Monday, June 30, 2008 

Learning by example.

Churnalism or not, the story of the examiner who gave two marks to a candidate that simply wrote "fuck off" in answer to a question is getting some rather unfair criticism.

I mean, let's be sensible for a second. Are we certain that the person taking the exam isn't a blogger? Who could possibly demure that telling individuals to "fuck off" via posts on the internet cannot at times be incredibly witty? Considering that one of the doyens of the blogging scene has come to much attention via the fact that he consistently comes up with new ways to call someone a fucking cunt, who are we to judge what is and what isn't worthy of marks at the GCSE stage?

Besides which, the examiner and the board are completely right in the view that if some sort of effort has been made to answer a question, regardless of its apparent inadequacy and wrongness, it still deserves to be given consideration. Let's also face it: at least the candidate bothered to turn up for the exam, whilst most of the others with a similar mindset would have done the opposite. In the circumstances, the candidate deserves to be applauded for overcoming the fear of failure for not even attempting a cogent answer, and when the youth of today have such glorious examples to learn from, just why are we so surprised when the first thing they can think of is to fire off an expletive? If he hadn't filled in any response, he most likely would have received a 'U', or ungraded. Instead, he might have achieved a 'G'. Under this glorious New Labour government, I think that's an achievement we can all be proud of.

Update: This post wasn't meant entirely seriously. QT takes issue not so much with me but with Patrick Vessey, whose point I'm more than sympathetic towards. Of all the questions you could be asked, and all the things you could be asked to describe in a GCSE English exam, being asked to tell the examiner what the room you're in looks like has to rank as one of the most unimaginative, banal and downright boring things that could have been raised. It's not just the students you have to feel for, it's also the individuals at the other end, the ones that have to mark them. Being forced to read hundreds if not thousands of descriptions of dank, dismal, suffocating dirt brown gym and PE halls is not something I'd like to do; by comparison, the more pithy response of "fuck off" would come almost as a relief.

The issue isn't so much with the exam board, which was just following things to the letter, but with the process which brought the student to writing "fuck off" instead of going through the motions. Most, as stated, would have simply either written their name on the paper and stopped there, or not even done that. There was a possibly apocraphyl story which went round when I was at school that writing your name on the paper got you a couple of marks, so it isn't just answering with expletives that potentially gets you points. This was a one-off blown out of proportion, but the real question is why so many accept or even celebrate their failure. One of the most fascinating sociological studies into the acceptance of failure was Paul Willis's Learning to Labour, which although conducted in the late 70s is still a seminal and influential text. A modern reanalysis and study of whether the same factors are still at work (from my own experience, I would suggest they most certainly are) would perhaps help with the debate. My own contention has always been that the lack of opportunities for vocational training, or when it is available, is considered by teachers and employers alike as either a "soft option" or as not equivalent to GCSEs or A-Levels has been at the heart of the problem of underachievement amongst some. The hope was that diploma system would do something to alter this, but with the current problems which seem to be plauging their introduction, this seems less likely. Despairing or over emphasising the lack of respect or collapse in standards this case apparently reflects doesn't seem much of an answer to me; understanding why is far more important and essential.

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Scum-watch: Could this be the most hypocritical statement by a newspaper ever?

Another teenager's died, so the Sun has to rush out the boilerplate response of this must change us immediately and irrevocably as a nation again. It's this quite remarkable paragraph however which is deserving of more attention:

The seeds of this destruction were sown long ago. A generation raised to believe that greed was good are now the hopeless parents of the savages who empower themselves by carrying blades.

A generation raised to believe that greed was good? This couldn't possibly be a reference to the Thatcher years could it, when the Sun was in the absolute vanguard of that mantra? Or that event that symbolised the greed of the 80s,
the Wapping revolution, when Murdoch established his fortress, sacked the print workers and ordered his hacks to go through the strikers while once inside they were treated to no view whatsoever? Murdoch of course epitomises the greed and power syndrome, a man who thinks that it's perfectly permissible to order about politicians through his media whilst paying as little tax as possible. If this is a generation raised to believe that greed was good, and that is now why one of the reasons we're seeing multiple deaths of teenagers in our capital city, then the Sun most certainly has to answer for helping to sow those seeds in the first place.

We can debate the root causes until the cows come home. But there is only one swift solution: The brute force of the law.

Not of course for tax dodgers though; only brats carry bladed weapons should be banged up for 5 years, a solution as self-defeating as any that the Sun has ever advocated.

Gordon Brown is at least moving in the right direction — insisting culprits be punished, not let off with laughable cautions.

But as we’ve said again and again he needs more jails for that to work.

Jails which are incidentally full agaim because of a direct result of the Sun's constant demands for crackdowns on crime. Now that everyone except for the tabloids and the public accept that crime has fallen dramatically over the last 10 years, the Sun still wants even more. We couldn't possibly realise that far too many of those currently in prison shouldn't be there and instead either on drug treatment programmes or receiving help for their mental health problems, freeing up space for the more egregious of the knife carriers, could we? No, that would make too much sense. Instead we'll just be treated time and again to some of the most hypocritical, sanctiminous and also dangerous nonsense from the biggest selling newspaper in the land.


Nothing to do with the Sun, but the Express has once again plumbed the depths with a front page splash. Ben Kinsella, the boy tragically killed, just happens to have a sister who was once in EastEnders, which gives them the opportunity to use a suitably fruity picture of her rather one of the person who was actually murdered. Some might call this revolting.

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Saturday, June 28, 2008 

One year on: the verdict.

Predictably, the week's press has been full of various articles commenting on Gordon Brown's anniversary in power, so there seems little point in writing a long narrative along similar lines (although, as usual, it seems that's what I've ended up doing) when you can go with either of these two instead.

It is however worth looking back, if it isn't too narcissistic, at what I wrote when Gordon ascended and what would hopefully be changed or altered. As you might have guessed, it doesn't make for good reading:

It's probably worth a slight cheer that the dross is getting cleaned out, although we won't have the full details of Brown's new cabinet until tomorrow. Patricia Hewitt and Margaret Beckett, united in being completely out of their depth in their respective jobs, are at least finally put out of their misery. John "not a single shot" Reid has already announced his departure, as has Lord Goldsmith and another Blairite apparatchik, Hilary Armstrong. If Hazel Blears, Tessa Jowell, Lord Falconer, Lord Drayson and Liam Byrne follow suit then Brown might just mean a certain amount of what he says.

Hazel Blears is now communities minister, and as useless as ever. Tessa Jowell is still Olympics minister, because you may as well keep one complete failure at the post rather than taint someone else with such a poisoned chalice. Lord Falconer has gone, and since taken to criticising Brown over 42 days and the constitutional changes, even though if he were still in government he'd doubtless be defending the same things to the hilt. Lord Drayson resigned to spend more time racing, and Liam Byrne is still at the Home Office. Adding to the dross that Brown has brought in, "Wacky" Jacqui Smith is just as bad a home secretary as we've come to expect from New Labour, Tony McNulty, is still polluting the airwaves with his absolute loyalty to the Supreme Leader and every bad policy which has ever been conjured up, Andy Burnham is now culture secretary, the execrable Blairite James Purnell is at work and pensions, and the supremely talented Digby Jones was last week celebrating the brilliance of the British arms industry as trade minister. With a team like that, how can it be possible that Labour's doing so badly?

He should be similarly judged on just how far his familiar talk of a new politics is. It needs to involve a full, independent inquiry into the Iraq war - involving both how the intelligence was presented by the government in the build up to war, how apparently the planning for after the invasion was either ripped up and ignored or how there was none in the first place, and as Lord Goldsmith has already suggested, how the mistreatment and torture of detainees came to be both accepted and even encouraged, with predictable results. A similar inquiry into the 7/7 attacks wouldn't go amiss either.

Back in March the government argued successfully again that the "time wasn't right" for an inquiry into the war. There is also no chance whatsoever of an independent inquiry into 7/7.

Next Brown needs to set out just how soon the troops in Iraq are to be brought back - they are, as General Dannatt said, simply making the security situation in the south worse. Enough blood has been spilt, both Iraqi and British. Handover in the other provinces formerly controlled by the British has already taken place with only minor problems. The majority of troops could be back home within 3 months, with a complete withdrawal within a year easily being achievable.

Since then, the withdrawal to Basra airport has taken place and there have been no casualties in Iraq for some time. One of Brown's biggest mistakes was his trip to Basra during the Conservative party conference last October, quickly seized upon as him trying to make political capital out of bringing troops home while deflecting attention from the Tories. The opposition also quickly noticed that Brown's announcement was another New Labour classic strategy of re-announcing something already made public. The troops are still stuck in Iraq, serving absolutely no purpose whatsoever except making things easier for the Republicans in an electoral year. That Brown and Bush were far more chummy when he came to visit two weeks' back than at the initial meeting, where Brown was deliberately stand-offish to give the impression that the special relationship between Blair and Bush was not going to be continued showed where the real power lies.

Reid and Brown have already hinted at a new attempt at reaching cross-party consensus over anti-terror legislation. The introduction of intercept evidence, rejected so far, needs to be reconsidered, despite the concerns of the security services. The disappearance of those being held under control orders has only proved what the critics said they would be: both illiberal and ineffective. Rather than derogating from the article 5 of the ECHR, those being held under them should be either prosecuted or set free, it's that simple. Brown is meant to support up to 90 days detention without trial: he could signal a new approach to civil liberties by deciding that 28 days is in fact more than enough, especially combined with offences not yet used that make it illegal to withhold encryption keys. Putting into action the leak at the weekend of the possibility of the lifting of the protest ban within a mile of parliament should also be one of his first acts in office. Scrapping ID cards and reexamining the need for both the children's database and "the Spine" medical records database, indeed the whole National Programme for IT would also be more than welcome.

Starting with the good, Brown is indeed scrapping the ban on protests within a mile of parliament without permission. That he last week claimed this was a freedom that Labour had created when it was one that they had initially taken somewhat blotted the goodwill the gesture originally espoused. As for the rest, I think we all know what happened over 42 days, without needing to go into it yet again. Intercept evidence is still rejected; control orders are still in place; ID cards the same; the children's database and the Spine are still coming; and the National Programme for IT is still the wasteful disaster it was at the time of writing.

Columnists have talked of Brown wanting to make considerable constitutional changes, even as potentially radical as either a bill of rights or an actual constitution. If we're to have either, then the bollocks about "rights and responsibilities" has to be dropped. We have rights: we don't need to be reminded of our responsibilities while exercising them, especially in any document, which is the way the ludicrous debate has been going. Potential electoral reform, also hinted at, would also be welcome. Almost every other election going is now under a form of proportional representation, whether it be for the European parliament or the Scottish/Welsh votes, so let's at the very least have the alternative vote system at Westminster, if not full PR.

Far from the bollocks about "rights and responsibilities" being dropped, it's instead at the very heart of the mostly miserable constitutional changes planned. Electoral reform was briefly alluded to, with the alternative vote mooted, but again it seems to have now been forgotten.

This is without even going into the NHS or further education reform, on which Brown's ideas/plans have also not looked particularly promising. If he means what he says, then full consultation, rather than top-down enforced for the sake of it change must be the order of the day. There's next to no chance that he'll reconsider the huge wastefulness of his pet PFI projects, especially considering how they've helped keep him from breaking his so-called "golden rule" by keeping the costs off the public balance sheet, but it's a scandal waiting to happen, and he ought to act first.

On schools, we've seen the academy system being ever further hyped up, ignoring the inherent problems they have with the sponsors, the more subtle forms of selection, and the throwing of the "troublesome" children onto the other schools. Ed Balls, who despite the brickbats aimed at him by the right is one of the most promising ministers mainly because he stills seems to have an ounce of humanity left in him, recently announced that over 270 schools were for the chop if they didn't improve within 2 years. That a large proportion of these schools aren't failing in the specific sense doesn't seem to matter; we must have permanent revolution in education or we have nothing. On health, while Alan Johnson has mostly been an effective minister, the planned polyclinics are rightly attracting huge amounts of criticism and concern about the patient-GP relationship being broken down. Health is probably the government's biggest success since Brown's takeover: the losses have been turned into surpluses, waiting times are down across the board, but no one really seems to have noticed.

There's much much more, on criminal justice, immigration and the environment which could be discussed, but this ought to be a more than adequate basis on which his promises to be different should be eventually considered. An election sooner rather than later would also be a welcome step, if he's to firmly cement his mandate which not even Labour party members were called on to confirm. A year should be more than enough time to consider whether he's been true to his word. If so, rejoicing then might be in order. I'm not holding my breath.

The only really appreciable change over criminal justice policy was that quietly the reliance on ASBOs has been dropped, with Ed Balls again being fingered as the person responsible, with him wanting a return to a more welfare based approach. That is to be welcomed, but when your entire policy revolves around responding to whichever tabloid demands this or that on crime this week, it's constantly being undermined. The reclassification of cannabis to Class B is the prime example - a move that will simply criminalise yet more young people and those who have been smoking for years, distract the police from dealing with more serious crimes, and will have no effect whatsoever on those who'll carry on using the drug regardless, all because of one of the most hysterical and misinformed tabloid campaigns on "skunk" in years. Again, we all know what happened on the election front, and ever since we've been treated to constant, tedious allusions and remarks about "bottler" Brown.

When Brown became prime minister, I suspect many of us on the left hoped that Brown, while never likely or even able in the circumstances to reach the standard we'd like to set, would at least offer something different to Blair. In a way, he has. The spin has calmed down, we haven't had any outrages on the level of that day in December 06 when Blair was questioned by police while everything possible to distract from it was enacted, or the shameful response to the Israel/Hizbullah/Lebanon war. Brown is infinitely more of a real person that the messianic Blair, but yet it seems the public themselves don't want someone more cerebral, less natural in front of a camera, less charismatic. You look across at David Cameron, and it seems that is what a significant majority now seem to want from their leader: folksy, personable, the common touch while not being the slightest bit common. Brown of course doesn't help by the way he responds to the ribbing of Cameron at every prime minister's questions, the prime minister resembling the proverbial bear with a sore head, who roars at every jab while never landing a blow. In that, Vince Cable was wrong: Brown is Stalin, but he's only feared by his own people, in this case the Labour party itself. Everyone outside of it just pokes endless fun at him.

This difference though doesn't make up for the complete lack of change for those of us who are sympathetic, while it's disastrous for him and Labour among those who aren't. The overwhelming reason why Labour is 20 points behind in the polls isn't for any of the above reasons however, but because the economy has finally turned, and the cupboards are bare. The 10p tax debacle just reinforced that even the two things Brown was meant to be for, the end of child poverty and stealthy redistribution to the poorest, were dispensable when an opportunity to get one over on the Tories presented itself. So it was over 42 days.

The most damning verdict on Brown's first year in power has been given most forcibly not by any commentator or blogger, but by the voters in the Henley by-election. Labour was never going to win, but to come fifth behind both the BNP and the Greens and to lose your deposit could not be a bigger indictment. The hilarious solution to this from Hopi Sen is to donate money to the party, which contains the same amount of logic as putting your money on a horse with three legs. Most of all though, Brown has not just betrayed those who hoped for better things, he's betrayed himself. Blair never had any principles to jettison, and it was clear from the beginning he would say or do anything to get into power. The same is apparent with David Cameron. We thought differently with Gordon Brown, but we were wrong. There's no point changing leader, as no one can stop the ship from sinking. All that's left is to count the days until these bastards are finally out of power and the next set of likely worse bastards are voted in.

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Friday, June 27, 2008 


Generally, if a story's on the front page of the Daily Express, you can guarantee that the slant they've given it isn't warranted. Whether it's blaming Gordon Brown for something he hasn't done, scaremongering about how we're not going to be able to afford anything shortly due to run-away inflation, or its favourite subject now that Diana has finally been shuffled off the front page, how terrible Muslims are.

Today is no exception. Screaming in bold type, the front page informs us that "SNIFFER DOGS OFFEND MUSLIMS". Tom Whitehead, the Express's Home Affairs correspondent, sets the scene:

POLICE sniffer dogs trained to spot terrorists at railway stations may no longer come into contact with Muslim passengers – after complaints that it is against the suspects’ religion.
A report for the Transport Department has raised the prospect that the animals should only touch passengers’ luggage because it is considered “more acceptable”.

The statement in the first paragraph is immediately withdrawn or proved wrong, a typical tabloid tactic, just four paragraphs later:

British Transport Police last night insisted it would still use sniffer dogs – which are trained to detect explosives – with any passengers regardless of faith, but handlers would remain aware of “cultural sensitivities”.

The Express is referring to a series of trials carried out by the Department of Transport on the suitability of various security measures proposed to be installed at railway and underground stations after 7/7. It took me a while to actually find the reports themselves, as they're nowhere to be found on the DoT's press releases page and are hidden away on the site itself, but I did eventually track them down. There were five trials in total, but the one we're interested in is the sniffer dogs one conducted in London and Brighton, which is here, with both the executive summary and the report in full.

To call this document tedious doesn't even begin to cover how dull the report is, which makes even watching paint dry look exciting by comparison. You have to hand it to the Express on that level - they've at least looked at, or looked at the executive summary, noted that Muslims expressed a couple of concerns, and then managed to get an entire story out of it. Out of the full document, which is brimming over with the views of dozens of people who took part in the trials, here are the few Muslims who expressed specific concerns:

Respondents described how if a Muslim had performed Wudu, then it would not be permissible for them to have direct contact with a dog as this would invalidate the Wudu: ‘… we have what we call Wudu, where we’re just washed and clean for pray, and if a dog sniffs [or] comes near us and touches us … we have to do it again … we try to avoid them [dogs] mostly …

I don’t mind dogs in the park or walking near me, but sniffer dogs, I don’t think that’s right, on the station, the way they use it … I think it’s unacceptable.’

(Interview 11: Male, Asian, 45-59 years old, Muslim, Brighton, had not observed trial)

‘… we are not supposed to have dogs, it is against our religion. It is the culture - it is traditional … at home we are not supposed to have dogs. It is like, when you pray, if you touch a dog your prayer will never happen. It is bad. You are not supposed to touch a dog.’

(Interview 13: Male, Asian, 18-24 years old, Muslim, Brighton, had not observed trial)

By way of emphasising this point, it was mentioned that it was not typical for Muslim families to keep dogs as pets. This lack of contact with dogs seemed to add to Muslim respondents’ fear and worry in relation to the use of sniffer dogs:

‘I am a bit frightened … about dogs, but not all dogs. Small dogs are not a problem. But I am not accustomed to caring for a dog … in my country it is not normal to rear a dog in the house … dogs are not acceptable to be in the house.’
(Interview 03: Male, Middle Eastern, 35-59 years old, Muslim, London)

However, there were Muslim respondents who described how it would generally be acceptable for a sniffer dog to examine their luggage, as long as the dog did not touch them. Therefore the way in which the sniffer dogs were used in London would perhaps be more acceptable to Muslims than how they operated in Brighton, due to the greater likelihood for the dogs to make direct contact with people in Brighton, as opposed to solely luggage.

However, there were Muslim respondents who would be unconcerned if they came into contact with a sniffer dog as they described how they did not follow Islam strictly. This was particularly so for men under the age of 45.

And, err, that's it. The report itself doesn't come to any conclusions on whether because of these concerns that sniffer dogs shouldn't be used around Muslims, it only suggests that they might be more comfortable with them only sniffing their luggage.

In fact, the whole Express story is bollocks, because as the Transport minister Tom Harris made clear in his accompanying statement, based on the reports the government has decided that both bag-screening machines and sniffer dogs will be installed at a "handful" of rail and underground stations from now on. Typically, the view of the first two men who objected are also not necessarily representative - I know of a number of Muslim families who do have dogs to begin with - and their main concern was not that dogs sniffing them was against their religion completely, but concerned in case they had washed in preparation of praying. As some doubtless travel on the underground to get to the mosque to pray, this is understandable.

Back to the Express:

In the Muslim faith, dogs are deemed to be spiritually “unclean”. But banning them from touching passengers would severely restrict their ability to do their job.

Except they're not going to be banned from touching passengers. This article does however give that impression while not claiming directly that they are to be banned.

Critics said the complaints were just the latest example of minority religions trying to force their rules and morals on British society.

Tory MP Philip Davies said: “As far as I am concerned, everyone should be treated equally in the face of the law and we cannot have people of different religious groups laying the law down. I hope the police will go about their business as they would do normally.”

How on earth is seeking the views of Muslims on sniffer dogs and two individuals objecting possibly "minority religions trying to force their rules and morals on British society"? Again, this is a classic tabloid ploy: say "critics" when critics equal the hack himself and then quote someone who's been phoned up and only has the slightest idea of what he's commenting on, and wham, have we got a front page for you!

The article does in fact go on to make most of this clear, quotes someone from the Islamic Human Rights Commission (a laughable organisation) and then a spokesman and Tom Harris himself, all of whom make clear this isn't a problem, but the article's main point has been made with just the first few paragraphs and the banner headline. As someone on Mail Watch comments, he later overheard two colleagues remarking "now they can’t use sniffer dogs on Muslims." Job's a good 'un.

Seeing as we're here, we might as well also carry some of the comments on the story to get a flavour of the sort of thoughts it's inspired:

So it is culturally unacceptable to Muslims to have sniffer dogs get too close? I think that it is culturally and criminally wrong to carry bombs on the Underground and murder 52 human beings and destroy the lives of hundreds of others. What comes first in any sane society; the safety of its citizens to go about their normal lives, or the cultural sensibilities of those who would kill them? I notice that sniffer dogs are quite acceptable to Muslims when they are being used to detect people trapped in building rubble following earthquakes!

welcome to the new longer Gran Britannia.
My dog is seriously offended on HIS religious grounds! HOw dare they say this creature of God is unclean. He insists on a bath everyday! Doggy perfume and brushes his teeth and well...he has lots of little girlie doggie dates.

Seriously though.....this whole muslim demand thing is becoming a very unfunny joke.
So sorry to hear they maybe offended. Our country and our safety comes first. At least it should be the first priority. If they don't like the rules they have the freedom to leave. Heathrow is situated on M4 so hurry now and don't slam the door on the way out. Bye now!!!

Muslims represent 3% of the UK's population yet with their constant demands act more like 90%. Time for them to put up or shut up, there are plenty of countries around who practice their faith though they might find their freedoms curtailed when they get there.

... for a crack down! Are police and goverment gone insane! If muslims object to any laws and practises LEAVE Britain NOW! Or maybe not? Because where you are from there is no such a freedom and you can't object and complain about nothing! BAN women wearing face covers, DEPORT anyone who practisise hatred of non muslims or any other religion! WAKE UP BRITAIN! PS. I don't hate anyone but this is going to far now and will get worse if not dealt with. That includes all other religions which are trying to impose their wievs and practises by force!

his was once a great country that had the freedom of speech,luckily we still have one great freedom left ....the right to LEAVE,so if you don't like our way of life then a.go home and b.tell your muslim brothers not to bother coming here in the future.
you people are slowly turning the people of this great country against you,your own doing.

You get the idea.

