Monday, November 30, 2009 

Mine Fuhrer, 25 years later.

Only just been alerted (ht: John B) to a rather famous Sun front page which never was: the Mine Fuhrer Arthur Scargill front page from the height of the miners' strike in 1984, courtesy of the-sauce:

It never saw the light of day thanks to the production chapels mass-refusing to set it - something which Murdoch and MacKenzie ensured would never happen again when News International moved to Wapping two years later, smashing the print unions, something which continues to be contentious to this day.

Do have to disagree with John B's additional comments, therefore, that "printworkers shouldn't have a veto over editorial content, however vile." The old motto is "publish and be damned", but if say the printworkers could have blocked "THE TRUTH", as they perhaps could have done had the unions not been crushed, it would have certainly prevented additional pain being piled upon an already grieving city. They would have been the only ones capable of keeping MacKenzie in check - something which the hacks themselves either couldn't or were unwilling to do. More recently it has still taken union power rather than individual power to stop the Daily Star from running a "Daily Fatwa" page, which promised a page 3 lovely in a niqab, while the union reps on the same paper complained also to the Press Complaints Commission that they were under pressure to write "anti-gypsy" reports. Overruling the editorial staff when they go too far, by threatening strike action if necessary, is better than the alternative.

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Saturday, November 28, 2009 

Weekend links.

Straight into it this week. Paul Linford and Craig Murray have thoughts on the Iraq inquiry, Pickled Politics has the news that yet another "former member" of the BNP has been charged with terrorist offences, Nosemonkey and Sunder Katwala have the lowdown on Lord Pearson, the new leader of UKIP, Chris Dillow moderates a debate on whether higher taxes on the rich raise more revenue, Dave Osler and Shiraz Socialist monitor the funding of schools with links to Hizb ut Tahrir, both of which note that under the Tory education plans more such developments are likely, Paulie calls for the restrictions on industrial action to be ended, Anton Vowl sort of answers whether blogging is journalism or vice versa, the Heresiarch considers the Gary McKinnon case and Tabloid Watch takes note of the great silence on various matters.

In the papers, or at least their sites, Janice Turner compares and contrasts Jordan (i.e. Katie Price, not the country) and Dubai, while Matthew Parris says Blair saw going to war with Iraq as a "no-brainer", with Mary Dejevesky calling for the former prime minister to be brought to the witness stand as soon as possible. General Sir Michael Rose says Blair should stand trial, Peter Oborne asks who else in the cabinet at the time should be held to account and Chris Ames wonders just who decides if a war is legal. Away from the Chilcot inquiry, Pollyanna Toynbee argues good politicians try to change public opinion, while Marina Hyde won't be mourning GMTV.

As for worst tabloid article, the easy winner this week is the Sun deciding that the Ministry of Justice using "young person" instead of "youths" is political correctness. The same newspaper which in the opening sentence describes those guilty of a criminal offence for which they've been cautioned for as "yobs", which certainly isn't reverse political correctness. The editorial though deserves some kind of reward for managing to bring in a reference to 1984 and "newspeak": somehow I get the feeling that if Murdoch decried it, Oceania would have always been at war with Eastasia and not Eurasia.

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Friday, November 27, 2009 

Gary McKinnon and the special relationship.

Remember the Natwest Three? Back when bankers weren't public enemy one and were instead public enemy number two, three men who subsequently pleaded guilty to wire fraud put up a quite extraordinary if ultimately unsuccessful fight against extradition to the United States to face the charges. Initially portrayed as bankers mostly are now, they quickly, with the help of a couple of PR firms, became innocent family men, concerned not just for themselves but others at the unfairness of an extradition treaty which the US itself had not then ratified, at the potential treatment they faced at the hands of a foreign and brutal judicial and prison system, and at the impact it could have on the "business community" as a whole.

Once they were extradited, it predictably turned out that they were both guilty as hell and treated with fairness and relatively leniency, thanks to a plea bargain they agreed to. In fact, they're already back here, in good ol' cushy UK prisons and likely to be released at the end of the year. In all likelihood, if Gary McKinnon is eventually extradited to the US, he will probably be treated in much the same way, especially if he then "cooperates" on arrival in a similar fashion.

He shouldn't though have to take the chance. The key differences between the Natwest Three case are that firstly, McKinnon's crime directly involves the American state, which in time-honoured tradition seems determined to make him suffer for humiliating them by exposing their laughable computer security, secondly that the crime is nowhere near as serious, or shouldn't be as serious as the wire fraud committed by the Three, and thirdly that McKinnon, supposedly "hacking" to find information of a conspiracy to conceal evidence of extraterrestrials, has Asperger's syndrome. Also of note is that the American prosecutors deliberately waited until the extradition treaty had been ratified to make the request for him to be sent to the country for trial.

Quite clearly, McKinnon could easily have been tried in this country and put this all behind him long ago. That the government hasn't ensured that this has happened is, on one level, bewildering. New Labour has always loved populism, and to deny the extradition of McKinnon would certainly be popular, especially when the Daily Mail has launched one of its few worthwhile campaigns demanding just that. The key factor here though is that it involves America: we scratch their back repeatedly and very, very occasionally, they scratch ours in return, as when Hillary Clinton backed up the government case that revealing information related to the treatment of Binyam Mohamed could affect the intelligence sharing between the two nations. Because of the infatuation that both main parties have with the idea of the "special relationship", a relationship special only in the terms of how abusive and one-sided it is, we continue to act as little more than the 51st state, something that delights politicians on both sides of the Atlantic. They get a helpful little ally, our politicians get to feel big on the world stage. As for small things like justice, they pale into insignificance by comparison.

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Thursday, November 26, 2009 

Adapting to protest and adapting to the government's position.

It's an increasingly rare thing these days for an organisation to conduct a review into itself and actually find that not everything is as good as it could be. For that alone, Denis O'Connor and Her Majesty's Inspectors of Constabulary, with their report "[A]dapting to protest", undertaken following the police riot at the G20 protests, deserve recognition. While hardly a blistering assault upon the piecemeal way in which the different forces police protests, it also doesn't pull its punches. O'Connor finds that there are no clear standards regarding the use of force for individual officers when it comes to policing protests; that there is little attention paid to the use by individual officers of batons or "distraction techniques"; that different forces have a different understanding of the "proper use" of public order police powers, as demonstrated by the climate camp protests in 2006 and 2008, and also at the G20; that some forces cannot even provide a "minimal accredited public order command structure"; that training and guidance is out of date; that there is inadequate training in law, especially human rights, and when it comes to the use of Forward Intelligence Teams; and that inappropriate use of public order powers is widespread.

Equally, O'Connor's recommendations are difficult to fault. He proposes that the police adopt a fundamental set of principles on the use of force that runs as "a golden thread" through all policing, not just that of protests, based around the minimum use; that public order policing across the board should be codified so that the use of powers, equipment and tactics is consistent; that public order training be improved, especially since individual officers are themselves legally accountable for their actions; that the Association of Chief Police Officers should have its status reviewed, especially considering its role in policy making, most notoriously of late designating legitimate protesters as "domestic extremists"; and probably most significantly, keeping communication open constantly with protesters and the public, especially with protest groups' representatives.

All this is meant, in O'Connor's mind, to ensure that the historic principle of policing by consent, as philosophised and introduced by Robert Peel, does not break down. The obvious problem with this is that while it's difficult to pin down exactly when this compact irrevocably broke when it came to the policing of protests, although the report itself notes that the clashes between the blackshirts and anti-fascists in the 30s were far more significant breakdowns in public order than many of our modern equivalents, irrevocably break down it did long ago. Policing by consent does still exist when it comes to the average bobby on the beat, but when it comes to protests, especially those that occur on the relative spur of the moment and when they concern relative matters of life and death, it's difficult for a good-natured and friendly relationship between protesters and those that are in control of them to exist, and to pretend that it can be maintained is relatively naive. Often on these occasions relative control can still be exercised, but it depends on those who are pushing their luck either being told in no uncertain terms to calm down, or on them being arrested, potentially both for their own good and to ensure that the protest as a whole doesn't embarrass both sides. For all the times when the police are rightly criticised for their actions, sometimes even protesters recognise that those amongst them are just out to cause trouble: this was the case back in January, during the protests in London against the Israeli attack on Gaza. Some of the trouble can be put down to both sides underestimating the numbers who were going to turn out, but also down to the police failure to separate those out who were determined to attack the police or property early enough. As much as protesters loathe the Forward Intelligence Teams that indiscriminately film protests for their own records, some of it is justified, if only so that the idiots can be filtered out to the benefit of both sides.

While O'Connor himself can hardly be blamed for focusing on the present, it's instructive that the policing of protests is only now considered controversial, mainly because of how the internet and modern media has ensured that the police (and indeed, the protesters themselves) can be held to account. After all, it's not as if the police have only suddenly disgraced themselves with how they treat legitimate protests; it's been going on for decades, whether you go back to the 70s marches where the National Front was often favoured against those protesting against them, to the Battle of Orgreave, the poll tax riots, the May Day protests of the 90s and early 00s, right up to the Countryside Alliance protest outside parliament during the pass of the fox hunting bill and more recent examples. It's also not just these more notorious cases, but the other, smaller marches, where outrageous police behaviour has often gone completely unnoticed by the national media. One thing O'Connor fails to address is that often it's been the very officers that are dedicated to control protests that have been amongst the very worst offenders; whether the Special Patrol Group or the modern equivalent the Territorial Support Group, these officers often seem to be selected not because of their powers of mediation, but because of their very obstinacy, quickness to use of force and general disdain for protesters of every hue. It may be that officers drafted in to control large protests aren't trained properly, and as a result of probably being as frightened and as uncertain as the protesters themselves can lash out and act defensively, but it's often those who have been specially trained that are the very worst. A special review of those in these groups and an emphasis on facilitating the right to protest would have been especially welcome as an additional recommendation.

