Saturday, August 05, 2006 

Uh, yeah, there was sort of a demonstration...

(Full directory of photos, full size, many shitty and out of focus, here.)

Today's demonstration was huge. The police are saying 20,000, but those same police also told the organisers that there were still protestors back at Picadilly more than half way through the speeches at parliament square. There was easily 50,000, although the STWC may not be far off in saying 80,000-100,000.

What was also crucial was that there was a true cross-section present. There is no way that the usual suspects can call it a "pro-fascist rally". As the speakers noted, all religions, all races and all classes were present. The media are predictably focusing on a couple of incredibly minor scuffles, neither of which I saw, but everyone was enjoying the weather and the attitude of the march in general. Most notable was going past the US embassy, a building surrounded by not one but two protective fences, both of which contained numerous police, while the plod further back in the compound also had German shepards, just in case anyone decided to even go near the place. The march was also directed the whole way round Grosvenor Square, rather than go along the road by the side of the embassy, while the park in the middle of the square was also closed off, inhabited by a couple of officers who were most likely appreciating the sunshine. Only one man was looking out of a window as we went past, the rest knowing that today would not be the best day to get work done.

Going past Downing Street, you couldn't help but notice how a CCTV camera had been set up purposefully on a crane attached to a moveable van, focused right on the entrance, just in case anyone decided to start throwing things or doing anything other than chanting or booing. A few children's shoes were thrown at the gates, which I think was the original plan, rather than placing them at the Cenotaph.

The speeches at the end, were, as you might expect, a mixture of posturing and slogan filled crowd pleasers. Also, and I feel shamefully, I have to report that there was no direct criticism of Hizbullah, although I left after George Galloway's rant (where he glorified Nasrallah and Hizbullah again). This might well have been because the small contingent of Hizbullah supporters who were there had set-up shop near the front of the stage, with a large flag taking up a good amount of room. John McDonnell was one of the speakers who stood out, delivering a fine speech not just full of what everyone else had already said, and it was rapturously received. The Green Party person who spoke (I didn't catch his name) was also good, and the closest to come to directly taking on Hizbullah's murderous actions in all of this. Jeremy Hardy, who I'd never heard of before, said he dreamt of the day that the Middle East was secular and at peace, and (perhaps surprisingly) got a decent response. Tony Benn was his usual self, and got the biggest cheer apart from Galloway. Craig Murray gave a crowd-pleasing but credible oration also, and received a large amount of applause for his trouble.

Did it achieve anything? It's sent a message to Blair that he cannot take this country for granted, for as the speakers repeatedly made clear, we were and are the majority in calling for an immediate unconditional ceasefire. The UN has agreed on the text for a first resolution, and although it says 'cessation' rather than ceasefire, at America's request, it's a start. Most of all, Israel can never be allowed to destroy the infrastructure of a democratic country, kill hundreds of civilians and get away with it like it has this time ever again. Hizbullah are to be condemned, and rightly so. We "are not all Hizbullah", but neither are we Israeli, or imperialist. If Blair wants to survive, and let's face it, he shouldn't, then he must rethink his "values" even more than he has done so already.

Oh, and I shook Brian Haw's hand, which was something I'd wanted to do for a long time.

Other reports on the march are arriving. The mainstream media has been absolutely fucking terrible, nothing short of a disgrace, repeating as complete fact the woeful police estimate of 20,000.

Lenin's is complete brilliance. BlairWatch has some maths, and more excellent photographs that put my efforts to shame. EllisSharp has even more. Nether-World's is also top draw.

And I haven't been completely honest. At one point during the march I was chanting "We all are Hizbullah." In hindsight, I wish I'd shouted it more often.

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Friday, August 04, 2006 

Ceasefire now.

little people in little houses / like maggots small blind and worthless / the massacred innocent blood stains us all / who's responsible - you fucking are / who's responsible - you fucking are / who's responsible - you fucking are / who's responsible - you fucking are / who's responsible - Of Walking Abortion, Manic Street Preachers.

Despite all Blair's rhetoric, despite all the whispers that the UN was getting ready to pass a resolution, the conflict in Lebanon continues. Today Israel cut off the last remaining exit to Syria, destroying four key bridges. It leaves aid convoys with few, if any ways to reach Beirut and further south. At least another 29 civilians were killed in Lebanon, while yesterday was one of the bloodiest days in Israel, with eight civilians killed and dozens more injured by Hizbullah rockets.