In an odd way, you almost have to admire the forces at work here. It would have been easier, like the other papers and the BBC, to simply report the minister's statement and some of the executive summary of the trials and not mention the irrelevant point that a couple of Muslims who had been consulted raised some legitimate issues which have made no real difference to the end result. Instead, the Express took the laudable decision to reject the simple option, and attack a minority simply because it would make for a good story. The truth doesn't enter into it. Possible incitement to racial or religious hatred? Who really cares?

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Thursday, June 26, 2008 

Davis and the other Haltemprice and Howden candidates.

Keeping with the despairing theme, it's hard not to now that we can see who's standing against David Davis, the full list of which is here.

There seems to be a lot of people quite content with throwing £500 away, doesn't there? Anyone having second thoughts is more than welcome to send the cash straight to me, where I can guarantee it will be put to a better use.

With the list now known, it does seem apparent that the chance of a genuine debate over civil liberties has precipitately declined. While it's impossible to know just how many of the independents are serious candidates, the inclusion of David Icke means instantly that the whole thing is just bound to descend into instant farce: great fun for the tabloids, who'll doubtless be following him around the whole time, not so good for anything approaching a defining moment, but I suppose it's possible we could be surprised.

David Davis's decision was always going to be a risk, a noble idea that rested on Labour having the guts to put up a candidate to challenge him. There may be sound political reasons for not doing so, but the cowardice it also displays, regardless of whether the candidate would have had any chance of winning or not is of a piece with Labour's current predicament, unprepared to test the electorate's actual support for almost any of the recent policies to have emerged from No.10. After all, according to the polls the public overwhelming support 42 days, so where's the harm in taking the debate back to the constituencies themselves rather than relying upon the bribery and bullshit of Westminster? The problem is that Labour is absolutely terrified of losing anything, and the partisanship of some Labour-supporting bloggers, mocking the initiative from the beginning even if they opposed 42 days showed the contempt that has arisen over the last few years for the views of the public when not asked specific questions and giving specific answers.

Still, of the other candidates that are standing, it's good to see that the Greens have put up a candidate, which would genuinely make me think twice about voting Davis if I lived in Haltemprice and Howden. It's also good to see that Davis has made clear that he considers them the only serious opposition, which means that some good, however small, still might emerge from the contest itself rather than from the simple principle of giving up your job for something you believe in. Also serious though I would imagine are the Socialist Equality Party, who despite being a tiny far-left ultra-Trotskyist sect punch way above their weight online through their World Socialist Website. They're slightly over-the-top in already claiming that Labour's anti-terror legislation has "established the apparatus of a police state in Britain," and are as hard left as you might imagine, but judging by the apparent dearth of other serious candidates, and the failure of the SWP/Respect/Left List to stand a candidate, are most likely to pick up the few left of Labour votes there are.

After being so enthusiastic to begin with over Davis's decision, it was always likely that reality was going to bite back if Labour abrogated from defending itself. It still does mark a watershed in British politics, and one which still might yet not fall flat on its face.

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Beheading videos and sillily overreacting.

Sometimes you just have to simply despair at the overreaction where anything slightly related to terrorism comes to public notice:

Video clips of al-Qaida-inspired terrorists beheading people have been found on the mobile phone of a 12-year-old boy, a senior police officer revealed yesterday.

The footage was found by teachers who reported the child, who is white, to police after he sent clips to his classmates.

The discovery was revealed yesterday to show how children of all religions could be attracted to al-Qaida. West Yorkshire's chief constable, Sir Norman Bettison, said terrorist propaganda was spreading like a virus, and warned that every Muslim child in Britain could be at risk.

This ludicrous interpretation is based on the premise that jihadist propaganda is so dangerous that anyone so much as watching it is likely to be attracted to the ideology behind it. I'd argue that the absolute opposite is the case, at least when it comes to the snuff films that were for a while all the rage in Iraq; why else would al-Zawahiri himself have apparently ordered that al-Qaida in Iraq stop releasing them, other than because of the revulsion they were causing and continue to cause except in the most bloodthirsty of the gorehounds? ISI as a result switched to the slightly more humane execution method, at least when they were filming them, of a point blank shot to the head. A recent raid in Iraq itself that turned up a treasure trove of media releases, if you could call them that, revealed that AQI/ISI had continued to record most of the beheadings which were carried out, but hadn't released them, which as the account noted was close to the level of documentation which the Khmer Rouge gave to those that they murdered. Similarly, Mullah Omar, the erstwhile head of the Taliban recently made gave more or less the same edict, calling for an end to the beheadings of "spies" and other unfortunates caught up in the anarchy of Afghanistan/the lawless regions of Pakistan, presumably because of the outcry over the release of a video showing a child beheading a man.

Rather, the beheading videos just show the barbarity of the likes of AQ/ISI, especially when so many of those executed, rather than being Westerners, were Iraqis that had committed the crime of "spying" for the occupiers or working for either the police or Iraqi army. Two of the most horrific executions were in fact not carried about by al-Qaida in Iraq/MSC/ISI but by Ansar al-Sunnah, which has now reverted to its original moniker of Ansar al-Islam, a group with an almost indistinguishable Salafi takfirist ideology from ISI, but which has never joined the ISI for reasons unknown. The first, and one of the most notorious was of 12 Nepalese cooks. Only one was beheaded, but the deliberately appalling way in which he was killed has stuck in the memory of many due to the killer only initally severing the man's trachea, leaving him unable to breathe, his windpipe making a chilling, blood-curdling noise as he struggles for breath, before he finally succumbs, some 25 seconds later. The other 11 were lackadaisically shot, almost as an afterthought, with hardly any of them being killed instantly, or even approaching quickly. The reaction in Nepal could have been predicted; Kathmandu saw its two mosques attacked, and riots across the city. Seif Adnan Kanaan was the second, who in the video says he works at Mosul airport, where he also supplied Americans with beverages. He is later seen being beheaded slowly, before the masked man cuts deep enough to sever the jugular, leading the killer to pull his head back, with the blood gushing from his neck in a torrent. Like in many of the other recorded murders, his head is then placed on his back. If anyone is seriously attracted to such groups and their mindset after viewing either, then their psychiatrists are going to be incredibly happy.

Instead, what has obviously happened in this case is that the boy has been browsing the numerous video websites with a slightly more challenging selection of delights than YouTube, or visited one of the similarly vast selection of gore websites that also exists. He and his friends have already doubtless browsed the porn sites, and he's just gone the next inquisitive step up. His mistake appears to have been in getting caught and someone in the chain of command completely overreacting; this has nothing whatsoever to do with any attraction to a terrorist group.

He [Bettison] raised the example of the 12-year-old during a speech at the Association of Chief Police Officers annual conference in Liverpool. The boy has been referred to a project to divert people from extremism before they turn violent. His parents are not Muslim.

Sigh. This boy didn't need referring to any spurious project; he needed to be treated like anyone else at that age examining death and life's extremes which the internet provides in spades. Yes, he shouldn't be viewing such things at all at that age, but that's no reason for him to be treated as a potential terrorist simply because he's seen such videos. The whole thing comes across as some grotesque charade, to be seen to be doing something, especially in its apparent view that Muslims are more susceptible simply because they share the religion, as if they too aren't disgusted and turned off by some of the brutality recorded by insurgents in Iraq and elsewhere.

Jihadist propaganda is potentially a worry, but that it is only really likely to be sought out by individuals already inquisitive about the current conflicts where mujahideen groups are fighting shows the limited reach it is always likely to have. Influencing those in the West is only one of the aims of such releases, whether they be potential jihadists or the public at large, in order to give the impression that such wars can never be won against such hostile enemies, but the main aim by them has always been an insular one, to keep the jihadi community itself salving at the bit, while showing off the group's own achievements. At the same time it also provides those monitoring such groups with an invaluable insight into them, one which almost balances out the negative effects of their release in the first place. This is why legislation against them, something which has been threatened, needs to be opposed. A change in attitude from complete horror and the "something must be done" attitude whenever someone also gives into temptation and inquisitiveness also wouldn't go amiss either.

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Infantile gesture politics.

I have been meaning to write a post on Zimbabwe, but with one thing and another and then the conviction of our new friend Martyn Gilleard I haven't quite managed it.

Very little however sums up our complete impotence and increasing reliance on gesture politics than the decision to strip Mugabe of his knighthood. Part of the growing myth surrounding Mugabe, putting him alongside other demonised autocrats and dictators once feted or at least supported in the West has been of our own creation, especially over the initial reaction to the seizing of the white farms. Although short-sighted and subsequently the root of the downfall of the economy as they were distributed not to those who had the skills to develop them but to the Zanu-PF hierarchy, few pointed out that far from the majority of the white farmers growing food crops, most had grown tobacco, not often chosen as a source of nourishment. Zimbabwe may once have been the bread basket of southern Africa, but tobacco was the major crop.

Removing his knighthood in fact almost resembles a counter-intutive move. Here's a man continuing to fight under the pretence that the opposition intends to hand over the country to Britain, making much of his own struggle and that of his party to overcome colonial rule, yet all along he had been recognised by the British as worthy of such a high accolade! This was something to use against the demagogue, to stress his links to the country he professes to hate, and instead we're doing him the favour of snatching it from him. While Morgan Tsvangiari is again forced to seek refuge in the Dutch embassy, desperately attempting to not just save his country but potentially his own life, we're further snatching the carpet from under him, or working on other such pointless initatives as extending the sanctions which up until now have no effect whatsoever. There is no simple solution to the crisis in Zimbabwe, but the current approach has not just failed, it's been another foreign policy debacle to rival so many others of recent years.

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Wednesday, June 25, 2008 

More on Martyn Gilleard and trawling the internet sewer.

Rather unsurprisingly, Martyn Gilleard was today handed down a sentence of 16 years, 5 for the 39,000 images and videos of child abuse, some of which were rated at the most extreme scale, and 11 for terrorism offences. In the current circumstances, that was to be expected. Whether Gilleard was that dangerous, and like some of the jihadists imprisoned more of a fantasist with ludicrous ideas than someone about to go out and use his nail bomb grenades is impossible to tell. Few however will shed tears over his lengthy incarceration.

More interesting is the response by those on the far-right to Gilleard's sentence and the thoroughly embarrassing revelation that apart from being someone allegedly prepared to start a race war while being the member of a number of neo-Nazi organisations, is that he was that far more hated individual: the paedophile. The British People's Party, of which Gilleard was allegedly the Goole and East Yorkshire organiser, seen yesterday with the BPP's National Advisor Eddy Morrison, has produced a further statement to their original one. If you were expecting a condemnation of Gilleard's storing of explosives and his potential to resort to violence, then you'd be disappointed:

Following the BPP announcement that Martin Gilleard had been summarily expelled from the BPP (see 16th June entry on this site), the BPP would like to re-state their total abhorrence and repugnance of this individual who in no way represents the thinking of any decent White Nationalist.

Had the full extent of his criminal activities been clearly known to the BPP then he would have been expelled at the time of his arrest. As it was, no mention was made of the most of the charges against him to us, either in the press or by Gilleard himself. On learning of the full nature of this mans criminal activities the BPP acted swiftly in condemning and expelling him.

Not then because he was a man who talked of bombing mosques and killing Muslims, but because he also had huge amounts of child pornography hidden away on his hard drive.

Gilleard was also a member of the NF and we know they also condemn his shocking agenda.
Gilleard seems to have associated himself with just about every group on the Nationalist scene.

The problem is, no organisation from the BPP to the BNP has any way to know in advance the nature of a person who joins. Anyone can join and in 99% of cases these people turn out to be decent, level headed patriots.

He doesn't also seem to have been the organiser for any of the other groups though, does he? It is of course understandable that the BPP couldn't have known that Gilleard was a paedophile; they doubtless knew however of his violent views on those other than his own colour. Talking bullshit to your nationalist buddies is of course a requisite for being a member of the far-right; acting on it is something different.

However, as in the case of Gilleard, complete sociopaths do sometimes get in and it is only when their activities come to light that action can be taken.

In this SICK SOCIETY every organisation - including all the major parties - has a minor percentage of these abominable people. This holds true for every group - not just political ones. Every day our papers are full of cases involving such people who are also doctors, lawyers, teachers, clergy etc - it is NOT an isolated phenomenon and one solely attached the the Nationalist Movement.

Christ, are we being defensive much? Few people are going to claim that the far-right is full of nonces based on one case. That it shows up the far-right as being only a few steps away from going from passive aggressive racism to potential terrorism and murder of people simply because of their skin colour or religion is something that the BPP doesn't seem to be so worried about.

The BPP clearly states it is vigorously opposed to any form of illegal activity of the sort Gilleard has been found guilty of. Any member who involves themselves in planning such illegal activity will be subject to immediate expulsion.

The BPP is a legally registered, law abiding party and our path to power is through legal demonstrations, meetings, magazines, printed propaganda and elections.
Gilleard deserves the stiffest of sentences for all the charges,whatever their nature, he has been found guilty of.

Oh, we did get to it eventually.

The BPP's real views can however be tracked down if you want to dip deep enough into the cesspool which is the various neo-Nazi websites, forums and guestbooks that litter the internet. One of the major hangouts of some of those to the right of the British National Party is the Blood and Honour international website, which features a "Combat 18" guestbook. That probably no one on there is actually a member of Combat 18, which itself has long been rumoured to be a security services creation doesn't really matter. If you don't really want to read unabashed racism and various unpleasantness it might be an idea to stop reading now:

You should bear in mind that its not just Nationalist eyes that are watching these sites this week (police & media) and we should all bear that in mind before hurling accusations at each other.

Gilleard himself has created this unique & ugly scenario by not being honest with comrades from here and the BPP/NF!!! Infighting and aimless finger pointing is both futile and counter productive at a time when we really should all be standing together as a united front against the media & police spotlight!

The main reason i didnt put the moco message on here was a legal reason but thats right out the window now along with my anonymity!

My main complaint here is with a so called justice system that can hand down an 11yr sentence for Nationalist activities but only sees fit to sentence him to 5yrs for the kidporn!!! What sort of message is that for a court to be putting out??? Is Nationalism twice as offensive as paedophelia??? Thats what the ZOG courts seem to be suggesting by giving Martyn twice as long for his political crimes than he got for his kidporn activities???

Quite, I mean, after all, who cares about someone who thinks it's time to start the fire by killing Muslims and bombing mosques when they've downloaded such abject sickness from the internet? Nationalism, even such far-right nationalism, isn't always synonymous with such hatred or potential violence, but you won't find any condemnation of Gilleard for that.

Then you have the nut-job conspiracy theorists:

@ Aryan, USA, I agree with you regarding the ZOG, which is behind gay, multiracial and paedophilic pornography, aimed at reducing our White Aryan Race and making money, but officially, the system is against child porn (and "terrorism" etc.) and in my opinion, we shouldn't blame paedophilia on Jews because these numerous paedophiles in Europe or elsewhere are sick race traitors and monsters themselves and don't deserve any kind of sympathy or gentleness. They know what they do.

The ZOG, for those not up on neo-Nazi conspiracy theories, is short for Zionist occupied government.

Most interesting here however is someone attempting to be wise and exposing the rest of the posters for supporting someone who turned out not to be a "political prisoner" but actually a nonce:

All I have to say is that we all should be very careful about jumping to conclusions whenever someone is picked up by the police for something and not automatically assume that he is a political prisoner.

When this whole thing with Martyn first erupted, several individuals on here got behind this guy and started kissing his ass, foremost among these was HJ, who used Martyn's situation to advance his agenda. Now HJ has turned on his buddy very quickly once the truth is known- if anything he should keep his mouth shut in shame for being such an idiot in the first place.

I was criticized for calling HJ out on this back when he was posting photoshopped pictures of Martyn... I was told how great Hey Jew was because he wrote letters in support of Martyn. Well, you have your foot in your mouth now, don't you? This is why I never blindly jump on the bandwagon to support someone until all the details are out in public.

Get smart comrades.

and the response:

Admin Comment: Numerous people from this Guestbook supported Gilleard, not just Hey Jew! It was never an issue as to whether he was a political prisoner, he was, the issue is that the other charges had not been made public until the 16th June 2008. At this point, all ties were severed with Gilleard from his known supporters. You're most definitely barking up the wrong tree and sounding a tad sanctimonious at the same time. I know of six people off this Guestbook who you're similarly labeling as arse-lickers and I take exception to it.

A couple more that are interesting or revealing here:

Nevertheless, It is not the end of the world. Gilleard didn't actually rape anyone.....unlike the immigrants that enter Britain everyday. We need a sense of propotion here. Immigants rape everyday. I've never read read anything where a Nationalist has raped. But the left are full of rapist.....

It's really abominable, exasperating, disappointing and painful. The more I look at this paedophilic child porn loving monster, the more it reminds me of a sick mongrel subhuman. What a fucking paedophilic cunt. This person is a liar, a worthless criminal and schizophrenic pervert, and I really hate and despise this asshole. I can't believe I was fooled like many other comrades on this GB and actually trusted this paedophile and even sent him a letter, but we didn't know this thing had a double life. Now that I know its true face, I'm terribly ashamed and am very sorry for supporting this evil child porn loving bastard. He wanted me and others to get in 'touch', but I wouldn't touch this thing if it was on fire. Fuck you, Martyn! Hang yourself and burn in hell, you bastard! Fucking paedophilic waste of oxygen! This person is the worst enemy of National Socialism and all aryan children, worse than all Jews, reds, muslims and niggers together! I'm fucking ashamed and very very disappointed. You never know who you support.

Gilleard didn't rape anyone, but he was quite all right with the idea of killing Muslims, should it ever take his fancy. Murder when it involves "immigants" is perfectly OK.

It wouldn't do to not look in on that other repository of knuckle-draggers, Stormfront:

The media are going to have a field day with this.

I wonder how long it will be before any make the point that under a National Socialist regime this abomination against nature would be done away with.

I would not advise holding our breath while we wait for that.

Well, today's your lucky day "raffles": consider it mentioned. Not really sure that anyone's going to be particularly won over by the fact that you'd treat paedophiles harsher than murderers, but hey ho.

This is probably the closest that anyone on any of these sites has come to condemning anything other than Gilleard's penchant for children:

Whilst politically I don't agree with the more extreme stuff that is spouted by some on the far right I am still very shocked about that no one ever shopped this pervert.

Yup, that's as close as it comes.

This is serious stuff, they have mentioned three organisations on the news, two current and one disbanded. Those who have named the parties cannot be allowed to spew their crap without comment from senior party officials. Disassociation is imperitive, the message must be strong and everyone must hear or read it.

It is however difficult to disassociate from someone who many supported prior to his sexual predilection becoming known. It perhaps says something about how the far-right in this country has progressed that rather than being worried about the fact that year by year their views are becoming more and more abhorrent to a ever higher majority, they're more concerned about how one man, who just happened to be a paedophile as well as a potentially violent extremist, might derail their entry to the mainstream. Something to think about.

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Tuesday, June 24, 2008 

The paedophile Nazi nail bomber.

Martyn Gilleard only had the 39,000 indecent images of children. Oh, and the four nail bombs under his bed. Not to mention the knives, swords, handcuffs, and print-outs on how to make bombs and poisons. Then there's the writings on the impotence of the far-right for not carrying through on the often talked about online ideals of bombing mosques, killing Muslims and so forth. Just in case anyone thought he wasn't serious and just some lone figure, he was also a member of the National Front, the White Nationalist Party (although that might be expired as the WNP morphed into the Nationalist Alliance) and the British People's Party. Finally, he also posed in front of a AWB flag (also taken up as the Blood and Honour group's logo), although doubtless he's never been to South Africa or has any links with the country whatsoever.

Gilleard with Eddy Morrison, National Advisor of the British People's Party.

It's the British People's Party that's integral to this story however. According to Indymedia, far from being just some ordinary member of yet another split from a split from a split, Gilleard was the BPP's Goole and East Yorkshire organiser. Handily, Indymedia also has a photograph of Gilleard with Eddy Morrison, the "National Advisor of the BPP". The BPP's leader is Kevin Watmough, who also runs the Redwatch website, and whom as Indymedia report, was forced to protest that Gilleard had not been grassed to the police by any members of the BPP. Perhaps that's true, but just in case the BPP and others until recently had pages up making clear their support for Gilleard.

Sadly, it seems that Gilleard never saw fit to mention that far from just being raided for his equipment gathered in case the imminent race war breaks out, he was first targeted because of his predilection for children. If there's one thing that the neo-Nazis hate more than someone with a skin colour other than white, it's a paedophile of any colour. Understandably, the BPP quickly changed its tune over its "martyr", as evidenced by this page:

Having just learnt (today) the exact nature of the charges against Martyn Gilleard in Leeds Crown Court, he has been summarily expelled from the British People's Party and we strongly advise that no White Nationalist should give him any further support. The BPP has been lied too regarding this former member's charges and has acted swiftly to remove him from the membership rolls. We advise all patriots to withdraw any and all support from this man in the light of what has been revealed today (but is subject to court restrictions of reporting), and also be advised that this man should never again be allowed into any decent Nationalist group.
The National Executive Council,
The British People's Party

Not, you understand, because he dreamed of bombing mosques, but because he was a nonce.

Seeing as this blog has been notably sniffy in the past about some of the scaremongering over takfirist jihadists and the threat they pose, it should be pointed out that Gilleard was hardly about to become the next David Copeland; his "nail bombs" were 35mm film canisters with nails wrapped around the outside, intended to be used similarly to hand grenades. Like those he castigated as being all mouth and no trousers, it seems doubtful that Gilleard himself was going to actually act on his rhetoric, especially when surrounded by such cowards as those within the BPP.

It does bear repeating though that if this had been a Muslim found with nail bombs under his bed, thoughts on starting a jihad in this country against the indigenuous population along with photographs of him in front of al-Qaida's or the ISI's various banners, we might have heard rather more about it at a national level than we did prior to this man's trial. The real worry with the extreme far-right and its more belligerent members is not so much whether they'll go further than Gilleard and actually bomb mosques etc, but the response which will come afterwards. Their real agenda is not to kill Muslims, but to attempt to set off a reprise of the riots of 2001, albeit on a grander scale than before and through which they can attempt to benefit from the inevitable fallout. That could potentially have far more serious repercussions in the long run than any attempt by the next generation of jihadists to emulate the horrors of 7/7, and while we're obsessed with finding insights into the radicalisation of young Muslims, we also need to be aware of the anger building on the exact opposite side of the spectrum.

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In every headline we are reminded that this is not home for us.

Sometimes you just have to love the Daily Mail and its wonderful sense of encouragement, optimism and by no means exclusive view of exactly what makes you British. You can almost sense the touch of the manic depressive in whoever wrote the headline, starting off encouraged, falling to uncertainty and finally to utter despair. A BRITISH WINNER, but it's only day one, and in our view she's not really British anyway, and she's probably lower class, and not very good looking with poor dress sense too...

And so forth. Now Tim Henman, he knew how to lose a game in typically middle class fashion....

Somewhat related, Anton Vowl looks at the Mail's not at all sexist or demeaning coverage of the women's game, and also the execrable Liz Jones (who has a rather excellent Wikipedia entry).

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Scum-watch: Making it up as it goes along.

In its latest leader on how our brave boys and girls are saving the entire world from Islamic tyranny, the Sun is now attempting to tie together the Taliban and the Iranians into one homogeneous bloc:

The whole world — especially the Afghan people — will pay a price if the Iranian-backed Taliban prevail.