The largest hole in O'Connor's report though has nothing to do with the police themselves; it is the influence of government itself upon the policing of protest. It's easily forgotten that this government has been one of the most ruthless at suppressing protest in living memory, that as well as banning protests within a mile of Westminster without prior permission, it attempted and almost succeeded in banning the biggest protest march in this country of all time, the Feb 15th 2003 anti-Iraq war protest, by claiming that to do so would damage the grass of Hyde Park. More recently it has connived with those being targeted by the likes of Climate Camp, directly handing over intelligence on individuals to the companies running the power stations. The support the government has given to the police, on almost every single thing they have done or been criticised over, has been total. Even Ken Livingstone, hardly a prior fan of the Met, defended Ian Blair and his force to the hilt after the execution of Jean Charles de Menezes. When you give such total, unconditional support, and shrink from criticising anything, you invite them to believe themselves unaccountable. To be fair to New Labour when it doesn't deserve it, it's not that this is new; the Tories did much the same, but not to the same extent. Every single new power which you give to the police is abused, most recently uncovered that the granting of the power of arrest for any offence has resulted in the taking of DNA profiles to continually enlarge the database, almost certainly by stealth and without any debate. Unless the government itself decides that protest as a whole is legitimate, and should be facilitated rather than something which it has to put up with, there's little hope of the police themselves introducing such an enlightened stance.

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Wednesday, November 25, 2009 

More 40 years of the Sun.

My colleague Sim-O has some more tit-bits from the latest Private Eye dealing with the Sun over on the Lies, but this from the satire pages probably captures 40 years of the Scum better than any of the various tributes paid to it:

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Tuesday, November 24, 2009 

How very strange...

Having been "cleared" by the PCC's ludicrous non-investigation into the Guardian's allegations of widespread phone hacking at the News of the World, editor at the time and now chief Tory spin doctor Andy Coulson must have thought that was an end to any controversy concerning his tabloid past. The only blot on the horizon was Matt Driscoll, a former sports reporter on the Screws, who Coulson sacked while he was off sick for stress-related depression. Driscoll, quite understandably, took News International to a tribunal, alleging that the route cause of his illness was due to the bullying he had suffered at the paper, led by none other than Coulson.

The tribunal decided back in December that Driscoll had been both unfairly dismissed and discriminated against on the grounds of disability, but only yesterday did the amount of compensation which Driscoll was awarded come to light. The tribunal decided upon a quite staggering £792,736, which with legal costs will probably amount to a total bill to News International of around a million. Adding in the costs of settling with Gordon Taylor and two others over the phone hacking allegations, Coulson has cost Murdoch in total around £2,000,000. For someone who despite being fabulously wealthy is remarkably parsimonious when it comes to others spending his money, Murdoch senior (and doubtless also junior) will be seething.

Not of course that you would know any of this if you read a paper other than the Grauniad. Neither the Times nor the Telegraph has so much has mentioned, either now or back in December that Coulson had been found to be bully in chief as well as editor in chief. On the one hand, it's not exactly a revelation that tabloid editors are not often the most sympathetic and understanding of individuals, and that while it's probably not as bad as it was when the pressures were much bigger back during the tabloid hey-day of the 80s, newsrooms aren't exactly the most enlightened of offices. On the other, what's most instructive, both of the battle of egos in such workplaces, and also potentially of Coulson's own character, is the petty way the bullying of Driscoll started. Driscoll failed to stand up a rumour that Arsenal were planning to play their last season at Highbury before moving to their new stadium in purple, commemorative shirts, rather than their traditional red and white, with the scoop instead being stolen by, of all papers, the Sun. You could perhaps understand Coulson's apparent ire more if Driscoll had failed to stand up a rumour on the equivalent of say, Ronaldo moving to Real Madrid for £80 million. A fairly poxy story about Arsenal playing in a different kit seems rather inconsequential, but not apparently to Coulson.

Again, you can perhaps understand why the tribunal's ruling was never going to lead to David Cameron giving Coulson the heave-ho. After all, one of the major parts of spin doctoring is in effect bullying and cajoling journalists, not to mention politicians, and that's without wondering whether there's any truth behind the more wildly fictional antics of Malcolm Tucker. Coulson has of course become even more useful as News International has drifted away from New Labour and over to the New Tories; few doubt that Coulson has been at the heart, not just of the discussions behind the Sun switching support to Cameron, but also at the far more significant negotiations concerning the almost wholesale adoption of policies to the benefit of News International, whether it be the quick abolition of Ofcom, one of the few quangos to be directly identified by Cameron as to be hurled onto the bonfire, the attacks on the BBC or the removal of the fuddy-duddy idea that television news has to be impartial, swiftly leading to the transformation of Sky News into a version of Fox News which America knows and loves and which Murdoch senior has long wanted to do. Also likely to be dismantled are the rules on media ownership, with Murdoch probably swallowing ITV whole, although the Sun seems to treat the channel as part of the family already regardless (although the Sky shareholding of 17.9% helps).

Even so, the worst that could be said of Alastair Campbell before he became Tony Blair's chief press officer was that he always treated his bosses, regardless of who they were, with unstinting loyalty, never more exemplified than when he punched Michael White after he made a joke about Robert Maxwell shortly after his death. He certainly wasn't accused by a tribunal of leading the bullying of a vulnerable, sick man he had ultimate authority over. It's worth remembering that back during the "Smeargate" storm in a teacup, when we suddenly discovered, horror of horrors, that spin doctors say unpleasant and sometimes untrue things to others, the impression we received that it was only nasty New Labour that did spin, and spin which brought politics into disrepute in itself. Coulson though now bears the distinction of being notorious for all the wrong reasons before he even gets near to running the media operation of a political party in actual power. The real spinning, it seems, has not even begun.

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Monday, November 23, 2009 

The daft correspondence post.

Excuse the lack of an actual post today. Instead I was delighted to receive the following email from Total Politics magazine:

Dear Obsolute,

I am writing from Total Politics magazine. We are a political lifestyle magazine with a circulation of 20,400, including MPs, MEPs, political journalists and all councillors down to district level. Each month we feature a ‘Blogger Profile’ in the magazine. This is a short piece of roughly 400 words, written by the blogger, answering a few broad questions that we set out. I was wondering whether you would consider featuring in the next edition of the magazine in this way? Thanks for your help,

Best Wishes

Catherine Shannon


Catherine Shannon
Editorial Intern

Heal House
375 Kennington Lane
SE11 5QY

T: 020 7091 1260

Twitter: @tp_interns

This message is intended to be received and read by the person(s) to whom the underlying communication is addressed. The contents of and information contained in the message may be private and or confidential. If this message has been sent by mistake or malfunction to you and you are not the intended recipient, you should not make any use of it or otherwise reproduce it for any purpose or disclose or forward it to any person , other than to tell us that you have been sent it in error, or to delete the message without further use. Please would you as a matter of courtesy tell us you have received this message in error by calling us on +44 (0) 207 0911 260

Total Politics is an imprint of Biteback Media Limited
Registered in England Co. No 06455159;
Regd Office: Manfield House 1 Southampton St London WC2R 0LR UK
Trading address: 375 Kennington Lane, London, SE11 5QY

All enquiries to
© Biteback Media Limited 2009

To which the inevitable reply had to be:

Dear Katherine Channon (sic),
I would rather be buggered by a badger than appear in Lord Ashcroft and Iain Dale's self-aggrandising propaganda sheet.

Best Wishes


P.S. A rather interesting biog of old friend Dominic Whiteman has been posted up on SpinProfiles, while the first in the series on immigration are up on Lib Con.

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Saturday, November 21, 2009 

Weekend links.

Not a lot around this weekend, so I'll keep this relatively short and sweet. Paul Linford thinks the Queen's speech was another missed opportunity for Brown, 5CC discovers, incredibly, that carol singers haven't been banned, Sim-O has a look at the BNP's view of the equality act, Anton Vowl imagines that Rupert Murdoch is completely benign, and also takes a gander at the comment of both Peter Hobbins and the red ink brigade in the Mail's section, the Heresiarch notes the EU's unelectoral politics while Sunder Katwala has a fascinating early history of ethnic minority candidates and representatives, circa the turn of the last century.

In the papers, or at least their sites, Matthew Parris doesn't think much of the Queen's speech, Janice Turner is not very convincing on how a small band of warriors turned away the scourge of modern life which is lap dancing, Andrew Grice has some background to how out of nowhere, Baroness Ashton became the EU's foreign minister, Christina Patterson notes what we have to learn from the Sikh who might become the BNP's first non-white electoral candidate and Peter Oborne thinks Blair looks haunted and has a lot to be haunted by.

As for worst tabloid article, the only real contender is Karol Sikora, who denounces NICE as a "Stalinist quango", denying cancer drugs which are available elsewhere in Europe. Clearly instead we should leave such decisions to elected ministers, who can't even begin to make a cost-effective analysis and are completely open to political pressure, from both campaigners and drug companies alike. This would also be the Mail that loathes taxes wanting even more money to be spent on drugs that give only the slightest amount of extra, often painful, life. Why not go the whole hog and call it a death panel, as the right in America seem to think the NHS is all about?

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Friday, November 20, 2009 

The war against evidence of torture continues.

How then goes our glorious government's consistent attempts to stop any primary evidence emerging of our collusion in, if not open acceptance of the use of torture when it came to interrogating suspects caught up in TWAT (the war against terror)?

This week brought rulings to please both sides. Yesterday, for the sixth straight time in a row, the high court rejected the claims of the Foreign Office that to reveal seven paragraphs of a CIA memo sent to MI5 and MI6, a memo which almost certainly details the "treatment" which Binyam Mohamed was being subjected to whilst detained in Pakistan, would damage national security and could potentially stop the CIA sharing information with us. This is, as the judges have repeatedly argued, preposterous. According to them, the memo contains no actual secret intelligence, instead rather a summary sent to the intelligence services on Mohamed. What the memo almost certainly does contain though is prima facie evidence that MI5 and MI6 knew years before they previously claimed that the US was either conniving in or actively mistreating prisoners indirectly under their care or supervision.

In the latest ruling, the judges make clear that one of the paragraphs makes reference to the infamous Bybee memo, released by the Obama administration earlier in the year. The Bybee memo details exactly how Abu Zubaydah, then the most senior al-Qaida operative in US custody, could be tortured, supposedly without breaching the prohibition against torture in the United States code. In a section which remains redacted, there is apparently a verbatim quote from the memo: apparently we can't see what the Americans have already released to the world. To infer, it looks as if the memo is justifying, or explaining to the intelligence services in this country, that Mohamed will be or has been treated in a similar fashion, and that because Bybee OKed it, there's nothing to worry about on the legality front.

