Wednesday, May 31, 2006 

Prescott: Time to put the mallet down and return to Hull.

The freelance photographer who just "happened" to be wandering around near Dorneywood last Thursday with his long lens must be the target of a few choice words currently in Downing Street. In the absence of any big political story, parliament having broken up for the half-term break on Thursday, the hacks on the Mail on Sunday brought back the scandal of Prescott, this time complete with a croquet mallet. The damage could only have been worse if Prescott had used the mallet to smack a nearby furry creature.

Well, at least that's one way of looking at the continuing furore surrounding Prescott. Also leaked, almost certainly by Downing Street, but which has perhaps somewhat backfired, was the news that Blair had wanted to remove Prescott's privileges, such as his salary and Dorneywood country home. Prescott, probably convincing the prime minister that if he was to leave the cabinet there'd have to be a Labour deputy leadership election, something which neither Blair or Brown want or need, managed to keep them. It was meant to make Prescott look even worse, but instead it just makes Blair look ever more the lame duck that Steve Bell has been drawing him as.

The parallels between Prescott and Blair don't just stop there. Both were once those who took the most joy from the scandals which rocked the broken and rotten Tory party of the 90s. Prescott made jokes, Blair made political capital. Now Prescott has his own sexual misdeeds and arrogance exposed, while Blair still must be worrying about the knock on the door from Knacker of the Yard, wanting to ask a few questions about loans for peerages. We are also told by no less a man than Prescott's biographer that he won't until Blair himself goes, which while being sensible, as it makes more sense to have two elections at once than two separately, makes you wonder whether Labour really does sense the danger that it's in.

From the beginning of the year, all it has faced has been scandals, some manufactured, some that should and have been fatal, and others that show no signs of going away. We had the panic over paedophile teachers, mainly cooked up in the hysteria which is the tabloid media's way of reporting on it, and Ruth Kelly survived, only to be replaced at the reshuffle because she was useless at selling Blair's trust school reforms. Tessa Jowell lied and lied and lied again about not knowing anything to do with her husband at all, but she survived. At the reshuffle, according to Jonathan Freedland, Blair wanted to move her away from culture, but she objected, and got her way. Another sign of weakness perhaps, but Jowell is such an ardent, loyalist Blairite that perhaps he just gave in because of her service. We've also had loans for peerages, Jack Dromey putting the knife in quite rightly over not being informed, the Home Office panic and complete incompetence over foreign criminals, and there is no sign that these bad news stories for Labour are going to stop coming.

And what do the public see? They see John Reid jetting off only a couple of weeks after becoming Home Secretary, and after bollocking his department and doing little else, to a holiday but quickly returning. They see John Prescott, the supposed class warrior, an ex-man of integrity but who has been so lacking in his succession of roles that all he will be remembered for is punching an egg thrower and not quite managing to shag his secretary, playing an upper class game just hours after taking control of the country from the Dear Leader, seemingly oblivious to any state of alert or problems that his party is facing.

It's the sign that Labour has not only lost its way, but that it's almost giving up governing. The Tories, with Cameron still getting the media love-in, despite continuing shows of his hypocrisy and carrying his shoes and papers behind him in a car while he rides his bike, just can't believe their luck. Labour is trying to get a grip, it must be said; but that grip just involves the same old failures. We're told that they'll be even more choice in the NHS when we need an operation, even though take up of other places for treatment has been incredibly low since it was introduced at the beginning of the year. The government just can't seem to understand that what everyone wants is good care locally, not miles away where they can choose to go. We're told unmarried couples are to get new rights, which is great and all, but doesn't really sound like much of this new agenda, how Labour has to be renewed from the bottom up.

The party badly needs renewal. The end of Prescott and Blair though should only be the first phase. If they had any sense, they would both be gone not by next year's party conference, but by the time of the Manchester conference this year. Most people are still assuming that Brown will get the job, yet increasingly he feels like more of the same, the tired old New Labour man that has never either took his chance or never had a chance. With Cameron as opposition leader, some are increasingly wondering whether there needs to be a similar generation skip from Labour. It's time then for Brown to put his foot down. He needs to tell Blair and Prescott to go this year, and he needs to expand on some of his already declared policies in the contest which has to follow. A lot of hype and bluster about "Britishness" isn't going to cut it. At the moment he seems like more of the same. If the travails of Prescott and Blair are to be quickly forgotten and forgiven, Brown has to do much more. And like Freedland points out at the end of his article, even with all this government's attacks on civil liberties, the war on Iraq, the choice agenda, the Tory measures which are the education "reforms", the NHS deficits and constant reform there, as well as the reliance on PFI projects, Labour will still be better than the Tories, even under Cameron. It may be the lesser of two evils, but it's still at the moment better the devil you know.

Update: and almost the second after I post, Prescott gives up Dorneywood. I don't think it''ll be enough to save him, especially as he keeps his salary.

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Tuesday, May 30, 2006 

Knacker of the Yard can't do sums.

Sir Ian Blair just can't help being a complete and utter tool, no matter what he tries his hand at. He suggests that the media might just be as institutionally racist as the force he runs is, because the tabloids especially almost entirely ignored the death of an asian man who had been killed when robbers stole his van, while a white city lawyer who was knifed on the underground took all the attention and coverage. It then turned out it might have something to do with the fact that his PR department had sent out multiples releases on the death of Tom ap Rhys Price, while the broadsheets themselves had done the hard work on the death of Balbir Matharu.

When he said that he was amazed and could hardly understand that the case of the Soham girls, murdered by Ian Huntley had got so much media attention, it showed that he had no idea of how the tabloids work, nor of the mind of the average lay person. It also helped that it happened in the barren silly season, something he apparently hadn't noticed or considered.

He perhaps can't be blamed too much for his latest gaffe, which was saying that the removal of Brian Haw's banners and placards cost the police £7,200. A snip surely, for saving Tony Blair of all his embarrassment. Then it turned out that Ian Blair had got his figures wrong. The actual cost of the operation, conducted in the dead of night, with cameras that look into parliament square conviently turned around for the duration, was actually
£27,754. Well, his first figure was almost right if you turn around the two first numbers and add another 0. Easy mistake to make, right? An apology would make everything ok, surely. Nope, instead dear old Ian Blair instead turned on the leaker:
"I am disappointed by what seems to be a leak to the press out of what is an ordinary and internal meeting. Such behaviour appears to be contrary to the values of the organisation and this will be looked into accordingly."
Spending huge amounts of money on removing one person's vigil when it could be better used to stop actual criminal behaviour appears to be contrary to the values of the organisation. Still, it'll save Tony Blair from gnashing his teeth as he goes to PMQ's, so that's at least one thing that we can be proud of.

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Alastair Campbell's phone and fax numbers for only £2.51!

Ever wanted to ring up Labour's former bullshitter in chief and tell him exactly why he's one of the biggest cunts currently residing on the planet? Well, for the princely sum of just 2 pounds 51 pence, you can! While sorting through the Labour party election spending reciepts, Backing Blair has come across both Campbell's phone and fax numbers. It's now auctioning them on eBay. All the money raised goes towards the costs of what Backing Blair is doing, so it's all for a good cause.

Some things you might want to ask Campbell about: why was he so determined to "fuck" Andrew Gilligan, why he and John Scarlett were so desperate for intelligence to go in one of the dodgy dossiers that they sent out a begging email that resulted in the bogus 45 minutes launch time for Saddam's WMD leading the dossier, which in turn was reported in Daily Express and Evening Standard front page splashes which were never corrected when it turned out the intelligence report referred to battlefield munitions, whether he's pleased with the character in the BBC political comedy the Thick of It, which is clearly based on him, why he thinks his an audience with Alastair Campbell tour was such a disaster, or indeed, what it's like to turn from being such an anti-American, as he was back in his Daily Mirror days, to licking the ass of George Bush along with his best friend Blair.

Or, you could just go for the jugular and do the following, as recommended on Guido's comments on this very subject:
charlieboy said...

Are his fax details available too?

Take one sheet of black (yes, black) paper. Insert into fax machine. Tape each end carefully together, such that it forms a perfect cylinder. Press 'send'. Now leave it running, and leave for home.

It's neither big, nor clever...
No, but it sure is satisfying.

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Monday, May 29, 2006 

Skewed priorities. Again.

It shouldn't be shocking. It shouldn't be deeply depressing. It shouldn't even be surprising. Yet it's still difficult to believe that only two days after an earthquake which has now killed at least 5,000, injured 20,000 and made homeless 200,000, only the Guardian and Times find any space at all for it to feature on their front pages.

Sure, it can be argued that there's little the average person back here in Britain can do about it, other than engage in fake anguish for those that they don't know, or donate a few pounds to the numerous charities already gathering funds to send help. Even so, it seems callous and even disturbing just what the tabloids especially think is more important than the stories of those who have just had their lives destroyed.

The Sun, as well as laying in like most of the other papers into John Prescott when he was photographed on Thursday playing croquet, decides that Victoria Beckham talking to Theo Walcott's girlfriend is more important. Similiarly the naming of Angelina Jolie's child is given more prominence than the deaths of thousands.
The Sexpress, continuing the Prescott-bashing theme, also prints a photograph of Mariah Carey wearing a revealing bikini top, somehow connected to a piece about celebrity diets. Also revealed is the spy in the sky that looks into your garden. Could it possibly be the same spy that took the photographs the Daily Mail was "giving" away a few weeks back?
The Mail itself leads on how babies are increasingly be aborted for what they call "not being perfect". The story is almost entirely based on figures released from the Office for National Statistics which revealed that 20 babies between 1996 and 2004 had been aborted after 20 weeks because they had a club foot. It's worth wondering how many people who have club feet regard it, as the Mail does, as a "minor cosmetic defect". Still, 20 children which had not yet been born are obviously more important than the 4,200 confirmed dead when the Mail went to press last night. Like the Scum, except accompanied by an even larger photo, the Mail also seems to think the naming of a child is similarily fascinating.
The Mirror, like the rest of the so-called popular press, also finds the news that a celebrity has given a child a stupid name front page worthy. Alongside we have the bombshell that Big Brother contestant and former porn star Lea at one time weighed 22 stone, which comes as a surprise to those of us who thought that her comedy sized breasts must easily come close to that. That story is covered in full over two pages inside, on the 13th and 14th pages to be precise. The earthquake is relegated to 3 quarters of a page back on the 23rd.

I could go on, but I'm sure you can already guess that the Daily Star didn't hold the front page for the earthquake victims either. Nor did the Independent, which being characteristically different goes with a story about, err, plastic water bottles. Do people genuinely not seem to care, or is it the news agenda of the editors which is out of line? Both the BBC and Guardian currently consider the earthquake either second or first in line of 'priority' on their online services, something that the editors of Britain's dailies certainly don't seem to agree with.

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Saturday, May 27, 2006 

Early day motion calls Brian Haw's protest an unacceptable extreme and compares him to animal rights activists.

Congratulations then to two of the Conservative party's MPs' who have decided to line themselves up on the side of Tony Blair and the government against Brian Haw. In response to the 78 police who raided Haw in the middle of the night, Peter Luff has put down the following early day motion, in opposition to one from Lembit Opik:
leave out from first `the' to end and add `way that those who carry legitimate protest to unacceptable extremes can discredit the cause they support and endanger the liberties of the majority; notes the parallels with the animal rights lobby; and reluctantly supports the action that has been taken against Mr Haw.'.
What about how Brian Haw has been conducting himself has been an "unacceptable extreme"? Is Luff referring to how Haw used to ring a bell when Blair's motorcade passed by to go to Prime Minister's Questions, which ended up with the police removing it from him and later returning it without the clapper? How has Haw's actions discredited the cause he supports? His dedication to his cause if anything shows just deeply his feeling is, and inspires many of us who would love to do what he is doing but can't because of other commitments. How has he endangered the liberties of the majority? The only people endangering the liberties of the majority were those who drew up the laws banning protests within 1km of parliament without prior permission, an arrogant example of the worst of this government's illiberal excesses. It was an act of pure spite to get rid of Haw, who has and still is a cause of embarrassment to Blair. It is the government, and those that allege that Haw and his protest are a threat that are truly endangering liberties.

