' They wouldn't look at me."

Michael said he believed there could have been a search for volunteers willing to enter the tunnel at that early stage. "My grandfather led a rescue service in the blitz. He went in when the bombs were dropped and places were on fire. If senior officers had said 'there could be a secondary explosion but are there any volunteers?' many fireman would have said yes."

The session was opened by John, a passenger on the carriage destroyed by Mohammad Sidique Khan at Edgware Road, killing six commuters. He described seeing "an orange fireball", adding: "I thought I was going to die. Horrific loud cries and screams filled the air, together with smoke." He and other passengers realised that people at the opposite end of the carriage had been seriously injured. He said that on moving toward the blast scene he "walked into an unknown hell".

At the centre of the carriage he fell through a hole and dangled above the live rail. Another passenger pulled him out.

He said a seriously injured commuter called Stan who had fallen through another hole. "Stan was calm and conscious and he was looking at me. I repeatedly told him not to worry and that help was on its way. He never shouted out or cried. He knew he was dying. He remained calm and peaceful."

Twenty-seven passengers died on the Piccadilly line train. Many suffer post traumatic stress. Speakers called for improvements including the reintroduction of guards on trains, first aid tuition in schools and more spending on training and equipment for emergency services.

It's just another question of what really happened on the 7th of July. Only one of the bombers, Mohammad Siddique Khan, has been properly linked with extremist networks. There are growing suspicions that MI5 had been monitoring the individuals, and that there may well have been failings by the intelligence services. Why was the original story on the day that there had been power surges on the lines, while it quickly became clear that there had been 4 explosions? Why did one of the bombers target a bus instead of a train? Is it possible that these men may well have been tricked by Sidique Khan, possibly thinking they were drug mules, only instead to have their backpacks explode by remote detonation? Why did the bombers leave a car behind which apparently had more explosives in it, when if they knew what they were about to do, they were obviously not going to return? Were the emergency services really as well prepared and as efficient as we have been told they were?

There are plenty of other questions about what happened, including about the apparent copycat attacks on July the 21st which either failed or were meant to fail. So far the government has refused to allow an independent inquiry in to what happened on both of those days, instead saying that a "narrative" will be given at a point in the future. It smacks of the government trying to cover up both for its own failings, and indeed policy failings, such as the Iraq war making this country even more of a target for Islamist extremists. Rachel from North London's father was insulted by Charles Clarke when he tried to question him about the need for such an inquiry. Her honest, heartbreaking and dignified blog on its own should should shame him into doing the least he can; order that inquiry.

You can also sign the petition calling for such an inquiry here.

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Thursday, March 23, 2006 

David Cameron: A vacuous lying buffoon.

David Cameron's pathetic reply to Gordon Brown's 10th budget shows just how far he yet has to go to even think about genuinely challenging Labour in the next election. It should mark the start of the end of the honeymoon.

Cameron stood up for only 8 minutes, letting rip with a volley of insults, half-jokes and blatant distortions which only showed just how completely lacking he is. The only jab which he managed to make was that the Chancellor hadn't mentioned the NHS once in his speech; true, but he had already set the amount of funding the NHS was to receive this year in a previous budget. Cameron from then on just ranted, seeming to believe that by shouting loud enough you'll somehow undo your opponent. He failed miserably.

Gordon Brown is an "analogue politician in a digital age" who is "completely stuck in the past", David Cameron told the Commons yesterday in a response to the budget, which previewed their likely head-to-head combat at the next general election.

Mr Cameron said the chancellor was "mortgaging the country's future" by leaving it with "£6,000 of debt for every household in this country". Far from being prudent he was "an old-fashioned tax- and-spend chancellor". Mr Brown had had 10 budgets to improve transport, but "some of our motorways look like car parks", NHS deficits had reached £1bn and more than half of the country's children were failing to reach the required standards by the time they left school.

"Billions raised, billions spent, no idea where the money's gone. With a record like that the chancellor should be running for treasurer of the Labour party," Mr Cameron said.

No idea where the money's gone? It's been used to vastly improve schools and hospitals from what they were like in 1997. They are not as good as they should be, schools still fail too many children, but these are not the failures of the chancellor; he provides the money, not the ethos and the curriculum. Taxes have gone up, it's very true, but they are only now reaching levels which are historically high, still low compared to on the continent and way below the levels of the early 70s before the later Thatcher years brought them way down and left the public services in disarray.

No, all Cameron's bluster was just a personal attack on the man he knows he has to beat at the next election. Cameron didn't offer any alternative, the Tories are highly unlikely to match his increased spending on education, and all he did was use insults which don't even make any sense. What the hell does an analogue politician in a digital age mean? It's pointlessly post-modern posturing, by a man who is trying so desperately to look young and "with-it" that he's willing to copy Blair in almost every way, right down to the empty slogans and non-answers. What really scares the Tories is that Brown actually might have some convictions that they will not be able to copy, which is what they have done so far since Cameron's succession to the party leadership. With such a witless personal attack, Cameron just looks a vacuous lying idiot, his pledge to end "punch and judy" politics fully tore apart in his screaming, a pledge already broken with previous attacks and smears against John Prescott by his front benchers.

Perhaps it was just me, but Brown's oratory yesterday almost made me believe in Labour again. All the signs point to his abandoning of any really radical policy positions he may have had, but it nearly had me thinking that he will be different. In reality what we are increasingly faced with is a vapid Tory leader who has no convictions whatsoever, and a Labour leader in waiting who has to abandon his in order to win the support of the Blairites. Menzies Campbell also did a good speech yesterday, but hardly anyone was listening. That sadly is the way that it's likely to stay for the next couple of years at least, with the Tories continuing their nasty attacks on Gordon Brown, while we wait for Blair to go. And politics will be much the worse for it.

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Wednesday, March 22, 2006 

Loans and terror.

The Labour spin and smear machine has gone into overdrive following the loans for lordships scandal. Yesterday saw the Charles "No Trousers" Clarke say the following about Jack Dromey:

Charles Clarke says he has "serious questions about Jack Dromey's capacity" as Labour treasurer after the row over the £14m of secret loans to the party.

He says the fact Mr Dromey did not know about the loans meant "you have to wonder how well he was doing his work".

and today David Blunkett, in a tirade over on the Comment is Free blog:

Yet when Jack Dromey discovered his "latent anger", he was doing more than display his own pique at not having been told. After all, it was the Ides of March!

Yes, apparently Blunkett thinks that Jack Dromey was stabbing Blair in the back, as part of some attempted coup which was meant to lead Gordon Brown to the leadership as quickly as possible. Just one problem with this thesis: it's complete and utter piffle. Dromey was furious because he had been kept in the dark; he didn't inquire because he felt that those higher up were playing fair. It was only when Lord Levy's scheming came to the fore in the sunday newspapers that he found out about it. The smearing of Dromey as incompetent is reminiscent of the way that David Kelly was described as a 'Walter Mitty' type fantasist during the 45-minute furore which led to his death and the Hutton iniqury.

The government keeps repeating that nothing illegal has been done. That's true, but the simple fact that Levy asked Chai Patel (and likely the rest) for his pledge to the Labour party to be a loan rather than a declared donation shows the subterfuge which the fundraisers were indulging in. Now that Labour has published full details of all those who gave loans to the party prior to the election, we find that the one of them was Rod Aldridge, head of support services firm Crapita (sorry, Capita) which has helmed several public service disasters involving computer databases, and has numerous contracts with the government. Doubtless, this was a loan out of the goodness of his heart, and he would not have expected any favoritism in further contract bidding in return. No, that would be cynicism on my part of the highest order. The parties are now all falling over themselves to reform the system, even though they wouldn't have done anything had this not been exposed by the media. Just in case you don't believe me, Blair himself was asked about the Honours (Prevention of Abuses) Act back in January. Guess his answer. Not that the opposition parties are innocent, the Tories likely have even higher sums in undeclared loans (some suggest approaching £20 million), while the Lib Dems have had some loans, but only of a tiny amount.

So what does Blair do when the last tiny amount of authority he had is destroyed? Yep, he goes on another rant about foreign policy.

Tony Blair launched a staunch defence yesterday of the government's foreign policy, attacking critics for condemning terrorist attacks but failing to challenge the Islamist ideology which drove them.

In a wide-ranging and at times - as he admitted - controversial speech, he dismissed the argument that invading Iraq had spawned terrorism, insisting: "We must reject the thought that somehow we are the authors of our own distress."

Yes, that's right. The United States and Britain are entirely blameless in all this. Blair can't face up to and admit that his Iraq adventure has been a disaster, that it has made us less safe, plunged Iraq into chaos and left it as a place where terrorists can be both trained and which can be used by extremists as a recruiting issue for their cause. As the Guardian leader eloquently puts it:

No reasonable person will argue with Mr Blair's demand that religious extremism - including Islamist extremism - should be labelled as such, and fought. But no reasonable person can any longer deny that extremism and hatred has been fuelled by the disastrous war in Iraq. It would be good to hear that necessary admission made out loud by those responsible for it.

And if that wasn't enough to make you so miserable about politics that you feel like using the sharp edge of the Sun to slit your throat, we have Charlie Clark stalling yet again on phone intercept evidence and saying that the case for 90-day detention without trial for terrorist suspects is still "compelling".
Even though it was kicked out by a large majority of MPs', when this government gets an idea in its head, however illiberal and indefensible, whatever the circumstances, it won't let go. It's like a dog that when you throw something for it to fetch won't then let you take the object back. Its stubbornness and self-righteousness is just as ugly as all those years of gloom under Thatcher.

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Front page-watch: We're all going to die!

Another day, another despicable Sun front page.

Don't let the fact the prosecution in the case against 7 men accused of plotting bomb attacks was just making its opening statement in a trial which may well last six months, this was defintely a plot which was going to personally kill YOU. The defence has not even had a chance to speak yet, but the Sun seems to believe that these men are obviously guilty. Perhaps Rebekah Wade should be reminded of the contempt of court laws, especially seeing as the Sunday Mirror only a few years ago published an article which led to the collapse of the trial of two Leeds United footballers. Also of note is, as usual, that the Sun gets ever closer to being a parody of itself:

On to the Daily Mail, which has a slightly less hysterical take on the same story:

To the side of that, we have a very important story about the death of model Sally Anne Bowman, which of course cannot be reported without using one of the photos from her portfolio. Dead pretty girl = more sales for sure! We're all going to die, but we can rest assured when we arrive in hell that we'll have the company of gorgeous pouting murdered teenagers.

To the Sexpress then, which accuses Camilla of stealing Diana's previous style. Except that, err, she was visiting a mosque. I doubt it would have been looked kindly on if she hadn't covered her hair, so what else was she supposed to do? The Express's fanatical obsession with the dead princess gets stronger by the day.

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Tuesday, March 21, 2006 

Sun-watch: Using the death of one girl to forward their own political agenda.

You have to hand it to the Sun (and not to let the Mirror off the hook, they have a very similar front page), at least they are somewhat consistent. Their front page today, showing the "trusting" face of Maryann Leneghan, who was murdered in an apparent revenge attack, is a typical piece of propaganda which only ever tells one side of a story. In the Sun's parlance, anyone ever convicted of any crime, however slight, is a yob. Maryann's death is apparently a scandal.

The motive behind the death of this trusting girl is only awarded two sentences in the Sun's story about her death.

"The two girls were grabbed from a car in which they were sleeping in a revenge attack masterminded by Thomas. He blamed them for setting him up as the victim of a robbery in which cash and drugs were stolen and he was stabbed."

Nowhere in the story is there room for the words of Richard Latham QC, who was prosecuting, not defending:

"Mary-Ann (and her friend) were not without their problems. Mary-Ann was bunking off school, neither had a job. They were certainly not the sort of girls who would have been tucked up at home at 10 o'clock at night."

