Saturday, October 13, 2007 

Is it me, or do the Christmas is being banned stories keep getting earlier?

It usually at least takes until November before the tabloids start printing their annual lies and distortions about how Christmas is being banned thanks to politically correct councils, killjoys with nothing better to do than moan and health and safety fascists. The Daily Mail then has to be congratulated on being first out of the blocks this year, only two months and twelve days before the actual event:

Health and safety killjoys are threatening Britain with a Christmas blackout, council bosses warned yesterday.

Crippling insurance costs and absurd safety requirements mean many local authorities have abandoned their traditional lighting displays.

And so forth. You know the drill. Massive costs, compensation culture, elf 'n' safety rules, it's all here.

Know how that says "many" local authorities? The Mail article provides 3 examples, one from Clevedon, another from Sandwell and finally from Bodmin. Only the Bodmin case is backed up by a statement from a council spokesman. The other two quotes are from the Federation of Small Businesses, which laughably suggests that "Christmas lights excite consumers", and from the Association of British Insurers, neither of which set out any evidence that this going to be replicated across the country, even if the examples are accurate, which, going by past related articles, seems unlikely.

Let me, if I may be so bold, make a prediction. Your local town/city will still have the same familiar, gaudy, depressing, garish lights put up in the first week of November by the same familiar burly men. They will look exactly the same as last year's, except slightly less bright. No one will take any great notice of them. Half the time they won't be turned on. The council will have spent an inordinate amount of money putting them up and buying Christmas trees that would be put to better use elsewhere. Repeat until we're all dead.

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Bribing the middle classes Labour style.

After such a tumultuous, ignominious week for Labour, you would have thought that they would have retreated, taken stock, figured where they'd gone so hideously wrong, and moved on from there. No such luck. For some reason, Andy Burnham decided to give an interview to the Torygraph over how he believes that there's a "moral case" for the tax system to "recognise commitment and marriage".

If these were, as the Treasury has been furiously spinning, either Burnham's own views or related to comments about inheritance tax, the former would be fair enough while the latter would deserve to be vigorously challenged. As it is, especially considering the week we've just been through, there's only one prism through which this will be viewed: yet another attempt by Labour to shift onto the Conservative's traditional ground.

It's even more questionable when you consider two highly pertinent facts. Firstly, that Brown in one of his few memorable and entirely correct passages of his speech to conference, denounced the Tories' proposed £20 a week bribe to married couples:

"I say to the children of two-parent families, one-parent families, foster parent families; to the widow bringing up children: I stand for a Britain that supports as first-class citizens not just some children and some families but supports all children and all families."

Secondly, the time when such recognition of marriage would be wholeheartedly welcomed has long since passed. Just after the Tories first made their plans known, the audience on Question Time was almost unanimous in both picking holes in and making clear the inherent unfairness in such a scheme. Around the only people who did celebrate it were the moralist, right-wing newspapers: the Mail, Torygraph and Sun all saluting the discriminatory scheme, it has to be said not just on the grounds that it encouraged the establishment and "stability" of the family unit, but also because of the pound signs in their eyes: £20 a week simply for being already married! £1000 a year! When you consider that a married couple, simply for having tied the knot will be getting more back a month than the average person on income support will get in a week on which they have to live on, it only emphasises what an iniquitous and dubious use of taxpayers' money this would be.

Even after all of this, Brown and his acolytes seem blind to the dangers of trying to appease someone who holds the equivalent of all the cards. The Daily Mail, regardless of Dacre's friendship with Brown will never be brought onside, no matter how many of the Conservatives' clothes Labour decides to wear. To go to the Mail itself with this latest shamelessness would have been too brazen and obvious. Instead, Burnham chose the next best place to drop the latest sign that under Brown Labour will be just as opportunistic and shape-shifting as the party was under the helm of Blair. Then again, why should we expect anything else? Today's interview with Cameron in the Grauniad shows that he doesn't care about Labour's cross-dressing, as he knows full well that it only makes him and his party look all the stronger. Labour is only hurting itself, and the Tories are understandably overjoyed.

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Friday, October 12, 2007 

Social democracy died long ago, Polly.

Unlike some others in the "blogosphere" who love to tear apart Polly Toynbee's twice-weekly prognostications in the Grauniad (she's columnist of the year, doncha know?), I usually just read her articles, filled as they are with a bizarre Labour love fetish, agree or disagree, and move on. Sure, she talks a lot of bull on occasion, but then so do most newspaper comment piece providers.

Today though she's having one of her twice yearly doubts about just how marvellous Tony/Gordon are. These inevitably follow the latest budget/pre-budget report, which again failed to allocate significant amounts of money to tax credits and abolishing child poverty. It happens invariably every year, but still Polly brushes it off and goes back to pleasuring herself with the clunking fist still foremost in her mind, unable to see the reality that should be staring her in the face: Labour's finished, and all it cares for now is staying in power and standing very, very slightly to the left of the Conservatives.

