Saturday, December 16, 2006 

The politics of lying.

There is an exemplary article in the Guardian today by David Leigh and Rob Evans, the two journalists who kick-started the Serious Farce Office's investigation, which debunks many of the myths surrounding the whole BAe corruption inquiry.

Elsewhere, can you possibly guess which newspaper wholeheartedly supports Blair 'n' Goldsmith's decision to drop the inquiry?

Good move

TONY BLAIR was right to scrap the Serious Fraud Office probe into BAE’s sale of Typhoon jets to Saudi Arabia.

If the inquiry had gone ahead the Saudis would have pulled out and taken their business to France.

Highly unlikely. No one else has been stupid enough to buy France's jet fighters yet, and the Saudis weren't going to go alone over corruption allegations that affect BAe more than they do the absolute monarchy.

The cost to Britain: 50,000 lost jobs and terminal damage to swathes of our industry.

Lies. At most 5,000 jobs in the UK were "threatened", as a report on the benefits of the Eurofighter by York University's Centre of Defence Economics made clear. BAe themselves are major benefactors of York University, sponsoring the National Science Learning Centre there. It seems unlikely that they would therefore underestimate the amount of jobs that BAe's Eurofighter scheme would support.

That, presumably, would have pleased the left-wing trouble-makers who suspect BAE paid backhanders to the Saudi royal family to secure the sale.

Indeed, the SFO is made up entirely of left-wing trouble-makers. Like the head of the SFO, who rejected the idea that the probe would have led to nothing, and those left-wing trouble-makers at the Financial Times, who denounced the decision. As for suspecting, well, isn't it funny how the next two sentences of the Sun's leader are given over to defending bribes:

No one likes paying bribes. Give them to one customer and you may have to give them to all.

But in some parts of the world no business is done without handing over a few sweeteners.

That the Sun feels differently to "Sun readers' money" being used to bribe Saudi princes by paying for them to have sex with vice girls (through subsidies), as they describe the murdered sex worker Anneli Alderton on their front page, than it does to "wastes of taxpayers' money" and benefit cheats is worth noting for the next time they righteously start a campaign against either.

It would only be fair at this point to note that Saudi prince Alwaleed bin Talal al Saud has a 6-7% stake in News Corporation, News International, the Sun's publishers' parent company. This doubtless has no bearing on the Sun's dignified and respectful editorial stand whatsoever.

Similarly, the fact that Sacha Baron Cohen's film Borat was produced by Fox has obviously not attributed to the fact that there have been two puff pieces in the Sun in two days regarding its chances of clinching awards, one written by failed comedian Johnny Vaughan, who has in the past been accused of not watching the films he "reviews".

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Friday, December 15, 2006 

The death of Blair's essential values.

Lord Bell, described by the Guardian as an "arch-propagandist", who led the hysteria for the SFO investigation to be dropped.

December the 14th will go down in history as the day that the prime minister was questioned by police over the loans for peerages scandal, but the real outrage should be over two things: the shameless and overt attempts to overshadow the prime minister's questioning, and the decision to cancel the Serious Farce Office's investigation into corruption involving BAe Systems and Saudi Arabia's despotic monarchy.

The Grauniad reports that the Dear Leader hadn't informed other members of the cabinet that he was to be interviewed by Inspector Knacker yesterday, meaning that Alistair Darling, announcing the plans to close 2,500 post offices, and Douglas Alexander, publishing a report recommending new runways at Stanstead and Heathrow most likely had no inkling of how they were going to be pawns in Blair and 10 Downing Street's spin game. They had known for weeks that Lord Stevens was also going to be holding a press conference stating his findings from the inquiry into the death of Princess Diana. That meant that the tabloids were the following day bound to be heavily distracted in the least, and lo and behold, so it came to pass.

The broads and television news had to be additionally bought off, though. Enter stage left Lord Goldsmith, who decided to pick yesterday afternoon to inform the House of Lords that he was dropping the investigation by the Serious Fraud Office into allegations that BAe Systems was running a slush fund through which notable Saudis were getting such perks such as prostitutes, Rolls-Royces, and holidays in California.

His statement to the Lords is one of the most mendacious of recent times. He said:

"It has been necessary to balance the need to maintain the rule of law against the wider public interest. No weight has been given to commercial interests or to the national economic interest.

