Saturday, May 30, 2009 

Weekend links.

Apart from the continuing expenses row and with it the reform debate, it's been a very slow week, hence the rather shoddy updating here of late. Nonetheless, Tim kicks us off with a reappearance of old friend Glen Jenvey in the Mail, linked to those who kicked off a minor riot in Luton last weekend at a demonstration against Muslim extremists who had abused troops marching through the town. Ed Vallance on Lib Con asks what Tom Paine would do to reform parliament, Craig Murray notes the arrogance of James Purnell, Anton Vowl looks at the Mail's take on the invasion of the caterpillars, as well as writing an open letter to Mind over their courting of Alastair Campbell, Bleeding Heart Show thinks the cuts to the probation service are a disaster waiting to happen while lastly the Heresiarch writes why he's she's voting UKIP in the Euro elections.

In the papers, Matthew Parris agrees with Polly Toynbee that Gordon Brown has to go, Marina Hyde reflects on the horror that we might have politicians replaced by celebrities, Steve Richards suggests that Labour is resigned to a massacre next Thursday, Howard Jacobson says we can't blame the uneducated for general philistinism, while in the Mail Antony Beevor continues the non-story that is the Queen not being invited to the D-Day anniversary and finally Peter Oborne is the latest to claim that Alan Johnson will be the victor in any coup which sees Gordon Brown defenestrated.

As for worst tabloid article, the normal automatic winner would be today's Mail front page, which is outraged that the BBC might be paying £30,000 to the Muslim Council of Britain after Charles Moore quite clearly slandered the organisation on Question Time by saying they supported the killing of British troops. Obviously, Moore ought to be paying the settlement if there is to be one, but there is surely no argument that such a serious allegation needs to be based in fact, when in this case it is clearly not. Then I read the latest Lorraine Kelly effort:

HOW would YOU like to lounge around watching TV and eating chocolate, then maybe indulging in a bit of pottery to while away the time until someone else cooks you your next big meal?

Sounds idyllic.

Well, astonishingly, this is the life being led by the monstrous mother of little Baby P, the child whose killing shocked the entire nation.

Fair enough then Lorraine, if it's so idyllic perhaps you'd like to spend some time in the segregation wing of Holloway. You too can then wile away the probably 20+ hours a day in your cell doing nothing other than eating chocolate and watching TV, waiting for the next meal which is quite possibly contaminated with a variety of bodily secretions, safe in the knowledge that should you ever leave that cell, either to return to a normal wing or to regular life that you're likely to be hounded and chased for a good part of the rest of your natural life. Not that Baby P's mother doesn't perhaps deserve some of that, but the idea that her life is "idyllic" is the kind of fantasy which only tabloid commentators and witless television presenters can indulge in.

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Friday, May 29, 2009 

Beyond parody.

At first sight, I imagined that the subs at the Graun had had a bit of fun with Pollyanna T's latest column. After starring in the latest Private Eye's Hackwatch with the emphasis being on just how many "last chances" she had given both Labour and Gordon Brown, it would have been a laugh to headline it with just that description. Then I actually bothered to read the text:

Anything that makes enough splash to stop the one story that really matters: will the cabinet and leading MPs seize this last chance to sack their failed leader?


What will it take? They don't need to wait for Thursday's poll results. I have no idea if a coup will happen, but if they let this moment slip, history will record this as the spineless cabinet that threw away Labour's last chance.

Either Pol doesn't take Private Eye, she's sticking two fingers up at them, or she really can only find just the one way to express herself. Perhaps Pol herself should be in the last chance saloon.

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Thursday, May 28, 2009 

Scum-watch: Evil monster in stuffing herself with chocolate shock.

Hold the front page! The Sun has another scorching exclusive concerning the Baby Peter case:

BABY P’s mother has put on TWO STONE in five months behind bars by gorging on chocolate.

Important news I'm sure you'll agree. I'm more interested though in how this amazing story has reached the Sun:

A friend who has kept in touch with her said she whined in a letter that her days at Holloway jail were spent “in pottery classes, watching movies and eating chocolate”.

The 27-year-old monster is being held in the prison’s segregation unit for her own safety.

Her friend told The Sun: “She says there’s very little to do in segregation except eat chocolate and laze around.

“She was an expert at that already.” When she appeared in court last week, the mum looked noticeably fatter and tried to hide her weight gain with an over-sized pink top.

