Sunday, April 30, 2006 


Obsolete will return on Friday/Saturday.

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Saturday, April 29, 2006 

The week that was.

The popular press still can't beat Blair, even with an open goal.

Labour must be wondering whether anything else can possibly can go wrong in just one week. Beleagured by Clarke's incompetence, stunned by the reaction of the usually rather staid Royal College of Nurses to Patricia Hewitt's patronising manner and rhetoric that things have never been better in the NHS, they've now got two more uncomfortable stories to cope with.

Peter Law, the independent candidate for Blaneau Gwent who overturned a Labour majority of 19,313 to win by 9,121 votes, sadly succumbed on Tuesday to the brain tumour which had nearly stopped him from standing in the constituency. Good news for Labour, you would have thought, who were humiliated and angered by the decision of Law to stand against the party he had been a member of for decades. His "Judas" type betrayal in Labour's eyes was directed at decision to impose an all-women shortlist, and not only that, but with a Blairite with impeccable credentials at the top of the list. For a constituency that had previously been represented by Anuerin Bevan and Michael Foot, as well as Llew Smith, neither went down well with the local membership. When their protests went unheeded, Law stood as an independent socialist candidate, and found himself expelled from Labour, along with a number of other activists who supported him.

Time for Labour to heal the wounds you would think? No chance. The local activists stay expelled, even though Labour has apologised for the all-women shortlist, and chose a popular local councillor to contest the seat. It seems that Law's agent is likely to hold up his legacy by standing as an independent, and Labour will once again likely lose thanks to their original arrogance.

All very local you would think, not much for Westminster to be embarrassed about. That was until Law's widow mentioned that he had been offered a peerage to try to get him to stand down. The story has since been confirmed by other friends of Law, who said he had told them a similar tale. It's certainly got Peter Hain worried, who is secretary of state for Wales as well as Northern Ireland, as he's issued a categorical statement that Law was not offered a peerage to step down. He in fact calls it a lie, which is sure to help mend the differences between the expelled activists, friends of Law and the Labour party. The Independent and Guardian both point out that "elderly" Labour MPs are often offered peerages to get them to vacate their parliamentary seats so that someone younger and maybe also more malleable to the Dear Leader can be parachuted in. What neither points out is that the Blairite candidate for Blaneau Gwent, Maggie Jones, formerly of the trade union Unison and a pal of Cherie and Tony, was herself given a peerage for her traumatic experience on general election night.
Also missed out is that she was none too sporting in defeat, blaming a "sympathy" vote for Law's victory. Certainly makes you think that Jones was given the seat that Law could well have had himself had he not been so "stubborn". Also gives a glorious insight into how badly the second chamber needs to be reformed, even if at the moment it is holding out against the worst of this government's excesses.

Then we have today's story, which again makes one wonder whether the police were tipped off about the possible whereabouts of a tiny amount of puff for media purposes. John Reid, that unreconstructed opponent of the smoking ban, who said that one of the few pleasures of some of those on council estates was having a smoke, is needless to say, entirely innocent of any suggestions that it was his. After all, as the "sources" make clear, "hundreds of people" have visited the house and it "could" have been there for 20 years. Convincing arguments all. Perhaps that's what my brother should have told the police when they knocked on the window of his car at 3am in the morning, searched it, found a tiny amount of weed and proceeded to arrest him despite the law saying that having small amounts of the Class C drug is not an arrestable offence. When he didn't come along quietly, they kicked his shins and then gave the backs of his legs the same treatment. He was later fined. Guido also notes that a legalise cannabis protestor had previously sent Reid a small amount of the drug through the mail. Whether it's connected is anyone's guess.

Which brings us to the the third of those attempts (after Blair and Clarke's pre-emptive attacks on the Guardian, Observer and Independent on Sunday and Monday), and by far the most successful. It makes you wonder about the press in this country when they're presented with an open goal involving all those issues which they usually never shut up about, such as immigration, crime and incompetence, that they're more obsessed with the ups and downs of John Prescott's underwear. It seems almost beyond doubt that he's been taking one for the team, apparently already having decided that he was to leave his job once the Dear Leader has also left his. To add insult to injury, his affair with Tracey Temple has attracted the biggest scumbag in the country, Max Clifford, to sell her story to the Mail on Sunday for a sum not less than £100,000. In quite possibly the most hypocritical statement made by a man ever, he said:
It's difficult to describe what it's like when suddenly masses of photographers, journalists turn up on your doorstep and day after day you are reading a lot of things in the national press which are totally untrue about you which is very damaging and very hurtful.

Yes, the Hamiltons would be familiar with what Clifford describes. After all, Max Clifford was heavily involved in the allegations of rape made against them by Nadine Milroy-Sloan, which were completely untrue and resulted in her being jailed for perverting the course of justice. That's not to mention the dozens of other prurient cases which Clifford has had a hand in, including the honeypot trap set up for David Blunkett. Other websites have also been speculating about other possible affairs after Trevor Kavanagh, the Scum's ex-political editor and arse-licking Murdoch lackey went on 5 Live and said:
Learning that John Prescott's had an affair is a bit like learning that Simon Hughes is gay. I mean, everyone knew he has affairs. He's had a string of affairs throughout his life and this has come as no surprise."

Except to his wife maybe. Despite some sharp editorals, and general consensus that Clarke must go, all it takes is for an old man to be revealed to have had an affair and for the England football manager's job to be up for grabs to relegate a story to the far inner pages of the tabloids.

The only tabloid that today leads on Clarke's woes is amazingly the Express, which has gone the longest time for quite a while without putting Diana on the front page. Both the Moron and Sun lead on the England manager position, with the Sun revealing that some manager you've never heard of before has had an affair you couldn't give a shit about even if you knew who he was. The Mail goes with Prescott, mainly because it's having to hype up the kiss and tell story from Temple for tomorrow. What it does show is that the Labour spin machine can still work when it needs to, and it's going to have to go into overdrive if anything is going to be salvaged from next week's local elections. That Clarke still hasn't gone yet makes clear that the populist media can still be put off the trail by being thrown a few juicy bones.

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Friday, April 28, 2006 

Mary-Ann and the Sun.

On the day that the killers of Mary-Ann Leneghan were sentenced to either 23 or 27 years in prison, the Guardian has printed a somewhat fuller background of her life in Reading.

When Obsolete wrote the attack on the Sun after their use of the photo of Mary-Ann as a young girl and described her as "trusting", it knew that in some way doing down the image of Mary-Ann as entirely innocent was in a way incredibly unfair on her family and her friends who suffered as a result of the violence which ended her life. What today's Guardian article shows is that Mary-Ann was stuck in a world of drugs, truancy and had gone very much off the rails. This in no way excuses her murderers, who should serve the rest of their lives in prison for what they did, but it does further show the hypocrisy of the Sun newspaper in this case. To the Sun, Mary-Ann otherwise would have been one of the out of control feral youths which it screams about in its editorals. She became a drugs courier for the man who would eventually be involved in her death. All it took, as the article states, was for that man to suspect that she and her friend had betrayed him for the most brutal revenge to be arranged.

It goes without saying that Mary-Ann didn't deserve it. Most teenagers go through bad, rebellious patches, and there's everything to suggest that she was starting to realise just how egregious those mistakes she had made were. Simply put, she was naive. The last thing she now deserves as she cannot speak out for herself is to be used by the Sun to demand endless crackdowns on "anti-social behaviour", along with its treatment of all youth apart from those who become victims like Mary-Ann as yobs or "feral". Her mother, devastated by the death of her daughter, has set up a fund to try and help her get over her loss and move on with her life. The Sun should donate some money to her if it really means what it says. After all, it paid £30,000 to the wife of one of the 7/7 bombers, a decision that it would have bellowed about had another tabloid made it.

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Thursday, April 27, 2006 

de Menezes: Innocent of rape allegation.

Also buried in the news, or rather not even published at all, has been the revelation that Jean Charles de Menezes, the man shot dead in the panic following the 21 of July failed bombings, was innocent of the allegations of rape which a woman made against him.

Forensic tests have cleared an innocent Brazilian man shot dead by police who mistook him for a suicide bomber of an allegation of rape, Scotland Yard has said.

The victim of the attack in London's West End more than three years ago alleged earlier this year that Jean Charles de Menezes had committed the rape.

The Forensic Science Service compared forensic material recovered from the victim and a sample of Mr de Menezes' blood, after his family gave permission for a comparison to be made.

The tests showed Mr de Menezes was not responsible for the rape, police said.

Was it a weak allegation from a confused and still traumatised woman, helped along by a Scotland Yard terrified of what might happen if the CPS decides to prosecute those who shot him, or a smear trying to strip de Menezes of his status as a martyr to a policy which the police instrumented without any public or parliamentary debate? Who knows?

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Rendition: MEP report says member states knew of abductions.

Somewhat buried by yesterday's "Black Wednesday" for Labour, the investigation by MEPs into "extraordinary rendition" has raised some difficult questions for the government.

The CIA has operated more than 1,000 secret flights over EU territory in the past five years, some to transfer terror suspects in a practice known as "extraordinary rendition", an investigation by the European parliament said yesterday.

The figure is significantly higher than previously thought. EU parliamentarians who conducted the investigation concluded that incidents when terror suspects were handed over to US agents did not appear to be isolated. They said the suspects were often transported around Europe on the same planes by agents whose names repeatedly came up in their investigation.

They accused the CIA of kidnapping terror suspects and said those responsible for monitoring air safety regulations revealed unusual flight paths to and from European airports. The report's author, Italian MEP Claudio Fava, suggested some EU governments knew about the flights.

He suggested flight plans and airport logs made it hard to believe that many of the stopovers were refuelling missions. "The CIA has, on several occasions, clearly been responsible for kidnapping and illegally detaining alleged terrorists on the territory of [EU] member states, as well as for extraordinary renditions," said Mr Fava, a member of the European parliament's socialist group.

His report, the first interim report by EU parliamentarians on rendition, obtained data from Eurocontrol, the European air safety agency, and gathered information during three months of hearings and more than 50 hours of testimony by individuals who said they were kidnapped and tortured by American agents, as well as EU officials and human rights groups.

"After 9/11, within the framework of the fight against terrorism, the violation of human and fundamental rights was not isolated or an excessive measure confined to a short period of time, but rather a widespread regular practice in which the majority of European countries were involved," said Mr Fava.

Data showed that CIA planes made numerous secret stopovers on European territory, violating an international air treaty that requires airlines to declare the route and stopovers for planes with a police mission, he said. "The routes for some of these flights seem to be quite suspect. ... They are rather strange routes for flights to take. It is hard to imagine ... those stopovers were simply for providing fuel."

The report really doesn't tell us that much that we don't already know. Since the first allegations emerged last year, a number of jets were identified as being responsible for the transporting of kidnapped terrorist suspects, sometimes without the knowledge of the country from which the suspect was taken's knowledge.

What is new is that the MEP's report has now directly accused some of the countries of knowing full well what was going on. The question for Jack Straw and the government is what they knew and when they knew it. Straw has been evasive from the start. Giving evidence to a committee, he said some of the allegations were in the region of conspiracy theories. He has continually denied that there have been any rendition flights gone through the country since around 1998, when the Clinton administration last asked permission. This was somewhat undermined when Alistair Darling, the Transport minister, eventually admitted that both CIA and chartered jets had landed at airports a lot more than they have originally thought. It's still possible that all those flights could have been just here to refuel, although as the report states, the jets have sometimes went on such strange routes that it makes that difficult to believe.

It's time that the government came completely clean and states exactly what it knows. The Bush administration has apparently not asked permission from the government to use its airspace for renditions, but it also hasn't seemed to have bothered to ask permission from the European countries whose airspace seems most definitely to have been used for exactly that purpose. Other member states apparently knew about the abductions despite this. Was Britain among these? If those jets which landed here that have been linked to rendition were not carrying kidnapped terrorist suspects, what were they doing here? If the government was not aware until the allegations came to light, were the security services? If they were, why was the government not made aware that international law was being broken? If they were made aware, why has the government repeatedly lied about what the flights purposes were, and tried to move the argument on, as the memo leaked to the New Statesmen suggested they try to do? From a government that is meant to find torture utterly abhorrent and that considers Guantanamo an "anomaly", it seems odd that is willing to turn a blind eye to the United States transferring prisoners to where torture has been used during their interrogation. We need answers, and any further delay should be bitterly resisted.

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Wednesday, April 26, 2006 

Clarke, conspiracies and watching the gutter.

Is this New Labour's worst ever day? It's certainly possible. It doesn't have the jubiliation which followed the government defeat over the 90 day detention without trial clause, it doesn't have the the weary expectedness of having to rely on the Tories over the education bill, and it doesn't have the shock which followed the death of Dr David Kelly. What it does have is the piling up of huge problems all at once.

Clarke himself yesterday certainly did not seem to be telling the full truth over whether he was willing to resign or not. He originally said: "I do not think it is a resigning matter." Whoops! 24 hours later and it emerges that Clarke obviously did think it was a resigning matter, as he offered his resignation to Blair at 4pm yesterday, when it was refused. He also offered to resign at an earlier date, according to other interviews he conducted. Clarke sure does seem to change his mind a lot. For now we're stuck with Clarke, it seems, perhaps only because Blair has no one else to replace him with. He can't move John Reid yet again, especially after he finally got to the job he wanted as Defence Secretary. David Blunkett would be laughed out of the commons, and besides, it was mainly under his watch that the blunders happened. Peter Hain is known for being "soft" left, even if he is loyal, which isn't going to appeal much to Blair when he has the tabloids constantly screaming at him. It's unlikely that'd he promote someone like David Miliband, or any of the junior ministers. Hence why Clarke was asked to stay. It now all depends on whether Clarke can resist the newspaper and Tory pressure, who are now demanding he go after originally coming across softly on the issue.

Clarke has known about this for a while, and the government originally did as much as possible to keep it quiet. It only emerged after some persistent questioning by the Tory MP Richard Bacon, and an investigation by the Commons public accounts committee. Why has it come out now, especially seeing how damaging this is going to be to the local election campaign? The answer to that is that today John Gieve was going to give evidence, along with other officials to the public accounts committee. The government couldn't take the risk of Gieve or the others "unintentionally" (in their words) misleading the committee again, as they already had before. They also couldn't take the risk of this coming out from the committee today without them being able to get their rebuttal in first. This explains why Clarke yesterday performed his act of contrition in front of the media, and not in a statement to the House, which the Speaker later in the day demanded.

Which brings us to how the government has desperately tried to spin the matter. They knew this was coming, as they have acknowledged. Yesterday was the last possible day they had to break it without being caught out, and that is exactly what they did. To soften the blow as it were, and to show just how tough Blair and Clarke are on "law 'n' order", we had Blair in the Observer on Sunday attacking Henry Porter and saying how he was going to stop at nothing to make criminals leave the country. Next day we had Clarke making his speech about the media being "pernicious and poisonous" over the way their policies are infringing civil liberties and today we've had the revelation that John Prescott was shagging his secretary. Both Nick Robinson, BBC political editor and Michael White, ex-Guardian political editor claim that it's come as a total surprise to them, and that there has not been a conspiracy to try and bury this bad news. That's been laughed at by the likes of Guido, who says that it's been known about for a long time. Worth noting is that the revelation of Prescott's dalliance was in the Daily Mirror, which while critical of the government is sympathetic to its cause. All the evidence is there to suggest that there has been a concerted effort by the government to sweep it down the news agenda, while also pointing out just how hard they are on crime at the same time.

The likes of the Sun, Express and Mail have of course taken to this like a duck takes to water. The Express in its headline seems to be alleging that there were 1,032 of each mistakenly released instead of being deported. The Mail prints 4 photos of the men, of whom the first (from the left) served a four year sentence but appealed successfully against deportation. The second served a prison sentence years ago, and now has a family and his own business. Both the third and fourth men are still in prison. Still, let's not let that get in way of a good front page. The Sun decides bizarrely to relegate the story to a small box, in order to instead lead on the story of Kevin Costner, who allegedly masturbated while he was receiving a massage from a woman who was later sacked after she complained about the incident.