All of this could have been stopped much earlier if Blair and Bush had wanted it to. Instead they have given Israel, and as a result, Hizbullah too, carte blanche to kill civilians, wreck infrastructure and commit crimes against humanity. Tomorrow is an opportunity to protest against Blair and Bush, but also against war in general. Even if you don't like the message which the SWP and the other usual suspects who go on these rallies bring - please come. The more who march the bigger the message we send that there are those of us who are not prepared to be complicit in the human suffering which our politicians refuse to condemn. The STWC says there could be up to 50,000 in London tomorrow - small compared to the February 2003 Iraq protest, but bigger than a lot of the more recent ones. Every single person counts. We're responsible - but we're also not going to take it lying down.

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What to believe? (Part two.)

The IPCC report into the shooting of Mohammed Abdul Kahar, like the decision by the CPS not to prosecute anyone over the killing of Jean Charles de Menezes, does little to answer any of the questions still surrounding the police raid on Forest Gate (Although there are another 2 reports still to come.).

While Kahar maintains that he was 3 feet away from the officer who shot him, referred to in the report as "B6", the forensic report commissioned by the IPCC showed that the gun was fired from a distance of two inches. The report doesn't call Kahar a liar - rather it suggests he is blameless. What appears to have happened is that the two brothers were awakened by the police smashing in. Presuming they were about to be robbed by intruders, they came down the stairs of the house to come face to face with police officers wearing full body suits, including gas masks. The officer claims he shouted "armed police", but admits that this would have been muffled by the suit. The brothers claimed they had no warning, and that one was shot as they ran at the police officers. The IPCC concludes that Kahar was shot accidentally, partly because of the two pairs of gloves that the officer was wearing. The officer says he had a "loss of sensation" in his trigger finger and was unaware he had fired a shot.

The IPCC then seems to have decided that since Kahar was not critically injured that what happened was simply an accident. The police officer's excuse that he lost sensation is brushed over. It's quite possible that Kahar was purely mistaken over where he was when he was shot - the impact of the bullet would have thrust him backwards, and the momentum of running down stairs might have meant that he was leaning over towards the officer - hence why the IPCC considers him blameless. What seems more likely is that the officer panicked with the two brothers coming towards him and fired. There would have been little point in prosecuting him over doing so in the circumstances, but it has to be something which the Met has to learn from.

What is really going to make people cynical though is the "purely coincidental" decision to arrest Kahar yesterday over accusations that child pornography was found on a family computer he used. His solicitors have stated that he "strenuously denies" the charges against him. As Obsolete has noted, there seemed to be an almost co-ordinated campaign to smear and discredit the two brothers, which was mainly conducted in the Murdoch newspapers. The claims in the News of the World that one brother grabbed the gun and shot the other have now been shown to be false. The Sun reported that the brothers' half-brother was a "vicious armed robber" and that he had attended the extremist demonstration over the Danish Mohammad cartoons. It later splashed on the story that £38,000 had been found in the house - later explained by the family as being there because of their religious beliefs - some Muslims considered accounts where interest is paid to be forbidden. The Sun didn't bother asking them for their side of the story, something which seems to be getting a habit, judging by yesterday's apology to Galloway.

Today's Sun report also confuses the officer's statement:

But the IPCC report yesterday said the shooting came as the cop felt someone trying to GRAB his gun.

It doesn't - the officer said he felt someone pulling at his right arm, but he was concerned they were trying to grab the gun. There's a crucial difference. The story also claims the child porn found was of the hardcore variety; a previous report quotes a CPS source as saying it was "high level".

After all the smearing, the failed attempts to find anything, and no doubt police disquiet about having to repair their house and putting them up in a hotel which the Sun claims is costing the taxpayer £20,000 a month, you have to wonder whether the police had to find something. Even more distasteful is the way the Daily Star puts the story on its front page - at the time of the raid the front page was filled with Big Brother crap. With the tabloid hysteria over paedophilia running almost as high as it was back in 2000, suggesting someone is a user of child porn is almost certainly the ultimate attack on a person you can make. Predictably, the tabloids which were certain something was going to be found have lapped it up. Justification will be claimed if the case is proved, even if no terrorist material was.