The prime minister and the foreign and defence secretaries have expressed the clear view that continuation of the investigation would cause serious damage to UK/Saudi security, intelligence and diplomatic cooperation, which is likely to have seriously negative consequences for the UK public interest in terms of both national security and our highest priority foreign policy objectives in the Middle East."

The only conclusion that can be come to, other than the one that Lord Goldsmith is a fucking liar, is that the Saudis had threatened to withdraw from the intelligence pact which means that all "intelligence" is pooled between the security services. Rather than call their bluff and accuse the Saudis of blackmail, interfering with the right of another sovereign nation to investigate possible corruption, Blair and Goldsmith rolled over. The message seems to be that even if you're a despotic regime that practices torture, bans women from driving cars, and stands for pretty much everything that the Labour party has historically opposed, all you have to do is threaten to stop cooperation and our politicians will drop everything to make it right.

OK, let's face it, the above is a load of bollocks. Goldsmith is a fucking liar. We already know this from when Blair more or less told him, or to give it Lord Hutton's take on why Alastair Campbell sexed up the Iraq weapons dossier, subliminally inferred that he had to change his mind over the fact that it is was possible war would be illegal. The Saudis may have threatened to withdraw cooperation in the wider "war on terror", but it was an empty threat. There's no way that the Saudis would have stopped giving the same material to the CIA, and the CIA would have passed it on to MI5/6 as a matter of course. The reality is that the SFO, for once, was very close to getting to the bottom of the whole corrupt concealed payments and perks packages which have been wetting the Saudis' whistles for decades. They'd either got the Swiss to hand over the details about Swiss bank accounts, or were just about to. Potential charges for current/ex-BAe salesmen/board members/executives might not have been that far off (the SFA apparently had informed Goldsmith they would need another 18 months, but that they were certain a case could be put together), with all the bad publicity and revelations about just how the taxpayer has been paying through subsidies for Saudi princes to bang whores likely to come out in the midst of any trial. This was something that BAe and the Saudis could not allow at any cost.

Hence the hysterical campaign by BAe, taken up nobly by the Daily Mail and the Sun, as described here by Unity, that tens of thousands of jobs were at risk, with the Saudis threatening to go elsewhere. It was all bluster. There had been some negotiations with the French, but they hadn't got anywhere. Local constituency MPs, worried that anger would be directed at them, also took up the cause, as Lyndsay Hoyle continued to do today, showing that he didn't have the faintest clue what he was talking about:

"Quite rightly they were happy with the news," he said, adding that it was a boost to a wide range of companies including Rolls-Royce, which builds engines.

"Tens of thousands of jobs were put at risk by a 1980s issue."

He said that the investigation had been going on for too long and there was no evidence of any wrongdoing. "Jobs would have gone," he added.

On the contrary, documents seized from a warehouse in Hertfordshire and obtained by the Guardian back in 2004 showed that payments from the alleged slush fund had contained past the date when corrupt deals were made illegal in 2002. As for evidence of wrongdoing, there was plenty of circumstantial, and it was the possibility of the SFO getting access to Swiss bank accounts that resulted in BAe and the Saudis realising they were deadly serious.

Whether Goldsmith's announcement was brought forward once Blair and Downing Street realised that the amount of cover they had counted on hadn't done the job, or if it was just a happy coincidence, we probably will never know, although we all know about this government's record.

The lie still had to be decided upon though for cancelling the SFO investigation. Whether doing so on the basis of jobs and "saving" the deal was potentially against international law is uncertain, but was likely to cause further anger among those who wanted to see the SFO finish its probe. Instead, the government hid once again behind "national security" and "counter-terrorism", when its clear that it had absolutely nothing to do with it. This was a political decision taken from up high, with Goldsmith playing the fall-guy and our "strategic interest" providing the fig leaf. That the courts are also less likely to disagree with a decision in the "national interest" was also a factor. The lefties are pissed off, but the majority of the right agrees with the decision, and everything balances out.

The further explanation given today by Blair 'n' Goldsmith is laughable. How could they possibly know that if the investigation had been allowed to continue that it wouldn't have resulted in a successful prosecution anyway? The attorney general could have waited until it was finished, then decided that there wasn't a case to prosecute, as would be within his rights. Instead he's brought further shame on his supposedly independent position by discontinuing it before it was even finished.

