Saturday, September 20, 2008 

Weekend links.

The Labour party conference is getting under way - and how better to set the mood than a truly dreadful Gordon Brown article in the Grauniad. Even that isn't the worst of it - the theme for the conference is apparently "fair chances for all, fair rules applied to all", which surely must be there with the most vacuous statements of the New Labour era. No wonder that Diane Abbott isn't even bothering to attend.

Meanwhile, JK Rowling has unfathomably given Labour £1m, on the ostensible grounds that she "believes that poor and vulnerable families will fare much better under the Labour Party than they would under a Cameron-led Conservative Party." Well, they couldn't possibly fare much worse, could they? Justin comments further.

Craig Murray is being threatened legally by yet another uptight businessman, this time friend of Tony Buckingham David Weill. Our Craig certainly knows how to put the wind up those with interests they rather wouldn't be made public.

Mr Eugenides reports on an attendee of the RNC who after advocating the bombing of Iran on camera returned to his room with a woman who swiftly drugged him and disappeared with $50,000 worth of his personal effects.

Alix Mortimer and Paul Linford both comment on the Liberal Democrat conference.

Chris Dillow on what the left's response to the financial crisis should be. I think I linked to it yesterday but Naomi Klein's belief that this is by no means the end of the free-market ideology is also an excellent read. Flying Rodent's post from Thursday on Fuckyounomics is also worthy of your time.

David Semple rounds on intellectual masturbators and Ed Balls (connection there, possibly?) in two masterly posts.

Finally, all week long the Sun has been bigging up the march against knife crime taking place in London today, claiming that up to 100,000 would be attending. By most accounts it seems that a few thousand at most have actually gone. Considering that right-wingers (especially at the Sun) have long derided peace marches that actually might achieve something and disputed the numbers attending those (often erroneously), I hope you'll excuse my schadenfreude on what is a worthy cause - just not one that necessarily extends to marching against. You can put pressure on a government; you can't on someone carrying a knife because they're concerned for their own safety.

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Friday, September 19, 2008 

Taken from the bleakness to come.

The week began with the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers, and the commentariat decreed that this showed that the Fed was no longer prepared to bail out anyone who came running begging for mercy. The week ends with what might be the biggest dead cat bounce that the FTSE has ever seen, leaping nearly 9% in one day, all on the back of the Fed announcing a plan which will to all intents and purposes involve the nationalising of all the losses and bad debt that has led to this week's banking crisis. Dsquared in the comments on Blood and Treasure probably sums it all up:

What a fucking unbelievable day. I haven't seen a man eat his own head yet, but I have now, officially, been present on the trading floor during a melt-up.

Despite all the hyperbole which is floating around like the effluent in a festival toilet, this week's financial meltdown and then the melt-up probably is the once-in-however many decades event which so many have suggested it is. It is not however, necessarily, the end of an epoch, or even a turning point, as Larry Elliot believes it might be. No, it seems to be something quite different: this isn't the end of the neoliberal consensus which has undoubtedly directly led us towards this huge default, it's probably just the very beginning of it.

To go with a cliché, all the chickens have came home to roost. The deluded dream of the everyone a home owner society, coupled with the complete abandonment of anything even resembling financial regulation and the evisceration of the manufacturing sector, all of which you can blame both the Conservatives and Labour equally for, has reached the nadir which many that have long been derided as Cassandras always said it would. Some have been left to go to the wall, but the vast majority have all instead been either taken over or taken under the wing of the state, the same state which those in charge demanded to get out of their boardrooms and to inexorably lower the burden of.

For what we have now clearly came to is not socialism for the poor, but socialism for the uber-rich, all of whom are incredibly likely to get off scot-free, or even more amazingly, even with golden goodbyes for their part in the crisis. The irony of it all is also completely overbearing; a Republican government in the United States that cut taxes for the super-rich and which continues to believe in the smallest of small states has probably just involved itself in the biggest nationalisation project of all time. Things have of course over here not yet reached such a catastrophe, but the takeover by Lloyds TSB of HBOS is a similar example of all the usual rules being broken; conspiracy theorists might even reason that some of those involved in the short-selling of what the vast majority concluded to be a solvent and viable business just might have something to gain from a bank which will now own 1 in 3 branches on the high street.

