Saturday, September 30, 2006 

Troops out of Iraq! Troops, err, stay in Afghanistan?

It's getting increasingly difficult to come up with the words to describe the situation that continues to afflict Iraq. Baghdad is now almost certainly the most dangerous place on the face of the planet. 250,000 are said to have fled the sectarian conflict that continues to edge ever closer to civl war, if it isn't already there. Torture may be worse than under Saddam. A total curfew was declared last night, either until Sunday morning or for 3 days, depending on which source you believe. Whether this is down to intelligence about spectacular terrorist atrocities, or just an attempt to stop the bloodshed is unknown. The New York Times reports that journalists, not only having to contend with bullets, are also having problems with censorship laws. Bob Woodward, one of the journalists which broke Watergate, alleges that the Bush administration is willfully underestimating the number of attacks on troops and Iraqi civilians, in a break from the more subservient tone he took in his previous tome. Even Jack Straw is no longer attempting to pretend that the invasion has been anything other than a catastrophe, admitting that was in currently happening in Iraq is dire, without the usual caveats that things in some provinces are vastly better than in others.

There's no real surprise then that numerous generals have been trying desperately to extricate the British troops from Basra in order to, in their words, "do Afghanistan". There only seems to be one real argument for keeping troops in Iraq, and that's the "Pottery Barn Rule", as described by Curious Hamster. This is the guilt counter-point to the troops out now demand, that we've broke Iraq and we owe it both to the Iraqi people and ourselves to fix it. As far it goes, it's probably the best argument that remains, one which recognises that when you're in a hole, it's time to stop digging. Even so, our presence in Iraq has now gone beyond the tipping point. We're not helping the Iraqi people; if anything, we're hindering them. Our presence in Basra attracts the insurgents that are primarily based further north. Suicide attacks against British troops, as well as roadside bombs, are more likely to kill innocent civilians than the occupying force. Troops can do little to stop the sectarianism and Islamification which has infected Basra, once one of the most liberal and relaxed of Iraqi cities. The only reason that the troops now seem to be there is to offer political support to the Bush administration, as any attempt to pull them out would leave the Americans as the sole occupying power. It's little wonder that the generals have failed to convince their political masters to pull out of Iraq while the American mid-terms are only weeks away.

The biggest failure of all three of the main political parties today is that none have pulling out of Iraq as a policy. All three, partially frightened of looking soft on terror or of being attacked by Labour as betraying the Iraqi people, continue to believe that the troops there are doing sterling work under huge adversity. That may well be true, but leaving our soliders there to serve as target practice for either local malcontents or jihadists is just as much a betrayl of their families as removing them would be. To advocate pulling the troops out now would not be to cut and run, it would be to recognise that only so much can be done, that only so much pain can be caused to a once proud nation. Without the troops there, the flow of foreign jihadists would start to trickle, making it a harder job for the radicals in charge of the insurgency to convince their recruits that killing civilians will somehow help remove the occupying armies. More money and help could be concentrated on training the Iraqi army, as well as dealing with the grievances that drive the ex-Ba'athists and Sunnis who reject the current government and constitution. That no one other than Respect is calling for this is pure political cowardice.

As for Afghanistan itself, things are little better. Although Nato claims to have killed hundreds of alleged Taliban fighters (no one really knows for certain whether those resisting are actually the resurgent Taliban, locals paid to fight, or criminal warlords involved in opium smuggling) in recent weeks, suicide attacks have sky-rocketed. Another today killed at least 12 people in Kabul. The army itself is suffering from both low morale and shortages of ammunition and equipment. This has been exacerbated by the fact that they themselves don't really have proper idea what they're even doing there; the ministers involved, first John Reid and now Des Browne, have comprehensively failed to convey both to the public and the soldiers what the mission actually is. Is it security and reconstruction? Is it fighting the Taliban? Is it eliminating the opium crop? Is it stopping al-Qaida from taking up residence again? A BBC poll found that the latter was what 71% thought the troops presence was about, while 63% thought it was to fight the Taliban, with 46% believing it's to stop the flow of drugs. This confusion is a result of Reid's claims that they hoped to leave Helmand without so much as firing a single bullet. Instead, they've been involved in a bloody turf war from almost the moment they arrived. That their presence appears to have galvanised the Taliban, something that could have been predicted, seems to have been forgotten about.

The case for the immediate pulling out from Afghanistan, supported by some 53% according to the BBC's poll, is a lot weaker than the one for withdrawing from Iraq. Some welcome the British presence, others are resentful and suspicious, feelings which aren't helped by the troops at times having no idea who they're killing when they call in helicopter gunships and air-strikes; those fighting the troops, despite their occasionally audacious tactics and suicide attacks, are relatively weak, and reconstruction is far less likely to happen if there isn't a western presence, something that can't be said of Iraq. Even so, the current deployment and the political support for it has been a complete fiasco. While the argument made by ministers is that to abandon Afghanistan would be to allow the terrorists to take root again is simplistic, in that they have already done so in Pakistan, it has a ring of truth about it. While Karzai still has little control outside Kabul, the tyranny of the Taliban has mostly gone. Girls are increasingly going to school, despite the threats made against teachers. Women are much freer, even with the attempts by the Taliban to silence their strongest critics.

More needs to done to reassure both the British public and the Afghans that we are not there merely to be either target practice or to kill civilians while attempting to tackle the Taliban. The opium crop requires a radical solution, such as the purchasing of it for medicine. Johann Hari encountered the irony of a hospital in Kabul having no painkillers, while out in the fields the farmers were enjoying their biggest harvest ever. While in the past this blog has been somewhat defeatist about Afghanistan, it seems more and more obvious that something can be done to stop that nation from falling back into being a failed state, the exact opposite of what we're currently achieving in Iraq. The most sane thing would be to announce a departure date for our troops from the south, allowing the Iraqis to be ready in time to deploy there, and as the generals have argued, to concentrate on Afghanistan. We should not be there to conquer, or kill, but to help. The dropping of the mask of imperialism is essential if we are to win hearts and minds both here in Britain and in the Middle East. Until that happens, then the demands to bring the troops home will not only continue, but will be the right policy.

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Friday, September 29, 2006 

Scum-watch: Getting ready to back Reid?

While there's no leader comment praising Reid's speech yesterday, the article published makes it clear that the newspaper deeply admired his reactionary oratory:

Battling Reid has got the grit

TOUGH guy John Reid yesterday became the only real leadership challenger to Gordon Brown — with a power-packed speech to the Labour conference.

He left no one in any doubt that he fancies his chances of taking on the Chancellor for the top job when Tony Blair stands down next year.

In a rousing speech in Manchester, the Home Secretary warned that leaders need to lead — with a clear implication that HE would be a tough and fearless PM, able to take on the resurgent Tories.

Even so, Murdoch's minions don't much like his criticisms of the Bush administration:
Mr Reid seemed to pander to the left with a rebuke to President Bush over climate change and other issues. Despite opponents saying Mr Reid will not get enough support from Labour MPs to stand against Mr Brown, he is now giving it serious thought.

Pandering to the left over climate change? Could this possibly be the same Sun newspaper that in recent weeks has suddenly decided that climate change is both real and a threat, rather than just something that idiot navel-gazing tree-hugging lefties worry about? Does the Sun also disagree about stem cell research and civil partnerships? We should be told.

Over on the letters page, the paper's correspondents are united in being opposed to local imams being informed of the possibility of anti-terror raids or arrests in their communities, a laughable Sun-exclusive report, in that it's bollocks. Albert Philpin gets £10 for his following brainstorm:
WILL cops also tip off the Archbishop of Canterbury? Why should Muslims be treated differently?

No, I have no idea what he's talking about either.

Finally, the Sun website drools over photographs of Pamela Anderson, while just slightly down the page has an article about women with breast implants being more likely to commit suicide. Joined-up editing? What's that?

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Redwatch-watch: Fascist filth exposed.

Via Sunny and thevoid:

The hypocritical scum behind the Redwatch website have had a taste of their own medicine. Indymedia has published the photographs of 5 of those who have some involvement with the website. No addresses have been published, unlike those targeted on Redwatch.

Simon Sheppard, convicted of distributing racially inflammatory material (said leaflet can be found here), has a pleasant website set up over at He holds women as both inferior and liars, regards Anne Frank's diary as fake (rebuttals of such allegations are available at Wikipedia), and has a legion of jokes about the Holocaust available for your perusal. May he have a long and happy life.

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Thursday, September 28, 2006 

Save us, John!

John Reid is possibly the most dangerous man in Britain. The ex-Stalinist, ex-friend of Radovan Karadzic, ex-alcoholic, probably ex-directory Scot, whom despite being permanently called a tough man was beaten to the punch by "gorgeous" George Galloway (see current Private Eye 1168, or Galloway's autobiography) made a typically bruising, myopic, disengenuous speech today at the Labour party conference. Some have said it was a covert leadership bid. A focus group poll on Newsnight on Tuesday was depressing in how the members liked Reid's no-nonsense rhetoric, giving him the most support for the Labour leadership. Roy Hattersley was entirely right; if Reid becomes prime minister, then all of us might as well shoot ourselves.

Let me tell you where I stand on the big issues of security, crime and terrorism confronting us today.

I stand with the public.

I believe in a Britain where there is no compromise with terrorism.

Where immigration is managed fairly.

Where rights are matched by responsibilities.

Where policing is based in the community - visible, accessible, responsive.

And where respect is put back at the heart of our communities.

These values are what drive me.

This specious bullshit about responsibilities and rights needs to be put to an end. Every single person has rights - they only time they should be diluted is when that person is found guilty of a crime, not before and not until. No one is suggesting any compromise with terrorism, but neither should we give away our rights because of a few extremist fanatics who are willing to blow themselves up. As for these values driving Reid, the only value that drives him is opportunism. His slavish dedication to Blair, likened by Steve Bell to that of a suicide bomber to his cause, has been one of the reasons why we are still suffering from being led by the current prime minister. Now that the ultra-Blairites are searching for an anyone but Gordon candidate, the only likely person left is himself. That this foul, unprincipled hardman is even being considered is proof that the Labour party is finished.

My guiding purpose is to reduce fear: to create opportunity; and as far as possible ensure security for everyone, especially the weakest and most vulnerable in our society.

We talk a lot about human rights.

Let me give you my view.

The chance to live, and to live our lives without fear of terror or crime should be the most basic of our human rights.

It is the right to peace of mind - Nye Bevan called it serenity.

An unfashionable word, but one that goes to the heart of today's anxieties and today's challenges.

It's worth remembering that Bevan's great socialist tract was not entitled In Place of Injustice, or In Place of Poverty.

It was entitled In Place of Fear.

That fear and feeling of unfairness is most evident today in relation to mass migration.

It isn't fair when desperate people fleeing persecution who need asylum are put at risk because criminal gangs abuse an antiquated asylum system.

It isn't fair when someone illegally enters our country and jumps the queue.

It isn't fair on British workers if they find their terms and conditions undermined by unscrupulous employers deliberately taking on cheap illegal labour.

And it isn't fair, or sensible, if in assessing immigration levels we don't take into account the effects of immigration on the schools, and hospitals and housing.

So, I'm putting fairness at the heart of everything we're doing in the Home Office.

What exactly was fair about the decision to still prevent the doctors from Afghanistan who hijacked a plane to escape the Taliban from working, by yet again appealing against the decision of the high court? What's fair about the payments to victims of miscarriages of justice being slashed? What's fair about the removal of the automatic reduction when someone pleads guilty, when it was the government's fault that it was brought into disrepute when Craig Sweeney's sentence was slashed as a result? What's fair about asylum seekers being demonised by the same tabloids that Reid is desperately trying to woo? What's fair about the hugely distorted press campaigns against migrants from Romania and Bulgaria being allowed to come to Britain when their countries join the EU? Instead of indulging the tabloids, Reid should be making the effort to reassure communities that asylum seekers are not free loaders, and that migrants are contributing huge amounts of both tax and money towards the British economy. They should be welcomed rather than seen as a potential threat.

That's why I favour tighter immigration controls and ID cards.

And we need firmer action against rogue employers who misuse illegal immigrant labour.

That's why I want to establish an independent Migration Advisory Committee to advise on how migration should be managed to the benefit of the country as a whole.

And if they want somewhere to start, now that we have a lot more homegrown doctors and nurses, maybe we should be asking if we need quite so many medical staff, junior doctors, for instance, from the developing world.

And on the awful trade in human trafficking I can tell Conference that next week we will open with the police the UK's first specialist centre to fight this terrible scourge.

Action against rogue employers; fine. Independent migration advisory committee; good idea. Awful trade in human trafficking; if it's so terrible, then why is the government still refusing to sign up to Council of Europe convention on trafficking which gives the victims a formal period of reflection as well as the possibility of a temporary residence permit? Rather than helping young women who've been brought to Britain to work as prostitutes, the current policy is sending them straight back to the country where they've came from, risking the cycle being repeated.

All of this approach goes with, not against, the grain of the British sense of fairness and decency.

And in the same way, the public want to see more fairness in our approach to law and order.

People want to know that the government is on the side of the victim, not protecting the criminal.

That's fine by me, because it's this party, and has always been this party, that's on the side of the decent, hard-working majority in our country.

Why? Because we believe in rights balanced by responsibilities.

It is that, that has always divided us from the Conservatives.

Yep, we're back to re-balancing the criminal justice system in favour of the victim again. No government should be on the side of either the "victim" or the "criminal" until a court has found one way or another. The court system needs to be independent, neutral and robust, without political interference. Reid wants the opposite. Those nasty Conservatives, they've always favoured rights over "responsibilities", whatever they are. The sad thing is that the Tories have of late rightly opposed Labour's illiberal excesses, such as 90 days without charge for terrorism suspects. The thing that used to divide Labour from the Conservatives was that Labour believed in the people of this country. The Blair years have meant that Labour now believes only in the wonders of capital and the dead dog rhetoric from the Sun.

That's why I am going to introduce a Community Payback scheme.

Simple, swift, just.

So, if people ruin our community they are going to have to put it right themselves.

And why shouldn't violent offenders pay towards the healthcare costs of their victims?

Oh, I don't know. Maybe because it's likely to impoverish them, alienate them even further from society and create more grievances and resentment, as well as the simple fact that a huge number of fines handed down by the courts currently go unpaid. There's nothing wrong with payback in the community, but if this is going to be put into place then it needs to take into account the circumstances of the attack and the background of the person.

And there are other values that we are going to insist on too - that our society is based on mutual tolerance of each other's beliefs, protecting each and all of us from those who would stir up hatred.

And let's be clear.

It cannot be right that the rights of an individual suspected terrorist be placed above the rights, life and limb of the British people.

It's wrong. Full stop.

No ifs. No buts. It's just plain wrong.

What is that supposed to mean? This is gibberish, empty rhetoric that doesn't even make any sense. If this is a nudge towards 90 days being reintroduced, then it needs to rejected. Nothing we have seen this summer justifies such a long period of detention without charge. Two of those arrested over the alleged plot to bomb airliners using liquid explosives were held for 28 days then released without charge. Lawyers for the men suggested that they had been repeatedly harassed and strip-searched during that time, and that they hadn't even been interviewed for almost the first full week they were held. If it's about suspected terrorists being held under control orders, awaiting deportation, then the government still needs to explain why they cannot be tried here. Reports have suggested that Omar Bakri Muhammad, the radical preacher who left for Lebanon and was not allowed back, is still in contact with his followers over the internet and phone. If he is as dangerous as he is supposed to be, why could he have not been charged with an offence rather than just being unceremoniously dumped out of the UK? Thanks to this short-sighted policy he still may well a pose a threat to Britain.

The world is a less secure, more dangerous place than even a decade ago.

We face an unconstrained international terrorist threat that doesn't accept any limitation on human destruction.

Even here, in the midst of all this violence, the struggle of values is central.

That's why I went to Waltham Forest last week, to play my part in that debate.

Five years ago, in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, I was asked to do the closing speech for this conference.

I said then and I repeat today that no religion, no political creed, no ideology has a monopoly on terrorism.

This is not a clash of civilisations. It's not Muslims versus the rest of us.

It's evil terrorists on one side against all civilised people on the other.

There can be no compromise, no appeasement with terrorism.

Faced with the terrorist threat, as John F Kennedy said, we must be prepared to "bear any burden, pay any price, face any foe, and support any friend".