The really perplexing thing about all this is that Polly once admitted as much in a rare, truly honest piece back in January last year, when she wrote that the Social Democratic Party she was a part of back in the "bad old days" of Militant and Foot was to the left of where New Labour is now. She opined:

But there is a need for a party more radical than Labour, a party that says no to war and no to wasting billions on new nuclear weapons or nuclear reactors, that dares to talk of the greed of the rich, of boardroom kleptocracy and the duty of top earners to shoulder a fairer share.

She wrote that then, and must have believed it. She must have seen all the warning signs since Brown has taken over: after the competent start and the refusal to play politics with the almost immediate "terror" attacks, it's been all downhill. Where Blair once delighted in playing the hard man and trying his best to appeal to the Sun, Brown's every movement was calculated to please Paul Dacre and the Mail. First the u-turn on the reclassification of cannabis, the change on the supercasinos which so exemplified the Blair era of ultra-consumerism, mass-materialism and living for today, now replaced by the Scot son of the manse's almost puritanical stance which Dacre espouses almost as much as a "double-cunting" to his hacks. Like with Blair, such a ploy was doomed to failure from the beginning. No one, even on the soft centre/centre-right like Blair and Brown can keep such right-wingers on their side for long; after a while they start hankering for the real thing, as Toynbee in today's article herself notes, but even going by the short attention span that afflicts the tabloid press the change in tone after Monday's daylight robbery was brutal. The result was Tuesday's Daily Mail front page: vicious, wounding, and more than accurate.

Why only now then does Toynbee finally realise that it was this week that Labour's leaders left social democracy for death? For years she's put up variously with Labour's ruthless social ill-liberalism (notoriously writing one abysmal article on how the middle class is more concerned about ID cards and civil liberties than child poverty), the disastrous foreign policy post 9/11, its incestuous relationship with the rich and powerful and its complete contempt both for the truth and the public, at the last election urging voters to wear nose pegs and disregard Iraq to vote for the party, yet it takes a predictable and nowhere near as egregious as some of Blair's manoeuvres (rules of the game are changing, dropping of SFO's investigation into BAe, refusal to call for an immediate ceasefire during last year's Lebanon conflict, years of spin and lies) act of political shamelessness for Toynbee to get the message.

Toynbee writes:

We now have a centrist government in Europe's most unequal country. Our government stands somewhat to the right of Angela Merkel's coalition in Germany, to the right of economic policy in France, where Nicolas Sarkozy has absorbed social democrats. Fusion politics, like fusion music and food, is one description of this strange death of the centre-left. At least in Europe there are leftwing parties still to make the public arguments: in England, due to our malfunctioning electoral system, a political generation has barely heard the case for social justice.

Yet whose fault is this? Toynbee helped cut the Labour vote at the exact time when it needed it most in the 80s, and then she urged support for it when it deserved it the least. Through her undying belief that Labour's mild policies on redistribution have been making the difference, she might well have helped destroy any chance of the exact leftwing policies she yearns for being introduced. It's come to something when the Liberal Democrats are the only even slightly appealing mainstream political party, and they're flatlining in the polls, stuck with a decent and honourable leader but one who can't make the difference up. The need for a genuine alternative has never been greater, but Polly has helped towards ensuring that any such alternative is almost impossible under our current system.

Related post:
Mr Eugenides - Polly's Viking lets her down

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Iraqi employees campaign continues.

David Miliband has written about the FCO's policy on helping the "locally engaged staff" in Iraq on his blog. Dan Hardie writes about what else you can do in his latest post on the we can't turn them away campaign, but where better to stress the strength of feeling than on Miliband's own talking shop? Try your best to polite. Here's my comment, lest it isn't published:

Mr Miliband, I'll try to be polite in my response to this post, but when you fail to even mention in your entry why the locally-engaged staff need either financial assistance or resettlement, as you put it, it's difficult to take your claim that you feel strongly about this issue seriously.

As the many others above me have already made the point on why the current commitment simply isn't enough and excludes those who are in desperate need of safety, I'll instead approach this from a different angle. If reports in certain sections of the media are to be believed, you yourself were at best agnostic about the Iraq war. Whatever you feelings were then, it's apparent that our involvement in Iraq has been a disaster. At the very least 100,000 Iraqi civilians have died; the last Lancet report, which the Foreign Office privately indicated was based on credible methodology, suggested the toll could be as much as 650,000.

Let's not be involved in one more death in the poor benighted country than is necessary. These individuals risked their lives, and dared to dream in a better tomorrow for their country. To abandon them now would be the final insult and repudiation of their hope. I appreciate the difficulties involved, but those currently outside the remit of the announced change in policy deserve better.

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Thursday, October 11, 2007 

The paintball jihad.

And so we come, inevitably, to the latest trial of alleged wannabe jihadist tough guys. If you've followed the previous trials of those few that think blowing themselves up will lead to their instant entrance to paradise, where their every want and need will be attended to by 72 of the highest class of virgins, none of your spinsters who never met the right man kind, you'll have noticed that they often have ideas high above their station, love to denounce the perfidious kuffar and when stripped down to the very basis of their being by the legal system, are revealed as arrogant, ignorant and laughably shallow men.