It then has to be asked: who exactly is going to pay for all of this? It certainly doesn't seem to be those that got us into this mess in the first place, unless we blame the humble taxpayer for going along with everything that was offered him in good faith. We see Gordon Brown claiming that he is now going to clean up the City, but who on earth honestly believes it? This after all is the man that has helped deliver us here, a leading member of the party that accepted all the cheques courtesy of numerous businessmen now involved up to their arm-pits in this crash, that promised to abolish boom and bust and has succeeding in abolishing boom while nationalising the bust, all for his fair-weather friends in the City that howled and squealed and got everything they asked for but still complained that levels of corporation tax were slightly higher than in Ireland.

As others have noted, this ought to be the greatest opportunity for the left potentially for decades. If Keynesianism ended in 1976, then surely Friedmanism has now been left similarly low in 2008. The Labour party, the party that ought to be the one to lead us out of this mess, instead signed up completely and utterly to neoliberalism, declared that there was no alternative and set about emasculating the welfare state, and if anything, it's only likely to continue at a far faster pace now. After all, how else is the government going to pay for all those shortly going to be claiming jobseeker's allowance if it doesn't cut to the bone those that are genuinely sick? As for your pension, well, might as well forget that. All the more reason to accelerate the privatisation of the health service and close down those failing schools so that our friends in the business and voluntary community can re-open them as academies.

We can all point to those that should share the blame. What might really come to matter is that we force them to take it. Some, as stated, will see an opportunity; I see only the bleakness to come.

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Thursday, September 18, 2008 

The Liberal Democrats: getting better, but not enough.

The Liberal Democrats rarely succeed in getting themselves much attention at the best of times, so their sojourn to Bournemouth, unfortunately occurring at the same time as the implosion in the financial markets has been rather glossed over.

That's doubly unfortunate, as with Labour in dire straits financially, intellectually and electorally the Lib Dems ought to pushing against an open door, trying to communicate with those betrayed and abandoned by New Labour, whether they be the long ignored working class or the clichéd middle-Englanders that turned out in 1997. On the surface, they ought to be doing fantastically well; which other party can boast that it has long predicted the exact conditions which have so overshadowed their yearly show-piece and also the policies to deal with it? Compared to both Labour and the Tories, they're still the only one of the big three that is daring to suggest that actually the prison population should not be inexorably growing, that there is an alternative to the casual authoritarian consensus on criminal justice and that perhaps we shouldn't be wasting billions on renewing Trident.

Instead one poll has them on the depths of just 12%. Considering the poll has the Conservatives on a similarly ridiculous 52% it most likely is and will be written off as a blip. Even so, the party otherwise has been flat-lining just below the 20% mark for quite some time, and the defenestration of Ming Campbell last year has done nothing to alter that. Nick Clegg's performance as leader has hardly been stellar: the most attention he received was his "confession" to Piers Moron that he had slept with around 30 women, and he did himself no favours this week either when he thought that pensioners somehow manage to get by on £30 a week. He's also had to cope with being effectively the second Liberal Democrat that the media turn to, such has been the demand for the dancing demigod Vince Cable, merely because he unlike legions of other politicians can actually answer a question and knows what he's talking about.

Much was in evidence at the actual conference. Clegg's speech, despite some of the reviews of it, especially from the Labour-leaning bloggers, was probably about as good as it was going to get, getting the mixture just right between knockabout, talking of a "zombie" Labour government whilst attacking the Conservative party that doesn't have much left to it once you have taken the unpleasant bits out, and the deadly serious, the economic reforms which are much in order and also the proposed tax cuts for the poorest and middle earners which dominated the week. He might have made the mistake of trying to be too much like Cameron, despite the brickbats, and the wandering about and waving of arms is surely one innovation at political conferences that is not here to last, but it was what you expected: middling, strong in places and weak in others.

