Saturday, February 27, 2010 

Chalk one up for anti-football.

Around the only times I post here about football is when there's a scandal or something horrific happens, such as when Eduardo had his leg broken after a terrible tackle by Martin Taylor. Tonight Aaron Ramsey has suffered a similar injury, although the hope is that it's less serious than Edu's.

While from the videos which have been posted so far it appears to have been a dreadful accident rather than anything malicious from Ryan Shawcross, who it must be said was devastated and left the field in tears, after clearly apologising to Ramsey, it's no coincidence that this is now the third time in 5 years that an Arsenal player has suffered a potentially career-threatening injury as a result of the ethos of certain teams when they play against us. Whether it's been against Sunderland, Birmingham, Stoke or Blackburn, teams that struggle to compete when played on our own terms have instead turned to overwhelming physicality, setting out from the first minute to kick us off the ball rather than play fairly. Football is a contact sport, where injuries are always going to occur, but this is hardly the first time that the likes of Stoke, dependent when playing against us on the long-throw of Rory Delap, have resorted to hacking rather than passing, as exemplified by the match back in November 2008, when both Walcott and Adebayor were injured after being lunged at by, err, Delap and Shawcross, the latter's challenge being especially dangerous.

Today's match was no exception, and typified by the piss-poor refereeing of Peter Walton. He inexplicably turned down what looked like a certain penalty when two Stoke players combined to bring down Ramsey, and until sending off Shawcross had booked only Song for what looked like the softest yellow card in history after a tussle with Delap. After giving the penalty which earned us the lead he then also managed to miss the most blatant shoving over of Bendtner just outside the six-year-box, something which used to be known as a "professional foul" and also deserved at least a yellow card.

This time at least there can be no complaints about how Arsene Wenger has responded, at least not from those with the slightest sympathy for Ramsey. He may be myopic when it suits him, and he can at times be just as bitter and a sore loser as the very worst, but he's dead right when he says it's not a coincidence and it isn't acceptable. We don't want special treatment, but we do want those teams that decide to play anti-football to be dealt with appropriately by the referee; the idea that to beat Arsenal you have to kick them is what leads to this happening and being justified by commentators as well as players and managers. You have to wonder, as I pointed out before, whether it has to happen to someone like Rooney, Gerrard or Lampard before something is done, and just what the reaction would be then, however accidental the tackle might have been. Stoke themselves do this time deserve credit for their response, and Pulis gave a praiseworthy interview interested only in the welfare of Ramsey, yet it's no consolation. The only thing we have to take from it is that unlike when Eduardo suffered his injury, we collected ourselves and went on to win, showing just how much stronger we are mentally than two years ago, with Fabregas and Campbell excelling themselves. We can still win the league, and we now have to win for it Ramsey.

Labels: , , , ,

Share |

Friday, February 26, 2010 

Paragraph 168 and all that.

It's been a week of non-denial denials, as well as some especially flagrant lies in the shape of Gordon Brown's curious failure to remember unleashing "the forces of hell" against his chancellor after he made the mistake of being too honest with an interviewer. Kindly, they've saved the best until last, with the trifecta of prime minister, home secretary and foreign secretary all uniting in defending those poor, unable to answer back protectors of the realm in the security services:

"We totally reject any suggestion that the security services have a systemic problem in respecting human rights. We wholly reject too that they have any interest in suppressing or withholding information from ministers or the courts."

"It is the nature of the work of the intelligence services that they cannot defend themselves against many of the allegations that have been made. But I can - and I have every confidence that their work does not undermine the principles and values that are the best guarantee of our future security."

It's instructive that all three of these statements, in response to the full disclosure of paragraph 168 of the "seven paragraphs" ruling, only talk in the present tense. Is anyone actually suggesting that the security services now have a systemic problem in respecting human rights? It's been clear that both MI5 and 6 have somewhat changed their ways as a result of the allegations made against them involving both complicity in torture and rendition, helped along by the fact that to a certain extent the CIA has also moderated its behaviour. Alan Johnson's second sentence is worded equally carefully - while Lord Neuberger suggests that David Miliband was misled by MI5 when he issued the public interest immunity certificates put before the court, the main allegation made by Neuberger is that MI5 lied to the Intelligence and Security Committee when they told it in March 2005 that "they operated a culture that respected human rights and that coercive interrogation techniques were alien to the Services' general ethics, methodology and training" while they also "denied that [they] knew of any ill-treatment of detainees interviewed by them whilst detained by or on behalf of the [US] Government". The ISC contains no serving ministers, and no one has claimed that the security services have suppressed or withheld evidence from the courts.

Likewise, as asinine as Brown's claim is that the security services cannot defend themselves, somewhat contradicted by Jonathan Evans' moon-lighting as a Telegraph columnist, why shouldn't he have "every confidence" that their work doesn't undermine "the principles and values" that keep us safe? After all, the new guidelines under which MI5 and 6 are meant to work, which explicitly forbid any complicity in mistreatment have been in place now for some time, and there's been no indication as yet that they aren't being followed. We aren't talking about the here and now however, we're talking about what the security services did, which Brown, Miliband and Johnson strangely don't seem to want to discuss. It would be nice, for instance, for Miliband to comment on whether he was misled by MI5 as Neuberger suggests he was, something which he inexplicably declined to mention in an otherwise lengthy tête-a-tête with a BBC journalist.

The other defence of the security services, and with it the ISC, is that they weren't lying in 2005 when they told the committee the lines stated above as they didn't then apparently know about all the additional documents and information which were only found at a later date once the courts were involved. This is errant nonsense of the most obfuscatory kind. Two years later the ISC was told by Eliza Manningham-Buller (or Bullshitter, as only I call her), then head of MI5, that it was "regrettable that assurances regarding proper treatment of detainees were not sought from the Americans" in Binyam Mohamed's case, despite knowing full well, as the seven paragraphs show, that he was already being tortured before "Witness B" went to interview him. These documents were withheld for the very reason that they directly contradicted what MI5 had told and continued to tell the committee, right up until it was no longer legally possible to pretend otherwise. Miliband, Brown and Johnson are defending the indefensible, and they know it. The only question remains is whether ministers themselves were kept in the dark by the security services in a similar fashion until plausible deniability was no longer an option. The only way we'll find that out is through a judicial inquiry, something that both ministers and the security services will resist with every fibre of their being.

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,

Share |

Thursday, February 25, 2010 


Am I the only one to be struck by the resemblance that the Mad Hatter in the new Alice in Wonderland and Madonna, another wacky funster, share?


Mad Hatter.

Labels: , ,

Share |

Wednesday, February 24, 2010 

Schadenfreude at the press standards, privacy and libel report.

As a nation, we tend to enjoy schadenfreude, even if we're not familiar with the word itself: recall how the 1997 election was perhaps defined by what became known as the Portillo moment, when one of the most egregious Tories of the age lost his seat in parliament. Maybe the humiliation of that night was what caused Portillo to mellow, to the ultimate benefit of himself as well as the country at large. Jeffrey Archer's downfall, jailed for perjury was another such occasion.

I hope you'll excuse me then feeling such an emotion at the publishing last night of the culture, media and sport committee's report into press standards, privacy and libel, which includes a hefty section on the News of the World phone-hacking scandal. It's not often that parliamentary committees make such damning attacks on the media at large as this one does, nor ones which are so ferociously accurate. Anyone who had looked at the evidence given to the committee by Tom Crone, Colin Myler, Stuart Kuttner and Andy Coulson would have noted just how pathetically inadequate it was: here were 4 men who were either editing the News of the World, combing the copy to ensure that it wasn't either libellous or defamatory, or working on the executive side, and you could have been forgiven for imagining that they had never even entered the paper's offices, such was their apparent ignorance of what had been going on. The committee, to its credit, cut through the swathes of denials and described their evidence as filled with "deliberate obfuscation", while they also seemed to be suffering from "collective amnesia". In a court room they would have been derided by a judge as unreliable witnesses. We should remember after all that these are some of the people who pass judgement on other individuals for their transgressions and who have the power to ruin lives if they choose to do so. It really was about time that they were cut down to size in such a way.

More amusing still, if it wasn't so tragic, has been the response of News International, which has been to respond to the committee's accusations of "deliberate obfuscation" with err, "deliberate obfuscation", as discussed in more detail in this Sun Lies post. It's incredibly lame to continue to claim, as NI has, that both the committee and the Guardian have produced no new evidence of phone-hacking at the paper, which the report itself deals with in detail in paragraphs 492 and 493. Just as low has been to attack the committee system as a whole because of the tenacity with which the MPs have carried out their task, claiming that the entire thing was a stitch-up between the Guardian and the Labour MPs on the committee, out to get Andy Coulson as he's now the chief Tory spin doctor. NI has pounced on the one thing on which the committee didn't unanimously agree upon, which was to mention Coulson's bullying of Matt Driscoll, which the Tory MPs felt wasn't relevant and so divided on political lines on. If the committee was out to get Coulson, then they did a pretty poor job, deciding that he in fact didn't know about the phone hacking, something which is about as ridiculous as it gets. If he didn't know, then he wasn't the editor in any real sense, as someone at the paper was authorising the huge amounts which Glenn Mulcaire was being paid for his work. The only reasonable explanation for why he wouldn't have known was that he deliberately ensured that he didn't, in a ultimately futile attempt to be able to evade responsibility if the hacking was uncovered. The report nonetheless says that he was right to resign.

Most fascinating of all is what this tells you about possible collusion between the Metropolitan police and the Screws. Why was the eventual prosecution limited, despite the evidence of phone-hacking on such an industrial scale to just the interception of voicemail messages of members of the royal family? Was it because they were the easiest to prove, and Mulcaire going too far in targeting the very height of the British establishment, something that simply couldn't be countenanced, or that the Met didn't want to put its "special relationship" with the Murdoch press in peril? Clearly from the Guardian's subsequent freedom of information request we know that the investigations into the phone-hacking went far beyond just that which eventually reached court, and that some of the phone companies involved informed those whose voicemail was believed to have been intercepted. Why then was the Met so swift to dismiss the need for any further investigation or even a proper review of its original work when we now subsequently know that John Yates didn't provide the full picture either in his evidence to the committee or in his initial communications after the Guardian's allegations?