In the midst of all this the death of the Labour party becomes apparent. Cozying up to brutal dictatorships, selling them weapons and allowing them to torture our citizens without them then being able to seek recompense is one thing, but interfering blatantly with the rule of law and the right of government agencies to investigate when a crime has believed to have been committed is quite another. It's effectively given the Saudi royal family the right to do whatever they want, as it obviously won't effect them because of the "strategic interest". We've made clear that they and BAe are entirely above the law. Last week the following passage made up a part of Blair's speech on multiculturalism:
But when it comes to our essential values - belief in democracy, the rule of law, tolerance, equal treatment for all

By Blair's essential values, he is no longer British, and no longer is the Labour party. It is now nothing more than a vessel used by those who are doing so for power, and for power's sake only. If yesterday isn't the beginning of the end for this government, then something really has gone wrong.

Related posts:
Chicken Yogurt - The Pariah Sketch
Nether-World - A Shameful Day for Blair and Britain

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Craig Murray on the falling apart of the "liquid bombs" plot.

A second and simultaneous development is even more compelling evidence that this massive scare was, as I said at the time, "More propaganda than plot". Thames Valley police have given up after five months scouring the woods near High Wycombe where the bomb materials were allegedly hidden. They told the Home Office on 12 December that they would only continue if the government were prepared to meet the costs; they wished to get back to devoting their resources to real crimes, like armed robbery and burglary.

Remember this was a plot described by the authorities as "Mass murder on an unimaginable scale" and "Bigger than 9/11". There have been instances in the UK of hundreds of police officers deployed for years to find an individual murderer. If the police really believed they were dealing with an effort at "Mass murder on an unimaginable scale", would they be calling off the search after five months? No.

Which brings us to the lies that have been told - one of which concerns this search. An anonymous police source tipped off the media early on that they had discovered a "Suitcase" containing "bomb-making materials". This has recently been described to me by a security service source as "A lot of rubbish from someone's garage dumped in the woods". You could indeed cannibalise bits of old wire, clocks and car parts to form part of a bomb - perhaps you could enclose it in the old suitcase. But have they found stuff that is exclusively concerned with causing explosions, like detonators, explosives or those famous liquid chemicals? No, they haven't found any.

Wycombe Woods, like the sands of Iraq, have failed to yield up the advertised WMD.


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Thursday, December 14, 2006 

Revealed: press buying and selling private information on a grand scale follow-up.

I intended to write so much today, but as usual the best laid plans are the ones that get binned.

While today has proved that this is the most disgusting, despicable and reprehensible government that this country has suffered since the last one, the overwhelming torrent of planned news to overshadow the prime minister's questioning by police has also obliterated the information commissioner's publishing of the report (PDF) into how the nation's newspapers (and magazines) are buying and selling personal and private information from government databases on a grand scale. As expected, his full listing was if anything more damning of the press in this country than the condensed one:

PublicationNumber of transactionsNumber of journalists / clients positively identified using services
Daily Mail95258
Sunday People80250
Daily Mirror681 45
Mail on Sunday266 33
News of the World18219
Sunday Mirror14325
Best Magazine13420
Evening Standard1301
The Observer1034
Daily Sport624
Sunday Times527
The People3719
Daily Express367
Weekend Magazine (Daily Mail)304
Sunday Express298
The Sun244
Closer Magazine225
Sunday Sport151
Night and Day (Mail on Sunday)92
Sunday Business News81
Daily Record72
Saturday (Express)71
Sunday Mirror Magazine61
Real Magazine41
Woman’s Own42
Daily Mirror Magazine32
Mail in Ireland31
Daily Star24
Marie Claire21
Personal Magazine11
Sunday World11
(Many thanks to Spy Blog for the table.)

The scale, through just this one private detective, is astounding. Best magazine, published by Hearst, had 20 different employees buying information from Stephen Whittamore, who himself was receiving the information from at least 3 others; one another private investigator, one a retired cop and the other an "civilian communications officer", whatever that is, who was based at Tooting police station. The information sold came at a price of at least £75 a time; if all of Best magazine's queries cost that amount, then they alone had provided Whittamore and his associates with £10,050. The Daily Mail's costs alone, not considering the other requests handled for other Rothermere publications, on that same equation, would have come to £71,400.