No, that might take some of the force out of their story. Maryann was a trusting angel, there's no chance she could have been involved in what led to one of the men who took revenge being stabbed. After all, these girls would qualify for the same brush which the Sun often tars all youth with; The yob brush. And where did the killers find Maryann? In the car park of a pub, drinking wine underage. In another case she'd be called a yob and the Sun would demand that she should be locked away as well. Don't get me wrong, this is a case which really does question your own personal beliefs on punishment; nothing justifies what happened to the two girls, just as what the men did should not justify their own death, which is what many are calling for on the Sun website, but ignoring the background to the case doesn't help in the reaction to it, and the Sun's hypocrisy is to be expected. No matter though, let's just ignore that and use this case to force our political view of crime on everyone.

The Sun's leader is the really foul piece of today's paper.

"CHARLES Clarke is getting away with murder.

The Home Secretary is willing to insult the bereaved dad of a 7/7 bomb victim, but he won’t lift a politically-correct finger to protect us against killers.

On his watch, police are slow to arrest, prosecutors won’t charge, and judges won’t jail villains.

Even when a rapist or murderer is locked up, he is out again after serving half his time.

Loving dads like John Monckton and Robert Symons are hacked to death in their own homes by killers on early release.

A psycho with a violent record is set free to torture, rape and murder 16-year-old Maryann Leneghan.

These are merely daily examples of violence by thugs who treat the law — and us — with contempt.

Mr Clarke expresses concern. We don’t want his concern.

We want him to stop youngsters routinely carrying guns and using knives as fashion accessories.

We demand a crackdown on feral kids who have turned our town centres into no-go zones after dark.

Mr Clarke believes jail is the last resort. And we pay the price for his tolerance.

America has shown that criminals cannot rape and murder if they are behind bars.

But the mere thought of jail offends the sensitivities of our liberal elite.

We have the biggest prison population in Europe because we have the biggest crime rate.

Yet Labour is slow to build new prisons. It sneers at prison ships.

So we have to live in a country where violence is becoming a horrific way of life.

If Charles Clarke can’t find the guts to stop it, Tony Blair should use his next reshuffle to find someone who can."

Let's just start by acknowledging an inherent contradiction. Prosecutors won't prosecute, and judges won't jail, yet we have the biggest prison population in Europe. So if people aren't getting prosecuted and not being jailed, why are so many there?
Ah, that's right, we have the biggest crime rate. The Sun doesn't bother to back this up with any statistics, because they know that it would then fall apart. The crime rate in this country has now been falling for almost ten years, and the last statistics issued by the Home Office covering the last six weeks of 2005 showed a drop in violent crime of 11%. This was compared to the same period in 2004, which then also had a drop in serious violent crime by 8%, and all crime by 5%. The number of people shot dead in 2004 in the UK was 60, which was down on 70 from 2003. Still, if they included that it would destroy their arguments, so I can see why they didn't.

A psycho with a violent record? They must be referring to Michael Johnson, who attacked a boy of 13 with learning difficulties, hanging him upside down from a tree and battering his head. What they don't bother to explain is that happened when Johnson himself was 13. He served 2 years of a 3 year sentence for his crime, when he was discharged. Of course, the Sun doesn't believe in giving anyone a second chance.

The Sun also demands a crackdown on "feral kids" who make town centres no-go zones after dark. That's strange, I thought there had already been one going on for a couple of years now, with some councils handing out anti-social behaviour orders like sweets, with the police having the power to move on any group of 3 or more whether they're doing anything wrong or not. This isn't good enough for our moral guardians at the Sun though, they demand an even further crackdown, without suggesting what it should be. Maybe we should shoot any teenager seen out over a certain time of night? That would save us having to just lock every single young person up.

America has shown that criminals cannot rape and murder if they are behind bars? America has a far higher murder rate than the UK, even in the states with the death penalty, guns are much more easily available and the inner cities are even more ghettoised than here, yet America is the leading example. Silly me, I thought that should the last place we ought to look to.

When it comes down to it, the Sun turns to its favourite invented enemy, political correctness. The home secretary is politcally correct, our "liberal elite" whoever they are, is offended by jail. Could it be because politicians who aren't stuck back in the age of hanging and flogging realise that prison doesn't work?
No, the answer according to the Sun is to build more prisons, and seemingly use prison ships which Labour sneers at. Maybe they sneer at the prison ship, as according to the prison inspectors annual report, they were making up how many hours the inmates had spent out of their cells.

The Sun knows it will get away with such blatant distortions and untruths, as no one in the mainstream media will bother challenging it (There's the odd jibe in the Guardian and Independent, but that's about it). After all, why would anyone think it's worth bothering with when you see the number of comments on the story which call for the death penalty to be reinstated? I lost count at around 13 and lost the will to live myself shortly beforehand. Here's a couple of the "best" comments:
This Government should adopt the laws of our Far Eastern friends - they should all be flogged in public by Maryann's father, then hung by the neck until dead. Save the taxpayers' money - bury them now so they cannot be released to inflict pain onto any other innocent law abiding citizen.

Do this now and send a message to all the scum in Britain. You get caught, you pay the price - simple.

Colin Brothwood

The British no-capital-punishment policy is working wonders, isn't it?

At least on my side of the pond these scum would know they'd pay with their lives.

Frank Moss, Jr
Tennessee, USA

The probation service is getting all the stick, but there was nothing in what these men had just been involved with to suggest that they were capable of such a horrific crime:

The ringleader of the gang, Adrian Thomas, 20, and his followers Michael Johnson, 19, Jamaile Morally, 22 and Indrit Krasniqi, 18, were on a mixture of community punishment orders and a community rehabilitation order for a range of offences including possessing class C drugs, assaulting a police officer, driving offences and possessing a bladed article at the time they abducted and killed the teenager.


There were growing demands last night for an independent inquiry into the Leneghan case. But an unpublished internal inquiry by the London Probation Service is said to have found that national standards were met and there was nothing to justify a further independent investigation.

Just what were the probation service meant to do? Are we meant to lock everyone away for their entire sentence, knowing full well that no system is fool-proof, and that they may well reoffend whether they're released early or not? They seem to want all offenders to be permanently monitored or locked up until they're "changed". What the Sun can't face up to is that these problems cannot be solved by prison or by almost anything the government or social care can do. Crimes such as this have been around for hundreds of years, and they're not going to suddenly disappear. No one is suggesting that these men should not be locked up forever. They forfeited their second chance in the most brutal way possible, and now they must pay the price with imprisonment for the rest of their lives. Yet the Sun would seem to want to deny hundreds of people for who crime is an aberration in their lives and a one-off occurrence because of difficult circumstances which they would never turn to again their freedom. Surely it isn't the "human rights lobby" which is to blame, but rather society and human nature itself. And I really doubt there's anything we can do to change that.

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Monday, March 20, 2006 

"Failed" asylum seekers to return to being given hated vouchers.

Five years ago, in one of his rare acts of sanity, David Blunkett abolished the voucher scheme which marked asylum seekers out as being different. Five years later, less than a year on from a viciously anti-immigrant Tory electoral campaign, they're going to be brought back.

The vouchers are to be paid to more than 5,000 failed asylum seekers who qualify for "hard case" support because they cannot be sent back to countries such as Zimbabwe, Somalia and Iraq, which Britain considers unsafe, or there is no safe return route or the asylum seeker is too sick to travel.

They get a bed and either three meals a day and no financial support or £35 in vouchers each week to buy food and toiletries. MPs will be asked tomorrow to confirm this return of vouchers and approve the extension of their use for other essentials such as nappies or clothes.

A Home Office spokeswoman said the decision had been taken to reintroduce vouchers because "hard case" support provided a limited form of help for those about to leave Britain: "It should not act as an incentive to remain in the UK once they have exhausted their appeal rights."

The immigration minister, Tony McNulty, has said the immigration bill to be voted on by MPs tomorrow allows provision of cash or vouchers. But refugee groups say local providers are being told they can only use vouchers.

Ms Sherlock of the Refugee Council said the government may claim it was only a short-term measure but reality for many on "hard case" support was that a cashless system would be a long-term way of life because conditions in Iraq, Zimbabwe and Somalia showed no improvement.

"People whose applications have been rejected only get any support if they sign up for voluntary removal and follow all the rules. So why does the government still feel they have to be stigmatised, and made to jump through hoops to get the basics they need to survive?" she asked.

The government seems to be trying to make life as miserable as possible for those who have no home to return to. £35 is a shockingly low figure to be able live on for a whole week, especially if it's meant to pay for three square meals. It would possible, but only if those 3 square meals were either processed microwave meals or beans on toast. Added to that, the government now again intends to humiliate them when it comes to actually paying for their food. For a government whose main policy is apparently spreading choice, the voucher scheme seems to be very much at odds with it. As the article states, being able to get hold of culturally specific items such as halal prepared meat would be made more difficult, just as one example.

Then there's the increased reaction to immigration which has taken place since 2001. Following campaigns in the tabloid media, asylum seekers have increasingly been demonised as being here to sponge off the state, while the majority are in fact fleeing tyranny. The reintroduction of the voucher scheme will mark them out as exactly that; unable to leave, but living off "us". The government also knows that change in Somalia, Zimbabwe or Iraq does not at the moment look very likely. Even if Robert Mugabe were to die, there is little to suggest that the ruling Zanu-PF party in Zimbabwe would as a result lose power to the Movement for Democratic Change. Is it really too much to ask of Labour for these people, who are faced with returning to a country which may not welcome them back even when they are forced to return that in the meantime they are allowed actual cash to spend on themselves? Surely it isn't.

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Three years on.

It seems hard to believe, but today offically marks 3 years since the beginning of the war in Iraq. I don't think today should be a day for political grandstanding in any shape or form; the arguments over who was right and who wrong should be forgotten, at least for today.

Instead, we should be thinking about all of those who have lost their lives as a result of the war. Over 2,300 American servicemen and women. Over 100 British soldiers. The other "coalition of the willing" soldiers who have died. The (at minimum) 33,679 Iraqi civilians (, which could easily in reality total over 100,000. Then there's the over 500,000 that lost their lives a result of the pre-war sanctions, that Madeline Albright infamously described as being worth it.

Have we learned anything? Has anything been proved? Has it stopped the spread of weapons of mass destruction? Has it accelerated the progress of democracy and freedom in the Middle East? Has it reduced the threat of terrorism?

When we had 2 minutes silence for the victims of the July the 7th bombings, I wrote that I couldn't recall having such a silence either for our soldiers or for the Iraqi (and Afghani) citizens who have died as a result of our actions, directly or indirectly. I feel that today should be that day for silence, officially or not. Today should be a day of forgiving, but in the words of Nelson Mandela, not forgetting.

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Saturday, March 18, 2006 

Sun-watch: A non-existent scandal over "al-Qaida man" in parliament.

The Sun is predictably outraged today that a man under a control order was allowed to visit the Houses of Parliament. Invited by a Labour peer, Lord Ahmed, he apparently discussed his case with him before sitting in the public gallery during a commons debate. The supposed al-Qaida suspect is the Mahmoud Suliman Ahmed Abu Rideh, a Jordanian who was previously held in Broadmoor as he is suspected of having links to international terrorism.

That's about as far as the story in the Sun goes, which unsurprisingly doesn't give you much of the man's background, and also contains at least one mistake. The Sun says:
The SIAC bailed him in 2003 and gave him a Control Order, which places restrictions on his freedom outside.

Except that control orders didn't come in until 2005, which was when he was bailed. A better summary of Abu Rideh's background is this Guardian article:
Mahmoud Abu Rideh came to Britain as an asylum seeker in 1995 and was treated for severe post-traumatic stress disorder following his alleged torture at the hands of the Israelis as a teenager living in Gaza.

He was arrested at his home in Surrey on December 17 2001 and has been in detention, first at Belmarsh and now in Broadmoor high security psychiatric hospital, ever since.