This is obviously quite some friend to be selling her for a few pieces of silver to the newspaper that is making money out of describing her as both evil and a monster. It does therefore make you wonder whether this is a friend at all; one of the oldest tabloid journalism tricks in the book is to get in contact with a notable prisoner, claim to be sympathetic to their plight, gain their trust, and then once they tell you something even slightly interesting, it suddenly appears in the newspaper.

It is all rather stating the obvious though. Not much to do in the segregation unit? Who knew? What would the paper rather be happening to her? Perhaps they ought to get the "decent mums" from Facebook who were up for torturing her to death (slowly) and see just how ingenious their ideas were for bringing their anger and pain to bear on the mother were.

Somewhat predictably, the paper's campaign for the sentences of the three found guilty to be reviewed has borne fruit, although whether the Court of Appeal will decide whether the sentences were too lenient or not is another matter. As Afua Hirsch points out on CiF, the indeterminate sentences given to all three will almost certainly mean that they will serve far longer than the minimums which were handed down, which the Sun emphasised without bothering to explain just how difficult it is to be freed by those dates. Almost 11,000 people are now serving "indeterminate" sentences, of which less than 50 were released once their minimum term had expired. This though is of little concern to a newspaper which has so successfully mined the outrage surrounding the death of Baby Peter, and which also repeatedly informs its readers of just how soft both the lunatic judges and the prison system in general is.

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Wednesday, May 27, 2009 

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

It's reassuring to know that even if everything else is falling apart, the government can still be relied upon to be treating asylum seekers like shit. The Graun discovers that those who have deported back to the Democratic Republic of the Congo have been taken almost direct from the flights into the custody of the general directorate of intelligence and special services, where at least two "failed" asylum seekers were viciously tortured. Despite the Home Office's operational guidance, which admits that those detained in the country are highly likely to be mistreated, while the Foreign Office advises against all but essential travel to the country because of the political situation, the Court of Appeal ruled back in December that those who claim asylum in this country are not risking persecution back in the Congo purely because they have done that. This latest evidence rather undermines that judgement. Not that anyone far beyond the pages of the Independent or Guardian will care - instead they'll be focusing on the tabloid headlines of last week which while acknowledging the fall in immigration from the EU ascension countries, noted that asylum applications were rising again.

Somewhat connected is that the mighty Tim Ireland has rather outdone the BNP's "Billy Brit" horror show by purchasing the exact same puppet (which happens to be American) and noting that some "white" heroes aren't all that they seem:

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Tuesday, May 26, 2009 

From expenses to going soft in the head.

After taking an age to respond, with Labour still yet to make anything like the stand which the Conservatives have, you have to wonder whether what began as a crisis in politicians rather than necessarily in parliament itself has started to get out of hand. Not because the proposals for more general reform, especially those set out today by David Cameron, are too radical, but instead because they don't seem to be actually targeting what enraged the public in the first place: personal enrichment rather than general democratic failings.

One of the things that few commentators seem to have attempted to adequately answer is why the expenses debacle, rather than other recent general failures, whether you include the Iraq war, the previous loans for coronets scandal, or more recently the banking collapse and with it the breakdown of what had been a consensus of how the country could be run, has been the straw that broke the camel's back. The former and the latter have cost and will cost sums that dwarf the money which MPs have claimed for second houses, duck houses or duck a l'orange, while our involvement in Iraq has directly cost the lives of thousands, and indirectly hundreds of thousands, and from which it will take our reputation decades to recover.

Certainly, part of it is just a logical progression from the rage that was briefly directed at bankers, although again their greed puts MPs' second home allowances and other perks into stark contrast, albeit bankers were then not using public money for their bonuses. Recessions often are cathartic, and the anger and bitterness that come with the sudden change in circumstances has to be directed somewhere, but at MPs as a whole rather than just at a set of individuals within a party or at one party in particular is something new. Admittedly, this has been building for some time, as more and more, again admittedly with some justice, have started decrying politicians as all the same. Still though this alone doesn't quite explain why the loathing has reached such a crescendo. We seem to want our MPs both to be above the kind of temptations which befall many of us mere mortals, while also being as normal as politicians can be. When it turns out that MPs are, unsurprisingly, just as liable to bend the rules as far as they can go as the rest of us are, for which they should nontheless be condemned, it still seems completely disproportionate for them to come in for the savaging which has been raining down on their heads now for close to 3 weeks.

