Saturday, March 10, 2007 

Scum-watch: Lies, damned lies, and "soft" judges.

Do the tabloids ever properly report "controversial" speeches or reports? I only ask because in the reasonably short time I've been writing this blog, I've noticed that so-called journalists in the popular press are addicted to at best distorting what has been said/written and at worst printing out right lies about the arguments being put forward. The previous Audit Commission report on immigration was a case in point: taking slight concerns and magnifying them to such a point that it looks as if the sky's about to fall.

Thursday's speech by Lord Phillips at the University of Birmingham, simply titled Issues in Criminal Justice - Murder, is mostly a discussion about the difficulties in sentencing those convicted of homicide. In it, Phillips' is critical of the mandatory sentences which the 2003 Criminal Justice Act brought in, and analyses the recommendations of the Law Commission (PDF) which suggested introducing first and second degree homicide, similar in some ways to the system in America. The full speech is available here (PDF), clocking in at over 9000 words of scholarly discussion, examining different cases involving murder and how they've been dealt with.

From these 9000 words, the Sun has managed to come out with a story headlined:

Top judge: Let killers out of jail

Let's get the pedantic points out of the way first. Not once in the whole speech does Phillips use the word killers. Nor does he say jail. In fact, nowhere in the entire speech does Phillips so much as suggest that those found guilty should be let out of prison early.

KILLERS should be let out of jail early to ease the prisons crisis, says Britain’s top judge.

No he didn't.

Lord Chief Justice Lord Phillips warned that jails would be stuffed with “geriatric” inmates if no action was taken.

Here's what Phillips' actually says about geriatric lifers:

Most ‘lifers’ are released on licence after they have served a period of imprisonment on the recommendation of the Parole Board. They are, however, subject to recall to serve the rest of their sentence if they breach the terms of their licence. How long they serve before being considered for release is now determined by the judge who sentences them. He has to specify a minimum term which the defendant must serve before being considered for release. In fixing the minimum term the judges have to apply guidance laid down in the Criminal Justice Act 2003. The effect of that Act has been in many cases almost to double the length of time that those
convicted of murder will stay in prison. In thirty years’ time the prisons will be full of geriatric lifers.

Nothing about taking action. Simply a statement that is likely to be proved accurate.

He suggested the country would look back in shame in 100 years time at the length of sentences for killers and rapists — and claimed it was “barbaric” to cage them for so long.

Nowhere in the speech does Phillips use the word barbaric. Here's what he does say about the length of sentences, coming at the conclusion of his speech:

Sentencing is a major topic, and it is too late in the day to embark on it. Let me simply say that I have reservations about the current guidelines. The gap between the 15 year starting point and the thirty year starting point is immense. It is the difference between a determinate sentence of thirty years and one of sixty years. If sentences are to be just, then the effect of mitigating and aggravating factors should be very significant, so that sentences fill the spectrum between these two starting points. I am not sure that in practice they do, and I believe that the starting points are having the effect of ratchetting up sentences in a manner that will be regretted many years hence.

In other words, a highly nuanced and detailed argument which lists Phillips' concerns about how sentences, thanks to this government's kowtowing to the tabloids especially, are getting longer and longer. With a prison population of 80,000, with no sign that it's causing crime to drop, and with evidence suggesting that the overcrowding is causing re-offending rates to soar, it's right to be concerned that we may well be on the wrong track. The introduction of indeterminate sentencing, where someone can be kept in prison for the rest of their life even once they have finished their minimum term if they're considered a danger to the public, is one of the reasons for this leap. The latest statistics released on those currently in prison, from January of this year, makes this point in the summary (another PDF):

The largest proportionate increases since January 2006 were for those sentenced to indeterminate sentences (Life sentences and Indeterminate sentences for Public Protection) which increased by 31 per cent.

There were then 8,750 prisoners serving indeterminate sentences. For a sentence that has only been recently introduced, its use is both worrying and gives the lie to the belief that judges are too soft.

The Sun goes on to quote everyone's favourite rent-a-cop on crime, Norman Brennan:

“Lord Phillips has taken leave of his senses if he believes that releasing murderers early will help alleviate the prison population.

If he had actually said that, he might well have done. He didn't.

He also makes the comment that prisons risk becoming full of geriatric lifers, but that has to be the case if necessary. At least they still have their lives.

Quite right. Keeping men who can't go to the toilet by themselves in prison and who are by that fact no threat to anyone makes perfect sense. At least they have their lives - until they die in their cells, anyway.

The Sun does at least go on to quote Phillips somewhat accurately:

“I’m not in favour of mandatory sentences, full stop. If sentences are to be just, then the effect of mitigating and aggravating factors should be very significant, so that sentences fill the spectrum between these two starting points.

All Phillips is really calling for is for judges to be given the power to once again decide a case by what happened - for every single one is different. With mandatory sentences, this is made much more difficult. Not Saussure goes into this in much more detail.

On then to the Sun's leader:

YOU might think our judges would at least be good at listening.

We should be so lucky.

If you want proof that they are deaf to public opinion just hear what our top man-in-a-wig has been saying.

Lord Chief Justice Lord Phillips believes prison sentences should be shorter. Murderers spend too long behind bars. Parliament should not be able to fix minimum terms.


All he said was he thought we would look back with regret at some of the lengthy sentences now handed down, not that any should be shorter. He didn't say murderers spend too long behind bars. He also didn't say parliament shouldn't be able to fix minimum terms, just that he isn't in favour of mandatory terms. Even then he doesn't say that parliament shouldn't be allowed to set minimum or mandatory terms. Here's what he actually said:

I said that murder is a political hot potato and this is why altering the mandatory life sentence is not on the agenda.