Then we have the noting of the parallels with the animal rights lobby. What part of the animal rights lobby are we talking about here? Are we talking about the protest outside the Oxford laboratory, where even stricter restrictions have now been imposed by the judge? Even under those restrictions, 50 members of the public are still allowed to protest, even if only on one day. Mr Haw is just one man. Professor John Stein, while supporting the injunction there worries about protestors becoming victimised and being tarred as extremists. Maybe what Luff is actually alluding to is the animal rights extremists who dug up the body of a relative of those who ran a guinea pig farm, who led a campaign of terror? If so, it amounts to an outrageous slur against a man who has never used violence or intimidatory tactics.

Lembit Opik's EDM sets out exactly what is behind the removal of Haw's banners and possible removal:
symbolic of the erosion of liberty in a country where the freedom to protest should be fundamental to democracy.
The likes of Peter Luff, Peter Bottomley and any others who subsequently sign his EDM are complicit in the erosion of liberties which has gone on under "New" Labour.

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Friday, May 26, 2006 

Moron interviews cat: cat miaows.



Dear oh dear. George Galloway just can't help putting his foot right in it. This time, in a interview with everyone's favourite ex-tabloid editor, Piers "Morgan" Moron, he's said that the assassination of Tony Blair would be morally justifiable.

Just for a moment, forget that the war on Iraq started with a decapitation strategy, namely to kill Saddam Hussein. It failed. What he is justifying is in essence a vigilante attack, an act of murder as a policy of revenge for what he ordered in Iraq. Galloway claims that this would be morally justifiable. Does Galloway therefore believe in the death penalty? Even if Blair was to be tried for war crimes at the Hague, he would not face the death penalty, and rightly so. Nothing morally justifies the death of another person, whatever the original actions. It may make us feel better, it may satisfy our anger and lust for the blood of the perpetrator, but it is not justice, and we should be trying to end the death penalty worldwide, not fan the flames of hatred by justifying it.

Galloway does then go on to slightly clarify his comments by saying that he would inform the authorities of such a plot, and says some wise words about what would happen in the aftermath, but it doesn't make his justification any more acceptable.
"My goodness, this is a moral maze. Er, yes, I would because such an operation would be counter-productive because it would just generate a new wave of anti-Arab sentiment whipped up by the press. It would lead to new draconian anti-terror laws, and would probably strengthen the resolve of the British and American services in Iraq rather than weaken it. So, yes, I would inform the authorities."
He also makes some deeply embarrassing comments, like Blair did to the Sun, about how virile he is:
GQ: So there's life in the old dog yet ?

GG: Absolutely, oh yes, I'm 51, I'm younger than Tony Blair. I don't have a dicky heart, I'm up like a broom handle in the morning. I don't drink or gamble - I'm still a catch.

As Michael White points out, this all seems like very adolescent postering. The enmity with Blair seems more than anything to be like teenage rivalry, both competing for the same girl who in this case doesn't exist. The only difference is that while Blair has his odd moments, his image was carved out in stone, how he was a pretty straight kinda guy. By contrast, while Galloway has endured smear after smear and still came out on top, he's also been completely naive, something he doesn't admit to, especially over his Big Brother appearance. His vanity is also one of his stumbling blocks. In essence, both are the ultimate politicians; strong on spin and charisma, rather than substance. Galloway is gallivanting around the world, just like Blair, but without the power back here at home. Both could have achieved so much more than they actually have, and that's really the most sad thing about them.

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Torygraph wins most memorable front page of last 100 years.

One wonders whether editors of all three of the other broadsheets, as well as the Sun are feeling rather peeved about the Telegraph winning the Newsnight vote for most memorable front page of the last 100 years with its September the 12th 2001 issue. After all, they all used the exact same photograph.

Dame Pauline Double-Barreled Name advocated it because:
An unforgettable image, of New York's Twin Towers ablaze and falling, together with a simple headline, and covering the entire page of a broadsheet newspaper.

Dame Pauline Neville-Jones, former diplomat and chair of the Joint Intelligence Committee, argues that an event that seemingly ushered the world into a new era of uncertainty, has enduring significance.

Well yes, but that's lauding the event rather the front page itself isn't it? Her other reason was that the front page was clean. Yet the Guardian, Independent and Sun front pages were arguably even cleaner; they didn't have any other text apart from the headline, while the Torygraph had the start of the article.

Obsolete voted for the Sun's Gotcha!, mainly because it sums up everything bad about tabloid journalism in one handy front page. The Guardian front page on Jonathan Aitken and the Mail front page on the killers of Stephen Lawrence were the best actual front pages, which were not just depending on the event, but putting it in context of top class investigative and campaigning journalism.

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Thursday, May 25, 2006 

Further information about the (il)legality of the Iraq war revealed.

Last year in the run up to the general election there was a growing campaign for the full reasoning of the Attorney General in deciding that the Iraq war was legal to be published. After leaks of some of the information, the government published the attorney's thinking on the 7th of March 2003, which although the government at the time called it a "damp squib", showing that the attorney hadn't changed his mind after pressure from Blair, as alleged, did show at the very least that the Attorney was unsure of the basis for the legality of a military strike at the time. Now we have the attorney's thinking during the 7th and 17th of March 2003, following continued demands for it, which shows how he came to his much clearer decision that war was in fact "legal".

As the narrative sets out, the Attorney General had came to his original more equivocal decision that war might be legal after discussions with Foreign Office lawyers, Jack Straw, foreign secretary at the time, Sir Jeremy Greenstock, the British ambassador to the United Nations at the time, and members of the US administration who had been closely involved in the negotiation surrounding resolution 1441. The decision which the Attorney made on the 7th was based on the 4th paragraph of the resolution, which referred to what actions would be taken if there was a further "material breach" by Iraq, referring to the 11th and 12 paragraphs for what actions the security council should take. Paragraph 12 is the key. It says that the council should convene immediately in order to
consider (my emphasis) the situation. The wording is crucial, in the attorney's judgement, as it is only consider, rather than decide (my emphasis again). The attorney took this to mean that the original resolution, that authorised the original war against Iraq in 1990, could then be revived so that military force was legal.

Perhaps what is more key here is that Lord Goldsmith only took the advice of those who were in favour of war, whether they got the second resolution or not, except seemingly for the FCO lawyers, who were apparently opposed. Elizabeth Wilmhurst, the foreign office's deputy legal adviser resigned over Goldsmith's decision. Both Jack Straw and Jeremy Greenstock were by this point resigned to war, if they had been opposed at any time in the past. The US administration had originally not wanted to take Iraq back to the security council, but was eventually apparently persuaded by the dual efforts of Colin Powell and Tony Blair, mainly because Blair needed UN authorisation to sell any military conflict both to his own party and to the British public. Blair had seemingly already signed up to regime change at any cost, as the Downing Street memos have since made clear. The exercise at the UN was merely window dressing for what was going to come sooner or later anyway. On the eve of war Donald Rumsfeld had said that the US may well go it alone, as they were worries both at home and in Washington that Blair would not win the vote that parliament was given to authorise armed conflict. At the end, it was Lord Goldsmith's advice, along with the even more enthusiastic support for war from the Conservatives that got the vote for military action through.

Did the Attorney General then change his mind? To an extent he did, as the narrative released today makes even clearer. His 7th of March advice stated that a second resolution was the "safest" option, but that his legal analysis may change if a second resolution was not achieved. Change it did, but not because of the failure to achieve a second resolution but because of the meetings Goldsmith had at Downing Street where the Chief of the Defence Staff demanded "clear indication" of the legal position for the military forces, as paragraph 19 of the narrative makes clear. In Paragraph 20 it is recorded that the Legal Adviser for the Ministry of Defence asked the Legal Secretary to the Law Officers to clarify and make sure that the Attorney General was certain in his advice that action by the UK would "be in accordance with national and international law". Paragraph 21 shows the Treasury Solicitor made clear to the Attorney General that the legal advice had to be clearer. Pressure on Goldsmith was rising. Paragraph 24 shows the changing of Goldsmith's position. Rather than now thinking that a second resolution was the safest option, he had come round to the "better" view that there was a lawful basis for the use of force without a second resolution.

What then made Goldsmith come round to this better view? The second resolution was not forthcoming, which would have been "safest", but there had been no further material breach, and its arguable whether there had been one at all. Iraq was still involved in a tenuous co-operation with the weapons inspectors, and the missiles which exceeded the distance allowed under previous resolutions were being destroyed. Nothing had changed on the ground, or since Hans Blix's last report to the security council. What had changed is that the military and other parts of government needed something more concrete than his wishy-washy advice on the 7th, as President Bush was determined not to move back the war any further. Blair needed the vote in parliament to go his way, and the advice of the 7th was not convincing many backbench Labour MPs, and the military needed clearer advice to be sure that action was "legal". Goldsmith seemingly erred on the side of caution, and came round to the opinion that the better view was that a second resolution was now not needed, despite him say that getting one would be safest only days earlier. Paragraphs 28 and 29 show that on the 14th of March, after Goldsmith had revised his previous advice, he wrote to the Private Secretary of the Prime Minister to make sure that Blair's view was that Iraq had committed further material breaches. The next day the Private Secretary wrote back, confirming that the prime minister was of that view. This led to the Attorney over the weekend (15 and 16th) drawing up his new opinion of the legality of war in full, which was then given to parliament as a written statement on the 17th.

Was it pressure from Blair or from the military that made Goldsmith alter his opinion? Without further information, and Phillipe Sands wonders whether there is still further background data which has not yet been released that shows how Goldsmith came to change his opinion to being much more amenable to the pro-war position, then it's really impossible to tell whether he simply succumbed to pressure from both or was directly told by Blair to change his mind. As such, we're really still in the dark over the bigger picture, and both pro and anti-war camps can still argue that they are respectively in the right over the issue of the legality of the war.

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Wednesday, May 24, 2006 

Deporting the easy targets.

While John Reid does everything he possibly can to suck up to the tabloids by ranting at how useless his department is, those who are searching for the foreign prisoners who were ordered to be deported at the end of their sentences seem to be picking on those who weren't even more eagerly. Two cases of this have now come to light.

The first was that of Ernesto Leal, who two years ago was sentenced to three and a half years in prison for grevious bodily harm following a fight in a pub. He was a model prisoner, released after 18 months and met all his probation requirements. His family had fled to Britain after his father had been tortured by the Pinochet regime in Chile, and was given indefinite leave to remain here. On May the 1st he was arrested and taken to Belmarsh, the high security prison which notoriously holds some of the most dangerous prisoners in the United Kingdom, awaiting a deportation hearing. Both the Met and the Home Office have made numerous mistakes in the handling of his case, and while his MP Diane Abbot has now made representations to the immigration minister, his future still hangs in the balance. You can get the early day motion about Leal sent to your MP by visiting here.

The second is that of Saqib Almas, who similarly was jailed for petty crime a few years back and had served his time. Now two years later, police and immigration officers turned up on his doorstep at 8am, ready to kick his door in. While Leal had indefinite leave to remain, Almas has dual nationality - Pakistani as well as British. This has made either no difference, or indeed, may well have been the excuse to deport him. The police, according to his sister, claim that he has no ties here - despite his whole family having lived here since he was 18 months old. He's now being held at Harmondsworth detention centre, similarly waiting to be deported.

In the hysteria surrounding the foreign criminals fiasco, it seems that as the police can't seem to find the vast majority of the 778 subject to a deportation order, that they're picking up those that have committed minor crimes who they do know the whereabouts of, so that their deportation figures are as a result slightly improved. It doesn't seem to matter to those who are ordering these raids that they're wrecking the lives of those who have contributed to this society but who have in the past had problems with the law; as long as they're pleasing their political ministers by doing their "job", anything goes. It's a sad indictment of this government that it is more inclined to listen to tabloid hysteria than to judge each case on its merits.

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Tuesday, May 23, 2006 

25 (Update: 78) police destroy Haw's vigil.