The real reason then why the government is so determined to keep this memo secret is that it contradicts everything they have maintained over the alleged intelligence service collusion with torture. Not just the government story, but also the story which the intelligence services themselves have continuously thrust down our throats. They told the intelligence and security committee that they only joined together the dots on what the CIA was doing when the Abu Ghraib scandal broke, claiming that despite knowing about the rendition programme, there was "no automatic connection between secret facilities and mistreatment". To call this laughable would be putting it too lightly; that the ISC believed this most blatant of lies, this lack of intellectual curiosity and complete failure to put two and two together is why it ought to be disbanded and a watchdog with real power to monitor the security services immediately set-up in its place.

While however the government will yet again appeal against the high court ruling, they must have been utterly delighted with the one made in the same parish by Mr Justice Silber. On Wednesday he ruled that MI5, MI6 and the police can potentially withhold evidence from defendants and their lawyers in any civil case, if it is determined to be "secret government information" which they seek. As the Binyam Mohamed memo case shows, what can be determined to be "secret government information" is remarkably elastic. Not that MI5, MI6 or the government could decide personally what is secret or isn't, oh no. Instead "special advocates", presumably the same that act for those being held on control orders and who can't be specifically told on what information their movement and rights are being restricted will decide. As Louise Christian complained afterwards, the judge's ruling effectively allows "government to rely on secret evidence in the ordinary civil courts ... a constitutional outrage".

As one window opens slightly, another is slammed shut. Not that is just us and the Americans who have disgraced ourselves: even the Canadians are finding that "the good war" means handing over captives to the Afghan intelligence services, and with it almost certainly into their torture dungeons. Interesting is the way that the Canadians are attacking Richard Colvin's credibility, just as the government has repeatedly done the same against the whistleblowers here. The taint on all of us is going to take an awfully long time to lift.

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Thursday, November 19, 2009 

Dumbing down Michael Gove style.

I'm not the biggest fan of Ed Balls, but anything that makes Michael Gove look like an utter tit is fine by me, via John B:

While over at Lib Con we're promised a series of articles on immigration, which look set to be essential reading.

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Wednesday, November 18, 2009 

The Queen's last gasp.

The obvious response to the Queen's speech would to be to class it as the last gasp gesture of a government on its death bed; the sole remaining embers of a cigarette burnt down to the very end, offering not even the slightest nicotine kick; the last words of the condemned before being dropped through the trapdoor. For once, the obvious response is also the right one, although not necessarily for the reasons detailed by either Cameron or Clegg.

Clegg, in the increasingly hysterical fashion in which he seems to be deciding is the best way to lead his party, declared that the entire speech should have been cancelled so that politics could be "fixed". Cameron too, complained that "the biggest omission" was the cleaning up of expenses. Considering that the proposals from Sir Christopher Kelly in the main do not change anything with any great immediacy, except for the intake at the next election, the only real reason for urgency is to prove who has the hairiest shirt, as it was before. Clegg at least has purer motives in wanting the changing of the way we do politics as a whole, but the emphasis which both are continuing to place on the expenses scandal only encourages the view that nothing has changed, when it simply isn't the case. True, the complete changing of our system which some rather hopefully imagined might happen has not arrived, but then neither Labour and especially not the Tories have it in their interests to implement the likes of electoral reform. We're going to have to make do with what we have for now, and further alienating politics from the majority is not going to have a happy ending.

That said, there's not exactly anything to inspire absolutely anyone in this final dirge of bills. Labour has, unless it's saving the big hitters for the election, finally ran out of any remaining ideas it had. Cameron's ridiculously hyperbolic claim that this was the "most divisive, short-termist and shamelessly self-serving Queen's speech in living memory" was wrong, not because it's divisive, self-serving or short-termist, but because it serves absolutely no one, certainly not Labour themselves. The Tories will obviously claim that the commitment to end child poverty by 2020 is meant to embarrass them once they take over, but it would embarrass whoever's in power. Can anyone seriously believe that child poverty in its entirety will be ended at any point in time, let alone in 11 short years, without corners being cut or pledges being subtlety altered? Capitalism itself ensures that there will always be winners and losers; the poor, as the Bible earnestly predicted, will always be with us. It is, like Nick Clegg said while criticising the fiscal responsibility bill with its equivalent pledge of halving the deficit within 4 years, like legislating the pledge to get up in the morning, an empty gesture.

Empty gestures were however the order of the day, as Jenni Russell ruthlessly exposed in her critique of the "pupil and parent guarantees" in the education bill. Politics by magic wand is though increasingly popular: it's the exact same nonsense as "sending a message", whether it's through foreign policy or on drugs, somehow imagining that by raising cannabis back up to Class B the kids will realise that this isn't a safe drug after all and so reject it in favour of those other legal highs, the ones which the government isn't also attempting to criminalise. There was yet another in the Equality Bill, with the public sector having a duty to narrow the gap between rich and poor. Will this be done by cutting the ridiculous salaries which some chief executives on councils and other managerial types take home and "redistributing" them to the lower paid in the public sector? I somehow doubt it.

We should perhaps be grateful for small mercies. While there is an umpteenth crime bill, making it even easier for the police to carry stop and searches, which is simply guaranteed to cut crime at a stroke and have no negative consequences whatsoever, there is no new immigration bill. Missing though was the health bill, which was odd enough to prompt Cameron to ask where it was, even while he was lambasting the government for being addicted to "more big government and spending" and also the housing bill, both of which would have been popular with core Labour supporters. Perhaps they're being saved for the manifesto, but it does show that for Cameron's claim that this was all about electioneering (politics, in a Queen's speech, as Martin Kettle notes, how horrible!) Labour still hasn't brought out the really big guns as yet.

It did however make you wonder what the point of the entire exercise was. How many of these bills will actually make it to the statute book is impossible to know. That there are only 33 legislative days in the Lords though between January and when an election is likely to be called suggests that it won't be many, if any. Everyone in essence was going through the motions, gearing up for the real fight, which is still some distance away. Perhaps the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh could have been given the day off and some random individuals pulled off the street, put in fancy dress and lead in to read the interminable goatskin vellum. It would have been a sight more authentic than Cameron and Brown pretending to talk to each other as they walked into the Lords.

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Tuesday, November 17, 2009 

The Sun's non-birthday and Graham Dudman's letter to the PCC.

How can you trust a newspaper which even lies about its age? The Sun itself would have you believe that today is its 40th birthday, as would the adverts which the paper is running, featuring various "celebrities" quoting some of its more famous headlines, although strangely it omits both "GOTCHA!" and "THE TRUTH", just as (in)famous as the others mentioned. The only real significant thing about 40 years ago today is that it was the first time the paper was published as a tabloid - it had been a broadsheet since the 15th of September 1964, after emerging from the ashes of the Daily Herald - and under the ownership of a certain Rupert Murdoch. He also lied from the very start - he told the IPC, whom he bought it from, that it would be a "straightfoward, honest newspaper".

Murdoch's pledge that it would always be a straightforward, honest newspaper, has naturally been carried down over the years from hack to hack, from editor to editor. During Rebekah Wade's reign, Graham Dudman, the paper's managing editor, did almost all the required television and radio interviews and appearances, as Wade herself was too shy and retiring, as well as liable also to put her foot in it. In the same way it seems, rather than the editor herself respond to such nuisances as a letter from the Press Complaints Commission investigating an article potentially in breach of its code, it fell instead to Dudman to do it. At long last, Tim over at Bloggerheads has posted the letter which Dudman sent to the PCC in response to their request for more information over the "TERROR TARGET SUGAR" Glen Jenvey report back in January. It makes for a highly revealing insight into how the tabloids regard both the PCC and those that complain to the organisation:

The complaint suggests that "the intent of the thread was to start a polite letter writing campaign to persuade the influential Jewish people that what Israel is doing in Gaza is wrong". With respect, we do not agree that the intent of the thread was simply to start a "polite letter writing campaign". It is clear from even just a cursory review that the Website carries numerous extreme views and is widely used by Islamic extremists to discuss radical and/or extremist subjects. We have reviewed both the thread which prompted the article and other threads on the Website and we have no doubt that it was reasonable for The Sun to describe the Website as a "fanatics website". For example, the Website contains one message board entitled "Does anyone here recognise Israel's right to exist" which contains threads that include quotes such as "Muslims are a patient people. Jews are a greedy people. Who will win in the end?" (posted by 'AbuMusaab' at 7:56am on 4 January 2009); "you are a fool if you think that the Muslims will let you live in peace" (posted by 'SunniHammer' at 8:39am on 4 January 2009); and "you won't find any peace until all of you thieves were kicked out from the Palestine inshallah" (posted by 'Ammarcool' at 9:56am on 4 January 2009). These are just three examples.

In light of this, in our view, to regard Islamic extremists as being in the business of sending "polite letters" is naive and extreme. This is based on the expert opinion of Glen Jenvey, an expert in radical Islam. In any event, as a matter of common knowledge, we are unaware of a single incident of Islamic extremists writing polite letters. It is quite obviously a euphemism which almost does not require expert opinion to establish.

Rather then than even allow a modicum of respect for the complainer, Dudman sets out from the very beginning to smear, just indeed as Jenvey himself did. Just as you could cherry-pick from the MySun forums what could be regarded as "extreme" views, the Sun finds a few predictably hot-headed opinions, as was the mood back in January, and presents this as evidence that the site was and is an extremist hotbed. Such extremists couldn't possibly then conceive of such a polite and dignified way of expressing their opinion by sending "polite letters"; it simply has to be a euphemism. And what's more, our expert, Glen Jenvey, says so.

Dudman then goes on to contradict himself:

The matters raised in the article are plainly matters of public interest. Exposing, even at the earliest of stages, a proposed conspiracy to cause harm to prominent British Jews is a matter that The Sun is and should be free to report. It is not the case that public interest is and can only be served by reporting such matters to the police.

Err, except the Sun is only claiming that a list was to be drawn up, or so Dudman claims. Even at earliest stages? This drawing up, as noted previously, was hardly moving fast and "Abuislam", aka Jenvey, had to keep bumping the thread to get any sort of story which he could sell on.