The Sun doesn't let the story go though, oh no. Inside we have the thoughts of today's gorgeous, pouting blonde bombshell Ami (Thanks to Bloggerheads):

Apparently only Sun readers will be outraged about it, which must mean that nearly everyone is a Sun reader. My advice to "Ami" is to stop spelling your name with an I you pretentious cunt, and put some clothes on. Not that they are "Ami"'s thoughts of course, they are in fact Rebekah Wade's. And Wade herself (unless one of her lackeys wrote the leader column) is suitably outraged as well:
HUNDREDS of ex-cons who should have been kicked out of Britain are loose on our streets - and police haven't a clue where to find them. They include three murderers, nine rapists and five child sex fiends. Others were banged up for manslaughter, thuggery, drugs and robbery. All were candidates for deportation. A flushed and sweating Charles Clarke admits people are entitled to be "concerned, possibly angry". That's not good enough. People are entitled to the Home Secretary's resignation - or instant dismissal for rank negligence. Incredibly, 288 criminals have gone missing since he was first warned about the crisis. Labour's "tough on crime" boast is a joke. Key staff do not talk to each other. As a result, dangerous hardmen are rated "low risk" and set free to kill and rape again by officials who don't read their records. Probation staff - when they are not off sick - can't be bothered to keep tabs. Now, almost by accident, we learn hundreds of foreign crooks have disappeared without trace. Mr Clarke, the government's "Captain Chaos", shrugs it off as a communications breakdown. But there is a theme to these government “blind spots". Ministers are desperate to avoid enraging the Left by cracking down on illegals. Deportations are rare. Yet jails are bursting at the seams because 10,000 inmates - one in eight of all prisoners - are foreign-born, most of them asylum cheats. Is it possible the Government would prefer killers to disappear without trace rather than be seen loading them on the next plane home? The Home Secretary insists he is not in the "blame game". Well, we ARE. And we blame YOU, Mr Clarke.

While the first part of the leader is not in doubt, the second part is as usual, full of errors and is downright misleading. We're told that Labour being tough on crime is a "joke". Really? I guess that would explain why the prisons are "bursting at the seams" as the leader later describes them. Probation staff apparently throw sickies a lot - unlike Sun hacks, of at least two who last year filled out "confidential employee surveys" had to beg and grovel for their jobs, one of whom had her contract ripped up on the spot for daring to be honest about what she thought of conditions in Wapping, as Private Eye reports today. Probation staff have been keeping tabs on these "killers", but it doesn't help when their orders have been badly drawn up in the first place. Apparently ministers are desperate to avoid outraging the left by cracking down on illegals, even though we saw at the start of the week Clarke and Blair doing exactly that with their "lazy and deceitful" claims about the liberal media. The leader goes on to claim that deportations are rare, which is a complete untruth. By rare you would think that would mean only small amounts of failed asylum seekers were being deported. In fact, 3,095 were deported between April and June last year, which is the newest figures I can find. That is compared to the 6,045 who had their applications initially refused, but who had the right to appeal. Jails are bursting at the seams with 10,000 foreign criminals, which is apparently one in eight, but the Sun doesn't mention that of those 10,000 some of them are locked up in the special deportation centres run by the prison service waiting to be returned to their country of origin - they are not in normal prisons.

The sad thing though is that the Sun for the most part is right. There is no excuse for why those who were ordered by the courts to be deported, around 160 of the total, were not when they finished their sentences. There's also no excuse for 288 of those prisoners still not being deported when their sentences run out once Clarke had found out about the problems between the prison and immigration services. As the Tories point out, that's why he must go. He's been utterly incompetent, and that does not bode well for his and Blair's claims that he should stay and sort it out. Some of those who were not deported were only imprisoned for minor offences, such as theft or drug possession, although the Guardian claims that only those given sentences of 12 months or more were considered for deportation, which suggests that those offences would have to been more serious than perhaps just shoplifting or having a small amount of cannabis or cocaine. Then again, who knows with the odd sentences the criminal justice system sometimes hands down? Even so, to lose men convicted of murder, rape and child abuse, to misquote Oscar Wilde, is not just unfortunate, but careless (a better word would be reckless). What we have been left with is a huge fillip to the likes of the British National Party - what better than to have "foreign" murderers and rapists walking the streets, stalking our white women to get the racist and non-racist but angry out to vote for them next Thursday? Even more despicable is the fact that there was another apparent racist murder last Friday in Kent, but in this climate it's unlikely to lead to a backlash against the likes of the BNP.

For once, I agree with the Sun. Clarke must go, but so must Blair, his cronies, cohorts and allies. We need a fresh start, and if we don't have it now, we must have it after the local elections.

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Tuesday, April 25, 2006 

Charles Clarke gets stuffed.

Clarke's bitter attack on the "poisonous" liberal media has not gone down well over on the Guardian's Comment is Free blog, as you might well have imagined. The best comment by far has been Mamluqy's:

Mr Clarke. You remind me of a bully who bullies a boy for a long period of time. The boy gets fed up of being bullied and one day strikes back at the bully. The bully is stunned by the audacity of the boy and retorts 'Why did you hit me?' Your policies and the policies of your predecessor the now-shamed David Blunkett have attacked the principles of democracy at their core. Now that you are facing some opposition and you are not able to get your anti-democratic policies through without resistance, you cry foul. The media Mr Charles Clarke are completely fed up of the erosion of civil liberties in this country as are the british people. Your use of the politics of fear and your so-called war on terrorism is leading to this country becoming a police state. You were quick to take up the Metropolitan police commissioner's proposal that suspected terrorists should be locked up without charge for a period of 90 days. Fortunately Parliament rejected your attack on civil liberty in that case. You justified your decision to support this proposal by claiming that the police are at the forefront of fighting terrorism in this country and so should be allowed to come up with such draconian measures. You however were not too keen in taking up the police's advise that 24 hour drink licences would lead to greater anti-social behaviour. In fact you went against it. You seem to justify your decisions with whatever is most convenient. The police seem to be setting down the agenda, not the government hence the term 'police state'. You show utter contempt at rulings by the law lords that your detention of terrorist suspects without charge in prisons and your control orders are illegal and defies human rights. You are an utterly abhorrent man. You use democracy when it suits you and completely disregard it when it suits your purposes. Mr Clarke, you should be ashamed of yourself and hold your head down in shame.

It's also spawned a whole series of articles on the blog itself by those fighting back against his claims. Jon Norton has the nail right on the head in his analysis of the Blair dynamic:

We have seen before the Manichaean view that the prime minister takes of the world. His famous speech to the Labour Party conference, when he spoke of the forces of conservatism, was a good example of this; he gave us a personal list of people he did not like who were holding back the progress of this country. There were the good guys and the bad. Grey areas, subtlety and debate were not to be tolerated. It was also to be seen in his strange reference to God regarding his decision to take us to war with Iraq. The pros and cons for that action cannot be debated, because Tony knew it was the right thing to do.
In the view of Clarke and Blair, there is no middle way, except for the "third way". Either you are with us or against us. This was shown in the debate over 90 days; the likes of the Sun and Express took the side of Blair, while almost all the rest of the media was pitted against him, Clarke and the other Blair (Ian). It didn't matter if they used images of those injured in the 7/7 bombings who hadn't gave their permission and were actually opposed to the government's policy, a good illustration matters more than fact. When Blair was defeated, he said he'd rather be right about something and be defeated than know he was wrong and win. They constantly bring up what they say is public support for their measures without providing evidence, or if there is, it tends be on the basis of one poll, where another often contradicts it.

Again, it soon becomes clear why Clarke staged his attack on the Guardian and Independent yesterday. It was to try to soften the insults which will now be thrown at him by those he was wooing with his speech.

The Conservatives today accused Home Office ministers of serial incompetence after an admission by the home secretary that more than 1,000 foreign prisoners, including murderers, had been freed without being considered for deportation.

Charles Clarke admitted that 1,023 former foreign prisoners should have been considered for deportation, including three murderers and nine rapists.

In a briefing to journalists at the Home Office Mr Clarke apologised for the failures, which were made between February 1999 and March 2006, and conceded that the mistakes would understandably prompt anger. He later said the blunder was not a "resigning issue".

The prime minister's official spokesman said later that Tony Blair viewed the failure as "deeply regrettable" but was confident that ministers had now taken appropriate action to deal with the problem.

After complaints from the opposition, Commons speaker Michael Martin will ask Mr Clarke to explain why he made the statement to journalists and not to MPs, and is reported to be seriously considering requests to force the home secretary to make a statement in parliament. The shadow home secretary, David Davis, said: "This astonishing admission by the Home Office is the latest in a long line of failures which have jeopardised the protection of the public. 160 of these offenders were recommended for deportation as part of their sentencing but, of these offenders, only five have been deported. This serial incompetence beggars belief. The home secretary urgently needs to come to the House of Commons to explain the situation."
Why did Clarke make this briefing to journalists and not MPs? Why, there's an election campaign on of course! It's much easier to give a statement to journalists, where you can constrain them from asking troublesome questions, while in the House of Commons ministers have to give way to other MPs who want to make their own point. It's not made clear yet how the remainder of the men other than the 160 were considered for deportation, but not shipped out of the country when their jail terms ended. There is however no excuse whatsoever for not carrying out the orders of the courts in regard to the 160 who were recommended for deportation. Rather than being tagged or kept tabs on, the Home Office has seemingly completely lost contact with them. Some may have left the country of their own volition. The others are instead free in this country when they at the least should have been under close surveillance if they were appealing against their deportation. It will most definitely prompt anger, especially in those who couldn't give a stuff about civil liberties, such as the Sun. Like a boyfriend who doesn't want to alarm his girlfriend or her parents by the noise he makes when he goes to the toilet, he has laid down a layer of tissue in advance. That is the real reason why Clarke attacked those big hitters Jenni Russell and Henry Porter.

This comes on top of today's poll in the Guardian which showed that Labour has slipped 5% since last month, with concern surrounding the loans-for-peerages scandal, which came right after the Tessa mortgage debacle, itself never properly resolved. The Liberal Democrats, making a major comeback after their own internal catastrophes, are up to 24%, with the Tories on 34% unchanged and still without a major boost after Cameron's honeymoon. All bodes ill for the local elections, with Blair and Clarke on the offensive on law and order before revealing their own failures in dealing with the prison system and courts.

Labour now has to realise that it is coming towards the crossroads. It must make the decision about way which it is going; it can either continue to regard itself as the solution and everyone else as wrong, or it can start to listen to the constructive criticism that is being made from all sides of the political spectrum. Some commentators have been right that the battle over civil liberties has been to do with other opposition to Labour policies just as much traditional concern about authoritarianism. It's just that civil liberties at the moment seem to the defining issue, along with foreign policy, that Labour is not listening on, when it promised it would. Blair and his supporters have prostituted themselves completely to the likes of Rupert Murdoch, and are still relying on the same prescription just as the patient seems to realise that it rather likes the taste of the medicine which the other side is now offering. (Yes, I realise I'm stretching this metaphor rather far.) They can either up the dose, as they seem to have been doing in the last couple of days, especially to mask other failings, or they can abandon it and try something new. Blair is not willing to do this, and it's why he must go. Gordon Brown must make his move, and clear out the Blairite dead wood from the cabinet. If he doesn't, then Labour really will lose the remainder of its core support and once again have to spend a generation in opposition sorting itself out. Blair no longer works. Brown must be given his turn.

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Monday, April 24, 2006 

An open letter to Charles Clarke.

Dear Charles Clarke,
Having read your speech today to the LSE, in which you focus your attention on civil liberties and the media, you say that a "pernicious and even dangerous poison" is now slipping into some parts of the media view of the world, following the fall of the Soviet Union and the peaceful end of apartheid. You go on to say that commentators routinely use language such as "fascist", "police state", 'hijacking our democracy', 'creeping authoritarianism' and 'destruction of the rule of law'.

Of course, you are fully entitled to your view. However, I would like you to personally point where any mainstream media commentator has described, not alluded to, your government as "fascist". I would like to see where it has been described as a "police state". Pub debate might use such words, as might those on internet message boards, but I would like to see you show me them in the broadsheet press as you apparently describe, directly accusing the government of being such. Then you go on to "hijacking our democracy", "creeping authoritarianism" and "destruction of the rule of law". While the first and last are more difficult to prove and rather more of an exaggerated criticism, what would you personally describe your government's policies as, other than as "creeping authoritarianism"? Common sense, perhaps? What would you call a government that wished to lock up suspects for up to 90 days without trial, by far the longest period that would be allowed in the Western world, and certainly in Europe, other than authoritarian? I could list other policies of your government which I would describe as authoritarian, but I will move on.

Later in your speech you make a reference to Simon Carr's article in the Independent. To quote you:
Or what about the statement: "People wearing satirical T-shirts in a "designated area" may be arrested under the Prevention of Terrorism Act. The City of London is a permanently 'designated area'". Wrong again. There is no such provision in any Prevention of Terrorism Act. Nor is there any law against bad taste in t-shirts as long as they do not, for example, incite murder.

No, the city of London isn't a designated area. Within a mile of Parliament is a designated area however, as you well know. As for the t-shirt, what about the case of John Catt, who was stopped for wearing a t-shirt which read "Bush Blair Sharon to be tried for war crimes torture human rights abuse"? He was stopped and searched under the reason "terrorism", aka the infamous section 44 of the Terrorism act. The form filled out by the police officer read carrying "plackard [sic] and T-shirt with anti-Blair info". In the eyes of that police officer, protesting against this government seems to give reason to suspect that person of terrorism.

And isn't that really the problem? The laws you passed have been vague, badly drafted and then abused by the police. I'd like to think when the Terrorism act was drawn up that the last thing the ministers would thought it would be used for would be harassing demonstrators, such as the man above. Yet that is what is increasingly happening.

You go on to mention the national identity scheme, and challenge what you regard as myths. You say:

The National Identity Scheme is being introduced to safeguard people's identities, not track their lifestyle or activities. The information that can be held on the National Identity Register covers only basic personal information roughly the same as that needed for a passport. It will not include details of withdrawals of cash from bank accounts, medical records or even whether someone has obtained a fishing licence.

It will not include medical records. Perhaps you would like to take this opportunity to deny yesterday's report in the Sunday Times that people will be encouraged to do exactly the opposite:
IDENTITY cards are to carry medical details, despite repeated government assurances that concerns about privacy meant it would not happen.

A minister at the Home Office disclosed it wants people to put personal health information on the cards to give doctors information for emergencies.

Card-holders will be urged to volunteer details of blood group, allergies, and whether they wish to donate organs. Ministers stressed there would be no compulsion.

Andy Burnham, a junior Home Office minister with responsibility for promoting ID cards, said there was an “impressive benefits case” for use of the cards by the NHS.

Yes, it will be voluntary. Yet wasn't that what your manifesto promised about ID cards themselves? It was only thanks to a compromise between the Lords and the Houses of Parliament that that was (barely) carried through. You yourself tried every trick possible to get the cards to be compulsory after 2010.

Again, you go on to talk about how spontaneous protests outside parliament are now banned:
For example, on whether "People can protest in Parliament Square only with the written permission of the police. Where 'reasonably practical', six days notice must be given." But what is not added is that in some cases 24 hours notice is sufficient. Or that since the legislation came into effect last August, 157 demonstrations have taken place in Parliament Square ranging from human rights in Burma to a protest about the right to protest itself. Organisers of demonstrations must give prior notice to the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, who is then obliged to authorise the demonstration although he may attach conditions to the authorisation where it is necessary. This is more or less the same as the situation that prevailed in the 1970s when I myself organised demonstrations in Parliament Square.

