Saturday, October 06, 2007 

Usmanov and Schillings watch: Indymedia latest to be threatened.

Seems like Usmanov's legal shysters, Schillings' tactics have been to let the dust settle slightly after the uproar over the taking down of Craig Murray/Bloggerheads etc, then to continue exactly as before.

UK Indymedia are the latest to be threatened:

Indymedia UK has been issued with a takedown notice [10th of September & 21st of September] from lawyers acting for Alisher Usmanov. The notice served to Indymedia charged Indymedia with publishing allegedly libellous accusations about Usmanov, one of the richest men in Russia, recently linked to a possible hostile takeover of Arsenal FC.

This only makes Usmanov's charm offensive this week, involving the flying via private jet of at least 9 British journalists to his offices in Moscow, then putting them up in a five star hotel all the more shallow. He says he's not a vindictive man and that some of Murray's allegations are beneath his dignity to respond to, yet his lackey of legal brown-nosing sycophants are still trying to remove all mentions and republishing of Murray's original post, while still failing to respond either to Murray's request for them to sue him or to even explain how inaccurate his allegations are, apart from their completely untrue argument that Usmanov was pardoned by Gorbachev.

If either Schillings or Usmanov think we're going to continue to take their attempts to silence all criticism of this deeply unpleasant man lying down, then they've got another thing coming.

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The honeymoon's over.

Well, that's that then. After two weeks of febrile, wildly over the top speculation that Brown was about to take the risk of calling an election, he, as the Guardian's leader today called for him to do, has put an end to it all. No trudging around in darkness as fireworks go off around and about for the activists of all parties, and only the blankness and dreary weather to look forward to for us sad, lonely political anoraks.

As Nosemonkey also points out, the hyperbole now swirling around is also surely out of all proportion. Is this really in any way a crisis? While Brown's advisers and pollsters can most certainly be accused of hyping up the prospect of an early poll, and he did himself no favours whatsoever by bringing the announcement on NHS reform to Thursday and the spending review and pre-budget report to early next week, this is hardly the beginning of Brown's downfall. The honeymoon is certainly over, and that is more than partly his own fault, but the chances of the Tories now managing to keep themselves focused without once again falling into infighting are slim.

It's true this is a mess of Labour's own making, and Cameron will naturally try to exploit it as much as he can. How quickly though things change: at the beginning of the week this was "mission impossible" or "make or break" week for the Conservatives, while for now at least they look the stronger and more focused. Their job, far from challenging Brown to call an election, as they fatuously urged this week, was to make certain that he couldn't risk doing so, and in that they've succeeded. It doesn't seem to have been Cameron's speech wot won it however, but Osborne's uncosted and discriminatory inheritance tax proposals, which were far more of a dog whistle than anything that Brown put forward. Promising to cut a hugely unpopular tax that very few actually currently pay was enough to get those in the marginals and soft, well-off Lib Dems in the south-east to change sides, at least for the opinion polls'.

Those same opinion polls in reality offer very little comfort for Cameron. He's squandered a huge lead over the last few months; while everyone knew full well there would be a bounce for Brown once he took over, the Conservatives both managed to underestimate just how long it would last and to lose their faith in Cameron at the exact second as the polls for the first time turned against him. Even if Brown had thrown all caution to the wind and decided to take the Tories' on at their own game by seeking his own mandate, as they taunted him to do, the very best result the most optimistic current polls for the Tories predict is a hung parliament. The Liberal Democrats would almost certainly have then gone into some sort of coalition with Labour, despite their previous pledges not to do so: the possibilities of power would certainly be too much for the overwhelming majority of the party to resist.

In fact, such a result would have been overwhelmingly welcome. The shenanigans of the last two weeks have only confirmed what many have long feared: that the arrival of Brown, rather than heralding a return to the left, as the Tories scaremongered about, would if anything result in an even further shift of the political "centre ground" to the right. Brown's courtship of Paul Dacre, the supposed political weather vane of the middle classes has meant that the difference between Labour and the Tories has narrowed yet further. A popular new parlour game could be to guess how many policies they have that aren't almost exactly the same: the only differences this blogger can discern is that the Tories will scrap ID cards only to waste it on even more prison cells, keep the detention without charge limit for "terrorist suspects" at 28 days, shaft the single mother and those on incapacity benefit ever so slightly harder, and rob the super-rich to give to the already well-off. It's hardly 1983 all over again, is it?

Which would have only exacerbated the likelihood of an even poorer turn-out than last time, which increased by a massive 2% on the record low of 2001. A hung parliament could have helped change that: the Liberal Democrats could have demanded proportional representation in exchange for going into a coalition, ending once and for all the insanity of having to appeal to those who care only about what politicians are going to do for them, rather than for everyone. Ming could also have rightly followed up his call for fixed-term parliaments, putting a stop to any repeat of this week's exasperating charade. We've been denied that for now, but if there's no change in the lack of choice whenever the next election is called, the calls for the above are only going to inexorably grow.

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We can't turn them away update.

Somewhat encouraging news on the We can't turn them away campaign front. The Times reports:

Iraqi interpreters and other key support staff who have risked their lives to work for Britain are to be allowed to settle in the United Kingdom, The Times has learnt.

Hundreds of interpreters and their families are to be given assistance to leave Iraq, where they live under fear of death squads because they collaborated with British forces. Those wishing to remain in Iraq or relocate to neighbouring countries will be helped to resettle.

After a two-month campaign by The Times, Gordon Brown is set to announce that interpreters who have worked for the British Government for 12 months will be given the opportunity of asylum in Britain.

The most reassuring word here is "hundreds". The campaign has always argued that we don't just owe the 91 known interpreters sanctuary here, but also all those who have worked for the army in Basra in any respect. They are just as potentially in danger, especially once a full withdrawal is finally completed.

The hope has to be now that this is actually followed through. Dan has already suggested that the person who leaked this to the Times may have gotten ahead of themselves, with apparently neither the army or the Foreign Office as of yet being aware of any change in policy. All the more reason for there to be as large a turnout as possible at Tuesday's meeting in Westminster.

