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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