Saturday, September 02, 2006 

More raids. More surveillance. More lies.

Peter Clarke, the head of Scotland Yard's anti-terror unit, has been speaking out again. This time, talking to Peter Taylor for part of his investigation into Islamic extremism and its roots, he said that police are watching "thousands of people". He expanded:

"Not just terrorists not just attackers but the people who might be tempted to support or encourage," he said.

It seems then that the police and security services are openly acknowledging that they are returning to the bad old days of the 70s and 80s. This time, instead of targeting vaguely leftist campaigning groups and various Trots and commies (such as err, Peter Mandelson and Jack Straw), they'll no doubt be going after any Muslim grouping (and other sympathetic political organisations), of which there are plenty springing up. MI5 claims that it only has around 3,000 active files on individuals in the UK, which seems a suspiciously low figure. As a whole, the organisation claims that it has files on 272,000 people, of which about half it says are considered closed.

Paranoia? Maybe. Then again, you perhaps ought to take the words of a man who has been awarded the OBE for his part in the response to the 7/7 attacks with a pinch of salt. After all, he said the following about the "ricin plot":

This was a hugely serious plot because what it had the potential to do was to cause real panic, fear, disruption and possibly even death. This was no more, no less than a plot to poison the public."

Err, yes. Just a few problems: there was no ricin. Bourgass's plans to smear the ricin they didn't have (which wouldn't have been strong enough even if he had managed to manufacture it) on doorknobs and car door handles would have failed because ricin needs to pierce the skin. Potential panic? Yes. Hugely serious? No. Plot to poison the public? The idea was there, but would have been next to impossible to achieve. When even the police are wildly exaggerating the actual threat posed by terror, you know that something's going wrong.

Last night's raids, which have so far triggered no hysterical statements from politicians or police, ought to be seen in this light.

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Friday, September 01, 2006 

The evil of the unborn foetus, and other stories.

Tony Blair returns from holiday. He finds that a good number of his party is up in arms, partly because of the almost unforgivable government stance on Lebanon, party because of the appalling polls, brought on by the realisation that our foreign policy has only increased the threat to the nation, and partly because everyone except him and his closest acolytes realise that his time is up.

What would you do in the circumstances? Try and reassure those who are calling for your head that things are going to be different? Admit that he needs to go sooner rather than later? Realise that his continuing capitulation to the worst media interests and American foreign policy is only undermining what his party is meant to set out to achieve? If you were not clearly delusional, then perhaps that's where you'd start. For the Dear Leader, however, he's just carried on where he left off. Why else would he give his first interview to the Times (Prop. R Murdoch) and announce his Minority Report style intentions to target "anti-social children" before they're even born, appeasing the Sun (Prop. R Murdoch) and their WAR on young savages?

Apart from seeking to dampen talk about his departure date, Mr Blair’s main theme was the need for Labour to renew itself, to demonstrate “we are not paralysed or run out of steam. The Government is pursuing a programme of NHS reform which is revolutionary; we have trust schools and city academies which we have to get a critical mass on; we have pensions and energy policy which we have now secured policy for and now have consequent legislation.”

Revolutionary in its spectacular ability to disillusion the entire NHS staff while continuing the permanent reform revolution which successive health secretaries have imposed from above. Why else would those in charge like John Ashton be leaving their jobs and speaking out? Blair also talks of trust schools, which no one apart from the prime minister and the Tories wanted, and academies which are performing little better than the schools they replaced, except with private-sector sponsorship and in some cases ran by religious extremists who demand that students carry bibles around with them on certain days. This truly is Blair's bold strategy for the recreation of Britain in the image of the Dickensian workhouse. The energy policy involves the building of new nuclear power plants, which won't happen without the industry being given huge subsidies, money that would be better spent investing in renewables. Still, we knew that this what would happen long before the review, as Blair told his favourite friends, the CBI, that "nuclear was back with a vengeance".

He drew a comparison with the failures of the American Democrats in the post-Clinton years since 2000. He believes that Labour must show that it is the party of change, otherwise the Conservatives will be given an opening.