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Friday, October 05, 2007 

A tale of two tragedies and different police responses.

Peter Woodhams - Murdered by Bradley Tucker after a seven-month campaign of terror was waged against him by a gang of youths. Despite being previously slashed across the face and stabbed in the neck, the Independent Police Complaint Commission's findings were:

Officers failed to bring in forensic experts
No photographs were taken of the scene
A proper record of the attack was not made in officers' pocketbooks
Officers failed to contact the Woodhams family for more information
Anonymous phone calls identifying several suspects were not followed up by police
Two sergeants did not adequately manage the scene of the attack

As a result, a detective sergeant and a detective constable have been required to resign.

Jean Charles de Menezes - Brutally murdered by a member of the SO19 firearms unit, shot 7 times at point-blank range in the head after being "mistaken" for one of the men who had attempted a suicide bombing on the tube the day before. Despite two highly critical IPCC reports, one of which still yet to be publicly published, and a prosecution against the Metropolitan police on health and safety grounds, which is currently detailing the amazing incompetence and negligence of the Met on July the 22nd, no one has so much as been disciplined over de Menezes's death. In fact, quite the opposite has happened: Cressida Dick, the woman in charge on the day, has already been promoted to deputy assistant commissioner. Despite the second IPCC report into the police's response after de Menezes had been shot, which identified that Assistant Commissioner Andy Hayman had known that it was likely an innocent man had been shot as early as 16:00 the same day, he instead continued to brief the media that the assumption was that it was one of the bombers who was dead. As for Sir Ian Blair, despite seemingly everyone apart from him hearing the rumours that an innocent man had been killed, he didn't learn of the deadly mistake until the following morning. Neither have been disciplined, let alone felt the need to resign.

For Peter Woodhams, justice has come far too late. For Jean Charles de Menezes, it seems unlikely to ever come. It seems that those in the front line are expendable, while the responsible commissioners are untouchable.

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Scum-watch: Biased in favour of itself.

It's Thursday afternoon in Wapping, and apart from all the rumours about a possible election and opinion poll reading going on, there's not a lot of news about. The leader writer(s) can't quite stretch out the whole column to be meanderings about will there or won't there be one, so what else can he/she/they fill out with?

Ah yes, the perennial favourite, bash the BBC!

THE BBC has learned nothing from its own confession that it is institutionally biased in favour of Brussels.

The Scum is presumably referring to a report published back in January 2005 that found the corporation needed to make its coverage of Europe "more demonstrably impartial", although it found no evidence of any deliberate bias whatsoever. (Nosemonkey at the time mentioned the report actually found that people perceive the corporation to be biased. Where could they get that idea from?)

A new study shows Radio Four’s Today programme gave FOUR times as much air-time to the commercial Glastonbury pop festival than to the crucial EU Constitution.

This is apparently referring to a study conducted by Newswatch, who rather than being an independent organisation appear to be a team you can hire to prove instances of "bias". On their track record page, they boast:

Our clients have included the Conservative Party, the cross-party think-tank Global Britain, and the Daily Telegraph.

Wow! That's quite a cross-section. They also say:

We have also produced research papers that have been published by the prestigious think-tank the Centre for Policy Studies.

That would be the Centre for Policy Studies that was founded by "Sir" Keith Joseph and err, Margaret Thatcher.

How about the actual study then? Newswatch have kindly provided a 4-page summary on their website (PDF), which details that their research only concerned coverage of Europe on the Today programme from March the 19th of this year to June the 23rd. The Scum then is alleging bias on the corporation as a whole based on the contents of just one news programme.

Oh, and what do you know, the Scum's claim even then is completely wrong:

On June 23, the day that agreement was reached, Today devoted four times more airtime to the Glastonbury Rock Festival than to coverage of the eurosceptic case against the revised working arrangements.

Rather than the BBC giving four times as much coverage then to Glastonbury that it did the entire issue of the reform treaty, it in fact gave four times as much coverage to Glastonbury than it did to the Eurosceptic case against it. Newswatch doesn't mention whether it also gave supporters of the treaty about the same amount of airtime, probably for the reason it seems pretty obvious that this research was commissioned by a Eurosceptic organisation, although which one it's impossible to sure seeing as Newswatch hasn't owned up. It could be UKIP, about whom it says the following:

UKIP, a main conduit of views about withdrawal and further growth of EU powers, was not asked any questions at all during the survey about the revised working arrangements. Remarks by UKIP spokesmen in four appearances by the party occupied only around five minutes out of
238 hours of programming. On the sole occasion when there was a debate about UKIP concerns – relating to whether the EU brought benefits to the UK - the UKIP spokesman was treated unfairly.

Diddums! What exactly is the definition of unfairly here? That UKIP are barking mad and in the words of David Cameron, who has never spoken a truer sentence when he said they're "fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists, mostly".

Then again, it could be the Centre for Policy Studies themselves:

James Naughtie treated Ruth Lea, the guest who put the case for a referendum, more toughly than Professor Jo Shaw, who argued against one being held.

Really? Ruth Lea just happens to be... the director of the Centre for Policy Studies!

Oh, and if this is the level of critique and analysis, then it seems to have been money well spent:

The programme and its correspondents used biased terminology to apply to the revised working arrangements. From early on, they described the document as a ‘reform treaty’, in line with the EU’s own terminology, but seemingly disregarding the position of eurosceptics, who contended the document was the Constitution in all but name.

Maybe that could be because it's a fucking reform treaty? It doesn't matter whether it was called the EU Sticking A Bottle Up Eurosceptics Backsides' treaty, it's not a constitution because it isn't called a constitution like the previous one was, and if the BBC were to call it one, that would be just as biased and misleading as the Sun and Newswatch's own complaints. About the only really conclusive part of Newswatch's edited report was the following:

This was a period of major EU activity, but coverage of EU affairs on the Today programme slumped to a record low of 2.7% of available airtime for most of the 14 weeks, despite high-profile promises by BBC news management in the wake of the Wilson report that EU-related output would be boosted, and claims by the Director General that it has been.