The home secretary accuses Mr Abu Rideh of being "an active supporter of various international terrorist groups, including those with links to Osama bin Laden's terrorist network", with activities including fundraising.

Yesterday, the Special Immigration Appeals Commission said that Mr Abu Nideh "was and remains in our view committed to the extremist views, delusions even, which motivated at least some of what he did before detention".

However, it went on to express compassion for the man and the state of his mental health which went into freefall following his detention at Belmarsh.

The judgment says he "genuinely feels a sense of hopelessness and that he is in a growing state of dependency and institutionalisation which is likely to make him rather less able to cope with life outside when he is released, the later that is".

The commission had previously agreed with doctors at Broadmoor who argued that the high security hospital was not the place for Mr Abu Rideh. But the then home secretary, David Blunkett, refused to move him to a lower grade psychiatric hospital.

Last year, Mr Abu Rideh gave an interview to the Guardian at Broadmoor. He pulled up his shirtsleeves, revealing dozens of scars up and down his arms, inflicted using pens, plastic and anything else he can find.

He said that since his detention, he had been repeatedly harming himself, including drinking toilet cleaner and setting himself on fire.

The home secretary justifies the detentions of foreign terror suspects by pointing out that each of the men held is free to leave the UK and return home.

But as a Palestinian refugee Mr Abu Rideh is stateless. "Where can I go, please?"

He said his state of mind had deteriorated to the point where he would prefer to be executed.

"The hospital don't want me here. The Home Office don't want me to go back to prison. Give me an injection and I will be dead and they won't need to spend £140,000 a year on me being in this hospital."

Not only that, but his lawyers were told by police that:

Lawyers acting for Abu Rideh, a Palestinian also held at Broadmoor said police had told him that they knew he was no danger to the public.

And Abu Rideh is such a threat to the public that the police allow him to do the following:

The bizarre world of the government's controversial anti-terrorist control orders was yesterday revealed when one of the 10 men who had been detained in high-security institutions for more than three years walked into the Guardian offices without any security escort.

Highlighting the stark contradictions in the control orders, Mahmoud Abu Rideh, who had been detained without charge and trial in Belmarsh prison and Broadmoor psychiatric hospital, is kept under house arrest at night, but is able to roam freely under tagging during the day.

The Palestinian refugee, who was held for three-and-a-half years, says he cannot understand the double standards of the order, and said it was further exacerbating his psychiatric difficulties. He has been diagnosed as mentally ill.

In the first interview from any of the 10 detainees placed under control orders, he said: "I go everywhere now - on the underground, buses, the mosque. But I must be home by 7pm. People think I am dangerous, but I am not dangerous. The government is playing games. If I am a risk to security, why are they letting me out to be with people? I wouldn't do anything silly. I am not a dangerous man."

Mr Abu Rideh's control order says he is a key UK-based contact and provider of financial and logistical support to extreme Islamists with connections to al-Qaida. It says: "You belonged to and have provided support for a network of north African extremists directly involved in terrorist planning in the UK, including the use of toxic chemicals."

Mr Abu Rideh denies this is the case.

The control orders were rushed through parliament earlier this month in the face of widespread opposition. The contradictions inherent in them are clear from Mr Abu Rideh's experiences since being released on bail almost two weeks ago:

· He is not allowed to make arrangements to meet anybody, but he can drop in to see anyone if he does so unannounced;

· He cannot attend any pre-arranged meetings or gatherings, but was present at the anti-war demonstration at Hyde Park last Saturday. He says he stumbled across it while playing football in the park with his children;

· He is banned from having visitors to his home unless they are vetted in advance, but he is allowed to arrange to attend group prayers at a mosque;

· He thinks he is being followed on the tube, but if he calls a taxi, no one tails him.

Mr Abu Rideh told the Guardian that his confusion over how the control orders work, and his lack of support, led him to take a drug overdose last weekend. He was taken to Charing Cross hospital after he swallowed 35 tablets and was not released until Monday evening. He says he cannot bear to live under the conditions imposed by the home secretary.

He said: "I only want to kill myself. I don't want to kill anybody else. I am not a danger to anybody else, but this government has made me a danger to myself. It is just as bad to be free with a control order as it is in Belmarsh prison or Broadmoor hospital."

and also since then:

The vagaries of the government's controversial control orders were highlighted yesterday when a judge was forced to send an alleged international terrorist back to jail in spite of fears that the man would take his own life.

Mahmoud Abu Rideh, who suffers from a severe personality disorder, was sent to Brixton prison last week after he handed himself in at a police station in Fulham, west London, saying he did not want to wear the electronic tag his order stipulated should be round his leg from 7am to 7pm.

Yesterday he pleaded not guilty to breaching his restrictive order. Since he has been in Brixton he has twice tried to kill himself.

He has apparently been released again since then, but is still under a control order. The Sun appears to only have Rideh himself's word that he got into the public gallery, and seeing as it is apparent that he is either mentally ill or has a severe personality disorder, such statements should not be taken uncritically. As the Guardian articles make clear, the only person who this man is a threat to is himself. He is also under near permanent surveillance.

How convenient that this should come to light just as the Labour peerages for loans scandal is reaching its height, with the true amount of money lent them which was not declared being close to £14 million, and with John Prescott and Gordon Brown also not being informed of the loans. Isn't it strange that the Sun nearly always comes up with a "scandal" just as the government faces real trouble? It almost makes you wonder if they are being fed these stories from within Downing Street, just as it was strange how the Sun managed to gain a copy of the Hutton report the night before its findings were published. The Downing Street Echo, even in these days of Tory challenge, still seems to be staying loyal to the Blairs. For how much longer is anyone's guess.

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Friday, March 17, 2006 

Rendition: Government finally admits to widespread use of UK airports by CIA jets.

It's taken months, but Alistair Darling today finally admitted that CIA jets have landed at UK airports much more frequently than the government has previously admitted to, and that one of the planes which landed here was the jet linked to the rendition of Abu Omar.

Six US planes linked by campaigners to "extraordinary rendition" used UK airports 73 times since 2001, Transport Secretary Alistair Darling has said.

The National Air Traffic Service has previously said there were 200 flights through British airspace in the past five years by the CIA planes associated by campaigners with rendition.

Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman Michael Moore asked Mr Darling for details of landings by six jets with the registration numbers N2189M, N8183J, N970SJ, N129QS, N368CE and N85VM.

In a written Parliamentary answer, Mr Darling confirmed the planes had landed respectively 10, 12, two, five, 20 and 24 times at UK airports since January 1 2001.

But he added: "None of the information held by my department provides evidence that these flights were involved in rendition.

"The British government is not aware of any cases of rendition through the UK since May 1997, apart from the two cases in 1998 about which the foreign secretary has informed Parliament."

The flights revealed by Mr Darling included one stopover on the way between the Afghan capital Kabul and Washington and others stopping on their way to destinations in the Middle East such as Amman in Jordan and Riyadh in Saudi Arabia.

Earlier this week, Mr Straw said claims the US has secretly flown terror suspects through the UK would eventually "fall away" due to lack of evidence.

The first thing worth noting is that this answer has been given on a day when the loans for peerages scandal is dominating the news. The second thing is that today is Friday, the end of the week and an excellent time to bury some news which exposes the government for not giving the full truth straight away when questioned. Parliament also isn't open for business on a Friday, as it's the day on which most MPs' hold their constituency surgeries.

Third then is the figures which Alistair Darling has given for the number of times the named jets have landed at UK airports. All the flights given as landing were published in the Guardian back in December, with figures given then for how many times they had landed, and at which airport. They are worth comparing. (click for larger versions.)

There's a huge discrepancy between the figures for N970SJ and N129QS, which can either be explained by mistakes by the Grauniad, the government not having the full figures or simply not knowing how many times in full the jets have visited UK airports. The Guardian seems to have under-estimated some of the figures, so their data is not complete either.
As Darling says, there is as of yet no proof that the flights which landed here actually contained prisoners being rendered, or to not use the jargon, kidnapped. What it does show is that the government or departments within the government could have been contacted a lot earlier as soon as these allegations arose to determine exactly how many CIA jets have passed through this country. Instead it has taken the government months, with frequent denials from both Jack Straw and Tony Blair that any flights have passed through UK airspace. It's quite possible that all the jets which have landed were here simply to refuel before going on to another country, without containing any prisoners or being involved in rendition full stop. What makes this seem highly unlikely is the way in which the information has not been forthcoming. Campaigners have had to shout and shout to get this data. Previous requests resulted in fob offs, saying that the information could only be provided at disproportionate cost. Condoleezza Rice has also more or less admitted to rendition flights taking place, while denying that the US uses torture.

The real questions now concern whether our security services have been complicit in these flights, and whether they have known about them from the beginning. I find it highly questionable that MI5 and 6 were not involved when nearly all intelligence is now pooled between the CIA and the European intelligence agencies. If they were not involved, did they know what was happening, and if so, were ministers informed? If not, why not? If they were, why has it taken so long for the government to admit to CIA jets using UK airports? Have they simply turned a blind eye, knowing full well that the US no longer asks anyone's permission to use their airspace? The Abu Omar rendition, which involved him being snatched from an Italian street, was carried out without informing the local government agencies. If they can kidnap foreign citizens without bothering to inform the local police, what hope is there that they would inform the UK government when they use our airspace and airports simply to refuel?

Once again, Labour has done the the tiniest amount of work which it has had had to in order to deflect criticism. While Jack Straw has time and again seemingly denied that rendition has occurred here, it seems they knew full well that jets suspected of being used in rendition have used UK airspace. What now needs to be answered is why they seem to be covering up for the US government when it may well be in breach of numerous sections of international law. If Jack Straw cannot, then he must resign.

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Thursday, March 16, 2006 

Does Blair really think anyone believes him anymore?

Another day, another lie by the Dear Leader. At his monthly press conference he said the following:
At his monthly press conference this lunchtime the prime minister, Tony Blair, said he knew about undeclared loans to the Labour party made by individuals who were nominated for peerages but denied they were linked.

"It shouldn't be one in exchange for the other, and it wasn't," he said. He said he took "full responsibility" for a situation in which Labour accepted three loans understood to have totalled £3.5m to help fund the 2005 general election.

No, of course not. In the same way that Lord Drayson, now a junior defence minister, won not only a government contract to provide a smallpox vaccine, but was also ennobled. Guess what he did? Yep, you've got it, he made a large donation to the Labour party. It's really rather strange that all 3 of the men that gave undisclosed loans to the party just happened by coincidence to be nominated to the House of Lords after the election.

To add insult to injury, the Blairites have been briefing against Jack Dromey, who dropped a bombshell last night when he went on both Channel 4 News and Newsnight to say that he had only found out about the loans at the weekend. Dromey is the party's treasurer, and the one that stands up at conference to explain the finances. The Blairites felt that it was a timed attack due to it coming just as Blair had the humiliating experience of seeing his school reforms passed thanks to the support of the Tories. This is despite Dromey's partner Harriet Harman being a cabinet minister, although she is acknowledged as being something of a Brownite. (Her notorious Freudian slip on Question Time, when she said "since Gordon Brown's been prime minister" hasn't helped matters.) Dromey was not only fuming, he was also incredibly honest when questioned at length by Jeremy Paxman. His answer to a lot of them was simply "I don't know."

The loans to Labour seem to have been arranged by Lord Levy (chief fundraiser and Blair's tennis partner) and former general secretary Matt Carter. Downing Street was kept informed, but no one seemingly bothered to tell Dromey, despite the finances being his responsibility, even if he isn't the main one in charge.
The main riposte to the criticism directed was up until today that Labour believes the Conservatives have had up to £25m loaned to them. The Liberal Democrats have declined to state whether they have had any undisclosed loans, which mostly means yes. With the shit finally sticking to Blair, and with the Tessa Jowell affair hardly having faded away, sleaze is back in fashion again.
"I am prepared to have the rules changed but they have to be changed for everyone and not just the Labour party."

