Saturday, May 31, 2008 

Murdoch and Obama sitting in a tree?

Rupert Murdoch's lavishing praise for Barack Obama, while stopping short of a complete endorsement, makes it look increasingly likely that the Dirty Digger is intending to swing his stalwart support from the Republicans over to the Democrats come the election.

The reason why Murdoch's gambit is so fascinating is that Obama on most issues is far to the left of Murdoch, and certainly far to the left of the Fox News channel, the New York Post and the Sun, whom lest we forget, former Murdoch editor Andrew Neil told us to read if we wanted to know what he's thinking. It's potentially even more eye-catching that Murdoch switching his support from the Conservatives to New Labour in 1997; Obama is certainly further left than Tony Blair ever was.

As always however, this isn't Murdoch going soft in the head in his adage: it's his typical, some would say cunning, others heartless thinking which abandons politicians or even whole political parties once they are no longer any use to him or when it's obvious that their power is ebbing away. While the presidential election is probably going to be tighter than the polls currently suggest, it's still Obama's to lose at this point. Murdoch, as we know, backs winners. Some Labour figures might take heart from the fact that Murdoch has of yet not showed anything like the praise he gave to Obama to David Cameron, or indeed to the Conservatives as a whole. The Sun especially is still notably sniffy, asking recently exactly what George Osborne would do differently to Alastair Darling.

The contradiction here though is that if Murdoch is close to switching to Obama, then no one yet has informed Fox News, who were at the forefront of the Pastor Wright fiasco, repeating the video of his speech asking his congregation to say "Goddamn America" over and over. Only last weekend a guest joked and laughed about the idea of Obama (and (correction) Osama) being assassinated, while Karl Rove, turd blossom himself, having left the White House is now a regular pundit. There's no prospect of the station's notorious right-wing bias being toned down, but if the network starts being fairer to the prospective Democratic candidate, John McCain just might start to worry.

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Friday, May 30, 2008 

Scum-watch: The dumped IVF twins who weren't.

If there's ever been a quicker reverse ferret in recent tabloid newspaper history, then the Sun's about turn on the IVF twins born in Wolverhampton to an Indian couple must rank up there with among the fastest.

Yesterday the paper ran a front-page story claiming that the twins, which were conceived using fertility treatment in India but which were born in this country after the couple returned, had been to all intents and purposes abandoned because they were girls. I can't go into full detail because the story already seems to have disappeared down the memory hole, which suggests that either the family has made a formal complaint or that the paper has realised just how wrong the story seems to have been. It did however claim that the twins had not been visited by the parents since their birth, something which seemed odd to begin with because the babies had already been moved to a hospital in Birmingham to be closer to the parents' home, having been delivered by caesarean in Wolverhampton as the maternity services in the Birmingham hospital at the time were all in use. More details of what the article alleged are outlined here:

The parents, who were born in India but are British citizens, reportedly told doctors they did not want the "wrong sex" babies immediately after the children were born by Caesarean section at New Cross hospital.

The newspaper said the husband then asked medics how long it would be before his wife was fit enough to fly back to India for more IVF treatment in the hope of getting a boy to continue the family name.

It was reported the twins have been transferred to a central Birmingham hospital, where they have not been visited a single time.

Added to the article was a leader which also commented on the story, in the traditional highly outraged tone.

As reports since have made clear, it seems obvious that there were problems with the Sun's story which its journalists ought to have investigated before rushing to publish. In any case of apparent abandonment, social services would have quickly been alerted. They had not been. Similarly, they were also not aware of any attempt by the parents to put the two baby girls up for adoption. Then there's the other glaring problem: considering that the mother is 59, her pregnancy would have been monitored extremely closely. If the couple had been as desperate for boys or a boy as the paper had made out, it seems odd that they hadn't made an attempt to ascertain the sex of the children at any of the ultrasound screenings the mother would have had, as can now be easily done. While it could have been too late to seek an abortion once the sex of the foetuses had been identified, it still appears strange that they didn't reveal their apparent true feelings until the birth.

From claiming that they had been abandoned because of cultural reasons, the Sun's story today has a rather different tone: WE DO LOVE 'EM, SAYS IVF FATHER. The article, going out of its way to give both the father and the babies' half-brother's side of the story, claims that it was all a misunderstanding because of the father's poor English, and how they made a "show" of visiting the babies yesterday. That this "show" might have been nothing of the sort except for journalists, attempting to follow up the Sun's "world exclusive" being in attendance, as the hospital's statement made clear that the parents had been "attentive" to their needs, doesn't seem to be necessary to relate to the Sun's readers.

It could of course have been all a misunderstanding. Perhaps there was something lost in translation with the doctors getting the wrong end of the stick; perhaps the mother's non-attendance at her babies' side because she was still recovering from the surgery was construed as them being abandoned; and IVF treatment at such a late age for both the father and mother is rightly highly controversial. It's hard not to detect however more than a hint of xenophobia, if not outright racism in the Sun's story. If the paper has put two and two together and made five, as it seems to have done, it also jumped on the possibility of it all being because the couple wanted a boy to continue the name. The very fact that the father err, already has a son, albeit with a former wife who passed away in 1981, seems to have been completely ignored. Their ethnicity shouldn't really have entered into it: if they were abandoning their children or putting them up for adoption because they were girls, that was a story in itself, especially after seeking IVF treatment in the first place.

This being the news environment we now inhabit, the story had already gone around the world before the Sun pulled it and before other media groups had inquired and found it wanting. Google News tracks 182 separate reports. In addition, the Sun's forum for discussing news has a thread on the story. Among some of the choice comments are:

These parents if they are in this country should be locked up, And every thing they own sold to pay to some one to look after these two lovely little girls, I would personaly give the father a kicking that he would remember to his dieing day


TWO OLD AGE PENSIONERS, a mum age 59, and dad 72, after receiving IVF treatment returned to England from India for the birth, after the birth the parents originally from India,
told horrified medics they did not want the twin girls because they wanted a boy to carry on the family name? And they want to go back to India to start the treatment again?


For someone to take care of the girls Until they reach 18, will the selfish BAST#ARDS be presented with a monthly bill?


It's not religion persay's their traditional culture..... Alien and horrible to us.

Yes Gwenny...uncivilised is the word. It's not that many years since India outlawed the practice of Suti.....where a wife was burned alive on the funeral pyre of her husband!

Vile backward monsters.They should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. What the hell is this IVF all about?



There is also this one however:

Hmmm. Did no-one else see that this story has been rejected by other sources as being false, including the local police and NHS services?

I notice also that The Sun seems to have pulled it from its front page online here. Does that make anyone wonder whether the witless wonders at The Sun have actually made a huge error here and that the story is actually wrong/ made-up/ spurious* (*delete as applicable).

Ah well, I'm sure they'll be running a full front page apology tomorrow if it does turn out to be false...

Quite so. The Sun is so apologetic about the story that beneath its follow-up today it's still allowing reader comments, such as:



And finally, just to show how sorry it is about getting the story so apparently wrong, Lorraine Kelly dedicates her column in Saturday's paper to just how selfish the parents are in any case:

After some confusion it transpires that she and her 72-year-old husband DO want to keep their babies after all, but at their time of life I think it all reeks of utter selfishness.

They returned to the UK to have the babies and first reports claimed they "abandoned" them simply because they were girls.

I could not believe that any mother or father could be so cold and heartless — and was immensely relieved when family members claimed it was all a misunderstanding and the little girls were only left in hospital because they needed special care.

There is of course no mention that the confusion and misunderstanding was on the part of the very newspaper in which she was writing. Indeed, the paper has already moved on to its next target, as Saturday's leader column evidences:

IF ever there was a woman who should not be allowed to have babies it is junkie Michaela Mullen.

As a coroner said yesterday, she has spent her squalid life giving birth to babies addicted to heroin.

Her second baby, Chelsey, spent three months in agony as a result of her mother’s relentless heroin intake.

Then she died of a heart attack.

Mullen was not at Chelsey’s inquest. She was in hospital — having another baby.

God help us.

Don't be too surprised if it turns out on Monday that Michaela Mullen has never been addicted to heroin and has also never been pregnant.

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Thursday, May 29, 2008 

Standpoint magazine and the marginalisation of Christianity.

It can't be bad going for the first issue of a magazine to get one of its main articles featured on the front page of two national newspapers; it's only when you realise that the magazine in question is being published by the Social Affairs Unit and edited by Daniel Johnson, son of Paul, that it starts to make slightly more sense.

Before we get onto "his grace" Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali, it's instructive to read Johnson's own piece on just why we need Standpoint itself. He opens with:

“When you have a good idea, start a magazine.” This, according to our board member Gertrude Himmelfarb, is the motto of her husband Irving Kristol. In a long and fruitful life, he has started three. (Their son Bill has started one, too.)

That would be the Weekly Standard, the neo-conservative bible published by Rupert Murdoch. It starts to make even more sense as he continues:

Ever since it folded at the end of the Cold War, many people in Europe and America have lamented the old Encounter. But it was only when a new kind of assault came from a very different quarter on 11 September 2001 that a new Encounter again became an urgent necessity. The aftermath revealed such moral cowardice and intellectual confusion on both sides of the Atlantic that the battle of ideas has sometimes seemed in danger of being lost by default. To defend and celebrate Western civilisation is not merely desirable; it is imperative.

To call this breathtaking would be to do a disservice to the first gulp taken by someone who has just emerged from a coma. "Moral cowardice and intellectual confusion" after 9/11? There was such confusion that it took just slightly less than four weeks before the bombing in response began; and less than a year and six months after that before the next stage of the response too was set in motion.

The intention of Standpoint is to provide a lever which can indeed move the world, by invoking the noblest ideals to which humanity has aspired. Free speech and a free press; the dignity of the individual and the family; the liberty to worship and to refrain from worship; scientific inquiry limited only by respect for human life; the rule of law; parliamentary democracy and the free market; human rights balanced by reciprocal duties; toleration of minority views and practices, but not at the price of moral relativism.

Motherhood and apple pie too no doubt. Exactly who is it that is opposing these noblest ideals? If the idea, as it appears to be, is to provide a counter-point to the left and its "moral relativism", then this is a waste of time, as it too shares all of the above. It's not too bold to suggest that the entire establishment of this magazine appears to be to fight against a straw man, the view shared by some on the right and also by what we've come to refer to as the "muscular liberals" that the left-wing bastions in both the United States and the United Kingdom are acquiescent, cowardly in the face of the new challenges posed post-9/11, i.e. Islamic fundamentalism, and almost willing to commit collective suicide in the face of this apparently ascendant new screed. It is, of course, the most exquisite of bollocks.

The thing I find most galling about this point of view is that it is so inherently contradictory. In the history of civilisation, never before has one system been so triumphant yet at the same time so lacking in apparent self-confidence. When Francis Fukuyama wrote the End of History, now so universally derided, he was, and still is, to an extent right. The end of the cold war did signify the victory of free-market capitalism, of human rights, of democracy. Where it fell short was in not realising that rather than there being anything to oppose such distinct hegemony, something which has still not emerged and seems highly unlikely to in the near future, was that so many of the true believers in all those values themselves could so easily become convinced that all they had achieved and yearned for could be snatched away so apparently easily. 9/11 and its aftermath was the cataclysm which they had failed to predict, but which when it happened, changed everything.

Except that it didn't. Johnson and his cohorts however think that it did. He writes:

As it dawns on us that the West is vulnerable, its adversaries gloat, while its champions often feel despondent.

How by any stretch of the imagination can the West really be termed as "vulnerable"? Jihadist violence against the West, as in innocent civilians who have died in terrorist attacks, has claimed less than 4,000 lives since 2001. Even in the most doom-mongering scenarios, an attack could not possibly destroy Western civilisation as we know; it could hardly even destroy a small-town. Just to get a inkling of this kind of thinking which Standpoint is encouraging, here's another of its lead articles, by Michael Burleigh:

In the United States, by contrast, the Senate committee on homeland security heard evidence in April about the likely effects of a terrorist nuclear attack on Washington DC. The chairman, Senator Joe Lieberman, said, “The scenarios we discuss today are very hard for us to contemplate, and so emotionally traumatic and unsettling that it is tempting to push them aside.”

By coincidence, this just happens to be the same thing which some on the jihadist bulletin boards have been thinking about. The two things are connected: they are dreams, fantasies, which are about as likely to happen as Melanie Phillips deciding tomorrow to strap a bomb to herself and execute a "martyrdom operation" on the tube. The power of nightmares is fuelling this entire boom in such self-defeating and shockingly negative thinking from those who are meant to be pillars of strength while their opponents are so weak. We're so incalculably strong, our methods are just and our ideology is right, yet this towering, indefatigable mansion is apparently threatened by the molehill on the lawn.

Such muddled thinking runs through Nazir-Ali's piece. Its summary essentially means you don't have to struggle through the 3,653 words: "Christianity is central to British identity, but its marginalisation has created a moral vacuum which radical Islam threatens to fill." Straight off, it's impossible to ignore the central flaw: that Christianity is not being marginalised in the slightest. There's an huge streak of irony that runs through that idea when Nazir-Ali's warning that Christianity is being marginalised manages to make the front page of the Daily Mail and Telegraph. If it was, would he and his cohorts, both in the Church of England and in the Catholic church still have such a stranglehold over moral issues, as we've seen once again over the past few weeks?

Others more qualified to comment on Nazir-Ali's main thesis dispute it here and here, but I'm more interested in the thrust rather than the intricate details. The whole idea that Christianity is in decline or being marginalised while Islam is in the ascendant is not the real point here. That's just a sideshow to again, what was similarly going on yesterday, which is the revolt against 60s liberalism. Nazir-Ali blames Marxism, saying:

The aim was to overturn what I have called the Evangelical-Enlightenment consensus so that revolution might be possible. One of the ingredients in their tactics was to encourage a social and sexual revolution so that a political one would, in due course, come about.

This is, quite simply, garbage. The advancements of the 60s didn't come about because some homogeneous mass wanted a revolution but in the meantime was prepared to turn on fucking and social freedom while that happened; they occurred because society as a whole was changing, the economic security following the austerity of the post-war years enabling it to happen. Enlightenment values were also at the very heart of it, while the Evangelism and judgemental attitudes were being abandoned.

It's the rise of unbelief which is Nazir-Ali's real bugbear. Britain has become an overwhelmingly secular society, with even those that believe in God doing very little in actual worshipping or practising terms. Nazir-Ali, as a man of the church, regards this as a threat, as he well would. He and Standpoint as a whole seem to be mistaking this change as a sign of decadence and of weakness, somehow imaging that radical Islam is benefiting from it. They believe that we need a religious counterpoint to a threatening religious revival, which is a false dichotomy. It's the same old you're either with this or you're against us. It doesn't seem to occur that you can be for one side without going in for all of its arguments.

Jamie T calls it curiously Stalinist, and that seems to sum it up nicely. Stalin, the ever defining image of an iron leader, but one that was so paranoid and so insecure that he purged thousands of his own officers and politburo while murdering millions. The left is often accused of brooking no dissent and only looking to confirm its own prejudices: Standpoint and its inherent swivel-eyed looking for traitors could not more live up to that caricature.

Related post:
Dave Osler - Bishop Nazir-Ali and the collapse of Christianity

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Scum-watch: Getting drilled.

In the old saying, just what exactly does this have to do with the price of cheese?

A DENTIST drills teeth — while his girlfriend thrills men with sex shows upstairs.

The blonde called Tiny charges £100 an hour for her exhibitions.

Yes, I realise this is the Sun, but not even this most crass of papers usually plumbs the depths of such Sunday scandal-sheet salacious shit.

The Sun investigated her seedy business after dental patients alarmed at "sex noises" contacted us.

Oh, I get it. The dentist or "Tiny" must have done something to piss off someone in the Sun chain of command. Which "dental patient" exactly was this?

Conveniently for anyone living in Watford, the Sun has happily snapped the outside of the dentist surgery, meaning that anyone who wishes to sample the delights of Tiny as the reporter did, who only excused himself after Tiny had performed her act, can quite easily follow in Alex West's footsteps.

Of course, the Sun is by no means the most hysterical of hypocrites in this case. Not only does it not run a topless lovely on its third page every day, but it also doesn't run a sordid competition every year where it encourages its readers to get naked for the wonderful prize of £5,000 and a year's modeling contract. It also doesn't encourage women on their social network to do the same, and neither does it run a page 3 idol tour, where again, the sort of display which Tiny provides is only slightly more explicit than that which it doesn't give the local leering lads.

Elsewhere, it wouldn't be another day in the life of the tabloid that never prints a bad word about MySpace if there wasn't an article about how awful Facebook is:

TEENAGE revellers trashed a Spanish mansion worth £4.4 million - after the schoolgirl host posted an open invite on Facebook.

Why anyone in this country would care is a question worth posing.

Finally, the paper is reporting the tragic case of Nisha Patel-Nasri in the only way it knows:

THE evil husband of stabbed cop Nisha Patel-Nasri plotted her murder during a day-long sex marathon with his prostitute lover, The Sun can reveal.

And the evidence for this is?

The lovers checked into the Alpine-themed Coppid Beech Hotel in Bracknell, where they romped once before.

Records show Nasri submitted the life insurance application to Legal & General at about the same time he and Mockiene watched two porn films.

Ah, conclusive proof! And just to show that there are no depths to which the paper won't sink, it's also got the "Say No to Knives" petition link on the page, which has now been signed by a massive 3,129 people. Classy doesn't begin to cover it.

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Wednesday, May 28, 2008 

Revoke the spirit.

Revisionism, mixed with a distinct longing for an idealised past seems to be increasingly en vogue at the moment. While the old grey left celebrates and reminisces about 1968, one of the very events that fired and continues to fire the moralist and reactionary right (memo to the 68ers: you and we might have won the social battle, but have failed completely on almost every other front) the right, aided by the BBC, celebrate the Mary Whitehouse experience while decrying the state that Britain is apparently currently in. Tomorrow morning's front pages have the words of a Bishop, for God's sake, telling us how we've all gone so very wrong.

Some of this is doubtless influenced by the Conservative rhetoric on our so-called "Broken Society", which is one of their few repeated mantras that they've come to spout whenever given time to, as it also is by newspaper campaigns that use the truth as something to be bent and knocked into shape for their own short-term causes. It's also though because some of the 60s ideals which have become so loathed and blamed in equal measure by certain individuals are under threat - last week we saw the most disingenuous and obscurantist campaign in recent memory, led by Nadine Dorries MP, to cut the time limit on that hard-won 60s right, abortion. Very few people would have had a problem with the campaign by Dorries and others to cut the limit if they had come out and been honest with their reasons for doing so, either because they completely oppose the right to choose or favour a time-limit below even the lowest option offered to the Commons, but they didn't, and nor did they make clear how they were being funded by Christian fundamentalist organisations looking to remove the right to abortion one step at a time. Instead they appealed directly to emotion, while lying about or completely distorting the medical evidence around the viability of the foetus at 20 and 22 weeks. Even this wasn't enough for Dorries, who despite being unable to get the 200 supporters she said she had through the voting chambers, then came up with a concocted story, repeated verbatim in the Daily Mail, that there had been either a three-line-whip to attend or that the awful Harriet Harman had been organising when she shouldn't have been to stop the Dorries amendment.

It's apparent that most of the advancements made over the decades are not at risk, nor will they be if the Conservatives gain power at the next election. What is worrying however is how completely irrelevant issues, such as another of the votes on the Embryology bill, with the Commons voting in favour of removing the requirement for "a father" from the legislation, making it easier for single parents and lesbian couples to seek IVF treatment are blown out of all proportion or are conflated as being an attack not just on the family, but almost men themselves as a whole. It's as if the debate about gay marriage (or "civil partnerships" as we managed to call it so as to upset as few people as possible) was taking place again, with the idea that same-sex couples wanting to settle down and, shock, bring up a family like a "normal" couple is something completely alien which must be resisted at all costs. The argument against seems to narrow down to the sending a message variety so popular at the moment, that enshrining in law that a child doesn't need a father is beyond the pale just as so many have reached the conclusion that family breakdown and the lack of a father figure have much to do with the listlessness and feckless we see in wider society and on the streets. It's a debate worth having, but again, what does that have to do with lesbian couples or a single woman that want to provide a loving home for a child which they dearly want but which are unable to have through little to no fault of their own? Haven't they, just by their dedication to wanting a child, shown how much love it's likely to receive?

Perhaps some of this attitude could be summed up by one of those warriors against the horror of today's culture, the collective suicide of Western civilisation, as she likes to call it:

Absolutely untrue. All these problems, experienced disproportionately by those at the bottom of the heap, were foisted upon them by the overclass of which India Knight is a member. It was the champagne socialist intelligentsia which destroyed the traditional family, demonised men, incentivised mass fatherlessness and declared never-married motherhood an inalienable human right, emptied education of content and cut off the escape routes out of disadvantage by withering the grammar schools, declared morality to be a dirty word, paralysed the police through political correctness, enslaved the poor through dependency on the state and then finally destroyed their brains by telling them to eat cannabis cake while themselves showing the way by snorting cocaine on the Square Mile or in recording studios, or getting legless on Crackdaddy cocktails at Boujis nightclub.