I can't speak or defend the Today programme because I don't listen to it. If what Newswatch is reporting is true, then it's something than can be looked into and sorted out. The overall problem with coverage of the European Union as a whole though is that to many, include many otherwise political obsessives, it's both boring and at times impenetratble. In order to report on what's going on with a meagre sort of hope that someone will actually listen rather than tune out, it gets reduced to gimmickery. Incidentally, Mark Mardell, the current Europe editor, is one of those BBC journalists that usually does manage to report both informatively and with a levity that others ought to perhaps aspire too. Like the Sun however, Newswatch is looking at coverage of the EU solely through the prism of the Today programme: amazingly, it isn't the be all and end all of the BBC's news output.

Back to the Scum:

The BBC has virtually ignored the debate raging about the new Treaty — despite uproar in all parties and on both sides of the argument.

Rubbish. Just because the Scum's had it on the front page for days at a time because Murdoch is anti-EU for all the wrong reasons doesn't mean that the BBC has ignored it. There have been plenty of reports: a quick search on the BBC News website for "EU reform treaty" has more than four pages of recent articles, going back just to the beginning of September. Prior to that, OpenEurope, a group against the reform treaty had a number of appearances across the BBC's news programmes, calling for a referendum.

The same self-censorship is applied to immigration — another enormous issue not to be discussed in front of the licence-payers.

Now this really is an enormous lie. Just a couple of weeks ago the BBC gave blanket coverage to Cambridgeshire police's Julie Spence's comments on how the influx of migrant workers was leaving her force struggling to cope. It lead the radio bulletins all day, was the third story on the 10 O'Clock bulletin, and the Newsnight gave it top billing, complete with a discussion after their report with "Sir" Andrew Green and the Conservative shadow minister, rather outnumbering the Labour spokesman. Could the Sun be upset because as the BBC often does, it provided a more balanced side of the story than the tabloids did, with Mark Easton's report examining both sides?

It is not just because many of its editors and producers are lefties — though many are.

Guardian reading conspiracy alert!

It is an arrogant, lazy assumption that they know best — and ignorant audiences should not be disturbed by matters beyond their ken.

Completely unlike the Sun, which treats its readers like idiots by talking down to them, insulting them on numerous occasions and reprinting lie after lie after lie, or as on occasions like this, plays them for fools by taking the facts and then skewing them in their favour.

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Thursday, October 04, 2007 

Top bloggery.

Justin on the Tories' lack of love and compassion for Blackpool, an old post from TrannyFattyAcid obliterating Usmanov's claim Gorbachev pardoned him, and Mr E on the media's role in the "downfall" of Britney Spears.

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Usmanov-watch: 9 out of 10 cats.

As something of an addendum to yesterday's post on Usmanov and the curious tale of the journos who didn't feel the need to disagree with anything he said after he'd provided them with a stay in a five-star hotel in Moscow as well as a trip itself in a luxury private jet, Tim has now listed the 10 journalists (Roger Blitz, FT) (David Bond, Telegraph) (Jason Burt, Independent) (Shaun Curtis, Scum) (Matt Dickinson, Times) (Richard Galpin, BBC) (Martin Lipton, Mirror) (Charles Sale, Daily Mail) (Matt Scott, Grauniad, and there may possibly be more) who went on this jolly outing. Of those 10, only Charles Sale of (amazingly) the Daily Mail was completely honest about how he (and they) came to be meeting Usmanov.

I'm not usually one to bash the "MSM" as a whole, mainly because for the most part the broadsheet press (and the BBC, etc) in this country generally manage to conduct themselves with something approaching a probity that doesn't require any sort of intrusive regulation, and quite right too. The tabloids, as even a casual reader will mostly know, are a different matter entirely. This sort of thing though is widespread, and as these pieces all prove, the broadsheet press can be just as complicit in it as any of the gutter rags. It'd be nice to think that bloggers are on the whole above this sort of thing, but that again is also mostly wishful thinking, as previous experiences involving Guido and others testify.

It also won't do to be too high and mighty about it. As any trainee hack will know, you sometimes have to scratch a back or lick an arse in order to get anywhere. We're meant though to have one of the most attack-dog media atmospheres of anywhere in the world, tenacious, unafraid to ask the difficult questions and potentially become unpopular for doing so. In practice, this is mostly complete rot, as the McCann case has showed. I'd go so far to say that some of the media is downright cowardly: they feel more than able to smear, attack and lie about those that can't defend themselves, but when it comes to those who can wield a big stick, as Usmanov certainly can, they instantly turn servile and unquestioning, especially when provided with top quality accommodation and all expenses paid beanos to Moscow.

The other thing to point out is also that the vast majority of these hacks are in effect working for incredibly rich and powerful men or women themselves: whether it's Murdoch, the Barclays, Lord Rothermere or Tony O'Reilly (Richard Desmond would be included in this list but it doesn't appear that one of his hacks was invited), they themselves tend to stick together. Too much questioning of other VIPs can bring swift retribution in whichever form they decide is best. You can't expect a Sun hack to start asking questions of someone about tax avoidance, for instance, without leaving that individual with a gaping open goal to shoot into.

To be frank however, we're the ones who are paying the wages of these people, whether we're clicking on the ads on their sites or actually buying the paper. To have to read all ten articles on the same matter to get a full picture of what was said and how it came to be said is an incredibly poor reflection on the state of the media, or at least when it involves reporting on the rich and currently not yet famous. We rely on these journalists to keep us informed, and not to mention how they came to be in Moscow is shoddy, if not to say dishonest. We deserve better.

Update: Tim received a reply from the FT which clarifies their position on matters of hospitality such as this. Also apologies to Richard Galpin of the BBC who is apparently based in Moscow.

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Express-watch: Diana: the lies.

If there's one headline that all newspapers should avoid using, it's THE TRUTH. Not only because the Scum infamously used it on the day that it printed the lies about Hillsborough, but because as we all know, the truth is a very loose concept.