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Thursday, August 03, 2006 

Sun-watch: Newspaper admits to smears and lies about Galloway.

George Galloway isn't an easy man to like at the best of times. He recently wrote an article for the Socialist Worker which he concludes with:

I glorify the Hizbollah national resistance movement, and I glorify the leader of Hizbollah, Sheikh Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah.

He therefore seemingly finds a militia which is indiscriminately firing missiles full of ball bearings into another country by the dozen worthy of praise. Supporting one set of murderers over another set of indiscriminate murderers is the politics of the sewer.

Nevertheless, Galloway is a supporter of press freedom, as shown by his exposing of the fake sheikh Mazher Mahmood and his refusal to back down to lawyers' attempts to gag blogs such as Obsolete which published his freely available photograph. On the other side was News International, publishers of the Sun and Times.

It was those newspapers, supporters of free speech and freedom of the press only when it means more profits for Mr Murdoch, that printed a tissue of lies linking Galloway to the extremist Muslim cleric Delwar Hossain Sayeedi. The reports alleged that Galloway was to share a platform with him at a rally in a London park, after Sayeedi had been invited to the UK by the London Muslim Centre. Not only was this completely untrue (Galloway was pictured at another rally on the day in question) but Sayeedi wasn't even in Britain, apparently back home in Bangladesh with no knowledge of the rantings that the Sun published. The Sun also went ahead with publishing despite being informed of the errors in the Times piece by Galloway's office.

The Sun's leader was as follows:

YET again Britain extends the hand of hospitality to a ranting Islamic madman who glorifies suicide attacks on us.

Bangladeshi cleric Delwar Hossain Sayeedi, who says we DESERVED the 7/7 atrocity, has been allowed to enter the country for a rally alongside vile George Galloway.

The Foreign Office’s “Islamic Issues” adviser Mockbul Ali insisted he should be heard.

Tony Blair said after 7/7 that “the rules of the game have changed”. Harsher measures were needed.

So we now have new laws against glorifying terrorism.

But why allow Sayeedi this golden opportunity to break them?

Why not just ban from our soil anyone with a track record of backing terror?

And here's today's apology, which is hidden from view, seeing as it isn't featured on the Sun's big news page:

CONTRARY to our reports (Ban this beast and Kill Brits’ Hate Cleric let into UK, July 15), we would like to make clear the Respect MP George Galloway was not scheduled to attend a rally or any other event alongside Islamist cleric Delwar Hossain Sayeedi.

We did not contact Mr Galloway before publication of this report.

We are happy to correct the record and apologise to Mr Galloway for the error.

In other words, the Sun is written by a bunch of lying and smearing fantasists who can't even make a story up properly. Another triumph for Rebekah Wade!

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Wednesday, August 02, 2006 

Arcs of extremism.

With the silly season just about ready to bite, the Mail and Sun have one of their opportunities to praise our valiant boys fighting for freedom in Iraq and Afghanistan. They way they go about doing so though is rather different.
For the Mail, it's time to bring out the black banner of bleakness to express just how distraught the paper is at so many pointless deaths, but alongside the downbeat headlines is the usual attack on Blair. What it doesn't tell you is that the Mail was behind the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan all the way. As for the situation in Beirut, it's been so horrific that since the conflict began 3 weeks ago the Mail has only felt it news worthy enough to give it space on the front page twice, once when British citizens stuck in Lebanon were fleeing, and for the second time on Monday in the aftermath of the Qana massacre. Other stories featured on the Mail's front page while the other papers worried about the Middle East were how it was hot enough to melt the roads, and that people were being advised not to rub in suncream.
The Sun goes for the other angle completely. While still using the photograph of Corporal Matthew Cornish with his children, it salutes Blair's speech given at the Los Angeles World Affairs Council, where he said "These are people of whom we should be very proud." Seeing as how those men in Iraq are losing their lives as a result of the lies told by Blair and his cronies that led directly to a unjustifiable and illegal war, he ought to know better.

