Wednesday, April 30, 2008 

Gordon Brown, politics and courage.

There are two rules in modern politics. Whatever you do, don't admit that anything you've done or said has been a mistake, unless it becomes absolutely necessary. If you are forced into admitting you've got or done something wrong, make certain that the word "sorry" doesn't cross your lips, and also, under no circumstances whatsoever do you use the word "lie". Hence Hillary Clinton, who claimed she visited Bosnia under sniper fire, something proved to be utter horseshit, simply "misspoke".

Likewise, Gordon Brown, that most proud of men, never knowingly undersold like the nation's finest department stores, wasn't bandying about such namby pamby stuff as apologising or being sorry for the abolition of the 10p top rate of tax. Let's be charitable though: after all, just a few weeks ago he was refusing to believe that anyone whatsoever would be losing out, triggering the mother of all rebellions led by Frank Field, the man who cares about the hard-working low paid poor, but not so much about those who aren't working who ought to be ushered into the workhouse, although I might just be slightly exaggerating his views on the unemployed and current benefit system.

To digress, Brown admitted that both those earning under £18,000 a year and who aren't eligible for tax credits "weren't covered as well as they should [have been]" and that 60 to 64-year-olds without higher pensioner tax allowance also suffered. This, as the removal of the 10p rate always was without shifting the burden from the poorest to those more than able to pay, is to not see the wood for the trees. As attractive and helpful as the tax credit scheme has been for the lowest-paid, all it has done is to lance the boil, while simultaneously and ironically leaving those who are meant to be working for themselves and not for the state dependent upon it almost as much as they would be if they were out of work. It's the classic example of giving with one hand whilst taking away with the other. Instead of risking the ire of the CBI and small businesses by raising the minimum wage to one upon which it would possible to live on alone, while simultaneously raising the tax threshold so that the poorest pay very little to no tax at all, Brown's final budget as chancellor was the most regressive of his tenure. He and his advisers must have realised this: if they didn't, then both he and they were either incompetent, grasping for a good headline or both. It was spotted almost immediately by the anoraks and those who actually cared, but for almost everyone else it wasn't until the first pay cheques under the changes were sent out that Brown's whacking of the poorest became the scandal it ought to have been from the beginning.

As certain female columnists have spent years banging into us, Brown is for nothing if he isn't for abolishing child poverty and helping the poorest. Even after the supposed u-turn, it seems uncertain whether all those losing out will be in any way compensated, Field and the Treasury coming out with different interpretations of how the help would be dished out. In any event, the bottom line itself is not up for discussion: the 10p rate, a manifesto pledge in 97, has gone and isn't coming back, and neither is the bureaucratic nightmare which is the tax credits scheme. If you're too proud or to confused to claim tax credits, then, well buddy, you can sit and spin. The inequity of this situation is stark: just as the credit crunch bites, a situation created by both bankers and governments living on the never-never and in complete hock to neoliberal dogma, the faceless cleaner that mops up the sweat and tears from the floor of the concrete conurbation in the centre of London pays a higher proportion of a tax than the testestorone fuelled junkies they wipe up after.

Chris at Stumbling and Mumbling offers a solution to the whole sorry mess: raising the personal tax allowance by £1,200, while putting 7 pence on the highest tax rate. It is though, like almost all the worthy proposals which deserve to be policy but are likely never in our lifetime to be, a fantasy. The right-wing press would howl, the CBI would bleat, the Financial Times would scream, and the Tories would, along with the tabloids,soon have everyone convinced that they would be the ones being clobbered, just as apparently many now fear that they were about to be/would have been hit by the 10p rate abolition. Like with so much else that Labour could have done had it been led by someone truly radical instead of just a radical centrist, the time to have done so was back in 97, when the original pledge on the 10p rate was made. It would also require courage, something that Gordon Brown can write about, but which it seems he doesn't actually himself have. Actually, that's unfair: Gordon does have courage, but it's the courage to ignore the opinion of those who actually know what they're talking about, and to instead give in to the most hysterical moralist campaigners in the land; it's the courage to shaft those cushy prisoners from getting an extra pittance this year; and it's the courage to try and buy off Grauniad readers with a "listening" scheme that will be just as centrally controlled as all the previous ones were, a day before the local elections. When it comes to having genuine courage, the magnanimous sort which allows an individual to admit they were wrong and also that they are sorry for being wrong, Gordon simply doesn't have it.

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Scum-watch: Diverting the blame.

Everyone knows by now that the reason Rupert Murdoch and every single one of his newspapers the world over supported the Iraq war was not because he had even the slightest feeling for the suffering of the Iraqi people, or because he felt that Saddam and his "weapons of mass destruction" were a threat, but because he, like some others at the top of the Bush administration, had been sold the lie that the stealing of Iraq's oil would result in a massive drop in the market price. This was always going to be a fallacy, but few predicted that five years on, rather than the price of oil being $20 a barrel as Murdoch hoped, that it would be six times that.

It would be nice therefore if Murdoch's newspapers took some responsibility for why petrol is now around £1.10 a litre or more, the cost of diesel hovering around £1.20. It was their belligerent and still unrelenting support for the war and also for Tony Blair that helped seal our involvement in it; making it impossible for them to blame the war and the consequent instability in the region for the current all-time high.

Naturally then, the government gets all the blame:

Meanwhile, oil companies — AND the Government — are awash with cash as billions in windfall profits and VAT swamp their coffers.

To make matters worse, Chancellor Alistair Darling wants to turn the screw with yet ANOTHER 2p a litre increase in October.

The taxman stings us for 66p in VAT and fuel duty for every litre costing £1.08 — already a fading memory.

That’s highway robbery.

The Government now faces a re-run of the fuel protests which struck terror into the hearts of ministers eight years ago.

If Mr Darling has any sense, he will stop torturing voters.

As the Sun more than knows, the government is not awash with cash. At the same time, if the Treasury moved to impose a windfall tax on the likes of BP and Shell and their unprecedented first-quarter profits, the Sun and the Murdoch press would be among the first to be squealing at such shocking intervention and injustice. Then again, the Sun was hardly going to hold its hands up and say to its readers, "we're sorry, we're part of the reason why you're suffering so much", was it? Far better then to throw all the blame on the government, and not the speculators, the war or those notoriously easily offended Saudis.

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Minor blogging transgressions.

Interesting to note tonight that one of Paul "Guido Fawkes" Staines' seen elsewhere links is to a Labour candidate arrested for possession and distribution of child pornography. Strangely, he's found no space to report on his own transgressions:

Off to the rack with him! The waspish Westminster blogger "Guido Fawkes", who is devoted to making life uncomfortable for political trough-guzzlers, joins his historical namesake in finding himself at the sharp end of the legal system.

Lobbyists, aides and parliamentarians from all sides of the Houses – particularly those with something to hide – will be delighted to learn that the famously thirsty troublemaker, real name Paul Staines, was up before the beak at Tower Bridge Magistrates Court last Thursday.

He admitted driving while under the influence and without insurance after being stopped by the Plod in the small hours of 17 April, driving his wife's Volkswagen fast and swerving across lanes in south London. He was breathalysed and found to be almost twice the legal limit. Asked by District Judge Timothy Stone whether he had an alcohol problem, Staines said: "Possibly."

Sentencing is on 15 May. It is his fourth alcohol-related offence and second drink-driving reprimand – he was banned for 12 months in 2002 – requiring the judge to consider a jail sentence.

Seems to be little chance of this also being mentioned in his comment sections - which are most assuredly on moderation. Still, at least it seems unlikely he'll have to worry about this for much longer.

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Tuesday, April 29, 2008 

Political biographies and Lord Levy.

In a world in which ever more thoughts are expelled, and the written to the read ratio drops accordingly, it's curious how the book publishers continue to inflict ever greater crimes against literature on the public at large, even when it seems apparent that it will be simply impossible to recur the original outlay in sealing the deal and providing the advance when the contents are likely to be of interest to only the dullest, most anal and self-hating of individuals.

My point could be about the cross-spectrum of banality provided by sports stars, the cacophony of crying from the misery memoir writers, the vacuousness of self-absorbed celebrities who describe themselves as journalists for writing a column about being a professional clothes horse and beach-dweller, but at least the aforementioned three are guaranteed to sell more than a couple of copies. The same can't be said for the political memoir, no longer confined to those who reach the very top and stay there, and just might have something to contribute towards history, but to the increasing number of acolytes that also make the grade. In recent weeks we've been treated to John Prescott admitting that he was putting his hand down more than the one orifice we've already been alerted to and Jonathan Powell, one of Blair's chief adviser's reminiscing over the Northern Ireland peace talks, a worthy subject for sure but not one which really told us anything new.

The collective nadir appeared to have been reached with the self-indulgent diaries of David Blunkett, who had nothing whatsoever to say but decided instead to wallow in his own misery. There's nothing especially wrong with doing that, but his justifications and blaming of all his woes on everyone other than himself, especially when he played the media for all it was worth and continues to do so rightly rankled, and the book was the biggest and most deserving of flops.

With the memory of that in mind, it's hard to fathom exactly what Simon and Schuster were thinking in giving Michael Levy, aka Lord Levy, the chance to write his autobiography and, more pertinently, his own account of the "cash for peerages" scandal. Never the most sympathetic of figures, especially when he and others resorted to claims of anti-Semitism because of the level of criticism and speculation directed towards him, he has the added problem of despite being Labour's chief fundraiser under Blair of by no means being one of the former prime minister's chief confidants. Even the title sticks in the throat, almost mockingly titled "A Question of Honour".

The excerpts from the Mail on Sunday's serialisation may not represent the overall tone, but it seems as if in lieu of actual juicy material, Levy has decided to take his revenge not just on those he felt were out to get him because of his connection with Blair, but also the Blairs himself and his apparent cooling towards them, whether because he felt Downing Street didn't provide enough support in his hour of need or not. Levy relates anecdotes about Blair receiving long massages from Carole Caplin, of Cherie's conflict with Anji Hunter, and his eventual disappointment with Blair "just being in it for himself", as though Levy himself also wasn't. It also wasn't his idea to seek loans and he didn't want to do so, but was pushed into doing so by Blair, Matt Carter and Alan Milburn. Doubtless the offering of a "K or a P" was also not his idea, but someone else's also.

The main vindictive streak though is certainly left for Gordon Brown and others sensed to have slighted him, with him quoting Blair calling Brown a liar and viewing him as duplicitous, both qualities which we know for certain neither Blair nor Levy have. He also suggests that Brown did know about the loans, something that we know almost for certain that he did not. Similarly questionable is his claim that Jack Dromey, Labour's treasurer went public with his concerns over the loans after they were first revealed in a bid to damage Blair and shore up Brown, which if true would have been inflicting a wound on the party as a whole, not just Blair, something that Brown, would had so many opportunities to wield the knife but never did so was loth to do. The biggest wound though is undoubtedly Blair's other suggested conversation with Levy which suggested that he didn't believe that Brown could win against Cameron, something denied by Blair's camp. For those allegations to come at the same time as Brown is in such difficulties, even if they are mostly of his own making and just a few days before the local elections makes it all the damaging and all the less forgiveable for someone already fabulously wealthy to be once again cashing in as he did so often in the past for others.

The Guardian's leader on Levy's comments finishes by saying that Levy isn't the problem but that the funding system is. That lets both Levy and Blair completely off the hook. Levy didn't have to go along with Blair's urgings to get loans, even if that was the case. It omits any responsibility on either of their behalf for the curious coincidence of four of those who had made loans subsequently being nominated to receive a peerage. The Crown Prosecution Service may have decided that there wasn't enough evidence for anyone to be charged under the ancient act brought in after Lloyd George's selling of honours, but that hardly clears him or Blair of impropriety in full. Levy's behaviour undeniably brought the whole system into disrepute, creating a stench of corruption that will only be dispersed when all parties agree to a system, a deal currently being blocked by the Conservatives wanting to destroy Labour's link with the unions, a move that would force it to rely on the very individuals who got it in such a mess in the first place. His profiting from his role is the scandal is typical of both a man and a party which has become just as shameless in pursuit of power and wealth as all those before them.

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Scum-watch: Going soft on immigrants, but not on "Town Hall Hitlers".

In another sign of the Sun's increasing move towards something approaching liberalism, at least outside of the criminal justice system, here's a surprisingly positive leader on immigration:

THE vast majority of immigrants are decent, law-abiding people — whichever country they come from.

They work hard, claim few benefits and are grateful for what Britain has to offer — not just in higher pay and better conditions, but in friendship.

In return, most Brits are hospitable and ready to make room for well-behaved newcomers, as long as they play by our rules.

The experience of Polish builder Piotr Szepsel and his wife Anna is typical.

The couple have mixed in with neighbours and made many new friends. Piotr is a regular at his local pub and an avid Arsenal fan.

The couple work all hours to keep their heads above water, pay their taxes — and refuse to accept welfare.

Now they want to stay and raise their baby daughter, Anastazya, as a British citizen.

They are a credit to their own country — and to ours.

WE benefit from their skills and industry. THEY gain from a country which is genuinely tolerant to its migrant communities.

Now, as patronising and emphatic as it is on how immigrants must assimilate and not rock the boat by bringing any funny ideas with them, not to mention the insolence of considering claiming any benefits, can you seriously imagine a similarly mostly positive editorial in the Mail which didn't have a sting in the tail, let alone the Express? Undoubtedly, one of the reasons why the debate on immigration has become "deracialised" as Trevor Phillips said is because the latest wave has been, to use a Greg Dyke quote completely out of context, "hideously white". It's not because race itself is no longer an issue, it's because race is at the moment not involved in the discussion, or only is at the very periphery, for example in the hysteria over "Fagin's Heirs", where the Roma were wrongly implicated, or as the tabloids refer to them "gipsies". Fittingly, those who will be hit by the government's points system and restrictions now coming in will be the non-whites, while the eastern Europeans will continue to be able to come and go as they more or less please.

Some of this current approach could be linked back to Murdoch himself: he might be a stupendous hypocrite on most things, but even he realises that he can't get away with bashing immigrants too much, although "foreigners", especially the French, still get in the neck regularly. It would be nice to think that the Sun is perhaps reflecting its readers more accurately than some of the other press, but going by the reactions on MySun whenever immigration is mentioned, although hardly representative, that seems unlikely. It could be related to James Murdoch's appointment as the overseer of the UK News Corp business, as he's known to be more liberal than his father, having convinced him of the virtues of going green, but he's certainly no less tenacious over the BBC, as evidenced by his pathetic bleating about the iPlayer. The most compelling explanation though is that Wade and those around her are figuring out exactly where they want their paper to sit, still assuredly on the right, but not as stuck in the mud as the Mail and Express, moving with the times as those two inexorably age.

Don't be fooled though. The Sun can still be just as unpleasant, idiotic and over-the-top when it needs to be or when Murdoch's own interests are threatened. The signing of the talk radio blowhard Jon Gaunt and the giving of a column to the executive editor Fergus Shanahan ensures that all those bases are still covered. Shanahan's column today is typically boneheaded and offensive, a poor Richard Littlejohn-esque knock-off, tarring all councils with the same brush by using the example of one-offs, such as the man convicted for not having his bin shut and the family spied on by the local council using the powers under RIPA (not anti-terror legislation, as news organisations continue to misleadingly claim), finishing with the flourish that a vote for the Tories is the best option because "at least... you know they are desperate to impress". Those desperate to impress are always the best people to put in charge.

Oh, and not to dwell too long on the on-going Madeleine madness, but the Sun's incredibly one-sided account, which could only have been produced with direct cooperation with the McCanns, has this charming break in the middle of it:

For most of the last 12 months Kate McCann has been the embodiment of suffering — her face wracked with the unbearable agony of a mother whose child was taken to an uncertain fate. The slideshow pictures below show her pain, month by month.

Here's someone suffering - and you too can gaze on 12 different pictures of them doing so for no other reason than voyeurism. Lovely. Some things are set to never change.

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Monday, April 28, 2008 

Ashley and Hillary.

Jackie Ashley opens her ball-breakingly familiar column with this paragraph:

There can't be a lot that cheers Gordon Brown over his morning porridge, but if he turns to the foreign pages he might ponder the Hillary effect. In Hillary Clinton, we see a politician loathed by a big section of the population, written off, jeered at, ordered to leave the stage, who, by sheer dogged determination - and by fighting, not quitting - has not only managed a comeback but earned grudging respect.

Well, that's one perspective. There's a different view of Hillary - an individual who's past their sell-by-date, who can't possibly win the popular vote, and whom by sticking around way past when they should have given in is only causing possible irreparable damage to their wider party, especially by resorting to cheap and nasty tactics while her opponent is dignified and respectful by comparison.

Now who does that remind you of?

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Kill your middle-class indecision.

This, along with the John Prescott bulimia story, almost seem like extremely late April Fools:

Middle England is dead, long live midBritain. The publisher of the Daily Mail, long considered the house journal for middle England, has coined the term in an attempt to rebrand what it considers the "offensive" and "outdated" stereotypes associated with its core readership.

This isn't of course the Daily Mail rushing to the defense of its readership. It's instead rushing to the defense of itself.

The results of the group's research, published today, claim that rather than being "old fashioned, narrow-minded and conservative", such people are "interested in others' opinions", are "influential, engaged and vocal", and worry about the economy and the environment. They have a high level of disposable income and are the "ultimate consumers with the power to make or break almost any brand".

Which only goes to prove that when it comes to making yourself look better to researchers, people will say anything. Again though, this isn't about the Daily Mail's readership, it's the Daily Mail saying to anyone and everything, look, you fuck with us, we control these people's minds and we, make no mistake, will fuck you up.

The most distressing "fact" though has to be this one:

Having established that 47% of the population are so-called midBritons

We really are doomed.

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Madeleine: the never-ending story.

You wait ages for more stories about Madeleine McCann to fill the empty stomachs of both newspaper editors and the few, still voracious readers that can't binge on them enough to arrive and then three come along at once.

Actually, let's just rewind for half a second. Is there really anyone still out there that isn't so sick of the sight of Madeleine, her parents and also Clarence Mitchell that they'll purposefully not buy any newspaper or watch any channel featuring yet another redundant article or pseudo-documentary on the three of them? In the Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, the idea of being able to wipe someone completely out of your memory is treated as though it would be a bad, bad thing - trying telling that for example to either the stalker, or indeed, the stalkee. I, and I suspect a large number of the population of this poor, benighted septic isle, would quite willingly pay inordinate amounts for a service which destroyed the receptacles which contain all we know about Maddie, Kate, Gerry and all in sundry. I try my best to continue to feel something approaching empathy for the couple, who despite everything that has happened, have lost a child through absolutely no fault of their own, but as the days tick by and the headlines still come, the narrative long since lost, I can't be the only one who yearns for them to just go away.

The McCanns are victims on two fronts - not just that their daughter has been taken from them, but that the media, in all its forms, has exploited them and wanted to use their every sweat and tear drop for their own purposes. The ambivalence of not knowing where to apply the blame, and blame, as always, is vital and an important part of the story, is that the McCanns themselves were the ones who were the first to use others. Their motives were impeccable, but publicity, which is what they thought might deliver their daughter back to them, also threatened to scare whoever took her into taking to ground, if "he" hadn't already disappeared for good. It was a risk worth taking, but it was also one that started the fire, one which to this day is still alight and burning just as fiercely as ever.

It seems doubtful that even they could have foreseen that the disappearance of their daughter would be used to beat every dead horse that could possibly be struck. Swarthy foreigners, paedophiles, bent and incompetent bumbling police officers, open class prejudice, down to today's most ludicrous and possibly weakest Madeleine front page splash ever, the deplorable Daily Star's "MUSLIM SICKOS' MADDIE KIDNAP SHOCK", an article which doesn't seem to have been republished online, which details "extremists" chatting amongst themselves of how the McCanns themselves might be responsible, something that the Daily Star seems outraged about purely because they had to publish a front page apology and pay the McCanns £500,000 when they did it for months on end, all have been brought in, attacked and condemned, usually without even the slightest evidence to back up their claims, the only link between them being churnalism and keeping a story going for their own purposes. Lionel Shriver, in an excellent piece, comes to a conclusion few will disagree with:

In the case of Madeleine McCann, the British media has frequently elevated the requirements of fiction over the truth. As a consequence, a grieving couple's loss of their daughter has been made even more agonising than it had to be. Indeed, this last year's over-the-top Maddy-mongering has to go down as one of British journalism's most shameful instances of cheap, cavalier opportunism - of its greater commitment to a "good story" over the accurate one.

Words that feel all the more poignant, published just a day before the Sun launches 3-days worth of what can only be described as flowery bullshit, with "Maddie: A year in the darkness". Just today, the paper is dedicating a whole 12 pages to this special in mock empathy. The emptiness of the words that open this dirge are worth quoting:

WITH one momentous sentence on May 4, 2007, the Associated Press broke one of the biggest news stories of modern times.

Almost exactly a year on, it continues to fascinate and horrify. To send chills down the spine of every parent. To turn us all into armchair detectives harbouring pet theories on what really happened.

Its complexities, moral and forensic, are still talked about in every home, office and factory, and in every newspaper.

None of us had heard of Madeleine McCann until she was already gone. But we feel we know her now.

To see pictures of the face we will never forget, click on the slideshow below

Since last May, millions of words have been written about her disappearance and the continuing torment of her parents Kate and Gerry. In three Sun specials this week, JOHN PERRY sorts the fact from the fiction in the most complete account to date.

This the very worst of journalism. In fact, let's not dignify it by calling it journalism. It isn't. It's emotional pornography, the act of someone who should know better doing the equivalent of jerking the reader off, telling him or her what they think they want to hear rather than making them employ the use of their brain for half a second. There is only one previous event that resulted in trained, well-educated individuals turning out such mawkish, sentimental nonsense, and that was the death of Princess Diana. Diana's death occurred before the full takeover of the 24-hour news cycle, before the full advent of the internet and all that has entailed for individual participation, but even then it was noted that her death resulted in it being flooded with the very worst that it encourages and provides a platform for: the conspiracy theorists, the cranks and those who can shout the loudest when they ought to just shut up.