Best magazine, for those of you who like me had never heard of it, is according to the Grauniad aimed at middle-aged women. The only website I could find that's vaguely associated with it is this one here, which has the above logo with a link below to a survey which is no longer open. No doubt all of its transactions into investigating "real life", "diets" and "looks" were in the public interest. The next mag on the list not directly associated with a newspaper is Closer, a celebrity gossip piece of effluent owned by Emap. Next up is Real (published by "Essential Publishing", who have an absolutely hideous flash site here) which I had also never heard of. Real describes itself thusly:
Published fortnightly, REAL is unlike any other title in the UK magazine market. It is a magazine that is beautiful to look at yet relevant to women's lives. It combines the upmarket aspirations of the women's glossy monthlies with the "relevance" of the weekly titles. REAL deals with relationships and issues closest to women's hearts and events that could change their lives.
In other words, it's a celebrity gossip magazine which likes to think it's above the likes of Heat and Closer. How these relationships and issues that could change lives necessitated breaking the law is unclear. Woman's Own, who had two writers using Whittamore's talents, is the standard "housewives" magazine, owned by IPC Media, who are in turn owned by TimeWarner. Marie Claire, like Best owned by Hearst, had one lone hack paying Whittamore, while Personal, which I can't find from a quick search and can't be bothered to look deeper for, also had one journalist using the services provided once.

Most of these type of magazines only have a generally small staff of writers, often relying more on freelancers. For 20 different individuals from Best to then have used Whittamore is astonishing. Almost everyone there must have been in on what was going on, and just what sort of information were they buying that was needed for such a publication? It'll be no surprise then to learn that Best's current editor, Michelle Hather, made no comment when asked for one by the Grauniad.

It'll be of little surprise also to learn that not a single one of today's tabloids printed a single word about Thomas's publication of their nefarious dealings. The Daily Mail, who came top of the league, was defensive when asked about its journalists' use of Whittamore, but didn't take up the defense in print. Neither did the Sun or the Mirror. The Express's Paul Ashford was notably unhelpful when asked for a comment, and the Express and Star don't provide an archive or even properly searchable websites to see if they covered the story, so I think it's more than reasonable to assume they didn't.

As for the broads, or ex-broads, the Guardian was by far the most open, admitting that its journalists on its sister, the Observer, had used Whittamore, and Roger Alton, notorious for his foul mouth, managed to string a statement together without swearing. The Times did report the story, but coyly didn't print the table in full, so missing out the Sun's entry, and didn't comment on its sister publications' buying of information. The Telegraph covered it along with a report on a trial of a "blagger" earlier in the week, as it had already done online, while the Independent doesn't appear to have covered it, although I may be wrong.

This might be the necessary kick up the backside that'll show journalists they can't get away with such low-level skullduggery; as the Telegraph reports, one of those who was informed that his car number plate was searched for had simply been decorating the home of a lottery winner. Or it may just simply show them that they can get away it; their publications might get a slight amount of embarrassment, but only from those who read the broads or blogs and care about it. Their readers, the ones that are the ones most likely to have their privacy infringed, are instead in the dark. The sentences handed down to Whittamore and others, a 2 year discharge for data-mining police databases, was letting them get away with it, even if they also faced charges in a similar case. As stated in yesterday's post, this is only likely to get worse with the emergence of the NHS Spine and the ID card database, if it ever gets up and running.

By coincidence, today also had a ruling that Media Grauniad are describing as possibly the beginning of the end for gossip rags and the tabloids celebrity worship, as "the court ruled that someone's right to protect their private life outweighs someone else's freedom to tell their story, unless there is a "very real" public interest." It looks potentially chilling for the freedom to report scandals, almost certainly going too far if similar cases are now brought and succeed, and the fact that McKennitt's lawyers were Carter-Ruck, notorious for their stifling effect on Private Eye investigations, nicknamed Carter-Fuck as result, is also not a good sign. There is a balance to be struck, and it hasn't been found yet.

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Wednesday, December 13, 2006 

All that's fizzy is not explosive...

The news that "terrorism" charges have been dropped against Rashid Rauf, the alleged ringleader of the August "liquid bombs" plot is curious to say the least. This was the man which Pakistan's interior minister said had given "many, many clues which link this plan with Afghanistan, especially the al-Qaida of Osama bin Laden", so for the charges against him to be decided so flimsy (or badly collected, or presented) that they wouldn't even stand up in a Pakistani court must be a concern for the evidence collected against those accused over here.

