Friday, November 30, 2007 

The Daily Mail has absolutely no shame.

It's a cliche. Guardian readers denounce the Daily Mail. Daily Mail readers denounce the Guardian. The world continues to turn. Thing is, the more you delve into tabloid journalism, the one thing that never ceases to amaze me is just when you think that they can't possibly go any lower, that the abyss can't simply go any further down, they come up with something so underhand that it takes the breath away. Paying a Polish couple to drive their car around London and break the law was a case in point. An article that goes beyond even that has just been published. First though, the continuing attacks on Colin Stagg, which even now are continuing.

To give just a smidgen of balance to proceedings, Stagg really ought to know by now that talking to any tabloid is just giving them material to attempt to justify, even if they don't go into the facts of the case and their involvement, their personal pursuit of him for over 10 years. Perhaps the Mail paid him. Who knows. Either way, this was still a hatchet job. The article opens with:

As a mental patient is charged with killing Rachel Nickell, a disturbing admission from the man whose name will be forever linked with hers...

And just what is this disturbing admission? We don't find out until almost right at the end:

"I don't feel anything about Rachel Nickell. She doesn't mean anything to me," he says, when I first ask about his feelings towards her.

It's a bizarre thing to say, given that their names have been so linked.

Only after being pressed does he express any sorrow for the young mother.

"Of course I'm sorry about what happened to her, but in the same way I'm sorry when I hear about murders on TV.

"That's the thing: someone was murdered and it was all very tragic, but murders happen.

"They don't affect your life. Unless you knew the person, of course."

What did the Mail expect, or indeed want? Did they want him to break down and cry crocodile tears about the woman who if she hadn't been murdered wouldn't have ruined his life? Put yourself for a moment in Stagg's shoes. You've been hounded for a decade because the police and then the media decided that you'd committed a heinous murder that you in fact had nothing to do with. Finally, the review of the forensic evidence finds definitively that you had no involvement in the murder. Despite that, neither the police nor the media even have the decency to offer you a formal apology, although they will pay compensation. They've been living off your despair and misery, inflicting it upon you, in the cases of Keith Pedder selling books calling for you to be tried again, with Nickell's partner also calling for the rule on double jeopardy to be abolished so you can be put before a different courtroom, and they expect you after all that time to still show some empathy towards the woman who was brutally murdered by a man they should have caught first time round? Call me insensitive, be I don't think I'd be particularly sorry either. After 15 years, Stagg has more or less the same attitude that a distinct proportion of the country would have upon hearing the news of anyone's death that they didn't know. This, for the Mail, makes for a "disturbing admission".

It wouldn't be the Mail if it simply ended there. No, Stagg's still the "weirdo" and "oddball", it would seem:

His attitude to women is, however, more than a little unsettling.

In the infamous letters to the undercover policewoman, he admitted to violent sexual fantasies, and at one point confessed he was aroused by the thought of Nickell's murder (though crucially, he never admitted to the killing).

The Mail doesn't think to mention that he admitted to those "violent sexual fantasies" because, as other evidence not presented showed, he desperately wanted the relationship with the female officer who approached and entrapped him to work,
saying anything that he thought might make her stay or think more of him. As the judge described it, it was the "most vivid illustration of shaping the accused's mind." There's still more:

He appears to blame all women for his social failings.

"You women don't realise how much power you have to hurt men," he says.

"Women always go for good-looking blokes, even if they treat them terribly. The geeks like me never get a look-in."

Which is far from being a unique statement, nor is it any proof whatsoever that he blames women for his "social failings". It's just someone embittered by loneliness and years of attacks looking inward. The Mail talks about his relationship with a woman which started in prison ending in her selling her story to the media, and it expects him not to be slightly rueful about the pain he's suffered? It says more about the journalist and the story she's written or been expected to pen than it does about Stagg.

These two paragraphs more than sum up the sheer chutzpah on the part of the Mail:

Even in the aftermath of his acquittal, there were many - certainly among the police, and consequently Rachel's family - who never wavered in their conviction that Stagg got away with murder.

Perhaps now the murder charge brought against Robert Napper will mean that whatever becomes of this new case, the public perception of Stagg will change.

The Mail naturally doesn't mention its own or the media's role in demonising Stagg. Why would it break the habit of a lifetime?

"The only difference is that now, people are also coming up and saying sorry for thinking the worst of me.

"But there's still a lot of people that need to say sorry.

"I have been terribly wronged."

That much is clear.

Around the only decent sentence in the whole article. Will the Daily Mail now say sorry too? The above more than demonstrates what it still really thinks.

Just to prove the Mail hasn't learned a single thing from Stagg's innocence, up pops the most vile Daily Mail article I think I have ever read.

Amanda Knox - accused of killing Meredith Kercher - has been portrayed as a blameless girl led astray when she moved to Italy. But as this investigation reveals, she already had a dangerous appetite for drink, drugs and sex ...

After which commences the most despicable, disgusting, moralistic, prurient, based on hearsay hatchet job on a young woman yet to be charged with any crime and who can't defend herself you're ever likely to read. It's not even worth the slightest perusal of its numerous claims about "Foxy Knoxy" - you know you're in trouble when the tabloids start calling you by your supposed nickname - but this final paragraph gives an example of what you can expect:

And a British family is left to mourn the brutal death of their beautiful daughter, who, it seems, died for no other reason than that she had the terrible misfortune to find herself sharing an apartment with 'Foxy' Knoxy.

The "journalist" responsible for this is Andrew Malone. A click on "more by this author" leads you to other choice pieces, such as Why Portugal is a haven for paedophiles - the disturbing backcloth to the Madeleine case, Inside feral Britain: A blood-chilling journey into the heart of our teenage gang culture and finally Brutality or justice? The truth behind the tarred and feathered drug dealer, which contains this apologia for vigilante attacks:

This show of "community justice" may have happened in Northern Ireland, but the professed reasons behind it may strike a chord with millions of law-abiding people in communities across the UK - where the police and courts are each day failing countless victims of violent crime.

Nothing, surely, can excuse such horrific savagery on our streets - and such casual contempt for the basic principles of justice. Yet, many people in areas across Britain will recognise the sense of impotence felt by the people of Taughmonagh, a rugged, working-class estate with the Union Jack hanging from virtually every house. There is a real sense of community in the area.

Welcome to Daily Mail land. Enjoy your stay.

Update: Please accept my apologies. I quite forgot for a while there that Richard Littlejohn late last year informed us that the deaths of the five prostitutes murdered in Ipswich was "no great loss". Make the "Foxy Knoxy" smear second most vile Mail article.

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In more general terms, I confirm that it is Home Office policy to remove political dissidents to Uzbekistan

To me, this damns this government far more than anything that has currently emerged over the David Abrahams affair.

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Enduring news values.

College student named Emily Sander goes missing. Either media finds out or close friend blabs that she led a "secret life" as an "internet porn star" (the definition of which in this case appears to be that she had her own private site and posed naked, might have done "girl on girl" stuff). Emily Sander is discovered to go online by her alter ego of "Zoey Zane". Internet almost collapses under the strain of one-handed fiends Googling said nom de guerre. Sander's body is discovered. Police make clear that the huge interest in the case because Sander did a few nude shoots is "literally crippling our investigation." Google News currently tracks 1,671 articles containing "Zoey Zane". "David Abrahams" churns out 1,228.

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Thursday, November 29, 2007 

Warning: includes swearing.

There's always a sense of satisfaction when the underdog triumphs over the giant, and there are few more surprise victories, considering the decision of the local council last week, than the rejection by the Aberdeenshire Council's infrastructure committee of Donald Trump's monstrosity known as a golf course.

Couldn't of happened to a nicer cunt.

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Us? Demonise Colin Stagg? We're innocent!

Look, he's got a shitty tattoo! He must be weird!

Not a single word. Not a single fucking word. For ten years they vilified him, haunted him and demanded that the law on double jeopardy be repealed so that he could be tried again. In his own words, he was, as the Sun and Daily Mail happily quote, "a national hate figure. I had to endure every form of vilification. I was insulted, attacked, spat upon. My home was attacked and so was I." They made sure of the fact that despite having the case against him thrown out, with the judge describing the way the police went about entrapping him as "a substantial attempt to incriminate a suspect by positive and deceptive conduct of the grossest kind" that it was instead seen as being as a result of a technicality. There was no other evidence against him of any sort, only that he, through the attempts by the young, attractive police officer to entrap him, had came to fit the profile which the psychologist Paul Britton had drawn up for who he thought the murderer was. The only thing he was guilty of was being a lonely, outsider type figure: flattered, and desperate for his relationship with the undercover police woman to continue, his innocence ought to have been obvious from one of his taped conversations:

"Please explain, as I live a quiet life. If I have disappointed you, please don't dump me. Nothing like this has happened to me before."

Colin Stagg will be used to the treatment still today being meted out to him by the tabloids. Of the three that continued to pursue him over 10 years, not a single one can bring itself to admit its own role in the vilification, abuse and hatred which they helped spread towards an innocent man. In the world of the tabloids, you shouldn't expect a mea culpa unless you resort to the likes of Schillings or manage to get a complaint adjudicated by the supine and toothless Press Complaints Commission. You would hope however that they might feel the odd pang of guilt themselves over how they ruthlessly ruined a man's life and made him into both a pariah and a untouchable, perhaps amounting to a small amount of hand-wringing or a mealy-mouthed half admittance that they got it horribly wrong.

Not a bit of it. If anything, the Daily Mail, Stagg's chief persecutor, is still treating what happened to Stagg as a personal "claim":

Mr Stagg claims the CPS, the Met and a Cracker-style criminal profiler were wrong to target him during the first probe.

A leaked internal CPS report on the collapse of the trial made an astonishing attack on Mr Justice Ognall, the judge who threw out the case against Mr Stagg after criticising the honey-trap operation involving a blonde undercover policewoman known as Lizzie James.

Mr Justice Ognall told the Old Bailey the tactic was 'a substantial attempt to incriminate a suspect by positive and deceptive conduct of the grossest kind'.

But the CPS report said the judge had an unfairly 'disciplinary approach' towards the police and, after hearing how they gathered their evidence, was 'determined to stop the prosecution'.

The judge has of course been proved to be absolutely right in his assessment of the prosecution case against Stagg. While not quite of the same order, other recent cases where those on trial have been somewhat entrapped include the Victoria Beckham kidnap plot that never was, as well as the "red mercury" trial, both of which were orchestrated by Mazher Mahmood for the News of the World, and found wanting in almost every way. Instead of accepting that Stagg's "claims" are not exactly what happened, the Mail quotes the CPS's self-serving refusal to countenance that the Met investigation and general incompetence in fact enabled the real killer to quite possibly murder again.

The Sun's coverage is, if anything, even worse. It similarly quotes Stagg's interview given, but even after all this time it still refuses to describe Stagg as anything other than a "weirdo":

Local oddball Colin Stagg was charged with her murder following a honeypot sting by police using an undercover policewoman who tried to coax details from him.

Ah yes, the local "oddball", so often the easy person to pin an unsolved and difficult case to crack on. It happened with Barry George, and it'll happen again. The difference is that almost no one believed that George did it, apart from the police and Nick Ross, while Stagg endured years of torment because the police were more effective in convincing the media that he was the one who'd got away because of the judge's bias against the prosecution.

The Express is the only newspaper not to go out of its way to either still paint Stagg as weird or go above the board of duty to give the benefit of the doubt to the police's original case. It does though quote a laughable Scotland Yard spokesman:

“The investigation into the murder of Rachel Nickell has always remained open and subject to ongoing reviews."

Someone ought to tell that to Paul Condon, who as head of the Met made clear that they weren't looking for anyone else, despite the case against Stagg being thrown out.

None of the papers managed to find any space to quote in full the interview that Stagg gave to yesterday's ITV News. While he seems to have found it within himself to forgive the police, he showed no such compassion towards the media, who it was clear he holds responsible for his treatment since the case was thrown out at the trial. And who could possibly blame him? When it was announced that he would be receiving compensation, rather than admit they'd got it wrong, both the Mail and the Sun ran articles comparing his likely pay-out to that given to Rachel Nickell's 2-year-old son, with the Sun condemning it in a leader column. Never was it admitted that if they hadn't so demonised the man that the payout might not have been so high.

Such is the nature of our tabloid media. Their bread and butter is the high profile crime stories, the more sensational the better. Yesterday saw the conviction of the killer of Laila Rezk, who was battered to death in her home a year to today. Both the Sun and the Mail described the likely killer as a "deranged, stalking maniac", with the Sun the next day breathlessly reporting that "THE killer of glamorous mum-of-two Laila Rezk is a twisted sex beast." The reality was rather different. Rezk's murderer was an 19-year-old burglar on an electronic tag, who apparently picked Rezk's home at random to rob, found her at home and beat her to death, altering her clothing to leave the impression of a sexual motive. He had shown no previous inclination towards being capable of the horrific violence used on that day, with him today sentenced to life, to serve a minimum of 18 years. It's hardly the first time the tabloids have got it so horribly wrong; something the families of Rochelle Holness
and Janet Hossain can testify to. Apologies, if any are issued, get completely buried, while the hurt and continuing pain at losing a loved one is only exacerbated by such egregious mistakes. At least in those cases the families themselves are not the actual target; Stagg was never able to prove his innocence against such a backdrop of media prejudice.

Some often doubt the power of the media or the idea that half of the stuff printed in the tabloids is ever believed by anyone. Polls showing trust in tabloid journalists lower than in that of estate agents suggest that such views are more than warranted. The hounding of Colin Stagg, as well as that of Maxine Carr, which has led to the vaguest of lookalikes themselves being subjected to hate and being in fear of their lives at the hands of baying mobs, not to mention the notorious Portsmouth anti-paedophile protests in the aftermath of the News of the World's name and shame campaign shows that tabloid editors are more than aware of the way their words can lead to actions that might not have intended, but could more than imagine might well happen as a result. I'm most certainly not suggesting that tabloids should moderate their language; far from it, although I will continue to criticise the ridiculous caricaturing of all those convicted of crimes as "villains". They should however when they get things so horribly and unforgivably wrong apologise about it, own up to it, and make clear that they will not repeat such things in the future, or carry apologism for doing so. They have the power to ruin lives, and they need more than ever to be accountable. At the moment they, like so many others, appear to reject that they have such responsibility as a whole to society.

Related posts:
Rhetorically Speaking - Pride of Fleet Street
Enemies of Reason - The Stagg Hunt is Over

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Wednesday, November 28, 2007 

Mendelsohn becomes Mandelson.

If Gordon Brown has ever looked as impotent as he did at today's prime ministers questions, it was a long time ago. Faced with the barracking from David Cameron and the Tory benches, he employed the Tony Blair defense: say as little as possible in response to what the opposition leader is actually questioning you about, then go on the attack about all their shortcomings from the dawn of time. It made for exasperating viewing, but it got Blair through similar showdowns relatively unscathed. For Brown it simply didn't work: the Tories scented blood, and while one side of the Commons fell about laughing at Vince Cable's relatively weak joke about the prime minister going from Stalin to Mr Bean in record time, the Labour benches were united in gloom.

We then again face the prospect of a police inquiry, and also presumably the possibility of the prime minister's chief fundraiser feeling the long arm of the law in a similar redux. Newsnight couldn't have believed its luck at David Abrahams phoning the BBC minutes after Geoff "Buff" Hoon had denied that Jon Mendelsohn had any knowledge about his donations; Abrahams contradicting his claims and reading out a letter from the very same Jon Mendelsohn he had received earlier in the day that, if anything, suggested he wished to meet Abrahams with a view to further donations was dynamite. Mendelsohn's attempt at an explanation today only raises as many questions as it answers: if Watt had told Mendelsohn about the donations, why didn't he raise the alarm about their illegality instead of meekly accepting Watt's "belief" that they were above board when he apparently wasn't happy about the situation? When was Mendelsohn told? (Newsnight just said it was late September.) Why does the letter, if it was written with an eye to meeting Abrahams and explaining that the system he had set-up was inappropriate, not to say illegal, was it not completely open about that being the reason for the tete-a-tete? Why is there a discrepancy between Abrahams claiming the letter is handwritten and dated 24th of November when Mendelsohn said it was typed and dated the 22nd?

Jack Dromey's position as the Labour party treasurer is looking similarly questionable. Some Blairites, embittered that Dromey made clear he had been bypassed over the loans for peerages scandal and put Blair in the soup, asked whether he ought to have been more questioning in his dealings rather than performing a reprise of Manuel. That now looks more reasonable as once again Dromey is left stating that the donations were "completely concealed". His role seems to extend to looking at the accounts as placed in front of him, signing them off, and err, that's it. Being married to Harriet Harman, performing a similar act after accepting a hidden donation from Abrahams while Brown and Benn had the sense to inquire into the background behind it only strengthens the sentiment that it's time he went.

Unity to an extent tries to put the case for Labour over at Liberal Conspiracy, pointing out that the Tories had recent similar problems with the Midlands Industrial Council being used as a front for donations, and it's also true that the Lib Dems' biggest donor to date is currently in prison for perjury, while even UKIP had to recently forfeit a donation when it turned out the donor had inadvertently been removed from the electoral register, but the there's a "pox on all their houses" argument doesn't really cut it any longer, especially when it's Labour that brought in the current rules which have been so flagrantly breached. As the Guardian leader puts it, "What bit of doing things by the rules does the Labour party not understand?" If there is to be a police investigation, quite apart from the increasing political damage, then Labour has no one but itself to blame.

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Rachel Nickell, the media and the increasing chance of more miscarriages of justice.

Colin Stagg.

Only 15 years after Rachel Nickell was murdered, the CPS today announced that Robert Napper, long suspected to have been her murderer, has been charged in connection with her death. Napper is being held indefinitely in Broadmoor for the murder of Samantha Bissett and her two-year-old daughter Jazmine in 1993, while he is also suspected of being the "Green Chain rapist", a long series of sexual assaults and attacks on women which took place along the Thames-side path known as the "Green Chain walk", which abruptly stopped in 1994 after Napper's arrest.

Although Keith Pedder, the detective in charge of the investigation has said Napper was at one point considered a suspect, it was at the time that Colin Stagg was awaiting trial for Nickell's murder, and that "there was nothing to tie him to the Rachel Nickell murder." Apart from the similarities in the way both Nickell and Bissett were brutally attacked and mutilated, obviously, even if in Nickell's case her son was not killed as Bisset's daughter was. In reality, Napper was a far more likely suspect that Stagg ever was, but the police had decided that Stagg was guilty and that all they needed was to, err, find the evidence to prove it. In the mean time, Napper, who had been arrested over the "Green Chain rapes" but had been released without charge after the police realised he was significantly taller than 5 foot 5 as they believed the perpetrator was, without bothering to take a DNA sample even though Napper offered one, went on to murder Bissett. It's also not as if the media didn't take an interest in Napper: the Daily Mail, which was instrumental in pursuing Stagg for over a decade, asked on its front page the day after he was convicted of the Bissett murder "DID HE KILL RACHEL TOO?". The late Paul Foot also wrote in Private Eye at the time about the suspicions of Napper's involvement.

Stagg meanwhile, despite the case against him being thrown out by the judge who called the honey trap set-up by the police as the "most vivid illustration of shaping the accused's mind," endured years of baiting by the tabloids and the media. He passed a lie detector test organised by the Cook Report, but that wasn't good enough for the producers, who wanted him to take a "truth drug" as well; he declined. Keith Pedder has written at least two books, now likely to either be pulped or highly revised, both of which make clear his belief that Rachel's son has been denied justice. Stagg has not only not received a formal apology from the police, he's also never experienced even the slightest mea culpa from the numerous journalists and others who wrote that he should be tried again. The Sun still persisted when he was finally cleared of any involvement in Nickell's murder through the new forensic evidence which has led to Napper being charged in referring to him as "an oddball", and that Nickell's son deserved more compensation than he did.

Doubtlessly, few of the papers that were so vociferous in shadowing Stagg will be wringing their hands tonight. The blame will be laid squarely at the feet of the police, while their role in encouraging the belief that Stagg had escaped justice will be subtly airbrushed out of history. This comes at a time however when legal aid is being cut back, the criminal justice system is complaining of being stretched to the limit, and compensation to those wrongly convicted is also being lowered, while surveys show increasing numbers think that access to solicitors ought to be further curtailed. The media, far from scaling back and re-examining their coverage of crime is in fact dedicating ever more space to it while the amount of potentially prejudicial material being published also seems to grow. In the last year alone we've seen the rampant voyeurism over the disappearance of Madeleine McCann, still continuing more than six months after she vanished, the lurid salaciousness and delighting in the gory and sexual details surrounding the death of Meredith Kercher, the leaks to the press before the arrests over the Birmingham "beheading" plot had even taken place, and last December the publishing on the front page of the Sun of a photograph of the man charged with the murder of 5 prostitutes in Ipswich, pretending to strangle his ex-wife. The climate seems right for a new wave of miscarriages of justice, aided and abetted by a news atmosphere driven by the lowest common denominator.

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Tuesday, November 27, 2007 

Abrahams sacrifices Labour.

To misquote Lady Bracknell, to get caught out over improper donations once is unfortunate, to get caught twice seems like carelessness. To be strictly accurate, it isn't even the second time the Labour party has been caught out: it's more like the fourth, coming after the Ecclestone and Mittal affairs in the earlier days of Blair's reign. Gordon Brown and the government at large must be wondering what on earth is going to go tits up next: perhaps Ruth Kelly will be exposed as having a second life as this generation's Miss Whiplash?

More damaging than the accusations and the returning of the money to David Abrahams might well be the very bringing back of the sobriquet "sleaze", especially screaming out from the front page of the Daily Mail, the paper that Brown has done so much to attempt to woo. If Blair's position prior to the whole loans for peerages debacle was highly damaged, the impact of the police investigation was terminal. Brown's attempt to draw a line under all of that through his widely parodied "Age of Change" has hit the buffers even sooner than after Peter Mandelson commented that New Labour was "intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich."

As so often with this government, when it gets caught out it acts like a child caught with his hands in his mother's purse, except not many children would then appoint a Lord to investigate what actually led up to the shutting of fingers in the clasp. No one, it would seem, apart from Peter Watt and perhaps his predecessors as general secretary of the Labour party knew that Abrahams was donating money through up to four intermediaries, even though both Gordon Brown himself and Hilary Benn declined to receive donations from Janet Kidd for their respective campaigns for leader and deputy leader, having inquired into her background as she wasn't known to either. Benn subsequently did accept a donation from Abrahams once he personally signed the cheque, but Harriet Harman wasn't as inquisitive, accepting a donation for £5,000 at face value. Her position really ought to be untenable, especially if the Tories are correct in alleging she didn't actually take it until 2 weeks after the campaign had ended.

In fairness to Brown, he did all that could reasonably be expected of him at this morning's press conference. He apologised, admitted that the donations were unlawful and that they would be returned, said that he might well have met Abrahams at some point, although he "couldn't remember" talking about donations at any of those meetings and that changes would be needed. Thing is, we've heard it all before over so many other matters. The talks about changes to the party funding regime have been mooted on previous occasions, and the most recent attempt failed after the Tories attempted to cut the links between Labour and the unions, with all the other matters also falling by the wayside. When the Tories have Lord Ashcroft pouring money into the marginal constituencies, even though he himself has questions to answer about his tax status (Private Eye in the latest issue suggested he might be one of an increasing number of businessmen who in effect pay no tax whatsoever thanks to their offshore interests) they have much to gain and little to lose from the collapse of the talks, especially when the right-wing press has such a loathing of Labour's union links.