All eyes though were again on Cable, and his speech was little short of barnstorming. Delivered in his usual understated fashion, with by far the most wounding criticism against the Tory tax policy of "sharing the proceeds of recession" yet made. This could have quite easily been a speech by someone decidedly old Labour, from a bygone age, attacking tax evasion, demanding that socialism for the rich does not become the new religion, and calling for the poorest to be lifted out of tax altogether, while abandoning the bureaucracy of tax credits. Some bits were needlessly populist, like the idea that everyone earning over £100,000 in the public sector should have to re-apply for their jobs, which will hardly be fighting needless waste in the short-term, but this was the sort of thing on the whole you wished that the party of government should be proposing.

They could of course go further. One of the things not mentioned by Cable was the disastrous public finance initiative, with its around £100bn of debt off the Treasury's balance sheet, which needs to abandoned forthwith. On education the Liberal Democrats are still a much of a muchness, the "pupil premium" being all well and good, but not when they don't oppose the deeply authoritarian nature which much of the erroneously named academies adopt. When some schools resemble something out of 1984 and provide courses of training in working in a call centre, the equivalent of adopting pessimism as the school ethos, something has gone deeply wrong. On foreign policy they ought to dare to be different and potentially be unpopular by calling either for a withdrawal from Afghanistan or for a complete reappraisal of the current ahistorical campaign which cannot possibly either win local hearts and minds or beat the increasing insurgency with the number of troops deployed.

These might help win other a few more supporters, but you also have to be both realistic and fatalistic about their chances at the next election. They face a Conservative party which doesn't just pose a threat to Labour but also to them, especially in the southern seats, which is doubtless where the tax cutting policy has been aimed directly at. It's a risk worth taking, but it's unlikely to pay off. For those of us who have no intention of voting either Conservative or Labour at the next election, which leaves us roughly with a choice of either the Lib Dems or the Greens, the conference won't have done anything to actively turn most people off, but when the election will be fought primarily on Labour's unpopularity and giving them a kicking rather than actual policy, it means that a reversal of 1997 with a huge Conservative majority this time round looms ever closer.

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Let's sabotage the Newsnight vote.

Boy oh boy, if there's one thing that we most certainly need more of it's pointless votes. The latest is being hosted by Newsnight, which asks you to vote for the best post-war prime minister. As Unity says, this is a pretty much naked attempt to get stories out of the fact that Gordon Brown is almost guaranteed to come last.

Well, two can play that game. Considering that it's likely to be a straight fight between Thatcher and Attlee, let's go completely into leftfield and choose Thatcher's old nemesis Grocer Heath for the top spot, as Anton Vowl suggests. Go for Gordon Brown for second just to truly stuff the whole thing up, and then put someone like Anthony "Suez" Eden in third for further potential comedy. Attlee can go somewhere in the middle, and Blair and Thatcher can go fight it out for last place.

Who's with me?

Update: Guess it's just me then.

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More murder/stabbing porn.

Hands up - I was wrong in my prediction that the Mail would put the first photographs of the murdered Larbi-Cherif sisters on the front page today. "Skatey Kate" after "Foxy Knoxy" instead took precedence. The Metro though, owned by the Daily Mail and General Trust, did indeed go with another photograph of the sisters on its front page.

Not that such use of photographs of murdered/critically injured young women is confined to the mid-market tabs. Here's the Sun totally not tasteless announcement that the first photograph of Lucy Yates, the young woman randomly stabbed in a supermarket has been released:

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Wednesday, September 17, 2008 

The other winners.

You probably won't have noticed, but the Paralympics are over and Team GB (sic) has finished second in the medals table, behind only China, having won 102 medals, including 42 golds.