The failure of the Democrats was that they fell in line behind the Republicans after 9/11, afraid to criticise anything for fear that they would be painted as unpatriotic. They had good reason to be, as they were anyway. While Britain debated the case for war, the Democrats rubber-stamped it with hardly a moment's thought, something which has come back to haunt them. The Democrats failure was that they failed to be bold enough, that they didn't speak out for the American who wondered where all the wars and tough talk were going to lead. The success of Ned Lamont over Joe Lieberman showed that they have finally got it. For Blair to criticise the Democrats for doing this is pretty rich; his desire to stick with George Bush whatever the Republicans decide to do, support or attack is the exact same weakness that the Democrats suffered from. That they have recovered from this while Blair has not is typical of his hubris.

“I totally understand what people are worried about, particularly when our position on the Lebanon was parodied as saying that we really don’t care if Israel carries on doing whatever it wants and we’ve given them carte blanche. That’s not what we were saying at all. What we were saying, however, is that you could not talk about a meaningful ceasefire unless it was one that was agreed in the political framework.”

Was parodied? I suppose we must have imagined Margaret Beckett's refusal to go into whether Israel's response to Hizbullah's kidnapping and killing of soldiers was proportionate. We must have imagined her statement that even if you could get a ceasefire "even if you could get a ceasefire half an hour ago, you would probably be back in hostilities in a few days", proved entirely wrong by the subsequent ceasefire that Britain refused to call for, while almost the rest of Europe and the world did from the beginning. We must have imagined Tony Blair's spokesman saying "a ceasefire call would only make people feel good for a few hours and would have no impact." If that wasn't giving Israel carte blanche to do what it liked, then what was?

Mr Blair argued that large parts of the Western world, including in Britain, still do not appreciate the seriousness of the global terrorist threat. It is not just a matter of tough new laws, but, rather, of challenging the “unjustified” sense of grievance felt by many Muslims.

Yes, the completely unjustified sense of grievance that has led to the Muslim and Asian communities feeling almost under siege in the last few weeks, thanks to the government's over hyped and overblown warnings of the terror plot that seems increasingly likely to crumble once it actually gets to trial. As BlairWatch points out, their grievance about the Israeli dropping of cluster bombs across southern Lebanon, which occured almost entirely in the last 3 days of the bombing and which has so far killed at least 12 people would similarly be unjustified. No one denies that this country faces a threat from Islamic extremists, but this government has repeatedly lied about the true level of threat, exaggerated plots and plans which were nowhere near the scale they originally claimed and has in effect decided to almost govern by fear, attempting to show only they can protect us from the coming oblivion.

Blair's farcical attempts to declare war on anti-social foetuses is from the same political rulebook. He could have described his plans as helping the disadvantaged and downtrodden from the cradle to the grave, but instead he attempted to appeal to the Sun's criminalisation of youth as a whole. The target? The single mothers, the feckless, the work-shy, the same scapegoats which the Tories blamed and attacked for the decline of our society. Blair's ideas could have sold as part of the compassionate, caring and aspirational society which New Labour is meant to be creating, but instead it's part of the same old crackdown on crime and anti-social behaviour. It seems if single parents are too proud to turn for the government for help, whether they want or need it or not, then they're going to go down in the government's black books. The whole scheme smacks of being ill-thought out, designed only to get the tabloids off the government's back for a couple of weeks.

Labour deserves better. The country deserves better. Blair has to go. He might have hoped that his Times interview would stop the speculation, but he may well have equally hoped that it would bring out those opposed to him so that he can cast them as the wreckers determined to drag Labour back. He might have succeeded with Tony Woodley's comments about being aware of the curse of Thatcher, but the emergence of some thoroughly unradical and non-left wing backbenchers calling for a timetable for his departure may well have the opposite effect. The more who call for him to go the better, leftists or not. His time is up.

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Thursday, August 31, 2006 

Violently criminalising the "deviants".

Jane Longhurst's mother has got her wish. After a two-year long campaign and a government consultation, "violent" pornography is to be made illegal to have in your possession.

Before examining exactly what the government intends to criminalise, it's worth remembering the victim in this. Jane Longhurst, a 31-year-old music teacher at a school for children with special needs was killed by Graham Coutts, a 35-year-old who had an obsession with asphyxiation during sex. This obsession was allegedly exacerbated by his visits to pornographic websites which featured simulated necrophilia and strangulation. Former girlfriends testified that he had performed asphyxiation on them during sex, while he had told one that he feared that he would end up killing someone.