Excuse me for missing the point, but isn't the banning of demonstrations, the arrest and possible imprisonment as a result of simply exercising a democratic right in what is a public place absolutely alien to what a democracy should be? It's very nice that we can get permission within 24 hours rather than six days, but that means nothing to the likes of Milan Rai who was convicted of reading out the names of the Iraqi war dead at the cenotaph. Should someone have a criminal record for doing something so slight, and what you yourself did similiarly in the past? You mention there have been 157 demonstrations since the law came into effect. How many of those were actually within the law and fully authorised by the police? I somehow doubt that every single one was. Indeed, if they weren't, then why haven't those people been prosecuted like Maya Evans? Or have the police simply taken photographs of them for their records? You also don't mention that megaphones are completely banned from such demonstrations, which are vital tools for addressing a crowd. Isn't that a basic infringement of liberties?

I could go on, but I suspect you have better uses of your time, and so do I. However, I'd like to leave you with a reminder of some of the other media which graces our newsagents. In your attacks and disagreements with the Observer, Guardian and Independent, you don't mention the likes of the Sun, Express and Daily Mail. Could this be because they are broadly supportive of your measures, while the above have been mildly critical? I may be being slightly glib, but Tony Blair seems almost to believe that anything that the Sun newspaper supports the public supports. Blair and the Sun were vociferous in support of the 90 day detention without trial part of the last Terrorism act. The Sun called those who voted against it "traitors". It did so on its front page. Isn't that a more worrying example of poisonous language, only likely to make those who read it even more cynical and dismissive of politicians? Now Blair seems to think that his proposed changes, such as that on drug dealers, are also supported by the public and that the "liberal" media are out of touch. Again, it seems likely that the Sun would support him.

I look forward to when you dedicate a speech to correcting the likes of the above over their distortions, falsehoods and downright lies. I expect I'll be waiting a long time, as that's unlikely to win votes and the support of the populists, as opposed to bashing the Guardian and Independent will in the battle for the minds of Rupert Murdoch and Paul Dacre.



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Saturday, April 22, 2006 

Paper-watch: Same shit, different day redux.

Continuing the tradition of the Queen having two birthdays, the media seems to be trying to stretch the Queen's 80th birthday out for around two weeks. After all, it's easier to dispatch some work experience kid to Windsor than to actually bother reporting on real news, like what's happening in Nepal or on the lies and casual racism of the BNP, reported on by both the Guardian and Independent. Then again, the constant bringing up of "asylum seekers" definitely has some of its roots with the mid-market tabloids and the Sun's obsession with those who are fleeing persecution, only to be persecuted here by the ignorant. Stuff like that costs money and time.

The theme of the day seems to allusions to Diana, who only after her death was referred to as "the people's Princess" by Blair and the "Princess of our hearts" by various other people, including the Glenda Slagg's who only the week before she died had been calling her bulimic and criticising her choice of the playboy Dodi Al-Fayed as a partner. The Times goes with the "people's Queen", although the Queen may well see it the other way round. The Sexpress goes with "thousands sharing her joy", although it seems that most of Britain couldn't have cared less about her 80th birthday, but have had to put with at least two weeks of tedium about what a wonderful person she is. The Queen also seemed rather hurried to get away from the people who follow her around everywhere like flies attracted to a shit wrapped up in a pink dress, avoiding eye contact and not answering questions.

The Daily Mail goes with Prince Charles's loving comments on his darling mother, of course ignoring his rather obvious wish for her to shuffle off this mortal coil so he can get on with the job, something that he's been straining at the leash about for quite a while.

Finally then, the Daily Star leads on the fascinating story that Victoria Beckham has Germanic roots. Could the choice of today to splash on this tale be possibly related to the fact that the Queen herself, has err, German ancestors? Surely shome mishtake? Oh, and the Star of course has to illustrate this point by putting Victoria's head on someone wearing a Nazi uniform, because as a country we don't have problems about letting go of the second world war, not at all.

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Friday, April 21, 2006 


From one Queen that's reigning to another that some seem to think is reigning. Cherie Blair was yesterday exposed as using the Labour party's money to pay for her hairstylist's £275 a day bill.

There's little doubting that some sections of the media have been out to get Cherie Blair for a long time. While the Daily Mail and Telegraph were still in love with Blair himself up till late last year, especially in the aftermath of the London bombings, there's long been animosity between Cherie and the press. Some of it is down to the fact that she ticks all the boxes for what the likes of the Mail and Sun hate; she's a self-made woman and not only that, but also a human rights lawyer. She juggles children and her work, the kind of thing which the Mail sneers at. But then there's her other side, the side of her which believes in the crap of the likes of Carole Caplin, her supposed rebirthing with Blair in Mexico, her book on the women of Downing Street, the freebies she took her while she was giving speeches in Australia, and of course her involvement with the known fraudster Peter Foster.

It's therefore hard to be sympathetic with the bashing she's getting over the bill she's left the Labour party with. While the press would of course have revelled in pointing out if she'd looked dowdy or otherwise during the campaign, what sort of person needs a personal stylist that charges more for one day's work than some get in benefits in a month, or what some get in wages in a week? One that seems to be increasingly out of touch with those whom that Labour is meant to represent. Hannah Pool over on Comment is Free seems to think that £275 is err, quite cheap to some people, which misses the point by a mile. Oh, and after you've had a £275 haircut, there's no way you can go back to a £50 one darling. That would be just too proletarian, know what I mean?

Why should the Labour party pay for her haircuts or stylist? Doesn't she make enough out of her work as a QC or from the royalties from her book to pay her own way? Or is that asking too much? The official Labour response has been "so what?", which pretty much sums up what the listening Blair promised to do when he was re-elected has amounted to.

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The Queen at 80: Like a boil that you can't lance.

For about the last two weeks the BBC, ITV and tabloid media have been leading up to the Queen's 80th birthday, printing 80 facts about her, running various documentaries and printing new portraits. Sometimes it's hard to be an anti-monarchist when the media still seems to be under the grip of the conceit that the Queen is what makes Britain "great". Then again, when you see the complete crap the tabloids printed today, you realise that surely this institution cannot last much longer.

The Scum picks up on the fact that old Brenda said she wanted a sunny day, and decides to twist into it to making it look as if she wanted a copy of their soiled rag. Top class stuff from Rebekah Wade. Let's just hope the Sun doesn't last 80 years.

The Diana Express decides to take a break from implying that the Queen in some way was involved in the death of her son's ex-wife, and instead wishes the Queen a very happy birthday. How kind. It's worth noting that the Star, Desmond's other rag, doesn't make any mention of the Queen on its front page. Has Desmond finally realised that his and al-Fayed's obsession with royalty doesn't sell papers?

And then we have the Daily Mail, using the same photo as the Sexpress and rather optimistically stating that Britain is saluting her. They seem to have forgotten about those of us who'd certainly not shed any tears if her head ended up seperated from her neck, like one of her predecessors who shares her son's name. Oh yeah, it's much easier to pretend we just don't exist.

It's times like this that you're thankful for the Independent's sometimes odd choices for their front page splash.

Their parallel is with the situation in Nepal where King Gyanendra last year dismissed parliament and seized absolute power in a supposed constitutional monarchy. His orders to the army and police, to shoot peaceful protestors who were on the streets during curfew, has led to the deaths of at least 14 people. Despite today saying that he would return power to the political parties, it seems unlikely at the moment that this will be enough to end the crisis. The people of Nepal may yet go the whole way and do what we in this country should urge when the Queen's reign comes to an end.

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Thursday, April 20, 2006 

Tough on crime, tough on the victims of others crime.

Angela Cannings, who has had a compensation claim blocked for the 18 months she spent in prison after being convicted for killing her two children, as she was cleared not due to newly discovered facts, but because the scientific evidence given was discredited. The man who gave that evidence, Sir Roy Meadow, has since been reinstated on the medical register and had the general medical council's ruling that he had been guilty of serious professional misconduct for providing erroneous evidence overturned. The GMC is to appeal.

You sometimes have to wonder whether New Labour is actually a lot more organised and coherent in its thinking than it seems to be. Alongside today's rushed announcements regarding violent offenders, following the murder of Mary-Ann Leneghan and John Monckton among others by men who had been released from prison on probation, Charles "No Trousers" Clarke announced that the maximum amount of money available to victims of miscarriages of justice is to be capped, and that the Home Office is considering introducing the "not proven" verdict of the Scottish system into the English legal system. Perhaps realising that with the ever screaming tabloids demanding inexorable crackdowns, with yet more summary justice and ASBOs likely to be introduced also, that capping the amount of money to those who are wrongly jailed is going to make sense. After all, it's much more likely that more innocent people will be found guilty in this climate.

The package of changes to the compensation scheme for victims of miscarriages of justice will save about £5m a year out of a total annual bill of £8m. Some will have immediate effect. The government will no longer pay compensation above what is required by international obligations and so has now closed its discretionary payment scheme.

In one case under the discretionary scheme cited by Mr Clarke, a man convicted of smuggling offences for which he was fined and ordered to pay costs was awarded a seven-figure sum even though he had not even been to prison.

The statutory scheme paying out the minimum required by international obligations will continue and claimants will have the right to sue in the civil courts for compensation. Time limits are to be introduced for all applications.

The average time taken to settle cases has now reached more than three years, with five cases having taken more than 10 years to resolve.


Mr Clarke is to introduce legislation capping the maximum award at £500,000 under the scheme, plus compensation for loss of earnings. Payments have increased sharply in recent years, with the average now more than £250,000 and with more than 10% paid in legal fees. In one unidentified case more than £2.1m was paid out. A limit is also to be placed on the amount of legal aid available in such cases. Earnings compensation will be limited to one and half times gross average industrial earnings.


The government will further limit the compensation payments made by giving an independent assessor the power to make deductions to take account of other convictions and the defendant's behaviour during the trial. In exceptional cases the compensation could be reduced to nil because of criminal convictions or the defendant's failure to be helpful in court.

The whole thing seems to have a scrooge mentality surrounded by it, as pointed out in the Guardian leader. Admittedly, it is difficult to put a price on the ruining of a life, the years spent in prison wrongly and the effects on the convicted's family and friends. Even so, the government's capping of the rate at £500,000 doesn't seem very high when someone has spent 15 years in prison for a crime they didn't commit. As for the deductions part, apparently having a criminal record may now mean that someone wrongly convicted of another crime may well get zilch. The failure to be "helpful" in court also seems plainly to be an attempt to stop those who have always maintained their innocence from receiving compensation. There are now men and women in prison who have served their life sentences, yet cannot be released from prison on parole because they show no remorse for their crimes, because they continue to claim to be innocent and refuse to give in to a system that demands they repent for crimes they didn't commit. This new policy seems to be a furthering of that.

In an extraordinary piece of doublespeak, Clarke said this of the proposed reforms:
"The changes I have announced today will create a fairer, simpler and speedier system for compensating miscarriages of justice."

Fairer in that any award will capped at a certain amount, simpler in that the system will be able to turn down compensation awards for more reasons, and speedier in doing just that. Yes, Charles's logic is coming on leaps and bounds.

Then there's the proposals to tackle the failings of the probation service in a tiny few but high profile cases.

The orders could ban high-risk offenders from certain locations and impose a range of other conditions, although these do not include curfews. Breaking the orders could lead to up to five years in jail, Mr Clarke told MPs.

A lot of probation orders already do ban high-risk offenders from certain locations. In the case of Damien Hanson, who murdered John Monckton, he was banned from the area from which he was meant to report. This was not to do with inadequacy of the probation system, but the individual failings of some of the officers themselves. Erwin James writes today that two men he knows are also under orders which they have to break to follow. It seems that these orders are written by different people who then don't bother to check if their plans for the offender overlap. Clarke himself admits that the real problem is:
"no risk can ever be eliminated".

And that is the problem. We can't lock violent offenders right up until their sentence is over and then dump them back out on the street. That's even more dangerous than the current scheme which is in place, yet that is of course the solution which the tabloids and Victor Bates, husband of a woman shot dead by a man out on probation propose. As the head of the probation service points out, 95% of those released on parole do not reoffend. Of those that do reoffend, the offence is much more likely to be something such as drug possession or shoplifting than another violent offence.

Clarke's plans then seems obvious: be tough on crime, tough on those who are being released, and tough on those who were innocent in the first place. Whatever happened to being tough on the causes of crime? Oh, that was Gordon Brown's slogan. That explains it.

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Wednesday, April 19, 2006 

Dave the Chameleon: It might be true, but it's not the way to lead a campaign.

Hold the front page! Political party in nasty, personal campaign shock! The attiude of the Daily Telegraph in particular seems rather odd, considering the way down the years that they've led and supported nasty campaigns by the Tories, to now be accusing Blair of resorting to "cartoon jibes". It's even stranger when you consider Cameron's spectacular "Punch and Judy" style attack on Brown in his budget reply, which showed just what a hypocrite he is.

All the fuss is about Labour's local election broadcast which was shown on TV last night and which can be seen here. Featuring a cute computer generated chameleon called Dave, who wears a boater hat to signify his years at Eton and Oxford, then pictured sipping champagne and chatting on a phone while in a stretch limo to signify his years in PR, it's certainly amusing. What's more, the main point, which is that David Cameron changes his message to whoever he's speaking to, and backed up with a document which shows Dave's supposed "flip-flops", is actually factual for a change. The Conservatives at the moment don't really have any fleshed-out policies, although "Dave" is still settling down to be fair.

But what's the real point of the whole thing, other than as something which is only going to appeal to those already fully-signed up Labour supporters? There's not a single policy mention in it; it doesn't even bother to set out why Labour would be better than Dave the Chameleon. All it shows is that Labour are clutching at straws, finding it preferable to show how clever their marketing people are and how they can point out what is obvious to most people, rather than actually saying how they're going to improve the councils which their candidates are fighting to get on or stay on. Which is perhaps just as well, because the only thing they ever seem able to come up with is "err, we're not the BNP!"
Perhaps the best riposte is over on Beau Bo D'Or:

Not that the Conservatives themselves have any better ideas of how to run a campaign. Their meaningless slogan of the week is "vote blue, go green", which is remarkably similar in its vacuousness to "forward, not back!" and if you "value it, vote for it!" although it doesn't approach the head-smackingly bad "are you thinking what we're thinking?". Answer: if I was, I'd seriously consider putting a bullet through my brain.

Oh, and Sir Menzies Campbell has sold his Jaguar. Perhaps I need that bullet after all.

And anyway, unless Blair goes, don't vote Labour.

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Express-watch: Waste of our cash!

Ah, how nice of the Daily Express to tell us what is and isn't a waste of "our" cash. I wonder how much money has been plowed into the pointless inquiry into Diana's death, which for once the Express doesn't splash on today. Said inquiry, led by former Knacker of the Yard Stevens when he isn't writing his obnoxious rants for the News of the Screws, already seems to have come to the conclusion that Henri Paul was drunk, on medication and crashed because of those things, and that Diana would have survived if she'd been wearing a seatbelt. Exactly what we already knew.

How nice of them also to provide such an obvious juxtaposition on the front page - "Why Queen must reign over us all her life" which seems to suggest that she owns us in some way. How much does the worthless, useless, obsolete, anachronistic royal family cost us every year? A lot more than a sex change operation costs, that's how much.

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Tuesday, April 18, 2006 

de Menezes: Brian Paddick speaks honestly and gets retired for doing so.

A high profile Scotland Yard officer who has repeatedly clashed with his bosses over the killing of Jean Charles de Menezes faces being ousted from his job, the Guardian has learned.

Brian Paddick gave evidence to the official inquiry into the shooting of the Brazilian at Stockwell tube station last July, that challenged claims by his boss, the Metropolitan police commissioner Sir Ian Blair, and is also facing an allegation that he leaked information about the killing to a BBC journalist.

Mr Paddick told the Independent Police Complaints Commission investigation into the commissioner's conduct, that officials within Sir Ian's own office feared the wrong man had been killed just hours after the shooting. Sir Ian has repeatedly said that he and his aides had no inkling until the morning of the next day that the man shot eight times by officers hunting suicide bombers was in fact innocent.