His speech last night though proves otherwise. While both BSSC and the Nether-World have already fisked it and have probably done a better job than I would, there are certain parts that are such absolute rot that they need to be challenged.

There is an arc of extremism now stretching across the Middle East and touching, with increasing definition, countries far outside that region. To defeat it will need an alliance of moderation, that paints a different future in which Muslim, Jew and Christian; Arab and Western; wealthy and developing nations can make progress in peace and harmony with each other. My argument to you today is this: we will not win the battle against this global extremism unless we win it at the level of values as much as force, unless we show we are even-handed, fair and just in our application of those values to the world.

How far is this "arc of extremism" from the more notorious
"axis of evil"? Answer: not very far. Mr Blair makes the exact same mistake which countless others before him have made. He conflates the legitimate grievances of the likes of Hamas with the suicidal jihadis of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in Iraq. This arc of extremism seems to contain Hizbullah, Hamas, Syria, Iran and the various insurgent groupings in Iraq. This is the kind of "clash of civilisations" type nonsense that leads to people seeing every single Muslim as a threat. Hamas, for all its threats and charter that calls for the destruction of Israel, wants a peace settlement and a viable Palestinian state. It was originally funded by Israel as a counter-weight to the secular fighters of the PLO, a coincidence similar to how the US and Britain funded the muhjadein in Afghanistan which became al-Qaida. Blair also ignores the sectarian differences between the various groupings. Hamas is a Sunni Muslim organisation; Hizbullah is Shia; al-Qaida is mainly Sunni, but also takes in Salafist beliefs which it shares with the rulers of Saudi Arabia. Hamas may want to set-up Sharia type law at some point in the future, but for now is quite happy to let the pseudo-liberalism which developed under Fatah to continue. Hizbullah similarly is not interested in the caliphate which al-Qaida wants to see established. The joining together of their separate and unique aims and ideologies helps no one, except those that are more than happy for Islam to be seen as incompatible with Western values.

As for the inclusion of Syria and Iran, is it really less than 4 years since Bashar al-Assad was given the red carpet treatment at Downing Street, as well as meeting the Queen? Have we forgotten so quickly Jack Straw's numerous visits to Teheran? It seems that Blair would like us to. Blair later returns to the two countries:
Fourth, we need to make clear to Syria and Iran that there is a choice: come in to the international community and play by the same rules as the rest of us; or be confronted.

Yet they are not being given this choice by the United States and America. They preach that Syria and Iran need to join the international community, but the two biggest and most influential nations on the world scene refuse to reach out to them in any way.
Instead it's being left to Germany to talk to Syria, while France claims that Iran is a stablising influence on the Middle East. Blair cannot have it both ways; either you make the effort to let them play by the "same rules", or you tone down the threatening rhetoric which helps no one.

Blair claims to be supporting "moderate Islam" and democracy. Would anyone call the type of Islam practiced and dictated by the rulers of Saudi Arabia moderate? Despite this, they escape all criticism, purely because of the pro-western stance of the Saudi royal family. This ignores how 11 of the September the 11th hijackers came from the country, how British citizens there were tortured and forced to confess to bomb attacks likely carried out by al-Qaida and how the propping up of the House of Saud may one day lead to a much more radical grouping emerging from the repression in the country to challenge for power. As for Iran, which at least has a semblance of democracy, Blair instead misquotes the Iranian President with the infamous "wiping Israel off the map" line, which was wrongly translated. There's no doubt that Amhadinejad is a hot-head anti-Semite, but to smear him is entirely wrong. He was elected mainly (and possibly fraudulently) on the back of his promise to redistribute oil wealth, something which he is yet to put in place. The democratically elected government of Hamas, which Blair claims is battling with moderates and extremists was boycotted and marginalised from day one for refusing to alter its charter and recognise Israel. The west is left being the same old hypocrite it always has been in the Middle East: only supporting democracy when the results suit its larger aims and goals.

There's still worse to come though. Once again Blair attempts to rewrite history with this whopping great lie over the war in Iraq.
The point about these interventions, however, military and otherwise, is that they were not just about changing regimes but changing the values systems governing the nations concerned. The banner was not actually "regime change" it was "values change".