Likewise, the non-investigation by the Press Complaints Commission was as clear an example as you could possibly get of a regulator which was materially misled by the NotW covering itself through embarrassment rather than going after a media organisation which was breaking the law on such a grand scale. The only thing that can be said in its defence is that it's true that much of the media in this country, especially the tabloid side, was operating in a similar fashion at the time, whether through phone-hacking which the NotW excelled at or through the use of private detectives who blagged information from government databases, as exemplified by the Stephen Whittamore prosecution. It has been perhaps unfair to target just the NotW in such a way when the Daily Mail were the leaders in the use of blagged information, but they were smart enough to get someone outside the actual organisation to do their dirty work for them, while the NotW personally employed Mulcaire to perform the "dark arts".

This entire episode has shown up the media in this country for what it actually is, as if it really needed stating: loathsome hypocrites who preach from their pulpits even as they themselves break the law if necessary just to get information which can't even begin to be described as in the public interest, or indeed of any interest whatsoever. There's a huge difference between the methods say which the Guardian used to bring down Jonathan Aitken, which involved diving through dustbins and the interception of voicemail messages of the likes of Gordon Taylor and Max Clifford, either for unutterably lame "kiss and tells" or for personal advantage in the ever ongoing war of spin and counter-spin.

If there's one thing to be taken from this, it's that the committee itself believes that the media has since cleaned up its act, such was the shock of Goodman and Mulcaire being made scapegoats for an industry which was out of control. I am far more sceptical: newspapers, especially the tabloids, in such a cut-throat game and one which is only getting more desperate as circulations fall are only likely to resort to ever more underhand methods to make up the difference. The "dark arts" are now been even more covered up and forced deeper underground, and as the likes of News International remain unaccountable, as epitomised by their response to the committee's findings, nothing is likely to change, as enjoyable as it is to watch them squirm and react in such a way.


The report as a whole is excellent, and it's well worth reflecting on its conclusions and recommendations, but that's for another day. What I will say is that the recommendations made for beefing up the Press Complaints Commission, enabling it to fine newspapers and even potentially stop them publishing for a day for the most serious breaches of the code, while welcome and probably the only way to make self-regulation work, are doomed to failure. The PCC itself rejects any such plans, and in any case, the media groups which fund it would never allow such penalties, which actually might make them think twice before repeating the type of coverage which occurred during the Madeleine McCann hysteria, from being implementable. I've been quoted as being involved in the petition calling for changes to the PCC's code, but while I was on the email discussion list, I made no contribution to the discussion and have not signed anything. This is for the simple reason that it's simply impossible to reform a cartel, which is what the PCC unquestionably is. The only way to deal with cartels is to abolish them. Self-regulation has had more than enough chances to work, and it has failed every single successive test.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , ,

Share |

Tuesday, February 23, 2010 

Swearing and the news.

Is it really a news story when a news reader quotes a swear word? More ridiculous still is that Jeremy Paxman, after quoting Rawnsley quoting Brown screaming "How could you fucking do this to me" at Bob Shrum, his speech-writer, was instructed by his editor to apologise, although he rather admirably did it in around as half-hearted a fashion as possible. Anyone watching Newsnight was already likely to have read the coverage, and if anyone watching television at 10:30 is genuinely offended by someone quoting someone else saying fuck, they ought to turn the fucking thing off. Far more offensive in any case last night was John Prescott's faux apoplexy at Andrew Rawnsley daring to publish a book.

Quoting a politician or hanger-on swearing is probably the only thing the BBC doesn't have an active policy on. I can remember during the Hutton inquiry the Today programme quoting the section from Alastair Campbell's diary where he had written that the latest "evidence" they had uncovered would "fuck Gilligan", without it being censored or without any apology later being issued. Likewise, James Naughtie quoted President Bush's recorded conversation with Tony Blair back at Margaret Beckett during the Israel-Lebanon war, which contained Bush's observation that "Syria has got to stop all this shit", again without condemnation or apology. While constant, unimaginative swearing can be immature and suggests a limited vocabulary, quoting others swearing so that the record isn't sullied is also surely part of a recognition that your audience isn't a bunch of 10-year-olds who giggle at naughty words. It's instructive then that the Telegraph doesn't allow swearing in any form in its pages, the stern edict of style editor Simon Heffer, while the Guardian is supposedly the most expletive-filled newspaper on the planet. The paper's style guide justification is difficult to argue with:

"We are more liberal than any other newspapers, using language that our competitors would not. But even some readers who agree with Lenny Bruce that 'take away the right to say fuck and you take away the right to say fuck the government' might feel that we sometimes use such words unnecessarily. "

The editor's guidelines are as follows:

"First, remember the reader, and respect demands that we should not casually use words that are likely to offend.

"Second, use such words only when absolutely necessary to the facts of a piece, or to portray a character in an article; there is almost never a case in which we need to use a swearword outside direct quotes.

"Third, the stronger the swearword, the harder we ought to think about using it.

"Finally, never use asterisks, which are just a cop-out."

One suspects why the "story", if we must call it that, has been in the top ten stories of the day on the BBC's news site is that there's still a certain thrill in hearing certain people swear, especially those who we only usually see and hear under such formal constraints. It's a bit like a teacher swearing when you're a kid; likely you and your friends could have embarrassed sailors, such was your command of explicit language, yet there was still something forbidden and startling about an adult in such a position of power and who was meant to be whiter than white turning the air blue. Paxman though you expect isn't someone to whom swearing is foreign, while you get the feeling that some would pay to hear say, Fiona Bruce, swear. Not me though. Not at all.

Labels: , , ,

Share |


Never open a book with weather.

Letter in the Graun on one of those wonderful articles featuring writers telling everyone else how to write:

• "Never open a book with weather." advises Elmore Leonard (Put one word after another, Review, 20 February). There goes Bleak House.

Lewis Elton

As does Nineteen Eighty-Four, and doubtless dozens of other classic works of fiction. Especially daft considering what a famous opening Nineteen Eighty-Four has, and how I doubt anyone would change a single word in it:

IT WAS a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. Winston Smith, his chin nuzzled into his breast in an effort to escape the vile wind, slipped quickly through the glass doors of Victory Mansions, though not quickly enough to prevent a swirl of gritty dust from entering along with him.

To be fair to the Graun, it's only Leonard whose "advice" is so dogmatic. AL Kennedy's is the complete opposite, and makes me wish she was teaching creative writing.

Labels: , , ,

Share |

Monday, February 22, 2010 

The end of the bullying party?

Probably the most fascinating side detail, at least to me, about the extracts from Andrew Rawnsley's book serialised in yesterday's Observer, is that this is the work of a man who can be described as more than sympathetic towards the Labour party, including Gordon Brown himself. It is testament to his journalistic nous that he doesn't appeared to have let this colour his chronicling of Labour in power since 2001 in the slightest; his portrait of Gordon Brown and his faintly terrifying moments of fury, both towards himself and to his staff is absolutely unflinching in its lucidity, and brilliantly written. Without wanting to come over all order of the brown nose, I'd suggest, based just on this one extract, that it's likely to be the best insider's account of government in years and one as a devoted politics nerd that I can't wait to read in full.

All that is rather by the by though, considering the damage that Rawnsley's account of Brown's behaviour is likely to do, even if few voters actually read it first-hand. Much as we already knew that Brown had a volcanic temper, and was prone to bouts of introspection and that awful word, dithering, reading just how he's reacted to certain news and treated those around him in such detail feels almost voyeuristic, such is the quality of the sources and the fly-on-the-wall nature of the extracts. The one allegation which led the news bulletins and supposed "spoilers" is the one which hasn't actually appeared, at least so far: Rawnsley doesn't make any claim that Brown has actually hit someone, as the prime minister himself denied on Channel 4 News on Saturday, although that might be one of the stories which Rawnsley was unable to satisfy himself was wholly accurate, as he details in his "justification" of releasing the account now. If anything though, some of the stuff which does feature is just as damaging: there have been claims in the past that he threw mobile phones and destroyed photocopiers, but turfing a secretary who wasn't typing fast enough out of her chair and doing it himself most certainly rivals any of that. Most, if not all prime ministers have at some stage become paranoid and hunkered down, convinced that there are individuals out to get them, but few are likely to have grabbed the lapels of the person informing them of the latest bad news and scream it in their faces.

Amid all this, there was also a prime minister portrayed who still appears admirable: a passionate, deeply committed individual who has despite the depths to which he has sunk during the last three years still gotten crucial decisions right, such as the bailing out of the banks, the bringing back of Peter Mandelson despite years of something close to all out war between the two, and who is by no means an irredeemable, let alone terrible holder of the ultimate office of state. This makes the response from Downing Street to the revelations all the more risible, if not actively counter-productive: to deny almost everything and also to rubbish Rawnsley himself. These are, after all, most likely the very same people that contributed to the book; Harriet Harman certainly has, and she was one of the very first to come out and ridicule Rawnsley and question his sources. Brown's peremptory efforts at admitting that he gets angry and shouts and Mandelson's attempt at putting Brown's occasional fury into context were what the whole operation should have been based upon: instead the briefers and spinners have been out in force, and Sir Gus O'Donnell has completely denied, although after a few abortive attempts, that he talked to Brown about his behaviour to the junior staff.

A far better response would have to been to admit that while under extreme pressure, Brown had sometimes acted in a fashion that was both beneath him and that he deeply regretted, and that he had since modified his behaviour. That might, just might, have helped somewhat to close it down. David Cameron would have likely made hay with it on Wednesday, and compared Brown's character with his own, despite his acting as the bag man of an apparently far worse bully while working in PR for Carlton, but the story would have soon lost its lustre. Instead we've had Labour plumbing its usual depths, with claims of Tory plotting, as if Rawnsley was somehow part of a conspiracy dedicated to further damaging Gordon Brown, as well as hysterical claims from the likes of John Prescott that it's all lies. Admittedly, the ludicrous and unfortunately named Christine Pratt, by claiming that staff in Number 10 had phoned her "National Bullying Helpline" may have helped to somewhat substantiate the former claim, but it seems far more likely that it's Pratt trying and succeeding admirably in advertising her business, even if it is ostensibly a charity, rather than some sort of Tory black operation. In any event, her breaching of the standard definition of client confidentiality and the resignation of all three of the charity's patrons as a result has undermined her intervention immensely.

