Friday, October 31, 2008 

Rendition comes back to haunt Smith and Miliband.

You may well have missed it, but the government has at long last been forced into holding some sort of an official inquiry into our involvement in the rendition programme. Jacqui Smith has called the attorney general to investigate "criminal wrongdoing" by MI5 in the case of Binyam Mohamed, the last British resident to remain at Guantanamo Bay.

Not that it hasn't done so without kicking and screaming all the way. Smith has been left with little option but to after the series of damning rulings by Lord Justice Thomas and Mr Justice Lloyd Jones, brought about by the suing of the government by Mohamed's lawyers in an attempt to secure the release of documents they say are crucial to Mohamed's defence. Judging by the bitter resistance to doing just this, one really has to wonder what is in the apparent 44 pages of documents.

The US justification for not releasing the documents, in case you couldn't guess, is that doing so would threaten national security. Our own government, for its part, is rehashing the same justification it gave for shutting down the Serious Fraud Office inquiry into the BAE Systems Saudi slush fund: if they were to be released, the US government would stop sharing intelligence with us, which would obviously as a result threaten our national security. Like with the Saudi threat to do the same, it's an empty one: the US needs us as much as we need them.

David Miliband as a result seems to be held over a barrel. The judges have stated that Miliband and the Foreign Office have actually done much to help Mohamed's cause, but then you would also imagine that's the least they could do considering the apparent involvement of MI5 in Mohamed's interrogation. He appears to accept that there is at least an "arguable case" that Mohamed has been tortured and subject to inhuman treatment, but our subservience to the United States means that he has to follow their line of argument. Undoubtedly too he must somewhat fear the release of the documents held by the government: the judges themselves have said that Mohamed's lawyers' claims that the documents are not being handed over because "torturers do not readily hand over evidence of their conduct" cannot be dismissed and deserve an answer.

We should not though imagine that the attorney general's inquiry will lead to anything, especially considering the track record of late. At every stage the government or their supine committees have played down our role in the rendition programme, at times outright lying about our involvement in it. MI5 and MI6 are completely unaccountable organisations, where lies are second nature, and the fact that they may well have already misled MPs over the Mohamed speaks volumes. It will be a very long time indeed before we even begin to start learning the truth about this very greatest of scandals.

Torture cannot be hidden forever
Contempt of court
High court rules against US and UK

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Analysing the ashes.

After four days of moral panic, the BBC's actions in suspending Ross, with the Radio 2 director resigning does seem to have managed to bring the curtain down for the time being on the Brand-Ross-Sachs affair. What then, if anything, have we learned or have those involved learned?

For Andrew Sachs himself, if he had any illusions about what his granddaughter does with her life, he can't have any now. As always happens to those who choose to sell their stories, the rivals have digged up the not quite frankly very difficult to find "dirt" on her. The Daily Sport splashed on the finding of a lesbian hardcore video in which Baillie has a leading role, the Daily Mirror discovered that she was operating as a £110 an hour dominatrix, and even the Daily Mail, which this morning declared that their witch-hunt had led to a "victory for decency", has decided that the young woman they were so avid in defending the dignity of earlier in the week has a "sordid secret life". The Sun meanwhile, having paid Ms Baillie a princely sum for her story, has what looks like an exclusive video featuring Baillie alongside her fellow "Satanic Sluts". For what Baillie decried as an invasion of the privacy of her grandfather and herself, she has been amply rewarded, seems destined to feature in the lads' mags and on reality TV, and is doubtless thrilled with what has occurred. While impossible to know for sure how much Sachs knew about what his granddaughter got up to, it's hard not to think that he might be somewhat more humiliated by what has followed than by the initial insult from a show that he apparently said could be broadcast as long as it was toned down slightly.

For Lesley Douglas, it seems hardly likely that she'll be out of work for long. Just read the Sun's editorial defence of her, and try to dispel the feeling that there will be shortly be an offer coming her way from News Corporation or BSkyB:

POPULAR Radio 2 boss Lesley Douglas is the first person at the BBC to emerge with any dignity from the Russell Brand-Jonathan Ross debacle. But her head should not have rolled.

It was down to the production staff who let the filth be broadcast to fall on their swords or for Mark Thompson to fire them.

Instead, a talented senior executive whose only fault was that it happened “on her watch” felt compelled to take the blame for the whole sorry bunch of them.

A brilliant 23-year career at the BBC was thus ended by the disgusting stupidity of two highly-paid stars, only one of whom also chose to do the decent thing.


But many will question whether he was right to accept Ms Douglas’ resignation.


One thing is certain. Ross owes Ms Douglas an enormous debt for deflecting rather greater flak.

Either that or she already has friends in high places in Wapping.

Ross himself meanwhile has stood down from the British Comedy Awards, perhaps more out of the fact that he would be the joke of the evening rather than out of respect for his hiatus from the BBC. Still, the reporters are outside his home, watching the preparations for a Halloween party. Perhaps Paul Dacre might go along as himself?

As for the "self-appointed, self-obsessed metropolitan narcissists who control so much of our public life", they still must be wondering where this will all end. When year old comedy shows are being dredged for offensive jokes, and not just by the Mail but the Guardian as well, then the possibility for the neutering of Auntie can't be that far away. The Mail has even more examples of "smutty and degrading obscenities" that have recently been broadcast. It apologises to those who might be offended, but quite clearly these things must be repeated, such is the way our tax money is being spent. That there is a Facebook group urging the reinstatement of Ross and Brand which already has 23,549 members, getting close to the total number of complaints made about the Brand show is neither here nor there.

Perhaps though for everybody else this week will show just where the real power really does lie in this land, and it certainly isn't with the politicians. They're just useful when there's a bandwagon already running. No, it's quite clear that for all the advancements of the last decade, even with the rise of blogging and diversification of the media, what really still has the most ability to shape our lives and decide what is and isn't obscene and also potentially what we can and can't watch is the tabloid media. That these people are quite possibly the most unaccountable but powerful individuals in the land has been shown in extraordinary detail. We can at least attempt to get politicians voted out at the next election, but there is no similar way of telling newspaper editors and proprietors with conflicting commercial interests and hypocrisy in spades to take a running jump. Dacre especially, but all the others also will be sitting there tonight absolutely delighted with what they've achieved, and who could blame them? They're meant to be getting weaker, their circulations inexorably dropping, the internet and with it the young and urban now in control, but they've emerged victorious. Who could possibly have known last Saturday evening that two not very funny comedians could have led to such a turn-around over just the course of a week?

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And now for something completely different...

When things are getting you down, you can at least rely on Melanie Phillips to be a cool head of reason in a sea of insanity. She is incidentally here quoting someone else, but the point stands:

The flames of the urban uprisings in France, of the train bombings in Madrid, of the subway blasts in London and the school massacre in Beslan are only handwriting on the wall. The OPEC aggression against the US economy, the formation of gas cartels by Iran, Qatar and Venezuela with the enticement to Russia to join; all that are just ominous signs of what is ahead... The penetration of our systems, including educational, legal, bureaucratic, technological, defense and security by the Jihadists is ongoing and is projected to expand...

That was yesterday. Today she writes this:

So what if The One [Obama] should actually lose next week? The brainwashed hysteria whipped up on his behalf is, to put it mildly, dangerous.

Quite so. Thinking that there are jihadists under the bed though is perfectly rational.

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Thursday, October 30, 2008 

Spinelessness beyond belief.

Yesterday I wrote that this mind-blowing farce was beyond our finest satirists. You can actually probably go far further: this is now even beyond the most absurdist brainstorms of cartoonists, such is the ridiculousness not just of the entire situation, but the sight, yet again, of the BBC donning the sackcloth and ashes, down on its knees pleading for forgiveness whilst, as Aaron so vividly describes it, the "collective tabloid media buggers it silly with its enormous cock of hypocrisy".

It's really difficult to even begin to get your head around the cant we are talking about going on here. The young woman at the heart of this, the one so deeply offended and betrayed by Russell Brand's bringing up of the fact that he had a sexual relationship with her, has not just sold her story to the Sun for what is reportedly a six figure sum, via the auspices of Max Clifford, but gone even further into exactly what she did with Brand. There I was imagining that this was partially about a grandfather being humiliated by two overgrown teenagers with tales of sexual shenanigans involving a dear relative, something that very few would want to be informed of. Well, unless Mr Sachs is now staying in bed with the covers over his head to escape from this outbreak of hysteria, he's been informed via the front page of the nation's biggest selling newspaper that whilst pounding his granddaughter Brand shouted out a few of his most well known character's famous lines. Or, at least that's if you believe it, which I certainly don't. Still, at least Brand, according to Ms Georgina Baillie, is a crap lover. So crap in fact that she had sex with him three times just to make sure, as she also regales the positively salivating Sun hacks. This self-same newspaper, and I use that word in the loosest possible sense, then in its leader column attacks the BBC for daring to allow such filth to be broadcast.

Nothing though can exonerate the sheer supineness of the BBC's response. It's being criticised for reacting slowly, for not nipping it in the bud immediately as soon as the issue came apparent, but why on earth should the BBC act within moments of a newspaper deciding that something it has broadcasted simply isn't acceptable? It's really difficult to remember that not so long back the organisation stood up defiantly and in the face of really quite bitter pressure, went ahead and showed Jerry Springer: The Opera. The comparison with that majestic piece of theatre is partly why it's so difficult to defend the absolute opposite this time round, but the persecutors then are more or less the exact same ones as now. You can it seems thoroughly satirise religion and trash culture and get away with it, but instead play a prank call on a man who was due to appear on a radio show, who then gave the OK to the show going out as long as some of it was toned down, and the blood and contrition simply don't cease to flow.

Lesley Douglas, the head of Radio 2 has then resigned, but it seems impossible to imagine she would have gone if she hadn't been about to be either severely criticised or pushed out after today's BBC Trust meeting, or as it might as well have been, a kangaroo court upon which the full glare of the tabloid media was on. Brand's resignation was nowhere near enough they had decreed. These self-same moral arbiters, the ones that every single day authorise the effective stalking of celebrities via the paparazzi, who invade the privacy of others for their own short-term gain, who routinely find themselves having to apologise to completely blameless individuals whose grief they have either mocked or interfered with, as the records of the Press Complaints Commission routinely show, who just this year have had to apologise to Robert Murat for accusing him of being involved in the abduction of Madeleine McCann (and let's not even begin on the Express's payouts to the McCanns themselves and the Tapas seven) suddenly found themselves as judge, jury and executioner, with the supposed moral outrage of the public firmly behind them as cover, and they wanted the heads to roll, with them duly handed them.

The real one they wanted though was Ross's, and that's the one that they have as yet not got. Judging by tomorrow morning's front pages, their lust for blood may well have been sated, as they do not seem to be, on the first appearances, calling for his complete banishment. The suspension for twelve weeks though is no real solution, and Ross himself really ought to simply resign, with his apparent so far decision not to do so perhaps suggesting a deal has been made. He has been left high and dry by a management unwilling to throw back a single of the brickbats directed at it, and whilst it is very very difficult to feel sympathy for such a man, it's his salary that has been the scapegoat, and it was the management that decided he was worth £18m, when both ITV and Channel 4 had made clear they were prepared to pay £15m or more over three years for his signature. He will be left by this bizarre sudden disregard for perspective as an emasculated figure, no longer able to do the things that his contract says he is supposed to. What therefore is the point of him?

The real fire though deserves to be aimed at the politicians who decided that this was a bandwagon worth jumping on. The sheer lunacy of the Tories demanding a debate on the subject, just as the news emerges that this year's parliamentary session will amount to just 128-days is indicative of the lack of reality which currently afflicts both the main parties, not just the Conservatives. The bile in my throat had not really risen however until I noticed that Jack Straw's ghost-writer had felt that Ross and Brand were a suitable topic for his regular Lancashire Telegraph column. Here is a man at the heart of our current government's decision to go to war in Iraq, who has spent our collective blood and treasure decimating a country which is only now beginning to get back on its feet, a man that has lied about our country's role in the abduction and torture of "terrorist suspects", and a man that thinks we ought to completely ignore penal reformers in preference to the opinions of our nation's finest tabloid newspapers, and now here he is, asking completely without any apparent irony or self-awareness whether we agree with him that Jonathan Ross has "underwhelming skills". Yes Jack, he does; that however doesn't affect the fact that compared to you he's an absolute fucking renaissance man. Ross and Brand insulted someone; you pissed on our heads and had the audacity to tell us that it was only raining.

This invented scandal has in fact been a real boon for both politicians and the media. There we were last weekend still talking over the fact that both our main parties were looking as sleazy as usual, the economy going down the tubes, oil supplies likely to peak between either 2011 and 2013, with no contingency plan whatsoever for that occurring, a new US president to be elected who will almost certainly be someone who puts our equivalents to absolute shame, questions being asked about Rupert Murdoch's involvement with them again, and up pops something completely irrelevant which for the last three days has been the only story in town, and what's more, one which they can jump on and grab plaudits for from the other press. It is of course directly in this government's interests for the BBC to be as weak, forlorn and unquestioning as possible, and this will directly affect that as well as on general decency standards. For those who haven't forgotten Hutton and still have a grudge to settle, what a fantastic opportunity when everyone else is already aiming the kicks at the corporation's stricken body! For those who want to be able to object to the slightest thing that might offend them or someone else, when better then to strike out for censorship than now, with the BBC itself more or less asking for it?

After all, just how many friends does the corporation now have left? Only the Independent tomorrow has a sympathetic front page, and the Guardian seems to have completely abandoned anything even resembling a kind word, with Peter Tatchell about the only person to have mounted something approaching a defence, and a poor one at that. The Mail's is so vile, so hypocritical, so completely beyond parody that it literally must have emerged from out of Paul Dacre's steaming arsehole. THE BBC WAKES UP TO DECENCY it screams, when the immoral paper wouldn't know decency if it came up and happy-slapped it. Above that, Richard Littlejohn calls it a "stunning victory over self-appointed, self-obsessed metropolitan narcissists who control so much of our public life." You really couldn't make it up. These are the people declaring victory, looking forward to be able to point out every single slightest thing that they don't like, comfortable in the knowledge that for a long time they are going to have a free ride to attack, attack and attack. Already on Newsnight Mark Thompson was asked by Emily Maitlis about a joke involving the Queen which was made on Mock the Week; you can only imagine the mileage that will be got out of everything similar.

What then should the BBC have done? Simple: by yesterday they should have said that the phone calls were out of line, apologised to everyone involved, immediately declared that there will not be a recurrence and that much stricter rules will be put in place before such content is authorised for broadcast. Both Ross and Brand would be reprimanded, told that they were on their last chance, and that their salaries would likely fall as a result. It also though would have additionally made clear that they would not give in to a witch-hunt conducted by a sickeningly unaccountable media, that standards in general would not be changing just because of two men going over the line, and that its commitment to pushing the boundaries, producing challenging programming and confronting those who need to be would undiminished, and that it would be saying no more on the matter. The press may have continued to scream until it was sick, but it would have tired of it eventually. Instead what we have is an organisation once again conducting an act of self-harm in front of the nation as a baying mob looks on, delighted by what it's achieved. It knows full well that self-harm comes before suicide, and they will be looking for every opportunity to provide the noose. And yet again, the BBC can blame no one but itself.

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Wednesday, October 29, 2008 

A farce beyond satire.

At one point today the Guardian website had the row over "Sachsgate" or whatever completely unoriginal, moronic and false name you want to give this putrid manufactured scandal as its top story. Beneath it, two stories down, was the obviously less important fact that only 200 or so people had died in an earthquake in Pakistan. The contrast and lack of perspective really does say it all; even now the BBC, perhaps understandably, has Brand's resignation as its top story, whilst below it are the irrelevant bursts that Alistair Darling is set to relax the fiscal rules and that Debby Purdy has failed in her attempt to get the Crown Prosecution Service to reveal its thinking over assisted suicide in a foreign country.

Make no bones about it, the events of today have been beyond even our finest satirists. The only people who emerge from it with anything approaching dignity are, bizarrely, Brand for sacrificing himself because he realised he was just a fig-leaf for attacking the BBC, and Andrew Sachs for being magnanimous and as understated as you would perhaps expect. Jonathan Ross emerges looking as aloof as ever, issuing an apology through his solicitors; Georgina Baillie, erstwhile member of the "Satanic Sluts", rails against the "sicko" that she slept with, a cheque bulging in her pocket; the media as a whole looks ever more insular and self-regarding, and moreover smugly happy with itself for leading a witch-hunt that has resulted in just what it wanted, a BBC weakened and emasculated; and the BBC is left with no one to blame but itself.

To start back at something resembling the beginning, it must be pointed out that Brand and Ross did cross a line; regardless of whether Sachs was appearing on the show or not and then couldn't make it, informing a man down the phone that Brand had "fucked" his granddaughter is unacceptable, again, even when you consider that Baillie is hardly the shrinking violet that she wishes to portray herself as. This though is where it starts to get curious: according to the Guardian, Sachs was asked whether the show could be broadcast as it was, and he said yes, as long as it was toned down. We don't know whether it was or not, but it appears that Sachs either didn't listen to the show or the messages until informed by a MoS hack who contacted him on the following Wednesday for a comment. This set in train the complaint and the subsequent storm which has followed. While some of the show went beyond a line, parts of it also were undeniably funny, and I'm no fan of either man. Also to be remembered is that just two people complained after the show at this point, and that was about the swearing. There also was a warning before it went out about the language, but considering it was on past the watershed this should be a moot point in any event.

At most, what should have happened is that all involved should have been raked over the coals. Mark Thompson, rather than suspending the men or setting up kangaroo courts involving the BBC Trust should have repeated the profuse apologies, said that Brand and Ross would be given a formal last warning over their conduct, perhaps hinting their salaries would be cut as a result, and that the systems involved in broadcasting such material would be examined and overhauled if necessary. That would, I should imagine, have satisfied most reasonable people, without going in for empty self-flagellation and being completely craven to the demands of the gutter press and its owners which are the most despicable hypocrites as well as having commercial interest in the BBC facing further brickbats over its content. As soon as he suspended both however there was only one outcome, and that was one or both of them resigning, having apparently lost the confidence of the director general.