Doubtless, numerous hacks will now be scrutinising David Abrahams' movements over the last few years. His explanation that he passed his donations through others so that he wouldn't be treated like a criminal for donating to a political party would stand up rather more if he hadn't in the words of Nick Robinson "used different names, different ages, been deselected as a parliamentary candidate and been involved in rows about the planning system." The one saving grace for Labour is that so far there has been no evidence presented to suggest that Abrahams has personally gained from his donations; unlike with cash for peerages, where it was always incredulous that all those that had given secret loans had been been recommended for peerages and that the two things weren't connected, this at the moment appears to be a general secretary taking the money and not asking any questions. Where it will change into serious sleaze is if it turns out that there was far wider recognition of where the donations really were coming from - and at the moment the photograph of Blair at his constituency with Abrahams in close proxomity is the nearest thing to a smoking gun. If a similar photograph of Brown turns up, despite his admittance that he might of met him, then it will become very serious indeed.

The most astonishing thing is that it's been allowed to happen. At what point does a breaking of the law, even if we believe Watt's story that he simply didn't check, become less serious than another breach? Few will disagree with David Cameron's observation that despite all the safeguards that the government has meant to have setup, it seems itself to routinely breach them. With faith in politics at such a low, and Brown the latest leader to declare that he would be different, this just once again reinforces the belief that "they're all the same." While the last week has seen many comparisons with the slow death of the Major government, it hasn't been widely acknowledged that it wasn't just Black Wednesday but also what happened after then that destroyed it and gradually turned it into a laughing stock, with the sleaze allegations, then uncovered by the Guardian being denied and challenged by the Tories. This time round it's the Mail on Sunday and with Labour owning up, but the effect remains the same. It's the image of a government not being in control of events, and constantly on the back foot. The only consolation is that the Tories are still not making the huge gains you would expect, Labour instead just falling behind. It's not yet critical, but any more unexpected disasters and Brown might well be permanently tainted.

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Can we have some more sanity, please?

There's very little to add to the account of MB Jefferies on CiF, a colleague of Gillian Gibbons, the woman charged with blasphemously defaming the Prophet by naming a teddy bear Muhammad - or, rather using the name voted upon by the children in her class.

The Scum though can't help but insist on turning this into an issue for Muslims in this country:

THE West is routinely condemned for demonising Muslims.

But it’s hard to sympathise with a faith that demands 40 lashes for calling a teddy bear Mohammed.

Every perceived slight seems punishable by violence or even death.

Until Muslim leaders speak out publicly against such barbarity, East and West will never come to understand one another.

There is no sign in the Sun's report that it bothered to actually contact anyone to ask them for their views. If they had, they would have found that the Muslim Council of Britain for instance has called for her immediate release, even though it could have done so in more forceful terms.

It shouldn't however though even be an issue. Why should British Muslims have to denounce every apparent injustice which takes place in another country under its own individual law system? They weren't for instance called upon to express their horror at the recent Saudi case of a woman sentenced to 200 lashes after she was gang-raped for being in the company of a man, carried out under a similar system of Sharia law, but that was presumably because it didn't involve a British woman in a foreign country, or, if you were being more conspiratorially minded, that it involved the Saudis who we shouldn't upset (The Sun doesn't seem to have ran an article on it). Muslims cannot be held responsible for every transgression committed by those who share their faith, and to demand that they do so only encourages the belief that there is a clash of civilisations or religions, rather than a common sharing of basic humanity, as shown by the children in Gibbons' class now also calling for her to be released.

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Monday, November 26, 2007 

It just gets worse.

I'll probably write more on this tomorrow, but there's at least one more than convincing fact that suggests that no one apart from Peter Watt knew about David Abrahams' hidden donations to Labour: he isn't a Lord.


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The fear of freedom of speech.

There's something truly depressing about witnessing the massive hoo-hah over Nick Griffin and David Irving being invited to address the Oxford Union, especially when much of the noise is being made by those supposedly on the left. One is a discredited and ignorant politician; the other is a discredited and prejudiced historian who has in the past offered something towards the historical debate, whilst also grossly exaggerating that which he has submitted. There ought to be very little that either could offer up that could convince a child, let alone a debating society of students.

Instead then we have according to the Guardian the usual braindead anti-fascists, the same ones no doubt that protested outside the National Theatre back in January over the
"BNP ballerina" gatecrashing the event and making their opinions heard. There's the usual nonsense about fears for the safety of students, when it seems if anything that the protesters and media presence will impose more on those wanting to go out than any BNP thugs.

The whole situation only highlights the hypocrisy at the very centre of the "no platform" orthodoxy. Both Griffin and Irving claim to be stifled by political correctness and those who deny them the opportunity to put their views across; the solution to which is to do the very thing that they most want. The BNP and Holocaust deniers feed off their victim and outsider status, making their message to those it does appeal to only more attractive, and their fundamental supporters only more embittered and angry. If their views were truly beyond the pale it would be more palatable, yet Griffin's racism is far toned down from that which previously fired the National Front, even if the foot-soldiers are still as knuckle-dragging and Hitler obsessed as ever, while Irving admits the Holocaust happened but like many others of a similar ilk disputes the figures. Both of their positions are eminently spurious, and also easy to attack and defeat through open argument. Even if the Oxford Union's reasons are publicity seeking and looking for controversy for the sake of it, to take on their views ought to be one of the obligations of any generally democratic society.

My admiration for
Evan Harris, the Liberal Democrat MP who unlike others has said he will stand up and debate both then only grows, especially after his demolition of the scientific illiteracy of Nadine Dorries and the faith-based prejudices of those who gave evidence to the parliamentary committee on abortion. Trevor Phillips, on the other hand, who for a head of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission has said some questionable things himself, bizarrely invokes those who died for freedom of speech while suggesting that they didn't do so for the sake of a "silly parlour game", as though debating two prominent figures, even if controversial ones was somehow akin to playing charades.

The most obvious question which arises is: what on earth are they so scared of? Anyone would think that Griffin and Irving's oratory and rhetoric was so revelatory and convincing that those who so much as heard it would be straight off to Germany to buy some jackboots. The opposite is nearer the truth. At best, the majority of the anti-fascist left and their no platform ideology are doing the far-right's work for them, while at worst they're evoking the McCarthyism of 50s in America in their virulence in denying fascists any speaking engagements, and in some cases even work. You could almost accept it if the far-right were in a position of strength: yet even in an age of unprecedented immigration their incompetence once in council seats shines through, and although the vagaries of the electoral system count against them as it does the far left, they can't so much as come near winning a single seat in parliament. Compared to movements in mainland Europe, the BNP is a grim rump of true believers.

It is a cliche, but Voltaire's famous quote,
which he naturally never actually wrote or said, sums up the attitude that ought to taken to almost all figures as long as they're not advocating imminent violence: "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." The cowardice displayed by those who pulled out of tonight, and those stopping the event from going ahead, even if highly principled, makes a mockery of a sentiment that should be at the centre of our stance on freedom of speech.

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The Blair Years part two.

There's very little point in writing an extended review (except I seem to have done anyway. Hurr.) of the second part of the Blair Years, a documentary so lacking in any real rigour that if anything it leaves you with less insight that that which you had prior to sitting through its vainglorious hour-length.

If there was to be a part of the series that made an effort to be critical, this would have been the one. Evaluating the inexorable march to war in Iraq, so many different mistakes were made that you could compare them to the photographs we've grown used to over the last few years of bodies littering the ground, wrapped ready for burial, surrounded by weeping relatives and friends. The errors and lies of the period are similarly tossed aside on the ground, but Blair and his acolytes from the time are most certainly not crying. Jeremy Greenstock, our man at the UN who attempted to write a book about his experiences only to be blocked by Downing Street, more or less admitted straight out that he had lied along with the rest of the government about Jacques Chirac's interview where he said that France would vote no, used endlessly to justify abandoning the attempt at a second resolution, but seemed to have little to no regrets about his mendacity and its consequences.

So many of the issues were skirted over or simply ignored, the things you wanted to ask Blair about, but which David Aaronovitch would never have considered embarrassing his ally with. There was then no agreement to invade Iraq whatever the consequences from talks with President Bush, despite the evidence to the contrary in the Downing Street memos. Blair most certainly didn't mislead parliament, let alone lie. He now thinks that they should have published the JIC briefing document in full rather than let Alastair Campbell sex it up, as if that would have made any difference. The "sexing up" itself didn't make up any sort of imposition on the proceedings, Blair giving it the only mention when he disingenuously said the Hutton inquiry had been setup for the reason of investigating the way the intelligence had been presented. Dr David Kelly it seems has been airbrushed from the historical record, or at least this one.

Like the previous installment, the only real new information was implanted by the talking heads, in this case Bill Clinton, Kofi Annan and Dubya himself. Clinton, who had his own previous completely unjustified face off with Saddam when the pressure over Monica Lewinsky was getting too great, appears to have tried to persuade Blair to see the true face of the Bush administration, but to no avail, probably because Blair had long already thrown his lot in with them. Annan rightly simply couldn't understand how Blair had got himself caught up in the whole mess, and how the tyrannical nature of the "special relationship" led to us being tethered to the biggest foreign policy disaster of recent times. Bush enhanced slightly our knowledge of how America offered Blair a way out, the well-known Rumsfeld press conference where he said that the US could do it alone apparently based on the conversations where Bush had made it clear to Blair that it wasn't worth losing his government over, with Blair's stubbornness declining the offer. Perhaps it was for the best: we might still be stuck with the bastard if he had taken it.

Most overwhelming though was the burning moral certainty that still lies behind both Blair and Bush's war. The number of times that Blair referenced either "the struggle", or "what we're fighting", or the notions of good and bad, at one point even evil, descending into open caricature, only making clear that Blair still very much believes in what he did. Aaronovitch as gently as possible poked him with the piles of bodies, quoting "75,000 Iraqi dead by the most conservative estimate", lest he dare acknowledge in the face of the former leader the more much likely higher toll, yet even in the face of torrents of blood his belief never wavered. As for the planning, it wasn't that there wasn't any, it was that "they" had dared to resist that was the cause of all the problems, rather than the chaos and corruption of the first year of occupation that was the catalyst for it.

As the world divides into ever more shades of grey, to Blair and Bush the landscape is still only black and white. Hilariously, Bush even dared to mention in his justification for the carnage unleashed that America was fighting for human rights. Even now, Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib, extraordinary rendition and Fallujah are all things that the United States is fighting against, even as it perpetuates them. If Blair had wanted the Blair Years to try and put the record straight, or to show him in a different light, it has so far been a failure of the most crushing kind, with the second show casting him back into his most accomplished role, that of the ever faithful poodle.

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Melanie Phillips: the story of her journey into madness.

My previous thesis that Melanie Phillips's trajectory from seeming sanity into abject, gibbering, foaming at the mouth and straining at the strait-jacket madness will become a case-study for psychology students is sadly for Mel herself looking increasingly accurate. It's a source of wonderment for the reason that when she finds herself sitting on the Question Time panel or on the Moral Maze she can somehow summon the strength to usually acquit herself without coming across as completely and utterly barking mad; is it a case of Dr Jekyll and Ms Hyde, or is it all an act, able to turn her fire on and off with will?

Perhaps it's all down to what happens when she sits down in front of her computer screen. While her pieces for the Daily Mail are somewhat staid, it's the entries for her blog, and now, following her move to the Spectator, on their group blog that show her in a light that she only lets those most acquainted with the more "radical" side of her work examine and imbibe in full.

Take for instance her views on the dismissal of John Howard from office in Australia:

It was Howard who was the staunchest Prime Minister in the world against the jihad and who alone seemed to grasp its full dimensions.


Whatever now happens, the fact that he [Kevin Rudd] ran on a platform of pulling troops out of Iraq and endorsing the ludicrous scam of man-made global warming are enough in themselves to tell the jihadis that Australia has now lost its (one-man) nerve. Australia just made itself (and the rest of us) a whole lot less safe.

For Mel, the obsession with jihadist takfirists has now reached such a proportion that any election anywhere is somehow influenced by "the threat", and the very fact that Australia booted out Howard and installed Rudd means that the jihadists have just won another victory without having to lift a finger. It makes no difference to Mel that Howard was widely loathed for the very reason that she so supported him; Australia, a nation which due to its location and size has very little to nothing to fear from anyone, but due to Howard's belligerence was led into the Iraq adventure anyway, was also dragged into an era of mistrust, dislike and even paranoia thanks to the hardline stance on outsiders and refugees that he took. There's a rich irony and hypocrisy in nations of immigrants shutting the door to the next generation, but to Mel that was just another sign of his strength. Even that though isn't enough; Australia's stupidity in changing prime ministers somehow, in Mel's twisted and frankly bizarre logic, has made both them and us less safe. It's a statement jaw-dropping in its full frontal lunacy, one that she'd most likely not repeat in her Mail column even, but she feels secure in doing so on the comfort of the Spectator's blog.

Amazingly, as Matt points out, the above isn't even the most deranged post from Mel yesterday. She stretches historical analogies so far beyond breaking point to back up her perverse reasoning on the Annapolis "peace" conference that it's a miracle the static electricity generated from her furious pounding of the keyboard hasn't set fire to her hair:

Whatever actually happens at Annapolis, what is blindingly obvious right now is the extent of America’s betrayal of the Jewish people and, in the process, of its own supposed core doctrine post 9/11...Annapolis is America’s Munich — and Israel is the new Czechoslovakia.

This is despite almost unanimous agreement that the Annapolis meeting, which isn't even being played up as a summit for goodness sake, will achieve precisely nought, for the simple reason that Israel isn't prepared to deal and Mahmoud Abbas, thanks to the infighting between Hamas and Fatah, doesn't have the strength to agree to anything approaching what would be considered a just settlement. Somehow, Mel believes a simple peace meeting will amount to such an act of treachery that history will repeat itself. Never mind that the Palestinians could never, even in the most fevered, deluded imagination play the role of an all-powerful, rearmed and vengeful Germany led by a dictator playing on the weaknesses of his opponents, with Bush betraying the Czechs to their fate, but to compare what Israel will eventually have to give up if it seriously decides it wants peace, namely the settlements built illegally on occupied, impoverished, Palestinian territory, to the industrial heart of the Sudetenland is so ahistorical that it makes you wonder whether Mel, so preoccupied with the Holocaust as she is, doesn't really know her history leading up to the second world war. But she does, which is surely the point. No one with even an ounce of intellectual honesty would contemplate comparing the two, let alone setting it out as an established fact, but Mel, without the slightest trace of embarrassment, displays her handiwork for all to see.

Then again, why shouldn't she? She basks in adulation on the Spectator blog, so heavily moderated that only the odd critical comment is allowed through. (Korova from Mask of Anarchy managed to get through, somehow.) On the first piece, she's variously praised:

Absolutely! As an Australian, I am distraught. All of what you say is true, and more.

You have hit the nail on the head, Melanie.

Dhimmi kangaroo down, sport!

As always, Melanie Phillips talks a lot of sense..

And the second:

Absolutely!!! As a long standing supporter and admirer of George Bush and Condi Rice I'm having my breath taking away!

Thank, you, Melanie...for validating my intuition.

Perhaps madness really is infectious. Either way, Melanie Phillips now increasingly resembles a lift where the mechanism has well and truly snapped, with the only thing remaining an ever accelerating descent before the eventual crash.

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Scum-watch: More apologising.

One in a continuing series eyeballing the Scum's embarrassing apologies:

In “The Sun Says” column on July 24th we said that during a hearing concerning IVF doctor, Mohammed Taranissi, the License Committee of the Human Fertilisation and Embryo Authority (HFEA) came close to branding Angela McNab, the HFEA’s former chief executive “a liar whose evidence could not be taken at face value”.

We now accept that the Committee did not come close to calling her a liar or cast doubt on her evidence and regret the error.


In a puff piece for MurdochSpace's "new section dedicated to charities and social causes" there is naturally no mention that MySpace and the Scum share an owner.

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Saturday, November 24, 2007 

Murdoch in his own words.

On occasion, stories which prove much of what you argue about just sail straight out into the open:

The media mogul Rupert Murdoch has said he wants Sky News to become more like his rightwing US network Fox News, and revealed the extent of his editorial grip on his British newspapers to a House of Lords committee.

The communications committee, chaired by Lord Fowler, toured the US in September to meet media executives, regulators and consumer groups as part of an inquiry into media ownership. Their conversations were made public yesterday in detailed minutes.

The minutes, available in this .doc file, are mostly full of the usual self-aggrandising bullshit from Murdoch about how wonderful his companies are and how, despite all the evidence to the contrary, he doesn't interfere with editorial independence, except when it comes to the Scum and News of the Screws.

Most amusing are the following claims:

They [the regulatory authorities] kept investigating his purchases on the grounds of plurality but he had invested in plurality by keeping the Times alive and putting 200 extra channels on the air through Sky.

Ah yes, keeping the Times afloat, meaning that his own politics are given the necessary veneer of "centrist" broadsheet gloss, is a sure sign of plurality. Thank the Lord for Rupert: he's given us 200 more channels of pure unadulterated shit.

He stated that “the BBC has a unique place in British life”. People were very hostile to any challenge to the BBC.

Which certainly hasn't stopped him from bashing the corporation at every opportunity in both the Sun and the Times. The reporting from both during the Hutton inquiry was a case in point: the government had done very little to nothing wrong while the BBC were the true villains of the piece, guilty before they had even stepped inside the court. The leaking of the final report to the Scum the night before it was published only highlighted how deep inside Number 10's rectum the paper was. The reporting from the Sun over the BBC fakery "scandals" was gleeful, gloating and delirious at being able to shoot into an open goal; when ITV's far more serious defrauding through its phone lines was exposed the coverage was cut to the bone and nowhere near as condemnatory.

News Corp was the first organisation to bring proper football coverage to the UK. Their investment led to better football grounds and other benefits. However it had been a real struggle.

Or you could of course argue that Murdoch's money and its effects have never been more apparent than following Wednesday's catastrophe. Murdoch created the "golden generation", the "bling generation" or whatever you want to call it, and has poured money in while the real football fans themselves have never been so priced out of the game.

He believed that Sky News would be more popular if it were more like the Fox News Channel. Then it would be “a proper alternative to the BBC”.

How true. You could watch the BBC's best efforts to be impartial, or you could watch open propaganda for Murdoch's politics on Sky News.

Mr Murdoch stated that Sky News could become more like Fox without a change to the impartiality rules in the UK. For example Sky had not yet made the presentational progress that Fox News had. He stated that the only reason that Sky News was not more like Fox news was that “nobody at Sky listens to me”.

This is also completely untrue. Sky News gave Richard Littlejohn two chances to make the "presentational progress" that Fox News had, one before Fox News had even been set-up in 1994 and then again in 2003. Both were miserable failures, with Littlejohn the first time complaining that the impartiality regulations were the reason.

Mr Murdoch believed that the role of the media is “to inform”. Reporters are there to find out what is going on and editors are there to invest in those investigations if they uncover something.

You can more than make up your own mind on what Murdoch's real view of journalism is by the example set by Fox News and by our own Sun.

He distinguishes between The Times and The Sunday Times and The Sun and the News of the World (and makes the same distinction between the New York Post and the Wall Street Journal). For The Sun and News of the World he explained that he is a “traditional proprietor”. He exercises editorial control on major issues – like which Party to back in a general election or policy on Europe.

It is of course then just a coincidence that the Sun and Times share the exact same view on both Europe and which party they backed at the last election. The reality of Murdoch's editorial control over the Times and Sunday Times is far more complicated. As what happened when Murdoch first gained control of the Times showed, he made the same platitudes he does now at the Wall Street Journal over editorial independence, only for Harold Evans to resign within a year because of Murdoch's constant meddling and disagreements with him. Andrew Neil, most certainly not a left-winger, and a former Murdoch editor has for instance also said:

Rupert Murdoch was an enormous presence in my life. Even when he wasn't there he was this sort of looming presence....I think that's how he does control things. He leaves you in no doubt that if he's not there in person he's there in spirit and he's watching what you are up to and you've got to stick to the parameters. The idea that he doesn't interfere is nonsense.

Neil hits the nail right on the head. Murdoch editors know full well what is expected of them. If they deviate from his well-known line, they get sacked. As a result, they don't, and so there's no need for him to leave huge calling cards which would make clear his gross editorial interference. Why else would every single Murdoch owned major newspaper around the world have supported the Iraq war?

Mr Murdoch insisted that there was no cross promotion between his different businesses. He stated that The Times was slow to publish listings for Sky programmes. He also stated that his own papers often give poor reviews of his programmes.

Any reader of Private Eye will be more than aware of the numerous puffs and cross-promotions that frequently feature in both the Times and Sun for his other media interests.

Of course, if you were looking for a report of Murdoch's evidence in his own papers, you'd be searching for a long time. Neither the Sun (which has only mentioned its owner 10 times this year) or the Times have published any article on the Communications Committee's release of the notes of the meeting. Then again, how could he possibly tell Sun readers that what they're consuming every day is exactly what he wants them to?

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Lord Guthrie treats Telegraph readers like fools.

Charles (Lord) Guthrie today authors a comment piece for the Telegraph:

Since I voiced my criticisms of government policy towards our Armed Forces during Thursday's defence debate in the Lords, many people have asked whether the five former defence chiefs who stood up were taking part in a planned ambush against the Government. They seem to think we all met up at Starbucks and plotted to give everyone in it a bloody nose.

In fact, the opposite happened. Far from being a co-ordinated plot, this was a spontaneous eruption from a group of people who find themselves at the end of their tether regarding the treatment of our Armed Forces.

As I wrote yesterday, all five of the Lords who spoke up in the debate on Thursday are either patrons or vice-presidents of the United Kingdom National Defence Association (a full list of its patrons, vice-presidents and policy board members is available from their website in a PDF).

I cannot of course prove that all five Lords did actively conspire to do what they did in the Lords on Thursday, or that it was, in Guthrie's words, anything other than a "spontaneous eruption," and so in these litigious times cannot come right out and call Guthrie a liar. He doesn't however deign to mention in his article the existence of the UKNDA, his patronship of it, or that all five of his fellow former chiefs of defence staff belong to it in their various guises. You can however make your own minds up about his less than honest disclosure.

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Friday, November 23, 2007 

God help us.

The latest musical terrorism to be foisted upon us is Adele Adkins, yet another vulnerable, troubled, earnest, talented, insert bullshit adjective here female singer-songwriter who made her name on MurdochSpace. Talking to the Grauniad today, she says:

She laughs: "The Daily Mail? I'm in the posh papers! I read the Sun."

If anyone would like to submit their in-depth plans for how they would like to kill me so that I don't have to suffer any longer, I'll be more than happy to receive them.

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The UK National Defence Association and snouts in the trough.

If the way that five former chiefs of the defense staff stood up in the Lords yesterday and condemned the government for its failure to "adequately" fund the armed forces smacked of a campaign being got under way, then you'd most certainly be right. What few of the reports of their speeches has made clear is that all five Lords, Boyce, Guthrie, Craig, Bramall and Inge also share something else in common - all are either patrons or vice-presidents of the recently formed United Kingdom National Defence Association.

On why such an organisation is needed, the UKNDA's website explains:

The fundamental problem to be addressed is that for many years now:
  1. Defence has been, and still is, too low in the nation’s list of priorities. and therefore

  2. The Armed Forces are under funded for the tasks they are set and consequently over-stretched.

Which is fair enough, as it goes. You could of course argue that in actual fact, especially since 9/11, rather than defence being too low in the list of priorities, war itself has been far too high in the list of priorities, but it is undoubtedly true that those forces that had no choice in being sent to Afghanistan and Iraq were poorly-equipped, on some occasions fatally so, are being curmudgeonly compensated when they are injured, and are currently living in completely inadequate accommodation while back here.

I do however think that it is thoroughly disingenuous for the UKNDA to be comparing the military spending of 1984 to now, as it goes on to do. Whatever your thoughts on the cold war as it entered its last ebb, we then knew who the "enemy" was meant to be, and it was a monolithic Soviet Union that had eastern Europe in its grasp and came right up to the Berlin wall. The situation now is wholly different, and will especially be once we eventually fully withdraw from Iraq: the only country where we will actually be involved in a war is one in which there clearly isn't a military solution, and the military themselves are coming around to that fact. The main emphasis for the military will most likely remain to be peace-keeping, outside of Afghanistan, crossing fingers that we won't be involving ourselves in the madness of an attack on Iran if such a thing happens. The current defence budget still stands at roughly £30bn a year; that's a third of what we spend, again roughly, on the NHS. Robert Fox on CiF provides a pessimistic counter-argument.

