Friday, June 30, 2006 

By-election cry babies.

Yesterday's by-elections were little more than humiliating for both of the main parties. Despite all the polls showing the Tories taking major leads over Labour, and Cameron gaining popularity all the time they haemorraged a massive 11,962 from their majority at the general election in Bromley. In Blaneau Gwent, the Labour candidate actually lost votes on the performance in the general election rather than gaining; the consolation was that Peter Law's successor, his former agent, lost nearly 8,000 votes.

The Liberal Democrats and UKIP gained in Bromley, with Ben Abbots for the Libs gaining 1,620 votes, with Nigel Farage, the easy to dislike foghorn voiced UKIP candidate gaining 872. This resulted in Labour being pushed into 4th place - losing an astonishing 8,316 votes. Plaid Cymru were the only real winners in Wales - gaining 912 votes on their 2005 performance.

The main winner, as it often is in by-elections, was apathy. While turnout was still a reasonably impressive 51.7% in Blaneau Gwent, it was down 14.4% on last year. There was an even bigger drop in Bromley, where turnout touched only 40.5%, down nearly 25% from May 2005. It seems that both Conservative and Labour voters stayed at home. Whether this was down in Bromley to the belief that the Tories were unassailable or to the position Cameron is taking is obviously uncertain, but the increase in UKIP support was certainly boosted by them throwing a quoted £75,000 into their campaign. Dai Davies' loss of nearly 8,000 votes will be put down to apathy, as Labour showed no sign of any recovery in the valley. Their performance was not helped by the continuing anger over the initial all-wimmin shortlist that imposed the Blairite Maggie Jones on the consitutency, or the fact that the selected candidate currently works for drug company Pfizer, well known for its socialist business practices. The allegation that Law had been offered a peerage by Peter Hain to stand down, vehemently denied by the Welsh secretary, must also have rankled.

Neither of the two parties has either been truly honest about what happened to their support. Hazel Blears cried that Blaneau Gwent was a "unique set of circumstances" and represented a "family feud", which seems rather insulting considering that it was the Labour's arrogance which resulted in Law standing as an independent in the first place. That his death encouraged his wife to stand for the Welsh assembly seat he has also held (she won) shows how deep the feeling against the current New Labour leadership is. David Cameron has unsportingly decried the result in Bromley as down to Lib Dem dirty tricks, even though the Tory candidate had been widely criticised for having "3 jobs" and making a false declaration on his nomination form.

Will it change anything? It's incredibly doubtful. The Blairites and Blair continue to be in complete denial about the way they are viewed, and Alan Johnson has continued the current theme of warning against a shift to the left. Gordon Brown, despite how he might view it as being a bloody nose against Blair and not him, will likely be concerned about how Labour is currently stuck in a downward spiral which they show no signs of getting out of. The way he continues to throw off any hint that he might do things majorly different to Blair seems more than anything to suggest that there is very little he can do to stop New Labour's apparently inexorable decline. As for the Tories, the result will no doubt have come as a shock, having had one of their safest seats turned into a marginal - but it will doubtless be dismissed as a blip or the result of apathy, as detailed above.

The most heartening thing about the results for the neutral is that it shows the parties other than the main two continuing to gain support. While the possibility of proportional representation being introduced by either Labour or the Tories is almost unthinkable, it shows just how badly such a system is needed. What should be encouraging is the way that a hung parliament, leading to a possible Tory-Lib Dem coalition could bring about just that. Until electoral reform is tackled, a large number of the British population will continue to be disenfranchised. It can't come soon enough.

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Thursday, June 29, 2006 

A bizarre coincidence.

Yesterday John Reid announced that the post of chief inspector of prisons, currently held by Anne Owers, is to be abolished in March 2008.

Today Mr Justice Keith presented his damning findings on the murder of Zahid Mubarek, killed by his white racist cellmate. Keith found a shocking 186 failures that led to Robert Stewart being able to attack Mubarek, who was to be released the next day from Feltham young offenders' institution.

Sometimes there are just no words to describe the way you feel.

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Don't you just love being in control?

The government knew full well that it was coming. It knew almost from the moment that the control orders were given royal assent that they would be found incompatible with the Human Rights Act. Liberty, the Tories and lawyers all warned them. They went ahead regardless, and then yesterday and today have the temerity to once again blame the judges.

John Reid went in at full pelt, as you might expect, "strongly disagreeing" with the decision of Mr Justice Sullivan. Control orders, according to Reid, "are necessary to protect the public and proportionate to the threat that these individuals pose." The normally sane Labour MP John Denham, who resigned from the a ministerial position over the Iraq war, said that judges have sparked a "constitutional crisis", and added that "we have got to have a serious discussion between lawmakers in parliament, ministers and judges about the way through here."

Yet you can imagine the cries of certain members of the media if the judges got a hand in deciding policy, especially as some already view them as "soft". There is no reason for judges to be involved if the government properly consults before-hand, takes on board the views of lawyers, which considering the fact that there's a fair number in the cabinet shouldn't be too hard, and then legislates accordingly. Yet this still doesn't happen.

The whole issue over control orders has still not even been properly discussed. In the case yesterday, it involved 6 men, 5 of whom were Iraqi and one of whom was of either Iranian or Iraqi origin. All the men were arrested under the anti-terrorism act, and then later released without charge, only to be then held immigrations laws, likely to be deported under the "not conducive to the public good rule". Once it was discovered that they could not be deported back to Iraq or Iran, they were placed under the control orders.

If these men are such a threat to society, why were they not initially charged when they were arrested? Was there a lack of evidence, or was that evidence obtained via wire tapping, something which MI5 is still refusing to allow to be used in court, despite the recent use of bugs and listening devices in the on-going case against the men who discussed bombing the Ministry of Sound nightclub in London. Such tapes were not only played in court, but also given to the media in full. Is the intelligence on these men so top secret that it can't be disclosed, or gathered in such a way that it would expose the person who did so? The problem with this now is that we've seen in the last month what poor intelligence can lead to - and it doesn't inspire confidence that these men may be being held on incredibly flimsy information.

I have yet to hear a convincing reason, or even a reason from a minister on why these men on control orders or waiting to be deported for alleged links to terrorist groups or acts of terrorism cannot be tried in this country. Is it because it's just easier to get rid of them rather than go through the whole possibility of a trial failing, as it did in the case of the so-called ricin plotters? The men accused who were acquitted are now set to be deported, although whether they will be or not remains to be seen. Is it because it would expose MI5 officers and suppliers of intelligence to do so? If that is the case, then why can't the whole trial be held in secret, if necessary with just a judge, with the outcome then being given to the media once the trial has finished, along with all the evidence and countering arguments made, some blanked-out and protected if it needs to be? That seems a much better option than the current system of making men prisoners in their own homes, with contact with the outside being as minimal as the authorities would allow, with all visitors having to provide exactly when they would be visiting and what for. Even then their conversations would no doubt be taped. Their families are under the same conditions.

There is no doubting that there are men in this country who are plotting further terrorist atrocities. Yet the response from the government has been out of all proportion from the beginning; the original holding of prisoners without charge in Belmarsh applied only to foreign nationals, when it was home-grown militants who attacked London on 7/7. It also put Britain in the unenviable position of being next to the United States in locking up terrorist suspects without charge or trial. When that was rightly struck down by the courts, control orders were the answer, despite everyone warning that they too would do more harm than good. So it has been proved. After 7/7 we returned to the draconian measure of 90 days possible detention without charge or trial, and even then the police said they'd like to have even longer. We're now threatening to deport those "who are not conducive to the public good" back to their home nation, whether they are likely to be tortured or not. A piece of paper that says the likes of Algeria or Jordan won't isn't worth the paper it's written on. Yet recently two detainees awaiting deportation gave up their fight and elected to take their chances back home.
Doesn't that say something about British justice and the effect that this Kafkaesque system is having on anyone seen as a potential threat?