Conspiracy theories will obviously abound. Newspapers in Pakistan were less than subtle about the circumstances surrounding Rauf's interrogation by the Pakistani authorities, describing him as being "broken". Whether the use of torture would have had any bearing on the judge's decision is unclear; Human Rights Watch recently described the use of coercive methods in Pakistan as "rampant" in a press release.

Also reported at the time of the arrest was the allegation that money had been funneled to Pakistan to terrorist groups operating in Kashmir, under the guise of aid for those caught up in the earthquake of October 2005. The possibility may be that in investigating Rauf, that Pakistani governmental officials or others had been implicated in the flow of funding to groups such as Jaish-e-Mohammed, which would have came out as a result of trying Rauf under intense media interest, when trials of terrorist suspects are usually brushed under the carpet or simply not carried out at all.

The reality may be much more mundane, however. The Daily Mail (Yes, I know) reported on the 19th of August that despite Pakistan's lack of reticence, little hard evidence had been found, other than the apparent "breaking" of the suspect.

Whether any of this will stop Rauf being deported from Pakistan is unclear. The British government is still apparently seeking his return, rumoured to be to do with the unsolved death of Rauf's uncle, although the police are helpfully refusing to comment on what murder case they actually what to question him about.

In other "terror" news, despite John Reid's scaremongering on Sunday over a potential attack before Christmas, the review headed by the home secretary now seems unlikely to demand 90 days straight away, although as Not Saussure wonders, this may be down to the opposition the measure would undoubtedly face. Another foiled plot however, and the mood might change. The report, according to the Guardian, is also unlikely to put forward the need for wire-tap/intercept evidence to be made admissible as evidence. It can thus be assumed that either the security services' bugging methods are incredibly insecure, which seems doubtful, or that they're so paranoid that the mere presenting of their snooping will put them at risk that they'll potentially limbo terrorist suspects on control orders for ever (Reid has give the go-ahead for 1 further man to be held under virtual house arrest, with 3 others still to be served theirs) which is depressingly the more likely reason.

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Revealed: press buying and selling private information on a grand scale.

From Iain Dale comes news of the newspapers caught out using the services of just one private detective, who, unfortunately for them, had been keeping meticulous records of who was paying him for his work, all seized when his house was raided:

1. Daily Mail - 952 incidents by 58 different journalists
2. Sunday People - 802 incidents by 50 different journalists
3. Daily Mirror - 681 incidents by 45 different journalists
4. Mail on Sunday - 266 incidents by 33 different journalists
5. News of the World - 182 different incidents by 19 different journalists

This information is from a report that the Information Commissioner, Richard Thomas, is to submit to parliament tomorrow. The leaked contents Iain Dale has published don't match the more vague details obtained by Lord Ashcroft via the Freedom of Information Act (PDF), which remember, Blair and Lord Falconer want to drastically curtail, so hopefully Thomas's report will provide the full details of all the newspapers involved tomorrow. Whether Thomas's report will also actually name the journalists who made use of the services provided by the private dick is unclear.

As Dale also points out, this is the information from only one private detective agency, which looks to be the one which was a favourite of the Rothermere press. One can only surmise that most of the business for News International was done elsewhere.

Unless this exposure and the hoo-hah over Clive Goodman brings about a step-change in journalistic conduct (snigger) then it's additionally worth recalling that our blessed government is creating the biggest database in the Western world for the ID card scheme, and another huge one, the NHS "Spine", both of which are likely to become a goldmine for tabloid hacks looking to perform hatchet jobs on celebs and those accused of crime. When it seems apparent that information is already being bought and sold from the Police National Computer, one can only imagine how the hacks are rubbing their hands with glee at the prospect of getting medical and personal information even easier than ever before.

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Scum-watch: So why isn't the tinsel up on MySpace?

Ah, Christmas. Family get-togethers, mass consumerism, parents getting into debt to buy presents for their little darlings, Christmas tree rash, Only Fools and Horses, people wearing tinsel and fucking stupid hats, horribly gaudy flashing lights on houses that make the Blackpool illuminations look sophisticated, and of course, the tabloids screaming that the whole event is being banned by politically correct idiots, despite all the evidence that suggests the event is constantly growing and lasts longer every year. The Sun has been no exception. Oliver Burkeman from the Grauniad has been eviscerating the numerous claims from the daily scandal sheets, but today's Sun claims that the Prime Minister supports their soporific campaign:

Sanity Claus

TONY Blair yesterday backed the Sun’s campaign for a Merry Christmas.