The trickle of information surrounding the execution of Jean Charles de Menezes continues. The IPCC has not yet finished its second inquiry, the first already done and dusted, and the CPS is apparently still considering whether charges are to be brought. The second inquiry, surrounding "Sir" Ian Blair's conduct on the day and in the immediate aftermath, is currently impossible to read. What seems to be gradually coming to the fore though is that Blair himself may well have been telling the truth all along.

The Met, and Blair are still adamant that they did not know until the following Saturday morning that an innocent man had been shot dead by CO19, the Met's elite firearms squad. Brian Paddick, along with others, have been challenging that explanation which was given to the IPCC. Paddick claims that senior officials within Blair's own office knew within hours that an innocent man had been shot dead. Blair's own explanation, that he gave to the News of the World, was that he came in on Saturday morning only to be told the equivalent of Nasa scientists by astronauts in space: "Houston, we have a problem."

Paddick's claims deserve further looking into. One person at the Met has already claimed that the operation on July the 22nd was a "complete and utter fuck-up", from beginning to end. Mistakes were made from the beginning, when the officer monitoring the flats where de Menezes lived failed to properly identify him, as he was "relieving" himself at the time. De Menezes was followed, yet he was allowed to get off and then back on the bus on finding that the tube station he normally embarked at was shut, for what was a very short space of time. On arriving at Stockwell, de Menezes was allowed to enter the tube station, the CO19 officers who were following him, apparently uncertain of what to do, or panicking at not being given permission immediately by Cressida Dick to shoot the man that they were under the impression was one of the previous days attempted suicide bombers, preceded to run after him once he had already had the chance to pick up a copy of the Metro newspaper and enter the barriers using his Oyster card. That when de Menezes entered the carriage he was immediately apprehended by yet another police officer, who got him on the floor and put his hands behind his back, while the CO19 officers entered the carriage and proceeded to put 7 bullets in his head and another 3 in his shoulder, shows that he could have been contained without being shot in the first place. A special branch officer later in the day altered the official log, which had originally said "and it was Osman" in relation to a positive identification of who they thought de Menezes was to "and it was not Osman".

A quick examination of de Menezes body, which must have taken place shortly after his death would have confirmed that he had not been carrying any explosives or wearing a suicide belt. So why was this information not given quickly to the Met, who would have been able to discount the account of at least one witness, who claimed he saw an explosives belt? Paddick's claims that the officers knew within hours that the wrong man had been shot dead would tally with this. What seems to have happened is that "Sir" Ian Blair was kept out of the loop on all of this. Quick pathology tests would have established if de Menezes head was all but destroyed, as seems likely seeing as the police used "dum dum" bullets, that he was not their suspect. Again, this seems not to have been passed on to Blair until the following day.

So why was Blair kept of the loop? Without access to the full IPCC reports, it's impossible to know for sure. It could be that as the police quickly realised that an innocent man had been executed that they could use the death to get rid of their "politically correct" head. The mistakes of not correcting the wrong witness reports, the claims that de Menezes had not stopped when ordered, despite never being ordered to, and had not been positively identified completely, did not emerge until later, yet they seem to have been confused as the events didn't become clear until later. It may similarly be that he was kept out of the loop because it was feared that Blair would break the news too quickly, and perhaps frighten the public even more, in that the police seemed to be randomly shooting any person who looked slightly like their suspects. The other option is that Blair is not properly in control of those just below himself in the police hierarchy. The leaking and briefing which has gone on against Blair in the last few months may be testament to this. While there may not have been an active conspiracy among them to get rid of him, they may also work autonomously of someone who they do not respect.

None of this shows the Met in a good light. Brian Paddick, a man already hated amongst those on the right for introducing the softly-softly approach on cannabis in Brixton which was later adopted by the Home Secretary when the drug was downgraded to Class C, probably didn't need to do much to get himself removed out of the limelight by those opposed to Blair's reforms of the Met. The possibility that de Menezes was shot simply because he could be, in order to show the screaming tabloids that something was being done about the security situation, and the government, which was cowering in the face of those screams, has not yet been fully discounted. Ian Blair has not yet been cleared. The Met and all those involved in the shooting of Jean Charles will continue to be under a shadow until the IPCC reports are released in full. While those reports should not be rushed, and the CPS should be careful in deciding what to do following the first report, the sooner that we get the reports the better. Only then can the police know what has to be to done to stop this terrible tragedy happening again, and only then will the public be reassured that such a frightening mistake will also not happen again.

Previous postings on Jean Charles de Menezes can be found

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Monday, April 17, 2006 

New Labour, same old corruption.

It seems that the Labour apparatchiks have already giving up on countering the claim that the loans-for-peerages affair is anything other than a brazen attempt to ennoble a bunch of rich businessmen who loaned Labour money. After all, why not just be up front and admit it? Don't the public respect honesty?

Downing Street changed tack in the "cash for honours" controversy yesterday by openly asserting it had always wanted business sponsors of city academy schools to join the House of Lords, arguing that their personal knowledge of the government's education programme would add to the debate in the upper house.

There had been no automatic link between funding academies and an honour, the No 10 source insisted, but nor was there an attempt to disguise the government's desire to have business educationalists in the Lords. The Downing Street source said two businessmen had been put forward for political peerages due to their knowledge of the government's academy programme, and not in return for giving sponsorship to the academies. "We are being upfront abut this. If they were willing to give the time, effort and money to support the academies programme, we wanted to put them in the Lords." All such nominations were scrutinised by the independent Appointments Commission, with some rejected and some accepted.

Eight sponsors of the 27 academies have received some form of honour.

Ah yes, due to their knowledge of the government's academy programme. See, the House of the Lords has been rebelling against Labour more and more, not because they just feel like it, but because this government has been one of the worse for coming up with legislation on the back of a fag packet as the result of a tabloid front-page, even worse with actually drafting the legislation, and then there's the actuality of the policy they're putting into law in the first place. So, why not fill the whole place with people who are loaning you money and who have set up academies so they can mould teenagers in their image, destined to never question anything, respect business and think that a life of shelf stacking with the dangled carrot of a management position is all that's worth aspiring to? They're much more likely to be loyal to your position than that the rabble who are nominally Labour peers.

What more evidence do you need, when Lord Charlie Falconer, the Dear Leader's ex-flat mate; Lord Adonis, the real education secretary who has never faced the electorate; Lord Drayson, aka Lord Smallpox ex-head of Powderject, who sold the government the vaccine in the panic following 9/11 and the anthrax scare; and who could forget Lord Sainsbury, who has bank-rolled the party for years, are all ministers? Let's hear no more about Labour sleaze, because their heart is in the right place, and just look at the top class public servants those who have been ennobled so far are!

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Diana-watch: Same shit, different day.

In Steve Bell's If... Harold Hardnose is a tabloid editor. He decides against splashing a "face of evil" two days running, fearing that it's likely to be taking the punters for granted. It seems that he could learn some lessons from Peter Hill and Dirty Desmond. Today's Express runs on the front page with:
which bears a startling resemblance to:
which was the front page of the Diana Express just 11 days ago.

Either they think that the majority of Express readers can't remember that far back, or they really are taking their punters, of which there is a fast decreasing number, for granted.

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Saturday, April 15, 2006 

Oh joy: They want even more time for you to shop until you drop.

In the retail year, tomorrow is unique: Easter Sunday is the only Sunday when there is no chance of a trip to Tesco or a garden centre.

But this year could be the last guaranteed day of rest for shopworkers. The Department of Trade and Industry is considering a change in the law which prevents big stores from opening for more than six hours on a Sunday and would sweep away the ban on Easter Day trading. Opposition is mounting and battlelines are being drawn.

The campaign to extend Sunday opening hours is being co-ordinated by the lobby group Deregulate, which argues that "shoppers should be allowed to do their shopping then they want", and that ending the Sunday trading rules would fit in with the government's drive to slash red tape. "If the government is serious about de-regulation then it can scrap a piece of unnecessary legislation now", said David Ramsden, the Deregulate chairman.

Deregulate is financed by seven leading retailers together with the Horticultural Trades Association, which represents 2,500 garden centres, and Peel Holdings, owners of the 280-store Trafford Centre in Manchester. The retailers backing the group are Next, Game, Hobbycraft, Ikea, Kingfisher (B&Q), Asda and Tesco.

Lined up against them are a wide variety of interest groups, ranging from small business groups to the shopworkers' union Usdaw, the Keep Sunday Special campaign, supported by the Mothers' Union and the United Reform Church, and some 220 MPs who have signed an early day motion opposing the liberalisation of the Sunday trading laws.

On the face of it, the rules on Sunday trading are archaic, and are influenced by the church in a nation which no longer sees Sunday as a special day. What better reason then to sweep them away, and reinforce Britain's image as the true secular nation of Europe?

Then we find out who the major backers of this "Deregulate" group are. Of them, Asda and Tesco increasingly open every single one of their major stores for 24 hours. They have to shut at around 10pm on a Saturday before they can reopen at either 10 or 11 the next day, to then close at either 4 or 5. IKEA and Kingfisher operate some of the biggest eyesores in the country, the monolithic huge warehouses filled with either crap chic furniture or every item associated with DIY under the sun, which also increasingly open later and later. Only Game and Next are real high street retailers, who don't have many major-of-town stores on the much unloved industrial estates.

The only two days on which all the major retail businesses have to shut are Easter Sunday and Christmas Day. Some also shut on Boxing Day, but that's down to individual choice on their behalf. Is it not too much to ask for employees not to be in some cases ordered in to work on just two days a year? As for Sunday trading, all those who want to open when they like already open longer and longer, and in some cases have websites which don't have any such restrictions. Is it also too much to ask for them to only be allowed to open for 6 hours one day a week? It gives all the workers some additional time to spend in either leisure or with their families. This is without even going into the further effect it will have on the small businesses, which if the government predictions are anything to go by, will have ceased to exist by 2015 because of the buying power, intimidatory tactics and arrogance of the likes of Tesco and Asda. Capitalism ensares and debases us all as it is, and any further liberalisation of opening hours would just be a sop to the likes of the CBI, whose only remit is to increase profits and lobby government to crush any opposition to that ideology.

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Friday, April 14, 2006 

Random drug tests for all! Hallelujah!

Sometimes the policies of the government on education make you wonder whether there's a grand conspiracy between them and some of the "old-school" teachers, the sort who hated children and were only in the profession to pass on their bitterness and cynicism. Random drug testing in one school has apparently "worked", says everyone's favourite member of Opus Dei, Ruth Kelly. She's proposing that headteachers across the country should follow the lead of the Abbey school in Faversham, Kent.

Speaking at the NASUWT conference in Birmingham, Ms Kelly told delegates the school had seen a marked improvement in performance since the scheme started and said she would welcome other schools adopting a similar scheme.

"Drugs is ... an issue which is not going away in schools," she said. "I was looking at the evidence from the Abbey school the other day where they have tried random drug testing and found that a hugely effective way of creating peer pressure against taking drugs in school."

The Abbey school has seen GCSE exam results improve significantly after introducing random testing. The school selects 20 pupils by computer each week who then take the tests, during which they are swabbed by specially trained staff.

The samples are sent off to a laboratory where they are checked for traces of drugs such as cannabis, cocaine and ecstasy.

Yesterday Peter Walker, the headteacher who introduced the scheme, said the government's support was "very important". More than 500 pupils had been tested and only one had proved positive. "The school has had the best 18 months in its history and its best exam results," he said. Tests had given pupils a reason not to take drugs.

Err, creating peer pressure? Surely what she means is creating fear in the children that their activities outside of school would as a result be found out, that they may well be expelled for doing so, and that their parents would be informed. Drugs have never been a major issue of peer pressure in schools, in comparison to wearing the "right" clothes, or being in with the popular children. Drug use is usually confined to a tiny amount of those who have already given up on school, either in the 10th or 11th year. Most as a result are harmless, and don't interrupt the learning of those who want to be there.

Kelly also hasn't looked at possible other reasons for the increase in good GCSE results. Isn't it possible that the teaching may have improved during the years since the last group had moved up? Or, although this might be considered offensive by some, that the year group whose results have improved were possibly more intelligent than the year before?

More than anything though, isn't random testing manifestly unfair to those who are picked? Wouldn't it be fairer to test the entire year group, all at once, on an unannounced date? Also of concern is that some drugs, such as cannabis, can stay in the body for weeks after use. A teenager may have given into temptation during the school holidays, yet still be found positive for a particular drug.

And that, there, is the rub. What business is it of the school that children take drugs, as long as they are not doing so on the school premises? Taking cannabis, the most used drug among teenagers, is no longer an arrestable offence, even though it remains illegal. Surely such matters should be with the parents, not with teachers who think they know better how to bring up their children? The teenage years are meant to be those in that children experiment, discover themselves and start to figure how what to do with the rest of their lives. The imposition of such rules on those in school - CCTV in the toilets, random bag searches for weapons, uniform that removes any sense of individuality, the Academy scheme in which businesses can have their input on a significant part of the curriculum, in some places in-school police officers or security guards; all suggest that the only interest of government now in education is in turning out unquestioning automatons that can stack the shelves in Tesco, while the same old middle class parents can send their children to the private institutions or the top comprehensives which keep the proles in the same place they've always been. All of which doesn't bode well for the future, and for the government's target of eventually 50% going to university, and in getting more to stay on post-16.

How to change this? Cut the amount of exams taken, and make learning fun again, instead of just teaching the bare minimum that will result in the passing of exams. Other suggestions are very welcome.

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Thursday, April 13, 2006 

Regulatory reform bill to be cut down to size (hopefully).

Both the Financial Times and Grauniad are reporting that the government is to write new safeguards into the The Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill (aka the abolition of parliament bill), although seemingly only because the chief whip in the Lords warned that otherwise it would get defeated.

Jim Murphy, the cabinet office minister in charge of the legislation, told the Guardian yesterday that including the safeguards would make it impossible to use the law to make constitutional changes. He stressed its sole purpose was to cut red tape and insisted opponents had overhyped its implications.

Tories and Lib Dems had dubbed it the "parliamentary scrutiny (abolition) bill", arguing it was so loosely drafted it could be used to repeal or amend almost any law without the proper scrutiny or approval of MPs, even allowing constitutional changes such as the abolition of the Scottish parliament, on the basis of very brief debates in the chamber and in committee.

They feared that even if the government abided by its promise not to use it for controversial measures, future ministers might be less scrupulous.

At present the protections in the bill only prevent ministers from using it to impose or increase taxation, to create a new criminal offence carrying a sentence of more than two years, or to authorise the forcible entry of property, search and seizure, or compel people to give evidence to police or courts. They would also have to satisfy themselves that the effect of changes were "proportionate".

But Mr Murphy insisted:"It wasn't and isn't our intention to do the sort of things that to some extent have been suggested. There's been hyperbole and ridiculous claims ... This bill is about regulations; it has never been about the constitution. It's about defining the power more precisely to show what it is we seek to do."

He added: "We always said we would listen, and for the last couple of months we have been looking at drafting amendments to do two things: deliver better regulation agenda but also take the constitutional debate off the table.

"It will make it impossible, not just difficult, to do the sorts of things which some people have raised."

Mr Murphy said he also wanted the amendments, which will be tabled when the bill reaches its report stage in the Commons shortly, to ensure select committees could block contentious changes. "Let's see if we can strengthen those powers, so it is not [just] a convention that we won't override them - I think we need a statutory veto on the face of the bill," he said.

Ministers argue all governments have failed to eradicate unnecessary regulation.

Here's to hoping that the government has realised that even it can't get away with such a sweeping law. Even if it isn't used by this government personally in the way that critics have pointed out it could be, there's always the possibility that a government with even less scruples than this one, difficult as that is to imagine, could take advantage of it in the future.

As Chicken Yogurt points out however, not a single amendment critical of the proposed act was accepted during the last committee stage, and the parliamentary select committees can be stuffed with stooges or right-wing libertarian Tories who only see the regulation side of the bill and not the constitutional side. Chick Yog also points out that unless the list of bills here are made exempt from change under the bill, it's not worth the paper it's written, lest for wiping your nether regions with it. Cutting down needless legislation is one thing, make unacceptable changes to passed acts under the pretence of doing so is quite another, and the way this government has pledged to listen and then done the opposite means that any promises that such changes won't happen should not be taken at face value. Parliament may not be perfect, but it's the best thing we've got. Labour needs to learn that, and Blair's control freakery will not be easily forgotten or forgiven. The Save Parliament campaign is here.