The government could still change all this. It could devise a way that these men could be brought to trial that all could agree on and that doesn't break the vital Human Rights Act. It could instead of appealing against Mr Justice Sullivan's verdict start doing this immediately with the help of the Tories, Lib Dems and eminent lawyers. Instead it's continuing with its sure to fail quick fixes, same as always. The tabloids will scream, the government will react, and we'll be back where we started. Just don't say we didn't warn you when it happens again.

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Skull rape.

I don't check the comments on old posts very often. Hence how I missed up to now this gem on an old post on a school putting a CCTV system in the toilet:

are u kidding? respect yer students and theyll respect u?
u ever taught in a skool?

our skool has cctv in the loos and no-one complains. weird comments u make, mate.

when yer daughter or son gets skull raped in a school toilet then set alight maybe you'll think different.

I'm not sure what skull rape involves, and I'm not sure I want to know, but thanks to Anonymous anyway.

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Wednesday, June 28, 2006 

Ex-MI6 officer arrested over leaked lists of current agents.

The infamous lists of MI6 officers, long leaked onto the internet have been confirmed as real, in case anyone had any doubts. Richard Tomlinson, the ex-MI6 officer who was imprisoned for attempting to publish a biography on his career, was arrested in France yesterday and accused of publishing the lists, which he vehemently denies. He details the raid on his blog:

From 0627 until 1030, they thoroughly searched my house and confiscated my main computer, my laptop, my Psion organiser, my mobile phone, the brand new laptop of a friend who had unfortunately left it at my house for a few days, all my legal documents concerning my long battle with MI6, all my CDs (including software CDs), all my photographs, my camera, several books, and numerous other small items. They left my house as tidy as it was before they came - not like the Italian Police.

They then escorted me to my boat, and searched that. This really was a bit ridiculous - if I wanted to hide something on my boat, they would not find it in a week of searching - there are so many places to hide stuff in a sailing boat.

...

I was then taken for interview, and learnt for the first time the charges against me. Apparently, MI6 believe that I am responsible for publishing three lists of MI6 agents on the Internet. These allegedly first appeared on the newsgroup uk.politics.misc in 2005, and then appeared again on www.cryptome.org. The police allowed me to take notes from the interrogation sheet, though I was not allowed to keep a copy.

The three lists were posted on uk.politics,misc:

1. 1322 on 21 August 2005, by "John J", email jo1955ds@yahoo.com
2. 0930 on 27 August 2005, by "Todor Velichkov" todvel76@yahoo.co.uk
3. 1024 on 13 October 2005, by "Alan Bond", alnbon1012@yahoo.com.

I have absolutely nothing to do with the publication of these lists. The British police would not let me see the lists to discuss in detail, but they agreed that the lists were genuine. This in itself is a fairly astonishing admission - the only people who can verify that the lists are genuine are the British authorities themselves. They obviously think that this is worth doing, if it gives them a chance to harass me and take all my computers from me, knowing what difficulty and expense this will cause me.

Anyway, I was questioned until about 2130, then formally released from "garde en vue" at about 2200.
The lists themselves are still freely available on Cryptome, itself visited by the FBI on behalf of Her Majesty's Government, and Private Eye mentioned them earlier this year in connection with the allegations made by some Greek citizens that they were beaten in the presence of British intelligence officers, one of whom is alleged to be Nicholas Langham, the MI6 station chief in Athens at the time.

Tomlinson deserves support, although whether he's done exactly what those making accusations against him wanted by now commenting on the lists and tracking them down himself is worrying.

Update: Both Richard Norton-Taylor, the Guardian's excellent security affairs correspondent and Tomlinson himself are now casting doubt on the veracity of the lists.

Tomlinson writes:
Personally, I am not sure at all that they are genuine. For example, at the bottom of the "John Jo" list there is a section entitled "HM Ambassadors", followed by a list of more names. Now as far as I can see, all of those names are genuine members of the Foreign Office and not at all members of MI6. When I was in MI6, no MI6 officer was ever promoted to the rank of Ambassador (except on one very rare exception). So unless the rules were changed radically after I left, then this seems very odd.

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Tuesday, June 27, 2006 

When politicians attack: Clarke bites the hand that feeds.

There's a strange thing that happens when ministers resign or are fired from the government. They suddenly become human again. Instead of walking around bleating out slogans and the government line like daleks, they often turn into someone you might even not mind spending some time with. Watching the Daily Politics or Question Time, they often turn up and whether you agree with their politics or not, they seem amiable enough. If only the ministers themselves were like that.

Which brings us to Charles Clarke. Here was a man who entered the Home Office after the years of judge-baiting by David Blunkett, himself brought down by the tabloids who he had got into bed with. For a while he seemed like he was going to be different. After 7/7, he promised that he would keep in contact with his shadow home secretaries so that they could reach a consensus on any new laws following the attacks. This was thrown out of the window by Blair himself while Clarke was on holiday, with his "the rules of the game are changing" speech, itself a reaction to a campaign by the Sun which seemed to think that the whole country was going to collapse because the politicians were away on holiday. Throughout the battle over the 90 days detention issue, Clarke repeatedly held out on a olive branch to the opposition parties who opposed his plans, only for Blair to again bring him to heel. As a result, the government suffered its first loss. Clarke and the police rather than Blair got the blame.

It was the start of the slide. This year Clarke went from bad move to bad move, first being incredibly rude to Rachel North's father when he tried to speak to him, then making a speech attacking the Guardian and Independent for daring to suggest that the government was diluting ancient liberties and become more and more authoritarian. Within days the foreign prisoner scandal had broken, and while Clarke seemed to weather the storm and face the criticism, the Labour local election results were so bad that Blair sacked him. Embittered, Clarke refused any job other than foreign secretary, which wasn't offered. He went to the backbenches.

And from there he seems to have been quietly seething. Two months on, and he's emerged to give his first major interviews, as well as making a speech defending his stewardship of the Home Office. On Newsnight he seemed neither anxious to precipitate a "Geoffrey Howe" moment, the speech by Thatcher's ex-foreign secretary which brought about her downfall, but neither was he particularly praiseworthy. Rather, he seemed demoralisingly angry about the job done since his removal by his successor, John Reid, who he launched a number of attacks on.

INT When you left the Home Office, when you cleared your desk, did you think you were leaving a department that was unfit for purpose?

CC No I didn’t. I thought that was absolutely not the case.

INT John Reid was absolutely clear, wasn’t he, that this was a department that was unfit for purpose, your leadership was incoherent and there was a failure to ensure accountability. He was talking about what you'd done.

CC Er…. Let’s… I think John was wrong to say that.

INT Do you feel hurt about the way John Reid described the Department personally?

CC No, I don’t feel that. I think he came in as every incoming Secretary of State is entitled to do and said it as he saw it. It’s just that I don’t agree with his analysis of what he saw ...

The overall picture of a department not fit for purpose in any of the respects he described I think is and was fundamentally wrong, and I think John was wrong to use those descriptions as I told him before he gave evidence to the select committee.

INT The criticism is that you were unwilling to carry out that wholesale transformation.

CC Well if that was his criticism, and by the way I’m not sure that’s what he meant by it, but let’s assume it was, it certainly is not true.

INT He upset some members of the judiciary when he questioned the sentence of a paedophile by a judge. Is that something that you would have done?

CC Decisions are taken by parts of the Criminal Justice System which the Home Secretary of the day is routinely asked to comment on and either criticise or support. I made it my practice not to do that.

INT Having ruffled the feathers of the judiciary, Dr Reid then found himself criticised by the police - this time for appearing to respond to a News of the World campaign by asking for a new assessment of the law the tabloid demanded. The paper wanted legislation allowing public information on where convicted paedophiles live.

CC I don’t know if his timing was influenced by the News of the World campaign or not. I haven’t spoken to him about it so I can’t tell you. If it was then I would criticise it. I don’t think that’s the right thing to do.

INT There’s always a pressure, isn’t there, from the media, the media will always be on the Home Secretary’s back.

CC ... the Home Secretary of the day should not simply be running on the band wagon of some particular media campaign...

INT Last week, John Reid announced that his predecessor’s carefully negotiated plans to restructure the police in England were being put on hold.