It's surely right though that we ask whether the grandees of this new organisation have any personal interest in an increase in defence spending. As the latest issue (1198) of Private Eye sets out, Lord Guthrie is for instance a director of Colt Defense, which supplies the US military with a number of rifles and weapons. Lord Boyce is a director of the VT group, currently a subcontractor on the T45 destroyer, which is over two years' late and £635m over budget. He's also a director with consultants WS Atkins, who on their website boast:

In the defence and aerospace sector we turnover around £150m per year in supporting the definition and delivery of many of the largest defence and aerospace programmes in the UK.

Lord Owen, who didn't speak yesterday but who is one of the UKNDA's patrons, is a paid adviser to Terra Firma Capital, whom the Eye points out bought the MoD's married quarters in 1996 in a deal the National Audit Office said lost the MoD £139million. Since then, it's leased the homes back to the MoD, but refuses like all other normal landlords to take responsibility for repairs, meaning the MoD has to pay others to do something that TFC should be doing themselves. Lord Inge, who did speak yesterday and who's on the vice-presidents' list (PDF), is the chairman of Aegis, the private security firm set-up by Tim Spicer and which was previously exposed in two videos posted online which showed civilian vehicles in Iraq being fired on for no apparent reason. He's also an adviser to ICX Technologies and a consultant to OWR AG, who provide decontamination systems. Moving down onto the "civilian" list, of the MPs signed up, Patrick Mercer does consultancy work for Blue Hackle, another private security firm (the ones we used to call mercenaries) while Nicholas "Fatty" Soames is a director with Aegis.

It's also just ever so slightly opportunistic for the Conservatives, who have previously never mentioned how Des Browne combining being both defence secretary and Scottish secretary was a problem, upon hearing Guthrie claim that it amounts to an insult set about parroting that it was exactly that. The claims that Brown is the one that has shown contempt are also surprising; it was only back in January that Blair showed how patronising he could be in a speech on HMS Albion by demanding that the military accept that conflict and casualty "may be part of what they are called upon to face," as if they didn't already know what was expected of them after taking them into a war which will rightly become known as his and his only. All those in the cabinet and parliament who voted for it are culpable, including Gordon Brown who was, as Vince Cable points out, the man who signed the cheques, but the ultimate responsibility lies with Blair. The way the attack has been personalised, especially in a week when the government has rightly been under intense pressure, is also hardly going to encourage the ministers under fierce criticism to feel anything but incredible anger at the way the UKNDA campaign has been orchestrated.

As Private Eye in its piece elucidates, it's not just how much money is being spent on the armed forces, it's also how that money is being spent. Additionally this week we've seen how QinetiQ, the government's defence research arm was allowed to be partially sold off, with the private equity group Carlyle able to make a profit of £300m just 3 years after buying a stake for just £42m, with the chairman and chief executive able to turn investments of £129,000 and £108,000 into assets worth £22m and £18m when QinteQ was floated last year. Unlike with the above, the Treasury under Brown's paws is all over this. None of the Lords who spoke up yesterday though had anything to say about it, but that might have had something to do with three of them potentially able to make plenty themselves out of how the defence budget is spent. Lord Gilbert and Bruce George MP both criticised the deal and are vice-presidents of the UKNDA, but neither has any financial dealings with defence firms. Gilbert is an adviser to ABS, which manufactures hovercraft, but is unpaid. It's one thing to stand up for the troops who are in the thick of it and more then fed up, it's quite another to be sticking your snout in the same trough which feeds them while doing so.

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Thursday, November 22, 2007 

Jahongir Sidikov escapes deportation - but for how long?

Craig reports back that Jahongir Sidikov, was mercifully not deported yesterday after offering passive resistance to those charged with putting him on the flight to Uzbekistan. Next time staff authorised and equipped to use force will be used.

Craig also voices his despair at the complete lack of interest, from MPs, officials and journalists about the whole state of affairs. There just doesn't seem to be any knowledge of just how repressive and dictatorial Uzbekistan has become, much worse by almost all accounts than it was during Soviet days. Unfortunately, Uzbekistan lacks marching Buddhist monks and charismatic, popular and well-known opposition leaders, or a ubiquitous tyrant that hate and anger can be directed towards like in Zimbabwe.

There is the spark of a campaign amongst other blogs and those commenting on Craig's site towards raising awareness of Sidikov's plight - Question That listing all those currently linking to Craig's postsfrom the MediaLens contact page and spreading the word. I'm personally unsure of the worth of contacting MPs; they can put down an early day motion and might try raising the issue in the Commons, but that often has little effect. More pressure will be put on the immigration service and Home Office if it gets widespread coverage in the media, which is why I favour personally getting in contact with the broads and ex-broads and making clear that there is real anger and dismay over the government deporting asylum seekers back to countries such as Uzbekistan. They haven't shown much interest so far, but if enough people do contact them they might just sit up and listen. I've taken some of these addresses from the MediaLens contact page:

National news desk:
Alan Rusbridger, editor:

National news desk:
Simon Kelner, editor

News desk:


If you do write, try to use your own words as generally they tend to dismiss mailings that are obvious carbon copies.

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Militants, terrorists, Islamofascists, or takfirists?

Timothy Garton Ash writes another well argued and important article, this time on what we should call those inspired by the ideology behind al-Qaida, and comes I think to mostly the right conclusion.

First, Islamofascist is mostly a laughable term. The main argument for its use tends to be that many moons ago, some Islamists had a grudging respect for the Nazis or were even in some cases inspired by them, as Maududi was. Slightly more persuasive is that the idea of a worldwide Islamic caliphate, especially if it is to be imposed by force, with Sharia law forming the legal system in such a state, as laughable and implausible as the concept is, more than bears resemblance to Lebensraum, a key component of Nazi ideology.

While Ash outlines a number of other reasons why the term doesn't ring true, I think he leaves an important one out. The main use of "Islamofascist", is directly or not, to infer that the threat we now face from al-Qaida is somehow comparable to that which manifested itself in the 1930s. This fantasy isn't just confined to the neo-cons who most liberally use the term: Sir Ian Blair has claimed something highly similar, and while Jonathan Evans wasn't entirely clear, he also said that the current threat level was the highest in MI5's existence. Most crucially, "the enemy", whoever it is has been since 1945, except in the case of the Soviet Union, has always been compared and made out to be the new Hitler. Go through them all, whether it be Gaddafi, the Ayatollahs, Saddam Hussein and numerous others, all have been the Nazis reincarnate. Mostly it's just laziness, but it's also borne out of a desire to scaremonger and resort to propaganda, looking for a false equivalence which motivates support for action.

Islamists is mostly covered by Ash, who rightly says that to use Islamists when referring to those who murder either 572 Yazidis or 52 commuters is to link those who do so with the likes of the Hizb-ut-Tahrir, the Muslim Brotherhood, or indeed, even the Justice and Development party in Turkey. We might not agree with their politics, and while some who were formerly members of the first two have become terrorists, they're still in no way comparable to the violence advocated and justified by the ideology behind al-Qaida.

Ash then prefers "jihadists", or especially "jihadist extremists" and "jihadist terrorists" and I think he's mostly right. Even there though there are slight problems. You could describe the likes of Hamas as jihadists, and while they're certainly terrorists or have been terrorists, considering they haven't launched a suicide bombing inside Israel now for a number of years, there's again a distinct difference between the aims of Hamas and the aims of al-Qaida. Similarly, there are jihadist groups in Iraq like the Islamic Army of Iraq (now widely believed to have turned almost completely on the Islamic State of Iraq), the 1920 Revolution Brigades and numerous others that are jihadist in ideology, but are completely opposed to attacks on civilians and have never used the tactic of suicide bombings. Regular readers might have noticed that I'm partial to the use of takfirist, at least in one definition of the word, that those who adhere to the ideology behind al-Qaida don't care who they kill, and exemplified by how the Islamic State of Iraq has murdered thousands of Shias through the specific targeting of Shia dominated areas in Iraq by suicide bombers. If such attacks even kill Sunnis, that's unfortunate, but that can still be justified by the belief that like the bomber they will be martyrs to the cause. The most accurate way to my mind to describe them then is "jihadist takfiris" or "takfiri jihadis", whichever you prefer, although jihadists is more than acceptable shorthand.

Ash ends the article with a flourish:

There is an obligation on those of us who are non-Muslims living in open societies like Britain, to choose our words carefully. Until someone comes up with a better one, I think "jihadists" is the most appropriate shorthand. There is, however, an equal and matching obligation on our Muslim opinion leaders. That is to condemn, audibly and unambiguously, the jihadists who threaten us all.


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A complete failure to find anyone accountable.

Ian Blair then seems set to continue as the head of the Metropolitan police, at least for another two and half years, upon which his current contract expires. It's anyone's guess as to whether it would then be renewed.

I don't think it can be overstated that, as it stands, absolutely no one has personally been found culpable for the systemic failures that culminated in an innocent man losing his life on that morning, in the most dreadful, vicious and reprehensible of circumstances. This isn't about being vindicative or demanding a scalp just for the sake of it; someone, in this case Sir Ian Blair, is ultimately responsible for what went wrong on the 22nd of July 2005, and then subsequently the behaviour of the Met as a whole right up to today.

If, instead of reacting in the way that the Met did, they had come out within a matter of hours of de Menezes being shot, come clean and said there's been a terrible tragedy, we're incredibly sorry, and we'll immediately let the Independent Police Complaints Commission investigate what went wrong and learn from its recommendations, all of the unpleasantness of the last two years could have been avoided. Instead, within an hour of de Menezes being shot dead, Ian Blair himself had written to the prime minister urging him to stop the IPCC from being allowed to investigate because of the "unique circumstances" of the time. As the first IPCC report stated, if Blair himself hadn't tried to halt their investigation, all of this could have been sorted out far sooner.

What followed from there was blatant lies, obfuscation and smears. The police, despite knowing full well that de Menezes had not been wearing a bulky jacket and that he hadn't leapt the barrier, allowed those details to become stated fact without putting the record straight. It's hard not to come to the conclusion that this was deliberate when you consider what followed: the leaking that he had overstayed his visa, as if this made a jot of difference to the fact that they had shot dead an innocent man, then later that a woman had accused him of rape, which when he was cleared of involvement in was hardly reported. If the IPCC investigation hadn't been leaked, there's the possibility we wouldn't have learned the truth of what happened for months more. The leaker responsible had her door broken down at dawn for her trouble.

Then, in the biggest and most outrageous insult of all, de Menezes was further smeared at the health and safety prosecution trial. A photograph comparing Menezes with Hussein Osman was according to a prosecution witness manipulated to make the obvious differences between the two less distinct, while Ronald Thwaites QC, in his closing argument wove a tale which directly contradicted evidence that the jury had heard, claiming that de Menezes didn't comply with officers who challenged him when he never was challenged, that he had behaved suspiciously when he had in fact acted like any other commuter would have done, and that Menezes might have "thought" he had drugs in his pocket which could have accounted for the way he acted, even though he didn't have any and didn't act out of the ordinary.

Sir Ian Blair could have pleaded guilty to the charge, especially when the prosecution case was so compelling. Instead, as the force today openly puts on its website, it's asked lawyers to consider whether it was in the public interest to contest the charge, and then whether an appeal is possible. Rather than learning from its mistakes, under Blair the force is still intent on challenging the actual facts of what happened on that morning. The document (PDF) itself only demonstrates the arrogance with which the lawyers responsible for the Met's woeful defence view their arguments, and shows their contempt for both the jury and the judge. Choice parts are:

9. Although the jury’s verdict is impenetrable as to precisely what they accepted and what they rejected of our defence, the judge made it plain at the conclusion of his summing-up that it was sufficient for the jury to make a finding against us on only one of the nineteen allegations in order to convict. It therefore does not follow from the fact of conviction that the jury accepted all of the prosecution’s allegations, or that we were found guilty of even one “catastrophic” failing as the prosecution labelled our shortcomings: a description which the judge did not adopt in his sentencing remarks.

This is what is called being in denial.

11. We knew and acknowledged that this was always going to be a difficult case in which to secure an acquittal. There was always a significant danger, as we think in fact came to pass, that the central issues would be obscured by too close a focus on the tragic outcome (which was not of itself a necessary element of the prosecution’s case), and that the jury would be unable to divest itself of hindsight and emotion fuelled in part by uninformed and adverse reporting before and during the trial.

How they came to such conclusions as these is anyone's guess. Rather than them not being able to rebut the case, built around the IPCC's report, it's all down to the jury's hindsight and "emotion". The part about the "uniformed and adverse reporting" is classic: the Met did everything it could to spin the coverage their way, lying, smearing and not correcting those "uninformed" reports, yet the guilty verdict is partly a result of the "adverse" reporting.

14. In summary, we feel that it was appropriate, right and reasonable for the MPS to mount a full contest to the charge and allegations which it faced. The MPS was accordingly entitled to seek the verdict of a jury.

See, this isn't just about whether there's a case for appeal, it's also about the lawyers, no doubt handsomely remunerated for their tactics in smearing de Menezes, justifying themselves.

Next, it's all the judge's fault:

18. The trial judge brought his influence to bear on the jury throughout the trial by the manner and frequency of his interventions and most conspicuously in his summing-up. We have little doubt that he conveyed to the jury his own unshakeable assessment that we could and should have done a better job. This should not have occurred. It was a matter about which strong complaint was made to the judge in open court. We are not, however, at all optimistic that an appeal on this ground would succeed.

If anyone should be complained about, it's Ronald Thwaites, but then he's one of the authors of this document, and unsurprisingly he doesn't criticise his own role in the Met's failure to get an acquittal.

All of this is without mentioning that Blair himself didn't know that an innocent man had been shot dead until the following morning, when even his secretary had heard the rumours. Those supporting Ian Blair know in their heart of hearts that the Met's behaviour both on that day and since then has been indefensible: that's why they're left with such intellectually bankrupt tactics as saying that "Al-Qaeda must be laughing at us while we busy ourselves pillorying the police who keep us safe," when the reality was that the police did the bombers' work for them, and then going off on tangents about how it's really about Ian Blair's success(!) that those who want him to go care about.

The failure for anyone to be found accountable though shouldn't be surprising. The police have killed innocent men before and got away with it. They will almost certainly kill more innocent people and get away with it too. Sir Ian Blair should have been sacked, seeing as he's too obstinate and too pig-headed to do the decent thing, to show that the police themselves are not above the laws that every other single one of us are held to. He has survived, but the Met itself has been tarnished.

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Wednesday, November 21, 2007 

"It's a funny old game." "What is?" "Chess."

I'm sure I'm not the only one who noticed that just before half-time during England vs Croatia the advertising hoardings were flashing up something along the lines of "got skills?"

They must have wanted to get the applications for both a new team and manager in early.

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56/8 days dies a further death.

The government's trying to sell more than one kind of cold sick.

Moving on from one abuse of power to a potential other, the plans to extend 28 days must lay even further in tatters following the evidence given to the home affairs select committee by both the director of public prosecutions, Ken Macdonald, and the former attorney general, Lord Goldsmith.

While yesterday saw the head of MI5, Jonathan Evans, fresh from predicting new doom to the press having to give evidence in private, believed to have said that it was not his role to comment on whether an extension was needed, which raises the question of why he needed to say such a thing behind closed doors, today's evidence was also expected but no less compulsive for it. Ken Macdonald, who previously made a principled and more than welcome call for the end to the war metaphor when tackling the terrorist threat, one that seems to have been accepted and put into practice, could perhaps have been expected to say that he saw no evidence for a further extension and that the CPS was happy with the current limit.

Lord Goldsmith, on the other hand, the man who rubber-stamped Blair's war through the swift modifying of his legal advice that had previously tied itself in knots, and also gave the OK to the dropping of the Serious Fraud Office inquiry into BAE's slush fund for the Saudis, would have been expected to stay loyal regardless of his departure from government. It's also astounding just because of what else Goldsmith got up to while attorney general, arguably tarnishing the post for good. Why be principled over detention without charge when he has had a hand in the enormous bloodshed in Iraq thanks to our unnecessary joining of the US invasion that his changing of his legal advice permitted? How could he have been prepared to put BAE above suspicion and make the rule of law a laughing stock yet resign over 90 days? Also, in general, to make your point about how you disagree with a government policy if you're a minister is to resign prior before it going before the House of Commons; can Goldsmith really be excused from doing this just because he was a peer? Was he perhaps motivated by the belief that if he did so, and the vote was lost, as everyone expected it would be, that he'd force Blair to resign with him?

It's impossible to know, but his intervention now is still welcome, if only because of the huge embarrassment it will cause Brown, especially at a time when the whole government is under pressure due to its startling incompetence. Revealing also was that he believed he was the only one in cabinet to feel so strongly; an indictment on the illiberal and supine nature of Blair's chosen few, especially those such as Patricia Hewitt and Peter Hain who had backgrounds in campaigning on civil liberties.

The only people now still calling for an extension seems to amount to Sir Ian Blair, a man responsible for the most heinous behaviour dolled out to a man shot dead in an anti-terrorist operation, some chief police officers who previously phoned up MPs' and so annoyed some that they felt they were being lobbied, and the government, with Brown sitting on anyone who betrays a moment's doubt, backed up by the Sun newspaper, the Times, the Express and probably the Mail. Everyone else is completely opposed, although where the public itself stands at large is unknown. In the current climate you can't quite believe that Brown would still attempt to force through the measure, but if all has died down again by next year all bets might once again be off.

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Home Office to deport failed asylum seeker back to Uzbekistan.

The base inhumanity of the government's policy on asylum seekers seems to have absolutely no depths. Prepared to send "failed" asylum seekers back to Zimbabwe, Sudan, Congo and Iraq, all out of an impossible effort to appease the tabloids which a few years ago decided that those fleeing persecution were actually all skiving chancers looking for something for nothing, the Home Office's latest jaw-dropping attempt at reducing the figures by one is to deport a member of the banned opposition party Erk back to Uzbekistan. That's right, the country which only a couple of weeks ago was exposed on Newsnight as using forced child labour to pick the cotton crop.

Jahongir Sidikov has according to Craig Murray had his plane ticket back to the country booked for this evening. For all I know as I write this he could already be on his way back. Beyond any possible argument, deportation back to such a repressive state as Uzbekistan is almost certainly illegal under international law. As Craig writes, the UN Convention against Torture forbids deportation back to any state where there are "substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture". There is no doubt whatsoever that in Uzbekistan torture is completely endemic in the criminal justice system; Human Rights Watch released a 90-page report (PDF) on November 7 documenting just that. To send Sidikov back to Uzbekistan would be the equivalent of handing him over to the Uzbek authorities, who will doubtless ensure this time that Sidikov remains "disappeared".

The case throws up huge questions about the entire asylum system, from those whom initially decided that he could be safely deported back to Uzbekistan to the judge who rubber stamped the deportation with apparent contempt for the defence's entire arguments. She refused to accept that Craig, who was to be a witness, could not get to the court even though he was in Africa; and that a letter from the opposition leader Mohammed Salih was genuine, even though Murray knows for a fact that it was. The much hyped "fast-tracking" seems to be working perfectly to the government's short-term political advantage: within 2 weeks Sidikov has been refused asylum, had his appeal rejected and is now to be flown back to Uzbekistan. The consequences of this mean that the lawyers for the asylum seekers have very little time to prepare their cases: all very good for the government's spin on reducing the numbers seeking asylum and the "failed" ones being deported; incredibly tragic and unfair for those seeking refuge.

This comes only a week after the Home Office was criticised, according to the BBC's Mark Easton, in the most fierce way he had ever seen by a independent committee, which found that only 8% of complainants to the Border and Immigration Agency were even interviewed, while 89% of subsequent investigations into complaints were "neither balanced nor thorough". No one though really much cares about systematic injustice when it happens to some of the most weak and often wrongly reviled in society. Occasionally, when it involves families like the Kachepas it moves outside the pages of the broadsheets and into the tabloids, but the Independent is around the only newspaper to have consistently highlighted the huge problems and injustices which litter the asylum system. There are, as one of the report's authors said, not a lot of votes in such issues, especially when "human rights" have been turned into such dirty words by the likes of the Scum.

That there might be the most important point. It's the job of the media to push for such potentially unpopular and minority causes, and as the tabloids, which used to lead such campaigns far more than they do now have changed from newspapers into daily celebrity report sheets, awareness itself has collapsed. Where also are the Liberal Democrat or backbench Labour MPs to call for an end to such chilling deportations? It's a truism that a society can be judged by the way it treats the most vulnerable and those that it imprisons, and when it deports those very same people to such flagrant human rights abusers as Uzbekistan, this country deserves to be condemned in the most strident possible terms.

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Tuesday, November 20, 2007 

Oops, we did it again...

How worried should people be, asks the BBC? It is quite clearly time, as the Simpsons has long advised us, to crack open each other's heads and feast on the goo inside.

As I'm one of the 35million in the country not affected by this most monumental of fuck-ups, I'm sure you'll excuse me if I find the whole thing ever so slightly amusing. On the surface, while no politician can personally be blamed for a "junior" official losing two discs containing the entire child benefit database, what certainly can be attributed culpability is this government's insistence on empty managerialism in rhetoric while being completely hopeless about actually managing anything in its own departments. Why in the name of all that is fucking holy did a "junior" official even have access to the entire fucking database? What sort of even slightly large business would put all the personal information of its customers onto discs, when they can so easily be lost or fall into the wrong hands, especially when they contain such sensitive data? Why was anyone allowed to put such things through the internal mail, when they should have been delivered by hand if delivered at all in hard copy? Why couldn't the data be transferred across a secure network rather than on two discs? Why was the data on the disc not even slightly encrypted, apparently only passworded? You can ask numerous more questions and still not even get close to finding out just how dysfunctional some government departments might well be.

This is of course the same government that wants to set-up yet another huge database with the details of every child on it, although "celebrity" children and others whose detail is deemed more "sensitive" than others might be lucky enough to be excluded. There's the Spine, upon which the medical details of everyone whom uses the NHS is to be uploaded. Finally, there's the daddy of them all, the ID card database, which campaigners have long been arguing is far more insidious and dangerous than the ID cards themselves. The government couldn't have proved them more right if it had tried.

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Blasphemy, Liberty and crucifix-shaped dildos.

It's good to see that Liberty are intervening in the ridiculous private prosecution brought by Christian Voice against Jerry Springer: The Opera, with a view to finally getting the 1698(!) law on blasphemy repealed. Only thing is that I'm by no means certain that the argument Liberty will be making will stand up to scrutiny. From their press release:

Liberty will argue that the offence of blasphemy violates Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights which protects free speech and that blasphemy should be decriminalised in English law because of its lack of legal certainty (as has been held by the Irish Supreme Court in Corway v Independent Newspapers [2000]).

If Stephen Green of Christian Voice has decent lawyers, they will most likely already know about the case of Nigel Wingrove vs the UK, where Wingrove took the BBFC to the European Court of Human Rights over their rejecting of his short film, Visions of Ecstasy, for a certificate. A short feature in which a nun mounts and caresses the crucified body of Christ, the ECHR ruling was that

“Freedom of expression constitutes one of the essential foundations of a democratic society. As paragraph 2 of Article 10 expressly recognises, however, the exercise of that freedom carries with it duties and responsibilities. Amongst them, in the context of religious beliefs, may legitimately be included a duty to avoid as far as possible an expression that is, in regard to objects of veneration, gratuitously offensive to others and profanatory”.

which upheld the BBFC's ban. This was in 1996, two years before the Human Rights Act, the insertion of the ECHR into British law, was introduced. A British court, if a similar case were to be brought before it now, might quite reasonably come to another conclusion. The ECHR ruling though will certainly be known to the judges in this case, and it could potentially rule out Article 10 as being the main basis for any such throwing out of a private prosecution, or of the blasphemy law itself.