He doesn't like it, but he realises that in the current climate, helped along by the ever increasing shrieks of the Sun, nothing can be done about it.

Lord Phillips should get two things into his skull.

That he is a servant of people who are much more likely than he is to be victims of the very criminals he wants to go soft on.

And that no one elected him.

If this the response that judges get for floating ideas and so much as slightly stepping out of line, it's little wonder that they get fed up with the way they're dictated to both by the media and politicians. Incidentally, no one elected Rebekah Wade. No one voted for Rupert Murdoch. We have to put up with them, just as the Scum has to put with judges daring to suggest that in years to come we might regret our draconian approach to crime.

P.S. Here's the Telegraph on Phillips' speech, which proves that reporting these speeches can be achieved without slipping into faux-outrage, not to mention making things up. The Express, on the other hand, similarly distorted the judge's lecture.

Labels: , , , ,

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Friday, March 09, 2007 

Tinker, tailor, Mercer, sailor...

You black and white bastard! Get moving!

It's pretty obvious that Patrick Mercer is not a racist. If he was, then it seems doubtful that so many soldiers who were in his ranks would have jumped almost immediately to his defense. There was also no problem with his comments that during training would-be soldiers would be insulted over their distinguishing features. I'd be a lot more surprised if they weren't; we were shouted at enough by teachers when doing cross-country at school. He could have perhaps made clearer that such comments are only out of encouragement rather than malice, but I suspect many weren't really shocked by that aspect of his interview with the Times.

Where Mercer's remarks came into difficulty is the contemptuous and arrogant way in which he out of hand dismissed the concerns of Marlon Clancy, a Commonwealth soldier from Belize. Clancy is setting up a trade-union of sorts for those who think they've been victims of either unfair treatment or racism in the army. Clancy himself, who joined the army in 1999, the same year as Mercer left, alleges that in one case he was attacked by soldiers dressed as members of the Ku Klux Klan.

Mercer's response to this was not exactly understanding. "Absolute nonsense. Complete and utter rot," was what he said. He then followed this up by stating:

"I came across a lot of ethnic minority soldiers who were idle and useless, but who used racism as cover for their misdemeanours."

He may well have done, and I'm sure that ethnic minority soldiers can be just as idle as some white recruits who coast rather than stretch themselves, but in response to Clancy's experiences this was too far of a generalisation. He may not have been suggesting that Clancy was lazy, or that all ethnic minority soldiers who claimed they've been racially abused are useless, it might have been honest and what he believes, but he must have expected he'd be challenged over it, and that many would find such comments risible at best.

Things may well have changed since Mercer left the army. In 2000, the year after he left, there were only 430 soldiers from Commonwealth countries. Since then, with British recruits white or otherwise drying up once it became clear that joining the army was no longer going to involve just peacekeeping, the army has had to resort to recruiting abroad. There are now over 6,000 from the Commonwealth in the ranks.

Clancy's other allegation was that there is now a racial hierarchy in the army. At the top there are the British white-born soldiers, then the black British born soldiers, and then there are the Commonwealth black soldiers. While this not may be the whole story, it's not to difficult to imagine that he may have something of a point. How far his example goes we simply don't know. As Sunny points out, up until recently the Gurkhas had far less benefits than their British-born comrades.

Should he have been sacked? In the current climate, especially after the Celebrity Big Brother debacle, with even the Sun raving about racial abuse, Cameron may well have had no other option. I personally don't think he should, that he should have been allowed to clarify exactly what he said and perhaps put in the caveats that he should have done at the time. I don't however think that Mercer's comments are by any means the end of his political career. He'll most likely be back after a length of time, and probably the wiser for it.

Related posts:
Big Stick Small Carrot - PR, not principles
Recess Monkey - Some of my best friends are ginger (with amusing comments)
Ministry of Truth - Oh Mercer, Mercy Me
Rachel North - Patrick Mercer, who resigned today
Bread and Circuses - That Mercer interview re-edited

Labels: ,

AddThis Social Bookmark Button


Scum-watch: The Scum fights cyber abuse!

THE Sun today became the first newspaper in the UK to officially join the fight to protect the country's internet surfers and help combat abusive images of children found in cyberspace.

It follows the launch of our fantastic MySun community service where readers can publish their own stories and pictures as well as having their say on the big news of the day.

And just what sort of pictures are readers being encouraged to post on the fantastic MySun community service?

PAGE 3 idol might be long gone but wannabe models are still posting sexy snaps on The Sun website.

Dozens have been showing off their hottest pics in blogs on our discussions section MySun.

Thousands of fellas log on every day to see the latest shots and chat about them.

Over on MyScum itself, 3 of the 4 popular blogs are of women in various stages of undress. The top discussion is "CCTV mother changes epilepsy story" (she hasn't), the first post of which is an all-caps diatribe against council estate scum, while the third story down is "Confessions of real desperate housewives".

The Sun might be against cyber abuse, but it certainly isn't against mental or self abuse.

Elsewhere, today's Scum leader predictably attacks the "PC-inspired witch-hunt" against PC Mulhall:

Footage of Ms Comer wrestled to the ground lasts just a few seconds.

Moments earlier she’d left a nightclub drunk and vandalised cars.

When PC Anthony Mulhall arrived, she resisted arrest and attacked him.

Err, she resisted arrest, but attacking him is a bit strong. Attacking someone is launching into them, which she did not.