CC I regret that John has decided not to proceed with the orders before Parliament for four of the regions of the country forces that we propose.
In other words, Clarke seems to disagree with almost every major policy undertaking or action that Reid has decided upon since he has become Home Secretary. What's remarkable about the attack is that Clarke and Reid are, or were, ardent Blairites, dedicated to the cause of furthering New Labour. When Blair was thinking of throwing in the towel in 2004, it was the likes of Tessa Jowell, Hazel Blears, Reid and Clarke that persuaded him to stay on. For there to be such a major disagreement with the main running of the Home Office since Clarke's sacking is the first sign that the consensus between the Blairites themselves is beginning to break down. Of course, this might simply be Clarke trying to get some sympathy and recognition of the difficult job that he had. The Sun, which loves Reid's immediate capitulation to any campaign which they or their sister paper decides to run, has today described his attack as "sour". No doubt that reflects the mood in Downing Street, which has simply said that Clarke was "expressing his disappointment".

Yet inside they must be cringing. While Clarke was much less harsh on Blair, who he still believes should serve until 2008, he didn't put his complete faith in him either.

Today if we look at the Labour Party generally there is a sense of uncertainty about the direction we are going to follow and we have to recover that. My preferred option has been and remains that Tony Blair stays as leader and Prime Minister to complete the execution of the manifesto upon which he was elected in 2005 and then hands over to a new leader who would prepare the manifesto for 2009-10. That is the logic of his statement before the last election.

“The logic of him carrying through the manifesto would point to 2008, as I have always said. I do think there is a sense of Tony having lost his sense of purpose and direction, so my advice to him is to recover that sense of purpose and direction and that remains the best option. I intend between now and the party conference to say things about the future of the party, which would be about what I think that sense of purpose and direction should be.
The horrible thing that must be worrying Blair's sycophants and acolytes is that Clarke is entirely right. Is there a more despicable sight than Blair, after almost 9 years in office, finally deciding that there should be a "open debate about where we go next"? Even then the open debate is false. Blair makes clear which way he believes that the party should go - and there's no chance that he'll let anyone alter that, or that when Gordon Brown takes over that he'll change direction. Blair lost his sense of direction when he decided to join the United States in a war which was unnecessary, illegal and which we had no need to participate in. His purpose went even earlier than that, when he dedicated the Labour party to further privatisation and the establishment of the mantra of "choice", which has become a hideous distraction which no one other than the Labour party and private companies profiting out of it are interested in. In riding the Murdoch and Rothermere tiger, he's removed central liberties, became even tougher on crime, only for the fear of it to continue rising with prisons full, and he still thinks he hasn't gone far enough. Only an extension of summary powers will sort out the mess of our streets, with all the ugly connotations that carries with it.

The solution should be obvious to everyone, but hardly anyone in the Labour party wants to face up to it. No one can stand the main Blairites any longer. Most people when they hear the voice of Jowell, Hewitt, Reid or Blears reach for the sick bag. The public at large seem to have little more respect for Brown, especially as he seems determined to make himself a laughing stock with his attempts at appearing "with it", by watching the football and listening to the Arctic Monkeys, as Jackie Ashley wrote yesterday. All it does is make him look like he's going through a mid-life crisis. Brown needs time for him to establish himself as the next leader, if he does one day finally become prime minister. Yet before that there needs to be a debate, if not a contest over where Labour is going. The Blairites and their message has failed. They have to go, and very quickly if Labour is not to find itself out of power. Brown has to heed that message and come up with some decent alternative policies if he is not going to just be the PM until Cameron restores the Conservatives as the "natural party of government". It's often forgotten, but Labour under Brown would still be better than the Tories, especially when Cameron is dedicated to the same quick fix solutions that Blair has been, with his wheeze about a Bill of Rights designed purely to win support from the Sun. At the moment many seem to assume we're either heading for a Tory government or a hung parliament. Brown can still change that.

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Monday, June 26, 2006 

News of the Screws and Sun pay Ashley Cole £100,000 over "gay orgy" claims.

Well, who would have thought it? Despite the Daily Star apologising months back and no doubt saving itself a hefty amount in damages, the Sun and Screws decided against doing so, only to now have to pay Cole £100,000.

The difference with the case is that Cole was never actually directly named by the articles in the Screws and the Sun until he started legal proceedings. The original stories, over two weeks in the Screws, did however drop hints while coyly describing those involved as "two Premiership footballers and a well-known DJ", who had allegedly indulged in gay sex acts, using a mobile phone. The name of the other footballer supposedly involved has never come out. Cole's however did, especially when the Sun ran an obviously suggestive headline, "Ashley's got a good taste in rings", a non-story about his engagement to gorgeous pouting hideously tattooed wasp chewer Cheryl Tweedy, and when the website PinkNews.co.uk uncovered the un-digitally altered photograph, which clearly showed Cole and DJ Ian Thompson, aka Masterstepz.

At the time the printing of the articles seemed like an incredibly stupid decision, purely on the basis that England were in the World Cup and any stories about those who were going to play in it that were negative were unlikely to go down well with patriotic readers. That the Screws then only alluded to those involved when it obviously knew full well who it was was a typical piece of tabloid cowardice. There'd rather smear people who are entirely innocent of any of their allegations and worry about the consequences later, as has been evidenced over a number of years.

What remains to be seen now is whether Smears International try and recoup some of their losses by attempting a claim against PinkNews, which did the most "damage" to their stories, or rather, published what they were too cowardly to. They might try attempting to claim that the original reports were not about Cole, although proving that will for obvious reasons be difficult. The editors might instead have to live this one down, and no doubt face the wrath of Murdoch for wasting his money. That makes two footballers that the Sun has had to grovel to in recent months, after it wrongly claimed Rooney had hit his girlfriend. Whether Sven will have similar luck with his legal action against the Screws over his encounter with the fake sheikh remains to be seen.

A new reader writes: Who is this "fake sheikh", and do you happen to have any photographs of this clearly brilliant journalist who managed such a tremendous scoop?

Well, a new reader, his name is Mahzer Mahmood, although whether that's his real name or not is unclear. He also at times goes by the moniker Pervaiz Khan, and here are a couple of snaps from his otherwise threadbare family album:



In another tabloid triumph, the Observer reported yesterday that the removal of sex offenders and paedophiles from hostels close to schools was something approaching a disaster. John Reid acted, entirely of his own volition, after the News of the Screws told him it was about to go to print exposing 11 such hostels as containing paedophiles, as well as naming the locations. Reid instead groveled, had the offenders removed, and promised the Screws that he was going to have a good old think about introducing "Sarah's Law", honest guv. Apparently the offenders moved are now under far less supervision and some are being held in bed and breakfast accommodation, which is clearly a good idea. Many homeless families are usually put in the same places when there is nowhere else for them to go, so instead of looking over into the playground they'll be able to... well, it doesn't bear thinking about. Congratulations then to the fearless protectors of children at Wapping!

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Saturday, June 24, 2006 

Criminal justice.

I posted this as a comment yesterday on the Comment is Free site. This is a slightly revised version.

Blair's speech, which is worth reading in full, is a lot better than he'll probably be given credit for. Yet nowhere in it, despite all his talk of the civil liberties and human rights of the victim and rebalancing does he talk about the presumption of innocence. The one right which a lot of people would consider to be absolutely inalienable is to be innocent until proved guilty. Nowhere does Blair state that he agrees with this. That is the problem with the proposed increase in summary justice and interim anti-social behaviour orders; the use of which will no doubt soon be given to the usual suspects, whether they actually are committing the supposed offences or not. Once you've been fingered, it leaves the problem that you become known, and it's far easier to go after them.