Coutts has always claimed that he accidentally killed Longhurst during consensual sex. Last month the House of Lords agreed that the jury should have been given the option of convicting him for manslaughter rather than murder. The Crown Prosecution Service is applying for a retrial. Coutts had kept Longhurst's body in a rented unit in Brighton, visiting 10 times before eventually dumping her corpse in a field, setting it alight. Found in the unit was a condom containing traces of Coutts' semen, as well as Longhurst's DNA. This led to it being claimed that Coutts had sex with her body after her death, although he has always denied this and it has not been proved.

The whole issue comes down to whether Coutts was further influenced by the material that he used on the internet. There's very little to suggest that he was. While the internet has undoubtedly made access to extreme pornographic material far easier, there's everything to suggest that Coutts had already carried out his fantasies on past girlfriends in a consensual situation, and that for him this was just a part of his normal sex life. Whether he got carried away with Longhurst, or set out to fulfil his ultimate fantasy we may never know. The government itself admitted in the first consultation document that the link between such pornography that Coutts' used and violent crime had not been established. "We recognise that accessing such material does not necessarily cause criminal activity," it said. "We consider the moral and public protection case against allowing this kind of material sufficiently strong."

So it has proved. 50,000 people, mainly coming from campaigning in the tabloids, signed a petition calling for violent pornography to be outlawed. Those who actually responded to the consultation document that the government published on its website were by far in favour of the current law situation remaining unchanged. 223 individuals, compared to 90 who replied said there should be no change. This was reversed when it came to groups who responded, with 53 calling for such material to be banned, with 18 backing no change. Even so, this still left the "no" camp with a majority of 98.

Away from the rather vague BBC reports, this is what the government plans to make illegal:

Content of Material
12. The material covered by the offence would be:
(i) intercourse or oral sex with an animal; and
(ii) sexual interference with a human corpse, as proposed in the consultation document.

We have considered the point raised by some respondents that
these categories do not exactly mirror the criminal offences set out in the Sexual Offences Act 2003, which refer to penetration, but have concluded that the broader categories should remain.

13. We have reconsidered the remaining categories set out in the consultation:
(i) serious violence in a sexual context, and
(ii) serious sexual violence.

We have concluded that the reference to “in a sexual context” caused confusion and was unnecessary in view of the pornography threshold described above. We therefore propose a single category of serious violence.

14. We have considered the violence threshold, which was originally proposed at GBH level, and concluded that the test was not sufficiently precise, would be difficult to apply and would draw in material which would not pass the obscenity threshold. We have concluded that the offence should apply to images of acts that appear to be life threatening or are likely to result in serious, disabling injury. Again, it would be for the prosecution to show that the material fell into this category. We would consider giving non-statutory guidance on the type of injury which we consider would fall within this category.

15. In summary, material would need to be:
(a) pornographic
(b) explicit
(c) real or appears to be real act (these would be objective tests for the jury)

16. It would cover:
(i) serious violence*
(ii) intercourse or oral sex with an animal
(iii) sexual interference with a human corpse
*by serious violence we mean appears to be life threatening or likely to result in serious, disabling injury.

The government has thankfully decided that the violence threshold has to be above GBH, as GBH has in the past been defined as "breaking of the skin". GBH would have meant that sadomasochist pornography would almost certainly have been made illegal, as would spanking material, which often involves welts being made on the skin.

Even so, the legislation as it is risks criminalising a distinct minority of what some would consider "sexual deviants". For those who practice erotic asphyxiation, it's quite possible that if they decided to take photographs or record themselves while doing it that they would be breaking the law. While it would be up to a jury to decide, the possibility is always there that something that is taking place between two adults in the privacy of their own bedrooms could be criminalised. Choking during sex can certainly appear to be life threatening or likely to result in serious injury, especially if taken too far. This isn't just a minority pornographic pursuit/interest either; "gonzo" pornography often features the male actor choking the female star during sex. It may be deeply unpleasant, it may be dangerous, but it's taking place in what is a safe, controlled, consensual environment. The sex industry in America is remarkably self-regulating, and takes safety, especially HIV/AIDS protection incredibly seriously. The BBFC cuts such practices from all R18 submissions, but the DVDs that are available to download from the internet from American websites could fall foul of this law.