And speaking of being absolutely shameless, the police last night turned up at 2:45am (darkness covers a multitude of sins) and took away all of Brian Haw's banners and placards except for those that roughly cover 3 metres (see above photo), loading them up into a container, likely to be destroyed. Their justification is that he has been repeatedly in breach of the Serious and Organized Farce Act's banning of demonstrations without prior permission with 1km of parliament, after the appeal court made its specious ruling that he could in fact be found to breach the SOCPA act.

Bloggerheads makes the following invitation:

You are invited to attend Parliament Square in solidarity with Brian Haw tomorrow (Wednesday) morning at 11am ready for 11.30 (when Blair is due to drive past on his way to PMQs).

It is suggested that bells and whistles are used. Here's why.

I am going to further suggest that, instead of being in Parliament Square (where police are sure to clamp down and round people up during this short period), you merely be in that general area with a *concealed* bell or whistle at the ready... and then let fly when Baby Blair's motorcade goes past.

And, if anybody gives you any stick, remind them that:

1) SOCPA forbids the use of loudspeakers - *not* noisemakers.
2) SOCPA also fails to define what constitutes a demonstration.
3) So if they don't get out of your face, you'll be forced to have them arrested for demonstrating their ignorance.

Indymedia has more pictures and a fuller story.

Update: From the Daily Mail, of all places:
It emerged today that 78 officers had been involved and the operation had cost 7,200 pounds - 3,000 pounds on overtime and another 4,200 pounds on transport, catering and the erection of road signs. A row over the raid erupted today at a meeting of the Metropolitan Police Authority, the body which oversees Scotland Yard, with one member suggesting it had brought the force into "disrepute". Another said it gave the impression, around the world, that Britain was "suppressing dissent by people opposed to the Iraq war".

All for the vanity of the Dear Leader. Good to know that instead of being spent on other police activites that £7,000 went on destroying one man's protest.

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Absolutely shameless.

Cherie Blair has at times had a rough deal from the media. Even so, there is no excuse whatsoever for what can only be described as heartlessness of the highest order, when at a Labour party event in Mayfair last Wednesday a copy of the Hutton report,
signed by both Cherie and Alastair Campbell was put up for auction, and fetched £400 for the Labour party coffers.

Cherie Blair is meant to be a highly intelligent woman, someone who has represented the persecuted and forgotten. Did it not go through her head, or that of any of the other Blairites who were present at this bash that auctioning a report that came about after a scientist killed himself when he was caught in the middle of a battle between the government and the BBC would be tasteless and offensive? That's without even getting into the fact that the report was a hideous whitewash which gave the government the benefit of the doubt and instead savaged the BBC, when their story was almost entirely right, resulting in the resignation of its director general and chairman of governors. We're still witnessing the fallout, as the BBC has become ever more supine in the face of government pressure, and in investigating this government's worst excesses.

The only explanation must be that power has finally managed to corrupt absolutely all those associated with New Labour. That their moral compass has been shown to be so completely lacking of late, and that Dave Cameron is stealing all the Labour party's attractive clothes, as yesterday when he promoted happiness over the pursuit of money, something that the left has told the government to focus on for years with little sign of them listening, seems to point to Labour completely losing its way. The result will be a Tory government that like Labour, is obsessed with looking good but underneath represents the same old interests and policies. Instead of promoting happiness, both parties just seem to be adding to the depression.

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Express-watch: More asylum distortions.

As is usual with the Express, the headline and the story have very little connection. In this case, the asylum seekers who sued were both torture victims who had fled from their own countries. They had been detained at the Oakington reception centre in Cambridgeshire, where they were meant to be examined by medical staff within 24 hours, as stipulated in Rule 34 of the 2001 Detention Centre Rules. They were in fact detained for six days before they were eventually released.

The judge, Mr Justice Collins ruled that "K", when eventually seen by a nurse, had injuries and scars which were consistent with inflicted injuries. While the other claimant, "D" was more difficult to assess, he ruled that an examination would have resulted in her also being released. Rule 34 had been introduced to safeguard torture victims from being detained while their claims were "fast-tracked", and as the rule introduced by the government stipulates that they must be examined within 24 hours, they were liable for damages, as they had been wrongly denied an exam within that time.

Mr Justice Collins also added:
[my] decision should not be seen “as a charter for others seeking asylum in the UK to claim, or to seek to obtain legal aid for claiming, financial compensation for allegedly unlawful detention for short periods of time under the fast-track process.”

So if others are looking to exploit this ruling, it seems unlikely that they will get very far. If the government can't guarantee that asylum seekers will be examined within 24 hours at its own detention centres, then it shouldn't have put such a restrictive time limit into the bill. Indeed, unlike recent "Human Rights" decisions, the Home Office was magnanimous:
"The Home Office accepts today's judgment and regrets that these individuals were not seen by medical practitioners within 24 hours of their arrival and is committed to learning lessons from this incident.

"The Home Office takes very seriously the issue of healthcare within its removal centres and the health of all detainees is monitored closely, which includes access to primary and secondary medical facilities, including psychiatric professionals."

By coincedence, yesterday saw the issuing of a report from the Church of England which accused the government of draconian treatment of asylum seekers.

The most savage criticism was of the treatment of asylum seekers. "The government must lead rather than follow public opinion on immigration, refugee and asylum policy. Specifically, asylum seekers should be allowed to sustain themselves and contribute to society through paid work. It is unaccceptable to use destitution as a tool of coercion when dealing with 'refused' asylum seekers."

When we have newspapers which day after day print distortions about immigrants or asylum seekers, what chance does public opinion have? Thankfully, some are trying to readdress the balance. Natasha Walter has wrote an article about female refugees and their struggle to be heard over on Comment is Free.

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Monday, May 22, 2006 

Sun-watch: A marriage made in hell.

One of Rebekah Wade's main selling points to Murdoch must have been her closeness to New Labour. She's long been a good friend of David Blunkett, who she was dining and commiserating with on the night when she smacked her husband and spent a few hours in Inspector Knacker's cells. She also had a good relationship with Blair, leading to such wonderful interviews as the notorious pre-election 2005 one, where it was revealed that Tony has a huge penis and that he can do it all night.

Changing political times lead to changing political friends. As evidenced in recent weeks by increasingly hostile and angry editorals, directed at the Human Rights Act and the Home Office, but also at Blair's wife and the government itself, we now learn that Wade managed to get Dave Cameron tickets to the Beckham's pre-World Cup bash. She's also recently ditched Blunkett as the Sun's worst columnist and replaced him with the talentless turd that is Kelvin MacKenzie. Could that have possibly been a pre-emptive move to stop Murdoch from getting rid of her and giving the editor's seat back to MacKenzie? Her brown nosing of Cameron seems to be in line with Murdoch's own thinking of backing a winner, with the paper praising him for promising to get rid of the Human Rights Act. With Labour slumped in the polls after the local elections, and the Tories maybe finally believing they can win again, all signs suggest that the Sun and Cameron may soon be getting hitched. Watch this space.

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Do the Home Office reshuffle!

McNulty comments on the size of James Dawute.
Just when they must be thinking that things can't get any worse over at the Home Office, over two days they get hit by another 3 major cock-ups, in all senses of the term.

Firstly, everyone's favourite useless computer firm, C(r)apita (yup, the same company from which Rod Alridge resigned after being caught up in the loans-for-peerages scandal after giving £1,000,000 to the Labour party) has once again messed up, and again it's at the Criminal Records Bureau, which you might remember a few year's ago was criticised after it built up a huge backlog of cases, which meant some schools had to remain shut at the start of the year because their new teachers had not been positively vetted. This time, the boot has been on the other foot. At least 1,500 people were refused jobs or college/university places after being wrongly found to have a criminal past or record. Emma Budd for one was denied two teaching posts after being told she had been convicted for shoplifting. Why being convicted for stealing should stop you being a teacher is rather besides the point when she wasn't even guilty in the first place. To add insult to injury, Crapita and the Home Office in their usual arrogant way have refused to apologise for ruining people's lives, as err, they were erring on the side of caution, and after all, 25,000 people last year were regarded as unsuitable for such jobs as a result of their checks. That's alright then.

After the story of the illegal immigrants who were working as cleaners at the Home Office through a contractor, Sunday saw a much more regular scandal. After the Sun, in one of its rare actual pieces of public interest journalism, revealed back in January that immigration officials had been offering sex for visas, an investigation had found there was no corruption racket. Enter James Dawute, who was recorded and filmed by the Observer offering an 18-year-old Zimbabwean asylum seeker, who herself had been raped, help with her claim in return for sex. One man obviously does not sum up the whole of the immigration department and those helping them with their claims, but it rather does undermine the findings of the investigation. The Tories are understandably calling for an explanation.

And now today we have the story that our open prisons, are err, open. The Liberal Democrats obtained figures that show that 13,000 prisoners have absconded in the last 10 years. Leyhill prison had records that showed 400 had walked out over the last seven years. All rather frightening, but it bears remembering that those at open prison are those either coming to the end of long sentences and who are judged at low risk to the public, or those that are judged as no threat at all. Both are often let out to work in the community to help them readjust to society before they actually are released. The figures don't say whether they include inmates who may one night been unable to get back to the prison after work, due to traffic problems or other difficulties. They have also fought back by saying that most are quickly rearrested, and that by their nature if prisoners want to escape from open prison, they can. The penalties for doing so generally don't make it worth their while.

Even so, the solution to all of these problems is to err, swap ministers, which is exactly what John "Oh fuck, not John Reid" Reid has done, by moving Tony McNulty from Immigration to Police, and Liam Bryne, who had been in charge of policing for a whole two weeks, to McNulty's former position. Someone needs to tell Blair and John Reid that tampering with the ministers isn't going to help. The Home Office needs root and branch reform, which includes splitting the department up. At the moment it is completely dysfunctional, and responds entirely to newspaper headlines, which is exactly what today's reshuffle is meant to placate. In that way it is just like Downing Street. A headline and shouty editoral in the Sun means that Blair jumps. It's not just their fault though; it's all our faults. The result of the 24 hour news environment means that we demand instant action. It can't go on that way. Institutional incompetence needs sorting out over time, and changing jobs doesn't solve it by any stretch of the imagination.

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Academies r shit.

Well, who would have thought it? The government's cure-all for failing inner city bog standard comprehensives, are themselves, failing. According to a study by Terry Wrigley, a senior lecturer at Edinburgh University, the number of pupils that have managed to achieve 5 GCSEs at A*-C has improved by a whopping 0.2% - which those kind people at the Guardian have averaged out to the equivalent of 3 pupils - across the first 11 academies.

Now, we shouldn't really be cynical. That's 3 more students that have had their life chances dramatically improved. The academies themselves are relatively new, and just having a new building isn't going to change bad teaching, behaviour or leadership problems that have built up over a number of years. However much opprobrium the disingenuous idea of giving a private company or grouping a major influence on the curriculum is for a sum which a number of them have not even paid, they deserve to be given a slightly longer chance. But wait! That isn't the worst of it, oh no. A spokesman tried to spin the results by saying the following:

the academies' GCSE results were "outstripping" those of their predecessor schools, adding that if English and maths were not included there had been an 8 percentage point rise in those getting five good GCSEs.

Yep, that's right, if you exclude those throwaway unnecessary subjects like English and Maths, then err, there's a whole 8% increase in those getting five "good" GCSEs. Perhaps the spokesman, despite working for the Department of Education, doesn't realise that English and Maths are 2 of the 3 core GCSE subjects which every student has to take, the other being Science. Then again, when those in charge already have the feeling that the kids they're teaching might well be thick, what's the point of teaching them English and Maths? All they're going to do is stack shelves and work the tills at Tesco's, where no brain power is required whatsoever. It's better that way, as they're less likely to question the amount they're getting paid as well. It seems this may well actually be what they're doing:
some academies were diverting children away from GCSEs to boost their standing in school league tables. The study found that many children had been switched from taking separate subjects at GCSE to the vocational GNVQ qualification, which counts as four GCSEs in government tables.