How can anyone let Blair get away with such blatant untruths? The war in Iraq was justified on the basis that the country was a direct threat to the UK and UK interests with its weapons of mass destruction. They didn't exist. It was only in the last few days of the long campaign for public support for the war that Blair changed to emphasising the suffering of the Iraqi people. In reality Blair had long before signed himself up to the regime change banner which he now disowns.

The speech goes on in much the same vein for a long time. The only thing of any real worth in it is that Blair recognises that the Israel-Palestine conflict desperately needs to be resolved. It's only now, with the whole of the Middle East in such an unholy mess that he realises how badly that affects every other problem the region has. Despite all the spouting of values throughout the speech, the UK yesterday was still dedicated to watering down an EU statement from demanding an immediate ceasefire in Israel and Lebanon to instead saying that a cessation of violence was urgently needed. Israel today has gone on killing, with 19 civilians reported dead in air strikes around the eastern city of Baalbek. Hizbullah has responded by firing 190 missiles into Israel, showing just how its infrastructure has not been destroyed, despite Ehud Olmert's continuing claims to have done so. For every day that goes by, more die needlessly. It's a indictment of our values, which Blair wants to see spread throughout the Middle East that we are allowing this to continue.

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Tuesday, August 01, 2006 

Spooks without mouths.

In the unending battle to make as many members of the public fearful of brown men exploding in their vicinity as possible, today has seen the unveiling of the "official assessment of the threat of a terrorist attack". The threat level is calculated by taking into account "Available intelligence" (meaning the ramblings of the cranks and assorted weirdos which make up MI5's outside horse whisperers), "Terrorist capability" (meaning whether those who hate our freedom come to the inspired plan to smear ricin they don't have on doorknobs when it has to pierce the skin to be effective), "Terrorist intentions" (realising that the average jihadi is less likely to blow himself up in the middle of Epping forest than he is at a football game, for instance) and "Timescale" (meaning whether MI5 can tell how early the terrorists are getting out of bed on the morning of the destined day of attack).

Yes, I'm being rather glib. When faced with such nonsense clearly aimed at keeping the public scared and failing uniformly in its purposed role to help the average joe assess the level of genuine threat posed though, this system is second only to the American traffic-light like advice. If anything, the American system is actually less panicky, as it doesn't have the critical brown trousers time highest level which our political masters have deemed necessary. The other problem with the system is obvious: is the "threat" ever going to be lower than "substantial"? It seems highly unlikely.

Unfortunately for the government, it releases this system designed to frighten on the same day that the joint committee on human rights, containing both MPs and peers, has come to the conclusion that the security services urgently need a watchdog.

Our dependence on the spooks of 5 and 6 has in these troubled times increased to a greater degree even than that at the height of the threat from the IRA. Sadly, they show no signs of realising that they need to be accountable just like every other organisation dedicated to protecting the public. It's true that the bad old days, when MI5 thought that Jack Straw was a subversive purely because he was head of the National Union of Students at the tail-end of the 60s (he was New Labour like even back then) are gone, although in the more recent past in 1994 they were so concerned about Victoria Brittain (a former foreign associate editor of the Guardian, most recently wrote the play Guantanamo and co-wrote Mozzam Begg's memoir of his time there) that they were tapping her phone and considered breaking into her house to plant a bug, according to David Shayler. Craig Murray, in his memoir of his time in Uzbekistan, recalls how while staying with a friend in London he mentioned that he was minded to return to the country without getting medical clearance. Within hours he was receiving phone calls from the Foreign Office telling him that to do so would be a disciplinary offence. For an organisation that defends itself by saying it only monitors "subversives working to undermine democracy" such examples must be embarrassing.

Not as embarrassing for the government though as the current head of MI5's refusal to even appear before the commons joint committee on human rights. They wanted to question Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller about the refusal of the government and MI5 to make wire-tap evidence admissible in UK courts, as well as the agency's reliance on "intelligence" obtained via torture, and how much she knew about the US policy of "extraordinary rendition", jets involved in which having landed at airports across Britain. Her objection to even giving evidence in closed session seems increasingly at odds with organisations that once were so secretive that their existence was denied; today they openly advertise in the newspapers and online for recruits.

