Saturday, October 24, 2009 

Weekend links.

There's still only one thing anyone seems interested in talking about, and I think you know what it is, so may as well get on with it. Unity thinks Griffin might have lied about his father's war record, Paul Linford, Flying Rodent, Shiraz Socialist (x2), Hopi Sen, the Heresiarch and Don Paskini all also have varying views on our very own wannabe Fuhrer, while Tabloid Watch does my usual job of attacking Ms Amanda Platell.

In the papers, Matthew Parris writes on how we should not be sacrificing free speech, which both Mr Eugenides and John B comment further on. Bonnie Greer, the only person on QT apart from Dimbleby and some members of the audience who came out of it well, also contributes a piece on it to the Times. Diane Abbott further comments on QT in the Indie, while Howard Jacobson without knowing it also adds to the debate started by Parris. Peter Oborne in the Mail worries about those advising David Cameron on foreign policy, while Andrew Grice reckons that Cameron has still yet to win over significant parts of his party.

As for worst tabloid article, again the job seems to have been done for me by Anton Vowl, who slaughters both the Mail and Express for their ridiculously hysterical criticisms of how Question Time was put on.

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Friday, October 23, 2009 

Dick Griffin and the Question Time stalemate.

There was always going to be two ways which Nick Griffin and the BNP would react once Question Time had shown: if he put in a relatively good performance, they were going to crow about how the mainstream had been taken on and vanquished. If he wasn't so good, they were going to claim that it was the usual establishment stitch-up, and that when forced into such a bear-pit, Griffin was always going to struggle.

As it happened, Griffin and the party have actually done both. Within an hour of the programme ending the party had sent out an email filled with "quotes" from viewers of how well he did and how despite being roughed up by the other panellists he had came out on top. Even in that though there was the starts of the moaning of how it was all a set-up: no "current affairs" questions; how the show was filmed in central London in the "most 'enriched' and 'diverse' part of Britain". Since then, clearly worried by just how poorly he was perceived to have done, Griffin's gone into meltdown, claiming bias, that he couldn't get a fair crack of the whip because London has been "ethnically cleansed", that the audience was a "lynch mob", and that if the show was filmed in Thurrock, Stoke or Burnley then the true picture of the support for him and his party's policies would become evident.

This was always going to be the problem with inviting Griffin onto Question Time and not instead dedicating a programme to him and his party alone with set questions. The whole Question Time format is based on the audience asking the questions, and the audience was always going to be concerned first and foremost with him and his policies rather than what's actually been happening this week beyond the QT studio. Even in such a benevolent atmosphere though the panellists, with the exception of Bonnie Greer, were mainly incredibly poor, Sayeedi Warsi and Jack Straw especially so. There was next to no actual discussion or consideration of the BNP's policies outside of immigration and racism, and not even for example the bringing up of the party's policy on voluntary repatriation, which is such an open goal it was absurd not to mention it. Griffin still however managed to hang himself with his own rope, his gaffe on David Duke being from the "non-violent Ku Klux Klan" being both amusing and revealing. His only real success was that he didn't say anything objectively outrageous, instead doing his usual act on why Islam isn't compatible with the British society which he actively loathes. At times he was just cowardly, claiming that he couldn't explain his past reasoning on why he denied the Holocaust because he could be arrested if he did so. As much as New Labour has made this a less free society, there is not yet any law which explicitly criminalises Holocaust denial, although seeing as Holocaust denial and inciting racial hatred usually go hand in hand you could perhaps see some sort of reasoning behind his caution.