Fine words, but our invasion of Iraq has made the world a far more dangerous place, a fact that is denied by this government, despite report after report stating that this is the case. However, if in the face of this terror threat we end up supporting such charming governments as that of Uzbekistan, when torture was endemic and the country so backwards that students were forced to pick cotton rather than continue their studies, or end up repeating such counter-productive moves as supporting the Afghanistan mujahideen, then JFK was wrong. Our enemies enemy is not necessarily our friend.

Because if we, in this movement, are going to ask the decent, silent majority of Muslim men - and women - to have the courage to face down the extremist bullies, then we need to have the courage and character to stand shoulder to shoulder with them in doing it.

So when the terrorists or their loud-mouthed sympathisers tell me that we won't be allowed to raise our arguments in this or that part of our community, my answer is simple.

Yes we will. This is Britain.

There are, and there will be, no "no-go areas" in our country for any of our people, whatever our background, colour or creed.

We will go where we please, we will discuss what we like and we will never be brow-beaten by bullies.

That's what it means to be British.

Strange that. There already are numerous no go areas in Britain. Postman Patel points one out in Northern Ireland. The centre of Manchester has been turned into one so that Labour can have their annual shindig while sticking two fingers up at both the local population and those that come to demonstrate. Within a mile of parliament is now a no-go area if a policeman decides that you're protesting without permission. In certain areas children under 16 were banned from going outside after 9 o'clock because of powers given to the police meant to target anti-social behaviour. Instead law-abiding citizens were stopped from going outside, enjoying themselves or running errands for friends and family. If Reid is serious about standing shoulder to shoulder with the Muslim community, why doesn't he stop lying to them about their children possibly being brainwashed?

I want to see the widest, deepest, national alliance.

That's why I am genuinely saddened by the response of the opposition.

I understand that David Cameron has not been in post long.

The public may understand that he doesn't want to rush to judgement on every decision. But he has to be capable of making some decisions. That is what leadership is all about.

There are some issues so serious, so rooted in the very fibre of our national values, that we need to make the hard choices now.

David Cameron may find that those who wait too long to see which way the wind is blowing, get blown away by the gale.

And so the Tories end up talking tough, voting soft and hoping no one will notice.

But the public has noticed what they have opposed - tougher sentences for murder, sexual offences, violent offences, dangerous driving, immigration, asylum.

They voted against or abstained on all of them.

Why? It's all too difficult. Too controversial.

Actually, it's because they are too lacking in leadership.

But if they won't lead, we will. Countering global terrorism requires that.

This isn't just completely wrong, this is libellous. On many occasions the Tories have shown far more backbone and principle than this Labour government has when it's come to the the affairs of the Home Office. It isn't a lack of leadership, it's being the opposition. It's all too easy to blame the Tories and crown yourselves as the saviour of the British public, but it's rubbish. Last year in the aftermath of the 7/7 bombings, both David Davis and Mark Oaten, the then Lib Dem home affairs spokesman, had a number of meetings with Charles Clarke to reach agreement on whether any new laws to deal with the terrorist threat were necessary. All their work on an alliance was blown apart when Blair, responding to the Sun's incessant screaming, said that the "rules of the game were changing". That he did this after Clarke had gone away on holiday, humiliating him and undoing all his attempts to reach a deal fatally undermined him. It led to the government being defeated for the first time in the Commons. Now Reid wants to repeat history.

We need alliances not just with Europe but across the wider world - and that includes the United States.

Let's take this head on.

We should tell George Bush when he's wrong on climate change, on stem cell research, on civil partnerships, on tax cuts.

But remember, the enduring relationship between peoples with common values in a common struggle, against a common enemy transcends the transient political personalities involved.

Put simply - you don't have to love everything George W Bush stands for to hate everything that Osama Bin Laden stands for.

Strange - Guantanamo, renditon, the attempts to dismantle the Geneva convention, the failure to make Israel adhere to the road map to peace, and the bellicose, belligerent attitude towards Iran are all missing from Reid's list of what Bush is wrong on.

That's why the decent instinct of the British people is to help each other, to help ourselves.

Ah, so there is such a thing as society, but you still need to rely on yourselves. That's a nice new twist.

Leadership isn't a zero-sum game. When one of us shines, it doesn't diminish the others - it reflects on all of us.

When one of us succeeds, the others don't fail.


Now, as Tony Blair leaves, we all need that unity of purpose and common endeavour more than ever before.

And, just as we contribute to that common effort, so we will share in that common victory when it is achieved.

And I pledge to you that I will play my full part in that.

In other words, vote Reid! He's our man, if he can't do it, then Gordon can! God help us.

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Wednesday, September 27, 2006 

Casual xenophobia.

The decision to allow Bulgaria and Romania to join the European Union on the 1st of January has been reported with a predictable venom and casual xenophobia which is the typical reaction of the tabloid press. While the Sun often leaves its poisonous discourse on immigration to the inside pages, the Mail and Express embrace it, with the use of war-like language and distorted, misleading images. Today's front pages are no exception.
The Mail uses an image that could well of been a queue from anywhere, ignores the fact that some of those in the photograph would be applying for visas for business visits or holidays, and also that they wouldn't even need to have visas to come and work in Britain once they do join, as long as Britain doesn't impose restrictions, which it appears likely to do. While 384,000 East Europeans, mostly Poles have come to work in Britain in the last 18 months, it's assumed around half of those have since returned home. The implication of course though is still there: that these are foreigners who want to come here. How dare they!
The Express, which gets worse by the day, goes even further, describing the potential influx of Romanian and Bulgarian workers as "invaders", as though they're medieval warriors coming armed with clubs and maces to despoil our cities and rape our women, when in fact they're more likely to come, do low-paid work which is still better than what there is back home, then return.

The hysteria which has built up over the months, with numerous claims that because the number of Poles coming to Britain was vastly underestimated that a similar number of Bulgarians and Romanians will do the same. This ignores how Poland has always had an small but strong community in Britain, among those who fled the Nazis and then the Soviets. It also rejects the results of a survey conducted by BBSS Gallup, which showed only 46,000 in Bulgaria were seriously considering working abroad, and then their favoured destinations were Spain, Germany, Italy or Greece, not poor full, overstretched and unwelcoming Britain. Other studies have suggested that less than 100,000 are likely to leave within 18 months. It's also humourous how the mid-market middle-class tabloids are the ones so obsessed with migrant workers, when their readers are the ones that are least likely to be affected. No, the attitude of the Mail and Express is rooted in a far simpler, base emotion: the fear of the outside, the hatred of the unknown, the hostility towards the less than noble savage. It's xenophobia, bordering on racism, pure and simple.

It's tempting simply to oppose the imposing of restrictions on the grounds that it would annoy the disgusted of Tunbridge Wellses, but it's true that more does need to be done to ascertain whether the influx of migrants is pushing down wages as a whole. Even so, the laughable claims of the CBI, whose members are the ones who benefit most from the opening up of borders, that not to do so would threaten the country's social fabric, deserve to be exposed for what they are: a pandering to the pathetic little Englander attitude which is still prevalent throughout the gutter press. For now, we should welcome the Bulgarians and Romanians who want to work in this country and do work that many of the indigenous population don't want to, while recognising that migration is not the answer to all of the current business and workforce woes.

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Nosing of the non-Brown order.

For once, the Mirror, Sun, Guardian and Independent are all in agreement: yesterday's speech by Blair was variously a "memorable tour de force", a "headmasterly farewell, stern in parts, warm in others", "a superb performance ... a barnstormer of a speech", "majestic ... skilled, forceful and focused, raised politics above the merely temporal" etc etc .

The Sun's completely arslikhan leader, a sure sign that Murdoch may well invite Blair to become a columnist once he does finally go, is filled with crap from beginning to end. No matter how good a speech Blair made, and it was by his standards a poor one despite all the acclaim, it will do little to alter his poll ratings, showing him as half as popular as Thatcher was when the Tories threw her onto the bonfire. Labour continues to be behind the Tories in the opinion polls, from 4 points to 10 points, all pointing to the country being thoroughly fed up with him. The Sun claims that removal of Thatcher led to Blair's eventual victory in 97, which shows a remarkable (or willful) lack of memory, including the Sun's role in helping Major to victory in 92 with their "Will the last person to leave Britain if Kinnock wins please turn the light out?" front page and their subsequent "IT WAS THE SUN WOT WON IT" boasting. The Tories were destroyed by Black Wednesday, not Thatcher's removal, although it helped sow the seeds of discontent which erupted in its aftermath.

The Scum even plays down its disagreements with Blair over crime and immigration, only calling him "cheeky", as if he'd just taken part in some mischievous prank involving pinching Rebekah Wade's bottom. Their amusing claims that Blair destroyed the Tories in his attacks on them - when he actually made obvious how the Tories amazingly look a better option to a Labour party that continues to be in his and his acolytes thrall - are the icing on the cake. Still, we know why this completely craven, toadying behaviour continues: Murdoch only continues to believe in Blair because of his strong support for the Bush administration in everything it does. This is coupled with Wade's closeness to both Tony and Cherie; their removal from Downing Street will end the cosy dinners and chats, and while Brown has been wooed to a certain extent, he is still viewed with suspicion. Will he allow the Sun to continue to be fed scoops, with the Home Office agenda being almost entirely handed over to it? It seems doubtful.
Let's then turn to the most in the know commentator of the day, Zoe, 24 from London, wearing today just a tiny pair of frilly pink panties. Coming across as the wet-knickered ideologically sound babe that Wade's pen creates, she marvels: "What a performance! He showed all the qualities that attracted millions of voters in 1997." Being a page 3 girl, it's likely that Zoe knows plenty about performances, and the fact that she would have been 15 when Blair was elected in 1997 and so unable to vote should undoubtedly be taken as the unfortunate slip it is. Then again, maybe she'd like to meet her friend Tony in more intimate surroundings, similar to those below.

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Tuesday, September 26, 2006 

Blair's speech: The last gasp of a delusional, messianic liar.

You'd have been forgiven, having watched the BBC's Daily Politics show, for thinking that Blair's final speech to the Labour Party conference had been a tour de force, the equivalent of the ten commandments being passed down from God to Moses in the form of stone tablets, an unshakeable, undeniable brilliant oration from the greatest politician of his generation. Both Roy Hattersley and Lord Bell, neither big fans of the Dear Leader, were in effect laying back basking in the afterglow of the most fantastic intercourse they'd ever had, lighting cigarettes and hoping desperately that there was more to come.

It's true that Blair can at times be almost as charismatic as Bill Clinton, a man who knows how to bring people to the brink of orgasm with just a few well-placed words, but he wasn't anywhere near that kind of form today. His speech, as dreary as one of his pathetic performances at prime minister's questions when he reels off Labour's list of achievements since 1997 then attacks the Tories for still leaving them with a legacy of devastation, was piss-poor. The audience though were already in the mood for what was a greatest hits type final tour by the Dear Leader. As he went through triumph after triumph, rather than the image of himself playing guitar for the Rolling Stones which must have been going through his mind, he instead appeared to be a teenager addicted to onanism, the kind that goes through six acts of self-abuse a day. The delegates for their part performed their designated role, that of a degraded woman in a porn flick, opening wide, sticking out their tongues, desperate to catch every last drop of the sticky, foul tasting substance that burst forth from their hero's battered and limp organ.

Sex references and imagery aside, it's still hard to argue with most of Blair's listing off what he considers his greatest achievements. The only major quibble you can have with it is his not so strange failure to remember that he didn't support Ken Livingstone as Labour's candidate for London Mayor, instead going with the hapless former health minister Frank Dobson. What hits you though is how much further that Blair could have gone with his two huge majorities, now decimated thanks to the biggest foreign policy disaster this country has ever known. Labour in the 1960s managed to push through the abolition of the death penalty, the decriminalisation of abortion and the first removal of discrimination against homosexuals. The only major radical policy on the same level that New Labour has brought in has been civil partnerships, and that took far too long. For all the praise for the NHS, the service has been wrecked by the constant revolution of reform, the reorganisations that have took place multiple times which have resulted in the frontline workers tearing their hair out. Blair talks of a return to Labour's real values, yet he forgets how only months ago he made a speech attacking the permissiveness of the 1960s and the liberal ideas that came from that period.

The beliefs of the Labour party of 2006 should be recognisable to the members of 1906. Full employment; strong public services; tackling poverty; international solidarity.

No arguing with the first two. A decent amount of work has been done on poverty, but not enough. Blair's obeisance to capital has meant that the richest have got even richer while the poorest have got even poorer, and nothing has been done or suggested to help change this. Tax credits, which Blair mentions, have been such a cock-up, resulting in families going into abject poverty after being paid too much and being unable to pay it back are helping but the drawbacks have outweighed the benefit. As for international solidarity, that's the biggest joke of the whole speech. Solidarity only with the United States, middle finger up to everyone else except for Israel, only interested in Europe as to appease those on the left who are critical about the special relationship.

The second half, more focused on the challenges that Blair believes face the world and Labour, is in places better balanced than in others. His talk of a third way on globalisation, when everyone realises that Blair is a slave to neo-liberalism, except when the tabloids start screaming about immigrants, is laughable. The nonsense of a "Google" generation moving beyond 9-5, when polls consistently show that the public just wants good local free at the point of use services, not stupidly complicated "choice" involving in private treatment centres that rip off the taxpayer is just as disingenuous.

The third part, which could be called the tough on everything part of the speech, reels off just how badly we need small pieces of plastic with our fingerprints and iris scans on them, how brilliant the DNA database is, even though those who are arrested and not charged have their personal private data taken, and why everyone should support John Reid's no doubt magnificent plans on law 'n' order, designed to rebalance the criminal justice system in favour of the victim, shows just why Blair and his cronies have to go.

It gets worse. Blair just cannot admit to what everyone already knows, what countless reports have now identified as being an undisputable fact, that the Iraq war has left us all far less safe and increased the threat of terrorism. The constantly repeated argument, that September the 11th happened before any war is trotted out once again, even though it has nothing to do with what is happening now. He raves about how fantastic our troops are, even though he hasn't had the guts to visit any of the injured in hospital. He covers the unforgivable policy of not calling for an immediate ceasefire over the Israel-Hizbullah-Lebanon war by saying that it musn't happen again, despite personally having blood on his hands for supporting the American position of letting the Israelis do whatever they hell they liked.

The final part, an attack on the Tories, makes you realise just what Blair's autocratic leadership has done to the once idealistic, altruistic party. He accuses Cameron of anti-Americanism because he dared to suggest that Blair's sycophantic relationship with Bush has only damaged Britain both worldwide and internally. He suggests that ID cards are the cure-all for illegal immigration, even though asylum seekers and immigrants are given them as soon as they enter the country, which the dastardly Tories have dared to oppose. He laughs at Cameron's decision to only use nuclear power as a last resort, one of his most sound fleshed out policies. He mocks the idea of a British bill of rights, not because the Human Rights Act is far better than any half-baked Tory suggestion but because lawyers would draw it up. It doesn't seem to occur to Blair that half of his cabinet are trained as lawyers, that he himself was a barrister, and we all know how badly that's backfired. There was no sign of self-deprecation.

All of which makes his claim to be a progressive incredibly humourous. Cameron's Tories ideas make them more progressive than he is at the moment. Blair sold his soul to the Murdoch devil years ago, determined not to have his new party undermined by the megalomaniac whose newspapers claim to speak for the working classes but actually hate them just as much as they hate the old Labour party which Blair has left emaciated, destitute, broken.

Iraq was mentioned but once. Blair stands for the continuation of failed policies, of crushed hopes, of continued attacks on everything that his party once stood for. He ought to have been booed and told to go. Instead he was lauded. Gordon Brown and the others who would like the top job offer little alternative. 2006 will go down as the death of the Labour party, destroyed by a man only interested in power for power's sake, who had no grand vision other than privatisation, endless reform and a huge belief in the power of good-faith bombers. So long Tony, and thanks so much.

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Monday, September 25, 2006 

Brown is still Brown.

I made the mistake of listening to Gordon Brown's speech to the Labour party conference in its entirety. Hoping for something like his barnstorming "Real Labour" speech a couple of years back, the one that almost made me believe that he offered something different to Blair, this was the Gordon that delivers the Budget in his monotonous, slightly pompous, "is this it?" sort of way. It wasn't terrible, it just wasn't very good.

