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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