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Self-obsessed lefties pontificate while Iraq burns.

Congratulations then to the humourless navel-gazing leftists who've put out the "Euston manifesto" (introduced here, actual manifesto is here, but Obsolete doesn't recommend reading it, unless you need a sleeping aid.). Come up with in a pub, it glosses over the fact that most of the group got it horrendously wrong over Iraq, states half a dozen principles which even the Tories and maybe UKIP wouldn't disagree with, then comes up with a number of contradictions, including mentioning how evil holocaust deniers are, then in the next sentence it talks about complete freedom of ideas. Presumably that also doesn't include the ideas of the Islamist groupings that make up some of the Stop the War coalition which they are so opposed to.

A completely pointless exercise in self-promotion, Euston should be known as useless. (Both John Kampfner and Daniel Davies provide ripostes.) The left needs to be a broad movement, not to divide and rule itself. That is when the right takes advantage, just as it did in the 80s. Thanks to Euston, we're yet another step closer towards history repeating itself. Oh, and there's the fact that hundreds of Iraqis are still being killed every week, but let's just try to forget about that.

Update: Fisking Central has some more ripostes towards it, although it has to be said many of the contributors to that site also seem very self-righteous, especially the way they're going after Lenin's Tomb.

Oh, and here's by the far the finest response that you'll read to Euston.

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Wednesday, April 12, 2006 

Israel: still killing, and leaving the blame to the "lower orders".

Away from the continuing impasse which is going on regarding Hamas forming a government and the EU and US cutting off direct aid, the situation in Gaza continues to deteriorate. Various groupings continue to launch home-made mortars, sometimes called Qassam rockets, into the towns surrounding the Gaza strip. Most don't reach their target, and those that do usually cause very little damage, yet alone injure or kill anyone. What they do is instill fear and terror into those living in the area. In response, the IDF thinks it's only fair to instill fear and terror into those who live close to those launching the rockets. Only a small difference: since Friday 15 Palestinians have died in the shell attacks.

The Israeli government said yesterday it would continue its bombardment of northern Gaza with an estimated 300 shells a day despite international criticism over the death of a young girl.

Shaul Mofaz, the defence minister who is touring Israel's borders with Gaza, said: "As long as it's not quiet here [in Israel], it won't be quiet there [in Gaza]."

Israeli forces have been firing shells close to Palestinian communities to stop militants from firing rockets at Israeli communities. The army continued to bombard the outskirts of Beit Lahiya yesterday, but Palestinian militants fired their homemade missiles from different residential areas, which they believe are safe from Israeli reprisals.

Kim Howells, the Foreign Office minister, condemned the killing of the girl, Hadeel Ghabeen, whose home in Beit Lahiya was hit by two shells on Monday, and asked the Israeli government to exercise maximum restraint.

"Israel has the right to defend itself, but any actions in the occupied territories must be proportionate and in accordance with international law. Equally, we urge the Palestinian Authority to take steps to halt all attacks launched at Israeli targets from the Gaza Strip," he said.

Ghabeen, believed to be aged between four and 12, was the 15th Palestinian to be killed in Gaza since Friday in shell and air attacks. Israel has been firing about 300 shells a day at Gaza at an estimated cost of more than £125,000 a day, according to the Israeli media.

Palestinian militants have fired about 50 missiles at Israel in the past month without causing serious injury.

And so goes on the pointlessness of the tit for tat attacks which have come to define the situation regarding the Palestinians in Gaza. Despite the withdrawal last year, Israel has not properly respected its decision to let the EU control the borders leading into Egypt, and if anything the other checkpoints into Israel have been closed more often that when the settlers were still in Gaza. This leaves the farmers of Gaza with no way to export their goods, resulting in the crops going bad while they try to get authorisation to leave Gaza. It's incredibly to easy to sit back and say that if the Palestinians who are launching the home-made rockets stopped that the restrictions would be lifted, but even when they weren't the checkpoints were more often than not closed. The claims from the Palestinians that the withdrawal of the Israeli settlers would result in Gaza turning into a ghettoised prison (even more so than it was already) seem to have become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Meanwhile, the hellfire missile attacks continue on known militant leaders, and the shells continue to land on the scorched earth.

The last week has seen the St Pancras coroner's court in London come to the conclusion that both Tom Hurndall and James Miller were unlawfully killed by Israeli soldiers. Both of the men were clearly identifable as non-combatants, one wearing the orange top of the Palestinian Solidarity Movement, the other carrying a white flag, who had already identified himself to Israeli soldiers as he had arrived in the area. In the case of Tom Hurndall, Sergeant Taysir Hayb was convicted of manslaughter and jailed for eight years, in one of the harshest sentences received by an Israeli soldier for a crime committed in Palestinian territory. He always claimed that he was instructed by his commanding officer to shoot anyone, armed or not who was a perceived "threat", and that he was a scapegoat for Israeli policy as a whole.

He may well have a point. It's worth remebering the case of a man only identified as "Captain R", who was acquitted of all charges against him, despite unloading 17 bullets into an 13-year-old Palestinian girl who made the mistake of entering a security zone where anything that moves is shot at. Despite her dropping her school bag, which might have carried a bomb, she was shot as she was running away. Captain R then moved in and "confirmed" the kill, meaning that he shot her numerous times at close range.

Palestinian witnesses said they saw the captain shoot Iman twice in the head, walk away, turn back and fire a stream of bullets into her body.

On the tape, Capt R then "clarifies" to the soldiers under his command why he killed Iman: "This is commander. Anything that's mobile, that moves in the [security] zone, even if it's a three-year-old, needs to be killed."

It seems that justice can only be delivered if the person shot is foreign, and only then with intervention by the government of the killed national. Israel did everything it could not to co-operate with the inquest into Tom Hurndall. What hope is there for the hundreds of Palestinians killed if Britons can only get to the truth with expensive inquests that are even then boycotted by Israel? Even when Hamas suggests that it is to disown suicide bombing and gradually comes round to the idea of recognising Israel, there is little to suggest that Israel will negotiate, instead intent on carving out a Palestinian state around the security wall. "Peace" it seems can only be achieved with the Palestinians in the sight of a barrel of a gun.

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Tabloid-watch: Put a gun to my head and paint the walls with my brains.

The Sun today leads on the amazing story that Chantelle, the braindead ex-topless model who won Celebrity Big Brother is to marry Preston, the equally braindead lead singer of the band The Very Ordinary Boys. It's of course impossible to write anything about this mentally challenged hair-extensioned woman without using her catchphrase which puts fear into anyone with at least two braincells left, namely "OH MY GAWD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!". Also worthy of note is that Alan Rusbridger's daughter has weighed in on the subject over on the Comment is Free blog, which is somewhat surprisingly (or not) an editor's pick. Perhaps the Sun wasn't able to get any photos of people who had been trapped in the scaffolding collapse in Milton Keynes, despite begging for such eyewitness reports on their website.
Not to be outdone, the Mirror leads with the other story on the Sun's frontpage that Britney Spears's child has apparently cracked his skull. I wonder if the fact the newspapers seem to be running stories about her, the baby and her husband's relationship every single day has anything to do with the relationship problems they are meant to have. No, of course that couldn't be it.

It's not that yesterday was a slow news day; there was the Iranian nuclear annoucement, the Italian poll result, and the other tabloids are leading on the supposed abuse of the "Queen's" plane by Blair, which is at least slightly more newsworthy. They could even have gone for yet more Moss dross and printed the photos of Marc Quinn's new sculpture of her in various contorted positions. But no, it can be argued that Britney and Chantelle share something in common with most Mirror and Sun journalists and readers: the lack of anything upstairs.

In other tabloid news, the Sun and News of the Screws have agreed to play Wayne Rooney £100,000 for printing stories saying that he slapped his girlfriend and told her to "fuck off home", along with "prominent" apologies. As the Scum and Screws say in a statement:
"With only 58 days to the start of The World Cup The Sun and The News of The World are pleased to have reached a settlement with Wayne Rooney," the papers' said in a statement.

"We can now put this case behind us and focus on a great tournament. We wish him and the England team every success in Germany and look forward to welcoming them back with the World Cup trophy."

It's worth remembering that the Screws and Sun also have legal cases coming up involving Ashley Cole, another likely England representative, and Sven himself over his meeting with Obsolete's best friend, Mahzer Mahmood. Indeed, the Sun seems to have a prominent and sympathetic article involving Cole in today's paper, stating that he's to leave Arsenal in the summer, according to "friends". What's the betting that both of those are also settled in the coming weeks?

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Tuesday, April 11, 2006 

A certain romance.

Sometimes it's difficult to know what to write about. You could pretend to properly understand what's going on in France and Italy and write a load of crap which'll probably look like you vomited all over the page the next day, or you could just not bother. So instead, let's look at the phenomenon which is apparently the "chav bop".

Yesterday's Scum led with photos and story that Prince William had been to a party on leaving Sandhurst where they had all dressed up as "chavs". Apparently this isn't a minority pursuit. On reading the comments over at Comment is Free on John Harris's original article on the new snobbery, it seems that these parties are quite the in-thing at Oxbridge, and probably other universities. Obsolete hasn't had the privilege of attending one of these august institutions, so it can't possibly comment on what sort of thing goes through the heads of those who think it's hilarious to dress up in various gear (either as the upper class or lower class) that makes you look like a cunt for a party, but I think we can say that they think it's all a bit of fun while to the outsider it probably looks like the contempt of the privileged over those that err, aren't.

It isn't as easy to just class some television programmes and journals as being snobbish though. Harris mentions Harry Enfield and Wayne and Waynetta slob, yet the show also of course had Tim Nice But Dim and Tory Boy. Little Britain is worse, with its Vicky Pollard and Lou and Andy, but it still has the Prime Minister's adviser who is deeply in love with him. Linking Ali G in also doesn't really work; Sacha Baron Cohen has always interviewed politicians and made them look just as stupid as the character he's playing is, in that the politicians feel they have to condescend and not disagree with his outrageous statements. Tony Benn was about the only politician who didn't fall for it.

As for the journals which encourage such stereotyping, the tabloids are all in on the joke. The Sun, most likely to be read by those it calls yobs and chavs, demands endless crackdowns on "feral youths" and "anti-social behaviour". The Daily Mail, the original worrying paper about teenage white working class girls from council estates having kids just to get a house on the social is often even more condescending, as the often quoted article makes clear about women.

"pull their shoddily dyed hair back in that ultra-tight bun known as the 'council house facelift'"

The Mail is meant to be the woman's champion paper, its dedicated Femail section brings in the readers by the bucketload. Yet at the same time it is dismissive of women who have and work, "juggling" as it is often contemptly referred to. Its views are still rooted back in the age of the woman in the kitchen. Maybe this feeds into the collective self-esteem problems some women face, that they are trying to have it all their own way; witness the "yummy mummy" craze, linking that ever popular means of filling newspapers, yabbering about children, while making sure that you look fantastic and glamorous while doing it. That these "yummy mummies" seem to be doing it to mask their own fears about the future and worries is cast aside.

Living in an area which straddles wealth and relative poverty, the mingling of the two leads to the parting of the ways and different social groupings. The simple misalignment of the chav, which has come to mean the working class as a whole to some people, is completely wrong. While there are those who meet the chav way of dressing, they are the same people who are intelligent, but are at the same time fighting to gain a living wage. When they do, they tend to go and spend their gains down the pub. It's easy to sneer at such a mentality, but is it not our culture which leads to this that means they have no other release but to drown their sorrows at the weekend and try to forget that for many of them, they are in effect wage slaves for their families?

The rise of these chav bops then seems to be the typical student response in an attempt to be counter-culture. It all seems very clever to dress up as either the poor or the rich, having a good time while mocking the part of society which you dislike, while of course ignoring the larger issues. The irony is that those at university who attend such parties are likely those who are going to be thousands of pounds in debt at the end of their courses, while those they are mocking might be poor, but they're unlikely to be in as much debt, and of course the rich can pay off such debts instanteously thanks to mummy and daddy. Perhaps it's the Arctic Monkeys song which ruminates on this issue that says it best. While the rest of the album is relatively mediocre, the last song on the album almost saves it. Its ambivalence and realising that these people are humans, and to many of us former friends, if not current ones proves that there is a certain romance, whether some like it or not:

Well oh they might wear classic Reeboks
Or knackered Converse
Or tracky bottoms tucked in socks
But all of that's what the point is not
The point's that there ain't no romance around there

And there's the truth that they can't see
They'd probably like to throw a punch at me
And if you could only see them, then you would agree
Agree that there ain't no romance around there

You know, oh it's a funny thing you know
We'll tell 'em if you like
We'll tell 'em all tonight
They'll never listen
Cause their minds are made up
And course it's all okay to carry on that way

And over there there's broken bones
There's only music, so that there's new ringtones
And it don't take no Sherlock Holmes
To see it's a little different around here

Don't get me wrong, oh there's boys in bands
And kids who like to scrap with pool cues in their hands
And just cause he's had a coupla cans
He thinks it's alright to act like a dickhead

Don't you know, oh it's a funny thing you know
We'll tell em if you like
We'll tell em all tonight
They'll never listen
Cause their minds are made up
And course it's all okay to carry on that way

I said no
Oh no!
Oh you won't get me to go!
Anywhere, said anywhere
I won't go
Oh no no !

Well over there there's friends of mine
What can I say, I've known 'em for a long long time
And yeah they might overstep the line
But I just cannot get angry in the same way
Not in the same way
Not in the same way
Oh no, oh no no

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Monday, April 10, 2006 

Terrorism and intelligence, or lack there of.

Yesterday's leaked first account of what lead to the London bombings should be the final nail in the coffin of the theory that there is a big organisation called al-Qaida which has cells waiting to attack. According to a quoted Whitehall source:

The London attacks were a modest, simple affair by four seemingly normal men using the internet.'

These men weren't al-Qaida members. They weren't linked to al-Qaida. Only one of them was definitely known to the security services. There's nothing to suggest that they were influenced by radical clerics in mosques, only the suggestion that they may well have taken the idea from a visit to a madrasa in Pakistan. What it suggests is that there are men out there who are so disillusioned with life in their relative countries, disgusted by the policies of government and reviled by what they see as decadent lifestyles that are prepared to turn themselves into human bombs of their volition, with little input from the villains of the piece, the likes of Bin Laden, al-Zahawiri and Abu Hamza. Yet at the same these men seem to live normal "Western" lives. They weren't religious extremists in the way that we normal think of extremists as. This is what makes the spectre of them even more frightening.

Doubtless, they are inspired by such men and their ideologies and theories. But no longer are they those who supposedly order the attacks. Those who share these beliefs are finding each other, using the internet as a meeting place. This is of course the threat which is now being talked up, the one which means we have to hold suspects without charge for 90 days, and outlaw the "glorification" of terrorism.

Yet we have no idea of the amount of people there are who actually think this way. The rise of what is becoming known as autonomous cells with a shared but not connected ideology is the result, more than anything, of the reaction to the September the 11th attacks. We have the words of Mohammad Siddique Kham which prove that:

Your democratically elected governments continuously perpetuate atrocities against my people all over the world.

Until we feel security, you will be our targets. And until you stop the bombing, gassing, imprisonment and torture of my people we will not stop this fight.

We are at war and I am a soldier. Now you too will taste the reality of this situation.

Siddique Khan seems to have been the "brains" behind the bombing. Discounting other theories, such as that the other men were duped by Khan into believing they were running drugs, the others involved were seemingly silent. We still have little idea of why they did what they did. None were living in abject poverty, nor did they have abused childhoods or major grievances.

The report suggests that the main motivation was British foreign policy, most likely the war on Iraq. The other suggestion seems to be a desire for immortality, martyrdom and perhaps even the mythical 72 virgins which they will receive on entering paradise.