I say you won't have noticed, because the coverage has been absolutely abysmal. For all the hype and glamour of the original Olympics, with almost 12 hours or more of coverage some days on BBC1, the Paralympics have had to make to do with an hour long highlights show, if that, on BBC2 in the evening. As for coverage on the actual news or even in the sports sections of the broadsheets, you may as well have forgotten about it.

At the heart of this it's pretty obvious what's going on, no matter how we try to gloss over it or deny it, so let's face it: no one really cares if spastics win medals, as after all, they're still spastics and they're competing against other spastics. They might use the same equipment, be trained in the exact same places by the exact same people, but they're still never going to enter the public conciousness purely because they're not "normal" individuals taking part in the "normal" events. You'll probably have troubling naming a single athlete that's taken part, and Dame Tanni Grey Thomson has retired so doesn't count. Darren Kenny won four golds and a silver; Dave Roberts picked up four golds; and David Weir for example won four medals, including two golds, but all will still struggle to be remembered even by sports journalists. We will definitely remember Rebecca Adlington and Chris Hoy though, and even more so when they most likely receive honours for their efforts.

If indeed our showing in Beijing during August showed that the claim we were leaving in a broken society was piffle, then the sentiment can be doubled on the back of these achievements. It's just a great shame they won't get the recognition that they undoubtedly deserve. The full list of winners, incidentally, is here.

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Gentlemen, get your dicks out!

There are few constants in life. Benjamin Franklin famously suggested that all we had to be certain of was death and taxes. To that can be added a more modern and media-oriented certainty: sex sells. Even if an initial invention was not thought up with the possibilities of how it could be used to either record, display, document or assist in the pursuit of sexual congress, it quickly becomes subverted to do so. From the royals shown the first moving pictures that quickly enquired whether the makers could move from more worthy subjects onto the very first hardcore shoot involving street prostitutes, to the role of the American porn industry in condemning Betamax to obsolescence, right up to how the internet has not only vastly increased the easy access to every conceivable fetish and perversion but also made it far easier for individuals themselves to meet up to partake in such activities, innovation and technology coupled with sexuality equals a licence to print money.

Where then does that other old institution, the newspaper industry fit into all this? Long ago, a newspaper moved beyond the more subtle shots of nubile teenagers and those in their early-twenties displaying their assets covered by skimpy clothing and decided there was little difference in said willing participants taking their tops off. Who knows how effective in the long-term page 3 was in establishing the popularity of the fledgling Sun, but it's one that was widely copied by the Daily Mirror (long since abolished), and taken to new depths in both the Daily Star and Sport. Today it's been further brought right up to date, with the yearly ordeal which is Page 3 Idol, and unfortunate unforeseen occurrences like this year's winner committing suicide are unlikely to bring an end to it.

For the mid-market tabloids though, such clearly lower-order obsessions are distasteful. Until recently the Daily Mail had a policy where if there was images of individuals in states of undress printed, their more private parts tended to blanked over, which included women's nipples mysteriously disappearing, lest any middle-Englanders get over-excited at breakfast and end up walking around the rest of the day quite literally half-cocked. No, the Daily Mail more than understands that sex sells, it just tries to be ever so more slightly subtle about it.

One of the most popular ways to do this is also one of the most downright odd. Nothing moves more people than the deaths or disappearances of young people, especially attractive young white females. Look back through the cases that have gained the most media attention in recent years and it's no coincidence that most will name at the top of their lists Madeleine McCann (even creepier), Rachel Nickell, Sally Anne Bowman, Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman and Amanda "Milly" Dowler, all of which can be ably illustrated with numerous photographs alongside the walls of text. So noticed and prevalent has this become that it's been formally called missing white woman syndrome. Probably not foremost in the minds of the responsible editors and journalists is that some will be so turned on by such images that they will masturbate to them, but it can't be denied that in some cases that is the ultimate conclusion, amply shown by the details of the Bowman case:

When Dixie was arrested, nine months after the murder, police found a digital camera among his possessions. On it, they found a video file showing a pornographic film being played on a television, while a man records himself masturbating over a copy of the Daily Mail bearing a photograph of Bowman.