Culture is transmitted top-down, not bottom up. It is the supercilious overclass, with its self-obsessed nihilism and the money to get itself out of trouble, which is responsible for our social degradation and collapse — and it is odious in the extreme to blame those whose lives and prospects it has so irresponsibly and irrevocably destroyed.

Before you even get started on just how mindbogglingly wrong Melanie Phillips is in this case, it's the sheer hypocrisy of her statements which so immediately grate. She worked at the heart of champagne socialism, the Guardian and Observer, for so many years before recanting all of her previous canards, and she writes a column for the Daily Mail, the newspaper which does so much to transmit that culture she so disdains to the middle classes and below through its witless celebrity coverage. That almost none of the above can reasonably be ascribed to the current government, apart from doing nothing to alter it, is neither here nor there while they are the current enemy. Incidentally, Unity tears apart the canards of Phillips and those she supports.

This is the symptom which leads to the sudden, bewildering reappraisals of the likes of Whitehouse. They look at the reality television that currently afflicts us (and I'm far from being a defender of Big Brother), the computer games that the young play, and some of the movies and television programmes and they suddenly decide that maybe La Whitehouse had a point. It doesn't seem to register that what Whitehouse was actually opposed to was progress, and that rather than culture influencing society, culture tends to reflect society. This was why the programme that set Whitehouse off on her crusade was one discussing sex before marriage, a very real issue in the melting pot of change which was the 60s. What Whitehouse objected to was that it was going on at all, let alone that the BBC of all places should be discussing what was happening. The programme itself tried to suggest that this was not the case, with Whitehouse humourously whilst out on a walk through the woods coming across two men she knew in the throes of passion and apparently thinking nothing of it, or at least feigning it, the sort of artistic licence that seems beyond believability. Apart from her campaign against the so-called video nasties, which resulted in the chilling introduction of the Video Recordings Act which enabled the BBFC to cut and ban films that its director James Ferman took personal exception to on a scale beyond any other country in the Western world apart from perhaps Germany, and pornography in all its forms, her targets were usually high culture, rather than low culture, as evidenced by her attempt to privately prosecute Michael Bogdanov, director of the Romans in Britain, which featured a simulated anal rape. This was despite Whitehouse herself not personally bothering to see the play for herself, a common trait, with her claiming she didn't need to see the things to know how awful they were when others could do that for her. It also ignores her vindictive streak, which nearly resulted in the editor of Gay News serving a nine-month prison sentence for daring to publish a poem which a court ruled as "blasphemously libellous".

Even more bizarre is that this current government is still taking the blame for such things when its record on authoritarianism, which some increasingly demand, is so transparently excellent. What other government could boast about the conviction of someone for daring to read the names of the Iraq war dead out at the cenotaph without permission? Which has just reclassified cannabis after hysteria from the Daily Mail? Which has also just succeeded in make illegal "extreme pornography", which will fall hardest on those who dare to enjoy sadomasochistic material, all because one man strangled a woman he was making love to, apparently because he had an obsession with such material? Which is now talking of criminalising drawings and computer-generated images of what to one eye might be child sex abuse but which to another is something entirely different? Yes, we really honestly have reached the stage where we're considering making badly drawn cartoons illegal lest some pervert get kicks from them. Mary Whitehouse would be proud of all the above, although the first might be a stretch even for her.

Really, only where this government would have let Whitehouse down was over the (final) legalisation of hardcore pornography, which came about in 2000 as a result of court action, not through the government deciding that it was suddenly acceptable, and how the BBFC has thankfully reformed itself into something approaching a reasonable, accountable organisation, even if it gets decisions such as the banning of Manhunt 2 still horribly wrong, maybe because it didn't want to risk the ire of Whitehouse's few remaining minions who aren't reminiscing about her without wearing rose-tinted spectacles.

Perhaps the most ironic thing is that what Whitehouse and others like Phillips really object to is the freedom to choose. Whitehouse always maintained the pretence that she wasn't doing what she did to protect adults, but rather to protect children, whilst at the same time denying the thinking, breathing and critical adults themselves the decision to choose what they wanted to watch. Just as "choice" has become a political idea to be embraced, even if the public in some circumstances apparently don't want it or haven't asked for it, others still want to deny that choice for completely opposite reasons. On almost all the things that Phillips lists and rages against, the choice is there: the traditional family, which has apparently been destroyed, still has hegemony, as do men who don't seem to have become obsolete yet; grammar schools are still up and running in the boroughs that want them, as is morality, dependency on the state, taking drugs and getting drunk. The impotence and idealism seems to be because the argument has been lost; but in the meantime, they're never going to forgive us for making that choice, and they're also not going to stop letting us know about it.

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Scum-watch: "Britain at night is more dangerous than Iraq."

Just to prove that nothing too stupid can grace the pages of the Sun, or at least its website, here's today's latest in the paper's quest to prove that Britain is the most dangerous place on the face of the Earth:

A HERO paratrooper attacked with an iron bar as he went to buy a pizza last night branded Broken Britain "more dangerous than Iraq". The victim said: "At least in Iraq you know who the enemy is. Over here it can be anyone. I genuinely believe that when you go out at night over here its more dangerous than Iraq."

Quite so. By the lowest estimate, since the 2003 invasion 150,000 Iraqis have died in violent circumstances, with the numbers injured incalculable. By contrast, the murder rate in the UK stubbornly sticks in the region of the mid 700s, or at least has done now for quite some time. It's one thing to sympathise with the man because he's just suffered an horrific attack, but nonetheless point out he couldn't be more wrong by mentioning the actual figures, but the Sun hasn't bothered to do that. It's instead currently collating more or less all the violent incidents it can get hold of, without deigning to mention such things are by their nature incredibly rare, and might happen in a certain area once without anything untoward then happening for years. Like with previous campaigns, absolutely any evidence will do to try and prove the overall point, that Britain is a broken society, even if everything suggests that this is just another scare campaign meant to send a message to politicians while selling newspapers.

Speaking of which, the Sun has launched another glorious petition crusade, demanding that the government make knife possession an offence that leads to an automatic prosecution. It's a great success so far - a whole 2,284 people have currently signed up. How could Gordon Brown possibly resist when such force is behind the cause?

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Tuesday, May 27, 2008 

Of bank holidays, churnalism, and tax cuts.

Ah, bank holidays. Carefree days to share with the family while the heavens open outdoors. Or, alternatively, if you're a churnalist, a rather less carefree day struggling to fill up your newspaper. How about a story about a cat that's the only employee left at a Japanese railway station? Purrfect! Another middle class white teenager dies after an atypical drunken argument which happens across the land every weekend tragically gets out of hand? Time to restart the "Broken Britain" campaign in typically hysterical fashion! And, if you're the Grauniad, you can fill up the pages and your Comment is Fatuous blog site with all the news that's fit to flush from the increasingly tedious Hay-on-Wye book festival it just happens to sponsor.

If you're really, really desperate, you can even get an MP to write a comment piece for you. And lo, the Daily Telegraph comment editor saw it, and it was good, for he had managed to get Denis MacShane, from that bunch of socialist money thieves known as the Labour party to write an article calling for a smaller state and a cut in tax. Never mind that MacShane has always been on the right of the party, thought that the Iraq war was a fantastic idea and still thinks so, but this can be presented as a Labour MP speaking the unspeakable.

Or something. As it is, MacShane has produced an article almost as irritating as the Hay festival. In all his glory, MacShane tries to present the opinion that the poor should pay less tax as though no one on the left has ever said it, just as err, everyone realises that the tax credit scheme is hugely wasteful, costing a bomb and even then not working as efficiently as it should be. The answer has been obvious for quite some time: abolish the damn thing, raise the personal allowance significantly so that the poorest up to the middle-earners pay either very little or no tax at all, and fill the gap by raising the top rate of the very richest, taxing the non-doms, by ignoring the demands of the CBI, by not raising the inheritance tax threshold beyond the entirely reasonable £500,000, and imposing windfall taxes when companies such as oil firms make obscene profits because of the current oil bubble.

MacShane isn't finished there however. No, he also wants to target the waste in local councils, of the corpulent spending on press officers and consultants, on the ministers flying off on their jaunts. It doesn't matter that under Blair, who MacShane defended to the hilt time and again, this sort of spending got completely out of hand; he instead shrugs this off by saying that he doesn't know of a single minister "who doesn't privately despair of the waste of money" on the above. Why not publicly instead of privately despair? MacShane hasn't even mentioned the biggest and most egregious of the wastes: the private finance initiative, which has been used by Brown to keep so much of the spending and borrowing off the balance sheet.

If MacShane was hoping for a decent response from Telegraph readers he was wrong, as the Telegraph censors even less than the Grauniad (quite rightly, given some of the comments left for dear old Denis) and they let rip with both barrels, even if most of them are deluding themselves thinking that the new Blairites in the Conservative party are going to offer anything different whatsoever other than piecemeal cuts here and there while Whitehall remains just as bloated, if not more so, as the trend is for ever more spending on consultants and PR experts, not less, especially while the Conservative fightback is being helmed by ex-News of the Screws editor Andy Coulson. You can of course take completely the opposite view to MacShane and not be necessarily wrong either, as Bob Piper and Stan Rosenthal say:

What on earth is an ex-Labour minister doing writing an article for a right-wing newspaper that feeds into right-wing propoganda about the tax system?

Probably because dear old Denis is actually pretty right-wing himself.

Let's not kid ourselves though - this was partly to fill a gap after a slow news day and partly some of the thinkers outside the cabinet being let off the leash to suggest that there might be changes afoot. MacShane's offering is in fact probably more likely to be pursued than the course of action suggested by Compass for example, as to do as they suggest would have the tabloids and Telegraph in even more of a rage, even if it might, just might win back some of the support lost. And again, who knows, considering that the hauliers are throwing their rattles out of their collective pram again, while completely ignoring that even if tax makes up around 70% of the cost of diesel/petrol it's the oil price that has led to it spiralling to nearly £1.30 a litre, which the government seems ever more likely to give in to, tax cuts or the cancelling of rises could yet be back in vogue.

MacShane isn't the only way helping with the churning, as Dave Osler notes, with the Guardian bigging up a piece in Prospect by a former Blair speech writer who thinks that (yes, I realise it's just an example) if asthma patients want to spend their money on double-glazing, then they should allowed to be. It's a quite superb idea, it must be said, and shows where all the new thinking is coming from, and it isn't on the "old" left, that's for sure. Collins rounds it off by saying that the Blairites are increasingly impressed by David Cameron, which couldn't be because he's prepared to go the distance Blair couldn't, and that the real difference is "between the liberal and the authoritarian, not left and right". It doesn't seem to matter that by any scale, the new Blairites are just as authoritarian, if not more so than new Labour, as evidenced by boot camps for the unemployed, promises of zero tolerance and limits on immigration. If elected they'll probably have to stick with abolishing ID cards, although again, considering how much Labour have already spent on them, they (and us) might be stuck with them, but I don't believe for a second that they'll stick with their opposition to extending detention without charge once they don't have to pretend to give a fig about what Liberty thinks.

If the "new" new left is dead, then the new new new left is sure going to take some beating. Especially on bank holidays.

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Scum-watch: Yet more bad news stories on Facebook.

The Sun's managed to get itself a quite brilliant story today on a "lag" who's managing to use a social networking site via a smuggled mobile phone whilst still in prison, detailing his conversations with his friends and his boasts about he's also got access to cocaine inside.

It's therefore incredibly lucky that Robert “Rug” Abrams, 23, uses Facebook rather than MySpace, as the latter would mean the story couldn't possibly be used, lest it give a bad impression of the quite wonderful Murdoch owned networking site. After all, it's only criminals and prisoners that use Facebook, right?

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Monday, May 26, 2008 

On yer chain-gang!

As Labour prepare yet another doomed comeback, it's instructive to examine exactly what it is that's going to be replacing our current overlords in a couple of years' time. If you thought that New Labour was heartless, callous and Machiavellian, you ain't seen nothing yet:

A future Conservative government will bring in "boot camps" for unemployed young people aged between 18 and 21 who refuse to take a job, Chris Grayling, the party's welfare spokesman, will say tomorrow.

In a significant hardening of Conservative policy towards welfare claimants, he will announce the abolition of benefit payments for any able-bodied person under 21 who is out of work for more than three months and who refuses to go on a compulsory community service programme or a "boot camp" training course aimed at improving their work discipline and giving them basic skills to get a job.

It's about time that someone broke down the barrier between the unemployed and the criminal classes, because, let's face it, they're one and the same. Both are robbing from the taxpayer and both only understand one thing: the cold steel. Thought that boot camps were only for those that broke the law? Think again!

To be slightly more serious, who can honestly say that they're surprised that it's the weakest in society who can look forward to getting whacked again once we're back under the security of a Conservative government? They've got off slightly under Labour, despite all the rhetoric about getting tough on welfare and the triangulation policies that have already led to Brown stealing some of the Tories' original idea, but the unemployed, single mothers and foreigners can all be assured that the old guard are back in town. Nasty party doesn't even begin to cover it.

You can also rest assured that this would just be the rolling out of it to begin with. The "healthy" young (the so-called NEETs can almost always be defined by their depression, desperation and profound pessimism about their chances of getting anywhere, and mostly they're right to be) are the easiest to demonise: after all, if you can't find a job within 3 months when you're that age, they might as well be put down and save the taxpayer the money entirely. It doesn't seem to matter that this is the equivalent of the bringing back of the workhouse, getting the poor to sing for their supper rather than allowing them to sit on their arses all day, as that's clearly what they do with their time. The Tories would put them to work on "community service programmes", doing all the jobs that even the immigrants won't do: cleaning the graffiti that they probably sprayed up in the first place off, washing out drains, cutting the grass, picking up rubbish, and all for much less than £70 a week! As we're so often reminded, there's the deserving poor and the undeserving poor, the aspirational and the feckless, and the feckless will be made to face up to their lot in life by receiving far, far less than minimum wage for doing so.

The community service programme will be what the lucky get off with. "Boot camp" training course, it just sounds so inviting, encouraging and bound to enthuse, doesn't it? It's just what these kids need, discipline, a jumped-up man with a thin moustache screaming at them when they put a foot wrong, ensuring that they get the "basic skills" needed for a job. First question: can you read what this tin says? If yes, please report to nearest supermarket for the rest of your life. If you work hard enough, you might even get to become manager in 20 years time! Now that's an aspiration we can all respect.

If you thought Labour wanted to privatise everything and use PFI to build everything, then again, the Tories are prepared to go that little bit further. It's quite obvious that the welfare system just isn't working at the moment: the Jobcentre Plus is providing jobs mainly for the private sector, so why don't we just square the circle? The private and "voluntary" sector can pick up the slack straight away, and we all know that they'll be far more efficient and realistic with the unemployed than the current lot, who tend to get attached to those they're working with. There's no room for sentiment in big business, and when there's the dirty great big carrot of £5,000 for every young person they stick in a dead-end job which makes hell look like an attractive proposition, they'll soon forget there's an actual person they're dealing with and instead turn it into the conveyor belt one size fits all system which it should be. Doubtless, these firms won't be providing the Tories with funds in the mean time, or be directly offering money to Tory shadow ministers studying the portfolio. That would be an unthinkable slur and allegation of corruption.

I've said it before and I'll say it again. The Conservatives under Cameron have looked at New Labour under Blair and found a lot of it that they like. Just one problem: it's not quite right-wing enough, and the Conservatives are determined to be even less subtle than the Blairites. All the things Blair wished he could have done they will be straight on to push through, and this welfare package is just the beginning. Inheritance tax will be next, then a huge expansion of the "academy" system, directly bribing the middle classes, a huge prison building programme, a major rise in defence spending, tax cuts for those who declare that they are "one of us", while all will be forgotten about those they're currently trying to appeal to over the 10p rate. As for tackling tax avoidance, which some studies suggest takes far more from the exchequer than the welfare system even does, that won't even get a mention. The Conservatives are the new, real Blairites. And Labour only has itself to blame.

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Saturday, May 24, 2008 

Required reading.

Just some links for today:

Flying Rodent - Cameron: By-Election Victory a "Triumph for Managed Democracy"

As the Simpsons so sagely pointed out, it's funny because it's true.

Rhetorically Speaking - Nadine Dorries and her followers are *still* lying.

Grauniad - The scandal of the masters student who downloaded an al-Qaida manual from a US governmnet website who was arrested and held in custody for six days.

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Friday, May 23, 2008 

All change at Crewe.

Just like how it was a foregone conclusion that Labour would win the general election in 2005, the question was only by how much, it was much the same in Crewe and Nantwich yesterday. The swing to the Conservatives was slightly less than 20%, but the more stark figure was the majority of over 8,000. Mid-term blues, economic woes and everything else besides, to go from having a 8,000 majority in one of your safest seats to being beaten by over 8,000 votes three years later is nothing short of a catastrophe.

While the above and the horrendously bad Labour campaign strategy are the main reasons for the loss, it's the crystallisation of everything that has been wrong with New Labour which makes this defeat different. At long last, the hollowness of Labour's words has been exposed, and by, in the unpleasant euphemism, Labour's "core". New Labour's election strategy has been simple and up till now effective: firstly, stress economic competence and how wonderful the end of boom and bust has been, as well as the spending on public services; second, be as authoritarian on law and order as possible without pissing off the Grauniad-left too much and without pleasing the Sun/Daily Mail enough; and lastly, make clear how awful it would be if those Tories got back in.

All three of these things were in evidence in Crewe, except the economic confidence line had been reversed. Rather than stressing how wonderful everything is, which would be suicidal, the decision was to put that Brown and his puppet Darling would make everything all right again after the "global" circumstances have calmed down. This has always been a specious line when Northern Rock has been one of the biggest casualties of what used to be called a crisis of capitalism rather than a "credit crunch", and this was brought home by the anger in Crewe about the 10p rate, hitting home just as the bills are beginning to pile up. All of Labour's huffing and puffing over criminal justice policies in the past few months, the Daily Mail bribing over cannabis, Jacqui Smith's advocating of the police behaving in exactly the same way as the "yobs" themselves and the continuing, bizarre, obsession with 42 days, none did anything to placate the electorate, and nor did the blatantly xenophobic and insulting playing up of how the Conservatives don't support ID cards for either foreign nationals or us lucky normal citizens. Last, the playing up of the "toff" card was the substitute for "don't let the Tories wreck everything" ploy and it was both so pathetic, so desperate and so vacant that it should have been the final straw for the activists themselves.

The loss could have been mitigated somewhat if Labour had bothered to notice just one or two things. If you were going to do a personal attack, don't be so staggeringly obvious and unsubtle. Instead of targeting Timpson for being well-off or a "toff", attack him for being another identikit Tory politician in a sharp suit in either his 30s or 40s who doesn't seem to know what he's talking about other than what he's told by the higher-ups. Timpson's winning speech was stunning in its crassness and triumphalism; some might say he's entitled to be after such a campaign, but all I saw was the sneer which so often also appears to be on the face of George Osborne, who he more than resembles. It was impossible to do this though because of Labour's biggest mistake: Tamsin Dunwoody herself. If Timpson was unpleasant, then the fourth(?) generation of the Dunwoody political clan was both charmless and sour. Again, perhaps being given such a poisoned chalice excuses her mood somewhat, but being so directly to interviewers as she was is not going to help you win over the floating voter. Gwyneth herself might have had those qualities also, but she made up for them through her independence and contempt for New Labour, neither of which her daughter obviously had, as the campaign made clear. After all, what is more contemptuous, imposing a rich boy in a suit on a working-class town or a party which is meant to be all about equality and the dead-end of meritocracy sticking another Dunwoody on the ballot and expecting the electorate to not notice the difference?

Moreover, Labour missed the most gaping, open goal since the footing slipped from under John Terry on Wednesday. In one of his rare forays into the hostile world of the normal person, or at least those inclined to give him a harder time than others seem to, David Cameron was faced by an almost Paxman-esque local who demanded, three times, whether the Tories would reinstate the 10p rate. Each time Cameron refused to answer, for the reason we all know being that he and the rest of his party couldn't give a stuff about it in actuality but are playing on it because of the damage it's caused. How did Labour fail to seize on this, and not make clear that the hole had been filled (somewhat) and that the Conservatives were not even offering any solid policy on what they would do other than keep public spending at the same level as Labour initially before moving towards "sharing the proceeds of growth"?

