Wednesday, February 28, 2007 

The myopic vision.

Labour is undoubtedly in huge trouble. After nearly 10 years in power, any momentum there was towards "progressive" politics has ground to a halt. Poll after poll suggests that the Tories have successfully regrouped around David Cameron, and could gain a workable majority in parliament if an election was called tomorrow. Labour, by comparison, is in a flux, waiting for the current leader to finally get the message and go, but at the same time there's little debate about what's going to happen once he does piss off to America to make squillions through telling rich Americans how wonderful they are.

It's into this breach that 2020 Vision enters. Unlike other thinktanks like Compass, which have been established for a while and have tried to influence the debate on where Labour goes from here, 2020 Vision has been set up quickly, and its motives are very far from clear. It also comes with an overwhelming amount of baggage. Headed by Alan "spend more time with my family/forward not back" Milburn and Charles "Safety Elephant/No Trousers" Clarke, it could not be led by two people with more of a hidden agenda.

Milburn isn't just a Blairite; he is the uber-model Blairite. Along with Alastair Campbell and perhaps Stephen Byers, he has long been a member of the inner circle that Blair not only trusts, but at times utterly depends on. While Milburn masterminded the dismal 2005 Labour election campaign, it was the unspoken but obvious underlying message of vote Blair, get Brown, as well as having to involve Brown much more than Milburn wanted to that managed to keep it afloat. Ever since, Milburn has had to content himself with working from the backbenches, coming up with abysmal sub-Tory ideas for reforming the public services, most notably a school voucher scheme. Despite being despised by most of the party's grassroots for his role in convincing Blair to stay on as leader, he still hasn't ruled himself out of standing in the eventual contest, an act of delusion on a par with that of Blair's over Iraq.

Clarke, on the other hand, has at least tried since being dismissed from his role as Home Secretary to take out his anger on both Blair and Brown. He's questioned the need to replace Trident, Blair's pet project, but has kept most of his vitriol for Brown, calling him stupid after the so-called coup attempt of last September. He also hasn't ruled himself out of any leadership election, although the all too visible bitterness over his sacking and the number of attack dog interviews he's given has meant that he too has not got a snowflake's chance.

If 2020 Vision was purely an attempt to launch debate, then many within Labour would have no problem with it. The circumstances surrounding its launch however speak for themselves. Faced with numerous polls suggesting that Labour is back at its lowest ebb since 1983, the Blairite and anti-Brown faction (the two are separate) are convinced that Brown cannot win the next election against that man of the people, David "Dave" Cameron. Partly started by an article by Frank Field a couple of weeks back in the Grauniad, David Miliband is the latest saviour for both factions. Previously both John Reid and Alan Johnson had been thought of as the Blairite candidate to face Brown, only for Reid to run into the same problems at the Home Office as his predecessor, and for Johnson to be more interested in the deputy leadership than in the top job itself. Helped along by the Blair sympathiser Martin Kettle in his Saturday column in the same newspaper, Miliband is suddenly the new only he can stop Gordon™ candidate.

Both Milburn and Clarke of course deny that this is a stealthy attempt to find a candidate to face Brown while promoting the continued failed and hated Blairite legacy. Again though, 2020's Mission Statement speaks for itself, or rather the comments following it do. First up we have Lord Campbell-Stevens, elevated to the House of Lords by Blair. Next is Gisela Stuart, an uber-loyalist. Jim Cousins is admittedly more of a conundrum, supporting ID cards and foundation hospitals but opposing the Iraq war and tuition fees, although this may be more to do with the fact that his constituency has a large student population than with his actual principles. Alun Michael is another uber-loyalist, and former first minister of Labour in Wales. Then there's Ann Clywd, a former leftie who sold her soul to Blairism in return for the war in Iraq, which she supported to the hilt in order to free the Kurds who she had long championed. Frank Field, who has moved far to the right of Labour in recent years, loathes Brown for his role in stopping his welfare reforms, is a predictable supporter. Barry Sheerman is one of those MPs who's mostly loyal but is occasionally critical. Nick Palmer is a PPS and an uber-loyalist. Hilary Armstrong is an uber-Blairite in the Alan Milburn mould. Peter Mandelson puts in an appearance at the very bottom of the first page of comments.

Again, this wouldn't matter much if 2020 Vision were bringing anything new to the table. The mission statement starts off reasonably well, then falls straight into the most obvious pit it should have addressed:

Ten years ago we had a clear vision about direction. And in those ten years we have done much to make both Britain and the world better and fairer. We take pride in what has been achieved under Tony Blair’s leadership.

The world better and fairer? Saying Britian alone is those two things is stretching it, but the world? This is the same grouping which told Blair that Iraq was the elephant in the room, yet even now it can't acknowledge how much more dangerous the world has become thanks to our support for the war. We destroy a country, plunge it into a brutal civil war which you can watch in real time thanks to LiveLeak, and still those at the top of Labour pretend that the world's a better place than it was in the aftermath of 9/11. This isn't just a spectacular display of myopia, it's willfully pretending that everything is just great as dozens of Iraqis continue to be obliterated every day.

We believe in radical reform. For us reform is for a progressive purpose – to make for a fairer society. We look to policies that empower individual citizens, reward aspiration, spread opportunity, tackle intolerance and inequality, provide security, protect the environment and that are internationalist not isolationist. And we look to a style of politics that is based on dialogue, debate and devolved power.

As Unity identifies, this is a whole paragraph of buzzwords which mean absolutely nothing, because as ever with those who have been New Labour to the core there's nothing behind them. Clarke in his piece for CiF and statement asks a number of questions to which we know he already has some inkling towards the answers he favours, but he doesn't share those possible solutions with us.

Perhaps that's the point. While the pretence of 2020 Vision is that this is all about stirring debate, the apparent lack of any policies being proposed speaks volumes. The rhetoric from the two men is the same shallow nonsense we've come to expect from the New Labour circle which was from the beginning implacably opposed to internal debate about the direction of government policy. When Martin Kettle is forced to make a laughable post on CiF about how wonderfully well-attended the launch was, when the real Guardian news report makes it clear that only 13 Labour MPs bothered to attend, and one of those was the Brownite Nick Brown, obviously there to see if he could find out the real motives of Milburn and Clarke, it's already more than abundant that this "Vision" is less clear than they want it to be.

The most ridiculous and fury fomenting part of the 2020 non-manifesto is that politics is about the future, not the past. As George Santayana wrote, those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it, and this is the most telling criticism of what Milburn and Clarke are attempting to do. Both men are the past and what they are attempting to do is to repeat the past 10 years of Blairism which has left the Labour party emasculated and humiliated. The project has failed, yet Brown, who remains at the moment the best hope for the party to continue in power, is still loathed so much by the Blairites that they'll destroy any chance of a victory at the next general election purely out of childish, petulant spite.

