Wednesday, February 28, 2007 

The myopic vision.

Labour is undoubtedly in huge trouble. After nearly 10 years in power, any momentum there was towards "progressive" politics has ground to a halt. Poll after poll suggests that the Tories have successfully regrouped around David Cameron, and could gain a workable majority in parliament if an election was called tomorrow. Labour, by comparison, is in a flux, waiting for the current leader to finally get the message and go, but at the same time there's little debate about what's going to happen once he does piss off to America to make squillions through telling rich Americans how wonderful they are.

It's into this breach that 2020 Vision enters. Unlike other thinktanks like Compass, which have been established for a while and have tried to influence the debate on where Labour goes from here, 2020 Vision has been set up quickly, and its motives are very far from clear. It also comes with an overwhelming amount of baggage. Headed by Alan "spend more time with my family/forward not back" Milburn and Charles "Safety Elephant/No Trousers" Clarke, it could not be led by two people with more of a hidden agenda.

Milburn isn't just a Blairite; he is the uber-model Blairite. Along with Alastair Campbell and perhaps Stephen Byers, he has long been a member of the inner circle that Blair not only trusts, but at times utterly depends on. While Milburn masterminded the dismal 2005 Labour election campaign, it was the unspoken but obvious underlying message of vote Blair, get Brown, as well as having to involve Brown much more than Milburn wanted to that managed to keep it afloat. Ever since, Milburn has had to content himself with working from the backbenches, coming up with abysmal sub-Tory ideas for reforming the public services, most notably a school voucher scheme. Despite being despised by most of the party's grassroots for his role in convincing Blair to stay on as leader, he still hasn't ruled himself out of standing in the eventual contest, an act of delusion on a par with that of Blair's over Iraq.

Clarke, on the other hand, has at least tried since being dismissed from his role as Home Secretary to take out his anger on both Blair and Brown. He's questioned the need to replace Trident, Blair's pet project, but has kept most of his vitriol for Brown, calling him stupid after the so-called coup attempt of last September. He also hasn't ruled himself out of any leadership election, although the all too visible bitterness over his sacking and the number of attack dog interviews he's given has meant that he too has not got a snowflake's chance.

If 2020 Vision was purely an attempt to launch debate, then many within Labour would have no problem with it. The circumstances surrounding its launch however speak for themselves. Faced with numerous polls suggesting that Labour is back at its lowest ebb since 1983, the Blairite and anti-Brown faction (the two are separate) are convinced that Brown cannot win the next election against that man of the people, David "Dave" Cameron. Partly started by an article by Frank Field a couple of weeks back in the Grauniad, David Miliband is the latest saviour for both factions. Previously both John Reid and Alan Johnson had been thought of as the Blairite candidate to face Brown, only for Reid to run into the same problems at the Home Office as his predecessor, and for Johnson to be more interested in the deputy leadership than in the top job itself. Helped along by the Blair sympathiser Martin Kettle in his Saturday column in the same newspaper, Miliband is suddenly the new only he can stop Gordon™ candidate.

Both Milburn and Clarke of course deny that this is a stealthy attempt to find a candidate to face Brown while promoting the continued failed and hated Blairite legacy. Again though, 2020's Mission Statement speaks for itself, or rather the comments following it do. First up we have Lord Campbell-Stevens, elevated to the House of Lords by Blair. Next is Gisela Stuart, an uber-loyalist. Jim Cousins is admittedly more of a conundrum, supporting ID cards and foundation hospitals but opposing the Iraq war and tuition fees, although this may be more to do with the fact that his constituency has a large student population than with his actual principles. Alun Michael is another uber-loyalist, and former first minister of Labour in Wales. Then there's Ann Clywd, a former leftie who sold her soul to Blairism in return for the war in Iraq, which she supported to the hilt in order to free the Kurds who she had long championed. Frank Field, who has moved far to the right of Labour in recent years, loathes Brown for his role in stopping his welfare reforms, is a predictable supporter. Barry Sheerman is one of those MPs who's mostly loyal but is occasionally critical. Nick Palmer is a PPS and an uber-loyalist. Hilary Armstrong is an uber-Blairite in the Alan Milburn mould. Peter Mandelson puts in an appearance at the very bottom of the first page of comments.

Again, this wouldn't matter much if 2020 Vision were bringing anything new to the table. The mission statement starts off reasonably well, then falls straight into the most obvious pit it should have addressed:

Ten years ago we had a clear vision about direction. And in those ten years we have done much to make both Britain and the world better and fairer. We take pride in what has been achieved under Tony Blair’s leadership.

The world better and fairer? Saying Britian alone is those two things is stretching it, but the world? This is the same grouping which told Blair that Iraq was the elephant in the room, yet even now it can't acknowledge how much more dangerous the world has become thanks to our support for the war. We destroy a country, plunge it into a brutal civil war which you can watch in real time thanks to LiveLeak, and still those at the top of Labour pretend that the world's a better place than it was in the aftermath of 9/11. This isn't just a spectacular display of myopia, it's willfully pretending that everything is just great as dozens of Iraqis continue to be obliterated every day.

We believe in radical reform. For us reform is for a progressive purpose – to make for a fairer society. We look to policies that empower individual citizens, reward aspiration, spread opportunity, tackle intolerance and inequality, provide security, protect the environment and that are internationalist not isolationist. And we look to a style of politics that is based on dialogue, debate and devolved power.

As Unity identifies, this is a whole paragraph of buzzwords which mean absolutely nothing, because as ever with those who have been New Labour to the core there's nothing behind them. Clarke in his piece for CiF and statement asks a number of questions to which we know he already has some inkling towards the answers he favours, but he doesn't share those possible solutions with us.

Perhaps that's the point. While the pretence of 2020 Vision is that this is all about stirring debate, the apparent lack of any policies being proposed speaks volumes. The rhetoric from the two men is the same shallow nonsense we've come to expect from the New Labour circle which was from the beginning implacably opposed to internal debate about the direction of government policy. When Martin Kettle is forced to make a laughable post on CiF about how wonderfully well-attended the launch was, when the real Guardian news report makes it clear that only 13 Labour MPs bothered to attend, and one of those was the Brownite Nick Brown, obviously there to see if he could find out the real motives of Milburn and Clarke, it's already more than abundant that this "Vision" is less clear than they want it to be.

The most ridiculous and fury fomenting part of the 2020 non-manifesto is that politics is about the future, not the past. As George Santayana wrote, those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it, and this is the most telling criticism of what Milburn and Clarke are attempting to do. Both men are the past and what they are attempting to do is to repeat the past 10 years of Blairism which has left the Labour party emasculated and humiliated. The project has failed, yet Brown, who remains at the moment the best hope for the party to continue in power, is still loathed so much by the Blairites that they'll destroy any chance of a victory at the next general election purely out of childish, petulant spite.

There does however need to be a leadership contest and a debate about where the party goes. It would be great if Miliband put his hat in the ring, or if someone like John Denham did. What neither needs is the likes of Milburn or Clarke trying to force their hand out of their own Machiavellian desires for Brown to fail. It's times like this that many of us on the left wish that Robin Cook was still alive -- he would have been a far more realistic option than McDonnell and Meacher, while still making clear that Blairism has come to an end, and that the policies which have brought us to this current malaise need to be not just reconsidered, but abandoned. Instead what we have is those who can be easily dismissed as far left dinosaurs up against a man who the Tories are already delighting in smearing, that the Blairites want to see fail and who hasn't been able to set out his vision in full because of Blair's arrogant, deluded, destructive desire to cling on to power for its own sake.

As it stands, I'm already convinced that Labour has lost the next election. It's now down to how big a majority the Tories get. This won't be the fault of Brown; it will be the fault of those who have refused to acknowledge that the past, and that learning from the mistakes of the last 10 years is integral to remaining in power. It's this myopia, and refusing to admit that the progressive cause has been damaged, not accelerated by the last 10 years that is breeding the ever increasing cynicism.

Related post:
Big Stick Small Carrot - Moving Forward

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Tuesday, February 27, 2007 

Scum-watch: Silence, torture and police grandstanding.

I'm unsure of what to make of the complete silence from the Sun over the decision by Alistair Darling to ask Ofcom to review whether Sky's purchase of a near 18% stake in ITV is in the public interest. As the Grauniad report makes clear, Sky executives and no doubt the Murdochs themselves must be furious. After nearly 10 years of complete sycophancy towards the Blair government from the Sun and the Times, the scratch our back and we'll scratch yours pact seems to have come slightly undone.

On one level, Darling's decision is incredibly inflammatory. For a government that has gone out of its way to try to keep the Murdoch tiger in check, such a snub which could potentially lead to Sky's acquisition of the shares being blocked is like a red rag to a bull. However much Murdoch has denied it, it's always been thought that he would at some point try to buy a stake in one of the terrestrial broadcasters, and most assumed it would be Channel 5. As Nils Pratley suggests, the 2003 Communications Act even seemed to prepare for this to happen. The surprise was that Murdoch instead went for ITV, with no warning that such a purchase was coming, and only very shortly after NTL (now Virgin Media) had attempted a takeover. Many justifiably saw this as Murdoch's attempt to stop Richard Branson from building his own rival empire, and it's most likely been the rage of Branson, however hypocritical and opportunistic it is, that has led to Darling ordering Ofcom to investigate.

The really interesting thing is that Darling has apparently come into agreement with Branson. Although Virgin is now ubiqitious, Branson simply cannot compete in the power stakes with Murdoch. This makes me wonder whether this is either a ploy or a backup plan by the Brownites (of whom Darling is certainly a member) in case Murdoch decides with the departure of Blair to switch allegiance back to the Tories. Brown has courted Wade and Murdoch, most recently at the conference in Davos where they sat side by side, but he would be wise to beware of the knife in the back. John Major believed that it was the Sun switching to Labour that was the final nail in the coffin for the Tories, and with Cameron racing ahead in the polls, Brown must be more than aware that Murdoch backs winners, not losers, however much he got it wrong over Iraq.

It's this that would lead me to expect some suitably outraged editorial or simply a report from today's Scum, making it clear to Labour where its bread is buttered. Instead, there's nothing, not even a report about Darling's decision to bring Ofcom into the equation. News International often doesn't cover things that are potentially embarrassing towards its masters, or that might provoke uncomfortable questions from newspaper readers, but the Times has covered the story. I've tried every search combination possible on the Scum website, and there's nothing there. For now, silence seems to be the order of the day to stop the issue from being further inflamed.

There is however a quite wonderful ranting leader about Abu Qatada (Qatada, Qutada, whatever):

VILE Abu Qatada has spent a third of his life enjoying the warm embrace of the democracy he wants to destroy.

Sadly our indulgence of him is not over yet.

His family scrounged hundreds of thousands of pounds in state handouts after he arrived here on a fake passport in 1993.

Surely took advantage of the welfare state like every other citizen can?

He was granted asylum despite a dossier detailing his extensive links with terrorists.

Taxpayers have since forked out £140,000 to keep him locked up and a scandalous £200,000 in Legal Aid for him to fight the deportation he obviously merits.

This despite £180,000 in cash being found at his home.

Well, if this £180,000 was his, it should be used to pay for his legal representation. If it isn't, there isn't much that can be done about it. Being a "terrorist suspect" does not and never should disqualify you from seeking legal aid. If the government had attempted to try him instead of simply getting rid of him, then he might well be now languishing in a cell like Abu Hamza.

This is the man whose sermons against the West inspired the 9/11 hijackers. How he must chuckle as a Western legal system continues to bend over backwards for him.

Or continues to treat him like anyone else would be. Whichever you prefer.

At least one obstacle to his exit is gone: Jordan, where he has already been convicted of terror attacks, has agreed not to torture him.

A pity, but we all have to compromise.

The Sun being witty about a man potentially being tortured? Who woulda thunk it?!

Elsewhere, the Sun reports on the judge rightly chastising the police for remanding in custody the teenager who so nearly shot dead dear old Dave Cameron with his converted fingers:

A JUDGE attacked cops yesterday for locking up a hoodie who pointed an imaginary gun at Tory leader David Cameron.

Judge Wendy Lloyd said she was “concerned” the yob, 17, had been kept in custody for possessing just £5 of cannabis.

She said: “I am extremely angry about this case. There are robbers and burglars at large. But if you make a silly gesture behind Mr Cameron’s back then you are remanded in custody.”

She fined the lout £25 and released him from custody, where he had been held since Saturday. He faces a burglary rap next week.

It's been a while since I last indulged, but back then an eighth was £10. If prices have stayed broadly the same, he had about a sixteenth of the drug, which is barely enough for a couple of spliffs. Cannabis is a Class C drug, and until recently possession of such a small amount as this young man had would not have been an arrestable offence, unless there were mitigating circumstances. It seems that his boasting was enough for the police to raid his house, and the tiny amount he possessed resulted in his appearance before the judge and being remanded in custody.

You can argue about the merits of the police going after casual drug users, yet there seems to have been little reason for him being kept in custody. He is as the police themselves recognise tagged and under curfew. For such a minor offence, there was no reason for keeping him in, other than to make an example of him.

But police were furious at the judge’s reprimand. A senior source said: “The comments are unbelievable. Maybe this lad will get sent on a holiday camp or skiing to show him the error of his ways.

“He’s already tagged for previous offences. It’s a case of another judge who doesn’t know the reality of life. We certainly hope for the judge’s sake that he doesn’t re-offend.

“We took proper guidance and it was completely correct that he was kept in custody.”

The fact that he's tagged for previous offences doesn't matter when he was arrested simply for possessing a tiny amount of a drug. The whole thing was a complete waste of time and effort on the police's part, and their petulance at being given a dressing down for seeking such publicity by arresting the kid in the first place, when they could have just confiscated his weed and gave him a caution is telling. This isn't to defend the boy for being a thick little prick, but the police ought to know when to leave something alone, and this was one of those cases. He'd already proved that he was a moron, and the police's interference has if anything victimised him for simply being an idle prat around a politician.

Not Saussure also made some good points surrounding the case and contempt of court, and although I haven't named him in this post, the whole issue is something of a grey area.

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Monday, February 26, 2007 

To deport or not to deport the man with the beard.

Few are going to shed any tears over the decision by the Special Immigration Appeals Commission that Abu Qutada can be deported back to Jordan, where he was convicted in absentia of being involved in a number of bomb attacks. While it's impossible to know just how involved he was with al-Qaida prior to 9/11, and some of the charges against him may well be unsubstantiated, it's clear that he was one of three clerics, along with Abu Hamza and Omar Bakri Mohammad, who were the most influential and respected extremist Islamist preachers in the United Kingdom until recently.

While the charge sheets against Hamza and Bakri are an inch thick, nowhere near as much is known about Qutada. We know that videos of his sermons were found in one of the flats in Germany occupied by the 9/11 hijackers, that his declarations were read out at Al-Muhajiroun meetings, and that it's possible he may have been a MI5 double agent, but other than that Qutada is something of an enigma. For a man who is alleged to have the same mindset as the average al-Qaida influenced Salafi jihadist, his plea for Norman Kember to be released by his captives in Iraq was certainly out of character, especially when you consider how others like him are firm believers that non-Muslims and anyone else they don't like are kuffar. It could of course been an attempt to get better treatment in prison, or to try to stop his possible deportation to Jordan, but the authorities made clear at the time that he had not been offered anything in return for his message, and it seems that he approached them rather than them approaching him.

The decision is really not so much about Qutada but about whether we should deport anyone, even terrorist sympathisers/suspects to countries which are known to practice torture. While Jordan is by no means the most egregious of Middle Eastern countries when it comes to mistreatment of prisoners, Human Rights Watch documents how confessions are obtained through sleep deprivation, mock executions and prolonged solitary confinement, as well as beatings. Amnesty International, in a report titled "Your confessions are ready to sign", accuses the Jordanian government of being entirely complicit in the practicing of torture:

they maintain a system of incommunicado detention which facilitates torture and other ill-treatment of detainees and a related special security court whose judgments regularly appear to be based on little more than "confessions" which defendants allege were extracted under torture or other duress.

The fabled memorandum of understanding, which has Jordan agreeing to treat anyone deported to the country humanely, is little more than worthless. It's the equivalent of a nudge and a wink, as well as making it more than clear that torture is indeed practiced in Jordan. The Adaleh Centre for Human Rights Studies (site is in Arabic) has agreed to monitor anyone who is deported from the UK, but just how much access they will be allowed will not become clear until it actually happens.

The main question, as ever, is why Qutada cannot be tried here. SIAC itself is little more than a kangaroo court; it's allowed to hear evidence in secret, and Qutada has been allowed few opportunities to challenge the evidence held against him, other than his rather ambigious sermons which are in the public domain, which are nowhere near as bloodcurdling nor delivered in the oratory more associated with the swivel-eyed Hamza and Bakri. SIAC has been used previously to take a seeming revenge on one of the men acquitted in the "ricin" trial; it heard the exact same evidence as in that trial, with added "secret" evidence, before coming to the decision to recommend that he could be deported to Algeria.

The judge in that case, Mr Justice Ouseley, said that it was "inconceivable" that "Y" would be ill-treated. He could not have been proved more wrong more quickly. Two men who were being held under suspicion of links with terrorism who decided to return to Algeria of their own accord after growing weary of the process and who were promised they would not face criminal proceedings under the amnesty put in place after the civil war, have since been arrested and charged with.... terrorism offences. While there is no "memorandum of understanding" with Algeria, it's an incident that was both predictable and bound to embarrass the government. However, as the men were "terrorist suspects", it's unlikely there'll be any change in policy as a result.

Reasons for why the government wants to be rid of Qutada are manifest. He's a symbol of "Londonistan", however far that particular neologism has been exaggerated. MI5 has denied that he was an agent or ever held in a safehouse by them, two things that had previously been reported, but he's still involved with the rendition of Bisher al-Rawi. al-Rawi is believed to have spied on Qutada for MI5, but outlived his usefulness once Qutada was arrested. On leaving for Gambia, he was stopped by MI5 but allowed to travel, only for MI5 to inform the CIA that he was carrying bomb parts. He was transferred to Guantanamo Bay, and during his Combatant Status Review Tribunal, he was asked mainly about his relationship with Qutada (PDF). Both men are clearly an embarrassment to MI5, whether all the allegations are true or not.

How much of the secret evidence held against Qutada is made up of intercepts we will probably never know. A number of his speeches and his interviews are however available, and if the authorities were so inclined, they could probably get enough together for a prosecution along the lines of the one that resulted in Abu Hamza being convicted for inciting racial hatred. It is however much easier to try to deport him, therefore getting rid of him once and for all. Unlike Bakri, who left before he was arrested in similar circumstances, and who is still preaching his hate in web casts from Lebanon, Qutada faces at the least a long term of imprisonment in Jordan.

Yesterday's Observer argued that it was a lesser evil leaving him to be potentially abused in Jordan than for him to remain here. Such an argument is dubious at best, and "jihadisbad", who, as you might guess isn't the most liberal commentator on Islam in his comment says it's "naive" to think he won't be tortured. If this deportation is to happen, and it appears extremely likely, then the memorandum of understanding needs to be enforced, and properly. No half measures should be tolerated. It may be that there'll be the tiniest violin in the world playing if he is in fact mistreated, but the ruling sets a potentially dangerous precedent, and again shows how little our respect for human rights often is when it comes to those we don't like.

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Saturday, February 24, 2007 

Is it April Fools' Day already?

The military has been conducting secret tests to find out if British soldiers can be trained to use psychic powers - possibly to locate hidden weapons stores or discover where Osama bin Laden is based.

The Ministry of Defence study, conducted in 2002, involved blindfolding volunteers and asking them to "see" the contents of sealed brown envelopes.

The MoD said the tests, which cost the taxpayer £18,000, found that "remote viewing theories" had little value and the project was abandoned.

In other news, bears have been found to favour evacuating their bowels in areas containing a large number of trees, while the Pope has given a shock interview in which he's claimed that despite the malicious rumours being spread, he is in fact a Catholic.

Oh, and there was a rather large demonstration in London. I wish I'd gone.

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Scum-watch: Graffiti and straw men.

A 21/7 SUICIDE bomb suspect wrote al-Qaeda graffiti on the walls of his jail cell after his court case started, the trial heard.

Ramzi Mohammed, 25 — accused of trying to kill London Tube passengers — allegedly scrawled: “Al-Qaeda, the book that will guide you to victory.”

It was spotted by a guard at London’s Belmarsh Jail, the court heard.

Mohammed and five others deny the plot at Woolwich Crown Court. The trial continues.