"It's clear it would have been more sensible if loans were treated in the same way as donations," he said, adding that no rules on party funding had been breached.

He said he had spent "some time reflecting" on the rules surrounding the funding of political parties and announced plans to "move very quickly" to a situation where "the right of the prime minister to nominate directly for honours", is removed, and the cabinet secretary proposes the honours direct.

"We will look at taking the politics out of the honours system," Blair said.

"There is not a single party leader I have come across that doesn't dislike the fact that you have to raise money for our party, but you do," he said.

He later said a reform of the nominations for working peers would not be complete until the reforms of the House of Lords were concluded.
So in other words it could yet be years, as Labour promised to reform the House of Lords back in 1997, only to have so far managed to remove around three-quarters of the hereditary peers. I imagine that Blair will at least keep the power until he decides to bugger off to write his memoirs and do the speech circuit in America.

Blair then has yet again promised to do the least he has to to get himself out of trouble. It's becoming a habit, as he blindly believes Tessa Jowell's story that she knew nothing about anything of her husband's dealings, despite signing the mortgage deals. Still, how can you force a minister to resign over it when you personally have sold peerages for loans? The longer Blair stays, the more people will abandon Labour.

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Wednesday, March 15, 2006 

Jericho attack: The reality of election politics and UK government mendacity.

Jack Straw and Tony Blair really are stretching the credulity of many people when they claim that the UK and Israel did not collude in any way in yesterday's attack on the prison in Jericho which contained Ahmed Saadat. The Israeli army seemed very conveniently placed and informed about the movements of the British monitors of the prison, as they moved in minutes after they had headed away from the jail. Both the US and UK, which were meant to be sharing monitoring duties, are hiding behind a letter that was sent on March the 8th that said monitors would be pulled out if their safety was not secured. In reality it was an empty threat, and probably one which was informed by Israeli plans to storm the jail at the earliest opportunity. The Jerusalem Post has reported that the US was kept updated and knew that Jericho jail was to be raided.

It seems that the real security threat was not from the Palestinian prisoners, but rather from the IDF, who killed 3 in their raid. The justification from the Israelis and from the UK and US government has been that both Hamas and Mahmoud Abbas had talked of releasing the prisoners, who had been held without trial since 2002. They had originally seeked refuge in Yasser Arafat's compound, which resulted in the IDF surrounding it. In order to defuse the situation, the US and UK offered to monitor the prisoners in a Palestinian jail, as the Israelis allege that the Palestinians authorities often just let suspects go after a certain length of time. Not that the siege of Yassar Arafat was lifted for long as a result. The politician who was assassinated, allegedly ordered by Ahmed Saadat, Rehavam Zeevi, was a notorious racist. He described Palestinians as a cancer and as lice. His platform was for the Palestinians to be ethnically cleansed from the West Bank and Gaza, for them to pushed into the surrounding Arab countries. He also at one point laid claim to Jordan. This doesn't in any way justify his violent death, but it should be noted that he was much more belligerent than even Ariel Sharon. The assassination was also apparently in response to the assassination by Israel of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine's former leader, Abu Ali Mustafa.

The operation will no doubt enhance Ehud Olmert's otherwise shaky security pledges. Unlike Sharon, he does not have a background in the army, and was relatively unknown outside Israel until he became the acting prime minister following Sharon's stroke. The Kadima party established by Sharon already has an authoratitive lead in the polls, and it seems highly unlikely that yesterday's unprovoked attack will damage that in any way. Brian Whitaker speculates about Israeli election politics on the Grauniad blog, and notes that the bombing of the Iraqi nuclear reactor took place close to the 1981 election. What he doesn't note is that Ariel Sharon's provocative visit to the al-Aqsa mosque in 2000 which started the second initfada came only a few months before he ran against Ehud Barak for prime minister. The resulting riots enabled the crackdown which helped establish Sharon in politics with much the same persona as he had in the military. Ehud Olmert may well have decided to copy such previous tactics.

While the response of the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank in burning buildings and kidnapping foreigners is incredibly unhelpful and counter-productive, it's a sign of the anger which is being felt not only on the streets of Ramallah and Rafah, but all over the Arab world. After doing nothing to help Mahmoud Abbas consolidate power after the death of Arafat, Israel has done everything possible to help Hamas become the main Palestinian party. It has refused to come back to the negotiation table, and continues to demand that Abbas disarm the terrorists and militants, knowing full well that any such move by him would have led to civil war. Now that Hamas has been elected, perhaps the only force in Palestinian politics which could force such a disarmament, it refuses to recognize the democratic choice of the Palestinian people.

Why should Hamas instantly have to change what it stands for when it has already seemingly renounced violence, having not been involved in any attacks for over a year? Why should it recognise a country which refuses to recognise it politically? While such moves would be incredibly helpful, why should it have to prove itself to anyone other than its electorate while Israel continues its occupation? Hamas has constantly hinted that it would accept any current settlement over the whole of the West Bank and the return of refugees, leaving it to the next generation to decide over whether to accept it in the long-term, in other words, a negotiated peace. Instead Israel has cut off aid and demanded the America and Europe do the same. What this is all leading to is the piecemeal withdrawal from some settlements in the West Bank which cannot be defended realistically by the IDF, the annexation of the main settlements and East Jerusalem, while re-drawing the 1967 agreed borders to that of the security wall. Such an unilateral move will not bring peace, although it may solve the ticking demographic timebomb. The international community has to step in now to stop this from happening, unless it wants to witness ever continuing bloodshed and disorder in the wider Middle East.

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Ashley Cole libel: Daily Star apologises.

Elsewhere in the Street of Shame, the Daily Star has done what both the newspapers being sued by Ashley Cole and Masterstepz have refused to do; "Dirty" Desmond's celebrity rag has made a grovelling apology.

The Daily Star has today printed a grovelling apology to the Arsenal and England footballer Ashley Cole following a story last month in which it named him as one of three men allegedly involved in a homosexual orgy.

In its apology, the paper admitted it "got it wrong" with its story of February 21, which was headlined "Gay footie stars named on the net" and identified Cole as the footballer at the centre of claims about a homosexual threesome.

"The Daily Star entirely accepts that Ashley Cole was not involved in any way in this kind of conduct," the apology read. "The stories about him were entirely without foundation. We sincerely apologise to Ashley for the distress which he suffered."

The paper finished its apology by wishing the footballer a speedy recovery from his current injury and extending "best wishes" to him and his fiancee, Cheryl Tweedy, for their wedding later this year.

It seems that the Daily Star was probably about to become the latest newspaper to be issued with a writ courtesy of Cole's solicitors, and instead have printed the correction to head it off. Meanwhile though, News International seems to be indulging in what can only be described as despicable grandstanding against the website which revealed what Murdoch's rags only alluded to:

The paper's apology comes on the heels of warnings against the gay news website from the News of the World that it could be sued over its part in the legal wrangle.

The News of the World this week warned PinkNews that the newspaper and its stablemate the Sun were reserving their rights to issue proceedings against it under the Civil Liability (Contribution) Act 1978.

The gay news website suggested the footballer Ashley Cole was the alleged subject of a News of the World story.

Cole has taken action over a series of stories in the two papers between February 12 and 19 claiming two unnamed Premiership footballers had taken part in "perverted" and "debauched romps" with a "well known DJ" after internet sites and chat rooms named him as one of the footballers in the story. discussed the News of the World story and internet rumours, speculating on the identity of the individuals concerned.

It reproduced a pixelated version of a photograph used by the News of the World that claimed to be of a Premiership footballer and a well-known music industry figure, comparing it with a photograph showing Cole and Ian Thompson, better known as the Choice FM DJ Masterstepz, at a party.

Thompson has since joined Cole in taking legal action against the Sun and the News of the World.

The case is distinctive because neither man has been named by the newspapers, but their lawyers claim the way the stories were written led to their identification.

The managing editor of the Daily Star, Paul Ashford, had declined to comment about his newspaper's apology at the time of publication.

The News International position is disgraceful because it knew full well that such stories which were advertised on national television before publication would result in widespread speculation. Indeed, why else would they publish such lurid tales if they thought no one would be interested? It seems to consider that its stories and journalists are blameless when they didn't actually name the participators in what they called "perverted" and "debauched" acts, despite including a badly censored picture of the two that it cowardly didn't name. Private Eye today seems to think it unlikely that the case will reach court, especially seeing as there are a number of other cases pending against News International involving England footballers, and in the News of the Screws case, the manager. Perhaps the Sun and NotW are preparing to pay damages, and are threatening PinkNews in order to recoup some of their loses.

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Baa Baa Rainbow Bollocks.

You may last week have come across the story about the kids at a nursery that sing "baa baa rainbow sheep" instead of "baa baa black sheep". The Sexpress ran the story on their front page:

The Diana Express wasn't the only paper to report it though. Both of Murdoch's daily rags also did, as well as Daisy McAndrew's fantastic newspaper, the Mail, and the Daily Moron, sorry, Mirror.

Just one problem: the reasons for the singing of words other than black is nothing to do with "political correctness". Today's Private Eye reports that it also isn't a new story. The Daily Star and Sun both first ran it back in February 1986, followed by the Daily Mail in October of the same year. The following year Islington council took the SDP to court to stop them alleging they had removed the word black from the nursery rhyme in a party political broadcast, when they had done no such thing. According to the Eye the story came round again in 2000, this time in Birmingham, and as recently as last year, when the Mail on Sunday alleged it had happened in Aberdeen. Not a single one of the reports were based on the facts.

Here's the last paragraph in full from the Eye:
For the record, the charity Parents and Children Together, which runs the two play groups at the centre of last week's outbreak, told the Press Association that "children at the two family centres sing a variety of descriptive words in the nursery rhyme to turn the song into an action rhyme. They sing happy, sad, bouncing, hopping, pink, blue, black and white sheep etc. This encourages the children to extend their vocabulary." Curiously, this explanation went unreported by any of the national papers.
The newspaper which stands for "real values" and "real value for money" seemingly doesn't consider facts or the truth to be among those values.

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Tuesday, March 14, 2006 

"Sir" Ian Blair: Better the devil you know?

The revelations yesterday that "Sir" Ian Blair had recorded phone conversations with, among others, the Attorney General Lord Goldsmith, isn't much of a surprise and seems rather hypocritical of the journalists who have since said that he should either quit or be "carefully considering his position". All journalists record conversations - often without bothering to tell the person that they're recording. That was Blair's mistake - he didn't tell them that he had done so, otherwise it seems unlikely that they would have objected. After all, most ministers have civil servants listening into their phone conversations.

What it does seem to highlight is that there are those within the Met and the media are out to get Blair. He hasn't helped himself, it has to be said. His remarks on the Soham girls were daft in the way he explained them. If what he meant was that some cases end up being much more of a story than others, which anyone looking at the Grauniad's special on missing people last week would have realised, which featured a few teenage girls who have disappeared of which has elicited no nationwide attention - then he was absolutely right. He was also right to highlight that he thinks racism is endemic in the media - certainly in the tabloids, for an example. Such statements make him an enemy of the anti-political correctness brigade. Then there are his mistakes over the death of Jean Charles de Menezes, his scaremongering over the terrorist threat and his part in the case for 90 days detention without trial for terrorist suspects - all of which are much more serious than the issues highlighted by the likes of the Daily Mail.

It feels odd to be becoming something of an apologist for "Sir" Ian Blair, but if he does go it seems likely that his replacement may well be a lot worse. Blair is serious about making sure the police reflect the society they secure - something which others in the Met utterly reject. In this case it may well be better with the devil we currently know and dislike - rather than have an autocrat or political appointee who will be even more craven in their support for this government's attacks on civil liberties.

(Sorry about the lack of images the last couple of days - blogger as usual seems to be undergoing problems. The one at the top has been copied from an earlier post.)