Granted, doing either of these things was not going to win the seat for Labour. With a better run campaign however, it could have at least stopped the swing being so damaging that it really does look as if it's curtains, if not for Gordon Brown immediately, then definitely for Labour itself. Credit due to Cameron, he has the same knack as Blair occasionally did for capturing the moment, and his declaration that "this is the death of New Labour" is now going to be next to impossible to shake off. Coming with another wounding performance in the Commons on Wednesday, where Brown walked straight into Cameron's trap, for all his lack of difference with the Blair vision of a modern politician, Cameron now looks almost unassailable as the next prime minister. As others have stated, this result is still not a vote of confidence in Tory policy; it's still far too sparse for that. What it is however is a sign that voters now think that Cameron and his party are worth a go, so fed up have they become with Labour and also, sadly, Gordon Brown himself.

I say sadly because I still think that Brown had the qualities to be a great prime minister. Unlike Blair up until his messianic streak took him wholly and Major entirely, Brown does believe in what he's doing, and always has. He's however stumbled into the top job and not found it like he thought it would be; no longer can he play like he's still in opposition like he did at the Treasury, running an insurgency against Blair and his worst attempts at pitiful and needless reforms, making the right arguments and often winning. He can't distance himself any longer from the government as a whole; he is the government, and his continuation of the worst of Blairism while not making the changes he's promised has brought both the party and himself to the brink, although it was always Blair that did the damage in the first place, and continues to do through the memoirs and constant recollections.

Again then we go through the suggestions, advice and in some cases, pleas from both outsiders and insiders on what he needs to do. Again there is no sign that Brown is really listening. Both John McDonnell on the socialist left and Compass on the soft left urge and urge again that they stop the dismal triangulation and return to Labour's roots. Last week's draft Queen speech showed that Brown has no intentions of doing that, and he's hardly going to rip that up and start again. It would actually make him even weaker if he did that, welcome as it would be. The least worst thing he could do would be a reshuffle: acknowledge the walking disaster that is "Wacky" Jacqui Smith and sack her; get rid of Hazel fucking Blears and send her to the gulag; perhaps move Jack Straw to be chancellor; and swallow his pride and bring back some of the old big beasts, like Alan Milburn, Charles Clarke and Frank Field, if only because it's better for them to be inside the tent pissing out than outside pissing in. Then more or less do what was suggested after the local elections, by getting rid of ID cards, bringing the troops back from Iraq, scrapping 42 days and most radically of all, abolish tax credits and raise the very poorest out of tax altogether while helping the reasonably well-off that also benefit through taking away in the first place less, all raised by either a windfall tax on the obscene oil/gas profits and/or by taxing the rich and especially the super-rich more.

All of this would completely wrong foot the Tories. They could play it as desperation and it might work but it would also truly show Brown to be listening. However, as we've seen time and time again when politicians have promised to listen, all they've done is carry on just as before. With no real chance of a leadership challenge, and with even the possibility of one only turning the electorate off more with the party gazing at its navel, Crewe and Nantwich along with David Cameron seem to have written Labour's epitaph.

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Giving a message to Hazel Blears.

Keeping it short and sweet, as you too might after spending the best part of the evening swapping round IDE cables and jumpers in a random fashion as that's apparently the only way to fix the piece of crap I'm currently laboured with, could someone be good enough to "give a message" to Hazel Blears by taking her out and shooting her in the fucking head?

Thanks in advance.

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Don't panic, but he might be Islamic!

So, a man walks into a Giraffe...


It does seem almost like a joke, doesn't it? Guy chooses a Giraffe restaurant, of all places, to go in (the one here advertises "global burgers" and is probably fair-traded and feng shuied out of the stratosphere), orders a drink, then goes to the toilets and explodes. Still, it was nice of this not quite Mr Creosote to go pop out where it was unlikely anyone else would have got hurt, wasn't it?

You also have to hand it to the police. The explosion took place at around 12:50 this afternoon. By just before 10, the police had managed to investigate to such an extent that they felt confident enough to know exactly why Nicky Reilly did what he did: apparently he is a recent convert to Islam, suffers from mental illness, and, in their words, was "was preyed upon and radicalised." That's a pretty decent turn around for any investigation, and the police's decision to announce their initial conclusions before any charges have been laid, and before the dust had even settled can only be welcomed. 42 days? Apparently all they really need is 42 hours.

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Wednesday, May 21, 2008 

The final words on Dorries (for now).

Unity provides all the necessary information on why Cameron shouldn't be allowed to get away with calling Gordon Brown a ditherer after his machinations over the abortion bill, but most sweet after last night's votes is Nadine Dorries' response: to carry on as if nothing happened.

Following yesterday's attempt in the House of Commons to reduce the upper the limit for abortions from 24 to 20 weeks, Nadine is to join forces with Labour MP Frank Field in a cross party to campaign to reduce the number of abortions, tackle teenage pregnancy and improve sexual health. During yesterday's debate on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, MPs voted on an amendment tabled by Nadine to reduce the upper limit for abortions from 24 to weeks to 20 weeks.

Nadine said, "While I am clearly disappointed that we were unsuccessful in the vote on reducing the upper limit for abortions, I believe we have achieved a great deal in making more people aware as to what the methodology of an abortion actually involves. Following the campaign I believe we have also brought into the public domain important information such as the viability of a foetus below 24 weeks, the issue of foetal pain and the long term consequences in terms of mental health for many women who choose to have an abortion. The vote may have been lost, but I feel we certainly won the arguments.

I have a great deal of sympathy when people say politicians - and MPs in particular - are out of touch with the views of the public. Opinion polls consistently show that the public wants to see a reduction in the upper limits for abortions, which is already one of the highest in Europe, yet yesterday the majority of MPs defied the views of the majority of their constituents and voted for the status quo.

However, I will continue to campaign for a reduction of abortions in the UK and the broader issues of tackling teenage pregnancy and improving sexual health, particularly amongst young people. I am delighted that following yesterday's vote I received a telephone call from the widely respected Labour MP, Frank Field MP, who told me that after listening to my speech in the House of Commons yesterday evening, he changed his mind and decided to vote for my amendment. We have decided to establish a new, cross party group to continue the campaign to tackle issues surrounding the rise of teenage abortions and pregnancy."

You have to admire Dorries' chutzpah: she couldn't even get the 200 supporters she repeatedly claimed she had to vote for the 20 weeks amendment, yet she and those who, um, decided that it wasn't worth the effort after all were the ones who won the argument. And indeed, they're right. When it comes to repeating mendacious bullshit, ignoring all the evidence from the studies in this country which show that the viability of the foetus under 24 weeks has not changed over the last decade or more, claiming that foetuses feel pain on the evidence of one doctor while others vehemently disagree and bringing up the issue of mental health when pregnancy has such a major effect on a woman's psychology without even considering the moral implications of seeking an abortion, Dorries and her band of followers are second to none. They can be truly proud of lowering the already base tone of politics in this country to its almost lowest ebb. Perhaps it doesn't need to be mentioned that Tony Blair too believed he had won the argument over 90 days detention; he never recovered from that defeat.

It also does little to add to Dorries' claims of overwhelming public support for a reduction when Marie Stopes yesterday unveiled their latest survey which showed that 61% of women of child bearing age supported the right to seek an abortion between 20 and 24 weeks. Previous polls reached different results, but this one asked specifically in which circumstances in which it would be acceptable, reflecting the real issues why someone might still need an abortion at such a period into pregnancy, rather than just abitrarily asking which limit they supported.

Most hilarious of all though is that Dorries will be continuing to attempt to find a "middle way". The "middle way" was Cameron's chatroom sofa supported 22 weeks; it failed by 71 votes. Maybe, just maybe, if Dorries hadn't been allowed to run the campaign, that vote might have been successful. As for Frank Field's new found relationship with Dorries, you couldn't be happier for such a wonderfully matched couple. If he really was impressed by Dorries' speech, so aptly described by Dawn Primarolo as "assert[ing] many things to be facts that are not," and completely overbearing in the emotional, factless sense, with her continuing to draw on her suspicious witnessing and involvement in late-term abortions, then he really has gone crackers. Either that or the old goat fancies her.

Round one goes against Dorries then. The next round might just concern her seat itself.

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Scum-watch: More wild rumours, thoughts on why some crimes get more coverage than others, and typical Facebook bashing.

Having spent yesterday speculating wildly and potentially tramuatisingly on the fate of Rosimeiri Boxall, the hacks on the Sun having seemingly decided that it won't do to just attempt readers to sympathise with her fate; no, you can't have open and shut, black and white cases when no one really knows what happened. To alleviate such a objectionable situation, the Sun today publishes yet more rumours, except this time on what Boxall had consumed alcohol wise:

VICAR’S daughter Rosi Boxall downed wine and spirits before she plunged to her death from a window, it was claimed yesterday.

Hostel resident Holly Dowse told how 19-year-old Rosi was drunk by lunchtime after boozing with two teenage pals.

Holly, 17, said the girls were sinking Lambrini — advertised as a sweet wine for "girls who just wanna have fun" — and strong almond liqueur Amaretto.

Holly, who lives in the flat below in Blackheath, South East London, said: "I went upstairs at midday to tell the girls to be quiet.

"They were in the flat with two boys. I could see they had bottles of Lambrini and a bottle of Amaretto.

"One was dancing around in a black corset while the other was being loud and giggling with Rosi. They all seemed well on their way to being drunk even then."

Ah, see, it turns out she was a binge-drinking yob all along! The point of reporting this "fact" seems to be to cast doubt on the initial picture entirely, as after all, if you're drunk and messing around you can quite easily fall out of windows. Is it really too much to ask for the police to be left to investigate what happens without the press publishing such contradictory churnalism? Of course it is.

On an almost related point, there's an interesting letter in the Grauniad today from a bereaved father over the lack of coverage of his son's violent death:

I, too, am puzzled by media reporting of killings (Brothers guilty of running down father-of-two, May 15). My 22-year-old stepson, Tom Easton, was stabbed to death in September 2006 in a recording studio, where he was helping disadvantaged young people develop their talents. Like Jonathan Zito, he was killed by someone with schizophrenia, who has now been committed to Broadmoor. Yet the national media coverage of Tom's death was virtually non-existent. This lack of interest can't be explained away by "black-on-black" killings, or by nasty people doing nasty things to each other, as Professor Peter Cole asserts. Tom was white, middle-class, at work and an innocent victim of a savage attack. As a family who have lost someone in these circumstances, we're certainly not interested in column inches. What we do want is more debate about what must be done to prevent these tragedies, and government action. That debate has been muted, which is why Through Unity, a coalition of families like ours, has been formed. Maybe together our voices will be heard above the din of press sensationalism and celebrity journalism.

Peter Sinclair
Chair, Tom Easton Flavasum Trust

It isn't an exact science working out why some cases make all the headlines and some don't, but it's difficult to dismiss the notion that it is (mostly) about class and race when there's some evidence to suggest that in most cases that is exactly why some are reported so volubly and others not. Jimmy Mizen is a case that provides a number of reasons why his death was so widely covered, and others, often involving either black youths or ethnic minority youths who died in different circumstances haven't: he was white; middle class; he was, in the words of his parents, a perfect son, a good Catholic, and already had an apprenticeship lined up; his parents were telegenic and more than prepared to talk to the media; and, which I also don't doubt was a factor, one of his sisters additionally has down syndrome, always likely to inspire further sympathy.

As to why Tom Easton didn't receive similar coverage, I do vaguely remember his case, so it wasn't completely ignored or forgotten. Why he didn't receive the same though, although he was white and middle class and filled all the other usual particulars for which cases usually gain coverage, might well be because of what he was doing. Unfortunately, cynicism is hard-set in for good reasons in most hacks, especially those on the right-wing tabloids, and you can bet that some would have thought, if not voiced, that Easton might have been asking for it for working with such hoodlums, or at least he was putting himself in harms way, unlike Mizen who refused to fight.

In a similar way, it's perhaps why
Sophie Lancaster's mother hasn't received the overwhelming sympathy or coverage that Helen Newlove did; she happened to a youth worker who believed in compassion, letting live and and forgiving, and despite initial and understandable soul-searching about whether she could continue in such a job, she's decided she will. Contrast that to Newlove: the woman out not for justice, but for apparent vengeance, who gives the kind of quotes the tabloids adore, such as saying how she'd give her husband's killers the lethal injection herself, while demanding that new, deeply authoritarian and illiberal laws be brought in to stop such youths killing in the future. When met with individuals who don't want to pursue a vendetta, or even, God forbid, forgive their tormentors, as Anthony Walker's mother famously did, they don't understand it or consider it worthy of further coverage, except to ask how they possibly could do such a thing. The embittered and angry always make for better copy than the reflective ones who want to move on.

It's obviously clear why some of the apparent "black-on-black" knife crime deaths haven't received hardly any coverage beyond the initial reports; no one cares when "scum" appears to have killed "scum", not even the police, who might for other cases have issued press release after press release, as the Metropolitan police did after the murder of Tom ap Rhys Price, while the death of
Balbir Matharu was met with little other than silence, from both press and police themselves, until Ian Blair opened his mouth about it.

We can't place all the blame on journalists, especially when they might well have got the story only for it to be spiked or not used later. Sometimes there generally is no reason why murders receive no coverage, apart from maybe the changing practices of the media, increasingly obsessed with the urban centres while ignoring rural areas. Even if not a particularly heinous murder is committed during a time of slow news or especially the silly season, it's always likely to receive more coverage than it might otherwise do. When cases do receive obviously less coverage because of the race or class of the victim, or as witnessed recently when involving less sympathetic figures such as
Fiona MacKeown and the Matthews clan, we ought to speak louder. It is an issue however that does require a lot more study and research for any clear conclusions to be drawn; until then, Peter Sinclair's suggestions are wise ones which ought to acted on. Unfortunately, in the current media climate, it seems unlikely that anything will change.

Speaking of which, here's how the Sun reports the news that "crooks" are turning to social-networking sites to sell their ill-gotten gains:

Naturally, the fact that a certain social networking site owned by the Sun's proprietor is also doubtless home to such activity is nary mentioned.

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Tuesday, May 20, 2008 

It was Dorries wot lost it!

It came down to the crunch, and after everything, not even the 200 supporters Nadine Dorries said she had bothered to turn up to vote for a reduction in the abortion limit to 20 weeks. All the hype about the vote being close turned out to be bluster, with the amendment being rejected by a majority of 142, 190 votes for to 332 against. All the attempts by Dorries to turn to complete emotion, raising the issue of the baby boy she witnessed struggling to breathe once again during the debate, after saying that she hadn't wanted to use it, have failed. This was after she told blatant lies about Labour MPs supposedly being on a three-line-whip to "attend" so that they knew which way they were to be expected to vote. Desperation doesn't even begin to cover it.

Who knows just how much of an impact the blogging campaign against Dorries has had, if any, but yesterday also saw another of the allegations against her, her connections with Christian fundamentalists, completely verified by Channel 4's Dispatches, showing Dorries almost arm in arm with Andrea Minichiello Williams of the Lawyers' Christian Fellowship. Dorries has been moved by the programme to hysterically post on her "blog" that she isn't a fundie, but then no one ever claimed she was. The allegation was instead that her entire campaign was being organised and funded by them, which the Dispatches programme more than demonstrated. For all Dorries' claims of being pro-choice, as she again claimed in parliament today, that she has been working with organisations completely opposed to a woman's right to choose either makes her a stooge, a useful idiot, or a liar. Among Williams' more interesting views is that the Earth is only around 4,000 years old, not even the usual 6,000 as others in the fundamentalist fold usually hold.

Especially gratifying during the debate was that "Red" Dawn Primarolo still has enough fire about her from the old days to call Dorries exactly the latter, albeit in parliamentary language: "She has asserted many things as fact which are not this evening." Equal amounts of opprobrium ought to fall on the Thatcherite throwback Edward Leigh, who declared that “One of the most dangerous places in Britain is in a woman’s womb." Perhaps he has something he'd like to tell us?

The most damage to Dorries though was probably from her own party's leader, with Cameron coming out in favour of 22 weeks rather than Dorries' 20 (Update: Cameron voted for both 20 weeks and 22 weeks, the reasons for which I might well go into tomorrow). Dorries, undermined from above, resorted yet again to distortion:

'Twenty-two weeks is meaningless. 'Large numbers of babies will still be aborted in a barbaric manner, they will still feel pain, and although it will be a victory in as much as the tide will have turned, it will mean that the 20-week campaign will carry on until we meet 20 weeks.

With 22 weeks defeated by 71 votes, the 20 weeks campaign is most likely going to have to wait another good few years before it starts its war of misleading yet again. In the meantime, some of us might well be moved to do everything possible to ensure that Ms Dorries loses her (safe) seat at the next election.

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We are ruled over by cu*ts.

Two separate issues that arrive on the same day could not more sum up the possibly permanent damage to civil liberties in this country.

The first, that apparently "calling" a religion devised by a science fiction writer with the sole purpose of enriching himself a cult is now an offence under the Public Order Act shows the depths to which freedom of speech in this country has now apparently sank. In one way, we shouldn't really be surprised: New Labour, also uniquely made up of individuals who spent their youths demonstrating on causes rather more left-wing than any they now espouse, has done more than any other government in recent memory to dilute the right to protest. Laws meant to deal with stalking have been abused by the police, stop and search powers under section 44 of the Terrorism Act routinely used to harass protesters, and most shamefully of all, the right to protest without prior permission within a mile of parliament barred altogether. In the aftermath of the Danish embassy protests, where a line was clearly crossed, the immediate response of the government was not to instruct the police to intervene in such circumstances, but to propose the banning of the burning of flags, as well as wearing masks on such demos.

All these new laws are less to do with actually stopping protest but with controlling it; they want to know who the trouble-makers are, whether the trouble-makers are entirely peaceful or not. This is why the police now routinely film all protests and take photographs of those on them, all for purely innocent reasons, naturally. It's why the police in London have taken to taking photographs of youths they now stop and search, even if they've done nothing wrong. It's all to add to their databases of potential offenders, don't you know? You don't want crimes to go unsolved do you? What are you, some sort of enemy of the people? We can get you on some technicality for that, surely.

It's that same sort of thinking, the kind of argument which the government knows it can get away with making which shapes the latest database to centralise more or less everything that you've ever done. The Times reports that a new database is being proposed that will collect every email and phone call you make along with the time you spend online all in one place, to replace the native ISP's which currently do the job at the moment. This is about as impracticable an idea as it's possible to imagine, but that doesn't make it any less sinister. As the Register points out, this is the sort of system that would be completely ripe for data-mining and fishing. It's not necessarily the government that we have to worry about from such huge databases, but from those that have access to them. Corporations would pay huge amounts to get a hold of such information, as would those other scum suckers, the tabloids, whom we already know use the other government databases as if they were extensions of their own libraries, with the government happily deciding that there was no need to tighten the penalties for doing so. With our government's brilliant record of losing huge amounts of such data, expecting them to be competent in dealing with the billions upon billions of such records is akin to trusting Nadine Dorries to tell the truth.

As with some much else of the government's attempts to please those demanding that something must be done, it also wouldn't be so bad if the proposals actually would do something to help prevent or cut crime. Instead, keeping the records of those using the internet or phone calls is a joke way of doing so in the 21st century, when so many don't bother to secure their wireless networks enabling anyone to use them free of charge whilst leaving no data trails of themselves via their IP address. More suggestions on how daft this is are offered by comment leavers on Mr Eugenides:

or using pay-as-you-go mobile phones, discarded after a short spell of use; or cars with false number plates; or sending e-mails from internet cafes or by 'stealing' someone else's unsecured broadband access; or any other easy ruse that would avoid the criminals' being caught by this pointless, repellent scheme.

So get a VOIP phone (a base model Cisco 79xx series goes for about $50 on eBay), a BSD or Linux server and the same again for the other end. Set up a VPN (any PFY worth his salt can do this). Now you can talk in private and there is not a damn thing your ISP or the fuzz can do about it, short of banning end-to-end encryption. With a bit of jiggery pokery there's no way they can even tell if you're making a call, as all you need is a little daemon to send data back and forth when the VOIP connection is idle. All cats (encrypted packets) look grey in the dark, so it stuffs their traffic analysis up.

The only ones getting caught out will, as always, be the incompetent and the law-abiding.

Still, if you've got nothing to hide you've got nothing to fear, right? Except the government losing all that information, of course. Typically, it's the powerful that gain and the powerless that will be even more at risk from this, just as the Scientologists through glad-handing the police appear capable of ensuring that no protester potentially offends their wonderful and completely legitimate religion. Similarly, if you happen to be wearing a uniform which identifies you as a member of the armed forces, then you too need more protection from anyone who might dare to insult you. As for being shot at in illegal wars, well, that's tough. Priorities? What are they?

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Scum-watch: Basking in rumour of suffering.