This lot, if the evidence put to the court over the last couple of days is any indicator, are perhaps the most pathetic so far. Courtesy of the 2006 Terrorism Act, Atilla "most certainly not the Hun" Ahmet and Mohammad Hamid amongst others are accused of receiving/giving "terrorist training". What was one of their favourite methods of inculcating in their pupils the way of jihad? Paintballing.

Yes, that favourite pursuit of office workers on team building exercises and the "sport" of choice for those who never grew out of shooting people with fake guns was being used by these sinister gentlemen in case they ever actually obtained a weapon that didn't just fire a painful round of emulsion. Who knows, maybe they even split themselves off into groups of "kuffars" and "jihadi lions" or perhaps "crusaders" versus the "mujahideen" and fought for hours until the kuffars called in an air strike that as well as killing the jihadi lions blew apart the group from the local secondary school who had been diving in and out of the undergrowth around them. Why go to Iraq where you might conceivably get hurt fighting for what you believe in when you can shoot colourful bullets at your bros near that home of Islamic insurrection, Sevenoaks?

Paintballing was only part of their sinister doctrine of preparing for holy war, however. The court heard that while using a farmer's field, the group did the following:

"They were seen to practise the tactics needed to defend themselves against an armed ambush. They were seen to adopt positions from which they fired imaginary weapons and pretended to remove the pin from grenades before throwing them. They were seen to perform leopard crawling, very low on the ground ..."

These guys had nothing on Marcel Marceau. Either that, or one had lost a contact lens and the police misinterpreted the group unselfishly helping their short-sighted member to find it. Still, you'll never know when you might have to conduct a battle entirely in mime. Put it on a management training course and they'd call it character building and exercising versatility through improvisation.

Despite such rigorous preparations for the upcoming jihad, Hamid wasn't that certain of their prowess of being able to kill the dirty apostates:

"We are supposed to take on two kuffars [non-believers]. One Muslim is supposed to take on two kuffars. Lucky if we could take on one kuffar."

Faced with the average airport worker, we can place bets on these particular self-proclaimed warriors getting their holy war straight back in the face. At times the trial has slipped even further into absurdity:

Mr Farrell also referred to a song that police secretly recorded Ahmet singing during a weekend visit to an Islamic centre in East Sussex in 2006.

Mr Farrell read out the lyrics: "Hey Mr Taliban, come kill the dirty kuffars; Hey Mr Taliban, boom, boom, boom; Come bomb England, before the daylight come; Inshallah [God willing], it shall be done."

Even though many strict Muslims consider music that contains instruments to be haram, here's one potential jihadi taking on the Banana Boat Song and performing his own personal nasheed parody of it. Never let it be said that these guys don't know how to have a good time; they're just exploding (surely bursting? Ed.) with jokes and good humour about murdering the innocent citizens of this country. What else would you expect from an associate of someone who told police that his name was Osama bin London?

These, remember, are the sort of people we're supposed to afraid of. The ones who pose such an immediate and dire threat to the life of this nation that for a while we were using emergency legislation to lock up "terrorist suspects" indefinitely without charge, and who are now involved in such "complex"and "ambitious" conspiracies that we require longer than 28 days in order for the police to build a case against them. Hospitals can kill more people than the 7/7 bombers managed through poor hygiene and infections, but we still worry and agonise over whether our laws need tightening still further against this shadowy menace of hatred and anger. Men like these aren't soldiers, lions, martyrs or whatever they like to call themselves: they're a criminal annoyance that ought to be laughed at and humiliated rather than feared. If these are the guys making the sky dark, then I'd hate to see what'll happen when those who did have the balls, if you can call them that, to go and fight in Iraq or wherever eventually return. End of western civilisation? They can't even throw a pretend grenade properly.

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The New Party turns out to be the same as the old one.

More interesting than that there turns out to have been a number of errors/mistakes in An Inconvenient Truth (politician makes a polemic in which he exaggerates, labours the point and goes over the top with some of his scaremongering? Who would have thought it?) was that the man who brought the attempt to stop the government from showing the film in schools was a member of the "New Party".

(As an aside, it has to be said I don't much like the idea of AIT being a compulsory showing in schools, especially without it being made clear that it is both a polemic and a one sided view, with differing opinions also offered. Kids are not stupid; they know when they're being taught bullshit, and when it comes between choosing either Al Gore's view or Melanie Philips', I'm pretty sure who'll they'll plump for.)

Probably like most people, I'd never heard of this new grouping that was err, claiming to be new. The BBC's article notes that:

Mr Dimmock is a member of the "New Party", apparently funded by a businessman with a strong dislike of environmentalists and drink-drive laws.

When asked on the BBC's World Tonight programme who had under-written his court costs, he paused long and loud before saying that "someone on the internet" had offered him support.