Indeed, shortly before Obsolete left its bog-standard comprehensive behind, all the students which were doing poorly or were evaluated to do poorly at the Key Stage 4 SATs were encouraged to take on GNVQs instead of GCSEs in their 10th year. While for some this was better than them just getting even more disillusioned and disgruntled in the more "academic" classes, there was also a reasonable amount of pressure for them to do it whether they liked it or not, purely because it helped the schools' results in the consequent league tables, and stopped the school from falling into "failing" status. As Terry Wrigley goes on:

"There seems to be something important going on here," he said. "Of course we should value vocational as well as academic learning, but false equivalents simply let down the most vulnerable young people. It may be in the school's short term interests, and the government's, to improve exam statistics in this way. However, as soon as an individual applies for a job or university place, they will face problems. How many employers regard a GNVQ in computing plus a C in art as equal to five good GCSEs in different subjects, especially if you include English and maths?"

According to Mr Wrigley the proportion of children taking GNVQ qualification has risen from 13% at the predecessor schools to around 52% at the academies.

And there lies the problem. There has undoubtedly been a lack of respect for vocational qualifications in Britain for a number of years, something that has to change. For the many the boundaries of academic schooling are both constricting and leading many to think of themselves of failures. In most places the 11+, which had done the same to children year after year, has been replaced with another system where it still fails, but at an older age. This is not to say that children should be forced into vocational subjects if they appear to be performing poorly in the likes of English and Maths. That has just as damaging repercussions at the above. There are plenty of pupils who flourish in their subjects later in life than others. Yet for many who would rather be doing something "hands on", although not in the John Prescott sense of the term, there are few opportunities. It's something which the likes of the CBI, that continues to decry poor communication and mathematical knowledge of those who leave school, both at 16 and 18, should do something about, rather than continuing to moan while doing nothing.

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Saturday, May 20, 2006 

Lining them up and knocking them down: Lies about Iran's "dress code".

It's sometimes difficult to ascertain whether a news story is pure propaganda, designed to harm and misinform, or whether it's based on a tiny amount of truth and then embellished further along the line. This is further complicated when it involves a country such as Iran, where correct translation is everything. While the latter could be the case in this instance, with the Canadian National Post printing on its front page that Iran is "eyeing" badges for Jews, it seems a lot more likely that it's the former.

What makes the story seem almost like the latter instance of the above is that is based on a small amount of fact. Amir Taheri states that the law replaces an original one from 1982 that dealt with women's clothes. That is exactly what this one also does. As Juan Cole points out, this much is true. The law is meant to further restrict women's clothing, and what is regarded as "un-Islamic" dress. Already police have been ordered to crackdown on those who wear their headscarves with too much hair showing, or on men with "outlandish" hairstyles. Apparently dog-walking is also considered a no-no.

Where the report gets into inaccuracy, and is downright misleading, is that it says that the law establishes a dress code. It does not. Nor does the law even mention "badges" or identifying marks for different religious denominations, as the only Jewish Iranian MP has come out and made clear. What makes the report seem so terrifying is in its parallels with Nazi Germany. Not only would the Jews have to wear a piece of material identifying them, but the material would also have to be yellow, exactly the same colour as the star which was imposed on them by the fascists. All this ties in exactly with what some politicians and commentators are increasingly doing; comparing Iran, and Ahmadinejad himself directly with Hitler. George Bush and his aides themselves now do this, according to a former senior intelligence official.

Not that comparing the next rogue state with our favourite historical enemy is by any means a new thing. Before the Iraq war we were constantly reminded of the dangers of "appeasement", the failed policy pursued by Neville Chamberlain. That Iraq had been bombed for twelve years, that there were UN-imposed no fly zones, that the country had no air force and that the longest range missiles it had were being destroyed was still no obstacle to this comparison. With Iran, the country is nowhere near such a miserable state. Hence why the propaganda against the Iranians and Ahmadinejad is coming on even heavier than that which we saw before the battle for Baghdad.

Amir Taheri himself, is as you might expect, a partisan figure. The end of the National Post's article mentions that he's a member of Benador Associates. A quick trip over to their website reveals that other members of Benador include James Woolsey and Richard Perle, both signatories and members of the Project for A New American Century. Another member was the recently deceased A.M. Rosenthal, an ex-executive New York Times editor, who supported the Iraq war and who supposedly suggested that other "rogue" nations should be given a 3-day ultimatum to reveal the truth about their WMD programmes after which bombing would commence. Taheri's other recent articles include his analysis of Ahmadinejad's letter to George Bush, which he claims shows that:
the present regime in Iran is the enemy of the current international system and is determined to undermine and, if possible, destroy it.
Another recent article, this one for our very own Torygraph, claims that Iran's lust for a nuclear weapon is err, all about the hidden Imam, stoopid.

As increasingly happens in the 24-hour news environment, the story was quickly gobbled up with gusto by those on the right, who seemingly didn't bother to check it before going to air or print. Taheri himself repeated the claims for Murdoch's New York Post, while his Faux News also reported the story. The Drudge Report, ex-scourge of Clinton, had the story up for 6 hours before it was removed with no explanation. Harry's Place, everyone's favourite bomb 'em and see what happens next repository also posted the story up, now with a disclaimer saying that it may well not be true. The National Post itself now has an article up reporting that experts are casting doubt on their original claims.

The most worrying thing about the whole episode is that everyone is prepared to believe the worst about Iran. Despite the disaster which has taken place in Iraq, which Ghaith Abdul-Ahad today shockingly reports on in the Guardian, we seem to be willing for the same thing to happen again. It needs urgently repeating that Iran is not Iraq. The situation could not be more complicated, but military action at any stage is only likely to make everything even worse. That Iran was earlier this week mocking the latest attempt at a deal from the EU shows that we may have left the carrot and stick diplomacy too late. With the enrichment having started, a light water reactor isn't good enough for the Iranians. Hard bargaining may yet happen, but the problem certainly isn't going to go away. With the propaganda against the mullahs not yet reached fever pitch, we may yet have a lot more debunking to do, or in the long run, accepting that Iran has gone nuclear and that any action now is more dangerous than the status-quo.

(Thanks to both Lenin's Tomb and Juan Cole for some of the sources on this piece.)

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Friday, May 19, 2006 

Express-watch: Britain's our next stop!

With immigration not being out of the news over the last few days, what with the civil servant giving evidence to the Home Affairs committee saying he "hadn't got the faintest idea" how many illegal immigrants were in the country, the foreign prisoner non-deportation scandal rumbling on and with five illegal immigrants turning up for work at the Home Office (although they were cleaners, employed by a contractor and were found out when security checked them over, although Channel 4 News apparently got the company to admit that have actually worked for the immigration service before, and Newsnight is currently airing its own allegations.) it's not much of a surprise that the newspaper which most frequently distorts the true picture of immigration in this country is leading on it. However, even they today seem to be completely making it up.

The Express story is about the thousands of migrants which are making the perilous trip over the sea, usually from the Atlantic ports of Mauritania and Senegal to try and reach mainland Europe. Mostly, they don't make it to Spain itself, but instead to the Canary islands. Tenerife, known mainly to Brits as a holiday island, has been receiving the most, with reports that up to 150 a day have been arriving via boat.

So where does Britain come into all this? Well, it err, doesn't really. These immigrants, who have paid all the money they have either saved or managed to get hold of to traffickers who take them to the ports and then abandon them once they've been given a boat, might have the intention of coming here, but it's huge unlikely that they'd ever be able to make it, or manage to. They have no documentation when they arrive (if they arrive, reports suggest up to 1,000 people already this year have died trying to reach Spanish territory) and no money. The Spanish have reopened an ex-army barracks to house those who have so far made the journey. The Spanish have also not found a solution to the problem, although they have suggested that they will take to using satellite monitoring to prevent yet more waves of immigrants reaching the islands. Even if the immigrants managed to get another boat once they had reached Tenerife and then get to Spain itself, they are faced with the problems of having no money. Smuggling using lorries coming through the Channel no longer works - all trucks are swept by sniffer dogs, and drivers face heavy fines if any immigrants are found. This leaves the immigrants with again making the journey by sea, or perhaps being used as one-way drug mules and there have been no reports of migrants managing to make it across the busy channel via yacht.

There's no doubting that there is a serious problem with illegal immigration, both with how it is seen and how the Home Office is dealing with it (or not, which seems to be what's happening.) The problem with those entering the country though is mainly with people traffickers who charge huge sums to get them to mainland Europe or through to Britain. Those who are making the trip from Africa via boat face almost insurmountable problems in making it to Britain. So why is the Express claiming that these migrants will be coming to these shores? Well, it makes for a nice scare story, it helps bash the Blair government and in the current climate, hardly anyone is going to bother questioning it. Why let the truth get in the way of a good story, after all?

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Summarising Big Brother.

On a day when there appears to have been a slight uprising at Guantanamo Bay, when the Express is printing blatant lies on its front page yet again (see above post) and when Romano Prodi makes an impassioned speech about withdrawing Italian troops from Iraq, the top story for the red-top tabloids is of course Big Brother. It's not just the tabloids though, the Guardian web site is getting excited about this fantastic human spectacle as well.

In line with this, Obsolete is happy to provide a cut out 'n' print guide to all the contestants, so that you'll never have to watch the programme or read about it again until the end of its run (although Obsolete is going to keep a tally of how many times it features on all newspapers front pages), in as few words as possible:

Pete - Crossdresser, Tourettes. (Although judging by the amount of swearing on the show, whether anyone will notice or not is doubtful.)
Shahbaz - Asian, gay.
Lea - surgically enhanced older slapper.
Nikki - surgically enhanced younger slapper.
Imogen - slapper.
Mikey - moron.
Dawn - misanthropist.
George - toff.
Grace - "Sloane ranger".
Lisa - Braindead loudmouth.
Sezer - "Self-made" capitalist.
Bonnie - naive attention-seeker.
Richard - gay, Canadian.
Glyn - Welsh, moron.

(That's enough fame-seeking nobodies. Ed.)

(I wrongly identified Pete as a transsexual. Apologies to transsexuals everywhere.)

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Thursday, May 18, 2006 

13 weeks of absolute fucking hell.

Yes, it's that time of year again. No longer is the British summer time the season during which the newspapers print more surveys and PR crap than usual, or concentrate on how hot or cold or rainy the weather is, because the tabloids at least now have something even worse to splash on. For those of us who actually like watching television which educates or entertains, or heaven forbid, tries to do both at the same time, it's the season which makes you want to slam your head repeatedly into the screen in a futile attempt to break both it and your skull at the same time. Oh lordy, it's time for Big Brother once again.

When first launched, the show was vaguely interesting and something slightly different than the norm. The first lot of contestants weren't really that outrageous or some would say, that interesting. The big happening was that one of the contestants had managed to smuggle in a mobile phone, and had been conspiring against the others, only to be found out and booted from the show. It was eventually won by a likeable builder called Craig, who has since gone to appear in the inevitable DIY shows on the BBC, and for a while, on Avid Merrion's celeb-mocking (and later loving) Bo Selecta!

The problem that the producers of the show then had was that while it had enthused a reasonable amount of the public, and they were likely to return, it was thought unlikely that it would happen if the show was just, well, the same thing again. The first pointing towards what was going to happen to the later series was with the late appearance of an airheaded girl called Claire, who just happened to have had a breast enlargement, which inevitably caused both interest in the house and in the papers. From then on the die was cast. Series two, while still featuring some of the likable or boring people that the first had, also had among its cast a woman called Helen who is still most remembered for saying "I like blinking, I do". Along with her, the series had its first openly gay man in Brian Dowling, who went on to win and who now is presenting ITV's new call-in game show, the Mint. In a voyeuristic and somewhat tacky turn, another gay man entered the house half way through the series, who was meant to sent Brian's pulses racing. What actually happened was that the two didn't get along at all. The tabloids, which had noticed that covering the show helped boost circulation in otherwise low-selling months, started to call the show "boring" in their droves. Frightened by this, the producers decided to turn the show "evil", along with introducing the most dysfunctional people it could find for the third series.