The only problem with this is that unless Mohammed meant base instead of book, the sentence makes little sense. The origins of how bin Laden's organisation came to be called al-Qaida is disputed, as the opening to the Wikipedia entry makes clear. Translated, it simply means "the base". This may have been either down to the first training camp established by bin Laden and his followers, which was simply named the base, or, as Robin Cook wrote in a comment piece the day after the the London bombings and shortly before his death, the name of the computer file held by the CIA on the Afghan mujahideen:

Al-Qaida, literally "the database", was originally the computer file of the thousands of mujahideen who were recruited and trained with help from the CIA to defeat the Russians. Inexplicably, and with disastrous consequences, it never appears to have occurred to Washington that once Russia was out of the way, Bin Laden's organisation would turn its attention to the west.

If we want to take Mohammed's alleged scrawling even more literally, he may have been referring to Jason Burke's outstanding brief history of al-Qaida, which makes clear that understanding the threat is key to its defeat. More likely is that it was a typical toilet wall inking, the kind that the bored teenager scratches into his desk at school. Not that explaining this to those who have commented on the article would likely do much good.

Bring back hanging for these people! If the UK isn't such a soft touch maybe they would ****** off!

Seeing as the whole basis for the case is that Mohammed was attempting to carry out a suicide bombing but failed, I doubt bringing back hanging is going to do much to deter the average jihadi set on dying for his cause.

A nice public execution. It's time we took the gloves off dealing with these vile individuals. Our liberty, freedom and society as we know it is at grave risk if we don't do something now!

What better way to prove that we're above such barbaric acts of senseless violence than by executing criminals in public? Everyone come and get a nice look, then you can go home and watch al-Zarqawi et al doing the same thing to hostages in Iraq.

Today's Scum leader is even more ignorant and stupid than usual:

Our best hope

THE usual voices of doom claim that siting America’s Star Wars missiles on British soil will make us a target.

What planet are they on? We are already near the top of the list if the madmen of Iran and North Korea press the nuclear button.

The new Star Wars is vital for our defence. We must embrace it.

Only just one slight problem with this. Even if North Korea's missile technology worked, and the last test failed miserably, then the furthest they could hit would be the west coast of America. As for Iran, their longest range missile (they are developing others, but how far along the production stage they are is unknown) could conceivably travel 2200km, meaning it could possibly strike Israel, which would quickly result in Tehran experiencing a nuclear winter. Iran is still years away from actually producing a nuclear weapon capable of being attached as a warhead to a missile. Neither country is a direct threat to the United Kingdom. This leader is in other words, a scaremongering pack of lies. For an opinion not written by deliberately misleading lazy lying journalist scum, try the Grauniad's leader.

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Friday, February 23, 2007 

Hazel Blears, the sensible candidate for the sensible idiot.

Can Hazel Blears really be standing for deputy leader? Does she really think she can get the 44 required nominations, let alone enough votes from the membership to win? Does she not realise she's a handy 5ft walking target for everything that's gone wrong with Labour? Is she insane, deluded or ignorant of how much she's reviled?

In fact, to be fair to Blair and Blairites in general, even they've got more gumption and ideas than this train wreck of a woman, nicknamed the chipmunk by other blogs. In an interview with Tribune, which seems an insult to everything which the weekly has ever stood for, she comes out with the most appallingly vacant statements since George Bush informed us that man and fish could live together in harmony:

"There is a factory in China which makes half the world's microwave ovens," she said. "We simply can't compete in producing white goods like that.

"The development of the next generation of digital and broadband is critical."

Do what? It's quite clear that Blears doesn't have an utter clue what she's talking about, but she seems to think that if she constructs a sentence involving what all the kids are down with the media might not bother to question her on just what the development of the next generation of "digital" and "broadband" involves. Next issue: housing.

On housing, she noted: "Young people want to get a start on the housing ladder but it is really expensive in many areas."

Thanks for that, Hazel. Any ideas on how we might solve the problem? No, thought not.

In a briefing to MPs, Ms Blears said: "I know that [after] 10 years in office some members feel disengaged. That does not mean we should change course or distance ourselves from our own successes. But we should recognise that one product of a lengthy period in office is that some party members feel left out. They don't have a relationship with their Labour government, other than what they read in newspapers."

After 10 years of ignoring them, the Blairites finally realise they're going to have to reach out to the membership if they're going to continue their hegemony over the party, and they're surprised that most of the card-carriers aren't particularly happy with what's gone on. That everyone other than the membership itself has been at some point fawned over by the Blair government seems to have passed them by entirely.

"I am not putting myself forward as the woman candidate - but in a modern 21st-century progressive left-of-centre party, people would love to see a man and a woman," Ms Blears said. "They would like to see men and women working together to solve problems."

Once you've finished smashing your head into the keyboard in complete despair at the ghastly image of Blears and Brown hand in hand, skipping through a green field with rictus grins on their faces, it suddenly hits you that Blears genuinely believes that the party, despite everything, is left-of-centre. She isn't a Blairite anymore though, oh no, she's a centrist who can see just how gorgeous Gord is once he stops scowling:

"People are looking for maturity. It is a pretty scary world out there."

Even more so when you consider that empty-brained non-entities like Blears can somehow rise up the ranks to be party chair. Even a few days ago she was still spouting the same old platitudes that are rightly held in contempt both by the media and anyone who isn't an idiot:

1. Do you regret your support for the Iraq war in the Commons vote in March 2003?

Hazel Blears Labour party chair

No, I don't. Removing Saddam Hussein from power was essential for the peace of the region, for the protection of the Iraqi people, and for our own security.

Hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqis later, air strikes on Iran looking more likely by the day, and with the threat from terrorism greatly increased, as the security services warned, and Blears still can't even for a moment think that supporting the war was the wrong decision. At least Hilary Benn ties himself in knots while answering.

Speaking of Iran:

3. Would you support a military strike on Iran if the prime minister of the day recommended one?

Hazel Blears

Labour party chair

There's no point speculating about this purely hypothetical question.

Which, as a letter the following day to the Guardian pointed out, is the most pathetic way of not answering a more than reasonable question imaginable. Politics is about asking and attempting to answer hypothetical questions. Her answer though isn't a surprise. It's the answer of someone who has no imagination or ideas of their own, someone who doesn't understand that their very appearance is enough to repel people, and that it's been these two very distinct characteristics that have helped bring Labour to where they are now in 2007. The only positive to be taken from her declaration is that she'll be humiliated, with the message getting through that rise of the robotic, lobotomised apparatchik is finally at an end.

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Scum-watch: Smacking is back in fashion.

Bloggerheads notes that today's page 3 girl, the views of which usually correspond with the editorial opinions of the newspaper itself, is all in favour of bringing back caning. Could this possibly the same newspaper that goes out of its way to find a story about an evil pervert preying on our kids almost every day of the week? The same newspaper that scaremongered about the possibility of "perv sirs" and paedos being in class?

Perhaps Rebekah Wade would like to explain how allowing a teacher to hit a pupil as a punishment isn't either assault or a form of child abuse. If a pupil hit a teacher, he or she would be suspended or expelled, and quite rightly so. "Rhian's" "views" are based on a survey which found that parents believe that discipline in school has declined since the abolition of corporal punishment, which may well be true, but it certainly doesn't mean that bringing back the cane is the way to restore order. The Guardian report on the survey is predictably calmer. The rules on what can be done to restrain violent and unruly pupils have also been made far clearer in recent years.

Still, we all know about Wade's own fondness for smacking her husband (now ex). Could this explain her apparent lust for physical violence?

Elsewhere in today's Scum, they make a big deal out of Ryan Florence pretending to shoot David Cameron with his loaded fingers, who they interview just to make sure that he gets more publicity for being both an idiot and a boastful most likely lying little twerp. Those who are now taking Florence as an example of yob culture Britain would do well to remember the other teenager who heckled Cameron, rightly working out that he doesn't know his arse from his elbow.

The Scum's leader is foaming at the mouth, as per usual:

BRITAIN is in the grip of an ugly gun culture.

No it isn't. Distinct, inner-city parts of Britain may be in the grip of an ugly gun culture, but Britain as a whole is certainly not. America is in the grip of an ugly gun culture, but Murdoch's minions would never dream of suggesting that.

That’s the message to Tony Blair and David Cameron, who got a first-hand taste of the snarling morons who glorify guns yesterday.

Quite right too. I suppose the kids who play with toy guns and water pistols are glorifying them as well. Believe it or not, kids have been pretending to shoot people with their fingers for decades. That someone wet between the ears was trying to impress his dumb friends doesn't mean he was glorifying gun violence.

Kids as young as eight are toting deadly weapons. Others won’t leave home without body armour under their anoraks.

I'd like to see some statistics that back up the first part of this sentence, seeing as the police only spoke of 13-year-olds having guns hidden in their houses. The same age group was spoken of wearing body armour. We're talking about a tiny percentage of people, but from this Sun leader you'd think the whole of the next generation were tooling themselves up ready to massacre each other.

Laws to curb gang membership are vital. Anyone caught carrying a gun must be slung in jail.

The police must be given every power they need — with the orders to use them.

Replica guns should be outlawed.

Maybe I wasn't being too outlandish in suggesting that children with water pistols are glorifying gun crime. We ought to outlaw them too to make sure they aren't converted into lethal weapons. No concern for those who shoot for pleasure in outlawing replicas, but we shouldn't of expected any.

We are at war with gangs — and no measure is too extreme to tackle them.

How about caning them? I hear that works wonders.

But laws are not enough on their own. We all have a duty to clean up our streets.

Governments must send clear messages about right and wrong.

That means backing the family, the teacher and the rule of law.

This is a war we must win.

Seeing as the government and the Sun see no wrong in breaking the rule of law to call off the SFO's investigation into the Saudi Arabian slush fund, not to mention the legality of the Iraq war, they're hardly the ones to start parroting about it. Everything is war, and war is peace.

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Pedants corner.

It's a small thing, but why is it that newspapers often refer to women as girls? The above is typical of the Daily Mail in general, referring in the same sentence to men as men but to ladies' tennis players as girls. It's not even correct technically, as Wimbledon also runs a junior boys and girls tournament, who definitely won't be receiving the same prize money as those who win the adult championship. The Telegraph did the same thing yesterday. Is it too much to ask for sub-editors not to go along with their newspaper's general stance on the sexes?

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Thursday, February 22, 2007 

Troops out, royal family in!

The amount of absolute nonsense surrounding the non-withdrawal of troops from Iraq is nauseating. There's Dick Cheney, Vietnam draft dodger, saying that the withdrawal of a whole 1,600, with the rest maybe being gone by the end of 2008, if all goes to plan, proves that some things are going splendidly well. Quite right too. According to some notoriously unreliable statistics, there were only 29 murders in Basra in December. It's quite true that compared to Baghdad that's a below average daily toll, but it's hardly suggesting all is calm.

The truth of the matter is that the very people who are in power in Basra are the ones who have wanted the troops out from the beginning. The Mahdi army, which has always opposed the occupation, is still in majority control despite Operation Sinbad. The most egregious of the criminal gangs and brutal of the militia commanders may have been cleaned out, but the rest will remain. This is a very different situation to that in Baghdad -- while opinion polls have time and again made clear that ordinary Iraqis wish for foreign troops to leave, the government itself is adamant that the Americans must stay. They know full well that without the protection, inadequate as it is, that they would soon be forced from power, Shia, Sunni or otherwise. While they stay cooped up in the Green Zone, the citizens of Baghdad face the suicide bombers and the sectarian death squads.

Blair's insistence that nothing was his or our fault, that the terrorists are the ones responsible for the mass slaughter perpetuated in close to four years, and that things are actually better now than they were under Saddam are the real conundrum, as still is his support in the first place. We know why the Bush administration wanted to get rid of Saddam, a mixture of reasons involving remaking the Middle East, oil and establishing a new outpost after being forced out of Saudi Arabia, but it's still impossible to figure out just what Blair thought he would get out of joining in with such a war. He can't have imagined just how badly it would go, and how it would personally destroy him, but that doesn't explain why even now he's hanging on desperately, managing to convince only himself that everyone apart from him is responsible. He's had innumerable chances to extricate himself from this mess, yet it's as if he has a masochistic streak that makes him enjoy the political consequences of not doing so. This wouldn't be so bad if it was over a matter such as the Euro, or proportional representation, refusing to accept defeat, but this is literally a matter of life and death, for both the troops who he's sacrificed for his stand and for the Iraqis who have died in their thousands as a result. His gluttony for punishment nurtures his pathological delusions, a vicious circle which this feeble withdrawal will not solve.

You can at least feel some sympathy for Blair's predicament over the withdrawal. The fickleness of some of the media and politicians is stark. The Daily Mail, which was sniffy about the war from the beginning, calls this minute exit plan "cutting and running". Menzies Campbell, who was uncertain about opposing the war, tries to have it both ways by lecturing Blair about the situation in Basra while still talking of his honourable plan for all troops to be out of Iraq by October. The army, which wanted faster and sharper cuts, is left in a country it wants to wash its hands of, believing that they can do no more to help Basra, while Afghanistan is still winnable. They have more than a point, and are right to be increasingly angry about their treatment, feted by Blair for their bravery on one hand and left with poor equipment, housing, benefits and pay back home. Their belief that they've been paying with their lives for an American foreign policy with nothing to show for it in return is one that may yet turn out to be a turning point for our own foreign policy once Blair is finally turned out.

It's utterly bizarre therefore that Prince Harry is so determined to go to Iraq. At a time when the rest of the army is almost unanimous in never wanting to return, he seems to want to sell himself dearly. It could be out of a desire to not let those whom he's trained with down, as they certainly don't have the choice of not going, at least without facing a court martial, or it could be that he's as stupid as it's assumed he is. The talk of him being a target for "insurgents" is utter bilge, however. It's obvious that the majority of them couldn't care less who they kill, and if an IED happened to bump him off, it'd be an added propaganda bonus, but little more.

This is why the sanctimonious outpouring of praise for his "bravery" and the whole media circus surrounding his trip to southern Basra is so insulting and demeaning for the average soldier. Their work has been almost taken for granted, especially by the very politicians who have defended to the last the whole sorry saga. The only really impressive thing about his desire to serve is that he is one of the very few from the corridors of power that is prepared to do so. If he does return home in a body bag, it might finally bring home to those who continue to cheerlead for both this war and the next, if it comes, what the real consequences of their actions are. It has been this disconnect from facing up to death that has been the real scandal of the Iraq war, for both our own and those unfortunate enough to inhabit the land of two rivers.

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Wednesday, February 21, 2007 

Scum-watch: Much ado about smoking.

DEBENHAMS IN DRUG SHAME, shrieks the Sun in what is in fact an utterly shameless piece. In a complete non-story, some berk goes to Prague, sees Debenhams are selling hash-pipes and bongs, phones the Sun, and wham, all sense goes out the window.

MAJOR UK department store Debenhams is today exposed by The Sun selling drug paraphernalia in one of their overseas branches.

Hundreds of bongs, pipes, bud cases and water pipes are for sale at their store in Prague alongside clothing and shoes.

Paul Rushden, from Nottingham, was shocked when he spotted the items whilst on holiday in the Czech capital last week.

He said: "I couldn't believe it when I walked past a major British high street retailer and saw bongs and pipes blatantly for sale in their front window.

"I didn't expect Debenhams to be endorsing drug taking.

Err, they're not. What people get up to with what they buy from a department store is their business, much like how sex shops which sell handcuffs and fetish wear aren't endorsing whatever their customers do with the stuff. There's a store in town that sells every skin you could ever want and has a load of bongs on the top shelf and no one bats an eyelid. Why should it make any difference if a store like Debenhams is selling it?

"One wonders how the shareholders of this public company would feel about profiting from the drug trade."

The store is located in the busy King Wenceslas Square in the centre of Prague.

A spokeswoman for Debenhams thanked The Sun for bringing the matter to their attention and promised action.

She said: "This Debenhams store is managed by our Franchise Partner in Prague.

"This matter is clearly not acceptable and we have instructed our Partner to remove the items immediately and make clear to the vendor that any repetition will not be tolerated."

No mention then of what the drug laws actually are in the Czech Republic, which might explain why Debenhams would be selling them in the first place.

The Czech Republic's lower house last week approved a penal code revision that will decriminalize simple marijuana possession and allow for growing for personal use. The measure is likely to pass the Senate and be approved by President Vaclav Klaus, reports Czech activist and journalist Bushka Bryndova.

The proposed new law draws a distinction between soft drugs (cannabis and psychedelic mushrooms) and hard drugs. While penalties for hard drugs remain practically unchanged, possession of small amounts of marijuana or a limited (the number is yet to be set) number of plants will no longer merit prosecution.

Which sounds to me like the kind of law which ought to be campaigned for here. Congratulations to the Sun on such a brilliant exclusive!

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In the foreword to the Muslim Council of Britain's report aimed at helping schools in guidance towards meeting the needs of Muslim pupils (PDF), the third paragraph contains the following sentences:

We are convinced that with a reasonable degree of mutual understanding and goodwill, even more progress can be made in responding positively to the educational aspirations and concerns of Muslim pupils and their parents. The current climate, in which there is much negative portrayal of Islam and Muslims requires that this be given greater priority and impetus to ensure that Muslim pupils are appropriately accommodated for and become an integral part of mainstream school life and thereby of society as a whole.

They've clearly then got good intentions, whether you agree with some of their recommendations, which I certainly don't. What they are not doing is suggesting that this is how schools must be run, or as the Express website puts it, MUSLIMS: 'BAN' UN-ISLAMIC SCHOOLS.

Five Chinese Crackers has already gone through the report and destroyed most of the Express's suppositions, so I won't bother doing that. What I will suggest is that having flicked through most of the MCB guidance, it's apparent that they haven't learned to stop addressing Muslims as if they are all one homogeneous block. The MCB's recommendations on modesty in school uniforms, especially when it comes to suggesting that girls should be covered except for their faces and hands, when the concept of "hijab" is one that is a source of much controversy within the community, could well do more harm than good, and cause schools to expect that girls must wear such coverings. The features of good practice summary is a little more lenient in this regard, which says:

Muslim girls who choose to wear the headscarf during all school lessons and activities are permitted to do so, including during physical education.

Making clear the choice factor would have made for a better piece of guidance to begin with.

The section on prayer is similar in this regard. I attended a bog standard middle and secondary school in an area of high diversity, and had a number of good Muslim friends who did and continue to attend mosque. Never once though did I see them perform the Zuhr prayer which the MCB guidance suggests schools should make allowance for. They may well have done this silently to avoid drawing attention to themselves, and without bowing and prostrating, but it wasn't something they ever suggested that they had to instead of anything else. It's quite right that schools should be prepared for students who do wish to pray in this manner, but the MCB could be more nuanced in suggesting that not all Muslims do perform 5 prayers a day. This doesn't make them bad Muslims, simply that they don't feel the need. There's this as well:

After visiting the toilet, Muslims are required to wash their private parts with water to meet cleanliness requirements, hence pupils will need to use water cans or bottles that are easily accessible from a storage space in or near the washing area.

At school everyone's embarrassed enough about their "private parts" without drawing attention to themselves by washing them to meet cleanliness requirements. If the MCB genuinely believes that Muslims do this at all when at school, they need their collective heads testing. Again, the features of good practice section is more nuanced than the advice is:

School makes arrangements for their Muslim pupils who wish to perform daily prayers in school.

School makes arrangements to allow Muslim children who wish to perform their Friday congregational prayer on school site, led by an older pupil, teacher or external visitor.

Why not make it clear that not all Muslim pupils are going to perform the above in the actual advice? It's a simple enough thing, surely?

Amusingly, the report may bring to an end the practice of those of a Muslim background getting out of PE by suggesting that it's Ramadan. Friends of mine did this numerous times, when we all knew it wasn't Ramadan, but the teachers were none the wiser.

Physical Education
The majority of pupils who are fasting are able to take part in most physical activities during Ramadan without putting themselves at risk or in danger. Fasting may make some children feel tired or drowsy, or even develop headaches due to dehydration. This may necessitate some
Muslim pupils having to reduce their physical exercise. Schools may wish to consider and plan less strenuous activities in physical education lessons during Ramadan.

It's probably the guidelines on swimming that will raise the most eyebrows:

Schools should make every effort to provide a single-sex environment for swimming and allow Muslim children to wear swimwear that complies with the requirements of modesty and decency according to the teachings of Islam. Some schools have been able to meet these requirements in providing an appropriate single-gender environment and also allowing girls to wear full leotards and leggings in the pool. Provided these guidelines are adhered to, there should be no reason why Muslim children should be withdrawn from swimming lessons.