The New Party's website is similarly disingenuous as to whom's paying the bills. The about page only announces the support of two hardly well-known figures:

The New Party is pleased to acknowledge the support of:

* John Harvey-Jones
* Vivien Saunders

John Harvey-Jones is a former chairman of ICI, and according to a highly sycophantic and probably self-written Wikipedia profile, a Wienerite, one of the heavy influences on Thatcherism and the "New Right". More well-known admirers tend towards the neo-conservative (at least when it comes to foreign policy, in Sullivan's case) school of thought: Andrew Sullivan, Mark Steyn and the ghastly Michael Gove like to be thought of as his disciples. Vivien Saunders, is err, a former golfer and golfing coach.

How about policies then? Considering that the New Party describes itself as "a party of economic liberalism, political reform and internationalism", it's not much of a surprise when clicking on their manifesto to learn that they're in favour of a flat income tax:

On present figures, the personal allowance would be £12,000 and everyone would pay 22 per cent of all earnings above this level.

This is about as grossly unfair as you can possibly get, and is the complete anti-thesis of "progressive" taxation, from a party that claims to be progressive. It doesn't stop there though. The New Party also wants to "cut the cost of the state", which for cut you can read slash and decimate, although they claim that this will mostly target bureaucrats, as no one wants to see nurses and bobbies lose their jobs. Quite how they'll manage not to do that when they propose to make £35 billion of savings as a minimum, not a maximum isn't explained.

They also claim to have a moral purpose:

Many of our problems today can be traced back to the loosening of family ties and the breakdown of shared values. The tax and welfare systems, far from supporting families, have contributed to these problems by undermining personal and civic responsibility.

Ah yes, it's all the fault of the welfare state, a familiar refrain of the Telegraph whenever something goes wrong! While their position on criminal justice and prisons is relatively liberal, their attitude towards drugs is of a similar moral bent:

Downgrading cannabis has not been a success. The police have had their job made even more difficult and there is evidence that a growing number of people are experiencing mental problems as a result.

This is errant nonsense, especially from a political party claiming to be standing for social liberalism. They're also completely clueless over the Human Rights Act:

The Human Rights Act is a misnomer, it serves no useful purpose and has been hijacked for political ends. Not only has it fuelled the compensation culture but it has also diminished the role of parliament by requiring the courts to make judgements on political matters. We shall therefore repeal the Human Rights Act. We would, nevertheless, remain signed up to the European Convention on Human Rights, and it would be a matter for parliament to determine its response to the judgements by the European Court of Human Rights.

Considering the Human Rights Act implements the ECHR into UK law, all repealing the HRA will do is make the route to justice even more distant, expensive and difficult.

Perhaps most enlightening though is their policies on the environment and climate change, or rather, the almost complete lack of them. They touch slightly on it in "facing the energy crisis", to which their solution is nuclear power, also mentioning "environmentally friendly towns". The rest is in their "Internationalism" section, which rapidly goes from concluding, despite the IPCC's findings, that "we must ensure that we do not rush into new taxes and controls without considering their real effects," to bringing up the old misnomer that the fact that India and China are developing at such rate that anything we do is a waste of time. Their solution is:

We should concentrate on developing and diffusing new technologies, revisit nuclear generation (which is now much safer and produces little waste) and provide positive incentives for developing countries to support cleaner technologies. The recently announced Asia Pacific Partnership on Clean Development which includes countries which did not support Kyoto is a welcome step in the right direction.

And that's it.

Why could their apparent aversion to anything more concrete be? After all, according to their PR bumpf on their challenge to the sending out of AIT, "climate change is clearly taking place". Delving a little deeper into their national policy committees, you soon find that their nominal supporters include:

Alex Black, who's a self employed Road Transport Contractor. His reasons for supporting the New Party are:

I was disillusioned with all other parties after visiting MPs & MSPs with no positive responses despite putting practical propositions forward. I organised & took part in the fuel protest, and was surprised at the level of support from the public. This encouraged me to think that there was maybe a chance for people getting more democracy from the system that the New Party was proposing.

Robert Dunward, New Party chairman, who has been involved in... the haulage industry and Sandy Bruce, the owner of the modestly named Sandy Bruce Trucking.

The rest are a rag-tag bunch of businessmen and small c conservatives, all apparently united by the mouth-watering prospect of paying the same rate of tax as those earning slightly more than the minimum wage and smashing the state, while sitting in the camp of believing that climate change is happening while also refusing to do anything about it. The only reason for why these natural far-right Tories are setting up their own party is that the actual Conservative party has turned into a centre-right cult with more in common with the right of the Labour party than their "progressive" vision of the future. The so-called New Party then in actuality wants to turn the clock back: right to the 19th century.

Update: Poor Pothecary has also turned his sights on the New Party, and discovers via the Scotsman that it was set up by Robert Wilson Menzies Durward, a businessman who cut his political teeth opposing the aggregate tax and drink-driving "witch-hunts". He's also behind the Scientific Alliance, (SourceWatch) which just popped up on the BBC News to criticise Al Gore's dual-taking of the Nobel Peace Prize. Spinwatch also has more.

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Wednesday, October 10, 2007 

Brown in the brown stuff.