The whole start of the speech, given over to praising the Dear Leader for his insight, his strength, his political-weathervane, and quite possibly his indefatigability, was cringe worthy stuff. Everyone knows that they've spent weeks not talking to each other, their allies plotting against each other, the occasional act of sabotage designed purely to piss one side off, and here is Gordon, the man that many desperately want to be a break with the Blair era praising everything he's done. Not only that, Brown actively "regrets" the distraction their rivalry has caused. He lists off what Tony has been right about - how Labour has to be more than just for working people, how it has to be pro-business, how the public services must be reformed, how September the 11th changed everything, along the way supporting "liberty, democracy and justice" for everyone, which is quite a remarkable spin on what we've inflicted on both Afghanistan and Iraq. According to Brown, Darfur needs to be sorted out by the UN, something which anyone with a ounce of realism realises is utterly impossible. The African Union is the only body that has any chance of stopping what some have called genocide there. He also mentions Blair 'n' Beckett's peace plan for the Middle East, which unless you've got a short memory, you'll remember from this summer: let the Israelis bomb the other side and never suggest that their actions are either disproportionate, or that an immediate ceasefire is necessary.

Brown moves onto next addressing how his stewardship of the economy has made us all better off, and it's difficult stuff to argue against, except his notion that everything was in a mess in 97: the Tories deserve some credit in that they did help establish the economic stability that has lasted since Labour were elected. He lists people who he's desperate to help, stereotypes most likely thought up to show just how Labour he is, just how he's going to be New Labour to the core in renewing the government when he becomes prime minister. It all feels forced however; this was a Brown who we know was always more of a socialist than Tony was, who helped write a booklet about a Scotland rebuilt in red. Suddenly though it's evident that this is all just to get a reference to his childhood in:

My father was a minister of the church.

His motivation was not theological zeal but compassion.

He told me 'you can leave your mark on the world for good or ill'.

And my mother taught my brothers and me that whatever talents we had, however small, we should use them.

I don't romanticise my upbringing.

You just did. And he continues to do so, with some low-level boasting about how great his family was:

But my parents were more than an influence, they were - and still are - my inspiration. The reason I am in politics.

And all I believe and all I try to do comes from the values I learned from them.

They believed in duty, responsibility, and respect for others.

They believed in honesty and hard work, and that the things that matter had to be worked for.

Most of all my parents taught me that each of us should live by a moral compass. It was a simple faith with a fundamental optimism. That each and every one of us has a talent. Each of us a duty to use that talent. And each of us should have the chance to develop that talent.

And my parents thought we should use whatever talent we had to help people least able to help themselves.

The moral compass stuff is good, but where was this moral compass when we launched the war against Iraq? The only evidence he gave two hoots about the war was that it might have affected the balancing of his books, not whether the war was either moral or justified. As for the honesty and hard work, this is the kind of tough New Labourism that the Sun loves. We might be Labour, but we don't stand for freeloaders!

And all these challenges have one central defining feature in common - a lesson we have learnt in government.

None can be met by government alone.

In nine years I've learned that these new challenges can be met only by government and people working together, met only by an active citizenship only by involving and engaging the British people and forging a shared British national purpose that can unify us all.

Take terrorism.

Let me promise: as a government, as John Reid and Des Browne have said, we will take any necessary steps and find all necessary resources to ensure whether in Iraq, Afghanistan or anywhere else there is no safe haven for terrorists and no hiding place for terrorist finance.

But we also know that we must isolate these murderous extremists and we will do so best when we, the British people, mobilise the essential decency and moderation of all our communities and win the battle of ideas for hearts and minds.

All very noble ideas. The reality is as ever, different. The government ignores, and continues to ignore the reason why some of these murderous extremists are in our communities. The government thumbed its nose at numerous proposals by a body set-up to look at the issues surrounding the 7/7 bombings, and then we have John Reid, marching around with his spurious stories about brainwashing, offering no practical help at all to those who do worry about where their youth are heading. This battle of ideas would be wonderful if it actually existed: what we really have is a government that pretends to listen but instead wants to impose its doctrine on communities without any debate.

One of the few new, or reasonably new pledges, does emerge after Brown did his best to look tough:
But to make all this happen we cannot tolerate second best investment in our schools. And, step by step, we will raise investment in state school pupils now £5,500 per pupil to today's level for private school pupils - £8,000 a year.

And I make this challenge to all parties - if you believe, like us, in equal opportunities in education, support my priority for the future: invest in education first.

Again, nudging at the back of your mind is the fact that Labour has just pushed through its trust schools bill, wanted by next to no one other than a few New Labour believing school headmasters and the Tories, a measure which is bound to exploited by Cameron if he does get in. Academies, the wheeze of getting businesses and non-governmental organisations to sponsor schools, has so far resulted in little extra benefit, except for evangelicals getting their hands on minds still being shaped.

One of the more eye-catching parts of the speech is Brown's talk on climate change which is refreshing when compared to Blair's previous talk of how economic growth always has to come first:
And I make this promise: tackling climate change must not be the excuse for rich countries to impose a new environmental colonialism: sheltering an unsustainable prosperity at the expense of the development of the poor.

Completely right. We know full well that if we do not change and alter our own lifestyles that it will the developing world hit hardest: Brown here at least has the guts to admit it. How's he going to solve it though? With a £20 billion global fund! Money, rather than action, is as ever the solution to everything.

Brown continues, going onto his usual riff about Britishness and our shared values:
And while we do not today have a written constitution it comes back to being sure about and secure in the values that matter: freedom, democracy and fairness. The shared values we were brought up with and must not lose: fair play, respect, a decent chance in life.

And let us reaffirm the truth, that as individual citizens of Britain we must act upon the responsibilities we owe to each other as well as our rights.

Here is the deal for the next decade we must offer: no matter your class, colour or creed, the equal opportunity to use your talents.

In return we expect and demand responsibility: an acceptance there are common standards of citizenship and common rules.

No pledge then for a written constitution, something that Britain is crying out for. For the moment the "hated" Human Rights Act is the closest thing we have. Then again, perhaps it's for the best, as Brown's ideas about a constitution seem rather different to what the Americans had in mind when they wrote the first ten amendments. Nowhere in there do you see "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances
BUT only if you play by our rules, accept our citizenship and promise not to disagree with our view that the empire was a good thing". It's a very British idea that you have your rights, but only as long as you don't do anything that might upset us. It's part of the reason the Sun is so opposed to the Human Rights Act - treating everyone with the same dignity and respect is a heinous crime if they happen to be a Bulgarian or Romanian who may harbour ambitions of wanting to come here once their countries join the EU.

It goes on. And on. And on. It's all just too familiar, they same things that Brown has been banging on about for a couple of years now, with the odd new promise here and there. He mentions legislating to tackle corporate manslaughter, something that Labour has pledged to do ever since it came to power and still hasn't. It's hard to get enthusiastic that he'll be any different in actually making sure it happens, especially as he's just as much a toady of the CBI as Blair is. The only joke Brown cracks in the whole speech is about how he's more concerned about the arctic circle than the Arctic Monkeys, which is slightly self-depreciative and welcome, but it needed more. There's no denying that some of the speech is a breath of fresh air, such as recognising that young people shouldn't be stigmatised over the acts of a minority, something which Tony Blair has never so much as dared to voice for fear of the Sun and Mail screaming at him, but it's overshadowed by his acceptance of the failed policies that Labour still is trying to ram through: ID cards, more than 28 days detention without charge. There's no mention of replacing Trident, something he said he was going to do in a previous speech. There's no suggestion that the pace of reform in the NHS is far too much too quickly, when the staff are screaming for a stop. There's no mention of SureStart, and while he does talk about the drop in child poverty, he knows only full well how the gap between the poorest and the richest has massively expanded under Labour.

It was then, a completely New Labour speech. This was Brown setting out his stall, telling everyone that in effect he will continue the Dear Leader's legacy, that the country is safe under him. It doesn't seem to matter that however much he does this, he still gets attacked by the unrepentant Blairites who can't see what they're doing to the party which they've hijacked. Mandelson's quotable comments were a case in point. It lacked the passion, it lacked the verve, it lacked notable new policies, it lacked everything that made some of us believe Brown would be different. New Labour is dead. Long live New Labour.

Related posts:
BlairWatch - Gordon Preaches to Conference - The other Cheek of the Same Arse
Guido - Brown Speech Live Blog

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Scum-watch: Selective reporting about human rights.

There's barely a week that goes by without the Human Rights Act getting savaged in the Sun, wrongly being blamed for more or less all the woes that currently afflict the world. Last Monday was no exception, with a typical scare piece being written about how many lifers are being released by parole boards. Right before the end, the Human Rights Act gets the blame, without any evidence being presented to actually show why it seems have such a huge influence over the court system.

That would be because the only evidence there is that suggests the Human Rights Act may have something of an impact is because staff are not being trained properly in what the Human Rights Act actually says - the chief inspector of probation, Andrew Bridges, in his report into the failings that freed Anthony Rice to kill Naomi Bryant, found that considerations on his human rights had been given too much importance, rather than the safety of the public at large. As Obsolete has argued before, this is down to a failure with the probation service, not a failing of the Human Rights Act. Indeed, Bridges said that there had been "substantial mistakes and misjudgments" by all three of the services involved in Rice's release.

Vera Bryant, Naomi's mother, was quoted in the Sun's 18th of September article. Before they quote her again for a similar report, they might want to ask what her views on the Human Rights Act actually are, as thanks to that piece of legislation she's just won the battle to have a full inquest into the death of her daughter. Bryant's challenge to the original ruling was brought by Liberty, another of the Sun's favourite organisations, who successfully argued that Article 2 - the right to life, requires the state to hold a public investigation by an independent body where it appears that state authorities may be involved in the death of a person.

Has the Sun bothered to report this good piece of news, both about Bryant and the fact that the Human Rights Act isn't just used by terrorists and criminals? Take a wild guess.

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Saturday, September 23, 2006 

To be dead, or not to be dead, that is the question.

(Apologies for the appalling post title.)

The rumour mill is going into overdrive. Is bin Laden dead? A leak from the French security services, themselves informed by the Saudis, suggests that everyone's favourite bearded cave-dwelling terrorist may well have kicked the bucket, his organs having failed due to typhoid.

Like with Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the death of bin Laden has been suggested numerous times before. Numerous reports from various sources have previously told a world waiting with bated breath that the Saudi has perished, all of which have proved to be wrong so far, unless you believe that the US did capture bin Laden during the raids on Tora Bora and has since been used every time the Bush administration has got into trouble, most notably days before the 2004 election. (Which, if you do incidentally, makes you even crazier than him.)

A more appropriate question is: does it matter if bin Laden is alive or dead? While bin Laden's influence has been both over and underestimated, he's already gone someway to reaching his aim of attempting to awaken the Ummah from what he regards as its slumber. Bin Laden, after the end of the jihad against the Soviets had one of two options: he could either target the autocratic, corrupt rulers of the Middle East, or the Great Satan, the United States. He decided upon the latter, especially after being spurned by Saudi Arabia when he offered his services to defending the country from Saddam Hussein. They accepted the Americans into the home of Islam instead.

If Bin Laden is dead, then his legacy is already assured. Who else apart from the Japanese can claim to have struck the Americans at their heart in such a spectacular, grotesque, horrendous fashion? Ayman al-Zahawiri, who has always been the spiritual leader of al-Qaida and the true scholar, is more than ready to take up the mantle, and is in rude health, despite have the occasional missile fired at places he had apparently only recently fled. While al-Qaida was never the monolithic group some have alleged it to be, the mantle of suicidal Islamic extremism has been spread across the globe, with autonomous local cells capable of operating without any leadership being the true successors to the organisation. The war on terror has backfired so utterly, that if bin Laden is dead, he's almost certainly sleeping deeply, making a snoring noise that sounds suspiciously like laughter. It'll be a long time before he turns in his grave.

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Friday, September 22, 2006 

Lessons still not learned.

The government just doesn't get it. Even the title of the latest report into the 7/7 bombings, Lessons Learned, which reaches similar conclusions to the earlier report by the London Assembly, suggests that they consider the matter closed. Everyone just needs to move on. Let's move on. Forward, not back.

The introduction to the report, signed by John Reid and Tessa Jowell, ends with:
This document is our attempt to let those whose lives were so affected know where we’ve got to. Now we invite those affected by the 7 July bombings or with an interest in improving our nation’s resilience to scrutinise it and tell us how we can do better.
Within a few pages though, it's clear that they're not willing to listen to those who survived the attacks of that day:

The Home Secretary explained that the Government does not believe that a public inquiry would add to our understanding of the atrocities. There has been an independent inquiry by the Intelligence and Security Committee which examined the intelligence and security matters relevant to the attacks.
The Government is also of the view that a public inquiry would divert resources, in terms of personnel, away from the police and security agencies at a time when they are actively engaged in the investigation into the events of 7 July and, importantly, the detection and prevention of further atrocities.
Actively engaged in the investigation of the events of the 7th of July? After a year and two months? What are they still investigating? What are they going to find now? Any trails that might have existed will have long since disappeared. Why has the additional CCTV footage of the bombers which is known to exist still not been released in any shape or form? How would doing that harm any eventual court case against those still alive who were involved? What is the loss of a couple of days work to the security services and police compared to the lives of those who died on that day, as well as those who survived? If they can't find suitable cover, then that's the fault of the government, police and services themselves, not the inquiry which would also have as its main goal learning the lessons necessary to stop such an attack from happening again, just as the government claims to be doing.

The reason the government so adamantly opposes an independent inquiry is because it knows full well that if one were given the opportunity to designate its own remit, to investigate both the events of July the 7th and the lead-up to the events of July the 7th, that it would expose foreign policy as being a major contributor to the motives behind the attackers. The government will not admit that the Iraq war has left us far less safe, as well as transforming what was a secular, proud nation, albeit a repressed and impoverished one, into a hellhole splitting along sectarian faultlines, where bombings have become so common place that they're no longer properly reported by the Western media. Almost 7,000 have died there in the last two months alone.

An independent inquiry may also find failings in the security services; we already know that Mohammad Siddique Khan had been in the sight of MI5, but was thought to only be on the edges of Islamic extremism and so he wasn't kept under surveillance. What else did they know about the other men who carried out the bombings? Were they really unknown?

We shouldn't be surprised by both the government's refusal and the security services contempt, though. The head of MI5 this year refused to even give evidence to a government committee in secret, knowing that she was likely to be asked awkward questions. We're living in a time when we are meant to rely on these people to save lives and protect us from those who want to take them, but instead of them being open with us they're as secretive as they have ever been. Oh, that changes when there's a terrorist raid; then the spooks and police sources suddenly appear, hawking what they know to any journalist who'll listen. That these briefings are designed to scare everyone and smear those arrested before they've even been charged doesn't matter, as after all, desperate times call for desperate measures. We've seen this happen with the Koyair brothers, we've seen it happen over the alleged plot to bomb airliners, and again over the raid of an Islamic school. When those same sources are asked to come out of the shadows and give evidence under oath, they're a lot more shy.

Rachel from North London, an incredibly brave woman, wants to move on but can't because this government pretends to listen but in reality has its hands sewn over its ears. David Davis, probably more out of opportunism than genuine concern wants a public inquiry. It's time that all the other political parties and the media united in calling for one. It's the very least that the relatives of those who died on that day deserve, not to mention the survivors.

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Thursday, September 21, 2006 

Why were they there in the first place?

Before we get serious, let's get the amusing stuff out of the way. The above cartoon has to be Steve Bell's finest in a long time. Also, Harry's Place does have its occasional uses: one of the commenters there seems to have found a online posting by Abu Izzadeen looking for a second, third or fourth wife. Obviously, it may well be a fake or just a simple coincedence, but let's have a giggle anyway. Izzadeen considers his most attractive physical feature:
(my beard doesnt grow beyound a certian limit so its not really long)
Words that describe him are:
Passionate, Bold, Protective, Witty, Sensitive
What he'd must like to change in the world:
to see Islam dominate the world
and in social settings, he considers himself:
The life of the party

Well, he certainly was for a few minutes yesterday at least. Along with that other favourite hothead moron Anjem Choudrary, they interrupted and heckled John Reid, who handled them remarkably well, it has to be said.

The conspiracy theories are of course, already up and running. The aforementioned HP has jumped on George Galloway for questioning how the artist formerly known as Trevor Brooks got in and then started mouthing off, but the question is sound. Both Izzadeen and Choudrary are well known to the police - Choudrary was at the protest against the pope's comments at the weekend for God's sake. Choudrary was also involved in the organising of the demonstration outside the Danish embassy back in Feburary, where protestors chanted "Britain Britain you will pay 7/7 on its way" along with other delightful slogans.