If schools are unable to make arrangements for a single-sex environment for swimming, then Muslim pupils should have the option to be excused from swimming on religious grounds. Parents should be encouraged to take advantage of single-sex arrangements that some swimming pools offer outside school hours, where their children can go and learn to swim.

Again, I don't recall any problems in my own experience when it came to swimming classes. They were always mixed-gender, for the simple reason it would be impossible to otherwise fit them into the timetable, and I don't remember any of the Muslim girls wearing anything different from the usual leotards.

On the whole, the MCB and their guidelines are attempting to clear up any misconceptions, and help schools in providing the facilities which are available for other faiths. My problem with the document is more in the way that it isn't acknowledging that the Muslim community is far from a consensus in its attitudes towards religion, especially when it comes to praying and contact between the sexes than the organisation itself is. While the Express article is scaremongering and very near to being Islamophobic, you can see where the belief that "they" are demanding to be treated differently comes from. If the MCB was more honest with itself than it's currently being, this would help stop such greatly inflammatory articles.

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Tuesday, February 20, 2007 

Papers, citizen!

We shouldn't be too surprised that the whole truth about the ID cards scheme has finally come out. Blair, clutching at straws in his response to the petition against them on the 10 Downing Street website, has rather let the cat out of the bag:

I also believe that the National Identity Register will help police bring those guilty of serious crimes to justice. They will be able, for example, to compare the fingerprints found at the scene of some 900,000 unsolved crimes against the information held on the register. Another benefit from biometric technology will be to improve the flow of information between countries on the identity of offenders.

Yep, it's in essence what has long been the preserve of the more reactionary of police officers and the belief of Blair himself: that at birth everyone should be both fingerprinted and have a sample of their DNA taken. The reason why this is only being put forward stealthily is that Blair's savvy enough to know that this is one imposition on the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty and on liberty itself that the public would overwhelmingly reject. This isn't the first time that Blair has actually said something along these lines; he did back in November, but no one seems to have realised exactly what he meant or actually read his nonsense. The other mention was in a long forgotten Home Office document, as the Register notes. Other ministers have preferred to mention the "benefits" the ID cards will bring on fighting terrorism, benefit fraud and immigration rather than on tackling crime itself.

As said, we shouldn't be too shocked by this. Back in 2000, when the DNA database was still in its infancy, it was found that 50,000 DNA samples had been wrongly retained that should have been destroyed. Rather than do just that and tighten the scheme, as you would expect would happen, the government instead legitimised exactly what the police had been doing in secret. Now after another of Labour's crime bills, those arrested have their fingerprints and a DNA sample taken and put on the database regardless of whether they are ever charged with an offence. While it's true that a number of crimes committed decades ago have been solved as a result of this change in policy, the amount of samples on the database has now reached over 3 million, with ethnic minorities, especially black men aged 15 to 34 disproportionately making up a large number of the entries. Even children who have been wrongly arrested have had to campaign hard to have their information removed from the database, with parents only accepting that it genuinely had been destroyed by witnessing it happen, no longer just taking the word of the police.

Even faced with overwhelming evidence to the contrary, the Home Office minister responsible for this intrusion could only come up with this pathetic diversion attempt:

But Joan Ryan, the junior Home Office minister, rejected any suggestion of a "fishing expedition" by police.

She said that police would have to check fingerprints against all their databases before requesting assistance from the Identity and Passport Service (IPS).

"They can approach IPS and approved IPS staff will be able to search the national identity register to see if we can achieve a match for that fingerprint," she said.

"So there won't be any fishing expeditions. That's complete nonsense, it's not what can happen."

Oh, so that's all right then. The police will instead be getting the IPS to do the fishing expeditions for them.

This is in effect one of the last nails in the coffin of privacy. We already have the most CCTV cameras in a Western country, if not the world, the largest number of DNA samples on a database in the world, the ID card will contain the most information on the person of any scheme in the West, a network of cameras that can track the movement of vehicles across the country, and unless the opposition against road charging grows further or is substantially changed, a scheme that will be almost an eye in the sky on the movement of every single privately owned motor vehicle. We're not yet a police state, but we're starting to get there.

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Swinton Thomas offers a mixed bag.

The revelations provided by Sir Swinton Thomas, in the latest report (PDF) from the Interceptions of Communications Commissioner are little short of extraordinary. Last year, various state organisations made a stunning 439,000 requests to monitor in some way the activities of citizens of the realm. It's true that some of these are simple requests for phone numbers or e-mail addresses, but even so, this seems to suggest that there is snooping being carried out on a grand scale. Of these 439,000, at least 4,000 mistakes were made, with 66 involving information being wrongly intercepted from those who had nothing to do with whatever investigations were being pursued. Thomas calls these mistakes unacceptable, but due to the level of secrecy involved, those who were wrongly tapped or otherwise are unlikely to find out about the breach of their privacy.

The next target for the Communications Commissioner is the ban on the wire-tapping or spying on members of parliament and the lords. While Thomas has a reasonable case in suggesting that no one should be above the law in this regard, the introduction of the "Wilson doctrine" was because of the unaccountability of the security services, not to mention the motives of those behind the decision to spy on MPs. We're still unclear on just how far, if at all, an MI5 plot went to undermine Harold Wilson. It's quite true that we've moved on from the 70s, MI5 has to an extent been reformed, but as the rendition scandal has made clear, we're still in the dark over how far the security services go, and they're still completely opposed to having any formal watchdog imposed upon them.

This is what has to be kept in mind when considering whether MPs should be "above the law". While Thomas makes clear that he doesn't believe that any MPs are involved in terrorism or serious crime, we also don't know how far in cahoots the government itself is with the security services. Those with the most to fear are those of the more radical bent who manage to make it to parliament: it doesn't take much imagination to know that Sinn Fein MPs, if they took their seats, would probably be the most likely to be under suspicion, even now. If any BNP members were, god forbid, elected, they would also be likely targets. George Galloway could be another possible MP to be bugged, although seeing as he spends little time actually in the house, it might not provide much decent information on what he/Respect are up to. This is without considering whether the government itself could use such taps to spy on the opposition's plans. This might seem laughable now, even under a New Labour government that thinks nothing of stripping civil liberties to the bone, but it's still not conspiratorial to worry than an even worse government may one day be elected.

We therefore have to take a lot on trust if we're going to accept that our representatives should be allowed to be bugged. The Sun, being the Sun, has paedos on the brain and seems to think that the whole matter is about MPs not wanting their computers to be scanned for illegal material:

MPs love laying down the law — as long as they are not on the receiving end.

They fix their own pensions, perks and salaries. They set rules on freedom of information but insist on being exempt.

Now they want immunity from computer checks against paedophiles.

Have they got something to hide?

I don't know Rebekah, but I do know that you're far more obsessed with paedophiles than with anything else. Have you got something to hide?

It's quite true that MPs are just as human as the rest of us, probably even less so, but if this is to be implemented then at the very least the evidence that makes the case for a MP to be tapped should have to be presented to a judge, who could then authorise the operation. The current authorisation has to be given only by a secretary of state. There are so many potential ways that such tapping could be abused, that without a similar process being put in place Thomas's recommendation should be rejected.

Finally, Thomas takes aim at those who have been arguing for years now that intercept evidence should be made admissible in UK courts. His arguments are far from convincing:

If terrorists and criminals, most particularly those high up in the chain of command, know that interception would be used in evidence against them, they will do everything possible to stop providing the material which is so very valuable as intelligence. It is sometimes said: “but surely they know now that their communications will be intercepted?” They may suspect that their communications may be intercepted, but they do not know that they will be. This uncertainty is invaluable and they continue to provide immensely valuable intelligence material which would be lost if they ceased to communicate as they do now. Like everybody else they have to communicate to forward their enterprises, and there is a real danger that they will find means of doing so which are much more difficult or impossible to decipher if they know that the material would be used in evidence, so that valuable intelligence material leading to successful investigation and eventual prosecution will be lost.

This is pitiful on a number of levels. Firstly, it assumes that terrorists don't know that their messages are being intercepted, when those who are committed to the cause would know only too well to expect that their communications are. Secondly, the whole point of having the security services is so they monitor "subversives" and partly keep up with the methods they are using to communicate. This is no more than an handy excuse, which relies on the suspects themselves not changing their methods of communication in the first place.

Successive reviews on this subject over the last decade have been unable to show that the claimed benefits of using intercept product in evidence to secure more prosecutions (or to shorten trials) would be worth the risks that this entails for the operational effectiveness and capabilities of the agencies involved in fighting terrorism and serious crime. The last and most comprehensive review, the conclusions of which were reported in the then Home Secretary’s written Ministerial Statement of 26th January 2005 found that a modest increase in convictions of some serious criminals, but not terrorists, would come with serious risks to the continued effectiveness of the agencies.

The matter here though is that we simply don't know how effective it would be because we haven't tried. It's also worth remembering the judgment last week by Mr Justice Beaton, who made clear that he thought E, a Tunisian wanted in connection with an alleged conspiracy in Belgium, should have been prosecuted on the basis of the evidence in the intercept evidence obtained abroad, rather than put under a control order.

The workload for the intelligence and law enforcement agencies in preserving and presenting intercept product as evidence would be very severe indeed, and very expensive, and would distract them from the work which they should be doing, and also from the work they are actually doing, so greatly reducing as opposed to increasing the value of the intercept. This would be counter-productive. I give one example. In a recent case a Court felt it had to order that 16,000 hours of eavesdropping (not intercept) material must be transcribed at the request of the Defence. I believe that the cost was of the order of £1.9 million. The work and cost in intercept cases would be very great indeed, and quite disproportionate to any perceived advantage. This may explain why some who tend to act on behalf of defendants in terrorist and serious criminal cases appear to be supporting the concept of a change in the law.

This sounds suspiciously like the justification made by the government for not having an independent inquiry into the 7/7 bombings, the specious reasoning being that it would distract or hinder the work being done now. If the problem is a lack of resources, then the resources should be made available. The situation at the moment is that we have men held under control orders which are both illiberal and ineffective, when it's quite possible that they could be prosecuted. The amount of money being spent on keeping them monitored should be compared to the amount spent trying them. Besides, money should not be an issue when we are considering such important rights as both justice and liberty. Additionally, Thomas's remark that this might be the reason why defense lawyers are supporting the introduction of intercept evidence is offensive. Why should they not have the full information available on which to defend their clients? In the cases of those on control orders, the very evidence against their clients is not being presented either to them or those they are representing. They're at a disadvantage when what they are simply trying to do is defend their clients to the best of their ability.

Criminals and terrorists do not speak in a language which is readily comprehensible to juries, even if their native language is English. Many conversations are in foreign languages or slang. In those that are not, they use their own particular language. In every case interpreters and translators would be required. In many languages and dialects there are very few capable of translating and interpreting. I give one example. In an intercept case which I saw recently, the participants were speaking in a tongue which is spoken by significantly less than 1000 people in the world.

In other words, juries are thick. Take that, members of the public performing your duty!

Some of those who favour a change in the law take the view that if the terrorist or criminal makes a clear confession in a telephone conversation, then why should it not be admissible as evidence. That is an understandable point of view and the converse may at first sight seem to be counter-intuitive. However real life is not so simple as that and criminals and terrorists do not behave like that. Apart from the matters that I have already referred to, I know from years of experience, particularly when dealing with foreign languages that interpreters and translators very rarely agree upon the meaning of anything, and there is never any difficulty in finding one interpreter who will disagree with another.

And? Juries should be given the chance to decide for themselves what they believe.

The Communications Service Providers (CSPs) are very important in this process and their staff do essential work. They are very co-operative and dedicated. I talk to them regularly and they are totally opposed to the concept of intercept being admissible in Court. The present regime provides a high degree of protection to the CSPs and particularly to those members of their staff who work in this sensitive field, and their strong co-operation referred to could easily be undermined.

They're very co-operative, except when it comes to their work being made admissible. No one is suggesting making their identities public, or questioning their work. It should be more than possible to make the evidence admissible while keeping both the methods used and those involved in its preparation secret.

The problems with the criminal process. I have made some reference to these, with examples, above. Having looked at this problem with great care, it is abundantly clear to me that it would be exceedingly difficult to prove that a conversation is taking place between A and B. The warrants would have to be proved. How is the material received at source? How is it transferred to the Agencies? How is it transcribed? What does it mean? Lawyers will inevitably challenge every connection and every issue, because that is their job. Admitting intercept evidence would take a very long time, and would greatly increase the length of already over-long trials and the expense involved. These problems are going to increase in the future because of the huge changes taking place in telecommunications technology as CSPs change to internet protocol networks. There is a real danger of criminal trials being aborted. I know that work has been done in an attempt to surmount these problems and the problems relating to European Community and Human Rights law, but I have not seen any system proposed which would successfully overcome these problems.
The problems are very great and should not be understated.

We're going to have to mostly take Thomas at his word here, as I make no claim to know properly how making intercept evidence admissible would affect the length of trials. One thing that is worth mentioning is the evidence presented in the trial of those accused of potentially targeting the Ministry of Sound nightclub, where those involved had their houses bugged. The evidence was reasonably damning, and as far as I'm aware, the defense has made no attempt to question it.

I'm not pretending to know for certain that introducing intercept evidence would do more good than harm, yet the reasons presented so far for not doing so are certainly not a "slam-dunk", to quote George Tenet. Especially considering that foreign agencies have no problems with making intercept evidence admissible, it's worth turning the Sun's question about MPs full-circle and ask what it is that MI5/6 have to hide.

Related post:
Spy Blog - Sir Swinton Thomas on the "Wilson Doctrine"

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Just fancy that!

Isn't it fascinating that our police can say for certain that someone filmed on the 22nd of July wearing a burqa is definitely one of the previous day's alleged bombers, yet when it came to Jean Charles de Menezes, who didn't look anything like any of the suspects, and who could have been stopped and arrested if it had not been for systematic failures that ought to have resulted in resignations, he was instead shot dead? It's another triumph! Will someone be promoted for this excellent work?

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Monday, February 19, 2007 

de Menezes: Ian Blair cleared, but questions remain.

The Grauniad's been leaked a copy of the IPCC report into Sir Ian Blair's conduct over the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes, and while it clears Blair of knowingly lying, the picture it paints of the chain in command of the Met isn't very flattering, to say the least.

While we still don't know the full chain of events that took place on July the 22nd 2005, mainly because the initial IPCC report, a version of which was leaked to the News of the Screws last year, is unlikely to be released in full until at least the absurd health 'n' safety prosecution of the Met is concluded, what we do know is reasonably damning. While the police were looking for 4 men of North African origin, all dark-skinned, they instead trailed and shot a Brazilian, light-skinned man. Not only was he never ordered to stop, despite what Sir Ian Blair said that day, but he was shot 7 times in the head (and once in the shoulder) with dum-dum bullets without so much as a warning, even though he was being held to the floor and would have been unable to set off any explosives if he had actually been one of the alleged suicide bombers.

As you might expect, after they had picked up the remaining pieces of de Menezes's head and bothered to check his body, they would have quickly realised they had killed someone entirely innocent. Indeed, the report appears to state that by the afternoon (de Menezes was shot dead around 10am) the Met were starting to work on the assumption that their incompetence had lead to the death of the wrong person. Despite this, no one appears to have informed Blair, who at 3:30pm took part in a press conference where he wrongly claimed that de Menezes had been ordered to stop, and that the death was directly linked to the operation to find the failed suicide bombers.

The IPCC report says that this failure to inform their boss of bad news was "incomprehensible". A better description would be scandalous and potentially slanderous. While officers inside the Met knew full well that de Menezes was innocent, the press were being briefed that he had leaped the barrier, had refused to stop, had been wearing a heavy or bulky jacket, and may well have even had a bomb belt. All of these were lies, or misunderstandings, with some members of the public mistaking the officers who had leapt the barriers themselves with de Menezes. We have never, for example, had an explanation to why Mark Whitby, the most widely quoted witness on the day, said that de Menezes had been wearing a padded jacket when he was in fact wearing a light denim jacket. He was understandably distraught, but whether his mistakes were down to this we simply don't know, as he has refused to comment since. Instead, for a whole day (and then for over a year) de Menezes and his family were at worst smeared and at best treated abysmally.

It seems unlikely, unless the report is a lot harsher in full than it's being made out to be that Blair will be forced out because of this. The News of the Screws last year suggested that Blair may well have not been informed because he took "bad news very badly", which is a risible excuse for him not being informed of what had happened, but it appears that his account that he told the truth as he knew it to be is fundamentally accurate.

The real contempt for de Menezes was more in the promotion of Cressida Dick, the officer in charge of the operation on that morning. She was on our screens last week talking about gun crime, an irony that wouldn't have been lost on the de Menezes family. Justice seems unlikely to be done even when we eventually get the first IPCC report, and the lessons that should of been learned from that day's "complete and utter fuck-up" appear to not have been taken to heart.

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Pseuds corner.

If there ever was a reason for finally going through with that radical new hairstyle, i.e. blowing your head clean off and leaving the mass of your pulverised brain and fragments of skull for that poor sod doing community service to clean up, then the worldwide attention and comment about a young woman going into a hair salon and shaving her hair off is about as good as they come.

Over on Comment is Free, Ben Hammersley not only manages to opine about exactly why this woman, whose name I'm not going to mention, did the deed, but also lets us know about his hideous dragon tattoos. Meanwhile, Zoe Williams, also known as the Guardian's most pretentious and worst columnist, thinks that this is definitely the sign of a nervous breakdown. In the Guardian's own reporting of this world changing event, we're treated to the interpretation of psychoanalyst (the quack section of psychiatry) Bethany Marshall:

"The hair represents the stylists, the handlers, people who are in control of her life and manage her looks. Now she's saying, 'I'm in charge of my looks'. The shaving of her hair is a fresh start, a new beginning, taking matters into her own hands, doing it her own way."

Frank Sinatra has never sounded worse.

The Scum, not being one to over intellectualise when it can instead just scrape the bottom of the barrel, gives us the most naive lines it's probably ever written about anyone.

IF anyone portrays how easy it is for young people to fall down the slippery slope, it is troubled pop princess Britney Spears.

She once attended church, spoke out against drugs and restricted her boyfriend to a kiss and cuddle in the back row of the movies.

Hello? Earth to Rebekah Wade? This is called marketing.

That’s all a distant memory. Only 25, Britney has had two children in a year, is going through her second divorce and is in and out of rehab.

The sight of her shaving her locks was pitifully sad. She needs help.

Get it soon, Britney, love.

Being told to get help by the Sun is like being told you're a cunt by Russell Brand.

Elsewhere in today's Grauniad, Sophie Ellis-Bextor entertains with her brilliant reasoning for getting a "sailor-style" tattoo:

Tell me about your tattoo.

I got it when I got married so that it would go with my wedding dress, though I did understand it was going to be there after the event. My mum got a tattoo when I was about six and I think that probably left an impression on me. I quite like the old sailor-style ones. Mine says "family" because it's something I believe in.

This seems to miss the point that if a sailor had actually ever got one of those tattoos then they would have been thrown overboard, but maybe that's what Sophie's trying to tell us. Is this her cry for help? Perhaps Zoe Williams and Ben Hammersley should let us know.

Will you excuse me? I'm going to look for my noose.

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Saturday, February 17, 2007 

Prosecute? Why bother?

The facade surrounding the need for control orders is slowly but surely crumbling. Yesterday a judge, quashing one only for John Reid to impose a slightly less stringent one within minutes, suggested that the man should have been prosecuted rather than be under house arrest.

In the first challenge to a control order in which the court heard full evidence, Mr Justice Beatson quashed the order on a Tunisian, E.

The home secretary issued a new order with less restrictive terms, pending an appeal, but he claimed this would increase E's likelihood of absconding.

"To protect the public, I have today made a new control order. Inevitably this is weaker than the original one, which means it is more difficult for the police to supervise him."

The stupidity of this is manifest. If he was to be prosecuted, it's likely that he'd be remanded in custody due to the potential risk he poses. Instead, John Reid would rather continue with a policy which is not only illiberal but also ineffective.

E was mentioned as a co-conspirator in a terrorism trial in Belgium. The case relied heavily on intercept evidence, which is only inadmissible in UK courts if the interception happens here.