It worked. The third series contained Jade Goody, a complete and utter vacuous moron who was abused in the tabloids from the beginning, only for those watching the show to come to like her, which resulted in the papers' performing a famous reverse ferret. From calling her fat, ugly and stupid, she was soon turned into the nation's favourite working class gal. Her stripping naked during a poker game, while none of the others took off any clothes wasn't degrading or silly, it showed that she was up for anything and took it in her stride. After drunkenly performing fellatio on one of the men in the house under the cover of the bed clothes, it wasn't sleazy or unsettling television, it was riveting and "true to life", as well as being followed by days of discussion of whether it had happened or not. Along with Jade Goody, the show for the first time had what could be properly described as very attractive young woman on it. To the Daily Sport, this was a boon, as it managed to get hold of stills of the eventual winner, Kate Lawler, naked about to enter the shower.

The fourth series turned out to be the true turning point. The show was again derided as boring, as the producers had took fright at the criticism that when the show had been harsh and nasty that the people inside the show had suffered most. The producers changed their minds, and gave in to tabloid demand for sexier, younger and more naive and self-obsessed people to go into the house for weeks on end. Since then, all that has come from the show has been a transsexual who made a single then disappeared, numerous young women who have stripped off for the likes of Nuts and Zoo, and the ever rising star of the host, Davina McCall, despite her having no talent whatsoever, as evidenced by her recently derided attempt at a normal chat show on the BBC.

So what's wrong with the show you might ask? Isn't it just catering for a young audience which acts exactly like those it sees in the house? Well yes, that is was what it does to a certain extent. Yet you have to wonder about the sanity of those who enter and whether it further warps them or prevents them from leading a normal every day life after they leave. As mentioned above, it seems that some of the young women who have entered have become so desperate for cash and or recognition that they have given in to the no doubt abundant offers from the men's magazines to get their baps out, whether they had the intention of doing so in the first place or not. Also of concern is the way that the push for ratings has meant those selected to enter the house are meant to annoy one another and lead to ructions between them all. Last year's was only really notable for two things. A mass violent brawl, which led to the channel being strongly rebuked by Ofcom, and one of the female contestants decision to sit in the middle of the garden outside the house and masturbate with a bottle, after getting very tired and emotional. Both caused uproar, and questions over whether something even worse could possibly happen which the producers would not be able to control. By what's been reported so far, it seems that the new series is carrying on where the old one left off.

This is without going into those of us who were at first fairly interested in the show's premise and how people could live with only having a few others they had met before, working together to get over the challenges set. Now the show is simply a launchpad for a celebrity career, massive greed and cheap pornography. It could have been something like the Stanford prison experiment, except in a social setting. Instead it's been turned into a dumbed-down atmosphere which only exists for conflict to arise between those foolish enough to enter, or for the tabloids to leer and jeer at whether the equivalent of pandas will indeed decide to fuck while under the gaze of millions.

So no, Obsolete won't be watching. It's a shame when Channel 4, which has been one of the TV innovators, and has recently produced the likes of Peep Show, Nathan Barley, Black Books, Peter Kay's Phoenix Nights and Green Wing, as well as excellent Dispatches documentaries can't have the heart to end what has become a glorified freak show. Like the travelling circuses, it will eventually die out. Whether someone will die as a result before that is impossible to tell.

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Move along please.

It's not just demonstrations against government policy which are now being stopped under the Serious and Organised Farce Act's banning of protests within 1km of parliament without getting prior permission. Yesterday Annabel Holt tried to protest outside the annual general meeting of GlaxoSmithKline, that same company which got the outrageously broad injunction which makes publishing the address of any Glaxo shareholder an imprisonable offence. Let's hope that or BT are taking note, otherwise Inspector Knacker might be making a call.

Anyway, you can guess what happened next. Approached by three police officers, she was told to move on or face arrest. She moved on. The only other protestor was a Sylvia Bailey, from a group called the Stevenage Ladies, who seemingly had asked permission. One can only wonder if defence or oil companies will move their AGMs into the restricted zone at short notice to take advantage of the government's ban on protests, which remember, in no way removes the right to protest or to free speech.

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Wednesday, May 17, 2006 

Blair: Nuclear is back with a vengeance.

Despite all that has recently happened, Tony Blair is still going out of his way to anger his own party. In a speech last night to his favourite group of people, the "voice of business", the CBI (expect him to become chairman or member of the boards of a few companies that belong to it when he leaves office), he seemingly decided to pre-empt the government's own energy review which is due to report in July, by saying that "failing to replace the current ageing plants would fuel global warming, endanger Britain's energy security and represent a dereliction of duty to the country".

All the signs are that new nuclear plants are going to be pushed through, whether anyone likes it or not. Parliament seems unlikely to get a vote or even a say in the process, those who might build the plants are demanding that the normal planning restrictions be bypassed so they can get right on with it, and the Guardian reports that the ex-environment minister sacked in the reshuffle has said that the figures behind the case for new nuclear power stations have been a fit-up. This is without going into the fact the North Sea gas and oil fields are nowhere near as dry as they have been claimed to be. The reality is that the quantity that remains is just harder to get at, which means that those precious profits will have to be eaten into a little, and the companies aren't prepared to do that.

John Vidal over on Comment is Free has nine questions which Blair has to answer. I wouldn't hold out too much hope that he will.

Related post: Shiny new Chernobyls.

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Sun-watch: How journalism works.

Apart from whether Jane Moore will ever manage to free her hand from her face, the main question recently regarding the Sun is why Wayne Rooney is currently getting such nice coverage from the Scum. The reason? You might remember that not so long ago Rooney had been getting ready for a legal battle against the newspaper, after both the News of the World and the Sun had printed stories alleging that he had hit his girlfriend, and then told her to "fuck off home" in front of other Manchester United players. The Sun, realising that a possible legal battle over libel with England's wunderkid might not be very good publicity for it during the World Cup campaign, as well as possibly leading other players to give interviews and exclusives to its rivals, settled the case for a cool £100,000. That doesn't include the costs of the action, which are estimated to have run to £500,000 for Rooney and £300,000 for Screws (sorry, News) International. Since then the Sun have run headlines such as "MAKE OUR DREAMS COME TROO" (geddit??) and today has been very sympathetic all over its front page about the fact someone took a hammer to Rooney's cars. Even so, why such a story is front page news when there was by no means a dearth of news yesterday raises eyebrows at just how arslikhan the Sun is going to become to him.

That Rooney has since broken his foot must be causing Wade worries. Wasting £800,000 of Murdoch's money seeing it's unlikely he's to play in the World Cup will not go down well with the Dirty Digger. That said, all may be forgiven if Rooney does by a miracle make the cup, or if even more dream-like, England somehow manage to win. Hunter Davies, who is currently ghosting the first part of Rooney's autobiography, was supposedly meant to be phoned by Rooney every day during the event with his thoughts on what was happening. The publisher which Rooney chose to sell his story to? HarperCollins, owned by one Mr Rupert Murdoch. It perhaps goes without saying that the Sun or Times may well get first rights to the serialisation, which would be expected to boost circulation and help get Murdoch's hard-stolen (surely earned? Ed.) cash back.

Not that Rooney's legal problems with the newspaper are all finished. Patricia Tierney is suing the Sun after it printed her photo and named her as the older prostitute that Rooney slept with after his notorious visits to brothels with other footballers. Tierney maintains that she had only ever worked as a part-time receptionist at the massage parlour, and that her life has been ruined by the article. Rooney may yet be called as a witness.

In other Sun-related news, the parents of the murdered teenager Rochelle Holness are furious at a story which the newspaper published about the circumstances in which she was killed by John McGrady. The Sun, probably informed by a police-source who was completely and utterly wrong, splashed that she was strapped to a table and then dismembered while still alive. The toothless Press Complaints Commission is investigating their complaint, and her parents have said that the paper has been as cruel to them as the murderer was. Not very good publicity for a newspaper which screams for tougher and tougher punishments and removal of rights legislation but falls victim to its own lust for lurid stories about death and sex. Perhaps that's why the Sun has offered a £10,000 reward to anyone who comes forward with information which helps catch the killer of Nisha Patel-Nasri, a police special constable who was apparently murdered outside her own house with one of her own kitchen knives. That bit of information made the commentators who were screaming for anyone caught with a knife in public to be sent to prison look rather stupid.

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Joined-up government.

Friday May the 12th, 2006:
Health secretary Patricia Hewitt declared an end to the "Prozac nation", launching a programme to cut the number of patients on SSRIs and extend counselling to the thousands of people with mild to moderate depression and anxiety.

Monday May the 15th, 2006:
Obsolete's local NHS trust "redeploys" staff in charge of cognitive behavioural therapy groups for those suffering from depression and anxiety as part of the changes to reduce a budget deficit of around £7,000,000. The mental health sector is being hit especially hard, despite already being underfunded. It's a shame that those who have mental health problems don't move politicians as much as women who demand breast cancer drugs that cost £20,000 a year that have not yet been properly tested, only benefit a certain type of cancer and which have even more troubling side effects than the already currently effective drugs available.

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Tuesday, May 16, 2006 

Sun-watch: Another day, another distorted editoral.

Tony Blair is right to say the human rights laws need "rebalancing". But it's time for the Prime Minister to stop talking and start acting. Mr Blair is rightly outraged over the catalogue of rapes and murders by thugs who have been set free early from their sentences. And he is surprised that Afghan hijackers cannot be deported. Mr Blair should not be surprised. These scandals did not come out of a clear blue sky. The laws which allow them were enacted by Mr Blair's Lord Chancellor Derry Irvine - in the face of what the PM now calls "common sense". They were backed by his QC wife, Cherie, a human rights lawyer. And they are still defended by his current Lord Chancellor, Charlie Falconer. But this is not a time for apportioning blame, as the Tories have sought to do, or for political point-scoring. It's too important for that. We need to recognise and admit that mistakes have been made, both by the lawmakers and by those who interpret the laws. And we need to set about putting this scandalous situation right as soon as humanly possible. Mr Blair seems at a loss what to do. We have some suggestions.

First and foremost, he MUST tear up the act enshrining the EU convention in British law. If he is afraid of Brussels, he MUST at least demand opt-outs from its worst clauses. In addition, he MUST abolish rules that set violent criminals free after half their sentences. If, as he says, rogue judges are to blame, he MUST name and shame and - where necessary - suspend them. He MUST end privacy rights for hardened criminals and allow their IDs to be published on the internet. The Prime Minister said yesterday: "The demands of the majority of the law-abiding community have to take precedence." We couldn't have put it better ourselves. There is no higher priority for any government than protecting the public. This legal farce has been going on too long, and Mr Blair's time in Downing Street is finite. He needs to get a grip... And soon.

Firstly, Blair did not say that human rights laws need rebalancing. He said that the debate on civil liberties needed rebalancing. They're not the same thing. Blair was also not surprised that the Afghan "terrorists" could not be deported; what he said was that the ruling was an "abuse of common sense".

After blaming Derry Irvine, Cherie Blair and Charlie Falconer and in previous editorals Labour and Blair, the Sun then decides that it's not time to apportion blame.
(Start apportioning blame immediately or you're fired. Murdoch.) Rebekah Wade then does decide that someone else might be to blame, and it's of course those out of touch old duffers the judges, the same ones that hear all the arguments in court and then make their decision in line with the law, instead of just listening to the juicy bits and obeying the latest Sun editorial. Apparently they should be named and shamed - even though the Judge's name is always given in reports of such cases. Also relevant is the fact that judges cannot hit back or defend themselves, as the Sun well knows. The other solutions to this "legal farce" apparently are to - you've guessed it, rip up the Human Rights Act. If Blair can't do so, he should demand opt-outs from its worst clauses. What clauses would be the worst ones? The right to a fair trial, as guaranteed in article 6? How about freedom of thought, conscience and religion, as guaranteed in article 9? Or could it possibly be article 8, respect to private and family life? After all, as Lord Lester today writes in the Guardian, both the Sun and News of the Screws seem to infringe on the private lives of many people if it makes for a good front-page screamer or if they've shagged some slapper.