The Guardian states:
The Home Office said the audience had been invited by the council and it was an open community meeting which others could attend.
It seems doubtful that the al-Ghurabaa adherents were invited, so presumably they had heard in advance from someone along the line about Reid's visit and subsequently gate crashed the event. If this is what happened, why did the police and security guards there not stop them from entering in the first place? While it could be argued that they had every right to take part in the debate at the end, those in charge of the event should have known full well that they would most likely attempt to disrupt it, which is indeed what happened. In any case, they and some others continued their protest outside, which is where they should have been made to stay.

As could be expected, the Sun's leader column is outraged at what they see as a double standard, considering the treatment that was meted out to Walter Wolfgang after he heckled at last year's Labour conference. They claim that this is appeasement, but rather it's a softly softly approach that is probably the best option the police have. They know full well who the most outspoken extremists in this country are, and they no doubt have them very closely monitored, which makes you wonder whether cases over time are being built up against them. While the Sun decries the treatment of the protestors, the police have been photographing and identifying those who have taken part, intelligence led policing which is far removed from the brutal way in which the raid in Forest Gate was carried out. Would the newspaper rather that more innocents were shot in ham-fisted operations, or that those stirring up hate are dealt with properly? Yesterday's outbursts if anything helped John Reid's cause, giving the lie to his claims that extremists are out to brainwash Muslim youths. The Sun's claim that they breached the peace isn't helped by Ian Blair's comments that no law appeared to have been broken. We should be more worried about why they were let in, rather than what they said once they were there.

The sad thing though is that the softly softly treatment of these men has given them much more attention that they deserve. Anjem Choudrary continues to be asked to appear on debates and television shows; he popped up again on last night's Newsnight, as the radical voice against the moderate. The BBC should really know better than to give men such as Choudrary an outlet on which to air their rage, as it continues to make the public as a whole think that men such as him have widespread support: they don't, never have and never will. This whole episode just reinforces the case for why the extremists need to be shut out to the sidelines. We need to know what the real moderates think, without the likes of al-Ghurabaa being there to drown out their message. At the moment all that's happening is that the extremists are almost becoming part of the mainstream. This has to be stopped.

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Wednesday, September 20, 2006 

Reid's brainwashing bullshit.

John Reid followed up yesterday's article for the Scum, with if anything an even more potentially inflammatory and badly thought out speech, this time in a mosque. While the interruptions he suffered from al-Ghurabaa will make the headlines, his main argument, that young Muslims are being targeted by extremists for "brainwashing" is one that just doesn't stand up to scrutiny.

"There is no nice way of saying this," he said. "These fanatics are looking to groom and brainwash children, including your children, for suicide bombings. Grooming them to kill themselves in order to murder others.

"Look for the telltale signs now and talk to them before their hatred grows and you risk losing them forever. In protecting our families, we are protecting our community."

Reid's talk of "telltale signs" is so ripe for satire that it even sounds like a spoof article that Private Eye would print. Sadly, it's all too real. Anyway, I digress.

From what we know of the 7/7 bombers, none of them had continuous contact with an imam, sheikh or otherwise that radicalised them. The alleged ringleader, Mohammed Sidique Khan, along with Shehzad Tanweer, visitied Pakistan, quite possibly to attend a madrasa. They may also have attended a training camp, where they were taught how to handle the explosives they used. No links between any of the bombers have been fully fleshed out with any radical group; allegations that they visited the Finsbury Park mosque have been played down or dismissed entirely by the security services, although whether we should believe them is open to questioning.

Much more likely, and potentially more dangerous is that those who have taken part in terrorist attacks in the past have shown no outside inkling towards extremism. Sidique Khan was said to have not expressed any particular interest in politics or religion while he worked at a primary school. As Jason Burke writes in his book Al-Qaida, the true story of radical Islam, those who went and trained in the camps in Afghanistan often did so entirely of their own voilition, not because any local religious leader had told them to go. Also of note is that almost of none of the attacks attributed to al-Qaida were planned by high-ranking officials within bin Laden's organisation. In fact, those who wished to carry out bombings were encouraged to come up with their own ideas, submit them, usually to Abu Zubaydah, who was responsible for the flow of volunteers through the camps, who would consider the plans and then arrange for funds to be given if the plot was approved. This is almost certainly what the 7/7 attackers did; while they were not entirely "clean skins" as originally claimed by the security services and police, they were undoubtedly the ones who came up with the plot, then got in contact with someone in Pakistan who helped them to carry it out, while their martyrdom videos were also filmed at the same time. Robert Pape, in his book Dying to Win, considers the war in Iraq the trigger that led to the 7/7 bombers targeting their own country, and with the wider decision by radicals that attacks in Britain were no longer off-limits. This ties in with how the security services have been accused of letting known radicals operate in Britain with impunity during the late 90s, while some of their number have been alleged to have been informants for MI5 and 6.

This is the problem with Reid's whole basis for asking Muslims to be suspicious of their children or of those looking to "brainwash" them. While Richard Reid the shoe-bomber had been visiting Finsbury Park mosque, there's little to suggest that he was brainwashed by Abu Hamza. His conversion while in prison to Islam was then further influenced by his visits to the extremist mosque, but it's incredibly doubtful that he was ordered by Hamza to carry out an attack. The plan was all his own. Of those linked to terror plots, the vast majority did their own research and came up with their own ideas, only partially influenced by "mainstream" extremist ideas, such as those of Sayyid Qutb and al-Zahawiri, rather than being directly radicalised by extremist preachers or by extremist groups.

Which is why Reid's pleas could potentially backfire. Rather than being concerned about them being brainwashed, parents should worry more about may happen if mainstream political activism is curtailed as result. As Osama Saeed writes, it's when moderate views, such as that of the mainstream Muslim organisations are suppressed that extremism flourishes. Past crackdowns in countries such as Egypt on relatively moderate by comparison Muslim organisations such as the Muslim Brotherhood led to the creation of groups such as Islamic Jihad. In Afghanistan, the Taliban, who although extreme were a creation of the local Islamic mysticism more than the Salafist millenarian beliefs of al-Qaida, were forced even further into the hands of bin Laden when their destruction of the opium crop was ignored by the outside world.

In this country, the backlash against those who have dared to suggest that foreign policy has had a major hand in the radicalisation of some Muslim youth is continuing. Reid himself called the August letter by 4 MPs calling for a change in foreign policy a "dreadful misjudgment". Melanie Philips and her ilk condemn loudly any attempts to even talk to some Muslim groups, such as David Cameron's reaching out to the MPAC. Martin Bright, who it has to be said has his heart in the right place, is potentially doing more harm than good with his attempts to suggest that the Foreign Office shouldn't be talking or doing deals with the Muslim Brotherhood. Lord Stevens and the Sun demand that Muslims stop making "excuses" and condemn violence, whether they have been doing exactly that or not.

The current situation is that we are going to have to talk to and potentially deal with organisations that hold ideas that many of us on the liberal left would consider anathema, such as the MCB's views on homosexuality and abortion. This doesn't mean appeasing such beliefs, it doesn't mean agreeing with them or even accepting their arguments, but it does mean that we are going to have to listen and not just pretend to be doing so either. It's only through doing this that we will help tackle extremism; not telling communities what to do, not frightening them into watching their kids at every moment or stopping them from taking part in politics, but through listening and properly consulting. Effective policies and learning from what we know should be the order of the day, rather than playing to prejudices and relying on short term political gain.

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Scum-watch: A victory for the newspaper, a blow to consultation.

As Obsolete noted yesterday, the government's seemingly decided that Connaught barracks is a swell place to dump a load of "bad lags", in the Sun's parlance. The Sun is predictably claiming victory for their campaign, but strangely it finds nowhere in its article to actually ask the local population what they think about an ex-barracks being turned into a prison without them even being consulted about it. The Guardian, however, did:

The barracks, still surrounded by high fences and coils of barbed wire, sit next to a large housing estate, where residents yesterday also expressed unhappiness at the fact that they have not been consulted.

"I wouldn't feel too happy if it were to become a prison," said Roy Clayton, 46, a former soldier who bought his house on the estate from the Ministry of Defence. "I am concerned about the security aspect - there are a lot of young families here. I don't think the government has really thought it through." He said he would be consulting the local residents' committee, "but the problem is, this has all come through the back door. It's not being openly discussed by the local government or the national government."

"I'm not too pleased about all this," said Melanie Maxlow, 27, another resident of the estate. "It would literally be on our doorstep. I would worry a lot about the security, especially as it is supposed to be an open prison."

Still, who cares about a bunch of bumptious little not in my backyarders? We're talking about bad lags needing to be locked up or else they'll go free! Then again, how would Rebekah Wade or "GEORGE PASCOE-WATSON" like to have a prison opposite where they live? An insight into the average mind of the Sun editor, faced with a criminal or an ex-criminal in their midst comes from the case of Iorworth Hoare, the convicted rapist who won the lottery while in prison. He made the mistake of moving to a Newcastle estate where the Scottish Sun's editor lived. The result? Hoare's exact location was printed on the front page of the newspaper. The editor said:

This is terrifying news. This has always been an estate where people felt safe. It’s the sort of place where children can walk the streets in safety.

Which may well be how some near Connaught barracks might now be feeling. The Sun however, is enthusiastic:

Officials raised hell when The Sun first suggested this idea a few weeks ago. Today it is seen as plain common sense.

It’s only a start. But at least inmates will be locked up — instead of being freed early from overcrowded prisons, a threat to all law-abiding citizens.

Remember, the Sun is the common sense voice of the people, the paper that dares to break the tyranny of political correctness and shout for the average common man in the street. Except it seems when those people get in the way of one of their law 'n' order campaigns.

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Tuesday, September 19, 2006 

Scum-watch: Reid warns Muslims to be suspicious of their children.

Another day, another article in the Sun by a member of the government mentioning all the same platitudes about the war on terror.

The article doesn't start well, and it goes downhill dramatically:

EXTREMIST Muslims are calling for jihad, or holy war, after the Pope quoted an ancient text linking the Prophet Muhammad with “things evil and inhumane.”

As tensions rise, this week Home Secretary John Reid will appeal to Muslims to help root out potential terrorists from within their community. Here he writes for The Sun.

Err, they are? The pope's comments did cause a degree of outrage in the Middle East, but it appears to have been calmed by his apology. The only person in the UK who came anywhere near to calling for "jihad" was Anjem Choudrary (his Wikipedia page is currently vandalised, otherwise I'd link to it), the extremist idiot from al-Ghurabaa, who implied on Sunday during a demonstration that the pope could be subject to capital punishment for insulting the prophet Muhammad.

OUR world has changed enormously over the last 15 years. The dangers of religious extremism and ethnic tensions have replaced the East-West rivalries of the Cold War.

The end of communism was a great victory for freedom and democracy but it created new challenges — including global terrorism.

Yes, quite. When it came to defeating communism, it didn't matter if we decided to be friends with or fund deeply unpleasant people or groups - such as the mujahideen in Afghanistan, who fought the Soviets. Just because a lot of those that did then turned their attention to fighting the west and carrying out terrorist attacks across the globe doesn't matter at all; our heart was in the right place.

But this is not a war with Islam, this is a battle against extremism and intolerance. And it is vital that we all work together to defeat those twin evils. That’s why there must be no sectarian divide between Muslims and non-Muslims.

Which is a bit rich coming from the Sun newspaper, the same owners of which printed the following despicable sectarian rant from Lord Stevens in the News of the Screws:

WHEN will the Muslims of Britain stand up to be counted?

When will they declare, loud and clear, with no qualifications or quibbles about Britain's foreign policy, that Islamic terrorism is WRONG?

Most of all, when will the Muslim community in this country accept an absolute, undeniable, total truth: that Islamic terrorism is THEIR problem? THEY own it. And it is THEIR duty to face it and eradicate it.

It's all right though, John Reid is here to teach the feckless dumb Muslims how to do it:

It is because of the level of threat they face that I will start this week to brief the Muslim community, to give them the knowledge to defeat these extremists and ask for their help.

This dovetails with the work of Ruth Kelly who, as part of her ongoing engagement with Muslim communities, will be hosting a meeting of Muslim women. Some may think it is better to accommodate extremists in the hopes of influencing them for the better, but as I know from the bitter experience of dealing with militants in the Labour Party, you cannot compromise with fanatical beliefs.

Militants in the Labour party, Islamic extremists, what's the difference? All this talk of accomodating extremists depends on the definition of "extremist": are we talking about Anjem Choudrary or the likes of the MCB, MAB and MPAC-UK, which some, including on the supposed liberal-left, regard as "extremist"? The government itself has a lousy record on this, especially after the 7/7 bombings. It set up a committee, only to limit their time to investigate and then ignored pretty much all the recommendations that they had come up with. What's going to be different about it this time? The debates which Labour has pledged in the past on different issues have often turned out to be window-dressing for what's already been decided. The government has to prove this is not just more of the same.

As a father of two boys, I know how hard it is to raise children and know everything they are up to. It is especially difficult to intervene as they get older.

But there are times when we must confront them to protect them from harm. So I appeal to you to look for changes in your teenage sons — odd hours, dropping out of school or college, strange new friends. And if you are worried, talk to them before their hatred grows.

In other words, every single one of you bastard Muslims is a potential terrorist, so do the decent thing: snoop on your kids. If they suddenly start caring about the war in Iraq, or Lebanon and Palestine, they're probably on the road to extremism, so shop them to the police. You know it makes sense.

I don’t want a suspicious society when we have done so well in breaking down differences. But the terrorists want to divide us. We must not let them.

Yet this is exactly what the government and many of the commentators in the tabloids have been doing. Rather than listening, accepting that foreign policy has had a marked influence in the radicalisation of a tiny percentage of Muslim youths in this country, they've done everything they can to obfuscate and play down the issue. Asking Muslims to regard their children as potential jihadis if they start doing "odd" things is an example of this. Everyone accepts that extremism is a growing problem, but rather than tackling it properly and reassuring the Muslim community as a whole that it is not regarded as the enemy within, the government seems determined to try and divide and rule certain sections of it and create conflict, between those groupings and with the policy itself.

Terrorism can be defeated only when we all work together to defeat it. That’s why it is so important that Muslims join us in exiling extremism from our country — and from their communities.

Who could disagree? If the government believes this, it's time that it actually put it into practice. Don't hold your breath.

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Prison crisis: Government agrees with the Scum's solution.

A month or so ago, the Sun started to claim that due to the overcrowding crisis in the prisons that up to 50,000 of those currently incarcerated could be released early. That they seem to have plucked this figure out of thin air didn't really matter; they already had the solution to all the government's problems. Their wheeze was for disused Ministry of Defence bases and camps to be quickly converted to hold prisoners, as they have the bonus of having perimeter fencing and security measures similar to that of the lowest category prisons. That the Sun seems to regard open prisons as soft and that they have in the past criticised them for leaking inmates like a sieve has been forgotten, as after all, who wants 50,000 criminals back on the streets?

Their justifications and arguments for the bases to be used to hold convicts were also rather rudimentary, to say the least. Some of the bases, including one at Bicester, were for a while meant to be redesigned to house asylum seekers, but local opposition eventually led to those plans being dropped. Somehow, the Sun comes to the conclusion that err, residents wouldn't object to prisoners being given their places instead. Asylum seekers, criminals, what's the difference? At least the criminals are from Britain! Incredibly, the Sun also argues that Guantanamo Bay is a good example of how military bases can quickly be turned into prisons:

Controversy surrounded the use by America of the Guantanamo Bay military base to house prisoners from the Middle East and Afghanistan.

But the military proved the logistic possibility of quickly transforming an army site into a prison.

Yes, while they're transforming the bases into prisons for taking the scum off our streets, they may as well install all the necessary equipment for torturing foreign fighters, as in Cuba. You never know when you might need it.

Their campaign seemed to peter out, like many other Sun campaigns that launch in a hail of right wing rhetoric and then wither like the tree in the new Tory logo being deprived of water. Until today that is, when the Guardian reported that the government is seriously considering the Sun's suggestion:

Prison service managers expect "crunch point" to arrive in the next six weeks. Contingency plans are believed to include plans to reopen a disused army camp, near Dover, which could house up to 500 low security category D prisoners. Also under consideration is the conversion of a "discrete wing" at Ashworth top security mental hospital on Merseyside to provide 300 more places.