As I've noted before, one of the inherent contradictions at the heart of the Sun newspaper is that for all its campaigns for its own form of justice and disgust of the ubiquitous yobs, one of its major selling points is reporting those very same crimes in all their salacious, gory detail. This would be more acceptable if the Sun was certain of those very facts, but as past cases have shown, it regards such small matters as accuracy as secondary to getting the story out. The paper previously claimed that Rochelle Holness had been dismembered with an electric saw while still alive, before the post-mortem established that she had in fact been dead for 15 hours before her killer desecrated her body. Despite Holness's family making their anger and pain clear after the conviction of John McGrady at the newspaper for such disturbing but inaccurate reporting, the Sun never apologised and the story in all its disgusting detail still remains on the website. Similarly, last year the paper reported that Janet Hossain had been found dead in "sexy bondage gear" and speculated that she died after "a kinky game" had gone wrong; she had in fact been wearing her normal clothes and killed by a former lover, with sex playing no role whatsoever.

Today the paper splashes on the case of Rosimeiri Boxall, the 19-year-old who died after falling 30ft from a second-storey window. The facts in the case have already changed once: initially it was reported that Boxall may have been pushed, something that the police have since discounted. Completely ignoring the possibility that further information being released may also turn out to be erroneous, the Sun has gone into complete rumour mode. Quoting a "source" the newspaper reports:

We believe Rosimeiri was subject to a ‘happy slapping’ attack. She was assaulted by girls and the act was videoed.

"She was kept in the room for some hours. We don’t know how she came to be there in the first place but when she could take it no more, she jumped."

It also claims that:

Rosimeiri Boxall, 19 - known as Rosi - had been held captive and tortured for hours before her doomed escape in Blackheath, South East London.

The source might of course be completely correct; he/she might not. The issue here is that when a family is mourning the loss of a daughter, the last thing they want to see is her splashed almost across the full front page of a national newspaper, with deeply troubling potentially inaccurate information about what she suffered in her last hours. The thoughts for those struggling to come to terms with their loss however always come secondary to a newspaper beating its rivals to the punch and keeping the money rolling in.

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Monday, May 19, 2008 

Euphemisms and the same old same old.

Just when it doesn't seem that it can get any worse for Labour and Gordon Brown, out comes another a new poll that shows that the collapse in support for the party is continuing. The latest Guardian/ICM poll puts Labour's support at 27%: the lowest since the the poll series began back in 1984, with the Tories in front by 14 points, at 41%. Although it seems unlikely that would be the outcome at the general election, as Labour surely can't go any lower, it still suggests that the days of hoping for that almost mythical hung parliament may well be over: a result on this scale will gave the Tories a landslide akin to that of Labour's in 97. The country has also firmly turned on Brown, with 51% ranking John Major as a better prime minister, with 67% saying the same of Blair.

Some of that must surely be directly related to probably temporary anger about the 10p rate, or the listlessness consuming the government as the Tories look increasingly confident and like they're enjoying themselves for the first time in years. Osborne's response to last week's mini-budget was pure posturing without any real answer, but Cameron's skill at the dispatch box cannot be denied, running rings round Brown, the man who previously smacked down a succession of shadow chancellors, now apparently bereft of any answer other than to repeat the same old "achievements" with promises of how he'll lead us through the economic storm.

It's little wonder this is the case when the best thinking inside the mainstream Labour party is by Peter Hain, who's managed to work out that the party has to appeal to both Labour's "core" and to the "aspirational", rather than either one or the other. The problem is that Labour at the moment is appealing to neither, and has no apparent idea of how to do it. Hain's main points are about how to win back support in Wales, where the party was decimated in the local elections. The answers to that ought to be obvious, based on the reading of the results. Rather than going to the Conservatives, the Labour support either stayed at home, turned to the nationalists, Plaid Cymru, or to left-wing independents that may once have been associated with Labour. They didn't go because Labour wasn't speaking to the "aspirational" among them; they went because they stopped talking to them entirely, taking them for granted just as Hain's former colleagues in the cabinet have for the last 10 years. The 10p rate was the final straw.

What we're using here is euphemisms. It no longer seems politically-correct to refer to the "core" vote as working-class, or to the so-called "aspirational" as the middle classes, because that's what they are, and if anything, the euphemisms are far more patronising than the former labels. Equally meaningless is "progressive", which really deserves to be consigned to the dustbin of history. When both Hillary Clinton and David Cameron call themselves "progressive", when neither are in the slightest what was once meant by the term, it's time to abandon it. It's partly because the old terms have become insults, when they shouldn't have. The Sun and others disparagingly decry "Lefties", while some of us who consider ourselves lefties consider "right-wing" to mean much the same. Also guilty are the third-way proselytisers, who tried to tell us that right and left were obsolete, purely because they themselves didn't believe in either but in reality tended to be to the right of what the rest of us still understood as the political spectrum.

I raise these issues because they seem especially pertinent when considering the by-election campaign in Crewe and Cameron's claim for the Tories to be the true new progressives. Despite such revolting apologia from Hopi Sen and others of the usual suspects, the Labour campaign, if it can be called that, targeting the Tory candidate Edward Timpson as a "toff", hounding him with young activists dressed up in tails and top hats, is a sign of the sheer desperation and political bankruptcy of the party in 2008. We might all still quite rightly be obsessed with class in 2008, but to openly and cravenly use your opponent's wealth and upbringing as the main reason for why he shouldn't represent a working-class constituency is to admit that you have nothing else to say or, that if you tried, you'd be haplessly beset by the fact that your arguments would count for nought. It's all well and good to cry that they've done it before or are still doing it, but that's the equivalent of the child excusing his behaviour by saying his friend did it first. The child description is perhaps apt: the Labour smearing and leaflets attacking "Tory-boy Timpson" for his mansion and opposition to foreign workers getting ID cards is petulant and juvenile. The starting point for the Labour fightback ought to have been Cameron's appearance there last week, when he was filmed prevaricating weakly in front of a real person who asked what he would do about the 10p rate. They could say that Labour has now mostly fixed it, and that what the rest of Cameron and the gang are offering is the same old Thatcherism wrapped up in a kinder face, as epitomised by his speech on the economy today.

The reason why even that though would be next to impossible though is because it does almost seem as if history is repeating. After Blair became Labour leader after the death of John Smith, he spent the best part of the two years before campaigning for the election began to come across much as Cameron has, as the caring, different new generation of politician prepared to listen, having what Jon Cruddas has referred to as "emotional literacy". This means talking about Britain's "broken society" in much the same way as Labour might have done if out of power, but adding in the same old dog whistles of family breakdown which can be cured if you bribe the middle classes, use of the voluntary sector rather than the state, and believing in society, it's just not the same thing as the state, as if anyone ever said it was. The harsher side of the rhetoric however doesn't filter through: just the vacuousness does. New Labour offered the "new realities and the new paradigm" with the face of Blairism, far kinder than the old nasty Conservatives who said what they meant. Cameron has learned this is the way to do it now, except his vision is to the right of Blair's version.

That's what's so perplexing about the political environment at the moment. We've only just gotten rid of Blair and all he stood for, yet the public apparently wants his heir apparent rather than strange fusty old Gordon. There's no doubt that the public have not yet embraced the Conservatives; what they have embraced is change. Brown hasn't been enough of a change, yet Cameron is no change at all except in the aesthetic department. There's still the best part of two years for this to fully pan out, but if the Conservatives don't win Crewe on Thursday then it will be astonishing. The question will then be whether Brown can survive any further setbacks: at the moment there is no obvious alternative, but defeat in Crewe will only bring the spectre of defeat ever closer, and we all know what they can entail. The sad fact may well be that Labour is already doomed, but it no longer seems impossible that it won't be Brown who'll lead them into that dark night.

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Of conspiracies, conflicts of interests and prostitutes.

The conspiracy theorists will inevitably be swarming over the news that the prostitute who sold the story of Max Mosley's antics to the News of the Screws was the wife of an MI5 officer, and it is indeed a remarkable twist to what has been the Sunday gutter press "scoop" of the year.

Of more immediate interest is that Mosley has hired Quest, Lord Stevens' private security firm, to investigate whether he's been the victim of a "conspiracy" to discredit him. Although Stevens no longer seems to be writing the most reactionary column in the Screws' history, his involvement with the Murdoch paper surely presents something approaching a conflict of interest. Then again, if Mosley is paranoid enough to believe that someone is out to get him when he was stupid enough to think that being dominated by five pros would go no further than that room, then perhaps he deserves to be fleeced of his cash.

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Saturday, May 17, 2008 

Personally, I'm a misanthropist.

Cherie Blair - My husband and me are socialists.

In other news:
Pope announces that despite appearances to the contrary, he is in fact a Protestant.
Bear admits in tell-all biography that he uses public conveniences to conduct his ablutions.

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No compromise on 42 days.

The issue of extending the detention limit without charge under which terrorist suspects can be held has been with us so long now that the latest supposed developments bring nothing other than a gnawing sense of exasperation at how, despite comprehensively losing the argument over 90 days and now over its successor, 42, that this fundamental issue of just how far down the authoritarian road we go has still not been solved.

Politics is all about compromise, and it's all the better for it. There are however some matters, and this is most certainly one, where there cannot be one. The supporters of a further extension to the time limit, putting us under our common law system into bed with the most vicious autocracies and dictatorships both past and present, can be counted on one hand: they number Gordon Brown, Jacqui Smith, "Sir" Ian Blair, Lord Carlile and the Sun newspaper. None of their arguments are in the slightest bit convincing, especially when the latter hints darkly that those who vote against the measure when it eventually comes before parliament again will have to answer for it when there's next a terrorist attack, somehow implying that they'll be responsible for something that it is most certainly the work of others to prevent, and extending the limit will do nothing whatsoever to improve their chances of doing so.

In this instance compromise in fact potentially provides those proposing such a draconian change with a fig-leaf of respectability. The Guardian yesterday reported that there might be further concessions, bringing down the time when parliament will have to vote on the extension being authorised to 7 days, and further judicial review of the power. Both of are already concessions from the original, even harsher plans, but neither will do anything to alter the fact that there is no evidence to suggest that any extension is necessary. The parliamentary authorisation on its own is problematic because, as the director of public prosecutions has argued, it risks giving parliament's seal of approval to a case before it has even entered the sphere of a trial. Even worse is one of the alternatives being suggested in an amendment by Andrew Dismore, who proposes holding suspects on police bail past the 28-day limit. This is the worst of all worlds, keeping the suspect under perpetual investigation and uncertainty, giving the police carte blanche to obstruct and disrupt the suspects' lives over an even longer period, while also providing the window of opportunity for those who might well be dangerous to go on the run, just as the control order system is both shockingly illiberal and disproportionate whilst also being ineffective.

If the government is not prepared to back down over 42 days, which goes to the very heart of how civil liberties are being almost casually eroded while also disenfranchising and disengaging those in the Muslim community who need to be brought on side rather than belittled and onerously targeted, then it deserves to be defeated with the same, if not more ferocity than it was over 90 days. If that involves a further loss of face for Gordon Brown, who seems to obstinately refusing to back down because of his determination to both buy off the Murdoch press and show the Tories up as "soft" on terror, then so be it.

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Woe, woe is me!

It has come to this. Faced with all her arguments disintegrating in front of her eyes, Nadine Dorries is now taking her stories of being so horribly bullied and abused to the pages of the Telegraph:

I guess I knew when watching an aborted baby lying in a bedpan struggling to breathe, that my inability to help and my complicity as a young nurse assisting in this process, would one day force me to try to alter the barbaric practice our society has become so immune to: late abortion.

Unity has already raised the point that Dorries might well be lying or exaggerating about this, and asked if any current students (Dorries said this occurred when she was a student nurse at 19) had participated in live-birth abortions. Two answered in the comments and both said it was highly unlikely, although things may have been different back in the 70s. Thing is, because Dorries has told so many lies and distorted so much in the past, it's completely impossible to trust almost anything she now says. It would be lovely if we could have a debate on the current abortion limit without having to check and double check everything that Dorries and her supporters say, but it sadly doesn't seem to be possible.

Adversely, as a result of botched abortions such as the one I assisted with, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) issued guidelines to ensure that an abortion never again becomes a live birth.

To avoid this happening, a lethal injection is placed into the baby's heart through the mother's abdominal wall via a cannula - the baby is then surgically dismembered and removed limb by limb. That'll teach 'em.

Yes, we realise that it's extremely unpleasant. Just because something is such is not a reason for lowering the limit when Dorries is relying on the work of just one doctor for her claims that babies older than 18 weeks can feel pain in the way that adults do; most other doctors working in the field are of the opinion that the cerebral cortex, which is not fully developed or properly "wired up" until 26 weeks, is central to the pain experience. In any case, as Stuart Derbyshire wrote:

Whether the fetus feels pain is an important academic and clinical question but it has no relevance to the debate about abortion. If fetal pain is possible then it might be decided that the fetus be anaesthetised prior to the abortion or that the procedure be performed more quickly. There are many good reasons to support abortion that will remain valid even if the fetus can feel pain. Equally, there are many good reasons to defend the welfare of the fetus that will remain valid even if the fetus cannot feel pain. The attempts to make a moral argument through science are deeply concerning. Arguments over life, rights and the sovereignty of a woman’s body cannot be replaced by science dictating the conditions of an acceptable abortion. Such a situation would represent a tyranny of scientific expertise that should be as equally unwelcome to the opponents of abortion as to those who support it.

Back to Dorries:

The pro-abortionists insist there have been no improvements in survival rates for babies below 24 weeks. They omit to mention that the measurement used - that of the survival of poorly babies who happen to make it into a specialist neonatal unit in time - cannot be used to compare potential outcomes of aborted healthy babies.

You don't say? Possibly we're omitting to mention it because it's completely irrelevant?

They also ignore those darned little tykes who fought against the odds and are living all over the UK, such as little Millie - born at 21 weeks and who is now living well in Manchester.

Yes, we're bastards, aren't we, ignoring all those exceptional cases? Incidentally, as someone mentions in the comments about little Millie:

Millie, the baby cited by Nadine, stood a 1 in 100 chance of survival, and that is after major medical intervention (costing £many thousands). Her twin, born a few moments earlier, died. Millie still required oxygen when she finally went home in 2007.

It's also worth remembering that in the Trent study released last weekend, none of the babies born at 22 weeks survived.

No, far better to deploy the foeticide technique. One has to ask the question: if the pro?abortionists argue that the upper limit at which abortion takes place doesn't need to come down because babies don't survive below 23 weeks, why do we need to use lethal injection and a technique more suited to a butcher than a doctor, to make sure they don't try?

Oh, I don't know, possibly because it's rather more humane than letting them die slowly, as Dorries herself supposedly experienced? Or maybe because, if the research Dorries herself relies upon does turn out in future to be correct, it results in as little trauma as possible occurring to the foetus? Actually, am I misinterpreting here, or is Dorries really suggesting that we let nature take its course in front of the mother? There's heartlessness, then there's Ms Dorries apparently. Or maybe that's the point: that'll teach her a lesson she'll never forget.

You would think that, being an advocate of safe, free and swift access to abortion in the first trimester, I might have avoided the horrors that usually befall any MP who so much as whispers the word "abortion" in Westminster.

By first trimester Dorries of course means 9 weeks, not 12 weeks, which is her personal favoured option, although despite her 20 reasons for 20 weeks campaign, she's also signed an amendment which supports 16 weeks. It seems she either can't make up her mind, or she's seriously hedging her bets. Additionally, by "advocate of safe, free and swift access to abortion", she also means that she's deeply concerned by the relaxation of the rules proposed by some, which means that rather than early abortions she's in favour of women going through the regular route of abortion services, which the self-same committee she sat on noted were causing "unnecessary delays" to patients".

I thought that. Which is why, as someone who will do anything to avoid housework, I was especially hacked off to find the word "bich" smeared on my window last Saturday morning. I'm not sure what displeased me more: the bad spelling, the fact that I had to dust cobwebs off the Marigolds, or that the dogs hadn't barked.

Not especially pleasant, but also not necessarily linked to her current campaigning. Judging by her conduct towards Ben Goldacre and Caroline Flint, I'd hazard to suggest that Dorries seems to have a special knack of pissing people off.

As I write this, my PA is on the phone to the police - again. We're on first-name terms; I know I'll be on the Met's Christmas card list. My house is "flagged" by police, as are the homes of my staff.

At least they are being involved then, which suggests that Dorries is for once being truthful.

The second dismembered doll arrived in the post this week and the number of abusive phone calls, emails and letters we have received are too numerous to mention. People are crawling all over my expenses - which I am happy for them to do - and there are the usual nasty websites.

Oh, so it wasn't shit then, but rather the less traumatic dismembered doll. Most of this is what she put on her "blog" earlier in the week, with the same lack of evidence behind her claims as then. Again Ms Dorries, if by some off-chance you happen to read this, how about providing some proof, or letting us know where what these "nasty" websites are, because if you're talking about DK or Unity who are a little more vitriolic than some of us other inhabitants of the blog world, then you're talking trash and don't understand the internet any more than you seemingly do much else.

You can't phone my Westminster office today without first being screened by the switchboard. Perversely, this animosity gives me strength. This and the fact that three-quarters of women and two-thirds of GPs support what I will try to do when the Embryology Bill comes before Parliament next week: to reduce the upper time limit at which abortions can be carried, from the current limit of 24 weeks to 20 weeks.

Dorries is yet again relying on the same old polls which are skewed from the beginning. A more reliable poll, conducted recently by YouGuv (PDF), although still slightly iffy, found that support for the current limit was at 35% with those in favour of a reduction at 48%, which is nowhere near the levels which Dorries claims. It's also to be expected when so much of the media is giving acres of room to Dorries and the emotional but irrelevant "4D" images which go hand in hand with it.

People often ask me why I'm a Conservative. It's not the usual political default position for a girl from a Liverpool council estate. Well, for me being a Conservative is about protecting the most vulnerable in our society. Who can be more vulnerable than a baby struggling to breathe in a bedpan?

Protecting the most vulnerable and the Conservative party - they go together like Graham Norton and tastefulness.

The activists can smear away - I will continue to fight the horrible injustice that befalls 2,500 babies a year. It feels like it's me and the memory of a lost baby against the rest of the world and a bunch of graffiti artists. But I am determined that something good will come from that day.

No, Nadine, it's not us doing the smearing - it's you, just as it always has been. The horrible injustice is that you're basing the entirety of your campaign on either distortions, junk science and plain old bullshit, while you're in league with those who want to completely deny women the right to choose, just as you claim that you're in fact pro-choice. The only good thing that might come from that day would be if you went back, and for just half a second, maybe just thought whether the poor speller had something of a point and whether your behaviour over the last year has been becoming of a politician. We already know you won't - you couldn't be introspective or doubtful for a second if you tried. The tragedy is that we continue to be represented by such dishonest, unaccountable and unpleasant characters as yourself, and no amount of playing the victim is going to change that.

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Friday, May 16, 2008 

Osama bin Tedium.

A new audio message purported to be from Osama Bin Laden has called for Muslims to continue the fight to liberate Palestinian lands.

This would of course be the same Osama bin Laden, leader of al-Qaida, the terrorist organisation which despite its incessant bluster about both Jews and Israel has never attacked Israel, or indeed seemingly attempted to. It is after all far easier to bomb your fellow Muslims, even if they are a different sect, in the markets of Baghdad. Quite why we continue to give him and his self-aggrandising rantings even the slightest coverage ought to be a question worth putting to all news editors.

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Scum-watch: Breathtaking chutzpah over an Afghan hijacker.

How times change.

Two years ago, the Sun was outraged over the decision that the 10 Afghani men who felt their only way to escape the hell of life under the Taliban was to hijack a plane should be given leave to remain in this country. Their front page was one of the most mendacious of recent times, implying that the men who had escaped from a tyranny which the Sun supported the subsequent overthrow of were interested only in sponging off the state and having everything handed to them.

It therefore takes an amazing amount of chutzpah for the Sun to today splash on one of the biggest non-stories it's ever put on its front page. Having previously smeared the men as wanting to not work when one of their main reasons for wanting to be given leave to remain was so that they could repay their debt, it now considers it a huge news story that, err, one of the men has a job. Or rather, that he works for a company which has a contract to clean a British Airways training centre, which means he has a pass to, in the Sun's parlance, "secure areas".

If anyone can tell what the point of the Sun's anguish is, it would be nice to be informed. It can't seriously be suggesting that Nazamuddin Mohammidy is likely to repeat his previous offence, or that he's any sort of extremist when he escaped from the most fundamentalist Islamic government of modern times. No, this seems to be purely an exercise in trying to make the biggest possible mountain of the slightest molehill. The only reason the Sun knows about Mohammidy's current employment is because he was stopped by police on suspicion of being an unlicensed taxi driver, and when checking out he was who he said he was, discovered that he was in breach of bail after being accused of assaulting his landlord. While that suggests he's not necessarily an angel, if that wasn't already manifest, it also means that he's not housed by the state either, another of the Scum's smear tactics first time round.