He wasn’t to know if Ms Comer had a knife or anything worse.

But she didn't, and one would expect that if she had a weapon of some sort she would have produced it before he tried to arrest her, no? Please keep up Rebekah.

Punching the top of her flailing arm so she could be handcuffed, was perfectly reasonable.

Those quick to criticise the police have never faced the terror of confronting and detaining a violent drunk in the middle of the night.

PC Mulhall’s job is to protect the public. By detaining Ms Comer safely and quickly he was doing his duty to the best of his ability.

She suffered no injuries and needed no medical attention as a result of the arrest.

Comer was hardly the atypical burly drunk whom the police usually have to subdue on Saturday night. As for suffering no injuries, today's Grauniad shows at least one gash on her back. Notice that there's no reference to the fact that Comer may have suffered an epileptic fit anywhere in this leader.

How depressing a copper has been taken off front-line duty and put in charge of paperclips because of a few inconclusive seconds of video.

South Yorkshire Police should not bow to a PC-inspired witch-hunt which has rushed to judgment and played the race card.

Police Constable Mulhall should be put back where he belongs.

On the beat protecting the public.

The Sun obviously hasn't bothered actually reviewing the whole of the Guardian tape. It lasts a lot longer than a few seconds.

As I wrote yesterday, my own feelings are mixed, and Mulhall probably doesn't deserve having this being blown up into a national news story, but the IPCC should still investigate. Mulhall will most likely be completely exonerated, and be able to put all of this behind him. Sometimes "PC-inspired witch-hunts", if they start a national debate help show what is and what is not acceptable. If it leads to better police training, that can only be a good thing.

Labels: , , , , ,

AddThis Social Bookmark Button


Quote of the week.

I am not a chair, because no one has ever sat on me.

We already know, Ann.

Labels: ,

AddThis Social Bookmark Button


That forthcoming revelation.

I'm not anywhere close to being in the know about the big story meant to break shortly, as hinted at by other blogs. Seeing as the trial involving those arrested under Operation Crevice is still on-going (I'm unsure of whether the jury has been sent out, but the judge appears to have begun his summing up) sub-judice comes into play, which is why comments are off on this post. All I can link to is this Scotsman article from shortly after the 7/7 bombings, and leave you to make up your own minds about what's going to come out in a little while.

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Thursday, March 08, 2007 

The house of dead men walking.

Last night's vote on the reform of the House of Lords was one of those rare occasions that makes you believe in democracy again. For the first time ever, even with some MPs who oppose election voting tactically, the Lords will have to heed the message that their days are numbered, so overwhelming was the majority in favour of patronage being thrown into the dustbin of history. What made it so surprising was the numbers involved: last time round the 80% elected and 20% appointed option was defeated by 3 votes. This time it succeeded by 38.

The reasons dreamt up by some of the dinosaurs for voting against were comical. Frank Dobson, who ought to know better, claimed that two elected chambers would be in perpetual combat with each other, even though this government's legislation first and thought later approach has meant that the Lords has never been so rebellious. The example of other countries shows that two elected chambers are more than capable of working together. Lord Lipsey, who previously argued against Helena Kennedy on Newsnight on the subject in the most pompous fashion imaginable, made up some figures which claimed that changes to House of Lords would mean it would cost £1bn, ten times the current cost. Even if his figures are correct, it's small change when it comes to establishing once and for all the democratic principle in our legislature. Gerald Howarth was at least honest in his opposition: he noted how the removal of the hereditary peers would undermine the monarchy, leaving it the only post in modern Britain filled in such a way. Personally I can think of nothing more uplifting than finally moving close to getting rid of the whole worthless, inbred lot of them.

There is of course yet a lot to be to decided about just how an elected Lords would work. The last thing that must be allowed to happen is for it to continue as it is, with those who have grown too old for the Commons being putting on lists which make certain their return to a position of power, reformed chamber or not. Straw's original plans were an utter dog's breakfast, and he's going to have to come up with something far removed from that if it's going to get even close to being implemented. If the bishops think they're still going to be able to continue to vote on approving legislation for no good reason, they should have to stand for election like everyone else. In fact, that should be the ultimate challenge to all those members of the Lords who oppose the changes: if you're so certain that you're providing a good service doing what you currently are, then you should present your case to the electorate and let them decide on it.

For now though, the majority of MPs can for once feel proud of themselves. If nothing else, we can take delight in the fact that Blair's favoured option, Straw's 50-50 proposal, was the one that was most heavily defeated, and deservedly so. Not only that, but no longer will governments be able to appoint their ennobled house-pets from the Lords to be government ministers. Lord Drayson, the most egregious example in recent memory, will be rightfully kicked out, and hopefully not before too long.


AddThis Social Bookmark Button


Taking on all Comers?

It's difficult to know on the surface just entirely what to make of the CCTV footage of Toni Comer apparently being punched five times by a police officer, with a boot being placed against her throat while three other men hold her down.

We have to keep in mind that Comer, after being ejected from a nightclub for being what the police would describe as drunk and disorderly, took it upon herself to damage the bouncer's car. What's more, she was quite clearly resisting arrest, and endangered both herself and the police officer by the way she was acting on the metal staircase. Whether she was responsible for the two of them falling down the lower section is unclear, but she certainly wasn't helping.

What certainly isn't clear is whether Comer was continuing to resist arrest when the punches were thrown. We also don't know where she was hit; it could have been the arm, in line with police procedure for those on the ground who are continuing to resist arrest and who can't be handcuffed, or it could have been her face. The fact that this has only come to light nearly 9 months on from the incident means that the bruising and cuts resulting from the arrest have long healed, making getting to the truth far more difficult that it could and perhaps should have been.