Perhaps the Sun's front page and its special signify more about their and everyone else's response to the case than even they realise at face value. "Her harrowing story" it screams - harrowing? Really? It's harrowing purely because of the spin that they've put on it; it seems, in retrospect, as Shriver notes, almost ordinary. Little girl goes missing, her fate unknown. Harrowing for the parents maybe, but for Madeleine herself? Not necessarily. The opening paragraphs of their story give the game away even further, "to send chills down the spine of every parent"; fear sells, as the self-same newspapers ever shrieking about predatory paedophiles when children are most likely to be killed or abused by those known to them, especially their close family know all too well. We want to lock terrorists up for 42 days and plan endlessly to thwart attacks, yet being killed by a terrorist is far beyond the odds of winning the lottery, with dying from a hospital superbug, or even more likely, in a car accident, is something which is far less, well, sexy. The title itself, Madeleine: a year in the darkness works both ways: we don't know what happened to her, but then neither do those who have wrote about her; they've been literally working in the dark, shamelessly slandering anyone and everyone, all in the name of pursuing sales. It doesn't matter who's been caught in the crossfire: the ends justify the means. £500,000 from the Express, which went too far, is probably small beer off what even those two gutter rags earned from their reports. Robert Murat, another individual caught in the crossfire after a tabloid journalist, who might just have a degree in the humanities instead of psychology or anything that might have justified her turning her petty suspicions into open accusations reported him to the police, has launched his own libel action against all of the tabloids and also the Scotsman. It's hard not to think that he'll deserve every penny that he might receive.

It's not even as if today is the first year anniversary of Madeleine's disappearance: rather, it again seems that this is the media trying to outdo each other, either the Sun or the Mirror responding to each other's respective exclusives, the actual date still being 3 weeks away. The Mirror's headline is "Sometimes We Feel Like Giving Up". Excuse me if I'm wistful that either they, the newspapers, or indeed I actually did do that. Then again, maybe there is a glimmer of light in another, genuinely harrowing story, the one that broke yesterday in Austria. The Sun is already on the case, asking MySun contributors how they would punish a man not yet convicted of any crime.

To come back to Shriver again, she also writes:

Journalists have to remain committed to keeping reality intact, even if the real story is flat.

This is an almost utilitarian, noble view of what journalists are supposed to do. As this blog and countless others have noted time and again, this is simply not what the British press does. It sensationalises, it distorts, it lies, and it's done it for a very long time. Say this to them and they scream of censorship and press freedom, yet it's those very notions that the press brings upon itself by its actions. They complain of a liberal media, as does some right-wingers, of a sort of conspiracy between the BBC and the Guardian that somehow governs the country and controls what can and cannot be said. It's a hysterical fantasy, but it's a beguiling one, much like their very coverage of the Madeleine McCann case. Some thought that the libel actions against the Express would have brought an end to the rapacious, scurrilous coverage, but it hasn't. There's still newspapers to be sold and money to be made, and little things like accuracy and compassion don't enter into that. The crocodile tears will continue to be shed, and getting a grip or a perspective has long been cast out, to be shunned for evermore.

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Saturday, April 26, 2008 

Commerce dressed up as rebellion.

The Grauniad says in a leader praising Rock Against Racism:
It is difficult now to remember just how powerful and acceptable racism was in 70s Britain, when the National Front was a threatening presence and Margaret Thatcher could come to power complaining about the country being "swamped" by immigrants.

Yep, things
really have changed.

Far more interesting is just how timid the majority of new bands are on the issues which once did fire such passions back in the 70s. Partly this is because of the corporate monopoly which the music industry has become, with just four major companies now controlling the vast majority of record labels. This allows for some intransigence on the level of Green Day writing such vapid but mainstream protest as American Idiot, but certainly not on the level that it once might have been. It's a sign of just how comfortable and conservative most have become when the biggest social protesters are such rich cretins as Bob Geldof and Bono, urging everyone other than themselves to dip into their pockets,
while in the latter's case they avoid paying tax and sue someone to retrieve a pay of trousers.

You could also point towards how "indie rock" especially has become the middle classes' opiate of choice, about as challenging as Soma itself. When the NME last year launched its Love Music Hate Racism campaign with a free CD, about the only people who contributed towards it who might have actually encountered racism were the execrable Lethal Bizzle, Roll Deep, MIA, and Bloc Party's Kele Okereke and Matt Tong, the rest of the line up made up of the working class but abysmal Enemy, with the rest being British "indie's" current wave of middle class mediocrity. The opposing view is that the Clash, one of the bands that were instrumental in the setting up of Rock Against Racism and in the fight against the NF etc in the 70s, were also all middle class kids, unlike the working class but manufactured Sex Pistols.

Perhaps the real reason though is that the bands themselves are actually just reflecting their own peer groups - those who might buy a "Make Poverty History" wristband, in the most overrated, pointless and hopeless corporate campaign ever, and who care vaguely about climate change, hence the ludicrous Live Earth concerts of last year, epitomised by Joss Stone who told the audience to change their light bulb to a low energy one and to plant a tree and that everything would then be fine - but who are actually the most apathetic and apolitical generation that we've known. Bloc Party's Uniform sums it up, as perhaps Nirvana's Smells Like Teen Spirit previously did a decade before:

There was a sense of disappointment as we left the mall
All the young people looked the same
Wearing their masks of cool and disinterest
Commerce dressed up as rebellion

The crowds will turn out tomorrow at Victoria Park, they'll be some tedious old-hat sloganising, riffs will be played, those so inclined will spend the night in beds other than their own, and just as before, nothing whatsoever will change.

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They've never had it so good.

It would be reasonably easy to write an entire post debunking the curious idea, fast gaining in popularity, that some prisons resemble holiday camps. Some others have done just that, and the Grauniad recently published a day in the life of both prisoners and guards which hardly confirms the view, but there's just one point that ought to blow down the whole house of cards.

If the journalists (and Glyn Travis) writing these reports are so certain that a prisoner's life is one of pleasure rather than extreme boredom and overwhelming insecurity and fear, how about they swap their actual holidays in the sun or wherever with a stay in one of her majesty's finest? It'd make for a great feature piece, would settle the argument once and for all, and could well lead to fundamental changes in the prison system if their accusations turned out to be to sound.

Any takers then?


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Friday, April 25, 2008 

Scum-watch: Backing Boris.

While I was away the Sun came out for Boris. The Tory Troll offers his thoughts on Liberal Conspiracy.

Not to get too deep into this, or to indulge too much in Sun Kremlinology, but as we know because he's told us, the Sun wouldn't have come to the decision to back Boris without Murdoch himself giving the OK. On the surface, it's a no-brainer: Livingstone and the right-wing press have in the past, and right up to the present day in the Evening Standard's case, had a relationship akin to that of Tina and Ike Turner. They hated him, and he hates them even more, even though he's taken money off both the Standard and the Sun in the past by writing for them. Boris might be a buffoon, but he's an buffoon that'll sell newspapers, is the Troll's view.

The decision is interesting from my perspective because as previously noted, Murdoch doesn't necessarily support the candidate that has the most in common with his own views, he supports those who are going to win, and who are least likely to affect his business interests. The two are also inter-linked: Murdoch gives support, leader/party ensures that nothing untoward happens to his interests, hence why Blair so viciously shot down anyone who dared to squeak against the Sun or otherwise. Johnson, however, is certainly not the dead cert that Blair was in 97 when the Sun, after being the most Thatcherite of Thatcherite papers, became the most Blairite of Blairite papers. Indeed, today's latest poll shows that Ken has gone back into the lead.

Murdoch's reasoning seems to be thus: if Johnson wins, and does well, then it will be a perfect springboard for the paper to then put its weight behind Cameron's Conservatives, who up until recently both he and the Sun have mostly either ignored or put down. If Johnson wins and does badly, then it'll help inform whether he duly does decide that the Conservatives are worth supporting once again. If Ken wins and Murdoch and the Sun end up with egg on their face, then it doesn't matter on the scale that it would if the Sun backed the wrong side in a general election. As always, whatever happens, Murdoch wins, and we lose.

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Sex addict in promoting virtual sex shocker!

Continuing with the churnalism theme, you just have to love the family-values Associated Newspapers giving even the slightest space to someone who has something else to sell other than her story of sleeping with 50 different men after setting up a group on Facebook:

A woman says she is a Facebook sex addict and has slept with 50 men she met through the networking site.

Laura Michaels, 23, set up a group called "I Need Sex" on the site.

She invited men to contact her and those whose picture she liked, she met up with.

Within 10 minutes the group had 35 members and soon attracted 100 men, 50 of whom she slept with.

Who knows, Michaels' story might just be true. It surely can't be a coincidence however that there's another Laura Michaels, aged 23, and from Bristol that has an even more personal home page than her one on Facebook, as noted by the increasingly must-read Churner Prize:

I am 23 and I live in Bristol, England. I've always wanted to have my own website, so this is like a dream come true. Not only can I interact with you guys, I can also get down and dirty and let everyone see... which I have to admit is big fun. I have a great Freeview section where you'll be able to get a taste of what my Member's Area offers. You'll find hot pictures, full-length video clips and much, much, more. I hope you enjoy it. Laura xxx

All those desperate to find Michaels and find out if they too can gain access to her drawers, not to mention those behind her more hardcore offerings who doubtless set this train in motion, will be pleased to know that a Google search leads directly to her porn site first and the Metro article second.

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Scratch my leg with a rusty nail.

Once upon a time, your humble narrator felt that a career in journalism would be a wonderful idea. So much so that he applied to take a BA in journalism at university, and was meant to take up his confirmed place, only to decide not to due to previously discussed ill-health. To come out of the third-person, I had much the same dreams as probably most of the others at 18 have when they decide to take a degree in journalism: I wanted to muck-rake, scream about injustice to a wide audience, generally shake things up, in that teenage, upper-sixth right-on spirit of combustion yet to be strangled just after birth by cynicism and reality.

As you can probably tell by the fact I've been writing this sad glorified open diary for almost three years, I haven't entirely abandoned some elements of that dream. If I had taken that course I would now be fast approaching the second anniversary of my graduation, and more than likely be now either unemployed or installed at the very lowest rung of the journalistic ladder: thrashing out churnalism for a local paper, writing copy about young footballers or the opening of a new shop, the amazing success of a charity event, or if I was really lucky, about a pensioner being mugged for their fish and chips, earning a pittance while not having a minute to breathe or to actually do anything approaching what I would have been taught during my 3 years of relative instructional tranquillity.

Strip away the sexiness and glamour of the select few that make it on a national stage, which in itself is about as a sexy as Rod Stewart and as glamourous as Jodie Marsh, and no bones about it, being a journalist is really ignoble, irredeemable, and ultimately unrewarding work. In actuality, this is deceptive: by direct comparison to "showbiz" and "entertainment" journalism, local journalists are among the veritable salts of the earth, providing a service that many would miss horribly were it to suddenly disappear. If the entire staff of Heat, Closer, and all the rest of the gossip mags and newspaper equivalents were to be found dead in their beds tomorrow, it wouldn't be a time for sadness and reflection; it would be time to declare a national holiday that would easily surpass St George's Day in popularity, and what's more, it would be genuinely British, unlike the mythical Palestinian. The Mysterious Death of the Scum Day, decreed as a bank holiday by the Supreme Leader himself.

How better to illustrate why no would mourn the sudden death of the paparazzi and showbiz hacks than today's Mail (and Express) front page, featuring one of the few snatched snaps which doesn't have Billie Piper with her top off, with the paper implying that Piper might be pregnant. Not that it has any evidence whatsoever that she is with child; it just thinks she may be because her stomach looks slightly bloated and because she's patting it. This is the sort of thing which is the meat and potatoes of such hackery: female celeb looks slightly more rotund than usual; she's pregnant or becoming a porker! Female celeb looks like she's lost a slight amount of weight; she's anorexic! When there's no stories of celebs shagging each other to fill the front pages of Heat etc, this is just what they fall back on. When the Daily Mail, a supposed newspaper, has nothing better than to splash such bilge on its front page, it's just undeniably tragic of how far journalism in this country continues to fall.

The press do have unpleasant form in this area for either getting it completely wrong or breaking the news before the individual themselves has told anyone. Anton Vowl relates the recent story of Lisa Marie Presley who had to admit to being pregnant after the Mail accused her of getting fat. Back at the beginning of last year, Charlotte Church complained to the PCC after the Sun published reports of "rumours" about her being pregnant, rumours which it knew for a fact were true because Church's PR had told them after they enquired about it. Their request was that they not print it until Church had been for her 12-week scan and her doctor said that it would be OK to tell her family and friends, due to the risks of complications or miscarriage. The Sun instead printed the "rumours" anyway, with the PCC adjudicating in Church's favour:

The Commission has recently made clear that newspapers should not reveal the fact of someone’s pregnancy before the 12 week scan without consent and when the information is not known to any significant degree. The newspaper’s defence in this case was that it had merely reported rumours that the complainant was pregnant because of a change in her behaviour. But the newspaper had provided no evidence of any rumours, and had not denied that it had known for a fact that she was pregnant when it published the piece. In these circumstances it seemed to the Commission that the newspaper had simply tried to circumvent the privacy provisions of the Code by presenting the story as speculation. This was not acceptable within the spirit of the Code. The complaint was upheld.

Similarly pathetic and intrusive behaviour is in evidence tonight involving Amy Winehouse, who is becoming one of those being serially offended against. This time however it doesn't involve the usual suspects but the usually above the fray BBC. On the Ten O'Clock News a reporter had the pointless task of standing outside a police station, informing the nation that La Winehouse was inside and apparently not likely to be questioned until the morning because she was currently "not in a fit state" to be interviewed. Why he needed to be there if that was the case, why the report was on the news at all, and why anyone other than the most sickening obsessives care that Winehouse had been arrested in the first place are all questions that the BBC or anyone else for that matter will never be able to answer adequately.

Nick Davies' conclusion in Flat Earth News is that his profession is one that is rotten to the core, not because the majority are corrupt or lazy, but because a distinct minority that have all the power and the loudest voice are. The same could be said for vast layers of numerous professions, but few of them have such a role in informing and educating as the fourth estate does. The saddest thing is that most of even those that are rotten are not so out of choice; they too had the same dreams I did, but are either slaves to their editor and what's expected of them from their news organisation as a whole, or slaves to their bank balance, or, in an even smaller minority, their snorting habits. Cynicism shouldn't really enter in to it: the reality when you open your eyes is enough to want to journalists and all those, including myself, to be consigned to the dustbin of history. Instead we shall continue with ever more glazed over and despondent expressions.

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Monday, April 21, 2008 


Being dragged away for a few days. Should be back on Friday.

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Saturday, April 19, 2008 

Getting the freedom of speech balance right.

There's little doubt that Abu Izzadeen, also known by his rather less exotic moniker of Trevor Brooks is an odious, rabble-rousing racist determined to stir up trouble and hatred. In his involvement with al-Muhajiroun and its successor organisations, which have now become so disconnected from the original group that's it difficult to know exactly which is still active and which have been abandoned (its current incarnation might be Ahlus Sunnah wal Jamaah), there's little doubt that he's been involved in radicalising individuals that find such an all encompassing and explanatory ideology both attractive and easy to understand. His conviction for funding terrorism quite clearly shows that he cared little for the innocents, disparagingly referred to as the "kuffar" that are inevitably caught up in the attacks that take place in both Iraq and Afghanistan, which is presumably where the money was heading.

What I'm not convinced of is that his speeches at the Regent's Park mosque, apparently recorded and which extended to up to 5 hours, for which he was convicted of inciting terrorism, ought to have broken a free society's laws protecting freedom of speech. The excerpts which have been released and transcribed are inflammatory, condemnable, offensive and in some places laughable, but not in my personal view ones which should be considered so dangerous as to warrant over a four year sentence. While the jury would have seen everything unexpurgated, very little of what was said which we have been allowed to see is outside the norm of jihadist propaganda easily available on the web, and when compared to some of the anti-Muslim hate which far-right blogs and anti-jihadist sites carry, it even seems to be somewhat on the mild side. This is in no way to justify or apologise for what Izzadeen and others like Simon Keeler stand for or indeed argue for, but these are the sort of individuals who appear to be potentially more dangerous inside prisons, where it is next to impossible to suitably monitor their activities, than they are outside, especially when they, like many of the other hot-heads out there, have no intention of personally carrying out the threats which they find it so easy to make. They leave that to the others that are more easily moulded and whom don't enjoy the sound of their own voice as much, as the judge himself pointed out in Izzadeen's case.

That's why it's so difficult to take the manufactured level of outrage in the Sun over Brooks "only" getting four and a half years, not apparently noticing that he also received two years and three months for funding terrorism. Brooks' hatred was nowhere near on the levels of the speeches given by Abu Hamza, who received 7 years, which makes it all the more tedious for the paper to be making the point that he could have been imprisoned for "life", a sentence which in other circumstances it also sneers at. The ultimate risk from cracking down too hard on such rants is that it spills over into the grounds of prosecuting on the basis of offence rather than because the views expressed are dangerous; while that hasn't happened yet, it's a potential worry, especially when such sentences are condemned as being "soft".

I could well be wrong, and some will argue, with some justification, that not prosecuting those such as Brooks doesn't just leave all of us in danger, but that it especially leaves Muslims themselves open to reprisals, or to the claims of others that they're not doing enough to condemn the agitators in their midst. The one bright side is that there seem to be increasing numbers of those formerly involved in radical Islam turning against their past doctrines and going public, helping others also to mend their ways. Rachel reports that Attila Ahmet, one of those recently sentenced for soliciting murder and the self-styled "emir" of the "paintball jihad" group, has apparently renounced his radicalism in Belmarsh, and has been moved to the hospital wing as a result for his own protection. Anne Owers, the prisons inspector, recently praised the imams at Belmarsh for their work in countering radicalisation, the opposite of what some tabloids had been claiming was taking place. His example and that of others like Hassan Butt show the way forward, but imposing ridiculously harsh sentences for questionable rants, as well as further extending the detention limit for "terrorist suspects" will only make their good work all the more difficult.

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Friday, April 18, 2008 

Imagine... imagine... imagine a story....

It's difficult to even begin to imagine what was going through the mind of Angela Smith MP yesterday. Perhaps she was laying there in bed on Wednesday night, tossing and turning, thinking about the meetings she's had with her constituents, rereading the letters in her head from those who've previously loyally voted Labour that were not angry, but just bitterly disappointed with how they'd been betrayed by a supposedly socially democratic government over the removal of the 10p top rate of tax, feeling disillusioned with how her own party was taking from the lowest paid and giving to middle earners just as the economic weather has turned. Resigning would have been extreme, and damaged the government as a whole, but it would have been highly principled and could, just could force a change in the policy, unlikely, but vaguely possible. Most of her spineless colleagues would have thought this over, finally fell to sleep and then would have dismissed it in the morning, like most do those bizarre, foolish ideas that tend to plague you in the middle of the night and then instantly regret even thinking up. But no, she would be strong, and go through with it!

It's even more difficult to begin to imagine what was going through her mind when she suddenly decided that she wasn't then going to resign after all. It's easy to see government as an extended family, Smith as the disobedient child, having told Cooper, her furious, snarling, teeth-gnawing mother, the corners of her mouth already flecked with spit, that she was going to quit. "You better well phone up your father Gordon and tell him then!"

And so she did. Quite what Gordon, away in Washington on important business, told her that reassured is even more difficult to imagine. It certainly wasn't the news that they weren't going to go through with the tax rate change after all. The terse, through gritted teeth statement, so obviously spin doctor scripted, saying that Gordon had convinced her that the government's anti-poverty agenda remains unchanged even while 5.2 million will be losing out, just made an embarrassing situation even more mortifying. Perhaps the real reason she rowed back was because Gordon had threatened to have her sent to Siberia. It's more a convincing explanation than Brown winning her over with the sheer power of his argument. From standing up to her parents to making even Clare Short look dignified all within 24 hours, not even Armando Iannucci could have imagined it.

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Migrants stole my baby part three.

Unity attempts to get to the very bottom of the whole migrant crime statistics controversy, and while even by his standards it's lengthy, it's well worth reading in full just to realise how fraught and difficult it is to even begin to be able draw conclusions from the data currently available. The only solution to this is for the government and the police to bang heads together and come up with a proper, easy to understand system for identifying the origin of those charged with offences, not just arrested or connected with "crimes solved". We might be waiting a long time.

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Scum-watch: Septic isle betrays our heroes!

Not to come over all self-referential, but I can't help but be delighted by the headline the Sun's chosen for gor blimey merchant Jon Gaunt's latest column:

More than happy to oblige.

While we're here, we might as well deal with this blatant lie from Gaunt:

Do you remember when the illegals and the bogus asylum seekers set fire to their modern detention centres because Sky TV was turned off? Yes, you do.

But do you hear the liberty campaigners of this world moaning when our troops live in rat-infested barracks? Of course you don’t.

Yes, I do indeed remember when those "illegals and bogus asylum seekers" rioted when Sky was turned off; not because they were suddenly being deprived of Murdoch's wonderful programming, but because the report they were watching just happened to be on the conditions in, err, their detention centre. Anne Owers' report on the Harmondsworth detention centre found that it was:

being run with a regime that is as strict as any high security prison, with those facing deportation victimised by staff and some strip-searched and temporarily locked in solitary confinement, according to the chief inspector of prisons.

Anne Owers says that the privately-run removal centre, which holds 500 men facing deportation at any one time, has slipped into "a culture wholly at odds with its stated purpose" since a riot took place in 2004.

The prison inspection team says it had serious concerns over the way Harmondsworth was run by United Kingdom Detention Service, with 44% of detainees reporting they had been victimised by staff and 60% saying they felt unsafe in the centre.

More than 2,000 failed asylum seekers and illegal migrants pass through Harmondsworth each year and those interviewed by the prison inspectors described the custody officers as "aggressive", "intimidating", "rude" and "unhelpful", especially towards those who could not speak English.

The chief inspector says the centre is run "with a disproportionate emphasis on security" with a high use of force and with rules and systems that "would have been considered over-controlling in a prison, let alone a removal centre".