Rather than this being about Mohammidy, this seems to be more about asylum seekers and "human rights law" in general than any real concern about his working at Heathrow. That can be the only conclusion reached when the paper quotes "Sir" Andrew Green claiming that this proves the asylum system is being "abused", something which is not in the slightest bit proved by this case. We don't know the circumstances behind his alleged assault on his landlord, but it could quite easily have been a dispute which got out of hand. Apart from that, he's doing exactly what the government and Sun demands both asylum seekers and immigrants do: work and live off their own steam. The only abuse here is that the Sun seems to think it's in the public interest to hound those who somehow cross them or who might incredibly tenuously be linked to extremism. This was the case with its recent stalking of Abdul Maneem Patel, who was called "evil" and a "terrorist" after being released early from a six-month sentence for holding an explosives manual, found in a sealed box under his bed, for an older associate of his father.

It can all be so different if you can conceivably be of commercial benefit to the Sun. I noted recently a surprisingly positive leader on Polish immigrants, which would never have appeared in any other of the tabloids. One of the reasons for the softening of their stance might just be because they're considering producing one-off Polish-language versions to coincide with Euro 2008, where Poland rather than England will be participating. Now just what would the gor blimey likes of Jon Gaunt think about that?

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Thursday, May 15, 2008 

War against emo.

Talking as we were of tabloid stupidity and irrationality, the Daily Mail has been stepping up its war against emo, following the suicide of a 13-year-old girl who supposedly killed herself because she wanted to "join the black parade". Mr Vowl destroys it in characteristic fashion, but this just proves how lazy the journalism we're dealing with here is:

Emos like guitar-based rock with emotional lyrics.

American bands such as My Chemical Romance, Good Charlotte and Blink 182 are particular favourites.

Err, that would be the Blink-182 who pre-dated mainstream emo by a good few years and who split up three years ago, just as "emo" was coming to prominence. Good Charlotte aren't emo; they're just complete and utter wank. The only thing linking the three is that they vaguely share pop-punk roots, but apart from that you couldn't come up with three more different bands.

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Scum-watch: Chasing Amy.

Surprise, surprise, Amy Winehouse is not to be charged over a video which the Scum "obtained" (i.e. purchased from one of Winehouse's "friends" for a no doubt colossal amount of money, much like the video of Kate Moss snorting what might have been cocaine was purchased from one of Pete Doherty's friends), meant to show her smoking crack cocaine. This is of course for the obvious reason that the police cannot prove beyond reasonable doubt in a court that what Winehouse was smoking was crack; the only way in which she could have been charged over the video was if she made the mistake of admitting to the police that yes, she had been inhaling that wonderful rock and getting completely off her tits. Doubtless when interviewed about it she maintained her right to remain silent, as even the most junior law student would have told her to.

According to the Sun, who after all, paid a lot of Rupert Murdoch's money for this footage, it's a front-page worthy outrage. As the learned Mr Power says, the issue with drugs is that it is not illegal to consume them in the privacy of your own boudoir or bedsit, but it is illegal to have them in your possession. La Winehouse, unlike her luminary Mr Doherty, tends not to make the mistake of continuously being caught with them, although she was fined after cannabis was found in her possession whilst in Norway. If Winehouse had been spotted smoking crack on CCTV, then it might be a different matter. My brother whilst on holiday in Whitley Bay made the mistake of going for a late night walk along the promenade while indulging in the wicked weed, only for the police to suddenly come blaring up, alerted by an eagle-eyed CCTV supervisor.

When it comes to weak, absurd and downright draconian arguments, the Sun's leader on why Winehouse should be brought before a court and presumably sent down for a long time takes the biscuit:

THERE cannot be one person who does not believe Amy Winehouse was smoking crack in a video obtained by The Sun.

That's not the issue here. The police have to be able to have a strong enough case for the Crown Prosecution Service to agree that taking the matter to court will both result in the high possibility of a conviction and that it is in the interest of both the public and the public purse. From just a video, especially one as badly lit and difficult to make out as the Sun's, that simply isn't possible.

Yet police will not prosecute her.

They think they could not secure a conviction on video evidence alone.

Which they certainly couldn't. The judge would throw the case out.

The Sun is deeply concerned.

When stars revel in the degradation of drug abuse, there SHOULD be a way to prosecute them.

Amy’s video is encouragement to break the law.

What utter twaddle. If a young, successful woman looking an utter state, in such apparent desperation that she has to take one of the most addictive but also destructive substances known to man is revelling in degradation or an encouragement to break the law, then the eye of the beholder who thinks in such a way is probably themselves already way beyond help. Fact is, no one would have known about Winehouse's taking of crack if the Sun hadn't bought the video off of one of her so-called mates; she's not encouraging people to break the law or revelling in the degradation of drug abuse to the public, but the newspaper that then brings such things to light when there is no public interest in such matters certainly is. All tabloid newspapers have very funny ideas of what privacy is, but none more so apparently than the Sun.

If you’re caught on CCTV using threatening behaviour, you are charged.

It should be the same for taking drugs on video.

The difference is that CCTV can be used to prove that you were being threatening: it cannot be used to prove that you're taking a controlled substance unless they get you completely bang to rights with you talking about what you're doing while injecting yourself or likewise. Even if you're filmed smoking what looks like a spliff you can argue that it's in fact a long roll-up as long as they don't actually catch you before you've finished it, and you can also argue that white substance you were snorting was not actually cocaine but flour, sugar or something else that looks suspiciously like cocaine when filmed in low quality. This ought to be common sense: otherwise we'd have busybody morons reporting every video featured on YouTube that might show someone taking drugs to the police, or even groups like Mediawatch reporting programmes to the police that show actors supposedly taking drugs. That's the kind of territory we're getting into.

We have laws against glorification of terrorism. So why not against the glorification of drug-taking?

Taking crack in private while talking to someone is now considered to be the "glorification of drug-taking". While we're at it why don't we also make glorification of hitting your husband while drunk illegal, or glorification of anything that breaks the law illegal? What the Sun is asking for is a law to be drawn up which means the press can legally justify their invasions of others' privacy.

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith admitted yesterday that she herself SHOULD have been charged for smoking cannabis at university.

Which just proves what a vindictive petty little woman she is. Let's ruin the lives of everyone who dares to enjoy a drug which according to numerous studies is both less dangerous and harmful than either tobacco or alcohol. Incidentally, as we all know, journalists have never personally indulged in drug taking of any kind, and certainly don't snort for Great Britain at the weekend along with a distinct minority of the chattering classes of London. No sirree, they're most certainly not the most loathsome of hypocrites.

The law needs to be upheld in spirit as well as letter.

The Home Secretary accepts that. So let her create a law to save lives.

We're back to the same ignorant and patronising argument used for prohibition in general. The government is putting cannabis back in Class B to protect young people's health, not to placate right-wing ideologues in the so-called popular press who've been running hysterically distorted campaigns demanding just that. This isn't going to save any lives, it's instead crude gesture politics of the worst and most pitiful kind to cover up for the Sun's embarrassment in not getting their own way all the time.

Maybe Amy’s, too.

Oh yes, we have to remember, the Sun is doing all this for Amy's sake you see. It's not because it sells newspapers and brings major attention to the paper in general when it grabs such exclusives, it's because they deeply deeply care about Amy and don't want to see her talent being snatched away through the cycle of drug abuse.

The reality is that the last thing the newspaper wants to happen is for not just Amy, but for any celebrity in general to get off the wagon. After all, that means they don't have anything to write about or splash on their showbiz pages. Celebrity in going home and getting an early night outrage doesn't tend to make the headlines. In any case, just how much the newspaper cares about Winehouse was displayed when it and others crudely invaded and also probably set-up the circumstances in which she was previously photographed in tears in the street during the middle of the night wearing only a bra on her top half. That then was because they cared, not because it made such sensational copy and allowed them to ghoulishly and voyeuristically speculate on what she might have been going through while they profited from her discomfort. This is the legal kind of stalking, and it has no justification whatsoever. The war on drugs will not be won through such idiotic posturing, but through realising that prohibition and indignation go hand in hand in keeping the problem just the way it's been for the last 40 years.

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Wednesday, May 14, 2008 

Tax cuts and yet more almost irrelevant legislation.

For what most of the press have presented as a panic measure, yesterday's move by Alistair Darling, or rather Gordon Brown skilfully manipulating the chancellor's strings, to raise the personal allowance by £600 to £6,035, a tax cut in effect worth £2.7bn, was reasonably inspired and probably the best option to mostly end the 10p tax cut debacle. It was what plenty have been arguing for all along: a honest, transparent and simple move that takes more of the working poor out of paying tax altogether, whilst not penalising middle earners at the same time. This was the opposite of what Brown, the supposed champion of anti-poverty measures had done in his last budget, the about-turn performed by his weak puppet. If this is the sort of thing that weak chancellors do, then we could do with more of them.

This isn't to forget about the downsides of the move. Firstly it does to a degree show the government panicking over the possibility of losing the Crewe by-election, but it also shows them genuinely listening to people's concerns, as Brown and others less than convincingly promised. More important though was compensating those who have lost out who should never have done in the first place, and if it just so happens to be done prior to a by-election which has become almost a referendum on Brown's stewardship of the country, then so be it. Secondly is that it sadly won't be fully compensating everyone that did lose out, with up to 1.1 million only getting half back. More must be done for them come the pre-budget statement in the autumn, but the issue does now seem to have been firmly closed, something that previous attempts at buying off both the rebels and the country at large had failed to do. Thirdly it puts the government perilously close to breaking its 40% of GDP borrowing rule, the tax cut coming as it does through lending, but almost any other means of compensating would have been either seen through for the con it was, left many still feeling short-changed even if they hadn't been or taken the best part of two years to come through, something entirely unacceptable. It has the added bonus for Labour of shooting the Tories' faux-plight for those who lost out under original change stone-dead, with Cameron always making clear that he would make no promises to restore the 10p tax band. Darling hasn't done that either, but he's done something better that the Tories at no time suggested.

If that was part one of the planned fightback, then part two was today's announcement of the draft Queen's speech, and understandably it had none of the dramatic effect or chutzpah of yesterday's gamble. Instead we have an almost congealed gloop of left-over, stolen or back of the fag packet style bills that hardly present a coherent programme of government. That is to be somewhat expected half-way through a parliament, but when it's also meant to be kick-starting Labour's hopes of getting re-elected in two years' time, it was mostly a squib of the damp variety.

One of Labour's worst tendencies has been to legislate, legislate, legislate and reform, reform, reform then think of the consequences later. We can see this in the continuing attempt to force through longer detention without charge, the use of various parts of Home Office legislation for purposes which they were not intended, the hospitals and schools sick to the back teeth of new initiatives when they haven't gotten used to the last one, and most egregiously, the banning of demonstrating within a mile of parliament, now due to be repealed in the latest constitutional renewal bill. The best political idea of recent years was the Liberal Democrats' pledge to have a bonfire of the very worst illiberal legislation placed on the statute books, and both Nick Clegg and Vince Cable have been making the same argument again today on the quantity rather than the quality of new bills. Their list at the time of what to repeal would still be a great start today, although you can also add the now tragically passed "extreme pornography" sections of the last crime bill to the things to burn.

In lieu of that happening, it has to be said that most of the bills at least have their heart somewhere in the right place. The problem with this pre-Queen's speech announcement is that at best we're given a very shady outline of what's actually going to be in the legislation once it reaches parliament, but on what we know the banking reform and saving gateway bills are steps in the right direction which seem unlikely to come across many hurdles. Of more concern and contentious are bound to be the equality bill, especially the part concerning the all-women shortlists which, despite having the right intention are not the way to achieve equality in parliament; the welfare reform bill, where it's not clear whether the government is "borrowing" the Conservatives idea of needlessly and wastefully re-assessing everyone on incapacity benefit but where they are forcing the long-term unemployed onto "training courses" they have most likely already taken; the policing and crime reduction bill which will introduce yet more crackdowns on "anti-social behaviour", binge-drinking and also "cut red tape", which might well mean the scrapping of the current stop and search mechanism; the Citizenship, immigration and borders bill which will likely toughen still further the steps towards citizenship; the communications data bill, introducing the EU's intrusive demands on data retention on ISPs and the like; and the coroners and death certification bill, where it's still not clear whether the government will relent on its much criticised changes to the coroner's system which mean the Home Secretary can order "sensitive" inquests to be held without a jury.

While this programme might have been intended to add detail to yesterday's decisiveness, it's certainly done nothing to curtail the Tories' spirits, and their response has been emblematic of that. Why, the government is so desperate that it's taking up to 12 of our ideas and putting them to good use was the cry from the opposition benches, and it's one that's not wholly unfounded. While such populist ideas as directly elected representatives that deal with the police can either work well or fail abysmally, there's little here that's immediately going to be opposed on ideological grounds alone, although the pledge to give agency workers the same rights as regular ones, which again needs to be fully fleshed out, might have the Tories pause for thought. There's the saving gateway bill and the social housing plan for government to put up equal amounts as the potential buyer to appeal to the Labour left, but the rest seems almost devoid of colour, limp, lifeless, dull and decent, as someone else suggests.

Some will argue perceptively that that's exactly what Labour needs to do at the moment, to abandon the high risk strategy of eye-catching new initiatives which the Blair years foisted on us time after time, and just concentrate on governing effectively and competently. The other side to the coin is that also suggests a government running on empty, with nothing new to offer, while the increasingly confident opposition only seems to building on its gains. As usual, the reality is split down the middle, with a party that neither knows whether to go all-out or to just carry on. It seems unlikely in the long-run that this latest programme will make any great difference: as before, the next election is now the Tories to lose, and with nothing left in either the kitty or the bag, Brown looks just as isolated and lonely as before.

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More boom!

Just when you thought that the idea that eight men could build bombs out of "liquid explosives" in Oasis bottles, smuggle them on to airplanes and then detonate them resulting in "mass murder on an unimaginable scale" couldn't get any sillier, the Telegraph reports this further piece of evidence that wasn't mentioned in any of the stories yesterday:

Woolwich Crown Court heard the danger of the homemade device going off was so great that scientists at the Forensic Explosives Laboratory at Fort Halstead in Kent had to insert the detonator with a mechanical arm once they had left the chamber.

So, as yesterday, this is the experts who know what they're doing using the exact same materials as the rank amateurs were meant to, and the danger of rather than explosives blowing up a plane but instead going off in the face of the bomb-maker was so great that the detonator had to be inserted using a remote-controlled machine. We're meant to assume that if this plot was going to come to fruition that the 8 men were going to overcome the volatility of the materials they were using, something the experts couldn't, succeed in smuggling the bombs onto an airplane without the explosives going off prematurely on the journey to the airport and then the plane, and then again manage, after fully constructing the bomb, to detonate it without anyone else noticing what they were up to with an explosion so successful that it would result in the deaths of everyone on board.

Something else worth noting in the reports today, in both the Telegraph and the Sun (most of the other media with the exception of the Mail seem to have ignored the entire exercise, which suggests that if the fourth estate can't even be interested by a bottle going boom they're hardly going to cover the men's defence) is that both now freely admit that the "bombers" hadn't succeeded in constructing a viable device. In fact, despite their experimenting by drilling holes in bottles etc, there isn't any evidence that they had attempted to even do so. We already know that at least two of the men didn't have passports; they might have recorded their arrogant and pathetic "martyrdom videos", but it doesn't seem by any measure that the attacks were as imminent as originally claimed, let alone whether the attacks would have been any more successful had they not been interrupted than last year's adventures by Abu Beavis and Abu Butthead.

To be a little clearer than I perhaps was yesterday, there is little doubt that at least some of these men were suitably radicalised to record messages which leave the implication that they were willing to lay down their lives like other jihadists for the cause of extremist Islam. Like with the other plots that have been "foiled" or have failed however, it has been hyped out of all proportion, with any journalistic intrigue into whether such attacks are actually feasible completely abandoned, believing completely that such plots were not just possible but would have killed hundreds if not thousands of people. It's one thing to want to kill someone; it's whether they have the means, determination and skills to be able to do so. The evidence so far at the "liquid bombs" trial suggests that these men didn't have it. That doesn't mean that they are not dangerous, or that they are innocent of any crime; that will be for the jury to decide. What is clear however is that all are guilty of fantasising, of self-aggrandisment and dilettantism.

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The hounds of love are calling.

All together now, everyone say "awwwww":

The Hounds of Hell are chasing me.

Her arguments debunked, the only thing left to Nadine Dorries to resort to is pure emotional blackmail, and to claims that her opponents are victimising her.

We received another unpleasant parcel in the post today. Nasty web sites set up, email account and post bag bombarded, people crawling all over my expenses, which they are entitled and I am very very happy for them to do...

Come now Nadine, let's not mess about with euphemisms, spit out exactly what was in this "unpleasant" parcel. See, the trouble is, when you either lie or be blatantly dishonest, or refuse to apologise to others when you've accused them of things they haven't done, it tends to make it more difficult to believe them when it comes to everything else. As Unity says, incidentally, if there is a moron out there sending Dorries dog shit or something similarly nasty, then don't, because as Dorries is attempting to do with this post, it then blackens everyone who is arguing against her pitiful campaign. It is worth questioning though where these "nasty" web sites are; as far as we're aware there are two that Dorries might claim are "nasty", one set-up to hold comments for her posts when she removed them from her own blog, and one which has now been dead for months. All the rest have been exposing her claims with at times remarkable restraint.

Scary, threatening angry and downright nasty phone calls. A message smeared on my window.

As said, I'm not going to say that Dorries is either making it up or lying about this stuff, but it would make it easier to believe if she provided some evidence beyond just a blog post, or indeed, informed the police of what's been happening.

This is all meant to destabilise or distract me.

I have a very clear message to those who are attempting to do this – back off. You will not stop me, you will not undermine me, you do not scare me. In fact, you make me much more determined than I ever was before. You give me strength.

And then just to rub in how she doesn't care for anyone else's opinion or indeed, the facts themselves, she once again posts the image of Samuel Armas with the doctor Joseph Bruner, lifting the baby's arm and gently putting it back in the womb, not the other way around, as both she and the photographer, Michael Clancy, continue to propogate. It would be difficult for an anaesthetized mother and/or child to move in such a way, but again, this just shows the sort of impervious to reason individual we are dealing with: despite formerly being a nurse, despite attempting to claim that she is arguing on the basis of science, she continues to use the most base pro-life propaganda for her cause.

You can almost understand why someone might send her their dog's defecation, can't you? It would also help if she and the others didn't have such apparent contempt for their opponent's points of view, as Simon Hoggart wrote in his sketch on Tuesday:

Dari Taylor, a Labour MP, made a moving speech in favour, describing how it might have meant she could have had the baby she yearned for. The effect was, I fear, slightly spoiled by Ann Widdecombe and Nadine Dorries - both vocal opponents - talking loudly on the Tory frontbench while she spoke.

Dorries herself reaches for the emotion and expects everyone to listen, and weep along with her at the tragedy of babies being brutally put to death, and then demand action. When someone else does the same thing, her intention is to drown it out. Yet it's us, "the hounds of hell", which are chasing her. Maybe it's actually her conscience trying to tell her something.

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Tuesday, May 13, 2008 

Knife crime and how London is more dangerous than Baghdad.

It's strange, isn't it, how it takes the death of a 16-year-old middle-class white teenager for the media in general to suddenly decide that it's time to talk about how the world is ending under the threat of the blade once again, or at least is in London.

Last night Newsnight treated us to four "experts", which in reality meant a mother who'd lost her child and now fronts one of those brilliantly named "Mothers Against" groups, as if all mothers aren't against murder, violence or noise music; the new deputy mayor of London, who despite his record in helming a young offender's institution said nothing of any worth whatsoever; Damilola Taylor's father; and err, Melanie Phillips, that well-known expert on all things concerning teenagers and youth crime.

Their solution? Zero tolerance, of course. It doesn't matter that this zero tolerance which so many espouse is based itself on a flawed prospectus, that those who are meant to have implemented it didn't intend to then be extended across the board as politicians and newspaper columnists in this country now demand, or indeed that it was not the "zero tolerance" which had the effect but rather the crime mapping, the keeping of detailed, regularly updated statistics and economic and demographic change, it's become a simple cure-all solution which has supposedly worked and therefore must be tried.

One of the chief proponents of zero tolerance, the Sun, even goes so far today as to claim that New York is now safer than London, as well as talking nonsense about new sentencing guidelines when the judge still has the discretion to impose up to a four-year sentence for someone brought to court for carrying a knife:

Yet even as the latest victim took his final breath, new punishment guidelines were being slipped out which amount to a slap on the wrist for carrying a blade.

Despite ministers’ repeated pledges to crack down on knives, they will allow yobs to get away with just a fine or community sentence.

The ruling to courts flies in the face of evidence that soft penalties — like Asbos and electronic tags — are worthless.