There are other things we have to consider. Anthony Mulhall, the officer in question, in his statement seems to make clear that there were considerable gaps between the blows he delivered. This is contradicted by the video, which shows Mulhall striking her five times in very quick succession. He admits to using brute force and striking her as hard as he physically could. Comer herself believes that she suffered an epileptic fit: Mulhall admits that he saw her foaming at the mouth, and that she was spitting at him, which is consistent with someone having a fit. It would also explain how she was spasming, and seemingly, resisting arrest. The question is whether Mulhall simply thought that she was continuing to resist arrest, which appears on the surface to be the case.

As Lenin points out
, when someone is having a fit, it's a bad idea to punch them and restrict their breathing, as placing a boot against their throat would. Whether the officer should have recognised that she was having a fit rather than resisting may turn out to be the defining point of the investigation that the IPCC has now announced.

I have very mixed feelings about the whole thing. From my own experience, and that of my friends and family, the police are certainly not always above reproach. The method of handcuffing someone with their arms behind their back can be incredibly painful on its own. My brother, who was minding his own business in his car late one night, found two police officers shining a light in, who then demanded to search the car. On finding a miniscule amount of cannabis, they proceeded to kick his shins (leaving bruises that took weeks to heal), later excusing their behaviour by saying he was resisting arrest, when all he was doing was complaining about the fact that they'd be better spending their time on real criminals than on someone alone who just happened to have a tiny amount of a Class C drug in their possession.

On the surface, it appears that Comer has at the least been roughly treated, and that the officers should perhaps have recognised that she was having a fit rather than continuing to resist. Beneath that however, you can't help but have sympathy for officers who are spending their own weekend having to deal with idiots who get drunk and then can't control themselves. Mulhall's statement does appear to be at odds with the footage, but he seems also to have been following standard police procedure, whether Comer was nine stone or otherwise. It appears that he may well have made a mistake, but it's worth remembering exactly what these officers do sometimes have to put up with, facing leering pissheads making comments and having to break them apart when they start fighting. Even though she was struck five times, no lasting damage has been done to Comer. Indeed, she can't remember what happened, and was only made aware of what exactly did occur when she herself saw the tape.

Then there's the Guardian's leader on the tape, which for an unfathomable reason brings Rodney King into the equation. There is no suggestion that racism was in any way responsible for the treatment dealt out to Comer, and I much suspect that anyone else who had been resisting in the same way would have experienced the same reaction from the officers. The beating which Comer took was also far removed from that meted out to King. The other sentiments in the leader are decent, suggesting that what happened needs to be investigated, and it now will be.

I estimate however that Mulhall will at most be given a talking to, or a warning, which is probably all the incident really merited. The police do probably need better training to recognise the symptoms of someone suffering from a fit, and that will also now hopefully happen. Whether all of this would have been better settled within the force itself, without the need for Mulhall's actions to be splashed all over the TV and papers is a question worth asking, but it's also worth wondering whether without said coverage if any good would have come out of an incident that all involved would most likely just want to forget.

Labels: , ,

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Wednesday, March 07, 2007 

I label this site officially "shit".

Britain suffers from a very peculiar disease. For most of the 20th century, despite being a nation that is increasingly secular and God-mocking rather than God-fearing, we put up with the so-called moralists and those in power who were in behest to them and their friends in the media deciding what we could or could not watch or see. From Lady Chatterley's Lover to the video nasties moral panic, and the redux of that whole ridiculous scare in the aftermath of the murder of James Bulger, censorship was the norm and something that was accepted rather than challenged. It's only been with the advent of the internet, and with the public finally deciding that those in their ivory towers don't know best that this tyrannical situation has finally been somewhat eroded.

It's with this in mind that we ought to approach Gordon Brown's surprise announcement that Ofcom is introduce a "labelling" system for new media content:

The chancellor said that Ofcom, the industry regulator, has agreed to introduce a media content rating scheme to provide better information about websites, TV programmes, computer games and other media.

An Ofcom spokesman said the labeling system will cover all media content in a "text-based" form. This will spell out the level of nudity involved in the content, for example.

"We have not set in stone yet is what these labels will look like but it won't be like age related labelling you get in cinema classifications."

How Ofcom are going to be able to classify or "rate" every web site, or how they're going to get websites to provide this labelling isn't made clear. How on earth can they rate YouTube and other so-called Web 2.0 sites, anyway? As for TV programmes, while a labeling system could potentially be helpful, those programmes which are likely to cause offense are already introduced with warnings that they contain strong language, violence, nudity, sex, etc. Most computer games which feature such content are now submitted to the BBFC, while those that aren't feature the PEGI ratings.

Mr Brown drew on his own experiences as a father to expose the new challenges faced by parents trying to teach their children right from wrong as sensationalist images of violence, drugs, and sex proliferated on the internet and other new media outlets.

"How we counteract this is a central concern for me as a parent and for all parents I know, and this is an issue we must address with practical proposals to address the challenges we face," said Mr Brown.

"We want to promote a culture which favours responsibility and establishes boundaries: limits of what is acceptable and unacceptable.

"We can't and shouldn't seek to turn the clock back on technology and change. Rather we need to harness new technology and use it to enable parents to exercise the control they want over the new influences on their children."

As long as this culture is only one in which parents decide what is acceptable and unacceptable for their children to watch or play, then I don't have much problem with what's being suggested, as long as it is purely voluntary and Ofcom comes up with an accountable system that can be challenged and which is far more fleshed out from the back of the fag packet drafting which seems to have gone on so far.

