Saturday, March 03, 2007 

It's a fair cop.

Understandably, the rumour mill went into overdrive last night following Lord Goldsmith's application for an injunction to stop the BBC reporting a supposed major development in the Yates' inquiry into loans for peerages. More amusing was the way a certain Tory blogger (despite being in America) jumped the gun and started asking whether it should have been the Labour party rather than the government that sought the injunction. As it turns out, it was the police themselves who approached the attorney general as they felt it was possible that the BBC's reporting might effect their investigation, or even possibly prejudice any eventual prosecution.

Seeing as it's a Saturday, we're treated to Martin Kettle's column in the Grauniad, and as usual, it's full of the atypical Blair sycophancy we've come to expect:

It is strange, drifting time, in some ways more like the final days of a long-reigning medieval monarch than the playing out of a democratic political process. Nothing can happen until he goes. But no one is pushing him to leave. The Brownite passions of 2004 and 2006 have abated. The government is segueing into post-Blair mode. You were the future, once, David Cameron taunted him a year ago. Now he is very nearly not the present either.

No one is pushing for him to leave? It was only a month ago that a fair number of people honestly thought we were at last going to see the back of the bastard. The reason that no one's been openly pushing for his exit is that he's the one who's going to carry the can for the drubbing of the May elections, and rightfully so. More or less the whole country is crying out for Blair to put every single one of us out of our collective misery and finally sod off to spend more time with his soon to be vastly inflated salary. While his departure may once have heralded dancing in the streets, we've become so used to the idea that he's going to go, just not yet, that the anticipation has been replaced with boredom and indifference. This is the real reason why Blair's cronies and most devoted supporters are still desperately trying to find an anyone but Gordon candidate; they're entering the last days, and don't be surprised if there's still a lot of plotting and skullduggery to go on yet. Machinations in the Blair camp have been most certainly going on behind the scenes this week.

Oh, and I know it's a Saturday and everything, but the very last thing I give a shit about or expect to find on the front page of the Grauniad is a report about Liz Hurley getting married. I almost thought I'd picked up the Torygraph by mistake. Please sort it out, Saturday Grauniad editor.

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Friday, March 02, 2007 

Scum-watch: "Sleazeball" judges and TV hits.

Today's Sun, in one of its fits of occasional pique about morals, exposes a judge as a "serial family wrecker", twice having left women who he had made pregnant. A fairly typical News of the Screws type story, the bigger picture is that the judge himself attempted to stop the Sun from splashing on his exploits, claiming that his exposure was not in the public interest. He apparently abandoned his attempt to get an injunction against the newspaper half-way through the case, much like how the Screws last year was humiliated in its attempt to stop George Galloway and blogs from distributing Mazher Mahmood's photograph.

Cases of sexual impropriety involving officials in the public eye are always going to be difficult to err, judge. The disclosure of sexual escapades is only justified, or in my view, worth pointing out, if the person involved can be proved to be either a hypocrite, has broken the law or if it's affecting that person's ability to do their job.

The Sun's report on the judge is then most definitely on shaky ground. While the newspaper claims that the mere fact that he is a judge means that the disclosure in the public interest, we ought to consider the "Blunkett" test. When he was first reported as shagging Kimberley Quinn, (whom he, like the judge in today's report, had impregnated) the publisher of the Spectator, both the Grauniad and the Independent, unlike the rest of Fleet Street, ignored the story. At the time this was justified on the grounds that none of the three above justifications for printing such a story were found to be strong enough to merit following up the News of the Screws' exposure. This changed dramatically once it became clear that it was both affecting his job (as detailed in his execrable, interminable, deluded and self-pitying diaries) and that he had intervened in the case of Quinn's nanny applying for a visa.

The judge in this case has not broken the law. The Sun has provided no evidence that it's affecting his ability to do his job, as the entire story, accompanied by a furiously moralistic leader, only provides the sordid details involved in his private life. It mentions no cases in which he might be a hypocrite in presiding over. The one justification it has, and it's at least a semi-decent argument, is that judges, like politicians, ought to maintain the highest moral standards. My own view is that we shouldn't expect those in positions of power to be "purer" than us; we should just expect them to be human, and honest. It's when these things go out the window that the trouble begins.

By this logic, the judge is at least partially in the wrong. In attempting to stop the Sun from publishing this sleazy little tale, his honesty and quite possibly his integrity was found lacking. This is not to suggest that the story should have been published, nor should it mean that he should be sacked, as the Sun demands. It does however suggest that the judge should take a long hard look at himself and consider whether his actions are bringing both himself and his profession into disrepute.

Which brings us back to Blunkett. Could the same Sun that's raging against the judge be the same newspaper which currently (as far as I'm aware) employs Blunkett to write a piss-poor column? Blunkett, as noted, breached at least two of the criteria for exposing a politician as a philander, often talking about how he believed stable families were the best way to bring up children while having sex with a married woman and impregnating her at the same time, not to mention how their eventual split led to Blunkett having something approaching a nervous breakdown, although he continued to remain Home Secretary regardless. Still, seeing as Rebekah Wade has recently split from her own husband, and had Les Hinton phone round other newspapers kindly asking them not to report that fact, she doesn't exactly come out of this smelling of roses either.