The biggest failing of the evening by far was in fact the cowardice of the other panel members to challenge the overwhelming consensus on immigration, that it has been both uncontrolled and to the detriment of the country. This cowardice is centred on the view that on this point, the BNP actually has the upper hand, and indeed, the moral authority. Jack Straw, questioned on whether Labour's policies had helped the BNP, which they undoubtedly have, not so much on immigration but on the complete abandonment of their former base in favour of the mythical "centre" ground and aspirational middle class, simply prevaricated and waffled. Sayeedi Warsi advocated the equally unrealistic Tory policy of a cap and Chris Huhne brought up the old red herring of Labour's prediction of how many would come when the eastern European countries joined the EU, without mentioning that was an estimate based on the other EU states also opening their borders, when only ourselves, Ireland and Sweden did, without offering an real alternative to Labour's policy except the empty promise of "counting people out". How can you even begin to challenge the BNP when you won't even make the case for a policy which has been to the vast benefit of the country as a whole?

Apart from Griffin, it was Jack Straw who looked out of his depth. His claim that the BNP was different from the other political parties because they all had a "moral compass" while the BNP didn't was fatuousness at its finest, leading Griffin to score his only real point of the evening. How could Jack Straw claim to have a moral compass when he indirectly had the blood of 800,000 Iraqis on his hands? There was no answer to that, and the audience was also sheepishly quiet as he made it. Even stopped clocks are right twice a day, but it also underlined how Labour has still yet to have its real day of reckoning for some of the things that it has done.

At worst, the spectacle was the bear-baiting some have described it as. At its best, it was a show that will have done nothing to alter the views of absolutely anyone. Those already sympathetic towards the BNP will hardly have been put off, and may well have felt sympathy for the way Griffin was barracked. Those on the opposite side should perhaps be worried about just that, and how despite coming off badly, Griffin was hardly given anything resembling a knock-out blow. This is certainly not Weimar Germany, and Griffin is certainly not a Fuhrer in waiting, and while we shouldn't keep ourselves awake at night about the BNP's support, it still remains an indictment of our politics that Griffin should have achieved the votes necessary to make his appearance on our televisions a requirement of the BBC's "impartiality".

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Thursday, October 22, 2009 

A very much precendented case of newspaper hyperbole.

Last night Keir Starmer, the head of the Crown Prosecution Service, gave his usual annual lecture to the public prosecution service. It was a typical lawyerly sermon, touching on both human rights and the independence of the prosecutors. Those who were there and awake probably didn't give it a second thought; Starmer gave a decent defence of the Human Rights Act, but hardly the strongest and most detailed one ever. The Telegraph however thought that this was somehow worthy of a splash. "An unprecedented attack", it bellowed, and since then the usual Tory suspects, the two Davies', have added their voices at this apparent broadside at Conservative policy.

Starmer, as it happened, didn't so much as mention the Conservatives, probably because he wasn't just attacking the Tories but also Labour. Here is what he did say:

However, one cannot escape, particularly in recent months, the debate that has emerged around the extent to which it is appropriate - and these are my words here - to repatriate the Human Rights Act and make it "more British."

While the Tories have promised to repeal the HRA and introduce a "British" Bill of Rights in its place, without of course providing any detail whatsoever as to what these rights would be and which might be different to those enshrined in the HRA, Labour has also continued to talk about a bill of Rights and Responsibilities, even though it has been shelved for now. These Rights and Responsibilities, Jack Straw hoped, would give a British feel to the HRA. It doesn't matter that, as Starmer points out, the European Convention of Human Rights, on which the HRA is based, was mainly drafted by us Britishers, because it's "European" in origin this somehow infers that it's a foreign creation imposed on us. The Sun, the main campaigner for a repeal of the HRA, has so often mistakenly referred to the ECHR as being a construct of the European Union when it is not and is entirely separate from it that it's difficult to believe it isn't being done deliberately.

The main flaw with any plan to repeal the HRA, something which Starmer doesn't mention, is that it's difficult to believe that we would also then leave the ECHR in its entirety, something we would have to do to make sure that the "criminals' charter" doesn't interfere with our law in any way, shape or form. All repealing the HRA will do is mean that breaches of the ECHR will not be able to heard in our own courts; instead those seeking redress will have to go to Strasbourg, and wait potentially years for their case to be heard, such is the backlog which has built up there and continues to mount. As Starmer argues, it's absurd that rights which the rest of Europe has never had any problem with should "stop in the English Channel". After all, even Russia is signed up to ECHR, even if it isn't as proactive in falling into line with its rulings as the more democratic nation states of Europe are. The closest Starmer gets to really attacking those who wish to do away with the HRA is this line:

And it would be to this country's shame if we lost the clear and basic statement of our citizens' human rights provided by the Human Rights Act on the basis of a fundamentally flawed analysis of their origin and relevance to our society.