Of course, this might not have any bearing on the case at all, as the BBFC passed Jerry Springer the Opera uncut at 18, which would mitigate against any such similar parallel being drawn between the two cases. The BBFC themselves though have as recently as two years ago used the blasphemy laws to cut a film, although not one likely to get the Grauniad or Liberty up in arms. Belladonna: My Ass is Haunted was cut by a whopping 28 minutes and 46 seconds with the following justification:

Cuts required to abusive and potentially harmful activity (in this case aggressive forcing of an oversized butt plug into woman's mouth and anus); a reference to underage sex; and to blasphemous activity (in this case insertion of crucifix-shaped dildos into anus and vagina of women role-playing as nuns). Cuts made in accordance with BBFC policy and Guidelines and the common law of Blasphemy.

You can get away then with Jesus saying that he's a bit gay; dildos shaped like crucifixes are however beyond the pale.

The easy answer to all of this would be to repeal the blasphemy laws, something that has been mooted before. With this government however ever more inclined to add to the legislation which limits freedom of speech rather than strengthens it, we might be waiting for a very long time, leaving the likes of Stephen Green and a reincarnated Mary Whitehouse to continue their own struggles through the courts.

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The clearing of Undercover Mosque and a certain law firm's involvement.

As widely predicted, Channel 4's Undercover Mosque programme was cleared by Ofcom of any breaches of the broadcasting code (PDF), including West Midlands Police's complaint that the editing of the programme had "completely distorted" what the speakers featured had said. Unlike some of the unfair criticism thrown at the police which claimed they had no evidence whatsoever on which to make such allegations, the Ofcom report features five examples (page 12) which the police gave which they said proved that the speakers' lectures had been misquoted. In the event, all are rather flimsy, and seem to more than give the benefit of the doubt to those featured whom in some cases were using bloodcurdling rhetoric which the police never disputed.

The 4th sequence the police included in their evidence that those featured had their views distorted is especially laughable, referring to Abdul Basit, who said that "the hero of Islam is the one who separated his head from his shoulders", talking of how a tabloid newspaper had praised a Muslim soldier who died with the headline "Hero of Islam". WMP's complaint wasn't that Basit hadn't said exactly that; it was that the comment had come from a far longer speech. It's hard not to be sympathetic towards Channel 4's dismissive comment on the WMP's complaint that the force had a "fundamental misunderstanding of the editing process" and betrayed "staggering naivety" about television production in general.

If the police felt they had to get involved, and on the basis of the evidence they produced their reasons for doing so were far from open and shut, the very last thing they ought to have done is go about it in the way they did, going straight to the media with what they were about to do rather than even bothering to consult Channel 4 and seek an explanation from them. It's become something of a practice for the police to run to the newspapers whenever they've got what they think is a "hot story", and especially considering their past record in doing just that in terrorism cases, you can't help but feel that this time round it's badly backfired. While the police have every right to complain about what they personally felt was a misleading and distorted documentary, the message sent by their actions was that those who were caught making highly offensive and extreme statements in places of worship were at best being defended by the police, with at worst giving the impression that they were above the law. In my view, the Crown Prosecution Service came to the right conclusion that no one should have been prosecuted for the views expressed in the programme; however condemnable and despicable the speeches were, they were not inciting racial hatred or violence, although in the case of "take that homosexual and throw him off the mountain" they came close. By their joint actions with the police however the distinct impression will have been sent that Channel 4 were the ones who should have been under the microscope.

David Davis goes a little over the top in suggesting that the police's actions risked "impeding freedom of speech", but it certainly merits asking the West Midlands police why they broadened their initial investigation from that of what was said on the programme onto those who made it. Some will and have cried political correctness, but considering that the CPS did consider whether any laws had been breached that hardly stands up to scrutiny. The most damage the police attitude will have done however is to the cause of moderates within the Muslim community: we need those who are spreading and disseminating such views in mosques to be exposed and shown up for how unrepresentative they are, and this is exactly what Undercover Mosque did. We also need to learn how to deal with such views when they are expressed in order to fight back against them; for the police to in effect accuse Channel 4 of being the ones in the wrong will have only have given those expressing such virulent viewpoints the feeling of impunity.

The most unexpected but revealing fact is left until near the end of the Ofcom bulletin (page 44). As well as the police complaining, the "Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia" also authorised a legal firm to moan for them. Just who were the fine upstanding body of lawyers who took the money off those who stand in charge of a system which sentences a rape victim to 200 lashes and six months imprisonment? You've got it, Schillings. This would be the same Schillings who last week co-signed a letter to the Grauniad calling for the immediate and unconditional release of the lawyers in Pakistan caught up in Musharraf's declaration of emergency purge, rights which those in the same position in Saudi Arabia have never had. Strangely, the cases involving the tyrants of Saudi Arabia and lying oligarchs like Alisher Usmanov aren't featured on Schillings' client press releases page, although it is shouting about its successful defense of footballer Anton Ferdinand.

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Monday, November 19, 2007 

The bash Brown years.

You would have thought, what with Alastair Campbell and although perhaps not by his own consent, but not without his condemnation either, Tony Blair during the Dr David Kelly row attempting to in effect destroy the BBC's independence that they might not view the two in that favourable a light. While the Hutton report continues to cast a shadow across the corporation's current affairs output, Campbell nevertheless had a sycophantic 3-part dramatisation/documentary of his piss-poor diaries produced by BBC2. Now, with only just six months gone since his departure, BBC1 is treating us to the Blair Years, a three-part look back over his tenure which, to judge by the first part last night on the Blair-Brown relationship is going to be similarly unquestioning and toadying to a fault.

The BBC will of course justify the lack of critical rigour in the programmes on the basis that Blair was hardly likely to co-operate with a series that lambasted him as a man who like all other prime ministers before him, fell into the delusion that he was the only one who could force through his "reforms", and who with it shed an inestimable amount of blood. Less easy to justify, if again the first one is anything to go by, is the way in which Gordon Brown is getting it in the neck from all his former enemies, with hardly anyone to defend him from their accusations and scarcely hidden loathing.

More surprising is that Blair and even Campbell are in fact the most magnanimous towards Brown, while the real sniping is left to the Blairites now out on their behinds, left outside of "Stalin's" age of change. Whether this is because of loyalty towards the party, the decision not to make things unnecessarily difficult for Brown or give propaganda to Tories, or out of monetary concern, with Campbell to eventually release an unedited version of his diaries and Blair yet to write his own memoirs it's difficult to tell, but it leaves Blair ironically being one of the very few in the programme to defend Brown. It gives a different side to Blair from the man we thought we knew, but it leaves the portions with him being questioned by friendly Iraq-war supporting hack David Aaronovitch less than thrilling, the platitudes being exchanged only highlighting the lack of interest displayed by Aaronovitch in getting to anything near the truth.

Around the only real criticism of Blair comes right near the beginning, where Lord Butler makes clear his contempt for the sofa-style of government practiced by Blair. It turns out neither Blair or Brown asked the cabinet what they thought about making the Bank of England independent; Blair replied that he knew they'd agree. After that mild ribbing, all the attention turns to Brown, but strangely as the programme went on you gained more and more sympathy for the clunking fist. Blair, for instance, notoriously stole Brown's NHS-funding budget announcement by going on Breakfast with Frost and bringing it up out of the blue, leaving the Treasury officials to do the sums involved at home on a Sunday, having to beg, borrow and steal in order to do so. No one had thought to consult the Treasury; yet Alan Milburn justified it as the right thing to do because of the constant negative press coverage of the NHS which needed to be replied to. Blair denied that Brown shouted at him "you've stolen my fucking budget", but his body language and failure to even look slightly sincere betrayed the reality.

That set the theme: Brown was always the stick in the mud. He objected to foundation hospitals, not according to Milburn again on practical grounds, but due to ideology, as if that somehow made it worse. The New Labour project, famously shorn and lacking in any principles or guiding background, held up thanks to Brown's daring to think of something as dispensable as dogma! Tuition fees was history repeating; Brown and his allies (Ed Balls was mentioned) plotted and conspired in the background, while the noble Blairites who were breaking the manifesto promise not to introduce top-up fees were only doing what was right and needed. Two of the Labour rebels on both policies popped up to say how if Brown didn't come out with his opposition, everyone knew full well what he thought and that his friends were themselves organising the opposition, with the programme implying this somehow amounted to high treason. One of the most unsympathetic Blairites, the whip Hilary Armstrong, voiced her belief that it was all more or less down to Brown. When the tuition fees rebellion got out of hand, with almost everyone believing the government was about to lose, it was only then that Brown and friends starting urging those they had previously encouraged to vote against to turn again. The only really new piece of information was that Blair confirmed he would have resigned had the vote been lost; in the event, they won by six votes, and Brown again had "bottled" it.

Thing is, on almost all these things that so angered the Blairites, Brown was right. To go on a television programme and announce a policy that the chancellor had long been planning just to turn the headlines, without even informing him of what you were about to do, is about as low as you can sink. Foundation hospitals, a pet project of Blair and Milburn's desire to force through change for the sake of it rather than for actual practical reasons were toned down from their initial incarnation thanks to Brown's opposition. A graduate tax, the policy that Brown offered instead of top-up fees, was far fairer and more egalitarian than having to pay over £3,000 a year up front through loans, which the well-off could pay immediately while everyone else was left with the debt hanging over them, the system which tuition fees introduced. Frank Field's sacking, a man much more at home with the Conservatives, over his intentions to chop welfare to the bone after his appointment by Blair, was more than welcome. Most of all, Blair had promised Brown that he would go at the end of his second term. When he decided that he was in fact going to stay on "to drive through his reforms", Brown was more than justified in telling Blair that he could never believe a single word he said again, even though the country at large had already long before came to that conclusion.

Instead, Blair was presented as having to put up with Brown's moods, sulking and general surly behaviour. Geoffrey Robinson was around the only former minister who contributed who was so much as slightly sympathetic towards Brown. Never was it suggested that Blair wasn't receptive towards Brown and that he had a right to have a say; something denied almost anyone other than a believer in the necessity of Blairism. You kept waiting for Hazel Blears or Tessa Jowell to pop up to fill the quota for gormless and hapless keepers of the faith. For them to feign anger when the "September coup" was brought up, as if Blair's hanging on for his own vanity's sake wasn't hugely damaging both the government and the Labour party, was the final straw.

Next week we're treated to Iraq, and how George 'n' Tony simply had to invade Iraq. If it's anywhere near as one-sided as last night's Tony show, expect it to end at the "mission accomplished" part.

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Usmanov-watch: Blanket denials from a man with a closet full of skeletons.

At long last, someone's finally managed to ask Alisher Usmanov pertinent questions about his relationship with Islam Karimov, dictator of Uzbekistan and Gafur Rakhimov, the Uzbek mafia boss. The Grauniad's actual profile and article are typically tame, although they expose the lie that Usmanov was pardoned by Gorbachev, but it's the unexpurgated answers that Usmanov bizarrely demanded be published in full which say a lot more than his bland denials seem to on first glance:

What can you tell us about your relationship with President Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan and his daughter, Gulnora Karimova?

There isn't any relationship between me and President Karimov and any members of his family.

Yeah, sure. Usmanov's pardon, arranged by the Uzbek supreme court, was nothing whatsoever to do with Karimov.

Mr Wise mentioned one Gafur Rakhimov. You are on record as saying that you have known Mr Rakhimov for many years. Is this correct? What can you tell us about your relationship with Mr Rakhimov, and what can you say about these allegations against him?

As I've explained previously, I only knew him since he was a neighbour of my parents. I have never had, nor do I have any business dealings with him.

How very convenient! As Craig Murray points out, this is the equivalent of saying that he only knew Mr Capone because he lived next door to him.

In December 1998, Lord Owen told the Observer newspaper that you had informed him that your criminal convictions were being annulled by Islam Karimov, the president of Uzbekistan. What can you tell us about your relationship with President Karimov?

I have answered this already.

Do you accept that President Karimov was involved in the annulment of your criminal convictions? If so, what part did he play?

My criminal convictions were not annulled, but reconsidered by the Supreme Court, during which the evidence was found proving that the case was a trumped-up one.

The decision on my complete discharge was taken by the Supreme Court, not by the President. I have no relationship with President Karimov, and this is the second time I have to answer the question.

By the way, the verdict was appealed in the Supreme Court in post soviet Uzbekistan by two other persons, who were convicted in the case. Being a citizen of another country I had no chance to do it. People spinning this rubbish prefer to ignore certain facts that don't fit in their theories.

Usmanov, despite being advised by one of the top libel firms and another top PR company doesn't seem to have learned that when you're in a hole you're meant to stop digging.

There have been several reports in the Russian media detailing your appearances at social events organised by President Karimov's daughter, Gulnora Karimova, at the invitation of Ms Karimova. At least one of these reports has appeared in a newspaper that you own. (Kommersant, November 20 2006). It has also been widely reported that Ms Karimova played a role in assisting Gazprom with its gas export deal, by which Gazprom secured the rights to exploit Uzbekistan's gas reserves. What can you tell us about your friendship with Ms Karimova?

I have only met Ms Karimova during official events organised by the Uzbekistan embassy and by the Cultural Fund of Uzbekistan in Moscow.

Is it correct that Ms Karimova also played a role in assisting Gazprom with its gas export deal?

I know nothing about this. I believe that all the deals by Gazprom are made in conformity with a common business practice, like in any public company.

Did you work in conjunction with Ms Karimova in securing the deal?

The nature of my limited acquaintance with Ms Karimova has already been clarified. I have never had any business dealings with her. Sincerely, I do not understand what makes you believe any claims to the contrary, especially coming from a person who hasn't presented nor does he have any evidence to support his position. I have no relationship, business or political alliances with Ms Karimova.

There's plenty here for the investigating hacks to dig into with a view to proving that Usmanov is lying. Expect plenty to be doing so right now.

Nothing that Usmanov has said here will dispel the circling rumours that he and Schillings attempted to stop from even being heard. Indeed, he might well have inadvertently given himself more than enough rope to hang himself with. His blanket denials of the many claims of Craig Murray and others rightly warrant further investigation; his attempt to be straight only furthers the belief that he has plenty to hide, and his previous charm offensives and playing of the victim have done nothing to halt the questions surrounding his background. Further legal flurries seem likely once the truth begins to seep out.

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Send in the lawyers.

Following on from the removing of comments from her blog after she idiotically accused Ben Goldacre of being involved in a "serious breach of parliamentary procedure" for downloading evidence freely available from said committee's website, Nadine Dorries is now threatening to send in the suits against Alex "Recess Monkey" Hilton after he posted a screengrab of her 22-year-old daughter's Facebook profile on his front page (now removed, replaced with this post), a grab which contained the use of one or two racial epithets:

Unfortunately, today’s blog is a rebuttal in defence of my family. As an MP I don’t mind it if people want to take a pop at me – it comes with the territory. However, not my kids.

Every young person I know has a Facebook profile, my daughters are no exception and use it to keep in touch with their friends. Unfortunately Alex Hilton, aka Recess Monkey, had no scruples about trawling through my daughter’s profile in order to damage her reputation.

My daughter’s face book account was the No 1item on his web site for a number of days.

A comment on my daughter’s site had been left by one of her best friends Chido Kawunda. Chido used the ‘N’ word when discussing this year’s Big Brother incident with Charlie.

It has to be said that involving children in political disputes, regardless of the details, is rightly looked down upon. Dorries might have more right to complain however if she hadn't herself liberally splashed photographs of her offspring all over her blog, which just invites snooping. In any case, if Hilton had wanted to especially damage Dorries he would have gone and named the woman in the photograph as Dorries' daughter; he instead asked readers to guess. Oh, and I don't have a Facebook profile, but that might be because I don't have any friends.

That isn't quite enough for Dorries though:

Alex Hilton attempted to insinuate that the comment was made by my daughter in a derogatory way about black women. This is definitely not the case – ask Chido; and by the way, the issue is now on it’s way to Simon Smith at Schillings , to ask his advise as to whether or not this matter is libel and actionable.

Dorries really ought to know better to seek legal advice as her first course of action; and definitely be aware that Schillings are most certainly not the flavour of the "blogosphere" at the moment.

I suppose one wouldn’t expect anything else from the researcher of a Labour MP. It makes you wonder what kind of MP employs a person who spends his day going through Facebook accounts. Is this done on a Parliamentary computer I wonder? One paid for by the tax payer, in the time he should be working, again, paid by the tax payer?

It is not lost on me that he chose to highlight the Facebook account of my 22 year old daughter. However, has he been through the Facebook accounts of all of my girls? One of them is only 15 – and if he has – there’s a word for people like you Alex.

Take me on all you want, but mess with my kids…..

It's too bad then that while Hilton's website is most certainly not state-funded, Dorries' most definitely is. Oh, and then she suggests he might be a paedophile even though Dorries' 15-year-old daughter wasn't invoked until Dorries herself brought her into it. It's also somewhat ironic that despite Dorries making clear that she's ready for anyone to take her on, she removed the comments from her blog at the exact moment that err, others did over her slurring of Ben Goldacre.

Dorries is though of course the blogging doyen of the Tories: her endless anecdotes about her wonderful existence, what knickers she wears and how she'd undergo cosmetic surgery all being highly interesting to the Sir Herbert Gusset alikes all across blogland. Fuck with her and the big boys pile in, as demonstrated over on Iain Dale's. I'd be careful Alex, or Schillings might call on Alisher Usmanov to come and sit on you.

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Scum-watch: We know better than the workers.

Today's Scum is highly annoyed about Brown and Alan Johnson daring to decide not to hand over yet more vast sums to private health companies who were getting paid for operations and treatments regardless of whether or not they actually were used or not:

GORDON Brown was slammed last night for blowing £100million of taxpayers’ cash scrapping Tony Blair’s NHS reforms.

The PM could have built two children’s hospitals, or hired 4,000 nurses with the cash.

Instead, he has used it to compensate private health firms after axing their NHS contracts.

Instead of leveling the blame with Blair and Johnson's predecessors for drawing up contracts which paid a lump sum to the private sector firms rather than on the actual amount of work they did, Brown gets in the neck. £100million is a disgraceful amount of compensation to pay to firms which must be laughing all the way to bank with the way the NHS works; they build hospitals with fewer beds than the ones they're replacing, and then have years' of payments still to look forward to under the hugely wasteful private finance initiative, and when they get their contracts canceled because they're not treating enough patients they still get paid! The blame however lies with Blair and his ideological fervour for marketised solutions which has imposed such madness on the NHS.

The Scum's leader knows who's really to blame though, and would you believe it, it's the unions:

AXEING private contracts for the NHS is foolish.

Gordon Brown should think again.

The NHS needs competition to drive up standards. It needs private firms to perform the ops and services so waiting lists can be cut.

This is nonsense. Almost all of the centres being scrapped were not seeing the volume of work they expected to; patients were voting with their feet through the choice system to go with the state rather than the private sector, even if it meant a slightly longer wait. As Alan Johnson set out, one of the services in the West Midlands had a take-up of 5%. Continuing to pay for 100% take-up when it was only doing 5% is economically insane.

Spending £100million to compensate companies for tearing up their contracts is shocking.

True, but so is continuing to pay private health firms in full when their centres were sitting idle, especially when their introduction in the first place was completely unnecessary.

And it’s a disgusting price to pay for appeasing the unions, who only care about protecting jobs.

Christ, unions caring about protecting jobs? What's next? The police only caring about catching criminals? Rupert Murdoch only caring about his own self-interest? In any case, the unions don't just care about protecting jobs; they also care about how the NHS is little by little being broken up, being readied for inevitable full-scale privatisation whenever the government decides that a free at the point of use service is no longer "economically sustainable", as the treatment of Karen Reissmann demonstrates.

Mr Brown should ignore their selfish bleating.

And put patients’ lives first.

Quite right. The Sun and the CBI know better than the workers on the front line what's best for the NHS, and yet more private snouts in the public trough is the only way forward.

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Saturday, November 17, 2007 

The clunking fist's return to control freakery.

David Miliband, in advance of making his first major speech on the European Union, lets his colleagues brief the media on what he's going to say. The Grauniad and Financial Times both run stories indicating that he was to suggest, along the lines of Nicolas Sarkozy's recent proposals, that the EU should expand its defence capabilities and also become a model global power. When Miliband makes the speech, the part about the defence was dropped entirely, and while the bit about being a model global power stayed in, he also said the following, via Nosemonkey:

“The EU is not and never will be a superpower. An EU of 27 nation states or more is never going to have the fleetness of foot or the fiscal base to dominate. In fact economically and demographically Europe will be less important in the world of 2050 that it was in the world of 1950.”

Hardly the optimistic, praising and strengthening speech that was set out in the briefings. So what happened? The Times ecstatically informs us (while the Scum has a similar article):

David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, was humiliated by the Prime Minister yesterday when he was forced to remove pro-European passages from a speech and drop his policy initiative on European defence.

Gordon Brown’s intervention, hours before Mr Miliband was due to speak in Bruges, again demonstrated the willingness by the Prime Minister to overrule his ministers at short notice, as well as having a more cautious attitude towards Europe.

Mr Brown ordered Mr Miliband to drop explicit references to an “EU military capabilities charter”, which would have identified targets for investment, research and training.

In a reminder of what happened all too often during the Blair years, Brown was terrified of the reaction of the Murdoch press. Already under fire for failing to supply the referendum they demand, journos on the Murdoch papers, as Martin Kettle writes, demanded an explanation for Miliband daring to go "off message":

The story about changes to the Bruges speech had emerged from Thursday's regular lobby briefing at Westminster, at which the Downing Street press secretary Michael Ellam had been quizzed by the Sun about that morning's previews of the Miliband speech in the Guardian. That doesn't mean Ellam was wise to say what he did to the lobby about the speech. Nor does it rule out the possibility of further private anti-European briefings to the Murdoch papers from No 10. Just because you're paranoid, it doesn't mean they're not out to get you.

Yesterday's Sun editorial certainly made clear what it thought of Miliband. Since disappeared, it argued that Miliband's proposal endangered Nato, which I might paraphrase slightly from memory, "had ensured 60 years of peace and seen off the Soviet Union." Both of those claims are highly arguable, with the EU and its predecessor organisations having just as much a hand in keeping the peace as Nato, and the Soviet Union collapsed in on itself, not through the actions of any other individual, but both the Scum and the Times had sent a message to Brown that the infantile Euroscepticism they both espouse was not to be endangered in any way by the actions of such an inexperienced whippersnapper as Miliband.

While Brown was never going to fully abandon the incestuous relationship his predecessor had with the Murdoch press, even though it helped towards his downfall, his attempts to woo his friend Paul Dacre instead suggested that no longer would the Sun be the house journal of Downing Street. As with much else, Brown appears to have had to row back, stung by his current weakness, into returning to his all too well-known control freak ways. First he told Alan West to change his mind immediately on extending the pre-charge detention limit, another topic close to the Sun's heart, which was enraged by how West might have undermined the whole policy by his failure to be certain in his defense of the Sun's pet project, then he humiliates Miliband by briefing against him and making him look like a fool by ordering changes to his most important address so far. The lack of change from the man who was so certain of how it was needed for the country of large has never been so apparent.

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Neil Clark and blogging narcissism.

There are plenty of unpleasant creatures within the "blogosphere", most thankfully on the far-right in America, but Neil Clark is doing his level best to try to emulate their success in being both self-promoting while also having a disgustingly high opinion of themselves. Having won one of the numerous "best blog" awards there are, he calls on CiF for a blogging revolution, claiming that his views are the most in line with those of the general public.

Unity provides an excellent fisk, so I'll only go through some of his weaker arguments:

British political bloggers are overwhelmingly middle class and male, London-based and university educated. An extraordinary percentage of them seem to work, or have worked, in financial services. Genuinely working class voices do exist (see the blogs of The Exile, Martin Meenagh, Charlie Marks and Mick Hall) but there are all too few of them and as a consequence the issues which most concern ordinary working people - rising utilility and food bills, poor public transport, pitiful state pensions, worsening employment conditions and escalating street crime - are largely ignored.