Elsewhere in the Scum, they do report the fact that due to BSkyB's demands for a doubling in payment for their 5 piss-poor own channels, Virgin Media customers are no longer able to receive them:

MILLIONS of families can no longer watch TV hits like 24, Lost and the Simpsons due to a row between two of Britain’s top broadcasters.

24, which for the first couple of seasons was a genuinely innovative and compelling series, has been turned into a laughably right-wing torture wank fest, so lacking in any believability or subtlety that its continued existence is hugely perplexing, is hardly the hit it once was. Lost is similar; a reasonably praised first series which rapidly turned into a massively convoluted pile of irredeemable nonsense. While the Simpsons is still worth watching, the new episodes shown on Sky are a world away from the brilliance of the early seasons. None of these shows are made by Sky itself; it's never managed to create anything close to a hit.

Sky One, Sky Two, Sky Three, Sky News and Sky Sports News vanished yesterday from the 3.3million homes who buy their TV service from Virgin Media.

There are three Sky channels? They don't even have enough decent programmes for one. As for Sky News, it shows all the signs of gradually but surely becoming the equivalent of the Sun on Digital.

Oh, and it turns out the Sun did report on Darling's decision to refer Sky's purchase of nearly 18% of ITV's shares; it printed this whole line at the bottom of a "story" about those "TV hits" that Virgin Media customers were going to be deprived of thanks to Virgin's stubbornness:

TRADE Secretary Alistair Darling yesterday asked media watchdog Ofcom to probe BSkyB’s recent purchase of a 17.9 per cent stake in ITV.

Coverage in full!

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Hazel Blears shares a joke.

Courtesy of the Ministry of Truth - and not in the slightest bit safe for work, or life in general.

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Thursday, March 01, 2007 

The Iraq dossier: Well and truly exposed.

Chris Ames has done a wonderful public service in putting together Not only does it demolish Hutton's whitewashing of the government's highly manipulated case for war, it also proves once and for all that we were not just misled, with our politicians guilty of relying on intelligence which turned out to be wrong, but instead lied to by a group of mendacious, shameless and warmongering cunts who are unfit to govern us and whom should resign immediately.

The one real remaining mystery is just where the 45 minute claim came from. As Ames writes, it wasn't in the original draft dossier, the one written by John Scarlett, head of the Joint Intelligence Committee, now head of MI6. Ames believes that it instead emerged in a secret other draft of the dossier, this one drawn up by John Williams, the Foreign Office press secretary. The government however didn't submit this draft to the Hutton inquiry, and it has refused to release it under the Freedom of Information Act. The Information Commissioner, Richard Thomas, is now finalising his ruling on whether the draft should be released, following an appeal by Ames.

Best of all is the painstakingly put together table (PDF) which compares each successive draft of the dossier, showing how it was sexed up by the spin doctors, the very claim which Andrew Gilligan made in the now infamous report on the Today programme. As a commenter on BlairWatch notes, there is a huge injustice in all of this. While Dr David Kelly's death cannot be blamed solely on the government, it was the petulant outbursts of Alastair Campbell, demanding an apology and that the BBC identify its source when he knew full well that their lies and editing of the dossier were finally coming to light that meant that the story became the defining moment of New Labour's obsession with news management, and helped a man further along the road to taking his own life.

Nearly four years on from the beginning of the Iraq war, at the lowest possible reasonable estimate 100,000 Iraqis are dead, over 100 British servicemen have lost their lives, and politics has been permanently affected by a prime minister who had already decided to go to war, and who had to manipulate the intelligence to justify it. That he is still somehow in office is both the biggest outrage and biggest indictment of the failure of us (yes, all of us) to rebuild politics from this, its absolute lowest ebb.

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Scum-watch: Dumb and dumber sneered at.

If New Labour's gruesome twosome were hoping that the Scum would support them in their hardly veiled attempt to flush out a Blairite candidate, then they thought wrong. Today's leader certainly isn't the ringing endorsement they might have expected for their attempt to continue the Blairite/Murdoch legacy:

TWO failed Cabinet Ministers looked like Dumb and Dumber yesterday as they tried to put a spoke in the wheels of Gordon Brown’s smooth ride to 10 Downing Street.

Despite their denials, Alan Milburn and Charles Clarke are clearly hoping their website “debate” about Labour’s future policies will flush out a challenger to the Chancellor as Tony Blair’s successor. But they were right about one thing.

Mr Brown needs to spell out more clearly his plans for Britain when he does take over.

We shouldn't take too much from a single leader, as there hasn't been much in the way of overt support for Brown from the Sun, but this does suggest that Murdoch/Wade no longer think there's an alternative candidate to the Brown express. They bigged up John Reid's appalling speech to last autumn's conference, but the prison crisis has highly devalued his stock. Miliband appears to be rejecting the attempts to force his hand, at least if you believe Tom Watson, and judging by his belief in Milburn's pure motives, I'd suggest you don't.