The most troubling thing though is just what could be made illegal if it was taking place in a sexual environment rather than in say, a comedy or art film. Frank Fisher on Comment is Free identifies Hitchcock's Frenzy as featuring asphyxiation that could fall foul of this legislation. The Channel 4 comedy Peep Show contains an episode in which the Mark character ends up having sex with a teenage goth, who starts to choke him half way through, to his terror. It looks real, and could potentially be considered pornographic or explicit. Any film or work that has a BBFC certificate is to be exempt from prosecution, but doesn't this set up a double standard? Why should we persecute those who have different sexual interests who have as much right to see what they enjoy going on as anyone else? Why is asphyxiation in pornographic material seen as more dangerous than asphyxiation in "art" films?

The government is on safer ground on the banning of bestiality, but even here there are dangers. Many such examples of bestiality are often short clips, which are considered humourous. There's a lot of people out there with these who could be potentially prosecuted. One such video that was doing the rounds on forums last year was a clip of a man who died after receiving anal sex from a horse; not the most enlightening, educational or tasteful entertainment available, but should having such a video lead to someone facing imprisonment? The Good Old Naughty Days, a collection of silent pornographic vignettes, one featuring bestiality, was passed uncut by the BBFC with an R18 certificate. What makes old porn featuring sex with animals more acceptable than more modern examples?

The banning of necrophilia faces similar problems. While there is no such thing as real "snuff movies" (the closest thing to real snuff is the beheading propaganda videos released by the likes of al-Qaida in Iraq), or real necrophilia videos, sites such as necrobabes are easily available and feature men having sex with women who are made to look dead. Could a jury potentially view such material as real?

With there being no evidence that viewing such pornography leads to any more likelihood that someone will commit a crime, why on earth has the government gone along with what is the pet project of radical feminists who think all women in pornography are being exploited, censorship groups such as Mediawatch, which grew out of the ashes of Mary Whitehouse's old pressure organisation, and the ever reactionary plod? The only answer must be that it'll help to appease a certain amount of people and the press who are otherwise pissed off with the government, i.e. the Daily Mail, Sun etc.

It seems like a very British disease, and it is. No other European country has such a interest in criminalising minority sexual pursuits. Only Germany has what could be considered a more draconian censorship body than ours. We've had to deal with moral panics such as this before: one was over "video nasties" with the advent of the home video recorder. There was another in the aftermath of the James Bulger case, despite there being no evidence that his killers were influenced in any way by horror films, or even seen them. The current panic does not have such wide ramifications, but it will still do very little to nothing to stop what happened to Jane Longhurst from happening to someone else. I don't doubt Mrs Longhurst's sincerity and belief that making this material illegal might save further lives, but she ought to consider the likelihood of men and women having their lives ruined by draconian legislation which makes their "kinks" illegal to view. She should also wonder whether she is being used by those who want to remove the freedoms of the wider public to watch they want to, something which the intolerant likes of John Beyer has wanted for a long time.

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Wednesday, August 30, 2006 

Blair or bust.

It's almost possible to feel slightly sorry for Tony Blair. Going from the most loved, respected and impressive politician of his generation to being the most loathed, detested and untrusted within 10 years must be difficult to adjust to. Long gone are the now hilarious in retrospect "Cool Britannia" parties at 10 Downing Street, where hand-picked celebs all worshipped at the feet of the king of spin, replaced instead with a bunker mentality, advised only by his remaining friends and allies.

These friends and allies, exemplified by the likes of Charles Falconer, chief crony and unelected to boot,, seem to be the only ones left in the country that can't see how badly Blair needs to go immediately, not in a few months, not in a year, but right now. It is only they that are still convinced by his messianic complex, that only he can solve the problems of the world at large. That Blair has had next to no influence on Bush administration despite riding their coat-tails and in effect turning our foreign policy over to the hawks in the Pentagon doesn't stop them from continuing to claim that he must be the one who goes to the Middle East to bang heads together. The possibilities of a peace settlement any time soon between Israel and Palestine are now laughable, thanks in part to Blair and Bush's insistence that Israel be given time to destroy Hizbullah, while hundreds of innocents died. As it has turned out, the Israeli public appears to have decided that they didn't hit Lebanon hard enough. This is coupled with the abduction of countless Hamas and Palestinian authority members by Israel, which only underlines the contempt the Israelis feel for democracy that leads in their eyes to terrorist groups gaining more power.