I can't do much, like Unity, about being male, but I'm not middle class, not in or from London, and haven't been to university. Was going to, but didn't due to various reasons. I'd suggest the reason why most of the issues that Clark suggests are largely ignored are because they make, rightly or wrongly, for sterile political debate. Everyone's against rising bills, for better public transport and pensions, and concerned about street crime - and they're all concerns that bloggers themselves can't individually do much about. That's why blogs tend to focus more on the issues where there is great controversy and debate - immigration, foreign policy, law and order, civil liberties, etc. I'd also suggest that the reason why those issues are the ones that most occupy bloggers are because they're ones which large sections of the media also ignore, or have an almost uniform opinion on. The fact the bloggers obviously tend to be political anoraks or party wonks also adds into why those issues get much more discussion than the bread and butter issues tend to.

Also, I'm sure I'm not the only one who despairs when the likes of Hazel Blears come out with bullshit like all those on doors only talk about schools, the NHS and crime; as if those are the only things that politicians can do anything about, should be interested in, or as if that means most voters are completely inward-looking. While cynicism about politics might be at a new high, debate on the larger issues themselves has never been so vibrant.

A classic example of this in occurred in the summer, when a group of allegedly "anti-war" bloggers decided that the most urgent priority of the day was not campaigning for an immediate withdrawal of British troops from Iraq - or trying to prevent potentially catastrophic US/UK strikes on Iran, but linking up with notorious pro-war hawks to try to gain asylum for Iraqi interpreters who had worked for the illegal occupying forces.

However anti-war or opposed to the Iraq disaster you are, it's simply wrong to say that the occupying forces are there illegally. They're both mandated by UN resolutions and the Iraqi government, although perhaps not the Iraqi people, still support their presence. Clark also relies on a false dichotomy; that somehow you can't want the troops out of Iraq immediately or oppose war with Iran whilst also calling for the Iraqi interpreters to be given refuge. Notoriously, Clark described those who risked their lives then because of their hope that regardless of how the war came about, it meant the removal of a vicious dictator and the chance of building a new Iraq quislings, and others who support his stance have also called them scabs, as if they were somehow breaking a strike against working with the occupiers. Perhaps Clark ought to read today's dispatch in the Guardian from Ghaith Abdul-Ahad
in Basra. If he has any humanity, it might just prick his rhetorical bubble:

The assassins chat, eat kebabs and stroll around in small groups, discussing their sinister trade. They buy and sell names of collaborators, Iraqis who worked for the British, as well as journalists and uncooperative police officers, businessmen and the footsoldiers of other militias.

Depending on the nature of their perceived crime, the price on a collaborator's head can vary from couple of hundred dollars to a few thousand. The most valuable lives these days in Basra are those of the interpreters and contractors who were employed by the British before they withdrew from the city.

Clark would leave the "quislings" to their fate. Somehow I don't think that view would win him much support with either the working class he claims to have solidarity with or "the majority of ordinary people."

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Friday, November 16, 2007 

Scum-watch: The day in a life of the tabloid.

Occasionally, you can get a complete picture of the world view of a newspaper simply by reading just one issue of it. While with most, especially the broadsheets, you might broadly know what it's in favour of, to really understand its exact philosophy you'd have to study it over a number of days, if not longer. Today's Sun, in one sense, is a masterpiece of gutter journalism: it gets its message across, leaves no nuance, uses the most alarmist, provocative and brutal language, and when it needs to, or doesn't need to, it lies and systematically distorts.

The report on Lord Chief Justice Phillips' speech to the Howard League for Penal Reform is partially the result of the tabloid conundrum: how do you convert a speech running to 26 pages in a PDF into a minor article of just over 200 words? The answer is that you only focus on a tiny piece of the actual speech, that of Phillips quite reasonably saying that the prisons are full to bursting and that Labour is chiefly responsible for that fact. On that, the Sun would broadly agree; what it doesn't agree with is that Phillips dares to believe that there is a better option rather than that of building ever more prisons, something he goes into at length in the actual speech. All this adds up to in the Sun's reportage is that he compares the price of 30 years' imprisonment to how it could be spent on education or health, one of his weakest arguments, considering that only murderers or terrorists are ever sentenced to 30 years, while ignoring his more coherent and forceful points about prisons in general. Then examine the language: rather than those in prison being offenders or criminals, they are variously either "villains", a Victorian way of describing them if ever there was one, or "crooks".

To further make clear the Sun's own viewpoint, the same journalist who wrote the report also submits a short "comment" piece, on the same page. In his words, "a record 80,000 villains are off our streets and behind bars," and when making the distinction between prison and other punishments, he describes the alternative to prison as "fines and soft community sentences." The latter part of Phillips' speech is dedicated to community punishments, which the Sun deems soft, and how they can be strengthened, yet none of this is deemed important enough to be distilled to the reader, presumably because it just might undermine the journalist's quavering indignation about it all: "Once again, the Lord Chief Justice has shown how out of touch he is. Ordinary people WANT crooks to be banged up." Phillips is so out of touch that he himself went on a day's community punishment "undercover" to see what it was like, and he describes his experience during the speech, something that a Sun hack is never likely to do, except to expose how "useless" they are. The statement that ordinary people WANT crooks to be banged up is the Sun pretending to be speaking up for the commoner, when there is no evidence to show that the general public do want "crooks" to banged up. Indeed, a recent Grauniad poll found the country split down the middle on whether the solution was more prisons. The Sun does have previous on distorting Phillips' public utterances; this time, rather than coming out with it in the actual report, it does it by its side instead.

Next up, the Sun reports on our friend Robert Stewart who was caught having sex with his bicycle. Another lesson in tabloid language: like with the various adjectives for criminals, he's a perv, a weirdo and an oddball. He might quite possibly be all three, but whether he ought to be humiliated any more for what he did is another matter.

Following on from prison and sex, the Sun settles on another best-seller and a moral panic to boot: the kids are most certainly not all right. Taking the government's survey of 115,000 10-15 year olds (PDF), it selects only the most troubling data from it and leaves all the rest on the editing floor:

"BINGE drinking, drug use and smoking is RIFE among Britain’s schoolchildren, an alarming new survey reveals.

At least one in seven kids aged 12 to 15 has dabbled with illegal substances, it found."

It starts by removing the 10 to 11 year olds from the equation so that the figures are even more potentially scare-worthy. The survey asks how many have taken an illegal substance in the past four weeks for example, with 80% saying they've never taken drugs, 7% saying they haven't in the last month, 9% that they've smoked cannabis, 3% solvents, 3% other drugs and 6% prefer not to say. Doesn't look so frightening then, does it? That's the thing with statistics, they can be incredibly easily manipulated, something that the Scum has accused the government of doing, but which it seems also more than prepared to do itself. It does this partially by converting the percentages into one in however many, which the average layman is less likely to easily understand, so that those who have taken a Class A drug becomes 1 in 30, which is almost meaningless unless you put it the context of it being the equivalent of around one child in the average class taking such a substance. It also doesn't make clear that the figures refer to in the last month, so it becomes "takes", giving the impression that they're regular users when that might not be the case at all.

Half of kids aged between ten and 15 admit to underage boozing and a fifth regularly get drunk. And more than one in five has smoked a cigarette.

Again, the question here was have you ever had an alcoholic drink, not just a sip. Unsurprisingly, 48% said yes. Most 10 to 15 year olds would have at some point in their life had a drink, and some parents might even encourage the continental approach of a glass of wine or similar with a meal, but the Sun converts innocent or supervised drinking into "underage boozing". More potentially worrying is that 40% of those over 13 admit to being drunk once in the last month, but the Sun strangely doesn't use that stat. 73% say they have never smoked a cigarette, which again, doesn't get an airing.

Tories last night claimed the figures were more proof of Britain’s “broken society” under Labour. Shadow children’s minister Tim Loughton said: “Gordon Brown is in denial about this problem, and his Government is unable to offer any solutions to it.

Finally then, we get the standard quote from the opposition political party capitalising on the more troubling parts of the survey. If anything, it actually provides plenty of evidence against the Tories' bullshit about the "broken society"; the biggest worry is exams, with 51% concerned by them, rather than bullying, which worries 25%. It certainly doesn't suggest that there has been a moral breakdown, or that today's children are any worst behaved than earlier generations. The best summings up are provided by the chief inspector of schools, and amazingly, Ed Balls:

"The survey presents much that is positive about life for children and young people today. However, it is also clear that more needs to be done to address children and young people’s worries and concerns about how safe they feel; about exams and tests; and about what would help them learn better and where they need to go for help when they have a problem."

"This survey shows that the majority of children and young people in England today feel happy, safe, enjoy life and are doing well at school. But the survey also shows challenges and pressures that we need to address with decisive action."

Right, so we've had crime and prisons; sexual perversion; kids on drugs and booze; what's left? Of course, immigration!

THE NUMBER of migrants coming to Britain has hit a record high – as officials admit underestimating figures AGAIN.

Some 591,000 arrived last year – up from 327,000 a decade ago.

Of the 400,000 leaving to go abroad, just over half were UK citizens – the first time that figure has gone above 200,000.

The figures were published as officials said the number of arrivals in 2004 and 2005 was 41,000 HIGHER than predicted.

Earlier this month ministers admitted 1.5million migrants had come to Britain since 1997 – TWICE their original estimate.

Here the Sun is hedging its bets ever so slightly. The number of migrants arriving here last year was a record - but only by 5,000 on 2004's figure. When you take into account that the net migration figure that year was 244,000, as compared to last year's 191,000, due to the rise in emigration, 2004, the year the A8 new European states joined, was in actual fact when the highest net number of migrants arrived. The Sun doesn't comment on the emigration figure, which includes just less than half of those who had already come here to work going back home, probably because that undermines the idea that all those who have migrated here have stayed. Figures for those who come here for less than a year then return home aren't kept; they're counted in, but not counted out, which also distorts the figures somewhat. Instead of pointing out how the figures of those migrating here have now dropped for two years, and that the emigrant figures suggest that we're now becoming a revolving door rather than a permanent stop for migrants, the Sun brings back up the mess up from earlier in the month, but gets it wrong. 1.5 million migrants have taken up new jobs since 1997, not have simply come here.

After all of that, we have the very voice of the Sun itself, just in case you can't detect it in any of the above. As the Sun often does, it returns to one of its very favourite themes - and lies about it. (Again, the article seems to have disappeared into the ether with it changing to tomorrow's leader rather than leaving a permanent entry, so you'll have to trust me on what it said.)

RABBLE-rousing Abu Hamza has used our liberal system of justice to get away with murder — almost literally.

Which is completely untrue to begin with. He hasn't got away with anything - as his current stay in a prison cell demonstrates. If the Sun's really so outraged by how long Hamza escaped justice for, it perhaps ought to take it up with the security services, who were more than aware of what Hamza was up to and might well have even had an agreement with him regarding how as long as he didn't advocate violence against the UK itself they left him alone.

Three of the four 7/7 Tube bombers were radicalised while attending the Finsbury Park mosque where he spouted his evil creed.

This is the real lie. There is no evidence whatsoever that the bombers were radicalised while visiting the Finsbury Park mosque; indeed, if they ever did attend it. The only source that has ever alleged that three of the bombers listened to Hamza was the Times, in just one story the day after Hamza was sentenced. No other newspapers have seen fit to investigate and follow up this potentially explosive revelation, which is usually the sure sign of it being untrue.

Convicted 9/11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui and shoe-bomber Richard Reid were fans.

Established facts? In the Sun? Amazing!

It was only after a campaign led by The Sun that he was locked away for inciting murder.

Ah yes, it was the Sun wot did it!

Some might balk at this post and wonder what the point of it is meant to be. After all, tabloids are meant to be provocative, entertaining, and strong, unrelenting voices: not all of us are going to want the staid tones of the Times or the Grauniad, or the pompous handed down opinions of the "commentariat"; that's why so many enjoy swearblogging and fisking, preferably with gratuitous insults. That's all more than fair, and I'm certainly not suggesting that they should be stopped from doing any of the above. It's also probably true that the tabloid press are not any worse than they've ever been; certainly, they have to now crouch pieces that would previously have been openly racist and bigoted in less certain terms, or cushion the blow through mealy-mouthed language which actually adds up to the same thing. It has to be remembered however that the Sun is still the highest selling newspaper in the country, shifting over 3 million copies. For some people, this newspaper is the main source of news, or the only source of news for those who aren't that interested. Through such openly biased, unfair and in some cases plain wrong reporting, a completely false image of this country comes across. As the quote at the top of this blog suggests, the very nature of the press affects the nature of politics, and who can argue that the Sun, or its owner, doesn't wield power that most politicians themselves would kill for? The examples in this post are just a small snapshot of how it sets about setting its own agenda on just one day. Isn't it time, rather than just blaming the politicians for the cynicism with which the public views politics, that we examine the fourth estate's role in furthering the disconnect that seems to be becoming ever more pronounced?

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Thursday, November 15, 2007 

Me and My Man Breasts over the correction of injustice.

The quashing of Barry George's conviction for the murder of Jill Dando will rightly be making headlines tonight and tomorrow, but another Barri also had his conviction for murder thrown out today and a retrial ordered.

Barri White was convicted of murder in 2002 for the death of Rachel Manning and jailed for life. Keith Hyatt was convicted of perverting the course of justice, helping White to transport Manning's body to a golf club where her body was subsequently found, and jailed for 5 years. Like with Barry George, the conviction of White hinged on questionable forensic evidence;
seven particulates found to be a match with that of the seat of Hyatt's van were found on Manning's skirt. The BBC's Rough Justice, which investigated the case, commissioned Dr Peter Bull to re-examine the evidence. He found that not only was there nothing whatsoever to link Hyatt's van to Manning's skirt, but also that the complete absence of mud particles meant there was nothing to link either White or Hyatt to where Manning's body was found. The "expert" who had done the initial examination admitted in the documentary that he had not done the work necessary to reach the conclusions that he did.

The Rough Justice documentary didn't just rely on Bull's testimony; the reporter, Mark Daly, who had previously went undercover in the Greater Manchester police and exposed the racist attitudes of some recruits in the Secret Policeman documentary, initially set out to prove his producer wrong over her belief that White and Hyatt were innocent. Daly attempted to recreate what the prosecution case put that White and Hyatt had done after Manning made her last phone-call to Hyatt's home for White to come and pick her up, a call made at a phone-box on a housing estate near to the club to where White and Manning had separated for the last time. He found that it would have been impossible for the pair to do what the prosecution case stated they had; there simply wasn't enough time. The full Rough Justice documentary can be watched on the website set-up to campaign for the release of White.

Despite Rough Justice's numerous successes in proving the innocence of those convicted in at least 15 different cases,
the BBC has now axed the programme as a direct result of the cuts outlined by the director general, Mark Thompson, affecting the current affairs output. Management points to how Panorama has also investigated miscarriages of justice, including those of Angela and Ian Gay, Angela Cannings and most recently Barry George. All though have involved high profile cases, completely unlike those involving men like Barri White and Keith Hyatt, which made little to no national impact, cases which Rough Justice focused upon. The BBC will however continue the funding of BBC3, costing roughly £92 million a year, which has brought such delights to our screens as Little Britain, Tittybangbang, Little Miss Jocelyn, Fuck Off ... I'm Fat, Me and My Man Breasts, Teens Addicted to Porn and Fat Men Can't Hunt.

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Great Grauniad articles and yet more on 28/56/58 days.

The Grauniad tends to go in fits and starts. It publishes the barrel-scrapings of Russell Brand, one of the latest wave of comedians that couldn't carry a laugh in a bucket, alongside such titans as Alan Carr and Jimmy Carr (no relation, apart from their inability to be humourous) which are enough to make you want to try and commit suicide using laxatives, then makes up for it by printing two wonderful comment pieces on the same day that follow a similar theme.

Timothy Garton Ash, who can come across as very much the Oxford liberal, but is always brilliantly readable, gets off the fence he often sits on and calls for the rolling back of the surveillance state, while the novelist Hari Kunzru considers the case of the "lyrical terrorist" and wonders if he too could shortly be raided by the police. Rachel also writes a typically lucid piece on how she believes the case for longer than 28-days detention hasn't been made on CiF.

The government can't even make up its mind on the exact time limit; it now appears to be suggesting 58 days, while Lord Carlile, the man picked to review the terror laws, who seems to have gone native after the security services and police have doubtlessly plied him with their most voluminous doom-mongering intelligence on how the sky is dark and we're all going to die believes there will "one or two people" arrested over the next few years for whom longer than 28-days detention will be necessary. His sort of compromise is that there needs to "better judicial scrutiny," which is of little use, as has already been demonstrated. The police can say whatever they like to a judge to justify continuing detention, regardless of the facts, as they seem to have done in the past, having kept two men for 28-days only to then release them without charge. The other latest proposals are that more than 28-days would only be authorised when "multiple plots, or links with multiple countries, or exceptional levels of complexity" are involved." The police already argue that the cases they've had to deal with involved all or one or two of the above; whenever a "new" plot or otherwise is meant to have been foiled, all that would happen would be an instant appeal for the new powers to be implemented, regardless of whether they were really needed or not.

Carlile rightly argues against the use of the Civil Contingencies Act, which can provide another 30-days of detention without charge if invoked, as the equivalent of declaring a national emergency, but both the government's new and old proposals would do exactly the same thing. Putting through legislation that would allow for 56 or 58 days detention without charge would be the final move from a liberal democracy to an authoritarian one. As Timothy Garton Ash argues, we've moved from being the freest society in Europe to being the most watched, and with it, fearful. We may be tolerant, but beneath it we're increasingly anxious, even frightened, especially by the bloodcurdling speeches by the heads of MI5 and the ratcheting up of security which looks increasingly at odds with the actual threat from terrorism that is posed. Blocking and campaigning against any extension to the detention without charge limit ought to be the first move in the fightback.

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Scum-watch: Saying sorry to Ken.

One in a continuing series eyeballing the Scum's embarrassing apologies:

In Monday’s Sun we reported London Mayor Ken Livingstone had ‘accused the 7/7 bombers of killing the “the wrong people” and that “the right people” presumably were Tony Blair and his Cabinet’.

In fact no such comment was made by Ken Livingstone and we apologise to Mr Livingstone for the error.

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Wednesday, November 14, 2007 

Bike fucks man.

What is this country coming to when you can't have sex with your bicycle in the privacy of your own bedroom?

To be serious, if it's possible in a case such as this, whose business is it that someone is performing a sex act with any inanimate object when it's in a room not normally accessible to the public? Would the two cleaners have reported the man to the hostel manager if they'd walked in on him simply masturbating? How on earth can his entry on the sex offenders register be justified when nothing and no one was hurt by what he was doing, except for his pride and self-worth? Seems like Robert Stewart was unfortunate enough to be burst in on by two prudes and subsequently dragged through the courts by police and others who should get a sense of humour and idea of what actually is a sexual offence.

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The illusion of safety.

We're saved!

Gordon Brown needs our help. Writing in today's Scum, the newspaper of choice when you want to reach out to the nation itself (one person in the comments demands the right to beat the **** out of any burglar, another condemns the notion of bringing back of those with British residency from Guantanamo Bay, while yet another has a shopping list which goes from stopping unjust wars, ending immigration, throwing out preachers of death and withdrawing from the EU) he urges commitment from every community and vigilance from every one of us. Just because you live on the island of Skye don't think that they're aren't bearded lunatics ready to blow themselves up at a moment's notice. Loose lips sink ships.

So commences yet another spasm of panic and doom-mongering on the terrorist threat. This one will involve "stepping up security" everywhere you could possibly think of where a suicidal lunatic with a backpack of explosives or patio gas canisters might consider blowing himself up/setting himself on fire. The government will be sending out advice to "to thousands of cinemas, theatres, restaurants, hotels, sporting venues and commercial centres, as well as all hospitals, schools and places of worship to advise them on how to keep visitors safe against terrorism." You might have thought the government would get its priorities right: shouldn't they be sending out advice to hospitals on how to stop patients from contracting infections while residing on the wards, the number of deaths from which each year vastly outnumber even the worst that the terrorists could throw at us? Bags at the most busy rail stations will now be checked, which will undoubtedly mean ethnic minorities getting repeatedly targeted, as it would be impossible to search anywhere near even a tenth of the numbers that flow through the system without causing enormous delays. Restrictions on baggage on flights will be lifted slightly, with passengers allowed to request permission to carry more than one item of hand luggage, while the ludicrous and idiotic bans on liquids and other large items will remain in place.

All these proposals and more are the result of a review by the ex-admiral "Sir" Alan West (Baron West of Spithead, which is what you should do if you come across him), elevated to the Lords so he could become security minister in Brown's government of no obvious talents, West being the response to Cameron giving a similar job to Lord Stevens, who you can expect to come up with suitably inclusive measures, given his past sectarian rants on how it's all the Muslims' faults. West though is nothing if not self-deprecating. Despite drawing up today's security review, he's in actual fact just "a simple sailor," and nothing more. West's contrition was based on how he told the Today programme, when questioned about the government's view on extending pre-charge detention beyond 28 days, that he himself was "not totally convinced" about the need to do so; two hours later, and after a swift Stalinist re-education at a pre-planning meeting with the Dear Leader, West came out and told everyone that an extension was "absolutely needed" and that he was, despite being not convinced before he entered the dacha, now "convinced that's the case."

Brown, remember, wants to reach a consensus decision over pre-charge detention. It's nothing to do with wanting to prove he can force a measure through that Blair couldn't, no way. In reality, both the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats are opposed to an extension, as is the Telegraph, the Independent and the Grauniad; only the tabloids (I'm unsure over the Mirror's views) and the Times, no doubt similarly instructed by Murdoch as West was by Brown, support the measure. This consensus is so important that the home secretary can conveniently forget just how long is really necessary when questioned about it, as long as she supports the measure, while West's views are quickly corrected when he wonders aloud about the implications for civil liberties. "Liberty" Brown can talk a good game, as evidenced by his speech on liberty, yet when it comes to the existential threat to the nation from takfirists, all such concern goes out the window. Less concern about the undermining of liberty as a whole, more armed police and bag searches at railway stations; the head of MI5 can issue his dire warnings about the kids getting brainwashed by Islamists in public to newspaper editors, but when it comes to giving evidence on whether the pre-charge needs to be extended it has to be done behind closed doors. At least that's a step-up from Manningham-Bullshitter's refusal to even go before the parliamentary human rights committee.

No doubt linked to Jonathan Evans's warning over children being radicalised, Brown will also being setting up a headteachers' forum to protect pupils from "extremist propaganda", despite there being no evidence whatsoever that any radicalisation has been taking place in schools. The British National Party have recently been handing out free CDs at the gates of some schools in the north and Midlands, but that probably won't feature on the itinerary of discussions. The problem of religious schools ghettoising pupils will be miraculously solved by the twinning of different faith schools, and there doesn't seem to be any problem that can't be solved a new body or forum; even outdoor activity sports centres and facilities are going to be advised on how to look for suspicious activity, lest any other wannabe mujahideen play paintball jihad on their premises.

Naturally, nowhere in Brown's statement is there the acknowledgment that government policies might well have heightened the terrorist threat we now face, or that it itself might share some of the blame. Why on earth would they do that when they can present plans for how new buildings can be blast resistant? Anywhere could now apparently be a potential target for a suicide car bomber, so such changes are vital. From some of the proposals you'd almost get the impression that we were facing an Iraq-style insurgency, or if not now, then possibly in the future. If you wanted to be kind, you could say that the government's preparing for the worst and that if the worst doesn't happen, well, at least their heart was in the right place and, after all, as Brown writes in the Scum, protecting the public is the government's number one priority. If you wanted to be realistic, you'd say that the government seems intent on causing unnecessary hassle, coming up with unrealistic and alarmist plans, and at the very worst, doing the the terrorists' jobs for them by continually reducing liberty while making traveling around the country even more stressful than it already is. Why target the transport system or public buildings when you can just go down Oxford Street or in the vicinity of any big football stadium at the weekend and blow yourself up in a crowd where no amount of security will ever stop such a thing from happening? To that, the government simply doesn't have an answer, but the illusion of safety is still a powerful thing.