There does however need to be a leadership contest and a debate about where the party goes. It would be great if Miliband put his hat in the ring, or if someone like John Denham did. What neither needs is the likes of Milburn or Clarke trying to force their hand out of their own Machiavellian desires for Brown to fail. It's times like this that many of us on the left wish that Robin Cook was still alive -- he would have been a far more realistic option than McDonnell and Meacher, while still making clear that Blairism has come to an end, and that the policies which have brought us to this current malaise need to be not just reconsidered, but abandoned. Instead what we have is those who can be easily dismissed as far left dinosaurs up against a man who the Tories are already delighting in smearing, that the Blairites want to see fail and who hasn't been able to set out his vision in full because of Blair's arrogant, deluded, destructive desire to cling on to power for its own sake.

As it stands, I'm already convinced that Labour has lost the next election. It's now down to how big a majority the Tories get. This won't be the fault of Brown; it will be the fault of those who have refused to acknowledge that the past, and that learning from the mistakes of the last 10 years is integral to remaining in power. It's this myopia, and refusing to admit that the progressive cause has been damaged, not accelerated by the last 10 years that is breeding the ever increasing cynicism.

Related post:
Big Stick Small Carrot - Moving Forward

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Tuesday, February 27, 2007 

Scum-watch: Silence, torture and police grandstanding.

I'm unsure of what to make of the complete silence from the Sun over the decision by Alistair Darling to ask Ofcom to review whether Sky's purchase of a near 18% stake in ITV is in the public interest. As the Grauniad report makes clear, Sky executives and no doubt the Murdochs themselves must be furious. After nearly 10 years of complete sycophancy towards the Blair government from the Sun and the Times, the scratch our back and we'll scratch yours pact seems to have come slightly undone.

On one level, Darling's decision is incredibly inflammatory. For a government that has gone out of its way to try to keep the Murdoch tiger in check, such a snub which could potentially lead to Sky's acquisition of the shares being blocked is like a red rag to a bull. However much Murdoch has denied it, it's always been thought that he would at some point try to buy a stake in one of the terrestrial broadcasters, and most assumed it would be Channel 5. As Nils Pratley suggests, the 2003 Communications Act even seemed to prepare for this to happen. The surprise was that Murdoch instead went for ITV, with no warning that such a purchase was coming, and only very shortly after NTL (now Virgin Media) had attempted a takeover. Many justifiably saw this as Murdoch's attempt to stop Richard Branson from building his own rival empire, and it's most likely been the rage of Branson, however hypocritical and opportunistic it is, that has led to Darling ordering Ofcom to investigate.

The really interesting thing is that Darling has apparently come into agreement with Branson. Although Virgin is now ubiqitious, Branson simply cannot compete in the power stakes with Murdoch. This makes me wonder whether this is either a ploy or a backup plan by the Brownites (of whom Darling is certainly a member) in case Murdoch decides with the departure of Blair to switch allegiance back to the Tories. Brown has courted Wade and Murdoch, most recently at the conference in Davos where they sat side by side, but he would be wise to beware of the knife in the back. John Major believed that it was the Sun switching to Labour that was the final nail in the coffin for the Tories, and with Cameron racing ahead in the polls, Brown must be more than aware that Murdoch backs winners, not losers, however much he got it wrong over Iraq.

It's this that would lead me to expect some suitably outraged editorial or simply a report from today's Scum, making it clear to Labour where its bread is buttered. Instead, there's nothing, not even a report about Darling's decision to bring Ofcom into the equation. News International often doesn't cover things that are potentially embarrassing towards its masters, or that might provoke uncomfortable questions from newspaper readers, but the Times has covered the story. I've tried every search combination possible on the Scum website, and there's nothing there. For now, silence seems to be the order of the day to stop the issue from being further inflamed.

There is however a quite wonderful ranting leader about Abu Qatada (Qatada, Qutada, whatever):

VILE Abu Qatada has spent a third of his life enjoying the warm embrace of the democracy he wants to destroy.

Sadly our indulgence of him is not over yet.

His family scrounged hundreds of thousands of pounds in state handouts after he arrived here on a fake passport in 1993.

Surely took advantage of the welfare state like every other citizen can?

He was granted asylum despite a dossier detailing his extensive links with terrorists.

Taxpayers have since forked out £140,000 to keep him locked up and a scandalous £200,000 in Legal Aid for him to fight the deportation he obviously merits.

This despite £180,000 in cash being found at his home.

Well, if this £180,000 was his, it should be used to pay for his legal representation. If it isn't, there isn't much that can be done about it. Being a "terrorist suspect" does not and never should disqualify you from seeking legal aid. If the government had attempted to try him instead of simply getting rid of him, then he might well be now languishing in a cell like Abu Hamza.

This is the man whose sermons against the West inspired the 9/11 hijackers. How he must chuckle as a Western legal system continues to bend over backwards for him.

Or continues to treat him like anyone else would be. Whichever you prefer.

At least one obstacle to his exit is gone: Jordan, where he has already been convicted of terror attacks, has agreed not to torture him.

A pity, but we all have to compromise.

The Sun being witty about a man potentially being tortured? Who woulda thunk it?!

Elsewhere, the Sun reports on the judge rightly chastising the police for remanding in custody the teenager who so nearly shot dead dear old Dave Cameron with his converted fingers:

A JUDGE attacked cops yesterday for locking up a hoodie who pointed an imaginary gun at Tory leader David Cameron.

Judge Wendy Lloyd said she was “concerned” the yob, 17, had been kept in custody for possessing just £5 of cannabis.

She said: “I am extremely angry about this case. There are robbers and burglars at large. But if you make a silly gesture behind Mr Cameron’s back then you are remanded in custody.”

She fined the lout £25 and released him from custody, where he had been held since Saturday. He faces a burglary rap next week.

It's been a while since I last indulged, but back then an eighth was £10. If prices have stayed broadly the same, he had about a sixteenth of the drug, which is barely enough for a couple of spliffs. Cannabis is a Class C drug, and until recently possession of such a small amount as this young man had would not have been an arrestable offence, unless there were mitigating circumstances. It seems that his boasting was enough for the police to raid his house, and the tiny amount he possessed resulted in his appearance before the judge and being remanded in custody.

You can argue about the merits of the police going after casual drug users, yet there seems to have been little reason for him being kept in custody. He is as the police themselves recognise tagged and under curfew. For such a minor offence, there was no reason for keeping him in, other than to make an example of him.

But police were furious at the judge’s reprimand. A senior source said: “The comments are unbelievable. Maybe this lad will get sent on a holiday camp or skiing to show him the error of his ways.

“He’s already tagged for previous offences. It’s a case of another judge who doesn’t know the reality of life. We certainly hope for the judge’s sake that he doesn’t re-offend.

“We took proper guidance and it was completely correct that he was kept in custody.”

The fact that he's tagged for previous offences doesn't matter when he was arrested simply for possessing a tiny amount of a drug. The whole thing was a complete waste of time and effort on the police's part, and their petulance at being given a dressing down for seeking such publicity by arresting the kid in the first place, when they could have just confiscated his weed and gave him a caution is telling. This isn't to defend the boy for being a thick little prick, but the police ought to know when to leave something alone, and this was one of those cases. He'd already proved that he was a moron, and the police's interference has if anything victimised him for simply being an idle prat around a politician.