It doesn't really help the Tories' cause that Starmer is entirely right. The main reason why the Conservatives want to get rid of the HRA is not because it's a criminals' charter or any of the other things which its critics say it is, but because from the very beginning the press, and especially the Sun and the Daily Mail, have been worried about its implications for their business model. Article 8, the right to privacy, has meant that the tabloids can no longer be certain that their celebrity stories and sex scandals will get into the papers unmolested, or if they do, that they won't then be brought up before the beak afterwards. There is, it must be noted, potential for abuse of Article 8, but this is slight when compared to the overall benefits which the legislation as a whole brings. In any case, the real threat to press freedom is not Article 8 but our libel laws and the tenacity of the libel firms and their pursuit of "super-injunctions", as last week's assault by Carter-Fuck on behalf of Trafigura showed. The supposed "madness" which the HRA has brought is partially dealt with by Starmer, although not fully:

A police force unable to circulate a photo of a wanted, dangerous and violent criminal because it might breach his Article 8 rights to privacy? My advice - go ahead - it is essential to protect the public.

Unelected judges can now tell Parliament that their laws need not be enforced? No - judges cannot strike down legislation.

Human Rights mean that school teachers cannot enforce discipline at school? No - it is domestic legislation - section 548 of the Education Act 1996 - passed 2 years before the Human Rights Act - that banned corporal punishment in schools. Interestingly enough, it is section 93 of the Education and Inspections Act 2006 - passed 8 years after the Human Rights Act - that now allows school teachers to use reasonable force to prevent a pupil from committing an offence.

It is often in the interests of those who want to debase a principle to chip away at it by citing examples of its occasional misapplication. We should all take care to examine critically the so-called restrictions brought about by the Human Rights Act and consider where the misunderstanding truly lies before condemning a constitutional instrument that has provided legitimate comfort to so many.

Some of these I've touched on before, but it's indicative of the misinformation which surrounds the HRA that the Telegraph in its report repeats the myth that Learco Chindamo, murderer of headteacher Philip Lawrence, couldn't be deported back to Italy when he finished his sentence because of the HRA. It was in fact because of the EU's 2004 directive on citizenship, but as usual the initial myth has become fact.

Has Starmer though strayed into politics with his pronouncements, something that the head of the CPS shouldn't be doing? Despite the Telegraph's suggestion, the previous head of the CPS, Ken Macdonald, did something rather similar in a speech to the Criminal Bar Association, where he made clear his view that terrorists should always be treated as criminals, and that there was no such thing as a "war on terror", something uncontroversial now, but rather more heated back in 2007 when the attempt to ram through 90 days without charge was fresh in the memory. Macdonald also made clear on a number of occasions that he felt 28 days detention without charge for terrorist suspects was sufficient, something which was hardly popular with the government, and which was definitely straying into politics. Few now object when the police demand new powers, although they should; why shouldn't the head of CPS express his view that the Human Rights Act shouldn't be abolished? Is it that it's only when it's the government that it's critiquing that it's OK, when if it's (perhaps) the opposition that it isn't?

The Tory plan to repeal the HRA has always struck me as something which they're likely to forget about once they actually do get in power. Labour has thrashed around hopelessly with the Rights and Responsibilities idea, and if you really believe that the Tories are more suited to constitutional change for the better, I don't think you've been paying enough attention. It's true, as Henry Porter has argued repeatedly, that the HRA has not prevented this government from its attacks on civil liberties, but the key to that is not more legislation, but better governance in general. It seems just as unlikely we will get that from the Tories.

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Wednesday, October 21, 2009 

A challenge for Unite Against Fascism.