Mr Justice Beatson said the home secretary's decision to maintain the control order on E was tainted by his failure to keep the issue of prosecution under review. The judge also quashed the control order on the grounds that the cumulative effect of the restrictions, particularly the requirement to have all visitors and anyone E met outside the home vetted, deprived him of his liberty, in breach of the European human rights convention.

This is how ridiculous the current situation is. We can use the intercept evidence collated by the security services' of other countries, but we can't of our own. Joined-up thinking at its finest. The judge should know whether there's enough evidence to prosecute, and in this case it seems apparent that there is. One has to wonder if they aren't simply because of the bind it would put the security services in, with reports from the trial likely to embarrass both the government and MI5/6 through the idiocy of the continuing farce.

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Scum-watch: That Peter Hain, he ought to be strung up, it's the only language he understands...

You wouldn't really think that the Labour deputy leadership contest would interest the Scum much. It's a mostly worthless ceremonial position which would probably be better off being abolished than continued with, or at the very least merged into the Labour chairman role. The reason for the Scum's sudden surge of angst has been that Peter Hain, the bouffant perma-tanned Northern Ireland and Wales secretary has been rather shamelessly touting around for support by brandishing his "leftist" credentials, the very same credentials which he has spent the last few years keeping under wraps while supporting such traditional Labour values as bombing foreign countries back to the stone age, introducing top-up fees and promoting foundation hospitals.

There's nothing quite like a shameless lefty to make the Sun's blood boil, but their decision to support Alan Johnson, the not quite Blairite who was briefly heralded last year by the Blairites as being the "stop Gordon" candidate, is just as ignorant. It marks the Sun's trajectory from being hardline Thatcherite to being hardline Blairite. Blair, the man without a legacy apart from Iraq, has been so feted by the Sun that it makes you wonder whether there isn't some kind of Faustian pact between Tony 'n' Rupe. Rumours abound that Murdoch has already bought the rights to Blair's memoirs, but even that doesn't come close to explaining why the Scum is so obsessed with protecting Blair and his acolytes. Anyway, let's have a giggle at the Sun's reasoning:

FORMER postie Alan Johnson today wins The Sun’s backing to be Labour’s next deputy leader — to stop Peter Hain’s bid for the job.

Education Secretary Mr Johnson is front-runner to become Gordon Brown’s No 2.

Rival Mr Hain lurched further to the left last night when he was supported by militant train drivers.

Aslef endorsed the Ulster Secretary after more pandering to the trade unions and US-hating lefties.

Their move confirms Mr Hain as the champion of Labour’s dinosaurs.

Aslef has a long history as one of the nation’s most hated unions. It has brought misery to millions of train passengers with strikes and go-slows.

From stopping Brown to stopping Hain, Johnson might wonder just what sort of poisoned chalice is being handed him. As for Aslef bringing misery to millions of train passengers, isn't that the job of the rail franchisees, not to mention this government's continuation and expansion of the ludicrous and failed privatisation? Some on the left might reasonably retort that Johnson has lurched further to the right now that he's being supported by the Scum.

Mr Johnson, 56, is now odds-on to become deputy leader by the summer.

He will make a keynote speech in Glasgow today declaring himself as moderniser — not a throwback to the Seventies.

He will promise “renewal not reversal” in a two- fingered gesture to lefties who want to turn the clocks back to the days of union power.

Renewal not reversal sounds an awful lot like forward not back, the brilliant slogan which so exemplified the vacuousness of New Labour. Whether Johnson is odds on is also debatable - The Daily last September gave Peter Hain odds of 2/1, with Johnson on 3/1. This was before the Jon Cruddas surge - Paul Linford's summary of bloggers' support shows that Cruddas' is overwhelmingly the most favoured, and it seems likely that his appeal to the grassroots will mean that he'll be a candidate to be reckoned with, even if Lenin doesn't much like him.

Twice-married Mr Johnson will spell out how he rose to the top from humble beginnings.

He came from a broken home where his dad walked out and his mum died when he was 12.

He was brought up by his elder sister and started shelf-stacking when he quit his school in Chelsea.

He quit when he was offered a promotion at the supermarket without a pay rise. He became a postman at 18 and joined the Communication Workers Union, rising to the top to become general secretary.

During his post career he delivered to Dorneywood — the grace-and-favour mansion where deputy leader John Prescott was snapped playing croquet.

Today he will say his life is an example of the Britain he wants to see — with no barriers to success.

It must be quite something for a Sun hack to have to write a hagiography instead of a hatchet job. This is all very interesting, but this doesn't tell us anything other than the fact that he's something of a traditional Labour man. Peter Hain may have had a more stable and privileged upbringing, but he made just as an important political impact through his campaigning against apartheid. (I'm too young to remember the Sun's stance on apartheid, so if anyone would like to inform me, I'd appreciate it.)

PM-in-waiting Mr Brown has refused to endorse any of the challengers but has worked closely with Mr Johnson on education policy. Other candidates include Labour chairman Hazel Blears and constitution minister Harriet Harman.

Ex-No 10 fixer Jon Cruddas is a strong contender but Cabinet veteran Jack Straw has yet to decide on running.

The Sun doesn't see fit to mention Hilary Benn, who is a far stronger contender than Straw, Harman or the ghastly Blears. I have a funny feeling that the more Hazel Blears appears on television, the more people decide not to vote Labour, as you only have to listen to her noxious voice, her mendacious obscurantist reasoning and witness her undying allegiance to her hero, the prime minister, to see that she's about as serious a candidate as Sooty is. In fact, if you put Sooty up in the contest, he'd probably win, let alone beat Blears.

On then to the Scum's leader, more hilarity from which to come shortly:

ALAN Johnson deserves to be Labour’s deputy leader. He embodies the Britain we want to see.

His rise to the top from a humble start is a shining example to all. Mr Johnson has coped with personal tragedy and the rigours of public life.

He was a moderniser in the unions, but isn’t in hock to them. His slogan, renewal not reversal, makes perfect sense.

Makes perfect sense in that it's meaningless, which is what the Sun likes to see in its politics. Anything that isn't meaningless is a threat. His rise to the top may be a shining example, but it's not one that Mr Murdoch believes in. Rather than join in with the festival of philanthropy that media barons like Ted Turner and other billionaires are indulging in, the Dirty Digger is instead giving his children $100m each in share options.

The contrast with shameless Peter Hain could not be more stark. He is anti-American and pro-union, ingredients sure to destroy Britain.

Seeing as Hain has been part of the same Blair government that has in been in total hock to the Bush administration and which has betrayed the unions on a number of occasions, and everything's gone just swell, as evidenced by the Iraq war and the mass waste of public money on PFI and privatisation, then I don't think the Sun has much to worry about.

The rest of the bunch are has-beens. And never-will-bes.

I might end up being wrong, and I don't want to be the next Mystic Mogg, but Jon Cruddas might prove them wrong yet.

Anyway, onto the hilariously hypocritical Sun leader on gun crime:

WHEN David Cameron says society is in deep trouble, it is hard to argue with him.

No it isn't.

Their parents are the products of a disastrous combination of the liberal 1960s and 1970s followed by the “me, me, me” culture of the 1980s and 1990s.

And who more exemplified the "me, me, me" culture of the 80s than the Scum?

The new generation thinks anything goes — and that wealth and fame are life’s only worthwhile aims.

How could they have come to such a conclusion? Why don't we have a look at just some of the stories on the Sun's news page:

Anna Nicole new will mystery

TRAGIC Anna Nicole Smith left all her money to son Daniel — who died last year

From sex kitten to kerbside
IT'S been a tough year for Britney Spears, but how did it all go so wrong?

Dad Mitch on Ms Winehouse

BRITS wild child does NOT have a drink problem - says her doting dad Mitch

Charlotte wants Church wedding

CHARLOTTE Church says she will accept if boyfriend Gavin proposes on birthday

Kerry's rage at f*rting groom
KERRY Katona spent wedding night ALONE — after her new hubby couldn't stop parping

Prices right up your street
A SURVEY of England and Wales' most expensive streets is topped by Chelsea

Kenny Chesney: I'm not gay
RENEE ZELLWEGER'S former husband has hit out at gay rumours about their annulment

Weekend birthday wishes
SEXY socialite Paris Hilton will be having a capital birthday as she parties this weekend

J-Lo’s white lightning
STYLE WATCH Diva dazzles crowds wearing an Oscars-worthy elegant white gown

Jack and Jodi's delicious debut
JACK RYDER and Jodi Albert debut in their very first big-screen movie together

Can you Lind me £23,000?
YOUNG women have average credit card bill of £23k in new trend called 'the Lohan Effect'

No correlation there, obviously.

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Friday, February 16, 2007 

Won't someone please blame the children?

WAR ZONE UK, screams the Daily Mail, with no apparent recognisation that what has happened in 3 square miles of London doesn't in any way reflect the state of the nation. The sub-editor, additionally, seems to have taken this opportunity to swallow a dictionary. Apparently south London is descending into "nihilistic anarchy", and like Iain Dale, the sub doesn't seem to realise what nihilism actually is. If those who had carried out the shootings were nihilists, they'd be shooting everyone just for the sake of it. In the three recent cases involving the shooting of teenagers, revenge seems to have played a major part, whether it's for perceived slights, mistaken identity or for exchanging petty insults via text message. The Grauniad's report seems to get it right: the only common strands to the deaths are a proliferation of weapons and fact that both killers and victims are getting younger.

The deaths in south London, coming in the same week as the damning Unicef report which places Britain at the bottom of a league table of 21 western countries in measuring child well-being, has predictably led to an avalanche of gnashing of teeth, with who's to blame and what's gone wrong being bandied about liberally. Very few have actually come up with any solutions, and while it's true that there are no easy answers, we ought to at least able to realise the basics.

It's apparent that we can no longer blame Thatcherism. The 16 year olds killing each other on the streets of south London weren't born during her tenure. What we can instead point to is the legacy of Thatcherism, which despite the attempts of the Tory party to shake it off and the Labour party to pretend that its attempts to alleviate child poverty have been successful enough, is still the spectre that's haunting Britain. The emphasis on individualism, consumerism and materialism which has permeated society since the 80s is reaching its logical conclusion: mass alienation, mental ill-health and a general lack of empathy for others. It's no coincidence that the United States and Britain, the two nations that have so embraced neo-liberalism and unfettered capitalism, are bottom of the Unicef table.

The only surprise is that we were bottom and that the United States wasn't. We at least like to think that we're a little more civilised than our friends over the pond, that we retain the vestiges of a welfare state, even though it's still attacked by both the right-wing media and the Labour party itself. We could blame the lack of ambition that our children have on the way that education has been turned into one long examination; we could blame it on reality tv that encourages everyone to think that they can become famous even if they're an idiot and have no discernable talent; we could blame it on the breakdown of the family and role models. The unfortunate thing is that all these things in some way appear to be to blame, and that we don't have any solution or way to change any of the above. How could we when the defining moment of this year so far according to the media has been the way that Jade Goody was turned from something of a role-model, as shocking as that on it own is, to being a racist lower than pond scum chav that "we" should never have taken to heart in the first place?

Even blaming the vacuousness of our culture is too easy, and certainly doesn't provide anything close to a solution. Some might despise the way we work all week and get drunk at the weekend, but the current generation simply doesn't know any other way. It's the same with the way we've started treating teenagers; they're not old enough to get drunk, but they're old enough to be a nuisance, hanging around on street corners. They don't contribute to society, so they're even easier to stigmatise. That the vast majority of them are probably more concerned with being left alone than with jumping on cars doesn't make any difference. Labour has connived with this view ever since it gained power. Few were concerned about anti-social behaviour until Labour started banging on about it, but when the politicians start talking about something enough, whether it's true or not, people start believing it.

In a contradictory way, the whole reason why children seem to be suffering so much is because we are expecting so much of them, and they either can't keep up or simply don't want to. At the same time, our expectations can also be incredibly low. Coming back to the beginning, it's a surprise that the Daily Mail has even noticed that a number of murders have taken place in south London; it's something that's too difficult to explain, that doesn't correlate with the current middle-class occupations of the moment, house prices and campaigns against inheritance tax and road pricing, which explains why they've chosen to approach it in the simplest way they can, which is to sensationalise it. That these murders aren't sensational, but almost impossible to understand is the real issue. What possesses someone, no matter whether they haven't had a great upbringing, however macho their culture is or how pathetic the message the music they listen to puts out, to shoot someone their own age dead in their bed, mistaken identity or not? There just isn't a simple answer.

One thing's certain, and that's that David Cameron, to quote one of his previous hecklers, doesn't know his arse from his elbow. His speech, thrown together seemingly in minutes, variously and vapidly blaming the failings of families, that marriage and relationships can be held together through tax-breaks, seemed to be destined only to appeal to those who will have forgotten within days of the whole palaver. It was the kind of soundbite based that Blair was once famous for, designed to respond to headlines with no policy being behind it. Amazingly, Blair himself, with his calm and measured comments, got far more to the bone of the matter, making clear that we ought to get a state of perspective. The statistic of the day ought to be those shot dead last year dropped from 77 to 49. In other words, the amount of people killed with guns in this country in a year is the equivalent of a relatively quiet day in Iraq. That the solution to the problems in Iraq are probably more obvious and easier to put in place than those facing our children isn't much of a comfort.

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Scum-watch: "The Investigator" returns.

The Sun's "Investigator" is back doing his dirty work. After previously outting "paedophiles", he's today turned his attention to the current employment of Omar Khayam, who you might remember was last year returned to prison after he took part in the Danish cartoons protest wearing a faux "suicide bomber vest":

A MUSLIM fanatic who dressed as a suicide bomber at a rally threatening terror attacks has got a job on TRAINS.

Sick Omar Khayam cleans carriages unsupervised for rail giant First Group.

And he has even got keys to onboard electrical cupboards.

Holy god, really? Are we all going to die? Probably not. Here's some background from back then:

Asif Nadim, the chairman of Khayam's local mosque in Bedford, the Jamia Masjid Gulshani Baghdad, said Khayam was a "bit of an idiot" whose protest had offended everyone, including fellow Muslims. But he claimed the story had been blown up out of all proportion with the dredging up of the drugs offence committed when Khayam was 16 (The Observer article says 18). Khayam was caught when he threw a 2oz bag of crack cocaine from a car window to try to avoid detection. He got eight years in 2002 for possession of a class A drug with intent to supply and a fine for having a small amount of heroin, but his sentence was cut to five-and-a-half years on appeal.

The guy then got a ridiculously harsh sentence for something done when he was still a teenager. Prison doesn't seem to have beaten any sense into his head, judging by his attendance of the protest, but there's very little to suggest that Khayam is any way an "extremist", just a little wet between the ears and easily led. The Observer tracked down Khayam's father in Pakistan, who certainly wasn't convinced of his son's extremism:

Some reports suggest Khayam was drawn to radical Islam during his three-year jail spell, which ended with his release on licence last year. His brother, who describes Khayam as a 'moderate Muslim', denies the charge.

'He said that when there's a 23-hour lock-up, you have to make the most of the one hour you have free. He tried the gym at first, then he paid more frequent visits to the mosque.' His father interjected. 'From a religious point of view, he stayed the same. Prison had no influence on him.'

After being released last year Khayam started a bricklaying course and helped out with the family computer business in Bedford. Then came the Danish embassy protest and the suicide-bomber outfit.

The Daily Mirror did publish an article which claimed that he had became increasingly radicalised in prison, but it appears to be no longer available. His brother also rejected this:

In jail Omar got a job as a chef, Nazish says, and became popular for his fine South Asian cooking. 'Usually during Ramadan [the Muslim holy month of fasting] they just have a sandwich and an apple. When Omar arrived everything changed. He cooked chicken and meat biryanis, kormas, jalfrezis - everything you would find in a good restaurant. There were more converts to Islam in the prison than ever before. Then there was a ban on converting because they know most of the guys were doing it for the food.'

Anyway, back to the Scum:

Furious train drivers last night claimed the safety of staff and passengers is being put at risk.

One driver added: “It’s an astonishing security breach.

“We cannot believe this man is employed in a job giving him access to locked places on trains where bombs could be hidden and never be found.

“He has keys that could be passed on to others for the electrical cupboards in carriages. It is a risk too far.”

They're right to be concerned, but as ever, if these are actually drivers and not inventions of "The Investigator" then they ought to have taken their concerns to their superiors rather than splashing Khayam all over the national press again. He appears to have been trying to get on with his life, and seems to have picked the wrong job. As the First Group spokesman says:

“We are subject to UK employment law and carry out all necessary employment checks. The safety of customers and employees is our main priority.”

They would have known full well about Khayam's criminal record, and also more than likely about his idiotic and offensive protest. If he was a real threat, then they would have rejected his application, especially considering the heightened nature of the threat from extremists towards public transport. Khayam, like others confronted by the Sun, didn't do much towards his cause with his response:

“So what? I’ve not committed a crime. If there is a concern, that’s what the police are there for. That’s what security services are for.”

True, but if he'd explained that he was neither an extremist or any threat in a rational manner, he'd have at least not looked so quick to anger. Either way, one expects that Khayam will shortly be losing his job. I'm inclined to (almost) agree with the one sane voice on MyScum, who says:

with all the nonsense this paper publishes the link between the fanatic Madrid train track bombers and this guys radical views and job are far too serious to brush under the carpet, this man must be removed from this sensitive position and regardless of what discrimination this guy would decide to claim he would only have his past actions to blame for unnerving the public confidence in his position.

As usual, my objection is more to the Sun's journalism than the actual facts presented.

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Thursday, February 15, 2007 

Rendition: The silence continues.

Yesterday's vote, tighter than expected on the EU's investigation into rendition, brought out the best in some of those elected to represent the UK in the EU. Take for instance, Gerald Batten, of the UK Independence Party:

said the report represented typical "anti-Americanism" and a "grab for more power for the EU". Much of the content of the report, he said, was "speculation". The international community was now engaged in a war of ideology against "fundamentalist Islam" and he thanked the US for leading this battle.

See, it doesn't really matter if the US in leading that battle abducts those referred to as "terrorism suspects", puts them on a jet and flies them either to a willing third-country or a CIA prison in a friendly country where they're tortured. Suggesting as much makes you anti-American.

As for the response from governments rather than MEPs, it's been much the same as it has been since the beginning. The reports have now made clear that however much they denied it, the UK government did know what was going and didn't do anything to stop it. CIA flights landing here may have just refueled, they may have been carrying rendered prisoners, but because of the almost complete lack of cooperation we still don't know for sure.

We do however know that MI5 not only knew about the rendition program, it's helped with it. In 2002, Bisher al-Rawi and his friend and Jamil el-Banna were arrested in Gambia and later transferred from Africa to Guantanamo Bay, after MI5 informed the CIA that the men were carrying an "electronic device" which could be part of an improvised explosive device. It was in fact a modified battery charger. Bisher al-Rawi had previously helped MI5 keep tabs on Abu Qutada, who himself may well have been an MI5 double-agent. With his usefulness apparently at an end, MI5 got rid him of.

Like Geoff Hoon, who was criticised heavily in the report for his lack of cooperation until Labour MEPs got the section removed, Eliza Manningham-Buller, the head of MI5 didn't want to discuss her organisation's involvement in rendition, refusing to attend even a closed session of the joint human rights committee.

As for the rest of our elected representatives, they too are maintaining a less than dignified silence. Some of them have already been shown up as being liars. The all-party parliamentary group on rendition might get some of them to break their vow, but don't bet on it. The intelligence and security committee may give it a go too, but whether we'll get any further without Congress itself investigating seems unlikely. Not that they'll be able to do much other than uncover further information: those CIA agents involved in rendition have already been pardoned, even though they're obviously not guilty of anything in the first place.

Hail then our leaders and their belief in equality, human rights, and liberty for all. As long as they don't see them, and as long as they don't have beards.

Related post:
Big Stick Small Carrot - Sound of Silence

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Scum-watch: Yet more lies about human rights.

The Sun has not taken kindly to its war on the human rights act being comprehensively destroyed by Charles Falconer. In one of the rarer circumstances of ministers standing up to the tabloid media's baseless and incredibly damaging campaigns, his speech yesterday to the Royal United Services Institute, following a previous one last week, was always likely to be reported, if at all, with hostility.

TONY Blair’s law chief Charlie Falconer amazingly denied yesterday that human rights were hampering Britain’s war on terror.

The Lord Chancellor said they were one of the most effective WEAPONS against al-Qaeda.

Lord Falconer said the European Convention on Human Rights “does not in any way properly inhibit us from fighting terrorism”.

But his remarks fly in the face of court decisions which have left Tony Blair’s anti-terror laws in tatters — by ruling they ABUSE human rights.