Not Saussure also made some good points surrounding the case and contempt of court, and although I haven't named him in this post, the whole issue is something of a grey area.

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Monday, February 26, 2007 

To deport or not to deport the man with the beard.

Few are going to shed any tears over the decision by the Special Immigration Appeals Commission that Abu Qutada can be deported back to Jordan, where he was convicted in absentia of being involved in a number of bomb attacks. While it's impossible to know just how involved he was with al-Qaida prior to 9/11, and some of the charges against him may well be unsubstantiated, it's clear that he was one of three clerics, along with Abu Hamza and Omar Bakri Mohammad, who were the most influential and respected extremist Islamist preachers in the United Kingdom until recently.

While the charge sheets against Hamza and Bakri are an inch thick, nowhere near as much is known about Qutada. We know that videos of his sermons were found in one of the flats in Germany occupied by the 9/11 hijackers, that his declarations were read out at Al-Muhajiroun meetings, and that it's possible he may have been a MI5 double agent, but other than that Qutada is something of an enigma. For a man who is alleged to have the same mindset as the average al-Qaida influenced Salafi jihadist, his plea for Norman Kember to be released by his captives in Iraq was certainly out of character, especially when you consider how others like him are firm believers that non-Muslims and anyone else they don't like are kuffar. It could of course been an attempt to get better treatment in prison, or to try to stop his possible deportation to Jordan, but the authorities made clear at the time that he had not been offered anything in return for his message, and it seems that he approached them rather than them approaching him.

The decision is really not so much about Qutada but about whether we should deport anyone, even terrorist sympathisers/suspects to countries which are known to practice torture. While Jordan is by no means the most egregious of Middle Eastern countries when it comes to mistreatment of prisoners, Human Rights Watch documents how confessions are obtained through sleep deprivation, mock executions and prolonged solitary confinement, as well as beatings. Amnesty International, in a report titled "Your confessions are ready to sign", accuses the Jordanian government of being entirely complicit in the practicing of torture:

they maintain a system of incommunicado detention which facilitates torture and other ill-treatment of detainees and a related special security court whose judgments regularly appear to be based on little more than "confessions" which defendants allege were extracted under torture or other duress.

The fabled memorandum of understanding, which has Jordan agreeing to treat anyone deported to the country humanely, is little more than worthless. It's the equivalent of a nudge and a wink, as well as making it more than clear that torture is indeed practiced in Jordan. The Adaleh Centre for Human Rights Studies (site is in Arabic) has agreed to monitor anyone who is deported from the UK, but just how much access they will be allowed will not become clear until it actually happens.

The main question, as ever, is why Qutada cannot be tried here. SIAC itself is little more than a kangaroo court; it's allowed to hear evidence in secret, and Qutada has been allowed few opportunities to challenge the evidence held against him, other than his rather ambigious sermons which are in the public domain, which are nowhere near as bloodcurdling nor delivered in the oratory more associated with the swivel-eyed Hamza and Bakri. SIAC has been used previously to take a seeming revenge on one of the men acquitted in the "ricin" trial; it heard the exact same evidence as in that trial, with added "secret" evidence, before coming to the decision to recommend that he could be deported to Algeria.

The judge in that case, Mr Justice Ouseley, said that it was "inconceivable" that "Y" would be ill-treated. He could not have been proved more wrong more quickly. Two men who were being held under suspicion of links with terrorism who decided to return to Algeria of their own accord after growing weary of the process and who were promised they would not face criminal proceedings under the amnesty put in place after the civil war, have since been arrested and charged with.... terrorism offences. While there is no "memorandum of understanding" with Algeria, it's an incident that was both predictable and bound to embarrass the government. However, as the men were "terrorist suspects", it's unlikely there'll be any change in policy as a result.

Reasons for why the government wants to be rid of Qutada are manifest. He's a symbol of "Londonistan", however far that particular neologism has been exaggerated. MI5 has denied that he was an agent or ever held in a safehouse by them, two things that had previously been reported, but he's still involved with the rendition of Bisher al-Rawi. al-Rawi is believed to have spied on Qutada for MI5, but outlived his usefulness once Qutada was arrested. On leaving for Gambia, he was stopped by MI5 but allowed to travel, only for MI5 to inform the CIA that he was carrying bomb parts. He was transferred to Guantanamo Bay, and during his Combatant Status Review Tribunal, he was asked mainly about his relationship with Qutada (PDF). Both men are clearly an embarrassment to MI5, whether all the allegations are true or not.

How much of the secret evidence held against Qutada is made up of intercepts we will probably never know. A number of his speeches and his interviews are however available, and if the authorities were so inclined, they could probably get enough together for a prosecution along the lines of the one that resulted in Abu Hamza being convicted for inciting racial hatred. It is however much easier to try to deport him, therefore getting rid of him once and for all. Unlike Bakri, who left before he was arrested in similar circumstances, and who is still preaching his hate in web casts from Lebanon, Qutada faces at the least a long term of imprisonment in Jordan.

Yesterday's Observer argued that it was a lesser evil leaving him to be potentially abused in Jordan than for him to remain here. Such an argument is dubious at best, and "jihadisbad", who, as you might guess isn't the most liberal commentator on Islam in his comment says it's "naive" to think he won't be tortured. If this deportation is to happen, and it appears extremely likely, then the memorandum of understanding needs to be enforced, and properly. No half measures should be tolerated. It may be that there'll be the tiniest violin in the world playing if he is in fact mistreated, but the ruling sets a potentially dangerous precedent, and again shows how little our respect for human rights often is when it comes to those we don't like.

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Saturday, February 24, 2007 

Is it April Fools' Day already?

The military has been conducting secret tests to find out if British soldiers can be trained to use psychic powers - possibly to locate hidden weapons stores or discover where Osama bin Laden is based.

The Ministry of Defence study, conducted in 2002, involved blindfolding volunteers and asking them to "see" the contents of sealed brown envelopes.

The MoD said the tests, which cost the taxpayer £18,000, found that "remote viewing theories" had little value and the project was abandoned.


In other news, bears have been found to favour evacuating their bowels in areas containing a large number of trees, while the Pope has given a shock interview in which he's claimed that despite the malicious rumours being spread, he is in fact a Catholic.

Oh, and there was a rather large demonstration in London. I wish I'd gone.

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Scum-watch: Graffiti and straw men.

A 21/7 SUICIDE bomb suspect wrote al-Qaeda graffiti on the walls of his jail cell after his court case started, the trial heard.

Ramzi Mohammed, 25 — accused of trying to kill London Tube passengers — allegedly scrawled: “Al-Qaeda, the book that will guide you to victory.”

It was spotted by a guard at London’s Belmarsh Jail, the court heard.

Mohammed and five others deny the plot at Woolwich Crown Court. The trial continues.