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Tuesday, November 13, 2007 

No easy answers, but Cameron tries anyway.

If you were a politician and had to pick a crime to give a 20-minute speech about while launching a sort of new policy on it, you'd be hard pressed to find one more welcoming and with less potential pitfalls than that of rape. Rape isn't quite murder, which poses an unique moral dilemma for all political parties (Bring back capital punishment? Life imprisonment that means life? Can you forgive a murderer, and can they rejoin society without being forever tainted?) but a crime of a similar magnitude where you can propose changes with few people likely to disagree with you because of the horrendous impact that rape undoubtedly has. Add into this how the government itself has over the last couple of years been freely wondering out loud how it can bring the conviction rate up, and Cameron was left with something of an open goal.

and Rhetorically Speaking have gone into Cameron's speech in depth, Unity especially on the figures front, while Channel 4 News's FactCheck section looked into the statistics behind the claim that Britain has the lowest conviction rate in the EU, and found that while on the surface it looks accurate, with us sharing the ignominy with Sweden, if you go by number of convictions per head of population, we're about in the middle. It also discovered that we partially have such a low conviction rate because we also recorded the 4th most rape offences in the EU. The whole study underlines how difficult it is compare statistics on rape, both thanks to the differences in law systems, but also down to what the very definition of rape is.

Cameron's example of the tragedy of Lindsay Armstrong is also an especially extreme case. Armstrong killed herself after being cross-examined by the defence counsel, on two occasions having to hold up the underwear she had on on the night she was raped. The defence counsel was able to do this as Scotland had yet to implement the rules allowed in force in England and Wales which stopped the alleged perpetrator from cross-examinging the alleged victim, which also made clear that lawyers for the defence would only be able to bring up the past of sexual history of the victim if they could prove it was relevant. Armstrong's parents say that Lindsay was a virgin, but that she liked wearing skimpy underwear, which the defence moved in on. Cameron is right to say that we should never forget cases such as Armstrong's, but the changes in the way courts deal with rape cases make any larger point almost moot.

No one will argue with Cameron's calls for more funding for centres that deal with rape, which is timely, but infinitely more questionable is his call for "cultural change". Despite polls that often suggest that some individuals put a certain amount of blame on women who either "dress provocatively" or who are raped while inebriated or consuming alcohol, Cameron quoting one by Amnesty International (PDF), which as Unity points out, suggests that such views are more widespread in the older age groups than the youth of today, I find it hard to believe that rape is not already viewed as one of the most horrific, if not the most damaging crime which can be inflicted upon someone. This is simple common knowledge; like with Cameron's suggestion that sex education should emphasize that "no means no", it's almost suggesting that society doesn't understand the impact of the crime, or that because children aren't taught about consent that somehow in any way explains the low conviction rate. You don't need to be taught that no means no, it ought be already more than clear, especially at the age at which secondary sex education takes place. "Ignorance" has never been an excuse. He's on slightly surer ground when he mentions the increasing sexualisation of society, yet his claim that the low rate of conviction is somehow a moral failure, linked naturally with his rhetoric on the broken society is insulting: it's not for lack of trying, and it has nothing to do with a sudden descent in morals. Rape, like with prostitution, has always been with us and always will be with us.

All the statistics show that "stranger rape", the kind most feared, is still thankfully rare. Far more prevalent is rape as a means of control: whether from an abusive spouse or otherwise. It could be argued that it's attitudes to domestic violence, both within the police, the courts and wider society that still need to change. While rape conviction rates are still low, Cameron might have been better targeting that rather than going for the easier target.

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The only thing worse than more war is Iran getting nukes.

That, in a nutshell, is the argument of today's Scum leader. Doubtless intended as a prod to Brown after last night's dismally familiar and sterile speech on foreign policy at Mansion House, Murdoch makes clear how he considers yet more death, destruction, insecurity and a worldwide wave of terrorism in revenge preferable to Iran acquiring nuclear weapons. Predictably, it resorts to a number of half-truths and deceptions in order to do so:

THERE is only one thing worse than military action to stop Iran acquiring nukes.

And that is Iran with nukes.

Anyone who believes this oil-rich nation wants nuclear power for peaceful purposes is hopelessly deluded.

Despite Iran's oil-wealth, it earlier this year temporarily enforced fuel rationing because of the huge cost of importing petrol, due to Iran's own lack of refining capacity. The Grauniad today also reports that Iran was seriously considering the recent approach from Russia for the uranium needed for their nuclear plants to be enriched there, only for the talks to be abandoned when the US imposed unilateral sanctions on Iran's revolutionary guard.

Sometimes we have to judge a person — or a nation — by what they say.

Iran’s President Ahmadinejad says he wants to “wipe Israel off the face of the map”.

Sigh. How many times have we got to go through this? Ahmadinejad did not say that he wanted to "wipe Israel off the face of the map" or that Israel should be wiped off the face of the map. Because of the difficulties of translating from the Persian into English, Ahmadinejad's statement, which was in fact a quote from Ayatollah Khomeini, was something along the lines of "this regime occupying Jerusalem (een rezhim-e eshghalgar-e qods) must [vanish from] the page of time (bayad az safheh-ye ruzgar mahv shavad)." Ahmadinejad was speaking in the context of the Soviet Union and Saddam Hussein's Iraq having collapsed; he was not calling for the destruction of Israel, or that he personally wanted Israel as in the country to disappear. MEMRI, hardly sympathetic towards Iran, translated his speech similarly. How can you possibly judge someone when you're not informed correctly of what they actually said?

He says the holocaust which claimed 6million Jewish lives, never happened.

This is more clear-cut. Ahmadinejad has certainly dabbled in holocaust denial, something which only an idiot, which Ahmadinejad certainly is, would deny took place. Denying the holocaust is moronic and intellectually bankrupt, but it most certainly does not help towards justifying military strikes when all the intelligence suggests the Iran is still years away from a nuclear weapon.

And he says he wants to impose extreme Islam on the world.

Really? I shouldn't rely on Wikipedia, but there's no mention of this anywhere in the rather copious entries on both himself and the controversies surrounding him, and I can't recall any such statement. In any case, just how would Iran impose extreme Islam on the Middle East, let alone the world? It can't even effectively do it within Iran itself, continuing to crackdown on supposed western influence, crimes such as women wearing make-up and showing hair under their hijab. Saudi Arabia has been far more successful in imposing extreme Islam and spreading Wahhabist doctrine than Iran has been in propagating its own interpretation of Shia Islam.

As Gordon Brown says, the West cannot afford to wait and see if he really means it.

According to the Sun then, 650,000 deaths in Iraq just isn't enough. It wants even more wars, more blood to be spilled to ensure that Iran doesn't even come close to acquiring nuclear weapons. To hell with mutually assured destruction, the fact that if Iran did attack Israel it would be at the same time destroying Palestine, and the inevitable revenge from Iran's proxies, we cannot afford to wait and make sure another Middle East madman actually has WMD before letting lose the cruise missiles. If Iraq is a disaster, attacking Iran would open the gates of hell.

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Monday, November 12, 2007 

If I...

hear the words, "from the award-winning Stephen Poliakoff" one more time, I'm going to put my fucking foot through something.

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Liberty, 56 days and all that.

I've been racking my brains, and the only organisation/group that I can honestly think I'm a member of is Liberty, which I joined prior to Blair's attempt to force through 90 day detention without charge. It gives me something erring on pride to know that I might have in some small way contributed to the research behind the study (PDF, summary PDF here) published today by the organisation, and splashed on the front page by the Grauniad, making clear that despite the differences in legal systems, the current 28 day pre-charge detention limit is already by far the longest in any comparable democracy.

The one thing it makes clear is that to extend the current limit in any way, let alone doubling it, which is what most think the government is likely to attempt, would be the equivalent of declaring a permanent state of emergency. Judicial oversight or not, which itself is little use when the police can convincingly claim that if a suspect were to be released he/she would commit a terrorist act, or cover their tracks, and the Magna Carta is often wrongly and inaccurately invoked, but in this case it's more than valid to suggest that if this gets through parliament, we'd be throwing away nearly 800 years of progress, enlightenment and justice, not to mention the moral high ground.

More shocking is the sheer thinness of the case for further extension. The only real remaining justifications are of the complexity of the plots which the police are having to unravel, involving forces around the world, which in other words means they're having to wait for the lazy foreigners to do some of the leg work for them, and the sheer amount of data they're having to sift through. Douglas Murray was holding this up to the audience on last week's Question Time, attempting to blind the public with talks about thousands of gigabytes of data on hard drives, hundreds of CDs and DVDs and all the other assorted related devices. This is one of those helpfully blinding rhetorical flourishes which depends on most of the public not knowing what you're talking about; even mention gigabytes to half of them and they'll go glassy-eyed. Decoded, it means that some of the officers have the excruciating job of going through the arrested guy's DVD collection lest there be any hidden documents on them. They're tricksy, these al-Qaida folk you see, as they tend to hide the damning evidence where the police can't easily find it. The fact they have the best part of a month to do this means even that doesn't hold up to even a modest amount of scrutiny. The other favoured argument is that when they do find it, it tends to be encrypted, but the police have now long had the power to demand the keys to break in, which if refused is itself a chargeable offence. With the post-charge questioning for terrorist suspects likely to go through much easier than any extension of the limit, this would enable the police to forgo the whole charade entirely if they so wanted, which brings up its own worries about abuse of power and the potential for miscarriages of justice.

Let's not pretend then that the primary argument, deployed by all those lobbying for the extension, is anything other than pure fear. Just think of what
might happen if they get to 28 days and someone has to be released; imagine the horror and outrage if in the aftermath of an attack the police can't round up those connected to it due to the inadequacy of the limit; look at how many of these mouth breathers are involved in this business, and how they're multiplying and brainwashing our kids; etc, etc.

To quote Melanie Phillips might perhaps be similar to breaking Godwin's law, but in her recent piece on the Spectator website justifying up to 90 days' detention, she lets the cat out of the bag. In her view, the current "threat" does indeed constitute a public emergency. Let that sink in for a second. To declare a state of emergency currently, there has to be a serious threat to the life of the nation. Even Melanie would have problems claiming that the current threat posed to this country by jihadists is so severe that it could destroy the country as we know it. Her flourish at the end of the article, claiming that those who oppose an extension are in effect saying they're prepared to the risk the lives of "untold numbers of innocents", apart from being completely spurious, is as far as the level of threat goes. In the worst case scenario, let's say there are multiple suicide bombings in multiple cities on the same day. If 7/7 was repeated across four cities, with the same number of fatalities, 208 people would be dead. Would such an event constitute a direct threat to the life of the nation? An outrageous shedding of innocent blood by those without an ounce of humanity, but the end of Britain? Surely not.

The other argument, made by police and commentators alike, that we're facing a completely different threat where the terrorists give no warning and want to kill as many as possible is also not as clear cut. We're often told of how the IRA gave warnings, but they certainly didn't give one when they almost succeeded in killing Thatcher in Brighton in 1984. The difficulty in arguing against an extension to the limit is because of the way the debate is framed as in traditional values of liberty against the right not to be blown apart; this is a false dichotomy not just because once someone has been blown apart it's already too late, but also because we all knew too well that the police, if pushed right to the limit, could almost certainly if not always manage to press other more minor charges. In that case, which is more unacceptable? The threat of terrorism potentially forever changing our standards of treatment of those accused of a crime, but not yet charged, or that someone might get a lesser sentence than they actually deserve? It's worth pointing out that also put forward now are new measures to monitor those found guilty of terrorism offences once they are released from prison, which further limit the potential for an outrage after imprisonment.

Finally, there's the embarrassment factor. Can we really say the threat we face from terrorism is so severe we need 56 days when Russia, fast becoming an autocracy, gets by on 5 and has dealt with Islamic extremism from Chechnya for the last 14 or so years? Mel dismisses Shami Chakrabati's suggestion that we can hardly condemn Zimbabwe or Burma when we have such a limit, and has a certain amount of merit to her argument, when the idea of sending a message should not in any way impugn on our own security, but then blots her copy book by laughably comparing the situation now to that during the second world war. Oh, and then there's that one other thing: when we need 56 days to question those arrested and unravel a terrorist plot, I'll happily eat my underwear.

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A massacre, courtesy of Hamas.

Another massacre in the Middle East, with a twist:

At least six people were killed today after Hamas security forces opened fire on Palestinians commemorating the death of Yasser Arafat.

Hamas security officials said they fired toward protesters who threw stones at security compounds.

It used to be the IDF that shot at Palestinian children who threw stones at them. Hamas appear to want to even further plumb the depths.

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Via Rhetorically Speaking, the Daily Mail, the paper which aims to keep its readers in a perpetual state of anger and fear, runs an article by Christopher Booker and Richard North promoting their book on scare stories. This could go down in the OED as the new definition of chutzpah. One suspects that the Mail might not have published it had the writers focused on the Mail's vilification of the MMR vaccine, numerous fearmongering articles on immigration, or on Christmas being banned. As it is, the fact that the authors dispute climate change may also have something to do with it finding favour in the Mail editorial room.

Elsewhere in tabloid hell, the Sun picks up on the latest scare story regarding social networking sites. Despite the research applying to all the various social networking sites, can you guess what the Sun chose as the headline? That's right, Facebook ID fraudster fear. MySpace is mentioned in the text, but as usual, there is no qualifier in the text pointing out that the Sun and MurdochSpace share an owner.

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Saturday, November 10, 2007 

I believe in nothing but it is my nothing.

I am stronger than Mensa, Miller and Mailer
I spat out Plath and Pinter
- Manic Street Preachers, Faster.

Only Pinter left.

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Scum-watch: Those prisons, they're hotels, guv. Know what I'd do? String 'em all up, it's the only language they understand.

One has been in a secure hospital, one hasn't.

Another day, another new Scum campaign. Faced with so many evil monsters putting on weight while behind bars, the leader argues for the bringing back of hard labour, or at the least, those inside being put to work on chain gangs repairing the roads, cleaning canals and tiding up after fly-tippers.

There are so many obvious problems with this proposal, none of which are anything to do with human rights laws, as the Scum churlishly insinuates, that it's almost laughable. Setting up such schemes would necessitate a huge rise in the numbers employed in jails, in order so those let out during the day to perform such works would be properly supervised, and those left behind would not be left without adequate cover. There's enough outcry when someone walks out of an open prison, so you can just image the opprobrium were a whole group of prisoners able to escape at some point from one of these jaunts. It would also take time away from those who spend their time in jail learning a skilled profession - the numbers of which are large.

The Scum's tiny amount of evidence for why such hard labour is necessary is also threadbare, reliant on the more famous inmates who have put on weight since going inside. Of two of the killers mentioned - Peter Sutcliffe and Beverley Allitt, both are held in secure hospitals, Broadmoor and Rampton respectively, not prisons. There are also numerous reasons for weight gain, not just pigging out; it can be as much a sign of stress as weight loss for instance, and medication can also play a role.

The belief that life in prison has become soft, with them often referred to as holiday camps, as the Sun does, and with Tim Spanton, previously responsible for a whole article of lies about the human rights act, claiming that "Aromatherapy and massages have largely replaced work for today’s inmates," has become insidious. It's complete nonsense, as with so much other thought on the right dedicated to what they see as political correctness and going soft on crime etc, but that doesn't stop the rhetoric. A more representative view of the prison system was presented earlier this year in the Grauniad, when it interviewed 42 individuals about one day in their life, from Category A prisoners to the head of the prison system himself. That however will never stop tabloid journalists who have never so much as been to one, let alone served time, from telling the public how much like hotels they are.

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Friday, November 09, 2007 

How I stopped worrying about the Muslims...

The "lyrical terrorist" and her rhymes of doom.

Those Muslims. They're a worry, aren't they? We worry about them integrating. We worry about the books they read. We worry about the religious premises they attend. We worry about the library stock dedicated to their religion. We worry about offending them. We worry about how some of them talk in funny languages called "Arabic" and "Urdu", whatever they are. We worry about what they're thinking. We worry about whether some of them are AS WE SPEAK plotting our demise, brainwashing children, and writing poems about the joys of beheading infidels. We worry about whether the anti-terrorist legislation which is clearly targeted at "them" is tough enough; the home secretary doesn't know how much longer the pre-charge detention limit should be, but she does know that it isn't long enough.

To add to all of these existential problems and threats, the Sun today cheerfully informs us of another problem with Muslims. Apparently, the numbers of Muslims behind bars has risen by 120%. This undoubtedly means that BRITAIN'S jails risk becoming breeding grounds for Islamic extremists:

Figures obtained by The Sun show there are 8,000 Muslims in our jails – up from just 3,700 in 1997.

And the number of Muslim inmates – from both Britain and abroad – is growing FOUR TIMES faster than the prison population as a whole.

The Sun appears to be adding two and two together and getting five. The simple fact that there are more Muslim prisoners doesn't mean that we're suddenly going to have jails full of radicalised young men. The conditions might be right in prison for radicalisation - but those who tend to find themselves serving time usually don't fall into the same demographic categories as those who have previously taken part in terrorist plots: overwhelmingly decently educated, reasonably prosperous and who have either done their own research or met like-minded individuals online.

The paper relies on the general secretary of the Prison Officers' Union for the actual evidence:

Brian Caton, general secretary of the Prison Officers’ Association, said his members were struggling to cope.

He said: “We have already seen how shoe-bomber Richard Reid was converted and radicalised in prison. We don’t want that being repeated. We have a massive lack of language skills. Very few officers can speak Urdu or Arabic, which means prisoners could be doing or saying anything.”

If we're going to be pedantic about it, Reid converted to Islam while he was in a young offenders' institution. Whether he was radicalised there is something in dispute - Feltham has had a number of imams suspended over fears they were anti-American or radical - but Reid also undoubtedly spent time at Finsbury Park mosque during Abu Hamza's tenure.

This itself poses a problem with the Sun's alertness. Reid was a petty criminal before he entered Feltham, and although his father encouraged him to learn about Islam, he most certainly wasn't religious prior to entering the YOI. Is it those who don't already have their own interpretation of Islam when they're imprisoned we should worry about, or those with little information on it?

As with everything else, it's worth getting this into perspective. According to the prison service, there are currently 130 prisoners being held under terrorist legislation - even if all of them are Muslims, that's an incredibly low percentage of the total currently imprisoned, and they're also spread out throughout the prison system, for the exact reason that keeping them altogether, ala the Maze in Northern Ireland is only storing up even further problems for the future.

It is however indicative of how we're either increasingly afraid of or meant to see the very fact that someone is a Muslim as a potential problem. The Tories added their concern to the Sun's article:

Shadow justice secretary Nick Herbert said: “Officers are right to warn about the challenge posed by a large number of Muslim inmates.”

Shouldn't we be similarly concerned about the challenge posed by a large number of inmates full stop? The prison system, as the Sun falls over itself to tell us, is at breaking point. Overcrowded prisons makes it near to impossible for any real rehabilitation to take place; prisoners are increasingly banged up in cells for longer periods of time, making those vulnerable to the advances of their cell-mates, whatever their religion or otherwise. The projections that up to 1,600 terrorists could be behind bars in ten years' time shouldn't be surprising when we're imprisoning those such as Atif Siddique for 8 years
(Abu Hamza got 7 years). Who knows how long the "lyrical terrorist" will receive?

The Scum's leader inevitably takes it all up a notch (the actual page seems to have since disappeared into the ether, replaced by tomorrow's leader, so you'll have to trust me on what it says):

Jihad jails

BRITAIN’S bulging prisons are being turned into hothouse training and recruiting posts for Islamic terror.

For which there is no evidence whatsoever.

Overworked warders live in fear of bullying minorities who form gangs and run their own jail culture.

And why are they overworked? Because the Sun and others keep demanding that sentences become ever tougher while demanding more prisons that unsurprisingly no one wants in their backyard. Prisons are full of gangs and their own cliques, it's not as if that's anything new.

The officers dare not enter prayer meetings held in a foreign language.

Nobody knows for sure whether imams are preaching from the Koran or an al-Qaeda manual. But we can be certain their message is not peace and goodwill to all men.

Again, does the Sun have any evidence whatsoever to back this up? Of course it doesn't. In fact, prison imams have been receiving special training to help identify those who might be falling victim to radicalisation. Imams have often got the blame in its pages when few other than Hamza have had a direct hand in radicalising those who have gone on to take part in attacks. If they made such a blanket statement about prison chaplains they'd rightly get smacked down for such a generalisation with no evidence.

As we reveal today, one inmate allegedly launched his terrorist career after studying jihad in Wandsworth prison library.

The article says nothing of the sort (click "more" to see it.). It says that he had a single document on jihad which he obtained while in prison. Al Figari is one of those currently on trial for taking part in the "paintball jihad".

MI5 chief Jonathan Evans this week warned the number of radicalised Muslims has more than doubled in a year, with thousands more yet to be identified.

No he didn't. He said that the numbers of those who pose a "direct threat to national security and public safety, because of their support for terrorism" had increased by 400 from 1,600. How much stall you want to put by such figures is up to you.

Now we know where they are coming from.

The question is — why aren’t we sending them home?

Probably because most of them are already British citizens. And so the "fear" dial is turned up yet another point.

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Thursday, November 08, 2007 

de Menezes: Blair as mendacious and deluded as his namesake.

Finally then, a year and ten months it was first formally finished,
we receive the IPCC investigation into the death of Jean Charles de Menezes (PDF).

What once would have been explosive and damning reading has been rendered, both by the leaks and the trial of the Met under health and safety legislation, into something almost familiar. It documents failures at all levels, from the officers conducting the surveillance on the morning all the way up to "Sir" Ian Blair himself.

The one thing that overwhelming sticks out from quickly speed-reading the entire document is that of the differing accounts between both the public witnesses of what happened on the tube train and that of the CO12 Special Branch officers and SO19 firearms officers, the first (section 13) who state the police made no mention of who they were when they entered the train, except from the CO12 officers stating "he's here", and the latter (section 18) who all claim that they shouted "police" or "armed police".

Similarly, Cressida Dick and the others inside "Room 1600" all maintain that de Menezes had been identified as Osman on a number of occasions, up to 5 in all. The CO12 officers (section 12) deny ever making a positive identification; indeed, the chronicle of events suggest that one officer decided it definitely wasn't Osman, while the others were uncertain, and thought that the surveillance should continue as a result. Although one managed to come to the conclusion that de Menezes had distinct "Mongolian eyes", there was never a definite positive given to Room 1600. Again, despite none of the surveillance team mentioning that the suspect was "jumpy" or "nervous", Room 1600 came to believe that de Menezes was agitated and "definitely their man." Dick and Detective Superintendent Boutcher requested that the surveillance team give a number on the scale of 1 to 10 on how sure they were that de Menezes was Osman (section 12.22), a request that the receiver, 'James', said was ridiculous, but said that when he had previously seen him over 15 minutes earlier he thought it was a "good possible". This was taken as "they believe it to be Osman."

Despite all the talk after the death of de Menezes of the police's use of "Operation Kratos", the shoot-to-kill policy on those suspected of being suicide bombers, it was never actually put into effect on the morning of the death. The report does go further into the background of Kratos (section 9) and how it came to be police policy, with there being little to no government input. The only real advice the police sought was that of the Treasury Counsel as to the legality of shooting to kill, which came to the conclusion that it was. One of the IPCC recommendations is that there should have been a public debate prior to the implementation of the policy, but that it wasn't thought necessary, or even worthy of discussion in parliament is an indictment of the secretive way of which the police continue to operate.