The Sun also says that rules letting violent offenders out half-way through their sentences must be stopped. There are no such rules - all the cases are reviewed by the probation panel as and when the time approaches - it is up to them and the prison service whether anyone is released or not. Recent cases have shown that both their training and following up of those released has been poor. This is the fault of the government, but to stop a whole scheme because of a tiny number of mistakes is not the answer, much as keeping everyone in prison until they've served their full time and then dumping them out on the streets without any support is also not the answer. Apparently privacy rights of hardened criminals must be removed, which must be a surprise to almost anyone who is not under 18 who is arrested or charged, as their identities are almost always revealed on the news or in local papers. Recently courts have been given the power to let juries know of the accused's police history, something that also hasn't had problems with being put into law. It's funny that the Sun thinks that hardened criminals should be exposed on the internet, but thinks the opposite when its sister newspaper's star reporter Mahzer Mahmood's photograph, who has procured drugs from dealers to sell to celebrities and paid witnesses to trials which have come of his investigations, is published, as it amounted to a "threat to his life".

Finally then, Bloggerheads managed to obtain a screenshot of the Sun's online poll on whether the Human Rights Act should be scrapped before the results screen was removed. Imagine my shock at why that must have happened:

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Monday, May 15, 2006 

Sun-watch: Yet more distortions.

You would think from the Sun's front page that in some way the law was to blame for why Daniel Charnock was released on bail, to then rape a third victim. Rather, as is usual of Sun distortions and with its on-going campaign against the Human Rights Act, which it today calls "disgraceful", it had nothing to do with it. He was released on conditional bail first by the magistrates, and then by the Judge. They didn't have to, and the blame must lie with them for not recognising just how dangerous the man was.

On the Sun's campaign against the "crazy" Human Rights Act, it claims that 35,000 phoned its "You The Jury" Hotline to call for it to be repealed. Like its claims that 100,000 of its readers had demanded the 90-day detention without trial bill should be made law, it's a rather less impressive figure than it first looks. The Sun, according to ABC circulation figures, sold an average of 3,154,781 copies in April.
35,000 then, comes to approx. 1.1% of its total readership. It gets worse though. The Sun often claims to its advertisers that it commands an actual average readership of about 8.5 million, down from its previous claim of 10 million. If we take its claim at face value, that amounts to a whole 0.04% who agree that the Human Rights Act is both "madness" and "disgraceful". Clearly then, the Sun has a mandate for demanding that the government act. Incidentally, you can vote for whether you think the act should be got rid of at the above Sun link. Sadly, you can't see the real time results. One can only wonder at why that is.

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(Ex)Tory bigot of the year award contender for 2006!

Despite dear old Dave Cameron trying his best to turn the nasty old Tories into the caring 'n' compassionate Conservatives that want to stop chocolate oranges from being near checkouts and make sure that children's clothes aren't sexually suggestive, he was always going to have trouble with some of the party's members who are hard to reconstruct. Step forward Reverend Robert West, until recently a Tory member of South Holland district council in Lincolnshire.

Private Eye runs a yearly award in its Rotten Boroughs column for the most bigoted comment, speech or otherwise by a Tory. It seems it might have already found this year's winner, for Robert West has now formally defected to the British National Party, outraged by Cameron's A-list of potential Tory candidates for the next general election, which was made up of a fair number of women, ethnic minorities and one ex-soap star. (The list also includes Maria Hutchings, a one-issue woman who has been rather derogatory about causes other than her own.)

West has in the past said that "the mixing of the races challenges the glory of God", without explaining how or why. Surely an all-knowing, benevolent God who created men of all races knew that they would intermix? Or is West one of those Church of England members, who like the BNP, believe in Darwinian evolution? After all, when Stephen Green, member of the lunatic Christian Voice group which has been picketing the play Jerry Springer The Opera while it has travelled around the country, had a meeting over possible workings between the two, he was told if he believed in the "literal truth of Genesis than he was even dafter than he appeared."

Following Cameron's A-list, West has now said the following:
[I] have decided to seek refuge from political correctness by applying for asylum with the British National party, Britain's finest and most decent party.

No further comment necessary.

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Saturday, May 13, 2006 

A year on from the Andijan Massacre.

It's hard to believe that it's been a year on from the bloodletting in Uzbekistan, up till recently a fully signed up member of the so-called war on terror. In fact, it was this incident, and the consequent mild but harsh enough criticism from the United States that resulted in the airbases which the Americans were then using being taken back by the Uzbek regime.

There is still no official death toll, or full account of what happened on that day. Ed Vullimay's report in G2 suggests that it could possibly have been in the thousands. Human Rights Watch also has a shedload of documents on the massacre, but it seems as if the outrage has been forgotten. (I must admit that I didn't know about the anniversary until I saw it on BlairWatch. Thanks to them.) Remember, this was the regime that has been reported as boiling opponents alive - something that even Saddam Hussein at his most barbaric never did. Bloggers then called for sanctions on the Uzbek cotton crop, and it's something that is still worth demanding.

Other posts still worth reading are at Bloggerheads, The Disillusioned Kid and Perfect.

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Friday, May 12, 2006 

Sun(Scum)-watch: End this human rights madness!

THE Sun today launches a proud campaign to put an end to the human rights madness that is horrifying the country.

We applaud David Cameron for pledging that the Tories would tear up crazy human rights laws, and we urge Tony Blair to get on and do it while he remains in power.

The whole concept of “human rights” in Britain has become a travesty under which the interests of killers, rapists and paedophiles are placed above those of their victims.

Law abiding citizens must walk in fear while “human rights” give their assailants the freedom of the streets.

Convicted thugs and murderers are set free too soon after derisory sentences.

Yet what is prison for, but to keep those who wish us harm locked away?

It is absurd for judges to shelter Afghan terrorists who hijack an aircraft at gunpoint.

It is scandalous that a dangerous rapist is freed from prison to kill because his human rights had been infringed.

But it is also ridiculous for Tony Blair to attack these decisions as an “abuse of common sense”.

Stupid as the rulings may be, judges are simply doing what they are told.

It was New Labour that enshrined the EU Human Rights Convention into British law — against advice.

It was Mr Blair — urged on by his human rights lawyer wife — who refused calls for existing laws of the land to take precedence.

Now Mr Blair is paying the price.

Voters are reacting to hideous crimes committed by thugs who should be behind bars.

And they are shocked by news that hundreds of criminals are on the loose instead of being deported as promised.

It is a tragic day when “rights” has become a dirty word.

But Mr Blair has the chance to put things right — not just for the country but also for his reputation.

He can reverse Labour’s mistake of 1998 and dismantle the Human Rights Act, putting Britain’s courts back in charge of British interests.

Along with his public services reform agenda, this would be a solid and worthwhile legacy before he leaves Downing Street.

The Sun will continue to expose human rights madness wherever we see it.

But what we want to see most of all is our Prime Minister taking the action all Britain is crying out for.

Where to even start? Well, maybe we should begin with what the Human Rights Act of 1998 actually says, or puts into law protections against.

What the Sun calls 'madness' and 'crazy' protects us and enshrines the right to the following:

See Article 2 up there? There's a reason it's at the top. It's the most important, and the one which takes precedent over all of the others. The Sun obviously considers that freedom of expression should be denied, which I'm sure would be fine by most of us if it only applied to the Sun newspaper. Otherwise we'd be rather up in arms.

But let's get back to the leader and the cases that it mentions. Apart from the one dealt with in the post below, which I'll also come back to, the other one mentioned is that involving Anthony Rice, a serial rapist who killed Naomi Bryant only nine months after being freed from prison. An absolute tragedy, no doubt about it. The report on the probation board behind his release stated the following:

But Mr Bridges said the failures in the Rice case had been exacerbated by two instances where parole and probation staff had allowed human rights considerations to undermine the importance of public protection. He particularly criticised the presence of a barrister pressing for the prisoner's release at the parole board hearing and said that staff "really have to be on top of a case" to get the balance right: "We are not saying it cannot be done right, but from our review I have to tell you that people clearly find it very difficult to do it right."

Rather damning isn't it? Yet Bridges goes on to say:
But he also warned that risk assessment of released prisoners was not completely a science, with the expected standards being met in only two-thirds of cases. Mr Bridges said that it was "bordering on the virtually impossible to predict" which 20 specific offenders out of the 15,000 higher risk prisoners released each year would strike again.

His inquiry report into the Rice case says there was a cumulative failure with "mistakes, misjudgements and miscommunications" at each of the three phases of his life sentence for rape and indecent assault, for which he served 16 years.

"Our conclusion is that there were deficiencies in the way he was supervised by probation and its partners in the multi-agency public protection agreement [Mappa], but he was too dangerous to be released into the community anyway."

Anthony Rice had been sentenced to life imprisonment in 1989. He had served 16 years when he was considered for release. Previously he had been jailed for 7 years for for rape and other indecent assaults, but the parole board did not have that information when it made its decision. The board did not check with the hostel where he staying about its regime, the conditions imposed on him while he was released turned out to be unenforceable, and a report on his progress on a sex-offender course was "over-optimistic".

So what aspect of the Human Rights Act was being broken by Rice's continued detention? Well, err, none really. Article 5 deals with the right to liberty and security, but it can be removed from someone if:

(a) the lawful detention of a person after conviction by a competent court;

In other words, if someone has been convicted of crime and been given a sentence then they have to serve it. So why was Mappa criticised for taking Rice's human rights over the safety of the wider public? They had given his human rights too much consideration. As stated above, the number one right is the right to life. If someone poses a danger to someone else's life, especially if they have been sentenced to life in prison, then there is no way that person should be released. In short, it was the mistake of Mappa and not of the European Convention of Human Rights. Since Rice was first imprisoned, a person can now be sentenced to an indefinite time in jail, regardless of time limit if it is thought that they are a danger to the public. Unfortunately, this law is not retrospective, and in this tragic case Rice was wrongly allowed out of prison. If anything, all Mappa employees need retraining if they think that rights of a rapist sentenced to life in prison comes above the general public. His barrister, who shouldn't have been at the hearing in the first place, could then have appealed against their ruling.

On then to the Sun's next case for ridding us of this "human rights madness". This affects the Afghan hijackers, who on Wednesday were granted leave to remain, which is to be reviewed every six months. Since the judge's ruling, the government has said that it is to appeal. In fact, the men's appeal was based on the fact that the government themselves were refusing to accept the ruling of an immigration panel who had said they should be given leave to remain because if they were sent back to Afghanistan their lives would be at risk. In this, the Human Rights Act is regarded by judges as meaning that where there is a risk that their lives could be in danger if sent back to their original country, in this case Afghanistan, which is by no means safe and which in large parts is still controlled by regional warlords, even if they're elected warlords, then they should at least until the situation is resolved be allowed to stay in this country. Now, this can be argued against, and the government is doing just that by appealing against the decision. The whole case though is a waste of time; these were 9 men who were escaping from one of the most repressive and tyrannical regimes of recent decades, and who did so in the only way they felt they be able to succeed in doing so, in this case hijacking a plane. The men want to work and give back to this society for what it's so far done for them, but they are not allowed to because the government refuses to accept that they should stay. Isn't this a case of the government being in the wrong rather than being held to ransom by judges who are only biding by the law as they interpret it?

Indeed, the Sun seems to think so. It says judges are only doing what they are told - seeming to think the European Convention of Human Rights is a living, breathing thing. (They also confuse it as the EU Human Rights Act, which it is not. The European Convention was nothing to do with the EU.) It isn't. Only bad interpretations of the Human Rights Act value the rights of criminals above those of the law-abiding majority, as anyone who has read it can clearly see. It is that people, including those in power, have the impression that it gives rights which it patently does not. The other recent cases, such as those of John Monckton and Mary-Ann Leneghan, where the killers were on probation at the time, were nothing to do with the Human Rights Act. It was down to old fashioned human error, and the fact that as Bridges in his report states, that it is sometimes impossible to predict that someone who is on probation for drugs offences or assault is capable of murder or rape on the scale of that which Mary-Ann experienced. This is where the Sun mixes the two up. The Human Rights Act has nothing to do with how long offenders are sentenced for, or when they're considered for release on parole. That is down to the politicians and the legislators.