The BBC's problem is that it is held to a completely different standard to everyone and everything else. This is partially justified, considering the fact it is funded by the manifestly unfair but still in this writer's opinion lesser of two evils licence fee, but it also means that it has to be all things to all people, and as tastes and the media environment radically change this is becoming more and more difficult. Last year's "fakery" scandals were a case in point: the BBC's were relatively minor oversights that were mostly undertaken to keep a show going, for with the most part no one losing out. This was in complete difference to those involving all three of its main commercial rivals, all of whom had ran telephone competitions which had defrauded those who entered as a result of some never having a chance of winning. These, especially ITV's keeping of £7.8 million, and Ant and Dec's production company being directly involved in one case, were on a completely different plane of seriousness. This though simply wasn't reflected in the media coverage: the BBC was pilloried whilst the rest were almost brushed under the carpet, and it already seems forgotten. For all the claims of the purity and accountability of the private sector, as far as I'm aware not a single individual involved in the running of ITV, Channel 4 or 5 either resigned or was sacked, with Michael Grade, who had promised "zero tolerance" suddenly deciding that no one should be the victim of a witch-hunt. This was again in contrast to the BBC, where Peter Fincham, BBC1 controller resigned over "Crowngate". He was, naturally, swiftly re-employed by ITV. Whether this was partially down to the Daily Mail and General Trust's shareholding in ITN, broadcaster of news on ITV and Channel 4, or to BSkyB's 17.9% stake in ITV is up for you to decide.

There are multiple reasons for deeply regretting what has transpired today. It may be over-the-top to suggest that this will potentially affect the BBC to a similar extent or more to the fallout from the Hutton inquiry, but at the moment it genuinely looks that way. Then the BBC had the benefit of the public siding overwhelmingly with it, and what's more with the Mail declaring a temporary truce, backing the Beeb while declaring war on the government. This time initial sound taking suggests that today a backlash had started against the Mail etc, or at least the Guardian's comment sections suggest that, when yesterday's were overwhelming filled with bile against the BBC. It does though set an absolutely dreadful precedent: the Mail and others have won, the BBC has been vanquished, and now they have carte blanche to object to every little thing that our moral arbiters decide is offensive or which the taxpayer shouldn't be funding. Already, as Greenslade points out, the emphasis is shifting from Brand and Ross to, incredibly, inoffensive pap like Love Soup. You could accept it if they were targeting Chris Moyles or some BBC Three nonsense, but not a harmless rom-com.

Additionally, it's also emboldened politicians who think nothing of deciding what we can and cannot watch. Just witness Jeremy Hunt, Conservative culture secretary with an appropriate name, giving a speech on how his party would like to introduce a "social responsibility" contract with the broadcasters, under which the likes of Brand and Ross's prank calls would not be broadcast lest they "legitimise negative social behaviour." This is censorship under another guise which would mean the cutting of Simpsons' episodes with Bart playing prank calls on Moe, or Channel 4's entire acclaimed series, Fonejacker. It puts all the onus on the broadcaster to justify itself while allowing busybodies of the kind I dearly hoped we'd got rid of to object to every little thing that appears on our screens. No surprises that John Beyer has turned up like a bad penny, having been mainly banished to the pages of the Mail and Telegraph, whilst the likes of Nadine Dorries who doesn't just want to control what women do with their bodies but also wants the wages of Brand and Ross redistributed to needy families, branch out into media comment.

This wasn't then, as it is already being described, a "perfect storm", but an example of just how the modern media are now going to operate. A minor act of bullying and unpleasantness that to an extent was authorised has been completely overwhelmed by a major act of bullying and unpleasantness by those who so often rail against political correctness. Hypocrisy, conflict of interests and sanity have all been cast aside in favour of sticking a quick boot in, whilst the majority of public I would wager are left completely bemused by the whole thing and wonder why the economy or even what's happening in the northern Congo isn't the top story. For brands which dedicate themselves to producing what the people apparently want, they've instead gone with their own interests rather than those of those they are meant to serve, and anyone not caught up in the drama can just go hang, because the editors and elite are interested even if you aren't. And yes, I myself am a glorious hypocrite for having excreted all of these pointless words on the subject. Those with an interest not just in public service broadcasting but also in freedom of speech and a return to casual censorship have much to fear from this stage-managed and sordid scandal.

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Tuesday, October 28, 2008 

An utter farce.

Is there really so little going on in the world right now that what Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross said to an actor over the phone on a radio show is not just the day's top story, but the top political story of the day as well? To suggest that this phony, invented scandal, just as invented as the Sun's attempts to smear Katy Perry because she dared to pose three years ago in the company of a knife has been spectacularly blown out of all proportion is an incredible understatement. It tells us absolutely nothing whatsoever about the current state of Britain or increasing concern at the tone of public discourse - it instead only highlights the media's obsessions, both with itself and with fighting each other as circulations fall and audiences plummet.

Alastair Campbell was wrong about many, many things, but he was completely right when he said that the media loves talking about itself. To be fair, bloggers are among the very worst for doing just that, but the point still stands. This was not about concern for Andrew Sachs being humiliated by two overgrown teenage boys, but rather almost certainly out of a desire to get at the BBC for daring to employ them. Here it must be stated that both in my estimation are colossal wastes of money, although Jonathan Ross, as his documentaries in the past and his more recent BBC 4 ones have shown does have insights, especially into more neglected film genres, but the BBC is perfectly within its rights to employ them - regardless of what those now at the forefront of the malestrom are saying about them, they certainly do have their admirers, otherwise Ross's chat show would not be so popular, and Brand's autobiography would have not been the hit of the last year. Yes, Ross's £6 million contract over three years is obscene and worthy of complaints, but this is a highly roundabout way of expressing discontent over that.

All you really need to know is that prior to the Mail on Sunday getting involved, just 2 complaints had been made about the 18th of October show on which Brand and Ross phoned Sachs voicemail and left the insulting and offensive messages, and those were about Ross swearing, not what he was swearing about. Considering that around 400,000 are meant to listen to it, this suggests that the majority tune in knowing full well what they'll be getting from Brand. That there is any need for a timeline of what happened when in this tedious "scandal" is perhaps an indictment of the entire thing, but it wasn't until the Wednesday that Sachs himself apparently even knew that any messages had been left, after being contacted by the MoS. With it then being brought to the attention of the BBC, Brand apologised on the following week's show, but without any humility in his usual fashion. The MoS prints the story, and before you know it, David Cameron and Gordon Brown are sticking their noses in for God knows what reason.

If the Mail had any real care for not further embarrassing Sachs about his granddaughter, then its articles featuring Georgina Baillie in various states of undress whilst revealing her role in the "Satanic Sluts" would not currently be featured pride of place on their site. The Mail hasn't at least created the montage which adorns one of the Sun's articles, featuring Baillie topless with Brand and Sachs included alongside. The Sun however at least isn't calling for either to be sacked, as the Mail is. It's difficult to believe in any case that he wasn't aware of her vocation, although obviously Brand's humiliating remarks were completely out of order. Again though, it's still difficult to have any sympathy for her; it certainly hasn't been denied that she has indeed had a relationship with Brand, and his behaviour towards women is notorious. In his book, for example, he relates how he had sex with a girl at school, who asks him not to mention it to her friends or anyone else, to which he promptly does, then wonders why she's upset. As has been used in different contexts over the past week, if you sleep with dogs you shouldn't complain when you get fleas.

Even more hilariously hypocritical of the Mail, apart from the fact that it is by proxy defending the dignity of a "satanic slut", is that when the Celebrity Big Brother racism row ballooned last year, the paper ran a front page ridiculing the fact it was the story of the day. This time round it's leading the outrage, despite the fact that there was and are far more notable news stories around both today and yesterday, in profound difference to then. All this is leading towards the idea that there are things that the BBC should do and should not do - and promoting new comedy talent such as Russell Brand is apparently one of the things it should not do, if the Mail got its way. It doesn't matter that there are far more worthy things that could be chopped from the BBC, such as much of the crap produced by BBC Three, which could be directed into nuturing real new comic talent such as those behind and involved with Peep Show (which the "moralists" on the Mail would loathe) or even not turning up the opportunity to develop the likes of Chris Morris's jihadi comedy, it's more that the BBC is even thinking of doing these things. It also doesn't seem to matter that this was broadcast after the watershed - even if it was on radio - and so the "offensiveness" of the material should not really breach any guidelines, let alone Ofcom's.

Once the involvement of politicians on a matter such as this would have been limited to the realms of satire. It's not quite apposite to bring in the 2001 BrassEye paedophile special and the hysteria which followed that, as clearly that was a case of Morris seeking controversy, achieving it, and skewering the media all at the same time. That though was followed by politicians involving themselves when none of them had watched it, with David Blunkett who certainly hadn't seen it even joining in. David Cameron and Gordon Brown certainly wouldn't have been listening, and Cameron's demands for full transparency just when his own shadow chancellor has refused to provide just that is laughable.

Eric the Fish is right when he says that this has done a disservice to those of us who do think that the BBC, despite its flaws, is great value, and that it has also done a disservice to itself. There should be questioning over who thought that this particular unpleasantness was acceptable, as it was recorded and reviewed before broadcast, but there should not be a witch-hunt, and apologies all round, perhaps more profuse than those already offered, should be enough. One additional thing this highlights though is the increasing power of the Mail, and the BBC's terror of being targeted by it. It has helped to develop this partly itself by regarding whatever is on its front page automatically as news. Most of all, the BBC needs to defend itself better when it comes in for unfair criticism, instead of taking the beating given it. Last week the Mail and Sun were outraged that the BBC devoted more time to the George Osborne story than to the competing Peter Mandelson debacle, but that was a sound decision based on the fact that far more was known about Osborne's transgressions, and that it involved donations in this country rather than what Mandelson might have done whilst EU trade commissioner. The more the BBC slinks back, the more blows it will take, even whilst it is far more accountable than any tabloid or almost any newspaper. How ironic it would be if newspapers and their proprietors that have done more than anyone else to both lower the tone in this country and to debase politics are those that bring down one of the few remaining bastions of quality and high-brow programming we have, and how they will celebrate it.

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Monday, October 27, 2008 

Just another act of terrorist aggression.

Why is it that whenever the need to strike out against ones foes becomes paramount is it that those damn civilians always seem to get in the way? Another 7 civilians were slaughtered by the United States on Sunday, in what has hardly been unfairly described by the Syrians as an act of "criminal and terrorist aggression". Throughout the last couple of months more and more Predator air drones, piloted back in cosy United States control rooms, have brought swift death to the tribal areas of Pakistan, routinely killing civilians, as well as or instead of those that they were targeting. Now Syria has become the latest victim to start bleeding.

Reputedly aimed at killing Abu Ghadiya, an ISI operative smuggling foreign fighters into Iraq, the images that flashed round the Middle East were undoubtedly those of the innocents caught in the crossfire, that the United States has typically made no comment on. The obvious question, like on the previous post, is why now? After all, while there once most certainly was problems along Syria's border, with foreign fighters able to more or less come and go as they pleased, not only have those wanting to fight their holy war instead increasingly plumped to go to Afghanistan or Pakistan, or one of the other theatres, abandoning Iraq as the "Islamic State" has been diminished, but Syria itself has clamped down on the practice, with even the Americans themselves admitting such. The intelligence this time round may well have been overwhelming, but has it not also been over the past 5 years, especially when disrupting the foreign fighters would have had far more of an impact?

For all the talk of legal justifications for the strike, there was just the one reason why this went ahead, just as it also the reason why the number of strikes within Pakistan has increased: both countries are becoming weaker, and while Pakistan is an ally and therefore unlikely to respond, Syria is simply unable to respond. Bashar al-Assad has faced one setback after another, with the loss of face increasing each time. While it is still disputed who killed Rafik Hariri, the withdrawal of the Syrian security apparatus from Lebanon was the undoubted result. Over the last few years, Syria's hosting of Hamas and Hizbullah and relationship with Iran has started to pall; being part of the second half of the "axis of evil" is taking its toll. Syria's hosting of the hundreds of thousands if not more Iraqi refugees has put serious constraints on the country's finances, further pushing it towards reconciliation with Israel and renewed although secret talks over the Golan Heights. The Israeli strike against the alleged nuclear facility, followed by the assassination of Imad Mughniyeh, has only further pushed the state towards a deal and a form of peace. The implication that what could follow is attacks on fighters being trained in Iran is therefore wishful thinking, because Iran has both the means and will to respond, overwhelmingly

Sunday's strike will then hardly change anything in the long term as far as Syria itself is concerned. It would also be too nice to believe though that the outbreak of cross-border attacks is a symptom of the last days of the Bush adminstration. Even if we assume that Obama wins the presidency next Tuesday, there is little to suggest that he will order any drastic change in military policy, especially towards Pakistan, considering he has personally raised the spectre of increasing activity within that country. Pakistan itself is caught in the middle: looking for peace while knowing that any ceasefire is destined to be only temporary, with a foreign power that cares nothing for any internal deals and only for what might be being hatched in its autonomous regions. Whilst it may be that the US military is striking now before the change takes place as a contingency plan, there's more than a hint, as Juan Cole alludes to, of this being staged as a sop to McCain to show that Iraq is not over yet. There are also the domestic issues within Iraq itself to be considered, as a deal over keeping the US forces in the country post the end of the year continues to be fought over. A shot across the bows to suggest to the Iraqi politicians themselves that whatever they decide, the US will reserve the right, as ever, to do whatever the hell it pleases?

Whatever the case may be, innocents have once again been killed for no great reason. Again, for no great gain anti-Americanism has been inflamed. Again, those recruiting to extremist causes will be praising the actions of those that care only for the short-term. And no one has any hope that this will be anything like the end of it.

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Islamic State of Iraq 4 Abu Beavis and Abu Butthead?

Something which seems to have gone almost completely uncommented on, perhaps for good reason, is that al-Qaida in Iraq has very belatedly claimed that it was behind Abu Beavis and Abu Butthead doing jihad:

The leader of al Qaeda in Iraq claimed in an audio statement posted online today that his group was behind the June 2007 bomb plots in London and Glasgow. Abu Ayyub al Masri, who is also known as Abu Hamza al Muhajer, claimed that al Qaeda in Iraq carried out a number of operations, specifically mentioning the 2007 Glasgow plot and claiming that the operation failed due to a mistake by one of the militants, who made a phone call a few days before the operation advising that the attack was about to take place.

It seems a very strange time to suddenly announce the "Islamic State's" involvement, especially during the men's trial, although whether al Masri knows about that is perhaps open to question, and it could have been recorded before it began. He's also horribly wrong that the operation failed due to a mistake by the militants; it failed because they didn't even go through car-bombing 101, as the Register put it (although another blogger suggests Masri was referring to a different plot, not the Glasgow one).

The question does have to be though, why announce it now? Even if the ISI did have some involvement in the bombing, and there has been no evidence presented at the trial so far to suggest that they did, with the funding allegedly provided by one of the men also charged, it seems intuitive that they were too embarrassed with the results to say at the time they were involved. Why then now? Maybe because ISI are doing so abysmally currently in Iraq, with even themselves admitting that they have lost land and that they face unprecedented problems in launching attacks. The ISI has long relied on irrational online support from the true believers in the forums, completely divorced from the brutal reality on the ground where ISI was in control, and even when the conditions were brought to their attention, they continued and continue to excuse the wholesale murder which was often involved or put it down to anti-ISI propaganda. This might then have been one of its last gasps, trying to pretend that it is still relevant, and not just a threat within Iraq but beyond its borders. That the other attack linked to ISI/AQI, the suicide bombing of a Jordan hotel which resulted in public opinion in that country turning drastically against the jihadists, doesn't seem to have affected the thinking this time round.

Some will doubtless be relieved that a main group has claimed to have been involved, for the reason that it dispels the idea that those without any major link to a jihadist organisation or apparent training are likely to rise up and launch attacks entirely of their own accord, as these apparently did, although they did have links with Hizb-ut-Tahir as others have had. It still however doesn't explain Nicky Reilly, allegedly "radicalised" by individuals overseas. The main threat though remains those who return from the "universities of terrorism" imbued both with the zeal of their experience and the means with which to carry out atrocities, who can be definitively linked with organised groups. Abu Beavis and Abu Butthead most certainly were not.

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That insidious criminal justice lobby...

I have very little to add to what both Justin and Dave Osler have already said about Jack Straw's latest exercise in attempting to placate the tabloids, although the idea that there's even a "criminal justice lobby" is incredibly humourous, as is the idea that it has any real influence whatsoever over government policy. If groups such as the Howard League for Penal Reform or the Prison Reform Trust did, then we wouldn't currently have the largest prison population we have ever had, nor would the government be intending to even further extend prison capacity, or to build those self-same prisons with overcrowding built-in.

The parts of the speech released smack of "Unspeak". Straw it seems wants to reintroduce old-fashioned words like "punishment" and "reform", as if they had ever went away. The real reason why they might have become deprecated is because we no longer see prison purely as punishment or purely as reform; we've realised that pure punishment does not reform, just as without punishment there is no incentive to reform. This though is far too touch-feely for the tabloids, or for the victims' families that the Sun especially keeps inflicting upon us: what they want is little more than an eye for an eye, which the system can never provide. Equally disingenuous is his highlighting of terms such as "criminogenic needs of offenders"; a Google search turns up just 32,400 results, most of them American in origin or from psychological academic tomes.

