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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