It's an even more loose concept when it involves the Daily Express, and especially when it also has to do with Diana. Out of the three statements on the front page, only one is true: Diana was indeed on the pill. One would think that this would rather undermine the consistent, incipient claims that Diana was pregnant with Dodi's child, but not when you're the Daily Express or a conspiracy theorist. Rather, this proves that they were having sex and that she therefore quite possibly was pregnant, except if she was still taking the pill at the time, this would rather undermine the theory that she knew about it, that Dodi knew about it and that this was one of the reasons for why MI6/the Duke of Edinburgh/Muffin the Mule decided that she and Al-Fayed's son had to die.

All the above contradictions though are nothing to the average conspiracy theorist, and so the Express continues with its blatant misinformation. The Express claims that the inquest heard definitively that Henri Paul was not drunk, when it heard nothing of the sort. On the contrary, the court today heard that Paul had at the very least consumed two Ricards, and yesterday it heard conflicting evidence. The blood tests, which Al-Fayed in his fully swivel-eyed conspiratorial mind claims were "switched", showed that he was over both the French and British drink-drive limits, but those who saw him on the night claimed that he did not appear or seem drunk. That on its own proves nothing: you can look completely sober but still be unfit to drive due to what you've drunk, especially when you're mixing alcohol with drugs like anti-depressants.

Finally, it's true that Dodi had bought a diamond ring. You can make your own minds up on what he was going to do with it, but the simple fact that he had bought a ring does not mean that it was intended to be an engagement ring, let alone that he already asked Diana to marry him. Even if he had, what difference would it have made? Were MI6 so prepared for the eventuality and bugging their conversations that they would be able to organise such an op within potentially hours of learning of it? Leaving aside the spectacularly convoluted and complicated assassination plot necessary in order to kill the pair, with the driver apparently willing to sacrifice himself, or the "white Fiat Uno" being in exactly the right spot at the right time, does Al-Fayed's claim that the monarchy would be threatened by the step-father of the heir to the throne being a Muslim hold any water whatsoever? It would have meant precisely nothing - Diana had already had her title taken from her, and the royal family were already more than prepared to exclude her altogether and forget about her. She was a nuisance to them, but not one which meant that she had to be disposed of.

Can you honestly believe we've another 6 months of this shit to listen to? I don't think there's ever before been such a fantastical waste of time and money for the benefit of one lying, completely untrustworthy schemer with a more than open vendetta. When you consider that the government are denying an inquiry into 7/7, when 52 people died and where we still don't properly know whether the attacks could have prevented and how far the conspiracy went, it's even more aggravating, even if the two are separate issues. That there are newspapers prepared to back up Al-Fayed's bluster only shows how power, money and influence continue to determine far more than the deaths of numerous innocents does.

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Wednesday, October 03, 2007 

"Well, that's it. That's what I believe."

Is it cos I is white?

If there's one thing you can't accuse David Cameron of, it's half measures. His speech wasn't just long; it was bladder pressurizingly lengthy. Delivered with only light notes, as both he and the Conservatives are crowing, it was in the region of 8,500 words of not very much. Prime example was that he just had to mention MySpace and Facebook, as every politician who wants to look vaguely "with-it" has to do, to help with a highly dubious point about having "to take what we're given" with politics, as if his entire speech wasn't an example of just that.

If anything, Cameron was taking his cue from Gordon Brown's similarly lengthy and rudderless speech last week. Both had no overall theme, a pedestrian stroll through their respective policies, without anything to draw it all together. Cameron's, if it's possible, is even more soporific; if I feel like dozing off speed reading through it, what was it like to actually sit there, in the probably stifling heat having to clap your hands together like a deranged seal every five minutes?

His real triumph, if you can call it that, was that his scattergun approach helps make it more difficult to object to the policies that were somewhat fleshed out. He rehashed the exact same things said by David Davis yesterday, for instance, but while his speech was aggravating and objectionable, Cameron has the quality to soften the blow. He still talked nonsense, obviously, like that you can't deport those responsible for gun and knife crime because of "Labour's Human Rights Act", or that Brown's speech was full of "dog whistles"; just ever so slightly rich from the man who wrote the dog whistling manifesto to end them all just 2 years ago.

Perhaps most significantly, he didn't mention inheritance tax once. The Tories' really big grab for middle class, middle England support, and he didn't cast minds back to it. Either this was because he felt he didn't need to, after the banner headlines, or that he wanted to be this person who is still all things to all men, rather than this tax-cutting, middle class subsidising traditional Tory pressing all the familiar buttons, just with a green tinge. Families were the biggest nod towards that front: 10 mentions, whether as the best welfare system or as the justification for ending the (non-existent) benefits bias towards single parents. Those who really don't need it are still going to get the equivalent of £20 a week simply for being married, a bribe of the sort that New Labour, for all its failed policies and quirks has never been as blatant to attempt.

Truly offensive and a hark back to the old nasty Tory party though was Cameron's promise that those on benefits who refuse a job "that they can do" will lose their money, while the ever wonderful private and voluntary sector will provide such brilliant jobs that no one ever will. We're talking about some of the most vulnerable, sick and depressed people in our society having their umbilical cord cut simply if they reject a job they don't feel up to or simply aren't suited for. So much for the broken society, but then those who might lose out are never going to vote Conservative anyway.

This wasn't an election winning speech, and Cameron never intended it to be so. It was a further attempt to mould him as this acceptable, friendly face of the Conservative party, an alternative to Gordon Brown, but without pretending to be anything like him, even if the vast majority of their policies are so similar that you couldn't get a cigarette paper between them. It was enough, and they'll now see what the wider response is. The real battle, if Brown is to risk an election as Cameron dared him to, is still yet to come.

Related posts:
Tygerland - More of the Same
Chicken Yogurt - Re-branding the herd
John Harris - Not Dave-ing, but drowning

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Usmanov-watch: Charm offensive by a charmless man.