Even though Kratos was not in actual operation, de Menezes' fate may well have been sealed by the briefing delivered to the firearms officers at Nightingale Lane police station, which dropped everything but the actual shoot-to-kill policy itself into the mix. The individuals involved in the bombings were described as being "deadly and determined" and "up for it" (section 11.11); never was it mentioned that they might encounter those who were entirely innocent in the course of the day. The two officers who shot de Menezes, referred to as "Charlie 2" and "Charlie 12" in the report both said how they believed it was very likely that they would be asked to "intercept deadly and determined terrorist suicide bombers," in the words of Charlie 2 (section 18.21). Charlie 12 was more verbose (section 18.31):

‘We were possibly about to face subjects who had training and had attempted to commit atrocities on innocent human beings with complete disregard to their own lives. They had prepared devices in order to achieve this. There was a real tangible danger that if we didn’t act quickly and correctly there would be an extreme loss of life”.

Both felt as they entered the tube that de Menezes was about to detonate his explosives and they had no choice but to use deadly force, even though it had not been authorised by any officer. The report asked the Crown Prosecution Service to consider whether the actions of of Charlie 2 and 12 amounted to murder, given their justification for shooting de Menezes. (section 20.74). They decided against. Cressida Dick's abject failure to properly either know what was being sent to Room 1600 from the CO12 team, or to make clear to the SO19 team that she wanted de Menezes arrested and not shot, something she failed to make significantly clear, was of no help. One witness from within Room 1600, as had been leaked, claims that Dick added "at all costs." (section 12.36) Whether, if true, it would have made any difference we'll never know.

The report does possibly help clear up some of the initial eyewitness reports given to the media which were so horribly wrong. Many of the witnesses mistook "Ivor", the officer first on the scene and who grabbed hold of de Menezes for an Asian man, and with him also being thrown and a gun pointed at him, he could have easily been mistaken for the man who was shot.

There are a few more minor points in the report that are interesting or indicative of what already was happening on the scene in the aftermath; the pathologist who was on the scene by 13:33 on the 22nd of July was apparently briefed that de Menezes had vaulted the ticket barrier (section 14.16) and ran down the stairs before being shot after tripping, and included those "facts" in his report. It also notes how officers took statements from some of the witnesses inside nearby pubs while music was playing and with the news of what happened on the TV. One of the witnesses described how an officer tried to influence her statement (section 14.8):

“You have to be careful what you say in this sort of situation, or it will be just one more copper with a family losing his job or worse”.

It also shows how officers were allowed to draw up their statements on what happened together and come to a general consensus, whereas the witnesses were denied any opportunity to do just that.

This report really ought to have been the final nail in the coffin of Sir Ian Blair's term as head of the Met. The most damning condemnation is really reserved for him. The IPCC was not allowed any access to Stockwell tube station until the Monday, following Blair's order that the IPCC should be refused access, sent to the Home Office within an hour of the shooting. If we are to believe that Blair didn't know until the following morning that an innocent man was shot, it can't even be said he was trying to instigate a cover-up; he was simply opposed to the IPCC doing the job they was set up to do. Nick Hardwick, in his statement on the issuing of the report, made clear that the delay in the IPCC being able to investigate led directly to much of the "difficulty" that has faced the Met since then. The fact alone that Blair worsened the situation that the police has faced since the tragic death of de Menezes is reason alone for his resignation or sacking. That he presided over a police force that lied through its teeth, smeared de Menezes on a number of occasions and even now seems to deny that the failures were "systemic" makes him almost as mendacious and deluded as his namesake.

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Scum-watch: The Le Worm that turned and propaganda victories to evil men.

Just the latest lame-brained arguments from today's Scum leader:

IT is only a few months since America regarded Britain as its greatest ally.

France, under sneering Jacques Chirac, was unreliable at best and downright anti-American at worst.

Oh yes, the man the Scum nicknamed Le Worm if I recall correctly. Unlike the Sun and Blair, Le Worm got it right over Iraq, although the Scum could never bring itself to ever admit anything of the sort.

Today, President Nikolas Sarkozy is warmly embraced as a friend — and invited to address the joint US Congress.

By contrast our Prime Minister’s first White House trip was a stiff and formal affair.

Why the difference?

Gordon Brown set out to make clear America can no longer automatically count on the UK as a military ally, as in Iraq.

Rubbish. Brown, if some reports are to be believed, certainly hasn't made clear that Britain wouldn't take part in any action against Iraq. Brown was only making clear that the cozy, rudderless days of meekly following America while having no influence over it were in the past, along with Blair. If the Sun doesn't like a relationship that isn't completely obsequious and which led directly to the disaster Iraq, then tough.

Our Prime Minister would do well to watch and learn . . .

And listen less to the malign chatter of his lightweight new Foreign minister, Mark Malloch Brown.

That would be the whole point of this spurious leader then, another opportunity to take aim at Malloch Brown. Malloch Brown you might remember had the temerity to suggest that the US used the UN for its own ends abroad without defending it at home, and leaving it to the likes of Fox News and Rush Limbaugh to lambast the organisation for daring to exist. Attacking any part of the Murdoch empire instantly makes you person non grata, and subject to random, consistent vilification. The Sun is merely continuing its expected role under the watchful eye of the great proprietor.

Even by its standards, the argument the Scum is making for Sir Ian Blair staying in his job is wafer-thin:

Sacking Sir Ian won’t bring Jean Charles back.

But it would hand a massive propaganda victory to the evil men who seek to justify 7/7 and other civilian atrocities.

Err, how exactly? That the man ultimately responsible for what happened to de Menezes will be sacked for being more successful in killing the dirty kuffars than the 21/7 bombers themselves were? Are they really going to be glad that someone who didn't even know that an innocent man had been killed until the following day, even though his secretary did, is gone? Or will they be more fearful of someone who isn't so obviously incompetent and obstinate being the head of the Met? Even if it would somehow hand a propaganda victory to "evil men", what have they got to do with it? The public weren't endangered on the 22nd by "evil men", they were endangered by police who shot dead an innocent man and were so unhinged they nearly shot another police officer and then the driver of the train. Blair's resignation is the first step towards ensuring that the Met doesn't continue to hold both the public and the truth in such contempt.

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Wednesday, November 07, 2007 

The crisis in Pakistan.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but has there been an actual condemnation of what is currently occurring on the streets of Pakistan? Thousands of those opposed to General Musharraf have been arrested, including a number of well-known political activists, the police have been viciously beating those who ignored Musharraf's declaration on Saturday of martial law to protest, television stations have been shut down, the media has in some cases been silenced, yet the only real comment we've made is that Musharraf must keep his promise of holding elections and stepping down as the head of the army. As for all those currently imprisoned for challenging Musharraf's second coup, they may as well consider themselves forgotten.

It's clear that Musharraf's one and only intention in declaring an emergency is to enable him to hang on in power. Although recently overwhelmingly re-elected president after the opposition parties mostly boycotted the vote, the real challenge to his authority has come not from the likes of Benazir Bhutto, who has returned to Pakistan to almost unaminous fanfare in the western media, but rather from lawyers and a number of recalcitrant judges, led by Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, a judge who Musharraf suspeneded earlier in the year before he was reinstated after mass protests, with the supreme court overruling Musharraf's initial misconduct charges. It was widely expected that the supreme court was about to similarly declare Musharraf's re-election null and void, with the general preemptively acting against the threat.

While Musharraf's other justification for declaring a state of emergency, the spiraling Islamist violence across the country after the siege of the Red Mosque, which lead bin Laden among other takfirists to call for a jihad against the country, has been widely parroted abroad, little mention has been made that the "judicial interference" was also a major factor, with Musharraf claiming that it was making Pakistan ungovernable. Apart from the defiance of Musharraf's will, Chaudhry's other crime was his and other judges' approach to the mass human rights abuses being committed in Pakistan's own "war against terrorism", involving torture and the disappearance of some of those arrested. While no one can deny that Pakistan is in the frontline when it comes to tackling jihadists and extremist Islam, the brutal tactics involved are undoubtedly having the usual effect of filling the ranks of those not only involved in the insurrection in Waziristan, but also that of the Taliban and the insurgency in Iraq.

To begin with it was thought that Musharraf might well have overplayed his hand in declaring an emergency, but the slow and far from unanimous response to what has happened since have quashed any such hopes. The BBC might have just reported that President Bush has personally called Musharraf to urge him to hold elections as planned and step down as army chief, but his real interests have already been overwhelming served. His most bitter opponents in the courts have been removed; the opposition politicians are either in hiding or under house arrest; the public is cowed, thanks to the way the police have cracked down on the few protests that some have staged; and those who were already in negotiations with him about power-sharing, such as Bhutto, have been so slow to respond, partly due to how her party, the Pakistan People's, was mostly ignored to begin with, further undermining any remaining real political standing she had. Even if elections are to be staged as planned now, it seems unlikely that they could be any way be either free or fair, which is exactly what Musharraf intended.

The rehabilitation of Benazir Bhutto shows how desperate politics within Pakistan has become. Anyone would think that she was a new, untainted figure, not someone who spent her time while previously in office turning at best a blind eye to the emergence of the Taliban, at worst using the ISI, Pakistan's security services to help them take control, or a figure with numerous corruption charges in multiple countries hanging over her. There is however no accounting for someone's personal vanity, or for their ability to woo foreign politicos with talk of democracy, human rights and opposition to extremism, all of which Bhutto didn't have much time for previously except as long as it kept her in power. The lack of personal criticism which followed the horrific suicide bombing that targeted her return parade, killing at least 140, was shocking: the takfirists made clear how they would attempt to attack her, yet she still showered in the adulation of her remaining supporters in the most nauseating fashion, endangering them far more than she did herself.

Parallels with Burma and the response to what occurred there only a matter of weeks ago are apt. Burma may not be as quite as internally fracturous as Pakistan currently is, but the crackdown could have been modeled on how the Burmese military and police responded to the mass protests by the Buddhist monks. As opposed to how the world responded to the situation there, Musharraf could not be more pleased with the lack of demands for the instant reinstitution of democracy and release of those arrested.

Like with so much else, post 9/11, it all comes down to Pakistan's admitted major role, not just in stopping fighters from crossing into Afghanistan, something it's failed to do, but also in the increasingly lawless and violent regions in the west, with the Grauniad reporting on how the Swat valley, previously popular with tourists has itself fell victim to "Talibanisation," giving all the more ammo both to Musharraf and the US in continuing the support given to him and the military assault on Waziristan. The last thing the US, or even Nato wants to consider while both are tied down in Iraq and Afghanistan respectively is the increasingly likely spread of the conflict into Pakistan itself. Democracy, despite all the rhetoric, will undoubtedly come second to the further shoring up of the discredited and bankrupt Musharraf.

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Ellee Seymour, Nadine Dorries and all that.

I tend to find the majority of blogging-battles or mini civil wars about as interesting as how much the house I'm currently sitting in is worth, but Tim's latest post on Ellee Seymour and her tooth and nail defense of Nadine Dorries, involving the removal of all of Tim's comments while leaving up numerous ones smearing him is pretty astonishing in its one-handedness. Seymour, whose blog resembles some of the most inane of the Daily Mail's output, somehow came tenth in Iain Dale's top 500 political blogs list.

Seymour regards Nadine Dorries as "a superb woman, a superb MP and a superb blogger." It's a shame then that Dorries makes baseless accusations against those who question the science behind her minority submission to the Parliamentary Science and Tech Select Committee. Dorries removed comments from her blog after those in them asked her to retract her idiotic complaint that Ben Goldacre's "personal attack" represented a "serious breach of parliamentary procedure," as she claimed that he could only have obtained Professor Wyatt's evidence from a member of the select committee. Goldacre downloaded Wyatt's evidence from the committee's website, where it had already been posted.

Dorries herself claims not to be anti-abortion or pro-life and as someone who accepts abortion as a fact of life. It's strange then that she talks in the same language as those who are completely opposed to abortion in all instances. In her own words:

The Committee was hi-jacked by those who have powerful financial vested interests in the abortion industry.

Considering that the vast, vast majority of abortions in this country are carried out on the NHS, this comment alone is breathtakingly disingenuous. Unity has spent far more time and effort breaking down her arguments, which are best summed up by him as:

In fact, reading her ‘commentaries’ on the proceedings of the Committee I think I can safely say that rarely, if ever, have I encountered such a continuous stream of crude, vapid, abject, disingenuous, ill-conceived and intellectually dishonest bullshit as that emanating from the keyboard of Mad Nad over the last week.

Which is probably why she's a superb woman, a superb MP and a superb blogger.

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Erratic publishing.

If anything's broken or snafued here at the moment, it's down to the problems Blogger is currently experiencing with FTP publishing, which'll hopefully be fixed shortly.

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Tuesday, November 06, 2007 

Around as enthralling as a dead dog.

Part of the reason why the Queen's speech (how much longer does the ridiculous and inane opening of parliament have to continue? Until Brenda's legs stop working?) was both so underwhelming and stale was that we really had heard it all before. As part of Brown's initial attempts to re-engage the public and prove how he was nothing like that control freak Blair was to "preview" the bills likely to be announced before the rise of parliament in the summer. All well and good, but it allowed David Cameron to continue his similarly moribund claims that Brown is offering nothing new. Reasonably accurate, but then neither are the Tories.

For once, the Tories actually have something of a point over their opposition to the extending of the compulsory education age to 18, which will be enforced with a great big stick rather than carrots. Those who refuse to turn up will get fined - the perfect way to enthuse our disillusioned youth with the idea that it's for their own benefit. Either you turn up or we take the (tiny) amount of money you might be earning. The next year will see reforms to secondary education that might well help with the actual problems faced: that at 14 most are already either so disenfranchised with school or accepting of failure that they don't even try. The introduction of diplomas, both vocational and academic, could prove to be vital. At 16 currently, those who go on to colleges or sixth forms are generally those who want to learn; the compulsion to keep learning until 18 will remove the relief that many feel on leaving behind those who either were disruptive or simply unpleasant. It's not their fault, it's that they're currently be failed by the strictness of the system, either taking the academic route with GCSEs or the more vocational course with GNVQs, which are decent qualifications but not worth the number of GCSEs they claim to. Getting the mixture between the two right will do far more to improve results than any threat of compulsion. By 2015 it might have been achieved, but I'm certainly not holding my breath.

As noted in the previous post, Labour is currently far too cowardly to come out with how it wants to double the pre-charge limit for "terrorist suspects", although everyone knows another battle is ahead. The latest knee-jerk on the criminal justice front is violent offenders' orders, which are bound to trouble the courts, while the sop to the tabloids is the long trumpeted and downright illiberal banning of "extreme" pornographic images, in the BBC's lexicon, which means the banning of "dangerous pictures" in actuality. The only truly radical piece of legislation is the climate change bill, and it's likely to be not radical enough.

It makes you wonder whether the government really was so set upon that autumn election, built around Brown personally, that it didn't bother to come up with any actual policies or details, both of which were wholly lacking today. This was less a vision than a panicky brainstorm in the middle of the night after Brown realised he'd forgotten all about having Brenda reading out his plans for the next year. There was talk of meritocracy, getting in tune with the aspirations of the people, but behind those rhetorical flourishes the bills themselves were as flat as the Queen's voice. It's a shame that Vince Cable is himself lacking in gravitas, as his spell as stand in Liberal Democrat leader has been something of a success. He certainly got it right on the tepidity of today:

"The anticipation was acute - but the anticlimax is deafening. The legislative programme is firmly rooted in the Blair era. There is very little new. No ideas, no vision. Is this what we have been waiting for?"

"The one-time editor of the Red Paper has penned a Queen's speech in the bluest ink. Across wide swathes of policy, his approach is indistinguishable from the Tories."

This though is intended. When the Electoral Reform Society identifies that the election could have been decided by 8,000 voters, the cross-dressing and tailoring of policies to those that most turns on the exalted floating voter is only natural. The lack of choice is acute, but no one's prepared to move beyond that dead end of radical centrism.

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Spin? Under Brown? Say it ain't so.

If we were still suffering under the burden of Blairism, you can bet that the Tories and Lib Dems might have made a little more out of the fact that Jonathan Evans, the new head of MI5, not only delivered the latest speech on the "threat" in front of the society of newspaper editors, ensuring that they knew in no uncertain terms the horror that could be unleashed at a moment's notice on our nation, but that it also came the day before the Queen's speech, where the government was preparing to unveil its latest proposals on how to beat back the extremist scourge. As it turns out, the most controversial measure, the extension from 28 days to 56 days pre-charge detention for "terrorist suspects", which has been long trailed, wasn't unambiguously set out by Brenda, the government preferring to still pretend that it's making its mind up while seeking "consensus". It's hard to believe though that the speech was anything other than a warning, from both the security services and the government, for the press which previously and continues to object to what more or less amounts to the reinstatement of internment.

Most of what Evans sets out is of little difference to Eliza Manningham-Buller's speech of last year. He considers the current "threat" to be the most "immediate and acute [in] peacetime" in the 98-year history of MI5. It's unclear whether he counts the cold war as an actual war, as I somehow find the threat of being vaporised by nuclear weapons more menacing than that from terrorists armed with patio gas canisters and cans of petrol, but that like so much else, doesn't really matter. The current day threat, whatever it is, is always the most deadly and insidious which we have ever faced. The National Union of Mineworkers during the strike in 84/85 was opposed to democracy and wanted to overthrow the Thatcher government. Saddam Hussein in the early 90s was the justification, with Russia descending into the chaos of the Yeltsin years to keep defence spending high.

Predictably, what the papers' picked up on was Evans's claim that

As I speak, terrorists are methodically and intentionally targeting young people and children in this country. They are radicalising, indoctrinating and grooming young, vulnerable people to carry out acts of terrorism.

which the Express distorted into suicide bombers in our schools. This isn't a new message either; last year John Reid warned Muslim parents to look out for the "telltale" signs of radicalisation, and even go so far as to spy on them. Evans's evidence that this is happening is the number of young people now being linked into networks, with Abdul Patel, linked to last year's "liquid bombs" plot being the favourite example. He was found to have a manual meant for the use of American bomb disposal units, which the prosecuting counsel said that "in the wrong hands, the information contained in this manual can have catastrophic consequences, including causing explosions of the most terrifying kind in the UK and abroad." The jury agreed that he was guilty of having the document, but the judge in sentencing him to six months said he was not a "radicalised or politicised Islamist" as the prosecution had claimed.

The young are always going to be targeted; but it's also true that the young are also those who are inevitably going to be the most potentially radical anyway. The inexperience and rebelliousness of youth is going to be a motivating factor, but the evidence is not overwhelming that the young are being systematically radicalised or "brainwashed" as Evans appears to be claiming. Those most likely to be involved in radical takfirist Salafism are usually well-educated, from respectable backgrounds and far removed from poverty. Two of the 7/7 bombers were relatively young, but again they don't fit the profile of coming under the wing of any particular radical preacher or influence. Strangely, unlike the news reports covering Evans's speech, he didn't mention the internet in being a major factor in radicalisation, when we know that it plays an incredibly important role. Most of those becoming radicalised don't gain their knowledge through radical preachers, the favoured bogeyman, but from the internet through their own research. While English language jihadi websites are few and far between, the number of Arabic forums dedicated to discussing the conflicts around the world and the posting of videos by the groups fighting is ever growing.

The other major talking point was the numbers game, with Evans now letting us know that there are 2,000 individuals that MI5 consider a "direct threat to national security and public safety, because of their support for terrorism," up 400 from Buller's speech last year. In addition, he estimates there's enough 2,000 that the service doesn't know about of similar thinking. Like with Buller, he doesn't distinguish between those that are prepared to become suicide bombers and those that are likely to have a role in the funding of such attacks, or those who support the insurgency in Iraq say, but not bombings back home. It doesn't really tell us anything except provide us with a number which seems massive in order to cause concern. If there are after all 2,000 individuals actively supporting terrorism, and if even a quarter of that number were willing to launch either suicide attacks or a bombing campaign, why are the number of plots so apparently low? Isn't Evans slightly contradicted by how Sir Ian Blair recently suggested that the number of active investigations into plots is now lower than previously? Is it that the threat, despite what they're saying, is receding somewhat, or that there are plans being made that we don't know about?

Also questionable was this statement:

"And it is important that we recognise an uncomfortable truth: terrorist attacks we have seen against the UK are not simply random plots by disparate and fragmented groups."

Which seems to indulge the myth that the hand of al-Qaida can be found behind nearly every terrorist plot there is. Was al-Qaida really responsible for the laughable "suicide bombing" at Glasgow airport or the bombs which were "potentially viable" in London? If so, their recruits are getting even weaker and more obsessed with plots next to impossible to pull off but look spectacular and terrifying on paper than ever before. Was al-Qaida involved in the alleged beheading of a British soldier back in Febuary?
We know for a fact al-Qaida wasn't involved in the "ricin plot". The danger is that we see al-Qaida as some kind of multi-layered organisation driven from the top down, when the reality is that al-Qaida as it existed in 2001 could collapse entirely tomorrow and we'd still be facing much the same problem of extremist Islamists. The trial of those involved in the Madrid attacks set out where the threat is most likely to come from: those with radical views that need little help from those holed up in Pakistan or wherever but who are influenced by the ideals and ideology behind bin Laden enough to carry out their own attacks in the name of al-Qaida. Evans does sort of recognise this, as he does mention the spread of the al-Qaida brand: the first suicide bombing in Algeria coming after the GSPC pledged allegiance to al-Qaida, changing its name to al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb. al-Qaida might be conducting a deliberate campaign against us, as Evans says, but those with no real connection to the organisation are doing so also.

Have you noticed however what Evans notably doesn't pay much attention to? Iraq garners just two mentions - to note that al-Qaida in Iraq "aspires to promote terrorist attacks outside Iraq". Nothing about Iraq's undoubted role in helping with the radicalisation process, even if it isn't the only cause, or that the threat is likely to increase once those who've gone to fight in Iraq return, from what the leader of al-Qaida in Iraq has himself described as the "university of terrorism." It's probably true that al-Qaida in Iraq has designs on exporting terrorism, but the state of the insurgency in Iraq has shifted in a remarkably short time. al-Qaida's media wing in Iraq has now not released a new video of its activities for going on a month - an extraordinary length of time signifying how the infighting amongst the insurgency has escalated to such a scale that what happened in Algeria to the Islamic groups there is routinely mentioned. At the moment the emphasis is certainly on what is going on within Iraq itself rather than attacking anywhere else.

One thing Evans certainly does get right is that

"Anything which enables it to claim to be representative of Islam; anything which gives a spurious legitimacy to its twisting of theology will only play into its hands."

As will furthering the victimhood factor by extending the detention without charge period. The one thing this speech seems to have been intended to influence is one of the things that will do most to damage the fight against extremism. How's that for irony?

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So there is a liberal conspiracy after all...

Nice to see that Liberal Conspiracy, the latest project from Sunny of Pickled Politics fame has launched, and has a roster of bloggers on its books to rival the very best group sites.

I'm not too sure on the name, as it seems a little too provocative for my liking (and calling this island upon which we live septic isn't, dipshit?) and will quickly grow stale, but the thinking behind it certainly can't be faulted, even if I worry that it could become something of a circle jerk. As Dave Hill writes:

I hate to tempt fate but, fingers crossed, touching wood and stroking a rabbit’s foot, this blog could turn out to be a rarity: a place where liberals and lefties gather to debate that I don’t feel an immediate urge to leave.

There might still be some further surprises to emerge from Sunny's sleeve, so it's worth watching for sometime yet in any case.

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Monday, November 05, 2007 

Enoch Powell was right - and completely and utterly wrong.

If there's one thing we can be glad about when we talk about immigration and its effects, it's that we that none of our politicians are as rabid as some of those currently in office in Italy. Unlike here, Italy imposed no restrictions on Romanian or Bulgarian free movement when they joined the European Union at the beginning of the year, and like with the result when we were only one of three countries to not impose similar restrictions on the A8 countries in 2004, Romanians especially have moved to Italy in search of work. Armed with dubious figures which suggest that although they only make up 1% of the population, Romanians make up 5.6% of those charged with murder, it took the violent death of Giovanni Reggiani for the centre-left government of Romano Prodi to pass what can only be described as panic legislation which allows for the deportation of any other EU national judged to pose a "threat to public security." Vigilantes have since attacked Romanians and the post-fascists have called for mass repatriation.