Police later discovered a copy of the Daily Mail of March 22 2006 which had a "sticky substance" on the front page featuring Bowman.

The Daily Mail itself strangely didn't mention that it had the honour of providing the image of Bowman which her killer had performed an act of onanism to.

No surprises then that the Mail's website is currently leading with the hugely important news story that the first photographs of the two young sisters murdered in Birmingham have been released or found. It's doubly good news because the photographs of them show what must have been deeply hoped for: that both women were suitably fruity, and despite being Algerian, they're not of the "dusky hue" which the Mail imagines that its readers won't warm to. Who's willing to bet that tomorrow's front page is occupied by the main photograph?

The same sort of contradictory relationship goes on over paedophilia. Paedophiles are of course the most evil individuals to ever walk the planet, and very few tabloids will ever suggest that measures such as Sarah's Law, even diluted versions such as those now being trialled, are likely to increase the danger to children rather than contain it. When it comes to young stars growing up however, they tend to be fair game. There's the infamous Daily Star double-page spread, on one side marvelling at how Charlotte Church had "become a big girl" at the age of 15, while on the other decrying the sick Brass Eye paedophilia special. The Daily Mail earlier had a somewhat similar moment. First up on the sidebar was the paper ogling the 14-year old Dakota Fanning:

My, hasn't she grown! Dakota Fanning passes the awkward phase with flying colours

Child actress Dakota Fanning seems to have come through her awkward younger years just fine.

At the premiere for her controversial new film Hounddog, the 14-year-old unveiled a mature new look showing she's well on her way to being all grown up.

Whilst further down the Mail was reporting the outrage of the BBC daring to dramatise a 15-year-old being "groomed" by an older man on EastEnders:

Scores of complaints as EastEnders shows scenes of a paedophile grooming a teenager

If we want to be more accurate, then attraction to underage but post-pubescent children is not strictly paedophilia but ephebophilia, but that very distinction has been lost in the general paedophile panic, ruthlessly encouraged by the self-same tabloid newspapers that are now horrified when park attendants decide their latest role should be asking lone adults what their intentions are in wandering through our green and pleasant land.

There's only one way to try to further sell sex, and that's to combine it with violence. The murder of Meredith Kercher then has been a god-send. Not just involving one attractive young but sadly dead woman, it involves another: the American Amanda Knox, or as she's known to every tabloid, Foxy Knoxy, the moniker she rather unfortunately chose to describe herself as on MySpace. It really doesn't get much better than this, not just for the tabloids, but for also the
priapic Roger Alton over at the Independent. Not only is this happening in Italy, meaning that journalists don't have to be worried about little things like contempt of court or not demonising suspects that have not even been charged yet, but the Italian judicial system is so long-winded and elongated that the whole case has been dragged out for almost a year, and probably will for at least another yet.

The matters and details of the case though don't really matter so much: it's all about Foxy Knoxy. Not since Carla Bruni visited British shores have newspaper editors and journalists left so wide open their carnal desires: no bones about it, they desperately want to fuck Miss Knox. Not only is she according to the Mail's hatchet jobs the kind of liberated young woman that they so love to hate while actually deeply envying, she might be dangerous with it! If right-wingers are deeply turned on by the idea of Sarah Palin, and some were more than open that they were, then Knox is a similar fantasy made large. What news editor can possibly resist the evil American libertine with the smouldering beauty that might well have slain our delicate but also blossoming, gorgeous English flower? Why, she's even playing up to the role; look at the little minx, daring to coquettishly wear that white lace-edged blouse as though she's the innocent party! Oh, she so *wants* it!