Even the most disgusting Gordon Brown/Labour toady will have to admit that Cameron today/yesterday (writing this at nearly 3:30am, I'm unsure which it is) annihilated Brown at the dispatch box. This was a powerful, potent and also accurate rebuke:

Never have the British people been treated with such cynicism. For 10 years you have plotted and schemed to have this job - and for what? No conviction, just calculation. No vision, just a vacuum. Last week you lost your political authority. This week you are losing your moral authority.

He might well have been practicing it in the mirror like his speech last week for days, but it was still the most stinging and punishing exchange for quite some time at PMQ's. It's still far too early to consider it a turning point or a tipping point, though. PMQ's is all well and good for the political obsessives and the Westminster village, but it's long ceased having a mass effect across the country as a whole. William Hague was widely regarded as often trumping Blair from 97 to 01, and a lot of good it did him.

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Increase the detention without charge limit or we'll have to shoot you.

Yep, that's Ian Blair, speaking at the "Safer London Foundation".

It's a disturbing thought that a man as tainted as Ian Blair is still currently the head of the Metropolitan police. His force and its handling of the day after the attempted suicide attacks of 21/7 is currently being laid bare in the law courts, where it's laughably being tried under health and safety grounds when it should at the very least be in the dock on manslaughter charges. His own ineptitude and lack of leadership within the force itself was exposed in the second IPCC report into the events of that day, which found that although secretaries knew that an innocent man had been shot dead, he still thought it was a failed suicide bomber until the next morning, as no one had bothered to tell him.

With all of the above in mind, we're supposed to take the man seriously when he appears in front of the home affairs select committee and once again calls for the 28 day without charge detention limit for terrorist suspects to be at the very least doubled. He doesn't have a single shred of evidence to support this further extension, but he does have the power of his own argument:

"At some stage 28 days is not going to be sufficient, and the worst time to debate whether an extension is needed would be in the aftermath of an atrocity."

This is a dubious basis for an extension at the very least. Considering the current threat we face is almost entirely from suicidal Islamic takfirists, who tend to take themselves with the others they murder, it's unlikely that we're going to require an extension should they launch an attack. Even if the attacks that take place aren't suicidal, the example of the patio gas canister bombers suggests that terrorist investigations now move incredibly swiftly; even if some of those apparently responsible for the first failed attacks hadn't decided to go kamikaze at Glasgow airport with only some petrol and a lighter, it seems that the police would have been arresting them within a couple of days, if not hours.

We do have to consider that there are those involved in the plotting of such attacks that don't take part in them, but again all the evidence so far suggests that 28 days is currently a more than sufficient time limit. The trial of Dhiren Barot and his co-conspirators showed that you don't even need to have explosives to be put away for a longer period than some murderers, and that was managed without any such drawn-out interrogation or investigation while the accused are in custody.

Ian Blair's argument is that we've got to prepare for the eventuality even if it never comes. This is a reasonably fair point to make, but it ignores the message it sends both to those already alienated and disenfranchised, that sections of the community are being increasingly labeled as the potential enemy within and that laws which were unnecessary during WW2 are now not just inevitable, but eminently acceptable and reasonable during supposed peace time. It also puts further pressure on the fragile state of civil liberties in this country; when we've got a longer potential detention without charge limit than some dictatorships, we really ought to begin to worry.

Blair also contradicts himself:

Sir Ian said terrorist conspiracies and conspirators were increasing, as was the magnitude of their ambition in terms of destruction and loss of life.

Fewer cases were under investigation but each was more complex in terms of documents, telephones and computers

Taking Blair at his word, the very fact that the conspiracies are increasing in magnitude and ambition of destruction and loss of life isn't necessarily a bad thing. It just shows that the those behind such plots are completely unrealistic, incompetent and naive. Dhiren Barot wanted to build a dirty bomb out of smoke alarms, and bring down buildings with limos packed with gas canisters. The first idea was hilarious, the second proved just as laughable by the failure early in the summer. The "liquid bomb" crew wanted to destroy however many airplanes using materials they were going to construct in flight, something that most scientists who commented on it also regarded as highly dubious. These so-called terrorists have big ideas and big egos, but when put into practice they're doomed to failure.

That fewer cases are also under investigation speaks volumes. What happened to those 30 plots, 2000 conspirators and the sky being dark due to the threat? That the cases are increasingly in complexity is no reason to extend the time limit: the police need to extend themselves to deal with complicated plots, not the time limit with which to do it in.

Most of all though, if there really was solid evidence or intelligence that there was an attack brewing that would need longer than 28 days before those in custody could be charged, would Ian Blair have been told about it? Seeing as everyone other than him seems to be in the know, perhaps it ought to have been his secretary or even his wife in front of the committee.

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Tuesday, October 09, 2007 

Oh, Darling...

For the first time in years, the Conservatives tonight seem to be the ones defining the current political agenda, thanks to the panic-striken, knee-jerking antics of Darling and Brown. The idea behind stealing the policies or the ideas behind them of your political opponents is that you wait a favourable amount of time so that the general public forgets who came up with them first; only then can you take the credit, even if the pipsqueak that first mooted them then pipes up and complains.