It's not even as if Straw is being anything approaching original. Almost all the previous home secretaries under Labour, including Straw himself, and now the justice secretary since the changes in the Home Office have said they'll be ever tougher on crime, criminals and increasingly cater for victims. Each has also subsequently, after doing so and having failed to provide the punitive measures which they apparently favoured, been ridiculed and pilloried by those they attempted to woo. John Reid was depicted as brainless and Charles Clarke was sacrificed over the foreign prisoners affair; only Blunkett prospered, being given pride of place by the Sun in its columns for his "straight-talk". Straw must surely be aware of the dangers of his approach, but has gone ahead anyway.

And how has the Sun, for example, responded? In the way only it can:

But Helen Newlove, widow of Garry, who was kicked to death by thugs in Warrington, Cheshire, last year, said: “This is too little too late.

“Labour brought in the barmy Human Rights Act in the first place and employed many of these do-gooders themselves on huge salaries.”

Would Newlove like to name on single do-gooder that has been employed on a huge salary? It would be a challenge, as they number next to none.

As for the editorial:

Of course this is all true. Of course prison reformers get their way too often.


You talk a good game, Jack. If you really mean business, though, give us those new prisons.

And end the early-release scheme that last year alone saw 31,000 inmates — yes, 31,000 — freed before their time.

All released a whole two weeks' before their sentence would have ended normally and that without which the prisons would be completely full, partially as a result of the Scum's own demands for incessant harsher sentences. Straw can't possibly win, but you almost have to give him credit for trying. The countdown to Straw being depicted as a crazed lunatic setting free criminals to murder your relatives begins now.

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Scum-watch: Katy Perry condones spoon crime!

Katy Perry (or at least her publicists) has provided a master class in how to take on the tabloids and win: don't apologise, and do it with humour. Perry has posted the above picture on her blog along with:

…But I DO condone eating ice cream with a very large spoon.

Dear Sun:

You deserve a time out. Your “journalistic” approach has half the soul of the National Enquirer. Shame on you.

Naturally, the Sun itself doesn't know when to give up. While failing to reproduce Perry's wounding second sentence, it has instead got straight on the phone to all the recent relatives of murder victims, which is getting really tiresome:

Furious Richard Taylor, 59, whose son Damilola, ten, was murdered, raged: “She has lost all integrity by this."

Ah yes, a young woman singing a song about kissing girls and liking it, while mocking "metrosexual" young men on another, whilst formerly being a gospel singer; she had and has integrity by the bucketload.

“It would have been better for her to have apologised. Youngsters would have seen that and taken it as something positive. Instead she has decided to challenge us.”

Yes, quite: how dare someone challenge the apparently perpetually grieving, those who can never let go, those who have apparently sold their own integrity in order to be available a provide an outraged quote whenever a newspaper invents a scandal. That's the real outrage here, not Perry's posing with a knife, but her refusal to take it lying down.

Paul Bowman, 45, dad of murdered model Sally Anne Bowman, 18, said: “MTV should pull this woman off air. She shouldn’t be rewarded with an appearance before billions of youngsters. She’s a bad role model.”

Indeed, they should probably get Snoop Dogg to do it again, like he did last year. He's never done anything bad.

Sylvia Lancaster, 52, whose daughter Sophie, 20, was killed in Bacup, Lancs, for being a Goth said: “It’s tasteless. She shouldn’t be allowed to perform in Liverpool considering that poor lad was stabbed to death only a few days ago.”

The idea that the Sun or its pages will ever have any influence in any case on what goes on in Liverpool again is laughable in the extreme, but hey, it's got to keep up appearances.

Note to Russell Brand: this is how you're meant to do it.

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Saturday, October 25, 2008 

Weekend links.

We can't help but start with the wonderful sight of Phil Woolas getting pied by the Manchester No Borders group. Hopefully they'll be many more where that came from.

The fallout from Corfu rolls on. Marina Hyde in her usual waspish way comments on how Osborne broke the golden rule of imagining himself bigger than his hosts, Matthew Parris compares the narrative, such as it is, to EastEnders, Paul Linford examines how the Prince of Darkness himself continues to weave his spell, the newly hitched Aaron (congrats) looks at the further connection of oligarchs, this time with the ghastly ex-spook Tory security spokesman Pauline Neville-Jones, and Anthony Barnett asks whether Mandelson is lying.

As the US presidential race enters the final straight, Jon Swift rounds up the various smears directed at Obama in fine style, Lenin dreams of the ideal Obama foreign policy, and MatGB examines the McCain campaign worker who made up her story about being assaulted by a black Obama supporter.

With the 0.5% fall in GDP over the last quarter, the news is generally grim, and Pollyanna Toynbee typically is comparing the have-nots with the haves. Chris Dillow meanwhile argues why the crash in Sterling is not as serious as some are claiming it is. Dave Osler also looks back at New Labour's economic policy.

In general miscellany, Justin attacks Miliband over the Chagossians in typical style, Shiraz Socialist rounds up the week's events over the Human Fertility and Embryology Bill, including Nadine Dorries' latest madness, Anton Vowl picks up on Littlejohn's linking of Mandelson with paedophilia and Laurie Penny launches an assault on Millie Tant herself, Julie Bindel, whilst also looking at the Poppy Project, which Bindel was also involved in and which yours truly also examined. Lastly, Howard Jacobson doesn't think much of the compromise over the bus atheist adverts, which Richard Dawkins himself explains in an interview with Decca Aitkenhead.

Finally, in a new weekly feature we cherish the weekend's worst tabloid comment article, with the prize this time going to the perpetually abysmal Lorraine Kelly for her worthless insight on Kerry Katona, who fittingly is a similarly worthless individual.

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Friday, October 24, 2008 

Of yachts and Murdoch.

Probably the thing about the now notorious meetings in Corfu that will most alienate the average person is not that they took place, but that they took place on yachts. Holiday homes or holiday getaways they could understand, as they could arranged parties, even perhaps in hired nightclubs. It's instead the presence of these monstrous indicators of wealth, the bling which only the squillionares can afford, synonymous not just with excess but also with debauchery and hedonism that will so raise eyebrows. After all, what else is a private 80m or longer yacht for if not hiring the highest class hookers available from the local area, sailing into international waters and then snorting cocaine off their appendages? The whole concept is inscrutable to 99.99% of the population, and that politicians so want to ingratiate themselves with the stinking rich just when the economy is tanking, mainly as a direct result of the avarice of the stinking rich, is far more damaging in the long term than any deals that may or may not have been agreed on board the vessels.

There is then something of the pretender to the throne travelling to see the monarch himself about David Cameron's jolly jaunt via a private jet provided by Matthew Freud (Murdoch's son in-law) to see Rupert Murdoch. You almost wonder whether he went so far as to kiss his ring, although what ring that would have been would be additionally open to question. Tony Blair did of course go on a much further jaunt to woo Murdoch, flying all the way to the fatherland to seek his approval, but at least he was honest and direct with what he was doing. Cameron's entry in the Commons register of interests doesn't so much as mention that the purpose of the visit was to have drinks with the world's most powerful media player. True, it had to be forced out of Blair that he talked with and met Murdoch throughout his reign, but Cameron's lack of openness hardly augurs well should he become the next prime minister.

While it's impossible to tell whether Cameron's visit persuaded Murdoch that he was someone who could be trusted not to affect his business interests, or indeed that he might be more receptive to Murdoch's woes involving the Competition Commission demanding that he sell BSkyB's stake in ITV, it should be noted that the Sun swung heavily behind Cameron following his piss-poor but high on Thatcherite rhetoric conference speech. Murdoch may not be convinced about those around Cameron, especially Osborne and his blabbing about private meetings, even if it is to Murdoch's own newspapers, but Cameron's dash to meet with Murdoch surely signifies another step in his long march towards power.

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Cooking the crime figures.

It's incredibly tempting to dismiss what appears to be little more than a misunderstanding based on confusion over what is and what is not grievous bodily harm with intent when it comes to recording crime as an understandable mistake and leave it at that. After all, the 22% rise in most serious violence against the person which comes from reassessing the figures involves just 1,000 more offences (PDF). As Mark Easton, and almost no one else additionally points out, with that 22% rise, accordingly there is a drop in the other offences against the person stats of 11,000, or 10% in offences with injury or 4% in offences with no injury. The figures as a whole again show a further drop in overall crime of 6% - on both the police statistics and the British Crime Survey interviews. The only real rises are a 28% rise in attempted murder with a knife, a further 8% rise in drug offences, again most likely down to cautions given for cannabis possession and a 17% percent rise in the BCS figures in theft from the person. Overall, the risk of becoming a victim of crime is unbelievably, considering the media coverage, at the lowest it has been since the BCS began in 1981 at 23%. Broken Britain this ain't.

You could however predict what the response would be to what is not lies, not a conspiracy, but honest mistakes, the classic cock-up. The government is not to blame; if anyone is, it's the police and Crown Prosecution Service for the complexity of what both consider as GBH with intent and what is not. No one as a result of the statistical errors was given a lesser sentence or charged with a lesser offence; the only crime committed here has been one of hubris. The government itself has become, quite rightly, it can be argued, increasingly proud of the fact that by both measures crime has dropped by a third since 1995. Why this has happened can be argued over, and whether Labour's policies are responsible is equally uncertain, especially considering that across the Western world over the same period crime has generally fallen, but any government regardless of hue would be trumping what has happened. Last time round however the government went too far, especially in the face of the rise of teenagers being stabbed to death on the streets of London,
and played up the fall in crime to such an extent that there was almost bound to be a reckoning come either the first rise, whether due to recession, which as the figures bear out has not yet happened, or the first mistake, which has come far sooner than they imagined.

Regardless of what any newspaper or politician will say, this will broadcast just one message to the public: that the crime figures can fundamentally not be trusted. It doesn't help when the Sun for example directly accuses politicians of lying and the police of hiding the true figures as if this was a conspiracy rather than the obvious cock-up, but it's the recounting itself that will cause the damage. It also fundamentally undermines everyone who does consider the numbers to be accurate, whether they be the police themselves, who overwhelmingly do not think that crime is rising, or the academics and policy makers that attempt to turn the evidence into something approaching a strategy.

What is not true is
that people do not believe statistics full stop. They do, but only as long as they back up what they think they already know. A fascinating survey conducted for Louise Casey's crime review found that when one group was told that crime had decreased, 21% said they didn't believe it had. When a separate group was told that crime had increased, not a single person challenged what they were told. Overwhelmingly when told that crime had increased, 42% blamed the government. When told that crime had decreased, just 15% gave the government any credit. The conclusion to be gleaned is simple: the government is on a hiding to nothing. It cannot possibly hope to get across its message that crime has fallen, either because of public cynicism and the general contempt for politicians, or because the most popular newspapers, in some cases certainly because it contradicts their narrative of just how bad things are in Broken Britain, will only highlight the rises while playing down the falls. This is exactly what happened earlier in the year. Also wrong is the Sun's claim in its leader column that people locally believe crime is going up: the last BCS yearly figures showed that two-thirds thought crime had gone up nationally, while just 39% thought it had gone up locally. Most think things aren't too bad where they live, but think they're awful elsewhere. Why this is the case is probably for the exact same reasons as why the government cannot get its message across.

Something of an answer to this would be to make the gathering and presenting of the statistics on crime completely independent and also transparent. The government and the statisticians need to stop fiddling around and changing the way the figures are counted so that they're not comparable over the long term, something they seem obsessed with doing, even if it is generally for good reasons. This won't stop the tabloids from screaming blue murder every time the figures go the wrong way, and it won't stop them resorting to the tawdry tactics
of reaching for comment from the highly unrepresentative victims of crime which they always do, but they quite clearly need to be depoliticised. With a government however that is committed to politicising security policy, something on which bipartisanship is vital, and when control from the centre is ever more formalised, this seems ever further away than ever.

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Thursday, October 23, 2008 

Stealing a nation and getting away with it.

The worst scandals are those that are already known but which are consistently either underplayed or entirely ignored because those involved are not the right kind of people. The asylum system ought to be a scar on the conscience of this country, where children are routinely imprisoned in conditions which do just that to them, whilst control orders can now be issued against "terrorist suspects" without any evidence whatsoever needed to be given to them in explanation for their treatment.

Most truly shocking about what happened to the population of Diego Garcia, the Chagossians, is that every detail of their plight since their home was leased to the United States of America is in the public domain. There doesn't need to be any journalistic sleuthing; everything is already there, from the US request for "an austere communications facility" in the Indian Ocean that turned into a massive base which has since been used to flatten the homes of other civilians in both Iraq and Afghanistan, to the depopulation of the islands and the crushing poverty that the Chagossians then experienced in Mauritius, where the government washed their hands of them. The colonial and imperial contempt for these few "Tarzans" and "Man Fridays" was not even slightly hidden, and time has only made the attitude towards them even more disgraceful.

Why then is it that even the Guardian dumped yesterday's House of Lords decision, overturning the Court of Appeal's verdict that the islanders must be repatriated, back on the 20th page? The BBC News at 10 last night did not so much as mention it, and as for the tabloids, a Google search suggests that only the Mirror ran anything about them. The result itself was even a surprise: almost everyone thought that the House of Lords could not possibly rule in the government's favour, and in the event, the decision was by a majority of just one.

At the same time however, no one also believes for a moment that the Chagossians are ever going to be allowed to return to their home, however many courts rule in their favour. Before the world changed forever™ on September the 11th 2001, Robin Cook knew that this had to be a historical wrong that had to be righted. In 2004, this was simply unthinkable: the Diego Garcia base is now integral to the "long war", or as it was formerly known, the war against terror. While their other bases throughout the Middle East are subject to the vagaries of their hosts, not to mention their populations and the possibilities of them quite literally exploding in indignation at the gates, Diego Garcia is an oasis of calm and stability. To even consider that some noble savages might be allowed back to within spitting distance of the occupiers is anathema, just as it's similarly unthinkable that the Palestinians will ever have anything other than an emasculated husk of land which was once theirs. Indeed, the Palestinians will probably eventually get something; both sides will get tired of killing each other one day and do some sort of deal. The Chagossians however are being denied even one of the minor islands in the archipelago, such are the security concerns.

It's perhaps this complete lack of interest that means that the government and their learned friends can continue to get away with expressing such contempt for those they have treated so abominably. According to Jonathan Crow QC, leading the case for the government, "the Chagossians do not own any territory ... [W]hat is being asserted is a right of mass trespass," which is about as churlish and specious an argument can get without descending into outright sophistry, and only that is because it's true, in the sense that the government of the day ensured they did not own any territory.

The blame then should not reside with the judges, as some have lashed out at. The judgement in full, incidentally, is a joy, with quotes from Shakespeare, Magna Carta and the kind of sharp legal argument which you will now only find in such rulings. The 3 judges who ruled in the government's favour have undoubtedly reached the wrong decision, but the real anger should be directed at that government which continues to treat those "Tarzans" and "Man Fridays" as just that, as fictional characters that have no right to exist, let alone to return to their homeland which was so cruelly snatched from them. As Lord Mance concludes and quotes from Richard the II:

“A heavy sentence, my most sovereign liege,

And all unlook'd for from your Highness’ mouth".

To which in my opinion the Crown cannot here simply reply:

“It boots thee not to be compassionate;

After our sentence plaining comes too late".

The only difference is that it seems unlikely this time that Mowbray's prediction that Richard will sooner or later be overthrown can be applied to the Chagossians' situation.

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Scum-watch: Perry knifes Sun.

Katy Perry's publicist has replied to yesterday's Scum super-splash:

Katy Perry is against all violence. The photo in question was taken in 2005 and is in no way related to the current events in the UK.

Not just two years old then, but three years. This also rather undermines the Sun's "sources" claims that the shots were for her debut album or her website; back in 2005 Perry was working on an entirely different album, according to Wikipedia.

The Sun meanwhile has contacted another relative of a victim of crime:

Ex-EastEnders star Brooke Kinsella, 25, whose brother Ben, 16, was stabbed to death, said: “Celebrities should be role models.”

Quite right. Miss Kinsella's thoughts that "[I]f these evil people want to fight so badly, let them fight for their country" are exactly the sort of thing we should be encouraging.

The Sun incidentally does mention the publicist's comments, but strangely cuts them off mid-flow:

Katy’s publicist said last night: “She is against all violence.”

A case study then for aspiring tabloid journalists: when you need to spice up an otherwise boring report on someone dying, just go to the latest star's MySpace page, grab a photograph of them doing something that makes them seem oblivious or indifferent to someone else's pain, completely invent a "source" to attempt to back the story up, and get a quote from someone guaranteed to be outraged, and you have a front page splash. That you'll be promoting that person at the same time, whilst belittling the victim for sales purposes is neither here nor there.

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Wednesday, October 22, 2008 

Scum-watch: I knifed a girl and I liked it.

The invented scandal is undoubtedly one of the very lowest forms of journalism. Alongside the hatchet job on those who can't defend themselves, the trick of getting someone to condemn what someone else has either done or said is not just lazy, dishonest and contemptible, it's also cheap, the first and most important rule of production which now silently governs the press.

Five Chinese Crackers never said it better when he wrote that the tabloids aren't there to report the news; they exist to tell the same stories over and over again in a slightly different way, regardless of the actual facts of the matter, all the time promoting their own viewpoint on just why these things are either happening or what needs to be done to stop them from happening.

You really couldn't get a better example of this than today's front page Sun super-splash, featuring singer Katy Perry holding a flick knife. Juxtaposed with the shot of Perry, apparently taken during a photo-shoot to go with either her album or onto her website, is the fact that in Liverpool another teenager was stabbed to death. The two obviously go together: Perry, by foolishly posing with a knife is glamorising the culture which leads to teenagers carrying knives and then to the inevitable conclusion, the knife being used to injure someone. Ergo, Perry is partially responsible for what has happened, and hence she, along with everyone who has ever held a knife while being photographed, is little less reprehensible than the murderers themselves. The Sun though can't just leave to chance that this is what will run through their readers' heads; they're far too stupid to be left to think for themselves, after all:

POP star Katy Perry poses with a knife — an image which sparked fury last night after another teen was killed by a blade in Broken Britain.