There's a well-known trick in the world of PR that's meant to help journalists feel more sympathetic towards their client. If the client is suitably rich, they suggest that they stay wherever it is they live, and let the interviewers/hacks come to them, in an as luxurious fashion as possible.

Alisher Usmanov, no doubt paying not just for the services of Schillings, his legion of lackeying legal freedom of speech suppressing cunts, but also for the work of one of the most expensive PR firms, decided to take just this approach. It seems that a representative from almost all of the broadsheets' sports teams (Times) (Telegraph) (Guardian) (FT) was requested, and subsequently flown by private jet to see Usmanov in Moscow in the offices of his metals company. No expense was presumably spared, and inevitably none of the journalists who subsequently filed a piece so much as dared to question him further about Craig Murray's initial allegations, accepting his responses at face value.

Usmanov for example claims that he has next to no real links with Uzbekistan:
"I don't live in Uzbekistan. I am not even a citizen of Uzbekistan. I only visit the graves of my parents once a year."

Quite understandably, he doesn't mention his very real friendship with Islom Karimov, the current Uzbek dictator, or indeed that Gazprom, for whom Usmanov is the Gazprom Investholdings chairman, has control of the Uzbek natural gas reserves.

"Life is a sequence of events we cannot always control. Sometimes we are helpless against the circumstances life presents. Most obviously it manifested in the system we all lived under when the country was ruled by the Communist party."

As, after all, things are far different in Uzbekistan now than they were during Soviet times. I mean they don't still have the same president or anything.... Oh.

The most hilarious thing in all these reports is Usmanov's claim that it is both beneath his dignity to respond to all the allegations, and that he isn't a vindictive man. His hiring of Schillings, who have been sending out chilling legal threats to anyone who dared to link to Murray's original post, was purely the action of someone who wanted the truth to be known! It's all been a big misunderstanding: he just didn't want silly mistakes to be made. How wrong and mean we've all been!

I am dealing with the British ambassador to Moscow to run some huge cultural events. We are bringing great artists to exhibit in Russian museums. Why not ask him about the secret intelligence he has received on me?

Yeah, that's a great idea Alisher. I'm sure he'll be more than happy to share that "secret" intelligence with us. In any case, if it's the same intelligence that Murray received, as it doubtless is, he'll already know the truth but will have to bite his lip.

Decrying the “prejudice material” written about him, Mr Usmanov says he is tiring of firing off various law suits. Asked whether the continuation of such allegations would make him think about walking away from Arsenal, he says: “I’ll think about it.” But enemies were left in no doubt he would not shirk a fight. “If it is initiated to drive me out, I stay.”

Funny that. Craig Murray has still yet to receive a writ for his original allegations, but Usmanov claims he won't shirk from a fight. Strange that Schillings have already said they don't have any intentions to pursue Murray because they don't want to give him a platform on which to spread his views. They know full well that Usmanov would have a high chance of losing, and at the very least would be far more severely embarrassed than he already is.

Finally, to bring it all back towards the actual football aspect:

He also made it plain that, unlike Chelsea, Arsenal would have to pay their own way as a business rather than expect handouts. Usmanov may be a genuine fan of Arsenal – he even called Tony Adams “a real Gooner” – but he also referred to them as a “useful portfolio investment”.

Yes, you too can become a genuine fan of Arsenal as long as you're well briefed on their past by your PR advisers, as Usmanov obviously has been (although he gets at least three members of the 2002 double-winning team wrong). Then he gives the game away: anyone who describes a football club as a "useful portfolio investment" should never be let anywhere near the ground, let alone into the director's or chairman's box. Usmanov isn't just a phony, he's a vain, venal and pathetic man, and he will be fought every step of the way.

Related post:
Tim Ireland - Usmanov begins a new PR push

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Tabloid-watch: Glorious Diana humbug.

You might recall that earlier in the year Channel 4 came under heavy pressure, both from the tabloids and as a result of their fury, Prince Harry and William themselves, to pull a documentary that was alleged to contain images of Princess Diana lying in the smashed Mercedes in the Paris tunnel, being treated before she died. While Channel 4 quite rightly refused to remove the programme from the schedules, it obscured one image to "avoid any unwarranted intrusion into their [the Princes'] privacy or that of their families".

At the time Private Eye pointed out that the Scum, one of those newspapers noisily complaining about this latest unwarranted distress to the Princess's children, had in fact already previously published the photograph at the centre of the whole storm, also blanked out, splashing it on the front page when an Italian magazine went ahead with an article that used the already freely available on the internet photographs of the late Princess receiving treatment.

Fast forward to yesterday, which saw the opening of the inquest into Diana's death, only 10 years' after the fact, and the release of a number of previously held back photographs, including those that see inside the car a matter of minutes before the crash that killed three of the occupants and badly injured Fayed's bodyguard. They clearly show all three of those in the picture, Henri Paul, Trevor Rees-Jones and Diana, with her back to the camera, looking highly agitated and trying to get away from the paparazzi that were taking the shots we're now seeing for the first time.

How then did the tabloids (and Telegraph) react to the release of these potentially highly insensitive and upsetting set of photographs? Why, by splashing them all over their front pages with appropriately sensational headlines of course!

While these photographs are central to the inquest, there was no need whatsoever for them to be published in such a way, but then with the tabloids ever more desperate to boost their circulation it was no brainer decision, even if it shows how flagrantly hypocritical their faux-outrage over the Channel 4 documentary was, or indeed last year's publication of the same photographs by the Italian magazine, coming at the same time as some genuinely "shocking, sickening, outrageous" photographs were emerging from both Israel and Lebanon. Amazingly, the Express resisted the temptation to throw them on their front page, although I have no doubts that they're used inside. The Grauniad's coverage of the inquest, written in a humourous style by Stephen Bates, managed to avoid using them; the tabloids, regardless of their past attempts to savage anyone who dares to impugn either her memory or publish the graphic photographs of her passing, had no such qualms.