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Comment is Free - apparently.

The Guardian's rolling comment blog is up and running - although it seems fairly chaotic right now, with if anything, too many postings. Also of concern is that the commenters have their "location" underneath their name, which means that those of us who'd like to stay anonymous are at the least having our location linked to our ISP's server. Not that I'd be able to comment if I wanted to; my Grauniad account seems to have been silenced, which seems odd seeing as I haven't posted there in weeks.

Let's also hope that they stop using the horrific neologism "blogosphere". Blog is fine, blogosphere is terrible, as are podcasts. It also doesn't appear at the minute to be turning into what the self-regarding Huffington Post is - a liberal circle jerk, which is the last thing it should be. Then again, reading the first post on the George Galloway article, with its hilarious reference to cats whiskers, maybe that wouldn't be so bad. Hopefully they'll be more articles by normal bloggers as well, alongside the more famous and well-established "commentariat".

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Monday, March 13, 2006 

"I didn't join the British Army to conduct American foreign policy."

You know that things have to be bad when an SAS soldier of all people decides that he cannot serve in Iraq because of the policies of the American troops and issues over the legality of the war. Ben Griffin had already served in Northern Ireland, Macedonia and Afghanistan. None of that apparently prepared him for what he experienced in Iraq.

He said: "I saw a lot of things in Baghdad that were illegal or just wrong. I knew, so others must have known, that this was not the way to conduct operations if you wanted to win the hearts and minds of the local population. And if you don't win the hearts and minds of the people, you can't win the war.

"If we were on a joint counter-terrorist operation, for example, we would radio back to our headquarters that we were not going to detain certain people because, as far as we were concerned, they were not a threat because they were old men or obviously farmers, but the Americans would say 'no, bring them back'.

"The Americans had this catch-all approach to lifting suspects. The tactics were draconian and completely ineffective. The Americans were doing things like chucking farmers into Abu Ghraib [the notorious prison in Baghdad where US troops abused and tortured Iraqi detainees] or handing them over to the Iraqi authorities, knowing full well they were going to be tortured.

"The Americans had a well-deserved reputation for being trigger happy. In the three months that I was in Iraq, the soldiers I served with never shot anybody. When you asked the Americans why they killed people, they would say 'we were up against the tough foreign fighters'. I didn't see any foreign fighters in the time I was over there.

"I can remember coming in off one operation which took place outside Baghdad, where we had detained some civilians who were clearly not insurgents, they were innocent people. I couldn't understand why we had done this, so I said to my troop commander 'would we have behaved in the same way in the Balkans or Northern Ireland?' He shrugged his shoulders and said 'this is Iraq', and I thought 'and that makes it all right?'

"As far as I was concerned that meant that because these people were a different colour or a different religion, they didn't count as much. You can not invade a country pretending to promote democracy and behave like that."

On another operation, Mr Griffin recalls his and other soldiers' frustration at being ordered to detain a group of men living on a farm.

He said: "After you have been on a few operations, experience tells you when you are dealing with insurgents or just civilians and we knew the people we had detained were not a threat.

"One of them was a disabled man who had a leg missing but the Americans still ordered us to load them on the helicopters and bring them back to their base. A few hours later we were told to return half of them and fly back to the farm in daylight. It was a ridiculous order and we ran the risk of being shot down or ambushed, but we still had to do it. The Americans were risking our lives because they refused to listen to our advice the night before. It was typical of their behaviour."

Mr Griffin said he believed that the Americans soldiers viewed the Iraqis in the same way as the Nazis viewed Russians, Jews and eastern Europeans in the Second World War, when they labelled them "untermenschen".

"As far as the Americans were concerned, the Iraqi people were sub-human, untermenschen. You could almost split the Americans into two groups: ones who were complete crusaders, intent on killing Iraqis, and the others who were in Iraq because the Army was going to pay their college fees. They had no understanding or interest in the Arab culture. The Americans would talk to the Iraqis as if they were stupid and these weren't isolated cases, this was from the top down. There might be one or two enlightened officers who understood the situation a bit better but on the whole that was their general attitude. Their attitude fuelled the insurgency. I think the Iraqis detested them."

Perhaps even more damning for the army, as they bring a court-martial against an RAF doctor who is refusing to return to Iraq as he views the war illegal, is what happened when Ben Griffin made his feelings known:

During a week's leave in March 2005 he told his commanding officer in a formal interview that he had no intention of returning to Iraq because he believed that the war was morally wrong. Moreover, he said he believed that Tony Blair and the Government had lied to the country and had deceived every British serviceman and woman serving in Iraq.

Mr Griffin expected to be placed under arrest, labelled a coward, court-martialed and imprisoned for daring to air such views.

Instead, however, he was allowed to leave the Army with his exemplary military record intact and with a glowing testimonial from his commanding officer, who described him as a "balanced and honest soldier who possesses the strength and character to genuinely have the courage of his convictions".

If only those in charge of the army had put their foot down before the war, when they themselves were highly suspicious of the claims made about Saddam and his non-existent WMD programmes, and when they demanded clarification that the war would be legal, which they got when Blair told the Attorney General to change his previous opinion that without a second UN resolution it would be illegal. There was no need for Britain to be involved in the war. We were there purely because of Blair's insistence that we would "stand shoulder to shoulder with America", and to provide the political dimension which helped convince American public opinion. After all, if the Brits support it, it must be a slam-dunk case. Ben Griffin ends his interview with:

"I do believe passionately in democracy and I will speak out about things which I think are morally wrong. I think the war in Iraq is a war of aggression and is morally wrong and, more importantly, we are making the situation in the Middle East more unstable. It's not just wrong, it's a major military disaster. There was no plan for what was to happen after Saddam went, no end-game."

It seems that the chickenhawks over Iraq are outprincipled by the soldiers themselves.

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Blunkett: A victim, but one who can't face up to reality.

It seems almost too much of a coincidence that only two days after John Profumo died that David Blunkett won a massive libel victory against the People newspaper. The People, while seemingly not actually involved in the honeypot sting which targeted David Blunkett, instead made the most offensive and damning allegations: namely that Sally Anderson had been pregnant with his child and miscarried, after which he deserted her.

The People yesterday printed an apology, and has paid Blunkett a considerable amount of damages, which will no doubt help with the court costs over his paternity battle with Kimberley Quinn. That doesn't acquit them for their despicable story which they must have known was untrue. Even more despicable were the the setters up of the plot against Blunkett, the Daily Mail and the News of the World, likely in league with Max Clifford. Then there is Sally Anderson herself, who was probably out to grab a huge amount of money for her role in entrapping a vulnerable, depressed and lonely blind man.

That however is as far as the sympathy for David Blunkett should go. As the interview with him in the Guardian today makes clear, he is still in no way apologetic or willing to face up to the fact that he was wrong and needed to resign from parliament twice.

Mr Blunkett resigned from the cabinet in November over a separate story, that he had broken the ministerial code by taking up a business directorship and failing to seek the permission of the advisory committee on business interests. "I have made mistakes in the past, but when I have, I have always said so," he says.

But he says he was forced to quit because stories about his private life seemed never-ending. "A whole range of different elements came together to make a frenzy. "It contributed to the feeling that my personal life was clouding my political position and judgment," he says.

Not true. Only the tabloids were indulging in their own plots. The broadsheets were focusing on the fact that dear old David Blunkett had broken the ministerial code. It was likely Tony Blair that either finally got fed up with all the adverse publicity that was affecting the government, whether he said so to Blunkett in so many words or not. If we believe Blunkett's story at the time, he decided to resign in an apparent epiphany he had on leaving a meeting with Blair where he supposedly said he didn't have to resign.

"My integrity had been called into question, I was being called a liar, and I am not a liar. And I just think it is time that we stop viewing public figures as fair game. Throughout the autumn all I could hear was cash registers clinking as people made money out of me one way or another," he says.

He claims not to be a liar, but for someone who supposedly had a such a great memory that he remembered meetings in the 70s with residents he had while head of Sheffield council, it seems mightily strange that he forgot two things that in both cases led to his resignation. Blunkett himself isn't adverse to making money out of things, as shown by his decision to jump on the board of DNA Bioscience and buy a large amount of shares. He also had other directorships during his short hiatus from the cabinet. And now he's the Sun's replacement for Richard Littlejohn, working for the same people who turned on him when he was vulnerable.

Looking back on his return to the cabinet last May, Mr Blunkett says: "I should have been a Trappist monk. I should have seen that people were deeply resentful that I had come back so quickly ... I should have had a double lock on myself and realised that it was necessary to close everything down except the work ethic."

No one was resentful that he personally had come back so quickly. More were actually concerned that Blair should bring back someone who had used his position, directly or not, to help his lover's nanny gain a visa, at a time when the system was in chaos. Also of concern was his mental state, having been deeply affected by the way in which Kimberley Quinn had treated him. Their concerns were vindicated when it turned out that he had broken the ministerial code.

Blunkett needs to face up to the truth of the matter. He is little better than those who conspired against him, sucking a poisoned teat which can be removed as soon as its owner feels like it. He twice made mistakes which neither he nor his hero Blair have owned up to. It just seems odd that someone who has overcame so much difficulty and hardship should instead of helping others do the same has instead decided to indulge those that only want to weaken the downcast.

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Saturday, March 11, 2006 

John Profumo: The sad case of being born in the wrong era.

The death yesterday of John Profumo has elicited a huge amount of prose around scandals involving politicians (and now I'm going to add to it. Hurr). Probably the original real scandal involving a high-ranking cabinet minister, the Profumo case had it all: spies, call girls, suicide and the eventual fall of a government. Rather than focus on the now arcane events of the 60s, it's perhaps better to compare Profumo's tragedy with latter-day scandals.

The most obvious recent sex scandal (apart from Mark Oaten's, which I will come to (stop sniggering)) is that of dear old Dave Blunkett. A man who had married and divorced, he was sucked in by the charisma and personality of Kimberley Quinn, former publisher of the Spectator, a right-wing political weekly. Apparently on first meeting her, she wondered aloud what it was like making love to a blind man. What followed was to become an infatuation for Blunkett, but just seemingly another bit on the side for Quinn, who was also having sexual relationships with her husband, Stephen Quinn, the Guardian sketch writer/wine columnist for the Spectator, Simon Hoggart, and with an unknown man who fathered her most recent child. Other relationships may well have also taken place. Unlike Profumo, in 2004 when the relationship became common knowledge, Blunkett was not being called to resign, despite having an affair with a married woman. Indeed, what was once fodder for all the newspapers had become something of a pursuit for the tabloids, with both the Guardian and Independent not covering the story, saying that as it didn't affect Blunkett's work as Home Secretary that it wasn't in the public interest.

That changed in late 2004 when allegations arose of impropriety involving Quinn's nanny's visa, and that it had been fast-tracked. Denied by Blunkett, an investigation uncovered an email related to the visa which had among its contents "no special favours, .. but a bit quicker". Blunkett continued to deny any wrong-doing, but he resigned and the report found that it was likely even if he hadn't been involved in speeding up the process, then the fact it was related to him may well have led to it being processed quicker. At the same time Blunkett found himself in a battle with Quinn over her child, the relationship having ended. It was soon disclosed the Blunkett was indeed the father. Quinn at the time was pregnant again, although this child turned out to be neither Blunkett's nor her husband's. (Nor was it Simon Hoggart's, for the record.)

Blunkett, with Blair still claiming he had done no wrong, was swiftly returned as Works and Pensions minister following the Labour election victory in May. Yet he remained hounded by the press, and was likely the victim of a honeypot trap plot by the News of the World and Mail on Sunday, involving Max Clifford. What then emerged was his dodgy dealings with a company called DNA Bioscience, which he had briefly joined the board of and bought shares in. Claiming this was to help offset the court costs from his parental rights battle with Quinn, and that again, despite the company being involved with bidding for government contracts, and having failed to consult the committee for business appointments over his dealings, he said he had forgot and that he was again innocent. He resigned, although whether he was pushed by Blair or simply gave in to the pressure from the press and opposition MPs is not known for certain.