The regulator will also conduct an information campaign to let parents know about the software available for computers and TV set-top boxes to control what their children see.

This ought to be first priority for Ofcom, rather than developing a system when they've yet to show how it'll work, especially online. Those concerned about their children's computer use first stop ought to be install a NetNanny type program, especially if they're under say, 12. They provide a far better service than anything the government or Ofcom will come up with.

It wouldn't be this government though if there wasn't the faint whiff of velvet fascism, and it comes in this paragraph:

Other measures will include persuading technology manufacturers to give better information on blocking software and investigating new ways of restricting access to violent and obscene material sent over the internet.

For those of us who've progressed past the stage of having our nappies changed, with a few obvious exceptions (child pornography) the last thing that's needed or wanted is further methods of blocking content which we can decide on whether we want to see or not. Besides, the Chinese, Iranians and Turks seem pretty adept at being able to block certain content, but I suppose it might look bad if we started asking them for help on how to stop our own citizens for looking at that particular beyond the pale website.

Labels: , , ,

AddThis Social Bookmark Button


Levy still stinks.

Much continuing comment over the Guardian's sort of breaking of the injunction handed to the BBC to prevent Friday's story on the loans for peerages story from being broadcast.

To recap, the BBC, which claims to have more than one source for its report, attempted on Friday to broadcast their story that stated that Ruth Turner, Downing Street's director of external relations, was worried that Lord Levy, Labour's chief fundraiser, had provided a inaccurate account of his role in drawing up the Honours list. On approaching the police for comment, they informed the BBC that they felt this was information that should remain outside the public domain, as it could potentially affect the bringing of charges or the possibility of getting a conviction. They then contacted the attorney general, Lord Goldsmith, who applied for an injunction and was successful. All this resulted in was a mass of speculation over the report, with most of those guessing about its contents doing so correctly. The injunction was loosened on Monday when it became clear that the pretence of withholding those named in the report was no barrier to their names becoming public.

This is where the Grauniad comes in. Their account of events is that Patrick Wintour, their political editor, was informed of more or less the exact same story as the BBC had tried to broadcast. The police again attempted to seek an injunction, but both they and the attorney general refused to say whether the injunction which was already in effect was over the same story. As a result, the attorney general was left only with relying on the Contempt of Court act, which the Guardian's lawyers argued, successfully, was highly unusual as no charges have yet been brought. In any case, the paper had already been printed, with the judge deciding that the case was highly balanced, and so the story came out.

As it turned out, the stories were almost entirely the same. The only major difference was that the Grauniad's alleges that Levy tried to influence Turner's account of events, rather than simply presenting one which Turner thought was inaccurate.

The main allegation made is that the leak came from Downing Street: firstly to the BBC, and then once that was stopped in its tracks, to the Grauniad. Behind this is the way that the story is being interpreted as clearing Turner and incriminating Levy, taking the suspicion away from Number 10 and towards a rogue, somewhat independent figure. Levy, perhaps fearing that he's been cut loose in the same way as Des Smith was, has come out fighting, accusing the media of a "smear campaign" with his lawyers condemning the reporting of the latest developments as "partial, contradictory, confused and inaccurate".

I personally am suspicious over this view of events. While the leaks certainly take some of the heat off Downing Street, there had in recent weeks been something of a break in reporting on the whole police investigation. The last time that the leaks/news of the inquiry had reached fever pitch, with Blair being questioned for a second time, some commentators thought that Blair might be forced out early as a result. Instead, everything died down. Downing Street has very little to gain from leaking the story, even if it clears them, as all it does is bring the whole sordid affair back into consciousness that it had otherwise left. The BBC has also made it clear that their story has multiple sources, and in the aftermath of Hutton, it's unlikely to lie about it. Nick Robinson and Michael Crick, the two reporters who have most concentrated on the affair, are also far from Downing Street's favourite hacks. While some have been describing Wintour as the No.10 House Pet, it's worth noting that Martin Kettle, someone far more favourable to Blair than the Guardian's leaders usually are, was opposed to the injunction being broken. The other unintended effect of the whole mess has also been to once again focus attention on Lord Goldsmith, and his decisions which have been seen as being far from independent, something which Downing Street would want to avoid at all costs. Would Goldsmith have been so vociferous in attempting to get injunctions if this was information that Number 10 wanted out?

The second allegation being thrown about is that the reports could potentially prejudice a trial, or lead to charges not being brought, or that it's allowed Lord Levy to blame everything on the media and the police being beastly towards him. This is helped along by the statement from the police condemning the Guardian's breaking of the injunction: they maintain that the reporting of Turner's concern over Levy could undermine their investigation, but they've provided no evidence of this, and the Yates' inquiry is still expected to last a few weeks more. The police's distaste at this leak being reported however though seems odd when you consider that the whole inquiry has been defined by leak after leak, with the police and Downing Street accusing each other in turn. One side has to be lying, and while this leak may well have came from No 10, that all the others came from the same place seems wholly unlikely.

The report itself is hardly earth-shattering. When something stinks, there's only so much you can do to counter the smell; you can try and smother it with air freshener, but eventually you're going to have to remove the offending article or person. We all know that Levy stinks, that the honours list ponged like a frightened skunk, and this report only furthers the belief that he was at the centre of a possible cover-up. This doesn't by any means acquit Turner from also being involved, or indeed Blair and the few other people who were involved in the loans loophole in the first place. Levy himself is so desperate to try and spin himself that he was last night resorting to getting his Rabbi to go on Newsnight to suggest that somehow all the speculation and flying accusations are anti-semitic, as if the fact that Levy happens to be Jewish has had any influence on the reports at all. What does he and his "supporters" expect when he's at the centre of a government which isn't noted for its openness?