The whole inquest is a pointless, hugely expensive waste of time. We know how and why Diana died; as a result of a tragic car accident, exacerbated by the presence of paparazzi desperate for shots of both Dodi and the princess, something which was also not helped by how the driver, Henri Paul, having taken a toxic mix of anti-depressants and alcohol, was clearly unfit to be in change of a motor vehicle. It's also quite possible that both Diana and Dodi would have survived if they had been wearing their seat belts. All of this has already been set out in Lord Stevens' exhaustive report that considered all the conspiracy theories that will be debunked once again, this time in court, and found that they were complete bunkum.

This is all being done for the benefit of a man who is already certain of what happened. Whether it's because of vanity, guilt, pigheadedness, denial or a vendetta against the British establishment that denied him a passport is impossible to know for sure perhaps without a psychiatrist intervening, but Mohamed Al-Fayed is never going to be satisfied until a court decides that the accident was in fact murder, something which is never going to happen. Why we are continuing to indulge this wealthy egomaniac is the only question remaining about what happened that night, and it's one which the court cannot pass judgment on.

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Tuesday, October 02, 2007 

Cynical about real political choice? Moi?

There's nothing quite like the conference season to restore your cynicism in politics. Say what you like about the Liberal Democrats - irrelevant, idiotic, idiosyncratic - they at least have something approaching an actual debate, discussion and vote on new policies. Compare that to both the Labour and Conservative conferences, so far distinguished only by their congratulatory backslapping and err, almost indistinguishable policies, and you'd almost be forgiven for wanting to turn yellow and become a Minger.

First though, it would be remiss not to mention today's flabbergasting act of political cynicism from Gordon Brown. For once, the Tory accusations of spin, electioneering and downright opportunism were more than valid. As oleanginous, creepy and rabid as Liam Fox is, it was impossible to disagree with his righteous anger about Brown's token mention of Iraq in his speech last week, only to fly to Baghdad during the Tory conference and announce a further draw down of troops. Even if we hadn't then learned that this further withdrawal was in fact nothing of the sort, with some of the 1000 soldiers who would be back by Christmas either already here or not even in Iraq currently, the truly shocking thing about this latest foreign policy debacle was that Brown had the nerve to go to Iraq at all, without at the same time announcing that all the remaining troops would be brought home almost immediately. The lunacy of remaining at Basra airport, supposedly as a backup force in case the Iraqi army or police need as at some point, even when we're told that a full handover will be possible within a couple of months, and with, surprise surprise, Basra quieter since we left, is self-evident. Our last act in Iraq could conceivably have taken place before Christmas - the final operation, to bring to safety the Iraqi employees who worked for our armed forces whom we owe a debt of both protection and gratitude to - and that would have been that. Instead, in a blatant act of political manoeuvring prior to the now almost certain calling of an election, Brown proved that he can still be just as deceitful, if not more so, than his predecessor.

The only mitigating factor was that today was just another day in the Conservative charade of pretending to be all things to all people, whether it was the presenting the alternative to authoritarian New Labour as being even more authoritarian, or promising to fix our "broken society" by shafting the ill and depressed into jobs they either don't want or can't cope with in order to redistribute to working couples. If you want a good giggle, you can read Ed Vaizey's hilarious CiF post about how the Tories are back on track due to their commitment to helping young people starting out in life; as WarwickLad in the comments puts it, by ensuring that the children of the well-off will have even less incentive to work or contribute to society, courtesy of their inheritance tax cut. Oh yeah, the Tories are back on track all right: a track leading straight to the buffers.

David Davis certainly wants to take them there. Reading through his speech, itself frequently broken up by self-indulgent video clips either involving individuals telling them how wonderful/right they are, or featuring those they've decided to champion for whichever fatuous reason, the only lasting impression you get is of, despite all Davis's protestations about how bad Labour have been over crime, immigration and terrorism over the last ten years, how little difference he's really offering. Davis wants less bureaucracy for the police; Smith last week offered them new computers for processing paperwork on the street and machines for taking fingerprints. Davis repeats a very recent news story about Devon police supposedly not being allowed to throw a life-belt to someone in the water without conducting a "risk assessment" first - in reality an on the spot evaluation by the officer of what might go wrong. The document Davis is referring to is in fact drawn up by the Devonshire police themselves, is a summation of their own policies on rescuing those in danger (it's not a requirement of the police to dive in to save someone - that's the job of the other, trained, emergency services, but naturally the vast majority would do anyway) and has nothing to do with the government, but anything will do to bash them; he also raises the story of the boy who drowned recently in Wigan when the community support officers didn't jump in to save him, except Davis refers to them as "uniformed officers" to obfuscate the point ever so slightly.

Next Davis refers to what happened to Nicholas Tyers, the fish and chip shop owner from Bridlington who performed a citizen's arrest on what Davis calls a "yob" and was himself arrested and charged with kidnap, only for the judge to throw the case out. What Davis doesn't mention is that the yob in question was 12 years old, and that the crime they performed a citizen's arrest on him for had happened the day before. All this is leading up to another inevitable - the rush to zero tolerance, which, amazingly enough, was what Jacqui Smith talked of last week. Davis lauds the completely incomparable example of New York once again to what could be achieved across the country, lifting his argument almost directly out of the pages of the Sun.

How will the Tories provide the extra prison places needed if zero tolerance were to be enshrined? By abolishing ID cards. The Tories' one decent, non-authoritarian policy on civil liberties apart from their opposition to longer detention without charge for "terrorist suspects", and they're going to spend the money saved from not introducing them on more cells, further entrenching the crisis in overcrowding which can simply not be built out of. It's a vicious circle - ever more people in prison leads to less effective rehabilitation and in turn more re-offending, but Davis has signed up to the fallacious Sun mantra that while the "bad people" are locked up they can't commit more crime. Who cares about what happens when they're released? The Tories are also still continuing with their head in the sand approach to the early release scheme, which they claim will lead to 25,000 inmates being let out around two weeks' early this year, even though the total has so far only hit just less than 6,500, and the prison population hasn't even dropped. If they hadn't been released slightly early the entire system would have snarled up, but seeing as they're not in power they can carp about instantly abolishing it.