From Italy we move to Halesowen and Rowley Regis, the constituency for which the Conservative Nigel Hastilow was until Sunday the prospective candidate for. His decision to resign over his article in Friday's Wolverhampton Express and Star which commented that "Many insist: “Enoch Powell was right”, is hardly a one-off event. Every couple of years an MP, a councillor or a candidate gets exposed for holding less than salubrious views, and they either sit it out, resign, or are summarily sacked. Earlier this year we had Patrick Mercer, who shouldn't have had to resign or be sacked for his explanation of the reality of army life, but went anyway. Late last year there was the Conservative councillor who sent on a highly offensive and racist email about Pakistani immigrants. Prior to that there was Ann Winterton and her joke about the Chinese cockle pickers, and two years previously a joke about Pakistanis "being ten a penny." You could write a whole post purely on Tories and their "jokes."

Even the most naive person must realise however that mentioning Enoch Powell and his infamous speech is career suicide, yet Hastilow did it anyway while noting that he was marginalised afterwards. Rightly or wrongly, and you can argue that Powell was, as the apologists for Hastilow would also say, simply speaking for what many others are thinking and telling them, his whole political life has been reduced to just one simple phrase: rivers of blood. Hastilow himself in his actual article only mentions the rivers of blood in inverted commas, and the mention of Powell being right is not his own, but that of "most people" in the Black Country.

More than anything, his article in indicative for what it isn't: it isn't racist, nor is it even slightly original. It's the atypical rant which will appear every so often in any of the right-wing tabloids. He uses an example of a family that may or may not exist that in their own view have been forgotten about and ignored by the local authorities because the "immigrants" have taken all the accommodation. Powell himself used a couple of such examples in his speech, one of a man who said he wanted his family to move abroad because "in 15 or 20 years time the black man will have the whip hand over the white man" and appropriately enough, of a white elderly woman in Wolverhampton supposedly the only white person remaining on her street, who had "excreta pushed through her letterbox." These are the stock, possibly apocryphal tales which make up these "I'm not a racist but.." stories which enable the politician or writer to push an agenda which they're too frightened to come out with and say openly. Later he makes use of Asian Britons who've told him exactly the same, which is the latest example of the above. To be fair, there was an Asian man on Question Time last week who was of the same opinion, and it does for a second make you wonder whether they've forgotten the racism they must have undoubtedly suffered at some point in their lives, or their own struggle for acceptance which their parents underwent, but to pretend that anyone who has a skin colour other than white can't be racist is a self-deluding fantasy. Just because they've said it doesn't make it any less racist or wrong.

Hastilow continues: the nub of his argument is that there are far too many people, that our services can't cope, that we only need these migrants because our own indigenous potential workforce is all on benefits, all so predictable and also easy to disagree with. If anything, the current balance of people is about right, our services are coping admirably well, as the reports recently have shown, and the numbers of those on incapacity benefit are overwhelmingly those who lost their jobs in the 80s and haven't worked since, and aren't going to again. Society may be getting healthier, as he writes, when he perhaps ought to say we're living longer, but if the government's predictions are anything to go by, half of us might well be obese shortly. He claims the population is growing by almost half a million every year but he seems to have forgotten to deduct those emigrating from those migrating, which leaves a net increase of about 200,000. He asks whether we want 3 million more houses, which we'll need regardless of immigration or not, even though he's a member of the party that created the problem through the selling off of council stock that hasn't been replaced. He implies we'll need higher taxes to cope, when we what really need is better targeted funding to the places that need it.

Trevor Phillips last week praised David Cameron for helping to "deracialise" the whole issue of immigration, and Hastilow is equally vehement that it's not about race but numbers. Cameron does deserve a certain amount of credit for a calm, measured speech on immigration, but his policy of not actually coming up with a number for his magical cap is politically bankrupt. The only real reason why the debate has become "deracialised" is that the migration itself is now overwhelmingly deracialised. Those who have come here since the ascension of the eastern European countries to the EU in 2004 might speak a different language, but they sure look like "us" and have the same colour of skin as us. True, the tabloids have tried to whip up the occasional furore about the Polish, notably the Daily Mail (see FCC ad nauseam and here for the most recent most egregious attempt), but most of it has been half-hearted. There's a reason why the British National Party hasn't turned its fire entirely on the new wave of immigration from Europe and has instead concentrated on Muslims, and that's because they're overwhelmingly as Aryan as "we" are. If the migration was coming from either northern Africa or the Middle East, you can bet, "political correctness" or otherwise that the debate would most certainly not be as "deracialised" as it currently is.

Along comes then Hastilow's solution. Police our borders. Deport without debate "bogus asylum seekers". There's no such thing as a bogus asylum seeker, as the Press Complaints Commission set out 4 years ago in a recommendation to editors. There are only failed asylum seekers. Illegal immigrants get the same treatment. Abandon the "human rights" merry-go-round. Get rid of the 11,000 foreign criminals. Note how many of Hastilow's recommendations are the government's own, yet you can't suggest such things. It's all right though, as Hastilow is humane enough to care about "genuine" refugees who we should always allow in. We, not the immigrants themselves are being exploited, and we're a soft touch seen around the world. As a graduate of the university of reading Sun editorials, I can testify I've read the term "soft touch" dozens of times.

If anything, the whole article shows Hastilow's cowardice. He hides behind the granny of the family for saying that Enoch was right. He quotes the Asian Britons who tell him that too many immigrants now come to benefit purely from the welfare state. He instead mainly lambasts the Brits who can't be bothered to work or who can't work. No sir, he hasn't said anything offensive. The others can do that for him. It serves however to perpetuate the myths of political correctness and that you can't talk about immigration without being called a racist and lambasted. Never mind that almost the exact same article could be read in the pages of many papers in this country without anyone batting an eyelid, Hastilow has been silenced and freedom of speech is threatened. Those who fought the Nazis have been betrayed.

There is a debate to be had about immigration, and it does need to be decided on whether there is an optimum rate. The numbers currently coming though are not set in stone. The restrictions that have resulted in those from the A8 coming to either here, Ireland or Sweden might be lifted; circumstances back home will change, with the figures suggesting that the numbers might have already peaked. There's the small matter that shortly the boomers will be moving in retirement, putting pressure on the pensions schemes; unless we all intend to work far longer than our parents, it might well be immigrants that come to the rescue. While no one is suggesting completely cutting off the flow, the farming industry would undoubtedly collapse without migrant labour, as might the care industry that looks after the elderly we so casually toss aside. We might storing up problems for later, but for the moment the economy and the country are benefiting with only minor instances of pressure on services.

Powell in one sense was definitely right - immigration has irrevocably changed this country, but it's changed it for the better. Britain as a result is both more tolerant and pleasant because of it. It's not because of "political correctness" that we've reacted differently to say Italy; it's because of our personal experience of immigration and the challenges that it brings. I saw the comedian Stewart Lee recently, and in a part of his routine about political correctness and why he thought it was a good thing, he mentioned that when he was at school there was one Asian child in his class, and the teacher always referred to him, every single time, as the "black spot". It's unimaginable and shocking today because of how we've been changed. Powell was completely and utterly wrong because the change has come about, not with the black man gaining the upper hand, far from it, but without the rivers of blood he predicted. There have been riots, but mercifully few, and with little loss of actual life. People do regularly say "Enoch Powell was right", I've even heard my father saying it and later rebuked him for it. Like Powell, they were wrong then and they're still wrong now. Hastilow shouldn't have been made to resign or to apologise - he should still stand and see where his article gets him. I have more faith that the people
Halesowen and Rowley Regis would make the right decision than I do in those that have supposedly been contacting him from around the world to back him up.

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Saturday, November 03, 2007 

Nothing ever changes.

One of the photographs showing George as more dangerous than he may well have actually been.

If there's one thing we've learned from previous cases where miscarriages of justice have been exposed, the police tend to fight tooth and nail against any accusations of getting the wrong man, both to defend their original investigation and to protect the officers involved. It's hardly surprising then that both the police and the Crown Prosecution Service aren't even attempting to hide their contempt for the latest appeal being attempted by Barry George and his lawyers against his conviction for murdering Jill Dando.

Again, like with other alleged and proved miscarriages of justice, George is what could be described as an "oddball". When his mental health was examined him prior to his trial, it was found he was suffering from a number of personality disorders, with his defence team suggesting as many as six. Despite the police considering him to be of average intelligence, he was also found to have an IQ of 78. A Grauniad article best summed up his past, littered with obsessions, lies and fantasies, at times demanding to be called Paul Gadd, the real name of Gary Glitter, and later changing his name by deed poll so that he had the same surname as Freddie Merucry, Bulsara. He also posed at times as Mercury's cousin. The article also mentions that for a time George was considered a suspect in the murder of Rachel Nickell, a crime that was initially pinned on Colin Stagg, another man widely accused of being weird, and who endured over a decade of smears and lies in the gutter press after the judge at his trial threw out the prosecution case after it became clear that the only evidence the Met had was gathered using a honeytrap, with a female officer befriending Stagg. The police now believe a man being held indefinitely at Broadmoor was responsible after re-examining forensic evidence.

George's conviction was similarly based on flimsy evidence. The only real prima facie part of the case was that George was found to have a particle of firearms residue discharge found in his pocket, of the same sort of powder as that used in the cartridge of the murder weapon. This has since come under heavy scrutiny because of the possibilities of contamination. In any case, the Forensic Science Service itself now believes that the single speck of FRD is "of no value".

Whilst there have been many other theories as to how and why Jill Dando came to be murdered, the most widely circulated and plausible being a Serbian hitman being responsible, all have been dismissed by the Criminal Cases Review Commission. Apart from the worthlessness of the particle evidence, it has be considered whether George was in any way capable of such an apparently well-planned and executed murder plot. Don Hale, who was instrumental in proving the innocence of Stephen Downing, interviewed George for the Sunday Mirror in 2002, alongside Paddy Hill, one of the "Birmingham Six", found a man overwhelmed by paranoia and living in fear for his own live. To quote Hill's conclusion:

As George returned to our table after wandering off for the umpteenth time Paddy asks: "Is this man capable of planning and killing Jill Dando in cold blood?"

Then he answers his own question: "You wouldn't send him to Tesco," he said.

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Friday, November 02, 2007 

The migrant plague.

Five Chinese Crackers does his usual fine job of eviscerating the lies and deceptions on the front page of today's Daily Express. How very fitting that a scare story about immigration has at long last knocked Madeleine McCann from her perch: the fear of the unknown and foreign replacing the capitalising on err, the fear of the unknown and foreign.

While reading the obituary of Brigadier General Paul Tibbets, the man who piloted the Enola Gay, I was reminded of Wilfred Burchett and his exposing of the radiation poisoning effects of nuclear fallout on those who survived the initial dropping of the atomic bomb. His account appeared in the Express, and so embarrassed the Americans that General MacArthur personally barred him from Japan. You somehow can't imagine such a story ever leading the front page of the Express again.

Unless of course somehow immigrants were to blame.

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de Menezes backlash commences yet again.

Just like when the second IPCC report into the Met's dealing with the aftermath of the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes was quickly in the crossfire of the backlash against its findings, so it is today when the Sun leads the way with the claims that yesterday's successful health and safety prosecution could mean that "terror gangs will go free":

FURIOUS cops last night warned terror gangs could escape scot free – after the Met was convicted under health and safety laws over the bungled shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes.

The jury’s verdict – after a trial costing taxpayers £3.5million – was slammed for giving bombers a new loophole to dodge arrest.

First things first, make sure that you get in just what it cost the taxpayers for this important verdict. The £300,000 cost of the IPCC investigation was similarly highlighted last time round. Naturally, don't mention that "Sir" Ian Blair himself could have spared any further cost to the taxpayer by pleading guilty, as some officers urged him to do.

Angry officers claimed robbers and kidnappers would also be gloating that the killing of the Brazilian – mistaken for a suicide bomber – was deemed to have put public safety at risk.

Of course. They won't be put off by knowing just how likely they're to be shot considering how often they manage to kill innocents.

And Met Police Authority member Damian Hockney branded the implications “ludicrous”.

He said grimly: “We now have a police service that will be so terrified of taking positive action in future potential terrorist situations that it may ultimately lead to even greater loss of life.”

Specious nonsense. It may have came before this prosecution, but the example of Forest Gate sure doesn't suggest that the experience of Stockwell had altered police planning and conduct one iota.

John Yates, the Met’s assistant commissioner, described the verdict as “very significant to policing and fast-time operations, not just around terrorism”.

He said: “This could go into kidnap situations and live firearms operations that we deal with day in, day out.”

One would think that the judge in his ruling had not considered the fact that the police were under unique pressures on that morning - when he fact did. That this case involved potential suicide bombers was crucial; a suicide bomber poses far more threat to the public than any kidnapper or even a lone gunman, who usually have such weapons for robbery or protection. Spree shootings in this country, which could be considered as dangerous, are incredibly rare thanks to the gun laws, and in any case would also be another unique circumstance. Yesterday's ruling made clear that there were failings at every level, but the biggest was that the police's plan to stop individuals after they had moved a suitable distance away from Scotia Road didn't work because SO19 weren't in place and the other officers weren't suitably trained to stop those who left the flats. The only major effect it should have on the police is that they ought to *shock* actually put some thought into their planning and then make sure what is in those plans actually goes ahead. It was a unique situation, but by the time de Menezes left his flat, the police had had the best part of 18 hours to get on top of it.

That would turn undercover operations into a farce. The Met’s chief lawyer Mark Scoggins said: “Say we get credible intelligence that a number of people are planning an atrocity.

“We identify one of them. Under normal circumstances, we would want to identify what they were doing and who there were associated with. If the prosecution case is correct in this instance, that option will not be open to us.

“We won’t be allowed to let him go anywhere near the public – even if we don’t think he is carrying a bomb – because that might expose the public to risk. We couldn’t follow him to his bomb factory or associates.”

This is a complete misleading, fearmongering misreading of the ruling. The police failed because they let the bomber get on public transportation, where the previous days' failed attacks had taken place, not because they had let the suspect leave his property at all. It will most certainly not affect everyday policing, purely because the police simply cannot prevent every terrorist attack, just as they cannot prevent every crime. The unique circumstances involved here, where the terrorists had already attempted their attack meant that they should never have been let to return to where they were most likely to strike again.

The Scum's leader is more nuanced and balanced this time round, but perhaps more representative are a handful of the comments on the piece itself:

He was in the country illegally and acted accordantly by running when chased what are those who were who believed they were chasing a terrorist supposed to do. They the police did their job to protect us. Now the legal system has created a massive loop-hole that will create a bigger threat, will the courts be liable for compensation should people be injured or die as a result?

The man ran away, it was after terror threats made to this country...

It was a horrible mistake that he was shot, but mistakes happen. He ran from the police... On the carriage Jean Charles made a specific gesture that the police are trained to identify as trying to detonate a bomb... And now when gun cops are faced with dangerous situations in future, instead of thinking "if I have to pull the trigger to minimise the danger to members of the public, that's what i'll do", they'll be thinking "oh no. What about that brazilian guy? I don't want to lose my job".

Even after all this time, numerous people still believe that de Menezes ran. The Met's failure to correct those stories, and indeed, its active encouragement of them to begin with only shows how, as long as you get your response in early enough, you can get away with the most obscene of lies and disasters with some people. The last comment is especially galling: the officers who shot de Menezes have not only not been sacked, they were put back on active duty prior to any disciplinary action and praised to high heaven for their "professionalism". It's worth pointing out that two people have commented and pointed out de Menezes didn't run, but there still seems to be a majority disagreeing heartily with the ruling and blaming "political correctness". Blood and Treasure also tackles yet more inanity from Ken Livingstone.

Despite Daily Mail front pages, it seems that Ian Blair is going to manage to remain in his job yet again. We shouldn't really be surprised at this state of affairs, however. After all, you can lie and distort about weapons of mass destruction, be ultimately responsible for the deaths of thousands of people and not be held in any way accountable. How could Labour call for his resignation when all Blair did was learn from his namesake and their former leader?

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Thursday, November 01, 2007 

A guilty verdict, but still no justice.

Before we get away with ourselves celebrating the fact that the Metropolitan police have finally been held to some sort of account over the events of the 22nd of July 2005 (although no individual has been personally blamed), Unspeak throws a spanner into the works. The prosecution case against the Met didn't in fact rest on the small matter that they had endangered the public by shooting dead an innocent man, but rather they had endangered the public by not stopping Jean Charles de Menezes before he had got on any mode of public transport, either a bus or the tube train where he met his violent end. Presumably, if de Menezes had been shot dead shortly after he exited his flat, the police would have not been in the dock at all.

That detail is only one of the minor perversities that have littered the police's response to their execution of de Menezes. The not guilty plea was itself a joke, as the prosecution clearly showed. The detailed, at times forensic examination of what happened that morning exposed a police force in chaos, riddled with general incompetence and showing myriad failings. The Met didn't have any answer to why the SO19 firearms unit, which had been meant to arrive at Scotia Road, where Hussein Osman, one of the failed suicide bombers of the previous day lived at 5:30 in fact didn't turn up until 5 hours later. They couldn't explain why de Menezes was first dismissed as not Osman, then subsequently told that he in fact was, although that is also still confused. The surveillance officers themselves didn't know that the firearms team were present. They couldn't argue against how the firearms team had been told the "suspect was up for it" or that they had been informed they may have to use special "tactics" - shooting the suspect in the head. No one managed to even come up with a reason why he was shot - there was, if the testimony of Cressida Dick and the firearms officers involved is to be believed - no unmitigated authorisation of lethal force.

Instead, the Met fell back on the two things that it has used since shortly after de Menezes was shot: smears and lies. In the aftermath of the Stockwell shooting, the police actively encouraged the stories which some witnesses had given that de Menezes had leapt the barrier, been wearing a bulky jacket and refused to cooperate with officers. One source even stated he had been wearing a belt with wires coming from it. Rather than correct these inaccurate stories, which they knew to be untrue within a matter of hours as the second IPCC report showed, they included them in their own press releases. It took the leaking of the initial IPCC investigation for the truth to slowly start to emerge, that de Menezes had been wearing a light denim jacket, that the officers who shot him were the ones who had leapt the barriers and that he offered no resistance whatsoever; he wasn't given a chance to. In the mean time, the media were briefed that he had overstayed his visa, as if this affected anything whatsoever and later on, that a woman had accused him of rape, something he was cleared of to far less fanfare.

This attitude was exemplified by the behaviour of the defence during the trial. The fact that he had cocaine in his urine was blown out of all proportion, used to try to explain his "aggressiveness, agitation and nervousness" all adjectives used to suggest his in fact normal behaviour was indicative of that of a potential suicide bomber. A prosecution witness accused the defence of manipulating a photograph of de Menezes that was released side by side with one of Hussein Osman to show just how similar they looked, when anyone with a pair of eyes can see that they look nothing like each other. The closing speech by the defence lawyer, Ronald Thwaites QC, has to be one of the most mendacious and deliberately misleading attempts to push the jury towards acquitting of recent times, claiming that de Menezes, who didn't act out of the ordinary or in an "aggressive and threatening" manner was doing something he didn't because he "thought" he had drugs in his pocket, even though he didn't, or because his visa had run out. It's worth quoting some of it in full:

"He was shot because when he was challenged by police he did not comply with them but reacted precisely as they had been briefed a suicide bomber might react at the point of detonating his bomb.

"Furthermore, he looked like the suspect and he had behaved suspiciously. Not only did he not comply, he moved in an aggressive and threatening manner as interpreted by the police and as would be interpreted by you and me in those circumstances, less than 24 hours after an attempt to bomb on the Underground and a bus had taken place.

"This case should never have been brought by any conscientious prosecuting authority worth its salt."

The first paragraph is directly contradicted by the evidence given by "Ivor", the surveillance officer that grabbed de Menezes.

Ivor moved into action as Mr Menezes stood up from his seat on the Northern line train with his arms at waist level and slightly in front of him. He told the jury: "I grabbed Mr Menezes, wrapping both my arms around the torso, pinning his arms against his side, pushing him back to the seat with the right hand side of my head against the right hand side of his torso, pinning him to the seat.

A witness who has spoken to the BBC gave a similar account:

Anna Dunwoodie, who was in the same carriage as Mr Menezes when he was shot, told the BBC how she witnessed this "horrific" moment when armed police ran on board the train.

"It didn't feel to me like I was in the middle of a police operation," she recalled.

"The men who came running in seemed quite chaotic. I'd describe them as slightly hysterical.

"Jean Charles, to my knowledge, did nothing out of the ordinary.

"I didn't notice him until he had a gun pressed to him. It felt to me like he was someone who was being picked on at random because he was nearest to the door.

"We all ran to the sound of gunshots."

Hardly the actions of a man who didn't comply with police requests (some accounts suggest they weren't any) or that was about to detonate explosives. By Thwaites' and Dick's definition, acting suspiciously is getting off a bus to enter a tube station, finding it's closed and getting back on again, then using your mobile phone to send text messages and phone people. If the police shot dead every person who did that on public transport, we wouldn't have to worry about immigration ever again.

Dick herself was just as disingenuous. While being cross-examined she claimed she would act exactly the same again:

"In relation to my own decisions, given what I now know and what I was told at the time, I wouldn't change those decisions."

So instead of just saying that "Nettletip" should be stopped, as she claimed she did, she wouldn't have instead said, unequivocally, that he should be arrested? Dick is either a knave or a fool to say such a thing. The original IPCC report, contents of which were leaked to the News of the World, suggested that she might have added "at all costs" to her order that de Menezes be stopped, something she denied in the witness box.

As a result, we still have no real answer to why de Menezes was shot dead. As Vikram Dodd's account of what took place on the Grauniad website makes clear, and if the evidence given by Dick is to be believed, there was no official authorisation of lethal force. Did the SO19 officers, pumped up by their briefing, take the matter into their own hands once they knew that a potential suicide bomber was already on a train, or was there some other communication that they either misheard or misinterpreted? We simply don't know, because neither of the men who fired shots were called to testify.

We may yet learn more from the inquest, which is likely to be held next year, or from the release of the original IPCC report, held back until the end of the trial, which according to them is to be released within days. Other questions that need answering are how and why the SAS was involved and why bullets that are illegal under the Hague convention were felt suitable for use.

Two things remain the same after all this, however. The Met, despite being fined a substantial amount, a curious decision in itself as it means the taxpayers who were put at risk in the first place are paying for the police's "complete and utter fuck-up", still decides no one is personally accountable. Sir Ian Blair, a man who could have resigned or been sacked multiple times over, and who most certainly should have been fired after the second IPCC report found his secretary knew before him that an innocent man had been shot, is refusing to resign, despite both opposition parties' calling for his removal. Indeed, despite all the evidence to the contrary, he even claimed the mistakes made were not "systematic". He has the support of the government, and of Ken Livingstone, who really should know better but who defends Blair because he fears a more "traditional" copper in the top job. Livingstone's remarks that it will make defending the capital more difficult are also nonsensical: this was the only way to force the Met into changing its procedures which endangered far more people that day than the bombers on the loose did.

Secondly, the de Menezes family still has not seen justice served. The Crown Prosecution Service ought to reconsider its decision not to charge the officers responsible for de Menezes' death with at least manslaughter, considering no order was given for him to be shot, although the inquest may yet find de Menezes was unlawfully killed, triggering another investigation.

The de Menezes family's son was first shot, then smeared, insulted with the promotion of Cressida Dick before any discplinary action, then smeared once again. When police failures involve officers lower down the chain of command, it results in sackings. When the failures involve top level management, no one's responsible. The Met truly has become a corporate machine.

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