The questions the committee wanted to ask her are urgent and increasingly important. The ban on wire-tap evidence is based on MI5's insistence that to present such evidence to a jury would involve giving away their methods. This is despite such evidence being used routinely in the United States and other nations across the globe. It's also strange considering how evidence against the men accused of plotting to bomb the Ministry of Sound in London obtained via bugging or wire-tapping has been made freely available to the media. It makes you wonder whether those terrorist suspects that the government is so desperate to deport could be tried here if such evidence was made admissible, something which the government refuses to discuss or countenance. There's no doubting that is something the committee would have liked to have asked Buller. Craig Murray ably exposed how MI5 and 6 are using intelligence sourced from the torture chambers of countries such as Uzbekistan, as it is passed on to them from the CIA. Some lawyers consider the use of such "intelligence" to break international law. On rendition, the government refuses to comment any further, and as we've seen in recent days, the United States seems to be able to operate with impunity in our airspace, making the transporting of terror suspects to secret prisons through Britain even more likely.

The committee proposes "an "arm's length" body independent of government and the agencies, which would report to parliament." MI5 and SIS would almost certainly fight tooth and nail to stop from such a system from being put into place, and there are no signs that the government is willing to anger the spooks, even if they provide such duff intelligence that it results in innocent men being shot, their neighbours brutalised and houses torn to shreds. After all, they'll remember the plots against Harold Wilson. The arguments for such a watchdog though should are obvious. The police have the IPCC. The prison system has a independent inspector. Why should MI5 and SIS be any different? In the meantime, Richard Tomlinson, a former MI6 agent still being pursued by his former employees, has set up a database of known officers in an attempt to get the property taken from him back. For now it's about the most that is being done to hold these shadowy organisations to account.

Update: I just noticed that I accidentally posted this without any corresponding links. Doh. Fixed now.

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Monday, July 31, 2006 

The vacuum is here to stay.

While the children of Qana suffocated in the one place they thought they'd be safe, Tony Blair was in the Californian resort of Pebble Beach, delivering a speech to a bunch of Murdoch employees and various other worthless nobodies.

In case you're wondering, it wasn't up to much. In fact, it was typical Blair, filled with the same meaningless nonsense which has now been blathered about for nine years.

The era of tribal political leadership is over in Britain with "rampant cross-dressing" on policy set to become a permanent feature of modern politics, Tony Blair told News Corp executives in conclave in the Californian resort of Pebble Beach yesterday.

In an elegiac survey of his nine-year leadership, Mr Blair claimed the true divisions opening up across the world were now not between left and right, but between advocates of modern, open societies and closed, traditional ones.

Absolute and utter rubbish. The left-right divide is still there for everyone to see; it's only the politicians themselves who want to remove the spectrum from view, and that's because they want to hide the fact that nearly all of them say exactly the same thing and have policies which are almost indistinguishable from one another. This all began with Blair making the break from New Labour, the idea that without rejecting the past that Labour would never return to office. This was nonsense then, and it's nonsense now. In the aftermath of Black Wednesday, Labour was always going to win the 1997 election. If John Smith had lived, he would almost certainly of become prime minister.

The ideological break came with the establishment of what was called the "third way". Neither left nor right, but something entirely new. In the event, what this third way meant in practice and still means is essentially Thatcherism with a kinder face. The ultimate example of this was the way Labour didn't dare to touch the Tory spending plans for a couple of years, lest they be accused of returning to the tax and spend policies which they had supposedly promised to leave behind. The third way meant sucking up to what had previously been seen as the nest of vipers which was the Daily Mail and the Sun, and with Major being made a laughing stock, it worked for a while. The Sun came out for Labour a few weeks before the 97 election, when previously on the day of the election in 92 it informed its readers that if they were the last to leave if Kinnock won, would they please turn out the light? Kinnock himself blamed the Mail and Sun for losing in 92. There was therefore no chance that Blair would dare to anger the Rothermeres' and Murdoch.