Thirteen young men and boys have been slaughtered on the streets of London so far this year.

The capital is now more dangerous than once-notorious New York.

Of course, the Sun is ignoring the actual evidence which proves that New York is actually more dangerous not just than London, but this country as a whole, despite others now claiming that the once notorious city is now some kind of shining beacon of peace and security. It's true that crime has fallen substantially in New York, but unless you disbelieve both the police figures and the British Crime Survey, it's also been falling here for around ten years also.

I've gone into the nitty gritty of the figures in depth before, so let's just deal with the one that can't be argued against: murder figures. In New York in 2006 there were 921 murders. In 2005/6 in London there were 168; in 2006/7 there were 162; and in 2007/08 (financial year) there were 156. Across the entire country in 06/07 there were 755 murders.

Let's continue with the Sun's leader:

Ministers wring their hands and Home Secretary Jacqui Smith refuses to venture out at night.

Parents are terrified every time their kids leave home.

And teenagers walk in fear of being killed by lawless savages who are ready to kill for a laugh.

Fines and community sentences will do nothing to stop this massacre.

And nor will importing failed policies from across the pond.

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The "liquid bombs" plot trial descended even further into farce today when the prosecution finally got round to showing its terrifying re-creation of what might have happened had the accused actually got onto the planes and then constructed their mixture of hydrogen proxide and the soft-drink "Tang", which was to be detonated using HMTD hidden in hollowed out batteries.

As you would expect, considering that the bombs have been constructed by experts and not by rank amateurs who previously might not have so much have had a chemistry set, they exploded and packed a reasonably big wallop for what would have been less than 500ml of liquid explosive. It took them at least 30 attempts to achieve an explosion from the materials, and as the explosives expert giving evidence said, this was just one of a series of explosions, doubtless the most powerful, which they carried out.

The problems with this "evidence" are manifest. Firstly, as any fule can see straight away, while such an explosion might well kill those close to it, it isn't strong enough to bring the plane down on its own. We can't know whether it would damage the hull in such a way as to immediately force an emergency landing, but it has to be remembered that planes can survive even catastrophic explosive decompressions: Aloha Airlines Flight 243 is testament to that. Neither did the mastermind of the original plot which this group presumably based their idea upon successful in his attempt to bring down a plane: Ramzi Yousef killed the man who was unfortunate enough to take the seat he planted his nitroglycerin explosives under, but it failed to puncture the plane's fuselage.

This is no doubt why the judge himself raised the relevancy of showing the explosion which they might just if they were very lucky have achieved. It is after all a conspiracy to cause explosions rather than actually causing them or committing murder through them. It is though a integral part of how weak the claims were that this was a plot which would have caused "mass murder on an unimaginable scale", as John Reid said just after the men had been arrested. In a part of the prosecution's opening statement which was hardly reported, it was revealed that the men had not succeeded in creating a viable bomb. We now know that the experts themselves had to try 30 times with the self-same ingredients before they achieved an explosion; the bombers were supposedly going to produce 8 of these bombs separately, all going off with an explosion powerful enough to destroy the plane in mid-air, or at least that was the impression originally given, now rather drastically scaled back.

If it had succeeded, it would have undoubtedly been the most spectacular attack since September the 11th. "If" though is the key term: like with the "bombs" last year outside the Tiger Tiger club and then at Glasgow airport, and also Dhiren Barot's plans for a "dirty bomb", this was a plan which looks wonderful and petrifying on paper or when it's reported in the papers, but which is close to impossible to actually pull off, especially if you don't have the means, the knowledge or the funding to do it. With the equipment that they apparently had, the "liquid explosives" plotters could have pulled off another 7/7: they certainly had enough hydrogen peroxide, although again 21/7 shows us that nothing is certain when you're working with such volatile materials. That they didn't suggests they didn't know how to make such bombs, or that they felt their plan was much purer and more original, even if it was remarkably similar to another foiled plot. Their hubris and ignorance got the better of them. As stated before, we don't have too much to worry about from such hot-headed individuals who think they know better than everyone else and that their plans are fool-proof; what we have to be concerned about is when those who do know their way around explosives and are battle-hardened return from either Iraq or Afghanistan, from what the leader of the Islamic State of Iraq referred to as the "university of terrorism". It might be then that we'll have to move beyond the simple power of nightmares.

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Monday, May 12, 2008 

Brown's bolus of wankers.

In his diaries on the fall of Margaret Thatcher, Alan Clark wrote that she had been brought down by a "bolus of wankers". With her fall, despite their subsequent re-election two years later, the Conservatives descended into the battles and in-fighting, mainly over Europe, which led to the landslide Labour win in 1997.

Any historian will tell you that despite Marx's remarks, history tends not to repeat itself, although it does at times look strangely as if it is. Likewise, although it's difficult to come up with a better collective noun than Clark's for those currently doing their best to knife Gordon Brown when he's at his lowest ebb, it's probably already too late for Labour's chances to revive. Regardless, the money-grubbing being displayed by Cherie Blair, John Prescott and Lord Levy while Frank Field has decided to abandon the pretence of caring about the 10p top rate to just nakedly wield the dagger is doing the kind of damage which the Tories must be rubbing their hands with glee about.

As Michael White writes, much of the "revelations" in the serialisations over the weekend aren't new, or even that interesting. Prescott says that he told Blair to sack Gordon and Gordon to resign and fight him from the backbenches; neither did because as both they and Prescott doubtless knew, to do so would rip the party in half, and when it came down to it, unity was more important than their short-term gain. More damagingly, but not especially shocking were his comments that Brown could "go off like a volcano," and be "frustrating, annoying, bewildering and prickly." Quite unlike Prescott himself of course, the amiable working class lad who didn't do anything to damage the Labour party during his time in office. The real question is why ministers are then dispatched to defend Gordon from such remarks on his temperament: we all know about his moodiness, especially when Blair was coming up with another half-baked, hare-brained policy to throw to the tabloids, so why bother denying it and make Gordon out to be something he isn't? Again, if anything Prescott's memoirs add to the reasons to why Brown was right to feel aggrieved: he confirms that Blair reneged on a number of occasions to promises to stand down.

That ought to put Cherie and her comments on Brown's metaphorical(?) "rattling of No.10's keys over Tony's head" in a different light. Undoubtedly, it's her memoirs, apparently moved forward from their scheduled publishing in October because Cherie delivered her copy early, which isn't an entirely satisfying answer, which have the most potential for damage because she unlike either Prescott or Levy was closest (obviously) to both the prime minister and to Brown. One moment she claims Blair would have gone had Brown been willing to implement his precious reforms; the next she says that Blair was in fact determined to stay on because if he resigned prior to the 2005 election that history would decide he had been forced out because of Iraq. It's either one or the other. Most of the attention though has instead been drawn to the more interesting to the Scum demographic stories of the conception of Leo and subsequent miscarriage, which, almost unbelievably, was then used as the excuse why they weren't going on holiday instead of raising suspicions that something was about to happen in Iraq, a snippet that probably gives you more insight into the Downing Street spin machine than anything in Alastair Campbell's diaries. No one would begrudge Cherie putting her side across after the hysterical press coverage against her, but so far she doesn't actually seems to have done that; rather, she seems to be taken most with defending her husband. The serialisation is being stretched out over a whole week, suggesting it might well be another running sore just at the time when Brown doesn't need one.

The most shameless abuse has undoubtedly came from both Levy and Field, however. Levy appeared on the sofa that Brown had previously sat on last week, when Andrew Marr put across questions that previously might have been felt as below the belt; this week Levy was thrown the softest of balls, allowed once again to make his allegation that it would be "inconceivable" if Brown hadn't known about the dodgy loans, something which he has absolutely no evidence to back up and which is understandably making Downing Street furious. Here's the man who might well have offered "Ks and Ps" and whom the police thought should have been prosecuted, and he's the one currently raking it in despite his already overwhelming wealth and doing his best to disparage seemingly everyone formerly considered a friend.

It's the rehabilitation of Field which has been the most curious. Sacked after only a year, everyone assumes because Brown disagreed with his policies on welfare reform, he's spent the past ten years fulminating about how he's been right and everyone else wrong, becoming increasingly embittered, writing nonsensical, illogical and ignorant articles for CiF, and some thought even close to defecting to the Conservatives, who were starting to seem a more natural home. To his credit he noticed from the start the 10p tax rate debacle, but as the aphorism goes, even a stopped clock tells the right time twice a day. It's one thing to be dignified and persistent in standing up for some of the most vulnerable who have lost out, even if in the past you've advocated being even harsher to some of the even more vulnerable on benefits, it's another to then postulate with apparent glee that your old adversary might shortly be heading for the knacker's yard, and that he should consult those he most loves over whether to continue in the job.

This ramshackle bunch, including Stephen Byers, another Blairite who knows what's best now that he can't tell any more lies about Railtrack, don't have much in common other than that they are almost all either yesterday's men or women, all now sucking the last teat of either infamy or wealth before their "star" wanes completely. If their stories or advice had all come at different times, rather than altogether where it can easily be constructed into a narrative of infighting and blood-letting, then they might have had little real impact. Instead, their collective strength has been to wound Brown just when he needs to be seen as recovering. Few people care whether Brown is "frustrating" or liable to "go off like a volcano" as long as he can be seen to be both competent, in control and strong. At the moment both he and those around them appear to be in flux, unable to move on while the vultures seem to be getting ever closer. This is half the reason why Cameron is ahead on every rating rather than because of any real huge difference between the two.

For Brown, it is something approaching a tragedy. As even Blair said, it was never ignoble to want the top job, even if it is slightly abnormal. It isn't, as his detractors state, that he's waited all this time and when he's finally got there he's found he's not up to the job; it's rather than he was both left waiting too long and that the tide itself has turned. He has made mistakes, on the 10p rate, not nationalising Northern Rock sooner and on the election that never was, but let's be sensible for half a second here: they don't even begin to compare with Blair's, especially the one which will now never leave either him or us alone for a long time to come. Brown himself noted that chancellors either failed or they got out in time, and it seems that for him it's been that he hasn't got out in time as prime minister itself. He most definitely has plenty to answer for, but his own bolus of wankers have even more to explain.

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Saturday, May 10, 2008 

Forgetting your roots.

You can always rely on Martin Kettle to do the talking of the Blairites who are otherwise too cowardly to stick their heads above the parapet. Having defended Blair for years after he should have gone, he's now openly stating he thinks Brown should go when he hasn't even been in the job for a year; or rather, as he's more subtle than that, those who he's "talked to" think that Gordon isn't up to it. The best part though has to be his concluding paragraph:

The best thing I read in this spirit this week was at the start of a Progress magazine article by Charles Clarke. In his house, he said, he used to have a poster quoting the American trade unionist Samuel Gompers, headed, "What does Labor Want?". The answer, set out by Gompers, was: "We want more school houses and less jails; more books and less arsenals; more learning and less vice; more constant work and less crime; more leisure and less greed; more justice and less revenge; in fact more opportunities to cultivate our better natures." Not bad as a first draft of what Labour needs to be to face the future and move on.

Which sets out exactly where the party led by Blair which Kettle apparently mourns for went wrong: it tried to do both what Gompers said there should be more of and more of what he thought there should be less of. While extra funding has gone on education and health, equally more jails have been built and more wars have been fought and supported; crime has fallen and leisure encouraged while greed has been celebrated; and while the human rights act was introduced, liberty itself has been reduced and revenge rather than true justice appeased. That Clarke was part of the government that tried to do both, and indeed, as Home Secretary tried to introduce 90 days detention without charge for terrorist suspects, the summation of all that has been wrong with Labour's triangulation policies, makes his sudden remembering of his old Labour past all the more fatuous.

Better reading and advice is provided on the very same page of the Grauniad, with Jon Cruddas increasingly looking like around the only remaining member of the Labour party that actually gets it.

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Friday, May 09, 2008 

The lying lies and dirty secrets of Ms Nadine Dorries MP.

By her own admission, Nadine Dorries MP is a liar. Back in March she presented an known urban myth as an emotional case for why the current abortion limit of 24 weeks should be cut to 20 weeks, and when this was pointed out to her, she responded by making arguments that only exposed her ignorance. Dorries has a long record of never apologising and never admitting that she has made mistakes: last year she accused Ben Goldacre of "a serious breach of parliamentary procedure" after he downloaded information from a parliamentary committee's website which Dorries thought he had obtained from a committee member, something for which she never apologised for and when asked when she was going to do so on her blog she removed the comments sections. She additionally, after accusing Caroline Flint among other MPs of having been "bought by the abortion industry", a claim rejected by the parliamentary standards commission, not only refused to apologise to Flint after she confronted her but crowed about not doing so on her "blog".

Dorries is therefore the perfect figurehead for the "20 reasons for 20 weeks" campaign, a coalition of Conservative MPs with single token Liberal Democrat and Labour supporters, along with religious, mainly Christian anti-abortion organisations. Like her, they rely on abusing, misinterpreting and distorting available information for their views, or alternatively, on the evidence of individual doctors which has been called into question by others. As well as that, in order to not come across as opposing abortion in all circumstances, something which would result in their campaign becoming an even damper squib than it already is, they instead claim to be pro-choice but feel that the current limit is too long as more foetuses survive beyond the 20 week mark.

The only problem with this is that little by little, their real views are being exposed. The already noted lone Labour supporter of the 20 weeks campaign, Jim Dobbin, is in fact in favour of a 13-week limit, but regards the current campaign as being a step towards that. He is also, coincidentally, opposed to contraception. The Christian Medical Fellowship openly states that this is just the first step towards the abolition of the right to abortion altogether. CARE currently has a news article up on their web site expressing their horror at the European Parliament passing a resolution which states "
that women have a right to access safe and legal abortion, and calls on all member states to decriminalise abortion 'within reasonable gestational limits'". Christian Concern for Our Nation, whose website is the most clap-happy and even more religiously inclined than the Evangelical Alliance's is, urge their members to pray for "a great miracle" when the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill goes through the Commons. Coincidentally, a founder member of CCON is the man behind the 20 weeks' website, directly linking Dorries, who has mostly eschewed religious dogma in her personal campaign, with them. The LIFE charity only supports abortion where the life of the mother herself is threatened. The Prolife Alliance, as one would expect, is also completely opposed to abortion (PDF).

Perhaps those organisations might then be surprised to learn that Dorries herself, when a Conservative parliamentary candidate for Hazel Grove, campaigned on a pro-choice platform. It's not clear whether Dorries at the time was in favour of the limit as it stands, or whether it's just another example of her being wholly disingenuous, as she claimed, when questioned on her current views last year on the Spectator website, to favour a 9-week limit, even lower than that of Dobbin. She was also formerly a director of BUPA, one of the companies she now accuses of being part of the "abortion industry".

Unfortunately for Dorries, the shit over her underhand means is likely to hit the fan if not this weekend, then certainly next week. Dorries' website and blog is funded from the incidental expenses provision, the rules of which clearly state that such funds should not be used for campaigning on the behalf of a political party or a personal cause: Dorries' website is chock-full of her doing just that, the most egregious examples her vindictive posts on female pro-choice Labour MPs. A complaint to the commissioner for parliamentary standards is in the offing.

Meanwhile, Dorries has been highly vexed by the latest research published in the British Medical Journal, as reported today in the Grauniad and elsewhere. Like in the Epicure 2 study, this found that while the survival rates of babies born at 24 and 25 weeks is improving, there was no statistical improvement in those born at 23 and 22 weeks. At 23 weeks 18% survived; at 22 weeks none did. Her response to this peer-reviewed study, which completely blows her argument that neo-natal survival rates are increasing out of the water, was to say:

"I think this report insults the intelligence of the public and MPs alike. No improvement in neonatal care in 12 years? Really? So where has all the money that has been pumped into neonatal services gone then?" She called the study "the most desperate piece of tosh produced by the pro-choice lobby."

As BD says, the study actually does show that neonatal care has improved, just at 24 and 25 weeks. As those against lowering the limit have consistently argued, this research backs up the point that the viability threshold has been reached, and that those that have survived at 22 weeks are extremely welcome but overall rare anomalies and blips. They do not support lowering the current limit as it stands.

That though, despite the 20 weeks' campaign's insistence, has never been what they really thought. They want abortion restricted no matter what the science and evidence suggests, and if it takes one step at a time and hiding their real arguments behind pseudo-scientific bluster, so be it. Out of all the MPs that this blog has covered over the last few years, it's safe to say that none (with the exception of dear Tony) has been as underhand, as genuinely unpleasant, manipulative, vindictive and dishonest as both Dorries has been and apparently is. She is both a disgrace to politics as a whole and a liability to the Conservative party. The crushing of her current malignant campaign will be just the first step of the fightback.

Related posts:
Laurie Penny - 24 reasons for 24 weeks

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How to defraud millions and get away with it part 2.

Credit where credit's due - all of the tabloids featured yesterday's news about ITV's fine on their front pages in some way or another, most likely because of the additional revelation that Ant and Dec took the people's choice award that was in fact rightfully Catherine Tate's. The Sun even managed to not mention the BBC once in their leader comment on the fine, something that must have taken real determination.

Most laughable and hypocritical reaction must go to the Daily Mail however, which screams "CAN YOU BELIEVE A THING YOU SEE ON TV?" Firstly, they must hope so, because the Mail's parent company owns 20% of ITN. Secondly, yet another incident involving the Mail and a blogger suggests that you can't in reality believe a thing that you read in the Mail:

On April 30th just after 3.30pm, I snatched up my phone and bit the bullet. I called up the journalist that had 'interviewed' me (I say this loosely) and expressed my upset at her not actually stating that she was interviewing me and my concern that I would be included in a feature about revenge, which is not what I, or this blog are about. I told her quite shrilly (I was stressed for fecks sake) that I did NOT want to open the paper and see something like "Blogger gets revenge on ex with her blog!" or some other pathetic headline.

I went onto the Daily Mails supposed section for women yesterday and actually nearly threw up in shock!

"Don't get mad, get E-VENGE!"

It's even worse in the paper where just in case the Daily Mail hadn't quite put the full boot into misrepresenting me and featuring me in article full of TWENTY SIX inaccuracies about me, they added a sub header of "It's the new mantra for women using the internet to take revenge on cheating men".

While obviously the best way to not get misrepresented by the Mail is to have nothing whatsoever to do with the stinking rag and her blog is the kind which I wouldn't even make my worst enemies read, getting twenty six separate things wrong about someone surely deserves some kind of award.

Doubtless tomorrow though the boot will be back on the other foot, due to the BBC Trust announcing that the corporation wrongly kept over £100,000 worth of money which should have gone to charity, even though the investigation by the Trust found that:

Lyons made it clear that senior staff within BBC Worldwide and the corporation did not know about the problem and nor did staff who worked on the affected programmes.

and the director general Mark Thompson said:

there was "no evidence" of any "impropriety or intention to defraud", adding that the £106,000 represented only 1.3% of the approximately £8m raised for charity through BBC telephone votes during the relevant period.
"All the money has been paid to the charities involved, with interest," Thompson added. "The oversight has been remedied. Clearly, this must never be allowed to happen again."

All very different to ITV's deliberate interference with competitions so that the most lively contestants would get on, or that only those in an already pre-decided area had a chance of winning. Don't expect that to come over in the reporting, however.

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Thursday, May 08, 2008 

Each society has - and creates - its own monsters.

The Josef Fritzl story has now been running for almost two weeks, and the tabloids show no sign of scaling back their coverage. That in itself is astonishing - it's almost unheard of for a story that doesn't in some way involve either Britons or Americans to keep the notoriously nationalistic press in such raptures for such a period of time. The last time such a story did capture the lurid and ghoulish imagination in such a way was when Natascha Kampusch escaped, conveniently for every tabloid writer in the land in the same country as Fritzl committed his perversions.

The story itself, all those involved, and the response to it both by the press and indeed those now under arrest could not be more suited to the modern media age. With Natascha Kampusch, the media assumed that she would be frightened, afraid and easily malleable, able to get all the juicy but suitably horrific details without much effort. As it turned out, despite her incarceration for 8 years, she proved to be a fiercely independent, intelligent young woman who refused to sell her story and asked the media to leave her alone. This time round everything has been different, possibly because the "monster" in this case declined to kill himself once his secret had been exposed. Both the Austrian police and Fritzl's lawyer have been more than helpful to the media, giving updates on how Elisabeth and her children are progressing, revealing that the younger ones don't so much speak as grunt, while Fritzl himself has been pouring his heart out, apparently informed of how the media have decided that he isn't an especially nice person and determined to prove that he loved his daughter and their children as only an incestuous father who locked them in the cellar can. There has been absolutely no room for subtlety, for any of the more unpleasant details which could be overlooked to be discarded, to let the complete unpleasantness of the case to be watered down and then the coverage scaled back. After all, if it didn't sell papers they wouldn't be saturated with it, would they?