So forgive this liberty campaigner if he doesn't cry crocodile tears for the plight of our brave heroes who aren't being held against their will or treated in anywhere near such a fashion as those at Harmondsworth were.

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Thursday, April 17, 2008 

Migrants stole my baby part two.

You can tell just how much the Grauniad's report yesterday on how migrants have not brought a crime wave with them and how, unsurprisingly, they're not committing more offences than anyone else overall has wound up the Daily Mail and Express by the vehemence of their response today. Along with the recent immigration report by the Lords committee that, despite tabloid coverage, concluded migrants had on the whole not significantly benefited or been detrimental to the country, the crime angle is the one sure fire hit which they can rely upon to really fire minds against the current immigration policy, with their impact on public services and negligible use of benefits following closely behind. For it to blown apart just as they appeared to be getting the upper hand could not possibly be tolerated.

Hence why both have come out all guns blazing. The Express leads with "IMMIGRANTS BRING MORE CRIME", which is patently untrue as the report has already made clear, but more interesting is the Mail's account of how the Guardian report supposedly came to fruition.

The liberal Left had been right throughout, and the influx of one million eastern European migrants in less than four years - contrary to the claims of some chief constables - had created little pressure or trouble.

The source was good. A report by the Association of Chief Police Officers, prepared for the Home Secretary, had reached this firm conclusion.

Except it had done no such thing. The report itself, leaked in full yesterday, bore no relation to the BBC or Guardian headline claims.

"EU accession migrants are continuing to present challenges across a range of policing activity," reads one paragraph.

There are "notable changes in crime patterns, including extortion, 'dipping' [pick-pocketing], human trafficking and a growing sex trade", warns another.

Most curious of all, there is not a single mention of a migrant crimewave, let alone about one being "unfounded" or a "myth".

Did it really bear no relation to the BBC or Guardian headline claims? Let's go back to the Guardian's report:

The report says: "While overall this country has accommodated this huge influx with little rise in community tension, in some areas sheer numbers, resentment and misunderstanding, have created problems." It adds that the immigration from eastern Europe has been different to previous arrivals, because it happened much more quickly. The report says that new migrants may be more likely to commit certain types of offences. Polish people are linked to drink-driving, and problems have arisen in central London with some Romanian children being used by adults to commit petty robberies.

There are also problems with people trafficking and exploitation, but while these may be more likely in some migrant communities, other types of offences are less likely to occur.

Well that's strange then, isn't it? The Guardian report did mention nearly all those things that the Mail now reports, just in a different fashion, considering that the Guardian didn't have access to the full document which the Mail and Express now apparently have. The easy way to sort the whole mess out would be if us lower mortals could also get access to the full report, but it seems for now that it'll remain confidential. The Grauniad has also expanded slightly on its original points in today's follow-up:

Peter Fahy, chief constable of Cheshire, who co-authored the study, said: "Migration has had a significant impact on UK communities in past years, but while this has led to new demands made on the police service, the evidence does not support theories of a large-scale crime wave generated through migration.

"In fact, crime has been falling across the country over the past year. Cultural differences such as attitudes to offences like drink-driving may exist, but can be exaggerated.

"The influx of eastern Europeans has created pressures on forces in some areas, including local rumour and misunderstandings fuelling tensions which police have had to be proactive in resolving, and leading to significant increases in spending on interpreters, which can also make investigations more complex."

Back to James Slack's analysis of the original Grauniad report:

Even if accurate, the coverage would have begged several questions, not least who had claimed there was a migrant crimewave in the first place?

Hmm. I wonder who could have done such a thing?

The influx of Romanian migrants has led to an explosion in crime in this country, it emerged last night.

As recent members of the EU, Romanians have had free access to Britain only since January 1.

Yet in the first six months of this year, police say, they were responsible for 1,080 offences.

This is from the Daily Mail, 19th of September last year, written by.... James Slack. The Daily Express also claimed in January that "migrants send our crime rate soaring", which as Fahy points out, they haven't, as crime overall has dropped by 9%.

Cambridgeshire Chief Constable Julie Spence - whose intervention last year was the report's spur - had warned of pressure on her local force, and problems with sex trafficking and eastern Europeans drink driving.

Neither she nor any other respected critic had suggested the new arrivals were committing disproportionate levels of overall crime (indeed, it is widely accepted - not least by the Daily Mail - that the vast majority are here to work hard).

What is true is that the migrants are as likely to be arrested by the police as a British citizen, but - when this happens - consume more resources by virtue of speaking little or no English.

Gosh, could that "the Daily Mail line" be anything to do with the Federation of Poles complaining about the Mail's coverage? Obviously Slack isn't including himself or the Express as respected critics, as both, as we have seen, claimed that new arrivals were committing disproportionate levels of overall crime, the Express claiming that crime by migrants had soared by 530%.

Rather than debunking the Guardian's original article, all Slack is doing is actually confirming that its story was accurate. He agrees that migrants are no more likely to commit crimes than the average British citizen, which was the Guardian report's main point. Where the Grauniad erred slightly was that it didn't put enough emphasis in how when arrested migrants obviously use more police resources, and translation costs therefore come into the equation, something that the report makes clear, but it can hardly be blamed for not doing so when it didn't have the full report in front of them, especially considering that their source was Peter Fahy, the co-author of the report, who should himself have communicated that robustly. In any case, today's follow-up contains a lengthy quote dealing with just that from Mail's favourite police officer, Cambridgeshire's Julie Spence. Its fears that the Guardian's report would affect the extra money the police were asking for from Jacqui Smith today when they met her were also unfounded; new funding was promised.

For the Daily Mail and especially James Slack to be moaning about the Guardian slightly misreporting an important study is the height of chutzpah. Such has been Slack's record in distorting figures and baiting and switching that you can't take a single article he's ever written seriously. This blog and others have on numerous occasions recorded the Mail and Express scaremongering, churning and in some cases downright lying about immigration. It ought to come down to trust; do you regard the Mail or Express to tell the truth or be more accurate about immigration, knowing their track record, or do you overall regard the Guardian, or any "broadsheet", or the BBC to do so? Opinion polls on trust on individuals and organisations in public life show that it's overwhelmingly the latter.

Speaking of lying, to bring it back to the Express, here's how it justifies its "IMMIGRANTS BRING MORE CRIME" super splash:

IMMIGRATION from Eastern Europe has led to a huge surge in crime, police chiefs will tell the Home Secretary today.

Oh, so the report doesn't say that then, there's no evidence whatsoever to back it up, but it must be true because "police chiefs" will say so. Then there's the blatant exaggerations of its content:

The damning report will be presented to Jacqui Smith in a key meeting, at which many chief constables will demand extra funds to cope with the effects of Labour’s open-door policy.

In an alarming message, the report warns: “EU migration has brought with it a huge surge in the exploitation of migrants and organised crime.”


The findings provide yet another devastating sign of the pressure Labour’s immigration policies have had on our towns and communities.

Which just goes to show that you really can make black into white and white into black.

Elsewhere, 5cc clarifies further the claim that 1 in 5 crimes in London are now committed by foreigners with figures from his own freedom of information request.

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Scum-watch: Cocaine? On my Facebook?

The social networking sites are a boon to lazy, sensationalist tabloid journalists. Want to find a group that advocates something your newspaper doesn't much like? A couple of taps on Farcebook and it's done. Feel the need to scare your readers senseless after a particularly gruesome or out of the ordinary case, such as that of Natasha Collins and Mark Speight? Why look, all your children are on a social networking site boasting about their Colombian marching powder intake! Won't someone please save the children?

TODAY The Sun exposes the potentially deadly Facebook groups that glamorise cocaine abuse.

Parts of the social networking website have effectively become a handbook that have pulled people into drug use.

Proof to back this up? The case studies of a whole two individuals who blame the site for their woes, even though they'd previously used cocaine or other drugs, the whole thing reading like a usual PR sting, asking for stories about cocaine use (with the promise of payment) they can then possibly mould, especially considering this is in the "Real Life" section. The churnalist behind this garbage, Samantha Wostear, then liberally chooses a few quotes from selected Facebook groups for her own evidence:

One dangerous entry declares: “This group is so funny!!! i like kate moss, and i LOVE coke!”

Dangerous? In the sense that whoever wrote it's stupidity is contagious? That's the only way it could possibly thought of as putting anyone other than the author at risk.

More young Britons have tried cocaine than those in any other European country.

Britain also has the second-highest level of active users in Europe, beaten only by Spain.

One in 25 British schoolchildren aged 15 to 16 admit to having taken cocaine at least once - double the average in Europe.

Ah yes, and this is clearly down to social networking sites rather than its availability and its attractiveness, right? Let's at least try and keep the moral panic at least somewhat sane.

And the cocaine craze sweeping the UK is at risk of being fuelled by the depraved groups that invite Facebook users to share their experiences of drug use and encourage others to experiment.

Graphic images of people snorting cocaine sit next to comments glorifying its use such as: “Nearly all my money goes on beak (cocaine), it’s f***in amazin and i’m helpin out poor little colombians by takin it, ha ha, plus if mossy (Kate Moss) can get away wid it why cant i?”

It was posted on the group If Kate Moss Does Cocaine, It Should Be Legal. This group alone boasts 716 members.

There are said to be 500 groups linked to cocaine appreciation, boasting hundreds of members.

Another group, Cocaine Is The Ruler Of The Brain, posts the message: “Nothing like that ‘high’ feeling to make a person feel goood-ddd and forget about ev-reee-thhhannnggg!!”

And another, Make Poverty History - Cheap Cocaine For Everyone!!!!!, states: “Prices are rocketing to all new highs so we all need to band together to stamp down the price and bring cocaine back to the masses.”

This sort of thing is hardly limited to Facebook - a quick Google search for "cocaine appreciation" pulls up a whole number of forum topics on similar subjects.

Of course, the fact that this article is in the Sun and deals solely with Facebook, which just happens to be MySpace's (prop. R. Murdoch) main rival has obviously nothing to do with the Sun's determination to expose these frightening groups for targeting our children. And, as you might expect, MySpace itself certainly hasn't got any similar groups, has it?

What is a shabhead, you say? It's another term for speed freak, methhead

Amphetamines, Speed; Dex; Adderall; Dexamphetamine; Bennies; Dexies; Black Beauty; Jollies.. simpler te

choking bitches and doing cocaine

Sugar Sniffers (Public Group)
in this little group we are addicted to sugar, sweets, candy of any kind, as much as we are to cocaine. nuff said, si?

chemicals are fun! (Public Group)
well this is for everyone who like anything from a ciggerette to crack cocaine... shit why not!>. well as i wish safe usage feel free to bend the bar or reality a bit when u please. and when u do.

cocaine cult (Public Group)
we do Ka-Ka-Ka-heroin

Cocaine Fiends (Public Group)

Cocaine Cunts (Private Group)
Whore Group

Will someone do me the honours of introducing the pot to the kettle?

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Wednesday, April 16, 2008 

The Evening Standard and the London Mayoral election.

Not living inside London, I hadn't quite realised just how nasty, bitter or personal the Mayoral election, or as it would be more accurately described, the Mayoral battle, had become. I'd read a few accounts of how the Evening Standard seems to have turned itself into little more than a propaganda sheet for Boris Johnson in the past few weeks but didn't quite believe that it could be all that bad.

Taking a short trip on the train to the next town (I went to see the Long Blondes, who were excellent. Their lead, Kate Jackson, came out afterwards and was letting everyone take photographs with her, which is always nice to see) means you can always pick up the discarded detritus left behind by the commuters, varying from those wastes of paper which are the free celebrity scandal sheets (Metro, London Lite, TheLondonPaper) to if you're lucky a decent broadsheet. As well as an Independent, I picked up an Evening Standard. Today's headline? SUICIDE BOMB BACKER RUNS KEN'S CAMPAIGN.

Score one for being misleading, as a suicide bomb backer is not running Ken Livingstone's actual re-election campaign, as many would doubtless think the story implies. Instead, the report relates how an "Evening Standard investigation" has discovered a group calling itself "Muslims 4 Ken". Again, the Standard's main problem is not with "Muslims 4 Ken", which has been set-up by Anas Altikriti, but rather with one of M4K's backers, who happens to be none other than Azzam Tamimi, the Hamas apologist who has suggested on a number of occasions that he's willing to become a suicide bomber in Israel/Palestine and also said that "[F]or us Muslims martyrdom is not the end of things, but the beginning of the most wonderful of things".

Again, fair enough you might think. Tamimi's another of those brand of Islamist gobshites that are all mouth and no actual action, justifying murder and apologising for Hamas while failing to attempt to build for a lasting peace in the Middle East, but this is hardly new information. Despite their attempt to build links between Livingstone and the Muslims 4 Ken organisation, the connections are tenuous at best. What's more, the list of those who signed the Muslims 4 Ken original declaration were posted up on Comment is Free back in January, and it seems with little apparent acknowledgement back then. Salma Yaqoob, the Respect councillor in Birmingham and one of the signatories, is also one of those mentioned in the article, declaring the 7/7 attacks were "reprisal events". Much as I disagreed with Respect's failed attempt at communalism with Muslim organisations on the political right, something that was always doomed, Yaqoob has been a forceful campaigner and to smear her in such a fashion is wholly unfair. It seems to be even further clutching at straws by connecting the "Islamophobia Watch" blog into the campaign. IW, ran by Martin Sullivan, who may or may not be aka Bob Pitt, according to Johann Hari, and described by Indigo Jo as either a Marxist who runs the "What's Left" journal, or a Labour party member (Martin Sullivan appears as a contributor to What's Left, which hardly helps clear up the confusion), is more an aggregator of which mainstream media article MS (or BP) decides are Islamophobic or err, not, as he also links to articles which are friendly towards Islam. The Evening Standard also links Anas Altikriti to the Muslim Association of Britain, and while I'm not going to dispute that entirely, it seems more likely he's associated with the British Muslim Initiative, both of which are alleged by the Harry's Place crew to be "clerical fascist" offshoots of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Perhaps more pertinent to the publication of the article today is something mentioned right back in the opening paragraph:

A year-long strategy to mobilise the Muslim vote for Ken moves into overdrive this week, accompanied by a campaign of vilification aimed at Boris.

Happily, today was also the day that Soumaya Ghannoushi, the world's worst commenter on Islam, blessed the Grauniad with this flimsy to say the least article attacking dear old Boris, linking him directly with the BNP after they advised their voters to give him their second preference, right in line with the Evening Standard's claims of a coming campaign:

Given Johnson's record on minorities, his endorsement by the far right as a second-preference candidate seems understandable, shocking though it may be. This signifies a worrying precedent in the history of the BNP - notwithstanding Johnson's claim that he has no wish "to receive a single second-preference vote from a BNP supporter". Never before has the BNP felt sufficiently fond of a mainstream mayoral candidate to lend him or her its support.

Ghannoushi, just in case you didn't notice, was a signatory of the CiF piece back in January. Her article today is nonsense of course, as has much of the campaigning against Boris been on the basis of his ill-advised and clearly racist, if not intended maliciously remarks about "piccaninnies" with "watermelon smiles", which Boris must surely know is almost a direct quotation from Enoch Powell's notorious "rivers of blood" speech, and indeed, it seems likely he was alluding to it, even if he was writing about those meeting the Queen during a visit to Africa. In any event, he's apologised for any offence caused, something that Ken Livingstone failed on numerous occasions to do when he compared Oliver Finegold to a concentration camp guard, even if he was drunk and being doorstepped after a friend's party.

Just for a moment, let's take the Muslims 4 Ken group seriously, or rather the Evening Standard seriously in their suggestion that they could help up to 200,000 Muslims vote for Livingstone. Even if we give them credit in persuading just a quarter of them to vote for Ken, the British National Party vote in 2004's election was 58,000 strong, and if anything seems likely to increase this time round. Instead, we ought to take the Muslims 4 Ken group as something approaching an embarrassment, as David T from Harry's Place does in this typical piece of Decent Left demanding that others condemn a group whose support they didn't ask for in the first place. He writes:

This endorsement by the MAB/Muslim Brotherhood is utterly worthless. This group has little traction in this country, and few voters, if any, will be influenced by their support.

Quite so. The same goes for the entire Muslims 4 Ken group. Condemning them is an utter waste of time; they're simply not worth the bother, while condemning the BNP certainly is, although banning them from advertising does nothing whatsoever to help a genuine democratic process.

This sniping and personal targeting of both Boris and Ken is a result of two factors: firstly, that regardless of what the candidates say and all their clever, shiny manifestos on what they'll do on crime etc, their powers are comparatively slight; and, because of this, the contest has instead moved on to personalities. Ken is at a disadvantage because of his period in office, which according to your various predilections, has either been a triumph or an absolute disaster. The one policy which resonates out from his two terms is the congestion charge, which again can be either celebrated or dismissed according to your personal preference. Everything else tends to blur: hence why his gaffes, or ill-thought through or stupid decisions that have amounted to incitement, like his invitation of the vile Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who is moderate in the Azzam Tamimi sense that he denounces terrorism against the West while justifying and even providing fatwas allowing Palestinian terrorism, at least while he's not also supporting the murder of homosexuals or female genital mutilation, and his wholesale support for Iain Blair and apologia for the Met's execution of Jean Charles de Menezes, are so uppermost when deciding who to plump for.

Johnson's various faux pas' have been equally played up accordingly, but his biggest advantage or disadvantage is just that, his bumbling, upper-class foppish persona. How much of it is an act has always been difficult to say, but it's obvious that if he was as genuinely haywire as he seems when he appears in public that he wouldn't have risen to edit the Spectator, or even become an MP. I might seem reasonably gregarious and self-aware writing here, but meet me in real life and you'd probably find that I'm a shy, introverted, monosyllabic moron, because I err, am. This is why attacking him for just that has always been so dangerous: Michael Portillo called on him to either be a comedian or a politician, but that's a false dichotomy; without the charm Boris wouldn't be Boris, and no one would be interested, yet that's exactly what he doubtless is like when he actually gets in the editing chair or in the Mayor's office itself. If behind the clown or comedian's mask there's actually someone crying or desperate for help, then Boris is no different.

Considering the only other issue constantly raised is the seemingly arcane debate over bendy buses or Routemasters, it's little wonder that the debate has turned to personalities. Despite all the other candidates, the fight is between two disguised clowns, with a straight man in the shape of a former police officer also resorting to nasty personal attacks trying to battle his way into the fray. If I had a vote I'd be tempted to say sod the lot of them and waste it entirely by voting Green and Left List or vice versa, despite my misgivings over both of those as well. The lesser of two evils, despite all his failings, does appear to be Ken, but the noise reverberating especially from the Evening Standard makes it even more difficult to tell. As Michael White writes, the ES has published some excellent journalism investigating Livingstone and his funding of suspicious organisations, not to mention Lee Jasper, but it's also carried some utter nonsense, like today's article seemingly out of a vendetta or obsession to get rid of him. This wouldn't make much difference if the London media market was more open, but it isn't; the ES is the only paper distributed across the capital with a solid political message and agenda. The result itself will go down to the wire, but politics in the capital as a whole looks increasingly grubby.

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Migrants stole my baby.

It turns out then that migrants only commit a level of crime proportionate to that of every other citizen, in an amazing report by the Association of Chief Police Officers themselves. This at the same time as other sections of the press have been trying to claim that 1 in 5 crimes in London are now committed by foreigners, or at least those of foreign origin. Except, as Unity explains, those figures are bogus also, although Laban Tall in the comments disputes this to an extent. It would be nice if we could argue about the current levels of immigration, something quite rightly at the centre of many voters' concerns without febrile scaremongering taking over, but that seems to be increasingly difficult.

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Scum-watch: Osborne takes up the challenge and the "Cameron sneeze boy" becomes a yob.

As soon as I write yesterday's purgatorial excretion on all things Sun, George Osborne takes up the Sun's challenge and writes an article for them on what he/the Tories would do. Shame that 75% is the same policies they've already decided upon which will make next to no difference or in fact make things worse, especially their promise to raise the inheritance tax threshold to the ludicrously high £1m, alongside the laughable claim that they'd reserve the 10p tax rate abolition.

Elsewhere, we have this incredibly over-the-top report on the 15-year-old who pretended to sneeze and then wiped his hand down Dave's shoulder, which I and probably the majority of the country thought amusing rather than summing all that's wrong with Broken Britain:

A TEENAGE yob was arrested for wiping SNOT on David Cameron’s back as the Tory leader made a public appearance in a town centre this afternoon.

The 15-year-old lad was given a police caution - complete with a slip which worded the reason for the caution as “Wiping snot down David Cameron’s back” - in the town centre of Hastings, East Sussex, at around 3pm.

The lad had sneezed into his hand, ran up to Cameron then stuck the mess on to the politician’s back.

Mr Cameron was doing a walkabout to rouse support for the Conservatives at the upcoming local elections.

An onlooker said: “It was unbelievably cheeky. The snot went all over Cameron’s smart black suit.”

This is only bylined currently as by a "Staff Reporter", so the error over him actually only pretending to do so might well have been on the wire, but that quote is an obvious fabrication and one of the worst examples of tabloid churnalism. Quite why the boy is fit for being labelled as a "yob" is perhaps a question for a newspaper which isn't averse to puerile, not especially funny political gestures itself, such as getting men in chicken suits or similar to follow certain individuals around, or dumping phony oil barrels outside George Galloway's house, as I recall it did a few years back.

Compared to what's in the user comments the Sun's brief story is mild:

Labour has broken British society as well as its economy.

Absolutely disgusting, the police should have charged the boy

Just another example of the seemingly endless lineup of idiotic youths.

Another classic example of the broken society caused by the Labour Government.
Utter disagraceful behaviour yet not uncommon sadly

Makes you proud to be British doesn't it.

A product of Labours single mother benefit scrounging yobbo society!

Some of them are doubtless excised further than they otherwise would have been had they known the teenager had only pretended to do so, but even so, it seems the sort of prank which politicians used or ought to be accustomed to, as Cameron himself acknowledged by regarding it as "a joy of the job". In fact, let's accentuate the positive: at least the teenager recognised who Cameron was, when by the impression some of the media give you'd be forgiven for thinking the youth of today are only fit for masturbating and breaking rocks.