I mentioned in passing yesterday Islam4UK (site seems to be down at the moment) without noting that they're planning a "march for Sharia" on the 31st of October, a rather appropriate date. This threatens potentially to be a repeat of both the protest in Luton back in March and before that the protests outside the Danish embassy in the aftermath of the "Motoons" affair. Not because the protest itself will be significant, either in terms of attendance or of the demands, as we've heard it all before from al-Muhajiroun and its numerous splinters and successor organisations, but because of the ridiculous coverage which it will almost certainly be given by the media.

It's welcome then that Inayat Bunglawala is proposing a counter demonstration, ostensibly you would presume by ordinary Muslims against the loons although doubtless all colours and creeds etc will be also encouraged to attend, and it's especially helpful considering the Muslim Council of Britain's own occasional intransigent behaviour. The one thing that would be even more helpful would be the presence of Unite Against Fascism. They're the sort of group that would be able to mobilise significantly enough to dwarf the Islam4UK demo, and considering that the English Defence League are also bound to rear their ugly heads as well, would be able to face off both groups and help to balance the coverage of the march. Whether they'd be interested in facing down radical Islamists as well as the far-right though is uncertain, but would certainly help to counter their own critics. Choudary and friends might be idiots that are best ignored in the main, but this is one of those occasions when delivering something approaching a smackdown would be in the interests of everyone.

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Tuesday, October 20, 2009 

The BNP, no platform, Churchill and Question Time.

Nick Griffin must be having what is almost certainly the greatest week of his political life. At last invited to join the political mainstream on Question Time, the target of an incredibly crass and perplexing campaign by the armed services of all people against their pathetic but predictable use of imagery from WW2 in their election literature, and now with the member list leaked yet again, he can't really have wished for more attention or publicity for either himself or his party.

At the very heart of the debate about how to deal with extremists, not just including the BNP but also the likes of the English Defence League as well as the more radical Islamists is whether giving them enough rope to hang themselves with is a good idea or not. As you may have guessed from that last sentence, I've always doubted the efficacy of the "no platform" stance which was taken against the party up until very recently. As much as the likes of Unite Against Fascism and other similar groups have the right intentions, their own authoritarian leanings and determination to stop the BNP from exercising their democratic right, especially when invited to student debates, is self-defeating in the extreme. There was perhaps a case when the British National Party was more anti-democratic than it currently is, and more openly racist and radical in its policies for it to be denied the right to spread their hatred, but even if Griffin's "sanitising" of the party is just for show as it almost certainly is, that time now has almost certainly passed.

The English Defence League, on the other hand, is probably the most dangerous organisation outside of the actual terrorist groupings currently active in this country. Their tactics, clearly aimed at inciting tension, have the very real possibility of starting race riots akin to those which shook northern towns and cities in the summer of 2001. If you're now expecting that I'm going to say that they therefore have to be denied the right to protest or make their point, I'm not. No, in this instance they both need to be exposed as the deeply racist morons which they clearly are, by more widely distributing footage and reports of their marches, and by being challenged by the likes of the UAF, which seems to have resulted mainly so far in the UAF being the clear winners. In some circumstances their demonstrations may well have to possibly be banned, much as I loathe the idea of outlawing any expression of dissent, purely because of the potential there is for widespread disorder.

Lastly, we have the likes of Anjem Choudary and his ilk. The main threat from such extremists is again, not from anything they are likely to do, but instead from the rage which their bile induces in others. The difference here is that the best way to deal with Choudary and co is to, simply, ignore them. The English Defence League speak for those who find the BNP too tame, which is a distinct minority, but a minority which is almost certainly far larger than that of those they are claiming to be demonstrating against. The remnants of al-Muhajiroun are best dealt with as internet trolls are: don't feed them, ignore them and laugh at them. There is after all something deeply amusing about the Islam4UK campaign, and their page on how Trafalgar Square would look under Sharia law itself is certainly a humourous attempt at trolling; either that or Choudary and his willing army of photoshoppers has cracked even further than before. The seriousness with which the likes of the Express treats this silliness only encourages them further, as almost certainly will the coverage their doubtless tiny march will receive. 5,000 marching for Sharia? They'll be lucky to get 500.