The only problem with this is that unless Mohammed meant base instead of book, the sentence makes little sense. The origins of how bin Laden's organisation came to be called al-Qaida is disputed, as the opening to the Wikipedia entry makes clear. Translated, it simply means "the base". This may have been either down to the first training camp established by bin Laden and his followers, which was simply named the base, or, as Robin Cook wrote in a comment piece the day after the the London bombings and shortly before his death, the name of the computer file held by the CIA on the Afghan mujahideen:

Al-Qaida, literally "the database", was originally the computer file of the thousands of mujahideen who were recruited and trained with help from the CIA to defeat the Russians. Inexplicably, and with disastrous consequences, it never appears to have occurred to Washington that once Russia was out of the way, Bin Laden's organisation would turn its attention to the west.

If we want to take Mohammed's alleged scrawling even more literally, he may have been referring to Jason Burke's outstanding brief history of al-Qaida, which makes clear that understanding the threat is key to its defeat. More likely is that it was a typical toilet wall inking, the kind that the bored teenager scratches into his desk at school. Not that explaining this to those who have commented on the article would likely do much good.

Bring back hanging for these people! If the UK isn't such a soft touch maybe they would ****** off!

Seeing as the whole basis for the case is that Mohammed was attempting to carry out a suicide bombing but failed, I doubt bringing back hanging is going to do much to deter the average jihadi set on dying for his cause.

A nice public execution. It's time we took the gloves off dealing with these vile individuals. Our liberty, freedom and society as we know it is at grave risk if we don't do something now!

What better way to prove that we're above such barbaric acts of senseless violence than by executing criminals in public? Everyone come and get a nice look, then you can go home and watch al-Zarqawi et al doing the same thing to hostages in Iraq.

Today's Scum leader is even more ignorant and stupid than usual:

Our best hope

THE usual voices of doom claim that siting America’s Star Wars missiles on British soil will make us a target.

What planet are they on? We are already near the top of the list if the madmen of Iran and North Korea press the nuclear button.

The new Star Wars is vital for our defence. We must embrace it.


Only just one slight problem with this. Even if North Korea's missile technology worked, and the last test failed miserably, then the furthest they could hit would be the west coast of America. As for Iran, their longest range missile (they are developing others, but how far along the production stage they are is unknown) could conceivably travel 2200km, meaning it could possibly strike Israel, which would quickly result in Tehran experiencing a nuclear winter. Iran is still years away from actually producing a nuclear weapon capable of being attached as a warhead to a missile. Neither country is a direct threat to the United Kingdom. This leader is in other words, a scaremongering pack of lies. For an opinion not written by deliberately misleading lazy lying journalist scum, try the Grauniad's leader.

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Friday, February 23, 2007 

Hazel Blears, the sensible candidate for the sensible idiot.

Can Hazel Blears really be standing for deputy leader? Does she really think she can get the 44 required nominations, let alone enough votes from the membership to win? Does she not realise she's a handy 5ft walking target for everything that's gone wrong with Labour? Is she insane, deluded or ignorant of how much she's reviled?

In fact, to be fair to Blair and Blairites in general, even they've got more gumption and ideas than this train wreck of a woman, nicknamed the chipmunk by other blogs. In an interview with Tribune, which seems an insult to everything which the weekly has ever stood for, she comes out with the most appallingly vacant statements since George Bush informed us that man and fish could live together in harmony:

"There is a factory in China which makes half the world's microwave ovens," she said. "We simply can't compete in producing white goods like that.

"The development of the next generation of digital and broadband is critical."

Do what? It's quite clear that Blears doesn't have an utter clue what she's talking about, but she seems to think that if she constructs a sentence involving what all the kids are down with the media might not bother to question her on just what the development of the next generation of "digital" and "broadband" involves. Next issue: housing.

On housing, she noted: "Young people want to get a start on the housing ladder but it is really expensive in many areas."

Thanks for that, Hazel. Any ideas on how we might solve the problem? No, thought not.

In a briefing to MPs, Ms Blears said: "I know that [after] 10 years in office some members feel disengaged. That does not mean we should change course or distance ourselves from our own successes. But we should recognise that one product of a lengthy period in office is that some party members feel left out. They don't have a relationship with their Labour government, other than what they read in newspapers."

After 10 years of ignoring them, the Blairites finally realise they're going to have to reach out to the membership if they're going to continue their hegemony over the party, and they're surprised that most of the card-carriers aren't particularly happy with what's gone on. That everyone other than the membership itself has been at some point fawned over by the Blair government seems to have passed them by entirely.

"I am not putting myself forward as the woman candidate - but in a modern 21st-century progressive left-of-centre party, people would love to see a man and a woman," Ms Blears said. "They would like to see men and women working together to solve problems."

Once you've finished smashing your head into the keyboard in complete despair at the ghastly image of Blears and Brown hand in hand, skipping through a green field with rictus grins on their faces, it suddenly hits you that Blears genuinely believes that the party, despite everything, is left-of-centre. She isn't a Blairite anymore though, oh no, she's a centrist who can see just how gorgeous Gord is once he stops scowling:

"People are looking for maturity. It is a pretty scary world out there."

Even more so when you consider that empty-brained non-entities like Blears can somehow rise up the ranks to be party chair. Even a few days ago she was still spouting the same old platitudes that are rightly held in contempt both by the media and anyone who isn't an idiot:


1. Do you regret your support for the Iraq war in the Commons vote in March 2003?

Hazel Blears Labour party chair

No, I don't. Removing Saddam Hussein from power was essential for the peace of the region, for the protection of the Iraqi people, and for our own security.


Hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqis later, air strikes on Iran looking more likely by the day, and with the threat from terrorism greatly increased, as the security services warned, and Blears still can't even for a moment think that supporting the war was the wrong decision. At least Hilary Benn ties himself in knots while answering.

Speaking of Iran:

3. Would you support a military strike on Iran if the prime minister of the day recommended one?

Hazel Blears

Labour party chair

There's no point speculating about this purely hypothetical question.


Which, as a letter the following day to the Guardian pointed out, is the most pathetic way of not answering a more than reasonable question imaginable. Politics is about asking and attempting to answer hypothetical questions. Her answer though isn't a surprise. It's the answer of someone who has no imagination or ideas of their own, someone who doesn't understand that their very appearance is enough to repel people, and that it's been these two very distinct characteristics that have helped bring Labour to where they are now in 2007. The only positive to be taken from her declaration is that she'll be humiliated, with the message getting through that rise of the robotic, lobotomised apparatchik is finally at an end.

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Scum-watch: Smacking is back in fashion.

Bloggerheads notes that today's page 3 girl, the views of which usually correspond with the editorial opinions of the newspaper itself, is all in favour of bringing back caning. Could this possibly the same newspaper that goes out of its way to find a story about an evil pervert preying on our kids almost every day of the week? The same newspaper that scaremongered about the possibility of "perv sirs" and paedos being in class?