That Knox is probably absolutely nothing like the caricature which has been painted of her in the gutter press is of no consequence, much like how the relatives of the murdered and missing often come to resent the media for their constant intrusion and refusal to let things go. Nickell's boyfriend deeply wanted her killer to be caught, but he moved to France purposefully to get away from the repeated use of her image and the constant enquiries with no thought whatsoever for his personal feelings. Everything is infinitesimally more tragic when you're beautiful and your image can be sold, whether you're a page 3 girl, an aspiring model, a missing child or an accused murderer. In the words of Viz magazine, gentlemen, start your nuts.

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Tuesday, September 16, 2008 

What happened to the vision we had?

Hands up everyone who prior to today had heard of David Cairns, not including those that have the privilege of him being their constituency MP. Exactly. Whether you agree or not with the proposition that the 2006 September rebellion against Blair was Brown inspired, most will agree that at least that uprising had a few recognisable names involved. If you want to be even more disparaging, it's not completely ridiculous to argue that this rebellion appears to amount to Siobhan McDonagh and her relatives and friends. Cairns used to be one of McDonagh's researchers; more amusingly, and possibly completely inaccurately, according to the Grauniad Diary, David Evans, who was defending McDonagh at the World at One on Monday, has two cats, which are apparently called Siobhan and Margaret, after McDonagh and her sister, the former Blairite general secretary of the party.

As alluded to on Friday, this putsch might have more weight behind it if the protagonists themselves were offering something approaching an alternative, but they aren't. They're not even near to deciding who should replace Brown if their attempt at pushing for a leadership contest is successful. Presuming that Brown himself will be fighting to keep his job, just who exactly will square up against him? Will someone who seriously fancies their chances of leading the party whenever Brown's tenure ends step up to the plate, to use that horrible American phrase? Or will we instead have a stalking horse candidate, with Charles Clarke or perhaps John Reid standing for the unreconstructed Blairite continuation project?

If anyone was hoping that Fiona Mactaggart, one of the very few "big" names that has signed up to the idea of a leadership contest would perhaps articulate what she thinks Labour should be doing outside of taking on the Tories and the most vague declarations of finding a new "narrative", then her addition to the current trend of writing 600 words which are so aimless and indistinct that you forget within 5 minutes what they amounted to proves otherwise. In fact, you can dispense with the entire thing except for the closing paragraph:

The leadership problem that Labour must address is the opposite: we offer means without a bold and inspiring set of ends. Labour MPs can't just hope something might turn up - that would let down the people who need us most.

Ah, so that's it! Labour's got the means; all it needs are the ends! In other words, this is the narrative nonsense all over again. The sudden espousal of this idea of a narrative would suggest that previously New Labour had one. At best, what New Labour has done over the last 11 years is string together a succession of plot devices, based around increased spending on the public services, a strong economy and reacting as quickly and efficiently as possible to whatever it is which is on today's Daily Mail/Sun front page, all tied together by the presence of Teflon Tony himself. While the Conservatives were weak, which is more or less up until 2006, this could still be construed as a defining agenda; it was left to the more pretentious in the commentariat to complain loudly that there was an exceptional vacuum at the heart of New Labour. Now though, with Brown made to look like an idiot every time the news bulletins replay those endless successions of him foolishly claiming to have abolished boom and bust, the country moving towards outright umbrage at the level of tax, and especially the taxes which are funding the busybodies which are now apparently fining people for farting out of turn, and an team in 10 Downing Street which seems to be fighting itself more than reacting to events outside, the claims that Labour is even offering anything approaching means, let alone ends, ring ever more hollow.

Both sides are still of course pointing each other and shouting either "Blairite!" or "Brownite!" at them, and indeed, I have been more than prone to doing so myself. If ever there was a time when this could not be more irrelevant, it's now. Back during the deputy leadership contest, the achingly Blairite Hazel Blears tried to argue, pathetically, that there was no longer any Blairites or Brownites, there was just Labour. It wasn't true at the time, but a year and a few months on it's suddenly applicable when you realise something: neither the Blairites nor the Brownites any longer have any differences over policy; the disagreement is instead between those that think Brown is doomed and needs replacing and those that think it would do nothing whatsoever to restore Labour's standing in the polls. Indeed, if anything all the squabbling is likely to do is further show the party to be divided at a time when most would expecting that clunking fist to be making itself present.