It has to be said that there have been some successes regarding the "third way". Nominally left wing policies such as the huge rise in spending on the NHS and schools have now become such sacred cows that the Tories cannot dare to question them, to the horror of their own right wing. Alongside this though the "third way" has meant the acceleration of the private finance initiative in providing new hospitals and schools; contracts which will result in millions for companies over decades, but which aren't on the chancellors budget books for now. The reintroduction of the market in health care, the use of private consultants for various operations are all examples of how Blair has thrown off the ideological shackles with no regard for what is the best value for both money and care. In education, academies which require sponsors who can then dictate an amount of the curriculum are resulting in schools where creationists are taking control, as well as where minor indiscipline is now also leading to suspension and expulsion. Trust schools, which no one wanted except the Tories and Blair, will be exploited to their full potential if Cameron manages to get back in.

But I digress. Back to Blair:

He defended boldness in his political leadership, saying: "In these times caution is error; to hesitate is to lose", adding that his worry has been that he has not been radical enough in his leadership.

Yes, a non-sequitur, one of Blair's favourite methods of talking complete bollocks but which looks like it means something on the surface. What Blair really means here is that he's dedicated to pleasing the headlines of the newspapers. While the left and the Guardian often urge caution and suggest to take things slower and to come to policy agreements over time, as well as having trials first, such as over the introduction of 24-hour drinking licenses and liberalisation of gambling, what Blair does is respond. If the Sun is screaming about asylum seekers, he cracks down. If the Mail suggests that yobs need tackling, along come ASBOs and the idea of summary justice. If the Sun demands that we have a referendum on the EU constitution, then bam, we get one, even if he'd suggested just days earlier that there was no need whatsoever for one. In essence, Blair has always known where his bread is buttered, and it's buttered with the rich and the powerful. He has to be especially careful now he has a reduced majority in parliament, hence why we've seen the complete capitulation of home office policy to the Sun, and the obscene and deadly way we've adopted US foreign policy without any debate.

Mr Blair, who flew by helicopter from San Francisco to the exclusive Pebble Beach resort to make his speech, argued that modern political debate in Europe and the US was "no longer between socialists and capitalists but instead between the globalisers and the advocates of protectionism, isolationism and nativism", which he described as issues of migration and national identity.

Blair is right on one thing here. Socialism as it was is dead. There's no turning back on that score. However, the purpose of the left now is to attempt to make capitalism kinder: to redistribute, to dull the worst excesses of mass consumerism, and to make sure that business is regulated not too heavily, but not too lightly either. Blair though conflates what he sees as protectionism and isolationism with what is actually self-preservation and being more critical of our allies. The example of the Peugeot workers is one of so-called protectionism: it's well known that they're being sacked here because our rules on employment are less stringent than they are on the continent, even though the factory to be closed is more productive than those in France.

Blair is such an ardent believer in the "special relationship" that he'll support America over absolutely anything: he involved us in a war in Iraq which we had no need to join in, a war we could have instead helped stop. The result is a country heading towards civil war where over 100,000 may well have died. His complete sycophancy towards the Bush administration position on Israel has lead directly to the deaths we saw yesterday in Qana. The refusal to demand an immediate ceasefire means that more have died than was necessary, and more will continue to die until they demand it. That isn't about isolating ourselves from the world at large, or rejecting the special relationship. The very best friends you can have are critical ones.

The prime minister argued: "Most confusingly for modern politicians, many of the policy prescriptions cross traditional left-right lines. Basic values, attitudes to the positive role of government, social objectives - these still divide among familiar party lines, but on policy cross-dressing is rampant and a feature of modern politics that will stay.

Again, more nonsense. Evidence that the left-right lines still exist are evidenced by the hatred that some quarters of the media have shown towards the Human Rights Act. The Human Rights Act should be a shining example of what a Labour government has brought in which has made life better for everyone in the country, and of the left's basic values. Instead it gets the blame for what are seen as "unpopular" decisions, such as that regarding the Afghan hijackers fleeing the Taliban and over control orders. The Sun demands that it be repealed, or the "worst" parts of it either struck out or amended. David Cameron suggested a UK bill of rights, only to be universally laughed at, especially because he hadn't consulted Kenneth Clarke, the man in charge of constitutional and democratic policy, who then described Cameron's idea as almost "xenophobic".

Attitudes to the positive role of government is not a good example of left-right attitudes being abandoned; mainly because the Blairites has thrown themselves in with the Tories in regarding the state as evil. Listen to Cameron go on about charitable organisations and entrepreneurs, without explaining how they'll make up for what the state provides in programmes such as Sure Start. The fact of the matter is that Blair has similarly repudiated the state - hence the ever rising involvement of the private sector in the NHS. The left still believes in the state and is right to - but Blair doesn't.