For those who honestly believe that the Grauniad has been played by Downing Street, or that Wintour is either repaying a favour or otherwise, it's worth looking at Downing Street's favourite pet when it's come to leaks: the Sun, whose coverage of the whole scandal has been so light and so sycophantic that it's laughable. The Sun's political editor gives over most of the only report on the developments to Levy's arguments, and then in conclusion comes up with this brilliant explanation for why Levy asked Turner to support his version of events:

In Miss Turner’s document, she explains she is uncomfortable at being asked to support Lord Levy’s recollection of how the honours list was drawn up.

One explanation could be that she simply misunderstood his request.

Ah, that must be it! The day's other article is given over to Ruth Turner's mother, who's also complaining about how her poor daughter is being put through the wringer:

THE mother of No10 aide Ruth Turner spoke out today over the “heavy stress” on her daughter caused by the cash-for-honours probe.

Marie Turner said: “It is unimaginable to think what she must be going through. She has nobody to talk to at all. As far as we know this must be one of the stresses for her.”

Mrs Turner, who lives in Connecticut, told a newspaper: “We are at a great distance and she cannot talk to either of us - that leaves her to carry a heavy stress on her shoulders alone.”

In her interview Mrs Turner also said her daughter was “above board, honest and her integrity is beyond reproach”.

Quite right. She's clearly just an angel with a face dirtied by the irresponsible media.

Whatever the truth or the source of the leak, Rusbridger's defence, being to say damn us if you will and prosecute us if we have done what you accuse us of, is at least honest. That is something that cannot be said for Blair. The longer the police investigation goes on, the less likely it seems that any charges will be brought, but it will be this, along with Iraq that will remain his legacy, however much they try to pass the buck, or no matter how many times Levy brings his background into it.

Labels: , , , ,

AddThis Social Bookmark Button


Scum-watch: Ripping the readers off.

Today's Scum leads on the "TV rip-off" phone-lines, which are meant to have overcharged or cheated viewers through their votes on reality shows or on competitions on others.

Fair enough, it's a worthy subject to be investigating. Just one thing worth pointing out: 5 of the shows the Sun features on the front page are ITV programmes, the network that BSkyB (39% of the shares in which are owned by News Corp) has just bought 17.9% of the shares in. The Scum's TV editor is apoplectic:

THE one key factor that lumps all of Britain’s top TV firms together in this sorry scandal is TRUST.

Whether you are voting for your X Factor favourite or trying to win cash on Richard and Judy’s quiz, you TRUST that your money is not going straight down the drain.

Or indeed into TV companies’ coffers.

You TRUST that your phone call is making a difference.

Lifting the lid on our favourite shows has revealed a massive swizz.

It’s almost as bad as the US scandals of the 1950s, when top quiz shows were rigged.

Our trust has well and truly been breached.

The fact that ITV have come out with their hands up and suspended all their phoneline and interactive services is commendable.

But their in-depth probe is only going back TWO years. Is that far enough?

Seeing as the Sun doesn't seem to think so, shouldn't it be using the influence its owners now have over ITV to make sure that it does go back further? Or would the Sun rather that its new association with ITV goes without comment?

The Scum's leader is on much the same tact:

ITV’s quiz operator Eckoh is said to have carried on charging callers even when computer breakdowns prevented votes from registering.

The TV networks, meanwhile, are merrily giving their phone-in shows a clean bill of health.

We suggest they look more closely.

Then again, seeing as Wade and Kemp have now broken up and she no longer has to get the galley slaves to plug her husband's dire programmes on ITV, it may be that she's just past caring, at least until the Dirty Digger tells her to start the brown-nosing features.

Labels: , , , ,

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Tuesday, March 06, 2007 

What's the point of the Liberal Democrats?

Honest, it is.

Confusion still reins over Menzies Campbell's less than impressive speech to the spring conference, with its talk of "five tests" which Gordon Brown has to meet in order for him to have risen to the challenge of believing in "liberal democracy".

The real debate has been over whether the initial briefings, which appeared to suggest that in the event of a hung parliament the Lib Dems would not insist on a form of proportional representation being introduced in return for them forming a coalition with Labour reflected the party's true priorities or not. For the last God knows how long, the two Lib Dem policies which almost anyone could name and knew about were a 50p top rate of tax on those earning more than £100,000 a year, and the electoral system being reformed from the first past the post system to one in which every vote counts. In the past year, the former has been abandoned in favour of "green taxes" and now PR itself has quite possibly been rejected in favour of power for power's sake.

While there were questions over how the 50p top rate would affect key workers, Labour raising the point of nurses in particular, and over whether it would further encourage the rich to squirrel away their earnings in tax havens, it was one of those key redistributive measures which genuinely made the Liberal Democrats different to both Labour and the Tories. Likewise PR, especially when
you consider only 22% of the electorate voted for Labour at the last election, yet it still managed to win a majority of over 60 seats. Something is quite clearly rotten, and the electoral system is part of the problem. First past the post is at least one of the reasons why the oxymoron of "radical centrism" is preached by Clarke and Milburn: a voting system which meant there was no such thing as a "wasted vote" or a need to vote tactically would radically alter the political landscape, meaning the parties would no longer have to pander only to the wants of the "aspirational" voters who make up the difference in the "ultra-marginals" which the Blairites have been crowing of. This might be frightening to how both Labour and the Tories have become comfortable in listening only to those who care about no else apart from their self, but it would be liberating for the rest of us.