He blasted “misguided” jobsworths who want to ban Santa in case he offends Muslims.

And he took aim at killjoys for turning it into just another public holiday. Surrounded by twinkling lights and gaily decorated Christmas trees, he said: “I just think the whole thing’s daft.

“People of other faiths don’t in the least mind that Christians support and regard Christmas as a very important part of our year.”

Sour Scrooges should pipe down — and enjoy one of the few times of the year when the nation unites as a family.

Naturally, this isn't exactly what our Dear Leader said. He didn't back the Sun's predictable campaign, and he questioned whether the whole thing is being invented and vastly exaggerated. Here's the transcript from the 10 Downing Street website of his press conference:


Prime Minister, Gordon Brown and John Reid made it very clear last week that they are sick and tired of political correctness, they were particularly talking about Christmas. What is your message on that?

Prime Minister:

Well I am always amazed when I hear these stories about people saying that someone has gone and banned Christmas. I read something today in preparing for this that some vicar doesn't want to support Christmas or something. Look you never know whether these stories are true or not to be honest, because every time you look at them it turns out to be slightly less than it appears. But all I know is that as far as I understand it, people in Britain are very happy to support Christmas, that people of other faiths don't in the least mind that Christians support Christmas and regard Christmas as a very important part of our year, and I think that if there are misguided people out there who think there is something wrong with celebrating Christmas, certainly if you are of the Christian faith, then I don't think they should be taken as indicative of some great movement towards political correctness. I just think the whole thing is daft. And I tell you, if you look round this building I don't think I have ever seen so many Christmas trees as I have in this building, which is very good incidentally, he says quickly.

[party political content]

Blair in not agreeing with the Sun shock? Who would have thought it!

Elsewhere, it's time to plug MySpace, one of Mr Murdoch's recent acquistions:

MEET Tila Tequila, the bisexual former Playboy model who has become the quirky queen of MySpace.

The Hollywood 25-year-old was the first person to notch up a million mates on the hit social site earlier this year — now she has 1.6 million virtual friends.

She says: “I have been in the ‘top eight’ lists of Pamela Anderson, Britney Spears, Paris Hilton and Snoop Dogg on their MySpace sites, which is cool.”

Yes, this is the breathtakingly pathetic news that sad lonely people on the internet add celebrities and bands as "friends" on the site from hell. And amazingly, people who post photographs of themselves in few clothes and talk "frankly" about their "sex lives" tend to attract a lot of attention. I can't imagine why.

It's also worth noting today's front page, which gets very excited over the amount of murdered sex workers. If whoever's responsible continues their killing spree, are they going to being updating the body count in the same clearly unsensational and completely non-tasteless way?

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Tuesday, December 12, 2006 

Scum-watch: How pathetic can you get?

When there's a probable serial killer on the loose, you'd think that the Sun would have other things on its mind than the way the BBC are describing those who've lost their lives. These days though, with Murdoch on an seemingly inexorable rise, any opportunity to bash the BBC is seized upon, as today's Sun leader column shows:

Final insult

THREE prostitutes have been murdered in Suffolk by what appears to be a terrifying serial killer.

Two more are missing.

The women who died had tragic personal histories. At least one was driven to sell her body by a craving for drugs.

The BBC exists in a politically correct world in which words like ‘prostitute’ are deemed offensive.

But they do nothing to dignify these poor victims by creepily describing them as ‘sex workers’ in every bulletin.

I can't say I remember properly whether the BBC were referring to the women killed as sex workers or not on any bulletins I've seen, but that's beside the point. It's quite obvious that if the BBC have been using it, they've been doing so as a synonym so that they aren't repeating the same word over and over again. The current leading reports on the BBC website don't make any use of the term "sex worker".

In any case, the Sun maybe ought to take the "creepy" description up with the trade union which has been established to support those who are involved in the sex industry, who call themselves the International Union of Sex Workers. Then again, seeing as the Sun isn't exactly the biggest fan of trade unions, they're most likely part of the global political correctness conspiracy too.

Back on the moral black hole which is the Sun website, online home of the clearly never creepy paper which happens to be running a competition encouraging readers to send in photographs of themselves at least semi-naked, the chaffing-at the bit hacks are pleading with those who knew the victims to ring in and give them salacious gossip that they can print and call news.