What could have been done to stop them, or what can we do to stop it happening again? Well, to state the obvious, there are no easy answers. While the government still refuses to countenance the suggestion that the Iraq war has created terrorism and not helped to prevent it, it's doubtful whether even Blair had pleaded contrition once no WMD were discovered and resigned that the attack would never have happened. Instead, we should look at how despite the amount of opposition there was to the war, that still this country entered it when it had no reason to. There was the dossiers, one after another. There was the constant changing of reasons, from WMD, to getting rid of Saddam on humanitarian grounds, to enforcing UN resolutions, right up to the whispered claim that Saddam and al-Qaida were in cahoots, which seemingly many Americans believed.

Then all of a sudden it hits you in the face. Intelligence. The claims, from the 45 minute one, to all that Powell said in his UN presentation. All of it was wrong. There are allegations that Siddique Khan was on the radar of the security services, then abandoned when a "bigger" threat came in. While the government preaches fear, the intelligence that is meant to be behind the threat is uncertain. The government is still refusing to allow phone-tap evidence to be used in the courts. Surely that has to change, as does the current climate which is accusatory of the Muslim community as a whole. We need to expand the security services and throw more money at it, yet at the same time we need to argue against those who both blame Muslims as a whole and those who say we are victimising them and in a crusade against the Islamic world. Good intelligence begins at home, and this government would do well to realise that the use of fear goes both ways. Unless they are prepared to help the Muslim community in Europe deal with the agent provocateurs within, while keeping a cool head, then the threat of more Mohammad Siddique Khans will loom even larger, and we really will have something to fear.

Related post: Blurred Borders.

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Sunday, April 09, 2006 

News of the Screws-watch: No mention of the fake sheikh.

Seeing as in the high court this week the News International lawyers claimed that Mahzer Mahmood's life was in danger if the photos of him came into the public domain, it seems somewhat strange that there is not a single mention of the incident in today's paper. There's no outraged attack on the judge for putting their star reporter in harm's way, nor is there any other reference to Galloway's publishing of his photo at all. How very odd. Maybe they're incredibly embarrassed that every single one of their arguments was refuted and demolished. No, that couldn't be it.

The Screws does however find space to print paparazzi photos of the model Sophie Anderton topless on a beach; a photo of one of the models that 50 Cent supposedly bedded on the night of his film's premiere, wearing only a transparent thong and a see-through pink top; that Coleen McLoughlin was wearing a new ring at Aintree yesterday; a photograph of Pete Doherty injecting himself with heroin; an "expose" on the website, where shock horror, married men and women are cheating on their spouses; that David James, a "top Tory" had his house exorcised after a "spirit" attacked his wife; a photograph of Peter Andre and Jordan going shopping; the second part of their serialisation of Jade Goody's (yes, the girl who stripped naked on Big Brother and is about as smart as two bricks) "sensational and shocking" autobiography, which includes the revelation that she told her plastic surgeon to give her "boobs" just like Posh's, then censors the word "tits", or rather "t**s" lest anyone be offended, despite above the headline they print a paparrazi shot of her with her fake breasts on full display on a beach; oh, and a review of Scary Movie 4 which begins with: "This one should carry a government health warning -- because it could be bad news for your pants." And all for only 85 pence!

Perhaps the News of the World should carry a government health warning that it's bad news for your intelligence.

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Saturday, April 08, 2006 

Closet racists and out in the open racists.

Here's a teaser for you. How do you prove that your party is not, in the words of David Cameron in one of his rare lucid moments, made up of "fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists, mostly"? By, err, getting an armoured personnel carrier and parking it outside the hall where the Conservative party is holding its spring conference. Of course, David Cameron wasn't being serious, because if we were to take him at his word, he'd have been describing George Eustace his press officer as such, as he was formerly a UKIP candidate. Cameron is also still maneuvering the party's exit from the main right-of-centre grouping in the European parliament, where he'll be joined by the likes of the frequently accused of racism Italian Northern League.

Away from closet racists and onto to the full-blown racists. The British National Party is in uproar because Sharif Abdel Gawad, a "totally assimilated Greek-Armenian" has been chosen to represent it in a Bradford ward. This has angered the less reconstructed members of the party, who are disgusted that an "ethnic" (the new word which stops the party from being completely and openly racist, instead hiding its agenda behind a veneer of respectability.) has been chosen for what they think should be a pure-white party.

The BNP really only has one purpose; a protest vote for those who think doing so will get attention. Its councillors which have got elected in the past have been useless, either not bothering to turn up to meetings or being completely incompetent. Unfortunately, as the political parties start to meld together as the Tories and Labour are doing, more and more are likely to turn to the extreme-right, especially when fed lies and propaganda in the election literature which drops through their door. All three main parties are claiming that the councils they run on the whole have the lowest council tax. All are campaigning on crime, and their policies are mostly indistinguishable from their national ones. The BNP instead usually focuses on what is actually happening locally, such as how it exploited the "grooming" of young girls in Keighley, wrongly blaming the local Asian population. Sad and depressing as it is, it seems they could conceivably receive more than the 190,000 votes they apparently picked up in last year's general election. Unless the "mainstream" parties realise the threat of such unmasked racism, the situation for the minorities in this country, picked on by both the popular press and those who think they are being ignored, is likely to get worse.

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Front page-watch: Dirty tabloids.

Following up yesterday's dream front page, the Mail claims that the comments of Chris Keates were a slur on Judge Feinstein. Here they are again:

"The judge had every right to question whether there were other ways of dealing with the incident. He was wrong to do so in a manner which trivialised racist taunts and abuse.

"Judges have a responsibility to consider the potential impact of their comments. Relegating an incident of what appears to have been repeated abuse to the level of a playground spat is unacceptable.

"The timing of his remarks is particularly unfortunate. The local elections are imminent. Candidates from the extreme right are being fielded in many cities. Comments, which dismiss racial abuse as 'political correctness gone mad' simply feed the pernicious agenda of extremists."

I can't find a slur in there. Chris Keates didn't link the judge to the extreme right. As is plain, all he/she did was say that dismissing repeated racial abuse, which is what the judge did by comparing it to how he was called fat at school is unfortunate, considering the BNP is making a major push at the upcoming local elections, which are a month away. Still, it makes for an excellently outraged front page, and pushes all the average Daily Mail reader's buttons. A judge being attacked for attacking political correctness? Outrage! It also makes a change from the likes of the Mail attacking judges for giving out lenient sentences, or proposing to not send all first time burglars to jail, to actually be supporting one. Can we expect the Daily Mail to be the new friend of the judiciary? (Answer: no.)
On to today's soaraway Sun, which splashes on the allegation that Prince Harry (you know, the one who dressed up as a Nazi stormtrooper, had an encounter with cannabis and who hit a photographer) visited a lap-dancing club. As well as bringing to mind the film character played by Clint Eastwood, the Sun also seems to be inferring that visiting a strip bar isn't that wholesome an activity. Could this be the same Sun newspaper which has two page 3 girls who are supposedly lesbian lovers, who described in intimate detail their first hot 'n' steamy sex session? Could this now moralistic newspaper be the same one which every day has a gorgeous pouting topless young lady on its third page? Could this newspaper be a doppelganger for the one which on the 17th of March ran two reports, one about police allegedly letting a paedophile live 300 yards from a school, the other about a male school teacher who admitted sexual activity with a girl under 16, under the headline "Groping Sir Jailed", while on its third page the newspaper had two lovelies wearing just school ties, gymslips and suspenders, promoting the giveaway of a St. Trinians DVD? Yes, the Sun sure is a adequate judge on what's dirty and what isn't.

Finally then to the Diana Express, which leads on everyone's favourite six-foot-under princess for the 4th time this week. Unfortunately from Obsolete's point of view, and probably fortunately from everyone else's, no horses died today during the running of the Grand National, otherwise the Express would have been flogging more than one dead nag on its front page.

Update: According to the Independent on Sunday, Tyneandthyneagain did die yesterday after unseating its rider at the 11th fence. Bit late for the joke, sadly.

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Friday, April 07, 2006 

Mail-watch: Politicial racism gone mad!

You can almost picture Paul Dacre's heart soaring as he saw this story go across his desk. Political correctness? Check! Judge speaking out? Check! Getting the opportunity to print the insults they'd like to use when discussing asylum seekers? Check! It is nice however to see that the Mail isn't freaking out about bird flu, although that might well happen tomorrow.

As you might have guessed, the headline doesn't really tell the full story. The boy who is being prosecuted is accused of abusing the boy in the school playground between 1st of July and the 30th of January this year. In other words, it seems that the boy's victim was being bullied, and over quite a lengthy period. This doesn't seem to have been a one-off exchanging of insults. (Although one of the posters on Comment is Free suggests the two kids are now best of friends.)

Then we have the judge, who rather curiously seems to consider that being called fat and being called racially offensive names is comparable. You can lose weight, but you can't change the colour of your skin. I agree with him that the CPS should reconsider the prosecution, but his attitude towards the case seems to suggest that he doesn't consider schoolyard racism a problem. He is also right in that the child doesn't seem to understand the words he was using; you can't exactly be both a "paki" and a "nigger". It seems difficult to believe that the school could not have dealt with this in-house. Referring schoolyard problems to the police really should be the absolute last resort, if anything it shows that the school can't seem to impose discipline itself.

Nonetheless, as Chris Keates of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers says:

"The judge had every right to question whether there were other ways of dealing with the incident. He was wrong to do so in a manner which trivialised racist taunts and abuse.

"Judges have a responsibility to consider the potential impact of their comments. Relegating an incident of what appears to have been repeated abuse to the level of a playground spat is unacceptable.

"The timing of his remarks is particularly unfortunate. The local elections are imminent. Candidates from the extreme right are being fielded in many cities. Comments, which dismiss racial abuse as 'political correctness gone mad' simply feed the pernicious agenda of extremists."

And of course, the attitude of both the Daily Mail in printing it on their front page, and the Daily Express, not being able to make-up a Diana story, today splashing on "migrant skivers" does absolutely nothing to help matters. Then there's the child who was the victim of all this: having what most likely caused major hurt belittled by the judge and the mid-market tabloids is not going to help his self-esteem. Still, it probably helps sell papers, and after all, that's what matters.

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Guardian only newspaper to publish Mahmood's photo; Galloway blogs again.

Seems like the Guardian was the only paper that had the guts to print Mahmood's photo (Yes, I know that photo is awful quality.). I flicked through all the rest (all right, I didn't bother with the Sexpress or Financial Times) and only the Times appeared to even mention the case, and they seemed to have printed the day before's article again by mistake. I might have missed it though, so feel free to correct me if I'm wrong.

George himself has now blogged on the subject, and as per usual is followed around by those who criticise him whatever he does, whether he's just helped strike a blow against the most arrogant newspaper in this country or not.

Oh, and I can't resist mirroring this from Recess Monkey:

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Thursday, April 06, 2006 

Victory for press freedom, bloggers and George Galloway: News International doesn't appeal against Mr Justice Mitting's verdict.

Click above for larger version, or:
Victory PDF.

There is very little like the sweet taste of victory, especially when faced by the behemoth that is News International. Today News International told its lawyers not to contest yesterday's decision by Mr Justice Mitting to allow the distribution of the photographs of Mr Mahmood, one of which is from a passport, and the other which shows him in flowing robes, both of which can now be seen above.

The last thing that I expected when I wrote last week's post on Galloway's encounter with the fake sheikh was that I would be sent an injunction by Farrer & Co, who represent the royal family as well as Mr Mahmood. I discovered the photograph of Mahmood on an Albanian news website which has a address. Both of the pages with photographs of Mahmood have now been removed. Late on Tuesday night I checked my email and discovered the injunction, which can be seen a couple of posts down. I immediately removed Mahmood's photograph, even though this site is located in the United States and likely out of the reach of UK law. The last thing that a poor blogger such as myself needs is a lawsuit hanging over his head.

I then contacted George Galloway's website, and the Respect coalition, looking for support. I spoke to a woman who works on Galloway's website, who informed me that one of the photographs Galloway was distributing, the one from the passport, was taken by her from Obsolete and handed to George. Whether this is true or not I am unsure of, as other blogs had also published the same photograph of Mahmood. Either way, this came as a surprise.

The real heroes here were those bloggers who defied the injunction and published the photographs of Mahmood yesterday. Those who seek to intimidate are facing increasing problems in the age of new media. There are many out there who will not be cowed by big law firms, or the likes of News International. They deserve our support more than anyone or anything else. Bloggerheads, Lenin's Tomb, Guido, Curious Hamster and many others, including those who edited the Mahmood entry at Wikipedia, and who signed the pledge at PledgeBank should be very proud of themselves, and I really mean that. Guido has a full list here.

I will not be claiming expenses from Farrer & Co, which Guido seems to think those who received the injunction may be entitled to, as I think the actions of Farrer and their clients have resulted in more publicity for this blog than I could ever have imagined. I will end this post with the letter I just sent to Farrer & Co. Once again, thank you to everybody who defied the order, supported me and the freedom of the press, while News International claimed that Mahmood's life was in danger.

Dear Sirs,

Thank you for the confirmation that the injunction has ended. I hope that this is the end of the matter.

If I may, I would just like to highlight how badly the actions of yourselves and your client have backfired. My website had been averaging around 60 unique hits per day. Yesterday, following the injunction against myself and other bloggers, as well George Galloway, the site received 841 unique hits, which does not account for those who returned during the day as the case against George Galloway progressed. My website was also today mentioned in the Guardian report of the hearing.

While I, fearing legal action from yourselves removed the photograph of your client from my site, other bloggers defied the intimidation of the News of the World and Mahzer Mahmood and published his photograph in reaction to News International's attack on the freedom of the press. As a result of your actions and the attitude of your client, his photograph is now even more in the public domain than it would have been had you realised the likely consequences of your actions.

My reasons for publishing the photograph of your client in the first place are thus. This was not about supporting George Galloway; this was about exposing the hypocrisy of a man who craves privacy but who has denied it to the victims of his exposes. Allegations made by such mainstream journalists as Roy Greenslade, that your client was involved in the entrapment of the gang who were set-up to be apparently trying to kidnap Victoria Beckham, suggests that he and his newspaper have ruined the lives of men and women who have done very little to absolutely nothing wrong, let alone anything illegal. For your client then to attack the freedom of websites such as mine to publish his photograph, which was already easily available on the internet, is an outrageous attempt to intimidate critics into silence.

Even more alarming is that your client was seemingly attempting to corrupt politicians, in a supposed expose on the party funding scandal which is currently engulfing both the Labour and Conservative parties. When he is exposed as doing so, he resorts to the law to protect photographs of himself, which themselves are old, from being published by the mainstream media. His attitude to press freedom is one which is typical of the rich and powerful; he will use it against the greedy and corrupt when it means that his newspaper will sell more copies, yet when he feels threatened by it he resorts to the likes of yourselves to intimidate his critics. I'm sure that you can appreciate the hypocrisy of his position. That he also seemed to be targeting politicians who opposed the Iraq war, which News International newspapers were vehemently in favour of, seems to show that your clients were out to smear all opponents of that conflict at best as hypocritical, and at worse corrupt.

I will be watching the News of the World this weekend very carefully for any reaction to this week's events, as I'm sure other bloggers and George Galloway will be as well. Any attempt by your clients to slur, smear or perform hatchet jobs on those who you tried to gag will I'm sure be met by bitter resistance.

As the injunction has now expired, I will be publishing the photographs of your client on to my website again shortly. If you have any objections to this, I suggest that you contact me immediately.

Obsolete writer.

Edit: I'm still spelling injunction wrong. Someone kick me up the ass.

Update: Lenin has written a fantastic breakdown of the ruling, showing just how utterly the News of the Screws case was destroyed.

Update 2: Stephen Brook, who wrote the articles about the court decision for Media Guardian, is incredibly angry about the arguments which the Screws used in its attempt to stop Galloway and bloggers from using the photographs of Mahmood. It seems like this whole misjudged attack on the freedom of the press by the newspaper which infringes the privacy of others the most is going to come back to haunt it. Finally, the Screws is getting its just desserts.