The army camp near Dover is likely to be Connaught Barracks, one of those mentioned by the Sun, whom described it thus:

The last 85 soldiers left the 80 acre-site in April. The Parachute Regiment’s departure ended 1,000 years of Dover being a stronghold protecting Britain from invasion.

There is of course no mention by the Sun of their role in the overcrowding crisis. Their constant demands for endless crackdowns and longer sentences have resulted in Britain having one of the highest proportions per head of the population being imprisoned in the EU. The Sun and government also continue to be in a state of denial about the reality of prison: it just doesn't work. Reoffending rates continue to rise, those who go in young tend to come out career criminals, and rehabilitation cannot be carried out properly when the entire system is so overstretched. Its only benefit is that it does provide a degree of protection from the most dangerous in society, but even this is being undermined thanks to the overcrowding crisis. The solution is not to build more prisons, not to convert army camps into temporary holding cells which are likely to result in more harm than good being done to both prisoners and public, but to re-evaluate our methods of punishment as a whole. This will mean more community service, more rehabilitation, and less throwing away the key and forgetting until the sentence has been served. It means recognising that the mentally ill, petty offenders, many women and many young people do not belong behind bars. Sadly, this seems ever more of a pipe-dream as the government forgets about tackling the causes of crime and instead continues to listen to every shriek from the ever reactionary tabloid press that always knows best.

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Monday, September 18, 2006 

A bonfire of illiberality.

When you start getting excited about politics, it's probably time to go outside, or see your psychiatrist. You know your problems are getting serious when the Liberal Democrats conference suddenly starts looking uplifting, but for once it's a reality, and it's all thanks to the brilliant idea advocated today by Nick Clegg:

The Liberal Democrats pledged a bonfire of government laws today, with a promise to bring in a "great repeal act" scrapping supposedly illiberal legislation brought in by four successive Labour home secretaries.

Nick Clegg, the rising star of the party, got a standing ovation on the first day of the conference in Brighton, when he called for a cull of some of the 3,000 new criminal offences that the party calculates Labour has brought in.

Mr Clegg, a former MEP who won a seat in Sheffield at the last election, said that he would open a website where the public could nominate laws they would like to see repealed, at

It looks like he may well have read Jackie Ashley's Grauniad article this morning, which accused the Lib Dems of being too safe. Clegg is going to raise some hackles doing this among the neo-Labour fanatics more obsessed with "feral youths" wandering in packs of one and daring to congregate on street corners than with making Britain fairer, but by God if it what he's said isn't incredibly refreshing.

The website referred to, simply refers back to the Lib Dem site, but it's there, along with other campaigns for err, petitioning against rip-off alcohol at cricket grounds. I didn't know that Chatshow Charlie was a fan of the thump of willow against leather, but there you are.

The first thing that instantly comes to mind to repeal is the outrageous banning of protests in parliament square without prior permission, and the Lib Dems haven't forgotten about that either, with it also being first on their proposed list. Second is ID cards, another worthy choice. The US extradition treaty comes next, while conditions on public assemblies, control orders, dna retention and most of the other unneccesary bills that remain on the statute book follow on.

There's two things that the Lib Dems seem to have forgotten - firstly, the restrictions on trial by jury in "complicated" fraud cases. It's been shown quite comprehensively that this is not down to juries failing to understand what's going on in the courtroom, but rather either the judge or the prosecution failing in their duties. The United States showed with the Enron cases that fraud can be tried quickly, easily and efficiently. There is no reason why the same cannot be done here. The right to be tried by your peers should not be removed simply because the judge is incapable of controlling the courtroom, or through the deficiencies and incompetence of the prosecution.

More radically, the Lib Dems should also ditch the banning of smoking in enclosed/private places. The simple answer to those who say that bar staff etc should not have to breathe other people's smoke is simple: they have the choice not to work there. The right to damage your own body should be one of the liberties never to be diluted. I fully agree that smoking is bad for both you and those around you, but if it's to be banned there needs to be a lot more done to both stop people starting smoking and then to help them stop. Banning smoking in private/enclosed places will not do that, it will simply drive away business, make a certain section of the population both pariahs and uncomfortable, and as much as I hate to admit agreeing with John Reid, to some people it is one of the last few pleasures they have left.

Apart from that, there would be smaller things, such as the removal of the obligation to have to wear a seat belt for instance (once you're over 18, obviously) which impinge on personal liberty (after all, the right to be stupid and die is one of the most cherished things we should hold dear) but the Lib Dems certainly have the right idea. This shows politics doesn't have to be dull, defensive, safe and even, dare I say it, "politically correct". If only all the parties would take Clegg's lead.

Update: D-Notice has some more ideas, including some I completely forgot about. The likely legislation forthcoming on "extreme and violent" pornography deserves to incinerated also.

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It's not really something worth getting worked up about, or even bothering with but the insufferably smug looking Iain Dale, along with APCO, a political lobbying firm, have come up with a pretty awful list of the supposed 100 top blogs in the UK (PDF).

Guido is rightly first, but from there downwards it all goes horribly wrong. Kerron Cross? Who he? Stephen Pollard, the idiot who can't write or think at 21? Harry's Place, the blog meeting place for lefties all over Britain? In Harry and David T's wet dreams maybe. In the real world, Harry's Place is where the pro-war ex-lefties gather to bitch about Trots and bleat how they're actually the real lefties while everyone else is either a Muslim appeaser or a wingnut. The hilariously awful to the right of Attila the Hun EU Referendum, which attempted during the Lebanon war with some success to smear the Red Cross and claim that Hizbullah had used the massacre at Qana for propaganda purposes is at 41, but the blog's writer still argues with Dale, in a battle of who is the more patronising and annoying in the comments. The excellent Pickled Politics is at 59, while the execrable Devil's Kitchen is at 57. Daniel Finkelstein, the piss-poor "rolling guide to the best opinion on the web", as long as it's suitably right-wing, which has been running for a whole two weeks gets 66. The highlight from Finkelstein so far is:
I hold Melanie Phillips in high regard. She has been consistently brave and, I believe, correct about just what we're up against in the war on terror.
Stop giggling at the back. Finkelstein also started with a brilliant post agreeing with Norman Geras that the 1 million strong march against war with Iraq wasn't "progressive". Oliver Kamm, who knows a thing or two about being disingenuous and talking down to people, makes 70. Biased BBC, quite possibly the most unintentionally funny blog on the list makes 83, and after that I more or less lost the will to live.

Although Dale has corrected his mistake in leaving out Recess Monkey, there's no sign of Lenin's Tomb on any of the lists, which is either a huge cock-up or evidence of the Tory bias. Daily Mail Watch is also nowhere to be seen. There's plenty of "professional" bloggers on the list, but Comment is Free has either been excluded or forgotten about, as it's also missing. Big Stick Small Carrot seems low on the non-aligned list at 46, and I'm sure there's other significant omissions or suspiciously high places for certain blogs.

More interesting is Francis Maude's claim that Conservatives are out-performing and using blogs more than the left currently is in this country. If anything, that's wishful thinking on Maude's part, and can also be partially explained by the fact that the Tories who are blogging have got far better connections than those on the left who are. Another reason may well be because of the Tories being in opposition, with their party fully in transition mode, that discussion genuinely is taking place and is doing so on the web. The same is true in the States where Democrat-leaning blogs have taken the lead in influencing their own party. The rabid right bloggers in America are always verbose, but have no such power over the Republicans.

Big ups then to Bloggerheads, Rachel, Blairwatch and Shaphan for making the main list, and all the others I link to who made the rest. In the infinite wisdom of Iain Dale, it looks like I should write less.

Update: Hello to Devil's Kitchen readers linked here. I think I was a little harsh in calling the Kitchen
execrable; it can be, and often is very funny indeed. Just the politics that gets up my nose. No hard feelings.

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Saturday, September 16, 2006 

The tragedy of Maxine Carr.

For a few weeks in the summer of 2002, Britain seemed to descend into a madness that can only be partially blamed on the balmy weather. On August the 4th, two school girls, Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman, went missing only minutes after having a photograph taken showing both wearing Manchester United replica shirts, smiling and without a care in a world. Within hours they were dead, murdered by Ian Huntley, the caretaker at the school that they attended in the town of Soham, Cambridgeshire. Huntley was living with a teaching assistant at the school, Maxine Carr.

The bodies of the girls were not found for nearly two weeks, and Huntley was not arrested until the day that they were. During that time both he and Carr had appeared on television, making pleas for them to be returned safely. Newspapers offered tens of thousands of pounds for clues. Hundreds of people joined in the search, coming from across the country to help. The girls' bodies were found on August the 17th, partially burned and badly decomposed, in a ditch close to the RAF Lakenheath airbase in Suffolk. Their proximity to the base has led to predictable conspiracy theories that it was a serviceman who killed the girls, rather than Huntley.

The discovery of the girls' bodies led to scenes almost reminiscent of that after the death of Princess Diana. Thousands of bouquets of flowers were left outside a church in Soham, coverage around the clock was available on BBC News 24 and Sky News, and dozens of rather ghoulish misery tourists descended on the town. The funerals of the girls were later televised. Meanwhile, the media almost as a whole set about gathering as much information on Maxine Carr and Ian Huntley as possible, the more salacious the better. They were vilified, and when Carr was eventually taken to court in Peterborough, protesters were waiting for her. Placards called for the restitution of the death penalty, grown women screamed abuse at the police van, and for a horrible moment it almost looked as if they might overwhelm the police. That Carr had nothing to do with the murders, was in Grimsby at the time and had only been charged with perverting the course of justice and assisting an offender, the latter of which she was cleared of doing, made no difference to the lynch mob. The next time she appeared in court was via video link, appearing white as a sheet and close to collapse. Carr had provided Huntley with a false alibi, believing his claims that he had not murdered the two girls. There's a distinct possibility that she was trapped with Huntley in an abusive relationship, which may well have contributed considerably to her behaviour.

Carr was released from prison on May the 14th 2004, and immediately received police protection. She won an injunction on the 24th of February, 2005, granting her lifelong anonymity, to the outrage of the Sun and Daily Express, who would have rather seen her released to a baying mob which would have ripped her limb from limb. They estimated that the cost of protecting her would cost £50m over her life time. That she wouldn't have needed protection if the same newspapers had not done everything they possibly could to make her the new Myra Hindley, a hate figure who could be wheeled out when news was slow, inevitably passed them by.

Even more shaming, the injunction didn't stop the articles from continuing to be published, many of which were entirely inaccurate, as Roy Greenslade has pointed out time and again.

Sadly, there's another side to this story, and one which is not inaccurate. As Roy Greenslade mentioned in one of the above articles, women and homes have been attacked, entirely mistakenly by individuals or mobs who believe that Maxine Carr has suddenly arrived in their area. Karen Meek is but one of the latest victims. That Meek is 31, a size 18 and has 3 children didn't stop her husband's van from being vandalised, cars passing and sitting outside her house for long periods, and people suddenly turning up on her doorstep unannounced. A Guardian article by Catherine Boyle alleges that a South African woman in the Lothians was also targeted. Another woman, Diane Carraro left Cheadle where she had been working after posters appeared around the town naming her as Carr. DoctorVee found at least three other examples of women being targeted out of the belief that they were Carr. One was on the Isle of Wight, where the council was forced to point out that she was not working for any library on the rock. The Sunday Moron, referring to Carr as the "Soham liar", reported that a woman who "bears a striking resemblance" was working in a hospital cafe in Merthyr Tydfil, leading the other workers to revolt. The Times reported in August 2004 that Irene Lyttle was forced to threaten legal action against vigilantes who had arrived outside her house, convinced she was Carr.

Yesterday an anonymous letter was published in the Guardian from a woman living in fear of her life, after she and her family returned from holiday to find that her house had been vandalised after a rumour had spread that Carr had moved in.

Our first thought was to get some publicity and dispel this dreadful rumour. It was then we came up against the extraordinary protection awarded to Carr by the courts: as you might expect, the press cannot publish where she is living, but they also cannot publish "where she is not living".

We were left to use friends, neighbours and local groups to try to help us stop the harassment. Just when we believed we were getting on top of the situation, it turned quite ugly. We received an anonymous letter from "a well wisher" with a printout of a web page. Our address had been published on the web as the residence of Carr, with encouragement to take action against us. Although we contacted the site operator and had that immediately removed, it had been on the internet for nearly three weeks and had spawned links to other pages. Many of these were personal pages and contained blogs exhorting violence against us. The worst of these was one which highlighted we were within "stabbing distance".

It's not difficult to find websites advocating violence against Carr, or forums where many guesses are made to where she's actually living. b3ta is one. UKChatterbox has a more recent thread, only posted two days ago, thankfully edited. The comments of some on the thread are horrendous. Stitched Together, a livejournal of a young goth, had a post: "Maxine Carr is living in (place removed). I hope someone stabs her in the eyes." It's since been edited, but the original message is still held in Technorati. The myspace of a 23-year-old woman called "Bunny" comments on a Daily Mail article by stating that she should be in prison and should never have children. "Barnze" muses on Ian Huntley's recent suicide attempt by calling him and Carr a "pair of cunts." The Derry forums have a post speculating on her whereabouts, as does another blog commenting on Huntley's overdose.

Some of the recent upsurge in rumours and advocating of violence can be put down to Huntley's desire to die, but the News of the World and Daily Mail should also bear some of the responsibility for the terror being visited on entirely innocent women and families across the country. The Screws recently printed blatant lies, accusing Carr of being highly involved in the plot to clear Huntley. The whole of the article is based on what Huntley told his mother, with the writers all too keen to believe what he says about Carr, but they snort with derision at his claim that Holly Wells died by accident when she fell in the bath.
That Huntley was and still is a serial liar doesn't stop them from considering what unsubstantiated remarks from a convicted murderer might lead to. The Mail claimed back in April that Carr had fallen in love and wanted to have children, "news [that] will devastate the parents of Huntley's victims, Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman." The Scum of the World similarly seems to know exactly what the two girls' families want or are thinking, claiming that their sordid mendacious tape would set their minds at rest about what really happened to their daughters.

While I feel every sympathy for the poor woman scared for her life, unable to get the press to publish where Maxine Carr is not living, just by looking at tabloid articles and various websites you have the sickening feeling that some would get the idea to start asking every council across the land to deny that Carr is living in their locality if the tight protection awarded to Carr was loosened. My advice to her and others hounded by idiots across the country is to start their own blogs, preferably on American web hosts - put photographs of yourself up, comparing yourself with Carr, as well as publishing your address and recounting what you've been subjected to - not only will it elicit sympathy, but it would be the best response to those using the most modern technology available to drag us back to the dark ages of the witch-hunts. At the time of Carr's injunction being granted, the Independent said that the need for her to seek one was "a sad reflection on the viciousness of certain sections of British society". If anything, the viciousness of this septic isle and its gutter press is getting even worse, with terrible consequences for us all.

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Friday, September 15, 2006 

Scum-watch: Predictably personal attacks.

The Sun and Clare Short were never likely to have a firm, friendly relationship. While Clare mellowed somewhat in her politics over the years, she continues to believe that the likes of page 3 have no place in newspapers. Her campaign for page 3 to be banned in 1986 ended in failure, but not before the tabloids had managed to purchase photographs of Short wearing a nightdress from her first husband. Those photos still crop up from time to time, along with a hilariously bad photoshop putting Short's head on a page 3 model's body.

It's hardly surprising then that today's Sun doesn't bother to spare any vitriol over Short's decision to stand down as an MP.

GOODBYE Clare Short! How happy we are to get those words off our chest.

Killjoy Clare has repeatedly tried to BAN our Page 3 girls — but now faces the boot herself because she wants Labour to lose the next election.

At least the former minister will leave us with some interesting mammaries — sorry, memories.

...her simmering resentment boiled over again two years ago when she laughably called Page 3 “porn”.

Laughably? Perhaps Rebekah Wade or Mr Murdoch would like to explain how is anything other than a pornographic website, one which contributes a considerable amount of money to News International's coffers. Recently it's been conducting a "freshers" competition, won by a gorgeous pouting lovely called "Fifi", which is a great name for a poodle but a rather stupid one for a person. The idea of sending in photographs of your spouse has long been a part of the down-market end of the porn mag industry, such as Razzle and Escort, which has been pushed into the mainstream thanks to the rise of the lads wank mags, Zoo and Nuts.

We polled 181 MPs, and found 57 per cent wanted Page 3 to stay.

