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.

Labels: , ,

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

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.

Labels: , , , ,

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

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.

Labels: , , , , , , ,

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

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:

Labels: , , ,

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

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.

Labels: , , , , , , ,

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

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.

Labels: , , , ,

AddThis Social Bookmark Button


  • This is septicisle



Powered by Blogger
and Blogger Templates