Ah yes, the Iranian-backed Taliban. It doesn't seem to matter that Iran helped and co-operated with the overthrow of the Taliban back in 2001, having long funded the Northern Alliance, while our other friends in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, both funded and recognised the Talibs, but hey, who cares about the past? After all, Bush rewarded the Iranian help by casting them in the axis of evil, and from then on we haven't really seen eye to eye.

The claim of Iranian support or backing for the Taliban-led insurgency (although how much of the original Taliban actually remains, with there being both paid fighters and the wandering jihadists now also joining the mix) is based almost wholly on claims that they've been supplying the same IEDsEFPs) that the likes of the Hizbullah Brigades in Iraq use against the Americans to the fighters in Afghanistan. That this in itself proves nothing, as there are as many arms dealers in Iran as there are here doesn't seem to matter; Iranian weaponry in the hands of anyone fighting against the Americans or British is cast-iron proof of personal Iranian-backing for them. That most of the funding for al-Qaida and the Taliban, that which doesn't come out of the opium crop which they originally destroyed only to turn to once we made our blessed intervention is donated by Pakistani and Saudi businessmen again is one of those facts that just can't be spoken.

Still, it gives the impression to the Sun-reader who won't think of inquiring further that all those Muslims are one and the same and equally dangerous. Just how long will it be until those dastardly Iranians give the Taliban a nuclear weapon? Buy the Sun tomorrow to find out!

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Monday, June 23, 2008 

We are ruled over by vermin pt. 94.

Following the last post, sometimes it would be nice if it didn't require the accusation of racism for someone to either be fired or lose their job. According to Jacqui Smith, as long as homosexuals in Iran are discreet, there isn't a "real risk of discovery of, or adverse action against [them]," hence why it's perfectly reasonable to deport those seeking refuge from there back.

It's easy to reminisce and wear rose-tinted spectacles over the Labour party's past, how it was the home of Bevan and Attlee, and even now of those who have since blotted their copy books, such as Peter Hain and Harriet Harman, with their campaigning pasts, but when you compare such past alumni to the utter dregs we're currently dealing with, whether it be Smith, whose only previous job was a teacher, or the likes of Andy Burnham and James Purnell, who don't seem to have any past at all prior to their becoming researchers or employed by other MPs, it's hard not to come across all lachrymose over a party that is now being so unutterably betrayed by its current leaders.

The sheer wrongness of Smith's comment, backed up or not by the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal, tells you much about the party's current trajectory. As long as you don't bring any attention to yourself, you know, such as dressing up similarly to Big Gay Al, you'll be fine in Tehran. Don't let the punishments for being caught give you the wrong impression that homosexuality in Iran is frowned up: those 100 lashes for the rubbing of the "thighs and buttocks" are simply the state joining in the fun. After all, who are we to decide where the pleasure ends and the pain begins? As for the death penalty, which is the ultimate sentence for homosexuality, it's not employed very often, so don't worry your pretty little heads about it. We've more important things to worry about, like the next set of figures detailing how many asylum claims were made and how many of those whose claims failed were deported. The Sun and the Daily Mail get rather sniffy if the figures don't fall enough for their liking.

Similarly, it doesn't seem to matter that Smith's comments rather undermine the whole point of the asylum system: that it provides sanctuary for those who do raise their heads above the parapet in nations bordering on totalitarianism, in an attempt to not just improve standards for themselves but for their nation and people as a whole, but who might eventually be forced to leave or face death, imprisonment and torture themselves. You could imagine the outrage if an MDC activist fleeing Zimbabwe now after having his or her family killed was then subsequently told on reaching Britain that they'd have been perfectly all right as long if they'd been discreet in the first place, or would be as long as they didn't bring any attention to themselves upon their return. It's almost reminiscent of the tale of the German communists recounted in Antony Beevor's Berlin who proudly showed their Soviet liberators their party cards which they'd kept hidden since the darkness descended in 1933; that the Ivans then proceeded to rape their wives and daughters despite this might well have made them think that they should have been more discreet also.

New Labour's hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil approach is also remarkably similar to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's own, having famously commented that there are no gay people in Iran. Jacqui Smith would like that too; then they wouldn't come over here demanding sanctuary in the first place. I, like some others, am starting to count the days until this shower of shits are finally thrown out of office. I might then have to start numbering the days until the shower of possibly even worse shits in the Conservatives are subject to the same treatment, but at least the Labour party in the meantime might finally be forced to sort itself out.

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Taking your ball while sending someone else home.

You're fired!

The sacking of James McGrath, Boris Johnson's chief political adviser, probably tells us less about whether he's racist, whether Boris is racist or whether it was a politically correct decision made out of blind panic than it does about Johnson's determination to not go down the route that did damage over time to Ken Livingstone - his tendency to make off the cuff remarks which he then refused to apologise for.

As to whether it was racist, to begin with, my immediate thought was that no, it wasn't, and that it was a ridiculous decision to force him out over it. However, as Sunny reminds us, the remark which McGrath came back with in response to Darcus Howe's own daft comment that some from Caribbean nations might return following Johnson's election, was the old response to any complaint from an ethnic minority - if you don't like it, you can always get out and go back home, as if here wasn't their home. With McGrath himself hailing from Australia, it's quite possible that he isn't aware of this sort of legacy, and that it was a simple off the cuff response to what was a hardly a penetrating critique of Johnson. I still don't believe it was racist, but I can quite understand why some have been offended or at the least perturbed by it.

It's curious then as to why Johnson, McGrath and David Cameron, whom Johnson apparently personally consulted before acting didn't just do what his predecessor Ken notoriously serially failed to do - to simply apologise and make clear that no offence was intended. Instead, what they did to begin with was to shoot the messenger, McGrath firing off a response to and Marc Wadsworth's piece that objects to the title of the piece, "Blacks should 'go home if they don't like Mayor', and which is probably warranted, as it doesn't provide the context that the actual text does. Doubtless the Johnson campaign didn't object so fiercely however when the Evening Standard did this on a number of occassions during the contest itself. The next step was to legally threaten the Guardian, and then finally once McGrath was history, Johnson's own statement said that his comment "was taken out of context and distorted."

The whole incident is reminisicent of Cameron swiftly moving to sack Patrick Mercer after he made similarly misjudged but also not racist comments about what routinely happens in the army. More offensive in that was what was not so well covered: that Mercer also said that ethnic minority soldiers sometimes covered up for their own laziness by claiming that they were discriminated against. It's not so much the merits of each case however but the ruthlessness with which Cameron acted in both cases - Mercer was out before anyone could defend him, and so it was also with McGrath. This certainly doesn't seem to be because Cameron was worried about the impact of being accused of giving succour to racism, no matter how relatively benign, but because it affects what he's really after: power.

It's not a new revelation that the Conservatives were terrified that Boris was going to do what Boris does best and make a huge cock-up during his campaign for Mayor, hence why he was so careful and covered by his advisers and spin doctors during it. With him now Mayor, they're similarly worried that in the two years to the next election that he's going to do something that will allow Labour to paint the entire Cameron revolution as either a sham or as incompetent; what they didn't expect was that one of his own advisers would make it, or do it so quickly. Hence his almost immediate ejection, even if it would raise the Tory roots in short-lived anger over "politicial correctness". Much was the same over Patrick Mercer, but it was quickly forgotten. Johnson and Cameron's thinking and hope is that it will be the same this time round, and there's nothing to suggest that anything else will be the case.

McGrath's "crime" is probably far less inciteful that another of Livingstone's jibes, which is actually remarkably similar, when he said of the Reuben brothers, "[P]erhaps if they’re not happy here they can go back to Iran and try their luck with ayatollahs, if they don’t like the planning regime or my approach." Some at the time suggested that was another of Livingstone's antisemitic remarks, as the Reubens were Jewish, which was slightly far fetched. As far as I'm aware, Livingstone again didn't apologise. In both cases, a simple "sorry" and a clarification would have sufficed rather than a instant dismissal. What is apparent however is that Cameron and Johnson don't really care that much about racism; what they care most about is their own political careers. Anything that threatens them must be liquated post haste.

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Saturday, June 21, 2008 

Seen elsewhere.

Lenin on the anti-BNP demo in London, where the police were photographing everyone yet again.

David Davis responds to the criticism he faced on Question Time for supporting 28 days.

Matthew Parris says the Taliban can't win - but neither can we.

Marina Hyde flays Andy Burnham in her typical style.

Justin on Brown's bizarre decision to do a Tony.

Chris plays devil's advocate yet again over Big Brother and Naomi Campbell.

The Churners look deeper into the "thought shower" political correctness scandal.

Tory Troll notes a quite brilliant apology from the Evening Standard to David Gest.

Jihadica obliterates the ludicrous claim that Abu Qatada, currently having his stools examined by MI5, has somehow managed to release a new book.

And Londonstani on that other mainstay of the British jihadi scene, Omar Bakri.

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Friday, June 20, 2008 

Clarke roasts Smith over 42 days and Harriet Harman sticks her nose in.

Channel 4 News have a somewhat intriguing exclusive, namely letters between Charles "Safety Elephant" Clarke and "Wacky" Jacqui Smith, former and current Home Secretary respectively over 42 days.

Sadly this isn't Clarke deciding that 42 days was a step too far despite helming the attempt to ram 90 days through parliament, but rather instead making his concerns felt that the so-called "concessions" have actually made it next to impossible for any extension beyond 28 days to be put into place, something the police themselves briefed they were worried about. Channel 4 have helpfully providedthe letters in full (PDFs), but his main concerns are summarised as that derogating from the ECHR seems to be easier than putting in motion the process to trigger 42 days, that the legal advice needed to do so would likely to be leaked, damaging the opportunity for a prosecution, with the subsequent vote on the matter limited to a vote of confidence in the Home Secretary, and finally that the bypassing of the attorney general over the legal advice would be a "major constitutional departure".

While his claim that the ECHR process would be easier doesn't stand up, as there needs to be a "serious threat to the life of the nation" to justify such a derogation, when 42 days would require a "grave exceptional terrorist threat", and the law lords have already struck down the derogation, rightly concluding that the current threat does not even begin to seriously threaten the life of the nation*, his second concern is exactly what both the critics of the "concessions" on both sides have argued; doing absolutely nothing to alter the pernicious and poisonous extension to 42 days while making the legislation worse, with it approaching an incredibly dangerous joke, setting a precedent of involving parliament in decisions that should be solely left to the judiciary.

Smith inevitably fobs him off with the same completely unconvincing justifications that she used in the Commons. It's his final response which is potentially dynamite:

Clarke's inference is clear: he too, like the critics from the other side, thinks that this whole thing is politically motivated to show the Conservatives as being soft on terror while putting down completely unworkable legislation. The real question is just who leaked it: even considering Clarke's past record in being highly critical of Gordon Brown, this seems to go far beyond even that. Perhaps it was someone in the Home Office, disgruntled one way or another who had access to the correspondence. Either way, this is just another person formerly allied with the past attempt to get through 90 days that is deeply concerned by the shoddiness and indefensible determination to pass through irredeemable legislation in the face of criticism from all sides.

Meanwhile, Harriet Harman has been sticking her nose over gorgeous pouting Andy Burnham's comments on how David likes Shami:

Harman said that Burnham was right to question why an organisation like Liberty was supporting a Conservative like Davis.

"When it comes to David Davis, he's an unlikely champion of civil liberties and certainly when I was at Liberty, I did not support people who opposed the Human Rights Act and were in favour of the death penalty," Harman told ITV News.

Now of course that she's not at Liberty Harman just supports 90 day detention without charge, the smoking ban, ID cards and criminal exercises in Iraq. By that yardstick, there's very little to choose between the two when it comes to civil liberties. Harman however supports the motions which need to opposed right now; Davis supports ones which are unlikely to come to fruition or which at the moment are irrelevant.

In any case, Harman is just playing the (wo)men instead of the ball. She doesn't actually defend 42 days, or bother involving herself in any discussion of the measures; she just criticises an organisation which she may as well have never been a member of, while keeping the whole matter in the news. New Labour just really doesn't get it.

*Update: Phil correctly points out in the comments that it was a minority opinion of Lord Hoffman's that there was not a serious threat to the life of the nation. The other law lords ruled that:

The seven other judges who ruled against the government said the decision on whether a public emergency existed was for the state to take.

But they ruled that indefinite detention without trial was unlawful because it was a disproportionate interference with liberty and with equality.

The opt-out allows only such measures as are strictly required to deal with the emergency.

The seven held that the legislation discriminated against foreign nationals because there are no similar powers to lock up British nationals - the government has admitted that such a power would be difficult to justify.

This doesn't alter the fact that derogating from the ECHR, while it could be easier, would be open to even wider criticism and judicial scrutiny than 42 days, and it seems just as likely that the law lords would still rule against it when brought before them. It would also leave the potential for an appeal, were those held subsequently convicted, on the grounds that their excessive detention rendered their convictions unsafe. At least with 42 days there is a time limit; derogating from the ECHR, even if only temporarily in the aftermath of a large terrorist attack or foiled plot, would take us even further down the road to the nightmare of an all powerful police state.

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Rally the poops.

Today's Scum front page:

and yesterday's Steve Bell:

Could they possibly be related?

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Thursday, June 19, 2008 

Scum-watch: Did we get it wrong on 42 days? Oh look, here's Abu Qatada!

Imagine, if you will, that you've spent the best part of the last 3 years in the highest security prison without charge, awaiting deportation to a country that has routinely practised torture and where the trial in your absentia was almost certainly centred on evidence achieved under torture. Prior to that, you'd spent time on a control order, again without any charge actually being made against you. Your short time on a control order was the result of the law lords striking down your indefinite detention without charge, simply because you were a foreigner rather than a actual British citizen.

Now, after the latest legal challenge that won on the one remaining argument that the British state cannot be complicit in torture whether in a foreign state or not, you've been released on bail. This isn't the sort of bail where you can go and potentially kill someone else, as others recently have. This is 22-hour curfew bail, harsher than a control order, where your freedom amounts to your house and a very small surrounding area around that house, where you can spend those two hours after 10am and after 2pm, with a tag that sends your movements directly to the police who'll be monitoring 24 hours a day. Your points of contact with the outside world will be your telephone, which will naturally be bugged. Anyone else who wants to visit will have to be approved in advance, and don't expect that they will be. You can't visit your place of worship, and if you wanted to get into contact with any of three named gentlemen for some reason, then you specifically can't.

Anyone would think that this is a very funny short of freedom and that this is a very arbitrary form of justice. When you're alleged to be the right-hand man of Osama bin Laden in Europe however, and despite being given asylum, albeit after you arrived on a false passport, then it's perfectly OK, and in fact, complete madness to not deport him immediately straight back to where he came from.

Here's where if you're a tabloid journalist and happen to be completely losing an argument over a related matter that you can do: start a hysterical, typically emotional campaign, conflated with a completely unrelated issue to try and get over your embarrassment. Hence "Sarah dies while Qatada is freed." This is apparently an "insult to our dead", which is especially curious. Generally when you're dead you can't decide what is and what isn't an insult to you, although grasping, opportunistic journalists will attempt to do just that.

The staggering hypocrisy and and contradiction at the heart of the Sun's argument needs to be seen to be believed. According to the paper, those like Sarah are fighting (and dying, in a pointless, unwinnable war which is currently being sickeningly spun as going tremendously well because the Taliban are turning to "terror tactics") for our freedom and for the freedom of the Afghan people. The latter is debateable; the former is complete nonsense. The Sun's solution to this is what we've seen over the last few weeks: to actually remove the very freedoms which those we are meant to be fighting hate, while also conspiring and giving the OK to the sort of mistreatment which breeds resentment and radicalisation.

Qatada is of course the most extreme example of this. No one is going to defend what he believed and preached, or at least, what he believed and preached. I have contended on multiple occasions that there would be enough evidence, were the authorities so inclined, that a case based on his teachings could be brought against him under our criminal justice system, not Jordan's. The Sun's own "discovery" of footage showing him preaching alongside all the other most notable extremists increases the possibility that this could be achieved. Instead, it has to be questioned exactly why we're so determined to get rid of him rather than try him. The suspicion has to be that this is because Qatada, like both Hamza and Bakri Muhammad, had an association with the security services. Unlike Hamza and Muhammad however, where the meetings and cooperation were slight, allegations have been put directly into the public domain that Qatada was a double agent, or at the least much more closesly associated with them than the others.

It was partly these swirling rumours that led directly to his stock dropping hugely amongst those who had previously looked to him as a spiritual leader. While on the run during 2002, even the French security services speculated that MI5 was directly helping to hide him. That appears not to have been so, but what has also directly left Qatada bereft of any support or real sympathy amongst jihadists was his direct appeal for the release of Norman Kember, held in Iraq by those who executed one of his co-captures. When such takfirists that support the likes of the Islamic State of Iraq bend over backwards to try to defend the atrocities that were and are being committed in that benighted country, including the gruesome beheadings of foreign hostages, Qatada was instead calling for the release of a man they considered as a crusader and indistinguishable from the other foreign troops. This lead some to speculate that his stays in prison had mellowed him, and even potentially turned him against al-Qaida, and he wouldn't be the first that has changed in such a manner after a period of imprisonment that inevitably leads to

True or not, the Sun's pathetic campaign is still resorting to casual smears. They complain about him sponging benefits worth £1,000 a month, but how is he meant to work when he can only use the telephone and leave the house for 2 hours a day, let alone how no one would employ him in any case? They moan of the £1 million cost of his bail, without mentioning how much it was costing to hold him in prison and how much it would cost to prosecute him rather than continuing with the deporting charade that shames us all.

Yesterday's Sun leader has disappeared in the ether, so we'll have to make do with tomorrow's:

THOUSANDS of Sun readers are backing our campaign to bundle hate preacher Abu Qatada onto the next plane out of Britain.

They simply can’t fathom why our judges put the “rights” of Osama bin Laden’s top man in Europe before the rights of every man, woman and child in the land to a life free from fear.

Here, let's check, does the HRA guarantee everyone a life free from fear? Hmm, nope. The prohibition of torture is however right there in Article 3, and unlike most of the other articles, there are no limitations on that right. The Sun's argument is, in any case, bollocks. Abu Qatada at the moment poses no threat to anyone, and if he were to be prosecuted, with the evidence against him put through an open court, with it possible that he would be convicted, he would pose even less than no threat.

As the case waits to go to the House of Lords, Britain’s highest court, our message is simple ....

We don’t want to wait till Christmas before you give Qatada the Order of the Boot.

Thankfully, the law lords don't tend to listen to tabloid threats and bullshit, and judging by past decisions, it seems highly unlikely to disagree with the appeal court ruling.

Elsewhere, Kelvin MacKenzie treats us to why he decided not to stand against David Davis. Strangely, none of these reasons include the fact that he was going to get his backside handed to him over 42 days. They do however include his calling of Hull a "shocking place" (a joke, obviously, as he's never been) and the opinion polls that showed him on 17%. This is the real reason though:

But the clincher for me was the money. Clearly The Sun couldn’t put up the cash — so I was going to have to rustle up a maximum of £100,000 to conduct my campaign as candidate for the Red Mist Party.

As Tim points out, this is something of another reverse ferret. Last Friday, "the boss", Mr Murdoch, was good for it. What changed? It couldn't be that Murdoch rather decided that he was on the wrong side of the argument for once, could it? Still, Rebekah Wade has now come up her revenge: torture is fine as long as it's happening to nasty people. Who could possibly disagree?

Gareth Peirce - Is this what it was like for the Irish?

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David likes Shami!

Andy Burnham's comments on David Davis and Shami Chakrabarti in the oxymoronic Progress magazine are a typical resort to the kind of smearing and innuendo which comes when an individual has nothing left to resort to than insults and shit-stirring.

It's quite clear that Burnham knew exactly what he was doing with his less than subtle remarks on how civil liberties campaigners had been "seduced" by Davis, despite his support for capital punishment, and that Davis had been involved in "late-night heart-melting" phone calls, despite his spokesman claiming that he'd been misintrepreted. Burnham was simply picking up on rumours and grumblings from some Tories that Davis had had "his head turned" by Chakrabarti, and extending them even further by putting them directly into the public domain. Labour can't win the argument, doesn't want to even fight the argument, but they're more than happy to return to the days when the prime minister's spokesman suggested that Dr David Kelly was a "Walter Mitty" type character.

As pathetic as Burnham's remarks were however, it's an overreaction by Shami to threaten legal action, even if it's only if he continues, something he's obviously not going to do now. That said, when both Davis and Chakrabarti are happily married, such insinuations are intended to embarrass and cause casual suspicion, even if the suggestion is laughable.

Worth dealing with at the same time is this squeamishness, verging on blatant partisanship which is the refusal of many who consider themselves defenders of civil liberties to support David Davis, or that there should be someone who should stand to the left of Davis on a fully libertarian ticket. If this was a general election, I would completely agree. It isn't however; this is a stand by one man who along with many others considered 42 days to be the line in the sand that if crossed meant enough was enough. As such, this means we ought to hold our noses, ensure that Davis gets as large a majority as possible, and at the same time ensure that a debate on civil liberties, as all encompassing as possible, takes place. Burnham's remarks were also designed to be a distraction from this, as his party and leader cower in the darkness, too afraid to mention Davis in an abject speech on liberty and to stand a candidate against him, but not enough to pass off old Tory mumurings as new slurs. Conor Foley has said it best:

If there is also a strong vote for DD in the by-election, that can also be used to counter Brown’s “will of the people” argument. If the vote is weak then supporters of 42 days will argue the opposite. In fact they are already doing so.

You can wring their hands on this, but that is the reality. A vote for DD on this occasion is a vote against 42 days.

It's not difficult; that's all there is to it.

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Wednesday, June 18, 2008 

Louise Casey and engaging communities in fighting crime.

It can't be a bad life being Louise Casey, former "respek" tsar and now delivering blue sky thinking on the criminal justice system as a whole. No doubt being generously remunerated, she last week received the Order of the Bath in the Queen's birthday honours. Not bad for what most people consider the most heinous of failures, as the anti-social behaviour order thinking which she did so much to influence is being binned, whilst reoffending rates among the young taken through the criminal justice system spiral to all-time highs, with the highest number ever imprisoned also achieved.

Casey is therefore the perfect choice to deliver either her coup de grace or the start of something which could go anywhere, which is her "Engaging communities in fighting crime" (PDF) report. Here's the paradox that runs throughout her tortuous and at times combative, some would say grating prose: Casey agrees that in actual fact, on the crime front, much is rosy. She completely agrees with all the experts and seasoned commentators that however you frame it, crime has fallen dramatically over the last 10 years. What's more, victims are receiving a better standard of care from the CJS; there are record numbers of police officers and the neighbourhood policing teams are working well; public concern about anti-social behaviour, despite indications to the contrary, has fallen; the CJS has been reformed substantially, with more offenders than ever brought to justice and sentenced more harshly than previously; and 93% now pay fines which are handed down from court, probably because the bailiffs are now being employed to follow them up.