Angry critics said 23-year-old Katy, who sold five million copies of her No1 hit I Kissed A Girl, was “out of her mind” for glamorising knives.

The snap of the singer was taken to make her look “edgy”.

The grieving families of Broken Britain’s young victims could not be faced with a greater — or more baffling — contrast.

This is nothing less than emotional blackmail. How dare someone consider holding a knife in view of a camera while families out there are grieving because other people have used them to stab someone with? Don't you have a conscience?

There is however an obvious contradiction here. If an image of someone holding a knife is so intensely dangerous, so alluring to the average teenager that by just looking at an image of someone fairly famous holding one is likely to lead to them also carrying one, why is the Sun bringing it to such wider audience? After all, in the words of the one person the Sun bothered to contact, or the only one that gave them a suitable quote, Damilola Taylor's father, Richard:

“Any youngsters seeing her will think it is OK to carry a blade.”

Really? Are teenagers so shallow and feeble-minded that seeing one of the most manufactured singers of recent years in the company of a blade that they'll be instantly informed that if she does it in a staged photograph that they can do it in their everyday life? Or is this actually a truly warped view of human nature? As Anorak puts it, if we apply such logic to the Sun's wider oeuvre, we're shortly to be plagued by teenager girls walking around topless, alternately kissing each other whilst plunging a sharp edge into each other's chests.

Such level-headedness though is alien to the Sun's very concept. It treats its readers as infants, therefore they must be infants, therefore they will act like infants when presented with glamour shots of weapons. Any evidence will do to show just how Broken Britain is; it doesn't matter that Perry is American, that the shoot probably took place in America and that the shot in any event was rejected, this is a wider symptom of just how smashed and atomised our society is, as their accompanying "discussion" has it. Anyone would think that the Sun and its owner's other commercial concerns had never glamorised violence, or provided space for similar images.

For a newspaper that so crusades against political correctness, this is an very oddly politically correct line to take. Without wanting to give credence to the idea, it's long been evident that there is either a reverse or a right-wing political correctness, very closely tied to censorship as a whole. This decrees that something must be restricted as a whole because it might be bad to a certain section of society; that adults can make their own choices is irrelevant if children are potentially at risk of harm.

Even the demand for what Perry must do to make amends for her crime is familiar: she must, of course, apologise. Whether she should do it while kissing a girl, or while down on her knees begging for forgiveness from all those throughout the ages that have been the victims of crimes involving knives is unclear, but express sorrow she must:

SCORES of teenagers are stabbed to death each year in Britain.

The latest tragic victim was a 16-year-old Liverpool lad, knifed to death incredibly on his first visit to a church youth club.

So how does publicity-hungry pop babe Katy Perry respond to this massacre on our streets?

By posing for a publicity shot waving a flick-knife.

We need to hear an apology. Fast.

Never mind then that being American, Perry probably isn't aware of this "massacre on our streets", and so isn't responding to it unless you're a Scum leader writer making a story out of nothing, she must apologise and fast. The nation's biggest selling newspaper demands it. The shed blood of our children necessitates it. Nothing less will do.

According to the Katy Perry forum the photograph is years old, so the "source" the Sun is quoting is probably completely made up. It's also quite possible that they might have found the image on Perry's.... MySpace, from where it has since been deleted.

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Tuesday, October 21, 2008 

From Scotland to Corfu.

Back slightly later than I imagined, so I'll get properly back into the swing of things tomorrow, but it's hard not to be fascinated by the powers at work behind the Mandelson-Rothschild-Osborne-Deripaska yacht story.

As Justin and Bob Piper point out, Mandelson even sort of warned that the apparent briefing of conversations that occurred on the yacht involving himself bad-mouthing Brown could result in repercussions because of what else was also said on the good ship Deripaska. The difficulty is in knowing where Mandelson begins and Rothschild ends; the final straw appears to have been this story in the Sunset Times, linking Mandelson even further to the "super-rich" and especially Rothschild. Rothschild then sends a letter to the Times, detailing the conversations he was privy to involving the suggestions of donations, a letter which had to be re-written after the Tories
threatened legal action against the Times. All hell then breaks loose.

It has to be said that none of this is - yet - on the scale of almost any of the sleaze allegations against Labour. Just last week we learned for certain that Blair had directly changed policy after the £1 million donation from Bernie Ecclestone, something which took ten years before the whole truth became known. Blair's response was to declare that he was a "pretty straight kind-of guy". Osborne has been saying the same in not as many words. Unless things get worse, there's no chance of him being defenestrated. He is, and has been an integral part of the Cameron revolution in the Conservative party, and while I think he has been hideously overrated, especially considering his and his party's anonymity during the financial crisis, and lack of almost any substantive policy whatsoever apart from irrelevant or tinkering around the edges tax cuts, he's still likely to be the next Conservative chancellor of the exchequer. It does however further fundamentally expose the lack of difference between New Labour and the "new" Conservatives - both fascinated with and craven towards the super-rich.

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Sunday, October 12, 2008 

Weekend links and hiatus.

On the banking crisis and the related fallout:

Chick Yog - Brown, Iceland and statecraft
Matthew Parris - Gordon Brown's big tent would hide a narrow interest
Shuggy's blog - On the crisis and the left
Deborah Orr - The left's wet dream or chaotic market choice?
Lenin - Just how bad can it get and Shiraz Socialist - The (lack of) memory of the class

Gordon Brown, it turns out, is psychologically insecure. Says who? A quack psychoanalyst called Lucy Beresford, whom the BBC invited onto the Daily Politics. Bob Piper, Unity and Gimpy all get stuck in.

On the US presidential election:

Iain Dale - Why I am declaring for Obama
Michael Tomasky - The verdict on Troopergate
Matthew Norman - The peculiar tragedy of this flawed hero, John McCain

Finally, some odds and sods:
Pigdogfucker - Combative and contrarian as ever, disagrees with the Peaks over the sentence given to Luke McCormick
Iain Dale - Twelve inches save my life
Anton Vowl - Look at this bitch, on the Mail's pre-emptive strike against Denise Goldsmith
The Guardian - In praise of... the International Brigades provokes some lively debate
Catherine Bennett - So teachers must be spies, on the guidance given to teachers involving extremist students
Joan Smith - A terrorist sponger? No, a beneficiary of British fair play
Richard Ingrams - Being in the Met means never having to say sorry

And with that, I'm being dragged away until a week on Tuesday. Toodle pip!

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Friday, October 10, 2008 

Scum-watch: A victim of crime they won't be pretending to feel the pain of.

The Sun is very big on victims of crime. It cares about our broken society so deeply that it organises fringe meetings at the political party conferences, inviting along those who have suffered the most as the result of violence. It could hardly contain its rage earlier this week when a footballer was jailed for only seven years after causing the deaths of two young children whilst drink-driving. Tougher sentences, the abolition of politically correct policing and the bringing back of the death penalty are all options that the paper has pushed over the last year.

How then does it respond when an elderly man is found murdered in remote woodland? By leaving open the comments on the article for its readers to leave their condolences to the victim's relatives:

May he burn in hell, the *******.

tragic loss... not.

Hands up who gives a monkeys?

I cannot condone murder but I wont weep.

It's clearly suicide. CASE CLOSED.

Got to agree looks like suicide.

I seem to find myself more concerned with which part of my gravel drive I will polish first.

Well, from a professional perspective, and looking at the evidence...
1) found in remote woodland
2) strangled
3) covered up with panelling

yep, that is definitly suicide. CASE CLOSED

You lot are sick saying the case should should be closed. The murderer ought to be hunted down and caught.

He ought to face justice himself...

...A medal and a reward would do nicely!

I have, as you might have gathered, left one of the details out: Gordon Boon was a convicted sex offender and had been recently released on licence. Police believe it may have been a vigilante attack.

There were, it should be pointed out, a couple of comments which didn't go along with the consensus:

Its a bit of a shame the police have to investigate this, but we can't have people going around executing people, no matter if you think he deserved it or not.

Yes, just a bit of a shame. Next the killer might target a normal person rather than a nonce, and then where would we be?

Mac, your right, but if the person or persons who did this get away with it, what would they do next, murder some-one before they are convicted? It's dodgy taking the law into your own hands.

Indeed, it is dodgy. Lynch mobs are all well and good, but they can get out of control.

I don't like murder but I cannot say I feel sad for the chap. He wrecked those young girls lifes forever.

I hate to admit it but I think there might be a lot more of this going on in years to come because of our totally inadequate justice system. I think folk are starting to tire of all the injustices and I cannot say I blame them either

Quite right. The totally inadequate justice system which sentenced this man to six years in prison just isn't up to scratch. Only when when we, the people, decide who lives and dies will the injustices come to an end.

The closest we get to something approaching sympathy, if not for the man himself but for his offspring and relatives are these:

It was the Turkey that was responsible officer, I am sure.

I do however feel sorry for this mans family

How long until a paediatrician gets killed?

Answer came there none.

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Thursday, October 09, 2008 

The Abu Beavis and Abu Butthead trial begins.

Hot on the heels of the semi-collapse of the liquid bombs trial, one half of the Abu Beavis and Butthead team, the other half having sadly expired after setting himself on fire, along with a supporter and funder, are up before the beak charged with conspiracy to murder and and conspiracy to cause explosions.

In a way, Bilal Abdulla and Mohammed Asha were actually far less successful even than their counterparts in the liquid explosives case; they, after all, had no chance of actually carrying out their plot due to their being under constant surveillance by the security services, even without the doubts about whether their plot was viable being brought in. The idea of planes exploding mid-flight over the Atlantic however, especially when both politicians and police had conspired to describe the non-existent threat from the gentlemen as a plot to mass-murder on an unimaginable scale, did far more to frighten and cause fear in the general public than Abdulla and Asha's actual failed attempts did. After all, the thought that someone could carry a bomb onto a plane that is no bigger than a soft drink bottle and which can destroy it utterly is terrifying: how do you mitigate against it happening? Abdulla and Asha however, through both their sheer incompetence and the politicians and police who unlike the previous year, reacted calmly and efficiently, with it quickly becoming apparent that the men didn't actually have any genuine explosives other than petrol and patio gas canisters, pretty much didn't scare anyone. This was almost comedy, and it should have been responded to in such a way.

Such an attitude was never going to be present in the case against them, but the prosecution has already succeeded in going over the top in their descriptions of just what could have happened had the "bombs" exploded. The problem with this is that they were never going to, for, as the prosecution freely admits, there wasn't enough oxygen present in the cars left outside the Tiger Tiger nightclub for there to be the right mixture with the gas to cause even the beginning of a fireball. The intention was to cause the "detonation" via mobile phones, but they apparently tried this on several occasions, and due to the lack of a sufficient oxidiser, failed on every count. Jonathan Laidlaw QC's statement that

"[T]he repeated attempts to detonate the vehicles failed but that was not through any lack of effort by the bombers. It was no more than good fortune that nobody died."

is not completely erroneous, but isn't that far off. Yes, there was no lack of effort from the "bombers", but that same effort in the construction of the "bombs", with there being no oxidiser, meant that good fortune wasn't necessary: no one was going to die that night. The same goes for Laidlaw's similiar statement that

[H]ad it been executed in the way intended it would have resulted in the loss of many lives ...

Well yes, their intention was undoubtedly to kill people. Intention and properly executing that intention are two entirely different things.

In the worst case scenario, if the gas had been sparked by the phone, there would have been a fireball, which would have Italian Job style perhaps blown the doors off, and perhaps distributed some of the nails into the vicinity. If someone had been reasonably close to the cars, the flying debris could have seriously injured or killed them, if "good fortune" had been on the side of the men responsible and if the luck of those passing was truly out that night.

Similarly puzzling is the description of the following day's "attack" on Glasgow airport as a suicide mission, as there is no indication apart from Kafeel Ahmed's dousing himself with petrol that this was to result in their deaths. The trial might perhaps clear up what did happen that day, as it still remains unclear: had they already set some of the petrol on fire before ramming into the airport's entrance, in the hope that it would heat the canisters up and cause them to explode, or had something else gone wrong with their apparent panicky attack? Either way, this further showed how canisters, even when close to fire, need to be heated to a very high temperature before they'll burst, something which they failed to do despite as the prosecution saying, the fire burning "fiercely".

Also rather rhetorical and not backed up by facts was Laidlaw's statement that one of the most "extraordinary things" about the case was that Asha and Abdulla were doctors. Taking the Hippocratic oath is no barrier to becoming a terrorist: Ayman al-Zawahiri himself was a surgeon, something he is still referred to as. You don't have to bring up Harold Shipman to know that doctors can harm as well as heal; their employment hardly affects their politicial views. The "evil" doctor is as much a cliche as the crazy psychiatrist.

It'll also be interesting to note if any allegations are made of al-Qaida connections. The media at the time speculated furiously that this inept attempt at bomb-making was their work, but there has been nothing whatsoever so far to substatiate it. Nothing also seems to have been brought up today regarding it, other than that the two men with Ahmed made up a "small" cell. Their lack of connections with al-Qaida can be taken as either good or bad news depending on your outlook. It can be seen as good in the sense that the group itself does not appear to have numerous sleeper cells waiting for the call to come for them to start their own plots or attacks, despite the claims that there are up to 2,000 terrorists supposedly just waiting to do us harm, and that gaining access to both the group and to its undoubted expertise in bomb-making is far more difficult than has been made out; while also bad in that if this small cell was apparently operating purely out of its interest, with no wider allegiances, that there are likely to be other such fanatical small sects, perhaps building each other up towards the ultimate aim of launching attacks, completely out of the sight of the security services and police as these 3 apparently were. The upside to that is that are obviously far less likely to be knowledgeable in making explosives or causing explosions, as even the scientific knowledge of these men apparently didn't help them.

Either way, while we ought to remain concerned about the possibility of groups such as these growing in confidence and expertise, the biggest threat by far still remains those who have gone to fight in Afghanistan/Pakistan/Iraq or the slightly more exotic jihadi breeding grounds, such as Somalia or Algeria/Morocco, perhaps even Yemen returning and bringing their knowledge back from what their own leaders have described as "universities" of terror. The two bomb attempts outside Tiger Tiger were originally linked by the press to al-Qaida in Iraq's car bombs, for example, but if there's one thing the ISI knows how to make it's bombs that actually work to horrific effect, as their released videos showcasing "martyrdom operations" testify, and they involve explosives, not gas canisters, although a recent attack did involve the use of a fuel tanker as the VBIED. The use of suicide attacks where vehicles are packed with genuine explosives are probably the biggest nightmare of the authorities, outside of the tiny risk of the use of so-called "dirty bombs" or chemical or biological weapons. Explosives though are difficult to come by in this country, hence why our attackers have favoured the more easily available hydrogen peroxide. All this is further reason not to fearmonger or overstate the deadliness of Abu Beavis's and Abu Butthead's "device"; should a real one come along we might well regret claiming that it could have caused such mass murder when a real one undoubtedly would.

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Hefferlumps and socialism.

If you read just one thing today, Dave Osler's masterful assault on Simon Heffer deserves to be it.

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Wednesday, October 08, 2008 

They say, we pay.

In what is now a multimedia age, it's two newspaper front page headlines that still sum up a day's events: the Telegraph going with back from the brink, while the Guardian has staring into the abyss. If you believe both the politicians and the wider commentariat, all of whom seem to be in basic agreement that today's/yesterday's bailout was both on the whole a good package, and one to which there was, in the age old phrase now so hollow, no alternative, then what would have been considered hyperbole weeks ago is now wholly justified.

That very lack of dissent is what ought to worry us the most. Today's givens, or in Rumsfeldian, known knowns, are tomorrow's deepest regrets. It is even more telling that around the only two people who are objecting to the bailout as set out are on what would be considered the further reaches of both left and right: John McDonnell, who advocates a controlling stake in the banks that will apply for the immediate £50bn of funds being made available, and John Redwood, who appeared to oppose the sort of plan which has emerged on Monday but who now appears to have rowed back somewhat.

Perhaps a better example is in two more well-known economic thinkers. Reading Ruth Lea's whole-hearted welcome was enough for the alarm bells to really start ringing: her past is impeccable having both been chief UK economist at - who else - Lehman Brothers, and also director of the unashamedly Thatcherite Centre for Policy Studies. In much the same vein, Will Hutton, who's had a new lease of life thanks to the "credit crunch", sings the praises so profusely that you'd not be surprised to find he was sporting a huge erection while writing it; apparently the markets were too "shell-shocked" to assimilate the greatness of the Brown and Darling bailout, hence why the FTSE continued to drop like those who threw themselves off buildings in New York in 1929.

It would of course be ludicrous to judge the plan by how the market reacted to it, especially on a day on which the IMF produced a grim as it gets report on how the economy is likely to contract slightly next year, with most even thinking that at the moment is too optimistic. The Dow later plummeted after Paulson made clear that he believed institutions in the US would still fail despite their own bailout being passed and now slowly being put into place.

There are however more than legitimate reasons to be incredibly apprehensive about this plan, not least because unlike in America, our own legislators seem unlikely to even be offered a vote on whether it should be put into action or not. Partly this is because the problem is so urgent that something has to be done now, or so we're told, and it's also true that in the current, almost war-time consensus which has fallen upon both the media and the politicial classes it would be passed with hardly a single vote against, but that is besides the point. This is something far too serious, especially when it involves such vast sums which the taxpayer will be providing collatarel upon, to be decreed simply by a prime minister and his chancellor in agreement with the other very people who brought us into this mess.