Take the story I was told today: A friend of mine who works on a market stall has a son who's known to the police. His son smokes, and there's very little that he can do to stop him from doing so. A police car drove by his son and saw him smoking, and as they know he's 15, the officer jumped out and ordered the teenager to give him the tobacco. He threw it to a friend who is over 16, but the police officer was having none of it. He grabbed the 15-year-old, and put his arm behind his back. The boy proceeded to tell him to get off and told him to "fuck off". The officer said right, that's disorder, you're under arrest. He kneed the teenager in the back of his legs to put him to ground and cuff him, but kept holding his arm. The result? The officer broke the boy's arm around the elbow, and he's had to have pins put in to correct the break. All because the person in question, who was minding his own business, was "known". Somehow I think that the police have a lot more important things to be doing than trying to stop 15-year-olds smoking.

Anyway, I digress. Blair's speech is delivered in the usual way in that what he says is so compelling and seems balanced and right that it's difficult to disagree with. Yet while he makes some welcome points about easy solutions, such as those advocated by the Sun, the repeal of the Human Rights Act, naming, shaming and blaming judges as completely missing the point, he only recognises the instances in which the current ASB legislation has worked. He doesn't admit to the sufferers of mental illness and behavioural problems who have been criminalised, the beggars and prostitutes served them that have done nothing illegal. And he goes back to his age-old excuse of blaming the opposition and those who have dared to "water down" his legislation, when all they've done is do exactly what their job is; to review legislation and stop the government of the day from abusing their powers.

Most people recognise that there are problems with drug dealers and crack houses, and few people have disagreed with those parts of the legislation which have gone through. Yet the emphasis on "shaming", which itself is part of the tabloid agenda he rejects is nearly always counter-productive. Where local police forces, like Thames Valley introduced softly-softly approaches to crimes such as shoplifting, where they made offenders meet managers of supermarkets, they are criticised for being politically correct by the same newspapers that Blair does so much to woo. As a result the shops themselves introduced civil recovery schemes, demanding huge sums from those who stole in the first place because they have little money or other problems. The likes of Tesco demanding money in the regions of hundreds of pounds from teenagers who stole a couple of chocolate bars isn't decried as greed. It's rather common sense.

Blair points out that those with drug problems and mental health problems litter our prisons. Yet he doesn't suggest that prison isn't the best place for them, and that more secure hospitals should perhaps be built to house them instead. While drug treatment programmes have admirably been much better funded in recent years, more still needs to be done. Blair's point that they need to made compulsory and with repercussions if they're broken is welcome, but there need need to be as many carrots as there are sticks. As for those with mental ill health, he seems more likely to bow to the tabloids and build yet more prisons. He talks of the voluntary sector being given more involvement in the probation system, without mentioning the attempt by Charles Clarke to privatise that exact system, which would have left companies deciding whether it should keep offenders in prisons run by themselves for profit. There is no acknowledgement of the conflict of interest in such a scheme, which still has not been ruled as dead.

He deserves to be listened to. He makes some salient points. But while he continues to criticise those who suggest that we should stand back, let the current reforms to the system settle and become more rational about the debate on crime, he continues to play to those who he denies pandering to: the hysterical tabloid press. Blair's allegiance to Murdoch is going to end in tears, but he can't accept that inevitability yet. His moves should be seen in that light, and the most objectionable should be rightly rejected.

Other posts on same subject:
Tales from the real world - Big Stick Small Carrot
A decent (*shock*) article by Martin Kettle
The Great Law 'n' Order Debate - Lenin's Tomb

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Friday, June 23, 2006 

A troubling survey.

There's a deeply troubling and depressing survey reported on by the Guardian today. The Pew Global Attitudes Project surveyed both Muslims and non-Muslims across the globe. It suggests that British Muslims are the most anti-western in Europe.

The poll found that 63% of all Britons had a favourable opinion of Muslims, down slightly from 67% in 2004, suggesting last year's London bombings did not trigger a significant rise in prejudice. Attitudes in Britain were more positive than in the US, Germany and Spain (where the popularity of Muslims has plummeted to 29%), and about the same as in France.

Less than a third of British non-Muslims said they viewed Muslims as violent, significantly fewer than non-Muslims in Spain (60%), Germany (52%), the US (45%) and France (41%).

By contrast, the poll found that British Muslims represented a "notable exception" in Europe, with far more negative views of westerners than Islamic minorities elsewhere on the continent. A significant majority viewed western populations as selfish, arrogant, greedy and immoral. Just over half said westerners were violent. While the overwhelming majority of European Muslims said westerners were respectful of women, fewer than half British Muslims agreed. Another startling result found that only 32% of Muslims in Britain had a favourable opinion of Jews, compared with 71% of French Muslims.

Across the board, Muslim attitudes in Britain more resembled public opinion in Islamic countries in the Middle East and Asia than elsewhere in Europe. And on the whole, British Muslims were more pessimistic than those in Germany, France and Spain about the feasibility of living in a modern society while remaining devout.

The Pew poll found that British Muslims are far more likely than their European counterparts to harbour conspiracy theories about the September 11 attacks. Only 17% believed that Arabs were involved, compared with 48% in France.

There was general agreement that relations are bad, but Britons as a whole were much less likely than other Europeans to blame Muslims. More Britons faulted westerners (27%) than Muslims (25%), with a third saying both are equally responsible. British Muslims were less ambivalent. Nearly half blamed westerners. By comparison, in Germany and France both communities blamed each other in roughly equal measure.

Unlike the rest of Europe, a majority of Britons declared themselves sympathetic to Muslims offended by the cartoons of the prophet Muhammad published in the European press last year. But most Britons said the outbreak of violence was the result of Muslim intolerance for western freedom of expression. Only 9% of British Muslims agreed with that view. Nearly three-quarters blamed the controversy on western disrespect of Islam.
That so many Britons still have a good view of Muslims is reassuring, especially in a climate which has at times been oppressive, in particular following the 7/7 attacks and the government's campaign for terrorist suspects to be held for up to 90 days without charge. Both Britons and British Muslims are pessimistic about relations between each other, as 28% of Britons think relations between Westerners and Muslims are generally good, with 61% thinking them generally bad. 23% of British Muslims think relations are good, compared to 62% who think relations are generally bad.

What's most worrying is that even after 7/7, (15% sometimes, 9% rarely) 24% of British Muslims still think suicide attacks are in some way justifiable against civilian targets. This won't have been helped in recent weeks by the likes of George Galloway saying that an Iraqi carrying out a suicide attack on Tony Blair could be morally justifiable. This doesn't necessarily mean that they support such attacks here in Britain, but they may do in Israel. British Muslims are also most likely to see unpleasant traits in people in Western countries, such as being selfish, arrogant and violent. By contrast, non-Muslims in Britain are at the bottom in the survey for seeing Muslims as fanatical and violent among countries in Europe, and Germany is the only country below Britain where non-Muslims see Muslims as arrogant. A shockingly low figure, 17% said that the 9/11 attacks were carried out by Arabs, compared to 56% who disagreed. Conspiracy theory seems to abounding among Muslims, the reasons for which aren't clear.

Some of these feelings among British Muslims will no doubt have been aroused by the fact that the UK was the main coalition partner in launching the Iraq war. The 90 days distraction of last year was also likely to have affected relations. Even so, in Spain, which was also part of the "coalition of the willing", Muslims were much more optimistic about relations, and saw westerners as being much more respecting of women. 71% of Spanish Muslims saw no conflict between being devout and living in a modern society, compared to 49% in Britian, where Muslims were almost evenly split on the issue (47% saw a conflict.)

What is to be done? To start with, there needs to be a re-opening of government talks between the chief Muslim organisations, over all aspects of the policies affecting them, especially the police in the aftermath of the Forest Gate fiasco. Such talks should be transparent and transcripts should be placed in the public domain. Both the government and the media need to listen more to what Muslims are saying, and what they're worrying about. At the moment there's an obvious disconnect and a thinking within the Muslim community that they are dismissed as terrorists and fanatical. This survey shows that the majority of the British public clearly do not see them as such. Whether the police do is a different matter.