All this progress is however not enough for Casey: despite these improvements, the public's view of the situation on crime and the CJS is exceptionally poor, with hardly anyone trusting the statistics and none having faith in the system to protect the victims rather than the offenders. This, according to Casey, is a Very Bad Thing. She doesn't seem to think however that this is the direct result of the government giving up on attempting to make its point, or that it has in fact given in to the very worst of the scaremongering about the crime situation by accepting much of the tabloid critique of where justice is failing, and therefore encouraging this view that crime is worse than it is because the prisons are full and sentences are forever being toughened; she instead decides it's directly a result of the criminal justice system and its failing to provide adequate information, whilst also not being prepared to listen to the public, however ill-informed and reactionary they are. This is in fact is Casey directly disregarding the above view:

There are some who argue that the Government and the Criminal Justice System must not allow itself to be swayed by public opinion; that pandering to public opinion leads to ‘mob rule’ and an uncivilised society. But, currently, the system is so far away from pandering to public opinion that this seems the remotest of risks and, if anything, there is a greater risk of the public withdrawing even further from the active part they need to play. Radical change is needed to get the public more engaged in tackling crime and to stop the erosion of community spirit.

How Casey can come out with such abject piffle after 10 years of the government of which she's technically a part of pandering to the very worst of tabloid demands over crime and punishment is dismaying on its own; what's more dismaying is that she actually seems to believe it.

That is the main flaw in the report. Rather than there being a problem either with Casey's analysis, most of her conclusions or the methods used to gauge public opinion for the study, what it comes down to is Casey's tone, not just in her casual dismissal of concerns over "human rights", as evidenced by her interview on this morning's BBC Breakfast, it's in her moral righteousness which she expresses throughout. Here are a couple of samples just from her introduction:

This review is not a strategy or statement of government policy. Rather it is an analysis of what I have found by looking at the evidence, talking to the powers that be, the frontline workers and above all, the public. It’s a common-sense view on what further changes need to be made to build confidence and trust, and some suggestions on how those changes should happen.

Whenever someone invokes "common-sense", you have to set your bullshit meter to a higher level than it was previously on. So it proves in the conclusion to her introduction:

Most of all I would urge policy makers, professionals, lobby groups and law makers to take note of one thing – the public are not daft. They know what’s wrong, they know what’s right, and they know what they want on crime and justice. And it’s time action was taken on their terms.

Well no, the public aren't daft, and of course they know what they think is wrong and what's right and what they want. What matters is whether those thoughts are actually implementable, not likely to make things worse is in the long-term rather than better, and which don't infringe on the rights of us all. Judging by some of the responses which feature in the report, some of them would certainly fall short on not just one, but all three such measures. It would have been nice for Casey to have pointed out that the public are not infallible, and that public opinion is not always the best barometer of what to go by in politics. Instead she wishes to set herself up as a crusader for what the public demands, a bellwether that can get things done. That this is not always the best way to achieve change should surely not be necessary to point out to her.

One of the main problems I have with the conclusions, or rather what she proposes, is in essence nothing to do with them at all; it's that they're not collected in the actual report at any stage for ease of reading, instead spreading them throughout the report. That this will make the casual reader despair instantly isn't encouraging for the chances of anyone outside saddos like myself or policy wonks reading the thing. Once you've got through relative sections and past such incisive contributions from the public as calling the CPS the "criminal protection service" and "I'm all for human rights but what about the people who have been victims?" the great majority are benign, or indeed, generally ones that would help to improve the system. The headlines have predictably been on the high visibility jackets and posters of the convicted, on which more in a second, but the recommendations on the creation of a Public Commissioner on Crime, for the Victims' Surcharge to be directly spent on projects that support victims and a Victims' Compensation Fund and for separate seating arrangements in courts (a bugbear of a certain Ms Newlove) are all sound ones. Less instantly positive are Casey's proposals for the expansion of anonymous witness protection, which greatly increase the potential for miscarriages of justice and for the dragging through the courts of personal vendettas, even if only to be expanded to the "vulnerable", i.e. the disabled and elderly, as it then raises the question on where the line itself will be eventually drawn.

As alluded to above, the most contentious of Casey's proposals are on what needs to be changed in the community service system. Straight off the bat, she wants it to be renamed to "Community Payback". That community service is not all just about directly serving those who have been wronged but also about helping to rehabilitate the offender, something that has been shown to be highly challenging to next to impossible in prison itself goes out of the window entirely; indeed, Casey wants it to be directly tended out to private firms rather than operated by the probation service. That this will just add another layer of bureaucracy when the private firms need to refer an offender back if they haven't turned up or have refused to take part seems to have passed Casey by. Thankfully, the poster idea doesn't seem to have actually turned up in the report itself, and there also isn't a specific mention of those on it having to wear a bib or sash declaring they are on "Community Payback"; all she makes clear is that the punishment should be visible and demanding, and not something that the public themselves would choose to do. That in some areas this might leave those in charge with very little to actually get those on "Community Payback" to do also seems to have been ignored; where there isn't graffiti to be cleaned or rubbish to be picked up, which incidentally often are jobs that are done also by those getting paid, what exactly will be they doing? Breaking rocks? Doing push-ups? Casey doesn't say. Also, as has been pointed out, in some areas those on community service already are highly visible and do the above. That it doesn't seem to have altered the impression that it's a soft option, possibly because that's what the popular press always refers to it as, regardless of how much the government toughens it doesn't seem to have registered.

It's this that lets the report down because so much else in it is praiseworthy. All of her recommendations on how to tackle the lack of trust in the statistics relating to crime are excellent ones which deserve to be adopted immediately: an wholly independent body that releases them, a Statistics Authority that draws up a protocol on the responsible use of such figures that all, including politicians, the media and interest groups would be expected to sign up to, information on local crime published monthly, and crime maps available online. There's also this quite wonderful piece of information on just how the public react when told about crime going up or down that really ought to have shaped the whole report:

In a survey of 1,808 members of the public for the review, when told crime had decreased and asked who should take the credit, 46% credited the police, 21% said they didn’t believe crime had decreased, and only 15% credited the Government.

But when told crime had increased and asked who should take most of the blame, 42% blamed the Government, 32% blamed parents and only 20% blamed the police.

Interestingly, while a significant number of people spontaneously challenged the statement that crime had decreased, none challenged the statement that it had increased. And only 12% blamed criminals for an increase in crime.

That's the sort of bullshit challenging research that could have been the centrepiece of Casey's investigation. Instead, rather than directly challenging the public and such orthodoxy, she panders to it, and criticises others for being patronising towards the public by not taking their views seriously enough. There has to be a middle way: accepting that the public's concerns are real, that change is necessary in most of the cases where Casey has pointed out, but also directly challenging some of the notions which the public has that simply aren't backed by the current evidence base. We haven't yet found such a solution, and there certainly isn't one on the horizon, nor is it here in this report.

David Howarth - Toughing it out on justice

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Tuesday, June 17, 2008 

Security and liberty can be protected - but only if you're stuck inside Gordon Brown's head.

It all now seems such a long time ago, but back in October of last year Gordon Brown made a rather good and generally well-received speech on liberty. Refreshing because of the gaping difference between his apparent favoured approach and that of his predecessor and tabloid pleasing ministers, he set out a narrative in the first half from the Magna Carta to the Human Rights Act, incorporating quotes along the way from such figures as Bolingbroke, Voltaire, de Tocqueville, Orwell, Himmelfarb, Stuart Mill, T. H. Green and Hobson. Never could you have imagined Blair giving such a speech; for him, history was something to be made rather than learned from, and his most infamous and likely to be remembered effort is the speech in which he condemned the values of the 1960s for bringing us to where we are today. The second half where Brown attempted to defend policies bequeathed to him by that man was far less convincing, and it also made clear that he would have no truck with 42-day dissenters while also pretending that he welcomed a debate on it. My added comment is now perhaps worth restating simply because of how wrong I got it in hindsight:

In contrast to my usual dismeanour, I'm optimistic that Brown does mean the majority of what he said in this speech. It doesn't go far enough, obviously, but to pour opprobrium over him as so many over at CiF already have, especially when authoritarians over other matters like David Davis are raising their highly hypocritical heads is to abandon any hope that something might just improve from the Blair days.

With that mea culpa, we're brought back to the present day. Anyone would have thought that the authoritarian David Davis has well and truly put the wind up not just his own party, but the government also. It's unclear whether Brown's speech today to the Institute for Public Policy Research was planned in advance or whether he changed his topic as a result of last week's developments, but that Brown in it covers all the issues on which Davis has said he wishes to fight the government seems more than just a convenient coincidence. Perhaps this is to be the Labour response: not prepared to dignify Davis's "stunt" with an actual candidate, this is to be their submission to Davis's challenge of a debate on civil liberties.

If so, it shows just how paper thin, hollow, patronising and running scared the government is. Up until now, it hasn't been so directly and so significantly challenged over the casual dilution of civil liberties, mainly because the removal has been so stealthily achieved and smoothed over by the popular press in favour of the constant cracking down on crime. Whatever some of those now challenging and cynical of Davis's motives are saying, it can't be denied that his stand has forced at the least a reappraisal and a justification from the government of all that is doing.

From the very beginning, the tone is wrong. Just examine this, the second full sentence:

The modern security challenge is defined by new and unprecedented threats: terrorism; global organised crime; organised drug trafficking and people trafficking. This is the new world in which government must work out how it best discharges its duty to protect people.

But none of these threats are new, and none of them are unprecedented. Brown now seems prepared to pay the same haughty disregard for history as his despised predecessor: terrorism has been with us for hundreds of years (Guy Fawkes, the nihilists, etc etc), and while organised crime has only fairly recently became global in scale, organised crime is nothing new; nor is organised drug trafficking, as the Opium Wars testify, and people trafficking is much the same. This is not a new world, but it's handy to pretend it is so that the government can attempt to justify changes which otherwise would be considered both completely unnecessary and also detrimental to the rights of the "British people" as a whole.

It's this sort of dishonest rhetorical flourish which runs like a thread through the entire speech. Skipping a few hundred words of mostly platitudinous statements, we come upon this next one:

It could be said that for too long we have used nineteenth century means to solve twenty first century problems. Instead we must have twenty first century methods to deal with twenty first century challenges.

As if we hadn't already been using "twenty first century" methods. That isn't of course the implication; the actual implication is that the likes of Davis and other critics are standing in the way of or threatening these decent, progressive "twenty first century methods". The reality is that these "twenty first century" methods have been pushed through with little consultation, such as the establishment of the system which monitors the motorways and can be used to follow almost anyone as they travel across the country, or the huge numbers of CCTV cameras which have been put up with little or no debate over their actual efficacy in either solving or preventing crime.

Brown continues:

So I want to focus today on the use of modern technology in fighting crime and protecting our borders - and focus on the argument that new laws or new technologies threaten the rights of the individual.

Put it this way: while the old world was one where we could use only fingerprints, now we have the technology of DNA.

While the old world relied on the eyes of a policeman out on patrol, today we also have the back-up of CCTV.

While the old world used only photographs to identify people, now we have biometrics.

Of course all these new technologies raise new problems and I will discuss them today. But the answer is not to reject the new 21st century means of detecting and preventing crime - but to simultaneously adopt the new technologies where they can help - and to strengthen the protection of the individual:

· never subjecting the citizen to arbitrary treatment,

· always respecting basic rights and freedoms,

· and, wherever new action is needed, matching it with stronger safeguards and more transparency and scrutiny.

Again, it doesn't seem to matter to Brown's argument that all the technologies he mentions are twentieth century creations rather than twenty-first century ones, but his point remains the same. The difficulty here is that the technologies have been adopted or are to be adopted, while the protection of the individual has been either completely ignored or only been thought of after protest. Brown's listing of where the citizen must be protected is laughable: the citizen already is subject to arbitrary treatment, as we have seen with the recent terror laws on a number of separate occasions, basic rights and freedoms, such as the freedom to protest in the heart of our democracy (on which more in a moment) have been taken away, with the freedom to protest itself under threat in some areas, while "new action" as Brown terms it has never been matched with strong enough safeguards or transparency, as 42 days has so recently demonstrated.

From here, it's little surprise that Brown quickly resorts to an ad-hominem, straw man argument dressed up in typically Brownian patriotic nonsense:

And there is, in my view, a British way of meeting this challenge. The British way cannot be a head-in-the-sand approach that ignores the fact that the world has changed with the advent of terrorism which aims for civilian casualties on a massive scale and which respects not only no law, but also no recognisable moral framework.

Have we got that then? All those opposed to 42 days are head-in-the-sanders, ignoring that the world has changed. It wasn't so long back that even the egregious Tony McNulty was trying to tell us that despite Blair's declaration after 7/7 that the "rules of the game are changing" the government had recognised that it had gone too far. This now seems to have been completely abandoned, and strangely, or not so strangely, just as the government has lost the argument but won the vote.

There's little point going over the 42 day arguments yet again, as Brown does, but there is this that is just pure fiction which is worth highlighting:

This is the driving force behind the proposals the Government is bringing forward - including the counter-terrorism provisions we asked Parliament to approve last week. And we don't suggest these changes to be tough or populist - but because we believe they are necessary.

Except that only a tiny band believe they are necessary, while those that don't include the director of public prosecutions, numerous former attorney generals and government legal advisers, and also even apparently the former head of MI5, Eliza Manningham-Buller. Tough and populist doesn't even begin to cover it. Similarly dishonest and to ignore not just the actions of the past few days but also years is this:

We must recognise that winning the battle of ideas means championing liberty. To say we should ignore the longstanding claims of liberty when faced with the urgent needs of security is tempting to some, but never to me - it would be to embark down an illiberal path that is as unacceptable to the British people as it is to me.

Where were you then Gordon when we imprisoned "foreign terror suspects" indefinitely without charge, only struck down by the law Lords? You didn't hesitate to battle Blair on other measures, but not on that. You've stood by while the control order regime, both illiberal and ineffective in equal measure has been established, while refusing to introduce the intercept evidence which might allow their cases to go to trial. The only thing that seems to have been unacceptable to you is the idea that you would never become prime minister.

Brown moves on:

Take the issue of identity - the second issue I want to discuss today. People's identity is precious and needs to be secure. But is a simple fact that the scale of identity fraud is increasing - that more people are facing distressing and disruptive attempts to steal their identity, and technology has made it far easier for people to perpetuate that fraud. But new technology offers us an opportunity to redress the balance. So one of the best examples of how we can confront the modern criminal while respecting liberties is the use of biometrics, already planned to be introduced into passports across the world, but also offering us the opportunity to protect individuals' identities in their everyday lives.

We know that as many as one in four criminals use false identities - and with terrorist suspects it is almost universal. One September 11th hijacker used 30 false identities to obtain credit cards and a quarter of a million dollars of debt. Many terrorist suspects arrested since 2001 have had large numbers of false identities. No one is suggesting that an identity card scheme will stop terrorist attacks overnight. But if it can make it harder for people not just to travel across borders with multiple identities, but also to raise money or rent safe houses or buy sensitive material - all anonymously - it can potentially disrupt the operations of terrorists and other criminals - something we must surely be making every effort to do.

Note that although Brown mentions a September the 11th hijacker he doesn't say anything about the Madrid bombers, all of whom had ID cards. This specific linking of terrorists with the ID card system is something Brown eschewed in his previous speech, precisely because they will do nothing whatsoever to prevent terrorism, as ministers know only too well. Terrorist use of false identities is almost always incidental in any case - the 7/7 bombers had details of who they were on them, as they wanted to be identified, as other martyrdom seekers do.

But as well as the contribution which I believe a biometric identity scheme can make to these national challenges, I believe it can also make a powerful contribution on an individual level to our personal security. Opponents of the identity card scheme like to suggest that its sole motivation is to enhance the power of the state - but in fact it starts from a recognition of the importance of something which is fundamental to the rights of the individual: the right to have your identity protected and secure. This is why, despite years of exaggeration about its costs and its implications for liberty, public support for it remains so strong.

It again matters little that the costs have not been exaggerated, as shown by the already staggering cost of the scheme, with the cost of an ID card likely to be in the region of £93, all for the privilege of proving who you are, or that the cards will quickly be open to forgery, as all other systems have been, what it comes down to is Brown and the government telling us it will make your identities more secure. Strangely, no one believes them.

People understand the value of secure identity. In banking, to protect their money, people were happy to move from signatures to PIN numbers. Increasingly they are moving to biometrics - for example, many people now have laptops activated by finger-scans.

Which completely misses the point that they themselves are the ones personally in control of that. With the ID card scheme, we are not, and we don't trust those who are.

But as with our proposals on terrorist legislation, we must match our efforts to improve our security with stronger safeguards on liberty. We have no plans for it to become compulsory for people to carry an ID card. We have made this clear in the legislation: that the identity card scheme will not be used to place new requirements on people, but, on those occasions in everyday life where people already have to carry ID - if they want to prove their age, or open a bank account, or apply for a job, or register with a GP - it will provide a better, more convenient and more secure way of doing it, not just relying on a couple of utility bills, and one which meets a national standard.

Yet more layers of bullshit. If the scheme is not to become compulsory, the government wouldn't be spending such a ridiculous amount on it, and it's incredibly likely to become so once they think it's reached critical mass, hence the wonderful idea to force it on public servants and students first, the kind of people who are both disliked and who can do very little about it in turn. It's also worth asking what the point of the huge database is behind the system if all this is going to be a simple, pleasant little user-friendly tool which will just help us prove who we are. We could set up a simple national standard scheme based on the smallest amount of information possible in a fraction of the time and cost. Instead we have a completely exorbitant scheme making use of the most information possible, with fines for those who eventually refuse to have one.

I welcome the report of the all-party Home Affairs Select Committee on 5 June, which - based not on knee-jerk reactions but a year of thorough and impartial research - firmly rejected the characterisation of Britain as a "Surveillance Society" - but warned at the same time against complacency, and called for both practical measures and principled commitments from the Government to ensure the balance of liberty and security is maintained.

Here we have yet more obfuscation and selective reading on the part of Brown. The report by the HASC in fact specifically warned that we were in danger of becoming a "surveillance society" and said that the ID card scheme was potentially one of the biggest threats of that becoming reality because of the possibility it could be used to routinely spy on the individual.

Having completely failed to even begin to make the case for ID cards, Brown moves on to CCTV:

From the IRA terrorist campaign in the 1990s and the Brixton nail bomber in 1999, to the terrorist incidents in London in July 2005, CCTV either used by the police or released to the public helped in the identification of suspects, and played an important role in the subsequent prosecutions. In central Newcastle, after CCTV was installed, burglaries fell by 56 per cent, criminal damage by 34 per cent, and theft by 11 per cent.

It is the clear benefits of CCTV in fighting crime - from terrorism down to anti-social behaviour - which have led to its increased use by the police and transport and local authorities - and also by shops and businesses. The role of Government however is not just to identify the opportunities for improving our security but, again, to match them with strong safeguards on our liberty and privacy. We absolutely accept the challenge set down by the Home Affairs Committee: that we must demonstrate that "any extension of the use of camera surveillance is justified by evidence of its effectiveness". And I can tell you today that in addition to the safeguards set out in our CCTV strategy in November we are happy to accept the Committee's recommendation that the Information Commissioner should produce an annual report on the state of surveillance in the UK for Parliamentary debate.

So let us not pretend that CCTV is intrinsically the enemy of liberty. Used correctly, with the right and proper safeguards, CCTV cuts crime, and makes people feel safer - in some cases, it actually helps give them back their liberty, the liberty to go about their everyday lives with reassurance.

Here Brown here makes no real case for CCTV having prevented crime. Yes, in certain cases it does a fine job in identifying those that have committed crimes, but as for prevention the case has simply not been made by anyone. It would be interesting to know when Newcastle introduced its CCTV scheme and whether this is any correlation with its installation, or whether the drop is simply because crime has fell substantially over the last 10 years, but Brown doesn't provide any background, only figures which are easily amenable. A police officer recently revealed that only 3% of street crime in London, a place completely covered with CCTV, is solved using cameras, and this is a point David Davis has directly made. Many of them simply don't provide high enough quality images to be used in prosecutions, making them useless while doing nothing to reassure anyone, with the opposite often being the case. CCTV may make some feel safer, but it's a false, irrational sense of safety which is quickly forgotten. It is a praiseworthy move that the information commissioner will produce a yearly report on the state of surveillance, but whether any suggestions the report makes will be listened to or properly debated is another matter.

Finally then, to the DNA database:

Through a series of careful changes we have made DNA one of the most effective tools in fighting crime. And we have worked with the police and also the Home Affairs Select Committee and others to ensure that proper safeguards are in place.

As a result, the National DNA Database has revolutionised the way the police protect the public. In the last full year for which figures have been made public, the DNA database matched suspects with over 40,000 crimes. That's over a hundred crimes a day which would be harder to solve, sometimes impossible, without the use of DNA - including 450 homicides, almost 650 rapes, over 200 other sex offences, almost 2,000 violent offences and over 8,500 burglaries.

Again, it's not clear whether in these cases the suspect's DNA was already on the database or whether when they were arrested it was taken and then subsequently matched in order to confirm the police's case against them. No one is going to dispute that the DNA database is an incredibly helpful tool to the police which has helped them solve numerous crimes, it's over what Brown next turns to where there is real concern:

I say to those who questioned the changes in the Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001, which allowed DNA to be retained from all charged suspects even if not found guilty: if we had not made this change, 8,000 suspects who have been matched with crime scenes since 2001 would in all probability have got away, their DNA having been deleted from the database. This includes 114 murders, 55 attempted murders, 116 rapes, 68 other sexual offences, 119 aggravated burglaries, and 127 drugs offences.

And I say to those who opposed the proposals in the Criminal Justice Act 2003, to allow the police to take DNA samples not just from those charged, but from all those arrested for serious, recordable offences: again, if we had not made this change, there would be serious and dangerous criminals escaping justice and continuing to pose a threat to the public. It is simply not responsible government to let such opportunities to use new technologies to protect the public pass us by.

But again, we have matched these careful extensions in the use of DNA with the right safeguards: DNA can only be recorded for people arrested for a recordable offence; the use of that DNA has clear limits set down in legislation, by the Police and Criminal Evidence Act; and there are stringent limits on those who are able to access the information.

I don't think that anyone is now suggesting that data taken from those arrested should not at least be checked with the database to confirm that they are not a match for other serious offences, as this is after all how the likes of Mark Dixie have been convicted. Instead, there needs to be a compromise, where those who have been arrested but never charged with any crime have their data checked and if nothing comes up, then and only then should it be removed and destroyed. The problem is that we simply can't trust the police to do this, as previous cases where children who have been arrested for something completely trivial have shown, with police procrastinating and only finally destroying their fingerprints and DNA sample when parents went to the press and demanded it be done while they were present. More specifically the real concern is that the police and government are acquiring and attempting to create a representative database by stealth, and as ever more minute amounts of DNA are taken from crime scenes, the potential for miscarriages of justice increases greatly. The recent prosecution of Sean Hoey and the case of Shirley McKie are testament to this, and some might also point towards the minute amounts of samples taken from the fibres in the back of the McCann's hire car, directly leading to the lurid accusations against them also.