This £50bn, or is it £500bn, is itself a hall of mirrors, as we don't have such sums in the coffers to instantly pay out. No, this money itself is to be borrowed, pumped into the banks in the form of the government taking a stake via preference shares. Of the four banks which are in the most relative trouble - HBOS, RBOS, Lloyds TSB and Barclays - three could be bought outright with that £50bn, while you could take a significant stake in the one left out. After all, as we're splashing money around, why not take control, wind down the businesses and put the deposits in one big bank? This is not to say that the government should be in the job of running banks when it can't so much as run its own departments properly, but could they really be any worse at just running them down than the current proprietors that got them into the situation today?

For taking this stake which will, if the plan works, in effect prop failing institutions up, with the eventual promise that there might be a profit in it for the taxpayer if they wait long enough and don't die in the mean time, the deals that the government has supposedly received in return are not worth the paper they aren't even written on. Banks will apparently have to cut to the bone their executive bonuses this year, shareholder dividends will similarly fall under the knife, while small businesses must be offered better rates than currently on their own borrowing. There is perhaps a tendency in such times to call for heads on sticks, as someone has already put it, but whilst there must be stability, surely those responsible at the executive level at these banks must at some point be shown the door, starting as Nils Pratley suggests with Sir Fred Goodwin. Again though, perhaps the reason why there has been far more carping from the Conservative side, with David Cameron demanding, almost Trot-like that no banker receive a bonus this Christmas, is that if the chief executives and others at the banks have to go, then surely also does this country's chief executive for his own role in the crisis. If they are to be treated as Justin suggests, like the benefit scroungers so demonised for their weekly pittance, then Brown and Darling and the rest of them should all be exposed to such penury and shame also.

Fundamentally, the current consensus cannot last, and nor should it. Despite the apparent undoubted Conservative part in the deregulation and the "age of irresponsibility", as well as how if they were in power they would be doing much the same, the resentment that today's payola will breed will likely be easily built on by Cameron and friends, even if they have been so woeful thus far. As we stumble into the recession, the bills will just keep mounting up, with the increases in welfare spending for those newly unemployed already starting to hit the Treasury. Make no mistake, despite everything that has happened, the poorest in society, the sick, the elderly, all will be hit the hardest as those very same bills are aimed to be kept by down by a government that has just bailed out the very richest with our own inheritance. Already the ridiculous one-off cases like the Afghan single mother supposedly living in a "mansion" for which the taxpayer pays out £170,000 a year are being highlighted, with the one direct aim of hitting the welfare state as a whole. How bitterly and cynical typical that it is one of the richest men in the world, with some of the most comparatively better off individuals in the country in tow that are doing such sniping now, and this is only likely to be the start of it.

New Labour could have prevented this. It was always going to win the 97 election, and it could have done so without the support of Rupert Murdoch, of the City, of the CBI, and everyone else that has directly contributed to the current crash. It could have properly regulated the City, rather than ticking boxes and slapping backs; it could have restrained the buy now pay later culture; and it could have condemned the bonuses which are now being criticised far earlier. None of the above though deserve the blame except for Labour themselves. We must not let them forget it, and we must fight to ensure that those blameless in all of this are not the ones held responsible any more than they already are.

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Online jihadists planning forum raids!

The e-jihadis it seems are getting desperate:

It has been almost a month since the top-tier Jihadi forums were taken down (with the exception of Hesbah–suspicious). Now the second-tier forums have been taken down: Faloja, al-Ma`arik al-Salafiyya, and Shura. Shumukh is hanging on and that’s where most of the hand wringing is happening at the moment. Some are accusing the Shia of shutting down the forums in retaliation for their websites being hacked; others believe the U.S. is behind it.

One member of the latter group, al-Hizbar al-Ansari (The Ansari Lion), proposes that American forums be “raided” in retaliation. He suggests that Jihadis sign up on highly-trafficked forums and post disturbing images of U.S. dead in Iraq and Afghanistan. This, he believes, will demoralize the enemy. To get the ball rolling, Hizbar says he signed up for one of them under the name “osama bin laden” and posted a picture of an American woman with a burned face looking for her husband.

Yesterday, a Shumukh administrator called on all members of the forum to get involved. He even issued an invitation to members of four other forums: Hesbah, Faloja, al-Ma`arik al-Salafiyya, and Shura. (This was before three of the four sites disappeared today.)

Hizbar responded to the call today by announcing the formation of the al-Ayyubi Brigade to coordinate the attacks. (al-Ayyubi is Salah al-Din al-Ayyubi, or Saladin.) He also listed the five American forums that should be targeted first:

  1. (”This is an extremely large forum with millions of people that posts information about American states.”)

  2. (”This forum has a section devoted to the war against Muslims.”)

  3. (”A forum for American university students. It is very important.”)

  4. (”This is one of the large American forums. It has a video section.”)

  5. (”A military forum frequented by Europeans and Americans. It launches attacks on the mujahids and disparages them. I hope films will be posted on it. Be wary of its many Jewish members.”)

It should be noted that despite many of the jihadist forums being down, material from groups including al-Qaida and the Islamic State of Iraq is still freely being released and distributed (ISI released 4 Eid "gifts"); the only way that could possibly be stopped from happening is if whoever or whatever has succeeded in bringing down the jihadist forums goes on to the target the ever burgeoning file-uploading websites which host them, something they're not going to be able to do. Likewise, back up forums can be freely set-up incredibly quickly, and while they won't be able to handle the traffic that the main ones did, this is hardly anything like a death blow to the online jihadists. It's undoubtedly shaken them up and dispersed them somewhat, but as successors to the likes of al-Ehklass take place and shape they'll return and be back to something approaching normal before too long. Also amusing is how some are blaming the Shia, just as they along with the Jews are blamed for almost everything by the conspiracy-minded in the "community", which is a very high percentage of them.

For those like me though who used to spend inordinate amounts of time reading the likes of the Something Awful forums, which has now been somewhat superseded by 4chan, forum raids or invasions are like old friends. Although long since deemed bannable on SA unless authorised by the adminstrators, the key element to a good forum raid is the chief weapon of the Spanish Inquisition: surprise. It also needs to be approaching the overwhelming scale: such a sudden burst of registration or activity from the "insurgents" that it leaves the administrators or moderators of the targeted board unable to cope. Thing is, most board software is now so powerful that stopping such raids is as simple as closing registrations, or if necessary, closing the boards completely temporarily while the effects of the raid can be cleaned up. Sure, it'll make a lot of hassle, but they can also be prevented by having a mod authorise all such accounts. And using dumb names such as "osama bin laden" as the hero did up there, especially on boards such as the ones they're thinking of targeting is simply just going to result in them not even getting to first base.

The other thing to consider is that most readers of such forums are already going to pretty jaded. Every internet user has seen goatse, tubgirl, with most probably even seeing 2girls1cup for a few seconds before alt-f4ing. Even the series of pain.jpgs and whatever else is now being used for shock value aren't what they might once have been. Hell, most of them have probably actively sought out such delights. They, like the jihadis, have most likely seen the IED videos, or even the beheading ones, except they for the most part won't have been incredibly sexually aroused by it. You have to admire the naivety on one level, that they actually genuinely think raiding forums and posting images of the U.S. dead in Iraq will rile most people. It won't. They'll just sigh and carry on with their lives.

Without wanting to give advice that might be used, jihadis would be far better placed starting DDoS attacks against suitable targets. They definitely have the manpower and the numbers required to do so, and with the amount of zombie PCs out there that are just waiting to be used in botnets, they could probably bring down or at least seriously disrupt the service on some of the sites they're thinking of attacking. Or they could go and block the pool on Habbo Hotel.

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Locked up myself and forced to eat journalism.

More quite brilliant examples of the high standards of British journalism via the Press Complaints Commission:

Complainant Name:
Resolved - Mr Iain Harris v Love It

Clauses Noted: 1

Publication: Love It


Mr Iain Harris complained that the magazine had used an inaccurate front page headline for an article in which his wife described her struggles with anorexia. It stated: “Locked up by my hubby and forced to eat”. In fact, his wife was sectioned under the Mental Health Act via a process that was controlled by a consultant, a GP and other medical staff.

The complaint was resolved privately by the parties, including through the magazine sending a letter of apology to the complainant, accepting that he had not behaved in any way improperly as to his wife’s sectioning and that the process was under the control of properly qualified medical staff.

But apart from that the story was true, right? Doubtless his wife was paid for her story; he by the looks of things has ended up with a big fat zero.

Love It! is owned by News International, and is handily summarised by its sadly vandalised Wikipedia page, which ought to be saved for posterity:

Love it! is a weekly magazine produced in the UK. It was launched on February 7, 2006 by News Magazines Ltd, News International's magazine division.

Entering into the so-called real life category, it is aimed at women aged 18-35 who have about two brain cells, combining inspirational real-life stories, sick stories about child abuse and rape with those on fashion, beauty and sex, including an advice column from a so called 'sexpert'.

The magazine has been heavily promoted by The Sun, News International's daily tabloid newspaper (Now there's a surprise!). Each week an article is lifted from the forthcoming magazine and published in The Sun to coincide with its release.

The Sun itself has also been heavily featured by the PCC of late:

Complainant Name:
Stonewall Scotland

Clauses Noted: 1

Publication: Scottish Sun


Ms Christina Stokes, Communications Officer at Stonewall Scotland, complained that an article which claimed that the organisation had been consulted in regard to new NHS uniforms was inaccurate and misleading.


Report: 77

Homophobia it seems is more acceptable above the border, or at least the Sun's hacks think so.

Complainant Name:
Resolved - Mr Mickey Morris v The Sun

Clauses Noted: 1

Publication: The Sun


Mr Mickey Morris complained that an article on the newspaper’s website had inaccurately claimed that his son Lee, a paratrooper, felt safer fighting in Afghanistan than in his previous job as a male stripper.


Report: 77

Ah yes, now I remember why the Sun calls itself the forces' paper and why the likes of ARRSE love it so.

Complainant Name:
Resolved - Mathew Shaw v The Sun

Clauses Noted: 1

Publication: The Sun


Mathew Shaw of Reading (who was not complaining as a representative of Robert Mugabe) complained that the newspaper had published an online article which featured photographs of a “palace with 30 bedrooms…where no expense was spared” and alleged that it belonged to Robert Mugabe. The complainant said the claim that the house belonged to Mr Mugabe was an urban myth.


The newspaper initially provided an article from the Daily Telegraph which it said featured the same house and made the same claim in respect of Robert Mugabe. The managing editor also said a Zimbabwean correspondent had confirmed the information.

The complainant provided evidence to dispute the claim that the house featured was the same as that which appeared in the Daily Telegraph. He contended that the house was in fact used on the movie set of the film Beethoven’s 4th (set in the US). He provided stills from the film which showed a “remarkable resemblance” to the house in the article. The newspaper thanked the complainant for drawing the issues to its attention and, given the nature of the evidence he had provided, it removed the article from its website.

The complainant considered that the newspaper might have published a correction or apology on the point but decided to resolve the matter on the basis of the removal of the online article.

Report: 77

You have to hand it to the Sun: more or less admitting that your article was pilfered from the Torygraph is a novel defense. It must be true, it was in the Telegraph, a serious newspaper! Still, who knew that Robert Mugabe lived in the same house as a fictional dog?

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Tuesday, October 07, 2008 

As the spiral continues downwards, are Labour's chances actually improving?

The economic crisis, which it can almost certainly now be justifiably called, has just entered a new and latest phase, quite plausibly the critical stage. After Darling's statement to the House on Monday went down in the City like a lead balloon, apparently leading to swift pleading overnight and today that something had to be done to stop the precipitous decline in the shares of HBOS, RBOS, Lloyds TSB and Barclays, even while the latter two of those organisations said they didn't need any handouts, by most accounts before the FTSE opens tomorrow morning up to £50bn will be used to take stakes in all of the mentioned institutions, with potentially more to follow if the fallout is is even more serious than now thought.

How much of this has been planned in advance and how much has been developed ad hoc is open to question, with Simon Jenkins in particular railing against the "dithering". The government's plan may well have been to deal with problems as they developed, but the biggest drop in the FTSE's history on Monday, followed by continuing to decline bank shares seems to have forced their hand fully now. However much criticism can be directed at the government for letting the banking crisis develop, through the "light touch" regulation to the promotion of easy credit, few can envy either Brown or Darling being at the very centre of a storm which is potentially far more serious than the withdrawal from the ERM was in 1992.

The mentioning of Black Wednesday is key because this could also now help further determine who the victors of the next election will be. If the "plan", such as it currently is succeeds, gets the banks lending again and restores liquidity, then it is still not too late for Labour's reputation to be if not restored, then vastly improved. For sure, there is going to be a recession, and Brown's abolition of boom and bust is going to do an awful lot of damage. If however the electorate gives the credit to the government for making the worst of a bad situation, and the recent polls have suggested that most actually have been favourable, if grudgingly of Brown and Darling's performance thus far, it could still with pushing by Labour prompt doubt in what the Tories would have done and how they would have coped. For all Cameron's claiming of being a "man with a plan", their contribution to the economic arguments has been pitiful. On Newsnight again tonight the best they could offer was Kenneth Clarke, whilst Vince Cable for the Lib Dems was again in evidence.

It might well be that the general public has had enough of Labour, end of, as the 10 to 12 point deficits in the polls even after the boost from the Labour conference suggest. While it looks increasingly bleak financially, Labour's chances will probably now depend on what happens over the next few weeks.

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Quentin Letts and the wreckers of Britain part two.

I've started so I might as well finish. Either that or I'm a glutton for punishment. Quentin Letts' 50 people who buggered up Britain continues, and as he has 256 pages to fill, one would imagine we're only getting a heavily cut down version in the Hate.

21st is Tony Blair, and in keeping with the previous names on the list, this isn't for the reason why you think he might be. Not for Letts is Blair worthy of being on the list because of little things like lying over the Iraq war, resulting in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, for the way he casually diluted civil liberties, or how he ran a "sofa government" in which he was the be all and end all, the most presidential prime minister this country has probably had since Churchill during the second world war; no, Blair is a villain because of the way he casually left parliament as soon as he ceased being prime minister. While you can hardly argue that this was because Blair considered himself a superstar and that there was money to be made, as Letts suggests, anyone who seriously wanted Blair to remain an MP after 10 hellish years must be the sort of masochist which the government seems to be so terrified of.

22nd is Richard Brunstorm, a perennial Mail target, often referred to as part of the Traffic Taliban. There is a really simple way to avoid having to pay fines due to being caught by speed cameras: don't break the fucking speed limit. Speed cameras are for the most part not as objectionable as the basic CCTV camera, for the simple reason that it only records the details of someone breaking the law, rather than absolutely everyone as the latter do. Just for good measure, and to fill up the list, the inventor of the speed camera Maurice 'Maus' Gatsonides is in at 42.

At 23 Paul Burrell enters the equation. Few will disagree with the fact that Burrell is a particularly egregious example of someone cashing in on their work for someone famous, a horrible oleaginous pustule filling his boots. This has never been the real reason though for why such bile has been directed his way in the newspapers: it started when he sold his story to the Mirror rather than any of its rivals. Prior to that he was genuinely feted as "Diana's rock"; it's only now that he is ridiculed for what they formerly praised him for. And after all, for quite a long time Burrell was providing a separate narrative to the one which the press and its correspondents and columnists, often themselves writing books about Diana, wanted their readers to hear; he was a threat, hence he had to be dealt with. True, Burrell seems to have embellished and on occasion lied about his relationship with the Princess, but then so has the media which now so viciously assaults him. How dare someone who actually worked for the Princess profit from it; that's our job!

No quarrel with Letts over 24, Alex Ferguson, who has to be one of the most overrated and over indulged individuals in the entire country. No one else would be allowed to get away with what he does, his incessant sniping at referees when they dare to not award a penalty to serial diving offenders Ronaldo and Rooney, when so often the officials favour his team as decisions in both of the last Premiership games involving Manchester United have shown. His accusations that everyone is against them solve a dual purpose: to both intimidate referees before a game has even begun whilst ensuring that everyone else continues to hate his team, which he feeds off of. Football managers are hardly ever pleasant creatures, but Ferguson, despite his successes, does the game as much of a disservice as he does a service.

25th is a further example of Letts' warped thinking. His victim this time is Kenneth Baker, for two reasons: the dangerous dogs act and the abolition of corporal punishment in schools. Undoubtedly the DDA is one of the best or worst, depending on your thinking, examples of how legislation motivated by reacting to tabloid demands results in the worst of all worlds. Quite apart from the fact that Letts' employer has been in the forefront of other such campaigns, it very rarely leads to whole breeds being condemned, as the number of youths walking around with "pit-bull" type dogs proves. Letts though thinks that if dogs can be exterminated, why can naughty children not be occasionally thrashed? I think I'll leave you to ponder that one.

Letts' choice at 26th of Ronald Jasper, who introduced the Alternative Service Book into the Church of England is rather beyond my speciality, and the brutalist architect Sir Denys Lasdun is hardly likely to have many defenders. Pettiness and snobbery though raises its head again at 28, where Helen Willetts, of all those deigned to have buggered up Britain resides. Willetts, a weather presenter, apparently insults our intelligence with her "Chester accent" and by suggesting that you might want to wrap up warm when it's cold. She and her friends are "northern-accented show-offs" that are the "new ruling average". Quite obviously what the BBC needs are more southerners to make up for the northerners that are taking over the tattered corporation.

29th is Dame Suzi Leather, seemingly on Letts' list purely for being a Labour supporter in a position of something approaching power as head of the Charity Commission. She is an "unelected harridan who draws her money from the public sector and sticks her nose into other people's business, making their lives considerably less easy." Who could possibly disagree?

30th is Richard Dawkins, and proving that Letts obviously hasn't read the God Delusion, falls straight into one of the arguments which Dawkins challenges, the idea that religion, even if it cannot provide proof of God's existence "can sugar catastrophe and brighten chasms". As Dawkins says, there is little more patronising than the fact that we shouldn't challenge religion because it brings hope and solace to some. Whatever the opiate of the masses is, if it has such a horrendous and bloody track-record as religion, it needs to be taken on regardless of such excuses.