So it continues. Davis' next wheeze is drug treatment programmes, which apparently work best when they are "abstinence" based. Perhaps we ought to get Davis addicted to crack or heroin and then see how he likes going cold turkey. On immigration the Tories will make sure it drops by putting a limit on economic migrants from outside the EU, which will of course be far removed from Labour's own impositon of a points system regulating who can come here to work, but to soften the blow Davis talks up the Gurkha who had to fight to live here, the Chinese cockle pickers, here illegally, and whom as a result the Tories woulld continue to promise to deport, but seeing as they're dead they can't point that out. The obligatory mention is next made to the evil that Smith also spoke of, human trafficking, talking of 10,000 women brought here and put to work as sex slaves; too bad that as in the US, the figures don't seem to stack up - Operation Pentameter, last year's operation find and free victims of sex trafficking, succeeded in freeing 88 victims. Human trafficking is a reality, but the numbers involved seem to be far below that politicians talk of. A police border force is announced again as well - a policy that Gordon Brown shamelessly nicked.

Oh, and Hizb-ut-Tahrir will be banned. So much for tolerance and respect, and a "hard-nosed defence of freedom". Radical Muslim organisations potentially far more dangerous forced underground than when they're out in the open don't apply.

Thing is, this isn't really entirely David Davis's or the Tories' fault. They've been hemmed in by New Labour, who've either stole the majority of their policies or been shoved so far to the right on home affairs by the constant screeching of the Sun that they've nowhere else to go. Davis seems in general to be something approaching an old style Tory libertarian, as his stance on extended detention and other matters has shown, that one gets the feeling that if he wasn't shadow home secretary the policy would be different. His, and his party's policies on that and ID cards are far more virtuous than Labour's disgraceful continuing attacks on civil liberties. It's just impossible to support the party's policies as a whole as because of how far right they've got to go to somehow outbid Labour. The above is proof of that failure, and how it's leaving the electorate in general with so little real choice.

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Usmanov-watch: Revealed as yet another grasping, greedy megalomanical oligarch.

Obese freedom-of-speech denying Uzbek oligarch Alisher Usmanov has finally had his true colours fully revealed. Far from investing in Arsenal because he's a fan of the team, as his PR advisers have been furiously spinning since his first purchase of shares, today's Grauniad reports that he first had designs on Liverpool:

Arsenal's second-largest shareholder, Alisher Usmanov, held exploratory talks over a bid for Liverpool before the club was sold to Tom Hicks and George Gillett in a £174m deal.

The then Liverpool chairman, David Moores, received a representative of the Uzbek billionaire alongside the two Americans and the Dubai Investment Capital group at a time when he was courting potential investors. But when it became clear that Moores would sell out entirely Usmanov chose to pursue a "meaningful" but minor stake in Arsenal.

Likely to make Arsenal fans even more suspicious of his motives is what he was advised to do after abandoning any designs on Liverpool:

His advisers recommended purchasing Tottenham Hotspur or Derby County outright...

Quite obvious then that Usmanov doesn't have even the slightest knowledge of Arsenal football club and its history. Nevertheless, he's been talking to the BBC about his future plans for eventually purchasing the club:

"We don't have the capacity today, but this is business and life is changing," he said. "Something that you can't do today, maybe you can do tomorrow."

How very true. One could suggest that life is changing in that Usmanov and his scumbag set of shysters, Schillings, would have once been able to stop any newspaper from printing the allegations that Craig Murray temporarily hosted on his website; now, thanks to the internet, Murray's original post, despite being removed under legal threat from its original place of publication, is still available at a wide variety of places that are incredibly easy to discover. You could also compare it to Usmanov's past: despite being imprisoned for corruption, he's now a billionaire businessman. Those two things are most certainly not connected. Remember that.

Something else can most certainly be discerned from this latest update on Usmanov's past and future dealings and plans though. He's cut from the same cloth as the Glazers: men without the slightest interest in the actual football club, the fans or anything other than how their investment will benefit them. Their only care is how it'll will extend both their own self image and their bank balance, and as last week showed, Arsenal is currently highly profitable. Not content with his dealings with such doyens of the international community as Islom Karimov, world famous for his boiling of opponents to his dictatorship to death, he wishes for his bloated reach to extend worldwide, to further polish his oversized ego to go with his grotesque, outsize body. In short, this man is a complete and utter cunt. Stopping him from gaining control of Arsenal should now be an obligation on all fans.

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Monday, October 01, 2007 

The charge to the right.

For those of us who hoped, however desperately or naively that Gordon Brown really would bring a change, however small to the Labour party, last week was the evidence that showed if anything, Brown is prepared to push the political centre ground even further towards the right. However much we may loathe his motives for doing so, it was an astute political move, if nothing else. The success of last week, or at least the success as the press and the Labour party itself saw it, was to put the Conservatives into a hole: where do they go when Brown is so shamelessly stealing not just their territory, but even some of their policies?

If yesterday and today are any indication, it's the response that comes naturally: go even further right. Of all the people who you could choose to talk on foreign affairs, only the rabidly right-wing would decide on a figure as divisive or discredited as John Bolton, one of the architects not just of the Iraq war, but also of the whole neo-conservative movement. You wouldn't have known that from listening to him though, as he's now apparently embarrassed about his previous dalliances with the Project for the New American Century, to which he was a signatory to at least a couple of letters, even if he didn't sign its statement of principles. No, rather than a neo-con, he's a Goldwater conservative, and he doesn't share the "Wilsonian" views of the benefits of democracy that some of his fellow neo-cons do.

That's probably for the best, as he had either just or was about to call for the overthrow of the democratically elected president of Iran, wistful of the time when the "the US once had the capability to engineer the clandestine overthrow of governments". Nothing really new there, as after all, Donald Rumsfeld himself had previously mused on the overthrow of the Shah, who he considered to be a fine man, except for the torture, repression and all the rest, whom the CIA had maneuvered into place after Mossadegh was deposed. According to Bolton, Iran's nuclear program has gone beyond the point of no return, and "limited strikes", while not an "attractive" option, are better than the alternative. The UN, he said, to applause, is "fundamentally irrelevant", unlike for instance, a former UN ambassador with a mustache similar to a former Russian dictator's.

