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.
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?
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 heretical.com. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
BlairWatch - Gordon Preaches to Conference - The other Cheek of the Same Arse
Guido - Brown Speech Live Blog
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.