31st shows that Letts cares nothing for conservation by targeting Geoffrey Rippon, who handed our fishing rights to the EEC in 1973, while at 32 the creator of EastEnders, Julia Smith, takes a battering. God forbid that popular television actually try to consistently target genuine issues of public concern, whether they involve violence or misery or not; for someone that writes for a newspaper than revels in both, Letts seems remarkably squeamish about it being covered unflinchingly for a mass audience, especially when both are apparently so convinced this is what our modern nation is actually like. The biggest resentment, as usual, appears to be that they are having to fund it despite not watching it, and if they don't approve, then the rest of the nation shouldn't be able to watch it either.

33rd then, dear reader, is you and I. Or rather, "Webonymous". Letts doesn't take too kindly to those that "are timid to stand by the words in public, just content to hurl vitriol and hide from proper argument." Can't accuse Letts of doing that: after all, how else would he make make his wad if he wasn't employed by the Mail?

34th is the already mentioned Michael Martin, and while few can dispute he has been an abysmal speaker of the house, wasting money like water on trying to stop investigation into MPs' expenses, the snobbery again slips in, as the person who coined the moniker "Gorbals Mick" only can. As before, rather than it be Letts that's the class-warrior, outraged that someone who used to do manual work for a living be an MP, it's Martin that's re-heating the class war, favouring Scots over "southern Tories with fruity accents", while spitting fury at an "aristocratic Tory". Lowering the tone in the house and exposing it to ridicule isn't enough; Martin has to be doing it while Scottish and working class to truly upset the apple-cart.

Harold Wilson next takes a leathering for introducing the special advisor, which obviously inexorably led us to Jo Moore and Alastair Campbell, completely leaving out practitioners such as Bernard Ingham, who newspapers boycotted during the 1980s because they felt he had overstepped his role as a civil servant.

Onto the finishing straight, and John Birt is 36th. No objections on this one, although as Greg Dyke was also on the list, that's the two previous BBC controllers on it, even if for completely different and in Dyke's case idiotic reasons. It's a wonder Mark Thompson isn't either.

Ed Balls and additionally his wife are 37th. Letts it seems appears to have something of a fixation on accents, especially on those people who he vehemently dislikes. Here's his take on Balls:

With their accents, they seek to convey an unconvincing matey-ness. Ed (it is rarely Edward) speaks in a strangulated Mockney, which manages to be both staccato and foggy. It is also peppered by delay phrases, such as 'errr', and by little stammers. So bright! Yet so ineloquent!

Yvette labours for a northern twang, making her short 'a' even more aggressive when she is fighting off criticism. Few onlookers would guess she was reared in southern England - in Hampshire, thank you - or that her husband, who loves to attack David Cameron for his public school background, himself attended a fee-paying school.

Golly gosh, hypocrites who can't talk properly! To ensure though that Letts isn't himself going in for vitriol without proper argument, Balls gets the blame for the following:

This background to the Ballses sits comfortably with their record of 'nanny knows best' interference. The nonsense of tax credits? Classic Balls. Stealth taxation? Yet more Balls.

No fan of tax credits when lifting the poorest out of tax would be a far better option, but stealth taxation really is a conglomerate of different grievances that has become so ubiquitous as to become meaningless. Everything is a stealth tax and the nanny state is to blame for everything. Change the record already.

Again, no difference of opinion over John Scarlett at 39 for his role in the dodgy dossiers, while I'll take Letts' word for it over Graham Kendrick, before we come to Jock McStalin at last at 41, mainly for spending all our money in order to garner votes through those are subsequently employed by the state. This is an old conspiracy theory, and one far from proven. Also noteworthy is Letts complaining about the police always having new cars, which is ever so slightly rich coming from a newspaper that believes never enough can be spent on them, as long as they're the right sort of police and not politically correct individuals like Ian Blair or sinister darkies like Ali Dizaei.

41 deals with cricket and Tony Grieg, which I am completely unqualified to comment on (more so than usual), 42nd we've already done, and so it's onto 43 and David Blunkett. One of the problems of lists like this is that they contain people you can't stand yourself, but for entirely different reasons: Blunkett was a law unto himself, thinking that he could criticise judges for daring to contradict his policies, whilst laying the foundations not just for 90 days but also for the current overcrowding in prisons with his introduction of "indeterminate" sentences. Letts, on the other hand, criticises him for waiving restrictions on the EU ascension states, leading to the mass increase in immigration, which can hardly be pinned just on him when it was a whole government decision, and was also agreed on the basis that the rest of Europe would also open their borders, which they didn't; for introducing citizenship classes, as the poor kids subjected to comprehensive education should obviously be studying more demanding subjects rather than be instructed in the workings of society; and for the police community support officers, whom Letts suggests are scared of even confronting 13-year-olds, which even by the standards of the above is bollocks. Strange that Letts didn't mention the shagging of the Kimberley Fortier, or perhaps that might have stirred up thoughts of what he did to fellow sketch writer and supposed friend Simon Hoggart, who he sent up after he was also exposed as having had a piece. Letts parodied Hoggart's own Christmas round-robin letters book; perhaps Hoggart might be inclined to take his revenge this year.

At 44th Peter Bazalgette enters, mainly for his role in bringing Big Brother to our screens, which I might well have mentioned in the past. 45th then is Alastair Campbell, which surely must have been the easiest and most obvious choice on the entire list. Letts though is still willing to surprise us; this isn't because of his lying, sniping and spinning which brought our political culture to such a low point, but because he was a fanatic, according to Letts a "deeply unBritish" character. He "spread through our land totalitarian vehemence". Campbell might be a thoroughly unpleasant gentleman, but he was thoroughly right when so often identified the Daily Mail as being the ultimate in poison in our public life, an immoral newspaper which time and again upbraids others for not being moral enough. Letts' description is in fact worth quoting in full because of how well it also applies to the Mail as a whole:

Such vehemence of belief you find in this man. Such fervour of support. Such absence of doubt. It is unnerving, unnatural, the product, I'd say, of deep unhappiness. The reason it matters, and the reason he comes into our rifle sights, is that he infected our public life with this fanaticism.

It's little wonder the Mail and Campbell hate each other so: they both have exactly the same qualities while standing for completely different things.

46th is Harold Walker, who introduced "elf 'n' safety" to the nation, for the thoroughly disreputable reasons of increasing safety in the coalmines and preventing the half a million injuries a year which the workforce suffered. Try as he might, Letts can't blame Walker for the current implications of health and safety laws on the man with the best of intentions. It's rather like blaming Marx for Stalin or Mao: they might have been basing their own rule on his theories, but he was not responsible for the overall outcome.

Coming towards the end, Rupert Murdoch makes his appearance at 47. As somewhat predicted yesterday, this isn't because of Murdoch lowering the tone of the nation with the Sun and News of the Screws, for poisoning politics and ensuring that whoever wants to lead this country has to have the backing of an Australian-American who does his darndest to pay as little tax as possible, but because of what the bastard has does to the Times letters page. No, Murdoch isn't on the list for what he along with Graham Kelly brought about through the Premier League, or for foisting New Labour on us through the Faustian pact which he and Tony Blair entered into, he's on it because the Times letters page isn't as good as it used to be:

Today's Times letters page carries a lot of letters from public relations people, and the 'jokey' contributions are rather overdone.

The paper's change to a tabloid format crushed the elegance of the letters page. It lost its status. And a Britain without an authoritative, tightly edited Times letters page is somehow a less civilised place to live.

To which you can only say: get a fucking sense of perspective you smug, oily cunt.

Ahem. Nicholas Ridley enters at 48, for his contribution to out of town shopping centres and Stalinist-type housing estates, but from which you get the real impression that what Letts really objects to is any building on the green belt at all, the heighth of specious nimbyism that so frustrates anyone who lives within a few miles of the "countryside", 49 is Rhodes Boyson for starting the selling of school playing fields, which again he can hardly blamed for the continuing building on of, and 50 is Alun Michael for ridding us of fox hunting. Give him a knighthood I say, especially if it'll piss off Letts even more.

From yesterday's list of deadly sins then we are able to add snobbery, dislike of northerners despite rooting against Thatcher's imposition of the north-south divide, a tendency to think that it's perfectly OK to flagellate children, limp defence of organised religion because of how it can comfort some, taking exception to those who anonymously critique his quite brilliant sketches, and the sort of lack of perspective that only a Mail writer could have on Rupert Murdoch. I think Letts might just have a best-seller on his hands.

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Monday, October 06, 2008 

Hayman strikes!

Much talk of the government supposedly backing off on 42 days. As the Lords are quite clearly not going to pass the bill in any shape or form, the only way to get it through would be to use the parliament act; but using the PA, especially as it would breach all the precedents of using the PA, including the Salisbury convention, would indeed probably be "political suicide" as advisers have supposedly briefed.

How then to step back from the brink without being too embarrassed in the process? Perhaps they'll take the advise of Andy Hayman, formerly chief anti-terrorism officer:

But the Government's current proposals are not fit for purpose: they are bureaucratic, convoluted and unworkable. The draftsman's pen has introduced so many hoops to be jumped through that a police case for detaining a terror suspect will become part of the political game.

Hayman of course along with his former acolytes in the Met is still deeply wedded to absolutely any extension, such is the pressing need for more time. Hayman goes on to detail his unerring support for 90 days, when such "bureaucratic, convoluted and unworkable" conditions were not part of the bill, which would have just seen a judge authorise continued detention as is currently the case. Hayman's real problem with 42 days is not the time limit, but that the police cannot just waltz into a court-room and sweet-talk a judge with how he'll be named and shamed in the tabloids should the man he releases go on to bomb somewhere.

Accountability though has never been Hayman's strong point. He was the officer in charge of "Operation Helios", the witch-hunt against Ali Dizaei which cost millions of pounds and even more when Dizaei sued for discrimination. He was the person most heavily criticised by the IPCC after they established that he told one story to crime reporters on the day Jean Charles de Menezes was executed and another later to the Met's management committee, briefing that they should be saying de Menezes was one of the bombers, even if it turned out he wasn't, when he already knew that he wasn't. He was in charge of the Forest Gate raid, and not satisfied with shooting one of the Koyair brothers, his officers commenced a smear campaign similar to that ran against de Menezes. He resigned last December after allegations that he had ran up a Met credit card bill of £15,000, as well as taking a female officer on foreign trips with him. One has to wonder if his fee for the Times article will be going towards his paying off of that account.

With their plans not fit for purpose currently, the government will probably have to admit defeat this year. There's nothing stop them however from trying again in the next session, or putting in their manifesto, even if the chances of Labour winning that election are slight to say the least. Don't however completely rule out the Conservatives swiftly adopting 42 days as their own however, especially should there be another attack, of significant magnitude or not. George Osborne and Michael Gove had to be convinced of the benefits of opposing it this time round, and in government will be just as obsessed with handing over power to the police as Labour have been.

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Quentin Letts and the wreckers of Britain.

The Christmas book is a terrible thing. Witless, pointless ghosted autobiographies by assorted cretins and non-entities, the endless variety of toilet books with men on their covers standing with their arms stretched out in front of them, gormless expressions on their faces, bemoaning in mime the state of the nation, the books of lists, the books of lists of lists, and the annuals, put together with all the loving care of the work experience kid who desperately wants to return to school rather than be shown another co-workers' balls.

Praise Jah then that Quentin Letts, the Mail's piss-poor sketch writer, has put together a Christmas book entitled "50 people who buggered up Britain", which the paper is naturally serialising. The key to the desperation is there in the title: to really stand a chance in the Christmas market you have to stick a swear-word in there, i.e. Crap Towns and its sequels; Is it Just Me or is Everything Shit? and its sequels. To someone who is inclined to agree that quite a lot of things are shit, even if for the diametric opposite reason to those stated, you still wouldn't be seen dead reading such, well, shit.

It does though fall directly in line with the Mail's own thinking. For those who think that the paper has since the 50s been convinced we've been going to hell in a handcart, it's instructive to note that both George Orwell and even Evelyn Waugh noted the same tendencies in the paper when they were writing. There is no golden age in the Mail's eyes, not only because there never has been one, but because everything is always going to get worse and keep on getting worse. Convince your readers of this and you're half-way there. Perhaps the best summation of the Mail's world view is by comparing it with the Grauniad. Not its politics, but the fact that the Guardian every day runs a leader with the title "In praise of..." If the Mail was to adopt a similar strategy, its leader would instead be titled "In complete denunciation of..."

For those thinking that Letts' list would be a sub-Clarkson pseudo-Littlejohn style rant of how ZaNuLieBore has brought Britain to its knees, first and foremost due to Gordon Clown selling off our gold reserves, then you'll be happy to know that he's slightly more subtle than that. Today's list only has the first 20 offenders, but there's no sight yet of any of the Blairs, or any New Labour politician other than John Prescott, for whom Letts adopts the same outraged tone of snobbery which he brought to his assaults on "Gorbals Mick" earlier in the year (The Amazon page has the full listing, and in fact all the New Labour hierarchy are there). In fact, some of his choices are more than sound: few will disagree that Jeffrey Archer is a prick, perhaps only now are we realising just how wrong Beeching was, and I would happily renounce my social libertarian leanings if I could wipe Starbucks off the face of the map.

Then, with Letts' fourth-choice, everything goes to pot. James Callaghan is picked because of decimalisation. Letts isn't perhaps being entirely serious, but his second paragraph is revealing:

For centuries our kingdom had maintained a quirky duo-decimal system of currency which sharpened our mental arithmetic, burnished our national identity and baffled foreigners.

It was also completely and utterly illogical. If decimalisation was dumbing down, then bring on the apocaylpse.

Next up is Princess Diana. Blaming Diana for anything is a bit like blaming the knife for a stabbing rather than the individual themselves, for the simple reason that Diana can now be taken to signify anything and everything. She stood for almost nothing herself, except for the charities she supported. Everything else was and has been a media construct; used since her very emergence to sell newspapers, something still going on today. Diana didn't, in Letts' words, make us more neurotic: if anyone did, it was the press that continuously urged us to "keep grieving", that banned paparazzi shots only to reinstate them within days, and that castigated anyone who dared to suggest that the events over 10 years ago were a hideous overreaction that was fed and kept going by hysterical media which had an interest in ensuring it went on for as long as possible. In any case, if Diana did contribute, however slightly, to us losing our notorious stiff upper-lip, what is so bad about that? If anything, the lack of empathy which is still so prevalent is much more harmful, as epitomised by the mob that egged a teenager on who was threatening to jump from a high building in Derby. Jump he did, and they then took photographs off his broken body; the tabloids were shocked, but why should they have been when they take part in the ritual humiliation which takes place on "reality" shows? They bemoan the fake tears but not also the inherent nastiness of rich individuals smirking and snarling at those foolish enough to imagine they might have a talent.

Sixth then is Greg Dyke, for the heinous crime of moving the 9 O'Clock News to 10 O'Clock (seriously) and seventh is Charles Saatchi for having the wrong taste in art. More interesting is Graham Kelly at 8th, the Football Association director who created the Premier League and signed away the TV rights. Surely though you have to be equitable here; you can't attack one side of the deal and not the other half, which was Sky, or as he's also known, Rupert Murdoch. Without Murdoch's money Kelly would have had no Premiership. Murdoch might yet be included, but considering the potential for crossfire between the Murdoch press and Associated Newspapers, I'm not holding my breath (he's on Letts' list, so it should be interesting to see how they cover it).

It's not worth wasting breath, or rather my fingers on Letts's attack on Crosland for daring to introduce comprehensives at 9th, and equally weak is blaming John McEnroe for the current lack of respect because of his hissy fits while playing tennis over 20 years ago. No real disagreement with the inclusion of Stephen Marks, CEO of FC:UK, but considering that err, this very book has what used to be considered one of the more offensive swear-words in its title, Letts seems to be having his cake and eating it to say the least.

We're at 13, and Letts already seems to be running out of ideas. Frank Blackmore, inventor of the mini-roundabout, is the next to be denounced. While mini-roundabouts can be abused, more often than not they make busy junctions both far safer and handle the traffic more fairly and efficiently. Equally daft is the choosing of Sir Jimmy Saville at 14th for being what is generally known as an individual. Sure, if you're unlucky enough to be one of his children you might not think the same way but the phrase national treasure was invented for the likes of Sir Jimmy.

Far more contemptible is Edward Heath at 15. Eurosceptics will doubtless decry him because of his passion for Europe, but few would pick on him because of his swift defenestration of Enoch Powell. According to Letts, this made it impossible to criticise immigration for 40 years. To quote David Cameron from last week, what country exactly does Letts live in? Powell was wrong, has always been wrong, and Heath was absolutely right, however much the likes of Letts would like to think otherwise.

Skipping over Janet Street-Porter, 17th may be a surprise to some: Margaret Thatcher. Even Letts is forced to admit that if anyone has broken Britain, it was Thatcher that shattered it, with her assaults not just on the National Union of Mineworkers but the miners personally. It's why we ought to be so terrified of Cameron's claims that he will be as radical on social policy as Thatcher was economically, even as Thatcher's last remaining economic legacies fall apart.

The last three for today are pretty mediocre, in more ways than one: Alan Titchmarsh, Topsy and Tim (who?) and Tim Westwood, whom I somehow imagine Quentin Letts has never actually listened to, but who's a handy person to bash the BBC with. He's apparently an emblem of "cultural defeatism and broadcasting decadence". Not to question the fact that the man's a twat; he is. It just doesn't like so much else of this list, ring true.

You can understand why the Mail rushed to serialise it, splashing it on the front page, because it shares so many of its own values. Ridiculously conservative and resistant to change, even when it defies all logic, as on decimalisation and Greg Dyke; dismissive of any showing of genuine emotion that isn't covered by anger, except if it's by someone or for some reason which the paper itself can use to sell more papers; endlessly hypocritical, as on FC:UK; stereotypically Little Englander, as on Ted Heath; and attacking that which it doesn't understand or even want to understand with Tim Westwood. The only credit you can give to either is that they don't take glory in everything Margaret Thatcher ever did. Don't know about you, but I can't wait for the other 30.