Falconer's other wheeze is that only Tony can save this country from evil terrorists dedicated to destroying our loving and peaceful way of life. That Blair was on holiday and didn't feel the need to return earlier this month at the height of the hysteria over the hyped out of all proportion terror plot should be enough to destroy this mendacious argument, but there's something else worth acknowledging also. Only 1% believe the country is safer after Blair's wars on Afghanistan and Iraq, surely the biggest indictment of the man and his supposed power in dealing with the terrorist threat. Even if you don't think that Blair's decision to needlessly join the illegal war on Iraq directly led to the 7/7 attacks, it's clear that many believe that he has done nothing to help the situation. Rather, he's ever more convinced of his righteousness in his foreign policy. His "arcs of extremism" speech was frightening in how close in proximity it was to Bush's rants about "Islamic fascists". His desire to lump all nominally "extremist" Islamic organisations together as one homogeneous entity, different aims and all, as well as the refusal to directly contact either Syria or Iran during the Israel-Lebanon-Hizbullah war ought to show that his foreign policy is not just wrong and counter-productive, it's downright dangerous.

Even Tessa Jowell, who has in the past suggested she'd throw herself under a bus to protect her saviour Tony, recognises there are doubts about Blair's continued leadership, but these are laughably only in the "Westminster village". More notable is the nugget that nearly all the closest Blair allies have either resigned in the past or been caught in scandals. Stephen Byers, or as more popularly known, Byers Byers Pants on Fires, sounds off first to Sunday Telegraph that inheritance tax should be scrapped so that Middle England has a reason to love Tony, then uses the Murdoch press to suggest that Gordon Brown has to use the 2007 spending review to cement the New Labour legacy. Alan Milburn, who resigned to spend more time with his family and at the same time join the board of a company with a direct interest in the NHS, the department he previously ran, has refused to deny that he would run for the leadership once Blair does finally go. No one cares any longer what David Blunkett thinks, but he doubtless would like Blair or one of his allies to become leader, only because that'd be the only chance he has of returning to the government for a third time.

The longer Blair stays, the more enemies he creates. Charles Clarke continues to skulk in the background, embittered by his removal as Home Secretary. Michael Meacher, the former environment minister has since emerged as one of the darlings of the parliamentary left. Clare Short, who left it far too late to resign over Iraq, has similar qualities. None of these could on their own force Blair to consider his future, but together and with other Labour MPs they could almost certainly force something approaching a coup. That they haven't, and that the party seems disinclined to do anything, despite reports in the Grauniad this morning that something finally seems to be happening, means that they will just as culpable if it ends up with David Cameron winning the next election.

The biggest wimp of all though has been Gordon Brown. For a man who has waited so long, who has plotted for so long, who has been betrayed time and again, he seems remarkably content to let Blair completely wreck the Labour party. As Polly Toynbee has pointed out, the satisfaction rating with Blair is half that of Thatcher's when she was forced to leave Downing Stret in tears. Getting rid of Blair would be incredibly popular in the country, but the worry for Brown must be that the Blairite ultras and the Tories would combine together to say that the left was regaining the upper hand in the party. Utter bollocks, obviously, but you can bet your money that the Daily Mail and Sun would go along with it.

Blair himself should have resigned over the death of David Kelly. He should have resigned over the absence of WMD in Iraq. He should resign over the disaster that Iraq has become. He should resign over the loans for peerages scandal. If he won't go now, he has to be forced to.

Labour then is faced with a choice. It can let Blair to continue in his delusion that only he can solve Britain and the world's problems single handedly, or they can get rid of him. They have it in their power to do so. The longer this continues, the more the hatred for Blair, and as a result, Labour, grows. This would not be the equivalent of the Tories getting rid of Thatcher; the party has far longer to re-establish itself with the electorate, with a leader and new policies that actually do something other than disillusion the party's core support. Unless it happens now, we may face another 18 years of Tory hell, and you can rest assured that however bad New Labour has been, the other lot will be worse.

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That New York Times article.

You've probably already read it elsewhere, but the New York Times article on the alleged terror plot is available in full on Pickled Politics.

The most interesting thing is that the article suggests the liquid explosives were HMTD, not TATP as we’ve been led to believe by the press over here, although they are both made with similar ingredients. The arrested 17-year-old was charged with having a book on explosives. Wikipedia suggests that there are recipes for creating HMTD in the Anarchist’s Cookbook, that incredibly inaccurate and freely available manuscript. This may be a major leap, but that it’s possible they’re charging him with having that seems utterly ludicrous.