Equally daft were the calls from both Cameron and Nick Clegg for some sort of investigation into Brown's behaviour, as if one was either needed or would ever be authorised. You sometimes get the impression that politicians will call for an inquiry into everything other than the few incidents which genuinely require one, and in doing so reduce the chances of one being set-up in the future. Cameron is again equally hypocritical on this front in any event: his own spin doctor Andy Coulson has not just been accused of bullying, but found by an employment tribunal to have been primarily responsible for the treatment meted out to Matt Driscoll, who was sacked while off work with stress-related depression, a depression brought on by the behaviour of Coulson.

Key as always will be whether this will actually change the way someone will vote, and it naturally comes just as the polls are narrowing, although again that's usual this close to an election. Much as you'd like to think that this won't change a thing, it probably will influence the votes of a few, just as Brown's saccharine, false "opening up" to Piers Morgan likely did. These are after all the two sides there are to Brown: the deeply private, introverted man who blames himself more than anyone else for the problems which befall him, even as he attacks others, and the warm, approachable and pleasant person which some have seen him and which he tries to increasingly bring out for the cameras. It was right for Rawnsley to confirm the rumours, but equally allowances should be made for Brown's behaviour, unacceptable as it was. The thing the Tories should remember before focusing on this is that the last time Brown's character was brought into question, during the Jacqui Janes debacle, it exploded in the Sun's face. History could well repeat itself.

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Share |

Saturday, February 20, 2010 

A future fair for all?

As slogans go, "a future fair for all" isn't disastrous. It's certainly not "You can only be sure with the Conservatives", or as dire and positively stupid as "forward not back". It also attempts to distil into 5 words what a vote for Labour is meant to deliver, which is more than can be said for the Tories' equivalents at the moment, which revolve around "change" without articulating what that actual change will be, whether it's "year for change", "now for change" or "vote for change", all of which they've used recently. When Obama invoked change, he at least added it was to be change you could believe in, and he embodied that as a whole; Cameron, on the other hand, only offers change in the sense that the government itself will be different, not that his election will change anything itself.

A future fair for all is still something of a mouthful though. Why not "a fair future for all", which at least to my ear doesn't sound quite as clunking? It also invites criticism over Labour's current record for fairness, which even considering Brown's limited, hidden attempts at redistribution has only ensured that the gap between rich and poor hasn't grown even larger. One other positive is that it doesn't instantly attract mockery, which as the Tories and Cameron have discovered since the release of their first campaign poster, is far worse than just being criticised. It shows that Labour hasn't given up just yet, and even if they don't deserve to be returned to power, the only other likely alternative remains far worse.

Labels: , , , ,

Share |

Friday, February 19, 2010 

Please make it stop.



Labels: , ,

Share |

Thursday, February 18, 2010 

A questionable, but ultimately correct decision.

There was almost never any danger of the Press Complaints Commission deciding that Jan Moir's piece of heartless, discriminatory grief intrusion breached their code of practice. The very first thing that mitigated against it was the fact it was a straight-up comment piece, rather than an actual piece of news which took it upon itself to offer an opinion as well, and the PCC has in the past been loth to decide what columnists can and cannot offer as their view, regardless of whether or not their article is factually inaccurate.

There have been a few recent cases where there has been a retraction, such as when Amanda Platell claimed that the tragic death of Rachel Ward was a direct result of equality and blamed her friends for not going home with her, resulting in the Mail "noting" the father of one of her friends' concerns and removing her article from the website, but with no actual apology forthcoming. There was also the attempts by one persistent individual who complained to the PCC about the ludicrous claim by Carole Malone in a column in the News of the World that immigrants were being given free cars, which Tabloid Watch documented, finally resulting in the paper printing this incredibly terse statement:

"On July 26, our columnist Carole Malone claimed illegal immigrants receive "free cars". We now accept illegal immigrants do not receive such a benefit and apologise for the error".

Something that was definitely worth all the effort involved. Both of these though are examples where either what the columnist had wrote was patently false, or where the newspaper decided not to put up any fight, with the complaint coming quite some time after the original article was published. The Mail knew what a potential precedent the Moir article could set if it decided not to defend itself; as the PCC's lengthy adjudication sets out, it offers no apology whatsoever and defends every aspect of Moir's comment, as was its right. It is also though another indication of just how far removed the world of tabloid newspapers is from that on which they comment: they seem to inhabit a completely different moral sphere when it's them expressing their opinions on someone; when either rivals do it, in the case of "Sachsgate", or when a footballer supposedly brings his entire country into disrepute, then it's perfectly legitimate for them to act as judge, jury and executioner.

If any ruling had set this complaint up to fail, then it was a recent one involving that distinguished inventor of political blogging, Iain Dale, which the adjudication indeed references. In this instance, Dale was for once on the side of the angels, complaining about an almost overt piece of homophobia which appeared in the Ephraim Hardcastle diary column in, naturally, the Mail:

The piece reported that the complainant was on the shortlist of people applying to be the Conservative candidate for the parliamentary constituency of Bracknell. It described him as ‘overtly gay', and referred to an interview he had given to Pink News in which he encouraged its readers to attend the open primary, saying it was ‘charming how homosexuals rally like-minded chaps to their cause'.

Dale felt, quite reasonably, that this breached clause 12 on discrimination. The PCC however has other ideas:

For instance, the newspaper had used no pejorative synonym for the word ‘homosexual' to describe the complainant: this would certainly have been a breach of the Code. Neither had the complainant been outed as gay by the column - which would also have been a breach - as he had frequently and publicly referred to his sexual orientation. Rather, the complaint seemed to be that describing him as ‘overtly gay' at the same time as saying it was ‘charming how homosexuals rally like-minded chaps to their cause' was spiteful to the point of homophobia. This was a more subtle and subjective charge against the newspaper.

In other words, in order to breach clause 12, you essentially have to call a gay person either a faggot, a poof, although considering how relatively soft that term is that might not even not, or a bent cocksucker. Jan Moir was far more subtle, if just as knuckle-headed: Gately was the "Posh Spice of Boyzone", he "couldn't carry a tune in a Louis Vuittion trunk" and "the ooze of a very different and more dangerous lifestyle has seeped out for all to see". In line with the PCC's view of how Dale was described, it found:

it was not possible to identify any direct uses of pejorative or prejudicial language in the article. The columnist had not used pejorative synonyms for the word "homosexual" at any point.

What then about accuracy, also complained about by Gately's partner? How could Moir possibly have not breached Clause 1 with her claims that:

The sugar coating on this fatality is so saccharine-thick that it obscures whatever bitter truth lies beneath. Healthy and fit 33-year-old men do not just climb into their pyjamas and go to sleep on the sofa, never to wake up again.

Whatever the cause of death is, it is not, by any yardstick, a natural one. Let us be absolutely clear about this. All that has been established so far is that Stephen Gately was not murdered.

Despite these assertions, Moir had also covered herself. She also wrote that:

All the official reports point to a natural death, with no suspicious circumstances.

A post-mortem revealed Stephen died from acute pulmonary oedema, a build-up of fluid on his lungs.

Despite therefore successfully contradicting herself, considering the post-mortem found that it was indeed a natural death, this was all she needed to do. Hence the commission found:

In the Commission's view, it was important to recognise that the article had clearly referred to the official verdict on the cause of death that was available at the time ("all the official reports point to a natural death, with no suspicious circumstances"; "acute pulmonary oedema, a build-up of fluid on his lungs"). It was against this context that the columnist had stated her views on the matter. In her opinion, the events leading up to the death were "sleazy" and showed a glimpse of "a very different and more dangerous lifestyle"; it was also her view that Mr Gately's death was "lonely". The complainant may have disagreed with these claims, and many readers had objected to them, but the Commission felt that these individual judgments did not constitute assertions of fact.

Andrew Cowles also complained under clause 5, intrusion into grief, which although the most obvious and most despicable thing about Moir's piece, was also the least likely point on which the PCC was likely to intervene. It would be ridiculous for a regulator to decide when and when not someone can say something that might cause suffering or pain; instead it ought to be apparent to both the writer and the newspaper itself that doing so when grief is likely to be so raw is far more likely to be intrusive and felt to be unacceptable. To do so the day before the funeral, and less than a week after the death was crude, cruel, unkind and downright ignorant, just as much as Moir's actual article was. For the Mail to so often invoke morality when it clearly cannot even understand such basic human emotions or simple matters of taste, or rather does but nonetheless feels no wider responsibility when it attacks individuals in such a way just shows up its values for what they truly are.

Moir's article, as alluded to above, was actually far cleverer than the views it expressed. It hedged its bets; it covered itself; and most of all, it hid behind innuendo rather than outright accusation. All of this ensured that it didn't breach the PCC's code, whilst also distinguishing it as far worse than just the ravings of a bar-room bigot. It's not a completely apposite comparison, but it reminds me somewhat of Enoch Powell's infamous "rivers of blood" speech; not in the actual outrageousness of the views expressed, in which Powell's were far worse, but because of how Powell hid behind the supposed opinions of others throughout. Moir didn't hide behind the ignorance of others, she instead attempted to hide her own by not being prepared to wrote what she really thought. These are the actions of a coward, not a writer. The tagline on her column, which asks whether you're thinking what she's thinking, is doubly apt, appealing to the lowest common denominator whilst also portraying herself as an ordinary reader holding forth over the topics of the day, something which couldn't be further from the truth.

Despite all this however, I actually agree with the overall conclusion of the PCC. It should not be the job of a regulator to decide what a commentator can and cannot say, as long they do not directly breach the rules on accuracy, as Moir just managed not to. As the Graun's C.P. Scott had it, comment is free, but facts are sacred, or as the PCC say:

Individuals have the right to express honestly-held opinions, and newspapers have the right to publish them, provided the terms of the Code are not otherwise breached.