It's a similar kind of silliness which is behind the speaking out of past generals against the BNP's use war imagery and evocations. When neo or post-fascists in, Italy, say, use wartime propaganda, it's worrying. When neo or post-fascists in Britain use it, it's just ridiculous. A fascist party putting Winston Churchill on their leaflets, Spitfires and calling their European parliament campaign the "Battle for Britain"? It's almost Monty Python-esque, unless you take it seriously and get outraged. Here's a question for Nick Griffin: which side should have won WW2? For someone who has previously denied the Holocaust, his reply, or non-reply, would be fascinating. It's also hardly as if it's just the BNP using Churchill and faux-patriotism for their ill-gotten gains: UKIP had Churchill on their election paraphernalia as well, equally deceptively, while as the Heresiarch points out all parties and this government have abused history. The biggest insult to Churchill right now is that most people only associate the name with a nodding dog that advertises insurance, and no one's suddenly going to start a campaign about that.

It's dispiriting enough that Griffin is likely to come off reasonably well from his appearance on Question Time without giving him such an open goal to shoot into. The BNP did after all oppose the Iraq war, although I'm uncertain over what their position on Afghanistan was at the time and what is now; while Griffin's referral to the Nuremberg trials falls into the category mentioned above, just how does a general who commanded his forces in a war of aggression respond to being alluded to as a war criminal? How does the attack on the "Tory" generals not ring true? Who possibly thought this campaign was a good idea and would achieve anything other than giving the BNP further publicity?

All this said, the BBC's claim that they suddenly have to include Griffin on QT because they've now got a few seats on councils and in the European parliament is false. They primarily want Griffin on and have wanted him on because they know it'll make good television; now they finally have their excuse. It comes at a time when the BBC's interpretation of what their impartiality and legal responsibilities are is becoming ever muddied: refusing to show the appeal for Gaza mainly because of the fear of the Israel lobby, yet Griffin must be allowed on because of the law? Poppycock. There is a case for giving BNP much more coverage than it currently gets, giving Griffin a proper, Paxman or Humphrys grilling, even putting him before an audience as other political leaders are, where others have often come unstuck. Question Time though is just general discussion: Griffin will simply be the centre of attention, distract everyone, and subvert the whole programme to be all about him rather than questions from the public. This isn't to argue he shouldn't appear, but when Griffin is up against such a piss-poor panel, with Jack Straw, the horrendous, screeching Sayeedi Warsi and Bonnie Greer, with Chris Huhne the only person likely to be able to begin to hold him to account, you have to wonder whether the BNP themselves didn't leak their membership list, just to add to the free ride they're being given.

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Monday, October 19, 2009 

A truly amoral newspaper.

It just had to be, didn't it? The week I'm dragged away turns out to be the week when two of the biggest media stories of the year break. First Trafigura and Carter-Fuck try to censor parliament, never a wise thing to do, even when MPs were more concerned about their expenses, then the Daily Mail does what the Daily Mail does best and publishes an utterly heartless piece of grief intrusion masquerading as a columnist attempting to articulate what the readers are really thinking.

At long last the Mail chose to attack someone so completely harmless, so apparently lovable and so popular that even it couldn't manage to brush the outrage under the carpet. As it is, compared to the Mail's past record and other similar articles, Jan Moir's screeching on Friday was almost tame. Sure, it has the blatant homophobia, the knowing better than everyone else what the two men were doing that night, and the gratuitous, ignorant insults, such as Moir's claim that he "couldn't carry a tune in a Louis Vuitton trunk", when he could in fact sing perfectly well, unlike numerous other members of boy and girl bands and doubtless Moir herself. It has the same "I know best" attitude, ignoring point blank the actual facts of the case while relying entirely on her own prejudices; a 33-year-old man can't possibly die of "natural causes", especially a gay 33-year-old man who had invited another man along with his civil partner back to their holiday apartment, most certainly not a gay 33-year-old man who had been smoking the devil weed cannabis. Yet, it still feels by the Mail's standards to be not harsh enough, not as completely without redemption as it should be.