In short, the government yet again hyped it out off all proportion. They’d been watching these men for months. They knew actually what they were doing, or were planning to do. There’s widespread agreement that it would have been near impossible for them to mix these chemicals and create a bomb once aboard an aircraft. Some of them didn’t have passports. It seems incredibly likely the supposed ringleader in Pakistan has been tortured, hence the almost laughable claims of top-level al-Qaida involvement, and to top it all, we have to read the reality about it from an American newspaper, with blogs having to do the leg work in getting hold of a copy. Long live freedom!

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Tuesday, August 29, 2006 

Scum-watch: Sickening speculation.

Message to the media: The only thing from which the press should save me is the eternal lies about my person, the false interpretations, the we-know-better mentality and the lack of respect toward me.

A more than reasonable request from Natascha Kampusch. After spending 8 years with only the company of her kidnapper for comfort, you'd think that the media would be kind enough to let her try to rebuild her life in peace. No such luck.

First up then we have the Daily Mail, with quite possibly the most sickening and misleading front page they have had in a long time. Not content with trying to sell newspapers through lurid voyeurism, with the picture of her as a 10-year-old and not one taken after her escape, they completely distort her statement. She repeats twice that she doesn't want intimate matters to be discussed, as they are quite rightly nothing to do with anyone other than her and those who will be treating her.

Far from acknowledging that the trauma of escaping and readjusting to normal life is likely to be even more stressful than being captured in the first place, the Sun similarly decides to freely speculate and lie through its teeth. The first paragraph sets the tone for the rest of the article:

SEX-slave schoolgirl Natascha Kampusch told for the first time yesterday about her eight years in a pervert’s cellar — and stunned the world by insisting it was not all bad.

The article then goes on to speculate that she's pregnant, despite also quoting her insistence that intimate matters stay private.

As so often happens, what was once satire eventually becomes reality. In the Brass Eye paedophilia special which attacked the hysteria surrounding media coverage of paedophilia, a section of the show has the presenter asking one of the fictional paedophile's victims to demonstrate his perversions; she does so, while Chris Morris narrates with "Someone who agrees to rub their breasts on television is undoubtedly inexcusably disturbed". This is exactly what the tabloids are doing today, slavering, salivating, waiting for all the horrible details to be told to them, only for their victim to refuse to do so. This leaves them with the only other option in the circumstances: make it up instead and speculate wildly. That they're using the victim as an object almost as much as the original kidnapper did doesn't seem to make them any less ashamed of their actions.

Adding insult to injury, the Sun also dedicates part of its leader column to the unfortunate Natascha:
THE horror of being kidnapped for eight years does terrible things to the mind.

Natascha Kampusch describing captivity as almost a blessing is extraordinary.

The 18-year-old is grateful for not mixing with a bad crowd or experimenting with fags and booze.

Natascha’s comments show her journey back to reality will be a long, difficult process.

We wish her well every step of the way.

And if you'd like to change your mind about telling the world the horrible minute details of your horrendous experience, News International will be there to pay you a huge amount of money and use your pain for sales purposes.

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Monday, August 28, 2006 

Scum-watch: Criminalising an entire generation.

Put it down to the silly season, or there just being a general drought of news over the weekend until the bombs in Turkey late last night, but some of today's papers, especially the Sun, seem to be obsessed with crime.

The Daily Mail wails about how John Reid has supposedly ordered magistrates to free suspects on electronic tags rather send them to jail, presumably because of the overcrowding crisis. That it's been the screaming leader columns of the likes of the Mail than have considerably contributed to the prisons being overcrowded is naturally not worthy of a mention. Over in the Mirror, Tony Parsehole, sorry, Parsons, calls for the return of the death penalty for the killer(s) of Peter Woodhams. This isn't so that there's a possible deterrent even worse than at least a 15-year stretch in a stinking prison, but seemingly because a death seems to deserve another death in return. The revenge mechanism may be strong, but what difference would it make? Is taking another life justifiable in any circumstances? Parsons doesn't bother to explain, but then that might be taxing for the male Glenda Slagg.