This isn't the first time the Sun's overreacted to youthful exuberance: when the hooded teenager on a Manchester estate pretended to shoot Cameron with his, err, loaded fingers, it decided that he was glorifying gun crime. This latest miscreant was similarly presumably glorifying poor personal hygiene.

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Tuesday, April 15, 2008 

Quote of the decade revisited.

'We are pleased that the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal has agreed with our view and found that conditions in Iraq are such that an ordinary individual Iraqi civilian is not at serious risk from indiscriminate violence,' a spokesman for the Home Office said.

More than 70 people have been killed in blasts at three cities in Iraq, in one of the deadliest days there for weeks.

At least 53 died and another 90 were injured when explosives packed in a bus detonated outside a restaurant near a court in Baquba, north of the capital.

And 13 more were killed in a suicide bombing at a kebab restaurant where policemen were eating in Ramadi, which had seen a sharp decline in violence.

Three people were also killed in Mosul in the north, and another in Baghdad.

This isn't to mention the at least 28 that were killed yesterday. I toyed with the idea on Saturday when I posted just the quote of adding that if the Home Office was so certain of how safe Iraq is for the average civilian, perhaps Jacqui Smith would be brave enough to go for her kebab run not on the streets of Peckham, but the sectarian ghettoes of Baghdad. My guesstimate of how long she'd last has now been accordingly shortened.

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The Sun, tabloid journalism and Cameron's Conservatives.

If there's one thing that Gordon Brown can perhaps cling to when everything else appears to be falling apart, it's that Rupert Murdoch is clearly no nearer to making a leap of faith with the Conservatives. Today's Sun leader is hardly enthusiastic about George Osborne's speech yesterday, billed as the Tory bid to seize the initiative, but which seems to have been lost in the maelstrom:

Tell us, George

SHADOW Chancellor George Osborne is a clever politician who talks a good game, but where are the promises?

He tore into Gordon Brown yesterday, claiming the PM’s economic record had collapsed in a “heap of rubble”.

He blamed Labour for hammering hard-working families, fuelling inflation and turning its back on the poor. Rattled ministers know there is some truth in his charges.

Taxes are too high. Spending is out of control. Borrowing is excessive.

It is the Opposition’s job to attack the Government when it gets things wrong.

But if the polls are accurate and the Tories are heading for power, we want to hear precisely what they intend to do about it.

By that "we" you can detect the quivering hand of Murdoch himself.

It can be far too easy though to give Murdoch more power and influence than he actually has, and also to not notice his cautiousness in deciding whom to back. Despite it's self-promotion, it wasn't the Sun "wot won it" in 1992, and its decision to back Blair in 1997 was taken when it was already more than certain that Labour were going to triumph by a landslide. We're still very far from that happening in reverse whenever we next go to the polls, and Murdoch is hardly going to humiliate himself by making his decision too early.

Even with all of that in mind, it has to be remembered that it was Alastair Campbell himself who made clear that it was the image of Neil Kinnock in a light bulb on the Sun's front page that made him and those around him determined to ensure that history would not repeat itself. It's by no means clear yet who Murdoch is going to plump for in the US election, having previously held a fund-raiser for Clinton, even while his Fox News network continues to skewer the Democrats wholesale. It again might be because as yet, with the Democratic contender not yet decided, the whole election is far, far too close to call. McCain doesn't offer anything other than more of the same, but Murdoch has hardly been concerned by the previous 8 years of the Bush administration and its myriad failings, meaning it would be foolish to write off any of them as of yet.

Unlike Blair and also Brown, who not so long ago appeared alongside Murdoch on the same panel in Davos, the Cameroons have yet to put any specific feelers out towards the Murdoch camp. Indeed, when you'd expect them to be aiming to capitalise on Labour's problems and deficiencies, it's not Dave or Osbourne that are appearing in print in the Sun with their policies outlined, but rather Brown himself on the worthy but not especially relevant to the average Sun reader topic of combating malaria. The closest they've perhaps come to hitting the Sun's buttons was Cameron's appearance alongside Helen Newlove, and even that didn't come to close to a promise that the Tories would adopt her and the Sun's agenda for fixing "Broken Britain".

Perhaps this can itself be linked to the Sun's increasing crisis of identity. In its Thatcherite heyday under Kelvin MacKenzie, you certainly knew where it stood, just as you know now where the Daily Mail stands. It employs the crude talk radio hosts Fergus Shanahan and Jon Gaunt as columnists, but its distance from their stance was highlighted during the recent debate over capital punishment, where both supported its reinstatement while the leader line opposed it, despite "99%" of its readers also expressing their enthusiasm for the old black cap. It increasingly seems more at home decrying the latest hate figure from the world of celebrity, whether it be Heather Mills or Paul Burrell than it does attacking a political adversary. Its campaigns against paedophiles, the Human Rights Act and "Broken Britain" aside, the whole paper seems less confrontational and even whisper it, liberal. This is undoubtedly down partly to changing attitudes, and the Sun is nothing if not a barometer of its readers, but the increasing turn away from open propaganda is still surprising to note. The one remaining area where this does remain is in its unwavering support for foreign military adventures, regardless of the costs that the war in Iraq especially has inflicted. The laughable claim when the British army withdrew from Basra that the Mahdi army had been fought into ceasefire has since been proved to be a fantasy, but it didn't stop Tom Newton Dunn, the Sun's defence editor from scooping reporter of the year at the British Press Awards.

Whether the Sun as a brand is in terminal decline is far more difficult to measure. It's increasingly clear that it's only its price cutting in Scotland, London and the south-east that is keeping it above the 3 million sales mark, and its website, despite its attempt to draw in users with its MySun social network, is well behind the Mail's in the ABCe rankings. Rebekah Wade may be a piss-poor editor, but there doesn't seem to be anyone angling her for place, and Murdoch despite embarrassments over her past performance both in and out of the chair doesn't seem worried in the slightest about the paper's overall placing. After all, it continues to deliver a healthy profit, something other papers are increasingly finding difficult to achieve.

As noted previously on this blog, what is increasingly clear is that the most vituperative, slanted, invasive, judgemental and downright unpleasant "journalism" no longer comes from the paper of "Gotcha!" and "THE TRUTH" fame but instead from the supposedly more mild-mannered mid-markets Mail and Express, both of whom seem to attempt to outdo each other in which can demonise immigrants more, invade the privacy of both celebrity and "commoner" alike and state that black is in fact white. Both also coincidentally, despite Brown's wooing of Dacre, are right behind the Conservatives under Cameron, with the Express front page today more or less blaming the fact that it gets dark at night on the Supreme Leader. By those calculations, the Conservatives, despite recruiting ex-News of the World editor Andy Coulson as their spin supremo, are not yet worried by the Sun's failure to come on side. They might start panicking more when the time has further ebbed away, but for now it seems the Conservatives are happy not to be assiduously courting Uncle Rupe and his super soaraway flagship.

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Monday, April 14, 2008 

The state of play.

There's nothing quite like a good media feeding frenzy over the apparent imminent demise of the Labour government as we know it. Cabinet ministers are literally at each other's throats, with the Telegraph alleging in an article which was later mysteriously pulled that Jack Straw and Ed Balls had almost come to blows over who was responsible for youth crime, while the former is apparently greatly perturbed by the continuing obsession with extending the detention limit for "terrorist suspects"; there's a potential civil war breaking out between "old" and "new" Brownites over their master's newly installed spin doctors; and all while the man himself is according to some briefings by nameless individuals sinking into "clinical depression", breaking three mobile phones a week in fits of pique, and possibly even faced by a potential leadership challenge.

The one that will probably hurt the most is that article in the Mail, his wooing and friendship with Paul Dacre apparently unable to stop such wounding old jibes as being "psychologically flawed" from re-appearing alongside newer even less flattering accusations. The most dispiriting recent criticism however though will be the one from Rory Bremner, because it passes the Homer Simpson challenge of being funny and true: "[I]t's a bit like having an uncle who's been building something in the shed at the bottom of the garden for the past 10 years, and you go down to see what he's up to, and you look through the window - and there's nothing there." Even Pollyanna Toynbee expanded on this point, writing on Friday that "[T]he Wizard of Oz stands exposed, the emperor has no clothes, the box of secrets is empty." When even the most nominally loyal of Brown nosers seems to be having recurring doubts over her past man in shining armour, it might well be time for the panic stations to be manned.

Or is it? It's easily forgotten, but Blair had numerous weekends of bad publicity, albeit not as early into his reign as Brown currently is. Often there were rumours that this was the week, when Blair was going to be challenged strongly, and where it was all falling apart, all for it have blown over completely by Tuesday. Typically, on those weekends it was often the highly sympathetic to Blair Martin Kettle who was one of the few fighting in the opposite direction, whereas on Saturday he was alongside most of the others with the knives, sticking them into Gordon's shoulder blades. Although there are accounts among the briefings that it's not the familiar bleating Blairites who are doing the blade-sharpening, the journalists doing the talking, such as Kettle and John Rentoul certainly are Blairite sympathisers, while Charles Clarke, although not a Blairite but certainly on the "modernising" wing of the party, is the one supposedly collecting names towards a challenge.

To suggest this is some sort of highly delayed Blair-influenced coup though would be completely over-the-top. Those most aggrieved by Brown's performance are undoubtedly the backbenchers themselves, more than sensitive towards the dismal polls which suggest that the Tories are moving beyond the numbers needed to get a firm majority, even if only so far backed up by the often erratic and wrong YouGuv survey. That by most accounts Brown was dismissive or even in denial during the recent meeting with backbenchers, where the main grievances were the abolition of the 10p top rate of tax, targeting those both most likely to turn out and vote Labour, as well as the closing of local post offices, impressed on some that perhaps the whispers that Gordon wasn't up to the job might have been right all along.

How much of this is media frenzy is difficult precisely to judge. There are two obvious main points however that mitigate against some, if not most of it. Firstly, that it would be absolute madness for there to be an attempt to depose Brown, especially as the economic gloom continues to deepen. That really would be the end for Labour in government, to be conducting open warfare while also still pretending to be feeling the pain, even if that's what appears to be going on now behind closed doors. Secondly, that there is no one at all waiting in the wings in Labour to take over. Clarke's bid is clearly not completely serious in its aims, but it does sum up his continuing loathing of Brown for whatever reason. Others have mentioned David Miliband, who rejected the attempts to become a stop Brown candidate previously and isn't ready in any case, and Alan Johnson, who'd just be a genial stop gap with a sympathetic background, but can anyone seriously imagine any of them, or indeed almost anyone in the cabinet or the wider party that would stand a better chance against Cameron? Some who might fancy their chances in a leadership campaign were Labour to lose the next election and Gordon to resign simply currently don't have the necessary profile or backing to make any attempt now.

The main case against Brown currently is as Jackie Ashley set out this morning, that rather being a disaster, Brown has been a disappointment. I would add that the disappointment has been on the scale of being crushing. Few had real hopes for Brown, rather the early enthusiasm was that Blair had finally gone. Even by those standards Brown has failed to live up to his billing, as the difference between him and Blair has proved, as some always argued it would be, to be so slight as to be inconsequential. Despite a decent start we're back seemingly in the old vacuum, where huge paychecks are celebrated as the poor get stuffed, where the private is always better than the public regardless of the cost, and where basic rights are something to be ignored or thrust aside at the first excuse. The Guardian at the weekend offered three things that Brown could do which might help turn the tide, all eminently sensible: full immediate withdrawal from Iraq; ditch ID cards; and radical constitutional change, perhaps even the alternative vote before the next election. It's hard to disagree with any of those, except perhaps the latter on the grounds that it would be seen now, probably quite fairly, as being an attempt to keep the Tories out as they look to be about to regain power, but Brown doing any of them is a flight of complete fantasy.

There's no solace either in the idea that Labour can afford to lose the next election in order to reinvigorate itself out of office. Those coming through the ranks are not the radicals needed but a careerist clique that increasingly don't seem to have had any job other than either being a politician or in PR, the City or marketing. Party politics as we know it is moribund, but no one is interested in the one thing that would shake it up, which is the aforementioned constitutional change, not least the Tories that have always loathed the idea while the current system still works for them. It might well come down to how Cameron and his similarly unimpressive colleagues who also offer no real change other than the same politics with a slightly harsher face govern that determines just where the real opposition and left alternative emerges from.

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This is how an MP's mind fails to work.

You really would have thought that an MP would understand something as basic as the separation of powers, but it seems that Denis MacShane seems to have skipped that constitutional lesson. In fact, let's be fair here for just a moment: MacShane knows quite well the difference between the judiciary and parliament and why they're independent from one another, it's just that a little thing like that would get in the way of his argument. After all, just what sort of person who believes in democracy and not the obvious usurpation of power by unelected judges indulging in activism could fail to be angered by the three decisions of last week where the government's decision to stop the SFO inquiry into corruption in the Saudi-BAE al-Yamamah deal was torn to shreds, with the added embarrassments of not being able to deport Abu Qatada and soldiers being protected by the HRA adding to the beetroot-like pall of ministers' faces?

Let's for half a second then indulge MacShane's argument, or as it could be more accurately painted, obscurantism. His flourishing finish is thus:

I am no defender of ministers or of any untrammelled right to government to interpret the law in a way which may be illegal. But am I alone in wanting parliament to decide our law, elected politicians not unelected judges to execute them, and when judges are called upon to interpret the law an obligation that they listen to the will of parliament, not the passions and prejudices which they like all of us are not immune to?

Surely if MacShane had put slightly more thought into this he would have realised the very first sticky problem with his plea. The SFO inquiry into the BAE slush fund was not stopped by an elected politician; it was halted after the head of the SFO gave into the demands of Lord Goldsmith, the very much unelected attorney general, who himself was heavily lent on by the prime minister, who most certainly has no right whatsoever to decide which investigations should be continued and which should not, regardless of his being elected. Perhaps further evidence of MacShane's disconnection with reality is provided in this previous statement:

Thus when a British prime minister says he believes that national security may be threatened if a political-judicial process continues why must he be disbelieved?

It's difficult to know which metaphor to adopt in response to how easily it would be to mock this. Taking candy from a baby? Shooting fish in a barrel? Putting six past Derby County? It would of course be wonderful to be able to believe that a prime minister would be honest with us over such a matter, but when such a prime minister has such a dismal record of just that, and when the government as a whole has a reputation for using the security argument to justify almost anything, it makes it all the more difficult. It would have been easier to believe also if the person who delivered the threat wasn't the self-same man alleged to have been the one to have received £1bn in payments from the company being investigated. Then again, perhaps we're all just being shockingly cynical.

This is the closest MacShane presents to the will of parliament being involved in the SFO decision:

Parliament has endlessly discussed and debated the Saudi deal since it was first negotiated on the basis of mammoth commissions paid to Saudi princes back in the 1980s. Sir Ming Campbell has brought up the issue regularly in the Commons. The Commons has listened to him with respect as a QC who defends the primacy of lawyers and judges but have not agreed that an elected government does not have the right to decide that a prosecution should not proceed.

The government or indeed parliament though would never dare to interfere with criminal investigations and the decision to proceed in those cases if it involved a member of parliament, regardless of the severity of the crime. This is half the reason why the concessions over 42 days are so feeble - parliament has no business to be deciding whether someone should continue to be held beyond 28 days when they're still in custody. Parliament makes the law - it does not then decide whether or not that law should be applied. When faced with such an obvious conflict of interest with the Saudis and BAE both demanding that the investigation be called off, the government ought to have told both to get their tanks off their law and said that they simply couldn't interfere with the course of justice, as the judges' themselves said in their ruling. Instead they gave in to open blackmail, setting a terrible precedent.

MacShane's argument is equally threadbare on the other two cases. As he admits, the HRA is to be openly interpreted by judges as they see fit. Indeed, they're the best possibly placed to make such a decision, having heard all the relevant evidence and weighed up the opposing arguments, as well as the precedents set by other rulings. You can't have it both ways: you can't set the law and then demand it solely be interpreted in the way you demand, or in your best interests at the relevant point of time; some complain that the HRA and the ECHR are ambiguous, but almost all such documents are. Even the fabled American constitution, the one which set the standard for all that have followed, is being debated and argued about right down to now over exactly what the Second Amendment means and provides for.

Besides, even if all of the above were put to a vote, if MacShane would presumably prefer, how is he so sure that the position he sides with and advocates would be the winning one? The SFO inquiry would probably be stopped if put before the houses, or at least the Commons, as the Conservatives would support the government. On the other two though it's most uncertain: both David Davis and Chris Huhne called for Qatada to be tried in this country rather than deported, and both Lib Dems and Conservatives supported the decision over the soldiers' equipment. With backbench Labour support hardly to be solid on either, the government might well face defeat. It might be easier to take MacShane's point if Labour had been elected by something approaching a majority of the electorate, but it wasn't: only 22% voted for the current government, something that it ought to remember in everything that it does. Instead it continues to hardly govern by MacShane's own high-minded principles, forcing through such unpopular measures as 42 days while continuing to big up the terror threat.

The well-used, moth-eared, almost cliched quote by Orwell is that in times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act. Would it be too much to request that this government, its ministers and clingers-on actually propose doing the "decent" thing rather than blaming the judiciary and moaning about how parliament is being ignored and emasculated? How about putting Qatada on trial, equipping soldiers properly when you send them out on such unpopular missions, and not giving in to blackmail from those who have grown rich and fat on the money provided by the taxpayer and British companies involved in corrupt practices? Would that really be so difficult? For MacShane and much of New Labour, it seems easier to just blame everyone other than themselves.

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Saturday, April 12, 2008 

Quote of the decade.

'We are pleased that the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal has agreed with our view and found that conditions in Iraq are such that an ordinary individual Iraqi civilian is not at serious risk from indiscriminate violence,' a spokesman for the Home Office said.

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Scum-watch: Our interpretation of the ECHR is selective.

As predicted yesterday:

We have grave misgivings, of course, about the European Convention on Human Rights. All too often it leads to putting the rights of terrorists ahead of those of the people of Britain.

The Sun is of course right. Only those truly deserving should be protected by the ECHR: soldiers, police officers, tabloid journalists, foreign media chief executives, etc.

Those clearly not deserving are asylum seekers. How dare they demand treatment on OUR national health service?

ANOTHER High Court decision yesterday is sure to raise the nation’s blood pressure.

A judge decided that 11,000 failed asylum seekers are entitled to free treatment on the National Health.

That’s despite the average waiting list for operations being on the rise. And despite the NHS being under strain with dirty wards and some old folk being underfed by nurses run off their feet.

Those who refuse to go to their home country after being refused asylum here should go somewhere else instead . . .

To the back of the NHS queue.

Typically, the Sun has wilfully misreported the actual ruling. It doesn't just affect failed asylum seekers; it affects all asylum seekers, including those who have been refused refugee status but have no safe passage home so cannot be deported. There's this completely not backed up by evidence statement too:

Many asylum-seekers enter Britain penniless as “health tourists” seeking costly HIV and Aids treatment.

And the natural comment from the Tory front flat tax backing "Taxpayers'" Alliance too:

Mark Wallace, of the Taxpayers’ Alliance, said: “We can’t pay for everyone who turns up on our doorstep.”

We're not you bumptious ignoramus, just for those who have not been refused permission to stay, and those who can't be returned in any case, which amounts to the 11,000 being quoted. How many of those will actually be seriously ill and require costly treatment will be a far smaller number. The greatest shame of this is that it still wouldn't have saved Ama Sumani.

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More on the Moorfield.

After this week's Ruth Fowler antics, it's a joy to read Marina Hyde on her usual top form:

At last, a solution to all this bourgeois anxiety about the environmental impact of travel: class tourism. You don't have to leave the house and you always end up feeling better about yourself. It has certainly seemed a viable alternative in recent weeks, as people have been able to observe the denizens of the West Yorkshire estate on which Shannon Matthews lived, and apply all sorts of labels - the most popular referencing Shameless, the television series by the award-winning writer Paul Abbott set on a fictional Manchester estate.

To read the papers since the arrest of Shannon's mother, Karen, has been to see Britain as a nation of Gillian McKeiths - completely ill-qualified to pass judgment, but keen to shriek in horror at how these people do live.

And for those whom have ironically forgiven Fowler because of her appearance - Ms Hyde is more than aesthetically pleasing without having to take photographs of her rump.

Hopi Sen also went through the history books to show that the horror in the press at the Moorfield estate is hardly a new occurrence, regardless of Allison Pearson's shock and romanticising of her own council estate upbringing, while Justin is sardonic as usual about the latest "revelations" concerning how awful Karen Matthews is. Also worth reading is yesterday's Grauniad dispatch which typically went deeper than the superficial disgust elsewhere:

And yesterday the place had its own "conflict tourists" - five women from Huddersfield with a toddler cuddled precariously (and illegally) on their Peugeot's back seat. "We're here for a nosey," said the driver, looking optimistically at the sort of everyday redbrick semis you see on the edge of any town in the north of England. "It is real rough, isn't it?"


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Friday, April 11, 2008 

Alton Indie.

The Independent has announced its new editor. This is the man, as described by Nick Davies in Flat Earth News:

Roger Alton has never claimed to be a political animal. His style is too intense, bordering on manic, at best full of charm, at worst eye-wateringly clumsy. His passions are far from government, much closer to sport and women, both of which he pursues with obsessive energy. In newspaper terms, he is a desk man, a brilliant subeditor who can project stories on a page, a good commissioner of interesting tales. But not political.

This was reflected in a story that went around the Observer newsroom after he was appointed editor in July 1998 and found himself being invited to Downing Street for a quiet chat with the prime minister. 'Fuck,' said Alton, who swears when he breathes. 'I can't meet the Prime Minister. I'm just a fucking sub.'

In his anxiety, so the story goes, he turned to the Observer's then political editor, Patrick Wintour, and persuaded him to come with him to help him handle the conversation. So it was that a few days later Alton turned up in Downing Street with Wintour by his side, and waited nervously outside the Prime Minister's study. David Miliband, then running the Prime Minister's policy unit, walked by and said hello to Wintour, who introduced him to his new editor.