You can't after all really compete with the utter heartlessness, the downright beastliness of describing the murder of five young women as "no great loss", as Richard Littlejohn did back in December 2006 after Steve Wright had killed 5 prostitutes from the town of Ipswich. That piece of nastiness made very few ripples, except for becoming part of a Stewart Lee comedy sketch which finishes with Littlejohn being described as a part of the female anatomy. Moir's attack on Gately wasn't close to being as vindictive and shameless as Allison Pearson's description of Scarlett Keeling, the 15-year-old raped and killed in Goa, as a "ripe peach", and who variously blamed her mother for leaving her behind with friends while she travelled further on in the country while also noting that she was in "a culture where Western girls are all too readily viewed as sexually available", meaning that brown people just can't wait to get their hands on the white women. It also wasn't as so utterly without dignity or research as Amanda Platell's assault after Rachel Ward tragically died whilst on holiday. To quote myself:

According to Platell, rather than this being a tragic accident, it's instead indicative "of the lives of many middle-class young women". Variously, her death seems to have been down to the following facts: firstly, that she was middle class, and therefore should have known better than to have been taking part in such working class pursuits as going on a skiing holiday and drinking whilst on it; secondly, that her friends abandoned her when she decided to go back to where she was staying on her own, therefore it's their fault too; and finally, that it's actually neither her own fault nor her friends' fault, but rather the fault of equality:

Sadly, in a world where women have fought for generations for equality, where they insist on their independence, where drunkenness and debauchery are actively encouraged, you can’t really blame a young man for failing to act chivalrously.

Yes, Rachel’s death was tragedy — but it was an accident waiting to happen.

There you are then girls - you weren't fighting for equal rights, you were in fact fighting for the right to die alone in a freezing river, because Amanda Platell says so.

As far as I'm aware, the only complaint made about any of these grief intruding attacks was on the latter, by the father of Haydn Johnson, which resulted in the Mail noting that the piece was inaccurate and removing Platell's viciousness from the website. No apology, no thoughts about whether attacking the grieving is ever justified, just an article flushed down the memory hole with no repercussions.

Whether the difference this time was because Gately was a celebrity, while all those mentioned above were just commoners, with only family and friends to be angered and shocked by their treatment at the hands of the press doesn't really matter in the end. The most significant factor to my mind is most likely the obvious culture clash, a mirror image culture clash to that which took place over "Sachsgate". Then the Mail was the ringleader in getting its readers and others to complain to both the BBC and Ofcom over the humiliation of a much-loved actor by two arrogant bullies, one of whom was and is on a vast salary. As offensive, unfair and low as the abuse masquerading as humour was in that case, it was still blown out of all proportion. Those who complained were the Mail's target market, the older, the more middle class, and overwhelmingly those who would have never listened to Russell Brand's show and so only complained after they were alerted to it. Who knows this time how many actual Daily Mail readers have complained about Jan Moir's article, but I doubt it's higher than a few hundreds out of the 22,000 complaints which the PCC has now received. This isn't to suggest that Daily Mail readers want and expect the kind of thing which Moir delivered; far from it. It is however what the Daily Mail thinks that its readers want. The editor is a man who believes that the bedroom door should be wide open when the activities within it pass outside the "norm", as they did in the Max Mosley case, and that Justice Eady's ruling, that the NotW infringed his privacy, was in effect, "amoral".

All newspapers make mistakes. All newspapers misjudge the feeling of both the public and their readers at times. Only the Daily Mail however has repeatedly and consistently attempted to intrude into grief, regarding the death of almost anyone as fair game. Some might believe that the truly amoral in this instance to be those who have got it so horribly, terribly wrong on so many occasions, and who will doubtless continue to get it wrong in the future.

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