In 2004, Law Lords blocked emergency powers to hold nine suspects without trial, saying the measure posed a bigger threat to Britain than al-Qaeda.

They didn't block the emergency powers, they ruled by 8 to 1 that they held that holding foreign terror suspects without charge did just not breach article 5, the right to liberty, but was also entirely counter-productive, and discriminatory in that it only affected foreign "terror suspects". Their ruling was not binding without the lawyers for the men taking the case to Strasbourg; the government initially threatened to ignore the ruling, but was forced by the refusal of the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats to support a renewal of the "state of emergency" into introducing control orders instead.

The Lords also didn't say that the measure posed a bigger threat to Britain that al-Qaida - those were the words of Lord Hoffman alone. In his ruling he stated:

"This is one of the most important cases which the house has had to decide in recent years.

"It calls into question the very existence of an ancient liberty of which this country has until now been very proud: freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention."

"This is a nation which has been tested in adversity, which has survived physical destruction and catastrophic loss of life. I do not underestimate the ability of fanatical groups to kill or destroy, but they do not threaten the life of the nation."

"Whether we should survive Hitler hung in the balance, but there is no doubt we shall survive al-Qaida. The Spanish people have not said that what happened in Madrid, hideous crime as it was, threatened the life of the nation. Their legendary pride would not allow it.

"Terrorist crime, serious as it is, does not threaten our institutions of government or our existence as a civil community."

"The real threat to the life of the nation, in the sense of a people living in accordance with its traditional laws and political values, comes not from terrorism but from laws such as these."

As the Guardian leader of the day after the ruling argued, of the 2001 act:

It has eroded the very freedoms for which we are supposed to be combating terrorism.

The Sun however is only interested in putting up a straw man argument: that the Human Rights Act protects the freedoms of "terrorists", while ignoring that it protects the freedom of everyone. The disproportionate response of this government in turning to legislation to "tackle" terror has undermined civil liberties and abused human rights, but when it's against those who are "enemies" this doesn't matter one iota to the Sun. It's a slippery slope, but the Sun would never admit to it being one. Just tell Tony he's right.

The Scum article continues:

Last year, judge Mr Justice Sullivan said control orders — a replacement for detention without trial — were illegal.

Indeed he did, but John Reid then appealed. Reid subsequently lost the appeal, and those under the control orders had the restrictions placed on them slightly loosened. Control orders are still in effect, even though at least 2 men have subsequently managed to go missing despite being under them, which brought into sharp focus the reality of both how discriminatory and useless they are. The government's continuing refusal to make intercept evidence admissible in British courts, at the behest of the ever secretive spooks, means that we're depriving those under control orders both of the right to hear the evidence against them, and to defend themselves from the very evidence that the authorities claim to have. It's Kafkaesque, and it's little wonder that some have decided to actually return to their home country rather than continue to put up with a breach of liberty in a nation that once prided itself on it. The government has had more than enough of an opportunity to come up with a solution that doesn't breach the Human Rights Act, in line with other European countries, but it has refused to do so.

A month later, the same judge ruled that nine Afghan plane hijackers had a “human right” to stay in Britain.

No he didn't. He ruled that the refusal to give the men leave to remain, a decision made by an immigration panel who decided their lives would be at risk if they were deported back to Afghanistan, was an "abuse of power". The men had brought the case in the first place because they were being treated as failed asylum seekers, and so could not work, which is what they wanted to be allowed to do. In return for wanting to contribute to British society, they were treated to this libelous and deeply distorted Scum front page:

Charles Falconer has since accepted that the way John Reid and Tony Blair reacted to the ruling only encouraged the tabloids to act outraged:

Yet in the cold light of day the lord chancellor, Lord Falconer, had accepted "unequivocally" that it was right that human rights law should prevent the hijackers from being sent back to Afghanistan if there was a risk they faced death or torture.

But Lord Falconer, who last week called for “common sense” over human rights, yesterday even had a dig at judges. He said: “Policy must come first and the law second. We need to get away from where human rights are viewed as a ‘terrorists’ charter’.

Had a dig at judges? The Sun would never do that! I wonder who is chiefly responsible for making the Human Rights Act become viewed as a "terrorists' charter"?

“Our freedoms are embodied in that convention. We shouldn’t be ashamed by it. We shouldn’t be embarrassed by it. It doesn’t prevent us fighting terrorism.”

It's about time this was made clear, but it's been this government that's only been too willing to join in with the Sun and others in undermining the Human Rights Act. It they had fought back from the beginning, either legislated better or not at all, then none of this would have ever occurred.

Then we have this idiocy from the Tories' constitutional affairs shadow:

The Tories have pledged to replace the 1998 Act with a Bill of Rights.

Shadow constitutional affairs secretary Oliver Heald said: “Lord Falconer is talking about the Human Rights Act he should have passed, not the flawed Human Rights Act we have.”

Seeing as the Human Rights Act was simply introducing the European Convention into UK law, with a number of omissions, then Heald ought to take his problem with the HRA up with those who drew it up in 1950. The Human Rights Act was mainly brought in so that those seeking judgment under the ECHR no longer had to go to Strasbourg to do so. The Tories idea for a Bill of Rights would presumably contain much the same rights that the HRA does, and even Ken Clarke described it as "xenophobic nonsense". It's a non-starter of a plan, but it's enough to get some kudos from the tabloids.

The Sun's leader gets off to a great start with an insult:

IF you were caught red-handed for mass murder, smooth-talking Charlie Falconer would try to get you off with an Asbo.

Geddit?!? He's an idiot brief?!

Which is pretty much what the Lord Chancellor tried to do yesterday when he insisted human rights laws are no bar to the war on terror.

He ignored the fact that police today are paralysed by fear of legal action if they make an arrest.

Obviously. That's why the police in Birmingham didn't make any arrests... err, wait a minute. The police in fact have very little to worry about, as this week's IPCC report into the Forest Gate raid made clear. The police who arrested Abu Bakr and another men and held them for a week while only questioning them for at the most at four hours and about nothing to do with terrorism haven't had to as much as explain their actions to the men.

Or that law lords banned round-the-clock surveillance on dangerous suspects because it infringed their liberty.

Which we've already discussed, was the right decision and was the British equivalent of Guantanamo Bay, even if the men weren't abused as those at Gitmo have alleged they have been.

Tony Blair once vowed to tear up human rights laws if they hampered the fight against terror.

He did so after unveiling tough laws which, he claimed, would have been rejected on human rights grounds before London’s 7/7 catastrophe.

And it was Charlie Falconer who claimed at the time that those 52 innocent civilians might never have died . . .

Had Mr Blair’s anti-terror laws already been in place.

I don't recall Falconer doing so, and if he did then he should have resigned for making such a specious statement. The Scum is also ignoring its own role in making sure that Blair's doomed 90 days legislation was heavily defeated, its hysterical attempts to get support for the law which involved using the image of one of those injured on 7/7 who vehemently opposed Blair's measures, then turning on those who dared to vote against by calling them "traitors". As then, the Sun and Rebekah Wade are the true traitors; conniving in the dilution of civil liberties, supporting the very measures which remove our rights in order to fight those who have no respect for them.

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Wednesday, February 14, 2007 

Valentine's gape.

This post was execrable. I apologise for that.

Spotted in the local paper:

Have yourselves a happy, prolapsed gaping anus day.

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Guido and that Grauniad report.

For those of you who are intrigued about the two decades old Guardian story about the blogger Guido Fawkes' alleged dalliance with the BNP when he was a student, then you can read it in full here.

I'm linking to the article in question purely because this blog was previously similarly gagged, as others have been now, when I republished photographs of the News of the World journalist Mazher Mahmood that were already in the public domain. The difference between then and now is that Guido was one of the other blogs that received the same injunction; this time it's Guido that's threatening to send in the lawyers.

I make no comment on the story, and as I previously mentioned, I feel it is wholly unfair and potentially counter-productive to make an issue out of what an individual's politics were when they were a student. I do however think that Guido's behaviour smacks of hypocrisy, and that those who want to read what other blogs have only been allowed to talk about rather than republish should be able to. I was not involved in the setting up of the blog that republishes it, and only found it from reading another blog, one that has only been involved in the periphery of the whole "blog war".

If Guido wishes to provide me with the retraction which he states he has, then I will also be more than happy to reproduce it here, or reconsider my linking to the article.

Update: Guido has since provided me with the letter from David Rose, which in my mind closes this whole issue. I still feel that those who want to read the article should be able to, so the link will remain, but they should do so with the knowledge that David Rose later wrote to Guido and made clear that he had changed his mind about Guido's motives in contacting the BNP. It does not amount to a retraction from the newspaper, but it does as a personal one from the journalist himself. This makes me wonder why Guido has made such an issue out of a story which doesn't have any legs, but that is up to him.

Related posts:
Chicken Yoghurt - The last laugh
Big Stick Small Carrot - Freedom of Information
Ministry of Truth - Knives and Fawkes

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Tuesday, February 13, 2007 

Comparing and contrasting the ex-BNP bomber and the Koyairs.

In one of those more happy, not conspiratorial coincidences, the release of the second IPCC report in the police raid on the home of the Koyair brothers and their neighbours (PDF) has nicely complimented the guilty plea of Robert Cottage, a former BNP member, who has pleaded guilty to the possession of explosives.

When police raided his house on 28 September 2006 they discovered 21 types of chemicals which, when combined, could form explosives.

Miss Blackwell said they also uncovered a document called the Anarchy Cookbook, which detailed how to make different types of bombs.

Ball bearings - which the prosecution claim could be used as shrapnel for explosive devices - were also found, along with four air pistols.

After interviewing Mr Cottage, detectives raided Mr Jackson's home on 1 October and found a bow and arrow and two nuclear protection suits.

Up until now, the mass media has been almost silent on this discovery, which at the time was referred to by the local media, around the only part of the fourth estate apart from blogs that reported on the raid, as the biggest ever seizure of bomb-making materials from one home in the country.

Before we get into denouncing the double standards of media, knowing full well if it had been Muslims who had been found with such material instead of two white men that it may well have led the news agenda for a couple of days, Rachel makes a number of good points based on her own digging into the story. It simply seems that it passed the media by - if they had known about from the beginning, they would have made something of it. As it happened, the police also initially played down the raids, so it seems only the local media took any interest, and didn't pass it on to their colleagues in the national press.

The one thing that grates though is the fact that the police seem to have accepted that Cottage was not planning a terrorist attack, and only charged them under the ancient (1883) Explosive Substances Act. Cottage's claim that he believed civil war was coming, a belief similar to those held by extreme-right survivalist militias in the United States, and that he was keeping explosives ready for it, shouldn't be allowed to wash. You can't imagine Islamist extremists getting away with such an excuse in court, nor would the tabloids allow them to.

At least in the case of Cottage and his friend David Jackson, justice seems likely to be done. When it comes to the Koyair brothers, their family and their neighbours, they will go on waiting. While today's second IPCC report is not a whitewash, and is far more critical of the police operation in Forest Gate than Scotland Yard are admitting, as Martin Kettle points out, it still leaves a good few questions. The main one surrounds the intelligence that triggered the raid in the first place. The report says (image because the report doesn't allow text copying for some reason):

As the intelligence has only been provided on a confidential basis, unless it happens to be leaked, it seems we're destined to never know for sure just exactly what the police were expecting to find other than a "highly dangerous explosive device" or a "remote-controlled chemical bomb". The media reports at the time were similarly unsure of what it was the police were looking for. The Daily Mail and Times suggested it was a suicide vest that would also have sprayed out poison, the Sunday Express screamed "ANTHRAX TERROR BOMB HUNT", while the News of the Screws, in the same story that wrongly claimed that one of the brothers had shot the other, reported that it was an "explosive device designed to spray out deadly cyanide".

If the police had been willing to be truly open, they would have released the intelligence in full, with any details which could have identified the source censored. Instead we have to take the IPCC's word for it that the intelligence was both believable and so troubling that it necessitated a raid that was brutal in its execution. It's also worth considering this initial Grauniad report that suggested there had been two months of surveillance before the raid -- how in two months did they not realise that this was an ordinary family with nothing to hide who have since been treated abysmally?

There are also contradictions between the evidence given by the officer identified as hitting Hanif, one of the residents of the adjacent house to the one owned by the Koyair family, and his own account of what happened. Hanif contends that he was hit with the butt of the officer's gun as soon as the police entered the room where he had been sleeping -- the officer maintains that Hanif was failing to comply with directions, and he was afraid he was reaching for something under his bed. The officer in any case falls back on the excuse that he was operating in the face of "extreme threat", even though this was a raid carried out in the early hours of the morning, where all the occupants of both houses had been asleep until the police entered, and that he was operating in the property that was raided only because it was believed that both were connected. While the house was owned by the Koyair family, there was no way to gain access to one from inside the other.

The report does mention the leaking and coverage of the raid, but as commenting on such things is outside its remit, doesn't draw any conclusions. It would have been nice for the IPCC to investigate where the leaking came from, but that seems to have been too much to expect. Instead, we have to draw our conclusions, and judging by the way the Murdoch press in particular set out to "get" the Koyair brothers, suggesting that one of them had a criminal record when he did not, that they had a suspiciously large amount money in cash, even though the family had explained they had it because of their religious belief in not using bank accounts which accrue interest, and then finally, and most damagingly, that one of the brother's computers and phones' had child pornography on. When the CPS failed to prosecute and it emerged there were a lot of questions over just how the pornography appeared on the devices, the Sun still persisted, with an officer telling it that "the images were there and a jury should have decided how they get there".

No one disputes that if there is a clear case of public safety being threatened, then such disruptive and potentially personally destructive raids have to take place regardless of such concerns. However, as the report sets out, the police made little to no allowances for the intelligence being incorrect, and the officers acted throughout almost as if they were above the law. The way in which the media were leaked such defamatory and completely inaccurate information shows the contempt in which the men were treated. They were guilty until proved innocent, and it seems that the police were so determined to find something to use against them that they may have even turned to planting child pornography, something which cannot be proved, but in the circumstances of the operation cannot be easily dismissed as being laughable or conspiratorial.

One can only hope that the recommendations of the report are taken on board. That the events of the last couple of weeks seem to have repeated history, only this time with the Home Office coming under suspicion for the leaking, and with a number of the men accused of terrorism being charged, certainly doesn't inspire confidence in either the police or government to restrain themselves when dealing with such sensitive operations.

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Monday, February 12, 2007 

Insert joke about Cameron and weed.

Has there ever been a bigger non-story blown out of all proportion than the simply astounding revelation that "call me Dave" smoked some of the green when he was a teenager? It was already obvious that he had experimented with drugs, possibly cocaine, and as recently ago as the 90s, and that had all been forgotten about once the Tory leadership election was over, so for this to emerge now just shows the desperateness of the Indie on Sunday in spending some of their cash on a serialisation of James Hanning and Francis Elliott's no doubt scintillating Cameron: the Rise of the New Conservative.

It would have been far more illuminating if Cameron had in fact not taken drugs. You'd have to be either a saint or a loner to get through Eton, Oxford and then years as a PR wonk for Carlton Communications without dabbling in one or more illegal substances. Some would probably think that you'd have to be taking mind-altering chemicals in order to actually get through any of them without having the kind of nervous breakdown that results in you ending up gibbering in the gutter with a shopping trolley as your shelter against the rain. Just imagine having to live with the likes of Wills 'n' Harry and their mates for 5 years, the only comfort being the daisy-chaining where you can at least pretend that it's not some rugby-loving hairy-palmed silver-spoon fed bourgeois neanderthal pulling you off, and instead just dream that it's in actual fact that gorgeous pouting Samantha, the slightly dangerous one who gets squiffy and isn't afraid to get her skin inked.

Why Cameron felt the need to comment but not to actually admit to what he did when no one is going to condemn him for inhaling in his youth is only probably going to increase the speculation. If he came out and admitted that yes, he had taken drugs, and said, amazingly, it tends to be what young people to do and that maybe we shouldn't be so eager to jump up and down on their exuberance, then he'd probably earn a lot more respect from those who couldn't give two figs about politics, the same ones he's so desperate to appeal to. If he has indeed snorted cocaine, or, heaven forbid, even taken ecstasy, then why not come out and say so? Obviously it's not going to be as easy to shake-off and play down as smoking a spliff at school, but for God's sake we need politicians who are human and do have experience other than spending their whole lives not having to worry about anything at all (just like, err, David Cameron). It's only going to be likely to come back and bite him if he has indeed done what many suspect, and it might do so just before elections when it could hurt him.

The whole issue of drugs and the Conservatives is fraught with hypocrisy. The Daily Mail, the paper so vehemently opposed to even cannabis being downgraded, is ironically the paper most likely to be read by the parents of the kids who are out at the weekend hoovering up cocaine as fast as Colombia can produce it. The journalists themselves are hardly likely to be sober and as opposed to casual drug use as their pieces and representative leaders are; one only has to remember the accusations of Lord Ashcroft about the cocaine use of hacks on the Times. It's these reactionaries who are responsible for so many potential reforms being abandoned as soon as they are mentioned; cannabis is always a "gateway" drug, schizophrenia awaits anyone who inhales, and let's not even dare suggest that giving heroin to addicts may bring down crime. How could that even be considered when law-abiding taxpayers can't even get Herceptin and other miracle cures for their ailments on the NHS?

Cameron could potentially lead a less condemnatory drugs policy, putting once and for all the lunacy of Anne Widdecombe's zero tolerance approach behind them. He has suggested that ecstasy ought to be downgraded: anathema to the Daily Mail, but common sense to anyone who has seen both the popularity and the price of the drug plummet in recent years. The hysteria of the 90s, based on a lack of understanding about both the culture surrounding it and the drug itself, could be firmly put behind us. Any chance of this for the moment is gone, with Cameron pathetically forced to suggest that he has wrong to so much as take a puff. Once we get beyond the point-scoring and stupidity, we might finally embrace the reality that prohibition and prosecution of minor users of recreational drugs is both a waste of time and more damaging to the person in the long run than the substances and chemicals themselves are.

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Scum-watch: Ignoring their own role in perpetuating misery.

The mother of the victim of paedophile Craig Sweeney today gives a moving interview to the Sun about how they're still living in agony, and how the system seems to have failed them, especially in how counselling took months to get. It should go without saying that such difficulties are completely unacceptable, and that more needs to be done for those who find themselves the victims of such traumatic and devastating crimes.

The main ire though is based on the Sun's story last week on how Sweeney might be getting a place in a "quiet wing". As ever, the reality may not be quite that painted by the Sun, as a spokesman for Wakefield jail makes clear at the end of the article:

Last night the Prison Service said: “HMP Wakefield is conducting a scoping exercise on whether a quiet wing in the prison is viable. No decisions have been made.”

Wakefield is also far from being a safe haven for its notorious inmates, as reports from the weekend made clear:

Bath snatch paedophile Peter Voisey has been beaten up in jail. The 35-year-old pervert, who kidnapped and raped a six-year-old girl after snatching her from the bath in her Tyneside home, was punched in the face by a Pakistani inmate after calling him a "terrorist".

His attacker, who is not a sex offender, said to him: "In my country you'd be hanged for what you did."

The Sun article also of course doesn't happen to mention their own role in making sure that Sweeney wasn't given a potentially harsher sentence. While Sweeney was given life, and may well remain inside for the full 18 years (or longer, if he's judged to still be a risk to the public) that the sentence set down, the judge followed the sentencing formula devised by the government which gives a discount for pleading guilty and then also sets a minimum term which has to be served before parole will be considered. Using the formula, this meant that Sweeney could potentially be free within 6 years, although to say that's unlikely would be the same kind of understatement akin to suggesting Hitler was only slightly naughty.

It was the Sun's outrage, picked up by John Reid, new in the Home Secretary hot-seat, that meant that the attorney general was unable to send the sentence to the appeal court to consider as unduly lenient. They are as much to blame as anyone else for the continuing misery of Sweeney's victims' family. As before, they're betraying the very victims of crime that they so pledge to fight for.

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Iain Dale, in his smug and condescending way, has offered something of a ceasefire in the blogging civil war, even if it doesn't really look anything like one. He also offers something of a explanation over the "nihilist" incident, which while not going far enough, is enough for me to remove the liar button from the sidebar.