Like with Cruddas and Rutherford last week, the only part of the party that still appears to be both thinking and operating is the left, with John McDonnell making the exact above point. Even he though is resigned to the idea that Labour has lost the next election: he's instead concentrating on how the Labour left as a whole can stay afloat, even if the rest of the party is wiped out by the Cameron advance, sketching out the beginnings of a plan on how to do so.

The moment of truth might well be if one of the bigger names mentioned by Paul Linford in a similarly downbeat post also resigns. Other comparisons have been made to the demise of Thatcher in 1990, but that analogy doesn't really seem to fit either. In 1990 the cabinet were split on Europe and there was fundamental disagreement also over the poll tax. No one can claim at the moment that Brown's cabinet or the wider parliamentary party is split over such defining matters; instead, it's all about Brown himself, his failure to weave the narrative and the Conservative resurgence. The fact of the matter is instead that Labour itself has failed. It has grown too puffed up, too complacent, and like all parties of government eventually do, became the establishment. It still believes that all it needs to do is fight the Tories better and it can still win. Instead, what's apparent is that even if it could fight the Tories better, it would still lose because it has lost the veneer of cover that the economic "boom", built upon unsustainable debt provided. All that's left is for those still in an seat come 2010 to fight it out for the bare bones of a party destroyed not by Brown, although he has certainly contributed to it, but the overweening arrogance of Blairism and its attempt to wield total political control.

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The freedom not to be locked up for six days.

Excellent article over on CiF by Rizwaan Sabir, one of the two men arrested and held for six days for having in their possession an "al-Qaida training manual" which Sabir had downloaded from of all places, the US Department of Justice website. As this is of course CiF, a few posters then spend the rest of the comments trying to justify his detention; apparently if you have a Muslim name you shouldn't be doing research into jihadists, as that's just asking for trouble. Similarly, it seems that such documents are apparently comparable to child pornography, even though you can purchase said document from Amazon as a paperback. This is meaningless though, because there are plenty of illegal items that can be bought online, and after all, even "Spycatcher" was once banned in England.

All this handily ignores the very point that Sabir makes: the study of terrorists and terrorism is vital, not just to understand it but also in order to be able to fight it. Not just academic freedom but personal freedom to be able to read such sources and watch videos made by those sympathetic to the aims of al-Qaida without the fear of being arrested by police and locked up for the best part of a week ought to be an accepted right in any country worthy of being described as a democracy. It is not the views and opinions themselves that are dangerous, but the individuals that espouse them. Until we accept that, there'll continue to be such raids that only make a mockery of both the police and the laws which they have to enforce.

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The latest over on the Sun Lies.

Sharia law has been established and it's all the fault of the government, even though it's a result of err, the Arbitration Act 1996 which the Tories brought in.

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Monday, September 15, 2008 

Football, circuses and the credit crunch.

One of the more astute remarks on the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the wider economic turmoil was made by thomas over on Liberal Conspiracy:

Does anyone see the strange correlation to how the scale of borrowing is in direct proportion to the weekly wages of footballers in the premiership. Now look at the sponsors of football clubs. Football is the circus of our day.

In fact the comparison can go even further than that, directly to how some of the clubs in the Premier League have and are being run and the deals with the sponsors which they proudly display on the breasts of their shirts.