Moir instead, and the Mail as well, can be held to account in other ways. It's fair to say that Moir is never going to live her column down, and her reputation has been permanently sullied. The Mail has been shown up for the hypocrisy sheet which it is, governed only by what it think will sell rather than what its thundering leader columns and editor actually say it stands for. Finally, despite the sneering of the Mail, it's also shown that Twitter and Facebook can as much be forces for good as they can for bad and general frivolity. Never before have newspapers been held up to such scrutiny as by actual individuals who do have a voice, even if only to those who tend to share their opinions, and this is only going to increase. Will the paper think before publishing something like Moir's column again? Probably not, considering the values by which the Mail lives by, but when it does, and it will, the storm will only likely be even more fierce.

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,

Share |


Your new overlord has been overcome.

I have to announce the sad news that Stumpy the Gerbil, who put himself forward as a Conservative candidate for the next election after David Cameron's appeal for those who shared his values to join the party, will be unable to take part in the long promised debate with Katie the Dog as he has, as rodents tend to do with depressing regularity, died.

For a rodent who lost the use of his back limbs after an apparent accident in a wheel, he lived to a fine old age of over 3, and as I can't quite recall in which litter he was born, he was either between 3 years and 5 months or 3 years and 2 months old, outliving all but two of his brothers and sisters. He simply crawled into the wheel in his cage, curled up, and died peacefully, leaving his father who he had lived with all his life as the only remaining occupant. Thankfully, as he had no estate, he will not be liable for any form of death tax, which he would have doubtlessly been pleased about considering his long-held Conservative value system.

I again don't know whether this photo actually features Stumpy as a pup, but hey, it's cute, and there isn't nearly enough cute stuff on this blog:

RIP Stump. You will be missed.

Labels: , , , , , ,

Share |

Wednesday, February 17, 2010 

The riddle of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh.

There's nothing quite like a good old fashioned assassination, is there? As the Western world ties itself in knots over whether or not torturing alleged terrorists is permissible or not, you can always rely on the Israelis, those paragons of morality, to just get on with the job. My personal favourite has to be the execution by Hellfire missile of Sheikh Yassin, the spiritual leader of Hamas, which if you want to dig in the seedier side of the interweb you can find photographic documentation of. Yassin was undeniably a bloodthirsty anti-Semite who justified suicide bombings, but he was also a nearly blind quadriplegic. Politicians often call terrorists cowardly for targeting the public rather than any symbol of the state or a military installation, but I don't think there's an attack which more fits that description than murdering a myopic disabled man from a helicopter gunship with a guided missile and then openly celebrating what you've done.

The assassination of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, for which Mossad is almost certainly responsible, is an just the latest kind of other targeted murder which Israel has routinely carried out in the past. By their usual "high standards" however, as exemplified by the bombs which killed Yahya Ayyash and Imad Mughniyah, this one seems likely to go down as a prime example, not perhaps of incompetence, as the killing itself went off without a hitch, but instead of hubris, with an intelligence agency imagining that it could do such a thing without leaving any trace being proved sorely wrong. Whether the images released of the "11 suspects" actually show Mossad agents or not is impossible to know, and if they do they you can be certain that Israel has already given them new identities and probably even a swift trip to the plastic surgeon, but it's the sheer, well, chutzpah of the entire operation: the CCTV footage of the man going into the toilet bald and emerging with a full head of hair and glasses smacks more of Dan Brown than it does the most ruthless and feared intelligence agency of a democratic country.

The only thing that makes you wonder just slightly about this being a Mossad operation is the use, not of false passports, which they've abused repeatedly in the past, most notably in their failure to kill Hamas leader Khaled Mashal, but the stealing of the identities of actual residents in Israel, even if they've retained the British citizenship. That just seems bizarre: did they seriously imagine that the relatively friendly Dubai authorities wouldn't put much effort into their investigation, or publicly release the names of those it wanted in connection with the killing? At the same time however, there just doesn't seem any rival organisation which has the resources or people to carry out such a hit, certainly not Hamas itself, and while Iran could have, there's been no motive put forward for why Hamas' itself or its erstwhile allies would have wanted to get rid of him. Al-Mabhouh was a weapon buyer and seller, which carries with it its own risks, but why would someone who wanted him dead authorise an operation involving so many people when one man with a gun would have been so much easier and also less expensive?

Israel has form in treating those who it considers to have acted traitorously extraordinarily harshly, as Mordechai Vanunu has found. What did these six do though to deserve such a fate? Those whose identities they stole may not be actual Israeli citizens, yet why put them at such a risk of reprisals, to not even consider the difficulties they're now going to face in travelling almost anywhere. Again, you would expect they'll be compensated or given new identities, but why not simply create them in the first place for the hit? Admittedly, that's far more difficult than simply taking one, but it seems that's what they did at the moment with those who travelled under false Irish passports.

The diplomatic row with London will swiftly blow over; after all, considering what our own courts disclosed just last week, our blessed intelligence services are hardly free from blemish. The point remains though that this was an especially reckless operation, conducted against a minor player in Hamas for no obvious material benefit, and one which has once again brought into focus the fact that Israel remains a nation prepared to authorise what others might well term acts of state sponsored terror. Does it hint at desperation within Israel at the current state of the peace process, or rather show just how out of control Mossad is becoming? Either way, the only losers in this are those that Israel is meant to be dedicated to protecting: both its own citizens and its sympathisers.

Labels: , , , , , ,

Share |

Tuesday, February 16, 2010 

You know it's a slow news day when...

the hot breaking story is that Tutankhamun is dead, Mark Lawson has an opinion piece in the Guardian on what 25 years of EastEnders tells us about politics, and the main political story is about what a bunch of puffed up egomaniacs on Twitter may or may not have called each other. Oh, and just to cap off a truly fantastic and memorable day, Oasis have just won the Best British Album of the last 30 years for What's The Story (Morning Glory).

In the spirit of all this then, here's yet more hilariously unfunny Tory spoof adverts, because there clearly isn't enough already, helped along by there now being an online generator. And seeing as I'm out to equally offend everyone, there's two versions of the most explicit one:

Labels: , , , , ,

Share |

Monday, February 15, 2010 

The hung parliament hypotheticals.

There seems to be a distinctly strange air to politics at the moment. Despite parliament likely rising in around two months for the dreaded general election campaign, it's still as though it's an incredibly long time away, even though business itself is hardly bustling. Only the Tories seem to be keeping themselves visibly busy, and in doing so keep making more and more gaffes. If the David Cameron personal poster campaign was disastrous, or at least it was with the Twitterati (ugh) and the chattering classes, while the policy flip-flops on marriage tax and public spending cuts were more expected but no less damaging, then the almost radio silence from Labour and the Liberal Democrats, the former only seemingly making any noise when the Tories make such execrable (if not deliberate) mistakes as miscalculating 54% for 5.4%, is not doing much to capitalise on it.

On the Lib Dem front, part of this reticence might be due to the strategising going on behind the scenes in the event of a hung parliament. With the polls either predicting one or a slight Tory majority, even if one suspects that come the day the Tories will get a large enough share of the vote to be able to comfortably govern, it is nonetheless the closest the party is likely to come to grabbing some semblance of nationwide power since David Steel infamously told the party to return to their constituencies and prepare for government. Even if similar plans were made prior to 1997, the polls leading up to the election, although narrowing at one point, never suggested anything other than a significant Labour victory.

The apparent insight into the party's thinking that we're given in today's Graun is suitably significant. Rather than seeking a coalition, Nick Clegg is instead mulling over propping up a minority government through supporting a party's program of legislation, as long as certain Liberal Democrat policies are incorporated in it. Just how many will be needed to be implemented is seemingly elastic, with four policies up for immediate discussion, although just two might also be considered. While you could imagine that Labour would be open to debate on any of the four mentioned, the "pupil premium", tax reform, a greener economy and constitutional reform, it's difficult to imagine that the Tories would be malleable on the proposal for capital gains and income tax to be levied at the same rate, or on electoral reform, which they have consistently opposed.

You can see why they're thinking in this way: propping up a defeated Labour party through a coalition is likely to breed only resentment and disdain, even if say, Vince Cable or Clegg became chancellor and the deal involved Gordon Brown stepping down, although another "unelected" prime minister would hardly help matters either. At the same time however it's difficult to see just how much difference there would be in not getting fully into bed with Labour; is the public really going to live with a minority Labour government passing its legislation with Lib Dem support if it's the same old party rejected at the ballot box with a very slight yellow tinge? At the same time you can't see a minority Tory administration being prepared to give way on proportional representation in exchange only for short-term support; why not simply force a second election or, if Labour and the Lib Dems then attempt to from some sort of alliance, simply stand completely against and preach about its illegitimacy and wait for the inevitable breakdown in relations to take full advantage?

The disheartening thing about the likely manoeuvring in the event of an inconclusive election is that this is probably the only way in which the four stated policies on which the Lib Dems would negotiate, all of which are worthy of support, would ever be implemented. Those voting for the third party are always aware that while their vote is all important on a constituency level, it's not going to change much on a national level, even if they would like to see a Lib Dem government. The irony here is that were the hung parliament to become reality, with a Labour-Lib Dem deal, the party itself would almost certainly lose support as a result. While it would be worth it were some form of PR to be introduced as a result, it could also end the possibility of the party holding any rein of power for another generation. While all of this is based upon multiple hypotheticals, there is just as much to be lost from a hung parliament as there is to be gained. We may want a weaker government after 13 years of the opposite, but our system as it stands with the politics we are currently blessed with seems determined to destroy any possibility of it.

Labels: , , , , , ,

Share |


I've never voted Tory...

You just can't keep a bad thing down. These are incidentally the best Tory adverts so far, although that's not exactly difficult given how terrible the last two have been. Almost makes you wonder whether they went with the "ordinary people" angle mainly because it makes them far more difficult to deface without insulting those in the adverts personally. Not that that's stopped me. Templates over at as usual. Also I know the fonts aren't right, but I haven't the foggiest what the originals were and they don't look too bad anyway. Good ol' Verdana:

Labels: , , , ,

Share |

Saturday, February 13, 2010 

Extracting rafters.