Away from the calls for even more bloodshed and dropping of bombs in the Middle East, this week, again according to the media, was make or break for the Conservatives, the Scum for one suggesting that David Cameron's task was close to "mission impossible". Labour's bounce, especially when the Conservatives had yet to have their own shindig was always going to be possibly overstated, and no betting man would have put down his money before at least seeing how they performed.

While we'll have to wait until Wednesday for Cameron's own attempt to galvanize both his own troops and potentially the public behind him, if Brown does call an election, he'll find it difficult to top today's naked attempt to blind the public with tax cuts that the vast majority will never actually pay. If the message of Brown's speech was at times puritanical, nationalistic or even jingoistic, then George Osborne's theme was aspiration, that most bourgeois of desires, that the vast majority of us grow out of once we realise that it's only available to the better off. Osborne's promise today to raise the inheritance tax threshold to £1 million was, however indirectly, an indication that the Conservatives have no real intention of trying to change that.

Before he came to it though, it was time for a whistle stop tour of all Gordon Brown's failures. He holds, according to a former civil servant, a "very cynical view of mankind", which according to Osborne is the "antithesis of our age". Forgive me for defending Gordon Brown, but I think he might just have something there: the current state of the world hardly suggests otherwise. Give me cynicism over "sunshine winning the day". Next he was responsible for Northern Rock, somewhat more plausibly, but wasn't this ever so slightly rich coming from the party responsible for the disaster on Black Wednesday, and only weeks after John Redwood, shortly to be praised by Osborne, suggested that all the red tape regulating mortgages be abolished, just as the disaster of the sub-prime lending in America took out a bank that had thought that the age of easily available liquidity would last forever?

That part of Redwood's report was strangely not mentioned, although his other recommendations, Thatcherite to the core and in direction contradiction to those in the quality of life review from Zac Goldsmith and John Gummer, were praised to high heaven. Osborne doesn't just believe in low taxes, he wants them every day of the year, not just December the 25th, in a vacuous soundbite to end all vacuous soundbites. Before the inevitable announcements though, it was back still to whacking Gordon Brown over the head; he doesn't just not get it, he also doesn't understand the new economy, whereas Osborne believes in the collective wisdom of free people, which is apparently how Google, Facebook and MySpace work. It seems that Tila Tequila is a Conservative too, as the people have chosen her as their representative from MySpace.

Finally, drearily, Osborne got to the meat, and you really wish he hadn't, so thin and so laughable was his argument. Rather than it being the huge rise in house prices, or the lack of housing stock, vastly depleted by err, the Tories' selling off of the council houses being chiefly responsible for young families finding it hard to get on the property ladder, it's in actual fact all down to Brown's stealth taxes, and the whopping £1,600 that those buying for the first time have to pay in stamp duty. Well, fear no more, because the Tories are going to abolish stamp duty for all first time buyers' on houses sold under £250,000. Their dream of making a tax cut look better than it actually is your dream too, or something. Aspiration, aspiration, aspiration!

That though was nothing compared to the next fiction to be served up. John Redwood's report had proposed abolishing inheritance tax, and it was widely briefed that there was going to be an announcement this week that it was going to become firm policy, and Osborne certainly wasn't going to disappoint. He was cannier than Redwood though: abolishing IHT completely could easily be portrayed as giving the ultra-rich a free tax cut, giving Labour more than enough to target. Instead, Osborne's ploy was to readdress IHT and make it only target the super-rich, as it was initially meant to. The applause as he announced that the threshold would be raised to £1 million was deafening: you almost expected him to take a couple of bows, so delighted were the Tory faithful at such wonderful news. You could almost see the pound signs reflecting in their eyes, the vast majority safe in the knowledge that they could pass down all the privilege they'd either earned or inherited themselves with no worries that the evil taxman would be taking it from them.

Too bad that the sums on how it was to be paid for simply don't add up: just how many non-domiciled Britons are going to sign up for the status when it costs £25,000 a year? Answer: not many. And wasn't there an inherent contradiction in the policy? Hadn't Osborne just moments ago said how the very rich, those it is still going to hit, already avoid inheritance tax? Where do the aspirational fit into all this? Aren't those who inherit their parents' former abode with no payments to make less likely to achieve for themselves when they have a cash cow courtesy of the luck of being born, or even due to the luck of whom their parents were born to? In reality, inheritance tax has become a bogeyman for middle England which is all too easy to take out and win major kudos for doing. Never mind that even the Tories agree that it currently only affects 6% of estates, and that Labour is already going to raise the threshold to £350,000, it's still enough to scare the journos on the Mail and Express with their well-off parents, the most likely factor behind the clamour for its abolition and resulting inching into the consciousness of the nation at large. There has always been a case for raising the threshold even further, to £500,000, or £750,000, respectively double or treble the average price of a house in south-east England, so it really does still hit the rich, but £1 million is the equivalent of abolishing it while not doing so. Paul Linford thinks Gordon might go one better and abolish it completely, but we shall see.

At the same time then as declaring themselves the party of aspiration, the Tories intend to still further rob from the ultra-rich to give to the reasonably well-off, entrenching their position while further damaging the already limited ladder of social mobility. In fact, they're not even satisfied with that: in order to destroy the iniquity of single mothers being better off alone through the tax system than if they're living with a partner, they intend to get the long-term sick on incapacity benefit on their bikes through the private sector to pay for it, and that's without even considering the blatant bribe of £2,000 a year to married couples, those weak links that are hard done by as a result of our hideous welfare state helping the unwell and out of work which thinks nothing of those that tie our society together, as Iain Duncan Smith so effortlessly identified.

It'd almost make you want to vote Labour, until you remember that new Labour in the age of change under Brown is the soft Conservative option. I used to think that those who complained about politicians being all the same weren't paying enough attention: turns out they were right.

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