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Wednesday, April 05, 2006 

News of the Screws loses, but appeals: Injunction extended 24 hours. UPDATE: Farrer sends confirmation.

UPDATE: Farrer & Co have sent over their confirmation of the verdict, that until 4pm tomorrow the injunction stands:

Click for bigger version or:
PDF version of the above letter.

In their application for a new injunction, lawyers acting for the News of the World argued that publishing the two images, one a passport photograph and the other showing the reporter in Arab robes, threatened Mahmood's safety, his ability to continue his undercover investigations, breached copyright and was unfair and unlawful under the data protection act.

However, Mr Justice Mitting declined to grant a new injunction. "It's more likely than not that this claim in a full trial would fail. Accordingly I am obliged to refuse the injunction sought," he said.

But while Mr Justice Mitting ruled against the paper, he allowed a fresh injunction while it appealed his decision. The appeal is due to be heard tomorrow.

Whose breach of copyright? Does Mahmood own the copyright to a photograph of his passport? The photo of Mahmood in flowing robes was apparently taken by a victim of one of his stings, so I find it doubtful that person would have any problem with his photograph being published. The judge also sees right through the Screws' spurious claims that the photos threaten Mahmood's safety:

The News of the World barrister Richard Spearman QC said Mahmood had received many threats from the subjects of his investigations and that his safety would be in danger if the photographs were published.

"I disagree," Mr Justice Mitting said. "For the photographs of Mr Mahmood to be of any use to such people they would have to have a whole package of further information about his whereabouts and his habits.

Mr Justice Mitting added that the true purpose of the application was not so much to protect Mahmood "but the protection of his earnings capability and publication of his investigative journalism and his utility to his employers in that respect".

The high court judge said it was "debatable" that the reporter acted in the public interest because he was not an officer of the state, such as a police detective.

He rejected the claim that the passport photograph had been taken for a private and domestic purpose, as Mr Spearman had argued.

The claims that Mahmood is subject to death threats seems to date back to 2002, according to this BBC news article:

In 2002 he was said to have received a death threat in which a £100,000 contract was put on his life.

The injunction itself is also vague, which has caused confusion and bemusement in newspaper newsrooms:
The injunction issued on behalf of the newspaper by law firm Farrer & Co - taken out to stop MP George Galloway from publishing Mahmood's picture - includes the line: "Nothing in the order shall of itself prevent any person publishing any photograph or image lawfully in the public domain."

This wording is unusual in its inclusion of the word "lawfully", which is not normally used in injunction instructions.

It is unclear whether "lawfully" is a reference to the newspaper believing that pictures sent yesterday by Mr Galloway to MPs, members of the House of the Lords and the royal family, are unlawful.

And if "lawful" pictures of Mahmood can be published, then what makes them "lawful"?

Mahmood's picture is freely available on the internet and has already been published in the national press - in April 2001 the Observer caused a stir by publishing a shot of the journalist alongside a report about his exposé of Sophie Wessex's indiscretions.

However, since Farrer & Co issued its injunction last night, some websites have been removing Mahmood's picture.

It can be argued that the photograph that Obsolete and others published was definitely in the public domain, seeing as it was freely available on the internet. Whether it was "lawfully" in the public domain is another matter.

The only reason I have removed the photograph of Mahmood is because I prefer to be safe rather than sorry, whether this site is hosted in the United States or not. The last thing I want is any possible legal action. Thankfully, and to their credit, many other bloggers have taken it upon themselves to publish the photos of Mahmood, as detailed below and in the comment on the previous post. Curious Hamster over at a Big Stick and a Small Carrot has also posted the photograph. It's one thing to try and gag George Galloway, but take on the bloggers over something as slight as this, especially when it involves the hypocrisy of a "investigative" journalist who craves privacy but who denies it to his victims, and you've got a battle on your hands. This is something that the law firms and their litigious clients are going to have to learn in the new media climate.

Update: The monkeys over at Wikipedia have been at the Mahmood entry. It doesn't mention this blog, but hey, I think the injunction has promoted it enough.

Note to self: It's spelled
injunction, you idiot.

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Lenin's Tomb publishes photos of Mahzer Mahmood.

They have more balls than I do, and good on them. According to the comments, the Morning Star also published his photo, which is even more worthy of praise.

Update: Fake Sheikh homepage seems to have been yanked. Try here instead.

Let's see what 4pm brings.

Update 2: From Media Grauniad:
3.45pm: The News of the World's injunction preventing publication of pictures of fake sheikh Mazher Mahmood has been extended by one hour until 5pm while a high court hearing continues ...

Update 3: Recess Monkey was also gagged by the injunction. Bloggerheads and Guido have now published Mahmood's picture.

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Obsolete ordered to remove photo of Mahzer Mahmood by court injunction, courtesy of Farrer & Co.

The letter from Mahzer Mahmood's lawyers. Click for larger version.

Well, it had to happen sometime. Obsolete has received its first threat of legal action. Obsolete has been ordered to remove the photograph which I published along with the post about George Galloway's encounter with the fake sheikh. For the moment I have complied with their request, while seeking advice from the internet host company, as this blog is hosted in the United States, not the United Kingdom. Above you can see the letter which was emailed to me by Mazher Mahmood's lawyers, Farrer & Co. Below is a transcript of the court order.



B E T W E E N :





UPON hearing Counsel for the Applicant without notice to the Respondents

AND UPON the Applicant by his Counsel giving the undertakings set out in Schedule 1 at the end of this Order


An injunction is hereby granted restraining until after 4pm on 5 April 2006 or further order in the meantime the Respondents and any person with notice of this order (whether by themselves or by their servants or agents or otherwise however or in the case of a company whether by its directors or officers or servants or agents or otherwise howsoever) from publishing or disclosing to any other person or allowing or causing to be published in any newspaper or to be broadcast in any sound or television broadcast or by means of any cable or satellite programme service or public computer network any photograph of the Applicant

PROVIDED THAT nothing in this Order shall of itself prevent any person publishing any photograph or image lawfully in the public domain

2. Paragraph 1 above shall apply subject to the following PROVISO in relation to any internet service provider (“ISP”), its employees and agents:

(a) an ISP shall not be in breach of this injunction unless it, or any of its employees or agents:

(i) knew that the material had been placed on its servers or could be accessed via its service; or

(ii) knew that the material was to be placed on its servers, or was likely to be placed on its servers or was likely to be accessed by its service; and in either case

(iii) failed to take all reasonable steps to prevent the publication;

(b) an employee or agent of an ISP shall not be in breach of the injunction unless he or it:

(i) knew that the material had been placed on its servers or could be accessed via its service; or

(ii) knew that the material was to be placed on its servers, or was likely to be placed on its servers or was likely to be accessed via its service; and in either case

(iii) failed to take all reasonable steps to prevent the publication and to induce the ISP to prevent the publication;

(c) as ISP, employee or agent shall be considered to know anything which he or it would have known if he or it had taken reasonable steps to find out;

(d) “taking all reasonable steps to prevent the publication” includes the taking of all reasonable steps to remove the material from the ISP’s servers or to block access to the material.

3. The proviso to paragraph 1 of this order shall not apply so as to permit the publication of material falling within paragraph 1 of this order merely on the ground that such material has at any time been published on the internet and/or outside England and Wales.

4. Copies of this order endorsed with a penal notice be served by the Applicant’s solicitors on:

(a) such newspapers and sound or television broadcasting or cable or satellite programme services and public computer networks as they may think fit, in the case of a public computer network, by e-mail and in each other case by facsimile transmission or pre-paid first class post addressed to the Editor in the case of a newspaper or the Senior News Editor in the case of a broadcasting or cable or satellite programme service, or person responsible for any public computer network in the case of that network; and

(b) on such other persons as the Applicant’s solicitors may think fit in each case in the first instance by the means mentioned in paragraph 4(a) above and as soon as practicable thereafter by personal service.

5. Any person affected by the injunction set out at paragraph 1 above is at liberty to apply upon notice in writing to the Applicant’s solicitors.

6. Time for service of application shortened to 2 hours.

7. The costs of and occasioned by this application are reserved.

Dated the 4th day of April 2006.



(1) If the court later finds that this order has caused loss to the Respondents, and decides that the Respondents should be compensated for that loss, the Applicant will comply with any order the court may make

(2) As soon as practicable the Applicant will issue and serve a claim form claiming appropriate relief

(3) The Applicant will cause a witness statement to be made confirming the substance of what was said to the court by the Applicant’s Counsel

(4) The Applicant will serve upon the Respondents as soon as practicable (i) this Order (ii) copies of the above witness statement and any other documents provided to the court on the making of this order (iii) the claim form and (iv) an application notice for the continuation of this Order returnable at 2pm on 5 April 2006

(5) Anyone notified of this Order will be given a copy of it by the Applicant’s legal representatives

(6) If this Order ceases to have effect the Applicant will immediately take all reasonable steps to inform in writing anyone to whom he has given notice of this Order, or who he has reasonable grounds for supposing may act upon this Order, that it has ceased to have effect


The Applicant’s legal representatives are:

Farrer & Co, 66, Lincoln’s Inn Fields, London WC2A 3LH

Tel No 020-7242-2022
Fax No 020-7242-9899

Out of office hours contact numbers: 07803601353 (JNC)

I'm no legal expert, but this order seems only to concern Mahmood. It appears that Mahmood has taken out an injunction against Galloway to stop him from publishing Mahmood's photo, and against any internet sites that currently have been hosting photographs of Mahmood. I found Mahmood's photo on an Albanian news site, of all places, after being directed there by a post on the Guardian's Comment is Free blog. No doubt they have received a similar order. 3 other addresses have also been cc'ed the email I received from Farrer & Co. The injuction lasts until 4pm tomorrow afternoon, it should be interesting to see whether it gets extended.

How very strange and hypocritical of a man who has been "exposing" others that he turns to the law when others put photographs of him into the public domain. Do you have something to hide, Mr Mahmood? We should be told.

Links to the actual documents I received:
Court Order (The actual document was in .doc format, a friend converted it to pdf. (Thanks.))
Letter from Farrer & Co.

Here's the story from the Respect coalition website:
Rupert Murdoch’s News International tonight obtained a 24-hour injunction against George Galloway MP, Ron McKay and those acting on their behalf against the publication of photographs of News of the World employee Mazher Mahmood, the “fake sheikh”.

The picture had already been circulated to Members of Parliament and the House of Lords, to the Queen’s private secretary and to others in public life who may be in targeted by Mahmood’s unscrupulous, agent provocateur methods. Ironically, the solicitors acting for News International, Farrer & Co, also act for the Queen.

The restraining order expires at 4pm tomorrow and George Galloway plans vigorously to contest the ban. “This is exactly what we expected. And now we see just how hypocritical and slight News International’s professed commitment to press freedom is,” said George Galloway.

“Since I broke the news of my encounter with the fake sheikh other interested parties have come forward providing voluminous further evidence of thoroughly unscrupulous methods.

“The judges in the trial arising from the Victoria Beckham kidnap that never was, and in the trial of London’s Burning star John Alford, have already raised serious concerns about his activities. And others are in prison awaiting trial. Any good he might once claim to have achieved has now been massively outweighed by the damage he is doing.

"The evidence already coming my way reinforces my determination to see that Mahmood is brought to book. If News International were truly concerned with the integrity of the press it would be retiring Mahmood this evening instead of trying to prevent others from being forewarned of his activities.

“This is the beginning of a battle that may turn out to be long-running, but it is one I intend to win.”

And here's another article from Media Guardian:
The News of the World obtained a high court injunction yesterday to stop George Galloway publishing pictures of its most celebrated journalist, Mazher Mahmood, the investigative reporter more commonly known as the "fake sheikh".

The MP for Bethnal Green and Bow claimed Mahmood tried to make him the target of a sting late last month by attempting to get him to make anti-semitic remarks and implicate him in illegal party financing at a London hotel.

He has branded Mahmood - whose previous victims include the Countess of Wessex and the England manager, Sven-Goran Eriksson - "an agent provocateur and a disgrace to journalism".

Mr Galloway had made good on his threat to out Mahmood earlier yesterday, when he sent two pictures of the reporter to all MPs and the royal family, as well as posting the pictures on the Respect party website.

The images were later removed from the site.

"The secret's out, I hope your editors will publish his picture," Mr Galloway told reporters gathered at a news conference yesterday.

The News of the World, which has gone to great efforts to make sure that the identity of its star reporter remains a mystery, had asked newspapers not to publish images of Mahmood, who works undercover and is said by the paper to be responsible for the conviction of more than 130 criminals. It had also claimed that Mahmood and his family are the subject of death threats regarded as "serious and credible" by police.

Yesterday afternoon, the paper's parent company, News International, successfully applied to Mr Justice Mitting for a 24-hour high court injunction prohibiting publication of the pictures.

Mr Galloway said last night that he intended to challenge the order as soon as it expires at 4pm today.

"This is exactly what we expected. And now we see just how hypocritical and slight News International's professed commitment to press freedom is," Mr Galloway said.

"Since I broke the news of my encounter with the fake sheikh other interested parties have come forward providing voluminous further evidence of thoroughly unscrupulous methods ... The evidence already coming my way reinforces my determination to see that Mahmood is brought to book.

"If News International were truly concerned with the integrity of the press it would be retiring Mahmood this evening instead of trying to prevent others from being forewarned of his activities."

The News of the World defended Mahmood's meeting with Mr Galloway, arguing that it was part of "wholly legitimate inquiries" into the activities of a number of individuals in relation to the loans-for-honours and party funding scandal.

Earlier this year, Mr Galloway was the victim of a sting by the News of the World's sister paper, the Sun, when an undercover reporter sent him flowers on Valentine's Day and visited his office.

Mahmood and his family must obviously not feel safe enough, protected only by a cousin with a mouth of gold teeth. To ensure his safety he has to resort to injunctions. Bless.

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Tuesday, April 04, 2006 

Backing Blair: Unless Tony goes, don't vote Labour.

Backing Blair has been updated for the upcoming local elections, and has a rather laudable aim. Seeing as Blair is so reluctant to go, he has to be thrown out.

The problem with this is that even if Blair does go, I don't think I could vote Labour, for all the reasons they have listed on that page, and some more. Blair promised to listen. He said he realised that the public wanted his party returned with a lower majority. He hasn't listened, and he's acted as if he still does have a three-figure majority, which is why he has lost two votes in parliament since his re-election. Combined with the arrogance of front-bench ministers and the attacks on civil liberties, voting for a Labour councillor, however far removed from Blair and his cronies, seems unthinkable. As a result, I have no idea who I'll vote for. Along with many others, I feel completely disenfranchised.

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John Reid: International law and rules of war are out of date.

The last time "Dr" John "Oh fuck, not health" Reid opened his mouth in a major speech, he suggested that if Lord Haw Haw were alive, he'd have a weekly column in the newspapers. This time he's implied that because of the changed circumstances of the apparent threat we now face from barbaric terrorists, the Geneva conventions are out of date:

"That is why I pose three questions about the international legal framework. Put simply, in today's changed circumstances are we convinced that it adequately covers:

* the contemporary threat from international terrorists?
* The circumstances in which states may need to take action in order to avert imminent attack?
* Those situations where the international community needs to intervene on grounds of overwhelming humanitarian necessity in order to stop internal suppression - mass murder and genocide – as opposed to external aggression?

Afghanistan is a good example. There were clear legal grounds for the international community – led by the US – taking action against Afghanistan after 9/11. Al Qaeda had proved both the intent and the capability to kill thousands of innocent men women and children. The threat of them doing so again was clearly imminent for all to see.