However, such a dialogue cannot be one-sided. Muslims need to explain why almost a quarter of them think that suicide bombings against civilians can be justified. Britain is not Israel, and London is not the West Bank. Even there suicide bombings can only be barely justified as legitimate resistance against the occupying troops, and even that is a hugely counter-productive and wrong way to go about things. What is so bad about living in Britain that such actions would be necessary or justified? Why are so few prepared to admit that the 9/11 attackers were Arabs? There's a difference between thinking that more could have be done to prevent those attacks and thinking that Mossad did it, or that it was an inside job. The poisonous falsehood that Israelis were warned not to go to work at the twin towers on that day still seems to have quite a grasp on British Muslims. We need answers. While the likes of Melanie Philips and her acolytes seem to think that all Muslims view themselves as "victims" of western foreign policy, this survey tends to suggest that some do think that way. Such views need challenging, especially by the Muslim organisations which are springing up to speak for them. It is down to them to do so, not for the government.

The survey suggests that things are not as bad as the doom-mongers would have us believe, but they are neither as rosy as those on the other end of the debate would like to think. There's a disconnect between the two communities. Whether this is down to the increasing segregation amongst Muslims and non-Muslims, the increase of religious schools, the hatred of the likes of the BNP or simply a divergence of opinion between the two groups, something has to be done if things are not to get worse. Unless we all try our best to find out why things have reached the stage they have, then multiculturalism might yet fail. We have to stop that from happening.

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Thursday, June 22, 2006 

Nuking the "debate".

There's something deeply unpleasant and undemocratic about the way in which Gordon Brown last night more or less said that he supports the replacement of the trident nuclear missile system, or rather in the Newspeak type way in which it is referred to, as "our nuclear deterrent". It says something that rather than expressing his views in an interview, say with a newspaper, or actually in parliament, that he decides that the best place to announce his intentions once he becomes prime minister is in front of a gathering of London businessmen in Mansion House. Not that he actually devoted the speech to his reasons why the British government should write a cheque for up to £25bn for something we'll never use. He starts with a few words about the 7/7 attacks, before reeling off the usual amount of economic guff that his speeches are peppered with. Here's what he said that's relevant:

And I mean not just stability by securing low inflation but stability in our industrial relations, stability through a stable and competitive tax regime, and stability through a predictable and light touch regulatory environment - a stability founded on our strength to make the right long term decisions, the same strength of national purpose we will demonstrate in protecting our security in this Parliament and the long-term - strong in defence in fighting terrorism, upholding NATO, supporting our armed forces at home and abroad, and retaining our independent nuclear deterrent.

In an insecure world we must and will always have the strength to take all necessary long term decisions for stability and security.
6 words then, but six which have predictably caused a storm among the "Labour left", as the Times puts it on its front page. That the Times leads on it itself speaks volumes, as Brown's speech is part of his continuing fawning attempts to woo the Murdoch tiger. You can imagine the outrage of the Sun (Kelvin MacKenzie let the cat out of the bag earlier in the week when he rather absentmindedly said on Newsnight that Rebekah Wade and Brown had recently shared dinner.) if Brown dared even to think that it might be worth waiting a little longer to see if any credible "state" enemy emerges on the scale of the Soviet Union - after all, while the decision supposedly has to be made in this parliament, the submarine system itself isn't scheduled to become the name of this blog until 2024. 18 years is a long time in politics. No, the decision is urgent because it concerns our "stability" and "security".

Like Blair did in front of the CBI just over a month ago, when he said that "nuclear was back with a vengeance", which conjured up visions of Bruce Willis killing terrorists daring to disagree with the concept of nuclear power, what Brown said amounts to pre-emptively dismissing the supposed debate which is meant to occur on the issue. While the Guardian leader talks about being politically naive, it itself is being naive when it states:

This is a big decision. It needs time. It needs debate. And it needs honesty.
All of which are things that those who are in thrall of US power will never allow it to become. While the argument being articulated by those in complete opposition to Trident is that it sends a message to the likes of Iran that while it's perfectly OK for us to upgrade and replace our nukes, the likes of you can't even have them to begin with is reasonably sound and has a point, something few still seem to question is in what situation would we ever use the missiles unless the US ordered us to, or unless we asked the US's permission first. What threat would emerge that threatens us, but not the United States? Aren't we still interdependent, despite the end of the cold war and 20th-century military strategy? In other words, what point do the missiles serve, except looking all shiny and nice and making us look bigger on the world stage than we deserve to? At the amount they cost, they're a hugely expensive way to secure our stability and security.

Not that the government is averse to spending huge amounts of money which will do little to secure our stability and security. In the other Guardian leader of the day, it highlights that ID cards might cost £10bn or even £20bn. That was a decision that was rammed through the House of Commons and House of Lords, which admirably made a stand until it reached a feeble compromise. In the resulting fued triggered by Brown's remarks, Jack Straw has stepped in and pledged that there will be a white paper. Apparently the House of Commons will be shown "proper respect", although what that means is anyone's guess, as Straw stopped short of promising a vote on the matter.

If there's one thing that isn't naive, it's believing that Brown's political ambition knows no limits. The decision has already been made. Thinking anything else is foolish.

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Wednesday, June 21, 2006 

Mail-watch: The hounding of Colin Stagg.

For years, the Daily Mail suggested that the murderer of Rachel Nickell was Colin Stagg. Stagg, who was tried once for the crime, had no forensic evidence linking him to her murder. He was flagged up as a potential suspect because he matched the psychological profile of her killer that esteemed forensic psychologist Paul Britton had drawn up. (Britton is supposedly the man on whom the criminal profiler Fitz in the ITV series Cracker was based on.) To try to trap Stagg, the police, in consultation with Britton, set up a plot involving a female police officer. She offered Stagg friendship and sex, hoping that he would reveal the sexual traits that Britton thought that the suspect had. Instead Stagg throughout the operation denied involvement in the crime, and did nothing to suggest that he was "deviant" in any way. So desperate were the police that the woman recorded a tape in which, on orders of other officers, she fantasised about being dominated, and even using a knife in apparent sex sessions she was promising. The judge in the case, Mr Justice Ognall, called it the "most vivid illustration of shaping the accused's mind".

Instead of accepting that Stagg was not the killer, the paper continued to lead a low-level campaign for the law against double jeopardy to be changed, so that Stagg could be tried again. In October 1996, the Mail published an article by Chester Stern, a former Scotland Yard press officer, based around quotations from supposed evidence that the police would have used against Stagg, had his trial not been stopped at an early stage by the judge. Another article in the same month, with more of the same, added that "Stagg cannot stand trial for Rachel's murder again, even if new evidence came to light which incriminated him". Four years later in July 2000, the Mail printed another series of articles about Nickell's murder. These were based on a book by Keith Pedder, the detective inspector who led the murder inquiry. Pedder's book is based around the premise that Colin Stagg "got away with murder", and appears to be have been revised at least once since then. Another year went by, and the Mail then carried an interview with Nickell's former boyfriend. He desperately wanted the government to abolish the double jeopardy law. This is just a selection of the most damning articles; no doubt there were others, including opinion pieces, which made similar allegations or insinuations against Stagg.

Today the Mail appears to be running an exclusive interview with Stagg, as it turns out that a Broadmoor inmate is now being questioned over Rachel's murder. The man, if it turns out to be the same one who has been previously fingered, was first accused of being her murderer back in 1995 by err, the Daily Mail. When he was sent to Broadmoor, the next day's Mail led with "DID HE KILL RACHEL TOO?". Is there an apology in the article then, from the interviewer that the Daily Mail likely got it horribly wrong for over ten years? Err, no. Stagg does however intend to claim damages from the police for his treatment. He might want to look back over past issues of the Mail and consider whether he has grounds against them, and indeed Pedder, to sue for either defamation of character or libel.

(This post couldn't have been written without Private Eye 1120, once again showing the Eye's record in campaigning for the victims of miscarriages of justice. Thanks to them for the sources, and the new issue is out today. Go buy it.)

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Tuesday, June 20, 2006 

Welcome to paedogeddon.