When Tim at Bloggerheads launched his opening attack on Guido, I was on the fence. Since then, the behaviour of both Paul Staines and Dale towards Tim, as well as that from comment makers on both of their blogs (especially from Caroline Hunt, who if I was being unkind about would suggest was one letter out from being perfectly described by her own name) has led me to be increasingly sympathetic to Tim's cause. Attempts to paint Tim as either a New Labour hack or a Brownite are laughable, as anyone who took the time to browse his archive would realise.

Equally amusing was Guido's flailing about yesterday, muttering darkly about m'learned friends, after a number of blogs picked up on a couple of decades old report about Guido wanting to link the Federation of Conservative Students group with the BNP. Untrue and ancient as it might be, and I personally feel bringing up such old stories is counter-productive and petty, it showed Guido, who had previously mocked attempts to silence him through the libel laws and stated that he was untouchable, as being just as quick to jump to potential litigation as some of his own victims.

Tim himself has replied to Dale's post, and Unity has as ever made a typically excellent response which addresses and explains many of the issues of what has happened over the last month or so. Guido has agreed to an interview with Sunny, which should be interesting, while Curious Hamster, who found himself involved, has also made clear his views. Let's see how long, if at all, it holds.

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Saturday, February 10, 2007 

Human rights deja-vu.

Sometimes, you have to feel sympathy for government ministers, especially those responsible for bringing in the Human Rights Act, and who today have to defend it when the police and media jump to blame it for every single conceivable modern ill. It also brings an overwhelming feeling of deja-vu when you read the same old rubbish about it being perpetuated again and again.

Today, the Sun reports the Northumbria Police haven't even bothered to read the incredibly clear 18 articles which make it obvious that what they're refusing to do is not just allowed, but almost encouraged by the Act:
SENIOR cops are keeping details of suspected criminals who are on the run secret — to protect THEIR human rights.

Northumbria Police have released the names and pictures of five suspects they are desperate to trace.

But astonishingly, senior officers have refused to reveal details of the alleged offences.

Cops say they are sticking to Home Office guidelines and the Human Rights’ Act.

This comes only a month or so after the last Human Rights Act outrage, when Derbyshire police blamed the HRA for not producing photographs of two murderers who had absconded from open prison. This is a slightly different case, as it involves men who are only accused, rather than being convicted, but the HRA and the ACPO guidelines are still fairly clear.

The "offending" article is Article 8, the right to respect for family and private life:

2. There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

And here's the ACPO guidelines (the PDF in full is available from here) on releasing photographs. Notice that there's no explicit advice on not revealing why a suspect is wanted:

Article 8 of the Human Rights Act gives everyone the right to respect for his or her private and family life, home and correspondence, and publication of photographs could constitute a breach of this. The article does however allow the publication in accordance with law and as is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of public health or morals or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others. However, the Act requires that action taken under it is proportionate, and this is a particular consideration in respect of the nature of publication (for example the geographical reach and longevity of publication).

There's absolutely nothing there to suggest that making public why someone is wanted in connection with a crime would breach the act. The real concern would be over whether the evidence against the person wanted is strong enough to lead to a prosecution; sending out wanted posters with someone's face all over them with the alleged crime, only for them to be later found not guilty, could lead to potential defamation of character cases. This though is nothing to do with the Human Rights Act, but with the libel laws. If the police are concerned enough to release photographs, then there's nothing to stop them naming what they're accused of.

Article 5 also doesn't provide any solace for someone wanted in connection with a committed offence:

c) the lawful arrest or detention of a person effected for the purpose of bringing him before the competent legal authority on reasonable suspicion of having committed an offence or when it is reasonably considered necessary to prevent his committing an offence or fleeing after having done so;

The entire thing is ridiculous, and it's down to Northumbria police reading the law wrong or just being far too cautious. They've already released the names and photographs of the wanted men, they're just refusing to say what they're wanted in connection with, and as anyone who watches Crimewatch will tell you, they've been doing both for years and haven't run into any problems yet.

As always, the opportunist politicians jump at the chance of getting their soundbites and names into the papers:

North East Conservative Euro MP Martin Callanan said: “This is yet another instance of the rights of suspected criminals being put before those of the law-abiding population.”

Really? Even without their alleged crimes being made public, they're still having their names and photographs published. It's not as if the police are refusing to do anything whatsoever.
A Northumbria Police spokesman said: “When deciding to release photos of people wanted on warrant there are strict criteria which must be met.”

Err? You've already released their photographs, so the strict criteria must have been met. Did someone not tell him what the "controversy" is all about, or has he got the wrong end of the stick?

The Sun article itself doesn't bother to mention that all the men are wanted for not turning up at court, as well as any other charges, as this article from the Newcastle Evening Chronicle makes clear. It also prints the mugshots of all six men, while the Sun only bothers to display the one of Casey. Northumbria Police's own page on the six men is here.

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Friday, February 09, 2007 

Policing the media police state.

One of the reasons I didn't comment on the release of the two men without charge from those picked up in the Birmingham anti-terror raids was because I wanted to see if any of the others were to be prosecuted, in line with the lurid details leaked out to the press about what those arrested had allegedly plotted to do.

Now that 6 others have been charged, one with intending to kidnap and murder a soldier, it puts the events of the last week into context. The briefings provided were still outrageous, revealing far too much and making accusations that cannot be proved (al-Qaida links, etc) before those arrested had even been in custody for 24 hours. We still don't know who was behind them, as the West Midlands police have repeated their annoyance at the leaks, and the Home Office has tried its hardest to ignore accusations thrown at it. The two men who were released without charge, apparently only being questioned for at the most, four hours, and without any mention of a plot similar to the one in the papers being given to them, deserve an explanation for their arrest and week long detention. Anyone else in their circumstances would be similarly angry, and that it was under suspicion of a such despicable crime only enhances the fury at being treated in such a way. The consequences of being accused, even if you're released quickly and your character has only been stained by the wider publicity of what occurred, are still palpable.

We should also still remember that those charged are innocent until proven guilty. The ricin case was an example of how terrorism charges don't always stick. You can also understand the fury of Abu Bakr, discovering only after he'd been held for a week that he was arrested under suspicion of plotting to behead a serving Muslim soldier and being some kind of al-Qaida sleeper member, in making his spurious claim that Britain is now a police state for Muslims. As others have pointed out, however glibly, Saudi Arabia is a police state for Muslims.

It was interesting to see how Abu Izzadeen, aka Trevor Brooks, was arrested yesterday, and not at home, as the Guardian reports, but near a tube station. It seems to have been another happy coincidence that he was arrested the morning after Bakr had given his widely reported interview. I'm not sure whether it's my own cynicism which is being too conspiratorial, or if anything is above a Home Office which under John Reid seems obsessed with news management. He's since been released on bail, and his case could yet prove to be groundbreaking, considering the limits of free speech.

For the Sun though, rather than pointing out calmly that Abu Bakr is mistaken, and that his treatment was at the least less than subtle, it's instead a great opportunity to attack the BBC for daring to air Bakr's views:

IT sometimes seems the BBC would prefer terrorists to succeed than for an innocent man to be briefly held without charge.

I don't call the best part of a week briefly. Being held briefly happens when you're the Sun editor and you've smacked your husband, and the police come to the conclusion that both had just had too much to drink. Being held under the Terrorism Act, then not being questioned about anything to do with terrorism, warrants an explanation.

In their politically correct bubble, intelligence is always flawed and anti-terror action is inevitably heavy-handed.

Well, Bakr's innocence certainly proves otherwise, doesn't it?

So the release of two suspects held over the alleged plot to behead a British Muslim soldier was a gift from heaven.

For 24 hours, BBC bulletins repeated the ludicrous claim by one of them that, for Muslims, Britain is a police state.

Yes, it was ludicrous. But his interviews were entirely legitimate journalism, and provided the place for a man angry about his treatment to voice his concerns. This is what we call free speech. The Sun doesn't seem to like it when it's something other than their world view being voiced on the TV screen.

The truth is that these suspects were swept up in a legitimate raid by police who had reasonable grounds for suspicion — and freed after questioning.

Quite true. But not without the men being held for far longer than they would have been if they had been arrested for any other reason, and also not without a judge seeing the evidence against them was so slim that he refused to extend their detention any longer.

That is not the action of a police state. Far from being too harsh, our police may have been too soft.

They should have cracked down sooner on the increasingly assertive minority who pay lip service to liberty but preach murder in the mosque.

Action should have been taken to prevent forced marriages and honour killings which, unforgivably, take place on British soil.

And this from a newspaper which claims to preach tolerance. More does need to be done to tackle extremism, such as ensuring that foreign preachers and others aren't ranting about their grievances in mosques, but the police certainly aren't the people to do that. The mosque itself is also all too frequently viewed as the place where radicalisation takes place; most of the evidence suggests that it's more to down personal research and meeting the like-minded than imams brainwashing worshippers through their foaming at the mouth.

Why the Sun has brought in forced marriages etc, only the leader writer knows. Forced marriages and honour killings have nothing whatsoever to do with what's happened in the past week, and linking them into a leader about the wider implications of a terrorism raid only helps further the wrongly held belief that a whole community, or even a religion, is under scrutiny.

And marches over Danish cartoons by rabble-rousers calling for death to British soldiers should have been broken up on the spot.

Maybe so. We don't however know how the protesters would have reacted, and the most egregious of those who took part are now being prosecuted anyway. The police probably took the right decision at the time in the circumstances. A similar demonstration now would likely result in a different response.

It is time the BBC woke up to a dangerous truth.

Britain is at war with radicalised young Muslims who are willing to commit atrocities against a country which has offered them a home.

The BBC should stop sneering.

And give the police all the support they need to stop them.

No, we're not at war, unless we're also at war with criminals. We're not killing those who are willing to commit atrocities, as the Sun puts it, we're arresting them and treating them like anyone else who plots murder or preaches racial hatred. Ken Macdonald had it exactly right, and suggesting that this is a war only dignifies those who claim to be soldiers.

As for the BBC, they have in the past given too much air-time to the likes of Anjem Choudrary. It gives the impression that such people in some way reflect the wider Muslim community, when it should be obvious they do nothing of the sort. On this occasion the Sun has as usual took its wider contempt for public service broadcasting and the emphasis on impartiality, not to mention making clear that those not even yet charged are innocent until proven guilty, and used it to bash reporting it doesn't like. The difference between the two is that the BBC is accountable, while those who provided the Sun with such lurid headlines (as well as those who wrote them) last week certainly aren't.

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Littlejohn-watch: Beyond parody.

Last time we looked in on the musings of Richard Littlejohn, the Daily Mail's star white-van-man hack, he told us that the death of 5 prostitutes was no great loss. Today he's decided to go one step further: he's justifying, or attempting to at best understand the motives of a terrorist. Not of the Islamic variety, carried out as it is by brown uppity mouth-breathers, but of the motorist kind:

Be honest, until you heard that a woman had been injured, how many of you suppressed a cheer at the news someone had sent a letter bomb to the company which runs London's congestion charge?

Or that a similar device had turned up at a firm which is involved in providing digital speed cameras to the Government and local councils?

Even after we learnt that two men were treated for blast injuries, I'll bet that there were still plenty of motorists who thought: serves the bastards right.

I was so excited that I fell out of my chair. Who wouldn't sympathise with such a worthy cause? If there's one section of society that deserves everything it gets, it's the office and council workers that sort out the incoming mail. Bastards!

Don't worry though dear reader, Littlejohn isn't suggesting that such methods are worthy of support. No, he utterly abhors what has happened:

Let me say for the record that no protest, however legitimate, which inflicts physical injury on another human being can ever be justified.

The current wave of bombs directed at a range of targets, from the DVLA in Swansea to the laboratory which controls the national DNA and fingerprint databases, is clearly the work of a madman.

That's all right then. I was worried for a second there.

Police are proceeding on the theory that whoever is responsible could be motivated by a hatred of Britain's burgeoning surveillance society, the technological manifestation of our Bully State.

They are? I thought they were working on the theory that it was a highly disgruntled motorist, possibly of the same radical bent as "Captain Gatso", the self-styled moniker of a man who probably likes to think of himself as a modern day superman. Unfortunately, we'll never discover whether he also wears his pants outside his trousers.

And this is where Littlejohn's trousers fall down. He's attempting to conflate what seems to have been the actions of a idiot angry about being caught breaking the law in his car, with the general loathing for the loss of civil liberties and the rise of the surveillance society.

I've remarked before that this column is all that keeps me from wandering the streets with a Kalashnikov, firing at random, like Michael Douglas in Falling Down.

That explains a lot. Personally, I blog to take my mind off other things, to remind myself that life isn't all just one monotonous binge of meaningless twaddle, and it's surprisingly reassuring. Littlejohn writes to stop himself from killing other people. We're kindred spirits.

Many of us fantasise about a random act of retaliation, which is why we cheer on Captain Gatso, the masked avenger who takes a chainsaw to speed cameras.

Better that he takes out his anger on inanimate objects than on others, I suppose. If Littlejohn writes to stop him from committing murder, does Gatso attack cameras for the same reason? Are Littlejohn and Gatso related? We should be told.

But we wouldn't dream of stuffing a Jiffy bag full of explosives and sending it to the headquarters of Capita, or any other organisation, where it would be opened inevitably by a young secretary or someone on work experience in the post room.

No, that would be taking things too far. Better to vent your spleen in a national newspaper about whores, Guardianistas and queers, right?

Having said all that, I don't mind admitting that I wouldn't lose much sleep if those wicked dupes, like Red Ken The Terrorist's Friend, who help glorify politically motivated murder and make common cause with killers, were to find themselves on the end of a bombing.

Completely different to cheering on the actions of a man who takes out road cameras that may well save lives and enforce speed limits on otherwise dangerous roads, or at least initially believing that sending a bomb to office workers is "serving the bastards right".

What separates us from the letter bomber is our innate respect for the law and human life.

Hello? You're the same person who wrote just a month ago that five dead prostitutes was no great loss?

But we can all empathise with what drives him over the edge.

I can empathise with a Palestinian who straps a bomb belt to himself and then explodes on a bus. I can understand that he lives under stifling occupation. I know that resisting what you believe is an oppressive state, when those around you are being killed, can lead to acts of murderous revenge. But it won't do me any good, him any good, the people he kills any good, or the Palestinians or the Israelis any good. It will only further the calls for revenge from the other side. It will only lead to a solution being even further away from being grasped.

This situation isn't even close to being comparable to such intractable and controversial issues as Israel/Palestine, Sri Lanka, Chechnya, or even Iraq. This is the petulant action of a man who thinks that sending explosives through the mail is somehow striking a blow against the wider government machine for daring to attempt to regulate the roads. I agree that some speed cameras are probably there simply to earn extra revenue. CCTV cameras on every street corner, even where crime is next to non-existent, piss me off. This government's dilution of civil liberties, the imposition of a 1km zone around parliament where protests have to be authorised, are all legitimate grievances, as it were.

The answer to this however is not to send what are essentially crude fireworks through the post. It's to protest. It's to get involved. It's to raise your voice. It's to vote against those who are enforcing these outrages. Burning some poor person's hand is only going to make you look like an lunatic, undermine the very nature of your cause, and lead to Richard Littlejohn trying desperately to come up with a way to feel your pain, while still condemning it.

Maybe the maniac who is sending out letter bombs was just like the rest of us until he snapped.

I hope they catch him soon. He's a dangerous man, who has already harmed enough innocent people. But will anyone in authority pause to consider the root cause of the grievances which drove him to this madness?

Not a cat in Hell's chance.

No, probably not. Same as the government rightly dismisses other grievances which some sections of the community might also think have driven others to madness. Motorists? Radical Islamists? They're all the same really.

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Thursday, February 08, 2007 

A dog's breakfast made of Straw.

"Look, Jacques! That woman's wearing a niqab!"

In a way, having Lords reform back on the political agenda is a good thing. The Lords ought to be a reminder that for all our democratic progress, the second chamber of parliament is still a place where patronage and the hereditary principal still rule the roost, only being slightly less laughable than the hideously protected and overblown monarchy that also still shadows over modern Britain.

It's therefore dispiriting that Labour's latest proposals for reform are so ineffectual and pathetic. Jack Straw, trying not to fall in the trap that befell one of his predecessors' as leader of the house, Robin Cook, has grasped desperately around for compromise but has instead fell on creating a dog's breakfast that is just as likely, if not more, to suffer the same treatment.

Straw's proposal is that the house be 50% elected, 50% appointed; the last of the hereditary peers would go; the remaining appointed members will not be forced out; 30% of the new appointed members will be nominated by political parties, with 20% by a new independent body; the chamber will be slimmed down to 540 members from the current more than 750,
and the bishops will be allowed to stay.

It may be a revolution, but it's going to be a revolution in slow motion.
As the Guardian leader points out, due to the fact that none of the current life peers will be told to get their coat, the natural wastage from deaths means that it's unlikely any at least partial-elections will take place until 2014, with 50% of the chamber not being elected until 2024. Trotsky may have believed in permanent revolution, but New Labour's adaptation seems to be of a revolution which doesn't get started until those in the way of reform have died rather than been overthrown; it's preserving the status quo while pretending to do otherwise.

By calling for just half of the chamber to be elected, Straw has undoubtedly managed to ensure that his reform will be scuppered. The Tories, amazingly enough, have come out in favour of a fully elected second chamber, although if they get in at the next election with a large majority and with no reform having happened, they may well change their minds. In the 21st century, for any house of parliament to not be both democratically accountable and elected by the people is to be contempt of them. For a government that cannot crow enough about how it respects the power of the consumer and their right to choose, whether it be in the public services or elsewhere, to suggest that they cannot be trusted to fully elect a second chamber is,
as this older Grauniad leader argued, risible. It's all well and good to try and reach a compromise, but surely if parliament cannot reach an agreement that says at the very least 75% of the members of the new house must be elected, then it's not worth trying at all.

Leaving 50% of the chamber to be appointed means that political patronage is not going to go away, just that the prime minister himself will no longer be able to create peers. This might prevent a repeat of Wilson's
Lavender List, but instead just gives the same power to political parties, where unless a vote is carried out on their nominations, the current situation will just continue, which will hardly inspire confidence that a repeat of the cash-for-honours inquiry will be an impossibility.

For it is cash-for-honours than now hangs heavily over the whole debate. It was cash-for-honours that re-energised Labour's desire to reform the second chamber, trying to prove that there really was nothing funny, let alone illegal going on, honest guv. For Blair, it's a chance to point to something else in his wider legacy. Look, at least I got some sort of reform through, that's got to be worth something, right? Unless he's changed his mind in the intervening 3 and a bit years, then Blair still doesn't really want a hybrid chamber at all;
last time he was in favour of a fully appointed house, leaving Robin Cook on his own to put forward the case for at least some proportion to be elected. In the event, MPs rejected all the options. This is what Straw wants to avoid this time round, but with such woefully unambitious plans, perhaps this is why Blair seems to be supporting them; he wants history to be repeated.

The way around this is that if MPs again fail to decide on any reform, and reject Straw's attempts for them to back a preferential system of voting that at least gets some reform voted through, is for the options instead to be put to the nation in a referendum. Seeing as the Lords themselves are unlikely to resemble turkeys voting for Christmas, and that Labour's manifesto isn't strong enough to force through reform via the parliament act, what better way would there for the argument to be settled once and for all than through the ballot box? Sure, the turnout will probably be low unless it's done on the same day as the next general election, and we all know how the wider public loves debating the intricacies of the reforming of the House of Lords, but at least it would give some wider legitimacy to whichever reform is decided upon, rather than leaving it to the whims of our elected representatives, who are unlikely to take on board the views of their constituents on such a matter. It would be next to impossible to make a bigger mess of it than Straw has.

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View from the afternoon.

Yes, it's predictable, sentimental and rather sad, but isn't that what this blog is all about?


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Wednesday, February 07, 2007 

Sun in doing the right thing shocker?!

I hold my hands up: the Sun's obtaining of a copy of the video of the friendly fire death of Lance Corporal Matty Hull is the scoop of the year so far, and was a rare example of the newspaper proving it can on occasion be a force for good, responsible journalism, as well as being a propaganda vehicle for Mr Murdoch.

The withholding for more than 3 years of the tape, for reasons which are now only too obvious, highlights the contempt in which the American military establishment holds their supposed allies. Two inexperienced pilots, through their own ignorance and likely poor training, attacked UK troops even though they could clearly see the orange panels on the vehicles which identified them as coalition forces. They were also less than helped by the unclear and inaccurate information provided by the US forces on the ground. The tape though also shows the anguish of the two soldiers once they had realised what they had done; it's right that they should be ordered to give evidence at the coroner's inquest into Hull's death, but whether further disciplinary action is required is far less clear cut.