Central to the complaint is the suggestion that Glen Jenvey, the terrorism expert quoted by The Sun in the article is connected to (or in fact may possibly be) a freelance journalist called 'Richard Tims'. Additionally the complaint suggests that it was 'Richard Tims' who posted the thread on the Website using the avatar 'Abuislam' which is referred to in the article. We have spoken to Mr Jenvey regarding the complaint, particularly in relation to the allegation that he is in some way connected to 'Richard Tims'. Mr Jenvey has categorically denied that he is, or that he uses the name, 'Richard Tims' or, indeed, that he ever met anyone by that name. Mr Jenvey also denies that he ever posted any threads on the Website.

Well, to quote Mandy Rice-Davis, seeing as we're going back 40 years plus today, he would say that, wouldn't he? Since then Jenvey has of course admitted that he was Abuislam, and as a result the Sun, in its half-hearted apology, put all the blame on him. That this was a complete failure to abide by the most basic practices of journalism, that you check and check again, and that you don't rely on the word of just one person unless you absolutely have to is neither here nor there for this straightfoward, honest newspaper.

We should add that Mr Jenvey is an extremely well respected expert on terrorism who has contributed to various radio and television programmes in this country. In this respect, we make the following points:

Since the letter was written Jenvey has been completely discredited. It's true that Jenvey didn't just dupe the Sun, but also the likes of the BBC repeatedly, and that reflects badly on all involved. That doesn't however excuse the Sun from relying on others rather conducting its own investigation into Jenvey's credentials.

5. To confirm, Mr Jenvey was not paid for his contribution to the article.

As Tim points out, this is a nifty piece of sleight of hand by Dudman. Jenvey almost certainly was paid by the Sun, but indirectly, through the South West News Service news agency which supplied the paper with the story to begin with.

The complainant would also be trying to discredit Mr Jenvey (and by implication the article published in The Sun on 7 January) without any foundation. In this respect, the complaint includes a link to a website ( which contains a number of extremely serious allegations against Mr Jenvey. As well as the allegation that Mr Jenvey, 'Richard Tims' and 'Abuislam' are all one and the same, which I deal with above, the website also makes a number of personal attacks on Mr Jenvey. Those attacks include allegations, amongst many others, regarding Mr Jenvey's sexuality as well as claims that he is a paedophile (eg "or is it that he likes young muslin boys around?"). Mr Jenvey categorically denies that he is a paedophile. In this respect, we understand that Mr Jenvey has been in a stable relationship for the past 16 years. The website also contains a purported interview with an individual claiming to be Mr Jenvey's daughter. This interview is manifestly false. Mr Jenvey does not have a daughter.

It's best here to quote Tim again:

Unlike other 'leading' bloggers, I take responsibility for the comments that appear on my website, but it cannot be stressed enough that the 'daughter' content did not originate on my site, and was instead repeated under comments as part of a background information dump by a well-meaning comment contributor. It was irrelevant to the body of the post, and was publicly dismissed as irrelevant the time. In this letter, Dudman only makes passing mention of the body of the post (i.e. the part containing key evidence showing their expert to be a fraud) and instead focuses on the comments underneath, greatly misrepresenting their content and context in many ways, not the least of which being:

- The 'paedophile' text (as with the other text about Jenvey's daughter) was mirrored information from another website posted to my website as a comment, and allowed as background only. It did not originate from me, nor was it highlighted, encouraged or expanded upon in any way. The Sun imply otherwise. Further, the text The Sun claim was published by me 'to discredit Glen Jenvey' does not accuse Glen Jenvey of being a paedophile, as a wider quote from that passage reveals ("'is bin laden a gay? or is it that he just likes young muslin boys around? is jihad a form of child sex?"). The comment is about Osama Bin Laden, and was originally posted to under the name 'saddam01', which according to is yet another alias of... Glen Jenvey! Yes, the 'paedophile' text wasn't *about* Glen Jenvey, and it was most likely written *by* Glen Jenvey!

(As many of you are aware, Glen Jenvey later went on to falsely accuse me of being a paedophile. Repeatedly. On hundreds of websites. What role this letter/accusation played in that decision and if Jenvey was confused enough to believe that I had done anything like that to him is unknown at this time.)

It has to be said that both myself and Tim deeply regret and apologise for linking to, providing space for and discussing the supposed interview with Jenvey's "daughter". In mitigation, as soon as we became aware that the "interview" was probably not genuine, we put up disclaimers, and when it became apparent that it was false, I removed the information completely from my post without any prompting. Are we perhaps ourselves then hypocrites for so quickly latching onto that information? More than possibly. Is it something we've learned from and will not be repeating? Most certainly. The same can hardly be said for the Sun on that score. At least though we didn't claim in correspondence to the press regulator that our source had been smeared as a paedophile by the complainant when the source himself then went on to, err, smear the person who exposed him as a fraud in exactly the same terms.

It is our view, from what I set out above, that the complainant has not been full and frank with the PCC, both as to the nature of the information discussed on the Website and the implication that Mr Jenvey was in some way responsible for posting one of the threads referred to in the article. This is a further matter which should be taken into consideration.

If it hadn't been for Jenvey finally admitting on the Donal MacIntyre show that he had been Abuislam and the entire report was a fabrication, then Dudman's attempts at smearing might well have succeeded. As we've seen over the last week, with the PCC "investigation" into the Guardian's allegations about phone hacking at the News of the World, the PCC is the kind of organisation that is only willing to take even the slightest action when it catches newspapers breaking the code the equivalent of red-handed. Even then the Sun only ran an apology on its 12th page, when the initial report had been a front page splash, and in effect took no responsibility, instead heaping it all on Jenvey's shoulders. Alan Rusbridger's resignation from the PCC's code committee, almost certainly a reaction to the whitewash it produced over the NotW phone hacking, where it effectively condemned the Guardian more than it did the NotW, might yet trigger some soul-searching at a regulator which has never been weaker than it is now. That is though just how those who fund it and sit on its boards like it; it will take a scandal even bigger than the Jenvey one or even the furore over Jan Moir's homophobia to persuade the industry that its regulator needs some teeth.

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Monday, November 16, 2009 

Scum-watch: Getting it completely wrong on Labour's record on crime and prisons.

Having attacked Gordon Brown personally last week and came off the worst for it, this week the Sun seems to have decided to stand on surer ground, by attacking Labour on crime. Problem is, it can't seem to do so without telling some whopping great lies, as today's leader shows:

Prison policy, in particular, has become a joke.

Early on, Labour decided not to build more jails and instead focus on alternatives to prison and early release for prisoners.

In 1997 the average prison population was 61,470 (page 4). The population last Friday was 84,593 (DOC), a rise in just 12 years of more than 20,300. I can't seem to find any concrete figures on just what the total number of places available in 1997 was, but ministers themselves boast that they have created over 20,000 additional places, and the Prison Reform Trust agrees, noting in this year's Bromley report that the number of places has increased by 33% since the party came to power (page 5). By any yardstick, the creation of over 20,000 places is a massive increase. Labour's real success is that despite increasing the population so massively, there are still not enough places to go round, hence the early release scheme which the Sun and the Conservatives so decry without providing anything approaching an alternative solution. As statements of fact go, the Sun's claim that "Labour decided not to build more jails" could not be more wrong.

This coincided with ill-judged policies on late drinking, softening drug laws and over-reliance on cautions, all of which increased crime.

In actual fact, and predictably, levels of alcohol related crime have changed little. There is no evidence whatsoever that softening the drug laws, of which only the law on cannabis was briefly softened, increased crime, unless you count the massive rise in cautions given out for possessionwasting the time of everyone involved. Lastly, there is little evidence also that giving out more cautions increases the likelihood of re-offending. You can in fact probably narrow it down to two groups: those who would have re-offended regardless of the punishment they received and those for whom it was an aberration. The problem with cautions is the effect it has on the victims of the crime, and the implications for the justice in general, not that they increase crime.

which may previously have resulted in someone going to court for having a tiny amount of resin in their position,

The result? More criminals ought to be behind bars. But there is nowhere to send them.

Instead, jails and secure hospitals operate more as short-stay hotels.

Today The Sun reports on a murderer who hacked a mother and son to death but is on day release after just six years.

Not an exactly representative example: Gregory Davis pleaded guilty to manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility, hence he is not a "murderer", as the leader claims. Psychiatrists now think that he has recovered to an extent to which he is not a danger to the public, on which I'm more inclined to trust them then I am the Sun.

Weekends out of jail for lags have trebled in the past two years.

Labour deny this has anything to do with easing prison pressure. But the facts speak for themselves.

Last year, 11,599 prisoners were let out for four-day breaks.

In 2006 the figure was only 3,813.

Is the Sun on to something here? Not to judge by the figures themselves: the latest show that there is room for around 900 more prisoners currently; back in August 2006 (DOC), to pick one set of figures at random, there were only 700 spaces available. Indeed, in October 2006, Operation Safeguard was in effect, with prisoners being held in police cells. Surely if weekends out were meant to ease prison pressure there would have been more let out back in 2006 when it was much more desperately needed. Is it not more likely that these breaks, meant to help those shortly to be released to readjust to life outside as well as for general rehabilitation are being used more widely because of the relative success of doing so?

Labour's soft approach even makes life cosy inside:

Convicts at Chelmsford jail enjoyed a talent show.

And what a talent show it was! Costing a whole £1,500, it seems the kind of thing that might actually help prisoners once they are allowed back out into the real world, but the Sun seems to think that prisoners should spend their time either locked up in their "cushy" cells or sewing mail bags.

Convicted criminals should pay the price - not just as punishment but for the protection of the public. That is the contract on law and order between voters and Parliament.

Having broken that deal, Labour have no right to criticise the Conservatives when they vow to do better.

By the same token, the Sun has no right to criticise Labour when it can't even get the very basic facts about the party's record on crime right.

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Saturday, November 14, 2009 

Weekend links.

As you probably don't know, a glorious publication which has brightened all our lives reached a significant milestone recently. Enough about Viz though, the Sun has also been celebrating its 40th birthday. In recognition of 40 years of tits, lies and propaganda Tim has put together a rather special video which is well worth your perusal. Claude also has a post with a short history of the paper's brilliance.