Back in those halcyon days of 2001 before the whole world fell apart, the spoof documentary show Brass Eye returned for a one-off special dealing with paedophilia and the media hysteria surrounding it. In 2000 the "newspaper" the News of the World, alongside its campaign for a law to be drawn up allowing parents to be informed when a sex offender moved into their area, "named and shamed" known paedophiles. The government at the time managed to persuade the newspaper that such methods were counter-productive. While the satire in the resultant show, obviously influenced by the hysteria of the Screws was a lot broader and less humourous than that which had been in the previous series shown in 1997, it resulted in a predictable furore, which was what the makers of the show knew would happen and wanted. Ministers queued up to denounce the show despite not watching it (Home Secretary David Blunkett criticised it, despite definitely not being able to view it) and even the Guardian suggested that the show had gone too far.

5 years later, and we've learned nothing. Following last week's attacks on judges in the Sun newspaper, and the resultant anger after a judge followed the "formula" which meant a paedophile who was given a life sentence could be freed after 5 years, John Reid gave in to 6 years of campaigning from the News of the World. Alongside its report that hostels which held offenders near schools were apparently full of slobbering sex offenders waiting to pick up kids on their lunch hour, it showered praise on Reid, who has decided to look into how a "Megan's law" (the campaign for similar legislation in the UK has been renamed Sarah's law, after the schoolgirl, surname Payne, murdered by paedophile Roy Whiting), the legislation enacted in America following the rape and murder of Megan Kanka, would work over here. He's therefore decided to send the prisons minister for a summer holiday (surely fact finding trip? Ed.) to America.

Not all is well though with the government's apparent capitulation to the agenda of certain tabloid newspapers. One brave police officer, the chief constable of Dyfed and Powys, Terry Grange, no doubt soon to be christened as a politically correct lunatic, told Radio 4 that:
"The last three years has been a litany of abandonment of any real strategic design in the Home Office in the management of sex offenders, in favour of trying to find out what one particular tabloid newspaper wants and then complying with their wishes."
Which is a bit over the top. The real rush to find out what the tabloids want has been since the beginning of this year, as scandal after scandal has rocked the Labour party. Grange then added:
"Anybody who has watched the last six months in all forms of the debate on public protection, whether it's our own home-grown criminals, foreign criminals, the immigration and nationality department, sex offenders, violent offender orders - one of my favourite on-the-hoof policies - all brought about by the media putting pressure on the government and the government responding.
He certainly has a point. We only have to look back on the last 2 weeks to witness how the government has responded to a tabloid campaign. With most attention being on the World Cup, there hasn't been much hard political news. In the resultant vacuum, the Sun launched its shameful attacks on judges for being "soft". Just hours after the paper had hit doorsteps across the country, John Reid had decided to write to the Attorney General over the sentence given to Craig Sweeney. It seems unlikely that the two things are unrelated. As the Sun built up the storm further with more outraged and distorted editorials, the reality became clear: that judges are getting harsher, that life sentences are getting longer and that because of the constant crack-downs the prison population is close to bursting point. Despite this, with the News of the World breaking its story that sex offenders were being kept in hostels near schools, John Reid, apparently determined to be the worst in a long line of bad home secretaries, decided that "Sarah's law" is worth a look after all.

All of this is resultant of a constant barrage of tabloid headlines about human rights laws favouring criminals, that our police are in the apparent clutches of a bunch of polticially correct idiots who couldn't run a tap, and that the criminal justice system is collapsing around our eyes. None of which is true, but it sure makes for something to moan about as the red-top tabloids continue to haemorrhage sales. In the last ABC figures, it was only the Sun and Daily Mirror that were losing readers (The Financial Times was also down, but the FT has long sold the majority of its copies outside the UK). Almost every other newspaper for a change had increased its sales. Labour's response to this has not been to criticise the agenda of certain newspapers, or to question whether they're right or not. Instead it has been to take their criticism on board. After all, the tabloids don't just do whatever the editor or proprietor wants; they do what their readers want, and they're reflecting their views. Or that's at least what their argument is. Blair's spokesman, in response to Grange said:
"I'm not aware of the law which says it's wrong to reply to a media organisation's questions... There's nothing wrong in meeting representatives of the press.
Well no, there certainly isn't. It's just strange that after six years of disagreeing with the way the News of the World has demanded that paedophiles be revealed that suddenly John Reid thinks that it might be worth a go. After all, Beverly Hughes back in 2001 said:
it was "unworkable" because "it drives offenders to ground".
80% of sex offenders comply with their orders in the US following Megan's law, compared with 97% in the UK. At the moment, MAPPA, which monitors sex offenders in the community, decides on a case to case basis whether parents and schools should be notified when a sex offender moves into their area. Their hard (and good work, which goes unnoticed, it has to be said) graft is being undermined by ministers who give in to the whims of the tabloids for short-term political gain. This is what Labour is now desperate for. The polls have gone against them in favour of the Tories now for 6 months, and the debacle surrounding the Home Office has been a huge reason for it. The party's response has been to ask a load of leading questions under its hideously monikered "Let's Talk" iniative, handled by the similarly unlikeable Blairite robot Hazel Blears.

There's no doubting that there is public unrest about the criminal justice system in some cases, especially about the foreign criminals wrongly released without being deported. The rules regarding guilty pleas and the resultant reduction in sentences also need to be looked into again. What has been happening instead has been the knee-jerk reactions of a party which is already looking forward to years in opposition, probably to rebrand itself as New New Labour. When a judge breaks his silence to talk openly, itself a very rare occurrence, and is especially forthright about the attacks on his colleagues, by politicians and newspapers alike, there has to be something wrong with the current atmosphere. Everyone needs to step back, examine what will actually work as opposed to being a quick fix that will please newspapers that were formally supporters of the government, and then decide how to proceed. More new laws and more new initiatives will only make the public more cynical, and they will be right to be.

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Monday, June 19, 2006 

Tackling depression.

Richard Layard and the Mental Health Policy group have today published their report on depression. Its main conclusion is that there needs to be a major extension in what are often referred to as "talking therapies", the likes of cognitive behavioural therapy, or in some cases just simply to talking to someone about how the person feels. It estimates that for this to happen in every part of the country, 10,000 more therapists will need to be trained by 2013.

The first point should be that such a major report is welcome. Statistics show that 1 in 4 people during their lifetime will experience a form of mental illness. It of course does not just affect that one person; it can lead to the breakdown of families, the inability to the work, and the effects which one sufferer can inflict on those around him or her. Depression and mental illness is shown to be rising, although whether this is down to better diagnosis, drugs companies coming up with increasing numbers of supposed disorders or to the effects of consumer society could be argued about for hours. What is certain is that mental illness makes people prisoners in their own bodies, affects aspirations, inhibits expectations and can be far more destructive than physical illness can be.

The second is that the actuality of the government supporting this and recognising that mental health is such a problem is unlikely. The fact of the matter is that mental illness just isn't, well, sexy enough. It also can't be treated with a panacea, and there is no sign of any "wonder" drugs that so perk up the tabloids being around the corner. The initial effect of the the emergence of the SSRI class of drugs, of Prozac, that depression could be kept under control just by popping a pill has long since passed, and with it so has the safety of the drugs, especially Seroxat (Paxil). The side-effects, especially the immense difficulty which emerges when people attempt to come off them, have in some cases left the drugs with few people other than the drugs companies continuing to be rapturous about their worth. When it comes down to it, the danger of women losing her life to breast cancer is always going to be the story which leads the newspapers, not that of someone committing suicide, unless they happen to be famous. While the NHS faces huge bills for drugs which are little better than the current ones available, but which have been built up by the media to work "miracles", such as Herceptin, the first services that face the chop in the resultant cutbacks are often those which treat mental illness. Obsolete's local NHS trusts first move to trim its deficit was to cut the cognitive behavioural therapy groups. Even worse, most mental health trusts are already the runts of the litter when it comes to getting funds in the first place.