'So, what sort of changes do you plan to make to the paper?' asked Miliband, who was evidently looking for some kind of political insight.

Totally bereft of an answer, Alton reverted to type, stammering: 'Bit more sex on the front page. More sport. That kind of thing.'

Whatever you think about the Independent, the one thing it certainly is in the UK newspaper market is unique. Its front page campaigning can at times seem odd in line with the other stories of the day that seem much more worthy, then on another it can capture the mood entirely, something that neither its old-broadsheet rivals or the tabloids, much more used to grabbing attention, manage to do.

The omens are certainly not good, as Alton's own comments today suggest:

The Independent will be neither a leftwing nor a rightwing paper under Roger Alton's stewardship, the incoming editor said today.

"Left and right are effectively meaningless terms now. I wouldn't define myself by those terms and I don't think a newspaper should either," Alton said.

"The great opening up of Britain during the past decade under New Labour wasn't a particularly leftwing or rightwing thing. It was a progressive thing to do," he said.

If the vacuity seems familiar, it's because Alton and his political editor at the Observer, Kamal Ahmed, grasping for an angle to impose on the paper, jumped on the Blairite bandwagon and even now seems not to have abandoned it just as it's gone out of fashion. While some of the allegations in FEN are disputed, what certainly isn't is Alton's influence in the Observer supporting the Iraq war, a mistake which it still can't be honest with itself about. That Alton has fallen for the biggest joke of them, that somehow left and right are now obsolete terms, something which only those devoted to the dead end of "radical centrism" or who aren't interested in politics still cling to, ought to suggest that he's not cut out for editing the Independent. While the Guardian might find the prospect of the Independent abandoning the left as a opportunity, for the British media to be even further distorted towards the right will do little for its vibrancy as a whole.

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Soldiers' rights act.

Human rights laws can be applied to British troops even in combat, a High Court judge has ruled.

The landmark judgement came in a test case relating to the death of Scottish soldier Pte Jason Smith in Iraq.

Mr Justice Collins said sending soldiers into action without proper kit could breach human rights. Ministers are appealing against the ruling.

Will the same tabloids that denounce the Human Rights Act as a charter for criminals and terrorists change their minds now that their heroes are being protected too, as they always should have been?

Is the Pope a protestant?

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An end to the conspiracies.

In a week in which other conspiracy theories were laid to rest, it's also time that the ones about July the 7th 2005 were as well. As Rachel reports from the trial of the three men accused of helping the 7/7 bombers stake out their targets:

For two years, conspiracy theorists have been saying there is no CCTV of the 7/7 bombers save one grainy shot, (which they say is faked). There is, I have seen it played in a public court. They could have seen it too, if they had bothered to come. It is real, it was always real. Why do they peddle their lies about it?

The defence are not contesting it; they are not contesting these facts - that Khan, Tanweer, Lindsey and Hussein set off with home made bombs and met up at Luton and took the bombs in rucksacks to London where they split up and detonated them as you have heard and people have seen. And felt, and died as a result of them.

I hope that this will be an end to this filthy lie. That the 7/7 bombers did not do it. I am weary of these lies after over two years of hearing them and seeing them spread on the internet.

Like with many other conspiracy theories, it will sadly take a lot more than such actual evidence to convince some otherwise.

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Scum-watch: Judges' blow to war on terror!

Speaking of making it up, you almost can't believe the level of bullshit in the Scum on yesterday's judges' decision that stopping the BAE SFO inquiry was unlawful:

Judges’ blow to war on terror

JUDGES yesterday said Tony Blair was wrong to protect a £43billion arms deal – even though he did it to prevent terror attacks.

Those liberal nancy fancy judges have only gone and hurt the "war on terror"! Naturally, nowhere in this account is it mentioned that the same man who made the threat to withdraw intelligence co-operation - an empty threat as the Saudi intelligence services not only had no intention of doing so, but also because they would never have stopped giving such information to the CIA, who would have immediately passed it on to MI5 - was the same Saudi prince that has allegedly received £1bn in payments through the al-Yamamah deal.

The ruling infuriated ministers and increased pressure on the SFO to reopen the case.

Well, if it did we certainly haven't heard from them, as they're keeping their silence up.

This might well also be the first and only time that the Sun defends blackmail in its leader column:

At stake was BAE’s sale of 72 Typhoon jets to the Saudis, a colossal export contract worth billions and securing many thousands of jobs.

Also at stake, more vitally, was our national security, put in jeopardy by Saudi threats of withdrawing their intelligence on terrorists.

Blair could have stood up to them. But at what cost?

Let me just attempt to get this straight. Correct me if I'm wrong, but aren't we meant to be fighting a war against terrorism? Surely if a country then on such petty grounds as an investigation to corruption threatens our security through not passing on vital information, doesn't that make them an accomplice? Indeed, just today the brother of Kafeel Ahmed, the man who died from his injuries after attempting to blow up Glasgow airport with patio gas canisters and petrol was jailed for 18 months for not passing information to the police that would have helpful in their inquiries. As the judges said yesterday, if such a threat had been made by a citizen of this country, he would have been charged with attempting to pervert the course of justice. The Scum favours continuing arm deals to tyrants chiefly responsible for the spread of Wahhabism across the globe to the rule of law itself.

The High Court has ruled against the Government and the Serious Fraud Office on a point of principle.

Which is all very well.

But those judges won’t have to pick up the pieces if thousands lose their jobs or even their lives.

Ah, so it would be the judges' fault rather than the terrorists or the Saudis if an attack did happen as a result of the withdrawing of intelligence co-operation. Excellent reasoning and logic, but what else do you expect from a newspaper owned by the man who supported the Iraq war because of the myth of the $20 barrel of oil at the end of it? That the Saudis have been one of the chief beneficiaries of the oil price rise, enriching themselves and spending it on spreading Salafism while condemning their citizens to life in one of the most barbaric societies on the planet is neither here nor there.

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Churning, innit.

Do the "journalists" that bang out this complete and utter shit believe it themselves?

A TEENAGER called directory inquiries to book a taxi but ended up having a cabinet delivered – because she asked for a “cab, innit”.

The 19-year-old Londoner wanted a taxi to take her from her home to Bristol airport, and first asked for the number using the Cockney rhyming slang “Joe Baxi”.

When the baffled operator told her she could not find anyone listed by that name, the teen snapped back: “It ain’t a person, it’s a cab, innit.”

The operator then found the nearest cabinet shop, Displaysense, and put the girl through.

She then spoke to an equally bemused saleswoman and eventually fumed: “Look love, how hard is it? All I want is your cheapest cab, innit.

I need it for 10am. How much is it?”

The sales adviser said it would be £180 and the girl gave her address and paid with a credit card.

As anyone with more than 10 braincells will have realised, this is a PR puff piece turned into "news" by the Metro, Daily Mail and Ananova, while the above was in the Scum. It's almost believable - up until the marketing manager himself makes an appearance, ala Paul Hucker and Simon Burgess. The Churner Prize tracked down the actual press release that the hacks then constructed into a story from Displaysense's own website. 5CC called bullshit too.

Churnalism at its finest then, but most of the commenters on the Sun don't seem to have seen through it:

Bring back elocution lessons, & for those that don't know what they are, they are lessons to help one speak and pronounce words clearly and correctly eliminating all this "Ain't it" and "Ya get me" rubbish we hear everyday.


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Does my bum look big in this?

Yup, this really is one of the images of Fowler on her website.

Doctors hailed a medical breakthrough today after the first successful connection of the rectum to the throat and the throat to the rectum. The unusual surgery was helmed by Professor Scheissmund and performed on 29-year-old Ruth Fowler, a former stripper, globe-trotter and soon to be published author.

While Fowler herself is still recovering from the operation, Prof. Scheissmund gave the background on why Miss Fowler had wanted the surgery. "She felt that in line with her recent writing, castigating holier-than-thou bourgeois liberals while enjoying all the comforts of a bourgeois liberal and then fat people for being fat, the next logical step was to be able to perform in real life what she can so successfully achieve in prose. While it was not an everyday cosmetic request, we felt that we could pull it off and Ruth herself has already congratulated us on our work by thanking us out of her colon and then vomiting effluent into a bucket."

Fowler already has her next Comment is Free piece lined up, entitled "Talking out of your arse is more difficult than it looks."

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Thursday, April 10, 2008 

Contempt is a two-way street.

"Why do they hate us so much?" is one of those wails that occasionally wafts from Westminster and into the press, politicians and commentators alike wondering why our representatives are either spat on, denounced as all the same or just completely ignored. There is a good case for making that the vast majority of politicians are not in it for themselves, that they genuinely do believe in some tangible concepts, and that they serve us with a diligence which many of us ourselves could neither achieve nor would want to attempt to. Then there's days like today, when the case for the defence seems so utterly overwhelming.

As Mr Eugenides writes, it's almost as if Gordon Brown at the moment has a reverse midas touch, where everything he goes near suddenly turns to shit the moment he opens his mouth about it. Here's the former clunking fist, the man accused of being Stalin, and he's being repeatedly made to look as if he's like another fictional ruler, the emperor without any clothes, debasing himself in public in front of the baying and mocking crowds. Half of this is because of his scattergun approach: one day declaring that plastic bags will be banished because the Daily Mail's just started a campaign up about them, the next deciding that malaria is the world's most pressing issue. Tony Blair wasn't immune to this either, as anyone who can recall his plea for Coronation Street's Deirdre's miscarriage of justice to be rectified can testify. The power behind the throne then though was Alastair Campbell, who compared to Brown's current advisers and chief spin doctor Stephen Carter was a genius and rottweiler rolled into one. Where Blair's spin was assured, either because it was done so well, or because the media was still involved in its temporary love affair with New Labour, Brown's is fast becoming his biggest weakness and in danger of turning him into a laughing stock.

Yesterday's announcement that Brown wouldn't after all be attending the opening ceremony of the Olympics was seemingly designed, in light of the protests in London and his own failure to so much as touch the flame when it arrived in Downing Street while the Chinese shell-suit mafia obscured him from vision, to be a good news story. Prime minister does decent thing despite potential pitfall over Britain hosting the next games! Easily offended Chinese get political equivalent of blowing a raspberry! Strong-man Brown says no to human rights abusers! Only, the slightest deeper look at the story exposed it for the fraud that it was. Brown had never explicitly stated that he personally was going to attend the opening ceremony; rather, span Downing Street, he was only always going to attend the closing ceremony, so that the spirit of the Olympics could be passed on. In any case, Tessa Jowell, the truly hapless Olympics minister is still going to attend the opening ceremony, so there's not going to be any boycott of any sort whatsoever. Within minutes of Brown/his lackeys making the announcement on Channel 4 News the entire thing had fell apart. The Conservatives, already fusillading Brown with accusations of dithering have yet another weapon to use against him, while the public themselves, not to mention those whom the gesture was meant to please, just feel cheated and almost lied to.

A very different sort of contempt but still one which reverberates around the country was thrillingly and damningly exposed by
Lord Justice Moses and Lord Justice Sullivan in the Royal Courts of Justice. Although ostensibly the case brought by Corner House and CAAT was against the Serious Fraud Office's Robert Wardle after he caved into pressure from Downing Street and the Attorney General to drop the investigation into BAE's slush fund to the Saudis, this was a judgement that exposed the sham and sheer mendacity of Blair's government in its dying days. Prince Bandar, the man since revealed as receiving up to £1bn through the Al-Yamamah deal, waltzes into Downing Street, feeling the heat on the back of his neck because the SFO is close to accessing Swiss bank accounts that would confirm the allegations against BAE, and says that unless the investigation is abandoned, not only will the Saudis take their next big order of armaments elsewhere, but they'll also cut off diplomatic and intelligence relations. Instead of telling Bandar to get lost and take his blatant blackmail with him, Blair writes directly to Lord Goldsmith, who gives in and orders Wardle to drop the investigation.

It's worth quoting directly from the judgement, so sneering as it is of the government's action:
# The defendant in name, although in reality the Government, contends that the Director was entitled to surrender to the threat. The law is powerless to resist the specific and, as it turns out, successful attempt by a foreign government to pervert the course of justice in the United Kingdom, by causing the investigation to be halted. The court must, so it is argued, accept that whilst the threats and their consequences are "a matter of regret", they are a "part of life". (§ 6)

# So bleak a picture of the impotence of the law invites at least dismay, if not outrage. The danger of so heated a reaction is that it generates steam; this obscures the search for legal principle. The challenge, triggered by this application, is to identify a legal principle which may be deployed in defence of so blatant a threat. However abject the surrender to that threat, if there is no identifiable legal principle by which the threat may be resisted, then the court must itself acquiesce in the capitulation. (§ 7)

Had such a threat been made by one who was subject to the criminal law of this country, he would risk being charged with an attempt to pervert the course of justice. (§ 59

The rule of law is nothing if it fails to constrain overweening power.(§ 65)

The government's response to this tearing apart of its decision, this exposition of how they broke the rule of law itself so that one of the most vicious dictatorships on the planet could continue to be sold arms it doesn't need and so that its demagogic royal family can continue to receive vast payments courtesy of the UK taxpayer to be used on prostitutes, private jets and all the other trappings of unearned wealth while their own citizens are not even afforded the most basic of human rights? None. It's refused to comment. As has BAE, and the Serious Fraud Office itself, not to mention Prince Bandar. Perhaps it should be said that all those mainly involved have either gone or are about to go: Blair took Lord Goldsmith along with him, and Wardle himself is shortly to be replaced at the SFO. Even so, it doesn't slightly begin to justify the silence not just from the government, but from the Labour party as a entirety.

Dave Osler has already said this, but it's a point well worth repeating. This week much attention has been paid to events in Dewsbury, and discussion of whether the alleged abduction of Shannon Matthews was a scam from the very beginning. Her mother has been charged with perverting the course of justice, for not informing the police of all she knew and when she knew it. The government back in December 2006 did almost exactly the same thing, except on a scale completely alien to anyone in that part of Yorkshire. The difference is that Matthews is just a member of the underclass; Goldsmith and Blair were the land's highest legal adviser and the prime minister himself, yet they conspired to pervert the course of justice and in doing so broke the rule of law irrevocably. Some of those in Dewsbury have been warned not to take the law into their own hands as a response; who could possibly blame anyone for having complete contempt for the politicians responsible in this much larger and much graver case?

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Who's using whom?

I would be the one who puts the noose around the neck or presses the button for the lethal injection. And hangings should be public. People have stopped me and said they’re 100 per cent behind it.

This country is a terrifying place. No one is safe. I’m not ranting and raving. Come and sit here with us three and have the pain we’ve got. -- Probably not what Newlove said today, but what she has previously stated to the Sun.

The widow of Garry Newlove, the father of three who was murdered by a gang of drunken youths in front of his family, has agreed to help David Cameron draw up policies to strengthen families and tackle anti-social behaviour.

Helen Newlove will today appear at a Conservative Party summit to discuss ways of building more "responsible" communities and toughening Britain's criminal justice system.

Agreed to help dear old Dave draw up policies? Surely Cameron already knows what Newlove's demands are? After all, both he and Jack Straw met Newlove with the other "mothers in arms" to discuss how to solve "Broken Britain". Their 10 point plan was/is:

1 - Reintroduce the death penalty
2 - Set up compulsory DNA database

3 - Zero tolerance for minor crimes
4 - Repeal the Human Rights Act

5 - More bobbies on (blank) (presumably the beat?)
6 - Make parents responsible for their kids and restore discipline at home
7 - Victims' family's rights to be put above those of offenders with an end to ludicrous defences
8 - Juveniles to be named in court like adults

9 - Reserve plans to turn off street lights to save energy

10 - A crackdown on binge drinking

Some of these are already Conservative policy, with Cameron pledging to repeal the HRA and replace it with a "British" bill of rights, regardless of the fact that all that would mean in practise is that we'd have two tiers of law, with individuals still able to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights if their case was rejected under the "British" bill, just that it'd take hell of a lot longer than it current does. As much as a distinct minority in the Conservatives would like to reinstate the death penalty, that's something that simply isn't going to happen, and it'd be a major surprise if they suddenly decided after moving towards a more libertarian stance on civil liberties that a "compulsory" DNA database was a good idea. David Davis has talked of "zero tolerance" on occasion, but whether they would make it an actual policy or implement it when most of the police themselves despair of such a change, as they do of putting "more officers on the beat", which is about as blunt an instrument as you can use against crime, is also far from clear.

Quite how any government could force parents to "restore discipline" at home is an open question, and similarly daft is the idea that you can somehow exclude some legal defences because they're "ludicrous"; the answer to that is to impose harsher sentences for wasting the court's time and money when guilt is obvious. Courts already have the power to name juveniles if the judge decides that the crime is suitably heinous and that an example needs to be made, and the Conservatives have already announced that they would raise taxes on strong lagers and the so-called alcopops, something which hasn't been condemned with the same venom as Darling's across the board raising of duty in the budget even if it would have the same next to negligible effect.

The question then has to be exactly who is helping or using whom. Most of Newlove's demands are anathema even to the traditional hanging 'n' flogging party, and would move the country even further into the realm of authoritarianism. If Cameron is then cynically using a grieving widow when he has no intention of implementing her ideas, then even by his and the new Tory party's standards that's scraping the bottom of the public relations barrel. If Newlove is using Cameron however to panic Labour into coming down ever tougher on crime, something that it's more than happy to do at the proverbial dropping of a hat, then that's not much more devious. That Newlove's claim that the trial involving her husband's murderers was a "circus", where the defendants had the "human rights" (showing that despite her previously working in a court environment that she has no idea what human rights actually are outside a tabloid definition) on their side could not be less credible considering their conviction and sentencing suggests that despite the state bending over backwards to help her and all the sympathy she's quite rightly received, she has no interest whatsoever in compromise or rational debate. In time Newlove will like the other grieving mothers who demand change be forgotten, but for now those with their own agendas, even if more subtle than hers, are more than happy to associate with her and gain the short-lived kudos. Until then, it will remain difficult to comprehend just who is using whom.

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In one of my irregular moments of madness some time ago, as any of you whom for some reason have searched for "septicisle" might know (41 people have so far this month, although 11 have also been referred here after they searched for "gay orgy", 2 were from "celebs with big foreheads", another 2 from "putting in a tampon", yet another 2 for "dont hit kids no seriously they have guns now", 1 from "gordon brown's student pamphlet 'how to sponge a living from state benefits'", 1 more from "my grief is killing me help me" and finally 1 from "cunts at jobcentre made me get a job at a care home which is unbearable") I made the stupid mistake of setting up a MurdochSpace page. For anyone wondering, yes, it's mine, and yes, you couldn't possibly have guessed that I looked like that, and yes, I realise this makes me the most horrendous hypocrite. Still, at least I'm not on Facebook.

If any of you are so inclined or dull enough to want me as a phony friend, feel free.

I get the feeling I'm going to regret this in the morning.

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Wednesday, April 09, 2008 

The right if difficult decision.

The appeal court judges have come to the right if difficult and strewn with problems ruling that Abu Qatada should not be deported back to Jordan. Before jumping on the the typical blaming of the Human Rights Act, it should be noted that the judges' decision was on the grounds that he would not receive a fair trial, not that he was at risk of personally being tortured or mistreated. No one might care if someone who produced fatwas used during the Algerian civil war to kill individuals declared suitably un-Islamic was tortured, but most of us do still care about whether someone receives a trial that doesn't have the appearance of resembling a kangaroo court.

The whole extended legal farce has been one idiocy followed by another. We know quite well that Qatada, much like Hamza and Bakri Mohammad, had at least some sort of relationship with the security services; how far it actually went, whether they were informing or whether there was some sort of pact by where they didn't call for attacks against this country in their preaching is much harder to ascertain. Bisher al-Rawi, formerly held at Guantanamo, was repatriated here because it emerged that he had in fact been helping MI5 all along keep tabs on Qatada, while Jamil el-Banna was approached and urged to become an intelligence asset shortly before he left for Gambia, where he and al-Rawi were subsequently arrested and rendered to Gitmo. Whether this is part of the reason why he has not been simply charged with inciting racial hatred like Hamza eventually was is unclear, but it seems that as with Bakri, the authorities have decided it's much easier to simply get rid of him than to try to build a case against him.

This is strange because despite the case against him in Jordan, it was his preaching here that undoubtedly has influenced some that have subsequently become suicide bombers or plotted terrorist attacks. Like with Hamza and Bakri, the services undoubtedly know what he was up to, and probably have tape after tape of his speeches, or at the very least intercepts of some of his telephone calls. While we simply can't know whether it would be possible to try Qatada here if intercept evidence was allowed in court, a ban that the head of the FBI recently denounced as "untenable", it's difficult to believe that if the government was truly exercised that it couldn't be able to build a viable case against him. Perhaps the difficulty is that unlike Hamza, the US doesn't seem to be making any efforts to attempt to extradite him, where he would undoubtedly face a far longer prison sentence than any he would ultimately face here. Even that isn't certain though, as although Qatada has never been personally linked to any plots here, those recently sentenced have faced sentences of over 20 years.

At the heart of the issue ought to be the acknowledgement that deporting anyone to a country that practises torture, and Jordan is certainly one, with Human Rights Watch only yesterday reporting that up until 2004 Jordan was one of the destinations for those who went through the rendition programme, and they weren't being sent there for the beautiful beaches and excellent prison facilities, ought to be the absolute last resort. Instead the government has used it as the very first resort. "Memorandums of understanding" that aren't worth the paper they're typed on are a ludicrous justification for doing something that we would have never have done prior to 9/11. Under Brown we've been told that despite what Blair said, the rules of the game haven't changed. They ought to prove it by doing the decent thing over Qatada.

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Mea culpa expanded.

I ought to be slightly clearer than I was in yesterday's "mea culpa" on Karen Matthews about exactly what it was I was apologising about, especially as two other bloggers I more than respect suggest I shouldn't have at all. I was not saying sorry for alleging snobbery; I think that claim still more than stands up for why there was far less coverage than that given to the Madeleine McCann case, although the factors of the difference in looks between Madeleine and Shannon and Kate and Karen were also a factor, as was that this was happening on a Yorkshire housing estate and not in sunny Praia da Luz in Portugal.