Elsewhere things are rather slow. Craig Murray has the latest in an increasingly bitter war of words with the Quilliam Foundation's lawyers, Paul Linford, reflecting on the Sun's misreading of the public mood over Jacqui Janes argues that sympathy is not the same as trust, Unity informs us about "EmoTrance", not the fusion of emo and trance music, in case you were wondering, voltairespriest has a fascinating post on how Nick Griffin seems to think that the English Defence League is part of a "Zionist false flag" operation, Hopi Sen attacks the idiocy which is the view that the poor are betrayed by voting Labour, and finally Third Estate has an informative piece on the ratcheting up of tension between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

In the papers, or at least on their sites, Christina Patterson seems to be invoking the Sex Pistols song Holidays in the Sun over the plea from the Iraqi tourism minister for visitors to return, Geoffrey Wheatcroft writes an accurate in places and not quite there in others piece on the tragedy of Gordon Brown, while Peter Oborne thinks Brown has perversely just had his best week in a year. Marina Hyde notes that the partnership between Murdoch and the current incumbent or soon to be can only end in tears, Howard Jacobson says the best way to deal with Nick Griffin is to put him on Strictly Come Dancing, Andrew Grice suggests Whitehall is already gearing up for a change of government, and Esther Addley considers whether the X Factor is killing pop. Not just pop, but "mainstream" music as a whole, I'd suggest.

As for worst tabloid article, we have a choice of two. First up is the Daily Mail with a fairly standard scare piece over the explicitness of music lyrics. This from a newspaper which has directly below the article a quite lovely report on Alexandra Burke's "never-ending legs", and how she certainly knows how to "please a crowd". Tabloid Watch points out that a search for cleavage on the Mail's site returns 987 results, even more than the equivalent on the Sun's. The winner though in my eyes is a staggering hatchet job on Professor David Nutt in the Sun, which rather than attacking the man himself instead goes for his children via their social networking profiles. They reproduce a photo of his son Steve with a roll-up in his mouth, claiming it shows him "apparently smoking dope". I'm no expert, but it looks suspiciously to me like an ordinary roll-up rather than one containing a substance more exotic than tobacco. Not content with that, his daughter is the next target, her crime having uploaded a photograph with herself with friends carrying a bottle of spirits. Lastly, eldest son Johnny is raked over the coals for having photographs on his profile of himself naked in the snow in Sweden. No hypocrisy there whatsoever, then.

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Friday, November 13, 2009 

The real story from Glasgow North East.

The story of the Glasgow North East by-election is categorically not that Labour won an overwhelming victory, especially considering the constituency is effectively a rotten borough for the party. A loss certainly would have been, though (a story, that is). It also isn't that the Conservatives received only 1,075 votes, or indeed that the British National Party was only 62 votes behind, although it might be if Chris Dillow's observation that heroin is probably more popular than the Tories was more widely disseminated. Nor is it that unsurprisingly, being a "celebrity", isn't an automatic vote winner: John Smeaton got 258 ballots while Mikey Hughes, a former Big Brother contestant, got 54. It also isn't, although it's again interesting, that the Socialist Labour vote completely collapsed on the 2005 result, when they got an astounding 4,036 votes, down this time to an appalling 47, most likely because Labour was on the ballot when it wasn't previously as a result of Michael Martin standing as the "Speaker".

The real story ought to be the catastrophically low turnout, a derisory 32.9% (Wikipedia has it as 33.2%). This can't be blamed on the lack of choice: all the main parties stood, as well as three various socialist sects, the BNP, three independents, and the Greens. While turnouts at by-elections are usually lower than at a general election, you might have thought it would have been the opposite in this instance, as there was far more choice on the ballot than previously due to the main opposition parties traditionally not standing against the Speaker, with their voters coming out this time when they might not have bothered previously. Instead it dropped from 45.8% in 2005, which was already well below the average of 61%. Did the expenses scandal have any impact? Unlikely. Instead it seems that the people of Glasgow North East, who were already poor before the recession, have lost all faith in politicians of every colour and creed. The only reassuring thing is that the British National Party didn't do better than their 1,013 votes. The current consensus is that the turnout is likely to go up next year when there is an actual, genuine alternative to the current government: Glasgow North East might yet prove to be the rule, not the exception.

Update: Slightly edited after some on Liberal Conspiracy responded with "Eh?" to the first paragraph, which is what happens when I'm trying to write something reasonably snappy and quickly to boot.

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Thursday, November 12, 2009 

Craig Murray legally threatened by Quilliam Foundation.

At the beginning of last week I wrote on how Melanie Phillips had responded to an attack on her by Ed Husain, of the Quilliam Foundation, by making the exact arguments that he predicted she would - attacking him as still being an Islamic extremist despite now dedicating himself to helping those who had became radicalised.

Mel at least didn't set m'learned friends after Husain for his piece. That is however exactly what the Quilliam Foundation has done to Craig Murray after he reported, with good faith, that the Foundation, a charity which relies on the government for funding, had not published any accounts as of yet, in this post.

It does though seem that some of those in Quilliam who have past experience with subterfuge have put it to good use. Yesterday Craig received a phone call:

A man telephoned me and said that he had been following my blog for some time and was most impressed by it, and would like to know how to make a donation. I replied truly that I was extremely grateful, but the website really was just me, and therefore I did not request donations, unless for some specific expense like an election campaign.

You may be surprised to hear that people do not generally phone me up out of the blue and offer cash, so I was a bit suspicious. I did go on and suggest that if he wanted to be helpful he could buy my books, but he lost interest in the conversation very quickly in a manner that just seemed wrong compared to his initial eagerness.

Craig continues:

So when I got a letter today from lawyers threatening libel action, I wondered if this was an attempt to get financial information on what funds they might target. So today I phoned him back. He gave his name as Ed, so I asked directly if he was Ed Husain or Ed Jagger of the Quilliam Foundation. At first he replied "I am not Ed Husain". I had to ask again before he admitted he was indeed Ed Jagger of the Quilliam Foundation.

I put it to him that he had lied when he phoned and said he wanted to make a donation. He said that he just wanted to establish my contact details for the lawyer. I said that if he had asked me openly and honestly, I would have told him. He concluded by saying that any further communication should be through our lawyers (which will be tricky as I can't afford one: Unlike Jagger I am not funded by taxpayers' money.)

I don't suppose there is any law against Mr Jagger telephoning and lying to me about wishing to make a donation. Indeed I would write it off as a harmless ruse, and amusing he had been caught. But for an organisation funded by the taxpayer to telephone someone and lie to them is quite a different thing.

Should anyone wish to make that point to Mr Jagger, the number from which he telephoned me was 07780 685592.

Quite charming behaviour, I would say. Also charming is the lawyer's letter, from Clarke Wilmott LLP, which takes Craig's initial post and reads it in the most hyperbolic fashion imaginable. Apparently, it "constitute[s] express, clear and obvious statements to the effect that The Quilliam Foundation has acted illegally, that it is engaged in financial and accounting impropriety and that ... this impropriety is directed particularly to reward the directors of The Quilliam Foundation favourably and disproportionately". A level of disproportionality equivalent to Israel's attack on Gaza, perhaps?

Not that Clarke Wilmott has actually provided any evidence whatsoever that Quilliam has filed its accounts, despite the threatening letter, although as Unity points out in the comments, according to the Companies House website they filed them on the 10th of this month, 6 days after Craig's post. Craig's post was then at the time correct; only now that it is not have they complained about it, and rather than asking for it be clarified, they've sent the lawyers in with ominous demands for recompense.

As Craig suggests, for an organisation ostensibly set-up to defend Western values, the attempt to stifle criticism only after the foundation has actually responded to that criticism is rather at odds with their commitment to free speech. Still, the uses of public money, eh?

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Wednesday, November 11, 2009 

The DNA database fudge.

One of the motifs of the past few months has been that politicians of all colours "just don't get it". Ironically, when it comes to the continuing debacle over the DNA database, you rather imagine that they did get it and now they're utterly bewildered at how things have turned out. Here, after all, is what ought to be a standard tabloid outrage scandal: because of the "unaccountable" European Court of Human Rights, the government is having to change its policy on keeping all the DNA profiles of those arrested but not charged indefinitely, potentially raising the spectre of the guilty getting away with their crimes. The Sun, that flag-bearer of social authoritarianism, did originally raise its voice, but has since barely made a peep about the S and Marper case and its implications.

For a government that has so often treated with contempt the concerns of civil libertarians, with the full connivance of the vast majority of the tabloid press, the Daily Mail only recently deciding that it's time to join the other side, it must be wondering where all those who believe if they've got nothing to hide they've got nothing to fear have disappeared to. As it happens, the majority are still probably on the side of mass DNA retention, just as they were on the side of extending the detention limit for terrorist suspects, even if the numbers fell away once the full implications of 42 or 90 days were properly explained.

It is therefore encouraging, that just this once, it's the other side making all the noise. On the one hand, you do have to recognise that if the government were to implement the the S and Marper ruling to the letter and destroy the DNA profiles of those not charged and found not guilty, on the very first occasion that someone then went onto commit a far graver offence and as a result was not brought to justice immediately, you can bet that those who are currently quiet would be screaming blue murder. A more confident, and indeed, more liberal government, would however make the argument that we cannot create a completely secure society without making the kind of sacrifices that would reduce the amount of freedom which each and every one of us currently enjoys. As it is however, we instead have a government that is terrified both of the power of the press in one of its "fits of morality" and which knows that such woolly-thinking is hardly a vote-winner. Even so, keeping an innocent person's profile for 6 years is completely unjustifiable, and quite clearly breaches the S and Marper ruling. The main hope from ministers has to be that by the time any challenge to it winds its way through the courts again, they'll ever not be in the same job, or they won't even be in government. The Conservatives are promising to emulate the more enlightened Scottish system, but again, whether it will be one of their first priorities is unclear.

The overall result though is classically New Labour. They would like to go further, without being able to, while also privately doubtless wishing they could do the exact opposite. Such are the constrains by which we have been governed, and likely will continue to be under Cameron's "new" Tories.

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Scum-watch: Well meaning, not bloody shameful.

For those who were perhaps expecting the Sun to allude to the heavy criticism their stories involving Jacqui Janes have received, not just in other quarters but on their own comment facilities, I'm afraid you'll be disappointed with today's follow-up. The closest their report comes to acknowledging that maybe Gordon Brown's letter wasn't more evidence of his "underlying disregard for the military" is in this sentence:

Mr Brown's apology ended 48 hours of uproar since The Sun first revealed the mistakes in his well-meaning but badly handwritten note.