Well, that's clearly an overwhelmingly high figure in favour of everyone's favourite bit of fun. Just, err, 7% more than those opposed.

The Scum Says:
CLARE “Bomber” Short has embraced every fanciful cause from Irish republicanism to banning Page 3 girls.

Now she has infuriated party bosses by calling for Labour to lose its overall majority.

But her campaign for a hung parliament has a redeeming feature – one of the seats to go would be hers.

There's a gob smacking hypocrisy in the Sun calling anyone a "bomber". The paper has been so in favour of every twist and turn on the "war on terror" that it and its owner Rupert Murdoch must personally bear some responsibility for the tens of thousands killed since September 2001. Murdoch and the Sun's passion for dropping explosives from a great height on the Iraqis wasn't out of a conviction that they deserved to be freed for a tyrant, or that the country had weapons that posed a threat to the region or even the West, although those were often set out in various leader columns - no, Murdoch's true reason for being so vociferous over Iraq was that he fell for the same neo-con trick that many others did - the belief that Iraq would so quickly be pumping out oil that prices would plummet back down towards $20 per barrel. In contrast, oil prices have sky-rocketed since shock and awe was visited on Baghdad.

Finally, it was inevitable that today's Page 3 girl "herself" would have something to say about killjoy Clare: (Thanks to Bloggerheads)

Geddit??!?! She's ugly! It's only fair then that we examine the ginger ninja herself:

Flame-haired, puckered lips, panda eyes, who could possibly resist her and her famed back hander?

As it happens, Obsolete doesn't support Clare Short's attempts to get page 3 banned, just as I find it incredibly difficult to justify banning almost anything. I do however think that if the Sun insists on publishing pornographic photographs of young women that it ought to be forced into acknowledging what is - a sensationalist, smearing, hysterical scandal sheet that is a embarrassment to any publication that actually is a newspaper. I'd also rather have an evening out with Clare Short than any of the page 3 girls or Rebekah Wade; brains, intellect and passion are far more attractive than oft-exposed frontal lobes and lies ever will be.

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Thursday, September 14, 2006 

Clare Short: better late than never.

Clare Short, long one of the few sane voices that remained in the New Labour cabinet (along with Peter Hain, Robin Cook and Michael Meacher, to name but three) has announced that she intends to step down as an MP at the next election. More than that, she's publicly stated that she feels the only way that Labour will truly be renewed will be through not winning the next election. Rather than calling for defeat, she's recognised that the possibility of a hung parliament is the only way for proportional representation to be brought in.

Many, as other blogs and commentators have already noted, regard Clare Short as a busted flush. Her public statement that she would resign if a second UN resolution authorising war on Iraq was not forthcoming was by far the biggest mistake of her political career. Her failure to resign alongside Robin Cook before the vote in parliament, something which could have led to Blair losing the motion, meant that she has been sneered at ever since by both pro and anti-war factions.

This has been unfair in most cases. Whether she deserves to be called naive for believing that Blair was genuine in his pleas, promising that she'd have a major role in Iraqi reconstruction or not is also neither here or there. For a Labour MP, her record since resigning has been exemplary, voting the right way on almost all the major contentious issues. During her time in cabinet, despite often being referred to as "Bomber Short" for her belief that the NATO air-strikes on Kosovo were justified, it was obvious that she was one of the few who dared to raise objections to Blair's autocratic style of leadership.

Her article in the Independent similarly presses all the right buttons, and pretty much nails exactly what has gone wrong with New Labour:

Blair's craven support for the extremism of US neoconservative foreign policy has exacerbated the danger of terrorism and the instability and suffering of the Middle East. He has dishonoured the UK, undermined the UN and international law and helped to make the world a more dangerous place. The erosion of the rule of law and civil liberties has weakened our democracy and increased Muslim alienation.

Gordon Brown's commitment to a replacement of Trident, in one throwaway sentence, is an insult to democracy. The approach of New Labour to public sector reform has demeaned the precious value of public services. And in addition to the arrogance and lack of principle of New Labour, there is an incredible incompetence. Policy is announced from Number 10 to grab media attention and nothing is properly thought through.

On the contrary, Clare's last point is probably wrong. The policy of grabbing media attention has certainly been thought through, and especially with the appointment of John Reid as Home Secretary, nearly the entirity of the agenda on law and order has been passed to the Murdoch papers. They in effect have a veto on anything that the government comes up with (remember the referendum of the European constitution?), so obsessed is Downing Street with not displeasing either Murdoch himself or Wade's Sun. Murdoch and Wade reward this sycophancy and indefensible passing of power from government to media tycoons with their own arse-licking of Blair, which Bloggerheads has covered
over the last few days. When Blair eventually steps down, it's hard to imagine Brown changing anything. Indeed, while he is not as close to Wade as Cherie and Tony are, they have in the past shared dinner on a number of occasions.

Clare goes on:
Stay and fight, some argue. But there is no discussion of policy any more. The challenge to Blair and discussions of a new leadership are confined to personalities and all commit to continue the Blair errors.

Short is exaggerating slightly here, as the Labour backbenchers continue to be some of the most rebellious to ever of sat in the chamber, even if the government has only lost votes a couple of times. She is right though that there is next to no discussion at higher levels of the party. The Blairites and Brownites, for all their in-fighting, stand for almost exactly the same things. That Hazel Blears is now calling for "community hustings" is hilarious; she has been responsible as one of the most craven Blair hangers-on for the crackdown on dissent and reliance on spin that has plagued New Labour since it entered office.

My conclusion is that the key to the change we need is a hung parliament which will bring in electoral reform. Then we would have a second election. Labour - with existing levels of support - would have one-third of the seats in the Commons, the Tories something similar, and we would be likely to see some Greens and others added, creating a plurality of voices and power centres in the Commons. British politics would then change profoundly. Parliament, and in turn the people, would have to be listened to, Cabinet government would return, the error-prone arrogance of Number 10 would end, and we would have a chance of creating a new politics, a more civilised country and a more honourable role in the world.

Again, Short is probably way too optimistic here. The best option would be for Labour to have to rely on the Liberal Democrats in order to form a coalition, so that PR can be brought in. The Tory grassroots are diametrically opposed to PR, so it seems unlikely that the Conservatives would agree to any such alliance, probably because they realise that PR would almost certainly destroy the Tory party. No longer would those in constituencies where it's a straight fight between Labour or the Tories be forced to vote for what they feel are the lesser of two evils. Whether a second election would be forthcoming immediately after PR is brought in seems doubtful, as parties would be determined to cling to power before the "big bang" takes place. The tabloid press would still have their poisonous effect on politicians of all colours, PR or not. Short is right though that it would be the best opportunity for "creating a new politics".

The Chief Whip has warned me that I cannot recommend a hung parliament because it would mean Labour MPs losing their seats. I am standing down so that I can speak my truth and support the changes that are needed. Sad to say, it is now almost impossible to do this as a Labour MP.

As if to prove Short's accusations of complete control freakery, it already looks as if she's to be expelled from the party for her effrontery.

While many of us who have sympathy with the Labour party continue to believe that at the moment it represents the least worst option under the current electoral system, Short's comments about fighting to reform the party should be seen as the final nail in the coffin to those who are trying to do so from within. Whether this means a new left wing party needs to be formed, or that an existing organisation such as the Greens or Respect should be built on is something that needs to be urgently looked into. For the moment, a vote for the Liberal Democrats, at least in the places where they have a chance of winning, should be seen as the tactical way to try to bring in PR. Clare Short might have been late, but she still deserves support for her stand.

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Wednesday, September 13, 2006 

More insult to injury.

Well, no one can accuse the Met of being inconsistent. A couple of months after the two firearms who shot John Charles de Menezes were allowed back onto active duty, despite the force still considering whether they should face disciplinary charges, Cressida Dick, the woman in charge of the anti-terrorism operation on the morning of July the 22nd, has been promoted to deputy assistant commissioner.

That the force seems to think it fine that the woman who is probably the most responsible for the death of de Menezes is promotion material pretty much sums up the entire police attitude to what happened on that day. The Met has treated the public, the de Menezes family and de Menezes himself with the upmost contempt. The lies and smears which emerged from the beginning, with de Menezes accused of jumping the barrier, acting "suspiciously" and having an expired visa, not to mention the accusations of rape which were disproved were all part of a campaign to play down the significance of what one police source later described as a "complete and utter fuck-up."

We are still to receive the IPCC report in full, but the parts of it that have leaked are damning enough. I speculated when the News of the Screws obtained a copy that Dick's career was over, as it concluded that her use of words had contributed to de Menezes being shot dead rather than being simply arrested. Dick maintains that she wanted the officers to do the latter, but a colleague claims she also added "at all costs" to her instruction. I could not have been more wrong.

The promotion of Dick also furthers the stranglehold that Sir Ian Blair now has over the Met. They worked together first in the Thames Valley force, both attended Oxford, and both believe in "police modernisation". That the modernisation they believe in seems to be rather similar to the bad old days of lying, covering up and ignoring public discontent doesn't seem to bother Ken Livingstone, whose support for Blair has helped him keep the job.

Most of all though, Dick's rise in the ranks tells us what we already knew: that the police don't really care if something similar happens again. Their distaste for even the slap on the wrist that might be handed down by a court on health and safety grounds has been ever abundant in their attempts to stop the case before it even starts. That the force doesn't even mind the bad publicity that comes from their bewildering decisions, taken before anything has been properly settled means that all the talk of the Met reforming itself should be taken for what it is: self-serving oleaginous sophistry.

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Tuesday, September 12, 2006 

He's no neo-conservative!

David Cameron's speech on how a Conservative government would approach foreign policy, the first major lecture which Cameron has given on the subject, has been generally well received. The Guardian called it "genuinely refreshing, and a real reprimand to Labour." The Daily Mail, which has turned increasingly anti-war in the aftermath of the disaster of Iraq, despite also carrying the rent-a-rants of a certain Ms Philips, said it hoped it meant that he was distancing himself from the warmongers surrounding the Bush administration.

Some hope. For all Cameron's bluster and his very quotable soundbite about being a "liberal conservative, not a neo-conservative", he's still surrounded by those who think differently. Liam Fox, the shadow foreign secretary is a confirmed Atlanticist, an EU-hater who during his campaign for the leadership made the most crowd-pleasing speech at the Tory party conference, mainly because unlike all the others he sung the praises of the blue-rinse brigade and indulged in their prejudices. There's also William Hague, who for all his slight criticisms of the current war on terror and how the Iraq war was fought is still 100% behind whatever America would or wants to do in the future. Most of all, there's Michael Gove, a confirmed member of the "Notting Hill" set who defines himself as a neo-conservative. His recently published book, Celsius 7/7, is a companion piece to the aforementioned Philips' rant about how Britain is turning into a nation of limp-wristed nancies who won't dare to take on the unspeakable Muslims who want to kill us all. That Gove is utterly hopeless in debate doesn't seem to matter; he was destroyed on Question Time by Michael Winner of all people.

As for the speech itself, it covers most of the same clichés and reaffirms essentially everything that the Labour party is currently doing, except that Cameron promises they'd be more questioning, that there would be no more "unrealistic and simplistic" world views. Then he said the following:

"Fighting terrorism is the most consuming concern for modern government."

Is it? Should it be? The answer should be no to both questions. The threat from terrorism is far smaller than that from climate change, something that should be far further up the agenda than it currently is. The most consuming concern for modern government should be in creating a more equal society, in keeping unemployment down, in seeking to re-affirm and support our public services, both health and education, as well as being tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime. Then we should be thinking about restructuring our foreign policy, removing our dependence on America, opening up diplomatic channels between Iran and Syria, getting our troops out of Iraq and fighting the real causes of terrorism in the region, which is the issue of Israel-Palestine and unaccountable autocratic Western-supported regimes. This should be helped along by listening to the grievances of Muslims in this country, not dismissing them out of hand, but not giving into unreasonable demands either.

The terror threat is unprecedented: "This terrorist threat is clearly different from those we have faced before. We are dealing with people who are prepared to do anything, kill any number, and use suicide attacks to further their aims. These people include a number of our own citizens. They are driven by a wholly incorrect interpretation - an extreme distortion - of the Islamic faith, which holds that mass murder and terror are not only acceptable, but necessary."

It's not unprecedented at all. The threat faced from the Nazis was far far worse than that from Islamic extremism. Cameron is wholly correct that it's an incorrect interpretation and an extreme distortion, but he gives it far too much credit, like many other politicians. Islamic extremism and "al-Qaida" actually refers to a disparate grouping of extremists who are as much influenced by territorial and local disputes as they are by a fanatical hatred of the west and America.

"I believe that in the last five years we have suffered from the absence of two crucial qualities which should always condition foreign policy-making. Humility, and patience. These are not warlike words. They are not so glamorous and exciting as the easy sound-bites we have grown used to in recent years. But these sound-bites had the failing of all foreign policy designed to fit into a headline. They were unrealistic and simplistic. They represented a view which sees only light and darkness in the world – and which believes that one can be turned to the other as quickly as flicking a switch. I do not see things that way. I am a liberal conservative, rather than a neo-conservative. Liberal - because I support the aim of spreading freedom and democracy, and support humanitarian intervention. Conservative - because I recognise the complexities of human nature, and am sceptical of grand schemes to remake the world. A liberal conservative approach to foreign policy today is based on five propositions.

* First, that we should understand fully the threat we face.
* Second, that democracy cannot quickly be imposed from outside.
* Third, that our strategy needs to go far beyond military action.
* Fourth, that we need a new multilateralism to tackle the new global challenges we face.
* And fifth, that we must strive to act with moral authority."

Both Guido and the Times hack that's covering blogs have noticed that Cameron seems to have pilfered his five thoughts from Francis Fukuyama's book, After the Neo-Cons. Fukuyama, who wrote the infamous book the End of History, arguing that the end of the cold war meant that liberal democracy had triumphed and was now going to almost settle into a 1000 year reign, was for a while a signatory and member of the Project for a New American Century. He however became disillusioned with the way that his former friends decided that having a plan for the occupation other than privatising everything and taking the oil was a-kin to the sin of nation building. His main three thoughts of where the Bush administration has gone wrong are:

* The threat of radical islamism to the US was overestimated.
* The Bush administration didn't foresee the fierce negative reaction to its benevolent hegemony. From the very beginning it showed a negative attitude towards the United Nations and other international organisations and didn't see that this would increase anti-Americanism in other countries.
* The Bush administration misjudged what was needed to bring peace in Iraq and was overly optimistic about the success with which social engineering could be applied to Iraq and the Middle East in general.

On the first, Cameron disagrees. Terrorism is the main major concern to the government today, purely because of the way that it's being used in order to dilute civil liberties and opposition to government plans as a whole. The media, especially the Murdoch papers, are almost entirely complicit in this. Cameron agrees wholeheartedly with the second, repudiating the previous Tory approach of being even more gung-ho for war with Iraq than Labour were. The third point is also something Cameron concurs with.

On Cameron's own five points, the first is something which Cameron doesn't want to do despite his own eagerness to supposedly do so. The realisation that the threat has been massively over hyped isn't something he wants to touch; he's more than happy to inherit the culture of fear which Labour has helped establish. While the Tories have acknowledged more than Labour that the war on Iraq has in fact made us less safe and has led directly to our own citizens becoming radicalised, they're also unwilling to recognise that this is something that can't just be tackled by saying that terrorism is always wrong. His second point is on sturdier ground. We should have recognised from the beginning that democracy cannot be imposed down the barrel of a gun. Our efforts at doing so in Afghanistan have failed miserably, and Iraq continues to be on the brink of civil war, if it isn't already. This isn't to say that we should abandon our efforts; rather that we have to recognise that we're in for the long haul, that this cannot be achieved overnight. Conducting elections and then constantly harping about the matter as if it's a cure-all helps no one. We should also realise that there is no longer any reason for our troops to remain in Iraq. All they're doing now is just making the situation worse.