Perhaps Rebekah Wade would like to explain how allowing a teacher to hit a pupil as a punishment isn't either assault or a form of child abuse. If a pupil hit a teacher, he or she would be suspended or expelled, and quite rightly so. "Rhian's" "views" are based on a survey which found that parents believe that discipline in school has declined since the abolition of corporal punishment, which may well be true, but it certainly doesn't mean that bringing back the cane is the way to restore order. The Guardian report on the survey is predictably calmer. The rules on what can be done to restrain violent and unruly pupils have also been made far clearer in recent years.

Still, we all know about Wade's own fondness for smacking her husband (now ex). Could this explain her apparent lust for physical violence?

Elsewhere in today's Scum, they make a big deal out of Ryan Florence pretending to shoot David Cameron with his loaded fingers, who they interview just to make sure that he gets more publicity for being both an idiot and a boastful most likely lying little twerp. Those who are now taking Florence as an example of yob culture Britain would do well to remember the other teenager who heckled Cameron, rightly working out that he doesn't know his arse from his elbow.

The Scum's leader is foaming at the mouth, as per usual:

BRITAIN is in the grip of an ugly gun culture.

No it isn't. Distinct, inner-city parts of Britain may be in the grip of an ugly gun culture, but Britain as a whole is certainly not. America is in the grip of an ugly gun culture, but Murdoch's minions would never dream of suggesting that.

That’s the message to Tony Blair and David Cameron, who got a first-hand taste of the snarling morons who glorify guns yesterday.

Quite right too. I suppose the kids who play with toy guns and water pistols are glorifying them as well. Believe it or not, kids have been pretending to shoot people with their fingers for decades. That someone wet between the ears was trying to impress his dumb friends doesn't mean he was glorifying gun violence.

Kids as young as eight are toting deadly weapons. Others won’t leave home without body armour under their anoraks.

I'd like to see some statistics that back up the first part of this sentence, seeing as the police only spoke of 13-year-olds having guns hidden in their houses. The same age group was spoken of wearing body armour. We're talking about a tiny percentage of people, but from this Sun leader you'd think the whole of the next generation were tooling themselves up ready to massacre each other.

Laws to curb gang membership are vital. Anyone caught carrying a gun must be slung in jail.

The police must be given every power they need — with the orders to use them.

Replica guns should be outlawed.


Maybe I wasn't being too outlandish in suggesting that children with water pistols are glorifying gun crime. We ought to outlaw them too to make sure they aren't converted into lethal weapons. No concern for those who shoot for pleasure in outlawing replicas, but we shouldn't of expected any.

We are at war with gangs — and no measure is too extreme to tackle them.

How about caning them? I hear that works wonders.

But laws are not enough on their own. We all have a duty to clean up our streets.

Governments must send clear messages about right and wrong.

That means backing the family, the teacher and the rule of law.

This is a war we must win.


Seeing as the government and the Sun see no wrong in breaking the rule of law to call off the SFO's investigation into the Saudi Arabian slush fund, not to mention the legality of the Iraq war, they're hardly the ones to start parroting about it. Everything is war, and war is peace.

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Pedants corner.

It's a small thing, but why is it that newspapers often refer to women as girls? The above is typical of the Daily Mail in general, referring in the same sentence to men as men but to ladies' tennis players as girls. It's not even correct technically, as Wimbledon also runs a junior boys and girls tournament, who definitely won't be receiving the same prize money as those who win the adult championship. The Telegraph did the same thing yesterday. Is it too much to ask for sub-editors not to go along with their newspaper's general stance on the sexes?

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Thursday, February 22, 2007 

Troops out, royal family in!

The amount of absolute nonsense surrounding the non-withdrawal of troops from Iraq is nauseating. There's Dick Cheney, Vietnam draft dodger, saying that the withdrawal of a whole 1,600, with the rest maybe being gone by the end of 2008, if all goes to plan, proves that some things are going splendidly well. Quite right too. According to some notoriously unreliable statistics, there were only 29 murders in Basra in December. It's quite true that compared to Baghdad that's a below average daily toll, but it's hardly suggesting all is calm.

The truth of the matter is that the very people who are in power in Basra are the ones who have wanted the troops out from the beginning. The Mahdi army, which has always opposed the occupation, is still in majority control despite Operation Sinbad. The most egregious of the criminal gangs and brutal of the militia commanders may have been cleaned out, but the rest will remain. This is a very different situation to that in Baghdad -- while opinion polls have time and again made clear that ordinary Iraqis wish for foreign troops to leave, the government itself is adamant that the Americans must stay. They know full well that without the protection, inadequate as it is, that they would soon be forced from power, Shia, Sunni or otherwise. While they stay cooped up in the Green Zone, the citizens of Baghdad face the suicide bombers and the sectarian death squads.

Blair's insistence that nothing was his or our fault, that the terrorists are the ones responsible for the mass slaughter perpetuated in close to four years, and that things are actually better now than they were under Saddam are the real conundrum, as still is his support in the first place. We know why the Bush administration wanted to get rid of Saddam, a mixture of reasons involving remaking the Middle East, oil and establishing a new outpost after being forced out of Saudi Arabia, but it's still impossible to figure out just what Blair thought he would get out of joining in with such a war. He can't have imagined just how badly it would go, and how it would personally destroy him, but that doesn't explain why even now he's hanging on desperately, managing to convince only himself that everyone apart from him is responsible. He's had innumerable chances to extricate himself from this mess, yet it's as if he has a masochistic streak that makes him enjoy the political consequences of not doing so. This wouldn't be so bad if it was over a matter such as the Euro, or proportional representation, refusing to accept defeat, but this is literally a matter of life and death, for both the troops who he's sacrificed for his stand and for the Iraqis who have died in their thousands as a result. His gluttony for punishment nurtures his pathological delusions, a vicious circle which this feeble withdrawal will not solve.

You can at least feel some sympathy for Blair's predicament over the withdrawal. The fickleness of some of the media and politicians is stark. The Daily Mail, which was sniffy about the war from the beginning, calls this minute exit plan "cutting and running". Menzies Campbell, who was uncertain about opposing the war, tries to have it both ways by lecturing Blair about the situation in Basra while still talking of his honourable plan for all troops to be out of Iraq by October. The army, which wanted faster and sharper cuts, is left in a country it wants to wash its hands of, believing that they can do no more to help Basra, while Afghanistan is still winnable. They have more than a point, and are right to be increasingly angry about their treatment, feted by Blair for their bravery on one hand and left with poor equipment, housing, benefits and pay back home. Their belief that they've been paying with their lives for an American foreign policy with nothing to show for it in return is one that may yet turn out to be a turning point for our own foreign policy once Blair is finally turned out.

It's utterly bizarre therefore that Prince Harry is so determined to go to Iraq. At a time when the rest of the army is almost unanimous in never wanting to return, he seems to want to sell himself dearly. It could be out of a desire to not let those whom he's trained with down, as they certainly don't have the choice of not going, at least without facing a court martial, or it could be that he's as stupid as it's assumed he is. The talk of him being a target for "insurgents" is utter bilge, however. It's obvious that the majority of them couldn't care less who they kill, and if an IED happened to bump him off, it'd be an added propaganda bonus, but little more.