Brown is of course also being completely disengenuous: the police can now arrest anyone for almost any reason they can think of if they're so inclined, thanks to the final removal of any distinction over what an arrestable offence is and isn't. They're then perfectly within their rights to take your fingerprints and a DNA sample, and there's absolutely nothing you can do about it, whether you're charged with any crime or not. Seeing as the government has also then created somewhere in the region of 3,000 new offences which you can be charged with, there's plenty of room for manoeuvre.

We are now approaching the end, but Brown leaves one of the most astonishing and risible claims until now:

And it is a measure of the emphasis that we place on at all times advancing the liberties of the individual that we have in the past year done more to extend freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of the press and freedom of information. To summarise, we have given people new rights to protest outside Parliament

No you haven't - all you've done is given us our old right back! How typically New Labour to claim credit for something which they've first taken away, only to then give back. And that's not all:

We have removed barriers to investigative journalism

By removed barriers, Brown must mean "allowed tabloid scum to keep digging into celebrity lowlife and anyone ever accused of any crime" via private investigators and the very databases which Brown has just spent so much time eulogising while claiming to be secure!

It's this though that even defeats both of the above for being completely ridiculous and out-of-touch with reality:

And I agree with those who argue that the very freedoms we have built up over generations are the freedoms terrorists most want to destroy. And we must not - we will not - allow them to do so.

Except you've just admirably done their job for them. Why do they need to bother when the prime minister can hide behind technological developments and blatant scaremongering on how deadly the threat it is for further extending detention without charge and removing the very liberties they loathe?

If the prime minister so believes all of the above though, instead of just making a speech on it, why doesn't he and his party stand a candidate arguing all of the above against David Davis? If you're so sure of your case, and in some places it is more credible than in others, why not stand by your convictions? That Brown won't but that he will make a speech rather than enter into open debate suggests that he knows full well that he and the government would lose the argument, just as they did over 42 days even if they won the vote. Isn't this the prime minister that has so cornered the market in writing about courage? On civil liberties, Brown really can be accused of bottling it.

Related posts:
OurKingdom - Brown dumps UK's national security strategy
Rachel North - Scared New World
Lee Griffin - We must remove civil liberties to give you freedom

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Monday, June 16, 2008 

Man the barricades.

Has there ever been a more ridiculous, ill-thought through, completely unworkable policy based entirely upon gesture politics than Scotland's apparent banning of the sale of alcohol in supermarkets and off-licences to those under-21?

Oh wait, there's 42 days.

Stumbling and Mumbling - Managerialism and the law
Rowenna Davis - There is no cure for underage drinking

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Cowardy custard.

Can you say reverse ferret? On Friday Kelvin MacKenzie told the Today programme that he was 90% certain that he was going to run against David Davis in the Haltemprice and Howden by-election; by Monday it appears apparent that neither he nor the Sun have the stomach for such a battle over the policy which they have done the most to support and defend of any newspaper.

Some are ascribing this to the overwhelmingly positive response outside of Westminster to Davis's decision to resign and re-fight his seat on a civil liberties platform. I think that's certainly a factor, and the Sun doesn't want to be seen to be on the wrong side of public opinion, but I also think that it was a daft idea from the start. We know that this was mooted at Rebekah Wade's birthday party, attended by both MacKenzie and Murdoch himself, where doubtless all were well lubricated and tired and possibly emotional, and that MacKenzie then first let slip about it on the This Week sofa which he'd gone straight to from the party, without necessarily being given the go-ahead by Murdoch in anything beyond platitudes.

Firstly it was a strange idea because as we know, Murdoch always wants to back the winner, and one thing's for sure, MacKenzie was not going to win, and going by his completely feeble arguments on This Week on why we shouldn't be afraid of either the state or the police, no one outside of the Monster Raving Loony party circle was going to be convinced. Secondly, how MacKenzie was going to be funded was always going to be difficult: Murdoch himself can't because he's a foreigner, the Sun can't be seen to be funding any candidate, and it was always going to be something questioned as to where his money was coming from. Thirdly, even if Davis has told the Cameron tendency to sit and spin and royally annoyed them by his stand, running a candidate directly against Davis on the measure which they've opposed is not going to make them more amenable when the Sun is likely to be shortly sucking up to Dave and co as the election looms into view. Fourthly, part of the reason as to why Andy Coulson, former editor of the News of the Screws was appointed as Cameron's chief spin doctor was to attempt to woo the Murdoch press which had previously been incredibly sniffy about him. It still is, but it's hard not to believe that Coulson will have been dispatched to attempt to reach some sort of agreement with his old friends so as not for both sides to fully fall out.

More importantly, Murdoch and others at the Sun, when not thinking through alcoholic stupor, would have realised that it set a rather silly precedent. If the Sun is so certain that it is on the side of the public in all its fiercely expressed views rather than the politicians it so lambasts, why doesn't it put its money where its mouth is and formerly stand candidates at general elections? The fact is that it isn't that certain, that its campaigns which it starts and often so frighten politicians are often over-egged and given figures of support from its readers which are unrealistic, and above all, it's lazy. Running a campaign would take effort which certainly doesn't show itself in the pages of its newspaper, and what's more, there's no more certain way to annoy your readers than to keep permanently talking about how you're right and great and that you must pledge complete allegiance to the brand.

Probably most importantly, someone reminded both MacKenzie and the newspaper of that toxic word: Hillsborough. All that was needed was for any of the groups associated with that disaster to turn up at a canvassing, or a debate which would undoubtedly have been held, and all the unpleasantness of MacKenzie's refusal to apologise and the Sun's constant flagellating that will never appease the rightly aggrieved would have been brought back to the surface.

Hence there wasn't a single word published in the paper itself of MacKenzie's apparent fledgling candidacy. After the mauling which Davis received in the paper in Friday's leader, the mood completely changed over the weekend. Today the real ideological power behind the paper, Trevor Kavanagh, called him an "ego-driven maverick" but admitted he had a stuck a cord. Even more amazingly, and signalling the paper has done a full reverse ferret, there's probably one of the biggest attacks on the paper's own repeated leader line that has ever appeared within its own confines tomorrow courtesy of Fergus Shanahan, which will be incredibly handy whenever the paper reminds us again if we have nothing to hide we've got nothing to fear:

Three myths are peddled by Davis’s opponents.

The first is that if you are against 42 days, you are soft on terror.

Rubbish. I have backed capital punishment for terrorist murderers while many of those kicking Davis are against it. How am I soft on terror?

The second myth is that weary old chestnut: “If you’ve nothing to hide, why worry?” That’s what German civilians told each other as they looked the other way while the concentration camps were being built.

The third myth is that there is massive public support for 42 days.

Of course, there's the usual Sun idiocy we've come to expect about executing "terrorist murderers" when most of them will either be dead or want to be martyred anyway, but this is pretty incisive stuff for a paper which usually has no truck with any of these woolly ideals. Even more astonishing is this bit earlier on:

Davis has hit the nail on the head. We HAVE allowed ourselves to be browbeaten by fears of Islamic terror attacks into abandoning too many of our freedoms — something I have said for months. Many Sun readers agree with me.

But Shanahan's own leader line doesn't; it wants to give away even more freedoms. Although as the leader line is directly decided upon by Murdoch himself, Shanahan isn't likely to have done anything to alter it.

All these reasons for MacKenzie rolling his tanks back however though don't hide that most of all, the decision not to stand for something the Sun and he so believe in is cowardice. Davis stands up to be counted, and the Sun sits down. If this really is a victory for the overwhelming opinion being expressed online, then it's something worth celebrating and cherishing. New Labour and the Sun: united in their weakness.

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Saturday, June 14, 2008 

The luck of the Irish.

We are then back where we started. The only people to be offered a referendum, and only then because Ireland's own constitution demands it, and they make the wise decision to reject it, and on a remarkably high turnout as well of 53.1%. Little wonder then that rest of Europe has rushed to decide to completely ignore the only direct democratic will of the people on the matter.

As Nosemonkey writes, don't even begin to imagine that this is the final downfall of the EU constitution, or the Lisbon treaty as few bother to call it; it's already showed that it's the veritable Rasputin of convoluted, indecipherable legal documents. For those of us who favour the European Union but are exasperated at how utterly useless those in government and outside of it are at winning far larger public support for it, this is the best possible outcome.

Ignore the nonsense emanating from the UKIP tendency of how this was a vote against greater integration, primarily it was a vote against something which only judges, bureaucrats and lawyers can understand and a vote against the politicians who didn't even attempt to help those voting understand. Someone said you'd have to be mad to attempt to read it, let alone understand it, and they'd be right. Enough people struggle with a book like Vernon God Little, let alone something which you could break windows with were you to throw it. If you don't understand it, vote no. Who could possibly argue with such basic logic, or blame them for doing so?

It matters little that some of the other reasons why the constitution were opposed were either imaginary or scaremongering, mainly because that's exactly how the Irish government played it too, as did the other EU politicians who bothered to comment. As so often happens when something involves the EU, if you don't do as you're told, threats must be involved. Hence there was no real case made for why the European Union has been such a boon for Ireland, and that the constitution, for all its faults, is for the moment the only way forward; instead it bordered on the we must support this, but we can't really be bothered making the cause for why. Just get along to the polling station and do the right thing, OK?

Now that the wretched thing has been defeated yet again, it would be nice if instead of going through the same ritual as before, i.e. coming up with a document 95% the same but which really is different, honest, trust us, which was only always going to end in tears, the EU sat back and considered for a moment where it's gone so wrong. Not just is there such a monumental democratic deficit, there's also so little room for consultation with those outside the inner circle of politicians that everyone, with more than a little justice, sees it as a monolithic, unaccountable and completely out of touch bureaucracy that fundamentally cannot be trusted and which can't even get its accounts signed off.

The only thing that is going to save it, and get any constitution accepted by almost any population outside the mainly pro-Europe central European nations is root and branch reform from the bottom up. Strict, complete limits need to be set down that make crystal clear where EU power begins and independent nation state power begins. It needs to be decided whether we want a "social" Europe, the foremost reason why the constitution was originally rejected by the French and Dutch and one of the factors in Ireland, of the kind envisioned in the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, or one where free trade and movement takes precedent, as the Peter Mandelson-types support. Most fundamentally of all, each nation state should be directly asked in a referendum whether it wants to remain in the EU at all. Let's have a proper debate on the benefits and the downsides, as free from fabrication, innuendo and the bullshit which goes hand in hand with coverage of Europe in the right-wing tabloids as possible, and make a decision for at least the next generation. Perhaps then we might start to get either the Europe we need - or the Europe we deserve.

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Friday, June 13, 2008 

On the media's response to Davis and the Sun's entering of the fray.

The overwhelming response of the media to David Davis's decision to resign and fight a by-election on 42 days and civil liberties seems only confirm the increasing disconnect, not just between politicians and the public, but also between the media and the country outside the Westminster village. Almost universally, Davis has been insulted, slurred, accused in some cases of succumbing to mental illness, and disparaged. The Guardian, while being sympathetic to his decision, variously throughout its pages calls him an "oddball", "egotistical" and a "loner", suggests his campaign may turn "quixotic" and has "Sir" Michael White saying that "such unpredictability unsettles the trade". At the other end of the spectrum, the Sun is even more vitriolic, headlining its leader "Crazy Davis", asking rhetorically whether he's "gone stark raving mad", and then goes on to declare that his stepping down was an act of "treachery", that he's a second-rate politician, serially disloyal which "provides further evidence of a deranged mind", that this is "petulant grandstanding" and finally, that he's "loopy". And this is before it's even launched its likely campaign for Kelvin MacKenzie.

All of this would be very well if the fourth estate was only catering for the Westminster village; this is almost undoubtedly exactly what they think of Davis and his very different to Ron Davies' moment of madness. The bloody man's resigned over a principle! We can't have that sort of thing going on here! The Conservative front-benchers have been completely flummoxed because they can't get their heads round how someone could do something that so endangers his actual career prospects. When you're as focused and ambitious as some of the filth that passes for the next generation, like Michael Gove and George Osborne, to potentially ruin your chances of getting your hands on the power to run the country seems akin to stripping naked, smothering yourself in butter and running around the houses of parliament with a gag in your mouth and a hedgehog up your backside. They're agog and aghast at the embarrassment and most of all, the difference to what is routinely expected of them. Forget 42 days and terrorists, to them this seems a far more dangerous outbreak of independent thinking and action.

Outside of that prism, even if they don't necessarily agree with Davis over 42 days, most ordinary people seem to respect him just because his decision was both so unexpected and outside of the norm. The online response to it seems to have been mostly positive, apart from those who have voiced their more than valid concerns that Davis is a social conservative rather than a true libertarian, which dulls his stance to an extent. This though seems to me to miss the point. For all those who have suggested that it'll turn into farce, today's coverage does generally seemed to have towards the issues itself rather than the personalities involved, and Davis, pledging to make the case and attempt to turn public opinion over 42 days in a way in which the wider political class has failed to do so is more than admirable, it's essential. At the moment we're stuck in the rut of this being framed as a vital measure that is needed by the police just in case; what it actually is just the most vivid example of the slow dilution of essential liberties which have in some cases, but not in all, been taken away without the slightest of comment and consultation, or where there has been, under the pretence that it's needed because our security demands it and not to do so is to be either irresponsible or "soft" on either crime or terror.

This view could be not more crystallised by the quite brilliant decision by Rupert Murdoch, Rebekah Wade and Kelvin MacKenzie to involve themselves. Never before has there been such a great opportunity to puncture the Sun's claimed stranglehold on the public mood and to make clear that rather than speaking for the people, it tells them what to think in coalition with whichever current politician has made a pact with the Prince of Darkness himself. The Sun doesn't represent the traditionally small-c conservative view on liberty, or the liberal-statist view on liberty as espoused by the Guardian, it represents the chuckleheaded, moronic, complacent and acquiescent view of it. Witness the great oaf of a man, who still can't bring himself to apologise to the people of Liverpool for publishing the most vicious of lies about how they behaved in the aftermath of the worst football tragedy this country has ever seen, telling everyone that he doesn't care whether terrorist suspects are locked up for 420 days, about CCTV cameras or ID cards, not because he actually believes they will make things any better, but because he simply is Kelvin MacKenzie. It doesn't affect him because no one's going to accuse him of terrorism, or follow his movements and spy on him, or attempt to steal his identity, because he's a middle-class opinion-former that's more than comfortably off and has the ear of one of the richest and most powerful men in the world. He doesn't have anything to hide because he couldn't really do anything lower than he's already managed in his tabloid career.

Here's the paradox of the Sun's position on civil liberties and the state. Murdoch and his papers believe in the smallest state achievable, the lowest taxes and the most business friendly environment for himself. When it comes to the actual power of the state over the citizen rather than faceless corporations, then he and his papers are all in favour of it. Give the police what they want! Constant CCTV surveillance! A DNA database containing everyone's fingerprints and blood samples! As tough on crime and thugs and yobs, regardless of the consequences as feasible! You only have to read the shopping list of demands that the Sun drew up in co-operation with the "mothers in arms" to get an inkling of what the paper in its wildest dreams would like the state of civil liberties in this country to look like: everyone a suspect, everyone assumed guilty until proved innocent, and you being strung up in public by the knackers for looking at a kid the wrong way. I exaggerate slightly, but only slightly, as it doesn't support capital punishment; castration of paedophiles, well, that's another matter.

The Sun's arrogance was exposed on Question Time last night. The paper's political editor, George Pascoe-Watson, was going through the usual routine of rather than giving his personal opinion instead using every opportunity to give the paper's view, and to plug it at the same time. Hence he made much of the Sun's "help for heroes" campaign, but came unstuck on one of the later questions when he began with something along the lines of "Well, as you know we on the Sun..." to which David Dimbleby interrupted with "Not everyone reads the Sun, you know", to which the audience heartily applauded. The Question Time audience is hardly representative, but what it did show was that the Sun's positioning is nowhere near as popular as it imagines, even among its readers which devour the sport and the celebrity but couldn't care less about its atrocious politics. This is exactly what Davis's campaign should pick up upon if Kelvin MacKenzie does stand, which will be incredibly interesting purely because of where his funding will come from, considering Murdoch is barred from donating as he's not a British citizen. No doubt some convoluted structure will be found that will be allowed. Instead of listening to people, what the Sun does is decide upon a line and then dictate it, regardless of what anyone else says, and if anyone suitably outspoken comes along and challenges it, then the smearing commences. Its cynical use of those that don't support it, such as the head of the British Muslim Forum, who said the opposite of what the Sun said he had on 42 days, and the completely misleading interpretation of MI5's statement are prime examples.

For if Davis's decision to contest a by-election on 42 days is vanity, then the Murdoch decision to oppose him is a potential disaster for both them and the Labour party. If Labour doesn't stand a candidate, and despite all the nonsense, if the Liberal Democrats aren't standing then Labour's chances will be greatly improved, MacKenzie will be in effect their candidate, making their arguments in an even more inarticulate way than they've managed in parliament, and by God, that's saying something. Gordon Brown can call it a stunt turned into a farce all he likes, but if his party refuses to stand, then it only shows them up as doing what the Sun does: taking the public completely for granted and not seeking their opinion at all, instead telling them what their opinion should be. Even if MacKenzie decides against standing and Davis is up only against a Monster Raving Loony, he's still made his point, and what's more, it just shows the contempt that those who are above the law for the civil liberties of the majority. The more I think about it, the more Davis's stand gives us an opportunity and a chance that we previously didn't have: to make the case for the rolling back of the state's authoritarian but completely ineffective incursion on the daily life of the citizen. When our opponents are either this pipsqueak or the worst the Sun has to offer, it really will be impossible not to force at the least a pause in the slow but consistent momentum towards something resembling a police state.

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Thursday, June 12, 2008 

Davis deserves and needs support.

Apart from "Aha!", the other catchphrase that Alan Partridge bequeathed us was "and on that bombshell...". I'm sure that Steve Coogan won't begrudge us somewhat stealing it to describe David Davis's completely unexpected resignation from the post of shadow home secretary and as an MP to contest a by-election entirely on the Labour government's bonfire of civil liberties.

Let's get the sniping and conspiracy theories out of the way first. Numerous sources are alleging that this was Davis going nuclear: either because Cameron wouldn't commit to repealing 42 days if it reaches the statute book should the Conservatives win the next election, or because he was fed up with the Cameron clique muttering behind his back over his stranglehold on home affairs policy, doing things that were not going down with the all so important Murdoch press, despite the Sun being almost in a minority of one in Fleet Street in supporting 42 days. Others still are suggesting that this is to carve out a niche for the old-school hard right, or even the first step towards Davis launching a bid for the leadership.

It would be naive to dismiss the possibility that it could be all or any of the above, and certainly foolish to not realise that they must have played some role in his decision to step down. What is also clear however is that Davis has been for a while now completely aghast at the casual, crude and populist way in which our ancient liberties have been abused, diminished and now finally, with 42 days, almost taken away entirely. As others have written, Davis doesn't care much for liberties which have been won partially thanks to Europe, such as the Human Rights Act, which despite its shortcomings still offers some protection, but rather out of a patriotic sense of disgust at ancient, uniquely British liberties being sold on the open market and for short-term party political gain. For him, 42 days has been the final straw.

Reading the dismay, in some places verging on despair posts that have been written across the whole spectrum of blogs in this country, many of those online, although hardly being representative, feel exactly the same way. 42 days has been a wake-up call beyond what 90 days was for many because we all knew that not even Blair could possibly get away with such a constitutional outrage. 42 days however is meant to be more reasonable; just look at the safeguards, look at the judicial supervision, looking at us bending over backwards so far that the powers are almost worthless! None of this alters the fact that being held in a police cell for six weeks, only to then be possibly released without charge is quite simply unacceptable in any democracy worth the name. The bottom line is that we don't trust the police, we don't trust the security services and we don't trust the government to use such a power responsibly, only when it is needed and only against those that they say it will be targeted against. All three have lied to us time and time again, all have exaggerated the threat and all are motivated, not out of this benevolent desire to protect the public but out of their own self-interest.

This isn't to suggest that David Davis isn't at least being partially motivated by his own self-interest. If he wasn't, he wouldn't be human. Unlike those in the government however that are pretending to be just that, he is at the very least standing for what he believes in. While legion after legion of Labour MPs yesterday passed through the lobby, not because they believed in the legislation but because they had either been bought off or to support the Supreme Leader, the principled few stood up and said that abandoning civil liberties to those who would remove all our liberties were they to have their way is not just wrong, it is bordering on the actionable.

If this is then a stunt, then it's a stunt that deserves not just applause and praise, but that deserves the most ardent of support. Yes, David Davis is a Thatcherite. Yes, he's a social conservative rather than a genuine social libertarian. Yes, he supports capital punishment. All of that however pales into inconsideration when he makes his case so clearly and so singularly against this shabby Labour government:

But in truth perhaps 42 days is the one most salient example of the insidious, surreptitious and relentless erosion of fundamental British freedom.

And we will have shortly the most intrusive identity card system in the world. A CCTV camera for every 14 citizens, a DNA database bigger than any dictatorship has, with thousands of innocent children and millions of innocent citizens on it.

We have witnessed an assault on jury trials, a bolt against bad law and its arbitrary use by the state.

And shortcuts with our justice system, which will make our system neither firm nor fair and a creation of a database state opening up our private lives to the prying eyes of official snoopers and exposing our personal data to careless civil servants and criminal hackers.

The state has security powers to clamp down on peaceful protest and so-called hate laws to stifle legitimate debate, whilst those who incite violence get off scot-free.

This cannot go on, it must be stopped, and for that reason today I feel it is incumbent on me to take a stand.

The partisan Labour hacks think they've got the most wicked wheeze to respond to Davis's stand: don't stand a candidate at all, and let him stew in his own embarrassment. It is indeed a good position to take; that it is politically bankrupt and therefore typical of New Labour is almost superfluous to mention. If Labour decides not to stand a candidate against Davis, then all it will show is that it is simply not prepared to go to the public and have a one-on-one debate about where it has taken us, with in most cases the slightest of public consultation but with the full support of the most authoritarian parts of the "popular" press. If it declines to defend the obscenity of the cost of £93 for an worthless piece of plastic, to support the notion that innocent members of the public should permanently have their DNA and fingerprints stored on a database simply because they were once arrested, and a system by which individuals can be followed around the country that has been completely built by stealth, and instead presents Davis's stand as a lone individual barking at the moon, then it truly deserves to be absolutely trounced at the next general election. If I lived in Davis's constituency, I would be voting Conservative for the first and probably last time.

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Breaking a habit of a lifetime.

However much you hate the Sun, you can't help but admit that this is one of the finest headlines in a long time:

Bongs away in Afghanistan

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Wednesday, June 11, 2008 

I love a free country.

It wasn't quite the humiliation I was hoping for, but any sort of humiliation will do in the circumstances. This fallacious, grubby, mendacious, shitty little party that makes up this country's excuse for a government can't even manage to bribe enough of its own backbenchers to win the vote on 42 days on its own terms. We were elected as New Labour and we will govern as New Labour, said the past supreme leader. That involved relying on the Conservatives at one point to pass his "trust schools" legislation. Now Brown can boast that he's gone one better than his hated predecessor: he didn't have to rely on the Tories; he just had to prostitute himself to the Democratic Unionists. To call Ian Paisley's party the antithesis of everything that Gordon Brown and Labour claim to stand for might be putting it mildly: last weekend Iris Robinson, when asked to comment on a man who was beaten up in a homophobic attack, suggested to him that he should consider therapy to "cure" him of his homosexuality, and when that understandably caused some controversy, she then said that she didn't consider the man personally to be a sinner but that he was committing a sin which could be "redeemed by the blood of Christ".