If such diligence went into reporting the mechanics of the European Union, we might not be so ignorantly informed of it, and I hold myself in the category. It hasn't simply been enough though for the tabloids to publish the stomach-turning, blow-by-blow account of what Fritzl did to his daughter however; instead it's been open season on Austria as a whole. To an extent, this has been because the country itself has obviously been shocked to the core by one of its own citizens constructing a prison in his basement for his daughter without anyone becoming suspicious for 24 years, even while she apparently dumped her unwanted children on the doorstep without anyone ever catching a glimpse of her, but Austria's understandable introspection has been a boon to the armchair psychologists here. For most, it simply comes back to the Nazis, a view encouraged both by Fritzl himself, who in his latest dispatch has blamed his inclination for discipline and order on growing up during the Anschluss and second world war. Kampusch, in an interview with Newsnight, also suggested that the control and subjugation of women during the Nazi era might also have been a contributory factor. Again, this is partially to do with our own continuing obsession with WW2 and the Nazis as much as it is with Austria's own not as resounding renunciation and guilt for the crimes committed over 60 years ago. However much the years of Nazi rule still haunt Europe, to still be blaming them now for incredibly rare but brutally visceral crimes is a refusal to look not just as modern society, but also into the minds of both those responsible and the victims' themselves.

Of course, even doing that results mainly only in cod-psychological answers, and Fritzl's own bringing up of his mother will do nothing to alter the emerging stock Oedipal and Freudian explanations for his crime. It is at least more worthy than blaming Austrian society as a whole, as some of the press have taken to doing. According to them, as Brendan O'Neill writes, Austria is a look-away society; its inhabitants wary of too much familiarity, and they don't care about what's happening next door. Even if this were true, this is astounding hypocrisy from the likes of the Mail and the Sun, who when not feigning shock at the apparent indifference and lack of questioning by Fritzl's neighbours rail against the nanny state, social workers, local councils and anyone who denigrates from the view that an Englishman's home is his castle. O'Neill concludes with:

The truth is that the Fritzl horror reveals precisely nothing about the Austrian people - but the rabid reaction to the Fritzl horror reveals a great deal about the sense of loss, confusion, desperation and chauvinism amongst opinion-formers here at home.

The only part I would demure from is that while it may not tell us anything about the Austrian people as a whole, it will obviously tell us something about Austrian society. Those who go on to commit notorious crimes are shaped not just by their upbringing and their family but also by their country at large - and let's face it, we're hardly slouches in that regard. We can go all the way back to Jack the Ripper, whose crimes in effect created the media obsession with murder and killers, but our more modern "monsters", if viewed through the same prism as Austria is currently being judged by, hardly show us up as being any less guilty. From Myra Hindley and Ian Brady to Peter Sutcliffe, Dennis Nielsen, Colin Ireland and perhaps most pertinently, Fred and Rose West, in most of the cases warning signs were ignored, or those nearby didn't suspect anything, even if they thought their neighbours were a bit strange or different. The closest we've perhaps come to Austria's current mood and navel-gazing was the James Bulger case, which like Fritzl's was an almost uniquely terrible and perplexing crime which has not been repeated. If anything, that crime led to the "prison works" mantra and our continuing obsession with locking ever more individuals up, despite all the evidence to the contrary and the fact that Bulger's killers were released after what were only relatively short sentences.

Furthermore, all nations have their own inherited monsters, whose cases and crimes continue to shock generation after generation: America has Jeffrey Dahmer and Ted Bundy, not to mention the more recent, even more troubling school shooting killers such as Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, and last year, Seung-Hui Cho; Japan has Futoshi Matsunaga and Tsutomu Miyazaki; Belgium has Marc Dutroux; France Michel Fourniret and Russia Andrei Chikatilo. We ourselves have the ignoble distinction of having Harold Shipman, possibly the serial killer with the highest number of victims which we know about. There was little questioning of society as a whole when his crimes were exposed; rather, it was the health service that was called into question. As Stuart Jeffries has written, perhaps our lack of mulling over such crimes tells us more about ourselves than it does the Austrians. Even after Diana, which some saw as the moment when the cliched stiff-upper lip was shed, our capability for self-criticism has not developed in such a way. Sure we're renowned for our self-deprecation, and we can why-oh-why about how our public services are rubbish, but when it comes to us ourselves we're far more defensive. Back when Steve Wright was committing his crimes in Ipswich, a town which could be described similarly to how Amstetten has been if you were so inclined, the slightest amount of questioning about how those women came to be on the street was answered by the likes of Richard Littlejohn who declared we were not all guilty and that the death of the five prostitutes was no great loss. Elsewhere, the liberals were (inevitably) those who got the blame. At the time the Sun complained about how some of the coverage was more sensitively referring to the women as "sex workers"; once the trial was out of the way and political capital was to be made, one of those women's mothers was used to demand the restoration of capital punishment and removal of the human rights act, two of the policies that might just signify our move towards a more civilised society.

Partly this is because our current fears have moved on from killers such as Wright, and even paedophiles such as Ian Huntley to that other bogeyman: the binge drinking, ferret-faced yob, ready to kick anyone to death for so much as looking at them in the wrong way. Similarly though, we care little about why the yob is why he is; all the debate is on what should be done to them after the event or what the punishment should be when they first step out of line, with epithets such as Broken Britain being thrown in when they know it isn't true but is a catchy soundbite. Hence why Fritzl is so attractive to the tabloids: an incredibly easy story to cover without having to get into such unpleasantries as thinking about ourselves and where we're going when we can do the same about the foreigners who are yet to get beyond their Nazi heritage. Even the recent Shannon Matthews case, rather than wondering about how estate had got how it had, or whether it really was as bad as they were making out instead concentrated on how awful they were rather than anything towards a solution. Thinking takes time; relying on prejudices takes moments.

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How to defraud millions and get away with it.

Ofcom have fined ITV £5.675m for their scandalous abuse of premium-rate phonelines to some of their most popular programmes. Last year, when it was reported that ITV had in all conned those who had rang in out of £7.8 million, the same newspapers which had gone crazy at the BBC over their own fakery scandals, almost all of which were with the intention of keeping the programme going rather than deliberately misleading the public for fraudulent purposes almost entirely ignored the story. The Mirror was the only one to lead with it; the Mail instead ran with "BBC TO SCREEN MORE REPEATS", the schedule apparently being more of an outrage than ITV wilfully lying and stealing from its viewers.

It'll be instructive to note if the pattern is repeated tomorrow, especially seeing that the publishing of Ofcom's ruling has exposed another even more serious deception: the public vote at the 2005 comedy awards for the people's choice award being completely ignored, with the gong going to err, ITV's own Ant and Dec rather than the real winner Catherine Tate because Robbie Williams would apparently only present it if it went to them. The real issue here though is obvious: if the BBC so much as puts a foot wrong, it gets savaged by those diametrically opposed to almost everything it does, even if no one really lost out, the corporation apologies profusely, as it did over the ridiculous "Crowngate" affair which wasn't even its own fault and if those ultimately responsible lose their jobs, as Peter Fincham did. How different to ITV, where no one has been sacked and no one has resigned, and everyone simply just wants to move on, including apparently the newspapers so disturbed by the BBC's offences against the general public. As Ian Hislop once said, if this is justice, I'm a banana.

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Wednesday, May 07, 2008 

You better hope you don't smoke the reefer.

It's incredibly hard to articulate in words just how mindbogglingly stupid the government's decision to reclassify cannabis as a "Class B" drug is. Let's put it this way - if you repeatedly dropped a baby on its head from a height which didn't crack its skull open but did understandably adversely affect its intelligence, then supplied that child throughout its lifetime with only Ayn Rand books, the Daily Mail, and GMTV for intellectual stimulation, then through your connections sent him to work at Goldman Sachs before he progressed to becoming prime minister through freak luck, not even he, so mentally stunted that he couldn't even tie his shoelaces without needing the help of a civil servant, would not think that making cannabis a Class B drug again would be a good idea.

That's the kind of level of abject intellectual poverty we're dealing with here. There's Gordon Brown, the acclaimed brainbox behind Britain's prospering economy, so intelligent that he went to university at sixteen, and he comes out with such insultingly idiotic statements regarding the "lethal quality" of cannabis that it almost makes you wonder if this isn't just him openly prostituting himself to Paul Dacre as bending over and opening himself up so that the entire Mail team can have a go. We have "Wacky" Jacqui Smith, an Oxford graduate, who has herself admitted to use of cannabis back in her care-free youth before she realised that the drug is in fact incredibly dangerous and that one puff can kill you stone-dead, having the audacity to stand up in front of parliament and announce that she's accepting every recommendation of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs' report - except the one which says the drug should remain at Class C, because "[she] must err on the side of caution and protect the public."

The sort of doublethink this requires would have utterly delighted Orwell. Here's a drug where the links between mental illness are in the words of ACMD "weak but probable", and so it needs to not just be illegal, as it was under Class C, but to be in Class B, where simple possession of the tiniest amount could potentially lead to your imprisonment for five years. The chances of that happening are minuscule, but then we need to err on the side of caution and warn the public, don't we? The ACMD says that cannabis is a "significant public health issue" which is true; but then so is the use of tobacco and alcohol. The links between tobacco and numerous types of cancer are not just weak but probable but firmly established. Likewise, the link between alcohol and liver cirrhosis and other illnesses are not just weak but probable but firmly established, not to mention the link between alcohol and public disorder across towns and cities across the country every weekend. The Lancet's own attempt at drawing up a rational scale to assess the harm caused by drugs found that both alcohol and tobacco should be ranked higher than cannabis. By the same yardstick being used to measure the harm of cannabis, alcohol and tobacco should both be either Class B or even Class A controlled substances, but neither cause is likely to be taken up by the Daily Mail.

Quite how this issue has been resurrected and reanimated time and time again since David Blunkett took the ACMD's advice back in 2004 and downgraded cannabis is in itself bewildering but instructive. Nothing whatsoever has been learned or discovered in the last 4 years that ought to change the status quo - instead, what has occurred has been a hysterical, unbelievably misleading media campaign, led not just by the Daily Mail, but also by those who really ought to know better on the Independent on Sunday. We've been told that the cannabis on the streets today is not the average two and a half times stronger than the traditional "soapbar" Moroccan resin which up until very recently made up the vast majority of the market, but instead 25 times or even 30 times stronger. We've been told that smoking just one cannabis joint increases the risk of developing schizophrenia by 41%, when the actual study in fact found that an "average user" of cannabis faced an increased risk of developing a "psychotic outcome" by 0.4%. We've been told that despite all the evidence to the contrary, that cannabis can be directly linked to the deaths of at least 3 people, ignoring all the side issues and other factors entirely.

Perhaps the most shocking fact about this most egregious of u-turns is that by any standard, the downgrading of cannabis to Class C has worked as it was intended to. The police themselves supported the original decision, having become fed up to the back teeth with having to deal with individuals with tiny amounts of the drug on them when it was a complete waste of time; as a result of their confiscate and warn policy instituted after the downgrading, countless hours have been freed up to go after real criminals. The numbers of those taking the drug over the last few years have dropped according to the British Crime Survey, from 28.2% of 16-24-year-olds who admitted to cannabis use in 1998-9, to 21.4% in 2005-6. The police's new concern, that organised crime is moving in to cannabis production, with Vietnamese gangs being the ones fingered is almost certainly nothing to do with the downgrading but with the economic realities on the ground. It's no longer worth the hassle to import the old resin or different varieties when it can be so easily grown in converted houses, often with the electricity for the hydroponic systems being stolen as well. They can also earn more for the stronger varieties, which is why they are being increasingly grown, although there are also indications that various (incredibly dangerous) ploys are being employed to make it look as if the buds have a higher THC content than they actually do, as it takes longer to grow the plants to their full strength.

That last statistic shows exactly how many young people this change in the law will further criminalise and put in danger of having their lives potentially ruined purely because of their choice to consume a substance which affects absolutely no one other than themselves. 1 in 5 use it; if they don't, then they will certainly know a friend or acquittance who does. The change in the law and the spurious sending of messages will do nothing whatsoever to stop them using it, but what it will do is further disenfranchise them and put them further at risk of having the weight of the law fall on them for no greater purpose except to please Paul Dacre. The hope was that even if the change in classification went ahead that the police themselves would continue with their current policy, something that everyone at the ACMD meeting supported even if they wanted the classification changed. None of them wanted more young people to be criminalised, yet that is exactly what the government is proposing with its system of "escalating penalties" with first-time offenders also increasingly likely to be arrested under Labour's plans.

Let's not pretend however that if even the government had taken the ACMD's advice that it would have been a happy outcome. The entire classification system is a joke, based on nothing more than prejudice and political short-termism rather than actual evidence. How on earth can a system which has MDMA, LSD and magic mushrooms in the same category as street heroin and crack cocaine be taken seriously? The only solution to the entire drugs problem which underpins the vast majority of crime is to abandon the lunacy of prohibition and come to a position where addicts are either treated or provided with the drug by the state in lieu of weaning them off it. Cannabis, and the aforementioned other drugs in Class A should be regulated, age-restricted and taxed, with full education on the dangers of them provided in schools. It's time to take the entire market out of the hands of criminals, end the absurd, doomed to failure drugs "war" and be both reasonable and sensible about our dependency on all chemical highs. The taboos and myths all have to be tackled.

The former is of course a fantasy which couldn't possibly seem further away, and one which we cannot possibly know would work, mainly because we haven't been allowed to try it. The one abiding message about today's reclassification, apart from how it proves that when Gordon said he would listen, he meant he would continue to listen to the tabloids, at least when he wants to hear them, is that it shows just how much both politicians and Labour continue to hate the young. It's to be expected from the Daily Mail, which yearns for the 1950s to return, but this is a government increasingly made up of those who are only just approaching middle age. They surely remember their more hell-raising days, when they binge-drinked, smoked pot and even probably broke the law in more serious ways, yet they only listen to those who seem to have an ever increasing loathing for them. According to UNICEF we're the worst western country for children to grow up in, and it's not because of our addictions to self-fulfilment, but because the young are increasingly regarded as either annoyances, or at the most extreme end of the scale, yobs ready to kick the older generation to death. Is it any wonder when their lives are increasingly miserable for various reasons that they do turn to both alcohol and drugs? Until Labour gets to grips with why we are an unhappy society, and increasing crackdowns on crime and the young for so much as daring to gather on street corners are eschewed in favour of ending the casual criminalisation of an entire generation, then the problems that go hand in hand with them will continue to be false issues flashed up which demand pointless messages to be sent.

Related posts from the ever excellent Transform blog:
Millions quit cannabis following reclassification
Miserable re-classification saga enters its final furlong

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Tuesday, May 06, 2008 

Labour's "relaunch" and what it ought to do.

Never fear Labour supporters, here's the latest messiah to solve all the party's problems in one fall swoop:

Purnell will declare today that Labour can still beat the Tories in the fight against poverty because it is willing to stump up the money and is committed to tax credits.

"Both their goal and their policies are just aspirations," Purnell will say.

Mocking the Conservatives' approach, he will say: "It would be nice to reduce child poverty. It would be nice to put more money into the working tax credit. But nice isn't good enough. Until they pass the test of hardening their commitment and costing their policy, they cannot claim to be committed to ending child poverty."

Ah, yes, child poverty. It's strange how this government's modest redistribution, so modest that it may have lifted some children out of poverty but has done nothing whatsoever to alter overall inequality, only gets mentioned when the going gets really tough. It screams of desperation, of someone begging their lover not to walk out the door, bumbling, "but, but, look at all we've done for the poor kids!" In any case, Labour's pledge to end child poverty is just as much an aspiration as the Conservatives' policy announcements are: it's simply unattainable and completely unrealistic without far more targeted help being provided, and Labour doesn't have either the will or the funds to do it with. The less said about tax credits, the most hopeless and over-egged panacea of all time, the better.

The whole Grauniad article on Purnell's rallying-cry is about as accurate a distillation as you could get of where Labour is still getting it hopelessly wrong. It treats us first to what this fight-back amounts to:

· An intensification of the government's implementation of the Australian-style points-based system which will tighten the criteria for foreign workers hoping to take up skilled jobs in Britain. Liam Byrne, the immigration minister, will attempt to outflank the Tories by saying that British jobseekers will "get the first crack of the whip", while only those foreign workers needed - and no more - will be allowed entry.

· A £78m boost for schools in disadvantaged areas of Greater Manchester and the Black Country to target funds at those where fewer than 30% of the pupils achieve five good GCSEs including English and maths.

· Senior Labour MPs said one of Gordon Brown's most serious embarrassments - his failure to appoint a general secretary of the Labour party - would be resolved. Ray Collins, a senior figure in the Transport and General Workers' section of the Unite union, is expected to be appointed after winning the support of Brown, who sees him as a unifying figure.

This is what it all adds up to then: flagellating the darkies a little harder for the benefit of the tabloids, parachuting in cash to schools where the Labour vote mostly held up, and err, appointing a new general secretary of the party itself. It's going to knock them bandy!

Just to add to the fun, there's Ed Balls with his own detailed analysis:
Ed Balls, the schools secretary, yesterday signalled a tougher approach by the government when he pledged to dissect Tory policies line by line now that David Cameron is seen as the prime minister in waiting.

"In every area we will challenge and scrutinise the Conservative position and expose their determination to protect excellence for the few and oppose our reforms to deliver excellence and opportunity for all," he said.

There's the whole problem in a nutshell. Labour is so concerned by what the Tories are doing that it's forgotten that it ought to be selling itself and developing new policies instead of "dissecting" the opposition's line by line. You weren't voted into power to attack and stalk the opposition; you were voted in to govern. Forget what they're doing and get on with showing why you deserve to remain in government, and you don't when you come up with such specious claptrap as claiming that your reforms have delivered excellence and opportunity for all when they clearly have not. There couldn't be a better example than Lord Darzi and Labour's apparent desire for the all-singing and all-dancing polyclinics: here's the party that claims it wants to engender choice while doing away with local GP services with almost no consultation whatsoever, leaving the Tories with the biggest open goal ever. Labour doesn't just want to shut your post office, they want to shut your GP surgery and possibly even your hospital too! It might not be entirely true, but it hits home.

It's really come to something when it's Charles Clarke of all people who is talking the most sense:

In his article, Clarke suggested a number of policy modifications, including a resolution of the 10p tax debacle, abandoning the extension of detention without trail [sic] to 42 days (intended for terrorism suspects), accepting House of Lords proposals on women's pensions, and suspending the "over-bureaucratic" review of post offices.

The problem with abandoning 42 days now is that it makes Gordon Brown look even weaker. 42 days is his initiative, borne of his apparent determination to be just as "tough on terror" as Blair was, just at the moment that the majority of the right-wing press has decided that such methods are counter-productive, the Sun being around the only newspaper which still supports the measure. If it was meant to show the Tories as being soft or to wrong-foot them, then it's failed miserably, especially as it seems that unless Brown wants to be defeated he'll need to drop the plans completely, concessions being unacceptable when it will still mean the prospect of those entirely innocent being held at the whim of the police for over a month. The Conservatives don't look weak; their arguments have held up while his have been left wanting, even if the public itself is supportive.

Clarke doesn't have a monopoly on getting it mostly right, however:

Looking ahead to May 22's key Crewe and Nantwich byelection, Clarke said that Labour's "all-consuming priority" should be to ensure that the defeat in the local elections was not repeated in the 2010 general election.

That would require changing Labour's recent, erratic short-term politics that had led to the "entirely unjustified" charge that Labour was mimicking Conservative proposals or following demands of the rightwing press, he said.

No, Labour's all-consuming priority should be governing and developing policy, not concentrating on winning an election two years' off. How Clarke can also claim that Labour isn't mimicking Conservative proposals or following the demands of the rightwing press when while he was Home Secretary one of his chief tasks was asking how high when the tabloids said jump is also beyond parody.

Clarke's obsession with power for power's sake is another of New Labour's emerging neuroses. Like the Conservatives after being dumped out in 97, they've came to the conclusion that they're the natural party of government, and that being voted out, or even the possibility of it is not so much a reflection on them but on the voters themselves. They've fallen into the same old trap of becoming the new establishment, and then when faced with the gathering storm fall into denial, buck-passing and outright bribery. Additionally, as with Boris Johnson, Labour is still making the mistake of both underestimating and slandering the Conservative leadership; yes, Cameron and Osborne might be public schoolboys and the product of Oxbridge, but then so was Tony Blair, and one or the other also applies to the vast majority of the cabinet. It's no coincidence that Alan Johnson, the former postman, received a standing ovation at the nurses' conference last week while Patricia Hewitt, the most patronising woman in politics was heckled and barracked on her last visit. Another man with the common touch, Jon Cruddas, said much the same in a Times interview today.