The cliché says that a week is a long time in politics, and last week arguably proved the cliché, but it's an incredibly short time in the memory. For Alistair Darling in his first pre-budget report to announce an effective doubling of the inheritance tax threshold, even if it actually isn't that and is less generous than it looks on close inspection, not just smacks of desperation, it suggests that Labour now need the Conservatives, the party with no new ideas except soaking the rich and well-off while pounding the poor and sick to lead the way before they move. It's actually worse than that: as well as considering the Conservatives' uncosted, ludicrous inheritance tax policy as worth emulating, he also directly pinches the Liberal Democrats' proposal for taxing flights rather than passengers. That might be a sound idea as it stands, but this was meant to be the Brown government's first major chance to show both how it was going to be different to the 10 years of Blairism, but also to ridicule the Tories' spending plans and their lack of intellectual rigour.

What we got instead was reasonably solid, but disappointing in the extreme. The inheritance tax change is on much firmer economic ground than the Tories' laughable idea to charge non-domiciles £25,000 to pay for the raise to a threshold of £1 million, but just looks like a reaction to their hugely popular but spineless and indefensible new tax cut. Private equity bosses face an 80% rise in tax, but seeing as that they were only paying capital gains tax of 10% to begin with, a rise to 18% is hardly going to break their stuffed piggy banks. As Robert Peston also points out, this will not just affect them but also those who start up and sell their own small businesses, who pay capital gains tax when they do. That's a tax on aspiration, whilst inheritance tax is most certainly not.

As Chris says, this really ought to put the nail in the coffin of Labour as the party of the working class. About the only real reforms or changes in this report which affect them are that Darling's been kind enough to pledge an extra £30 million to go on tax credits, which have been notoriously badly managed. Larry Elliot explains that's only £970 million less than what Darling will be blowing on raising the IHT threshold. The amount of child maintenance a family can receive without it affecting their other benefits will also rise to £40 by 2010, while £4bn will be given to help those in what the BBC describe as "poor-quality" housing spruce up their dwellings. How very kind.

If this was going to be the statement which would have launched the election that never was, then for Labour's sake if no one else's it was for the best. It would have only showed how threadbare the ideas currently are on both sides of the so-called debate. Would those in the marginals, who went all weak-kneed at the chance of passing down their wealth and property without any being grabbed by the taxman have felt the same about Darling's proposals today? Why have the monkey when you can have the organ grinder? For all Brown's undisguised glee and grinning during Darling's statement, itself a horrible, frightening sight to behold, the Tories will be the ones left feeling delighted. They might have dropped their big, vote-winning policies in order to stave off an election, but now they've had that their decision to do that vindicated by Labour's instant response. With possibly two years to go until the next election, that's more than enough time for them to mold more dog-whistles to the middle classes, when Darling could have used today to start the argument against them. Brown's cowardice only shines through again.

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I am an anarchist etc.

I suppose it was only a matter of time before it happened, thanks to the lunacy of the way the terrorism laws have been drafted:

A British teenager who is accused of possessing material for terrorist purposes has appeared in court.

The 17-year-old, who was arrested in the Dewsbury area of West Yorkshire on Monday, was given bail after a hearing at Westminster Magistrates' Court.

It is alleged he had a copy of the "Anarchists' Cookbook", containing instructions on how to make home-made explosives.

The teenager faces two charges under the Terrorism Act 2000.

The first charge relates to the possession of material for terrorist purposes in October last year.

The second relates to the collection or possession of information useful in the preparation of an act of terrorism.

It seems then that you can now be arrested and charged with a crime simply for owning a book which is freely available from Amazon and doubtless dozens, if not hundreds of book shops around the country.

It's doubly stupid for another reason. The Anarchist Cookbook is notoriously inaccurate, written as it was by a disillusioned 19-year-old man during the Vietnam era, with much of the information coming directly from military and special forces' manuals, as the author himself has wrote. If you want to lose a few limbs while making explosives that are unlikely to go off except in your face, then the Anarchist Cookbook should be your weapon of choice. It ought to be handed out to anyone who feels like carrying out a suicide bombing: hopefully what would happen to them as a result would bring the term back to its original definition.

Perhaps more instructive is that the teenager (who else?) was arrested in Dewsbury. Dewsbury was where Mohammad Sidique Khan lived prior to carrying out one of the 7/7 suicide bombings, and where arrests were made earlier in the year over the ongoing investigation into the attacks, with all those arrested, including Khan's wife, released without charge. Could it be that the police in Dewsbury are rather overreacting due to the town's most infamous recent son? The Crown Prosecution Service really ought to know better than to take such flimsy charges to court, but in the "age of terror™" even the slightest and silliest infringement of our too broadly drafted laws is seen to be actionable.

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Flapping like sheets in the wind.

Via Daily Mail Watch:

The Daily Express front page on Monday the 8th of October 2007:

The Daily Express front page on Tuesday the 9th of October 2007:

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Monday, October 08, 2007 

The Brown inadequacy.

At the risk of upsetting Mike Power...