It's true that
Ed Davey, Menzies' chief of staff, stated that PR remained "critically important" to the party, but the woeful lack of any mention of the policy in Ming's speech may well have spoke volumes. When you have a decent, noble and urgently needed policy, you shouldn't be afraid either of mentioning it or preaching about it. If the Lib Dems wanted to gain the support of a substantial part of the population, they'd make perfectly clear that in the event of a hung parliament, they would join a Labour government, but only if PR was introduced in return. While this would be open to the criticism of propping up a Labour government that had run out of steam, it would at least mean that the next election would be fought under completely different conditions, with a new set of policies likely from each party as a result. It would be a significant boon for democracy, and one which the Lib Dems may well be remembered for long after all our brains have turned to mush.

Instead, Campbell's speech to the conference was disheartening at best and woeful at worst. The Liberal Democrats are meant to be the party which comes up with the fairly radical policies which are then pinched without thanks by the Tories and Labour. Ming's five tests, by comparison, weren't potentially bad assessments of how Brown intends to govern, but they were far from being individual to the party itself. The Tories pledge to scrap ID cards, have moved opportunistically but reasonably credibly towards taking on climate change, and have made clear they would advocate a more distant foreign policy from that of Washington, three of the tests which Campbell set out. It's true that the Tories are about as likely to act on poverty, the third test, as Labour is to neuter Murdoch, and we've yet to learn properly about Cameron's views on where the Tories stand on devolving power, but it's not exactly a clean break either, is it?

The whole thing smacks of the Lib Dems drifting rather than leading.
Opinion polls have showed there's a large amount of support for scrapping Trident, and while there's at least something prudent about waiting a few more years before making a decision, the decision to do just that instead of setting out now the reasonably compelling arguments for disarmament, in the face of a Labour and Tory axis which means that Blair's replacement plans are going to be passed whatever the Lib Dem policy suggests that Ming may well not be up to making the difficult but important policy stands. We already knew about his hesitation over Charles Kennedy's decision to go on the anti-war march back in 2003, fearing that he/they might be painted as anti-American, but it was instead one of the party's finest hours.

The question for Campbell, with the Tories surging, is just how he justifies the party's continued existence. The country is crying out for a decent centre-left alternative to Labour, and there's plenty out there who'll either never vote for the Tories again after Thatcher/Major or because they don't trust "spliffy" Cameron's Blair impression. At the moment, instead of pushing ahead and challenging the Tories to make clear how far their newly re-found social libertarianism goes, Campbell seems content with coasting. His leadership ethos isn't being discussed yet, but if the current situation continues for a few more months, it certainly will be.

Labels: , , ,

AddThis Social Bookmark Button


That navel-gazing news in full...

Late on Sunday night, semi-popular Labour blogger Recess Monkey receives a text message informing him that Margaret Thatcher has died. He posts on it and goes to bed.

He wakes up, and finds out that he's been hoaxed. And Tory supporters have been going ballistic in the comments, for reasons known only to themselves. As someone in the comments mentions:

Says the man looking for news on a blog rather than a respected international news service.

Praguetory, who previously made as much as possible out of Unity's blacked-up image of David Cameron, which was reposted on Bob Piper's blog, noticed that Thatcher's photograph was tagged with "Milk Snatcher". This crime against the dignity of the noble Margaret Thatcher, who would never have dreamed of depriving school-children of their free milk, was enough for said Praguetory to call Recess Monkey a "despicable piece of shit".

Either way, Recess then apologised for his mistake, but also made some mild comments about how some are going to view Thatcher's legacy when she does actually pop her clogs, rather well summed up by Mr Eugenides as being graceless, but Unity also identified how Thatcher is loathed. Again, nothing particularly controversial. Then again, this is the "blogosphere".

Which, in turn, led to this beloved member of the "blogosphere" writing Recess's obituary. I'm not much of a fan of swear blogging, although it most certainly has its place and when used against a particularly vapid comment piece it can be incredibly effective. Eshotgun's post however just tends to show someone with a vocabulary that hasn't far expanded past the school playground.

Oh, and now Praguetory has "outed" Unity, taking the bait. Expect the sparks to continue to fly.


AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Monday, March 05, 2007 

Scum-watch: Think you know al-Qaida? Think again.

al-Qaida is in general, pretty easy to identify. It's a semi-autonomous terrorist organisation that has greatly inspired and spawned other jihadist militant groups, each with their own aims, but mostly using the same methods of suicide bombing, improvised explosive devices and recording the former for distribution to radical websites. What al-Qaida is not is websites dedicated to supporting "exiled hate cleric Omar Bakri" Muhammad. Somehow, helped along by internet terror "expert", Neil Doyle, a few braindead idiots discussing Prince Harry's dispatch to Iraq are morphed from armchair warriors who'd probably have their arms wrenched out their sockets if they fired a gun into al-Qaida foot soldiers.

The threats to Harry were exposed by a Sun investigation into extremists’ websites. Last night internet terror expert Neil Doyle said the website messages “represent clear incitement”.

Harry — third in line to the throne — and his troop of 12 men will receive the training after the websites supporting exiled hate cleric Omar Bakri posted threats against him. One message crowed: “Prince Harry will be sent to Iraq to be killed by Muslims.”