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Sunday, October 05, 2008 

Weekend links.

On the reshuffle:

Unity - Don't write Labour off yet
Chick Yog - Party like it's 1939
Politaholic - Brown too clever by half (again)
Polly T - This 1997 tribute band is out of tune with our times
John Rentoul - Whatever this is, it isn't serious politics

On David Cameron and his abysmal speech:

Alix Mortimer - David Cameron: the rich man's Clarkson
Melissa Benn - The truth about our schools
Chris Dillow - Character and judgement

On the Jean Charles de Menezes inquest:

Charlie Pottins - "I don't think anything went wrong"

On Debbie Purdy:

Catherine Bennett - Let this woman die as she chooses, not in a death plant

On Sarah Palin:

Matthew Norman - Once you're a joke, you're doomed

On Richard Littlejohn:

Anton Vowl - You said it

And finally, Joe Kinnear on two of the tabloid's finest sports writers, with the Guardian's joy of six best outbursts for good measure.

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Friday, October 03, 2008 

Reshuffling towards oblivion.

It's difficult to overstate just how desperate the cabinet reshuffle shows Gordon Brown as being. Desperate both to win the next election and desperate also to attempt to show that there really isn't any difference of opinion any longer between the Blairites and the Brownites. Desperate times may call for desperate measures, but the rehabilitation of Peter Mandelson, who for over a decade could not stand the sight of Brown, let alone work with him, was not the way to go about it.

This is not because Mandelson is
the uber-Blairite, that he was one of a whole bevy of habitual liars, that he, more than Alastair Campbell, helped to establish the current political culture of spin that has so demeaned politics in the eye of the public, but because he is simply the wrong man at the wrong time. Very few dispute that Mandelson as a minister was effective and good at what he did, whether he was at business, his old and new job, Northern Ireland or as European Commissioner, but there is one quote that more than ever suggests that this is not his moment. He, along with Blair, declared to the City that he and New Labour were "intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich." Well, they did, while everyone else didn't, and now this is the man to spearhead Brown's new regulatory agenda. Jesus wept.

Brown's lack of new ideas could not be more summed up by this latest relaunch. It's almost as if it was 1997 again, just with Brown in Blair's position: we've got Derek Draper back advising, Alastair Campbell quite clearly helping out but doing so from the sidelines and Peter Mandelson, ennobled and in the cabinet. All we need is for Brown to bring back Lord Levy to glad-hand the business folk and it'll be as if we've gone back to the future. Nick Brown, the uber-Brownite to the Mandelson's uber-Blairite, is even back as chief whip. The problem with it is obvious: 1997 is long gone, and so are the benign circumstances of that year.

The counter to that argument has been the setting-up of the economic council, half-stuffed with somewhat sympathetic businessmen, but still those that got us into this mess, and the other half with the, err, politicians that got us into this mess. The disastrous appointment of Digby "sod the workers" Jones as the minister for trade, now to be the council's ambassador, hardly inspires confidence that this will be anything more than a talking shop where the most limited possible re-regulation will be rubber-stamped, all while sticking two fingers up at the PLP, just as Jones's initial appointment did.

If that wasn't rewarding failure enough, then Margaret Beckett's appointment as minister of state for housing is almost tragicomedy. Having presided over the cocking up of the CAP payments to farmers while head of DEFRA, whilst being easily the worst foreign secretary of Labour's reign, she will doubtless have much to offer just as the repossessions spiral out of control. John Hutton, who was reprising Mandelson's filthy rich line earlier in the year moves to defence, while Des Browne returns to the backbenches, quite possibly because like Ruth Kelly he intends to vote against the Human Fertilisation and Embryology bill when it comes back before the house. Kelly incidentally is standing down as an MP as well, probably because she knows full well the Tories will be taking her seat in any event.

Jon Cruddas, meanwhile, heavily tipped to take the housing job, apparently declined because Gordon was unwilling to countenance the council house building programme which Cruddas believes necessary. Downing Street has denied he was offered any job whatsoever, which ought to tell its own story.

Whilst the day's manoeuvrings do show just how desperate Brown is, they also prove that for now the attempts to overthrow him have been delayed, if not put entirely on ice. Whether it was because he did enough at the Labour conference or because of the financial meltdown earlier this week, which even prompted the Conservatives to come over all bi-partisan, is less clear. If the rumours that Hazel Blears and especially the female ministers in the cabinet were the ones moving to wield the knife, they still all remain except for Kelly, but have been undeniably weakened. The next big challenge is the Glenrothes by-election, which few still believe that Labour can hold. It may well come down to how big the defeat is that decides whether the move is back on, but no one can claim the Brown is anything other than further personally weakened by having to bring the old team back together.

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Censorship, obscenity and Girls Aloud.

(This post links to offensive material which may well be illegal.)

Since the days of Lady Chatterley's Lover, censorship in this country has become something less of a cause célèbre. This is down in part to changing mores, but also down to the changing of the virulence of the material which some seek to censor. The last real outcry against censorship was during the 1980s video nasties debacle, when films which today look for the most part tame were banned after campaigns led by the ever loathsome tabloid press and Mary Whitehouse, resulting in the Video Recordings Act, and nigh on 16 years of films which upset the sensibilities of the British Board of Film Classification's director James Ferman either being banned or cut to ribbons. Hardcore pornography was only legalised in 2000, long after it had appeared, readily available on the internet. Even today pornography where consenting actors take part in "rough" sex is routinely cut from the DVDs submitted to the BBFC. "Violent" or "extreme" pornography has recently been directly criminalised, mainly as a result of a crusade by the mother of Jane Longhurst, murdered by Graham Coutts, a man allegedly "obsessed" with such pornography. Plans to make illegal drawings of naked children as said to be in the works. Few outside of those who enjoy such material bothered to raise their voices at this latest knee-jerk reaction to a terrible but isolated event.

The written word, as opposed to the moving image, has mostly fallen out of favour as a medium to censor. The biggest threat to it now is not the law, but rather the groups likely to be offended themselves, such as in the case of Random House refusing to publish The Jewel of Medina by Sherry Jones, a novel involving Muhammad's relationship with his youngest wife Aisha, with the publishers who picked up the slack having their offices fire-bombed by three men who have since been charged with plotting to endanger life and damage property. The last notable novel to be banned was Lord Horror by David Britton, a fantastical tale which imagined a post-war Britain in which the Nazis had won. Quite clearly a work which celebrated freedom of thought, and as fiercely anti-fascist as anything ever written by the current jokers who worry themselves silly about Islamic fascism, its ban was thankfully overturned on appeal.

It now seems however that we have an incredibly unlikely similar martyr waiting in the wings. According to reports a 35-year-old civil servant, Darryn Walker, has been charged with publishing an obscene article. His crime is to have imagined the five members of Girls Aloud being kidnapped, raped and murdered. Writing under the pseudonym Blake Sinclair, he submitted a number of stories to Kristen's Collection, an archive of erotic fiction posted on the internet, some of which are still available, including his piece entitled "Girls (Scream) Aloud". In it, in largely tedious, turgid prose, he describes the 5 women being hung on meat-hooks, performing forced fellatio on their kidnapper, and in turn having their legs and breasts sawn off, at times perversely enjoying their torture. Interesting perhaps is that there is another, almost identical story available entitled Pieces of Candy, which imagines a fictitious girl group going through the same degradation. Whether Walker adapted the original after requests or at his own endeavour turned it into describing the real group being killed might be something the court ought to know. Another story by Walker, titled Laura's Execution, involves a teenager being sentenced to death for "pre-emptively resisting rape", with her legs being sawn off the method of execution.

These stories are, to state the obvious, extremely unpleasant. They are however far from unique online. Indeed, the directory in which they are held on Kristen's Archive is entitled "putrid", and there is a warning and additional link to click before they can be accessed. Also contained in the directory are stories, perhaps typically, involving the Nazi concentration camps, one describing the mutilation of Britney Spears, castration, necrophilia, a killer who "grills" his victims while he has sex with them, and the raping and pillaging of a convent by knights, to summarise just a few. The ones by Sinclar, or rather by Walker, are pretty average fair: not horrendously badly written, but disjointed, repetitive, and not really very interesting. Doubtless, it appears, he has something of a leg fetish, but if these are the work of a supposed dangerous mind, it's one that is hopelessly banal. The definition by which the Obscene Publications Act convicts is if the work in question would "tend to deprave and corrupt". His stories are undoubtedly depraved, but are they likely to deprave anyone else, let alone corrupt? I find that incredibly difficult to believe. Offend certainly, with enough content to make someone worry about the writer's state of mind, but not deprave or corrupt.

Mark Stephens claims in the Mail's article that "'I think it is certainly the first fantasy case because nobody has been able to come up with a fantasy so bad before." This is abject nonsense, especially coming from someone supposedly a media lawyer. Far more famous, certainly far better written as well as imaginative is a story which has been floating around since the mid-90s, describing the slow and appalling torture of of all characters, the Pink Power ranger. Described in minute detail, it is far more effective than Walker's efforts, and despite its childish targets, fluently documents very real torture techniques. It too though is hardly likely to deprave or corrupt. This is without even beginning to consider the works of say, the Marquis de Sade, or any erotic fiction which strays from the pleasure principle into physical pain, subjugation, rape and murder.

One instead has to wonder whether this prosecution has been brought purely because of whom it describes being murdered. None of Walker's other works are apparently being thought likely to deprave and/or corrupt, including, it would seem, his story of a fictitious girl group going under the exact same treatment. Is it because he has described a very real band being killed that his work is considered potentially dangerous, or is it that he himself is considered potentially dangerous because of what he has written about the group? It doesn't seem he has attempted to actually contact them, or that he poses any genuine threat to them at all, or such information would likely have been additionally made available. Also of note is that the story was apparently either reported to or found by the Internet Watch Foundation, the body set-up primarily to block access to child pornography, although also within its remit is the blocking of "obscene" material, as well as that thought to be likely to incite racial hatred. It has long been feared that the IWF could potentially move from just removing child pornography to censoring other, far less instantly objectionable content, such as terrorist propaganda, as was seemingly proposed at the beginning of this year. That the body seems to be completely unaccountable is another legitimate cause for concern.

It has to be hoped that Walker will be acquitted of the charges against him. The Obscene Publications Act has long been far too vague a piece of legislation, although the alternatives, such as the Miller test in the United States, are also far from perfect. Fundamentally though, words themselves should almost never be censored; it is not the words that are dangerous, but the potential actions that come from. However warped Walker's fantasies are, they should not be acted upon unless he is likely to act upon them. As there has been no evidence presented, or likely to be presented to suggest this, he is until proven otherwise only the latest person to be victimised for what others decide is beyond the pale. His own words at the beginning of his pieces deserve quoting:

The following is a work of erotic/sadistic fantasy set in a world in which women are disposable sex objects that exist solely for the pleasure of men. It contains themes of extreme sexism, misogyny, torture, rape, mutilation, dismemberment, murder, execution and male supremacy over women. I cannot stress enough that this is STRICTLY FICTITIOUS and in no way reflects my own views or opinions towards women.

Under no circumstances should the violent situations of this story be re-enacted in any way. ALWAYS practice safe sex with consenting partners of a legal age.

The characters in this story are fictitious and any similarities between any persons living or dead are purely coincidental.

If you are easily offended by the themes I have described above then please read no further. If you are unable to differentiate between fantasy and reality and your actions are in any way likely to be influenced by these fictional events then you are not the sort of person that I want reading my work and you should commit suicide before an innocent person gets hurt because of your sick and perverted persuasions.

Hard to disagree with.

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Thursday, October 02, 2008 

Blair today, gone tomorrow.

Almost perversely, I take no pleasure whatsoever in the resignation of Ian Blair. Perhaps because it has come so suddenly and without warning, when if he had had any dignity it would have been when it was revealed that he hadn't known that an innocent man had been shot dead by his officers until morning after it had happened, when even his secretary had apparently known.

That stubborn obstinacy to admit to his failings however was something that completely dominated his tenure as the Metropolitan police's chief commissioner. While the execution of a Brazilian man on a tube train the day after an attempted round of suicide attacks was ultimately what brought him down, with its slow but inexorable casting of a shadow over him, this was a policeman who thought that he was a politician first and a cop second. He never ceased to inform the country of just how dark the sky was due to the potential threat of exploding brown people, even while his officers proved themselves almost as adept at causing fear as the terrorists' attempts were amateurish. He campaigned for up to 90 days detention without charge, thought that identity cards were a brilliant idea, and generally put himself about as much as he possibly could.

While you cannot directly blame Blair personally for the smear campaigns against Jean Charles de Menezes and secondly the Kalam family, he was ultimately responsible for the actions of his officers. What he can be directly linked to was the decision to plead not guilty to the charges brought under the health and safety act, especially when so many other senior officers pleaded with him to take the hit and get over it. Again, even this wouldn't have been so bad if he had instructed his lawyers not to be aggresive and instead defend the Met purely from the operational point of view, that it had been a dreadful mistake in an incredibly hectic and uncertain time, but they didn't; they went straight for the jugular. Jean Charles de Menezes was according to Ronald Thwaites QC more or less asking for it: despite never being challenged by the police, Thwaites claimed that he had failed to comply with them; that he looked like the suspect, when his skin tone was completely different; that he was aggressive and threatening when he acted just like every other commuter that morning, as the CCTV showed; and that he might have acted in such a way because he may have thought he had cocaine in his pocket, even though he hadn't.

No one with absolutely any feeling for the de Menezes family would have argued such a case, but Ian Blair somehow imagined it was appropriate. Just like other things he thought were appropriate, such as recording a call he made to the attorney general without permission, as well as ones to the Independent Police Complaints Commission. The IPCC in fact undoubtedly delivered the most telling criticism of him: that if he hadn't, as soon as he knew a man had been shot dead by police on 22/07/05, wrote to the prime minister asking that the IPCC be stopped from launching their investigation into the death of someone at the hands of the police, as they are legally required to do, then many of the things that subsequently happened that resulted in the prosecution against the Met may not have occurred. There was never any evidence that Blair was trying to cover anything up, as after all, he was completely out of the loop. It was just a typically ignorant, short-sighted move, delaying something that would have had to be done at some point as a matter of course. That delay effectively left him a dead man walking.

I take no pleasure, not even schadenfreude, not just because it sets a precedent where the London Mayor can effectively veto the choice of the home secretary, not to mention the MPA, further politicising the role, but because as bad as Blair was in so many ways, there's hardly a whole bundle of talent waiting to take over from him. And as much as he was potentially corrupt, constantly scaremongering, interfering in political discussions and out of his depth, he also was probably the most liberal, at least on general policing and on encouraging ethnic minorities to join the force, commanding officer the Met has ever had and is now likely to have for quite some time. Despite his apparent personality clashes with both Ali Dizaei and Tarique Ghuffar, he started the move towards a more representative Met, and no one I think can begin to suggest that was anything but a good thing. When you consider that the other most senior police officers, or at least publicly recognisable ones of late have been Lord Stevens, Andy Hayman and Peter Clarke, all of them as either convinced of the sky falling as Blair was or in the case of Hayman, just as guilty as Blair over de Menezes whilst also accused of siphoning off money, then it doesn't exactly fill you with hope that the replacement will be any better. Celebrate the demise of Blair if we must, but perhaps as with what we got after the other Blair, we might come to rue what we wished for.

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Two links.

Myself, on the Sun possibly coming out for the Tories.

Joanna Lumley presents a petition to sign calling for an immediate change in the law for all retired Gurkhas to be able to stay in the country without reservation.

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Censorship and freedom of speech.

Mirror of Craig Murray's post involving Tim Spicer, which his publishers are unwilling to publish due to legal threats from our old friends Schillings:

October 1, 2008

Censorship and Freedom of Speech

This is the key section from my new book which the publisher is unwilling to publish due to legal threats from Schillings libel lawyers, acting on behalf of the mercenary commander Tim Spicer:

"Peter Penfold was back in the UK. He was interviewed separately. Both Penfold and Spicer were interviewed under caution, as suspects for having broken the arms embargo.

Then, suddenly, Tony Blair intervened. On 11 May 1998, without consulting the FCO, he gave a statement to journalists. Penfold, Blair declared, was "a hero". A dictatorship had been successfully overthrown and democracy restored. Penfold had "Done a superb job in trying to deal with the consequences of the military coup." All this stuff about Security Council Resolutions and sanctions was "an overblown hoo-ha".

I believe this episode is extremely important. In 1998 the country was still starry-eyed about Blair, but with the benefit of hindsight, this intervention points the way towards the disasters of his later years in office. It is extraordinarily wrong for a Prime Minister to declare that a man is a hero, when Customs had questioned him two days earlier under caution over the very matter the Prime Minister is praising. It shows Blair's belief that his judgement stood above the law of the land, something that was to occur again on a much bigger scale when he halted the Serious Fraud Office investigation into British Aerospace's foreign bribes. But of course Blair's contempt for UN security council resolutions on the arms embargo, and the belief that installing democracy by invasion could trump the trivia of international law, prefigures precisely the disaster of Iraq. As with Iraq, Blair was also conveniently ignoring the fact that Sierra Leone was left a mess, with Kabbah in charge of little more than Freetown.

In the FCO we were astonished by Blair's intervention, and deeply puzzled. Where had it come from? It differed completely from Robin Cook's views. Who was drafting this stuff for Blair to the effect that the UN and the law were unimportant? For most of us, this was the very first indication we had of how deep a hold neo-con thinking and military interests had on the Blair circle. It was also my first encounter with the phenomenon of foreign policy being dictated by Alistair Campbell, the Prime Minister's Press Secretary, The military lobby, of course, was working hard to defend Spicer, one of their own.