What is all this leading to? Well, Profumo's mistake was to lie to parliament. He more or less denied having a relationship with Christine Keeler, saying there was "no impropriety in their acquaintanceship". He was subsequently exposed with having a 4 month affair with the woman, behind the back of his actor wife Valerie Hobson. He resigned from both the government and parliament, and lived out the rest of his life working for Toynbee Hall, a charitable organisation.

Whether Profumo would have had to resign in the same circumstances today is uncertain. While lying to parliament is still a resignable offence, as it should be, it's uncertain whether the opposition parties or sections of the press would push for it seeing as it regarded a personal and private matter. Compared to Blunkett's travails, with Blair still claiming he has done nothing wrong, despite twice resigning having misled parliament involving government matters and business dealings, Profumo seems positively clean. What is Blunkett up to now? Why, he writes for the Sun as a happily paid up member of Murdoch's minions, and he still resides in his grace and favour home in Belgravia, provided by Mr T. Blair. (Update: Blunkett has now apparently finally moved out.)

Perhaps more comparable then is the even more recent case of Mark Oaten, who never deceived parliament in any way, but who resigned as shadow home affairs spokesman for the Liberal Democrats following the revelation in the News of the World that he had sex with a male prostitute. While it was probably best that he did resign, as it would have been a distraction during the Lib Dem leadership campaign, he has a right to feel aggrieved at a "newspaper" which has become nicknamed the News of the Screws thanks to its dedication to printing the tales of the sex lives of the rich and famous. Profumo also looks like an angel compared to the late Tory politician Alan Clark, who infamously had his way with both a mother and her two daughters, whom he nicknamed in his diaries "the covern". Clark also had a sexual relationship with at least one other women while his wife, referred to throughout his deliriously enjoyable diaries as "darling Janey", forever stuck by him.

What it comes down to then is that John Profumo was sadly born in the wrong era. The 1960s sexual revolution was only just beginning as he resigned, although both the pill and Lady Chatterley obscenity trial had been and gone. Profumo was cut down, and lived out the rest of his life devoted to charity, ashamed of his weakness to temptation. His legacy, as alluded to by the last paragraph in the Guardian obituary, may well be that he voted in 1940 against his own party, a vote which led to the downfall of Chamberlain and the arrival of Churchill as prime minister.

Profumo didn't deserve what happened to him. Perhaps the lesson from his resignation should be that while sexual indiscretion is none of anyone's business other than one's relatives and spouse, political manipulation should still be treated as harshly now as then, an idea that Tessa Jowell and Tony Blair have certainly not ascribed to.

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Friday, March 10, 2006 

The result of more "choice".

Government ministers, especially those in charge of the public services, have had only one thing on their mind of late: choice. Whether the idea started off in focus groups, came from industry or was dreamt up in-house isn't known; what is known that it isn't going at all smoothly.

Take today's report in the British Medical Journal - Angus Wallace, a professor of orthopaedic and accident surgery at Nottingham University writes that the NHS is having to correct dodgy work done by independent sector treatment centres (ISTCs):

"the number of patients we are seeing with problems resulting from poor surgery - incorrectly inserted prostheses, technical errors and infected joint replacements - is too great."

Many overseas surgeons, he says, "have been asked to carry out joint replacement operations that they have never seen or done before". Many of the centres have contracts to buy just one type of artificial joint - but sometimes it is one that the surgeon has no experience in using.

"It is quite clear that this has occurred with inadequate training of both the surgeons and the operating theatre staff and as a consequence there have been several serious errors - joint replacements put in without bone cement when bone cement was essential for that joint replacement, the use of the incorrect size heads (ball) for a hip joint replacement, etc," he writes.

It is hard to know how many operations are going wrong, Prof Wallace told the Guardian, but it is clear there are problems that ought to be investigated.

"We expect failures of hip replacements at approximately 1% a year and knees at about 1.5% a year. But we have got some of the ISTCs that are looking at 20% failure rates," he said.

The British Orthopaedic Association has submitted two dossiers of cases to the Department of Health, its president, Ian Leslie, told the Guardian. The first went to then deputy chief medical officer Aidan Halligan about 16 months ago and the second was submitted nine months ago.

"Although they investigated, it hasn't made much difference to our concerns," he said. "The difficulty is getting hold of the information from the ISTCs. We don't know how many patients are being done in the treatment centres."

But in two centres where the figures have been examined the failure rate was significantly higher than in NHS hospitals - at a diagnostic and treatment centre in Weston-super-Mare it was three times the NHS rate and in Cheltenham it was something like 10 times the rate, he said.

At an inquiry by the Commons health select committee yesterday, Royal College of Surgeons president Bernard Ribeiro said the government policy in establishing the treatment centres was "to win elections and to get waiting lists down".

Extra theatre time for hip and knee replacements had indeed been needed, he said. "The government gave us capacity through ISTC but somewhere down the line it lost the plot. In developing ISTC it is challenging the NHS."

These "independent" centres (jargon for private) were set-up with the idea that they could help take some of the workload off the NHS. While in some cases they have done that, the contracts that were drawn up had a specific number of operations that they were to perform. Since some patients have been suspicious (rightly, it seems) of these centres, not all of the operation numbers have been actually carried out. Despite this, the NHS has still paid the centres for the number originally agreed. So not only are these centres getting money for work they haven't done, but some of the work is having to be carried out again because it's been done badly the first time. This is without going into the realisation that doctors are still being poached from overseas to work at these centres - often from the developing world which is in dire need of its college graduates staying on.

The choice agenda so far hasn't had the effect the government thought it would have on the general public - they imagined it would be embraced, and as a result of patients going to other hospitals than their local, drive up standards. Instead patients are opting to stay local, which is what the unions said from when the plans were first mooted. People don't seem to want to travel even longer distances to receive essential treatment; they want it nearby. What the choice agenda may instead achieve is actually the closure of hospitals that don't manage to improve. The trusts which are slipping into debt, thanks to both overspending and PFI deals are likely to get hit even harder as a result of the government's reform plans.

The sacking this week of the chief executive Nigel Crisp, who was subsequently rewarded with a life peerage courtesy of Mr Blair, most likely to shut him up, was because of the failure both by himself and ministers to stem the huge shortfalls. The debts haven't stopped Patricia Hewitt's plans to keep introducing her reform plans at breakneck speed, despite indications that they are also part of the problem and are demoralising staff. She has already said that there will be no new cash to bail out the failing trusts, which are now planning to make deep cuts in order to balance the books. While only a quarter are in debt and those are mostly in the wealthier south, the real terror is if it starts happening in the North, in Labour's heartlands.

The whole current running of the NHS, and contracting out of operations to the private sector, as well as the PFI initiative in building new hospitals needs urgently to be rethought to stop that from happening.

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Thursday, March 09, 2006 

What's next? Having to be a member of Labour to stand for parliament?

You have to hand it to New Labour, they really have turned out to the best party ever at managing to dilute the influence of parliament, or well, at least having a go at trying. Not content with the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill, which may well give ministers the power to amend any act of parliament they feel like without boring old parliament having to approve it, now Geoff "Buff" Hoon is trying to stop MPs from asking so many damn questions.

We of course know why the government wants to able to limit the amount of annoying questions from some MPs'. An obvious example is the incredibly belated acknowledgment that CIA jets have indeed landed in this country, despite the government denying that any such thing had ever happened since the first reports last September. Add to this the questions which lead to uncomfortable statistics being laid bare, and even the familiar answer that answering the given question could only be done at "disproportionate cost", the equivalent of a Glaswegian kiss, which is after all, embarrassing.

At a time when the Power commission reported that the centralising of power is turning people off politics the country over, only a truly arrogant government would continue to move in exactly the opposite direction to that which was recommended. New Labour, under Blair, and most likely even under Brown, ticks all those boxes.

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de Menezes: Is Ian Blair being set up as the fall guy?

Today's report in the Guardian further deepens the whole culture of secrecy which has surrounded the inquiry into the death of Jean Charles de Menezes. On the surface, the point being made seems simple enough: that Sir Ian Blair did indeed know more earlier than he has ever let on about the man's death.

An official inquiry into the Stockwell tube station shooting has received evidence from senior police officers raising questions about Sir Ian Blair's account of the killing of Jean Charles de Menezes and its aftermath, the Guardian has learned.

The commissioner of the Metropolitan police has repeatedly said that he was unaware that the victim was not a suicide bomber until 24 hours after the Brazilian was shot on July 22 2005, a day after several attempted attacks on the London transport system by terrorists. But several witnesses have told the Independent Police Complaints Commission inquiry that senior officers feared within hours of the shooting that the wrong man had been killed after being mistaken for a terrorist.

The witnesses, who were inside Scotland Yard's headquarters on July 22, have told the IPCC that on the day of the shooting planning and discussion took place based on the assumption that an innocent man had been killed.

Mr de Menezes was killed on a tube train at around 10am on Friday, July 22, by officers who believed that he was a terrorist who had tried to attack London's transport system the day before. But one senior police source told the IPCC that by that afternoon, top officers were working on the assumption that "we got the wrong person ... we better plan around this being a mistake." Another source inside the Met's headquarters that day said every senior officer he spoke to believed that Mr de Menezes was not a terrorist: "I don't know how Ian could not have known."

The IPCC will now assess if the accounts from the witnesses are accurate and can be reconciled with Sir Ian's assertions and any evidence backing him.

Around midday on July 22, Sir Ian tried to block the IPCC investigation, writing to the Home Office to say that he feared an inquiry would hamper the hunt for the bombers. Just after 3.30pm that day, Sir Ian addressed a press conference and told reporters: "This operation was directly linked to the ongoing terrorist investigation ... the man was challenged and refused to obey police instructions."

Then you start wondering about the whole thing. I find it very difficult to believe that the officers who shot de Menezes didn't know within minutes, let alone hours, that they had killed an innocent man. No doubt they would have quickly relayed their concerns to the higher-ups, mostly likely Cressida Dick to begin with. Why else would the witnesses on the day give such wrong accounts of what happened to the media, unless they were either Met plants or paid off by the police? This seems even more likely when you consider witness statements to the actual IPCC report, which were a lot more accurate when it came to what actually happened.

While Sir Ian Blair's response to the shooting was to try to stop any inquiry, there is no indication as of yet that he did so in anything but good faith, honestly believing that the hunt for the failed bombers would be much more important than an inquiry into the shooting of what he then, according to his own account, believed was one of the bombers. We can argue about the merits of doing so, but there's nothing to suggested that he was doing so to stop the truth from coming out. Why else would he have gone out at 3:30, 3 and a half hours later, if he already knew that an innocent man has been killed? Even if efforts by other sections of the police were taking place to cover up the shooting, as evidenced by the "witnesses" and Special Branch forging of the record of what happened, there is nothing other than the words of these sources to show that Ian Blair lied.

So why would Sir Ian Blair be set up as the fall guy for the mistakes of the officers lower down his command? Even before his recent gaffe over the Soham girls, when he said no one could understand why they had received such coverage, there had been reports that a lot of officers within the Met felt he was a politically correct idiot. While the former Met commissioner John Stevens was not a man of old school, his News of the Screws column (calling for capital punishment for police killers and for tougher sentences for burglars, especially after one went through his wife's underwear draw) shows that he was by no means a liberal. There seems to be a fair amount of people within Scotland Yard who want him out, and they may well have seen the IPCC report into his own behaviour as a possibility to fulfill their plan.