The Times leads with the comments of the head of the crown prosecution service, Ken McDonald, who's spoken out to say that "elitist attitudes had helped to break the bond of trust between the public and the criminal justice system." No Ken, it's been the likes of the Sun and the Daily Mail screaming that the victims of crime are being failed, along with the appeasement of this point of view by the Labour government, which hasn't helped matters by being thoroughly incompetent, i.e. over the foreign prisoners scandal. When there was an outcry over the length of the sentence given to the paedophile Craig Sweeney, the judges got the blame, when the fault was entirely with the government.

It's no surprise that there has been something of a breakdown in trust in the criminal justice system. The reason for this has not been the justice system itself, which has been shown to be getting progressively more punitive and harsh when sentencing offenders, but with the governments and the "popular" press. This very Labour government has directly said that it intends to rebalance the "criminal justice system in favour of the victim". That they have said this repeatedly might be why a recent opinion poll, quoted by the Times, suggests that only 36% are confident that it satisfies the needs of victims. If the government suggests it's going to do something about it because this is what's happening, a certain amount are going to believe it, whether there's a crisis in confidence over trust with this government or not. This has been coupled with the increase in "campaigns" in the tabloid press, likely linked to decreasing circulation and the descent into hysteria which seems to have become inexorable.

The article goes on:

Mr Macdonald said that the old-fashioned idea that thecriminal justice system sits above the public and consists of principles and practices beyond popular influence or argument was “elitist and obscurantist”.

Who believes that? It's not old-fashioned, it's entirely untrue. How can the criminal justice system sit above the public when the public are directly involved in it, i.e. in jury trials. The fact of the matter is that the criminal justice system is now being undermined not by the judges and lawyers, but by the government which increasingly interferes, such as the sentencing guidelines in the case of Craig Sweeney.

He added: “If people, including victims, feel they cannot secure justice through the courts, we are entering dangerous territory”.

Which brings us on today's Sun. While later editions splashed on the explosions in Turkey, earlier editions screamed "BANG UP THE GANGS".

TODAY The Sun declares WAR on gangs of young savages terrorising Britain’s streets.

We are demanding a crackdown on behalf of decent, law-abiding families — after a boy of 16 became the latest victim killed.

Glen Corner was knifed to death on his birthday less than a week after brave dad Peter Woodhams, 22, was shot dead.

Outraged locals in South Shields, Tyneside, said cops IGNORED warnings that thugs had made their neighbourhood a no-go zone.

Like all deaths, Glen Corner's is undoubtedly a tragedy. However, there has no been direct link between his death and that of gangs operating in the area. According to the Daily Mirror, the attack came after an argument over a stolen mobile phone. It's only been casually linked in with the fact that the area has had alleged problems with anti-social behaviour.

The case of Peter Woodhams seems entirely different. Woodhams was murdered seemingly by the same gang that had attacked him 6 months previously, an act of violence that was according to his family not properly investigated by the police. The plod and IPCC are now both reviewing the matter. The only link between the two separate incidents is that gangs of youths may have been however tenuously involved. The Sun's use of Glen Corner's image for their campaign is similar to the way they jumped on the death of Mary-Ann Leneghan to further their own political agenda.

What does the Sun want then? Their demands are succinct yet vague:

Tony Blair says there are 6,000 more cops now than when he came to power — but where are they? As hoodlum gangs rampage unchecked across the country, The Sun is demanding:

MORE cops on the beat to make our streets safe.

TOUGHER sentences for violent yobs — with gangs locked up.

PRESSURE to be put on parents by the Government to raise decent kids.

We start then with hoary old chestnut about how police out on the beat make the streets safer. That there's a body of evidence that suggests that people actually start to believe that there's more crime than there actually is when there's police on the streets doesn't enter in to the Sun's equation; neither does the fact that police walking the beat means that there are less to actually attend to emergency situations: a bloke in a helmet walking around can only run so fast. The only plus which more police wandering around bring is that they do have a certain deterrent effect, but even that is disputed.

Tougher sentences for violent yobs? Fine, why the hell not? I thought we had them already, and that the prison overcrowding situation rather proved that, but obviously not. As for gangs to be locked up, how exactly do you go about doing that? Does the Sun want the police to just arrest any group of young people that happens to be standing on street corners? Does the thought not enter the heads of those in Wapping that locking up young people in young offender institutions isn't the greatest idea in the world?

Pressure to be put on parents suffers from a similar problem. Just how exactly does the government force parents to bring their children up "right"? Isn't the Sun one of the newspapers that complains about the "nanny state"? Why yes, of course it is, but in this way the Sun gets to bash the government for not doing enough to tackle problem. It's damned if it does and it's damned if it doesn't. Then again, the Sun editor isn't the greatest role model for children anyway, unless battering your husband teaches them vital lessons of how women can be stronger than men.