Just what, then, was the point of last week's dash to Basra and then Baghdad by Gordon Brown? Today's announcement in the Commons that by next spring the number of British troops in Iraq will be down to 2,500 only deepened the mystery; if Brown had really wanted to shaft the Tories he could easily have done what he told parliament today then, even if he would have broken his promise to make such new changes in policy in front of MPs. Why did he need to reannounce such a slight draw down in numbers when he apparently went to OK or at least discuss this further withdrawal with al-Malaki and other Iraqi ministers? He could have easily avoided all the justified accusations of spin and shifting the story away from the Conservatives by simply keeping his visit quiet for security reasons. The assumption has to be that this was meant to be a teaser, to be followed up by the meat today as part of the start of the election campaign, which most likely would have been declared tomorrow night.

All that was thrown out of the window once Brown understandably cowered in the face of the menacingly ominous polls. There doesn't appear to have been any contingency plan if it was decided, after nodding and winking for two weeks, that an election was just too risky, and the choices made on the hoof on Friday night led directly to the far more punishing kicking that Brown took today during his press conference. As Patrick Wintour set out in this morning's Grauniad, Team Brown first informed the 4 editors of Sunday broadsheets, then got hold of Andrew Marr so that a pre-recorded interview with Brown explaining his decision could be made the following day. Not only did this piss off ITN and Sky News by giving the BBC an exclusive, affecting their coverage, which was still far more scathing today than Nick Robinson's was, the resulting meeting of minds was so feeble, with Marr throwing numerous soft balls that it only increased the anger and tenacity of the questions put to Brown by the assembled hacks today. If Brown had instead taken the beating which he was always going to receive yesterday, touring studios or coming out and being completely honest and stating that he had considered an election but decided that it was simply too soon, he would have had a far easier ride. Instead, the bad news and humiliation was spread over three full days rather than just the two it could have been.

Watching Brown standing at the lectern, the cameras delighting in seeing his scribbled notes, each question the equivalent of another stab in the front was painful enough at home, and Brown as it went on looked more and more out of his depth. If Blair had been in the same position he would have kept the facade up; Brown simply couldn't, and it clearly showed. Whether the public will enjoy seeing a prime minister visibly squirm at the hands of the press should be interesting to find out, as Blair was only ever troubled when confronted with actual members of the public, as his appearances on various shows prior to elections and the Iraq war showed. Perhaps after Blair's seeming infallibility it might be novel, although if it continues Brown's hard-won representation for strength will quickly shatter.

It was important then that his performance in the Commons was far stronger, and this he more than managed, helped by Cameron's pre-occupation with the events of last week rather than what Brown's statement had actually just put forward. The Conservatives simply have never had a policy on Iraq, first blindly following Blair and then pursuing inquiries into it while never recanting their support or putting forward what they would either have done differently then or now, and they're not about to change that. Welcome as a call for an inquiry was, which David Cameron articulated after his backwards looking raid on last week's spin offensive, he missed the open goal taken up by Ming Campbell of just what point there was in keeping such a small number of troops at Basra airport for no overall reason. The "overwatch" stage put forward is just so much nonsense: both the government knows and the army know that their only remaining reason for staying in Iraq is because they safeguard the American convoys' transporting equipment and supplies from Kuwait through to Baghdad. Even after all this time, angering the Americans by making them deploy a few more troops to the south is strictly verboten.

That said, you perhaps sympathise with the Iraqis once you understand what's more likely to be put in place to protect those convoys once we do finally leave: the murderous, legally immune mercenaries of Blackwater, firing at the wind to "protect" their quarries which pay them so handsomely for doing so. Such sentiments aside, we know full well that the generals want out, and now, not at the end of 2008. A full withdrawal could easily have been organised for next spring, in line with all the other promises and commitments set out in Brown's statement. Instead, Brown again showed his cowardice rather than his courage, unwilling to rile the Americans that did so much to destroy his predecessor. If reports in the Torygraph are to be believed, he hasn't even learned the most vital lesson of his premiership: that the "war on terror", regardless of who's in the White House, fought in the way it has so far, has been the biggest disaster of this current century.

Equally pusillanimous was Brown's piecemeal, too little too late recognition of the sacrifices and contribution of the Iraqis themselves that have worked with the army, now increasingly facing a terrifyingly bleak future. The numbers we are talking about possibly being given refuge are in the hundreds, not the thousands, as Dan points out. To put such an arbitrary, unrealistic threshold of twelve months' service before we even give "a package of financial payments", let alone sanctuary here in the UK to such brave men and women who believed in the future of their country, regardless of the ways in which Saddam was initially brought down, is to potentially condemn some of their number to death. As Dan also identifies, to offer resettlement elsewhere in the Middle East rather than here is also to not necessarily put them out of harm's way; Syria and Jordan, countries where the vast majority of the 2 million or more Iraqis have fled, are both struggling to cope with the numbers of refugees, but are also unknown quantities at the moment. Their allure of safety may be deceiving. Any financial settlement is going to be need to be suitably generous to those who choose not to settle in the UK to make up for that shortfall in security.