What needs to happen is a sea change in the attitude towards mental illness, by the media, health professionals, the government, and the public at large. The reaction to when the Sun led its first edition a couple of years back with "BONKERS BRUNO LOCKED UP", has not changed its policies in regarding mental illness more carefully. The likes of Pete in Big Brother, who suffers from Tourettes syndrome, are still alliteratively referred to as "Potty Pete". A Sun leader referred to them as a "house full of loons" and "nuts in may". Doctors, fed up with having to listen to many of those complaining of mental ill-health, have little option other than to prescribe an SSRI and fob them off. Sadly, it isn't their fault. Referrals to psychiatrists, unless the case is urgent, takes longer. Places on CBT groups are even rarer. Perhaps more dangerous though is the sad way in which mental ill-health may well be the last real taboo in British society. Brits have often had problems relating their emotions, and that hasn't changed in the decades since the 60s. Talking to each other, much as we do it about other things, still doesn't extend as much to about how we actually feel. It can be difficult trusting people enough to let them into your mind, but we often feel better for it afterwards. It's through this however that the problems themselves can often be nipped in the bud. We should be quicker to lend an ear, but we should also learn to recognise when things may well be getting serious. There is nothing that substitutes talking to a trained professional. The availability of such rightly needs to be extended quickly.

Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of, although those who do suffer often suffer alone. While there will remain no cure-all, and the likes of Polly Toynbee, who is quick to jump on a passing bandwagon, in this case CBT, should be more careful about how much they talk it up, it can be lived with in almost all cases. As well as talking therapies there needs to be more mental hospitals which can handle in-patients in secure accommodation. Those who are severely mental ill are at the moment increasingly locked up in prison, unable to get the treatment they desperately need. The Guardian should also be careful of dismissing the rise of the consumer society and the link with depression, especially in the way it casually quotes a poet and philosopher talking of their own experiences as evidence that depression is not a modern problem. The concept of wage slavery, the problem in modern society of alienation, and the increasing lack of empathy are all precursors to depression and mental ill-health. What now needs to happen though is for a political consensus to emerge; Cameron, with his recent speech on happiness should sign up to the the Policy Group's conclusions. Whatever political party is in power, those who come down with mental illness, or who are born with it through no fault of their own should be able to rely on the services being there to help them. The policy group's recommendations should be just the first step.

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Saturday, June 17, 2006 

Rewarding pure greed.

While the main controversy over the Queen's birthday honours list will be that the police man behind the Forest Gate raid, Andy Hayman, has been awarded a CBE for his response to the 7/7 attacks, there's another two or three awardees that are less than deserving of their relative honours.

Of those, Philip Green is the one that will anger the most. A bald oleaginous cunt of the highest order, he paid himself £1.2 billion last year. Oh, and he paid it to his wife Tina, who lives in Monaco, so he avoided that nasty business of having to pay tax on it. That amounts to more than the 11 million citizens of the African state of Malawi earned last year. Green is spending his money well though, it has to be said. He bought a portrait of fellow entrepreneur, fellow tax dodger and fellow cunt Mohammed Al-Fayed, the one who alleges that MI5 and Prince Philip murdered his son and daughter-in-law to be, who was of course also carrying his grandchild. He also purchased one of Madonna's tasteful gold Versace bags, presumably so when he has sex with his wife he can put it over his head and save her the indignity of looking at his face.

Also awarded a knighthood is Stelios Haji-Ioannou, owner of low cost airgroup EasyJet, and as a result one of the contributors to climate change. At least he was more graceful in accepting it than Green:
"I'm not sure at this stage that I deserve an honour which is usually reserved for those with a lifetime of business achievement," he said, adding that he wanted to accept the award in the spirit of entrepreneurship.

You're right. You don't deserve one.

Finally in the business category, John Sutherland, chairman of Cadbury Schweppes also receives a knighthood. Apart from peddling junk food, Cadbury Schweppes has also been trying its hardest to pay as little tax as possible into the UK's coffers. It took the UK to court over its demand for £8.64m from Cadbury Schweppes subsidiaries in Ireland, and partially won its case. It was also involved in the case of Marks and Spencer, who took the UK to the European court of Justice over not allowing companies to deduct foreign losses from its UK tax bill, something which a small number of other European states allow. Private Eye estimates that the effect of the group litigation orders over the franked investment income tax rules could cost the UK exchequer £5bn, or the equivalent of just slightly less than 4 more Green paychecks. As "Sir" Digby Jones, another knighted pork trougher said of Sutherland:
He has always maintained the Cadbury tradition of balancing business success with social inclusion and corporate responsibility all over the world."

Corporate responsibility in this case translates as giving as little money as possible to the tax authorities, and fighting to get a nice lump sum of it back by suing them later.

As with all honours lists, there's an idiot who shouldn't be getting one who was dreamt up by some civil servant who rather likes him for some odd. Last year it was Gordon Ramsay, the man whose only benefit to society has been the spread of constant swearing (yes, I know this post is rather full of it) and opening shitty restaurants. This time it's Gary Rhodes, another chef, who by coincidence is also a wanker with a suitably big mouth, but with a ludicrous haircut thrown into the mix.

It has to be said that most of the honours do go to the deserving, who have given years of service either to the state or to those around them. It's spoilt by those whose only benefit has been encouraging greed and lethargy.

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Sun-watch: M'luds crack down thanks to us!

The Sun is always quick to claim that it is personally responsible for subsequent changes in the law, or in this case, to seeming harsher sentences by judges following its campaign at the start of the week. As usual, the Sun's claim in the main is nonsense.

The main article highlights the sentencing of the two men who beat Jody Dobrowski to death to a minimum of 28 years in prison before they can be considered for parole - even though both men had already pleaded guilty. What the Sun doesn't mention until the end of the article is that although their guilty plea was taken into consideration, as it was in the cases involving Craig Sweeney and Alan Webster, what was also taken into consideration was that the men had set out to commit a hate crime, as the killing was aggravated by the men's homophobia. Also taken into consideration was the suffering inflicted on Dobrowski, who was beaten so badly that his family could not recognise him. The Sun also makes clear in its article that the judge told them that there was no guarantee they would be released after 28 years. This is in contrast to how they glossed over how the judge in the case of Craig Sweeney told him that it was "unlikely" that he would be released after five years. While the Sun mentions that one witness said that the men had told him that:

“We don’t like poofters here — that’s why we can kill him.”

it doesn't mentioned that they while they were beating Dobrowski to death they had shouted:

fucking queer, bastard, faggot and poof.

Which may be a bit strong for a "family newspaper" that nonetheless prints photographs of lovely ladies in few clothes on its third page with relish.

It does however print the words of Dobrowski's mother Sheri, who said:
Tragically, he will not be the last to suffer the consequences of homophobia in this society. This is unacceptable.”

Quite right. After all, it was only a few months ago that the Sun was talking about rear gunners, limp dems, biting pillows and Simon Hughes hanging around toilets, as they'd found a plaque which stated that Hughes had opened one such brick shithouse. While the Sun's homophobia against men is still there for all to see, they by contrast led with the news that an army lesbian couple were the first of those in the armed forces to get a civil partnership, and who could forget their shameless trouser rustling antics in claiming that two of their page 3 girls had fallen in love? While women being gay is fine, presumably because that's a red-blooded heterosexual male fantasy, men being gay obviously involves biting pillows and hanging around toilets, which isn't so attractive in the Sun's eyes.

The paper additionally doesn't mention that while Dobrowski's family had concerns about the probation and parole system, as two weeks before Jody was killed, another gay man was attacked by the pair. This was while Scott Walker was out on licence. Their attack on Dobrowski occurred the day after Walker's licence expired. Unlike the Sun though, that blames everything and everyone other then the men, such as the judges, the probation service, the human rights act and the politicians, Jody's stepfather said that the blame lay with only two individuals, Walker and Pickford. A shame that such a refreshing statement wasn't mentioned.

The Sun then mentions two other cases that seem rather like a contradiction. While an illegal immigrant who was jailed for six months was recommended to be deported as soon as possible to save on the prison bill to the taxpayers, a man who indecently assaulted a 12-year-old girl in 1970s was sent to prison for 10 months, with the judge saying she felt obliged to jail him because of “current views about sentences”. What purpose is served sending a man who committed a crime such a long time ago at taxypayer's expense to prison for 10 months when he could have been heavily fined or placed on a tough community service order, working to pay back his debt rather than sitting in a cell for 5 months, is not explained. Deporting one man to save costs is therefore marred by another judge not showing mercy when she previously may have done. It's another example of judges being tougher when the topic is being raised by the media and causing controversy with politicians, as has been documented in the past.