Personally, I find the description of the killer of at least two of the prostitutes found dead so far as the "Suffolk Ripper" is far more potentially offensive to the families and friends of those who have died (not that the Scum are the only ones doing it). The information given so far by the police suggests that the women have been strangled and not sexually assaulted. Both the original "Jack the Ripper" and Peter Sutcliffe, nicknamed the Yorkshire Ripper, viciously attacked and mortally wounded the majority of their victims, while Sutcliffe's crimes had a definite sexual element to them. Those who have been killed so far seem unlikely to have suffered to the extent that their victims did, although we obviously don't know the full details yet, which the Sun will doubtless anyway delight in printing, true or not.

Meanwhile, over on Sun News (sorry, Sky) are providing an image gallery of the dead women and those who have gone missing with the clearly inoffensive title "Red light girls", alongside another gallery of "Celebrity Mugs", showcasing "Stars on the wrong side of the law". The final insult it seems, will not be televised.

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Monday, December 11, 2006 

Manufacturing hysteria.

There's little worse than newspapers examining their navel, so bloggers would normally be well advised to avoid it at all costs. That said, the manufactured hysteria created by a couple of Tory bloggers (which Obsolete is not going to give the dignity of linking to), over a blacked-up image of David Cameron created by Unity over on the Ministry of Truth, and reposted by Bob Piper, deserves to be examined.

Unity himself has pretty much summed up all the arguments that could be used against his creation in a number of posts, but it's also worth remembering another recent "blacking-up", namely that of Kate Moss on the front of the Independent. Hannah Pool, who has been taken to task a number of times on Comment is Free for her more empty-headed ramblings, wasn't amused, but she didn't suggest that it was racist. Nor did Pickled Politics, which pointed out the pathetic failure to find a black model to play a similar role. It was an attempt to create potential controversy without making any wider point whatsoever; how does a blacked-up Kate Moss have anything to do with the day's side mission, that of raising money for Aids charities? Moss is a drug hoovering clothes-horse that ought to have been sent to the glue factory long ago. She was doubtless laughing all the way to the bank, as it's hard to imagine her waiving her fee.

By sharp contrast, Unity's portrait of David Cameron blacked-up was both meant to and has succeeded in causing controversy and raised legitimate wider points on a number of levels. On one level it's a clear parody of Cameron's wheeze - a patronising and condescending attempt to get down with the kids by err, calling their love of excessive spending the "inner tosser" tendency. On another it's an attack on Cameron's whole agenda of the last twelve months: be everything to every man. He's green, he's promoting the family, he's not fond of "isms", the whole caboodle of contradicting and hypocritical devices to avoid actually settling on any true policies. If Cameron thought that blacking up would help him appeal to someone or something, he'd do it. Then there's also Cameron's moves to try to make the hideously white party reflect society, while we all know full well that there's plenty of grassroots opposition to doing just that, although Unity denies that this was his thinking in making the image.

The outrage has however not descended on Unity, but on Bob Piper. This isn't anything to do with his mirroring of the image; this is purely about the fact that he mirrored the image while being a Labour councillor. Bob at first rightly refused to bow to the manufactured hysteria which a couple of Tory supporting bloggers exploited, but with the story being picked up the BBC, and jumped on by some Tory MPs, he has since removed it.

The issue is compared by the Evening Standard to the email sent on by Ellenor Bland, a Tory councillor. The important difference is that while Bland's email was also an attempt at humour, it was also clearly meant to be insulting to those whom it's targeted against. The only person Unity's image is insulting is David Cameron himself.

The real joke here isn't anything to do with Unity's potentially offensive image, though. It's that this is what politics has become - squabbling, simplistic little point scoring attempts by politically motivated self-styled internet warriors. Is there anything less threatening and laughable than the prospect of being reported to the Commission for Racial Equality? Rather than dealing with the issues that Unity's image brought up, it was instead used to attack a Labour party member who sits on the same council as a real life, Holocaust denying, Hitler-loving racist - Simon Smith of the British National Party, ironically exposed as such by Unity himself.

Blogging was meant to escape all that. If politicians themselves cannot engage in what those of us without party membership or any affiliation enjoy doing and reading, thanks to the politically motivated actions of others, then we will deserve the leaders and representatives that we get.

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