From this has spawned the obvious look for quick fixes to a system which has been broken for quite some time. The real demand though seems to be far more simple: everyone out, and everyone out now. This is something that the current politicians are hardly likely to accede to, and so there has to be an alternative found. Those who have long sought reform for principles both pure and personal have also found a perfect opportunity to perhaps finally get their way, echoing the Rahm Emanuel quote that you should not let a good crisis go to waste. All this though seems to be ignoring what the public themselves want: they mostly don't seem to care about the inner workings of parliamentary committees or what votes are whipped and which aren't; they just want the rotten out and a new lot in and to let them work it out.

All of us are however making numerous assumptions here. Fact is, we simply don't know how this is going to pan out; it might yet peter out as the Telegraph's revelations eventually do, or it might keep going until an election has to sort it out. This is why the most attractive proposal of all so far has been Alan Johnson's, for a referendum on proportional representation to be held at the same time as that election. That will fundamentally answer the question on whether the thirst for reform is long lasting and thoughtful or short and ugly.

It's also instructive that proportional representation is one of the few things that David Cameron has actively ruled out, in what has been variously described as either the most radical thing ever, "the spirit of Glasnost", as Cameron's Guardian article rather pompously puts it, or more plausiably, as politics having gone soft in the head. Instructive in that it's one of the few things that genuinely would change the way politics is run, while Cameron's other lauded promises, or not even that, potential aspirations are tinkering at the edge. Some of his proposals are simply laughable, such as the idea that the person who currently employs Andy Coulson as his chief spin doctor is going to be the one that puts an end to sofa government, promised by Brown and also broken. He wants to end the quangocracy without naming a single one which he actually plans to abolish, as so do many others who rant against them. He wants to tackle the power grabs by the EU and judges, without leaving Europe and without withdrawing presumably from the ECHR, making the ripping up of the Human Rights Act and its replacement with a British bill of rights an utter waste of time. Then there is just the madness of ultra-Blairism still writ large within the Cameroons: ending the "state monopoly" in education, which is in actual fact local authority control, giving parents the power to set up their own schools, as if they have the time or will to do so. The similar powers on housing seem to be a recipe for banana-ism: build absolutely nothing anywhere near anything, while on policing seem destined to result in the futility of "bobbies on the beat" while politicising the organisation. He meanwhile has nothing whatsoever to say on Lords reform, the monarchy or on the anachronisms of Westminster itself which seem to be kept only so that tourists can experience the quaint old-worldiness of the mother of all parliaments.

Cynicism is easy, but it's difficult not to be when you reflect of how many in opposition have promised reform along these lines only for it not to materialise once power has been grabbed and when such changes are no longer so attractive. You can't help but think all we might eventually get from Cameron's changes are the schools and parliamentary debate on YouTube; that again though, might all be the public themselves want. It's difficult not to reflect that the old adage we get the politicians and politics we deserve still rings as true as ever.

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Monday, May 25, 2009 

Your new overlord.

In line with Jamie's decision to enter his dog as a Conservative candidate for the next election, as a response to David Cameron's call for those who shares his values but who are not robots or necessarily Tories to join his party and become prospective MPs, I have decided that Stumpy the gerbil is the sensible candidate for these sensible times.

Stumpy is everything a modern Conservative should be: he may be hideously white, but his red eyes certainly make him stand out from the crowd. Despite suffering an accident while in a wheel which resulted in him losing the use of his back legs, which he then chewed down to stumps in frustration at his predicament, he still believes in standing on his own two (front) feet, and has more than overcame his adversity through nothing more than pure hard work. He might not have had a job prior to becoming a Conservative candidate, but he very rarely bites, and his food allowance will be negligible. He will fight for disability rights, which are very close to his heart, but he has no truck with the equality agenda of Harriet Harperson, who seeks to discriminate against white gerbils for no other reason than a fanatical feminist agenda. That, and he's unlikely to ever get his end away, which considering the past of the Tory party is also another evident bonus. He's also unlikely to live long enough to serve a full parliament, so if anyone subsequently regrets voting for a gerbil, it won't be too long before they'll be able to elect in an actual Conservative, although probably one with even less intellect.

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