It wasn't just the DUP which were bribed. The only Tory to vote with the government was Ann Widdecombe, whom we already knew was going to rebel, and like the DUP, is to the right of Genghis Khan. Also to the right of Attila the Hun is Bob Spink, the Tory MP who jumped before he was pushed, becoming the only UKIP MP in parliament, who also voted with the government. Like both Ann Widdecombe and the DUP, he too has something against gay people, voting very strongly against equal gay rights previously. What a merry band for the Labour party to rely on. Perhaps this is what Gordon Brown meant when he promised change: no longer will we just propose policies that the Conservatives routinely find agreeable, we'll now go further and legislate the way that Dr Ian Paisley would. Our values demand it.

You can't help but get the feeling that this is almost as bad, if not worse than losing the vote, which the government won by the 9 votes that the DUP provided. If the Labour rebellion had held up, then they could have at least argued that it was the dinosaur left, the usual suspects that had voted it down, and reading the 36 Labour rebels, most of them are members of the "awkward squad". Then they could have gone after the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, accusing them of ignoring the overwhelming will of the public themselves. Instead this just looks awful. It further undermines Brown's authority, showing that despite the constant phone calls, the arm-twisting, the begging and the throwing around of money at any cause which a backbencher mentioned, even that wasn't enough to persuade a majority of his majority to lay down both their arms and their principles. It's just pissed off almost the entirety of the media, except for the Sun and possibly the Express, with even the Brown-worshipping Paul Dacre not supporting his friend; further alienated the Labour core that he needs to win back over; and it hasn't even made the police's job any less frantic in the long run because of the hoops which now have to be jumped through to activate the additional time. The phrase, applied previously to the dodgy dossier by Jack Straw of "an absolute Horlicks" comes to mind.

The real opprobrium shouldn't land on the heads of those that have gone with this all along however, but rather on those that ummed and ahhed and then were finally bought off with whatever piecemeal little promise that Brown and the whips made. Salutations then to the supposed left-wingers Jon Trickett and Jon Cruddas, members of the Compass group of MPs that decided after all their pouting and calls for Labour to turn leftwards that supporting the government on the most regressive measure they've come up with recently was a fantastic idea. Congratulations to Mohammad Sarwar, supposedly bought by the disgusting non-concession of compensation for those released without charge after 28 days, but who others suggest was in fact persuaded by the prospect of being able to choose his successor in his seat, i.e., his son. And a big round of applause to Austin Mitchell, who didn't even barter with the whips for personal gain, but instead decided to stand right behind Gordon Brown just as he goes over the top, straight into no man's land:

Labour backbencher Austin Mitchell said he had intended to vote against 42 days, but changed his mind and backed the Government in order to "save Gordon Brown for the nation".

"I support him and I think he would be on his way out if he had been defeated on this," Mr Mitchell told Sky News.

Hell, if we're going to save Brown for the nation, we might as well get him stuffed and put in a glass case. We won't need to do the same with Mitchell; he's already got Brown up his arse, like Matthew Corbett has Sooty.

Still, what a wonderful day for democracy, and what a shining example we've just given to all those banana republics and oil oligarchies. You can almost imagine the conversation the next time the Saudis come to visit and Brown, out of the side of his mouth, mutters something almost inaudible about corruption and human rights. Sorry, says Abdullah, we're not taking any lectures from the bribers-in-chief in the House of Commons and from a country which can lock up suspects for 42 days without charge. We share the same values, don't you remember?

There is of course little chance that 42 days and the bill as a whole will get through the House of Lords, at least prior to the summer recess, meaning that this isn't going to pass onto the statute books just yet. We shouldn't have to rely however on the unelected to defend our civil liberties from such attack; and yet once again an anachronism is called upon to do just that. Every unnecessary dilution of our hard-won liberties in the face of the "terrorist threat" does their work for them, and yet only 36 Labour MPs were prepared to stand up and vote against a measure that will embitter and further stigmatise those that we desperately need to win over. Some will think that shameful. The biggest shame of all however is a Labour leader as hunkered down in his bunker, unwilling to listen as his predecessor, supporting and making deals with those he would once have said he had nothing in common with. If this isn't the beginning of the real start of the downfall of Gordon Brown, then it most certainly deserves to be.

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Tuesday, June 10, 2008 

Brown should not just be humiliated, he must be humiliated.

42 reasons to mock the Sun.

The reading and voting on the 2008 Terrorism Bill has finally begun. It's been mentioned before, but it really does seem the mooted extension of detention without charge has been being discussed and debated now for years - because it has. As soon as Blair suffered his first humiliation in the Commons, an extension beyond 28 days was back on the agenda, and it's been evident from then that Gordon Brown isn't just going through with it now because it's a hangover from the Blair era: he's going through with it because he absolutely believes it is needed. Whether he's convinced himself of that in order to attempt to wrong foot the Conservatives is open to question, but there's no doubt that he has always supported an extension. Any attempt to claim that he doesn't and is going through the motions is wishful thinking, as are similar rumours that "Wacky" Jacqui Smith feels the same way. Her contempt for the opposition arguments, once greeting David Davis as he walked in the room after a requested meeting with, "So, you're still a 42-day denier then, are you?", as if his crime was someway similar to Holocaust denial, has always been obvious, as it has with the other irredeemable Labour minister, Tony McNulty.

The 42-day extension isn't the only truly objectionable part of this latest bill, as Judith Sunderland reminds us. Post-charge questioning was first suggested to help negate the need for a further detention without charge extension, but is now in the bill despite that, to doubtless be used and abused by the police for any advantage that they see fit, regardless of the familiar "safeguards" of judicial supervision and recording of all interrogations. Unlike in pre-charge detention, the bill makes clear that if someone who's been charged refuses to answer questions post-charge that it will be potentially held against them in court, limiting the right to silence. Considering that as Peter Clarke made clear in his recent Torygraph article supporting an extension that many "terrorist suspects" opt for silence, this seems to be yet another way of increasing the chances of a successful prosecution, helpful when so many arrested under the Terrorism Acts have previously failed to be charged.

Perhaps logically, the bill also creates another new register for those convicted of terrorist offences, to add to those for sexual and violent offenders. Of concern will be whether those convicted of "lesser offences", such as the heinous crime of downloading "material that may be useful to terrorists", which can apply to almost anything that the prosecution puts its mind to, will fall under this definition that will almost certainly prevent someone from doing almost anything with their lives without being under constant suspicion. Most of those found with material downloaded from the internet have received generally lenient sentences, such as the infamous "lyrical terrorist", who had a 9-month suspended sentence handed down and Abdul Muneem Patel, who served 6-months for having a US army explosives manual under his bed, but the case of Mohammed Atif Siddique, who although took it the next level, received an astonishing 8 years (Abu Hamza, by comparison, for radicalising numerous individuals and preaching murder for years got 7) shows that not everyone who just might be inquisitive is going to get off so easily. Just what is such a register going to do except further embitter those who need to be won over rather than endlessly persecuted? It may well be justified for those sentenced to over 10 years, but the case has not been made for lesser sentences, and unless the proposal is modified to be considered on a case-by-case basis it ought to be rejected.

Then there's the other really objectionable part of the bill. Just get a load of this:

The bill would allow the home secretary to let an inquest take place without a jury if it would involve "the consideration of material that should not be made public in the interests of national security, in the interest of the relationship between the United Kingdom and another country, or otherwise in the public interest."

In other words, the government could more or less never have to let another potentially damaging inquest take place in public again. So broadly is this drawn that it wouldn't just cover the obvious, such as the embarrassing truth that the United States military doesn't give a shit about us and little things like "friendly fire" where they accidentally kill our servicemen or where the police accidentally kill Brazilians who get in the way when they're hunting terrorists, but also inquests into the deaths of those killed in terrorist attacks themselves, where the security services might be embarrassed by how some of those involved slipped through the net, right up to inquests which are required under Article 2 of the Human Rights Act, where a public inquiry is a necessity if there is significant evidence of wrongdoing by agents of the state where someone has lost their life. It is entirely open to ministerial interference and abuse, and desperately needs to be either substantially amended or defeated completely.

Desperation is once again wielding its ugly head. As legal adviser after legal adviser comes out against 42 days, the latest being the Scottish Lord Advocate Elish Angiolini, with the former holder of the post also supporting her, journalists on both the Sun and Times (spot the connection) made wholly spurious claims that MI5 had actually come out in favour of 42 days after reports stating the fact that it had not requested any further extension. All the statement by Jonathan Evans in fact does is repeat that it has not adopted a position on the matter. After obtaining the amazing support of Sir Hugh Orde, chief of police in Northern Ireland, the Sun is now bigging up the fact that the head of the British Muslim Forum also supports the government, claiming he's the country's "top Muslim", which must be a highly sought after position. His point that Muslims are just as likely to be victims of attacks as the perpetrators is a sound one, but to be victimised twice over as the extension of time will almost certainly blots out any benefit to the Muslim community which it might bring. As Anthony Barnett writes in a lengthy but brilliant post which I think is the best summation of all the reasons to oppose 42 days which I've come across, of the studies that have been undertaken into how legislation and radicalisation affect Muslim communities, all have concluded that such measures are only likely to make things worse, with the trust factor which is so important in disrupting future plots being unnecessarily affected.

The Sun, which did so much last time to help the opposition defeat 90 days, is just as hysterical this time round. It's produced 42 of the most ludicrous, at times hilarious reasons for why 42 days is necessary, which I'd fisk if I'd have the effort to go through such non-sequiturs and statements of the obvious masquerading as reasons. The very first, that there have been more than 15 attempted attacks since 2001 is just waiting to be ripped apart. Even if you count the 21/7 attempts as four separate attacks (also listed as a reason), then add last year's failed Tiger Tiger and Glasgow airport bombings (also listed as a reason), and Nick Reilly's "amateur-hour" attempt last month (also listed as a reason; spot a pattern here?), then you don't come close to 15. The other most laughable reasons are:
An al-Qaeda video obtained by MI5 after 7/7 identified the Queen as a potential terror target. It branded her ‘one of the severest enemies of Islam’.

Christ, if they're prepared to target the Queen they must really mean business! Better vote for 42 days just in case!

15. European lawyers argue it would breach the human rights of terror suspects and be out of step with the rest of Europe.

Yes, this really is a reason. This is the level of contempt the Sun has for the rule of law and civil liberties in general.

The above isn't really aimed at those wavering in the Commons however; it's for public digestion, and the blatant scaremongering which has been on-going for years has had the unsurprising effect that a majority (65% according to one poll, 40% according to today's in the Times, with another 35% with the right safeguards) supports banging up "terrorist suspects" for 42 days. Ask the same question but put "indefinitely" rather than an amount and you probably wouldn't get that dissimilar an answer, as ministers at the time of 90 days claimed they had up to 80% support based on similar polls. This is one of those few measures on which public opinion, while still being very carefully considered, ought to be disregarded. Many will give away liberties if they believe it will bring security, especially if they aren't personally threatened by it, but as that famous quote by Benjamin Franklin has it, those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.

In any case, 42 days will not even bring a little temporary safety. 42 days will not prevent terrorist attacks and will be unlikely to stop any potential terrorist from committing an attack that might have been prevented if he had not been released after 28. Can the police really claim that the extra two weeks will be anything other than give them extra leeway should they not be in the mood to sift through such vast amounts of material as they claim to have been? Will something pop up on the 42nd day that couldn't have been found with more rigorous investigation on the 28th?

The latest wheeze from the Labour front-benches has been to offer compensation for those held beyond 28 days who are then subsequently released without charge. All this does is again highlight the extreme deprivation of liberty that 42 days will be, while admitting that innocent individuals will be caught up in it. Is 28 days in a police cell not bad enough already? Why not save the compensation by not extending the limit and instead using it improve police resources, or to win over the very communities that will be most affected by it? This has been Labour's conundrum from the beginning. Rather than concessions and safeguards, all the alterations to the measure have done is make the legislation even worse while still not winning enough Labour MPs over to swing the vote.

Tomorrow Gordon Brown deserves to not just be defeated, but humiliated. If it means the end of his premiership, or the calling of a vote of confidence, then so be it. If it means David Miliband as the next prime minister, then again, so be it. It's only if this illiberal, draconian, unwarranted and completely unnecessary deprivation of hard won civil-rights is again defeated that maybe both the police and the government itself will finally get the message that enough is enough. If Brown wants to martyr himself, clinging to the chapter and verse of Blair before him that the public support it and he's doing what's right, then once again, so be it. Today's news that pensioner poverty, child poverty and inequality have all again risen shows where Brown's real concerns are: on attempting to bludgeon the opposition while winning over the worst of the "popular" press rather than on the core Labour support. His government is finished; tomorrow might well tell us whether he'll manage to last as long as even his beloved party.

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Monday, June 09, 2008 

The real Broken Britain.

Another weekend in Broken Britain. Another teenager killed by a another teenager with a knife. Sorry? What's that? There wasn't this weekend? Oh. We'll go with the footballer charged with dangerous driving then. Or the grim milestone of 100 British servicemen dead in Afghanistan. Is there anything on childhood or teenagers this weekend? A dossier for the UN on how grim life is for many children in this country? Nah, depressing and too detailed to be worth bothering our readers with. Where can we make a single campaigning point from out of this? We can't. Let's just ignore it.

That, and it deals with some of those in society that the tabloids pretend don't exist except when to complain about them. Like the lone asylum seeking youths who the government want to attempt to age so that if they're older than they either say they are or think they are they can deport them. The thousands who are imprisoned and then routinely "restrained", involving a sharp punch to the nose or the bending back of a finger, at such rates that it seems to go far beyond the last resort gaining back of control which such techniques are meant to be restricted to. The 82% of those with learning disabilities that are bullied. The 3.8 million in relative poverty, and the 1 million in poor housing.

This is the real Broken Britain, the one that can't be fixed simply through soundbites, the ones which can't be solved either through the throwing about of money, through getting tough, zero tolerance, or any other cure-all solutions. At its heart is one of the most inherent contradictions of modern life: we love our own children and worry about them to such an extent that we are paranoid and concerned beyond reason at strangers, paedophiles and other monsters, either not letting them out to play until they are well beyond the age at which the parents themselves were allowed to do the same, or constantly keeping them under surveillance which would be more at home in 1984. Strangely, when it comes to other people's children, we seem to loathe them. As mentioned, we lock up a far greater proportion than anywhere else in Europe, and government platitudes that this is only 3% of those involved in the criminal justice system and that other countries imprison those with mental health problems or on other welfare concerns are simply not good enough. When they hang around on street corners, quite often because they have nowhere else to go, and amazingly, because that's what young people and teenagers tend to do, we're terrified of them and demand that they move on. Ministers refuse to condemn such indiscriminate "solutions" to this insoluble problem as the Mosquito, which affects not just teenagers but those up into their early twenties. When they drink alcohol in public, a cause for concern but not blind panic, the police confiscate it and move them on, something shortly to be made even easier. We've had those with personality disorders and mental health problems given anti-social behaviour orders, with ridiculous rules which they can't help that break, often leading to imprisonment. In the typical style of this government, they have been both illiberal and often ineffective, with them becoming badges of honour for some while indefensible for others.

The rot and our attitude towards children sets in when they enter the education system. Even away from the struggles of the middle classes to get their offspring into the "good" schools, buying houses in the catchment areas, thinking ahead as far as the family planning stage, as those with younger siblings usually automatically get a place in the same school while everyone else without the purchasing or personal power suffers, the testing regime which begins at 7 with the SATs. Back when I was 11, the SATs then were still just national indicators taken and then mainly used by the schools for setting when you moved onto secondary school. Since then our glorious Labour government has used the results to produce league tables, turning what had been something where there was no stress or pressure involved whatsoever into something where the children taking them do very much feel it and are drilled accordingly. This is then followed by the SATS at 14, then GCSEs, and if they don't decide they've had enough of been prodded and poked, AS levels at 17 and selected A level modules, then the whole A level shebang at 18, although with the diplomas coming in at the start of the next school year, and other qualifications such as GNVQs and NVQs, this will be changed still further. Again, this wouldn't be so potentially pernicious if for but two things. Firstly, the guidelines have been set so rigorously that schools have realised that they only have to teach what will be on the test and absolutely nothing else apart from the absolute basics, removing context almost entirely and with it the joy of learning, and secondly our infamous capacity for cynicism. Rather than celebrating that results keep getting better, we go in for the usual yearly routine of bemoaning the standards that are slipping away. Thing is, they're right to an extent due to the teaching to the test, but the putting down of the next generation just as they've worked their socks off as they've been asked to is little short of looking the proverbial gift horse in the mouth. As some have similarly sagely noted, you don't fatten a pig by weighing it all the time, while the league table system has only been to the benefit of those who have a choice, i.e. the ever complaining middle classes, than to anyone else, and that includes the teachers, students and society as a whole.

Which brings us neatly onto the remaining aspect of the real Broken Britain as alluded to at the beginning: the media itself. Research by MORI in 2004 found that 71% of stories about the young in one week painted them in a negative light, with only 14% positive, with 15% neutral. It also found that in stories about the young they themselves didn't have a voice, with just 8% containing a direct quote, and those were doubtless the positive ones. This kind of attitude towards the young doesn't just affect stories about youth crime, it infects stories that should be positive too. When George Sampson won Britian's Got Talent last week, the Sun used his example as how the youth of today could do anything with their lives and avoid crime, as if that was all they aspired to in the first place, while also only pointing out its thinking towards meritocracy: as long as you breakdance badly, as Sampson can, while having the confidence to appear on national television, you too can reach the dizzy heights of not becoming involved in crime. That Sampson, performing on the street to make money for the trips to the auditions was moved on numerous times by the police, was only worth mentioning in passing. It's in fact really worth thinking about: when is there a positive news story about the young that isn't around exam results time with the papers full of the ubiquitous leaping young ladies showing off their midriffs? Our images of the young aren't of those getting on with it and enjoying their lives, they're of those that have either been killed or have killed themselves. While you could say the same about the media and their attitude to almost everything else, it's especially damaging towards some of the most vulnerable. The recent, somewhat merited obsession with knives doesn't just make children themselves more fearful of their own peer group, it also influences their decision to carry such a weapon themselves. The survey that accompanies the UN dossier found that 12% had carried either a knife or a gun in the last 12 months, not separating them as it perhaps should have done, or defining whether this was a penknife or not. 87.1% had not carried any weapons, while 86.6% had never been in trouble with the police, and considering that most will have a scrape at some point that might lead to a warning or at most a caution, that's hardly an alarming statistic either.

The irony of this dossier being drawn up by the children's commissioners while those that appointed them are those that are directly breaching the UN's rights of a child will doubtless not be lost on those who ultimately review it. We've seen it all over the last few months, responses without thinking and purely being out of panic to what is being brewed in the press. Last week Gordon Brown directly answered a demand in the Sun for all those carrying knives for whatever reason to be prosecuted, although he lowered it to those older than 16 rather than to the age of 10. Considering that the heaviest sanction for carrying a knife without due cause in public is a 4-year prison sentence, we could be shortly seeing another rise in the detention of the young, while hardly anyone seems to see such a move as being anything like an answer to the problem. Then we had Jacqui Smith lauding the most alarming of police innovations in "tackling" anti-social behaviour, reported vividly by the Guardian under the headline "harass a hoodie", with police repeatedly taking photographs and video not just of those that are being targeted for repeated offences, but also their friends as well. They're meant to be given an choice as to whether they can be filmed or not, but unsurprisingly this was never offered to them. The scheme was justified while the reported was there under the pretext of two of those filmed subsequently being seen on a school roof, but as they were also filmed whilst playing football, it's not beyond the realms of thought that they were retrieving one. The problems with such schemes are obvious: they make all those filmed suspicious and hostile towards authority, especially when they feel they're doing nothing wrong; they continue to treat those that have committed offences in the past but who might have modified their behaviour as criminals; and it just moves them on from one place to another, where if the problem hasn't been sorted, it just inflicts it there rather than somewhere else. Again, this isn't just being done in one place, as the stop and search powers which are also being prepared to be expanded are also now being used to film those stopped and searched for weapons, regardless of whether they had committed any crime or not, for as the police state, "evidence and intelligence" purposes. This might be less illiberal than the keeping of the fingerprints and DNA of those who have never been found guilty of any offence, but it certainly seems to also be for the ultimate reason of creating a database with similar sort of material.

I myself am guilty here of exaggerating. I don't think this shows this country as broken in any shape or form, and I think the report which found Britain as the worst place in the industrialised West to grow up was probably on the inflammatory side too. The problems we do have though seem to be over emphasised, while those which are under-reported are far more serious. Those in relative poverty will have the lives shaped, not by what they experience by the time they start getting in trouble with the police, but by the younger years, and the care they receive then from their parents and the standards they receive from the state in health, nursery/pre-school then school itself. Those with learning difficulties and those that are themselves carers when they're not yet old enough to properly care from themselves are fenced off from experiencing what their peers do. The biggest problem of all however is how we ourselves think either about them or for them: when our overwhelming emotion is either to be scared of them or to be scared for them, something has gone wrong. It requires a lot more than the responses we've had so far, and will have in response to this dossier, than to get to the bottom of how to alter it.

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The Dorries deficit.

Today has not been a good day to be Nadine Dorries. As Unity and Lib Con both report, Dorries has been asked to explain her use of the incidental expenses provision to fund her blog, something which the rules state it is not to be used for online campaigns against political opponents, something that Dorries has most certainly breached. The parliamentary standards commission can be relaxed about such breaches on occasion, but whether it will considering the current high level of scrutiny of politicians' use of expenses, and Dorries previously being reprimanded for inappropriate use of Commons' stationery is an open question.

Meanwhile, over on said blog, Ms Dorries has been ranting and welcoming her newest employee:

It has not been a nice weekend.

The frenzied attack against Conservative MPs and MEPs, orchestrated by and emanating from the left wing BBC and press has equalled that of an animal in its death throes. The more terminal the position looks for Labour, the more desperate the BBC and the left wing press become.

Ah yes, the old conspiracy theory. The Bolshevik Broadcasting Corporation is out to get the Tories! That other often indicted left-wing instrument, the Guardian, has been pushing the Spelman expenses story to such an extent that it put it back on page 13 this morning, with a notably sympathetic report suggesting that Spelman's employment of a nanny had its roots in the local constituency parties' sexism.

Still, what's this?

My daughter Jenny, who is 20, begins work for me this week for six weeks as a paid intern.

She told me I shouldn’t put what she earns on the blog as it is against her human rights. I told her that as an MP's daughter, she doesn’t have any. She is being paid £7.50 per hour.

Just then as it becomes a bit of a no-no for politicians to employ members of their family to do work for them courtesy of the public purse, Dorries has decided to go against the grain. You have to admire that kind of opposition to the current orthodoxy; where would we be if a few MPs weren't such mavericks?