Milburn 'n' Clarke's venture got a trifling mention in the actual news stakes, having to make do with an un-bylined piece:
LABOUR heavyweights Alan Milburn and Charles Clarke launched a website yesterday in an apparent attempt to get other politicians to challenge Gordon Brown.

The ex-Cabinet ministers said the site was intended to promote “debate” about policies.

But it was seen as a bid to unsettle Mr Brown — and to get Blairites to compete with him for the Prime Minister’s job.

So far only lefties Michael Meacher and John McDonnell have said they will also stand.

Not much comfort there either. If even the Sun is accepting Brown's sleepwalk to Labour leadership, and as it continues to mock David Cameron, it looks as if all bets may as well be off.

P.S. Is this banner the most tasteless ever? Even by the Sun's standards this is vomit inducing (the story is even worse, and says something about the levels of bourgeois superficiality we've reached.):

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Zoe Williams-watch: Those Wikipedia edits in full.

The latest issue of Private Eye (1179) mentions the sterling work that Zoe Williams gets up to when she isn't writing articles for the Grauniad that make you want to hunt her down and force-feed the printed prose back to her. While the Eye only mentions the edits Williams made to her own entry, she's also been a busy little beaver over the last month, making a number of edits to other entries, ones which might suggest just what's going through her head.

First off, she was defending the honour of that particularly hard done by young man Ashley Cole, adding the following lines to his entry:

Sued the [[News of the World]] over alledgedly false claims that he was [[gay]][[]]. Both the News of the World and its sister paper [[The Sun]] later retracted the allegations. Lawyers for Ashley Cole have been criticsed for their over the top response to the allegations which included attempting to sue the search engine [[Google]] [] for linking the word gay to Ashley Cole in searches. This turned out to be a effect of the algorithms Google use and was not the result of malicious intent by a individual.

After scratching her ass for twenty minutes, a couple more additions were made:

Both Ashley and [[Cheryl Cole]] have been falsely slurred in the mainstream press. Cheryl was charged with racially aggravated assault, see [[Cheryl Cole]], but found not guilty of that particular charge. Ashley was insinuated to be a [[homosexual]] by the [[News of the World]].

As Ashley is of ethnic origin and Cheryl is female accusations of homosexuality and racisms are misplaced.

Quite right. It's been comprehensively proved that men who get married can't possibly be gay, and that women also never marry men that they secretly hate but can't escape from.

Next on the to do list for Zoe is some shit eating, or rather, editing the Coprophilia entry, by adding Gillian McKeith to the list of famous coprophiliacs. To prove her thesis, she sets about editing McKeith's own entry:

McKeith believes examining and smelling faeces can give clues to bodily misfunction. She frequently engages in this [[coprophilia]] like activity during her television shows. Specific contentions include:

She also on the same day puts Mark Oaten back on the list of famous coprophiliacs, and adds a photograph to his own entry.

After a break of 6 days, Williams is back to her old tricks, this time editing Fiona Jones's entry, adding in the rumours which re-emerged after her recent untimely death:

Alledged a cabinet minister propositioned her for sex at a party conference. The cabinet minister is alledged to have been [[Jack Straw]] []

There is of course no way to prove this, but then Williams doesn't generally let details like that get in the way of her own comment pieces.

Two days later, and Zoe's editing Cole's entry again:

}} even though Cole was not specifically named in any of the stories; however, a pixellated photograph of Cole with his likeness removed was printed. Both the ''News of the World'' and ''The Sun'' later retracted the allegations after legal pressure and paid an undisclosed amount of damages to Cole.{{cite news |

And also bizarrely adds back in the useless fact that Cole was in the beard of the year competition:

Ashley Cole was also nominated in the 2006 Beard of the Year competition [].

A NME journalist named Tim Jonze was the next to suffer Zoe's wrath. Despite flairing up her own entry with flowery, glowing praise, she doesn't much approve of Jonze apparently using his entry as a CV. With a terse "Wikipedia is not a CV hosting facility." as her justification for the edit, she chops the 228 words down to a single line:

'''Tim Jonze''', born 4th Feb 1980, is a writer for the weekly British music magazine ''[[NME]]''.


Zoe's obsession with shit then re-emerges, adding Oaten once again to the coprophilia entry, ironically using Private Eye as a source for his fetish:

[[Mark Oaten]]"Street of Shame", Private Eye, No. 1151, 3rd February - 16 February 2006

Finally, Zoe's rampage has for now come to an end with the following edit to Germaine Greer's entry, over her comments on the Big Brother racism row:

In January 2007 Greer offended many Guardian readers {{Fact|date=February 2007}} by defending the description of Indian people as "Pakis", a highly perjorative term identified strongly with racism in the UK, claiming it was not different to calling Australians "Aussies".[,,1992029,00.html] She also was awarded Honorary Membership of [[The Coterie]] in the [[2007]] membership list.

Will someone please stop this dangerous woman before she edits again?

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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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