Reminded of how much I adore Marina Hyde by this wonderful paragraph out of a generally superb column:

The micro-managing parallels with New Labour are so striking that we must assume Cameron genuinely intends to reprise the shtick which made Blair's lot so uniquely loathsome to the public. It is history lacking the decency to repeat itself as farce. It is merely history ­repeating itself.

Equally reminded of how much I abhor Amanda Platell by her attack on supposed prospective WAGs, one of those loathsome modern abbreviations. She might have something approaching a point, but it's buried beneath venomous, visceral loathing for young, naive women, and intertwined with what it's difficult to describe as anything other than the green-eyed monster:

These long-legged fillies excitedly clatter down the stairs from pavement level, their hooves shod mostly in cheap stilettos so high they make them look ridiculously tall, slightly deformed, like creatures from Avatar.

And they all have the Victoria Beckham stoop that comes with such ridiculous shoes.

The girls' legs go on for ever; as do their dreams of pulling a footballer or a millionaire.

They sway suggestively to the blaring music, drinks clutched in by acrylic-tipped fingers, waving their bottoms at passing boys, thrusting their pert breasts, stroking their bare thighs, licking their lips, tossing their hair extensions.

I am witnessing the mating ritual of the Wannabe WAG. It's a sight worthy of a David Attenborough documentary. Think of a herd of frisky wildebeest stampeding through the Serengeti plain, stopping only to drink and procreate.

The skirts are so short they leave nothing to the imagination. I swear there is only one pair of undies in that club - and I am wearing them.

I know I'm one to talk, but the writing in places is also frankly abysmal:

They behave not so much like Stepford wives, as Stepford tarts, unabashed that they are using sex to procure designer clothes, utterly complicit in the cattle market that unfolds before me wherever I go.

It goes without saying that calling them Stepford tarts doesn't even make any sense, it's just the snatching of a lazy cultural allusion: as Platell elaborates elsewhere, these young women are not submissive and docile as the Stepford wives were, they know what they want and how to get it. They're using the men they're trying to attract just as much as the men are using them.

Any wider significance of what goes on in a tiny number of exclusive London clubs is completely buried under a layer of invective that says as much about Platell as it does about the women she followed for one night. It's also the usual hysterical Daily Mail hypocrisy: as
Hagley Road to Ladywood notes, it's the likes of the Mail that help to perpetuate the false notion that there's something glamorous about hanging onto the arm of a footballer or dumb rich boy by their constant and consistent coverage of them, which is far from always being sneering or hectoring in tone. Someone once said that you should extract the rafter from your own eye before attempting to to extract the straw from someone else's eye, advice that our glorious modern media will never even begin to take.

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

Share |

Friday, February 12, 2010 

The seven paragraphs fallout continues.

It's not very often that you see the British state act in such apparent unison as it has over the last couple of days. It's reminiscent of the behaviour of a dog or a child that knows it's done something wrong but carries on acting belligerently regardless, hoping that by doing so you'll concentrate on the reaction rather than the initial offence. In what was almost certainly a carefully choreographed move, we've had the home and foreign secretaries both writing to newspapers to complain bitterly that they dared to report what their chief legal Rottweiler almost ordered a judge not to write in his ruling, while over in the Telegraph Jonathan Evans himself makes a rare appearance in customary obfuscatory spook fashion, suggesting that not only this could all be part of a propaganda war but that also we seem to be indulging in "conspiracy theories and caricature".

You could be forgiven for thinking that the government and intelligence agencies were worried by such unpleasant but also undeniable insights into how they have in the recent past operated against their own citizens and residents. Surely though, it must all be part of an over active imagination. Clearly, slurs and "ludicrous lies" are being told about the organisations that are working as we speak to keep us safe from those who would do every single one of us harm. When Jonathan Evans says, "[W]e did not practise mistreatment or torture then and do not do so now, nor do we collude in torture or encourage others to torture on our behalf", then who are we to disagree?

It doesn't seem to matter that at every single step of the way, from the first investigations into what has become known as "extraordinary rendition", which were the work of newspapers and investigative journalists, not as Evans seems to claim, "taken from our own records", all the way now up to the allegations made in parliament by David Davis concerning the almost outsourcing of torture in the case of Rangzieb Ahmed, that both the government and the security services have denied being involved either in torture or being complicit in its use. Try to spot the difference between what Jack Straw told the Foreign Affairs committee back in 2005 and the denials of everything that have poured forth today:

Q 23. Unless we all start to believe in conspiracy theories and that the officials are lying, that I am lying, that behind this there is some kind of secret state which is in league with some dark forces in the United States, and also let me say, we believe that Secretary Rice is lying, there simply is no truth in the claims that the United Kingdom has been involved in rendition full stop, because we have not been, and so what on earth a judicial inquiry would start to do I have no idea.

I do not think it would be justified. While we are on this point, Chairman, can I say this? Some of the reports which are given credibility, including one this morning on the Today programme, are in the realms of the fantastic.

Since then we've learned of the use of Diego Garcia for rendition, the cases of Bisher al-Rawi and Jamil el-Banna, who were rendered to Guantanamo after MI6 told the CIA that they were carrying bomb parts when they weren't, of the over 100 different flights which passed through this country which were involved in the rendition programme and of the handing over to the Americans of Iraqi prisoners, who were swiftly taken to Bagram airbase, home of an especially notorious "black site" prison.

At the very heart of this is the continued refusal to accept that the security services knew almost from the very beginning that the US was mistreating prisoners held under the auspices of the "war on terror". In one of the few revealing documents given to the Intelligence and Security Committee in their otherwise worthless investigations into rendition and prisoner mistreatment was a memo from the 11th of January 2001, issued to both MI5 and MI6 officers telling them that they "could not engage in inhumane or degrading treatment of prisoners" but they also had no obligation to stop it from happening. This was after one officer had reported back that the detainee he had interviewed had been tortured by US personnel. Despite this, the ISC completely believed the story it was told by both government and the intelligence agencies that they didn't realise properly what the US was doing until the Abu Ghraib scandal came to light, a point repeated by Jonathan Evans today, that it was "slow to detect the emerging pattern". It had detected it all right, it just did nothing about it until it blew up in the Americans' faces, hoping like they did that they could get away with. Likewise, the ISC considered the fact that MI5 had provided questions to the Americans which were subsequently used while Binyam Mohamed was tortured in Morocco as "regrettable", as was the fact that it hadn't sought assurances that he wouldn't be mistreated. As the seven paragraphs have now made clear, MI5 knew full well that Mohamed was already being tortured, yet it still did nothing to help him and sent on the questions for him to be asked regardless. What is that if not active complicity in torture?

Nick Clegg is close to getting somewhere when he suggests that ministers themselves must have known about this policy of non-involvement but also non-condemnation of ill-treatment. This though is where things start getting truly murky: the Guardian has previously reported that Tony Blair knew, but not until after the Abu Ghraib scandal. This would tie in with the claims of the security services that they couldn't possibly have known about the US policy of mistreatment until then. Perhaps the truth of the matter is that the ministers didn't know, or at least only had an inkling and that the security services had kept it a secret from them up until it was no longer possible to. It's plausible and would also explain just why the security services keep up the ridiculous pretence that they didn't know until then, hence also why both were so outraged when Lord Neuberger claimed that MI5 was unaccountable even to the politicians supposedly in charged, having got far too close to the actuality.

Is that letting them off the hook somewhat, if it turns out to be the case? Certainly. We've known for years about the antics of the intelligence agencies, and especially how in the past they reacted to Labour governments, as well as their infiltration of completely harmless leftist organisations throughout the 70s and 80s, and for the current generation to forget about those scandals is unforgivable. Did even they though imagine that they would become complicit in torture in such a way? They're responsible and accountable, but it could well be that the security services remained even more out of control than us "conspiracy theorists and caricaturists" imagined.

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,

Share |

Thursday, February 11, 2010 

Unsuper Mac.

You've probably all seen this superb, straight to the point Mac cartoon. I can't help but wonder though whether everyone so far has approached it from the wrong angle; what if in fact it's the sheep speaking the lines underneath and not the man? That would explain the rather blank expression on the man's face, while the sheep on the other hand looks bright and intelligent. Frankly, it looks like the sheep is marrying beneath her, which is why the vicar is so startled. As for the multiculturalism aspect, well, there's always a downside to it, and religion is usually it. Perhaps the man's side insisted on a church wedding, and anyway, if the clergy wish to wear dresses, as long as they're happy, who cares?

Labels: , , , , ,

Share |


Scum-watch: Whose side are you on?

BenSix has already had a go at the esteemed Con Coughlin for his response to yesterday's ruling by the Court of Appeal concerning the seven paragraphs, but there's another contender for the prize title of "worst journalist in Britain" in the form of whoever wrote today's Sun leader column:

IN Afghanistan, our troops fight al-Qaeda. Here, the battle against the terrorists is undermined by judges.

Except they're not fighting al-Qaida, they're fighting the Taliban and various other insurgents, but who's being picky?

How, pray tell, is the battle against terrorists being undermined by judges? Yesterday's ruling should in practice affect absolutely nothing, as MI5 and MI6 are meant to have already changed their rules when it comes to handling British detainees held by other authorities. Or have they?

That is the ludicrous position we are in after yesterday's ruling over ex-Guantanamo detainee Binyam Mohamed.

Mohamed claims America's CIA tortured him.

America shared information about Mohamed's interrogation with Britain on terms of strict secrecy.

As a refugee here, he used our courts to force details to be released.

The Sun has belittled Mohamed's account of his torture in the past, as well as said that it didn't want him back, along with other various degrees of heartlessness about his treatment. Unfortunately, considering that the American judge Gladys Kessler backed his account of how he was tortured and rendered (PDF), it now seems to be fact rather than anything approaching fiction. It's true that Mohamed is only a resident here rather than a citizen, but that should have no bearing on his access to the courts, especially when it was our security services that were actively involved in his detention. As for this idea of strict secrecy, or the "control principle", as David Miliband described it, when such information contains details which make clear that even residents of this country are being mistreated and that we are complicit in that mistreatment, it stops being need to know and starts becoming an issue of legality, of our international and indeed national obligations.

The liberal judges who backed him have damaged relations with our greatest ally.