Those who deserve both barrels instead are the higher-ups who decided in the first place that the two pilots were not guilty of misconduct; the Ministry of Defence officials who lied to Hull's family and relatives, telling them that there was no recording of what happened, only recently revealing that there in fact was, and the US military for refusing to allow the tape to be shown to the coroner's court without further negotiations. As so often happens when leaks such as this happen, the video has now been seen across the globe, when instead the tape would have only been played at the inquest; the MoD has succeeded only in demonstrating the way in which it treats soldiers and their families who put their lives on the line for so little in return, while the Pentagon, if any more proof was needed, showed how it thinks only of its own and no one else.

While the Sun deserves the credit for actually obtaining the video, if it hadn't been for the coroner Andrew Walker being both so outspoken and so determined to get to the truth of what happened, the video may never have emerged. The video also raises further questions of just what Blair has got in return for his handing over of foreign policy to Washington. Not only has the war made the world more dangerous, inflamed tensions throughout the wider Middle East and resulted in the deaths of at least one hundred thousand Iraqis, he can't even claim that our soldiers' payment through blood has meant the US military respects our own legal institutions more than it did when the Bush administration so arrogantly rejected the establishment of the International Criminal Court.

Speaking of which, everyone seems to have forgotten the two Iraqi civilians, waving white flags, who were also shot down by the two pilots. Along with the hundreds, if not thousands (or more) killed due to mistakes at best and trigger happiness at worst, there were and will be no inquests into their deaths. That the shells which hit the Scimitars and Spartans were of the 30mm depleted uranium variety which some scientists increasingly fear are responsible for increased cases of birth defects and cancers in Iraq only enhances the blow. Justice for the Iraqis will be a lot longer in coming, even in the case of Matty Hull.

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Iain Dale is a lying liar.

I've been monitoring the on-going blogging civil war, but haven't felt the need to join in or further comment mainly because I have very little to add. That, and some of it bores me to tears, but finally Tim's digging at both Guido and Iain Dale himself has resulted in Dale coming well and truly unstuck:

Here, much to Iain's annoyance, James Oates names my "comprehensive demolition" of Guido Fawkes as his blog of the week. James then goes on to say:

"(Guido) is a nihilist, effectively... and I really think that's what Tim Ireland is pointing out..."

Then Iain Dale interjects with this:

"Well isn't Tim Ireland one as well?"

Now technically, it could be argued that Iain was merely asking if I was a nihilist; not stating a fact, merely asking a question... but let's pop back to Iain's denial, less than 24 hours later:

"I never said anything of the sort. Seeing as until I just looked it up I hadn't got a fucking clue what a nihilist is, I'm hardly likely to call you one, am I?"

But Iain did say something of that exact sort, and any reference to the dictionary would have been completely surplus to requirements because he threw the same word back in a guest's face just the night before!

An apology would surely not go amiss, Mr Dale.

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Tuesday, February 06, 2007 

Someone save us from these idiots.

Unity has already said a lot of excellent stuff on this subject, but this is possibly the most ignorant and idiotic scheme this government could have come up with. As you might have guessed, it's to do with sex offenders and paedophiles:

Sex offenders could be forced to register their e-mail addresses and chatroom names, the government says.

Home Secretary John Reid said he may make paedophiles put online identity details on the Sex Offenders Register.

Mechanisms would be set up to "flag up" approaches by them to sites popular among youngsters, he told the BBC.

As if the case yesterday of the three men who were given indeterminate sentences for plotting online wasn't worrying enough (yes, they needed to be dealt with, but the sentences given for talking about kidnapping, rape and murder when no offences other than possessing child pornography took place and when the men had not even met were out of all proportion with other comparable cases) then this comes along. Surely Reid and his advisers realise that you can get a new email address and change your alias on a myriad of sites within a matter of minutes?

Apparently not.

He told the BBC: "If we did that we would then be able to set up mechanisms that would flag up anyone using those addresses or those identities to make approaches and contacts through some of the very popular internet spaces which are used by kids."

Right. Say for instance a paedophile used the alias "lensman" (I've stole this from the film Hard Candy) in chatrooms, was convicted of a sex offence and was put on the register. Under Reid's plans "lensman" would therefore be potentially flagged, probably through NetNanny type programmes or voluntary ISP schemes, and as a result would either be blocked or a warning would be flashed up. Not only would this not stop "lensman" from changing his alias, but others who used this alias would then be potentially flagged as being untrustworthy at best. Most internet aliases used are far from original, and potentially hundreds, if not thousands of users across the world can use the same one. "lensman" is an example of this. Browsing just a couple of user sites, we come across different lensmans. Here's one on MySpace. A different one on Another from YouTube.

Online paedophiles also usually use names that are likely to appeal to those who they're targeting. As a result, children themselves could come under suspicion or have their own use of the internet limited. This may be an attempt to make the internet "safer", but it's also one which potentially cripples it.

It's a scheme that is so utterly unworkable that you have to hope that some of the more technologically savvy among the Westminster village point out just how ridiculous this is. It doesn't help however when you have so-called "experts" talking rubbish:

Child internet safety expert John Carr, of children's charity NCH, said: "This is a very welcome move.

"It will mean that we can extend the Sex Offenders Register regime into cyberspace and that will be a great comfort to many people."

It may be a comfort, but it's a false one. It's full of more holes than Wolfowitz's socks.

Prof Allyson MacVean, director of the John Grieve Centre for Policing and Community Safety at London's Metropolitan University, said police should be able to search sex offenders' homes and computers.

"Internet addresses are so easy to make up and it doesn't give any sense of who the person is or where their location is," she told the BBC.

She said this was why the police needed access to sex offenders' computers without needing to apply for a warrant.

Now we're mixing up sex offenders and paedophiles again. Believe it or not, there's a difference between the two. If the police are so concerned about some predatory paedophiles using the internet, then they should be banned from using the internet altogether at their homes. This would be easy enough to do with the help of BT. It wouldn't stop them using internet cafes, the houses of friends or libraries, but it would be something of a reassurance.

Update: To be slightly clearer, blocking broadband is easy. BT could have a list of numbers where broadband shouldn't ever be enabled. Blocking dial-up and the numerous numbers of different ISPs would be more difficult. Offenders could try and get a new number in order to get around this, and we'd have to depend on BT's bureaucracy to stop it. It could also be got around by using a mobile phone as a modem, as Vodafone I think are offering now, if at extortionate prices, or simply by using a mobile phone for the internet, although the technology doesn't come close to that provided by PCs. Lastly, those banned from the internet could attempt to steal a nearby person's unsecured wireless connection, if one was available.

None of this is to take the civil liberties arguments into blocking the use of the internet entirely, and whether such banning would constitute punishment after a sentence has been served into consideration.

End Update.

It's already far too easy to smear someone as a paedophile. This scheme would not just make it easier, it would also mean that it would be next to impossible to prove your innocence if you're unfortunate enough to share your internet alias with one of these modern day witches.

I'll leave the final words to Unity:
The entire proposal is a complete shambles and clearly advanced and put forward by people who haven’t got the first fucking clue how the internet really works.

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Scum-watch: It's a laugh riot!

There is a serious side to the story mentioned in today's Scum leader, so before we get to the humour, we may as well look into it a little more. Colin Cook, a teacher who was sacked for misconduct from the King Fahd school in Acton (The Telegraph report (see below) mentions a website for the school, but Google fails to find it) has claimed that the books the children are taught from are racist, and that the school itself is promoting Wahhabism. Here's the Grauniad report:

A Saudi-run school in London uses textbooks which describe Jews as monkeys and Christians as pigs, according to papers filed with an employment tribunal by a former teacher.

Teaching materials used at the King Fahd school in Acton, west London, translated from Arabic for an unfair dismissal claim against the school, say Jews "engage in witchcraft and sorcery and obey Satan", and invite pupils to "name some repugnant characteristics of Jews" and to give examples of worthless religions, such as Judaism and Christianity.

Colin Cook, 57, a British convert to Islam who taught English at the school for 19 years until he was dismissed last December, said pupils had been heard saying they wanted to kill Americans, that 9/11 was good, and that Osama bin Laden was a hero. He is claiming £100,000 compensation for unfair dismissal, race discrimination and victimisation.

The school was originally set up to educate the children of Arab diplomats, but most of its 750 pupils are now British Muslims. It teaches Wahhabism, the dominant faith in Saudi Arabia, which is an extreme form of Islam that insists on a literal interpretation of the Qur'an.

Mr Cook's solicitor, Lawrence Davies, said he was taking the "extraordinary step" of issuing a statement because British pupils were being put at risk. "We are concerned at the fact that these racist textbooks are being taught in a Saudi-funded school to British pupils and to date no school inspection by Ofsted has identified this appalling practice."

The teacher, who earned £35,000 a year, says he blew the whistle to Edexcel, the examinations body, after children were allowed to refer to their annotated texts in an English language exam in breach of the rules. The school denies his allegations and claims he was rightly dismissed for misconduct. His tribunal hearing is expected to be held later this year.

It is of course worth wondering why Mr Cook didn't feel the need to raise this issue before he was sacked, but his allegations do deserve further investigation. If found true, the school needs urgent reform, if not closure. It is also worth questioning though how Ofsted appears to have missed all of this going on in their midst.

Ofsted inspected the school in March last year, and produced a middling report on the school. Its main findings were:

King Fahad Academy is a satisfactory school with some good features and some that do not completely meet regulatory requirements. Its curriculum, although in a state of change, provides its pupils with a balanced education and opportunities to develop their intellect and skills. The quality of teaching is mostly good, and, in each school, there is a trend towards improved quality with increasing ages of pupils. Pupils’ achievement and progress reflect the quality of the teaching. The rapid changes to the curriculum have been introduced to bring it more in line with the needs of all its pupils. The introduction of the International Baccalaureate curriculum has required a change in the languages used for teaching and learning. These developments have been accompanied by major changes in staffing, along with disruptions of administration and of the timetable. This has led to concerns in the last year amongst pupils and parents. The school has sought to improve communication and the provision of information for parents. It sets a high priority on pupils’ welfare, health and safety.

The report does however particularly praise the school's work on citizenship, which rather goes against some of the allegations made by Cook:

The citizenship programme has many strong features. It is designed to raise pupils’ awareness of issues relating to themselves and others; these include the cultural and linguistic diversity of society, poverty and British institutions.

The report in full is available here (PDF).

This isn't however the first time that similar allegations have been made. In 2004 the Telegraph especially highlighted what it was told was poor teaching of girls:

A London school funded by the Saudi Arabian government is facing complaints from parents that it is teaching British children "fundamentalist" Islam while giving girls an inferior education.

The King Fahd Academy in Acton, west London, named after the current Saudi ruler, devotes up to 50 per cent of lessons to religious education and teaches almost all classes in Arabic, with boys and girls following different curricula.

An additional piece of information may also provide the explanation to why some of the pupils may have been espousing support for terrorism and bin Laden:

Among those who currently attend the academy are the children of Abu Hamza, the cleric from Finsbury Park mosque who was arrested last week after the United States applied for his extradition on terrorism charges.

Anyway, on to the giggles:

SOME of the things happening in Britain today beggar belief.

A teacher claims in a legal statement that an Islamic school in West London is teaching five-year-olds to calls Jews “apes” and Christians “pigs”.

These children are also allegedly being told Osama bin Laden is a hero and killing Americans is good.

So while the Government and The Sun urge tolerance and understanding among communities, children are having their minds poisoned in a London classroom.

Ahahahahahaha ahahahahahahahhaha ahahahhahahahahahahahahahahah ahahahahahahahahahahaha.

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Monday, February 05, 2007 

Are you still here?

It's starting to look as if Blair's days truly are numbered. The Sundays, as they are wont to do, were full of speculation over loans for peerages, with the News of the Screws being unusual in actually producing a political story claiming that Levy, Turner and Sir Christopher Evans, who donated £1m, are all to be charged, with Blair being questioned for a third time, possibly under caution. While believing anything at all in the Screws is foolhardy (just look at this pack of lies and propaganda about the Birmingham terror arrests), today's Times (the website has a hideous trendy new-look, complete with a close to unreadable tiny font) has followed it up with backing some of the Screws' claims, while carrying John McTernan's denials that the information had come from him.

If any of the above happens, then Blair's position would finally be untenable. In a way, if this is how it happens, then it will be the cliche that his reign will come to an end with a whimper rather than a bang. Looking back, it's obvious now to everyone that Blair should have been kicked out over Iraq, and he might well have been had the establishment not found favour in the choice of Lord Hutton as the presiding judge for the inquiry into Dr David Kelly's death. The media themselves, and indeed, us, additionally deserve some of the blame. While we cried whitewash, few of us demanded that Blair should resign, with even less of the newspapers doing so. As ever, the Murdoch empire may have much to answer for in that regard; the unstinting support of the Sun for the prime minister, which continues to this day, has to have had some bearing on the length of his stay. We the electorate though should not be let off the hook: we had the opportunity in 2005 to get rid of the lot of them, but the Tories didn't help matters by conspiring to be an even worse alternative than New Labour.

Some still though hold the view that Blair hanging on until after May is in the interests of everyone. Jackie Ashley, usually one of the more perceptive, if unashamedly Brownite commentators on the Grauniad, has fallen for it:

Two odd thoughts this morning. Tony Blair should not quit. And things are actually going rather well for Labour. No, I haven't taken leave of my senses. Having called for Blair to hang up his boots on several occasions, mainly because of the disaster that is the Iraq war, I don't believe he can walk off just now. To do so - despite the support for that idea from many in his party and, overwhelmingly, from the public - would be an admission of guilt over the loans-for-peerages affair. He, like the rest of us, must wait to see if there are more developments from Scotland Yard.

It may well be seen as that, but if he does go now and he isn't personally charged, then he can claim to have been vindicated. If he stays and any of his staff or Levy are charged, then he will have to go anyway, and in disgrace. Unlikely as his being charged is, if it that happened then he could have possibly the most ignominious history of a prime minister yet written. If there's one thing we know Blair wants, it's at least something of a legacy, and unlike Churchill, he isn't going to be able to write it himself.

Besides, his staying just further entrenches the current impasse in politics. Some are calling it a crisis, but it would be better described as a deep trough which politics has fallen into, thanks to Blair's imminent departure and the loans for peerages inquiry. Everyone is waiting for either the former to occur or for the second to end. Until either happens, everything at the moment seems inconsequential by comparison.

Yet for now this is for the birds. Gordon Brown is not pushing him to stand aside immediately, and there is nobody else with the heft or willpower to make Blair bring forward his own timetable. Furthermore, a Blair resignation this month or next would actually make life harder for his party. It isn't all farewell speeches. Even some of his harsher critics say he is needed for the final push to get the Northern Ireland parties back into a reconstituted assembly before the deadline of March 26. Once that is done, it would be sensible to announce to Labour's national executive committee exactly what his timetable will be, almost certainly involving stepping down after the May elections. That way he takes the rap (and rightly so) for the May election results, and still leaves time for the new leader to bed in well before the autumn conference season.

Northern Ireland is almost a done deal; as Peter Hain has rightly made clear, if Sinn Fein and the DUP can't now reach agreement on power-sharing after Sinn Fein abandoned one of its longest standing principles on not co-operating with or recognising the police, then they still don't deserve to be able to govern themselves. It can be argued that Blair might have to do some additional prodding, if Hain can't manage it alone, but if he was to go beforehand this could be handled by Brown or Bertie Ahern, if necessary.

If Blair was to go now, then the election process could still be conducted in time for the May elections. It would be more than possible for the campaigning for that to be merged with the campaigning for the local elections, with Brown and his opponents (it might turn out to be just John McDonnell; John Reid is tainted, Charles Clarke probably couldn't get enough signatories, while David Miliband and Alan Johnson have made clear they're not interested, and neither is well enough known anyway) making their own cases for just why Labour should be supported even in a time of flux. It's tempting for Blair to stay and to take the blame for the likely disaster, but the mood in the country is that he should go now. If he did, it's still conceivable that the mood could change. The longer he stays, the more everyone's reminded of just why he hasn't gone yet.

What Labour really needs is a medium-term plan for dealing with the appalling damage caused by the cash-for-honours row, and the erosion of trust it has brought. There is a rising revolt against Jack Straw's latest plans for a part-elected, part-appointed House of Lords. Last week's cabinet meeting was a long way from rubber-stamping the plans, and that's before the rest of the Commons and the Lords themselves get a look in. Whatever the intellectual case for a mixed chamber - or indeed an all-appointed one as set out by David Steel on this page - suspicion of undue influence and malign patronage is fixed in the public mind. We need to go all elected, ending for ever the chuckles about cheque books and coronets.

What better arena could there be for discussing and debating all of this than the election process for both leader and deputy leader? This is potentially a great opportunity for involving the Labour membership in a far greater democratic say in what policies should be taken forward than ever is allowed at the annual conference.

What is clear is that Labour needs a new constitutional deal that ends this dismal history of political sleaze. It doesn't matter if it comes this month or after May. But it can be done, a new political tone can be set, and many in the party want it. That surely is rare good news for Labour.

The one thing Ashley misses out is that the sooner it happens the better. Both for Labour and the country. Everyone is just waiting for Blair to do the decent thing, but then it could be argued we've been already spent 9 years doing just that.

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Scum-watch: Keeping enemies from our streets.

Hard to know whether this is cheerleading of the government's potential new drive towards 70/90 days, or simply a rebuff to a man who the tabloids have been building up, but either way, the Sun's not going to let John Sentamu get away with his criticism of such measures:

THE Sun admires John Sentamu, the first black Church of England Archbishop.

But his claim that holding terror suspects for 90 days without charge will make Britain a tyranny like Idi Amin’s Uganda is ludicrous.

Upping the limit from 28 days wouldn’t turn us into a police state.

It would simply give detectives enough time to amass evidence in cases often more complex than a normal criminal investigation.

Which is exactly why they were given 28 days only just more than a year ago. A "normal" criminal investigation can only be stretched out to 96 hours at most without the suspect being charged. 28 days already gives them up to 672 hours. 90 would give them 2160, or the equivalent of a six-month prison sentence. 90 day detention without charge might not turn us into a police state, but it would be a menacing reminder of the very measures which police states resort to. Besides, there has yet to be any evidence presented that anything more than 28 days is needed, or if even 28 days would be needed if the police had the proper resources available in order to crack encryption on hard drives etc. The police talk of hundreds and hundreds of gigabytes of data is meant to blind people with statistics, especially when it involves burnt cds and dvds which can be checked quickly.

Britain is facing its greatest threat since the Nazis.

Oh, we've reached the point of the Nazi threat now. Previously it was back to the level of threat posed by the Soviet Union, now we're apparently once again stuck in 1940, waiting for the Nazis to invade, except this time the Wehrmacht armies are suicide bombers and the Luftwaffe are terrorists making their explosives in the toilets of planes.

In fact, this comparison is an insult. Sixty million died in WW2, over 400,000 British servicemen among them. To suggest that the Islamic extremist terrorist threat, which has so far resulted in the deaths of 52 people in this country, could conceivably achieve similar casualties is both to give too much credit to a rag-tag band of non-aligned backward fantasists and to belittle the sacrifice made on all sides by ordinary men and women to crush Nazism. (It's best not to even bring the Holocaust into the equation.)

Police should not have to race against the clock to keep enemies off our streets.

That's right. Everyone arrested under the Terrorism Act is a enemy, and the evidence only has to be found for that to be proved. The Sun could not have done more to prove Sentamu right.

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Saturday, February 03, 2007 

The politics of leaking.

There's an incredibly interesting piece in the Grauniad today about the leaking and speculation which has surrounded the Birmingham terror arrests. It's in effect the police saying that they've had nothing to do with the various briefings that have led to the more sensationalist headlines:

Police sources in the West Midlands said yesterday they suspected the anonymous briefings may have been intended to deflect attention from the prisons crisis and the cash for honours inquiry, while counter-terrorism officials in London told the Guardian there was concern that the speculation generated is interfering with the investigation by the newly formed Midlands Counter-Terrorism Unit.

One counter-terrorism official warned yesterday that "an awful lot of inaccuracies" had begun to appear in the media, to the alarm of West Midlands police. "As a result of some of the speculation, police feel they have been hampered in their evidence gathering," he said.

Some of the more sensational claims about the plot - such as reports yesterday that two young British Muslim soldiers had agreed to act as "live bait" in an attempt to trap the suspects - were dismissed by counter-terrorism officials as being completely untrue. Claims that police uncovered a list of 25 intended victims were also dismissed.