Guido however, that noted slayer of right-wingers (is this right? Ed.) decided to take up Dorries' offer of enquiring whether Jenny actually was working from her staff office. She happened to be out when he called, but he had his call swiftly returned by none other than Dorries herself, who was not impressed by someone actually doing what she invited them to.

There is of course another dimension to this, one slightly forgotten in the fallout surrounding the abortion vote. Last year Alex Hilton (aka one of the writers on Recess Monkey) featured one of the Dorries's daughter's Facebook pages, complete with apparent racism. Dorries was so angered by this slur on her daughter's character that she threatened to involve Schillings, noted tenacious legal rottweilers for Alisher Usmanov. Her outbreak of outrage was slightly tempered by the fact that she had previously splashed photographs of her offspring all across her blog; now she's directly employing one of those that she pledged to protect and called to be kept out of it. First implication of this? Being subjected to the usual amount of lewd comments on Guido's blog. Is there no beginning to Dorries' brilliant deflecting of criticism?

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Saturday, June 07, 2008 

Terrorists have personalities too!

Amazingly, according to the Telegraph. Jihadist wit is also the same as every other sort of wit:

Ali Abd al-Aziz Ali, a 30-year-old Kuwaiti said to have sent £60,000 to the 19 suicidal terrorists, made the press gallery snigger. Told by the judge that US military lawyers were being provided free of charge, he snapped back that America "tortured me free of charge, too".

You can't argue with that, can you?

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Friday, June 06, 2008 

42 days: the Murdoch press not speaking with one voice, and connected thoughts.


As the vote on 42 days looms ever larger, the Murdoch press is, in a very rare occurrence, not speaking with one voice. While the Sun attempts to ratchet up the tension on the Labour backbenchers, the Conservatives and also doubtless the Democratic Unionist MPs who potentially could swing the vote, the Times seems to taking the opposite view.

While some of the Times's apparent sniffy view of 42 days might well be down to attempting to balance out publishing Gordon Brown's own justifications for the extended detention limit on Monday, it seems to be going out of its way to both publish critics and to question whether now after the "compromises" that alter the chilling power not one jot that it leaves the police even more caught up in bureaucracy. Its biggest coup is getting John Major, who rarely comments on politics at all, to write an article denouncing the measure in terms just as strong as anyone from Liberty. While it was Major's home secretary, Michael Howard, that started the authoritarian crackdown which Labour has happily carried on, coming from someone who was himself targeted by the IRA but who also later started the peace process that led to the Good Friday agreement, he deserves to be listened to.

As for the police now complaining the powers will be too convoluted if they are passed, most of it appears to be objection purely for the sake of it, and also to anyone other than themselves deciding exactly how dangerous an individual "suspect" is when it comes to them declaring they need longer than 28 days. Whoever was speaking to the Times however is bang on in this instance:

"Some of what is being proposed is very worrying because it amounts to a blurring of the lines between politics and operational policing.”

Well, exactly. Requiring parliament to vote on whether the temporary extension to 42 days should continue to be in place when those are still in custody is ridiculous on at least 3 levels. No MP is going to vote against it when they'll be jumped on if they let a "terrorist" go in the process; they can't make a judgement without knowing what evidence or case is against the individual, therefore potentially prejudicing any future trial; and finally, it's something that no politician should be deciding in the first place. To be fair to the government for half a second, they're trapped between a rock and a hard place: they can't win if they were just to extend the limit to 42 days with the same system which is currently in place, but their safeguards have both made the legislation worse while not altering the fact that 42 days is simply unacceptable, and no amount of pleading by the police or ministers that they need it either because of the level of threat or because of the complexity of the cases they're investigating is going to change that.

Hence why the Sun is now going for the only other tactic remaining: bring in the survivors, feed off "their lifetime of suffering", as the article is headlined, and make clear that the proposal must be adopted for all our sakes. When the Sun tried this method last time round, it splashed on its front page the image of John Tulloch in the aftermath of the 7/7 attacks, implying that he supported both the government and the Sun's campaign. The only problem was that he didn't, and he was livid with being used in such a way. This time the Sun's been far more careful, interviewing 2 survivors of 7/7, 2 who lost relatives, Colin Parry, who lost his 12-year-old son in the IRA Warrington bomb, and Michael Gallagher, whose brother was killed by the IRA and who then lost his son in the Omagh bomb. All of them concentrate on the police needing more time, but it isn't just about that. It's also about the effect this has on the Muslim community, and disillusioning those that are fighting against the few that do have radical views. 42 days will only increase the grievances that some already hold, and make it even more difficult to increase the flow of intelligence from within.

If the Sun had wanted to add a semblance of balance, it could have asked the views of probably the most high profile 7/7 survivor, Rachel North, who opposes any increase. It could have asked John Tulloch and apologised for its previous distortion, but it seems this is too important an issue to give an opposing view a chance. This sort of statement also needs directly challenging, whether coming from someone who's lost a relative in a terrorist attack or not:

"If the suspects are innocent then they won’t have anything to worry about. If they are guilty then why are their human rights in custody more important than the rights of the people whose lives they were going to take, or may already have taken?"

Won't have anything to worry about? How would you feel about potentially being held for 42 days in a police cell, while your life outside falls apart with you falling under the highest of suspicions even if you are completely innocent? 42 days means potentially losing your job, losing your partner, losing your standing, losing everything. We don't know anything about those who were held for 27/28 days then released without charge and how it affected them, possibly because they didn't want any further publicity, or how those previously found innocent, such as the other "ricin" plotters, were then persecuted because the case was not proved against them. Through her remarks, already Stacy Beer is judging those arrested; no one is "guilty" until they proved that they are. Their rights are not more important than anyone else's; they deserve the same as everyone else, regardless of what they are accused of. John Major in his article also directly challenges the "if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear" view that the Sun and others have constantly referred to:

The Government has been saying, in a catchy, misleading piece of spin: “If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear.” This is a demagogue's trick. We do have something to fear - the total loss of privacy to an intrusive state with authoritarian tendencies.

We could also ask Rizwaan Sabir, someone who did have nothing to hide whether we have something to fear, as we could Hicham Yezza, the man who printed out the document he downloaded from a US government website, also held and due to be deported over completely separate immigration charges.

No one now is likely to change their minds willingly. As Diane Abbot made clear on the This Week last night, all the garbage about Jacqui Smith making a barnstorming speech that had convinced everyone was wishful thinking spun to the waiting hacks who had to quickly send in their copy to meet the deadlines. The real convincing had occurred over last weekend with Gordon repeating his cold-calling act on his MPs, with whips making similar threats and if that didn't work, resorting to wimpering begging. They want it to be changed from a matter concerning the drift of this country towards ever increasing police power and authoritarianism to an issue simply of Gordon Brown's leadership. If Brown has any courage left, he could even at this late hour admit defeat and withdraw the amendments from the bill. He would suffer further in the short-term, but his supposed moral compass and the ability to admit when he's got it wrong would in the end strengthen his leadership. Instead, if he loses, he'll be one step closer to the abyss.

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Thursday, June 05, 2008 

Barack knows.

When even the Sun, doubtless directly influenced by Murdoch's recent comments on the Democratic presidential candidate, praises to high heaven the first African-American to contest the White House, it's hard not to acknowledge that something has fundamentally changed, both in American society and also in American politics for Barack Obama to have finally won his party's nomination.

While it's easy to overstate his credentials, it's clear that Obama is certainly the most liberal presidential candidate for a generation, coming directly after what will certainly go down as one of, if not the most right-wing president of at least the last century. The hope that this signals the beginning of the end of the culture wars which have split America completely down the middle is probably still for now a pipe dream; it may well nature to take its course for that to be finally brought to a close.

It does however signify a generational shift. This wasn't just a rejection of the last 8 years; it was a rejection of the last 20. For those with a visceral dislike for Hillary Clinton, the slow collapse of her campaign, with her standing for nothing but her own personal vanity, believing from the beginning that she had a divine right to not just become the Democratic candidate, but also to become president, the last few months were little short of joyous. For someone who had spent their entire political career being the only woman in the nation with balls, even if she only wore them from her ears, her resorting to shallow femininity and even less feasibly, vulnerability before finally simple delusional intransigence, was completely shameless. Even with her plans for healthcare, and her defence of the right to choose,
her comments on how she would "obliterate" Iran if it launched an attack on Israel using weapons which it doesn't have showed how the difference between her and John McCain were she to have won the candidacy would have been so slight as to warrant the spoiling of a ballot.

A little charisma can, as we've discovered to our cost, be a dangerous thing. The last thing that should be done is to give in to the hero worship towards Obama that some on the left both here and in America have displayed. As inspiring and hopeful as his campaign has been up until now, enough to make you wistful to wonder where our equivalent may come from, he's not the full package and doubtless we will be disappointed time and again from now until November as he tacks towards the right to head off some of McCain and the Republicans jibes. Already he's having to somewhat understandably row back on his pledge to talk to Iran and Cuba without pre-conditions, as welcome as that would be, purely because going too far all at once from the position which has been in the ascendance since the Iranian revolution causes irrational worry about just what else he might do. For all his rousing if ultimately vacuous rhetoric, he has to prove that he genuinely does have the power to both change the country and to unite it, and set out exactly how he intends to do so.

The first thing he could do to move towards that is to not give into the facile and desperate demands of some within the Democrats to appoint Hillary as his running mate. Despite her undoubted appeal to older voters and the white working classes yet to be convinced of Obama, she also still stands for the battles of the late 90s. She may have been right in denouncing the vast right-wing conspiracy which nearly brought her husband down, even if he was a liar caught with his pants around his ankles, but America desperately needs to move on, however painful in the short-term it might be for him and hurtful for Hillary herself. The dream would have been for the other main Democratic candidate, John Edwards, to join him, someone with undoubted appeal to the working class, but he's made clear that he doesn't want to be the prospective VP again after 2004. Most of his other options are ones that we in this country have barely and if at all have heard of, but he needs someone who can reach that parts that he either has trouble with or that have rejected him so far, but either James Webb or Ted Strickland of those already in frame appear on the surface to offer the most.

Secondly, he has to be prepared to take the Republicans on at their own game, something which both Al Gore and John Kerry failed to do. The Republicans will fight the only way they know how, as dirtily as they can without completely turning the electorate off, and Obama has to be ready to rebutt fiercely and repeatedly every claim and smear which they make. They're going to indulge if not backup those that have been claiming
he's a Muslim, that he has the most "liberal" voting record in the Senate, and that he isn't "American" enough. They're going to use Jeremiah Wright against him, even if there might actually be more understanding if they actually listened to portions of what he said and how some have become embittered and almost ashamed to be American. They'll put his comments on guns, religion and small towns on billboards and adverts even if truer words had never been spoken.

The choice, whether from here or in America seems stark. Does the country want a continuation of the last 20 years, or does it want to attempt to start afresh? Does it want to continue an unwinnable war which should never have been fought or does it want to keep spending unaffordable billions on it for the next 100 years? Does it want a 71-year-old man who is by anyone's standards remarkable, honourable and indefatigable, but who offers just more of the same, or the 46-year-old whom, if doesn't quite want to rip it up and start again, wants fundamental change that the other candidate simply isn't interested in? If I was being pessimistic, and it's often difficult not to be, I'd fear they'd still plump for McCain. The hope, and the hope in this case is so important, has to be that Barack Obama will be the next president of the United States.

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It may not be your fault Wills that I'm an appalling hypocrite, but....

If David Blunkett is the world's worst male newspaper columnist (Tony Parsons, Richard Littlejohn, Jon Gaunt and Peter Hitchens must also be contenders) then Amanda Platell, just one of the Mail's innumerable number of Glenda's, must also be high up the worst female list, along with her partner in crime, Allison Pearson.

Platell's piece today is incandescent about what she refers to as a PR exercise by Buckingham Palace involving Prince William undergoing his training on a ship.

The thing about PR operations is that no one knows about them unless news organisations report them. While the BBC, Guardian hardly bothered to report it and the Independent simply didn't, there was one newspaper that gave it far more coverage, involving over 300 words and not less than 8 photographs of this important news event. No prizes for guessing that this was... the Daily Mail. Not content with just reporting that, previously the paper and website had dedicated two reports to Williams' actual posting to the Caribbean, with far more words and a similar number of photographs.

Platell would of course know plenty about PR operations involving unpleasant and unpopular institutions. She doesn't think it's worth mentioning while she's decrying PR, but having served as William Hague's chief spin doctor during his ill-fated time as Conservative leader, she's hardly a novice when it comes to turning white into black. That and deciding it's a good idea for your young but alarmingly elderly employer to wear a baseball cap and boast in a men's magazine that he used to sink over 12 pints a day.

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Wednesday, June 04, 2008 

The Morning Bore, courtesy of Francis Maude.

While going through TheyWorkForYou for the previous post, I couldn't help but notice this spectacularly asinine question from Francis Maude:

Francis Maude (Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office & Shadow Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Cabinet Office; Horsham, Conservative)

To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster how many copies of the Morning Star (a) the Cabinet Office and (b) 10 Downing Street purchase each day.

Tom Watson (Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office; West Bromwich East, Labour) | Hansard source


This was almost certainly asked purely so that the likes of the Mail or the Express could then publish a spurious article about how Gordon's a communist because he has the Morning Star delivered to his den every day. It doesn't matter that the Morning Star, while espousing a definite socialist (some would say Stalinist) platform, unlike any other newspaper in the country, has a wide range of voices from the left in its pages; anyone who reads it is obviously a red.

A far more interesting question would have been to ask how many copies of all newspapers are delivered to both the Cabinet Office and 10 Downing Street, but that wouldn't have provided a "gotcha!" moment in quite the same way. Francis Maude, you are officially a twat.

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Scum-watch: Cushy prisons, yet more Facebook bashing, and 42 days nonsense.

Plenty to get through today, starting with the familiar Sun refrain that the prisons are all holiday camps, this time on the back of data released by the Ministry of Justice:

PRISONS are so cushy that 37,000 lags have refused early release – and 42 others tried to break IN, it emerged yesterday.

The Sun doesn't bother to mention that this is over the last 7 years for another couple of paragraphs.

They showed that annually thousands of inmates would rather stay inside than take Home Detention Curfew.

It's worth linking to exactly what was asked, which TheyWorkForYou provides here. Nick Herbert didn't just ask about those who actually opted-out, but also those that didn't bother to apply, which means there might be plenty that forgot to do so that also make up the figures.

In any case, 37,000 prisoners not applying/opting-out over 7 years obviously doesn't instantly mean that those who turned out down are preferring to stay in prison because it's so wonderful inside. Some prisoners will obviously prefer to serve out their time than be subject to a 7pm to 7am curfew while electronically tagged, especially if it means that they can't work a night job as a result, if they have one to go out to. Some will turn it out down because they don't actually have a home to go to, or one where the other occupants will agree to the private contractor installing the necessary equipment, while others might prefer to stay in prison than go and live for the time period in a hostel. As Straw also points out, some probably don't bother applying because they don't think that they'll pass the risk assessment. Indeed, it's instructive that the Sun nor the Times bothered to publish the breakdown of the figures over the years, possibly because it shows that the prisons can't be that cushy, because the numbers opting-out/not applying has fell from a high of 7,800 in 2001 to 3,200 in 2006. This makes sense when you consider that the prisons are now hopelessly overcrowded, and that surprisingly, that makes them rather less pleasant places to be, 3 meals a day, "satellite TV and cheap drugs", as the Sun puts it, or not.

And there were 26 incidents of break-ins – including one at a high security jail and 25 at open prisons. Ladders were used by 13 and three climbed walls. Shadow justice secretary Nick Herbert last night blasted the prison crisis as a “farce”.

These figures are similarly making a mountain out of a molehill, with an average of just 4 attempted break-ins a year, the 42 coming from the number of individuals involved in each incident. The clue as to how easy it is to break-in, or break-out from an open prison is in the word "open"; a fair majority of the prisoners in them are being prepared for release, and have day jobs outside the walls as a result, or are ranked as the lowest risk prisoners were they to go on the run. It's little surprise that some drug dealers might think they'd get business in open prisons and think breaking in is worth a go, but by far the biggest source of drugs in prison is, *shock*, corrupt screws.

It's rather strange therefore that the Sun is also bigging up the CBI's condemnation of current prison policy, which is quite clearly not in the slightest supporting the ever increasing building and filling of new prisons, something dearly close to the Sun's heart:

The Confederation of British Industry will today tell the Government that reoffending rates are a “colossal failure”. Dr Neil Bentley of the CBI will say lack of rehabilitation means jail is just a “hugely expensive bed and breakfast”.

Two in three ex-inmates commit another crime in two years – rising to three out of four young lags.

A 40 per cent hike in spending has had no effect on reoffending in the last ten years, the CBI will say.

This is for the reason that it is incredibly difficult to rehabilitate prisoners in prison in the first place, but when they're full to bursting as they currently are, something the Sun has had no small part in ensuring thanks to its constant urging of crackdowns on law and order, it's close to impossible. This was reflected in the figures released at the weekend that showed that prisons were lying about the time that inmates had outside their cells, which in some was less than 2 hours out of 24.

Onward to yet another Facebook-bashing exercise while ignoring that the study also involves MurdochSpace users:

Facebook users are ‘shirkers’

SOCIAL networking websites have taken over from fag breaks as the bane of bosses’ lives, a new poll shows.

Four in ten managers say they now find that workers addicted to sites like Facebook and online shops are the biggest office time-wasters.

Ah, so MySpace users aren't shirkers. They're just morons.

Meanwhile, it looks like the Sun is starting to step up the pressure on those opposing 42 day detention, just as it did prior to the 90-day vote, after which it denounced those who voted against as "traitors":

ANTI-TERROR cops and security chiefs have rallied around Gordon Brown’s bid to give police 42 days to quiz terror suspects.

The PM, who is battling a Labour rebellion over it, got the boost ahead of next Wednesday’s Commons vote.

Why the Sun is using the plural is beyond me: for "cops" read ex-cop Peter Clarke, dealt with yesterday and for "security chief" read ex-security chief, Richard Dearlove, also known as a liar, involved up to his neck in the dodgy dossier and a signatory to the Henry Jackson Society:

Former MI6 chief Sir Richard Dearlove wrote: “If 42 days is not adopted, regret it we will.”

He's also apparently turned into Yoda.

The PM’s bid has also won the backing of Metropolitan Police chief Sir Ian Blair – and top TORY MP Ann Widdecombe.

Err, Blair actually hasn't commented recently at all on 42 days of late: the Sun is being deliberately misleading by claiming that he's only now backed it. How Widdecombe can also be described as "top" when she's long left the shadow cabinet and is stepping down at the next election is also stretching credibility, and also not mentioned is the fact that Widdecombe came very close to supporting 90 days last time round, instead abstaining on the vote. That she supports 42, being one of the most authoritarian right-wing figures in parliament, is hardly surprising.

Then there's this flagrant piece of either deliberate bullshit or getting completely the wrong end of the stick:

In one case, police had to study 270 computers, 2,000 discs and 8,224 exhibits in eight countries to identify a SUSPECT.

Err, I think you'll find that they studied that number of computers etc in pursuit of evidence, not just to identify a suspect. It's also interesting how almost all of the commenters on the article are opposed, which is a surprise considering how they'll usually support absolutely anything on crime or terrorism on MySun. Still, for those wavering, the Sun helpful points out just how vital the bill is in by headlining the Scum's political editor's column thusly:

New Bill will help defeat al-Qaeda evil

The world's worst columnist also valiantly picks up the theme:

Cameron must choose his side

DAVID BLUNKETT - Sun Columnist

ON this very day 167 years ago a man who was soon to become a Conservative Prime Minister said: "The duty of an Opposition is, very simply, to oppose everything and propose nothing."

Which just goes to show that nothing much changes with the Tories, even from one century to the next.

Except the Tories supported Blair over "trust schools" rather than opposing it, for just one example.

Labour’s present doldrums have allowed Cameron to avoid being nailed for his unwillingness to face the biggest issue that can confront a Government — protecting the safety and wellbeing of the nation’s citizens.

Except that the Conservatives also opposed 90 days, when things might have been bad for Labour, but not as bad as they are now. Still, keep going David.

After all the compromises, is Mr Cameron, with his party in tow, still prepared to put the civil liberties of suspected terrorists before the greatest liberties of all — the life, safety and freedom of everyone in our country?

No Mr Blunkett, it's not the civil liberties of suspected terrorists he's prepared to put before the "greatest liberties of all"; they are the civil liberties of everyone. Unless you haven't noticed, and during your tenure you did try your best, considering you locked up foreign "terrorist suspects" without charge in Belmarsh for years, everyone is innocent until proven guilty. There is no such thing as a "suspected terrorist", a horrible piece of Unspeak.

The most shameless thing about this piece is it's the government that are behaving like "junior common room debaters", as Blunkett puts it. They can't possibly win without diluting the power down to almost nothing, yet it's still objectionable because 42 days detention without charge is simply unacceptable, and no amount of judicial oversight or safeguards will change that. The Conservatives have been completely consistent from the beginning, opposing 90 days, 56 days and now 42 days, and quite rightly so. It may well be that this is a tactic to put further pressure on the government, and I don't doubt for a moment that the Conservatives, should they win the next election, might well do a complete u-turn, but this is the government in the wrong, not the opposition. They're the ones that are protecting our liberties from those who want to destroy them, and that includes both the government and the "terrorists" themselves.

The Sun's leader echoes the exact same arguments (yes, I realise they're rhetorical questions but humour me):

ARE the Tories serious about Britain’s security?

No, they want us all to be blown to pieces.

Do they think security chiefs exaggerate the complex threat from extremists?

Probably not, but even if they did they wouldn't necessarily be wrong to think so.

The question needs addressing as Tory leader David Cameron tries to vote down the 42-day detention of terror suspects.

Intelligence experts say thousands of fanatics are plotting murder.

And? They're still going to be plotting murder whether there's 42 days or not.

They use sophisticated technology and concealment techniques.

Oh yeah, like the evil terrorist that kept an explosives manual under his bed in a sealed box that the Sun recently stalked.

Evidence may spread across several continents and many languages.

To be serious for half a second, then give the police more resources. Don't extend the time just so they don't have to rush so much.

Civil liberties are important. But if there is one person who should persuade the Tories, it is ex-Met chief Peter Clarke.

Mr Clarke is no scaremonger. He is the reassuring voice of sober authority.

If he says the terror threat is “growing in scale and complexity” and 28 days is not enough, Mr Cameron should listen very, very carefully.

This would of course be the same Peter Clarke who said of the ricin plot, where there was no ricin, and even had there been Kamel Bourgass was too stupid to know that it needs to penetrate the skin to have an effect:

"This was a hugely serious plot because what it had the potential to do was to cause real panic, fear, disruption and possibly even death," said Peter Clarke, the head of Scotland Yard's anti-terrorist branch. "This was no more, no less than a plot to poison the public."

I too have the possibility to cause real panic, fear, disruption and even death if I run around outside waving a gun. It just so happens that I don't have a gun, but I still have the potential to do so, even if I haven't got a clue where to get a gun from. That too would be no more no less than a plot to kill the public. Clarke also defended the infamous Forest Gate raid, misleadingly claiming that a report made no criticism of the police's action when it was highly critical, while yesterday he expressed amazement at the politicisation of the debate when the police had done so much to err, politicise it.