Rather, I was admitting I got it wrong directly by criticising Allison Pearson's original piece on the Matthews, especially her concluding paragraph:

But like too many of today's kids, Shannon Matthews was already a victim of a chaotic domestic situation, inflicted by parents on their innocent children, long before she vanished into the chill February night.

That seems more than accurate now. As noted at the time however, Pearson's hypocrisy was abject considering her repeated defences of the McCanns, and far more offensive was that Pearson, without any idea whatsoever about what had actually happened, was kicking a mother while she was down, with nothing to suggest that what had happened to Shannon was anything to do with her or her family at large. As it turns out, she might well have not been down at all; but her tearful appearances were, as Pearson herself writes today, incredibly convincing.

Pearson however has got the wrong end of the stick entirely here though:

After Shannon went missing, those of us who dared to question the family's way of life were pilloried. Apparently, we were middle-class snobs looking down on a poor, working-class world. Who were we to judge Karen with her seven kids from five different fathers?

That's not what I was arguing at all, although others might well have done. You can judge Matthews' lifestyle all you like, but if you must do it, do it after the girl had at least been found, either alive or dead. Pearson's original attack was humbug of the highest order, jumping to conclusions and making allegations which she could not possibly back up, purely on the back of Matthews' past sex-life and the children that had came with it. There's nothing more unpleasant that attacking someone while they're under such apparent pain, and Pearson herself had vigorously attacked those that had done the same with the McCanns.

Pearson continues:

Yet the more we learned about Shannon's family, the more the tangled roots of the little girl's unhappiness were cruelly exposed.

No one is supposed to be "judgmental" any more. But isn't it the failure to be judgmental that has created the chaotic world where a nine-year-old can (allegedly) be taken by the child-abusing uncle of her mum's toyboy? An uncle, by the way, with whom the mum herself is alleged to be having an affair. I know it's hard, madam, but do try to keep up at the back!

But again, Pearson hasn't got the faintest idea whether these allegations are true or not. I can't recall reading anything that suggested that the uncle was a child-abuser, although his reasons for snatching a girl would suggest that, if we're still meant to think that this was a snatching and not an elaborate scam, and the same goes for the way she's now suggesting that the uncle of Matthews' current lover was having an affair with her all along, something she cannot possibly prove and that which would affect the subsequent trial in any case. All this speculation and finger-pointing is doubtless the exact reason why the police have asked those on the Dewsbury estate not to take the law into their own hands, especially when they haven't got a clue of the actual facts themselves with all the rumours swirling around. If you're going to be judgemental, then at least have all the details laid out before you; if Pearson was going to do that however, she'd never get a column written at all. Part of this is churnalism, but part of it is also simply that the whole point of tabloid columnists is to be opinionated without necessarily having the slightest actual information to be able to back up why they have that view.

The same mentality is behind the current grasping of Shameless as the template for the entire estate on which the Matthews lived. The churnalism behind this is covered by the Churner Prize, a new blog that seems to be more than worth watching, but it's also because everything has now suddenly flipped in the media's mind. They weren't keen on the estate or the Matthews to begin with, but now they feel they've been taken for a ride, and the public themselves will feel the same, so they're justified in throwing around the epithets, no matter how potentially insulting or untrue. The Scum runs with this for example, and uses the example of a man saying the police found pornography in his house and that everyone has it as evidence of moral deprivation. That if he had copies of the Sun he'd have soft pornography in it as well doesn't seem worth mentioning. I've can't say I've ever watched a full episode of Shameless, but have caught glimpses, so someone can correct me if they need to, but if the show does at times feature the community itself coming together in times of need then that's been reflected in reality without the media bothering to draw that conclusion. The estate was completely behind the family and united in such a way that might not have previously been achieved, going out of their way to search and help in any way they could, ready to hold a party to welcome Shannon back, one which has sadly not been held. That however might be to give the impression that the under/working class aren't revolting, and we couldn't possibly have that.

I'm not afraid to admit however that I did get it wrong. A mother seems to have abandoned her child for whatever reason, and her family life was by no means above reproach. I should perhaps have moderated my view slightly by admitting the possibility of the truth of what Pearson wrote. This doesn't change one iota however the fact that Pearson is a snobbish cunt of the highest order, as proved by her diatribe against Fiona MacKeown, simply for not having the same standards as the high and mighty little Miss Perfect Middle Class Pearson. If there's one thing I do know, it's that I'd rather be wrong and mistaken than a despicable, sniping, unbearably cruel bitch.

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Tory wolf in Labour clothing part two.

This letter in today's Grauniad says everything my post yesterday failed miserably to do:

Both my husband and I are to have our income reduced due to the removal of the 10p tax rate. I am disabled and receive incapacity benefit and an occupational pension (both taxed). My husband works full time for a low wage. He hasn't had a pay increase in nine years. Our children are grown up and we are below pension age. We are not entitled to tax credits. We are on the brink of poverty. And this from a so-called Labour government. I despair.

Josette Morgan
, Potton, Bedfordshire

Justin has more of much the same.

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Ruth Fowler cries for help.

Despite 29 years of attempting to find herself, Ruth Fowler is still in a desperate situation. The toll of travelling the globe has not been kind, and she finds herself increasingly facing up to life in the company of stereotypical, cliched, bourgeois liberals, who when not protesting for vegetable rights and peace are extolling the virtues of living on air for a year, ensuring that their farts are carbon neutral, and generally acting like men of straw.

You can help Ruth in her dire hour of need.

Just a pound a month will add to her ability to meet thrusting go-getting right-wingers in either New York or London, whichever she's currently in.

£10 a month will mean she can send the money directly on to an actual charity, therefore negating her need to whine about her friends that are doing something for charity while she doesn't feel the need to.

£140,000 a year will buy her a column in the Daily Mail, where they tend to like articles which are nonsensical and bash imaginary liberals that don't exist anywhere outside Metropolitan areas that the media are obsessed with.

Please give generously.

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Tuesday, April 08, 2008 

Mea culpa.

While there's obviously still an awful lot to come out and you're innocent until proven guilty, I feel just slightly silly having wrote a few defences of Karen Matthews over the last month or so. While most of the bile in the tabloids was directed at Fiona MacKeown, it's hard not to accept now that Allison Pearson might have had something of a point in her 5th of March piece, hypocrisy or not.

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Beware the Tory wolf in Labour clothing.

Beware the lesson of the Tory wolf in liberal clothing, writes La Toynbee. As it happens, she's talking about how the centre-right in Sweden, after getting into power on a programme of policies not much different to that of the centre-left, have turned out to be rather more right-wing than they promised, the implication being that no one must vote for that nice Mr Cameron, as despite his message, he'll undo all of Labour's hard work in abolishing poverty and establishing total equality.

I exaggerate slightly. The headline could however just as easily be about Brown. Toynbee strangely doesn't mention in her column something rather more important to the average low-paid worker who's most likely to actually vote Labour, but Brown could be that Tory wolf in Labour clothing. What else to say of someone who, through abolishing the 10p starting rate of tax, has just redistributed mainly from single workers without children earning under £18,500 to those earning over £35,000 a year, who gain under the tax changes introduced in his last budget?

It's important to set the background to how this change came about. This was back shortly before Brown was to inherit the Earth - or at least the Labour party leadership. His stewardship of the economy was not yet as threatened or criticised as it is now, but it was starting to come under some strain, and he didn't have much room for manoeuvre. He needed something that would grab the headlines, but that wouldn't smack the most crucial constituencies, the cliched hard-working families, pensioners, or the City. It might not have had anything to do with it, but the weekend before a number of newspapers called for tax cuts, with the News of the Screws almost begging for some sort of slash. The 10p top rate, introduced by Brown himself some years previously, was the obvious contender. The reasoning was that due to the introduction of tax credits, those on low pay who would have otherwise have been whacked had something of a fall-back, while the only real major losers would be those under 25 without children who couldn't claim them and part-timers who didn't work enough hours to qualify.

The signs that this wasn't thought through properly, or that it was, and Labour either didn't care or thought that the majority wouldn't care, are fairly clear. If there's one thing that New Labour has always been aware of, it's the polls, and time after time they show that around the only remaining demographic that supports the party consistently and in spite of everything is the 18-24-year-olds. How could they have not noticed it regressively targets them if the Treasury hadn't been frantically searching for the proverbial rabbit to pull out of the hat?

Regardless of that, the giving with one hand and taking away with another didn't fool hardly anyone else in any case. The most grateful headline the budget received was the Sun's "reasons 2p cheerful", which was rather mitigated against by the following day's headlines elsewhere on Brown's "tax con". Questions have been asked of why the Labour MPs now concerned and angry about the change didn't recognise it sooner and speak up - the reason why they didn't because at the time they didn't care as they had no reason to think it was going to affect them personally. Even if the local elections were coming up again, the losses were thought unlikely to be as severe as previously, especially considering Blair was on his way out and acting as a lightning conductor for discontent. With him gone, Brown was bound to re-energize the party and re-engage with the public itself. This was exactly what happened - until the Northern Rock crisis broke out, Brown fluffed his opportunity to call the election last autumn, and the economic weather significantly turned with the credit crunch, still now reverberating and having a chilling affect across the board.

Backbench MPs are concerned now because a tax change they thought they could bluff their way through has come home to roost. However much the Supreme Leader and Alastair Darling chunter about how we're in an excellent position to deal with the lack of liquidity in the financial markets, with inflation low, the lowest paid are the ones feeling the pain of the price of food especially rising. Then, just as things are getting worse, they get further stabbed in the back by Labour taking away the 10p rate. Taking into conjunction with other matters that Labour has dismissed or poo-pooed, such as the closing of post offices and now the most dramatic fall in house prices since the dark days of 1992, and it's little wonder that the Labour MPs are so worried. Even though the Conservatives continue to offer very little of any substance or great difference, they see the upcoming local elections as the precipice they may be about to fall off. They remember the almost wiping out of Tory councils back in the local elections of the mid-90s, and fear it's about to happen to them. The only major council Labour still controls in the south outside London is Reading - and it's under great pressure.

This was not how it was supposed to happen. If Brown had gone for the election back in October, then Labour would now most likely still be in power, albeit with probably a further reduced majority, and while all the above issues would be of concern, they'd have the four or five years to once again turn it around. Instead Labour is increasingly hemmed in from all sides, but Brown himself doesn't either seem to recognise this, or if he has, he's not showing it. I personally couldn't care less about house prices falling, especially seeing if I'm ever going to be able buy one at some point in the future they're going to have to drop a lot further, but when it's possibly the number one issue for the middle classes it seems to be asking for it to refer to the drop as "containable". That doesn't even come close to the apparent contempt he feels for the very individuals he's shafted with the removal of 10p rate however, who have to realise that he's taking the "difficult long-term decisions" and that in a few months they'll see the results - I'm sure they'll appreciate that when their pay-checks come in.

Quite why the Labour MPs are complaining however, as opposed to why are they complaining
now is the better question. It's with a piece of everything else Labour has done of late. When John Hutton does the greed is good routine just as the banking sector has brought the Western economy to its knees, when concessions over the non-doms are made almost as soon as the City howls, when Caroline Flint continues to spout about evicting those on benefits from council houses and when the entire cabinet seems to have decided to out Blairite the worst excesses of the Blair years across the board, they ought to have realised by now that Labour stopped caring about its base a long time ago. Instead of letting them eat cake it urges them to eat tax credits, even if they mask the problem rather than anywhere near address it, are incredibly difficult to claim in the first place and there continues to be huge problems in the administering of the scheme, leading to both under and over payments. Rather than offering the change he promised, Brown has been a continuation of the same without the undoubted political nous which Blair had. You might remember that David Miliband said on Question Time that a year into a Brown prime ministership some might feel nostalgic for Blair and want him back; someone more perceptive might have instead said that a year in and everyone would be saying that nothing had changed. The "tragedy" has been that they would have been proved right.

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Scum-watch: Defending China by proxy.

As periodically occurs, mostly on special occasions or holidays, the Sun's slightly altered its logo. This one however is especially intriguing:

Looks like someone's decided that the Olympic torch relay needs defending. I wonder who that could possibly be?

The tone for this defence of the ancient right to run a flaming stick through capital cities is set by the Sun's report on the protests yesterday in Paris:

THE Olympic torch was snuffed out four times yesterday as it was relayed through Paris – before eventually being put on a BUS to shield it from anti-Chinese mobs.

Anti-Chinese mobs. Not human rights protesters or Free Tibet campaigners, but anti-Chinese mobs.

In a futile effort to keep some semblance of balance, there is a column at the side dealing with the accusations against China, but perhaps there's something in the fact that it leads with how China executes 22 a day. This is after all the newspaper that recently declared that 99% of its readers wanted the death penalty brought back. It's nearly 300 words in before the Sun finally suggests why the protests have been so vociferous:

Protesters are furious at China’s brutal crushing of opponents in Tibet, which has sparked outrage in neighbouring countries including Nepal.

But wait! Aren't the protests themselves incompatible with the values of the Olympics?

International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge blasted the protests as “not compatible with the values of the torch relay or the Olympic Games”.

He insisted of China’s human rights record: “The International Olympic Committee has expressed its serious concern and calls for a rapid, peaceful resolution in Tibet.”

What values exactly does the torch relay represent? The values of public relations, of self-promotion, for both China and the celebrities/athletes that have carried it, of being completely impervious to criticism? It must be, because it certainly doesn't stand for peace, friendship or unity like the Sun claimed yesterday. It instead stands this time round for imperial arrogance, both on the part of the International Olympic Committee for awarding China the games in the first place and then condemning protesters despite China making no effort whatsoever to improve its rights record as it was supposed to do; and also China's own, in attempting to milk the Olympics for all its short-term worth, completely out of line with the supposed values of the games that it is meant to be espousing. Rather than just expressing vague calls for "a rapid, peaceful resolution in Tibet", it should be demanding at the very least that China meets with the Dalai Lama, puts a stop to its ridiculous claims that he's somehow masterminding the protests, and release those that have been taken into custody since the outbreak of the uprisings last month. For those who call for a separation of sport and politics, the moment the IOC gave China the Olympics it was a vote of confidence for its leadership; the two are so intertwined as to be impossible to break apart.

To further labour the point, the Sun's printed a cut out Olympic flame for everyone!

NO matter how many times protesters put out the real Olympic torch, they won't be able to extinguish our special cut-out-and-keep Olympic torch. Click HERE for your very own flame.

The leader column provides for two opportunities: to bash the French and to show the Chinese that Murdoch is firmly behind them and their two-week long sports extravaganza.

IF France fielded as many troops in Afghanistan as cops deployed on the streets of Paris yesterday, the Taliban could be defeated overnight.

If they were prepared to fight.

I realise this is a throw-away jibe, but the idea that somehow an extra 3,000 troops would "defeat the Taliban" is about as much of a fantasy as, oh, this very editorial.

Coachloads of club-carrying police were drafted in to protect the Olympic torch and keep unarmed civilian protesters at bay.

And they still couldn’t keep this iconic symbol alight.

Well, what do you expect? They're French, they're too busy eating snails, riding bicycles and going on strike as to do something as simple as keep an "iconic symbol" alight.

The flame was snuffed out FOUR times as it made its faltering way to Beijing — not by demonstrators but by city officials.

Finally, it was put on a bus for “safety reasons” — even though there was no more violence in Paris than in London, where the flame survived without a flicker.

Err, could this possibly be because, like in London, demonstrators were at certain sections blocking the flame's path? No, it's all the fault of those swarthy French policemen.

There is widespread sympathy for the Free Tibet campaigners dogging the flame’s journey — at huge loss of face to China’s Communist regime.

But this is supposed to be the Eternal Flame, an international symbol of the sporting ideal.

Not to break Godwin's law or anything, but as others have noted (The Times itself won't be repeating Jenkins's arguments, that's for sure), it was the Nazis that came up with the idea for a torch relay. The Eternal Flame - the Eternal Jew, anyone? Even if it was this imaginary symbol of a sporting ideal as some appear to be arguing, China's appropriation of it has snuffed them.

The countries through which it passes owe a duty to the Olympic legacy to keep it burning.

The French should have guarded it properly or had nothing to do with it at all.

Surely by "Olympic legacy" the Sun really means "the Chinese", or as they're known to Mr Murdoch, some of my closest business associates? As for the perfidious French, it should be interesting to see if the Sun condemns the Americans so noisily and angrily if the protesters there continue to succeed as their counterparts have here and in France. Somehow I think they might just be treated to a different standard.

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Monday, April 07, 2008 

Teeth-gnawing tedium.

It's nice to be proved wrong:

Diana, Princess of Wales, and Dodi Fayed were unlawfully killed by the reckless driving of their chauffeur, Henri Paul, and the paparazzi who chased them, jurors in the inquest into their deaths decided today.

The verdict, by a nine-to-two majority, brings to a close a six-month inquest that has heard from more than 240 witnesses and is expected to have cost more than £10m.

The verdict implicates the paparazzi and Paul much more so than previous investigations.

Contrary to Fayed's statement, the jury has once again indicted his own employee, Henri Paul, as one of those responsible for Diana and Dodi's death. His lawyers also abandoned his arguments at the close, something that previously couldn't be reported. Despite his contention in the witness box that he would accept the verdict of the jury, he's tonight consulting his lawyers over yet another further appeal, on the spurious grounds that because the Duke of Edinburgh and some other figures weren't forced to appear that not all the evidence was heard. £10 million down the drain; how much would it have cost to give him that passport again?

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A celebration of the Olympic spirit.

There's nothing quite like a protest against a vicious kleptocracy to bring out the best in everyone.

The official view of yesterday's relay, expressed by government ministers and torchbearers alike, seems to be that the halting passage through London was a "triumph for democracy", a kind of demonstration to the world of how free speech should be allowed. What nonsense. I was reporting yesterday's protests for the Guardian and, from the outset, police identified anti-Chinese protesters and subjected them to different rules to red-flag waving spectators.

Before the relay had even properly begun, my colleague witnessed police removing T-shirts and flags from demonstrators. At Ladbroke Grove, spectators carrying Tibetan flags were relegated to a pavement across the road, kept apart from a carnival-style reception.

It was the same story at Bloomsbury Square, which, along with Whitehall, was the most heated part of the relay. Several protesters were dragged away. I saw one woman asked to place her anti-Chinese posters in plastic bags. She told me she had been told by two officers that her materials, which complained about China's treatment of animals, were "inflammatory".

Demonstrators who did not obey police requests to stand in designated areas were repeatedly threatened with anti-terrorist legislation. On what grounds?

Police were also restrictive towards the press. I was threatened with arrest several times - for indiscretions such as having one foot on pavement and another, dreadful as it sounds, on the road. Jim Jameson, a freelance photographer, told me he was "thrown to the ground" while photographing an arrest near Whitehall.

If you wanted to be slightly glib, you could draw parallels with a protest that the police decided not to interfere with, where similarly inflammatory slogans were shouted and on clear display:

Then though it was just the whole country and freedom of speech which was being abused, whereas yesterday it was the Chinese, who are notoriously easily offended.

Then via Justin we have the athletes themselves:

Duncan Goodhew, the former Olympic swimmer who ran with the torch, said: "It shows how extreme things can get in this country and it's a great shame. It's such a bad example for children.

Quite so. Children seeing adults protesting against a PR operation by a tyrannical human rights abuser? Might give them ideas above their station, what?

We also have the pleasure of the Murdoch press having to tie itself in knots, not able to be too critical because of News Corporation's business interests in the country, which leads to the publication of garbage such as today's Sun leader, hilariously titled Freedom wins:

THE Olympic torch’s troubled journey across London was a triumph for democracy.

We are lucky to live in a country that values its citizens’ right to hold lawful, peaceful public protests.

Or at least in a country where the police abitrarily decide the definition of what a lawful, peaceful protest is. Or where the Sun decides what a lawful, peaceful protest is.

And police must be congratulated for their skill in allowing that to happen while preventing those with unlawful intentions from putting the flame out or injuring torch bearers.

Yes, congratulations to the Plod. You've set a wonderful precedent for protecting all other countries that want to run a glorified relay through the streets of London, regardless of their internal politics.

As holders of the next Games in 2012, Britain was right to show solidarity with the Olympic movement by allowing the flame to be paraded on our soil.

By "Olympic movement" the Sun presumably means the Chinese government, which allows its glorious proprietor to beam his wonderful satellite television service into millions of homes. Not to mention MySpace China, ran by the gorgeous pouting Wendi Deng, who just happens to be, err, Murdoch's wife.

Protesters claim it gave China a propaganda victory.

But our Prime Minister repeatedly warns China about its human rights record. Only yesterday Olympics Minister Tessa Jowell publicly condemned it as “reprehensible”.

Golly! Repeatedly warned! That's socking it to them. I bet they're quivering in their jackboots in Tibet now that Brown has "warned" them. No more shooting into crowds now lads, Gordon 'n' Tessa will give us a stern ticking off if we do!

What’s more, Gordon Brown will show his personal support for Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, by meeting him when he visits Britain next month.

Only after he was pressured into doing so by David Cameron raising it as an issue at Prime Minister's Questions. He won't however, unlike some on the continent, boycott the opening ceremony, which would hurt and embarrass China far more than anything else.

The flame is not a symbol of China. It’s an Olympic symbol.

Of course. The Chinese bodyguards that surrounded it were also obviously an Olympic symbol.

It represents peace, friendship and unity. Which makes it all the more poignant that the protesters could not extinguish it.

This leader represents obfuscation, sycophancy and not rocking the boat. Which makes it all the more poignant that the protesters for once cut through the layers of bullshit that often surround every political issue, and have continued to do so today.

Tygerland has a slightly more nuanced view.

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Same old Tories, always spamming.