Funny, the paper didn't think it was well-meaning yesterday or on Monday. Then it was "bloody shameful".

Mrs Janes incidentally has been persuaded, doubtless by the Sun itself, to make clear that her intentions were the very best:

Jacqui also set the record straight on her contact with The Sun and her recording of the PM's phone call, in which she berated him over troop and helicopter shortages.

Mum-of-six Jacqui, 47, said: "I released the tape because I wanted people to know what he really said to me, not what Downing Street put out.

"I also want to make clear that I didn't take a penny in payment for interviews with The Sun."

Jacqui said she contacted The Sun because the paper backs Britain's Forces, adding: "It had nothing to do with politics."

Except the paper turned it into politics, whether Janes wanted them to or not. On any grounds, that's exploitation of a grieving person.

As for an editorial comment, the only thing which it offers today is a typically lachrymose, jingoistic and unfeeling demand that everyone remembers. Gordon Brown will presumably unfairly cop it again once this whole incident slips down the memory hole.

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Tuesday, November 10, 2009 

Scum-watch: How to lose friends and alienate people.

How do you then follow up one of the most petty, vindictive and downright counter-productive attacks on a politician in recent times? The obvious answer, it seems, is to be both even more cynical and underhand than you've already been: wait for the politician, alerted to your news story, to phone the slighted mother to apologise and then get her to record it so you can reproduce the thing in full on your website.

To be fair when the Sun clearly doesn't deserve it, Mrs Janes' claim that she recorded it on the spur of the moment with a friend's BlackBerry could be true. In any case, whether they were personally involved in the recording of the conversation between Gordon Brown and Mrs Janes or not, they must have realised that this was taking the story to a whole other level. It's one thing after all to complain about what you consider to be an insensitive and insulting letter, or indeed to do the equivalent of a Sharron Storer, confronting a politician on the spur of the moment in front of watching television cameras; it's quite another to effectively ambush someone who is quite clearly mortified at the damage he thinks he has done and then to use it against him as part of a campaign.

The transcript of the conversation between Brown and Janes does not make for easy reading. Janes is convinced that her son's life could have been saved if there were more helicopters available, a view she is fully entitled to, but not one that she can actually prove, or be proved without a full coroner's report, which will probably take years considering the current backlog (indeed, we now know that a helicopter was sent after the explosion which ultimately killed Janes). Brown goes out of his way to not argue with her without agreeing with her, and as before, is clearly desperately wishing he wasn't having the conversation. This isn't because he can't face up to the consequences of what he is asking the army to do for him, which clearly affects him hugely, but almost certainly because he knows there is almost nothing he can say that will placate a grieving mother, nor can he think of it while actually in conversation with her. Time, while a healer, also allows for far greater consideration and with it, eloquence, which the prime minister displayed at today's press conference. If he had said during the phone call what he did today to the media, it might just have satisfied Mrs Janes that little bit more. As it was, Brown was right to disagree when she claimed there were 25 spelling mistakes (there were 4 or 5 at most) and that he had spelt both her name and her son's name wrong (unclear on the family name, while he did get his name right, if scruffily). Probably the most instructive lines of all though come towards the end:

GB: Whatever information you've been given, that is not correct. But I don't want to interact in a political debate about this...

JJ: No that's fine. Nor do I.

Whether Mrs Janes did or not at the time, or still does, as a result of handing the Sun the conversation this has become a political debate. As the Heresiarch correctly points out, this isn't about the letter. This is about the fact she has lost her son, with the letter simply being used as a vehicle for her anguish. It just so happens that her belief that the military are being underfunded and betrayed by the politicians is exactly the same one which the Sun holds, or at least pretends to hold. Grief is the motivator, and while money might well have changed hands between the paper and the Mrs Janes, the real issue here is both the exploitation of Mrs Janes for political and personal gain and the low and dirty methods used. Did the prime minister after all imagine that what he must have thought was a confidential and private phone call would be recorded and reproduced in a newspaper, to be used, as yesterday's Sun editorial put it, as evidence of his "underlying disregard for the military"?

If that was the Sun's intention, then it seems to have backfired spectacularly. Yesterday the consensus, across the political spectrum, seemed to be that this was an unpleasant non-story, with some feeling sympathy for Brown. Today that appears to have turned to overwhelming distaste at the reproduction of the conversation, and with even more defending the prime minister even while disliking the man and his policies. Most dangerously for the Sun itself, its own readers at least on the website also seem to be in the majority taking Brown's side, with some even taking pot shots at Mrs Janes herself. This is especially intriguing, as this is hardly the first time the Sun has used grieving parents to demand political change, without them being attacked in the fashion to which Mrs Janes has been by some. Partially this is because of the view of some that those who choose to join the army know the risks of the "job", but it's also because while Sun readers often favour the draconian policies on crime which the paper espouses, they are far more sceptical on Afghanistan, despite the paper's complete support for the war.

Furthermore, the paper's own journalists seem unsure of the attack on Brown which they've launched. The Graun claims that Tom Newton Dunn, the new political editor, having previously been the paper's defence correspondent, wanted the story to put more emphasis on Brown's eyesight with its impact on his handwriting, despite him supposedly being the man who wrote the original report. Even more significant is that Murdoch himself, while obviously supporting the change of support from Labour to the Conservatives, apparently "regrets" it. If he objects to the highly personal turn the criticism has taken, new editor Dominic Mohan will swiftly know about it. It's also curious that despite the high profile the story has taken, that there was no editorial comment today on the interview.

The biggest indictment of the Sun's story though is not just that it has undermined the claim that Brown has "underlying disregard" for the military, that it has so misread the mood of its own readers that they have came out in sympathy with him, but that it has actually deflected the debate away from government strategy on Afghanistan onto the personal and, ultimately, the newspaper itself. This is, as Labour themselves have argued, been a campaign to damage the prime minister, and an unfair one at that. David Cameron might well be concerned with just what kind of partner he has jumped into bed with.

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Monday, November 09, 2009 

It's called the Scum for a reason.

On Saturday, the Sun ran a leader attacking Gordon Brown for having the temerity to answer a question about The X Factor given to him during an interview on a Manchester radio station. According to a newspaper which that day led on, err, The X Factor, he should be dedicating his "every waking moment" to the fate of our forces out in Afghanistan. He ought to be, according to the leader writer, be "leading the way". This is without mentioning the completely fatuous argument the paper made by comparing the number of hits on Google when searching for "Gordon Brown and Afghanistan" and "Gordon Brown and Michael Jackson". Not that it'll be doing so again, considering Mr Murdoch is pondering "banning" Google.

Two days later, and the paper attacks Gordon Brown for err, dedicating his "every waking moment" to the fate of our forces out in Afghanistan. Not only did Brown "fail to bow" at the Cenotaph, quite clearly a concious snub to Our Boys, but he also sent a "bloody shameful" letter to Jacqui Janes, mother of Jamie Janes, killed on October the 5th in Afghanistan. Brown's crime was to write it in his almost illegible handwriting, as well as possibly mistaking their surname for James instead of Janes (it isn't clear whether Brown has written James instead of Janes; his n and m look very similar) and to make a number of spelling mistakes. According to Mrs Janes, who has naturally given the Sun an exclusive video interview, she was so angered by the letter she threw it across the room and burst into tears:

"I re-read it later. He said, 'I know words can offer little comfort'. When the words are written in such a hurry the letter is littered with more than 20 mistakes, they offer NO comfort.

"It was an insult to Jamie and all the good men and women who have died out there. How low a priority was my son that he could send me that disgraceful, hastily-scrawled insult of a letter?

"He finished by asking if there was any way he could help.

"One thing he can do is never, ever, send a letter out like that to another dead soldier's family. Type it or get someone to check it. And get the name right."

Of course, once she had finished chucking it across the room, she got on the phone to the Sun. In fact, there's nothing to suggest that the letter was hastily-scrawled: Brown's handwriting is simply that bad. As someone whose handwriting is also close to being illegible unless I write out every letter individually, which makes you look even more like a child, and who also has a surname which is very easily misspelled, which while annoying is hardly the end of the world, it's difficult not to have some sympathy for Brown. Clearly he wants the letter to have the personal touch, something that a word processed expression of condolences wouldn't have, and just what do you say to the parent of someone who's just lost their son in a war you sent him to fight without slipping into the obvious, the clichéd and the torturous? Yes, he should have perhaps been more careful with the spelling and especially with the names, but has it really come to the point where we think that personal letters written with the very best of intentions are acceptable material to attack the prime minister with?

The Sun it seems, having up until very recently having supported the prime minister, even if it didn't blow smoke up his backside like it did his predecessor, has decided to attack Brown over the very trivial things it was alarmed he was involving himself in. Not being able to disagree with him over policy on Afghanistan, on which he only fails to be as gung-ho as they are, they've decided that such perceived slights are "more evidence of Mr Brown's underlying disregard for the military". After all, nothing quite says you disregard the military like not acting like a hunchback in front of the Cenotaph, or err, writing a personal letter to the bereaved. This also ties in with, according to the Sun, his "half-hearted attitude to the war in Afghanistan". This half-hearted attitude involves his increasing the number of troops by 500, and yet another speech last Friday on just why we're in the country. His speech did have a contradiction at its heart, but the reason for this is that Brown is trying to please everyone: he has no intention of getting us out, but knows as public opinion turns against the war and against the corrupt Karzai government, he has to put down some "conditions" for their continued presence, even if they're false ones. If Brown is being half-hearted, then so too is President Obama, still undecided on whether to increase the US troop numbers by 40,000, as requested by the army. Seeing as we rely on the Americans, we're waiting on them as much as everyone else is.

Even by the Sun's complete lack of any standards, this must rank as one of the lowest attacks to be launched on a politician in recent times. Not only is it without any foundation whatsoever, but the newspaper seems to think it's perfectly acceptable to use an individual, in this instance a grieving mother, to attack someone for their own ends, someone whom as pointed out above up until a month ago they were giving their nominal support to. As Mr Eugenides also suggests, it says more about that person that her first instinct on getting the letter was to phone the Sun to complain about the handwriting than it does about the person who took the time to write it. Clearly, we've now gone beyond the point where Brown will be attacked by the Sun on the virtue of his actual policies, it's now "bucket of shit" time, where anything and everything that he does which they decide is wrong will be pointed out and complained about. Going by the Sun's past record when it comes to smearing Labour politicians, the election campaign coming up could be quite something.