If America now decides we cannot be trusted with security secrets, we will be at greater risk from al-Qaeda.

Yes, the statement from the White House that they were "deeply disappointed" with the ruling is bound to set our relations with "our greatest ally" back years. The Americans don't care a fig about this for the simple reason that they've already willingly released far worse information about what they did at the time; they're just for once prepared to go along with Miliband's attempts to block publication most likely as some obscure favour. Even if the Americans suddenly decided to stop sharing intelligence, which they won't, as we give them just as much as they give us, it's still pooled with other intelligence agencies which would. The idea that this will make us less safe, because we've finally found that our security services are liars and blackguards is absurd. If anything, it's likely to make us safer, not less.

The ruling is also a purely political gesture. Mohamed's claims have already been aired in the US.

A purely political gesture? If the Sun really believes that uncovering the true nature of what our security services have been involving themselves is just a "political gesture", then it's even more jaded and dismissive of any abuses of power than ever before. Mohamed's claims were aired in the US which is exactly why there was no "secrecy" and therefore they could be released, and why the arguments made the paper and the government are so bogus.

Our security services deserve support. The war on terror is not a game of lawn tennis.

Yes, they do, don't they? Because being complicit in torture isn't counter-productive at all, and doesn't undermine our values in the slightest. If only we could truly let rip against these jihadists, then maybe the war on terror really would become a game of lawn tennis. It's the liberals and the mad judges that are holding us back!

Whose side are you on, your Lordships?

You're either with us, or you're with the terrorists.

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,

Share |

Wednesday, February 10, 2010 

The seven paragraphs.

Reading the seven paragraphs that have finally been released detailing the CIA's treatment of Binyam Mohamed after today's ruling by the Court of Appeal, it's initially difficult to know quite why the government was so determined that they should remain secret. They tell us absolutely nothing that we didn't already know: that the US was systematically mistreating almost anyone that came into their custody in either Afghanistan or Pakistan; that this was just the start of the torture regime which Binyam Mohamed found himself under; that the CIA, despite the claims of our security services, had been letting them know just what they were doing to individuals connected to this country; and that despite knowing full well that what the CIA was doing to Mohamed at this early stage would breach our obligations under the European Convention of Human Rights, as found during the 1970s when the "five techniques" were outlawed in Northern Ireland, they did absolutely nothing to intervene to stop his mistreatment.

Why then did they appeal, time and again until finally giving up at some point last week to stop these already widely known facts from entering into the public domain? The claims, repeated ad nauseam today that this was all about the "control" principle, that one country does not publish intelligence provided by another without its express permission is wholly unconvincing. Even if it does annoy the CIA and the US that more of their dirty secrets are being thoroughly examined and released by the courts of another country, it's nothing as to what they themselves have already admitted that they did and authorised, such as the Bybee memos and the waterboarding of the few top al-Qaida members whom they managed to capture. Indeed, the only reason why the Court of Appeal decided that seven paragraphs could today be published was that far more gruesome evidence of the torture which Mohamed underwent was released by a US court in a judgement in November of last year. Lord Neuberger quotes from it in his section of today's ruling (paragraph 126):

[Mr Mohamed's] trauma lasted for two long years. During that time, he was physically and psychologically tortured. His genitals were mutilated. He was deprived of sleep and food. He was summarily transported from one prison to another. Captors held him in stress positions for days at a time. He was forced to listen to piercingly loud music and the screams of other prisoners while locked in a pitch-black cell. All the while, he was forced to inculpate himself and others in various plots to imperil Americans.


At page 58, she said that "[t]he [US] Government does not challenge or deny the accuracy of [Mr Mohamed's] story of brutal treatment" and repeated that point at pages 62 and 64. On pages 61-2, she said that his "persistence in telling his story" and "very vigorous… and very public ... pursu[ance of] his claims in the British courts" indicated that his evidence was true and "demonstrates his willingness to test the truth of his version of events in both the courts of law and the court of public opinion". In the passage just quoted from page 70 of her Opinion, she referred to Mr Mohamed's "lengthy prior torture" as an established fact.

Compared to the seven paragraphs we have today, it doesn't really get much more damning.

Fortunately, the government, through its staggeringly inept attempts to stop even the slightest criticism of the security services from being made by those mad, unelected, unaccountable judges, has completely given the game away. Having seen the draft judgement, as is usual, the government's QC Jonathan Sumption was presumably ordered to complain about the withering remarks by Lord Neuberger in paragraph 168, which is distinctly unusual. Even more unusual is that Neuberger acquiesced, and withdrew his comments. Worth quoting in full is Sumption's objections:

The Master of the Rolls's observations, to whichever service they relate, are likely to receive more public attention than any other part of the judgments. They will be read as statements by the Court (i) that the Security Service does not in fact operate a culture that respects human rights or abjures participation in coercive interrogation techniques; (ii) that this was in particular true of Witness B whose conduct was in this respect characteristic of the service as a whole ('it appears likely that there were others'); (iii) that officials of the Service deliberately misled the Intelligence and Security Committee on this point; (iv) that this reflects a culture of suppression in its dealings with the Committee, the Foreign Secretary and indirectly the Court, which penetrates the service to such a degree as to undermine any UK government assurances based on the Service's information and advice; and (v) that the Service has an interest in suppressing information which is shared, not by the Foreign Secretary himself (whose good faith is accepted), but by the Foreign Office for which he is responsible.

Neuberger, whether through acute analysis or just searing condemnation, got far too close to the reality of how the security services were acting post-9/11. From repeated accounts of MI5 and 6 officers visiting those held in by either the CIA or the Pakistanis, we already knew that despite being told of how they were being mistreated nothing was done, and that even on some occasions there was total complicity, with questions from the UK authorities being asked while the detainees were undergoing stress techniques and worse. They clearly, as Neuberger identified, had no problem with operating within a culture where human rights were not respected. Most pointedly, he also noted that the security services had deliberately misled the Intelligence and Security Committee. "Deliberately misled" is mild; they lied and lied and lied, all the way up to the very top.

That is though what the security services do for a living - they lie to people, they mislead and they abuse. For a judge to say that the Intelligence and Security Committee is useless, which is what he was more than implying, is far too damaging. For one to imply that the assurances given by MI5 to politicians are worthless, because of their "culture of suppression", is even worse. As Ian Cobain notes in his annotations on the letter sent by Sumption, the courts are in danger of dismissing the reassurances of politicians based on information from MI5 because of its continued pattern of deception. If they'll lie to the politicians that represent them, then it therefore follows that they'll lie to everyone. They therefore then have to be made accountable to someone, and that someone would likely have to be a fully independent, judicial committee, not a parliamentary select committee packed with ex-ministers.

Despite then already being fully aware that the information in the seven paragraphs was already well known, the real reason for wanting them to remain secret was because they show just how out of control our supposedly fully accountable and enlightened defenders of British security actually were and indeed remain. They show that they'll lie not just to the public, but to politicians as well. And despite knowing this, those self-same politicians are far more interested in protecting their own hides than in shining a light on the agencies that colluded in the torture of both British citizens and residents. The sad thing is that they succeeded on the principle, but not on this particularly case, thanks to the same United States which supported the government's attempt to stop the paragraphs being published. That must hurt, but not as much as a fully damning judgement with an unexpurgated paragraph 168 would have done.

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,

Share |


Tory tombstones.

Here are my feeble attempts at spoofing the latest Conservative advertising failure, which I'm sure you couldn't possibly have lived without:

Labels: , ,

Share |

Tuesday, February 09, 2010 

ASBO for the skirt wearer, please.

Here's one of those stories so bizarre that it could almost be taken directly from the likes of Monkey Dust:

A 60-year-old man from Northampton has denied breaching an Asbo which bans him from dressing up as a schoolgirl.

Peter Trigger, of Farndon Close, appeared before Northampton magistrates charged with breaching his Asbo three times.

Mr Trigger was given a five-year Asbo in December 2008 after waiting near a primary school dressed as a schoolgirl.

He is banned from wearing a skirt between 0830 and 1000 GMT and between 1445 and 1600 GMT on school days.

He is also banned from showing bare legs and behaving in a manner which causes or is likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress to others.

One of the things that strikes you is that this is an example of an ASBO where they've decided to be at least slightly lenient: Mr Trigger only has to ensure that he isn't wearing a skirt on school days between the hours when children tend to be travelling to or from school. If he so wishes to don stated attire at weekends, then he's completely free to do so. It's not entirely clear whether he's also only banned from showing bare legs and behaving in a way which causes or is likely to cause harassment during those hours also, but you would have to hope so.

The order was originally imposed after Trigger repeatedly took walks near a primary school, which is close to where he lives, "frightening" and "confusing" children, as you might expect he would. He also allegedly bent over, showed his thighs and "indicated he was wearing no other clothes". The problem with the order though is staggeringly clear: Trigger, despite being told repeatedly before an ASBO was sought that his behaviour was disturbing the children, carried on doing it. Either doing so sexually arouses him, he simply enjoys dressing as a schoolgirl, or he's completely ignorant of how what he's doing isn't normal.

If it's the latter, how on earth is he supposed to know that what he's doing is causing harassment, alarm or distress to others? Being barred from wearing certain clothes or rather not wearing them is one thing, but how do you stop yourself from behaving in a way which others will subjectively decide either isn't or is alarming? One of these three breaches is for allegedly causing distress, although whether he was also breaking the order by wearing the uniform at the same time isn't stated, despite happening on a separate occasion. You have to appreciate the difficulty of having to deal with such a problem, and that the safety of children is paramount, even if he simply seems to be strange rather an actual threat to them, yet the order has still been structured in such a way as to make it almost impossible not to breached. It has ultimately solved nothing, as ASBOs as a whole have failed to, hitting the behaviour but not dealing with the source of it.

Labels: , , , ,

Share |

Monday, February 08, 2010 

The same old new politics.