Like everyone else, I'm the regular recipient of emails advising me that my pathetically average penis can be magically enlarged in both girth and length via pumps/pills/injections/the power of the mind/weights/specialist DVDs/Peregrine Worsthorne. It's not often however that I get spam from the Conservative party. In fact, it's the first time:

Football clubs can transform young lives

Hey there,

David Cameron recently visited a school in Dudley, where Wolverhampton Wanderers are offering young people the chance to improve their football skills, while also teaching them life skills. It’s a really good example of the huge ability a football club has to use its brand and its people to transform young lives.

There is much debate on how to get children off the streets and into doing something positive for themselves and their local communities. It’s a great 2 minute video that demonstrates local private firms (such as football clubs) aiding and enabling youngsters to meet and socialise constructively.

This footage is available at (link removed) it is available for you to embed on your blog Obsolete, if you wish. The embed code is available on the video player in the bottom right symbolized ‘<>’ –

I hope you can spread the debate.

Thanks for your time.

Kind Regards,


Digital Communications Officer |

Conservative Campaign HQ | 30 Millbank | London | SW1P 4DP |

Tel: 020 7984 8081 |

This email and any attachments to it (the "Email") are intended for a specific recipient(s) and its contents may be confidential, privileged and/or otherwise protected by law. If you are not the intended recipient or have received this Email in error, please notify the sender immediately by telephone or email, and delete it from your records. You must not disclose, distribute, copy or otherwise use this Email. Please note that email is not a secure form of communication and that the Conservative Party ("the Party") is not responsible for loss arising from viruses contained in this Email nor any loss arising from its receipt or use. Any opinion expressed in this Email is not necessarily that of the Party and may be personal to the sender.

Join us and make change happen –

Promoted by Alan Mabbutt on behalf of the Conservative Party, both at 30 Millbank, London, SW1P 4DP

Now, I have received a few unsolicited invitations to link to videos before, from Vice magazine, but that was on a documentary they had made in North Korea, which at least had the potential to be somewhat interesting, even though I didn't link to it. I'm not on any Conservative mailing lists to be forwarded their press releases, so I was a little miffed when this floated in. One would have thought that I'm hardly going to be receptive to the Tories' propaganda, but then maybe this suggests that they're getting truly desperate. A little consultation with some fellow bloggers confirmed that they hadn't received this, so it's not a mass mail-out. Not to come over all self-pitying, but why little old me?

Still, I'm sure that Graham "Hardly" Wild will appreciate that I took the time and effort to reply to his due diligence by "spreading the debate":

I consider this unsolicited spam and would be grateful if you fucked right off.

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Saying your prayers part two.

Remember the bus driver that ordered his passengers off his bus so he should pray? Via 5cc, the bus company has completed its investigation into what actually happened:

A BUS company has defended its Muslim driver who stunned passengers by asking them to get off before kneeling down to pray.

London United Busways say they have carried out a full investigation after driver Arunas Raulynaitis rolled out his prayer mat to perform his daily prayers, facing Mecca on the number 81 bus in Langley.

Bosses have analysed evidence, including CCTV footage, and say the driver was actually on his 10-minute break when the incident took place at around 1.30pm on Thursday.

They added that the control room had in fact radioed Mr Raulynaitis to terminate the bus outside Langley Fire Station in London Road because it was running late due to road works. Passengers were asked to leave the vehicle while they waited for another bus to pick them up to complete their journey.

There is a discrepancy here between the passengers, who seem to say that they in fact had to wait 15 minutes for the bus that had supposedly caught up to pick them up, and the company, but I can't see why the company would lie about how they had cancelled the service. I also can't fathom why it would have gone to such lengths to defend its driver when it could have quite easily sacked him for his conduct if what the Sun and the others had alleged was true. The explanation also ties in with what the driver originally told the Sun:

Yesterday the driver, who said his name was Hrun, told The Sun: “I asked everyone to get off because I needed to pray. I was running late and had not had time."

The driver shouldn't perhaps have ordered everyone off; he could have quite easily prayed with them all still on and in the warm, even if it would have been odd, even if not as odd as ordering them off so he could pray.

As 5cc argues though, this is just another case where something that has a grain of truth in it is distorted out of all proportion and used to bash a community or a religion as a whole. Even now the usual "clash of civilisations" crowd is out on the Slough Observer article, something to be expected, as the usual right-wing blogs had linked to the story originally. The ones who spout "Dhimmitude" are left looking like dummies, but that's never stopped them before.

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A role model? No, she's a porker!

We have a new entry in the Daily Mail "cunt of the year" awards, via Anton Vowl:

A role model for ordinary women? No, Miss England finalist is fat, lazy and a poster girl for ill health

Chloe Marshall has caused a storm by becoming the first size 16 beauty queen to reach the finals of the Miss England contest.

Feted and fawned over for her courage in daring to break the mould, Chloe boasts she wants to be an "ambassador for curves".

Who on earth does she think she's kidding? What she's demonstrating isn't bravery but a shocking lack of self-control.

Instead of flaunting her figure, Chloe ought to own up to the truth. She is fat and she got that way by over-eating.

And so it continues, in a classic piece of Glenda Slaggery. The author responsible for this bile is Monica Grenfell, who belongs to that special band of bullshit merchants and snake-oil salesmen known as "nutritionists". Like most of them, it appears that she has no actual qualifications (she certainly doesn't mention any on her site) that would justify her genuinely calling herself a "nutritionist", and as nutritionist is not a protected term in this country, unlike dietician, she can call herself one without any potential for backlash, similarly to how "Dr" Gillian McKeith continues to call herself one.

Grenfell says approaching the end:

Teenage girls aren't in danger of falling victim to an epidemic of anorexia - but of obesity.

The much-vaunted size zero of catwalk models is actually a UK size four. How many girls do you know that size?

The number of women in this country who are seriously underweight is minute around one in 70.

Which is probably true. It is however also completely irrelevant. Women's magazines don't, or very, very rarely trumpet women the size of Marshall as role models. Instead they present celebrities and models who one week are getting fat and the next week are too skinny, or at least according to the celeb mags, as the body image that should be aspired too. It's the exact same sort of poison that Grenfell preaches, without the slightest care for how this makes women who don't fit the mould feel. Indeed, if women stopped being concerned about how they're "overweight" as Marshall supposedly is, then Grenfell and her colleagues would be out of a job. They have an interest in continuing to treat those who don't fit their model as "lazy" and "poster models" for ill-health.

All of this though is to again judge and pre-judge by what someone looks like. Coming from someone not renowned for his stunning good-looks, this might be a little twee and self-serving, but it's always what's inside that counts. Compare what Grenfell thinks to what she quotes Marshall as saying:

She talks about the "skinny minnies" she'll be competing against. "All I wanted to do by entering this pageant was to send a message out to young girls that it is fine NOT to be a size zero."

Game, set and match to Marshall, and "love" to the cunt Grenfell.

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Saturday, April 05, 2008 

Boom boom!

I would have thought that this part of Peter Wright QC's opening statement in the "liquid explosives" trial would have been somewhat important. This is from the Press Association's wire story:

The prosecutor added that there was no evidence to confirm that the defendants had managed to build a "viable device".

But he said it was clear that the would-be bombers would eventually have been able to achieve their ultimate aim.

Those are the two closing sentences in the report, after 901 words. The Guardian too reported this, although slightly differently:

The prosecution said the alleged cell may have had access to 40 litres of hydrogen peroxide, which they allegedly planned to place in soft drinks bottles, and then turn into bombs once on the planes. Wright said the cell had not produced a viable bomb, but said: "The successful construction of a viable device was only a matter of time." The jury were shown a video in which scientists recreated the men's planned bomb construction. The videos showed the bombs exploding.

That was 784 words into the report.

Still, at least PA and the Grauniad bothered to report this reasonably important fact. Despite dedicating three separate articles to coverage of the trial, neither the Times nor the Telegraph deigned to mention it at all. Neither did the Independent, although the PA report is also on their website. Or the Sun. Or the BBC, from what I could tell from news bulletins and their online reports.

Doubtless, I'm sure that our press will pay the same amount of attention to the men's defence as it has to the prosecution so far.

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Friday, April 04, 2008 

The tabloids always win part two.

To get into the mindset of why exactly it is that Gordon Brown, despite all the evidence, is determined to reclassify cannabis to "Class B", you only have to read the beginning of this Daily Mail article, written by none other than our old friend James Slack:

You MUST reclassify cannabis: Brown gets message from police chiefs, charities, MPs and victims

Gordon Brown was urged last night to overrule his drugs experts and reclassify cannabis.

Advisers are expected to tell him that the drug should remain in Class C and not be moved to the more serious Class B from which it was downgraded in 2004.

But campaigners, police chiefs and opposition MPs said the Prime Minister must ignore the recommendation when it is delivered later this month.

In the words of the Mail's own Richard Littlejohn, you almost couldn't make it up. The drug experts MUST be overruled and the campaigners, police chiefs and opposition MPs, all of whom know far better just how dangerous cannabis is, HAVE to be listened to.

It's also, as you might expect, complete and utter nonsense that it was just the "one" presentation that made the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs decide that cannabis should remain Class C. While we obviously don't know the reasons for its ruling in full, as it's still at least a month off and all that's happened is that the BBC were leaked the hardly surprising news that nothing in the last two years has changed to make them alter their opinions, we can make an educated guess that a panel of experts is hardly going to be swayed by just the one piece of evidence. As it is, this one presentation is still rather important: if cannabis causes schizophrenia at such a level as the critics claim, then you would expect that doctor's surgeries across the land would have noticed a rise in the number of those seeking treatment. This unpublished data from a confidential paper drawn up for the Home Office, based on surveys from 183 GP practices in fact showed that between 1996 and 2005 there had been significant reductions in the incidence and prevalence of schizophrenia. The critics could counter by saying that the "skunk" they so bleat about is a relatively recent development, and that those suffering don't necessarily seek treatment, but it's hardly a ringing endorsement of their continued case for cannabis to be in a higher class.

As Steve R on the Transform blog relates, all the motions of the ACMD were went through properly, perhaps even with a slight frustration that they had to yet again go through the risks and arguments over cannabis, something they've had to do at least twice previously in the last four years, only to reach the exact same decision. All of the myths propagated by the tabloids, the Independent on Sunday and those in favour of a return to Class B also continue to be found to be wrong. "Skunk" is not 20, 25 or 30 times more powerful than the old Moroccan resin: it's instead double the strength it was ten years ago, and only 4% of the "skunk" seized has a THC-content of more than 20%, the highest percentage found being 24%. Skunk might now be the type of cannabis seized 85% (other studies suggest 70% to 80%) of the time, but use of the drug has actually fell since it was reclassified to Class C. The reporting of the most recent study that considered the links between cannabis and psychosis was also predictably sensational and wrong: it found that smoking cannabis increased the risk of developing a "psychotic outcome" by 0.4%, duly reported as increasing the risk by 40% by smoking just one joint.

The reasons for why the Association of Chief Police Officers support reclassification to Class B couldn't be much stupider. Rather than being concerned about more time being wasted by beat officers no longer being able to confiscate and warn when most of the rank and file favour legalisation and view any messing about with cannabis users as about as productive as themselves going around on duty stoned, they instead worry that Vietnamese gangs have taken over the trade and are now mass-growing cannabis in factories concealed in houses. Quite how raising its classification would affect this change in the market as the suppliers have realised that's it far easier to grow it here using hydroponics than to risk importing it from abroad isn't clear, but in their warped logic it must somehow make sense.

Admirably, most of those who support reclassifying the drug as B don't relish the subsequent criminalisation of youth that would go hand in hand with it. It seems to only be the tabloids and the Conservatives that favour that, and even they try and hide their vindictive streak by instead arguing that Labour sent "the wrong message" by down-classing it. That no one who has ever smoked cannabis has ever cared what class it is and instead is only interested in the actual effects doesn't seem to have dawned on the old drug-war warriors yet; it might have given the impression that cannabis was legal, but that ought to be countered by a major education programme, as some of the saner voices have long been calling for, not by penalising those who dare to experiment with it, as most of the current class of politicians have themselves admitted. You mustn't now though, because it's an entirely different drug, as even Boris Johnson tediously said today after his belated statement on his own teenage drug use.

The whole point of the exercise of asking the ACMD for its view was to get Brown through the election he still thought he was going to call without having to make an actual decision, while being a sop to the Mail he has so assiduously courted. Once he'd won, he could then get away with going with the ACMD's decision even if the tabloids turned on him. It's all rather strange: there are very few votes either way in reclassifying the drug or not; now, if he proposed legalising it, which continues to be the only sane way to deal with the dreaded Vietnamese gangs and to end the lunacy of prosecuting small time possessors of the drug, then that would be something worth getting properly worked up about. Instead, Brown's likely to further try to appease the Sun and Mail by completely ignoring the expert advice that he commissioned in the first place, just as they too regard it with such utter contempt.

This is what should happen instead. Labour should be honest with both themselves and everyone else by coming out and saying the following: cannabis is potentially dangerous, just like all other drugs. There is a risk of developing mental illness through its use, especially if you smoke it constantly and you're already susceptible through genetic links to health problems, while those whose minds are still developing, such as anyone under 18, should certainly not use it for the same reasons. This is why we're going to decriminalise it, regulate it, tax it and age restrict it, and continue to monitor the scientific research carefully as it continues to be accumulated, all things that are already done with alcohol and tobacco, both of which, according to the Lancet's recent attempt to draw up a rational scale to assess the harm of drugs are higher on the risk scale than cannabis is. At the same time, we'll launch an unprecedented education programme aimed at establishing exactly what the risks are to children of all ages, while making completely clear what the change in the law means to everyone.

That, however, would be evidence based policy making; and in this country, the tabloids always win.

Related post:
Mike Power - What IS he smoking?
Transform - ACMD cannabis report update...

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The tabloids always win part one.

The tabloids have won. They always win:

Tabloid newspapers will be able to carry on using private detectives without fear of jail sentences after a government climb-down was confirmed last night.

Ministers decided to table a last-minute amendment to the current criminal justice bill under which a longstanding promise to impose jail sentences for data theft will be dropped.

The clause will remain in the bill but the threat of jail will be suspended for now. It's another "compromise" which isn't anything like a compromise: the tabloids will just carry on as they have before, laughing at how easy it is to get the government to roll over when they repeatedly break the law and lie about how it would "affect investigative journalism", the kind they haven't practised for decades.

As David Leigh, the Guardian's head of investigations, says on CiF:

Industry lobbyists have claimed that journalists might be in unjustified peril because they often commission inquiries not being certain where they will lead, and therefore might be unable to establish a public interest defence. This is the purest hogwash. If you buy Amy Winehouse's mother's mobile phone records, say, then you know perfectly well there is no public interest involved.

Not to mention how it often doesn't even lead anywhere. Ken Livingstone notes that he's been one of those most targeted by these kind of "investigations" before, getting into his bank details, with Steve Whittamore and his gang being involved also, and still none of them managed to find out until very recently that he had fathered another three children, with him breaking the news to kill the paper's "scoop".

As one Whitehall figure said this week: "These media barons - just how much power do they have?"

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Why are we cursed with politicians this stupid?

Sex offenders' e-mail addresses are to be passed to social networking sites like Facebook and Bebo to prevent them contacting children

Under government proposals, offenders who do not give police their address - or give a false one - would face up to five years in jail.

Anyone spot any flaws in this plan? Oh, yeah, so we did, over a year ago. Unity said at the time:

The entire proposal is a complete shambles and clearly advanced and put forward by people who haven’t got the first fucking clue how the internet really works.

Back then this plan was put forward by John "Dr Demento" Reid, and it's now being continued by "Wacky" Jacqui Smith, whose advisers seem as ignorant and clueless as Reid's previously. Surely they realise that you can get a new email address within minutes, thereby bypassing any blacklist? Anyone could give their real first email address happily to the fuzz and then use any of however many different accounts to set-up separate profiles on social networking sites.

Hopefully, "they" do actually realise this and are only going ahead with it because the usual suspects on the Scum and Mail are just as ignorant about the internet as they are, providing an "illusion of safety" that'll shut the gibbering paedophile hunters up for a while. Quite apart from its effectiveness, it's also a draconian policy which will make it even more difficult for convicted "sex offenders" to rebuild their lives, and 30,000 of them will be affected by this, no doubt including such notorious perverts as the man who had sex with his bike in his room. Then again, perhaps an excellent punishment would be to restrict sex offenders to "just" MySpace and Bebo: that'd be enough to drive anyone crazy.

I also just couldn't resist this from the Scum's website:

Along with all the others in the pod, no doubt.

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Thursday, April 03, 2008 

"Liquid explosives" trial begins.

The court was told that hydrogen peroxide would be the main ingredient used to bring the planes down.

Although hydrogen peroxide is legal, it would have been combined with organic materials to create an explosive mixture.

Wright said the conspirators planned to use a syringe to insert the explosive liquid into the base of 500ml bottles of Oasis and Lucozade in order to smuggle it on board the aircraft.

They would then top the bottles with a soft drink called Tang.

The mixture would be detonated by another substance concealed within batteries, jurors were told.

This trial is going to be fun, isn't it?

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The liberal defense of murder.

Congratulations must go then to Lenin, or rather as he's otherwise known, Richard Seymour, for joining such luminaries as Belle de Jour and Zoe Margolis in getting his first book published. Lenin and I don't always see eye to eye on everything, but if there's one thing I do enjoy it's Harry's Place and its ilk getting their knickers in a twist, and boy did they when they found out.

It might just ever so slightly be better than Nick Cohen's last effort, too. Amazon have it up for £12.43, released 1st of July.

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The pompous windbag shows up - again.

It's a hard life having to traipse from one safe-haven to another, all the while knowing that at any moment a predator drone could come along and blow you into a decent number of pieces, but somehow Ayman al-Zawahiri manages it. In fact, not only can he avoid the Crusader-Zionist alliance's laser guided missiles, but he can answer questions from the jihadist forums at the same time, as yesterday saw al-Qaida's media arm, As-Sahab, release the first part of al-Zawahiri's response to over 100 questions posed to him back in December.

That of course doesn't stop him from being a pompous, self-righteous cowardly windbag who likes the sound of his own voice, but you can't expect everything from the second-in-command of a terrorist organisation. Most of the reports have picked up on Zawahiri's denunication of the United Nations, but that's hardly news. Far more interesting is Zawahiri's typical politicians' response to the question of why al-Qaida, or rather its Iraqi linked arm, the Islamic State of Iraq, massacres dozens of their own people in marketplaces, even if they are ostensibly aimed at killing the Shia:

My reply to Mudarris Jughrafiya is that we haven’t killed the innocents, not in Baghdad, nor in Morocco, nor in Algeria, nor anywhere else. And if there is any innocent who was killed in the Mujahideen’s operations, then it was either an unintentional error, or out of necessity as in cases of al-Tatarrus [taking of human shields by the enemy].

My, that sounds remarkably similar to what politicians and armies say in cases of "collateral damage", doesn't it? Zawahiri elaborates slightly:

Were we insane killers of innocents as the questioner claims, it would be possible for us to kill thousands of them in the crowded markets, but we are confronting the enemies of the Muslim Ummah and targeting them, and it may be the case that during this, an innocent might fall unintentionally or unavoidably, and the Mujahideen have warned repeatedly the Muslims in general that they are in a war with the senior criminals – the Americans and Jews and their allies and agents – and that they must keep away from the places where these enemies gather.

Whoops! Did Zawahiri nearly just "misspeak"? The ISI has killed thousands of "them" in crowded markets, and generally "the Americans and Jews and their allies and agents" don't hang around the bazaars. Al-Qaida's message to Iraqis: keep away from the markets, as you don't know when we might decide that some of the people there are part of the Crusader alliance, who we'll be perfectly justified in killing along with dozens of innocents. Still, I suppose they'll be off to al-Firdaws, right, which means they'll be in a better place. Just dead.

All of which makes the following rather amusing. Both Zawahiri and the supposed leader of the Islamic State of Iraq, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi (widely believed to actually be Abu Ayyub al-Masri, an Egyptian jihadi, posing as an Iraqi native to gain more widespread support) have increasingly denounced Hamas for making concessions, namely signing the temporary agreement reached with Fatah that ended the in-fighting between the two last year with both going into a sort-of coalition government, not imposing Sharia law and generally not resisting Israel as fiercely as the brave jihadis leading al-Qaida would. In response to this question, which incidentally doesn't even mention Hamas, Zawahiri rants:

3/1: The questioner I’laamiyyah [Informational] says, “1 – Does the doctor have assurance that those who were killed in the Algeria operations were unbelievers? And what is it that makes legitimate the spilling of the blood of even one Muslim?

I think I have responded to the sister I’laamiyyah’s first question previously. But in turn, I ask her: and what is HAMAS’s justification for killing those whose killing is not permitted from the children in the Israeli colonies with the blessed Qassam rockets which don’t differentiate between a child and an adult, and moreover, perhaps [don’t differentiate] between the Jews and the Arabs and Muslims working in those colonies or in the streets and markets of Occupied Palestine, even though the Shari’ah forbids their killing. I request the sister I’laamiyyah to refer to the eight and ninth chapter of the second part of The Exoneration.

Strictly speaking, Zawahiri is quite right: the Qassam rockets are completely indiscriminate, a waste of time, and achieve nothing but the deaths of more innocents on all sides. Coming however from a man in charge of an organisation which indiscriminately slaughtered individuals from over 90 different nationalities on September the 11th, which has condoned the vicious sectarian tactics in Iraq which have killed thousands, if not tens of thousands, and which whose main weapon of intimidation when they took control of towns in Iraq was to behead those who opposed them and leave the remains out in the open as a warning for others, this is just ever so slightly rich.

One thing As-Sahab clearly doesn't want for is a decent translator. This is just the first part of the release, and included is a 46-page PDF document with the entire audio recording transcribed in perfect grammatical English, without an apparent mistake anywhere in sight. The great shame is that whomever produced it is wasted on translating such bile, such hypocrisy and such irrelevance from a man who apparently seeks martyrdom but instead sends his footsoldiers to attain it for him. When that Hellfire missile does eventually reach Zawahiri, it'll be hard to stifle anything other than pleasure, even if he takes yet more innocents with him.

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Wednesday, April 02, 2008 

The dark arts and the real power in the land.