"In these conditions political leaders have to back their instinct and lead. The media climate will often be harsh. NGOs and pressure groups with single causes can be benevolent, but also can exercise a kind of malign tyranny over public debate.

"For a leader, don't let your ego be carried away by the praise or your spirit diminished by the criticism and look on each with a very searching eye. But for heaven's sake lead."

Yes, it gets worse. NGOs and pressure groups apparently can exercise a malign tyranny over public debate, but the media climate can often only be "harsh". The most obvious example of a malign tyranny on public debate is of course, the Sun - (proprietor: R Murdoch) a newspaper that tells it readers what they want and has an overbearing influence on the government. Hence the Sun believed every word of the "intelligence" on Iraq - mainly because Mr Murdoch thought it would lead to a barrel of oil being $20, not out of his feelings for the oppressed, murdered and tortured citizens of the country. When Dr David Kelly tragically took his own life, the Sun knew who was to blame, and it sure wasn't the government. The BBC came in for a battering day after day after day. When it came to terrorist suspects being held in custody for up to 90 days without charge, the Sun used an image of a man injured in the 7/7 bombings who was opposed to Blair's demands, with no apology given. When MPs voted against the plans, those who dared to exercise the right to represent both the public and their own minds were called traitors for their trouble.

All this support comes at a price though - hence the hysteria over the criminal justice system being "unbalanced", years of attacks on those fleeing persecution who came just wanting sanctuary, resulting in crackdown after crackdown on "bogus" asylum seekers and immigrants in general, and the demands for the Human Rights Act to be axed. Blair doesn't name what NGOs or single-issue lobbies he finds most distasteful, but we can be they're the same ones which cause him the most trouble: the likes of Liberty, the Stop the War coalition and various human rights groupings that don't turn a blind eye to abuses which the government does.

For Blair to pretend that he doesn't let his ego get carried away with praise is perverse. Here is a man that prefers the company of Silvio Berlusconi, Rupert Murdoch and others than to his cabinet or natural Labour supporters. His obsession with the rich has led to his biggest disaster on the home front: the loans for peerages scandal. He's more than capable of ignoring criticism, he's done that for years. Praise however will get you places.

Here though comes the most hypocritical line of them all:

My concern is that we cannot win this struggle by military means or security measures alone, or even principally by them.

"We have to put up our ideas against theirs. But our cause will only triumph if people see it is based on even-handedness, on fairness, on a deep and genuine passion to help others."

You only have to see the post previous to this one to realise what this means for everyone apart from Blair in practice. He's quite right that military and security means will never triumph on their own, yet still he wants to throw away hard-won liberties in the fight against terror. He either can't or won't criticise the destruction that Israel has heaped on Lebanon, out of all proportion to what started the conflict. Most of all, his government has been complicit in torture, as evidenced by Craig Murray in Uzbekistan, and by the rendition flights that ministers still refuse to admit they had any knowledge about. To Blair, even-handedness and the passion to help others only extends once the bombing has ended.

Blair then sums up his duration as prime minister in one speech. There's no doubting that at the low-level, Labour has improved Britain. The NHS, despite the problems it's now suffering has greatly improved. Education results are getting better, although whether this is down to pupils and students only being taught for the exam and nothing else is an argument that we should be having. Redistribution through tax credits, although badly flawed, is going on. Sure Start centres are helping the under-privileged with families immensely.

Yet there's so much more Blair could have achieved with his majorities. Instead, in his pursuit of headlines, of his lust for American power and continuing reliance on doing things almost entirely designed to rile both Labour backbenchers and his nominal support, he's failed. He'll be remembered, not for his political courage, but for his vacuousness. He led his party to victory, but without any love between him or them. The road ahead looks bleak, but not for Tony. He'll be with his friends making speeches across America, writing his memoirs and most likely sniping at the party which he has broken. Lucky for him, David Cameron seems ready to continue his legacy, although whether the kinder face of Thatcherism will remain we have yet to find out.

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Sunday, July 30, 2006 

She loves it.

One day. Two very different photographs.

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