At times during the expenses furore, which continues to flicker, further fuelled by David Cameron's denunciations of Gordon Brown today, I sometimes felt like the only person in the country not enraged by the graft and misappropriation of public money. That was what, when you reduced the entire fiasco down to its very bare bones, it was all about. It wasn't, as the Tory MP notoriously complained, that people were envious or jealous of his "very large house", but he was in the right area. It was instead that these already generally well off individuals were feather-bedded to the extent that they didn't even have to pay for their food or to furnish their houses. If you want to be pretentious about it, it was a microcosm of what our society itself has become: a turbo-economy where those, whether either rich or extremely poor, are to a certain extent protected against the effects which the rest are beholden to, with the result being a sometimes justifiable sense of grievance against them. Where wealth is everything, don't be surprised if the bitten occasionally bite back.

The mood was, and still is, profoundly anti-politics. It isn't anger directed at one political party, but at politics itself, which is why Cameron's attempt to try to associate Gordon Brown directly with those MPs who have been charged with false accounting is unlikely to succeed. It also overlooks that even though no Conservative or Liberal Democrat MP was charged with a criminal offence, of those who had to pay back the most, 5 of the top 6 were Conservatives, including Liam Fox, Cameron's defence spokesman. As also previously argued, the attempt, mainly by politicians themselves as well as the ex-broadsheet media excluding the Telegraph to turn the anger into a case for constitutional and parliamentary reform also seemed to miss the point of the rage: those who wanted the equivalent of heads on pikes or an immediate general election weren't interested in slow and steady changes to fix how parliament works; they just wanted the MPs who had abused their expenses out. That also hasn't changed over time, and while Cameron is to be commended for keeping up the pressure for change, it's hardly likely that many votes for the Tories are going to be picked up on the back of reforming the current lobbying system.

It's difficult not to think that Cameron personally attacking Brown might have something to do with Brown's mentioning of he who must not be named: Lord Ashcroft. Ashcroft is also the spectre hanging over Cameron's entire speech: he wants anyone sitting in parliament to be a full UK taxpayer in the United Kingdom, yet he can't even confirm that the deputy chairman of his party is just that. He wants to "shine the light of transparency on lobbying in our country", yet if you donate £50,000 a year to the party you can join "The Leader's Group" and gain personal access to "David Cameron and other senior figures from the Conservative Party at dinners, post-PMQ lunches, drinks receptions, election result events and important campaign launches".

The entire speech is one that just screams of either never coming close to being implemented or coming back to haunt them. At four separate occasions he claims that "we are a new generation at ease with openness and trust". Really? Would this be the same Conservative party that seems to be imposing top-down control on MPs and prospective MPs use of blogs and social-networking sites? This is a party that even as it denounces Labour's past use of various spin doctors employs the likes of Andy Coulson and Steve Hilton, the former accused at an employment tribunal of leading the bullying of a journalist who suffered from depression. It's an easy allusion to make, but it really is all so reminiscent of Tony Blair: the repetition, the claims of being entirely clean, a new break, yet even while it sounds good, it's next to impossible to believe almost any of it. In that sense, it's Blair at his very worst: trying desperately to convince of his good intentions whilst failing to do just that. Even Blair at his worst though wouldn't have made such stonking great errors as talking up parliament as formerly being an unimpeachable institution once famous for "radical legislation, elevated debate and forensic scrutiny of laws"; has it really been anything like that since the 60s? Nor would he have made the mistake of claiming that a monologue exists where parliament talks and the country listens; parliament may well talk but the country either doesn't listen, or as the Heresiarch suggests, it jeers.

The only part that rings true is also the funniest and most puzzling. At the end he desperately appeals to the media to change its attitude as well, a part worth quoting in full:

But this change also needs something else. It requires a change in the attitude not just of politicians, but of the media too. I want to see a whole new culture of responsibility from those who report the news. You are the lens through which people view the actions of this Parliament. That gives you a great duty to our democracy.

I want to see a proper distinction between honest mistakes made by good, decent people whose intentions were honourable and those who set out to deliberately mislead, swindle and deceive.

Most people who pursue a career in politics do so because they want to serve and because they want to do good. That should be recognised. Parliament does important and effective work, yet it is barely reported.

And remember when you’re putting good people down, you could be putting good people off from entering politics. I’m not telling you how to do your job. I’m just saying that if you want to change politics as much as I do, this is something we’ve got to do together. We have a shared responsibility.

The idea of certain parts of the media treating any politician other than the very few it decides it likes in such a way is hilarious. This though is someone who has been treated up till now by the vast majority of it in a completely timorous, even sycophantic fashion, in difference to how those outside it have routinely ridiculed him. He surely doesn't believe that this will change anything, and in any event he uses them just as much as they use him; why then make the appeal at all? Is it for public consumption, although again few are likely to read or have seen his speech in full? Just as you don't believe for a second that Cameron has any real truck with what he calls "social responsibility", the idea that the media think they have any wider responsibility other than to their shareholders or owners is ludicrous.

It is instructive though that the one real reform that would truly redistribute power to the people is the one that the Conservatives refuse to trust the electorate with: Brown's sudden conversion to the alternative vote may be cynical or have ulterior motives, and it may not be proportional, but it would give voters something approaching a real choice over who governs us. A new politics sounds good, but it will remain the same old politics unless you genuinely feel you can make a difference. Starting with the electoral system itself would make the most sense, and would still fit in with the actual anti-politics mood, enabling you to vote the equivalent of none of the above and still make a point. Anything else is likely to fail to make an impact.

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,

Share |

Saturday, February 06, 2010 

Fits of morality (as well as hypocrisy and cant) part 2.

Attacking the cant of the Daily Mail might be the equivalent of drowning a kitten in a bag, both sad and easy, but the paper really does seem determined to wind itself up to ever greater levels of phony indignation, not since Sachsgate having been able to ride the high horse of morality in such an absurd and precious fashion. When the BBC was forced into acting over Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross's prank phone calls to Andrew Sachs, the Mail screamed that it had "woken up to decency". Today it bellows its thanks to "Signor Capello", having taken just ten minutes to sack the man "who shamed England". That, as the Guardian reports, this "family man" never did anything similar while he managed teams in Italy despite his players acting in a similar fashion to John Terry only ever so slightly damages the image of this new moral colossus, his compass working to the order deemed righteous by Paul Dacre.

And as could have been predicted, the paper's already got the first hits in on Rio Ferdinand, bringing up more of his past than even I did, who doubtless will now have to watch his every step between now and June lest he trespass against the peccadilloes of those without sin, willing as ever to cast not just the first stone, but to desecrate the corpse afterwards as well.

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

Share |

Friday, February 05, 2010 

BAE and Saudis finally brought to book.

Away from the country's obsession with what's happening in other people's bedrooms, BAE Systems was today finally forced into admitting what we all already knew: that its deals involving both Tanzania and Saudi Arabia were sweetened by massive bribery and corruption. Not that it was our dogged and determined investigators at the Serious Farce Office that managed to get the company, which may as well be nationalised considering just how closely it works with the government, to own up to operating a massive slush fund which enriched the already filthily wealthy Saudi royal family, but instead the far more tenacious US Department of Justice.

Blair of course forced the SFO into dropping its own investigation to the Al-Yamanah deal, on the grounds of national security, based on spurious but outrageous threats from the Saudis, and also on deeply questionable claims that there was no guarantee of a successful prosecution resulting from the inquiries. The opposite was the case: the SFO had just succeeded in persuading the Swiss to give them access to bank accounts which would have provided prima facie evidence of the payments from BAE to the intermediaries of the Saudi royal family. As the statement from the Department of Justice makes clear:

"BAE agreed to transfer sums totalling more than £10m and more than $9m to a bank account in Switzerland controlled by an intermediary. BAE was aware that there was a high probability that the intermediary would transfer part of these payments to the [Saudi] official."

To call that an understatement would be superfluous. It is though a withering indictment of both of our legal system when it comes to combating corruption and also our willingness to interfere with what ought to be untouchable: the rule of law itself. The Americans, whom we often sneer at, are both more prepared to stand up to threats from bullies and also to prosecute their own than our craven and opportunist equivalents are. New Labour has been responsible for many disgraces, but this really does rank up there, along with Iraq, as one of their very worst abuses of power.

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Share |


Fits of morality (as well as hypocrisy and cant).

One of those wonderful quotes which will never lose its sparkle was the observation by Lord Macaulay that "[W]e know no spectacle so ridiculous as the British public in one of its periodical fits of morality". These days, it's more accurate if corrected very slightly, exchanging public with media. It's difficult to feel any sympathy for John Terry, yet his deposition as England captain sets a truly ridiculous and regrettable precedent: a role which should be all about what occurs on the field and Terry's ability to lead his team, one which no one questions he would have been able to continue to do regardless of his antics off the pitch has suddenly become a question of morality rather than of who is best for the job. It's not even as if Terry would have been required to work with Wayne Bridge, the man caught in the middle of the faux-outrage: only if Ashley Cole is injured is it likely that his services will be required.

Terry though didn't have anything approaching a chance. As Tabloid Watch notes, Terry or a story connected with his alleged infidelity has appeared on the front page of the Mail every day since last Saturday, as compared to the number of times it featured the earthquake in Haiti (0). The decision was made not so much by Fabio Capello as by the nation's tabloid editors, who made it next to impossible for him to come to any decision other than stripping him of the captaincy. If he hadn't, you can bet that the issue would never have been dropped and would have overshadowed everything else in the build up to the World Cup in South Africa.

Still, at least we now have a captain with a truly spotless reputation. Rio Ferdinand has never been accused of being unfaithful; that he's been banned from driving on four separate occasions, including for being over the legal drink-drive limit, not to mention that time he "forgot" about his drug test and instead went shopping is clearly on a completely different moral plane to Terry's playing away from home (groan). It does though never cease to amaze just how powerful the press remains in this country, even as sales apparently inexorably decline. Those adding another notch to their bedposts tonight will not be footballers, but those other dashing, completely incorruptible and always faithful figures: journalists.

Labels: , , , , ,

Share |

Thursday, February 04, 2010 

Diana in outrage hell.

We all know how much I love Twitter, which reading back now, seems to be one of the most staggeringly hypocritical and self-fulfilling statements that I've ever put together here:

... it's a glorified instant messaging service where every stalker and sad sack can follow your ever so fascinating immediate thoughts ...