As mentioned in one of the previous posts, the government appears to be backtracking about making the buying and selling of private data an imprisonable offence. This is almost certainly a direct result of lobbying by Associated Newspapers, News International and even apparently the Telegraph group, all under the pretext that it would have a chilling effect on investigative journalism.

That claim and defence is rubbish. Journalism in the clear public interest is already protected, and if the Guardian was duly concerned, then the very journalists that got the story, David Leigh and Rob Evans, would be incredibly worried, as it was they that broke the story over BAE's Saudi slush fund, which would have almost certainly employed some of the methods that the information commissioner, Richard Thomas, wants to crack down on, as did their investigations into Jonathan Aitken in the 1990s.

Rather what bill is meant to target is the widespread use, especially by the tabloids, but also increasingly by the broadsheets, to employ private detectives who through their own contacts sell information, often from government or public services databases, direct to journalists. This all stems directly from the case of Steve Whittamore, the private detective who was raided back in 2003. When the police subsequently went through his computer, they found that he had kept exact details of every transaction with each publication, information which the information commissioner subsequently released back in December of 2006. It showed that the Daily Mail alone used his services 952 times, with almost 60 different journalists making separate requests. At Whittamore's trial the prosecution outlined that his associate Paul Marshall had used Scotland Yard's computer databases to access information for newspapers on two actresses from EastEnders, the family of Ricky Tomlinson, and a former Big Brother contestant, alongside information on Ken Livingstone and his partner and Bow Crow, head of the RMT. Despite this, Whittamore and his friend were all given conditional discharges, as a result of a previous ruling in a trial involving Marshall, where the judge accepted that he was seriously ill and about to die. Whittamore was meant to face another case brought by the Information Commission itself, but the cost to the public purse, and the fact that all the men could point to the previous trial and the sentences given there meant that they forced to drop it. They all in effect completely got away with it.

This isn't then out of high principles and making sure that investigative journalism, what little of it remains in the British press, is protected. This is so the tabloids and others like them can continue to stalk and chase celebrities and their families if necessary, and that as soon as a major crime and happens and suspects are named that they can get as much information on them as they possibly can. As Nick Davies outlines in the entire chapter on this in Flat Earth News, these are known as the "dark arts". One ex-Mail journalist told Davies that they used to use the social security computer as if it were an extension of the Daily Mail library, just having to phone their contact who would then supply the information or the persons with the same name in around five minutes time, with their home address, phone numbers and maybe their workplace. Another said that if the Mail comes after you, they'll get all your information, phone numbers, schoolmates, what's on your credit card and every call from your phone. This was probably how the Mail recently turned up at the home of Fiona MacKeown, breaking in and taking photographs of her murdered daughter Scarlett's "bedroom".

Some of this isn't of course high-tech or even strictly breaking the law. Clive Goodman, jailed after he was caught "hacking" into the mobile phone of Prince William, just used the well-known trick of phoning his voicemail and then seeing if the password was unchanged, as most are, enabling him to "intercept" his messages. Goodman went down because the charges were brought under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, not the Data Protection Act, which deals with the "blagging" offences and those involving the breaching of databases. This measure was really about bring the punishments into line, and upping the costs of getting caught so that there's far more of a deterrent. Getting a conditional discharge or an "unlimited" fine won't stop private detectives that have been raking in hundreds of thousands of pounds through such work, but a prison sentence will.

It's little wonder then that the Mail and Sun groups are so opposed to this measure. It threatens their incredibly lucrative phishing expeditions which so contribute to their celebrity exposes and who's shagging who nonsense which arrives on Sunday mornings. One of Gordon Brown's dearest friends just happens to be Paul Dacre, so much so that Brown has even given him a review to overlook. As for the Conservatives, the editor of the News of the Screws at the time of Goodman's offences, for which he too had resign was none other than Andy Coulson, now their chief spin doctor. Aside from protecting the privacy of celebrities and those caught up in events beyond their control, this is another reason to oppose the continuing obsession with databases across government and public services sphere. The amount of information that'll be on the ID card database has journalists and private dicks drooling already, as will the Spine, the NHS database that'll have the records of every patient on, not to mention ContactPoint, the children's database, which might have celebrities' children omitted from it, directly because of the fear of that information being sold on to the highest bidder. It just does go to continue to show that those who have the most power in Britain are not the politicians themselves, but the media barons and their editors who have obsessions with crime and criminals, except when themselves commit it in the pursuit of a good story. The information commissioner had little chance when coming up against them.

Related post:
Chicken Yoghurt - Newspapers and personal data: a level playing field at last

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Up all night with Nick Clegg.

Being not the most frequent user of pubs, the closest I get to the bar room bores are their equivalent on public transport. Of the three most annoying things and behaviour which goes on while aboard them, third is the increasing tendency for people to not just listen to their music at a volume that the entire bus can hear on their headphones, but to actually broadcast it to everyone through their mobile phone itself, music which is always the least likely stuff you would ever listen to, let alone share with the rest of the class. Second is those who take it upon themselves to talk as loud as they possibly can about their sex life, in intimate detail, which has previously involved someone's predilection for being fisted. First though is taking it into the physical dimension, when couples just can't leave each other alone for ten seconds and spend their entire time with their faces wrapped around each others, or going further and indulging in heavy petting. That this means you haven't got the slightest idea where to look and that they tend to embarrass everyone around them doesn't seem to matter.

As you can tell, I'm a miserable fucking bastard. I'm sure I'm not alone though in finding just how many different sex partners someone has had as about as interesting and essential as being err, fisted on public transport. Hence why I couldn't be less fascinated in learning that Nick Clegg has apparently had between 20 and 30 different partners. Hey ho, congrats old man. What exactly I'm supposed to do with this information or whether it's more likely to make me vote Liberal Democrat or not I'm not sure, but it was obviously important enough for Clegg to not shrug off the question when asked by Piers Moron in his GQ interview. We could debate exactly why he answered the question instead of telling Moron to mind his own business until the cows come home, but nonetheless he answered it.

The key fact should be is that it doesn't make any difference. Would someone reading this blog think less of me if I'd slept with over 100 or if I hadn't slept with any? I would hope not. It's as irrelevant as what I look like, whether I've done drugs in the past or what colour my skin is. What matters is what they believe, what they think and in Clegg's case, how he intends to lead his party and potentially change their policies. Strangely, as Paul Linford points out, to Clegg it seems his sex life is more easily discussed and a legitimate question than being asked about his previous drug use is, a question to which he said he had the right to having a private past, something I'd readily agree with. The point is though that if politicians had nothing they thought they ought to hide, they'd answer it. Again, it shouldn't matter whether someone's used drugs in the past or not: what matters is their views on it now. This however seems to pale into insignificance when the right-wing especially continues to see drug use as a matter of both morals and mental strength, hence why Cameron never owned up to his own previous drug use, nor has his shadow chancellor, George Osbourne. Having smoked a joint, and even more threatening, having enjoyed it, is still seen as either setting a bad example or even condoning its use now. That no politician that doesn't want to bring the remaining rump of the moral majority down on their head means that any admission of previous use must be condemned as youthful exuberance or as completely different now that said drug is 20,000 times more dangerous.

This can't possibly be expanded to youthful overuse of the loins though, surely? According to Amanda Platell, oh yes it can:

But that's precisely my point. It's all very well for Mr Clegg, by all accounts a devoted and loyal family man, to dismiss his early excesses as the indiscretions of youth.

But that is the same defence used again and again by politicians about drugs. "Yeah I did it, but I got over it."

Alas, many young people in our most broken communities don't "get over it".

For many of them, lacking Mr Clegg's privileged background and supportive family, casual sex becomes a way of life, just as casual cannabis use slides into lifelong drug dependency.

And the dangers for society are only too obvious to behold.

Ah yes, it's all right for Clegg and his highly sexed liberal university chums to bang each other in cyclical, but introduce such behaviour to the lower classes and it all gets out of hand. Before you know it you've moved from casual sex use into the use of harder sex, such as fisting, rampant rabbits and domination, just as casual cannabis use slides into the inevitability of shooting up and err, sucking dick for crack. That this comes from Platell, who in the past has written an extra chapter of Sex in the City, where the continuing joke is that Samantha has an affair with a different man each week, and also wrote the thinly-veiled attack on some of those she encountered in the newsroom in Scandal, which she herself freely admits was a "bonkbuster", satirised at the time by Private Eye as "Scanties" with Platell trying to seduce William Hague, is maybe ever so slightly rich.

The unspoken fact here is that like walking in on your parents having sex, or even hearing the noises through the wall, politicians discussing sex is about the most likely thing to turn everyone else off it that you could possibly imagine. The entire nation reached for its collective sick bag when back in 2005 Blair boasted in the Sun's pages of having Cherie five times a night, and the thought of Brown going at it hammer and tongs is possibly even worse. Jonathan Ross was vehemently attacked when he asked Cameron whether he'd masturbated to the thought of Thatcher, which Cameron refused to answer, but it is hard to imagine exactly what the average red-blooded young male in the 80s did see in the prime minister; perhaps it was that everlasting aphrodisiac, power itself. That power is something that Clegg is highly unlikely to ever yield, yet at the same time he's displayed that quality we supposedly want most from our politicians: honesty, or at least answering a straight question with a straight answer. He should now discuss his past drug use if any, but let's not attack him for his conquests themselves, even if they are as tedious as the Liberal Democrat party itself is.

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Millions of girls using Facebook, Bebo and Myspace 'at risk' from paedophiles and bullies - and the Daily Mail.

Parents are alarmingly ignorant of the danger posed to millions of girls by social networking websites, a report reveals.

A study of sites such as Bebo, Facebook and MySpace shows children using them can be at great risk from paedophiles and bullies.

As you might expect, this being the lead super-splash in today's Daily Mail, the Ofcom report (PDF) the article is based on says absolutely nothing of the sort. The closest it comes to anything near that is where its research finds that two-thirds of parents say they set the rules on the their children's use of social-networking sites, while only 53% of children say that their parents set those self-same rules. The executive summary on privacy and safety doesn't so much as mention either paedophiles or bullies. In fact, the entire part of the report on privacy and safety doesn't mention paedophiles or bullies. It's only where we get to the "Literature review of harm and offence in social networking" that we finally get any reference to bullying, but still there is no direct mention of paedophiles.

The only possible justification that the Mail could have for leading with such a headline and opening couple of paragraphs is this section from the literature review of the current research:

Smith used the Pew Internet and American Life Project (as did Lenhart and Madden above) to look at the contacts made by subjects who create profiles on social networking sites (Smith, 2007). Smith found that seven per cent of this American sample said they had been contacted ‘by a stranger who made them feel scared or uncomfortable’. Teenage girls (the sample was aged 12-17) are more likely than boys to say this (11% and 4% respectively).

Only a very slight more percentage then than 1 in 10 had been contacted by someone who made them feel scared or uncomfortable, and we're talking in this instance about research done in the US.

It's quite obvious however why the Mail has decided to go with "GIRLS AT RISK" angle: it enables them to scaremonger recklessly about what YOUR KIDS might be up to online; means they can moralise about our debauched youth that are clearly asking for it, as we shall see; and lets them then publish those self-same profiles with the girls flaunting their assets at the same time as crowing about paedophiles.

I'm not going to reproduce them here in full for obvious reasons, but here's the Daily Mail doing some own personal research on the reckless and feckless youth:

Last night the Daily Mail discovered some of the shocking content youngsters are putting up on these sites.

This includes a 14-year-old girl whose profile picture, which can be viewed by anyone, focuses on her breasts.

Another 15-year- old is smirking at the camera as she grabs her breasts.

She has listed her date of birth, her home town and name of school.

One has also innocently posted pictures of her ten-year-old sister half-clothed alongside lots of personal information, including full name and home town.

Another 16-year-old is seen posing in her underwear in dozens of photographs.

The Mail has kindly pixellated the faces of those it's decided to "sexpose", but it naturally hasn't done the same to their bodies, because that obviously would mean that the Herbert Gussets out there wouldn't be able to get their rocks off. This is the sort of classy, by no means sensational copy placed alongside the images:

Doubtless, I'm sure these teens were asked permission for their profiles, whether public or not, to be reprinted in a national newspaper. That they'll be easily identified by their friends and schoolmates themselves and therefore likely to be um, bullied or mocked as a result is obviously neither here nor there. That it also means that some individuals might now attempt to find the profiles themselves in full is also obviously not a problem - after all, the Daily Mail doesn't seem to mind being the newspaper of choice for men like Mark Dixie, who recorded himself masturbating to pictures of his young model victim in the paper.

This is absolutely classic Daily Mail, having its cake and eating it, tut-tutting at the state of youth while condemning parents for having no boundaries, all the while engaging in the very strongest form of voyeurism that its readers will let it get away with, and distorting a report in order to do so in the first place. This just happens to be the same newspaper objecting to a tightening of the rules over the buying and selling of stolen information, citing "investigative journalism" concerns. Investigative journalism such as going on the social networking websites for the most "shocking" profiles they can find to titillate and outrage, presumably.

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Tuesday, April 01, 2008 

Immigration and where to go from here.

To read the front page of the Daily Mail, and some of the coverage given to the Lords Select Committee on Economic Affairs report on immigration, you'd imagine that some huge revelation and expose had been published. As always, the truth is rather greyer.

Its findings are in general not anything particularly new or especially revelatory. The main major criticism is that the government, surprise surprise, can't get its figures right, or the ones that it does present and claim show its case are simply a smokescreen: hence the oft-mentioned £6bn figure doesn't refer to the crucial capita per head, which the Lords report concludes has in fact been close to zero. That's the actual main conclusion of the report in general: that the current levels of immigration have despite all the arguments made on all sides, resulted in a roughly neutral overall effect for the majority. Those that have most prospered have been the immigrants themselves (duh) and the already wealthy; those that have suffered the most have been the already low-paid and manual workers, who have had their pay even further undercut, although like much of the evidence presented to the committee, it tends to be contradictory and weak on exactly to what extent this has taken place.

The report is not against immigration per se, rather its key concern is the high overall population increase, which is immigrants minus emigrants, currently predicted to remain at around 190,000 a year. It needs to be pointed out that these figures, despite the corrected predictions and doom-mongering reports which they influenced last year, are unlikely to stay static. The immigration rates of the last few years, largely down to the accession of the A8 eastern European nations, or down to immigration which we either can't directly control or haven't got the inclination to directly control, are likely to be exceptional, with the indications being that the immigration wave from Poland etc has already peaked, and that there might even now be more returning than are now coming. The question is whether the emigration rate, which is also at an incredibly high level, with 380,000 leaving in 2005, is also going to peak and decline. If it doesn't, then in a few years we might well be having the exact opposite of the current debate, especially if the birthrate doesn't also subsequently rise, concerned about our falling population and all that entails.

Reading this blog, some, and even I rereading some of my posts, might have got the impression that I'm overwhelmingly in favour of the current level of immigration. To clarify slightly, what I do object to is scaremongering, lousy journalism and fiddling of the figures which goes on in the tabloids about immigration, and this report does nothing whatsoever to change that. The mid-market tabloid opposition to immigration is not out of concern for those that it disenfranchises and hurts, but rather part of the Little Englander mentality, with the Daily Mail/Express demographic being those most likely to have benefited from immigration, and most of their readers won't be complaining about immigration possibly resulting in house prices going up by 10%, as the report suggests. As the report itself makes clear, the middle and upper classes have gained the most: consumers have benefited through lower prices, and taxpayers have benefited through lower costs of public services, not to mention the increase in services with the infamous Polish plumber and his brethren. When the Federation of Poles recently complained about the coverage the Mail had given to them, they countered with a series of articles it had published extolling the virtues of the Polish working man and woman, while, predictably, assailing the lazy work-shy British who wouldn't do the jobs they were filling.

Reading some of the comments on the articles and posts that have followed the Lords report, this is where the extreme sides of the argument seem to fluctuate between: attacking the "chavs" and the underclass for sponging off the state for not having the work ethic of the immigrants, and going after Labour for imposing the current situation on us. It is undoubtedly Labour that has instituted the current position, but it's one which the Conservatives are certainly not about to change, their rhetoric on putting a limit on immigration and putting the case for a cap or not, which would be a sticking plaster only affecting 25% of the actual current total. All the main parties in fact are not for changing the orthodoxy behind immigration, which is neoliberalism itself. Let's be clear here: if it had been politically expedient for Labour to have limited immigration, it would have done so. Not because it would be popular, as it certainly would be, but rather because immigration, and with it the free-for-all of the most extreme elements of globalisation are the current drivers behind the only people that increasingly matter to this government: the City of London and the CBI, both of which depend upon immigration and defend it to the death. This could not be more borne out by two of the major points of Lord Wakeham and the report itself, that the mass immigration we have seen would not be necessary if wages were higher and if the minimum wage was higher or a living wage. Hence it makes perfect sense to pay a skilled eastern European a wage below what many here would deem acceptable or liveable on, but not to pay an unskilled British worker a wage that he could live on to do the same job. This is why the government has been fighting tooth and nail to oppose the backbench proposal to give agency workers the same rights immediately as full-time workers, which would help to level the playing field. Brown's alternative is another laughable commission. The Conservatives are hardly going to deviate from the exact same policy should they get back in power.

It ought to be remembered that the government itself was taken by surprise by the numbers coming from the A8 countries, as their predictions were influenced by the belief that the other European nations would too open their doors without any quotas on the numbers that could come. In the event, only Sweden, Ireland and ourselves did that, something we then changed by imposing a cap on the numbers when Romania and Bulgaria joined last year, a measure that was effective in keeping the numbers down. They could have changed the policy, but the impression that it kept costs down and kept the economy turning over, helped along by the support of the CBI etc meant that it hasn't been, and there are no indications that the Conservatives either would shut the door on eastern Europe, something they could do despite some of the reporting that it's not possible because of EU rules.

The obvious point of all this is that for far too long we've left the working class of all colours, not just the white section which the BBC recently focused on, to stew in its own juices without enough help or care for them and their own struggles. The metropolitan classes took a rare glimpse into some of the sink estates recently with the Shannon Matthews case, and they sure as hell didn't like what they saw, and said so volubly. As others identified however, that community came together at the moment when it most needed to; maybe because of the disappearance of a child, maybe because it was like that anyway. Any government of the day needs to work with that spirit and turn it into higher-waged employment, but it's been far easier to depend on the migrant than on the necessary training and funding needed to turn around the defeatism that sometimes prevails. Labour does seem finally to have got the message, with the introduction in schools of the diploma that will hopefully encourage increasingly vocational qualifications that mean something. What will not solve the problem is the posturing of Caroline Flint over evicting those who don't work, nor will the wholesale privatisation of the jobcentre and the contracting out to the private sector of the task of finding work.

The right balance therefore needs to be struck between the above while decreasing the dependence on migration without shutting the door entirely or imposing an arbitrary cap. The government's chief mistake in all this has not been its current policy, but to have never properly articulated exactly what that policy is, or even to know what the policy is meant to be. Like with so much else that New Labour has done, it's been ad hoc and written on the back of a fag packet. The only real surprise is that it's taken this long for it to be seriously challenged by a source which doesn't seem to have any vested interests in either the current position or an alternative one, and that's perhaps an indictment of how little evidence-based policy continues to play in the daily life of Westminster. The Lords report has therefore hardly proved the case of MigrationWatch, while also showing that the see no evil approach hasn't worked fantastically either. The chance of any real change though as a result remains depressingly slight, and the cry that you're all the same from the doorsteps will continue to ring as true as before.

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Scum-watch: Harassing the evil Islamic terrorist Abdul Muneem Patel.

Behold the evil Islamic terrorist eating the jihadists' favourite snack - Doritos!

As Sun journalists obviously don't have anything better to do, they've taken to stalking one of the men released in January a whole 18 days early from his sentence for having in his possession a manual on explosives.

FURY erupted last night after The Sun tracked down an Islamic terrorist released early because of jail overcrowding.

Neighbours were not told evil Abdul Muneem Patel, 18, had plotted a jet terror attack.

Err, could that possibly be because he hadn't? Patel was arrested along with the men accused of plotting the "liquid explosives" attacks on transatlantic flights, and even had his assets, one would assume temporarily, frozen by the Bank of England. Seeing however though as Patel hasn't been tried along with his presumed co-accused, it seems highly unlikely in consequence that he was anything to do with that plot.

The judge commented on what Patel had in his possession:

"You were looking after that book for someone older than you who you did not know well other than he had been an associate of your father," said the judge.

"It may be because of that man's association with your father that you naively agreed to look after that manual."

He said Patel had sealed the box but would have known that the title of the explosives manual was clear in large letters.

"It was clearly of current utility, even though it was published in 1991," said Judge Rook.

"It was dangerous if it had fallen into the wrong hands. I'm not prepared to say that you are a radicalised or politicised Islamist."

It was reported that Patel might have had in his possession the wills of those who were planning to take part in the attacks. It instead seems that these were letters from those fighting in Bosnia. I can see how that mistake was made.

The Sun isn't finished:

He was banged up in October for just six months – but was freed on licence in January.

Patel lives with his parents in Clapton, East London, where he goes shopping and drives where he wants without being watched.

One angry neighbour said: “It’s incredible. In America, he’d be in Guantanamo Bay or a high-security jail.”

Retired Thomas Willis added: “Neighbours should definitely have been informed.”

And Cilla Unwin, 58, said: “Knowing this about the man makes me terrified.”

The Justice Department claim Patel is being supervised.

The Sun has then smeared a man as a terrorist and evil when the judge in the case stated that he was not a "radicalised and politicised Islamist", told blatant lies to his neighbours about him being involved in a "jet terror attack" when the lack of prosecution for that "involvement" more than suggests that he wasn't, and scared at least one woman senseless in the process. Oh, and the "justice department" doesn't exist; presumably the Sun means the justice ministry. Still, got to keep the fear factor up, haven't we? Which the Sun is also doing, reporting as an exclusive that the police apparently foiled an attack on the London Eye and MI6 headquarters. Or rather, they found abandoned bags filled with weights at both locations, which might have been terrorist reconnaissance. Considering how covered with CCTV both are, those who left them were presumably well-camouflaged.

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