This isn't to say that Ian Blair is innocent in all of this. It seems officers below him knew quite well that an innocent man had been murdered well before he apparently did. Either they weren't keeping him informed and he is outside the chain of direct command, or he knew and has been lying from the very beginning. I find the latter difficult to believe, especially when it seems that he's a lot smarter than to be involved in a hasty cover-up which would be unraveled within 24 hours. He is still responsible for the Met not correcting the witness reports to the media, and for the Met's own original mistakes in saying that the man had refused to obey police instructions. As the head, he is still also responsible for the whole process, as described by one source as a "complete and utter fuck-up". This doesn't necessarily mean that he should resign because of those colossal errors, which must now be learned from. It seems to me that the lower chains of command are those that made the most hideous and heinous mistakes, and may well yet be exposed for making the decision to kill someone who turned out to be an innocent man as a message to the tabloids that the police really were taking action.

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Wednesday, March 08, 2006 

de Menezes: "Complete and utter fuck-up" policy doesn't need to be changed.

Occasionally, there are decisions made by public bodies which seem so out of step with both public opinion and common sense that you wonder whether the board is actually trying to be deliberately provocative. The Association of Chief Police Officers have decided that Operation Kratos, the shoot-to-kill policy which led to the murder of an innocent man, doesn't need to be substantially changed or even abolished; rather the police just simply have to give the public a clearer explanation of such tactics.

The policy of shooting-to-kill was never discussed in parliament, nor were the public made aware of it until it was actually used. It came about after intelligence training, in which the Met visited both Israel and Russia, both countries which have had to deal with suicide bombers. Since then Israeli spokesmen have repudiated the apparent British approach. They have said that de Menezes would never have been shot in Israel in the circumstances in which he was at Stockwell; before any force is discharged the police have to be next to certain that they are dealing with a bomber. Moreover, ever since the death of Menezes police have continuously said that a suspected bomber has to be shot in the head, as a shot elsewhere may either trigger the explosives or still allow the bomber to do so. The Israelis do not carry out such a policy - they are more concerned with disarming the bomber than making sure that the bomber receives a kill shot.

But none of this even really matters to the de Menezes case. The fact of the matter is that just before the shots were repeatedly fired into his head, de Menezes had been tackled and his hands were behind his back. There was no way he could have triggered any explosives. Despite this, the CO19 officer still fired 11 shots, 7 of which hit him in the head, while at least 1 hit his shoulder.

We still do not properly know what happened in full detail on the 22nd of July, as the Crown Prosecution Service is still deciding whether any officers will be charged for their actions, and even then, the IPCC report is unlikely to be released until the end of any trial. The ACPO report then is both premature, likely to be used to quash any debate surrounding the policy and has been released, rather suspiciously on the day in which a BBC Panorama programme is to be screened investigating both the events of the day and the decisions behind Operation Kratos. It seems like yet another surrender to the tabloids, one of which has even suggested that all police officers should have immunity from prosecution when they use their weapons under any circumstances. Then again, when in the case of Harry Stanley, two firearms officers got off scot-free for shooting a man in the back when he was holding a chair-leg in a plastic bag, maybe the police already have it.

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Tuesday, March 07, 2006 

Rendition: Compare and contrast.

The government last night admitted for the first time that aircraft suspected of being used by the CIA to transport detainees to secret interrogation centres had landed at British military airfields.

After months of refusing to answer questions from MPs or the media, it disclosed that two aircraft known to have been chartered by the CIA landed 14 times at RAF Northholt, west London, and RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire between October 2003 and May 2004.

One aircraft, a Boeing 737, was registered N313P, the other, a Gulfstream, was initially registered N379P and later as N8068V.

The flights were disclosed by Adam Ingram, the armed forces minister, in a letter to Sir Menzies Campbell, newly elected leader of the Liberal Democrats. Last week, the Liberal Democrats threatened to report the minister to the parliamentary ombudsman if he continued to refuse to answer detailed questions about flights suspected of being used for "extraordinary rendition" - the practice of sending detainees to camps where they were at risk of being tortured.

Sir Menzies was among a number of MPs of all parties, including Andrew Tyrie - the Conservative MP for Chichester who has set up a special parliamentary committee to investigate the flights - who have tabled questions about the flights since the Guardian published details of them last September.

In their replies, ministers have said that they either have no record of CIA flights since 1998, when they received four requests from the Clinton administration, or that records it might once have had had since been destroyed.

In his letter last night, Mr Ingram did not say the aircraft were used by the CIA, but the government has never denied they were. Mr Ingram also did not describe the purpose of the flights.

He insisted his disclosure was not "at odds with the foreign secretary's statements on the subject". Jack Straw has said that the government is "unaware" of any CIA flights landing in Britain or using UK airspace since 1998 and transporting terrorist suspects.

JACK STRAW : ...Unless we all start to believe in conspiracy theories and that the officials are lying, that I am lying, that behind this there is some kind of secret state which is in league with some dark forces in the United States, and also let me say, we believe that Secretary Rice is lying, there simply is no truth in the claims that the United Kingdom has been involved in rendition full stop, because we have not been, and so what on earth a judicial inquiry would start to do I have no idea. I do not think it would be justified. While we are on this point, Chairman, can I say this? Some of the reports which are given credibility, including one this morning on the Today programme, are in the realms of the fantastic.

Both the N313P and N8068V were named as visiting those RAF bases last December in the Guardian:

Seems strange that it has since then taken 3 months for the government to admit to that simple fact. Neither plane has been directly linked to known rendition flights, but both are known CIA jets. It's quite possible that there is an innocent explanation for their visits to those RAF bases, but if so, why has the government refused to admit to them visiting for so long? Has the government not been able to establish the purpose of the flights, or if it has, why has it not given the additional information which would clear them from being involved in rendition?

If we are not and have not been involved in rendition, full stop, as Jack Straw angrily told the foreign affairs committee, why has the government been so slow in giving any information at all about flights that have been identified by numerous sources now as landing in this country, whether simply for refueling or otherwise? Until the government is honest with us, it seems prudent to give "conspiracy theories" a thorough examination.

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Sun-watch: Yet more Moss dross.

On a day when you would have thought that the Sun would go with the much more tabloid-friendly story of the 11-year-old girl being raped in a supermarket, we are instead for the second day running treated to a front-page story about publicity starved Kate Moss. According to the Scum, she smuggled a "date-rape" drug inside a Faberge egg. They don't explain how or why this is front page news, but that's to be expected. The amount of coverage which this worthless woman has had over the last 6 months makes me wonder whether it really all is a Max Clifford inspired conspiracy. If I never see the woman or hear about her again it'll be too soon.

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Monday, March 06, 2006 

Sun-watch: Moss dross never ends.

Congratulations then to Rebekah Wade on her extraordinary scoop that Kate Moss used to take cocaine. Only oh, god knows how many months since the Mirror revealed that astounding fact, the Sun has finally managed to get its own pictures of Kate with cocaine in the same frame. I wonder how much that photograph cost it, and I wonder what Murdoch will say of a story that is clearly not in any way at all news? The Sun - first with all the news of last year!

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Saturday, March 04, 2006 

The most cynical act of manipulation possible?

I can't think of anything more likely to make people cynical of politics and politicians than today's staged announcement that Tessa Jowell and her husband David Mills are to have a trial separation, due to the strain put on their relationship thanks to his controversial financial machinations.

Instantly, everyone is meant to feel sorry for the up till now happy couple. The media have broken them apart by sitting on their doorstep for a week! While the media spotlight on them will get the flak, Jowell is now in the clear. No one will dare condemn a woman who has just split from her partner of 25 years. It also leaves Mills with the opportunity to perform a cleansing of himself, to get ready for his possible trial and become a new man. She just never asked her husband, that's all she did wrong! And so a "popular" minister carries on, lies forgiven. Isn't politics great?

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Blair: Insanity or the last gasp of a scoundrel?

Blair's comments on Parkinson raise a few questions. Has Blair, like all prime ministers are supposed to, finally lost any small fragment of his sanity that was remaining? After all, in the past when questioned on God and his beliefs, Blair has either avoided the question or Alastair Campbell famously stepped in, saying "we don't do God." So why did he seemingly open up to Parkinson, and why now?

It's very tempting to dismiss his comments as his last gasp justification to himself that the war on Iraq was still just and legitimate. As things have steadily got seemingly worse and worse, any man, even this prime minister with all his hubris, must have doubts and anxiety about his decision. It then makes sense that he would say God will judge him, and that he prayed for guidance on what to do. This may well be what psychologically Blair is now doing to justify to himself that what he decided on was right.

On the other hand, Blair is entering the last days of his premiership. The seeming sharing of the job now with Gordon Brown is the obvious first step towards the handing over of power. Perhaps this is meant to be a clearing of the air so that Gordon can start with a clean slate. This may well point to Blair stepping down either after the education vote, or maybe the Labour party conference in the autumn. Either way, he has reignited a debate that perhaps would be better aired now in his reasoning than in a later interview which then detracts from Brown starting in "the job".

In this way, his comments are the last gasp of a scoundrel. Disliked immensely by the public, on his way out with little sight of a true legacy, Blair finds himself cast out, somewhat like Adam and Eve from the garden, with only the knowledge that it will be history and his God that judges him. While I don't share his beliefs, I somehow wonder whether his God will be as kind to him as Stephen Pound was, when he called him "painfully honest." Maybe, but being honest now doesn't make up for his dishonesty which led to this mess.

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Sun-watch: A story of changing headlines.

Well, here I was going to make a post about the Sun using the same headline as yesterday's Star on their front page story on Arsene Wenger's comments on the Ashley Cole case, but it seems that the version I saw was of an earlier edition, as lo and behold, here is what is on both the Sun and Sky websites:

Instead of Arsene: Sex row is balls, the headline was something along the lines of Arsene: I don't care if there are rear gunners in my team. Seemingly, the Sun either thought that they couldn't get away with more or less stealing yesterday's Star headline, or they decided that it was tasteless, especially considering their recent antics involving biting pillows and limp dems. I can't tell whether the story itself has changed with the different editions, but the version I read in the newsagent again just mentioned that two newspapers were being sued. The Sun in other words is unwilling to tell the public that it was one of those papers being sued by publishing that fact on its front page. Cowardice of the highest order. If the anonymous comment left on the last Sun-watch post is true, then it's even more cowardly. If anyone happens to have a copy of today's Sun with the earlier headline and can take a photo of it, please leave a comment, as I'd be most grateful to have it.

Also of note today is the Diana Express, which obviously thinks that its editorial is more important than actual news:

According to the Express, inheritance tax is theft. Stan Myerson, Richard "Dirty" Desmond's managing director would know all about theft. He was sacked by the Express back in 1994 for pocketing vast amounts of expenses and bonuses, only to be brought back when Desmond bought the Express group. Desmond himself is not averse to theft - of 10 Xbox 360s to be given away in the Star, despite paying himself £51 million last year, he took one as a present for his teenage son. (Thanks to Private Eye for the above.)

The Express wants to have its cake and eat it. In common with the other tabloids it has screamed about women with breast cancer being denied the so-called "wonder drug" Herceptin, which costs £26,000 a year, yet then claims that a tax which only hits the very rich and which goes towards helping the public services is theft. Instead of campaigning for the tax threshold to be risen so that it only hits the super-rich instead of the very-rich, they instead call for its abolition. As stated above, I'm sure this has nothing to do with Desmond perhaps being concerned for what might happen to his millions if something unfortunate happened to him. No, the Express is fighting for the common middle class person in the street as always. Remember, the Express doesn't stand for freeloaders!

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Friday, March 03, 2006 

Cheek by Jowell.

There are lies, there are damned lies, and then there are the lies told by Tessa Jowell. She expects the public to believe that despite signing a joint-remortaging of her home with her husband so that he could take part in an investment opportunity, that she then never bothered to ask whether that loan had then been paid off, at least until recently. Her husband, David Mills, apparently also never bothered to tell her that he had paid off that mortgage just 10 weeks later, with a gift which, depending on who you believe, either came from Silvio Berlusconi, or Diego Attanasio, a shipping magnate and convicted criminal.