Most notoriously there's Newcastle United, who continue to be sponsored by Northern Rock. Despite the protests against Mike Ashley, which are based on his treatment of the "messiah" Kevin Keegan and Ashley's imposition of a continental style of management, with Dennis Wise in charge of scouting and selling and signing players, his reign at the club has been a time of recovery after the excess of the regime of Freddy Shepherd, which had gone into masses of debt in order to sign players. As Ashley says in his statement announcing that in accordance with the fans' wishes he will be looking to sell the club, he points out that he had spent a quarter of a billion pounds before he had so much as paid any of the players a penny, half on buying the club and the other half on paying off just some of the debt:

But there was a double whammy. Commercial deals such as sponsorships and advertising had been front loaded.

The money had been paid up front and spent. I was left with a club that owed millions and part of whose future had been mortgaged.

This was probably why Ashley and Wise, behind the back of Keegan, attempted to sell both Michael Owen and Joey Barton, but failed in both cases. Newcastle fans will doubtless disagree, but Ashley, as he says, may well have saved the club from the fate of Leeds United.

Also applicable is the tale of West Ham United. Until Saturday their sponsor had been XL; come kick-off the company's logo was strangely missing from their shirts. As their opponents West Bromwich Albion are also looking for a new sponsor after their contract with T-Mobile expired, both teams played without a sponsor on their shirts, something which probably hasn't happened in the top division of the football league for a good few years.

The decision to quickly cancel the sponsorship deal with XL might have been less to do with the embarrassment of having a failed company on their shirts while tens of thousands of customers were stranded abroad courtesy of them than the fact that as well as being the team's sponsor, the team's owner, Bjorgolfur Gudmundsson, the majority shareholder in the Icelandic bank, Landsbanki, was reputed to have invested heavily in XL.

Indeed, the travails of Landsbanki and the bite of the "credit crunch" have much to do with Alan Curbishley's recent decision to resign as manager of the club. Like Keegan, his hands as manager had been tied as a result of financial considerations: he was told he would have to sell in order to buy. Partly this was down to the excess spending under the previous chairman Eggert Magnusson, who had his share of the club bought by Gudmundsson, for which Curbishley was not blameless, having spent large amounts on notoriously injury prone and volatile players such as Craig Bellamy and Lee Bowyer. Again though, like with Keegan, it was clear that transfer policy was being agreed and debated above Curbishley's head. Having Anton Ferdinand sold without his approval to Sunderland, he thought that was the end of this year's transfer affairs, only for George McCartney to follow Ferdinand to the north-east. Curbishley tendered his resignation shortly afterwards.

Finally, there's the link between the latest company begging for funds to keep it afloat and the world's biggest club, the insurance giant AIG and Manchester United. Manchester United's huge financial debt is probably more well-known than that of Newcastle or West Ham's. Having been bought by the US magnate Malcom Glazer in 2005, the club now owes creditors an astonishing £764m. Far from purchasing the club on his own terms, Glazer borrowed at least £374m from various financial institutions to finance the deal, including £152m which is now owed to hedge funds. The more sentimental, and dare I say it, fans that didn't arrive within the last two decades furiously protested the deal, which resulted in the setting up of FC United, on the model of AFC Wimbledon after the Dons were cynically moved from London to Milton Keynes. The deal with AIG to sponsor United came after the contract with Vodafone was tore up by the Glazers, on the rationale that more money could be obtained in a further attempt to lessen the debt taken on by the Glazers to buy the club. The deal with AIG that could potentially now be in doubt was a four-year contract worth £56.5m.

There is though one difference between football's bubble and the other bubbles which are so obviously being pricked all around us: football's is unlikely to pop just yet in its entirety. The takeover of Manchester City and the purchase of Robinho is evidence of that, and while West Ham may yet be sold, there will be doubtless another whole gaggle of potential suitors lining up to takeover, as there apparently is at Newcastle. As long as fans continue to buy their season tickets and they continue to buy their subscriptions to Sky and now also to Setanta, it seems that the already mindboggling wages paid to players and the top managers will continue to grow expotentially. Football may well be the circus of our time, but no one seems to want to throw the Premier League to the lions yet, recession and credit crunch or not.

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