Then we get down to what the Sun really wants by doing away with the Human Rights Act. It starts by obscurely blaming Cherie Blair, the usual target of opprobrium for the tabloids when they've run out of other things to have a go at. Was the 1998 Human Rights Act enshrined (in 2000) against advice? Depends on whose advice you're referring to. The judges and lawyers were firmly in favour of it being enshrined, as it is as close as the country now actually has to a written constitution, instead of the swirl of all different legislation which is already on the statute books. It was the usual suspects who opposed it - the right-wing tabloids and the Tories, who by strange coincidence are now campaigning for it to be scrapped. Again, when the Sun mentions those that should have been deported, that was the failing of the Home Office, the Prison Service and the Immigration Service altogether. In the cases where the judges had ordered the deportation in the sentence, there is nothing that they can appeal against to stop them from being so, except the decision of the court in general. That they weren't is rightly a scandal, but not the fault of human rights legislation.

It soon becomes clear why the Sun has remained hostile to the legislation. Their opposition to the European Union itself is the overriding factor. It angers the Sun that if someone has appealed all the way to the House of Lords, that if even then their appeal is turned down, they can then turn to the European court in Strasbourg, which is the only court that can strike down a House of Lords verdict. Even then, the government can legislate, as the UK's laws override those of Brussels. The government also doesn't have to even listen to the courts' decision - in the case of indefinite detention without charge for foreign prisoners, which was ruled in breach of the Human Rights Act, the government doesn't and didn't have to free the suspects - but they did, coming up with control orders, which are as yet still in place, although criticised by a judge in one case. No, the Sun's motive for getting rid of the Human Rights Act is to send a message to Brussels that they are still against everything it stands for, and that includes all the measures which are in the Human Rights Act which no sane person would argue against. The Sun, like Blair, is only interested in quick fixes based on what it considers should be an outrage. The Sun seems to be suggesting putting a similar bill of rights into British law - what is the point when the Human Rights Act is already there and on the whole doing a fine job at protecting us both from criminals and from over-zealous government legislation?

Perhaps Rebekah Wade should look at this matter from another perspective. Consider the possibility that she was regarded as terrorist for her attacks on the government and given a control order. She'd rely on the Human Rights Act to free her from what amounts to near house arrest. The removal of the act would be the ultimate betrayal of this Labour government from its own original pledge to continue to be a progressive party. The Sun newspaper, with its distortions, claims to be the voice of the British people and rank hypocrisy on many measures (consider how a couple of years ago Wade printed a picture of child pornography alongside a work of art to show their "similarity"), should not be allowed to influence ministers into something that many in this country would never forget, just as many may well want it to be removed.

Update: Read the comments below for a typical example of News International using a law when it wants a decision overturned, then later decrying it in a fit of populist pique.

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Thursday, May 11, 2006 

Sun-watch: Just how much bollocks can you fit on one front page?

Today's Sun front page is truly breathtaking. I really don't think they could have come up with a more distorted, disgraceful take on this if they had had a few days to try and do so.

The story is that in 2000 nine Afghani men hijacked an internal flight in Afghanistan, persuaded the pilot to fly to Moscow, before finally flying to Stansted airport. After a four day stand-off with police, the men gave themselves up peacefully. Their reason for hijacking the plane was that their lives were in great danger in Afghanistan, then ruled by the Taliban. They were originally jailed, before their convictions were quashed, and they were freed on appeal in 2003. Since then the government has refused to grant them leave to remain, despite an immigration panel finding that their lives would be in danger if they were returned to Afghanistan. This was not only because of the unstable situation in the newly liberated country, but because of the remnants of the Taliban that remained, and have now managed to regroup to an even further extent.

The government's reasoning has been that if the men were given leave to remain, it would encourage others to hijack planes and fly to Britain seeking asylum. Such reasoning is pretty absurd following the September 11th attacks. On the slightest sign that something is wrong on board a passenger jet, fighter planes are dispatched to either monitor what is happening or in the worst case scenario, to shoot it down. Any such hijacking would now be forced down to the nearest airport. The chances of one making it to Britain are virtually nil.

Then we have the Sun front page. Despite the Sun's claims that they've been given money and free NHS care, failed asylum seekers as what these men would have been classed as only receive around £35 a week, if that. All financial support can be withdrawn from failed asylum seekers, and if they have children, they can be taken into care. Failed asylum seekers can only receive NHS care in emergency situations. Their reasons for bringing the original case against the government is the absolute opposite of wanting to sponge off the state. They brought it because failed asylum seekers cannot work. As a result, they've been unable to rebuild their lives. Their "sponging" off the state is the result of the government's actions in not accepting the immigration panel's ruling in 2004. Still, let's not let this get in the way of a good front page lambasting asylum seekers. Then they of course call the men terrorists. Despite the fact that their own families were among the hostages they took when they hijacked the flight, the passengers were treated well and let off gradually over the four days.

Their own lawyer sums up the whole case:
"They cannot work. They cannot study. They cannot take any steps to improve their lives ... Instead, they are forced to remain on asylum support, through no fault of their own adding fuel to anti-asylum tabloid comments."

I find it rather odd that a newspaper that was vehemently in favour of the war in Afghanistan seems to think it fine to send them back to a country where only the capital Kabul is relatively safe. The Sun newspaper seems to think that these men were wrong to flee in the most drastic way possible from a country where girls were excluded from school, where kite flying was banned and Osama bin Laden was sheltered and allowed to train legions of mujahadein. The Sun would rather send men back to possible death than allow them to work here and repay their debt to our society. Their complete distortion of the situation is just what fuels hatred against those fleeing oppression. Tony Blair's intervention, calling the judge's criticism of the Home Office "an abuse of common sense", shows the same contempt for the rule of law in this country that is reminiscent of Blunkett's attacks on the judicary when he was Home Secretary. When even the government is contemptuous of its own legal system, it's little wonder that there's a lack of faith in it.

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Wednesday, May 10, 2006 

Margaret Beckett: The change in position on Iran in full.

Beckett, who bears a frightening resemblance to Thatcher.

Jack Straw said that a military strike on Iran was "inconceivable". Yesterday, the new foreign secretary, fresh from causing misery to farmers across the land in her previous ministerial post said "it's not the intention."

I don't think pre-planned military strikes can ever really be described as not intended. When you knock something over and smash it, you might say "sorry, I didn't do it on purpose". When you launch a missile at a country with the intention of destroying either its nuclear programme or with killing someone, that excuse doesn't really cut the ice. Perhaps Martin Kettle would now still like to tell us that Jack Straw wasn't moved from his position as foreign secretary because he was dead-set against any military attack, honest guv.

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Outrageously broad injunction granted against animal rights "extremists".

Hammer another nail into the coffin of the right to protest. GlaxoSmithKline not only have managed to get an injunction against the animal rights protestors who have sent letters out to shareholders, they've in effect put in motion the start of a process that will result in shareholders names and addresses being withheld from the public.

The injunction itself is laughable. No one actually knows who has sent out the letters, seeing as they are anonymous, but the guesswork done has pointed the finger either at SHAC (Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty) or SPEAK. It is meant to stop both any more letters from being sent, and to stop any protestors from carrying out the incredibly weak so-called threat to publish their home address on the internet if they don't sell their shares in Glaxo. Because it's not known who those behind the campaign are, the injunction applies to any website which publishes any details of any shareholder, and to anyone who sends any similar letter to a shareholder. The threat behind it is that anyone who does can be held in contempt of court, which carries a possible prison sentence.

It's incredibly difficult to see how the high court could issue such a widely-reaching injunction and actually have it enforced, let alone the chilling effect such an order has on the right to free speech, freedom to publish and protest which it infringes upon. While I have neither seen the letter in full or the injunction in full, as I can't find the damn things anywhere, the letter is by most standards of animal rights extremists, which is what the media are calling them, pretty mild stuff. Some quotes from it are:

“We are a group set up to hold Huntingdon Life Sciences [HLS] accountable for its acts of animal cruelty." “Holding HLS accountable means holding GlaxoSmithKline to its promise not to use HLS ever again." "The only way to hold GlaxoSmithKline to it's [sic] PROMISE is to target it's [sic] financial vulnerability." "We are therefore giving you this opportunity to sell your shares in Glaxo-SmithKline." "Over the next two weeks every shareholder of GlaxoSmithKline will be receiving this letter."

The letter seemingly ends with the line "The choice is yours" or words to that effect. But what sort of threat do these people really pose? They already have the names and addresses of those who they've sent the letters to. The names and addresses of shareholders are freely available, and rightly so. If these people really meant business, they could have just not bothered with the letters and published the names on their website(s), which they haven't done. They could have staged similar attacks to what some extremists have in the past, such as throwing bricks through windows, damaging cars, and even planting small bombs.

Instead what we have seen has been possibly the grossest overreaction that could have been imagined. Glaxo has around 170,000 small investors. No animal rights group has the resources to send letters to every single one of them, let alone put every single one of those addresses up on the internet. Even if a small number were put up online, anyone who had wanted to find out who owned Glaxo shares close to them could have done so without gaining the attention of anyone, as the addresses are freely available. They could therefore have gone straight to violent protest, or even non-violent, by turning up outside their houses. No, instead what has happened is that Glaxo's chief executive has come out and said that their actions are "deplorable". An investors group went further and called it "terrorism".

You would think that you wouldn't need to tell people what terrorism actually is, especially in today's climate, but hell, it seems we still need to. Merriam-Webster defines it as:
violence (as bombing) committed by groups in order to intimidate a population or government into granting their demands

So no, I somehow don't think an incredibly mild letter amounts to that. According to the investors group, we could define the likes of balliffs letters as terrorism, or demands from credit companies for payments as such. Even some letters sent to newspapers or MPs could conceivably come under such a definition. This is not to say that some animal rights group have carried out what could be called acts of terrorism, or that I even agree with their stand; I don't. I also wouldn't support the likes of Pro-Test, who also seem to have just one image of what an animal rights protestor is in their head, and tend to paint all the animal rights groups as extremists. Even more shamefully, the media also seem to be slipping into doing so.

The issue here though is the wider right to protest. On Monday we saw the likelihood that protesting outside parliament will be further curtailed. Today someone taking a name and address from the public domain and publishing it on a blog may well risk the possibility of being imprisoned. As was seen when the News of the Screws took an injunction out to stop Mr Mahzer Mahmood from having his photo published, only the rich and powerful can afford to get such legal judgements in their favour. What's next? A defence company that stops a group such as CAAT from sending letters to their shareholders, asking them to think again? It may be an act of futility or even stupidity, but does that mean it should be illegal? It seems from the reaction to the letter to Glaxo shareholders that a lot tend to think so.

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Tuesday, May 09, 2006 

Tit for tat, or Tehran for Jerusalem.

Shimon Peres is one of the more likeable Israeli politicians, a man who at one time was dedicated to a just peace with the Palestinians. In these days of unilaterism, he seems to have become more and more resigned to "peace" having to be imposed, the view of Sharon and now Ehud Olmert. Even so, few would have thought he would make similar remarks to what Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad supposedly made about wiping Israel off the map.

Peres, speaking ahead of UN Security Council deliberations on possible sanctions on Iran, cautioned Monday that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, who has called for Israel to be wiped off the map, should bear in mind that his own country could also be destroyed.

"They want to wipe out Israel... Now when it comes to destruction, Iran too can be destroyed [but] I don't suggest to say an eye for an eye," Peres told Reuters.

"Israel would defend itself under any condition but we don't look upon it as an Iranian-Israeli conflict exclusively... [Iran] is basically a danger to the world, not just to us," he said.