As previously noted, there isn't much that Labour can do to turn it around because the damage is almost certainly terminal. To even have a half-chance however, or to at least get past the Crewe by-election, it needs to either reverse the 10p tax rate abolition entirely or make completely crystal clear down to the last detail how it intends to compensate those that have lost out. It needs to stop worrying about what the Conservatives are doing and make clear what it is doing, beyond such bland generalities from Brown as feeling the hurt and pain as the economic downturn bites. Brown ought to swallow what remains of his pride and drop 42 days, which would be entirely the right thing to do however much short term pain it causes him. He could go further by scrapping ID cards, abandoning the increasingly irrelevant "rights and responsibilities" constitutional changes which couldn't seem more foolish, and as a further gesture that would signal real change, bring home the remaining troops from Basra. Then they could fully concentrate on, as Bob Piper suggests, pensioner poverty and social housing. All of this might do nothing more than staunch the bleeding without healing the wound, but it would be a start. There is however no sign whatsoever that even these small steps will be taken up, and with them the Conservatives will only continue to watch and wait.

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Monday, May 05, 2008 

He just doesn't get it.

Poor old Gordon - he just doesn't get it, does he?

He also touched on the possible reasons for the election debacle. "Perhaps I've spent too little time thinking about how we can get our arguments across to the public," he told the Andrew Marr Show. "And now of course I think people are saying, look can you show us that you can come through these difficult situations. And I believe we will."

No Gordon, the public have heard your arguments and they've deciding they're wanting. It's not that they haven't got across; it's that they're not the ones they agree with any longer. Lenin has got it right, it's not that New Labour is dead, it's that it's undead: shuffling around, refusing to go when its time has come to an end. The only solution now is to put a bullet through its brain, as if that hadn't been done metaphorically on numerous times already.

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Scum-watch: Women! Know your limits!

Man your moral panic stations! Some women in drinking nearly as much as some men shock! In a follow-up to the no shit Sherlock freedom of information request by Channel 4 News that revealed that, horror of horrors, more women are being arrested for being drunk and disorderly, the Sun has taken to the streets of major cities and found that, incredibly, there are women in them and that they seem to have imbibed intoxicating liquor. See and suffer:

A YOUNG woman vomits in the gutter in an ugly but momentary pause during a boozy night out.

On another street, in a different city, another woman who is too drunk to stand is helped into an ambulance.

She doesn’t know where she is, but she could be in any town in Binge Britain as the “fairer” sex go out to play.

You have to hand it to Martin Phillips, the apparent aggregator of this lowest form of "journalism": he's not even bothered to hide the hectoring, misogynistic tone beneath a veneer of faux concern. Women? Not at home? Drinking alcohol? Not knowing their limits? This cannot be allowed to pass muster!

Nearby, Gemma, 18, has lost her taxi fare and is trying to get some cash.

She does herself no favours as she tells passers-by: “If you give me a fiver I’ll show you my t*ts.”

Now, if the Sun really cared about Gemma's situation, it would have given her the money, said don't descend to that level, and left it at that. Instead it's a wonderful crystallisation of everything wrong with Binge Britain.

Wait, it gets even more pathetic:


Reveller Lauren McNiven and ten of her mates have hit the town to celebrate a friend’s birthday.

They started drinking at 7pm and usually stay out until 3.30am, she says.

Student Lauren, 21, who is about to qualify as a primary school teacher, adds that they never get into trouble but she admits she will have up to 11 glasses of wine or spirits on a night out.

At around midnight, barefoot teenagers in colourful dresses lurch from bar to nightclub along Sauchiehall Street and Queen Street, narrowly avoiding shards of glass strewn along the pavement.

Police flood into the area to head off trouble before it starts.

The Sun goes in search of drunk women in Glasgow, and it still didn't manage to find any! The best it can manage is someone who drinks a fair amount and a group of girls who avoid glass on the deck. Still, got to make up the word count somehow, haven't you?

And so it continues. Young women throwing up, flashing, with the Sun taking advantage of the situation by taking photographs of at least one such example. If there was some sort of comment in the article on exactly why so many spend their weekends getting out of their heads, there might just be some sort of justification for such puerile voyeurism; that however might result in some truths hitting too close to home for the Sun to take, having to consider that maybe our capitalist, consumerist society isn't the paradise that the newspaper makes it out to be.

There is of course also a hypocrisy here which is an inch thick: the newspaper which so worships the female form and the freedoms which go with it, yet which is repulsed when those self-same young women they endlessly feature then dare to exercise their freedom in a different way. Or indeed, how it adores publishing the photographs of celebrities falling out of clubs and the opportunity that presents for taking those special shots, the ones up their dresses, but which is disgusted when normal young people are seen doing the same thing. The showbiz pages also run a "Caner's League", and one of first acts of new Bizarre editor Gordon Smart was to celebrate Cheryl Cole's "liver punishment" while admiring her "bangers". That though is all so very different from others taking it too far. We could of course also remember an embarrassing incident involving the Sun's own editor when she had too much to drink, but that would be descending to their level. Still, it's nothing a night in the cells doesn't fix, right?

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Saturday, May 03, 2008 

Why Ken lost to Boris.

There's only one thing that's less attractive than gloating, and that's petulance and sulking. While some Tories are gloating, some on the left are throwing their toys out of the pram, and most of all, it comes back to two separate but connected ideas: that Boris is a joke and some of those who voted for him did so directly because of this; and secondly, that Boris will be a disaster. Watching Boris over the weeks leading up to the election proved that he is not a joke, a buffoon, or an idiot, if he ever was. He was not a match for Ken in my eyes, but well over a hundred thousand other individuals thought different. Moreover, those performances persuaded a huge number of voters that he would not be a disaster, and what's more, despite his stewardship of the Spectator through the more rough times, his constituency work shows that although the job of London Mayor is a huge step up, he ought to be a match for it. Pretending that he was otherwise was the first major mistake, and one that a lot are still making.

Apart from not taking Boris seriously, why else did Ken lose?

1) The 8 years factor. If 8 years is long enough for the US President, then it's enough for the London Mayor. It would be different if, like in the national election, you were voting for a party rather than an individual, but this was a battle primarily fought on personalities. Ken was always going to suffer from the "change" factor. Ken doesn't deserve any blame for trying for a third term, but it was always going to be a uphill struggle.

2) The assiduous work of Lynton Crosby in targeting the suburbs worked fantastically well, the turnout rising while Ken's constituencies were more apathetic. Ken's people worked extraordinarily hard, but in the end they just couldn't match it.

3) Genuine distaste for Ken. This went far beyond the cliched stereotypical few who hated him from the beginning -- his lack of humility up until he finally was beaten made it ever more difficult to sympathise with him. Calling a Jewish Evening Standard journalist a concentration camp guard and not apologising for it? Urging businessmen who weren't Iranian to take their chances with the Ayatollahs? Not dispatching Lee Jasper until the damage had been done, while alleging that all those who were questioning him were racist? His complete and utter, disgraceful defence of Ian Blair? All of these things hurt, and they added up over time.

4) The festering sore which was the Evening Standard's coverage. If this had been the equivalent of the Sun in 1992, then it wouldn't have made any difference. Instead this was the constant drip-drip-drip of real scandal, hyperbole and smear, going on over a number of months. As Toynbee said in one of her rare moments of clarity, those voting may not actually read the paper, but they do so the billboards all over London, and they get under the skin.

5) Lack of real difference with Boris over policy. Yes, Ken's policies on transport and housing were significantly different, but elsewhere Boris was forced over time as Sunny argues onto Livingstone's territory. This further forced the emphasis onto the personalities, and Johnson in contrast to Ken was fresh and worth a gamble on.

6) The monumental cock-up over the Olympics' cost. Londoners are going to be paying for this millstone around their necks for years to come, and while Livingstone was at least more honest about it than the obscurantist which is Tessa Jowell, he was still partly responsible.

7) Transport. As much as Ken had success on transport, for those without an Oyster card £4.00 for one trip on the Tube is obscene, while bendy buses, although seemingly an arcane issue for those of us outside London, also hurt, even if Johnson's numbers on Routemasters were ludicrous. Then we have those still angry about the congestion charge, not to mention the justified but obviously controversial £25 fee for the most polluting vehicles, then finally the low emissions zone.

8) Connection with Labour at large. Although Livingstone has always been separate from New Labour, he couldn't help but be lumped by some in with Brown and the polls in the local elections showed how this must have hurt him at least slightly.

9) Ken's friends. Sigh. Where to begin on this one? Al-Qaradawi, Jasper, Muslims 4 Ken, all must have put some voters off. The Guardian's article on the day by Zoe fucking Williams also didn't help.

10) Ken himself. At times during the campaign he looked utterly worn out. The allegations about his "drink problem" also must have had some impact.

11) And finally. Not courting second-preference votes persistently enough, or even explaining the system repeatedly and properly so that everyone realised how it works. The alliance with the Greens was a smart move, but the Left List vote collapsed so didn't help as much as it might have done. Not enough was done to court the Liberal Democrat voters' to go for Ken second, although Paddick's performance was poor in any case.

This isn't a time to be despondent. 4 years is a very long time in politics, and by then, with a different, fresh and representative candidate, the left could very well win the position back, especially if Johnson does turn out to be not up to the job. Ken's time had passed, and up against such a strong insurgency, he couldn't match up. This is the message to take, not that Londoners are morons, voting for an idiot and deserve everything they get. Don't despair; it's time to build again.

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Friday, May 02, 2008 

"We're all fucked. You're fucked. We're all completely fucked."

However much spin Labour loyalists and supporters put on last night's local elections results, and the very likely victory of Boris Johnson in the London Mayoral contest, whether it's Gordon Brown's "disappointing" to Hopi Sen's "pretty bad", none of them can surely really see this as anything other than the last gasp of Labour in power.

The threshold for a "bad" Labour night was to lose 200 councillors; they managed to beat that by another 131, losing control of 9 councils in total. Despite the Conservatives still offering very little in genuine difference to Labour except Blairism/neo-Brownism with even less pity and crocodile tears, they grabbed an astonishing 44% of the vote, Labour receiving their worst result since, appropriately, 1968. This isn't just the sort of result that would give the Tories a election victory, it would give them a landslide akin to New Labour's in 1997, the sort of result that no one, not even the most slavering sycophantic Conservative could claim that they would deserve.

Yesterday's vote also exposes another of the myths that has built up around the most ghastly of the Blairites. Those who argue for the ever more assiduous targeting of the so-called "super marginals", courting the "aspirational" voters especially in the south-east and elsewhere have just had their entire world turned upside down. Their whole plan rests on those in the Labour "heartlands" turning out whatever the weather, political or otherwise. Yesterday Labour lost 6 councils in Wales, were turned out in Southampton, and also took a battering in Nuneaton and Harlow, the voters either staying away or going elsewhere. These are the people that New Labour has taken for granted, in some cases perhaps stealthily helped, as La Toynbee often argues, but who have had the 10p rate show just how much Brown really cares for them when he needs a short-term political boost. Along with the fuel bills and food prices hitting at the same time, they were already being walloped, and then their pay slips came through. How could the doubtless hard-working activists persuade them to turn out or stay loyal? Labour can't win in the super-marginals anyway; to pursue such a policy now would be suicide. Sadly, don't rule out such madness when Brown has decided that the solution to all his problems is to get ever more PR advisers.

Prior to the vote, Labour were making all the usual noises about this being a disaster, hoping that like 2004 and last year that the results would actually turn out to not be as bad as they first briefed. This time round the results were even worse than they had predicted, yet they still went through with the plan, picking on the slightest good result, like almost taking back Liverpool, which they couldn't even manage despite an Audit Commission report which gave the Lib Dem-led council the worst rating for financial prudence in the country. It was painful watching a succession of both the worst and least worst in Labour trying to put on a brave face, from the egregious Tessa Jowell and Geoff Hoon through to the likeable and affable John Denham. The only two who spoke honestly were John McDonnell and Charles Clarke, one an actual leadership candidate and the other a rumoured possible one.

None of them however have any real idea where to go from here. The response is the same it has been over the last 3 years: that "we" will listen. Blair promised to listen after the last election; he instead went knowing for certain that he was doing the right thing and everyone else was wrong. Brown promised change and to listen; he has done neither and has no intention of doing either, except to those opposed to the very values he is meant to represent. Ruth Kelly is currently on Newsnight trumpeting how the great unwashed (i.e. the public) will come back to Labour because they'll find the Tories out for being nothing more than a marketing exercise with no policy behind it. How on earth does she expect anyone to be able to tell the difference?

Over on Justin's they've been discussing what might turn the tide. The truth is that nothing will now. While Labour's share of the vote couldn't possibly be as bad at a general election as it was yesterday, if the Tories don't at least get a workable majority then they might as well, to turn Tony Blair's comment on its head, get out of politics completely. The hope will have to remain that either Brown turns it around somewhat or that the Tories don't manage completely to convince, resulting in the almost mythical hung parliament that might finally force PR onto Westminster, the one thing that will help to re-engage and give a choice beyond the current staleness of two parties that have hardly a cigarette paper between them.

Similarly, Neal Lawson is convinced that this is the death of third way, for the same reasons I think it's the death of the fatal super-marginals thinking. He's wrong because he hasn't yet realised that the Conservatives under Cameron are the new third way, the inheritance of the same radical-centrist dead end, and that's why the likes of Simon Heffer so loathe what has gone on, striking out at Boris in lieu of going after the leadership itself. The only real difference between Cameron's third way and Blair's third way is that the Tories are going to do what Blair wished he could: raising the inheritance tax threshold, directly bribing the middle classes, further attacks on the trade unions, but all with the same kindly wet face that only a ex-PR man educated at Eton can provide.

In this, the real blame lies not with Brown, but with Blair. It was he and his acolytes that created this situation, and left Brown to pick up the pieces after he hung on for too long, Brown too cowardly and without courage to get rid of him when he should have done, far earlier. Brown has had a go, it worked for a couple of months, then it all went pear-shaped, the real Brown rather than the one the adoring Guardian columnists had created unable to pull it together. Now Blair's real heir is getting ready to take over. Labour can't say it hasn't had the chances to change. To paraphrase Richard Mottram, the party now really is completely fucked.

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Thursday, May 01, 2008 

How not to persuade people to vote Ken.

However much you dislike Boris, you can't help but warm to him slightly when the Grauniad of all papers decides to run such a pathetic hatchet job on him as they did today in G2. Perhaps they were intending to level the balance somewhat with the Evening Standard's blatant propagandising for Boris, but it instead comes across as a last ditch, desperate effort to try to prop up Ken's campaign, something that isn't even necessary in the first place. Handing the entire piece to the execrable Zoe Williams, who when she isn't blabbering witlessly about her new baby or editing Wikipedia is writing such bilge as this pointless piece on Miley Cyrus was a bad move, but surely not as bad as one as asking such distinguished Londoners as Vivienne Westwood, Will Self, Bonnie Greer, Arabella Weir, Inayat Bunglawala and Mark Ravenhill why Ken not winning would be unthinkable. Just to top things off, it then lists everything that Boris has ever said or written that might be construed as offensive, including the numerous quotes that have grown so tedious that they'd be enough to almost make you thing Boris might have had a point in the first place.

There's no doubt that Ken is the least worst candidate that can win, but making out it would be the end of the world if Boris won, as well as smearing him as a racist when he is clearly not will have done nothing to help Livingstone whatsoever. Sometimes you have to wonder if the Guardian is so self-loathing that it almost wants everyone else to hate it.

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State terrorism without a purpose.

Let's call a spade a spade. The United States has just carried out another act of state sponsored terrorism, launching 4 cruise missiles into the country recently described by the United Nations as suffering from the worst humanitarian catastrophe in the whole of Africa. The target, Aden Hashi Ayro, was killed, with between 10 and 30 others also most likely blown apart by the finest of American weaponry.

The motive behind the attack, much like the last time that the United States admitted to striking Somalia, was to kill an alleged leader of al-Qaida. This time this justification has even less credibility than then.

Aden Hashi Ayro was a leader in the Young Mujahideen Movement, a jihadist group that split from the Islamic Courts Union which briefly held the balance of power in Somalia's capital Mogadishu before being ousted by a coalition made up of the Somali transitional government and Ethiopian troops in December 2006. Although their methods were reminiscent of the Taliban, the ICU succeeded in bringing peace to the Somalian capital for the first time since 1992, removing the warlords that had control of various different sectors for years, and were for that reason at least somewhat popular with the majority of those still left. The last year has seen the ICU regrouping, with an insurgency subsequently raging resulting in human rights abuses on all sides.

The Young Mujahideen Movement and al-Shabaab appear to be one and the same organisation, but the YMM are the online face of the movement to the various jihadist forums. Like the various groups that emerged in Iraq, and also influenced by al-Qaida's media wing, As-Sahab, they've been releasing various videos of their "operations" since early 2007. Unlike the majority of the groups in Iraq who have eschewed suicide bombings, with the exception of the Islamic State of Iraq (formerly al-Qaida in Iraq), Ansar al-Islam and the Shield of Islam Brigades, all of whom share much the same aims, the YMM has released a number of videos of "martyrdom operations", including their most recent one targeting African Union peacekeepers.

There's little doubt then that the YMM and al-Shabaab share similar aims and methods to al-Qaida, although something they don't seem to have done as yet is target market places and general innocents as the ISI has on numerous occasions. Again though, as with most of the insurgent groupings in Iraq, the vast majority of the fighters are indigenous, with very few the much talked of foreign fighters. Put simply, whatever links that Aden Hashi Ayro might have formerly had with al-Qaida, with some claiming that he trained in Afghanistan, which in itself proves very little as there were numerous camps in Afghanistan prior to 9/11, not all of which were anything to do with al-Qaida itself, he would have had few to none now, and as for him being the supposed leader of al-Qaida in Somalia, that is simply a fantasy, much like the belief that al-Qaida had anything to do with the "Black Hawk Down" attacks, something that bin Laden boasted about but which were without foundation.

Just as when the US strike against alleged al-Qaida targets proved al-Zawahiri right that the Americans were just waiting to get involved in a strictly internal affair, the attacks today, which could have been quite easily carried out by the Ethiopians and not by the Americans, will just further the hatred against the US for getting involved in a conflict in which they have no excuse for doing so, and exacerbate the already horrific humanitarian situation. The violence needs to end; the United States' action will only make that even less likely to happen.

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The magic of pixie dust churnalism.

One of the first things you ought to learn if you have even the slightest inclination towards becoming a journalist is that if a story seems too good to be true, it usually is. In the current media climate, there are two challenges to this general rule of thumb: churnalism and the pressures of time, and secondly, if the story is even vaguely scientific. Throw a science story towards a load of humanities graduates, and watch as they leave all their credulity at the door.

In this case both come into play. Is it really possible that a man could have regrew over half an inch (some reports say over an inch) of his finger using something non-ironically called "pixie dust"? Did no one twig that this was PR guff when the man's brother was the one who suggested that he not get a skin graft and instead use dried pig's bladder and collagen conveniently manufactured by his own company? Who cares, it's a great story!

This wasn't just the tabloids falling for it. Almost everyone did: the BBC (who seem to have started the ball rolling), the Times, the Telegraph and the Guardian, who have now replaced their article with one rather more sceptical. All of the articles also share another trait of churnalism: none bothered to actually check the story with someone who might know rather more about the powers of healing than the hack themselves until the Grauniad spoke to Professor Simon Kay. It also might have had something to do with the Grauniad's own Bad Science columnist, Ben Goldacre, who posted on his own site around 2 hours before the Guardian's rewrite with his own notes on why Lee Spievack's claims were garbage. Dr Aust in the comments adds some even more pertinent information:

Yes, I smell a marketing gambit.

Dr Alan R Spievack MD (who someone further up the thread indicated was the patient’s brother) is a co-author of several papers with Dr Badylak (e.g. here). Spievack’s address is listed on the papers as a company called Acellhere, have anything on the market for humans just yet… but one suspects they are, erm, keen to drum up positive PR and investors to help them move their portfolio forward. Dr Badylak’s name appears frequently in the company’s listing of preclinical proof-if-principle work, so he seems to be their main academic connection. who make extracellular matrix products as scaffolds for tissue re-growth. They don’t, according to their website

As ever, the credulousness and lazy lack of fact-checking of multiple “churnalists” is at the botton of this. Plus the “eeew!” factor - it reminds me of those grisly photo-stories mags like Nuts occasionally run on “the man whose knob had to be sewn back on - full shocking pictures inside”

Seems this story is also rather old - it appeared in Esquire last September, complete with the photos.

I wonder what triggered the world-wide wave of media interest now? There is an interesting study to be written somewhere on how these “copycat” science story-waves get started and propagate across the media-sphere.

As already noted, you'd expect something like this from the cretins at the Daily Mail that give space to snake-oil salesman of all varieties, from those who advocate the use of magnetics to homoeopaths and everything in-between. There's something seriously wrong with both journalism and the journalists themselves that such blatant fantasy is able to fill the pages without anyone in the office calling bullshit.

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