Another said: “May Allah give him what he deserves — like his fellow crusaders.” And a fanatic calling himself “Resistance4Islam” added: “He must be wishing for his death.”

Terror expert Mr Doyle said: “Harry would be the ultimate prize for one of these insurgent groups. He would be worth his weight in gold in propaganda terms if killed or captured.

“These website exchanges indicate a head of steam is starting to build up around his posting to Iraq.”

Right, so some mild and fairly ambiguous statements, only two of which refer to him being killed, neither of which refer to any armed grouping carrying out the killing, but instead to Allah, and these somehow add up to "al-Qaida target Harry". Why bother reporting the news when you can just make it up and advertise your services as a "terror expert" at the same time?

The whole report is laughable, mainly being a ploy to come up with a flashy idiotic graphic of Harry being kidnapped, which is about as likely to happen as a rocking horse winning the Grand National. If Harry is either injured or killed, it's far more likely to be as a result of an IED, something which is placed in the hope of killing anyone rather than an actual target. You only have to browse LiveLeak to see that the Sunni jihadist groups are out to kill anyone who gets in their way. Harry would simply be an added bonus; a major propaganda coup, and one which might finally bring home to our dear leaders the true nature of their war, but not one which would either change anything or mean anything in the long run. Five Chinese Crackers thinks much the same.

This is the reality of life in Iraq. Meaningless, mindless, tit for tat violence, carried out by groups which have no scruples. This is the real story of the war, but the Sun would rather that you didn't know much about it, other than it's getting better in Basra thanks to our brave boys. Compare the amount of words devoted to the Harry non-story, with that given over to reporting the cowardly murders by the "Islamic State of Iraq", a coalition of Sunni jihadists, including al-Qaida in Iraq (Evan Kohlmann, a genuine terrorism expert, has an excellent breakdown of the various insurgent groups active here (PDF)), of 18 men seized from the Interior Ministry (accused on innumerable occasions of having a large number of Shia militiamen among its number), with the spurious justification of taking revenge for a rape allegedly committed by Shia police. Sometimes it's worth reminding yourself of the true nature of some sections of the "resistance", exemplified by the cold, heartless manner of the executions in this case. Some might call it a war crime, a crime against humanity, but what it really is is murder, plain and simple, committed by fanatics who weren't in Iraq until we liberated it. The video is on LiveLeak, and unless you want to see for yourself for the above reasons, I advise you don't click.

That the Sun report is based on the ignoramuses that follow Bakri Muhammad is further evidence that he should of been arrested and charged with offences similar to those that resulted in the conviction of Abu Hamza while still in this country, instead of being simply stopped from re-entering the country once he had left for Lebanon. Now that he's broadcasting his hate across the internet, it at least means that he can be kept an eye on, but it doesn't stop the problem at the source. The government would rather be rid of these people than go through the more difficult but far more favourable process of prosecution.

Elsewhere in today's Scum, for reasons known only to itself, it's started something of a campaign against cocaine. That cocaine, despite its recent drop in price is most definitely a drug consumed mainly by middle class wankers rather than by the working class traditional Sun readership makes the whole thing seem redundant, but this naturally doesn't stop them from coming up with more ludicrous claims, including that Farc has links to al-Qaida:

The Sun tracked ex-FARC guerrilla Jose Arley Escobar, 21, who fought with the rebels for three years, to a safe house in Colombia’s capital, Bogota. He revealed for the first time that his terror group had been trained by al-Qaeda fighters. He exclusively told The Sun: “Two Arab strangers came to our camp in late 2001. They stayed for six weeks and taught survival techniques and jungle fighting.”

Rrright. Taking his word for it, it seems odd that al-Qaida fighters would know about jungle fighting. Seeing as Afghanistan, Bosnia, Kashmir and Chechnya, the main wars in which Arab mujahideen had been involved in prior to 9/11 aren't exactly noted for their jungles, this doesn't seem to make much sense (unless they were adapting what they'd learned from woodland battles, but let's not stretch this too far). Sudan, where al-Qaida were based for a few years in the early 90s isn't overflowing with thick bushland either. The only potential place where they could have taken part in jungle fighting which comes to mind is Indonesia. It's also worth remembering the case of the Colombia Three - three IRA members who went to train FARC rebels, which shows it's not just Arab fighters that have potentially been training Colombian militias. This is without mentioning the obvious ideological differences between FARC and al-Qaida - Marxists and Salafists don't tend to get along. Saddam, who was far from being a Marxist, was condemned by bin Laden for his "socialism".

The rest of the report is the usual tabloid article on Colombia, ignoring entirely the role of right-wing paramilitaries which themselves use the profits from cocaine for their own war against FARC, etc.

The leader takes on a pompous self-righteous tone, which was to be expected. As Bloggerheads makes clear, journalists themselves ought to make sure they're not in a glass house before they start throwing stones. Lord Ashcroft, in his book on the smear jobs orchestrated against him by the Times and New Labour, found out that a number of hacks from Wapping had habits that would make Kate Moss blush.

It is an horrific description of the devastation being wreaked on the people of Colombia, the country that supplies 80 per cent of our cocaine.

The devastation being wreaked on the people of Colombia is slight compared to the hell that has been unleashed in Iraq, supported to the hilt by propaganda from the Sun, as well as every other News Corp publication. It's alright though, as long as Harry isn't killed by al-Qaida operatives based on websites devoted Omar Bakri Muhammad, he'll sort out the mess in double quick time.

Labels: , , , , , ,

AddThis Social Bookmark Button


  • This is septicisle



Powered by Blogger
and Blogger Templates