All of Cameron's final 3 points need fleshing out. What exactly does going beyond military action entail? Does this mean recognising that diplomacy between states such as Syria and Iran is both necessary and vital, something which Labour refuses to do through official channels, or is this just vacuous "hearts 'n' minds" nonsense? His fourth point that we need a new multilateralism is another a nice soundbite, but does this mean reforming the UN or recognising that the EU is not the enemy? Does it mean being prepared to put up with the necessary negotiations which are still carrying on over the Iranian nuclear programme? That Cameron still supports the Afghan and Iraq wars and believes that "pre-emptive" action still has a place in foreign policy rather undermines this. His fifth point, about moral authority, is just as vague. This seems to be his attempt to decry Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib, but the Tory party has said next to nothing about the rendition scandal, the running on which was made by the media and Liberal Democrats. Where does Cameron stand on the secret prison gulags which President Bush admitted to last week? We don't know, because he didn't mention them, although he did rightly talk about rejecting excessive periods of detention without trial here at home.

You can see why the Guardian praised it, as any difference with the current Labour doctrine of being shoulder-to-shoulder with American foreign policy is to be welcomed. Cameron's speech though also falls at the final hurdle: you just can't believe that this is genuinely what the Tory party would put into practice if it was elected. Michael Howard made some rather mild criticisms of Bush and was sent to Coventry by the Republicans for his trouble. The exact same thing would happen to Cameron, unless he suddenly decided to be rather less critical than while in opposition. Even the slight criticism of Israel over the war in Lebanon resulted in a grassroots backlash, and dissent from donors. Such protests do not bode well for anything but the same sycophancy we've witnessed under Labour. When it comes down to it, the special relationship is far more important to the Tories than it has even be with Blair. Cameron can protest and suggest that he'd be a "liberal conservative" all he likes, but the evidence suggests the opposite.

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Monday, September 11, 2006 

Remembering 9/11.

The events of the 11th of September were not just an attack on a government. They were not just an attack on a democracy. They were not just an attack on a people. They were an attack on values that nearly all of us hold dear, the belief that every single man has a voice, a voice that even in these days of media bombardment can be heard through the ever rising cacophony that eventually risks drowning us all in a sea of the insipid, the comatose and the bland. Those who planned that attack and who carried it out were opposed to this belief in self-determination. They knew, and know best. Always have, and always will.

I could be talking about September the 11th, 2001. I could be joining in with the media, weeping and reliving the events of that day 5 years ago, reimagining the terror felt not just in New York, but around the globe. One of the fears of that day was not about terrorism, that this was a new threat that endangered the lives of every single one of us. The fear prevalent outside the United States was just how America, the lumbering giant, that had apparently entered what Francis Fukuyama had called the end of history, was going to respond. We needn't have worried or fretted so much. It ended up far, far, worse than we could have imagined.

We could have looked into the history books and seen what might have been, for there is another September the 11th in modern history, one which America is not defiant about, but rather ashamed. Colin Powell said as much when being interviewed in 2003.
This September the 11th, forgotten about or brushed over, came back into vogue for a short time, but has now been left to wither again.

September the 11th in Chile in 1973 was the day on which the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende was overthrown in a military coup, led by General Augusto Pinochet, and both supported, funded, and backed up by the Central Intelligence Agency. The Presidental Palace was bombed by British-made jets, and despite making a defiant address to the nation, Allende either committed suicide or was killed by the junta. Pinochet remained president until 1990. During that time, at least 3,000 dissidents, or even just those that got in the way, were killed or "disappeared". 35,000 have since claimed that they were tortured. Despite this, Margaret Thatcher thanked the General for "bringing democracy to Chile". Henry Kissinger, who participated in the death of satire when he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in the same year as the coup, famously said: "I don't see why we need to stand by and watch a country go communist due to the irresponsibility of its own people. The issues are much too important for the Chilean voters to be left to decide for themselves."

The same thinking still carries on today in Palestine and throughout the Middle East. Nevermind though, if the public decides to vote for the wrong person/party, there's always a way around it. You can starve that government of funds, organise blockades, enforce boycotts. That happened in Chile in the years leading up to the coup. It's happening again in Palestine now because the residents of Jenin and Rafah were just too damn stupid to realise how irresponsible they were being in voting for a terrorist group. This is particularly apt as the Republicans try desperately to paint the "war on terror" in the same colours as past battles, battles involving names which are associated only with evil and death, simplifying everything so even a small child can understand who the enemy is.

As you watch the news tonight, with the overbearing, dignified and dewy-eyed reporters demanding that you remember, that you take part in the mass orgy of grieving that everyone else is indulging themselves in, whether you like it or not, it's worth recalling Allende and those that died in Chile. Whatever our leaders say, we in the West have not always held the moral high ground. We haven't always been the forces of enlightenment and progress. In some cases we still aren't. When the memory of 9/11 eventually fades, replaced perhaps by an even far worse act of terror or a hideous war set-piece, will we have learned anything? Or will we be doomed to repeat history, having ignored what it should teach us?

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Saturday, September 09, 2006 

"Psychological issues."

Back in 1998, when the first tensions between Tony Blair and Gordon Brown started to show, Alastair Campbell famously but anonymously briefed the media, describing Brown as "psychologically flawed". As a man who suffered a nervous breakdown due to his reliance on alcohol, this was a insult that Campbell knew would deeply anger Brown. Charles Clarke, giving a second interview in quick succession, this time to the Telegraph, must have been thinking along similar lines.

He says the Chancellor has "psychological" issues that he must confront and accuses him of being a "control freak" and "totally uncollegiate".

Mr Brown is also "deluded", he says, to think that Mr Blair can and should anoint him as his successor now.
Clarke had earlier called Brown "absolutely stupid" for daring to smile when he left Downing Street on Wednesday, an image that was snapped and appeared on the front of the Daily Mail for the nation to enjoy. What's been more surprising about Clarke's outbursts was that it was a poorly kept secret that Clarke had been making covert moves towards ending his poor relationship with the Chancellor; it had been assumed that Clarke might make a return to a reasonably high profile ministerial post once Brown did take over.

It's Clarke's talk of psychological problems though that really casts the mind back over his own ministerial career, and it's only fair to go even further back to start with. There's a possibly apocryphal story, but one which has stood the test of time. Back when he worked for Hackney council in the 1980s, he came to be known as No Trousers Charlie. While it's hard to imagine many women finding the safety elephant, complete with Marx style beard a sex symbol, Clarke apparently was lucky enough to persuade a young lady to return to his place after a night out, for a coffee. He duly went to the kitchen, made two mugs of the finest Maxwell House, and returned to his date, only for her to flee screaming. The reason? The urge to remove his trousers while boiling the kettle had become too great.

While smearing Clarke over potentially untrue stories from the 80s may strike many as unfair, his record as Home Secretary may make some wonder whether he has psychological issues of his own. Describing his reign at the Home Office as "tough but not populist" in a interview after his downfall, this was surprising to those of us who had actually witnessed his attempts to
wallop the liberal press who questioned his restrictions on civil liberties. That his speech to the LSE came only two days before the foreign prisoner scandal broke was purely coincidental. In the process of getting the "glorifying terrorism" clause of 2006 act through the Commons, he slurred human rights lawyers for suggesting that they had a vested interest in opposing his plans. That the opposite was the case, as human rights lawyers' work would probably be increased as a result didn't stop him from opening his trap. On ID cards, Clarke did his best to do the opposite of what the Labour manifesto had promised. He attempted to force a compulsory scheme through the House of Lords, while the manifesto had said that the government would only introduce a voluntary scheme. It was after 5 rounds of "parliamentary ping-pong" that the Lords agreed to a compromise which meant that those renewing their passport before 2010 could opt out of having to get an ID card at the same time.

With Clarke at the helm, the disgraceful banning of protests within a mile of parliament without prior permission also became law, mainly in an attempt to get rid of pesky Brian Haw, who so annoyed the Dear Leader by ringing a bell as he went to PMQs of a Wednesday. Clarke also gave in to Blair's disastrous desire to detain terrorist suspects for up to 90 days without charge, something that he clearly didn't believe in,
resulting in the government's biggest humiliation in parliament so far.

In retrospect, and with John "we hope to leave Afghanistan without firing a single shot" Reid as the new home secretary, Clarke seems to have been an old-fashioned bleeding heart, but the reality was quite different. In any case, Clarke has thoroughly blotted his copy book now. Unless a "third way" candidate emerges to defeat Gordon, something incredibly unlikely, then he faces spending the rest of his time in politics in the wilderness. Stupid Gordon? More like petulant and embittered Charles.

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Friday, September 08, 2006 

A Brownian movement.

Joy of joys. After two days of highly vitriolic coverage of his "coup attempt", Gordon Brown has written or had ghost-written a very much Sun pleasing article for everyone's favourite semi-pornographic rag:

NEXT Monday is the fifth anniversary of September 11.

In a few days, I will visit New York, and reaffirm to the American people that Britain — under the courageous leadership of Tony Blair — stands now as then, shoulder to shoulder with them.

In al-Qaeda, we face an enemy driven by hatred of our very existence.

Between justice and evil, humanity and barbarism, democracy and tyranny, no one can afford to be neutral or disengaged.

That is why — even as we mourn the losses from a dark week in Iraq and Afghanistan — Britain can take pride that our heroic armed forces are leading in the global fight we must wage against terrorism

In other words, you're either with us or with the terrorists. You must watch all the television memorials over the weekend, you must watch those buildings collapse time and again, you must watch the fireball, you must never ever forget, you must endlessly mourn. Repeat until the end of time. (Simon Jenkins expands on this.) The only thing missing is for Brown to have said that this is a clash not of civilisations, but for civilsation.

September the 11th resulted in the deaths of just less than 3,000 civilians. Our heroic armed forces in Iraq have been involved in a war which has cost the lives of at the very least 40,000 Iraqis. Other estimates suggest over 100,000 could have perished as a result of our actions. If Iraq was meant to be part of the war on terrorism, as some would have us believe, then it has not just failed, it has spectacularly backfired. The only people that do not believe that the Iraq war has increased the threat to Britain and America from terrorism are the British and American governments. Only 1% of the public believes the war has left us safer. Not only has Iraq been turned into the new Afghanistan, where extremist militants can go to train and learn their craft, but it has so radicalised an already disaffected tiny minority in this country that they are prepared to fight and kill those that they have grown up with. The United States' plans to make Iraq a model democracy for the Middle East ought to be measured against how yesterday 27 "terrorists" were hung in a mass execution. The Iraqi government also shut down the Baghdad bureau of the al-Arabiya television after accusing it of inciting sectarian violence and of "unprofessional" reporting.

In Afghanistan, our occupation and rebuilding has been so successful that this year's opium crop is up an incredible 40% on that of last year's. Other news sources have suggested the figure could be as much as 60%. Where the Taliban once threatened opium growers with death, they have now learned to use it to their advantage. Hamid Karzai's government still has little authority outside Kabul, while warlords, some of them ex-Taliban, control their own fiefdoms. British soldiers, ill-equipped and deployed in far too few numbers are fighting against an enemy which they cannot possibly destroy or beat. They are effectively lambs to the slaughter, providing target practice for the resurgent Taliban and drug barons who now control most of Helmand province. Possible solutions, such as purchasing the opium crop for Western medical use, have been dismissed out of hand. The orthodoxy is that we cannot let Afghanistan fall back into the hands of those who planned attacks against the West and brutally oppressed their own people, but the reality is that it's already in back in their hands.

Brown goes on:
As a result of the August 10 terror raids alone, there have been 69 separate searches, with 400 computers, 200 mobile phones and 8,000 data storage devices seized.

When encrypted data takes weeks to decipher and thousands of email and phone contacts need to be checked, all across dozens of countries, it is obvious to me that the police need more than 28 days to investigate.

So — as well as money — we must ensure our police have the powers they need.

Brown believes every single word of what Peter Clarke said at his press conference, and comes to the conclusion many feared he already believed in - that the police need more than 28 days to investigate terrorist plots. This is nonsense. Buried by the leadership crisis, only two of the men who had been held for the full 28 days were charged on Wednesday evening. 3 others were released without charge after being locked up and interrogated for the best part of a month, subject according to one of the lawyers representing the men to repeated strip searches. The police knew full well this was their first real opportunity to put their case across for up to 90 days detention to be made, hence why they chose to keep the men in custody until the very last minute before charging them. The politicisation of the terror threat has resulted in the government and police agenda becoming almost entirely interwoven - an incredibly worrying development.

So, alongside the national ID card scheme, our next step must be the introduction of biometrics in new passports and visas, and the screening of all passengers.

Gordon doesn't seem to mind then that the ID card scheme, already delayed and likely to cost billions more than the original estimate, might rather put a dent in his finances. Then again, when the public may have to pay up to £300 for the privilege of having an ID card which will make it even easier for your identity to be stolen, backed up by a government database which will in effect monitor the movement of every citizen from cradle to the grave, the government's spending plans may be the last thing on his mind.

When Britain and America set out to win the Cold War, we realised victory lay both in our military power and in persuading people under Soviet control to demand their economic freedom and human rights.

It was a battle fought though books and ideas, even music and the arts, and it helped bring Communism down from within.

So, as well as supporting our police, security services and armed forces in the front line of the war on terror at home and abroad, we also need to mobilise the power of argument and ideas to expose and defeat the ideology of hate.

I speak often of the challenges of globalisation. But upon overcoming the challenge of global terrorism all else we value depends.

In a week in which President Bush has compared Osama bin Laden to both Hitler and Lenin, Brown also uses the Cold War analogy. The problem with this is that the threat from the Soviet Union was all too real - it had weapons of mass destruction that is was prepared to use, even if it resulted in mutually assured death. The "ideology of hate", as Brown calls it, doesn't even control one country's government. If anything, the al-Qaida doctrine is actually in retreat in the Middle East, not down to the actions of the west but through the murderous actions of extremists who have targeted Saudis and Jordanians just as they have westerners. The victory for Hizbullah in the month long war with Israel has left it as the current hero in the Arab street, and although it certainly was a terrorist organisation at one stage and still is in many eyes, it shares very little of al-Qaida's ideology. Indeed, Hizbullah's Shia revolution, financed and backed up by Iran is a direct threat to the Wahhabist/Salafist mixture from which al-Qaida draws its ideology. al-Qaida in Iraq's attempts to provoke sectarian conflict through attacking the Samarra mosque was in effect a declaration of war against not just Iraq's Shia, but Shia everywhere. That Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaida's second in command, demanded that Abu Musab al-Zaraqawi stop attacking the Shia showed how much he feared a backlash.

Brown is entirely right that the real war on terror will be won through arguments, but it has been our failure in arguments that led directly to the disaster in Iraq. Global terrorism, much as a menace as it is, is far less of a threat than that of climate change, something about which Brown has said very little.

As Ewen MacAskill argues on Comment is Free, Brown says very little of worth in the entirety of the piece. It's almost as if he let the Sun or one of his more awestruck aides write it for him, which is quite possibly what happened. Write something which pleases Mr Murdoch, get the arslikhan dogs of Downing Street off your back, for now at least. More of concern is the possibility that Brown actually believes what's been written for him. It's certainly been suggested in the past that he was fully in favour of 90 days detention without trial, but there's equally been whispers that he may well pull troops out of Iraq to show that he intends to have a more arms-length relationship with the Bush administration. Wishful thinking perhaps?

Depressingly, this article suggests what we've known for some time: that Brown will in practice be little different from the Blair we've come to loathe. The best thing we can start planning for is to get John McDonnell (or another left-winger, such as Michael Meacher, if he decides to stand) as a high share of the vote in the eventual leadership contest as possible, to show that Brown is going to have to listen to us, the real grassroots Labour supporters (members or not) as much as he does to the rants of both the Blairites and the Sun.

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Thursday, September 07, 2006 

Black holes and revelations.

Away from the media circus which is Blair's announcement that he's going to do what he was going to do anyway, which solves absolutely fuck all, (Lenin's Tomb has a brilliant post on a protest outside the school which they did everything they possibly could to stop from happening and Bloggerheads shows just how far up the arse of Tony Blair and Downing Street Rebekah Wade and her paper are) President Bush yesterday told the world what we already knew: that America operates a series of secret prisons, and will continue to do so.

Mr Bush said the prisons were a vital tool in the war on terror and that intelligence gathered had saved lives.

He added that the CIA treated detainees humanely and did not use torture.

He said all suspects would be afforded protection under the Geneva Conventions.

Mr Bush said the CIA had used an "alternative set of procedures", agreed with the justice department, once suspects had stopped talking.

But he said: "The US does not torture. I have not authorised it and I will not."

Quite so. The CIA treats detainees so humanely that it has been known to abduct them off the street in broad daylight and then fly them to a country which is more than happy to practice torture on their behalf.