This is why the sanctimonious outpouring of praise for his "bravery" and the whole media circus surrounding his trip to southern Basra is so insulting and demeaning for the average soldier. Their work has been almost taken for granted, especially by the very politicians who have defended to the last the whole sorry saga. The only really impressive thing about his desire to serve is that he is one of the very few from the corridors of power that is prepared to do so. If he does return home in a body bag, it might finally bring home to those who continue to cheerlead for both this war and the next, if it comes, what the real consequences of their actions are. It has been this disconnect from facing up to death that has been the real scandal of the Iraq war, for both our own and those unfortunate enough to inhabit the land of two rivers.

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Wednesday, February 21, 2007 

Scum-watch: Much ado about smoking.

DEBENHAMS IN DRUG SHAME, shrieks the Sun in what is in fact an utterly shameless piece. In a complete non-story, some berk goes to Prague, sees Debenhams are selling hash-pipes and bongs, phones the Sun, and wham, all sense goes out the window.

MAJOR UK department store Debenhams is today exposed by The Sun selling drug paraphernalia in one of their overseas branches.

Hundreds of bongs, pipes, bud cases and water pipes are for sale at their store in Prague alongside clothing and shoes.

Paul Rushden, from Nottingham, was shocked when he spotted the items whilst on holiday in the Czech capital last week.

He said: "I couldn't believe it when I walked past a major British high street retailer and saw bongs and pipes blatantly for sale in their front window.

"I didn't expect Debenhams to be endorsing drug taking.

Err, they're not. What people get up to with what they buy from a department store is their business, much like how sex shops which sell handcuffs and fetish wear aren't endorsing whatever their customers do with the stuff. There's a store in town that sells every skin you could ever want and has a load of bongs on the top shelf and no one bats an eyelid. Why should it make any difference if a store like Debenhams is selling it?

"One wonders how the shareholders of this public company would feel about profiting from the drug trade."

The store is located in the busy King Wenceslas Square in the centre of Prague.

A spokeswoman for Debenhams thanked The Sun for bringing the matter to their attention and promised action.

She said: "This Debenhams store is managed by our Franchise Partner in Prague.

"This matter is clearly not acceptable and we have instructed our Partner to remove the items immediately and make clear to the vendor that any repetition will not be tolerated."

No mention then of what the drug laws actually are in the Czech Republic, which might explain why Debenhams would be selling them in the first place.


The Czech Republic's lower house last week approved a penal code revision that will decriminalize simple marijuana possession and allow for growing for personal use. The measure is likely to pass the Senate and be approved by President Vaclav Klaus, reports Czech activist and journalist Bushka Bryndova.

The proposed new law draws a distinction between soft drugs (cannabis and psychedelic mushrooms) and hard drugs. While penalties for hard drugs remain practically unchanged, possession of small amounts of marijuana or a limited (the number is yet to be set) number of plants will no longer merit prosecution.

Which sounds to me like the kind of law which ought to be campaigned for here. Congratulations to the Sun on such a brilliant exclusive!

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Express-watch: MUSLIMS TO KILL ALL OF US IN OUR BEDS.

In the foreword to the Muslim Council of Britain's report aimed at helping schools in guidance towards meeting the needs of Muslim pupils (PDF), the third paragraph contains the following sentences:

We are convinced that with a reasonable degree of mutual understanding and goodwill, even more progress can be made in responding positively to the educational aspirations and concerns of Muslim pupils and their parents. The current climate, in which there is much negative portrayal of Islam and Muslims requires that this be given greater priority and impetus to ensure that Muslim pupils are appropriately accommodated for and become an integral part of mainstream school life and thereby of society as a whole.

They've clearly then got good intentions, whether you agree with some of their recommendations, which I certainly don't. What they are not doing is suggesting that this is how schools must be run, or as the Express website puts it, MUSLIMS: 'BAN' UN-ISLAMIC SCHOOLS.

Five Chinese Crackers has already gone through the report and destroyed most of the Express's suppositions, so I won't bother doing that. What I will suggest is that having flicked through most of the MCB guidance, it's apparent that they haven't learned to stop addressing Muslims as if they are all one homogeneous block. The MCB's recommendations on modesty in school uniforms, especially when it comes to suggesting that girls should be covered except for their faces and hands, when the concept of "hijab" is one that is a source of much controversy within the community, could well do more harm than good, and cause schools to expect that girls must wear such coverings. The features of good practice summary is a little more lenient in this regard, which says:

Muslim girls who choose to wear the headscarf during all school lessons and activities are permitted to do so, including during physical education.

Making clear the choice factor would have made for a better piece of guidance to begin with.

The section on prayer is similar in this regard. I attended a bog standard middle and secondary school in an area of high diversity, and had a number of good Muslim friends who did and continue to attend mosque. Never once though did I see them perform the Zuhr prayer which the MCB guidance suggests schools should make allowance for. They may well have done this silently to avoid drawing attention to themselves, and without bowing and prostrating, but it wasn't something they ever suggested that they had to instead of anything else. It's quite right that schools should be prepared for students who do wish to pray in this manner, but the MCB could be more nuanced in suggesting that not all Muslims do perform 5 prayers a day. This doesn't make them bad Muslims, simply that they don't feel the need. There's this as well:

After visiting the toilet, Muslims are required to wash their private parts with water to meet cleanliness requirements, hence pupils will need to use water cans or bottles that are easily accessible from a storage space in or near the washing area.

At school everyone's embarrassed enough about their "private parts" without drawing attention to themselves by washing them to meet cleanliness requirements. If the MCB genuinely believes that Muslims do this at all when at school, they need their collective heads testing. Again, the features of good practice section is more nuanced than the advice is:

School makes arrangements for their Muslim pupils who wish to perform daily prayers in school.

School makes arrangements to allow Muslim children who wish to perform their Friday congregational prayer on school site, led by an older pupil, teacher or external visitor.

Why not make it clear that not all Muslim pupils are going to perform the above in the actual advice? It's a simple enough thing, surely?

Amusingly, the report may bring to an end the practice of those of a Muslim background getting out of PE by suggesting that it's Ramadan. Friends of mine did this numerous times, when we all knew it wasn't Ramadan, but the teachers were none the wiser.

Physical Education
The majority of pupils who are fasting are able to take part in most physical activities during Ramadan without putting themselves at risk or in danger. Fasting may make some children feel tired or drowsy, or even develop headaches due to dehydration. This may necessitate some
Muslim pupils having to reduce their physical exercise. Schools may wish to consider and plan less strenuous activities in physical education lessons during Ramadan.

It's probably the guidelines on swimming that will raise the most eyebrows:

Schools should make every effort to provide a single-sex environment for swimming and allow Muslim children to wear swimwear that complies with the requirements of modesty and decency according to the teachings of Islam. Some schools have been able to meet these requirements in providing an appropriate single-gender environment and also allowing girls to wear full leotards and leggings in the pool. Provided these guidelines are adhered to, there should be no reason why Muslim children should be withdrawn from swimming lessons.