But what if another threat develops? Not Al Qaeda. Not muslim extremism. Something none of us are thinking about at the moment. The proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction has coincided with the growth of those prepared to use them. We know that terrorist groups continue to try and acquire such weapons and that they have described their willingness to use them. We also know that they continue to seek opportunities to launch attacks on a similar or greater scale as 9/11. Hopefully, we would learn of any such threat before any atrocities had been committed. I believe we would have strong legal grounds to take action to protect ourselves against attack. I also suspect that others would disagree. A debate would centre around "imminence". The very significant consequences of action or inaction in these circumstances should give us all pause for thought.

So, uh, what is that this threat that none of us are thinking about at the moment? Apparently it isn't al-Qaida or muslim extremism, so could it possibly be that a suggestion that Iran or North Korea may give weapons of mass destruction to terrorists? In an incredibly glib statement, Reid tells us that terrorists try to acquire these weapons and have described their willingness to use them. No doubt true, but the only terrorist group that has ever obtained what could be described as a chemical or biological weapon was Aum Shinrikyo, which released sarin gas on the Tokyo subway, killing 12 and injuring over 6000. In other words, Reid is making a number of assumptions about things that might happen, not that are going to happen. Hopefully we would also learn about such threats before they happened, which is a nice piece of optimism.

Reid's main point though is that of pre-emption, which he apparently feels should be made more lawful than it is at the moment. This has been the cornerstone of US foreign policy since 2002, and of which Iraq was the first victim. Both the US and UK have been somewhat angered by Kofi Annan declaring that the war was illegal, and ever since have been trying to get everyone to see their point of view. The trouble is that international law applies to everyone, as Simon Tisdall points out. Iran has understandably been getting rather worried about the war of words which have gone between it and the US, with Iran promising to match pain with pain, should sanctions be declared by the UN security council. As Tisdall writes:

From Iran's perspective, all this amounts to a serious military threat that may not yet be "imminent" - but could soon become so. Its spokesmen have pledged to meet pain with pain and hurt with hurt.

The assumption until now has been that Iran would passively wait and see what the Americans do. But as Mr Reid has helpfully pointed out, western countries increasingly believe they have, or should have, a legal right to pre-empt. Logically, Iran has an identical right - and may choose to exercise it.

The possibility, however remote or unlikely it may seem now, of Iran attacking before it is attacked demonstrates how dangerous the whole Bush doctrine of pre-emption really is; and how problematic, too, are attempts to change international law to suit contemporary circumstances.

In reality, any such attack by Iran would be suicide. Even if it did have nuclear weapons, which even the CIA has admitted could take it five years to acquire, any attack, such as one on Israel would result in both the US and Israel turning Teheran, if not the entire country into a sheet of glass. Yet under Reid's apparent thought process, any such move by Iran would possibly be legal. The whole reason for Iran's continuing dash for nuclear weapons has been because of the differences in US policy towards North Korea and Iraq. North Korea, apparently having nuclear weapons, has not been invaded. Iraq, accused of having weapons of mass destruction but actually having none, was invaded. To Teheran, the development of a nuclear weapon therefore makes sense, especially when faced with the US army sitting on two of its borders, and with a nuclear Israel, Pakistan and India within close vicinity. It all comes down to the old mutually assured destruction thesis; no one is going to launch the first weapon, because it will lead to everyone dying, and no one has been crazy enough to want that to happen yet.

Reid's motives are of course that the west is always right and has pure reasons for wanting to be protected under law for launching pre-emptive strikes; the last thing anyone wants is another September the 11th. Yet the laws which were drawn up following the second world war were as a result of the Holocaust, the deaths of six million, the dropping of atomic weapons on Japan and the bombing of cities in both Germany and Britain. Reid apparently wants these laws to be changed because of the deaths of a tiny number compared to those who perished under the Nazi war of aggression, and because the barbaric terrorists are apparently even more evil than the Nazis which so many politicians are eager to compare them to. It is reminiscent of how the US squealed when in the first stages of the Iraq war pictures of captured soldiers were broadcast, while the United States was carrying out its shock and awe on the population of Baghdad. Let's be clear: a death is a death, yet politicians seem to want to sweep away the humanitarian advances and rules we have tried to impose on war because a rag-tag band of men want to harm us. Is this not a callous overreaction to the actual threat that we face?

Reid drops the biggest clanger in the speech here though:

However, he said, it was not "sufficient just to say [Guantánamo] is wrong".

Apparently Reid feels that saying that a prison camp where men are held without charge, without access to lawyers and where so many have been so desperate to end their suffering that have gone on hunger strike, only for the military to force-feed them, is wrong is not sufficient. This is even when Blair says that Guantanamo is an anomaly, and when Peter Hain said that it should be closed. The United States doesn't even have the decency to return the poetry of one of the held men who was eventually released due to his innocence, yet we cannot just call the prison camp of Guantanamo wrong.

Reid is right to start a debate. More discussion is needed, especially over intervention when it comes to stopping genocide. But we must not just abandon our gradually built up values just because we face a new threat. That would not just lower our own moral values, but also do the most to show our own hypocrisy at a time when we need to win hearts and minds.

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Sun, Mail and Mirror-watch: "This insult to our girl's life."

I was going to let this pass by, as the case does seem tragic, even in the face of hyperbolic tabloid outrage. Then I read the Guardian report, and discovered how the mother has mysteriously seemed to change her opinion of the man behind the wheel:
At the January hearing, Ms Craen's mother Susan, 47, had said the only appropriate punishment for Singh would be to force him to attend her daughter's funeral.

"It doesn't make any difference to me if he gets three years or life," she said at the time. "He took away my daughter and time spent in prison can never bring her back.

"If he had come to the funeral and stood near all her family and her friends and witnessed the grief we all felt, he might have realised the pain he's caused."

Mrs Craen spoke out against the sentence after yesterday's hearing.

"Abigail was murdered on October 30 last year," she said. "The man who killed her left her dying on the edge of the road. He did not brake or stop and did not come forward for eight days.

"Abigail was a wonderful, talented and beautiful girl whose life was full of laughter. The sentence is an insult to her. She is dead and the man who killed her has a small interruption in his life. This is no deterrent or punishment."

Normally I'd be inclined to agree with her latter statement. The man was clearly callous, had no insurance, was speeding and didn't stop. Yet he did come forward, admitted his full guilt, and in court he apparently repeatedly wept. This was why the judge was lenient. He has to live the rest of his life knowing that he extinguished the hope of a young woman who wanted to give back to the community. Because he has served 5 months on remand, taking into account that he may serve the rest of half of the sentence before being released on probation, most likely tagged, the Sun distorts the sentence into 9 months. Their article, followed by comments, of which every single one demands a tougher sentence and at least one that says taxes should rise in order to build prisons, doesn't mention her previous comments. Singh is referred to throughout as a maniac, and is quoted as calling himself a "selfish bastard", but that doesn't broke any sympathy for him with the Sun. Their leader column doesn't mince its words:

JASWINDER Singh is a killer.

He took 20-year-old Abi Craen’s life as recklessly as if he had attacked her with a deadly weapon.

He raced his car over an intersection, ignoring a red light — and kept driving without a thought for the young medical student he had left dying in the road.

Then the coward hid his damaged car in a friend’s garage to escape justice.

This cannot be brushed aside as the sort of accident that could happen to anyone.

Singh had just been handed back his licence after a drink-drive ban.

He was only shamed into confessing after pictures of the poor girl’s shattered body were published by her grieving parents.

Singh should have been banged up for manslaughter. At the very least, he should have got the maximum 14 years for dangerous driving.

Instead, he will shortly be free after being sentenced to a ludicrous 18 months.

That is a grotesque insult to Abi, her distraught family — and to British justice.

He took her life as recklessly as if he had attacked with a deadly weapon? Is the Sun really this stupid, or is it trying to make its readers believe that Singh's actions were somehow pre-meditated? What an exaggerated thing to say. I agree his sentence should have been harsher, but 14 years would be stupidly long for someone who has shown remorse, and is clearly traumatised by his actions, selfishness and cowardice.

I have a theory to why Ms Craen's mother seemingly changed her mind about caring about the sentence that Singh got for killing her daughter. Could it possibly be that certain tabloid newspapers may now well pay to get her story and interview as an exclusive? No, that would be cynical, and to suggest that the girl's mother is looking to profit from the death of her daughter would be an outrageous slur. Much like calling Singh a murderer and implying that his actions amount to pre-meditated killing.

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Monday, April 03, 2006 

Thank you.

As this site goes towards its 6,000 unique hit (according to that clustrmap over there) and close to its 400th posting, I'd just like to thank everyone that comes here, especially those that return every day and link here from their own sites. I didn't know when I started writing this blog whether anyone would read it or whether I'd lose interest. Apparently people do, and I apparently haven't. This was started to help take my mind off other things, and it has helped to a certain extent.

To those of you who've commented, who've helped me improve my writing, and even just to those of you who might read the odd post off a search from google, thank you.

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The Blair and Brown rift: reaching crisis point, or bubbling under?

Nearly all of the newspapers at the weekend were reporting that the relationship not just between the prime minister and the chancellor but also between their relative supporters had reached a new low. The Guardian reported one person's belief that the Blairites believed Brown had removed the £200 discount on council tax for pensioners purely to damage the prime minister in the run-up to next month's elections, by some bizarre logic that if Labour performed poorly he'd be more likely to throw in the towel. Another report suggested that Alan Milburn, an arch-Blairite, was getting ready to challenge Brown in a leadership election once Blair finally does go, while the News of the World carried a poll showing that 42% of voters want Blair to go now, with only 2% wanting him to stay until after the next election. To ward off this apparent speculation, Blair and Brown now will apparently launch the local election campaign together on Wednesday, after a report in yesterday's Observer alleged that Brown had been banished from the event.

Is all this speculation for real, and does it really matter? Michael White, ex-Guardian political editor says no, while Derek Draper, who has worked at the centre of "New" Labour says yes. White's case, and that of some of the commenters seems to be that it's all spin designed to sell newspapers and take minds off the loans and NHS problems. Perhaps so. Draper's case is more compelling though, and seems closer to the truth. According to him, Blair and Brown genuinely loathe each other, and so do their supporters. This has been coming slowly but surely to the boil since the original Granita deal, apparently reneged by Blair.

Rather than get involved in all the rivalry and bitterness, it would be wiser to take a step back. While Blair has been the one at the helm, the one who has been unrelenting in the so-called reform agenda, who has turned to the Tories for their support for his education bill and who has led the country into the disastrous war in Iraq, Brown has been the one who has kept the economy afloat. Yet Brown has never played his hand, or if he has, he hasn't played it strong enough. We don't know whether he objected to the Iraq war, whether he was against tuition fees or foundation hospitals, business academies or the unrelenting crushing of civil liberties. What we do know is that he done very little to stop any of it from happening, perhaps with the exception of foundation hospitals which he is said to have opposed and managed to water-down. We can blame Blair all we like for what we object to, but he couldn't have done it without either the support of Brown or without Brown letting him get away with it. Brown's apparent agenda was to be for Lords and constitutional reform, and more spending on education, but Blair's reluctance to let go of power means that he has in effect stolen it. Blair was the one who had the final say over the loans, and who nominated the donors for peerages, apparently without Brown's knowledge. Yet Brown still says nothing in public. Instead his supporters brief against Blair's, doing nothing but showing the public that Labour is facing a schism.

The debate should about where Labour is going, what its policies should be, and how it's going to sell them to an ever more dubious public and an increasingly critical media. Instead Labour is re-running the Granita deal over and over. Take a look at the ministers in the cabinet who are either full-blown Blairites or Blair supporters. There's Tessa Jowell, Charles Clarke, John Reid, Patricia Hewitt, Alistair Darling, Hazel Blears, John Hutton, Geoff Hoon, all to name but a few. Some of them are so loyal that they'd seemingly throw themselves under a bus to save Tony. All of them also hold the honour of being either unpopular or making many loyal Labour supporters' teeth go on edge whenever they open their mouths. Gordon Brown apparently would either sack a good number or they would resign before he could do so, should he ever finally ascend to the job of prime minister.

The point has been reached when many no longer feel they can support Labour in any shape or form, such has the anger become against not just the policies, but the manner in which they have been promoted and argued for since last year's general election. As it stands, Blair has to go. It's time that the craven sycophants surrounding him realised that. It seems doubtful whether Brown would draw that big a line under the Blair years and fight for the heart of Labour as he feels it beats. Frankly, so disillusioned and upset have many natural Labour supporters come, even a diluted and already burdened Brown should be given a chance. Blair has to give him it, and end the speculation and in-fighting once and for all.

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Diana-watch: Recycling, regurgitating, ridiculous.

Isn't this at least the second time that the Diana Express has now reported that the spooks are plotting to sabotage the inquiry into the death of the ex-princess? In fact, the whole front page is a rehash; the story about David Beckham was the lead on yesterday's Sunday Mirror, lifted almost verbatim from their pages.

Anyway, back to Diana. What is the truth over her death? Who except from Mohammad Al-Fayed and those in his pay believe that Diana's death was anything other than an avoidable accident, from which she would have survived if she'd been wearing her seatbelt?

Whenever I see that the Express is yet again reporting on a woman that died 9 years ago, I'm reminded of the film Day of the Dead (bear with me here). In that film, the head of the military men, after discovering that the scientists' plan to stop the zombies is little more than trying to domesticate them, bellows: "THEY'RE DEAD! THEY'RE FUCKING DEAD!", which indeed they are. Diana shares that trait (being dead, not a zombie, although a zombie princess with the zombie baby Al-Fayed seems to believe she was carrying would make for a good cameo in a zombie flick.) After 9 years, and with no signs that this obsession with Diana is leading to a resurgence in sales, isn't it time that Dirty Des, Mentally Hill and Al-Fayed finally realised that? After all, even the Guardian is making snide comments in its news articles, as from this one:

Other April fool stories included Radio 4's Today programme announcing that the axed UK Theme was to be replaced by Euro Theme; the Daily Mail on Tony Blair ordering the No 10 doors to be painted red; The Sun spotting a penguin by the river Thames and the Daily Express reporting that the French authorities were hiding secrets over the death of Diana.

Actually, the last one was not an April fool.

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Saturday, April 01, 2006 

Jack Straw and the oil tanker: The real April fools.

After a pretty miserable week in politics, the demonstrations which have greeted the visit of Condoleezza Rice to the north of England have been greatly mood-enhancing. Faced with significant protests, the attiude of our very own Jack Straw has been condescension.

Mr Straw described crowds of supporters outside as "remarkable" and dismissed the number of demonstrators as "not large".

"They (protesters) said they were going to get bus loads and bus loads in. Well they didn't do very well," said Mr Straw.

"If they had asked me I could have done better for them."

The BBC says they were around 200 protestors, while Sky claims 500, which is surprising seeing as one is owned by Mr Murdoch, and one err, isn't.
Maybe the reason why Straw dismissed such a number is because, after all, about that number of civilians dies every week in Iraq, and he's long since pushed any such worries out of his mind. Yesterday saw a much bigger protest, with BlairWatch reporting between 1,000 and 3,000 turned up in Liverpool while Rice was visiting the Philharmonic.

The whole visit has gone tits up, quite frankly. The visit to the mosque, withdrawn at the last minute, was not due to "militants" planning to stage a sit-in, but rather because it was made by a few people without consultation. Condi was forced to enter the Pleckgate school by a side door, while the police had a intimidating presence on the band of protestors who had gathered. The children inside the school were cherry-picked prefects, lest any of them say anything somewhat radical or controversial. She was supposed to have watched the football at Blackburn, not just give a speech and receive a shirt, but Sky moved the match to Monday instead for television purposes. A couple of performers at the Philharmonic pulled out, and the noise from the crowd outside could easily be heard inside, while one of the singers segued into Give Peace a Chance after Imagine.

Perhaps the last word should be left to Condi on the first of April.

"It was not a mistake to overthrow Saddam Hussein. It was not a mistake to unleash the forces of democracy in the Middle East."

The same forces of democracy which have killed over 2,000 US servicemen, n
o doubt.

Update: Corrected the error which said one of the school children sang "Give Peace a Chance" rather than one of the
Philharmonic performers. Apologies for the misunderstanding.

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