In a way, he's right. Even if Iran does eventually manage to manufacture a nuclear weapon, it still faces a nuclear armed Israel with far more missiles and the backing of the United States, which is encircling Iran, with bases in Iraq, Afghanistan and the friendly regime of Musharraf in power in Pakistan. Any attack by Iran would be pure suicide, and the old doctrine of MAD (mutually assured destruction) would likely be invoked. Even so, it doesn't excuse such a silly remark, or his ridiculous assertion that Iran has started a nuclear arms race in the area. Wouldn't be to anything to do with all those weapons that Israel has, or the influence of the Pakistan scientist who sold nuclear secrets for money after India and Pakistan had established their programmes, would it?

Nevertheless, there are some who continue to convincingly claim that Ahmedinejad has been badly translated. Juan Cole has repeatedly made this clear. For his trouble, Cole has come under repeated smear from the voracious US right. Christopher Hitchens, a former hero of mine for his call for Henry Kissinger to be tried for war crimes, has been the most mainstream of his critics to claim that he has been distorting the truth. Cole has also had the privilege of having the barking mad Wall Street Journal comment pages smearing him. The issue goes to the heart of what we know about Iran and its president. If we can't be certain of what he has actually said, and what context he has said it in, how can be so sure of what threat Tehran actually poses? The attacks on Cole show that some are determined that there should be no middle line or nuance on Iran. Those that led us into the disaster in Iraq still aren't satisfied, and as Cole so passionately states, if we don't stop them they will do it again.

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de Menezes: Whistleblower goes public.

The IPCC worker who leaked the truth about the fatal shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes has gone public. Her story ties in with the line that the police have done everything in their power to intimidate and cover-up what actually happened on that day.

Lana Vandenberghe, who worked for the Independent Police Complaints Commission, said that ten officers broke down her front door in a dawn raid. She was placed in a cell without food or access to a lawyer for eight hours by bullying officers who told her that she would go to prison.

Despite the ordeal, Ms Vandenberghe, who lost her home, her job as an administration secretary and was treated for depression after being arrested, said that she would do it all again to expose the deliberate police “cover up”. Ms Vandenberghe, 44, leaked details from the IPCC inquiry into the fatal shooting of Mr de Menezes, 27, at Stockwell Tube station in South London on the day after the July 21 bombings. The information contradicted the Metropolitan Police’s initial version of events. It had said that the Brazilian had vaulted the station ticket barrier and run down an escalator to escape firearms officers who were following him. Officers said that he was wearing a bulky coat that could have concealed explosives. But evidence collated by Ms Vandenberghe for the IPCC revealed that he was wearing a light denim jacket and had walked calmly into the station, picked up a free newspaper and then walked down the escalator.

After he boarded a train, officers shot him seven times in the head.

Ms Vandenberghe said, in an interview to be broadcast on ITV News tonight, that she leaked the evidence in August to show that the police were “lying”.

and in that interview she said:

"He wasn't a terrorist at all, he was just a normal guy, wearing normal jeans and a jacket, going to work.

"And when I saw the videos, then I saw the state after he was shot, my heart ... I just thought, 'oh my God, this could be my daughter'."

"I knew from what I read and from what I learnt that it was a lie, and it appalled me that the police or the Met were not coming to light and saying we were wrong, this was a mistake."

It therefore seems likely that the IPCC had full CCTV footage of what happened - footage that initially seemed to be "lost".

Without Vandenberghe's leak, we may have only had the word of de Menezes's family against the police. The only thing the Met bothered to inform of us was that an innocent man had been shot. We still had the accounts of those such as Mark Whitby, who had said that de Menezes had been wearing a heavy coat, and the even more risible claim by one witness that he had seen a belt with wires coming from it, which was taken to be a suicide bomber's explosives belt. As of yet, we still don't have any indication of whether officers are going to be charged. The Sun a month or so ago seemed to have information that no officers were going to be charged, and seeing the Sun is the favourite paper of plods to both read and leak to, that may well be accurate.

What we have instead is a woman who lost her job for daring to leak what really happened, another ITN journalist who also had the same treatment meted out to her, and Brian Paddick likely to be retired for suggesting that those inside Ian Blair's office (not neccessarily Blair himself) had known that an innocent man had been killed. de Menezes himself has been accused of rape (later cleared), been accused of being in the country illegally and of acting suspiciously, meaning it was all his fault. Nothing to do with what one police officer described as a "complete and utter fuck-up", nothing to do with a media howling for police and government to take action, nothing to do with a policy which was put into operation with no parliamentary debate, based on an Israeli shoot-to-kill agreement which has far more checks and balances. All this just underlines how badly we need to be given the full IPCC report as soon as possible.

Related post: Police intimidated whistleblower.

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Monday, May 08, 2006 

Joined-up, arrogant contemptuous government.

Only 2 weeks ago, but what seems aeons ago in what has gone on since then, Henry Porter and Tony Blair had an email conversation about civil liberties and the rule of law. Included in one of Tony's replies was the following:

You say people can only have blank placards outside Parliament and can't protest. Go and look at the placards of those camped outside Parliament - they are most certainly not blank and usually contain words not entirely favourable to your correspondent.


Peace activist Brian Haw may have to end his five-year vigil outside Parliament as the government has won an appeal against an earlier legal ruling.

Last July, Mr Haw, 56, from Worcestershire, won a High Court action against a new law threatening his round-the-clock protest.

But three Court of Appeal judges have now overturned that decision.

Previously in the High Court, lawyers for Mr Haw argued that his demonstration had begun four years earlier and therefore he did not have to apply for authorisation.

The government said Mr Haw posed a potential security risk and described his argument as absurd, but judges ruled by a 2-1 majority in Mr Haw's favour.

But on Monday, the Master of the Rolls, Sir Anthony Clarke, Lord Justice Laws and Lady Justice Hallett overturned the decision and refused permission for him to appeal to the House of Lords.

Sometimes it's the little things that really make you angry. For 5 years Brian Haw has made his principled stand for peace and protested outside parliament, which not a single person would argue against it being his right if he wishes to. The government couldn't move him on when they made a fundamental error in drafting the legislation banning protests within a 1km of parliament, so now they have to hide behind the banner of "security" when what they really mean is that his continued protest amounts to terrorism. After all, when Maya Evans was convicted under the "Serious and Organised Crime Act" for demonstrating within 1km of parliament, her MP Michael Foster wrote the following to the Independent:

Historically all sorts of protests have taken place around Parliament, but with the current terrorist threat it would be easy to mask a terrorist atrocity under the guise of a legitimate demonstration.

Yes, that's right. Behind Brian's banners and placards he's actually manufacturing the poison ricin, ready at any moment to smear it on the doorknobs of every MP's office.

The appeal court judges struck down the original ruling, completely falling for the government's argument which was originally and rightly deemed unable to catch Mr Haw. The government could have redrafted the legislation and submitted it to parliament again - except now Mr Haw and his stand have become a matter of principle to everyone who is opposed to Labour's attacks on the right to protest without first seeking permission from the Met. It'd also be the perfect opportunity for David Cameron to show that his party are committed to civil liberties, and probably defeat the government in the bargain. That Blair one week points how just how free we really are and then in the next week appeals against the freedom that he lauded shows the contempt and arrogance of Labour in trying to crush all dissent. One has to wonder whether Mr Haw will be evicted from parliament square at the same time as Mr Blair.

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Saturday, May 06, 2006 

Do the reshuffle!

One person who you'd think it'd be impossible to feel sorry for is Charles Clarke. After all, he insulted the father of one of the injured in last year's terrorist attacks. He launched an attack on the liberal media for daring to disagree with his and the government's plans for ID cards, 90 day detention without charge for terrorist suspects and the ban on protesting within a mile of parliament, to name just a few, the day before he admitted that he and his department had managed to lose over 1,000 foreign prisoners who should have been at least considered for deportation. Despite all that and more besides, what other feeling could you possibly have for what Tony Blair did to him yesterday? The man spends nearly two weeks facing down attacks from the media, with the apparent backing of Blair, and seems to be getting on top of the problem finally, when Blair decides that following the drubbing they received on Thursday night he has to go after all. Clarke, a formerly loyal Blair ally, disagrees with his sudden change of heart and rejected Blair's offers of a job as defence or environment secretary to instead return to the backbenches. You can understand his bitterness. Clarke is now definitely one to watch, however unlikely a Howe-esque dagger in the back type job seems.

Even worse for those with even a slight interest in keeping Britain free and stopping the weakening of civil liberties which has happened under Labour, we now have John "Oh fuck, not health" Reid. Most of those on hearing that he had been appointed to the post would have uttered something similar. Reid has all the worst traits of Labour; slavishness to Blair, a short temper and outspoken attacks on the nominal supporters of the party. His recent speeches, on the possibility of the re-writing of the Geneva convention (despite later denying it), and his attack on those who were "doing down the morale of the military", which included the stupidest comment possibly ever made by a minister, that if Lord Haw Haw were alive today he'd have a column in the newspapers, shows what a deeply odious man he is. This is without going into the fact that he was heavily implicated in the Lobbygate scandal, and that he is an ex-drinking buddy of that well-known humanitarian, Radovan Karadzic.

Other alarm bells should be ringing about the removal of Jack Straw from the foreign office. Despite lying about rendition and not resigning following the invasion of Iraq and his failure to gain a second UN resolution, he hasn't been that bad at being foreign secretary, considering his consistent approach to talks over Iran. More worrying should be the fact that the main reason he has apparently been deposed is because of the "threat" posed by that very country. Straw originally said that war with Iran was inconceivable, and more recently that Seymour Hersh's report that the US was prepared to use nuclear weapons against Iran was that any such attack would be "nuts". Blair was pissed off by such forthright dismissals of military action, as he regards Iran as the world's biggest threat now, much like the White House, who also were apparently annoyed by Straw removing the military option from the table. Margaret Beckett, his replacement, apart from being older than Bill Deedes, has just overseen what can only be described as a monumental fuck-up over the new EU single farm payment. Wales and Scotland have managed to introduce it with no problems, but in England and under Beckett's watch thousands of farmers have received no money whatsoever. Many are facing bankruptcy, so Beckett must be thanking the heavens that she's been removed before that reality had been properly reported. Don't expect her to dare say that military action against Iran is unthinkable. Let's hope history doesn't repeat itself, but it's a horrible thought to think that it may be Jack Straw leading the rebellion against war with Iran just like Robin Cook did against Iraq.

The other major movement which shows just how mad Blair has become is the appointment of Hazel Blears as chair of the Labour party. Blears, the one minister who manages to make you gag as soon as you hear her voice or see her devil-red hair, is so devoted to Blair that she'd not only throw herself under a bus for him, but probably do so while naked and with "I HEART TONY 4EVA" carved into her chest. For a party which is now facing a transition from one leader to another, appointing such an arch-Blairite to the post is more or less a declaration of war. It's no wonder that MPs somewhat associated with Gordon Brown are calling on him to set the timetable for if not now, then very very soon.

Like Charles Clarke, John Prescott faces the humiliation of having all his jobs more or less taken away from him, as punishment for helping inflict such a huge loss on Labour. Except that, err, he's still going to get paid for being a minister, keeps his cars and his grace and favour home! For once the Sun is right to print an outraged front page on the matter. Why on earth should he stay in such a position?

Perhaps what is most telling about the reshuffle though is that Blair didn't bother to consult Brown apart from those jobs which affect the treasury. Blair's message with the reshuffle is clear; I'm not going away, and you're going to have to get used to it. It's the attitude of someone who does not realise their time is gone, long gone. Even more abundantly clear though is that Gordon Brown still doesn't seem to want to land the killer blow on Blair. He could easily remove him; he could have objected to the reshuffle, he could have demanded a meeting with Blair and pointed out that despite all the bad publicity over Prescott, Clarke and Hewitt, that it's him and his ideas and policies which have caused this disaster for Labour. He hasn't and it's unlikely that he still won't. Both Bloggers4Labour and the Compass group have called for Blair to go immediately; Jackie Ashley points out exactly what was wrong with the reshuffle; the Guardian leader more or less calls for Brown to make his move; what more evidence does he need that his time is now? If Brown does not make his move, the likes of Blears may get their way. They still want Blair to stay for a full term of office. All that will result in is the Tories getting back into power with the same-old policies under the new cute and cuddly face of David Cameron. Brown must not let that happen.

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