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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