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Saturday, November 07, 2009 

Weekend links.

No real theme this weekend. Condolences though to the family of Chris Harman, who died suddenly last night. Also worth mourning the demise of Sadie's Tavern (formerly the British Bullshit Foundation), all the more so for the reasoning which I sadly agree with. Anyway, Paul Linford thinks Christopher Kelly's review of parliamentary expenses has gone too far, Neil Robertson defends Obama against the New Statesman, Tom Freeman notes the Times' sudden discovery that using the word autism in a disparaging way can be considered offensive, the Heresiarch sees the contradiction in Gordon Brown's case for staying in Afghanistan, while BenSix has discovered that Liam Fox is next week inviting that well-known humanitarian Henry Kissinger to this country to give him the "Margaret Thatcher Medal of Freedom". That'll be our next overlords welcoming with open arms a war criminal. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Finally, Claude lambasts the inexorable rise of poppy fascism.

In the papers, or at least their sites, Matthew Parris and Paul Flynn argue for the end of the Afghan war, while John Hutton makes the case for the other side. Janice Turner thinks we should turn our ire on the things that matter, Howard Jacobson fights the good fight against trash culture, Andrew Grice notes David Cameron abandoning his European promises, Marina Hyde anticipates the Simon Mann saga, Seumas Milne meets Noam Chomksy while article of the weekend is the Graun's own attack on the rise of poppy fascism. About fucking time.

As for worst tabloid article of the weekend, we have the usual contender from Amanda Platell, once again dealt with by Tabloid Watch, an abortion from the usually decent Peter Oborne on how Gordon Brown is running "a scorched earth campaign", but the winner is this utter pile of cock masquerading as a Sun leader comment:

WHEN the Prime Minister told a radio audience: "I don't think they're very good", we could be forgiven for thinking he was talking about his Cabinet.

But no. He was trying to show how with-it he is by passing a verdict on the X Factor twins John and Edward.

You might reckon he would have better things to talk about with his young listeners in Manchester. Like the war in Afghanistan.

Because he obviously didn't talk about that. He didn't have to work with the questions he was given. The Sun attacking a politician for having his mind on trivia is pretty much about as hypocritical as you can get. That would be bad enough if the paper then didn't use this as an argument:

Yet Google "Gordon Brown and Michael Jackson" and you get 11,400,000 results.

Google "Gordon Brown and Afghanistan" and you get less than a third of that - 3,100,000.

This couldn't possibly be because the internet is more interested in Michael Jackson and the doubtless millions of news stories about him than good old Gordie and Afghanistan, could it? No, it must be Gordon Brown's fault. Jesus wept.

It is the fate of our heroes fighting a cruel and bitter war in that faraway land that should be occupying his every waking moment right now.

Especially as we prepare to honour our forces in tomorrow's Remembrance Sunday ceremonies.

In a year when the death toll of our soldiers will be the highest since the Falklands War we will wear our poppies with extra pride.

As Prime Minister, Gordon Brown should be leading the way.

Quite right. Tomorrow he should be at the cenotaph in sackcloth and ashes, with the biggest, reddest poppy anyone has ever seen. That'll make all the difference.

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Friday, November 06, 2009 

Junk science kills.

Of all the corruption scandals to come out of Iraq, almost certainly the most despicable is the news that the Iraqi security forces have paid up to $60,000 a piece for "explosive detectors" which are in fact nothing more than dowsing rods. Supplied by ATSC Exports Ltd and also sold to the police in Thailand, the results have been predictable:

Unity has the story in full.

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Thursday, November 05, 2009 

The unreality of Afghanistan.

There's a distinct air of unreality which must around hang around newspaper offices and also the realms of Whitehall. The reaction to the killing of 5 British soldiers by an Afghan police officer, who depending on who you believe, either had a grudge against an officer called Manam, who was also injured and may well have been the original target, or a long-term Taliban agent waiting for his opportunity, was one of a still aloof nation that regards it as unbelievable that it can be so apparently easy to kill Our Boys, while also perplexed at how "Terry Taliban" isn't prepared to play by good old fashioned Queensbury rules. It wasn't so long ago that IEDs were being described as "new" and "asymmetrical" tactics, as if guerilla warfare was some new concept, and that it was perfectly beastly that the other side weren't allowing themselves to be shot out in the open like the clearly inferior fighters that they are. How dare they make the greatest, best trained army the world has ever seen look bad?

The imperial hangover which this country suffers from is reasonable enough, but it still makes you wonder what planet some people are living on when the Mail incredulously asks on its front page "[W]hat kind of war is this?" A fairly standard war, really, considering you're battling against non-state backed fighters. Anyone would think that infiltrating organisations, spying on others and even occasionally carrying out the type of operation as took place on Tuesday was a unique and untested innovation. We seem to forget that our enemy probably feels much the same when a unmanned, unsighted drone suddenly unleashes a Hellfire missile and turns what was the centre of a village into a scene of utter carnage. We like to imagine that we're the ones with the moral authority, that we're not the ones that use children as either suicide bombers or distractions, even while we without a second thought call in airstrikes that are not exactly discriminate in those that they kill and maim. In terms of similar attacks, this one wasn't even exactly highly sophisticated; it was an opportunity which was taken when it arrived. Compared to say, the suicide bomb attack inside the Iraqi parliament, or the attack carried out by Ansar al-Sunnah in which they got inside an American military base in Mosul, killing 14 soldiers, it's not even in the same league.

The problem the attack poses though is obvious: when our policy is to train the Afghan army and police and then get out, or at least that's what it's meant to be, that this officer was apparently not a new recruit and had been in the police for three years raises the nightmare that there may be many more "cells" where we have in fact trained those will then turn on us when the chance arises. This isn't exactly new either though: the Iraqi police and army were and probably still are riddled with those with their own distinct agendas, and that was in a country where there are only two major sects in conflict with each other. In Afghanistan there are at least five different ethnic groups, speaking at least six languages, and where tribal rivalry and personal fiefdoms are far, far older than the modern state itself. Like in Iraq, where a job in the police or the reconstituted army were around the only ones going, that there is a such a low threshold for potential recruits to pass to become officers creates problems in itself. The Afghan army and police are notorious for their unreliability, and I don't think there's been a film yet shot of either Americans or British troops working with them where spliffs haven't been passed around at some point by their companions. The Taliban of course, despite their supposed purity, are probably much the same, especially those who are being paid rather than the true believers, but that doesn't make the situation any better.

Again, none of this would much matter if we had anything approaching another plan to put into place should everything go wrong as it seemingly is, but we don't. The closest thing either us or the Americans have to an advanced military strategy is to flood ever higher numbers of troops into the country. This has been vastly encouraged by the supposed success of the "surge" in Iraq, but that coincided with two much more important occurrences: firstly the setting up of the Awakening councils, when the insurgent groups outside of the hardline Salafists of the Islamic State of Iraq and Ansar al-Islam turned on their former allies, and secondly the ceasefires declared by the Mahdi army, which vastly decreased the attacks by the Shia around Baghdad, as well as the sectarian killings. Despite attempts to encourage something similar to the former in Afghanistan, there's little sign of it happening. The increase in troops is also meant to go hand in hand with the strategy of "taking and holding", having previously only taken land held by the Taliban to then withdraw and let them take it again. This is all well and good, but it still leaves us at some point having to give that which we've taken back, with no guarantee whatsoever that the Taliban won't then come straight back. Training up the Afghan army and police is meant to stop just that, but there's still no real belief that they'll be able to hold their own when the time comes.

With there being no apparent alternative, you have to wonder if Kim Howells' intervention yesterday was meant to further cement the current policy as the only one in town. Only someone in the chair of the completely toothless Intelligence and Security Committee could think that the best way to spend the money saved by getting out of Afghanistan is to raise up the drawbridge here and in Howells' words introduce "more intrusive surveillance in certain communities", which has to be one of the most cowardly ways of calling for more spying on Muslims imaginable. Howells seems to be basing this on the false premise that getting out of Afghanistan would make the security situation here deteriorate, when if anything the opposite would be the case, as well as helping to ameloriate the attitudes which some within this country hold. Just to further flesh out his attitude that this whole mess isn't our fault but rather the Afghans' own, just like some blamed the Iraqis for not embracing the democracy we so kindly imposed down the barrel of a gun, he continues: "I assumed, wrongly, that a desire among ordinary Afghans for peace would prevail over the prospect of continued war and the spectre of being ruled by a tyrannical theocracy in one of the world's poorest and most backward countries." He seems to think that what they're currently experiencing is somehow better. Indeed, some would doubtless suggest, despite the Taliban's brutality, that at least during their short rule there was something approaching security, hardly the case now and hardly the case during the previous years.

We shouldn't pretend that getting out of Afghanistan immediately would either be easy or not have major, long lasting effects on our relationships both with the United States and NATO. It would however be better to consider it as a genuine option and to plan for it than to continue with the lunacy of our current position, knowing that it is untenable as a going concern. Our politicians however, with the exception of the Liberal Democrats, who finally seem to be coming round to the fact that this war is just as unwinnable and disastrous on all fronts as our adventure in Iraq was, seem to be far more prepared to continue lying to the public about al-Qaida and safe havens than admit that this simply cannot go on.

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Wednesday, November 04, 2009 

Verbal pogroms, or the continuing jihad of Melanie Phillips part two.

Yesterday I hypothesised that Melanie Phillips has become so entrenched in her "Israel First" ideology that she could no longer separate her own persona from that nation as a whole (which was cross-posted over on Lib Con). Attacking her views was, as she wrote, a "verbal pogrom", the equivalent of actually perpetuating violence against her.

Thanks then to Flying Rodent, who brings my attention to this piece from yesterday, making clear I couldn't have been more wrong. Writing this time on the timidity of Britain's leading Jews, who are standing by while "Israel [is thrown] even more brazenly under the bus", Mel uses the exact same term for the second time in as many days:

However, I fear that his hope that British Jews get rid of these leaders and replace them by individuals who are prepared to mount a proper defence of Israel in the face of this verbal pogrom is tragically unrealisable.

Attacking Phillips herself then is a verbal pogrom, and being critical of Israel is also a verbal pogrom. I really wish I was making this up.