If schools are unable to make arrangements for a single-sex environment for swimming, then Muslim pupils should have the option to be excused from swimming on religious grounds. Parents should be encouraged to take advantage of single-sex arrangements that some swimming pools offer outside school hours, where their children can go and learn to swim.

Again, I don't recall any problems in my own experience when it came to swimming classes. They were always mixed-gender, for the simple reason it would be impossible to otherwise fit them into the timetable, and I don't remember any of the Muslim girls wearing anything different from the usual leotards.

On the whole, the MCB and their guidelines are attempting to clear up any misconceptions, and help schools in providing the facilities which are available for other faiths. My problem with the document is more in the way that it isn't acknowledging that the Muslim community is far from a consensus in its attitudes towards religion, especially when it comes to praying and contact between the sexes than the organisation itself is. While the Express article is scaremongering and very near to being Islamophobic, you can see where the belief that "they" are demanding to be treated differently comes from. If the MCB was more honest with itself than it's currently being, this would help stop such greatly inflammatory articles.

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Tuesday, February 20, 2007 

Papers, citizen!

We shouldn't be too surprised that the whole truth about the ID cards scheme has finally come out. Blair, clutching at straws in his response to the petition against them on the 10 Downing Street website, has rather let the cat out of the bag:

I also believe that the National Identity Register will help police bring those guilty of serious crimes to justice. They will be able, for example, to compare the fingerprints found at the scene of some 900,000 unsolved crimes against the information held on the register. Another benefit from biometric technology will be to improve the flow of information between countries on the identity of offenders.

Yep, it's in essence what has long been the preserve of the more reactionary of police officers and the belief of Blair himself: that at birth everyone should be both fingerprinted and have a sample of their DNA taken. The reason why this is only being put forward stealthily is that Blair's savvy enough to know that this is one imposition on the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty and on liberty itself that the public would overwhelmingly reject. This isn't the first time that Blair has actually said something along these lines; he did back in November, but no one seems to have realised exactly what he meant or actually read his nonsense. The other mention was in a long forgotten Home Office document, as the Register notes. Other ministers have preferred to mention the "benefits" the ID cards will bring on fighting terrorism, benefit fraud and immigration rather than on tackling crime itself.

As said, we shouldn't be too shocked by this. Back in 2000, when the DNA database was still in its infancy, it was found that 50,000 DNA samples had been wrongly retained that should have been destroyed. Rather than do just that and tighten the scheme, as you would expect would happen, the government instead legitimised exactly what the police had been doing in secret. Now after another of Labour's crime bills, those arrested have their fingerprints and a DNA sample taken and put on the database regardless of whether they are ever charged with an offence. While it's true that a number of crimes committed decades ago have been solved as a result of this change in policy, the amount of samples on the database has now reached over 3 million, with ethnic minorities, especially black men aged 15 to 34 disproportionately making up a large number of the entries. Even children who have been wrongly arrested have had to campaign hard to have their information removed from the database, with parents only accepting that it genuinely had been destroyed by witnessing it happen, no longer just taking the word of the police.

Even faced with overwhelming evidence to the contrary, the Home Office minister responsible for this intrusion could only come up with this pathetic diversion attempt:

But Joan Ryan, the junior Home Office minister, rejected any suggestion of a "fishing expedition" by police.

She said that police would have to check fingerprints against all their databases before requesting assistance from the Identity and Passport Service (IPS).

"They can approach IPS and approved IPS staff will be able to search the national identity register to see if we can achieve a match for that fingerprint," she said.

"So there won't be any fishing expeditions. That's complete nonsense, it's not what can happen."

Oh, so that's all right then. The police will instead be getting the IPS to do the fishing expeditions for them.

This is in effect one of the last nails in the coffin of privacy. We already have the most CCTV cameras in a Western country, if not the world, the largest number of DNA samples on a database in the world, the ID card will contain the most information on the person of any scheme in the West, a network of cameras that can track the movement of vehicles across the country, and unless the opposition against road charging grows further or is substantially changed, a scheme that will be almost an eye in the sky on the movement of every single privately owned motor vehicle. We're not yet a police state, but we're starting to get there.

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Swinton Thomas offers a mixed bag.

The revelations provided by Sir Swinton Thomas, in the latest report (PDF) from the Interceptions of Communications Commissioner are little short of extraordinary. Last year, various state organisations made a stunning 439,000 requests to monitor in some way the activities of citizens of the realm. It's true that some of these are simple requests for phone numbers or e-mail addresses, but even so, this seems to suggest that there is snooping being carried out on a grand scale. Of these 439,000, at least 4,000 mistakes were made, with 66 involving information being wrongly intercepted from those who had nothing to do with whatever investigations were being pursued. Thomas calls these mistakes unacceptable, but due to the level of secrecy involved, those who were wrongly tapped or otherwise are unlikely to find out about the breach of their privacy.

The next target for the Communications Commissioner is the ban on the wire-tapping or spying on members of parliament and the lords. While Thomas has a reasonable case in suggesting that no one should be above the law in this regard, the introduction of the "Wilson doctrine" was because of the unaccountability of the security services, not to mention the motives of those behind the decision to spy on MPs. We're still unclear on just how far, if at all, an MI5 plot went to undermine Harold Wilson. It's quite true that we've moved on from the 70s, MI5 has to an extent been reformed, but as the rendition scandal has made clear, we're still in the dark over how far the security services go, and they're still completely opposed to having any formal watchdog imposed upon them.

This is what has to be kept in mind when considering whether MPs should be "above the law". While Thomas makes clear that he doesn't believe that any MPs are involved in terrorism or serious crime, we also don't know how far in cahoots the government itself is with the security services. Those with the most to fear are those of the more radical bent who manage to make it to parliament: it doesn't take much imagination to know that Sinn Fein MPs, if they took their seats, would probably be the most likely to be under suspicion, even now. If any BNP members were, god forbid, elected, they would also be likely targets. George Galloway could be another possible MP to be bugged, although seeing as he spends little time actually in the house, it might not provide much decent information on what he/Respect are up to. This is without considering whether the government itself could use such taps to spy on the opposition's plans. This might seem laughable now, even under a New Labour government that thinks nothing of stripping civil liberties to the bone, but it's still not conspiratorial to worry than an even worse government may one day be elected.

We therefore have to take a lot on trust if we're going to accept that our representatives should be allowed to be bugged. The Sun, being the Sun, has paedos on the brain and seems to think that the whole matter is about MPs not wanting their computers to be scanned for illegal material:

MPs love laying down the law — as long as they are not on the receiving end.

They fix their own pensions, perks and salaries. They set rules on freedom of information but insist on being exempt.

Now they want immunity from computer checks against paedophiles.

Have they got something to hide?

I don't know Rebekah, but I do know that you're far more obsessed with paedophiles than with anything else. Have you got something to hide?