Also revealed today is the fact that the actual time being served by lifers today is 50% higher than it was a decade ago, that number given life in the last 10 years has doubled, and that the courts are actually getting tougher. This no doubt will be ignored by the leader writers and populist public protecting crusaders in Wapping.

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Friday, June 16, 2006 

Guess the quote.


"Look at Blair and Reid and how they almost take pride in the rigid populism of their political thought. There is a new and profoundly unpleasant Blair agenda abroad - the Labour party is now increasingly given over to the worst of petty bourgeois sentiments, the thought that there is something clever in cynicism; realistic in selfishness; and the granting of legitimacy to the barbaric idea of the survival of the fittest."

Who do you think? George Galloway? Tony Benn? Some other far-lefty? Well, it's a trick question, as the above is adapted slightly from a real quote. It's taken from a letter sent to Michael Foot in 1982, with Thatcher and Tebbit changed to Blair and Reid, Tory changed to Blair, and then in the following sentence Tory to Labour. The writer of that letter? One Tony Blair.

Elsewhere in the letter, Blair admits to reading Marx, which is something he might not today, especially in the company of his new found friend Silvio Berlusconi, who often accuses judges of being left-wing stooges and communists in disguise, or indeed Dick Cheney or Donald Rumsfeld, who had involvement in the Reagan administration which called the Soviet Union the "evil empire". He castigates Thatcher for visiting economic madness on the country, something he has been happy to further entrench rather than slow. He states that the right wing of the Labour party is politically bankrupt, which certainly hasn't changed since his day. The difference is he's now a part of it. He also admits to being happiest addressing people who don't necessarily agree, but are willing to listen, which pretty much sums up his relationship with the majority of the Labour party. Most of it just hasn't fallen into "introspection", which he accuses the left of doing. Power and being pragmatic, something which he said tainted the right wing, has resulted in the current malaise which the Labour party is in.

Some things don't change though. Blair at the time recognised "in nuclear war we face a greater threat than any of our ancestors". Now he recognises it by sacking Jack Straw who described war with Iran as "inconceivable", and the plan by the US to attack it with nuclear weapons, reported by Seymour Hersh, as "nuts". He also notes that profound problems require profound remedies. Sadly that now means "choice", more privatisation, more reform and a rebalancing of the criminal justice system in favour of the victim, accompanied with a populism and relying on tabloid headlines that would make an 80s Tory blush. As Rudge said, history is just one fucking thing after another. Even back in 82, Blair was already New Labour.

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Sun-watch: Smearing and distorting on a grand scale.

The terror raid on the home of brothers Mohammed Abdul Kahar and Abul Koyair, involving at least 250 police officers, continues to raise as many questions about the media's involvement in the debacle as the police's brutal and cack-handed way of going about things. Since the beginning there has been an almost smear them and think about the consequences later mentality. The Murdoch papers have been at the forefront of this.

The Times on the Saturday alleged that at least one of the brothers had a criminal record. Neither do, although the Sun alleges that one of them committed offences while a juvenile.
On the Sunday following the raid,the News of the World led with the report that one brother had grabbed at the gun and shot the other, along with incredibly menacing black and white photos of one of the brothers. It also alleged that the police were looking for a device that would spray out cyanide, and that the brothers were about to leave the country. Indeed they were, as the whole family was about to leave on holiday. The gun story has since been denied by both their lawyers and the men themselves. The Sun then revealed that the brother's half-brother was a "vicious" armed-robber, and had supposedly also taken part in the extremist protest back in February where demonstrators had carried placards with "butcher those who insult Islam" and chanted that terrorist vengeance would be forthcoming. The half-brother was jailed in 2003. How much influence he could have on the brothers from inside is not explained. The Sun quoted a police source that the link the brothers had with him "totally justified" the raid in which one of the brothers was shot.

Yesterday the Sun splashed on the story that £38,000 had been found in the house, the only major find apart from a bottle of aspirin, despite taking the house to pieces, digging up the back garden and drilling the walls.
Police quizzed Mohammed Abdul Kahar, 23, and his brother Abul Koyair, 20, about the money during the week they spent in custody.

But neither would tell them where it came from. Last night a security source said: “It was a hell of a lot to have knocking around. The cash was in a bedroom, much of it in £50 notes.

“Urgent inquiries are being carried out to trace the source of the money and what it was intended for.”

Police were desperate to learn how Kahar, a postal worker, and Tesco shelf-stacker Koyair could have had such a vast sum in their house.

...

But neither they nor their lawyers made any mention of the £38,000.

Today the truth emerged, as the sister of the brothers' made a statement which explained why the money was there and made it look increasingly like a section of the press, in co-operation with the police, is determined to smear the entire family:
In a strongly worded statement, his sister Humeya Kalam said she had informed police about the money two hours after the raid took place. She said it was accumulated income which the family was reluctant to store in a bank because they felt that to do so would conflict with their religious beliefs. She said the money was kept in the basement of the house next door, which is owned by her and rented to a separate family.

"The story is incorrect in every way. It suggests that there is something sinister and unexplained in relation to monies found in my house," Ms Kalam said.

"The monies are neither sinister nor unexplained. I told the police that the money comes primarily from the monthly income from the rental of number 48, kept by my mother for safekeeping over the period of time in which I have owned the house, ie over approximately four years. My mother has never felt it right to keep this money in a bank account, or to hold savings in a bank; Islam prohibits the keeping of money in circumstances where interest is earned or where it is paid."

She added: "My mother has always held our savings in this way; in the same way savings were kept by her for me to buy number 48. Now in turn, I am providing my income from number 48 for my mother to keep in the same way.

"My brothers Kahar and Koyair each contribute from their wages every month to the money that my mother holds. Despite being told this by me, at Plaistow police station, and by my brothers entirely separately in Paddington Green station, the police have asked neither my mother nor my father any questions on this issue." She said her family felt there were people who wished "to believe the worst of my family and ensure that their slur reaches the widest audience."

So either the Sun believed what they were told by their source, which was a bunch of lies, or they participated in making up a large amount of their story from a small amount of truth told to them.

Since the beginning the Sun has wanted to believe the worst. When it seemed that nothing would be found and the police had made a mistake, based on erroneous intelligence, they brought the fact that their half-brother had a criminal record into the mix to make them look as though they had something to hide. They alleged he attended the extremist demo to paint them as likely sympathisers to the cause of radical Islam. They then led the paper with a story which was wrong on every single level, and which could have been explained by making just one phone call to the brothers' lawyers. Either they didn't bother, or they knew that it was likely that the story would fall apart if they did. This is of course the same newspaper that is read by a large number of plods, whose editor has admitted that police have been paid for information provided to it, and which was so behind Blair's plans for terrorist suspects to be held for a maximum of 90 days without charge that it called all the MPs that voted against the act "traitors".

Hardly anyone disagrees that if the police get credible intelligence which points to the likelihood of there being an imminent terrorist attack, or that a device is being stored, that they must take action. What is disgraceful is the way the police since the raid have briefed the media almost every hour, providing erroneous story after erroneous story. That the majority of the media, including the BBC (remember the reports on the ricin plot that never was?) has fell for so many of these whispers shows the way that so much of it has become a mouthpiece for Scotland Yard and Special Branch - only reporting what their sources tell them, not questioning them or anaylsing their information with the other facts on the ground. After all, no source likes having his material debunked. Some of the stories as a result have been nothing more than crude smears; there is no other way to explain them.

When another raid such as this happens, the first thought of many will be "here we go again". This will not be down to those who the Sun called traitors - it will be the result of a media only too willing to join in with the police in presuming guilt until proved innocent. They have a lot to answer for, but as we know, the Sun is answerable to no one.

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