It goes on:

We also pledge to act if YOUR neighbourhood is plagued by the gangs. If the police won’t do anything we want to know.

Tell us the names of the ringleaders, where they live or simply where they hang out. We will put pressure on the police and Government to keep their vow to be tough on crime.

You can also shop the mums and dads of tearaways. We will name and shame the worst.

If in doubt, turn to the name and shame. It worked so well over paedophiles! It was also so successful in this year's earlier campaign against "soft judges" that it was abandoned after about a month. Again, the Sun ignores yet more evidence that naming and shaming does more harm than good, emphasised by the fact that in some areas ASBOs are becoming badges of honour. The paper also doesn't explain how it's going to know for a fact that the people it names and shames are actually guilty of any crime, but then vigilante action has never been about justice, more about making a point, which is exactly what the Sun is doing. That entirely innocent people may have their lives ruined by the very lowest form of journalism doesn't matter, as long as some thoroughly nasty people get their just desserts.

Our campaign follows a shocking eight per cent rise in street crime — with the use of knives rocketing by a terrifying 73 per cent.

The 73% figure involves muggings in which a knife was used. Other statistics from the same survey showed that murders involving knives has actually held steady over the last ten years. Violence with knives had also peaked in 1995, and the study stresses that the long-term trend is downward. This is no comfort to those attacked by thugs with knives, but it's worth seeing the bigger picture.

The whole Sun campaign though reflects something much more sinister: the criminalisation of young people as a whole. In another Sun article, a police officer gives the game away:

Alan Gordon, vice-chairman of the Police Federation, said officers had to choose which incidents to investigate.

He said: “It is frustrating for the public when you have gangs of youths who congregate and are intimidating.

“Unfortunately, until they commit an offence there’s little the police can do.

Yes, that's the problem isn't it? Why won't they break the law so we can arrest the bastards? That the vast majority of young people who do congregate on street corners or in bus shelters aren't doing anyone any harm doesn't seem to matter, but it's through the constant repetition of the horror stories about gangs and anti-social behaviour that lead to people of all ages fearing groups of youths. A lot may be intimidating, but they're probably not intending to be. The continuous tabloid campaigns against "yobs" have in effect meant that they are seen as criminals or even enemies within. This might not happen if there was something for kids to actually do in their neighbourhoods other than just meet together, but for many they'd rather that young people just didn't exist than do something about it, and the Sun's increasingly hysterical campaigns do nothing but encourage yet more people to be fearful rather than constructive. This was to an extent what David Cameron was getting at when he made his "hug-a-hoodie" speech, that young people quite rightly feel marginalised, that they seek solace through groups and what some might see as menacing or concealing clothing.

There is one voice of sanity, but only one, in the whole of the Sun's coverage today:

Chief Constable of Leicestershire Matt Baggott said all young people should not be tarred with the same brush.

He added: “Youngsters are not just the perpetrators of crime but often the victims.”

Indeed, the rise in street crime reflects the fact that older youths are robbing younger ones of their expensive mobile phones and ipods, rather than a general explosion of violence against just anyone. The sad fact is that Matt Baggott is commenting on exactly what the Sun is doing and has been doing: tarring every youth as a potential yob.

Just like when the News of the World launched its name and shaming campaign against paedophiles, there's also no dissenting mainstream political voices on the issue (the government eventually persuaded Wade to tone down her coverage, but not before Paul Boateng had praised the Screws for its "important contribution to the debate"):
Shadow home secretary David Davis said: “I congratulate The Sun on taking up this immensely important issue.”

Quite. Why bother criticising the fact that the Sun has a terrible record on these matters, that young people are being unfairly demonised for the crimes of a few and that naming and shaming only makes things worse?

The underlying message of the Sun's campaign can be summed up then thus:
Young people, we know that you want to have fun and enjoy your childhood, but wouldn't it be better for you to stay indoors and be seen and not heard? After all, you're scaring the old folks, and you don't want that, do you? You might want to check out this website, called (Proprietor: R. Murdoch), it's like going outside and meeting people except inside, but with more bad music and stupid haircuts!

But what do I know? I'm just an obscurantist and an elitist.

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