Err, yeah. Doesn't describe me at all. Sorry.

This though is hilarious (via Anton), although it's doubtless already spreading around like an online version of the clap. The Express, that journal which dedicated itself to keeping the memory of Princess Diana alive by splashing almost every Monday with a new conspiracy theory fresh from the fevered imagination of the owner of a certain fuggin' Knightsbridge department store, has discovered that someone is besmirching their favourite dead ex-royal by pretending to tweet as Diana from heaven. Cue the outrage:

A SICK prankster has set up a social networking website as Princess Diana.

The macabre Twitter page pretends the messages come from heaven. One says: “I can’t talk about Dodi (Al Fayed) for legal reasons.”

The fake Diana criticises the small numbers turning up to her memorial fountain in London, claiming nobody realises it was filled with the Queen Mother’s gin. Referring to the site of her fatal car crash, she says: “Now looking down at Pont de l’Alma tunnel. Bigger turnout than at Memorial Fountain.”

Alan Berry, co-founder of the Diana Appreciation Society, urged Twitter to ban the page. He said: “It’s sick that some people can pretend to be Diana. What respect is that showing?”

Twitter allows people to impersonate others as long as it is clear it is a joke but last night the firm failed to respond to questions about the Diana page.

It seems that @dianainheaven is in the wrong business. Pretend to be someone dead in a humourous fashion on a social networking site and you're sick; pretend to be a journalist and you can become the royal reporter on the Express.

Labels: , , , , , ,

Share |

Wednesday, February 03, 2010 

Piecemeal reform will still result in contempt.

There are two questions you should always immediately ask when an otherwise completely unexpected political proposal comes along, in this instance Gordon Brown's sudden apparent conversion to an ever so slightly fairer system of voting. Firstly, why now? Second, who benefits?

Well, all right, that's what every cynic will consider. To be fair to Brown, he did ascend to the Labour leadership on the promise of carrying out constitutional reform, which has mostly been either forgotten, watered down to the point of near worthlessness, or handed to Jack Straw to think as shallowly as possible on those much vaunted rights 'n' responsibilities. As everyone knows, Labour has been promising a referendum on proportional representation since 1997, back when Blair was flirting with Paddy Ashdown as he feared not winning an outright majority. We all know what happened next, and despite still setting up the Jenkins commission, which recommended the alternative vote system with an additional top-up element to make it somewhat proportional, there has been no movement until now.

Why then now? Despite there being some voices at the height of the expenses scandal last year calling for a referendum on PR to be held on the same day as the general election, like most of the proposals for reform floated at the time it had come to nothing. While it would be lovely if Brown had suddenly had a epiphany in which he decided that the innate unfairness of the first past the post system means that many votes are all but wasted, and that it's an insult to democracy itself that a party can be elected with a workable majority when it received the support of only 22% of the electorate as a whole, a far more compelling explanation is that it's another last ditch attempt at shoring up the Grauniad-reading core vote whilst also appealing to erstwhile Liberal Democrat supporters. It's also impossible to rule out that it's not a throwback to the thinking of Blair in 97: despite everything, a hung parliament at the moment is a real possibility, and a far more plausible outcome than it was back then. The Liberal Democrats, otherwise regarded by the main two parties as a joke suddenly become incredibly popular, and while it's difficult to imagine them making a deal with the Conservatives, one of their demands in exchange for entering into a coalition would almost certainly be voting reform: by holding out the promise now of a referendum on AV, which they could negotiate into a vote on PR-proper, there's already a basis on which the two parties could work together.

This has the added bonus, and this also falls into the who benefits category, of showing the Conservatives up as opponents of progressive (yes, that word I loathe) reform, a trap which they're more happy to fall straight into, as Eric Pickles' bone-headed performance on Newsnight yesterday showed. According to him, the Alternative Vote system was "unfair"; unfair perhaps if you win the largest share of the vote on the initial count but fail to win an overall majority from all those entitled to, which as the Graun's leader points out not a single one of the current members of parliament has, and then lose after the votes have been re-assigned, but an improvement over FPTP it certainly is, even if only a slight one. There's no doubt whatsoever that self-interest informs both Brown's manoeuvring and the Tories' opposition to any form of PR, but even if Labour's motives are hardly pure, the Conservative position is not down to anything as principled as a belief that PR makes for weak governments, but because of their certainty in getting a large enough majority in which to dominate parliament in a similar way to Labour has for the past 13 years, even if its backbenchers have rebelled against the party whip on an unprecendented number of occasions. The "elective dictatorship" which some have railed against is suddenly no longer a problem when you're inside the tent pissing out rather than the one getting wet.

If that answers why now, then while it's assumed that Labour will benefit under AV or a proportional system, it's not necessarily as clear cut, as while in 2005 most Lab/Lib supporters would have voted tactically to keep the Tories out, the opposite might now be the case, with voters determined to get Labour out of office. There is one thing we haven't considered though: what if this isn't in fact a grand ruse to damage AV and PR with Brown's reverse Midas touch? Key is that any referendum would only be held in the event of a Labour victory, and that's if it manages to rush the legislation through parliament in time, itself difficult with Tory opposition and with less than 2 months before an election will have to be called if the vote is indeed to be on May the 6th. Doing this now only encourages the cynical view Brown will do anything to stay in power, even if it doesn't affect the actual vote this time round. It also distracts attention from that other unresolved constitutional issue increasingly affecting parliament: the West Lothian question, where this time round it could be Scottish Labour MPs which stop the Conservatives from gaining an absolute majority.

More fundamentally, the real reason why a referendum on just AV isn't good enough is that it doesn't allow the electorate to make the decision for themselves on just which electoral system this country should have. Why shouldn't we be allowed to choose a fully proportional system, even if it involves the scrapping of the current constituency system? What's the point of AV when the single transferable vote is very similar but actually proportional? Why not lay all the options out, or aren't we considered intelligent or interested enough to be able to make an educated and informed choice? All Brown is offering is the illusion of change, knowing that he almost certainly won't still be around to implement it. The lesson that should have been learned from the expenses fiasco is that the public both demands the right to know and to be able to act; until parties offer that they are likely to continue to be held in contempt, piecemeal electoral reform or not.

Labels: , , , , ,

Share |

Tuesday, February 02, 2010 

Short shrift for Chilcot.

To approach Clare Short's evidence to the Chilcot inquiry properly, you have to know just how much the New Labour true believers around Blair hated her. She was, according to Alan Milburn, a "political bag lady". John Prescott called her "fucking mad". Alastair Campbell couldn't stand her, and throughout his diaries expresses his contempt in the usual understated fashion. As for Blair himself, he felt that he had to keep her on board as a sop both to the left and the few remaining Old Labour dinosaurs, even whilst he became exasperated at her for failing to "keep on message" as everyone else was expected. Most famously she was slapped down after giving an interview in which she commented on the possibility of the legalisation of cannabis, which she felt was an issue worth considering.

She was, and still is, one of those few politicians that dares to be something approaching an actual human being. That the public tend to like politicians that step out of line every so often or who are indiscreet was doubtless one of the reasons why as time ticked by the Blairistas turned even further against her. The one drawback of being such a person is that it can encourage the belief that you personally are the conscience of an organisation, and it was one that Clare certainly fell into, as perhaps even she would admit. Her failure to resign despite the feeling that the Iraq war was going to be a disaster is now something held against her by anti-war critics, but she was hardly the only person to either be deceived by Blair or who, despite agonising over whether to vote for it or not, made the wrong decision. Many who either abstained or voted for now regard it as their biggest ever mistake in politics; few however will ever get their revenge in as forcefully as Short did today.

It took her just eight minutes before she directly accused Blair of lying, after he told her in September 2002 that he was not planning for war with Iraq. What followed was evidence which contradicted much of what the inquiry has been told so far. According to Short: there was no real discussion of the policy towards Iraq in cabinet; Lord Goldsmith misled the cabinet when he presented his third and final opinion on the legality of the war on March the 17th, which Short alleged he had been lent on to change, even if she had no evidence to back up her claim; she confirmed that Gordon Brown was another of the ministers to be "marginalised" in the run-up to the war; and that she felt she had been "conned" by Blair's promises on the creation of a Palestinian state and the reconstruction of Iraq, pledges that stopped her from resigning at the same time as Robin Cook. In one of the most damning exchanges, Short made clear that she believes Blair was "absolutely sincere" in his policy on Iraq, so certain that what he was doing was right that he was willing to be deceitful in order to achieve his aims. This is almost certainly the best explanation as yet given to the inquiry as to why we went along on the coat-tails of America: Blair believed, and still does, that getting rid of Saddam was so important that he would do almost anything to achieve it, and did. He may have lied to get us there, but to him they weren't lies, or even untruths: he was simply making the strongest possible case he could.

With Robin Cook sadly no longer here to provide an alternative account of what really happened in cabinet in those months leading up to war, Short's evidence is as close as we're likely to get to the perspective of someone not completely on board or supportive from the beginning. It also seemed to be one which the inquiry itself didn't particularly want to hear: we've had criticism from others over how the war was planned for and conducted, but all in diplomatic language and scholarly or lawyerly tones, without anything approaching emotion. She hasn't blown open anything approaching a conspiracy, but she has finally given colour to an otherwise sepia-tinged, plodding spectacle. And with it, she's also got her own back on all those unprepared to say to her face what they really thought of her.

Labels: , , , , ,

Share |

Monday, February 01, 2010 

Does she know something we don't?

One of those slightly strange not quite spam messages that very occasionally falls into your inbox:

Hi there,

I visited your website for the first time last night ( ) and I noticed that you had some condolence/sympathy and funeral related resources within it. You've done a great job of organizing and listing helpful information and I was wondering if you would consider listing my website as a resource for your visitors?

Obituaries Help is a completely free resource for a person looking for condolence/sympathy and funeral related examples and resources.


Melanie Walters - Webmaster

There aren't too many who feel much sympathy for Gordon Brown. Does Melanie Walters then know something we don't on the funeral score? I think we should be told. Mel, do get back in touch. Unless you're going to send the same message again, in which case don't.

Labels: , ,

Share |


  • This is septicisle


Powered by Blogger
and Blogger Templates