It's quite true that MPs are just as human as the rest of us, probably even less so, but if this is to be implemented then at the very least the evidence that makes the case for a MP to be tapped should have to be presented to a judge, who could then authorise the operation. The current authorisation has to be given only by a secretary of state. There are so many potential ways that such tapping could be abused, that without a similar process being put in place Thomas's recommendation should be rejected.

Finally, Thomas takes aim at those who have been arguing for years now that intercept evidence should be made admissible in UK courts. His arguments are far from convincing:

If terrorists and criminals, most particularly those high up in the chain of command, know that interception would be used in evidence against them, they will do everything possible to stop providing the material which is so very valuable as intelligence. It is sometimes said: “but surely they know now that their communications will be intercepted?” They may suspect that their communications may be intercepted, but they do not know that they will be. This uncertainty is invaluable and they continue to provide immensely valuable intelligence material which would be lost if they ceased to communicate as they do now. Like everybody else they have to communicate to forward their enterprises, and there is a real danger that they will find means of doing so which are much more difficult or impossible to decipher if they know that the material would be used in evidence, so that valuable intelligence material leading to successful investigation and eventual prosecution will be lost.

This is pitiful on a number of levels. Firstly, it assumes that terrorists don't know that their messages are being intercepted, when those who are committed to the cause would know only too well to expect that their communications are. Secondly, the whole point of having the security services is so they monitor "subversives" and partly keep up with the methods they are using to communicate. This is no more than an handy excuse, which relies on the suspects themselves not changing their methods of communication in the first place.


Successive reviews on this subject over the last decade have been unable to show that the claimed benefits of using intercept product in evidence to secure more prosecutions (or to shorten trials) would be worth the risks that this entails for the operational effectiveness and capabilities of the agencies involved in fighting terrorism and serious crime. The last and most comprehensive review, the conclusions of which were reported in the then Home Secretary’s written Ministerial Statement of 26th January 2005 found that a modest increase in convictions of some serious criminals, but not terrorists, would come with serious risks to the continued effectiveness of the agencies.

The matter here though is that we simply don't know how effective it would be because we haven't tried. It's also worth remembering the judgment last week by Mr Justice Beaton, who made clear that he thought E, a Tunisian wanted in connection with an alleged conspiracy in Belgium, should have been prosecuted on the basis of the evidence in the intercept evidence obtained abroad, rather than put under a control order.


The workload for the intelligence and law enforcement agencies in preserving and presenting intercept product as evidence would be very severe indeed, and very expensive, and would distract them from the work which they should be doing, and also from the work they are actually doing, so greatly reducing as opposed to increasing the value of the intercept. This would be counter-productive. I give one example. In a recent case a Court felt it had to order that 16,000 hours of eavesdropping (not intercept) material must be transcribed at the request of the Defence. I believe that the cost was of the order of £1.9 million. The work and cost in intercept cases would be very great indeed, and quite disproportionate to any perceived advantage. This may explain why some who tend to act on behalf of defendants in terrorist and serious criminal cases appear to be supporting the concept of a change in the law.

This sounds suspiciously like the justification made by the government for not having an independent inquiry into the 7/7 bombings, the specious reasoning being that it would distract or hinder the work being done now. If the problem is a lack of resources, then the resources should be made available. The situation at the moment is that we have men held under control orders which are both illiberal and ineffective, when it's quite possible that they could be prosecuted. The amount of money being spent on keeping them monitored should be compared to the amount spent trying them. Besides, money should not be an issue when we are considering such important rights as both justice and liberty. Additionally, Thomas's remark that this might be the reason why defense lawyers are supporting the introduction of intercept evidence is offensive. Why should they not have the full information available on which to defend their clients? In the cases of those on control orders, the very evidence against their clients is not being presented either to them or those they are representing. They're at a disadvantage when what they are simply trying to do is defend their clients to the best of their ability.

Criminals and terrorists do not speak in a language which is readily comprehensible to juries, even if their native language is English. Many conversations are in foreign languages or slang. In those that are not, they use their own particular language. In every case interpreters and translators would be required. In many languages and dialects there are very few capable of translating and interpreting. I give one example. In an intercept case which I saw recently, the participants were speaking in a tongue which is spoken by significantly less than 1000 people in the world.

In other words, juries are thick. Take that, members of the public performing your duty!

Some of those who favour a change in the law take the view that if the terrorist or criminal makes a clear confession in a telephone conversation, then why should it not be admissible as evidence. That is an understandable point of view and the converse may at first sight seem to be counter-intuitive. However real life is not so simple as that and criminals and terrorists do not behave like that. Apart from the matters that I have already referred to, I know from years of experience, particularly when dealing with foreign languages that interpreters and translators very rarely agree upon the meaning of anything, and there is never any difficulty in finding one interpreter who will disagree with another.

And? Juries should be given the chance to decide for themselves what they believe.

The Communications Service Providers (CSPs) are very important in this process and their staff do essential work. They are very co-operative and dedicated. I talk to them regularly and they are totally opposed to the concept of intercept being admissible in Court. The present regime provides a high degree of protection to the CSPs and particularly to those members of their staff who work in this sensitive field, and their strong co-operation referred to could easily be undermined.

They're very co-operative, except when it comes to their work being made admissible. No one is suggesting making their identities public, or questioning their work. It should be more than possible to make the evidence admissible while keeping both the methods used and those involved in its preparation secret.

The problems with the criminal process. I have made some reference to these, with examples, above. Having looked at this problem with great care, it is abundantly clear to me that it would be exceedingly difficult to prove that a conversation is taking place between A and B. The warrants would have to be proved. How is the material received at source? How is it transferred to the Agencies? How is it transcribed? What does it mean? Lawyers will inevitably challenge every connection and every issue, because that is their job. Admitting intercept evidence would take a very long time, and would greatly increase the length of already over-long trials and the expense involved. These problems are going to increase in the future because of the huge changes taking place in telecommunications technology as CSPs change to internet protocol networks. There is a real danger of criminal trials being aborted. I know that work has been done in an attempt to surmount these problems and the problems relating to European Community and Human Rights law, but I have not seen any system proposed which would successfully overcome these problems.
The problems are very great and should not be understated.

We're going to have to mostly take Thomas at his word here, as I make no claim to know properly how making intercept evidence admissible would affect the length of trials. One thing that is worth mentioning is the evidence presented in the trial of those accused of potentially targeting the Ministry of Sound nightclub, where those involved had their houses bugged. The evidence was reasonably damning, and as far as I'm aware, the defense has made no attempt to question it.

I'm not pretending to know for certain that introducing intercept evidence would do more good than harm, yet the reasons presented so far for not doing so are certainly not a "slam-dunk", to quote George Tenet. Especially considering that foreign agencies have no problems with making intercept evidence admissible, it's worth turning the Sun's question about MPs full-circle and ask what it is that MI5/6 have to hide.

Related post:
Spy Blog - Sir Swinton Thomas on the "Wilson Doctrine"

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