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Tuesday, November 03, 2009 

The continuing jihad of Melanie Phillips.

At the weekend Ed Husain wrote an eminently reasonable, measured and very restrained in the circumstances attack on the more out there views of Melanie Phillips. Husain clearly feels that Phillips is a potential ally in the battle against radical Islam, although quite why judging by her record it's difficult to tell. His main concern now seems to be that rather than being an ally, she's becoming a prominent obstacle to any kind of progress, especially in the way she seems determined to see conspiracies where there are none, in this instance with Inayat Bunglawala and his determined opposition to the remnants of al-Muhajiroun. Again, this isn't anything new with Phillips: a few years back she was convinced that Iraq's weapons of mass destruction had been buried beneath the Euphrates and that Saddam's crack team of WMD experts had upped sticks and moved to Syria. Nonetheless, it was also going to be interesting to see how Phillips responded.

According to Phillips, the reason why Husain "feels so viciously" towards her is because of her support for Israel, on which Husain is "unbalanced and obsessional". This is a quite extraordinary example of projection, even for Phillips. Husain's views on Israel could hardly be much more orthodox with the average view in this country: he felt that the attack on Gaza in December and January was "disproportionate". In a press release for the Quilliam Foundation, he called for:

"The UK Government cannot seek to win hearts and minds across Muslim communities while failing to stop Israel from murdering Palestinians en masse. Gordon Brown and David Miliband have reached out to Damascus and Darfur in recent weeks in an attempt to bring peace and stand for fairness. That is commendable. And in that spirit, where is the outright condemnation of Israeli atrocities and pressure on Israel to stop its inhumane operations?

Perceived double standards from our Government and the current green light (from Washington and London) to Israel's killing machine will strengthen Al Qaeda's metanarrative and radicalize yet another generation of young Muslims.

Isolating and angering millions of Muslims by sitting on the fence will not aid the PREVENT agenda, or the moderate majority of Muslims. The FCO and Downing Street has a duty to stand, condemn, and call for immediate cessation of Israel's military operations, and end the siege".

Undoubtedly those who are as vociferous in their support for Israel as Phillips will disagree with much of that, yet to second guess someone who has dedicated himself to countering radicalisation, having himself been a major player at one time in the likes of Hizb-ut-Tahrir, doesn't seem to be the best way to deal with jihadist propaganda. The problem is, as Husain himself notes, that Phillips espouses an "Israel First" mindset, where Israel can do absolutely no wrong, regardless of who leads it or regardless of what it does. If Israel tomorrow decided to nuke Iran without any warning, Phillips would almost certainly defend it on the basis that the country had long been planning a "second genocide", another of her own obsessions, and not even pretend to cry crocodile tears for the innocent among the Iranians who hadn't been involved in such plotting.

Whether it's down to a neurosis or otherwise, what's becoming ever more apparent is that Phillips is now associating Israel and the history of the Jewish people with her own persona. If you attack her, you now seem to be attacking Israel itself. In fact, you might even, without having any way of knowing it, be advocating the very destruction of Melanie Phillips. In her latest post, headlined "Two-Minute Hate at the Guardian" (Goldstein, after all, was almost certainly modelled on Trotsky, who was Jewish, which is unlikely to be a coincidence) she even calls the attacks on her a "verbal pogrom", which, as Rhetorically Speaking points out, seems to suggest that she regards criticism of her a form of violence.

Even more hilarious, or worrying, depending on your view, was part of her initial response to Husain. Husain alleged that in Phillips' world view, if you don't support Israel in the same way which she does, then you're with the Islamists who want to see it destroyed. Phillips says this is absurd. Then, err, she says this:

A number of anti-jihadis told me from the start that my support for Ed Husain was misplaced because he had never properly renounced Islamist extremism. To begin with, I defended him as a naif. Even when he came out with boilerplate bigotry against Israel, I put it down to the fact that he had been brought up in that kind of milieu. He was on a steep learning curve, I said. Everyone can change for the better.

It was I who was naive.

Husain then still must be an Islamic extremist because um, he doesn't support Israel in the way which Phillips demands. This is a rather spectacular way to prove Husain's point, and one which Phillips must be immensely proud of. Not that she likely has any idea whatsoever of quite how she's just hoisted herself by her own petard.

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Monday, November 02, 2009 

Afghanistan and neo-colonialism.

While I was away I read Black Mischief by Evelyn Waugh - hardly the most politically correct of novels today, and it is indeed horrendously racist in places - a satire based around a fictional African country where an Oxford-educated native comes to power and attempts to impose his own idea of "progress" upon a country which is first indifferent then turns resistant when his megalomania extends to introducing a new currency, resulting in a coup launched by the disaffected English general who first brought him to power and the French ambassador. While not an exact fit by any means, the parallels with Afghanistan are there, and beginning to become ever more evident.

There certainly is in any event a satire to be written about the complete gibbering lunacy of our Afghanistan policy, a policy which has never been more exposed that with the reappointment of Hamid Karzai as president after Abdullah Abdullah pulled out of a second round of voting. To get just a flavour of the insanity of our current policy, you have to know that despite this being the absolute nightmare scenario, it is at the same time the one which was most favoured given the circumstances. For months the Americans and our own representatives have been pulling their hair out at the intransigence of Karzai - the corruption surrounding him, the patronage he gives to warlords, the obstinacy of the man who is meant to be president of his own country but who has essentially forgotten that he owes everything to us - while knowing full well that he was going to be re-elected not thanks to but along with massive vote fraud. The hope was despite the ballot box stuffing, Karzai would turn out to have got above the 50% needed to avoid a second round, and while the biased in Karzai's favour Independent Election Commission tried its best, it still had to throw out enough votes to take Karzai below the threshold. A second round of voting suited absolutely no one - Karzai was still going to win, especially as Abdullah and the UN's demands to stem the voting fraud by reducing the number of polling stations were thrown out, and yet more lives would be lost as the Taliban would have again stepped up its attacks for a day. Attempts at getting Karzai and Abdullah to lead a coalition were half-hearted at best, and so we have the utterly half-hearted endorsement of a second Karzai electoral term.

If the Bush adminstration was still in power, hardly anyone would be batting an eyelid. After all, an administration which first came to power not on the popular vote but on the verdict of the supreme court, despite the neo-conservative fervour for the installing democracy elsewhere, wouldn't have had much opposition to a similar installation of another president. Now though we have Obama and Clinton, who if anything have even less influence over Karzai and less idea about what the policy actually is than the last lot. Those who have tried to do things differently have now been humiliated by the very man they secretly wanted rid of, and have been left not only looking stupid but have also undermined support back at home by doing so. Lives were lost in keeping those polling stations which were either unused or where the boxes were stuffed open, and for what? So that the same man could be put back in on the back of a vote now regarded as largely illegitimate?

Afghanistan has been described optimistically by some as "the good war". In terms of lives lost, it almost certainly does so far pale into insignificance with the number killed in Iraq. There is though surely now a case to be made for a full reassessment of just what has took place as a result of the initial overthrow of the Taliban. Justified mainly now on the grounds of the threat which was posed by al-Qaida to the West, a threat which has at every single turn been vastly and outrageously exaggerated, we have through our bull in a china shop approach succeeded in forcing al-Qaida and the Taliban into an uneasy but fruitful alliance, have destabilised Pakistan to such an extent that it now faces daily suicide attacks in its major cities, and attempted to impose a democracy on quite possibly the most socially conservative country in the entire region, with predictable results. The more you look at it, the more ridiculous it becomes: Afghanistan was a safe haven, a base for al-Qaida, but it was one in which they were relatively constrained and mainly useful only for training; the actual planning and training for 9/11 itself took place in Germany and America, not Afghanistan. What we have done is involve ourselves in a civil war which has been going on for decades, and which will most likely continue for decades: it would have done had we not involved ourselves and it will do if we leave tomorrow. The justification for staying is no longer any such high motives as protecting a democracy (it isn't one), keeping the Taliban out (they're already there) or protecting women's rights (always a fantasy to begin with and even more so since the passing of the law involving Shia Muslims), but someone protecting ourselves from attack. It doesn't matter that in the same breath ministers admit that the plots which are directed against us are overwhelmingly planned over in Pakistan (where they fled from us in the first place) and that they involve British citizens rather than foreigners, still they parrot the same lies which even they they must know to be completely false.

The biggest success of the war in Afghanistan is that very few outside of the circle of rabid Trots or the likes of Simon Jenkins actually describe this war for what it really is: neo-colonialism orchestrated by those who are supposed to be horrified and opposed to such control over other nations. This is colonialism where the rulers back in London and Washington can't actually influence anything, and where they can't admit that outside of the colonial capital and indeed increasingly within it, they have absolutely no control whatsoever. This is colonialism where the armies, under the auspices of NATO, are left to provide security to a nation which has never been secured in its existence. Their real role is to act as target practice for when the Taliban feel like launching an ambush and as moving, armoured targets for the increasingly sophisticated IED manufacturers. The entire war is based on the false premise that you can stop an idea from flourishing by dropping over a hundred thousand troops in the place where it briefly had a safe haven. Ideas cannot be beaten militarily; they have to been fought intellectually, and in this case by those inside Islam, not outside it. Our approach has resulted in extremist, takfirist, Salafist Islam being far more disseminated than it would have been otherwise, gaining footholds in Somalia, Yemen, Iraq and western Pakistan where it may have existed before but without gaining momentum and allegiance. All of these places are and now could be as dangerous as Afghanistan was between roughly 1998 and 2001, but the ideology also doesn't need a safe haven in any event: all it needs is those dedicated enough and knowledgeable enough.

The argument against getting out of Afghanistan now would be that we would abandoning the country to the Taliban when they Afghan people themselves still overwhelmingly reject their return to power. Others would argue that such a move could be just the catalyst needed for those in pursuit of a global caliphate as their ultimate goal to establish the country as the first outpost, the attempt to make it Iraq having failed. The reality however is that the Taliban themselves never successfully conquered Afghanistan, just as no outsiders ever have. They would not immediately overrun the Karzai government, nor would we let them. The best alternative is to draw back now from frontline duties and to concentrate on building up the Afghan army and police as a matter of the utmost imperative. Just as we gave up our old colonies, we have to give up our new ones as well.

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