The inquiry by Sir Gus O'Donnell was nothing of the sort. He didn't investigate the source of the money, whether Jowell told the truth or any other of the byzantine details of the storm surrounding Jowell and her husband. He simply ruled that it was up to the Prime Minister to decide if Jowell had broken the ministerial code. He took at face value Jowell's statement that she had not been aware of the gift of £350,000 until 2004, when it was decided that the money was taxable. As it was then not a gift and classified as earnings, there was no need for Jowell to report it to her permanent secretary. As you would expect, Tony Blair consequently ruled her not guilty of any wrong-doing.

The whole thing smacks in the face of common sense. What kind of marriage do Tessa Jowell and David Mills have in that they apparently don't talk to each other about financial matters, despite having mortgage burdens hanging over their heads? You would think that any normal couple would be concerned about having to pay back a mortgage of £400,000. Obviously not for this couple. According to Jowell, Mills must not discuss any investment matters with her either, nor gifts or earnings that he apparently makes, as she didn't know until 2004 that someone had paid him £350,000. You would think that would be something which would crop up at the dinner table, the fact that someone had just given you a huge sum of money that could instantly be used to pay off a debt, or as it seems, that he had just remembered he had money sitting in a hedge fund that could be used to pay off the mortgage he had took out to fund another investment.

All of this will seem to barmy to the average person. They are meant to believe that such sums of money are so piffling that they don't warrant discussion, that Jowell doesn't ask her husband what he's currently working on, or seemingly isn't concerned at all, despite the possible implications due to her being a government minister. This is without even getting started into the possibility that the money came from Berlusconi as a result of Mills giving favourable evidence for him in a corruption case.

It seems that for now Jowell is safe, despite the whole incident stinking to high heaven. The reason, rather than her innocence, seems to be because she's "popular". The Sun starts its leader by saying:

IT IS hard to dislike Tessa Jowell . . . which is why she clings to office for the time being.

Apparently the new "caring 'n' compassionate" Tories also didn't bother to raise too much fuss, as they also recognise her as being popular. Really? Are we talking about the same minister that laid herself on top of a roulette table at a casino for the cameras, and who introduced the bill which would have deregulated gambling even more that it already is, allowing "supercasinos" to open all over the country, thankfully now reduced to just one being opened on a trial period? Is this the same minister which some tabloids attacked for introducing 24 hour drinking? Apparently because she was "instrumental" in the Olympic bid, we can forgive her for the first thing, and while I was never bothered about the second, it seems everyone else can forgive her for that as well.

As the Guardian puts it in its leader, the only way that incidents such as this can be sorted out fairly and properly is for a nominated independent person to carry out a full inquiry, not a civil servant directly involved with the government, or for the prime minister himself. Until then, we're supposed to believe that Tessa Jowell is either an idiot or a liar. I'd rather believe that she's both.

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Daily Star and Sun-watch: Street of shame just doesn't do it justice.

Just two days after running an equally tasteless and distorted headline about homosexuality, the Daily Star just can't help itself. Ashley Cole, who plays for Arsenal, nicknamed the Gunners, is suing two newspapers over insinuated claims that he had a gay orgy with two other men. So what headline does the high quality upmarket tabloid Daily Star choose? I'M NOT A REAR-GUNNER. Of course, in the world of Richard "Dirty" Desmond, no doubt every gay man indulges in anal sex. In real life, it doesn't work like that. But it sure does work out well for an offensive headline towards a minority group in society for the second time in three days. Also, Cole didn't say that he'd sue anyone who says he's gay. His lawyers are suing the Sun and News of the World for insinuating that he took part in a gay orgy, when they apparently have no proof that he did.

On then to the Sun itself, which also features the story about Cole on its front page. You'd expect that in its story that it would defend itself, or at least own up to the fact that it is one of the newspapers which is being sued. But no, instead it only refers to two newspapers which are being sued by the England player, then just tells readers to turn to page 4. A supreme act of cowardice not only towards itself, but also a shocking failure on its part to tell its readers that civil proceedings are being launched against it because of a non-newsworthy story that it printed. Rebekah Wade, a coward, a traitor and a liar.

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Thursday, March 02, 2006 

Sun-watch: DANGER!

Being a responsible newspaper, the Sun has highlighted a shocking "EDUCATION BOMBSHELL", namely that 3 "perverts" are still working in "our" schools. How did they decide to do this? With a restrained, cautious front page, highlighting what is obviously a problem? No, that would be silly. Instead they've combined the road sign which cautions motorists to watch out for children as there is a school or playground nearby with the blackest and hugest lettering they could find: DANGER PAEDOS IN CLASS. Man your panic stations! Of course, we don't actually know whether these adults who have been judged to be a risk to children are teaching or not, or whether their crimes were committed against children. They've just been judged to be a risk to children, which it has to be said isn't very reassuring. All this comes after the witch-hunt in January against Ruth Kelly which has now been largely forgotten, especially now that's there some very iffy dealings going on involving Tessa Jowell. The issue has now actually been sorted, as the Sun story then goes on to say as the legislation to solve the initial problem is now being rushed through.

Note that the Sun nor any of other of the tabloids have apologised to the man who set off the whole moral panic. He was cautioned for apparently viewing child pornography, under Operation Ore. It's since come to light that the information behind the raids under Operation Ore was not by any means air-tight. Some of the credit card information obtained by British police was used on ordinary adult porn sites, which were hosted on the same servers as the ones with child pornography. There is no evidence to suggest that some of those arrested, cautioned and in some cases imprisoned actually viewed any illegal material, but simply went along with the charges in order to make sure that as little publicity as possible was made by the arrests, for obvious reasons. The original man was cleared to work with children and was told by a minister that he was an exceptional teacher. All of this of course was somewhat overshadowed by the likes of the Sun calling him a pervert and a paedo, which led to him fleeing into police protection.

In other Sun related news, yesterday saw the start of a campaign for Pete Doherty to be taken off the streets, following his arrest for allegedly stealing a car and having class a drugs on him, again. That it was the likes of the Sun who catapulted him into the public domain due to his on-off relationship with Kate Moss, their constant following of him and coverage of every last twist and turn of their brief romance obviously hasn't had any impact on his behaviour. Doherty is now checked into a hospital where he has apparently been diagnosed with manic depression. That the Sun decides now to start up a campaign for him to be jailed, when he is fighting both illness and addiction to drugs is typical of a tabloid which shows no respect to anyone except those that it builds up to then bring down. The very last place Doherty should be is a prison cell. He needs medical help, and coming from an editor which lied about how she came to be arrested after drunkenly beating up her husband, it's rather breathtaking.

Finally then, both the News of the Screws and Sun are being sued by Ashley Cole and a DJ, after a story in the Screws which alleged that two unnamed Premiership footballers and a music DJ engaged in a "homosexual orgy". Britain's press: easily the world's finest.

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Lib Dems elect Campbell: The right choice?

Congratulations then to Sir Menzies Campbell, who in the end despite being behind in some of the opinion polls comfortably won the Liberal Democrat leadership election by 29,697 votes to Chris Huhne's 21,628. While inevitably the media and probably myself will now trot out the cliches about them deciding to go with a "safe" pair of hands, I really do wonder whether the membership has made the right choice.

I personally originally backed Simon Hughes, but after the Question Time debate found myself swaying between him and Chris Huhne, who like pretty much everyone else outside Westminster I had not heard of before. His passion and policies, such as the green tax he advocated almost won me over. Now with the party probably facing its biggest challenge in years, taking on a somewhat rejuevanated Tory party and a Labour party which seems obsessed with creating more new laws just for the sake of it (and Blair's legacy) I felt that either Hughes or Huhne would be the best to lead the party.

Ming Campbell has a few problems. He has been linked with the back-stabbing and whispering which led to Charles Kennedy having to step down, (although I felt that was the right decision) has been very timid on the Iraq war, despite his opposition to it, and few know of his ideas on the home policy stage. He also seems to have the support of the "Orange Book" squad, who want to turn the party into another centreist group battling with New Labour and the "New" Tories. Then of course, there's his age. Although the chances of the Lib Dems winning the next election are almost non-existent, you somehow can't imagine him as the prime minister, not that you could Charles Kennedy either. Many seem to have voted for him based on the plan that he will hold the leadership only until after the next election, when the likes of Nick Clegg are more likely to be known throughout the country. Even worse, his first few statements already sound ominous:

Sir Menzies, who got 57% of the vote, said he was ready to take risks to "modernise" the party and lead it "back to government".

In his victory speech he pledged to fight for fairness, freedom and environmental protection.

But he added: "Let me make it clear now that caution and consolidation will not do.

"Safe pair of hands yes, but ready to take risks, ready to challenge orthodoxy and ready to challenge the party too."

He added: "Our task now is this: To build a strong, effective powerful Liberal Democrat party with the objective to ensuring a greener, fairer, decentralised and democratic Britain, a Britain at peace with itself at home and admired abroad."

Words like "modernise" and "orthodoxy", especially coming from Menzies mean likely that the nonsense criticism from the likes of Geoff Hoon, who dismissed the party as a protest vote because they're "soft on crime" is having an effect. Economic matters, such as the pledge to replace council tax with a 50p surcharge on incomes over £100,000 are also likely to be thrown out the window. Hopefully when Campbell really means, especially with building a stronger party is to make sure that policies are the same in London as they are in East Fife. Saying different things to people in different constituencies will no longer do. The Liberal Democrats have a huge opportunity with both the Tories and Labour moving to the centre-right to outflank them on the left and win the votes of those fed up with Labour's increasing attacks on civil liberties, its lies over foreign policy, rendition and the blame culture which they are increasingly attaching to young people. That is without going into the disaster of the public finance initative, timid redistribution of wealth and the current reforms on both schools and hospitals. Those kind of voters find themselves increasingly disenfranchised, thanks to the first past the post system and the two main parties, as if they vote for either the Greens or Respect it's more or less wasted. The Liberal Democrats are a viable alternative, but only if they realise the opportunity they have. If Menzies Campbell doesn't, then the next general election could leave the party facing extinction.

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Wednesday, March 01, 2006 

Daily Star-watch: How to distort a story to your own prejudices.

I know I said the other day that the Daily Star should no longer be considered a newspaper, but today's front page needs challenging.

To judge by the headline, you would think that the BBC had been ordered to put more gay men into its chief soap opera, EastEnders. The actual story is based on a press release from the gay rights group Stonewall, which released research by the University of Leeds. The report also isn't an "exclusive", as the Guardian gave the story 91 words on its 8th page:

The BBC was accused yesterday of delivering "astonishingly poor value" for gay licence fee payers by failing to accurately reflect their lives and frequently indulging in "low level homophobia".

The gay rights group Stonewall published research by the University of Leeds claiming that in 168 hours of prime time programming, gay lifestyles were portrayed "realistically" for only six minutes.

Ben Summerskill, chief executive of Stonewall, called on the BBC to track the portrayal of sexuality in the same way as it measures the depiction of ethnic minorities and those with disabilities.

Nowhere did the gay rights group tell "the Beeb to get more gays on the box." What they were pointing out was that gay lifestyles hardly ever feature in prime time television. The group also says that the BBC frequently indulges in low level homophobia. Obviously trying to go one better, the Daily Star decides to indulge in high level homophobia, with its somewhat tasteless benders headline pun. Essentially what the Daily Star is doing is trying to say that "political correctness" is rearing its ugly head again. While doing so they take on the persona of someone who is clearly suspicious of homosexuality, or at least male homosexuality. After all, the Daily Star is owned by Richard "Dirty" Desmond, who owns numerous adult softcore TV channels, which often broadcast lesbian shows that obviously aren't meant for lesbian titillation. The hypocrisy, as ever, stinks.

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