The Times article on the "25 terror hitlist" mentions a "defence source", while the Sun's article stating that "beheading videos" had been found at one of the searched houses refers to a "police source". The original Sun article on the 1st of February attributes some of the information to a "senior security source".

It's therefore difficult to know who to believe, especially when previous cases have involved the police and security sources briefing and leaking on a grand scale. This might simply be a case of the police trying to pass the buck onto the government for some of their officers going off the record without permission, exasperating their superiors and this is their message to them to shut up. That said, probably the last place the police would talk to about their concerns over leaking would be the Guardian if their own officers were responsible.

On the case against the government, the Times and the Sun often are the favourite papers to leak to, mainly because they're the most sympathetic to their cause. It also would be far from unprecedented for journalists on both papers to have lied about the sources for their stories. The Sun was also the newspaper that was fastest to react to the whole story breaking - within hours the political editor of the Scum had written his highly detailed piece, alleging that those arrested had been involved in a plot to behead a serving Muslim soldier. If it was sources inside the Home Office and Downing Street who have in fact been behind the briefings, then it makes a mockery of John Reid's appeals for restraint; it goes without saying that Reid, a former communist thug, should be only trusted as far as he can be thrown.

None of this, as BlairWatch also points out, necessarily means that the plot didn't exist. It may however turn out to have been a lucky coincidence for a government that has been grasping at anything to deflect attention away from the incompetence at the Home Office and from the continuing fallout from the loans for peerages inquiry. It also shows the hypocrisy of this government: whining and angry about alleged leaks from Yates of the Yard, yet at the same time more than happy to smear men within hours of their arrest. David Miliband's words about the Yates' inquiry are therefore heavy with irony:

"We have a great British tradition that you are innocent until proven guilty and I think anyone who is throwing mud should stop."

Mr Miliband maybe ought to point this out to those who are ultimately responsible for the briefings.

Not that any of this has stopped leaks either from the police or the government. Today's Scum has yet another apparent "exclusive", this time from a "police source":

A MUSLIM soldier at the centre of an alleged kidnap plot may be sent to Iraq — because he is SAFER there than in Britain.

A police source said: “It has been spelled out to him that he remains a terrorist target while he stays in this country.

“Some of the suspects who allegedly targeted him are in custody — but others slipped the net.

“Obviously there are many dangers in Iraq but he will be part of the massive British contingent and will have no fear of the UK-based terrorists who singled him out here.

“The soldier feels he would be safer serving in Iraq with his comrades at the moment than walking around his own neighbourhood.”

Sounds like utter rubbish, unless it was indeed the soldier's own idea. No one has any idea where he's being kept, and seeing as the security sources have dismissed the idea that those arrested had a list of up to 25 Muslim soldiers, there's also not a security breach from within the MoD. Trying to suggest that he'd be safer in Iraq is to ignore completely the situation over there, even in Basra (At least 135 were killed in Baghdad today in the latest bloody massacre). The real reason for why he'd want to instead go back to Iraq is so he could escape the no doubt suffocating security that has been placed around him - they don't so much as let you take a piss in peace.

On then to two incidents of shameless sycophancy; one from the Sun, one from Martin Kettle.

BLAIR laid it on the line yesterday: he will NOT be hounded out of Downing Street.

Not by the endless police inquiries into the cash-for-honours affair. Not by Labour rats who think it is time to jump a sinking ship. And not by a hostile BBC.

And today he has a stark message for his party that should end all the behind-the-scenes scheming.

He will warn that if fewer than one voter in fifty switches to the Tories at the next election, Labour will lose its majority.

If that doesn’t concentrate the plotters’ minds then Gordon Brown is going to inherit a crippled party when he takes over this summer.

It's almost as if Alastair Campbell himself was writing the Sun's editorials. The blame for what has happened to Labour, and why it's now in the doldrums is everywhere except on Blair himself. It's the "hostile" BBC, the endless police investigation and the "plotters", even though it's obvious that there are no plotters. It pretty much sums up Blair's own attitude to what's gone wrong, and what the solution is: more of the same. Despite all the evidence that he is the problem, that it's the policies that he wants the party to continue with that are causing the apathy, Blair has more than made clear that like Thatcher, he's not for turning. The Sun, which is supposed to know when someone's finished, and when to switch support, appears to have lost its political nous. Whether this is down to Murdoch's apparent sniffiness towards Cameron, his advance in years, or Wade's own political illiteracy is unclear.

The Chancellor had better order his supporters to heel. He has waited long enough for the top job. A little longer won’t hurt.

Everyone who wants Tony to go now is a Brown supporter. It's a smear, a straw man argument that the Sun delights in. That anyone with half a brain can see that the longer Blair stays the more the party will suffer doesn't come into it.

This is where dear old Martin Kettle enters. It appears that he read yesterday's Sun editorial, because he uses surprisingly similar language in urging the Yates' inquiry to come to an end:

A long police inquiry is neither illegal nor uncommon. But this inquiry is also profoundly sensitive in a way that cannot be dismissed as irrelevant. This case involves the elected government of the land - as well, do not forget, as the financing of all the major parties and the legislature of the nation. It is therefore a challenge not merely to Tony Blair - of whom we may or may not approve - but to the general polity. There is more than one public interest at stake. If crimes have been committed then those who are charged must of course answer for them. But there is also a public interest in the maintenance of our system of government - a system that is generally good, not bad. The longer the investigation goes on, the more the question of proportionality comes into play. That is why it is time for the police to put up or shut up.

In fact, it's more than just the Sun's leader which Kettle seems to have plagiarised - his opening gambit, comparing the investigation into the poisoning of Litvinenko to the Yates' inquiry, was one that as a commenter notes, was made on this week's Question Time.

There's a relation which both Kettle and Blair share - both are being drawn inexorably into becoming increasingly apologetic - in yesterday's interview with John Humphrys on the Today programme, Blair's previous sheen, his indomitable belief in himself and in his ability to get out of any scrape purely through putting his own side across had almost entirely gone AWOL. He just about survived, mainly because Humphrys didn't push him as hard as perhaps Paxman would have, but it may well turn out to be a watershed moment. Blair made clear that he knows that the public no longer trust him, but that everything's OK because he trusts him, which just about sums up his own various levels of delusion and arrogance in continuing to cling on to power.

It's the same with Kettle. He must realise that the more apologia he pens for Blair, the more that his own readers begin to mock him, which is exactly what they do on the CiF thread, but he still believes that it's the right thing to do nonetheless. The difference is that Blair can end the humiliation for the both of them, while Kettle can only keep boiling himself over with indignation for all the prime minister's critics.

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Friday, February 02, 2007 

Scum and Times-watch: Leaks and lackeys.

The leaks are continuing to come thick and fast over the arrests of 9 men in Birmingham under suspicion of being behind a plot to kidnap a serving British Muslim soldier. Or it could be two, or according to the Times, up to 25, as the men may well have had a list detailing the names and addresses of just less than two dozen servicemen. The Times also alleges that at least two of the men may have attended a camp "directly linked to al-Qaida", claiming that "al-Qaida" chose Britain to be the testing ground for their terrorist initiatives, the kind of information that makes Melanie Philips and Michael Gove start salivating.

The more down-market end of the Murdoch empire doesn't want to be outdone. The Sun today claims that "murder videos" were found at one of the houses being searched in Aston, Birmingham, which if true, are likely to have been copies of the type of jihadist propaganda which turns up on radical websites and then later on sites such as LiveLeak (formerly Ogrish).

I wouldn't have so much of a problem with such information being put into the public domain as long as it was done so by a police spokesman, but instead, as has happened in previous cases, we're seeing a media free-for-all in which police and security sources leak information which may or may not be true, and then let the media potentially embellish it even further.

According to the BBC:

At an afternoon press conference, ACC Shaw told reporters the searches so far had yielded a "significant quantity of exhibits" but would give no further details.

No, they'll just leak them to the newspapers instead.

Today's Sun leader focuses instead on the loans for peerages affair, and would you believe it, it takes a line so similar to the one which 10 Downing Street has given in private that you wonder whether the two are indistinguishable:

DOGGED Yard chief John Yates has been walking a fine line in his cash-for-gongs probe.

Yesterday he crossed it.

In a staggering cloak and dagger flourish, he not only quizzed the Prime Minister but ordered Downing Street to keep quiet about it.

This was apparently to make sure they were no differences between the information that Blair had given them and that also provided by Lord Levy, who was then again arrested, this time under suspicion of perverting the course of justice. The reason why they wanted Downing Street to keep quiet seems to have been to make sure that Levy was not potentially tipped off. For a newspaper that prides itself on always supporting the police and often gets plenty of juicy information back in return, this seems a rather willfully ignorant way to talk about such a ploy.

In his year-long marathon, Mr Yates has TWICE interrogated the Prime Minister, TWICE arrested Lord Levy and TWICE grilled Downing Street supremo Jonathan Powell.

He has also arrested Downing Street “gatekeeper” Ruth Turner TWICE for possible conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.

No he hasn't. She may have been questioned twice, but she's only been arrested once, which even then provoked gnashing of teeth from the Blairite-ultras and government loyalists.

Now the Deputy Assistant Police Commissioner has two options . . .


He’s had ample time to assess whether there is a case to answer or not. His inquiries have created a cloud of suspicion over the Blair government which will not disperse, even if nobody ends up in court.

How very different the Sun's attitude to this investigation is to those suspected of involvement in terrorism. Then 90 days detention without charge is not just common sense, it's an absolute necessity. When it comes to investigating a scandal at the top of government, where there now seems to be evidence of a possible cover-up, just as the inquiry appears to be reaching its conclusion the government's only remaining loyal ally in Fleet Street comes out demanding that a police officer either put up or shut up. If this didn't involve the prime minister or the Murdoch empire itself, when else would the Sun ever tell a police officer investigating a crime to put up or shut up?

Nor can he simply dump responsibility by handing his dossier to the Crown Prosecution Service.

Err, he's gathering the evidence, it's up to the CPS to decide whether there's enough to go through with a prosecution. The Sun loves to act stupid when it's to its advantage.

Whatever others may think of the characters involved, this is either much ado about nothing or serious wrongdoing.

After almost a year, Mr Yates has enough evidence to reach a professional judgment . . .

Either wrap it — or scrap it.

Either way, the loans were hidden through a loophole of this Labour government's own creation. The secrecy surrounding them, with the loans kept hidden from nearly everyone who should have known about them, means that there's the stink of corruption around this for a good reason. Blair and his acolytes have no one but themselves to blame for getting into the situation at the last election where they were forced to rely on rich businessmen, and then to attempt to cover-up just who was bankrolling the party ought to be enough to show that there was serious wrongdoing from the beginning. The only question is whether what happened was actual selling of peerages or just a happy coincidence for the men who loaned their millions. Either way, the whole political system has become tainted, and until Blair does the decent thing, it will only increase the cynicism of the general public. As for the Sun, in its attempts to exert pressure on the police when otherwise it would do the exact opposite, it's shown again just how deep the unwritten pact with the current occupant of Downing Street is.

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Thursday, February 01, 2007 

Clinging on for no greater purpose.

It's completely impossible to work out just what it is that somehow makes Tony Blair think that he should still be prime minister. He's not just a dead man walking, he's almost in the same position as Saddam Hussein found himself in in his final moments. Not only has his power evaporated, with it about to be wrenched away to the man he's spent most of the last few years fighting with it, he's getting mocked even in his final moments of what seems like clarity. Blair still believes that he can achieve something, and this week he actually almost did. Northern Ireland is back on the road to devolution, with Sinn Fein making their historic pledge to support the police, yet all of it was overshadowed by the re-arrest of Lord Levy and now the revelation that he was again questioned by police over the loans for peerages affair last Friday.

Blair, if he's honest with himself, and let's hope that his delusion hasn't reached that stage yet, must realise that his continued stay in 10 Downing Street and as the Labour party leader is only hurting both the country and the prospects of his party being re-elected. The question that he should be asking himself is how much longer it should be before he puts both himself and us out of this misery. While an immediate resignation would be incredibly welcome, if we put ourselves in Blair's shoes for a moment, would we want to give the opposition the pleasure of seeing a police investigation result in the first ever prime ministerial scalp? They would never stop crowing, and certainly not on election day.

Hanging on though, as he is, just inflicts even more damage. The smell of corruption isn't just over the loans - it grows ever stronger over the decision to drop the Serious Fraud Office investigation into an alleged slush fund for the Saudis provided by BAE. The Guardian today reports that Blair personally forced Lord Goldsmith, the attorney general, to tell the SFO to drop the investigation, despite Goldsmith previously deciding that there was sufficient evidence to at least charge Sir Dick Evans, former head of BAE. Goldsmith found himself incredibly flustered and looking less than honest in a brilliant interview conducted by the FT. The Liberal Democrats have also rightly turned on Goldsmith, and his strangely quickly changing opinions.

This is why it seems so apparent that Blair's vanity is the thing that is actually keeping him at Number 10. He's made clear that he won't be forced out until after the May elections, showing complete disregard for the Labour party's chances in those very elections, which are bound to be greatly increased were he to go quietly now, giving a chance for the leadership election to take place before campaigning gets underway in earnest. He's still looking desperately trying to find something that will mean he can leave office on a high - even though his options, the longer he puts it off, continue to dwindle. There's no sign of any good news from Iraq, Israel/Palestine continue to be deadlocked, with the boycott of Hamas continuing and Mahmoud Abbas left powerless. The chatter about an attack on Iran grows louder, the sign of another politician facing his demise drastically raising the stakes for little reason other than his legacy. The Home Office may be about to be split, but it won't be sorted out until Blair is long gone.

While some claim that there may be a silver lining to the loans for peerages cloud, with reform of the funding system and the House of Lords as a result, if the investigation leads to charges, he'll never be remembered for inadvertently kick starting those changes. Even the apparent plans for doing both are half-measures, the Lords, crying out to be fully elected, is instead going to be a hybrid of both, if parliament gives the green light, which is far from certain.

One legacy which Blair will have that few will thank him for is the values that he has stood for continue to infect those that amazingly continue to look to him for their inspiration. John Denham on Tuesday chided the ultra-Blairites for their lack of ambition in targeting only the super-marginals. Some MPs can still see what Blairism has led to: the embrace of the consumer, of choice, has become so ingrained that they only seem to care what a tiny sub-section of the country cares about, rather than see the bigger picture. The capitulation to the Mail/Sun agenda, which inevitably results in the removal of families such as the Bokharis, described movingly by Austin Mitchell MP, has turned off traditional Labour supporters across the country, yet even now when Labour faces its biggest challenge to remain in power they can't see what their agenda has done.

If renewal is to come, unlikely as it seems, then it has to begin now. This simply isn't going to happen, unless the Yates' inquiry drops a further bombshell. While it was Blair's lies that led to the catastrophe of Iraq, it's his vanity that may well result in the defeat of his government.

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Scum and Mail-watch: Beheadings, experts and 90 days.

Well, it's good to see that the Daily Mail took full account of the advice from police and politicians not to jump to conclusions over the terror arrests in Birmingham. They repeat the claims of the Scum yesterday that this was obviously an al-Qaida plot (all Islamic terrorists and extremists are al-Qaida, don't you know?) in about the biggest font they could possibly use. That al-Qaida plots genuinely go in for mass casualties rather than the death of just one person doesn't seem to matter; the executions carried out by al-Zarqawi et al in Iraq were the work of his Tawhid and Jihad (aka Jama'at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad) group, which was later renamed al-Qaida in Iraq, with few established links, if any, with actual al-Qaida operatives. The letters exchanged between al-Zarqawi and Ayman al-Zawahiri were far from pally, as Zawahiri objected strongly to Zarqawi's attacks on Shias.

The Sun's coverage today is slightly less hysterical than it was yesterday, but only slightly:
The Sun can also reveal that the swoops came after a suspect was spotted buying a video camera from a local electronics store at the weekend.

Well, that clinches it.

The kidnapped soldier was to have been taken to a secret address nine miles from Birmingham — in the town infamous as the home of the Tipton Taliban.

Uh, I think the Sun means the Tipton Three.

Tipton hit headlines around the world in 2001 when three young Asians from the district were discovered fighting with Taliban forces in Afghanistan. Dubbed the Tipton Taliban they were held at Guantanamo Bay before being released — but are still under 24-hour surveillance.

This is all heavily disputed, and the Sun doesn't feel the need to mention the way the three were treated at Guantanamo, or how they were interrogated by MI5 officers who clearly couldn't care less about their health, or the fact they were British other than to make allegations which were later proved to be untrue.

THE Maktabah bookshop was at the centre of yesterday’s raids.

Among its stock were books by dirty bomb mastermind Dhiren Barot and Sheikh Abdullah Azzam, who was widely regarded as Osama Bin Laden’s “spiritual adviser” in the late 1990s.

Dirty bomb mastermind? If coming up with idiotic plans for setting fire to smoke alarms is enough for you to be called a mastermind, then we've certainly reached a new low in dumbing down. And if Abdullah Azzam is the same as this one with a Wikipedia entry here, then whoops, because he was err, assassinated in 1989.

Then we're treated to the insights of "leading terror expert" Chris Dobson:

“It is another example of the way that the terror war started by Osama Bin Laden is spreading out from his al-Qaeda network like a franchise of fast food shops.

“Bin Laden no longer has to plan any operations, he simply gives general instructions in a recorded speech which is flashed around the world by television and on the internet.”

Right. Hence bin Laden, who is clearly just a figurehead at the top of an organisation which has been given far too much credit for its role in spreading the Salafist/Wahhabist/jihadist ideology (delete according to your preference as to the most legitimate description) is still the big bogeyman. It's all down to him, see? If only we'd caught the bastard and not gone off in a bloody tangent in Iraq.

The Sun's leader decides not to underline the sheer horror of it all, instead deciding to resort to some desperate BBC bashing:

POLICE may have foiled a plot to kidnap, torture and behead a British Muslim squaddie.

This is the latest blood-curdling development in the battle between extremists and the liberal West.

Nothing is too horrific for those fanatics intent on punishing the “infidel”.

And how does the BBC choose to report this raid by West Midlands police?

Their lunchtime TV bulletin warned: “We must remember this raid was intelligence-led . . . and, as we know, the intelligence services often get it wrong.”

Just whose side are these guys on?

On the side of recognising that those arrested and eventually charged are innocent until proved guilty, as opposed to being innocent to being smeared guilty. And what's more, it's true: they got it wrong on Iraq, they got it wrong over Forest Gate, but then seeing as the Sun supported the government and the police to the hilt over both, it's only fitting that they seem to have forgotten so soon.

Even more fitting (and predictable) was the announcement this morning that the government, despite denying it for weeks and months that they actually are going to seek to extend the 28-day detention period for "terrorist suspects", even though it's less than two years since they were first humiliated over the measure. The only surprise was that the information hadn't been leaked to the Downing Street Echo:

The home secretary, John Reid, is to make a fresh attempt to extend the maximum period that terror suspects can be detained without charge beyond 28 days, it was announced today.

Mr Reid told ministers at this morning's cabinet meeting he would attempt to find cross-party consensus on a longer detention period for questioning, the prime minister's official spokesman said.

Which if he gets will show up the spinelessness of both the Tories and the Lib Dems.

Mr Reid told the cabinet that since changes extending the maximum detention period from 14 to 28 days were introduced there had not yet been a case in which a longer period of questioning was needed.

And there were plenty of suspicions that the police used the full four weeks over the alleged liquid bombs plot purely to make their point that they believe they need longer.

Mr Blair's spokesman told a regular daily press briefing following cabinet: "The police service has now concluded that it is right and proper for government to address this issue and wanted the home secretary to discuss it with colleagues in government and more widely, with a view to seeing whether a consensus can be achieved.

Excellent. It's not the government now that decides what's necessary, it's the police. Says something about both democracy and the role of parliament after 9 years of New Labour.

Reid and the cabinet don't seem to realise that 90 days has become the very symbol of this government's attitude towards civil liberties: remove them and only think about the consequences later. If there genuinely is a case for extending the current period of detention without charge, then that case has yet to be made. Up until recently Reid himself had made clear that he didn't think that there was yet any evidence for such a period, except in the masturbatory speeches from "Sir" Ian Blair and reactionary leader columns of the Sun. As so often seems to have happened, they appear to have been enough to win the day. If this all they have, and a similar period of detention is put to the vote in the Commons again, they must be slaughtered for it. Only an overwhelming and humbling defeat might finally get the message through their skulls.

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