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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