It's not even as if there's going to be any major opposition to such packages or mass granting of refuge to those who have worked for us; the Sun ran an approving leader on Saturday that welcomed the assurances given to the Times, even calling it a moral obligation. They could hardly do anything else after having more than a hand in getting the war rolling in the first place. The Mail long ago dropped its support for the invasion, leaving perhaps only the Daily Express to raise noises, and who takes any notice of that busted flush any more? The government could afford to be far more daring, and it might be more down to the civil servants in the front line organising everything rather than the politicians for the stalling and so far weak acceptance of the need to act. Tomorrow's meeting, moved to Portcullis House, will emphasize this.

The whole circus of the weekend and today though only highlighted the current deficit that our politics are facing. Both Cameron and Brown represent more or less the same policies, with the Tories perhaps being the slightly harsher of the two, yet the merest switching of the polls in the marginals towards one rather than the other has supposedly triggered either a crisis or a period of navel-gazing for the prime minister. The election, had it been called, would have been nearly wholly meaningless, with both seeking power for power's sake rather than out of any real desire for actual change, despite the bluster of both parties. The Liberal Democrats have been slipping as a result, yet they are currently offering the only major critique of both parties' style and rhetoric, with Nick Clegg effortlessly on Newsnight exposing both Theresa May and John Denham's arguments as facile. The great shame is that we've been denied a contest which could have helped bring about the major step change that politics needs to get out of its current, seemingly inexorable decline.

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Sunday, October 07, 2007 

Usmanov-watch: Couldn't have happened to a nicer guy.

Alisher Usmanov is a man without a blemish on his character. His stay in prison in Uzbekistan during the 80s was down to a vendetta being cooked up against him by the KGB. He only has the best of intentions in trying to gain control of Arsenal, and unlike the other Russian oligarchs, he made his money entirely legitimately.

That at least is what Usmanov and his collective of cunts at Schillings have been trying to get across to the media, with the pain of potential litigation if they deviate from their personally prepared script.

It's a great shame then that this view of Usmanov is somewhat shattered by a report in today's Sunday Times:

Arsenal tycoon Alisher Usmanov in diamond ‘fraud’ row The Russian tycoon who has bought a £120m stake in Arsenal, the Premier League leaders, has been accused in court papers of “fraud” and “unjust enrichment” in a dispute over one of the world’s most lucrative diamond mines.

Alisher Usmanov has been named in documents filed by lawyers acting for a firm controlled by the Oppenheimer family, the billionaire dynasty behind the De Beers diamond corporation.


The latest controversy concerns a court action in Denver, Colorado where hearings are due to start next month. At stake is the ownership of the so-called Grib Pipe, a fabulously rich diamond mine in the Arkhangelsk region of northern Russia.

The mining firm, Archangel Diamond Corporation (ADC) in which De Beers owns a controlling stake, claims it is entitled to an interest in the Grib Pipe, which was discovered in 1996. The Grib Pipe is now said to be one of the largest diamond mines in the world, with a prospective value of £4.5 billion.

But in the Colorado court papers, ADC has alleged that Usmanov and other Russian interests “engaged in fraud in order to deceive” it over an agreement it says it had to take a 40% interest in the mine.


The case stems from a decision in the late 1990s by the government of Boris Yeltsin to strip the assets of Western diamond firms and hand them over to a clique close to the Kremlin.

Foreign firms were encouraged to develop exploration and mining concessions with a view to improving the local economy. They say few in Russia expected that anyone would strike diamonds in the remote area.

Many companies, including Rio Tinto and BHP, withdrew after finding little of value. But in 1996 ADC unexpectedly struck a rich vein.

It was shortly after this, the court papers allege, that Usmanov and others who were involved with a big Russian oil firm became party to a scheme to drive ADC out of Russia and take over the diamond project for themselves. The Russian firm in the joint venture was privatised and after this, ADC was denied access to develop the mine.

We should be careful of course. Usmanov might be entirely innocent of these allegations. It does however somewhat shatter Usmanov's argument that his money was made entirely legitimately and without any help from the Kremlin. It's also just a coincidence that Usmanov was jailed in the 80s on fraud and theft charges, and here he is, just after he's tried to charm the media into believing it was all a conspiracy against him, being accused of err, fraud and "unjust enrichment", which I'm sure you'll agree is completely different to stealing. Usmanov claims his parents did not bring him up as a "a gangster and a racketeer", two of the charges Murray made against him, and he could well be telling the truth. He seems more than capable of developing those qualities later in life.

The Times' article also informs us of the PR firm that Usmanov has seemingly hired to transform his image from an obese, toad-like megalomaniac to that of a kindly, slighted benefactor. Finsbury Limited, Usmanov's choice, are just as boastful of their prowess as Schillings are. Finsbury count some of the following delightful companies as clients:

British Sky Broadcasting Plc
Daily Mail and General Trust plc
Northern Rock plc

Reed Elsevier PLC (responsible for the arms fairs held in London's Docklands every year)
Rio Tinto plc

Royal Dutch Shell plc
Equitable Life

You get the feeling that even they are going to have their work cut out spinning for this ghastly, mendacious bully.

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