A few days later Customs and Excise concluded their investigations. A thick dossier, including documentation from the FCO, from the raid on Sandline's offices, and from elsewhere, was sent to the Crown Prosecution Service. The Customs and Excise team who had interviewed us told me that the recommendation was that both Spicer and Penfold be prosecuted for breach of the embargo. The dossier was returned to Customs and Excise from the Crown Prosecution Service the very same day it was sent. It was marked, in effect, for no further action. There would be no prosecution. A customs officer told me bitterly that, given the time between the dossier leaving their offices and the time it was returned, allowing time for both deliveries, it could not have been in the CPS more than half an hour. It was a thick dossier. They could not even have read it before turning it down.

I felt sick to my stomach at the decision not to prosecute Spicer and Penfold. So were the customs officers investigating the case; at least two of them called me to commiserate. They had believed they had put together an extremely strong case, and they told me that their submission to the Crown Prosecution Service said so.

The decision not to prosecute in the Sandline case was the first major instance of the corruption of the legal process that was to be a hallmark of the Blair years. Customs and Excise were stunned by it. There is no doubt whatsoever that Spicer and Penfold had worked together to ship weapons to Sierra Leone in breach of UK law. Security Council 1132 had been given effect in British law by an Order in Council. I had never found in the least credible their assertions that they did not know about it. I had personally told Spicer that it would be illegal to ship arms to Sierra Leone, to any side in the conflict. Penfold's claim never to have seen an absolutely key Security Council Resolution about a country to which he was High Commissioner is truly extraordinary.

But even if they did not know, ignorance of the law is famously no defence in England. Who knows what a jury would have made of this sorry tale of greed, hired killers and blood diamonds. But I have no doubt at all - and more importantly nor did the customs officers investigating the case - that there was enough there for a viable prosecution.

The head of the Crown Prosecution Service when it decided not to prosecute was Barbara Mills. Barbara Mills is a very well-connected woman in New Labour circles. She is married to John Mills, a former Labour councillor in Camden. That makes her sister-in-law to Tessa Jowell, the New Labour cabinet minister with a penchant for taking out repeated mortgages on her home, and then paying them off with cash widely alleged to have come from Silvio Berlusconi, the friend and business colleague of her husband David Mills, who according to a BBC documentary by the estimable John Sweeney has created offshore companies for known Camorra and Mafia interests. Tessa Jowell and David Mills were also both Camden Labour Councillors, and are close to Tony Blair. Blair is also a great friend of Berlusconi, despite the numerous criminal allegations against Berlusconi and his long history of political alliances with open fascists. Just to complete the cosy New Labour picture, another brother-in-law of Barbara Mills and Tessa Jowell is Alan Rusbridger, editor of the Guardian.

Did any of those relationships of Barbara Mills, the Director of Public Prosecutions, affect the Crown Prosecution Service's decision not to proceed with the case, and to take that decision in less time than it would have taken them to read the dossier Customs and Excise sent them?

Barbara Mills was to resign as Director of Public Prosecutions later that year after being personally criticised in his judgement by a High Court judge who ruled against the Crown Prosecution Service for continually failing to prosecute over deaths in police custody. That has not stopped the extremely well connected Dame Barbara from being appointed to a string of highly paid public positions since then."

It is infuriating that, Maxwell-style, Spicer (who has made millions from the war in Iraq) is using the prohibitive costs of defending a libel case to intimidate my publisher. The result is that important information I received at first hand, and an account of events to which I am eye-witness, is being repressed, as is an important independent critique of early Blair foreign policy.

I am not currently confident the book will get published at all - I am not prepared to put out anodyne pap, which hides the truth, under my name.

I am not currently confident the book will get published at all - I am not prepared to put out anodyne pap, which hides the truth, under my name.

Cryptome has also posted the original Schillings threat in PDF form, mirrored here.

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Wednesday, October 01, 2008 

Our new overlords part two.

As I wrote on Monday, increasingly the Conservatives look to be returning to their status as the natural party of government, as they have so often been arrogantly described. This perception is only likely to be exacerbated (and yes, I do mean exacerbated) by Cameron's speech today.

There was no doubt that this was pitched almost squarely, not at the country, but at the Conservative core vote, or those who used to be the Conservative core vote. It has to be remembered that the Conservatives won the popular vote in England in 2005: one last heave, especially against an increasingly unpopular Labour government, would probably win them the next election in any event, even if leaving them without an absolute majority. With crises of any nature often inspiring a small rallying round the current leader, the Conservatives seem to have decided after the events of this week not to push any further into Labour territory, the jibe about "novices" being by no means thrown back at all at Brown by Cameron's performance.

Instead, Cameron seemed to want throw insults at almost everyone and everything other than Brown: read through it, and it all seems so sickeningly familiar; the unemployed, teachers, the NHS workers, although not directly addressed but implicated by the letter which has already been called into question, health and safety, human rights, all were tongue lashed at some point or another. Libertarians too, were maligned at one point, for thinking that "we all have the right to do whatever we want, regardless of the effect on others", which is the exact opposite of what most libertarians stand for. The only thing that didn't come in for a leathering was strangely the European Union. Cameron by way of levelling this out praised the armed forces in Afghanistan (he didn't mention Iraq) who are "are defending our freedom and our way of life as surely and as bravely as any soldiers in our nation's history", the Gurkhas, the family, responsibility, sound money, low taxes, enterprise, Helen Newlove, leadership, character and judgement. The only things he didn't mention, as wags have already identified, is motherhood and apple pie.

This wasn't an awful speech, far from it. It was instead as close to a vision of how Britain would look under Cameron as we have had so far, which is all the more depressing for how you can already imagine it. I've argued consistently that the new Conservatives are in essence the ultra-Blairites, who will do everything that they always dreamed they could of done, but that either the opposition of Gordon Brown or the parliamentary Labour party stopped them from doing. Remember Tony Blair and how he wished with reform that he'd gone further, that he'd further rubbed his own party's nose in it for the sake of it, told them there was no alternative and then wondered why by the end not just his own party but the entire country was sick of him and his pseudo-Thatcherism and you had David Cameron today, except with a party that absolutely lapped it up, because they believed every word of it.

Yes, there certainly have been changes in the Conservative party; there have had to be, such has been the impact of New Labour on Britain. There has been almost certainly a general shift towards the centre ground, which has meant that Cameron has had to embrace the environment, although that was hardly mentioned here, and that he toned down his section on the specious "broken society" by inserting a passage about Wandsworth prison and those that are there because they can't read or write or because they're addicted to drugs, although it's worth noting that Cameron's supposed guru Helen Newlove, who only believes society is broken because she was unfortunate enough to be married to someone who was brutally and meaninglessly killed, which might have broken her world but did not everyone else's, thinks excuses should stop being made for such people, but his world view is summed up a soundbite he's used before: he wants to transform society in the same way that Thatcher transformed the economy. Rather than blaming New Labour for all the woes of the economy, which he did to a larger extent than George Osborne did on Monday, he might want to wonder who exactly it was who started the bonfire of regulation that has led directly to the ructions of the past year, of the person who originally decimated the communities which he now wants to fix, who led us to depend on the City instead of our industry for our economic growth, for while New Labour encouraged all of these things, it's his idol that began them, and had the Conservatives been in power, would have encouraged and rallied them on just as much if not to an even greater extent.

Brown's speech last week was infinitely better than this: not because there was any more substance in it, but because it was believeable, it was honest, and because it flowed. He doesn't, like Cameron, think that it's about character rather than policies, and thank goodness for that. The difference was just one thing: confidence. Cameron overwhelmingly has it, as does his party, while Labour is left looking utterly bereft. It's their fault that they are in this mess, not just for leaving Blair in power for too long, but because they also believed there was no alternative, that the good times would keep rolling, and that the City rather than anything or anyone else had all the answers. We are now left with the real Conservative party to pick up the pieces, or rather, further dash them, and they simply have no one to blame but themselves.

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Scum-watch: Watching the Sun on the fringe.

Cross-posted at the Sun Lies

Being one of the supposed politics editors on the Sun Lies blog is difficult for one short reason: the paper very rarely actually "does" politics. This doesn't mean that the Sun doesn't feature political stories; that it does. Rather, the Sun presumes that its readers aren't interested in politics as reported by say, any of the ex-broadsheets, but they are interested in policies, albeit ones which the Sun pre-decides they should be interested in and that have already been defined by the editorial team themselves. Hence the Liberal Democrats hardly receive any coverage at all, except when they're mocked or insulted; they are an irrelevance. When it comes to crime and law and order however, that's something the Sun knows its readers deeply care about. They deeply care so much about what their readers think about law and order that they provide the exact remedy which they themselves think would solve all our problems in a flash. Whether the readers actually agree or not is something entirely different.

It's therefore well worth pointing out that this year, for the first time ever, the Sun newspaper has been holding fringe events at the Labour and Conservative party conferences. These have long been dominated by the broads, holding stiflingly boring meetings with stiflingly boring politicians, never meeting a real actual person except the delegates themselves who turn up and become stiflingly bored as a result. They deserve something approaching credit for this, because the Guardian for example has been holding truly dismal sideshows where politicians make the case for their greatest ever respective member. No surprises to learn that Labour voted for Keir Hardie while the Tories chose Margaret Thatcher.

The theme of the events, in case you couldn't guess, is "Broken Britain", the Sun's now long-running theme on how the country bends over backwards to allow every armed chav to knife crime your son/daughter/husband in the face while the police and judiciary doing everything in their power to instead persecute the victims. I exaggerate slightly, but only slightly. There's no dispute that we have endemic, deep problems, especially in some of our inner cities, with gangs, crime, drugs and poverty, both of aspiration and wealth. The toll of teenage lives in London is undoubtedly sickening. There are however no quick solutions to any of these things, and the constant demands for immediate action, of which the paper never supplies any real point plan except to rip up the Human Rights Act and install zero tolerance only increases the chances of bad policy being made on the hoof. Politicians shouldn't give in to such demands, it's true, but the relationship between the media and the government has become so essential to the management of every day life that now those in powers have little choice but to take heed.

The first of these meetings, at Labour's conference last week, did not actually go especially smoothly from the Sun's point of view. Only one member of the actual panel - Michael Gove of the Conservatives - unsurprisingly considering the party's own views, agreed with the Sun that the country is "broken". Just so that the argument was not completely lost, the newspaper took the precaution of arranging for the relatives of those recently involved in some of the most notorious murder cases to be in attendance. Perfectly acceptable, of course, but what is not is the idea that this was their first opportunity to speak out or speak to politicians, nor was it all thanks to the Sun. It also distorts the true picture of crime, which almost everyone agrees has now fallen for the past decade, with rises in certain offences, but with the chances of becoming a victim of crime actually the lowest since the early 80s. The Sun never though has any intentions of being representative.

I've written previously about the tyranny of grief, the power of emotion and how it is almost unanswerable without coming across as ill-feeling or not grasping the full scale of what has happened to the individual - and the Sun knows this perfectly well. Politicians can do nothing but spout platitudes, pretend to feel their pain, and all it does is come across as false, which is because it is. It is impossible to know how they feel without having experienced a similar tragedy. Overwhelmingly though, emotion and anger are not good starting points to make policy from. This is obvious when you read what some of these traumatised individuals want to be done:

In an impassioned plea she called for tougher sentencing, more police patrols and earlier action to identify potential yobs.

Brooke [Kinsella, whose brother Ben was stabbed to death], who later met Prime Minister Gordon Brown, added: “We need to get through at the grassroots. We need to get these kids before they even think about committing a crime.”

And just how exactly do you do that? Without exactly the kind of nanny statism and surveillance which is so decried, especially by the Sun, how are you meant to identify those likely to commit crime before they even think of doing it?

Apart from back-slapping, about the only real controversy at the Labour meeting was that Cherie Blair and Jack Straw clashed over why George Michael had only received a caution for possessing crack cocaine.

More stormy was yesterday's at the Conservative party conference. Like at the first, there was the outpourings which if anything suggest that some of those still involved ought to be attempting to move on:

Marcia Shakespeare – whose daughter Letisha, 17, died in Birmingham gang gunfire – said: “The police try their best but what about the rights of victims? I don’t get answers to my job applications because I am stigmatised as the mother of a murder victim.”

I'm not sure that the government can be blamed for someone continuing to in effect stigmatise themselves.

The headline though was the merely inscrutable:

VIOLENT thugs who kill and maim should forfeit their human rights, The Sun’s crime summit was told yesterday.

Grieving Paul Bowman – dad of murdered model Sally Anne Bowman – called for a shake-up of Broken Britain’s liberty laws at the Tory Party conference in Birmingham.

Paul, joined by Sally’s mum Linda, told the meeting: “In this country animals have animal rights and a dog has every right to be treated well and kept healthy. If that dog decides to act outside what we regard as acceptable – for instance bites a child – its rights are taken away and it is destroyed.

“When somebody decides, like the perpetrator of the crime against Sally, to go out armed with a knife to murder, leave it till the coast is clear and then rape, bite and desecrate the body of an 18-year-old girl, I believe that man’s human rights should be waived to a degree."

“I think there should be an amendment to the Human Rights Act where someone, if they step outside being a human being and commit an inhuman act, then the Human Rights Act does not apply.”

When then should someone lose their human rights? When they're accused of the crime? After they've been convicted? After a number of appeals? And what exactly is an inhuman act? How will we define it? The Human Rights Act has never affected the Sally Anne Bowman case in any shape or form: Mark Dixie is appealing against his conviction, but considering that the case against him was almost as straight-forward as they come, he's hardly likely to succeed. With a minimum sentence of 34 years passed, he'll be 70 before he can apply for parole. It sometimes has to be asked: how much more do they honestly expect the state to do? Bowman supports the death penalty, but you only have to look to America to see that it is no deterrent, especially against crimes such as those committed by Dixie, and it simply is not going to be brought back, however much a minority would like it to be.

There also seems to be a complete lack of perspective of what prison life is actually like, especially for those who commit crimes like Dixie:

Paul blasted the “worry-free” life brutal offenders can lead in jails.

If worry-free is getting beaten up, excrement and spit put in your food and being in constant fear, then you have to wonder what sort of regime would be preferred. It hardly seems like Dixie will flourish in prison - the police officers who arrested him after an altercation in a bar were surprised he was crying over such a minor incident, until the DNA results came back.

It was again though the involvement of Blair which made headlines outside the Sun, with Cherie quite rightly calling the Tory MP Chris Grayling "specious" for offering the ripping up of the HRA as some sort of solution. The Tory pledge to bring in a British bill of rights has always been a joke, as all repealing the HRA would do is mean that applicants would have to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights rather than a British court, as the Tories would hardly be likely to withdraw from that institution also.

The Sun's job though had been done. It's presented, via those who have suffered the most from indiscriminate violence which can almost never be wholly prevented, the same simplistic solutions which it has been pushing from the very beginning. It points to Bill Bratton and his success in bringing down violent crime in New York and Los Angeles without mentioning that the number of murders in both those cities is far higher than the toll in London. It doesn't mention that part of what helped bring down crime in those cities, apart from zero tolerance, was the crime mapping that has just been recently introduced in London. He's quite right about the targets which do burden the police, and possibly about local accountability, but that also raises the spectre especially over here of the BNP effectively seizing control of neighbourhood policing. It also completely ignored the aspects of the debate which it rather wouldn't present to its readers, such as Blair's strong defence of the HRA, and Jonathan Aitken, along with Charles Clarke, robustly denouncing the Titan prisons plan which the Sun supports, as it does any prison enlargement. This is how the Sun's politics works: it comes to a predefined conclusion and sells at as if that was the one that was came to naturally. And that's partly why the newspaper has such control over politicians as a whole.

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The most contempt for readers ever?

Pretty par for the course complaint about a celebrity magazine lying on its front cover, it's the response of the magazine and the editor which rises this above the usual standard of contemptible "journalistic practice":

Complainant Name:
Resolved - Elaine Benton v Look Magazine

Clauses Noted: 1

Publication: Look Magazine

Elaine Benton of Berkshire complained that the front cover of the magazine pictured Jennifer Aniston with the caption ‘I’m having a baby!’. However, the article itself made clear that Jennifer Aniston was only thinking about having a baby with her partner.

Straight forward then - magazine lies with a view to giving the impression to the layman that they have the exclusive scoop on a celeb pregnancy. You would expect the magazine and the editor to be grudging and admit that they're a bunch of cocks, generally, but no:


The magazine argued that single – as opposed to double – quotation marks would have distinguished the claim as a paraphrase rather than a direct quotation.

Ah you see, this isn't us lying in attempt to boost sales - it's the reader being too damn stupid to distinguish between a single quotation mark and double quotation marks! How could they be so foolish?! Never mind that there is no industry-wide usage of double quotation marks to make clear that it's a direct quote, and single quotes for paraphrases, it's not our fault, it's hers!

Wait though, it gets ever better:

However, the editor emphasised that the magazine valued its relationship with its readers and that it would never seek intentionally to mislead them.

Of course not: that's why they put a lie on the front page and then excused it to the PCC on the grounds that the reader was too stupid to realise it was a paraphrase due to the single quotation marks. You can understand that those working on such horrible magazines are big on self-loathing; they probably dreamed of being investigative reporters, and there they are, reduced to reporting on which celeb is fat/thin this week, when they're not producing sticker sets insulting disabled children and conniving to portray them as bad parents that is. You would have also thought though that actually projecting this loathing onto those who buy the magazine might not necessarily be good for business.

Still, at least Mrs Elaine Benton can be happy with her settlement from the magazine:

The editor was happy to write to the complainant to apologise and assure her that her comments and concerns had been taken on board for the future. The complainant accepted this, along with the reimbursement of the cover price, as a resolution to her complaint.

Spend that £1.40 wisely!

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