Cameron though will have got the message. If the bill is defeated, not only will the spineless and pusillanimous Labour backbenchers get a roasting, so will the Conservatives. All the more reason to continue opposing 42 days and to once again say that it was the Sun wot lost it.

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Spot the straw men competition.

Courtesy of Daniel Johnson over on CiF. Flying Rodent also completely skewered Standpoint.

Update: I forgot the link. Again.

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Tuesday, June 03, 2008 

Letwin only adds to the vacuity.

You have to hand it to the Conservatives, they really have improved their spin game. Provoked by articles in the Grauniad arguing that the Conservatives have very little in the actual way of policies and that this needs a lot more scrutiny, Oliver Letwin responds with an article which doesn't outline a signal actual specific policy, although it is flowery, and unlike the prose of the Blairites, almost approaching pleasurable to read. It somewhat proves the point: if a Labour MP, especially one in the cabinet wrote something similar, it would be monstered and rightly so. Letwin's piece has attracted just 25 replies, although comments on CiF have been closed since 2pm for an upgrade, and while the vast majority are critical of how Letwin only outlines broad themes, none are as vituperative as you might expect. The most offensive is someone who rather amusingly just leaves the word "twat", which Letwin might see the funny side of himself.

Perhaps you can't blame Letwin for doing so. Of the few outlined policies that the Tories have announced, very few could be defined as "progressive", itself a word that can increasingly be used to mean the opposite of what it originally did. Letwin mentions welfare and families as where the Tories will be instituting change, but putting unemployed youngsters in "boot camps" and bribing middle class families with £20 a week is neither progressive nor likely to achieve what the Conservatives say they want to.

At the moment, we seem to be sleepwalking a Conservative government with little real knowledge of what it intends to do. Letwin has done whatsoever to alter that.

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There is a grave exceptional threat from terrorists of mass destruction...

If it wasn't so serious it would almost be funny. The latest safeguard that will stop 42 days detention without charge being used to hold anyone with a beard and funny ideas is that the Home Secretary herself will have to decree that the extension can only be used when there is a "grave exceptional terrorist threat", such as an attack on the level of 7/7 taking place or feared to be about to take place. Like with all the other safeguards, it's both pointless and worthless. We're being constantly reminded that the threat we face from terrorism is, in the words of the ex-head of Scotland Yard's anti-terrorist squad Peter Clarke, "deadly and enduring". The brown-trousers-o-meter already declares that the current threat level is "severe", which means an attack is highly likely. How could we possibly tell the difference between a "grave exceptional" threat and the current level?

I mention Clarke because he too has now stepped into the breach with his own article on why 42 days is necessary, while, like Brown yesterday, making no real justification other than that the police have their resources stretched to be able to manage within 28 days. It's not worth fisking in full, but there are some parts that deserve answering:

In August 2004, Scotland Yard Anti-Terrorist Branch officers spent a fortnight sleeping on their office floor. Why? Because they had been given the job of winning the race against time to find evidence of terrorist planning buried in the encrypted files of dozens of computers seized during Operation Rhyme - the investigation into a terrorist network led by Dhiren Barot, the al-Qa'eda planner.

There in a nutshell seems to be the real reason why the police want longer than 28 days. It means they don't have to rush themselves quite as much or sleep on the floor of their offices, and who frankly could disagree with police officers doing such an important job being uncomfortable while protecting the public from evildoers? It's also nice to see that Clarke mentions that Barot's computers were encrypted, meaning that as the law has since changed the police could now charge someone in Barot's position alone for refusing to provide an encryption key to decode the files. Again, whether Barot really did have any genuine links to al-Qaida is unclear - he apparently went to Pakistan to get his plans approved - and returned empty-handed.

Barot was a career terrorist who had been to training camps in Pakistan and the Far East. But we didn't know what stage his plans had reached. We could not be sure that he or other members of his group were not going to launch attacks, even as we watched. The decision was made to arrest them, and they were promptly rounded up in London and Blackburn.

As it turned out, he or his group could not have launched attacks because they didn't have funding, explosives or have even reached the first stages of preparing to launch an attack. All they had was plans, and very asinine plans they were too.

There was not a shred of evidence against them. The intelligence was clear - that he and his gang were planning attacks in this country, but there was no evidence that could be used in court.

At the time, terrorist suspects could be detained for 14 days. In this case, the pieces of the jigsaw fell into place on the morning of the 14th day. It was a very close call. We were minutes away from having to release a group of terrorists. Two years later, they pleaded guilty to plotting to make a dirty bomb and to kill fellow citizens in huge numbers.

Ah yes, either the Coke can dirty bomb or the smoke alarm dirty bomb. It's strange how when discussing these cases that no one, either police or journalists seems prepared to go into the actual details which are nowhere near as frightening or doom-mongering as the popular perception of what a dirty bomb would involve are. Why Clarke is focusing so much on this case is unclear: it shows the system working as it should have done. So does his next example:

This case told us that things had to change. Plots that have been uncovered since Barot, and the attacks on London in 2005, show the terrorist threat is growing in scale and complexity.

Plots where again the system has worked, with three men who were held for 28 days being charged, and another three released after 28 after the "liquid bombs plot". Again, where does this all end? In two years will have the police asking for 60 days because the plots have grown in scale and complexity again, with spurious amounts of data which they've had to go through being used again as the casus belli?

And yet, as Parliament prepares for the debate on the second reading of the Counter Terrorism Bill, we have to brace ourselves for another deluge of politicised comment on the proposal to extend the time terrorist suspects can be held.

The cross-party consensus that, for many years, helped guide the thinking on such issues evaporated in 2005. The parties blame each other for this, but the quality of the public debate has suffered. It is now difficult for counter-terrorist professionals to offer a view without being accused of political partiality.

Could this possibly be because the police in the first case engaged in err, political partiality, supporting the indefensible when it came 90 days? Clarke himself previously why-oh-whyed over the criticism directed the police's way in a speech last year:

I know there have been concerns expressed about the role of the police service in that debate, and whether we overstepped the mark in terms of political neutrality - but I find this slightly puzzling. If we are asked for our professional opinion, and we express it, and the Government brings forward legislation, are we supposed to be silent the moment a draft Bill is published? We were accused of being politically partial, but I reject that.

If Clarke would like to explain how Andy Hayman being asked by the Home Secretary to comment on why 90 days was needed is not the police making a political case or how the Association of Chief Police Officers' intervention prior to the 90 days debate, with officers phoning up MPs urging them to support the legislation is not the police becoming politicised, then I'm sure it would be gratefully received.

In any case, the political consensus collapsed because 90 days were so clearly beyond the pale, as the government now accepts, although the police themselves apparently don't. It's also because the evidence is simply not there for a further extension: it's been the opposition parties that have been the principled ones, holding the same position from the beginning, that beyond 28 day detention without charge is simply not acceptable.

Clarke continues:

For instance, critics claim that the proposal is a draconian extension of police powers. It is not. Detention would be a judicial discretion, to be exercised following an adversarial hearing with both sides legally represented. This would be no rubber stamp. Indeed, the record of the judiciary in challenging the Government in terrorism cases suggests that any application for extended detention will be subject to the sharpest scrutiny.

This is the exact same argument as Clarke made last year, and it was wanting then. The judiciary have been notably active in terrorism cases, but that's where the detention has been arbitrary, either indefinite or where those accused have been held under control orders. Where they have not been so active or so forceful is where the evidence against the accused has not just been around intelligence, and where they are in police rather than prison custody or under house arrest. The police case is almost always going to be stronger, making clear that the individual is a major potential threat while the defence will have to argue purely on civil liberty grounds; the judiciary, put in such a position, will almost always give the police the benefit of the doubt.

Skipping some of the rest which isn't directly relevant to why 42 days is needed so desperately:

When I was asked, in 2005, by the home affairs select committee how many terrorists I had been obliged to let go through lack of time to investigate, I inwardly despaired. It was the wrong question. We should look forward, not back. The fact that we have been able to convict more than 60 terrorists in the last year or so is irrelevant.

This seems more revealing than Clarke admits. It's because the answer is 0; the only organisations that have let some go through supposed lack of time are the security services. There is nothing to suggest that any "terrorists" will ever have to be let go because lack of time.

The better question would have been: "Is it likely that there will come a time when the present 28-day limit is insufficient?" The answer would have been, "undoubtedly". That is why we should legislate now, and not in panic in an emergency.

Except we wouldn't need to panic in an emergency. If there was some dire, dire need to go beyond 28 days, the Civil Contingencies Act could be invoked; the government could temporarily derogate from the European Convention on Human Rights; or the accused could even be charged with a lesser offence while the investigation continued, something that is apparently too obvious to consider. Doing either of the first two options would be worrying and potentially out of proportion with the actual threat posed, but then so is 42 days itself. The government and the police would however find it far more difficult to justify doing either than it would to invoke 42 days under the laughable "grave exceptional" threat when the only reason for extending the limit is so the police can get a little more sleep.

The details of the 42-day detention plan may not be perfect, but the principle of being able to protect the public in extremis must be right. The checks and balances in our system prevent arbitrary detention. The judiciary have repeatedly shown their vigilance and independence. We should trust the judges and give the public the protection they deserve.

And while we're at it - could we try, just for a moment, to take the politics out of this?

But it isn't the judges who are the ones who are proposing this; they're just the ones who'll get the blame if they get it wrong. It's not those who we have to trust, it's the police and the government, and the fact is that we don't trust either. Nothing Clarke or Labour has said is convincing, and those still on the Labour backbenches who are wavering need to continue refusing to countenance the counting dilution of our hard-won civil liberties.

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Monday, June 02, 2008 

Fisking Brown on 42-day detention.

How would we be able to tell when it had been implemented?

The more things seem to change, the more they stay the same. If you're getting an overwhelming sense of deja-vu, imagining that we seem to have been here before, then you're not alone. For 42 days, read 90. For Tony Blair, read Gordon Brown. For Charles Clarke, read Jacqui Smith. The whole abortion of a debate over the urgent, pressing need for more time to hold the dastardly terrorist suspects, whether it be for another 42 minutes, 42 hours, 42 months or 42 years, or for 90 minutes passim ad nauseam has become so repetitive that you could get a robot to take up the slack and make the case for both sides.

If you don't therefore want to bored to tears, you might be inclined to skip this post. Just like when Tony Blair was in trouble he depended upon the Downing Street Echo and the Times to back him to hilt, so it seems to have come full circle with Gordo. With almost every newspaper apart from the Sun opposing any extension, and you tend to not be taken too seriously if you make your scholarly case for further detention powers in the same tabloid which has topless woman on its third page, Brown has instead taken to the sympathetic pages of the Thunderer in his restless case to convince the only two remaining people whom haven't already made their mind up about just how desperately needed those further 14 days are. The results are far from encouraging.

Next week, when Parliament votes on the proposal to detain terrorist suspects without charge for up to 42 days, hard choices have to be made.

Not really. There are two choices: to either reject yet another truly unnecessary, discriminatory, unhelpful, counter-productive and chilling reduction in civil liberties, or to support the government and a band of merry supporters which can be counted on one hand, which included the already mentioned Sun, "Sir" Ian Blair, Lord Carlile, who thinks that putting a figure on it is unhelpful but is supportive in principle, Melanie Phillips (a given) and David Aaronovitch. If I've missed someone, feel free to point them out.

Britain has lived with terrorist threats for decades. But I am under no illusion that today's threats are different in their scale and nature from anything we have faced before. Today in Britain there are at least 2,000 terrorist suspects, 200 networks or cells and 30 active plots. The aim of terrorists is to kill and maim the maximum number of victims, indiscriminately and without warning, including through suicide attacks.

We can agree on the point that the threat is different; whether it is in scale or nature is less obvious. It's too easy to forget that the IRA didn't always telephone through warnings, and unlike the jihadist takfirists, also used to specifically target politicians rather than civilians. They also had far more support and far more funding than our current "friends". Quoting the 2-year old murmurings of the former head of MI5 without any explanation as there wasn't then of whether these 2,000 "terrorist suspects" are all Islamists or otherwise, and without specifying if they're allied to al-Qaida type ideology or the more Muslim Brotherhood-influenced Hamas type simply isn't good enough. If there were 30 active plots, how come that more "plots" haven't either been disrupted or come to fruition since then? No one can dispute that the aim is to kill and maim as many as possible, but the last few attempts to do just that have failed miserably. Even one police officer called Nick Reilly's apparent recent attempt to construct a bomb in a restaurant as "amateur hour"; that could have been extended to last year's Glasgow airport attacks and even the "liquid bombs" plot. While we should be concerned and rightly, we should also be making clear that we're dealing for the most part with fantasists, not deadly trained and truly motivated fighters.

Look at the scale and complexity of today's terrorist plots and you will understand why the amount of time required before charges can be brought has increased. In 2001 police investigating the last big IRA case had to analyse just one computer and a few floppy disks. The suspects used their own names and never went beyond Ireland and the UK.

By 2004 the police investigating the al-Qaeda plotter Dhiren Barot had to seize 270 computers, 2,000 disks, and more than 8,000 other exhibits. There were seven co-conspirators, and the investigation stretched across three continents. In the 2006 alleged airline bomb plot, the complexity had grown again - 400 computers, 8,000 disks and more than 25,000 exhibits.

This is just yet another attempt to blind people with statistics and figures. We don't know what 270 computers means in reality: it could be handhelds, computers in internet cafes, etc, all of which are not going to take anywhere near the time to search as a personal encrypted computer which holds most if not all of the relevant information. The same goes for the number of disks mentioned: are they burned CDs and DVDs or are the police going through suspects' entire DVD and CD collections in search of even the slightest amount of possibly hidden evidence, which would explain the huge amounts of disks apparently gone through? The possibility that this is exactly what they are doing is raised because our old friend Dhiren Barot apparently had concealed some alleged "reconnaissance" material on a Die Hard video. Fast-forwarding through DVDs and videos doesn't take that long, which underlines just how subjective the raising of such apparently vast amounts of material which needs to be shifted through is.

In any case, these examples are not even necessarily relevant; both cases involve "plots" which were disrupted before they came to fruition and where the police are searching for anything that might support their case. The "nightmare scenario" which has been raised by ministers such as Tony McNulty which would justify 42 days is 3 or 4 attacks of 9/11 type intensity occurring at the same time. In such cases, where crimes have already been obviously committed, and when the perpetrators will be presumably dead, it already seems doubtful that 42 days would be necessary. The alleged facilitators of 7/7 have only recently been brought to trial, and it certainly didn't taken anything approaching 28 days to hold them prior to being charged.

The police find themselves investigating multiple identities and passports, numerous mobile phone and e-mail accounts, and contacts stretching across the world. Simply establishing the true identity of a suspect may itself take days. Often hundreds of hours of video footage have to be viewed, layers of computer encryptions deciphered and overseas authorities persuaded to co-operate.

Why is this being used as a justification, apparently the only remaining justification? If the reason why "suspects" need to be held for longer than 28 days is because of the resources the police have, then give them more resources, don't extend the time the "suspect" can be held. Similarly, bringing up the encryptions argument again is really getting tiresome: the police have the power to demand encryption keys, and if the suspect refuses, he can be charged on that alone. As Spy Blog points out, encryption can either be broken or it cannot. Having to "persuade" overseas authorities to co-operate is also a red herring; hardly any countries refuse to co-operate, it's just the time that it takes for them to do so, which again, is not a justification for extending the time limit.

And the police cannot just wait for suspects to be caught red-handed. They have to make a judgment about intervening early to avert tragedy; which means more time may be needed, between arrest and charges being laid, to unravel the conspiracy and assemble the evidence.

Which they've up till now managed perfectly well, perhaps too well, if worries about what the "liquid bombers" could have actually achieved are substantiated. Dhiren Barot and his cack-handed "dirty bomb", used so often to scaremonger, were similarly dealt with perfectly adequately. We're being asked to legislate for a hypothetical, something that may never happen but which may happen, asking us to support it on the basis of the "increasing complexity" which adds up to the police sifting through more data than perhaps they even need to. It's about as far from convincing as it's possible to get.

The challenge for every government is to respond to the changing demands of national security, while upholding something that is at the heart of the British constitutional settlement: the preservation of civil liberties. And if the national interest requires new measures to safeguard our security, it is, in my view, the British way to make those changes in a manner that maximises the protection of individuals against arbitrary treatment.

Now Brown's assaulting us with his favourite topic, Britishness. It's the British way to lock up suspects for a random number of days on the possibility they might be nasty; that's another way to say what Brown has just written.

So our first principle is that there should always be a maximum limit on pre-charge detention. It is fundamental to our civil liberties that no one should be held arbitrarily for an unspecified period. After detailed consultation with the police, and examination of recent trends in terrorist cases, we propose the upper limit of 42 days.

Really? Where where you then prime minister while Belmarsh was being used as the British equivalent of Guantanamo Bay, albeit only for "foreign terrorist suspects"? Were you making clear your opposition to this constitutional outrage, only ended when the House of Lords ruled that it was incompatible with an act which your self same government brought in? If you want us to know the specifics of exactly why the police think we need 42 days, why don't you publish these detailed consultations? In reality this "detailed consultation" seems to amount to asking either the head of the Met or the current head of anti-terrorist policing what amount of days they'd like: we've had 90, we've had 56, and now we've got 42. How do we know that in another 2 years' time the police aren't going to be asking for yet another 2 weeks longer than the current limit?

Our second principle is that detention beyond 28 days can be allowed only in truly exceptional circumstances. The decision is made by the Home Secretary but must be backed by the Director of Public Prosecutions as well as the police. And this would allow the higher limit only for a temporary period, and only where there is a specific terrorist incident or threat under investigation that warrants it.

Which is yet another "compromise" that isn't. It just so happens that this "safeguard" has been designed so that the current director of public prosecutions, who opposes any increase, has to embarrass himself by admitting that he got it wrong. How limiting the higher limit to a "temporary period" is also any kind of safeguard is bizarre: if the higher period is needed again, the police will just ask for it again, and parliament and judges are hardly likely to disagree with them, especially when the tabloid press will be howling if they do.

Our third principle is that the Home Secretary must then take this decision to Parliament for approval. If Parliament refused to sanction the decision, the existing 28-day limit would stand.

How likely exactly is it that parliament will disagree when it's already decided that 42 days might be appropriate? How and why should parliament be asked to decide whether it is necessary when they will neither legally nor politically be able to make such a decision without either prejudicing a potential case or without bringing the whole of the weight of the media down on their heads if someone then released goes on to commit any sort of offence? This isn't a safeguard or a compromise, it's an unholy mess that makes things worse, not better. Oh, and here's a good question: what happens exactly if parliament happens to be in recess when such an extension is needed?

Fourthly, the judiciary must oversee each individual case. As happens now for detention beyond 14 days, a senior judge will be required to approve the extension of detention in each individual case every seven days up to the new higher limit.

Again, how likely is it that any judge will dare to risk the chance of releasing such a suspect, especially when the police will be making clear in no uncertain terms how they must not be? It's not a safeguard now and it certainly won't be after 28 days.

Fifthly, to enhance accountability there must be independent reporting to Parliament and the public on all cases. That is why the independent reviewer will now report publicly not just in general on the operation of the legislation but on each individual case.

And since the "independent" reviewer already supports an extension, and thinks that control orders are necessary and proportionate, we can take a guess at what his reports will say. Yet again, how his reporting on each individual case will not prejudice a trial will be interesting to discover.

So I say to those with legitimate concerns about civil liberties: look at these practical safeguards against arbitrary treatment. With these protections in place, I believe Parliament should take the right decision for national security.

These safeguards are absolutely worthless. In fact, they're worse than worthless; they justify, condone and underpin that arbitrary treatment. There could not be a better specific example that the current anti-terror laws have already gone too far than that of Rizwaan Sabir: when you can be held for 6 days for downloading an al-Qaida manual from a US government website, the potential for arbitrary treatment, injustice and increased resentment against the authorities could not be greater. While those arrested at the same time were charged and convicted, two of those arrested during the investigation into the Birmingham beheading plot were held for a week without once being questioned about the allegations being made in the press, of which they only learned after their release. It doesn't matter if for every 1 that is released after an extended period in detention 10 are charged and subsequently convicted: it's that 1 and his story that enrage, that do the damage and which show why such an extension must be resisted.

I have received much advice in recent weeks. Some have argued that I should drop or significantly water down the 42-day limit. But having considered carefully all the evidence and arguments, I believe that, with all these protections against arbitrary treatment in place, allowing up to 42 days' pre-charge detention in these exceptional terrorist cases is the right way to protect national security.

Indeed he has received much advice, and typically of Gordon, he hasn't taken a single piece of it on-board. He's still convinced that this is the one remaining piece of legislation on which he can wrong foot the Tories, making them look weak, and by at least one of the quoted polls, around 57% of the public do support the government, although that's a figure way down on the support for Blair when 90 days was defeated, showing that the unpopularity of the government and the fall in fearmongering over the terrorist threat in general seems to have had an effect. The most laughable and contemptible opinion put across is that being "tough" has nothing to do with it: the loathsome McNulty appearing on Newsnight emphasising that, while in more or less the same sentence repeating Smith's argument from earlier tonight that this would be a decision showing the government "governing". If that isn't a shot across the bows of the Tories, ridiculing them for being playing with people's lives as they're in opposition rather than government, I don't know what is.

That is why I will stick to the principles I have set out and do the right thing: protecting the security of all and the liberties of each; and safeguarding the British people by a careful and proportionate strengthening of powers in response to the radically new terrorist threats we now face.

No Gordon, you're sticking the principle of being a politician rather than governing in the interests of the "British people". While terrorists threats will grow and wither respectively, our civil liberties will only ever be weakened. Once lost, they are near to impossible to win back. From a government that has only done one thing to civil liberties, and that's to slash them, despite the welcome introduction of the Human Rights Act, to claim to be protecting the security of all and the liberties of each is obscurantist in the extreme. It was to be hoped that Labour MPs would still vote 42 days down, something now looking less likely, not because MPs have been won over by the government's case, but because they don't want to make things even worse for the party and for Gordon. The cavalier attitude that shows towards civil liberties and the people's interests is politicians at their very worst. Those that do change their minds for just that reason more than deserve eviction from parliament itself, something the electorate seems inclined to do regardless.

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Via Flying Rodent, from spEak You're bRanes comes the Twat-O-Tron, the frighteningly realistic all-purpose BBC Have Your Say comment generator.

Some favourites so far:

This just shows us the BBCs real agenda.,, it's obvious that pathetic liberal tree huggers are banning nursery rhymes because it's politically correct,,, End this madness now, lock our kids away to save them,,, Next question.!!!

going_to_the_dogs London, United Kingdom


s this what the BBC licence tax gets spent on??! the media won't admit that hybrid embryos are getting away with murder. Simple answer: bring back Mary Whitehouse. This is why I'm emigrating soon!!!!!
UK stinks timbuktu

And so forth. All we need now is for someone to code a spambot that uses this as its base: the entire internet will be doomed.

Update: Err, would have helped rather if I'd got the links right.

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