As for the "alternative set of procedures", well, they're known to include waterboarding. Other delightful humane practices which the CIA use are:

4. Long Time Standing: This technique is described as among the most effective. Prisoners are forced to stand, handcuffed and with their feet shackled to an eye bolt in the floor for more than 40 hours. Exhaustion and sleep deprivation are effective in yielding confessions.

5. The Cold Cell: The prisoner is left to stand naked in a cell kept near 50 degrees. Throughout the time in the cell the prisoner is doused with cold water.

This is without going into other techniques which were authorized for use by a certain Donald Rumsfeld. The signing of that memo led directly to the abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib.

Is Bush lying when he said that he has never authorised torture? Possibly not. He got Donald Rumsfeld to do that for him. He did however reserve the right to suspend the Geneva Conventions at any time. One memo which Bush certainly did see was written by Jay Bybee, later made a federal judge, which argued that torture and even killing of suspects was permissible if it would protect US security.

Has anyone else directly lied about the existence of these secret prisons? Condoleezza Rice was incredibly careful back in December when the row over extraordinary rendition was at its height to neither confirm or deny that these black holes existed. She did however tell a huge porker when she said that:

"The United States does not transport, and has not transported, detainees from one country to another for the purpose of interrogation using torture."

Similarly, British officials have been careful not to confirm the existence of secret prisons, or that they knew anything at all full stop about rendition flights coming through the UK. This is the ask no questions tell no lies form of defense; they didn't tell (although it's increasingly obvious that the security services know all too well what was and is going on, as the CIA pools its intelligence with both MI5 and 6. Whether they told ministers or not is something we'll probably not know until those likely to have been informed leave office.) and we didn't ask.

This is the reality behind the war on terror. We're told repeatedly that whoever it is we're fighting against are inhumane barbarians who love death while we love life. The truth is that we've been lied to and told misinformation time after time after time. In secret prisons terrorist suspects were tortured by the CIA; some of them were guilty of only being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Others were transported by CIA agents to countries where the authorities there carried out the torture for them. Call it outsourcing. All businesses do it now, and the US government is certainly a business.

Now that we've been told the truth, is anything or everything going to change? Err, no. In fact, the Bush administration plans to ignore the previous supreme court ruling and go ahead with military tribunals in Guantanamo Bay anyway. Why you ask? Well, they can hardly try them in a US court room when they've been tortured, can they? The evidence would be thrown out. Hence the cycle of idiocy and abuse continues. And we're all complicit.

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Wednesday, September 06, 2006 


Margaret Beckett continues to prove what a brilliant Foreign Secretary Jack Straw was in comparison:
"Coalition forces can't go now because that would create a security vacuum."

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Coup? What coup?

The cliche is that a week is a long time in politics. Today has felt like one.

Martin Kettle, one of the few Guardian writers to be considered a Blairite, or at the very least sympathetic towards him, has posted on Comment is Free calling today's resignations by Tom Watson and six parliamentary private secretaries a Brownite coup. The Sun, edited by Rebekah Wade, a close friend of Cherie Blair and Tony, as well as the likes of David Blunkett, has a completely craven and arslikhan leader variously insulting those who were distributing letters calling for Blair to announce his timetable to leave or to go immediately as "childish", "silly babies", "immature pygmies" and "having no brains". Coming from a woman exposed as a liar (over her denials of walloping her husband), a traitor (her disgraceful attack on MPs who voted against 90 days detention without charge) and a coward (she never defends her own stupidity to the media, instead getting subordinates to do so), that's a little rich.

One thing should be gotten out of the way first. This is nothing to do with Gordon Brown. No one believes that Sion Smith and Chris Bryant, who were the first to go public with their calls for Blair to name the date, have suddenly gone from being toadying Blairites to Brownistas. This is also not yet meltdown, as David Cameron has predictably called it. They've just finally realised, along with a lot of other members of the Labour party, that Blair is doing far more harm than good. His approval ratings are half of what Thatcher's were when she was forced out. To some, the refusal to condemn Israel's disproportionate actions in Lebanon and immediately call for an unconditional ceasefire was the final straw. To others it will have been the interview in the Times last Friday, coupled with his disastrous and derided policy plans on interfering with children before they are even born, which he revealed to the BBC.

Most of all though, it's just the simple horror of having to face yet another year like this year. Blair's delusions have risen to new heights, still convinced of his own powers in saving the world from itself. He still wants to make Israel and Palestine get along, all on his own. He wants to make certain that his New Labour revolution cannot be systematically dismantled. There has been scandal after scandal, all involving Blairites of various hues, one of which, the loans-for-peerages debacle, threatens to implicate him directly. His speech on "arcs of extremism" was Blair at his very worst, seeing connections between groups and countries where there are and were none. It was little short of President Bush's speech yesterday, where he compared Osama bin Laden's writings to those of Lenin and Hitler, which must have made Lenin roll in his tomb. To compare his ideas to that of the anti-semitic, laden, unreadable prose of Mein Kampf is absurd, but anything will do in the battle to try and convince both the American and British people that the threat from Islamic extremism is just as great as that from the Nazis and the Soviet Union, especially as the mid-term elections are coming up.

Downing Street knew full well that this was coming, and it did as much as it could yesterday to try and forestall it. The exact date of Blair's departure was leaked to the Sun, which has previously been given the dates of elections in advance. A letter saying that Blair had done enough to stay for another twelve months was organised by Karen Buck, MP for Regent's Park & Kensington North, which quickly gathered 50 signatures, mostly from Blair loyalists. David Blunkett has now been let out of the wardrobe he's kept in, telling Brown and his supporters to "back off", even though they don't appear to be directly involved. Finally, Tony Blair himself called Watson's decision to resign "disloyal, discourteous and wrong" even though both said very kind things about each other in their exchange of letters. As Bloggerheads notes, Blair's words are almost a direct echo of the Sun's editorial.

This certainly wasn't inevitable, or at least it wasn't until his return from holiday, where the heat had clearly affected his head (and hair) even more than usual. His position is now completely untenable. If Blair genuinely has the interests of the Labour party at heart, he'll resign forthwith. If he attempts to hang on, then this could turn into a bloodbath. Despite all the Blairite briefings, the blame will rest with Blair, and with Blair alone. Instead of Blunkett calling for Brown to back off, it should be Blair calling his dogs of war off. They've done enough damage to the party which so many down the years have put their dreams, however misguided, into that enough should be enough. If Blair goes now, then the election for the leadership can still be done and dusted before the party conference, with no resulting political vacuum in Westminster. If he refuses, then he must be forced out, washing of dirty linen in public or not. Anything else now will just confirm Blair's hubris and disregard for a party he has never loved.

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Tuesday, September 05, 2006 

Mirror, Mirror on the memo.

There's plenty of reasons to be suspicious about the leaked memo which appears in today's Mirror, setting out a laughable exit strategy for Blair. In what amounts to a publicity blitz, Blair was meant to appear on Blue Peter, Songs of Praise and Chris Evans' Radio 2 show, as well as visiting up to 20 buildings finished since 1997 and turning up at hospitals and schools across the land.

The memo shows the same unbreakable optimism as that of a previously leaked one which was meant to have said that the public were upset and angry that the Dear Leader was leaving, hence why Labour's support and his own personal ratings were down. That Blair might not be welcomed with open arms in schools and hospitals, places where he has been both booed and accosted before doesn't seem have occurred to his spin doctors.

The more interesting thing is whether it was leaked purely to try and get those who are currently involved in the circulation of letters calling for Blair to either go now or to announce his so-called timetable to back down. The appearance of David Miliband, tipped to be a future leader of the party, saying that Blair is to stand down in around twelve months time is further evidence of this. As Nick Robinson says, this is more or less a timetable, just not personally endorsed by the prime minister himself. It shows the panic inside Downing Street that this could turn into an attempted coup, even if led by ex-loyalists such as Chris Bryant (best known for being caught wearing just a pair of white underpants in a photograph on the Gaydar website) and Sion Simon. The claims that it was leaked by someone sympathetic to Gordon Brown are ridiculous - for a start, how on earth would one of them get hold of it? It has the fingers of Alastair Campbell all over it, leaked both to his former paper and without a single mention of him in the article.

More than anything, the memo shows that the ultra-Blairites are determined to keep control of the party, or at the very least ensure that Blair has something of a legacy other than Iraq. As the memo states, Iraq is the elephant in the room. A more apt description would be of a festering sore on Blair's forehead, getting bigger by the day, with its pus continually streaming down his face. We all know that Blair will never accept that he was wrong to invade Iraq - he has convinced himself, whether spiritually or politically, that it was the right thing to do, despite the blow back spreading by the day and despite the blood which continues to flow across the decimated, broken country. He may however finally admit that there was no WMD, and apologise for that, a small meaningless confession that will attempt to draw a line under the matter, just as he has tried and failed to do so before.

The Brownites though should beware. This memo clearly states just how much the Downing Street inner-circle loves Blair, and if Brown so much as dares to reverse some of the Blairite revolution, however unlikely that is, then the shit is going to hit the fan. The suspicion will continue to be that Blair doesn't want Brown to be the next leader; after all, Brown himself has long decided that you can't believe a word the prime minister says. Today's Times poll which puts John "We hope to leave Afghanistan without so much as firing a single shot" Reid just one point behind in support for Labour if he rather than Brown was prime minister will increase their fantasies of somehow getting him to take the top job rather than Gordon. Whether Blair will be prepared to snipe from the sidelines once he has gone is also something to ponder.

It should be worth celebrating that Blair is finally definitely going. That he still wants to hang on for as long as he can, regardless of the damage to the party and regardless of the damage to the country, ought to highlight the vain arrogance and deluded self-indulgence of a man once feted as being different from the old political class. The Labour party should be at the barricades. Instead the majority are still enjoying the fading power they have, while they still can.

Related posts:
Big Stick Small Carrot - Ugly Rumours
BlairWatch - Your Chance to Plan Tony's Departure

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Monday, September 04, 2006 

Scum-watch: Contempt for contempt.

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

I spoke too soon. Today's Sun splashes partly on a quote from a "security source":

One security source said: “They mingled with ordinary members of the public. They must have seemed like innocent nature-lovers enjoying the outdoor life and the best that England can offer. But in reality we believe they were planning mass murder.”

During the surveillance, some watchers heard one leading suspect telling a group that as many people as possible should be killed.

A source told The Sun: “He was heard to say, ‘Let’s kill them — let’s kill them all’. It was damning proof they were intent on murder and it put the wind up us.”

Security chiefs used new legislation outlawing the training of terrorists to move in on the suspects over the weekend BEFORE they could put their wicked plans into action.

Anti-terror cops are confident they already have enough evidence to bring charges against a “substantial” number of those being held.

Usually the process involved in the criminal justice system is to charge someone, then give the evidence in a court of law. In these days of public relations terror alerts, all that's been thrown out the window. Now the process seems to be to either talk to the media anonymously and tell them the magnificent evidence you have against these evil fiends or what you fear they might have been planning, or to call a press conference once the suspects have been charged to tell the media how dangerous they are and what they've found. This has been partially down to the disquiet in the aftermath of the Forest Gate raid - which resulted in the Koyair brothers being smeared by the Murdoch press in particular, even after nothing was found at their house, as well as the suspicions rightly held that the government is over-hyping the terror threat.

Today's Sun article must surely be pushing the boundaries of contempt of court, however. The security source effectively accuses men that have not even been charged yet with being guilty of incitement to murder, even though it goes on to say they only might have enough evidence to charge a "substantial" number. It also remains to be seen how a group of young Muslim men could be effectively training for jihad within eyesight and earshot of other members of the public, which seems to be what the security source is saying that the men did. Last night's documentary by Peter Taylor on Islamic extremism had a section on a cell in France, whose training consisted of going for ten minute jogs round a park.

Naturally, the fact that Abu Hamza supposedly went to the school for a weekend but was told to sling his hook (groan) is casually dropped into the story (to be fair, all the reports have done this) to further the overwhelming line of the report: that something must have been going on for him to have gone there. One of his ex-hencemen was also arrested in the raid on the Chinese restaurant. The Sun also seems to think that the school itself is suspicious, something not highlighted in other media reports.

Meanwhile, officers who raided the Jameah Islameah school at Mark Cross, near Crowborough, East Sussex, were conducting an inch-by-inch search, focusing on a lake and woodland at the 54-acre former convent, which often lets outside groups use its grounds at weekends.

A security source said undercover agents were monitoring other suspected al-Qaeda camps.

The source said: “It would be naive to think there aren’t other schools of this type operating in the UK.

“A number of similar high-level surveillance operations are taking place as we speak.”

Mystery surrounds financing at the school, which has been criticised by Ofsted inspectors.

It has only nine boys on its roll — but annual fees of just £1,000.

Imam Bilal Patel, who runs it, has been questioned but NOT arrested over the allegations of terrorist training.

Neighbours said last night the sound of gunshots had been heard coming from the school.

Compared to the Guardian:

Counter-terrorism sources indicated that it was not the activities of the school itself but what might have gone on in its grounds that was the subject of the investigation.

Mystery wouldn't surround the financing situation if the Sun writer (Mike Sullivan, who you may remember from the non-existent House of Horrors reports) had done a search of Google for Jemeah Islameah, which brings up the school's website as the first result. The school is not a normal everyday institution, but rather one for those aged 16-65. It only has classes for girls aged 11+ running in various parts of London in the evening. The site also provides a phone number to call and enquire about camping weekends, as well as openly stating that fees are £900 PA.

While the Sun mentions how the recent anti-terror bill made the attending of a terrorist training camp an offence punishable by up to ten years in prison, it only alludes to the fact that the men have actually been arrested under the new "glorification" of terror offence created in the 2006 Terrorism Act.

As it happens, the men might well be charged. They might well be guilty of something or other. The Sun is as ever though already certain that they are definitely evil-doers and potential murderers. The casual erosion of the presumption of innocence until proven guilty continues then unabated, and the current government is unlikely to start making much noise about possible contempt of court. After all, it's partly down to them that so much hysteria has been generated about the threat facing Britain. Rebekah Wade ought to remember though that it was only 6 years ago that the Sunday Mirror was taken to court after it published a story which led to the collapse of the trial of Lee Bowyer and Jonathan Woodgate, two footballers accused of a racist attack, of whom Bowyer was cleared and Woodgate found guilty of affray. It's something that could easily happen again.

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Grauniad-watch: Shome mishtake, shurley?

Even by Grauniad standards, it's dropped a major clanger today. Mark Ravenhill, the playwright best known for "Shopping and Fucking", writes in the G2 section about racism and television. He has something of a point in general, but he completely blots his copy book by writing this bilge:

But it's there in other dramas, too. Take the hugely entertaining Life on Mars, the time-travel cop drama. Isn't a great deal of the action created because the central character, a 1970s cop thrown into the modern world, needs to be educated out of his sexist, homophobic ways? The show is about the reform of the white, working-class male - still the most dangerous breed in the mind of the liberal urbanite. He probably loved Maggie. Could vote BNP. Almost certainly has a pitbull. Give him some educative drama - fast!

What the show hasn't ever shown, though, is the central character expressing any racism - even if he is later to be educated out of it. Which parallel 1970s universe does this cop come from, I wonder? A pretty obscure one, if everyday police conversation wasn't peppered with racist jokes and banter.

All of which must make you wonder whether Ravenhill has actually ever seen Life on Mars or has instead just read about it. Life of Mars is actually the other way around - a 1970s cop isn't thrown into the modern world, a modern cop is thrown into a 1970s world. We don't see a 1970s cop having to come to terms with a world in which "political correctness" has run rampant, but rather a modern cop having to cope with casual prejudice and petty corruption. Where Ravenhill may well be right is that racism wasn't featured as prominently, to my memory at least, as the pre-mentioned sins were.

If anything, the show revels in this slightly edgy premise, which made it all the more fun and enjoyable. That Sam Tyler, played by John Simm, is almost believeable as a police officer with principles is all the more credit to the writers and performers.

These days, it's incredibly easy to fact-check anything. A quick search on Wikipedia, Google or IMDB will bring up all the information needed on practically any TV show or film. Ravenhill has the excuse of writing from memory, but the sub-editors don't. Either they're lazy, or just don't bother to check the crap that sometimes fills out G2. I wouldn't have seen it if I hadn't been looking for the handy chart G2 does on a Monday with all the arts reviews from the weekend papers. Others have probably beaten me to it, but I've emailed the fabled Readers' Editor, and doubtless we shall have a suitably ashen-faced apology within a couple of days.

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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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