Friday, November 30, 2007 

The Daily Mail has absolutely no shame.

It's a cliche. Guardian readers denounce the Daily Mail. Daily Mail readers denounce the Guardian. The world continues to turn. Thing is, the more you delve into tabloid journalism, the one thing that never ceases to amaze me is just when you think that they can't possibly go any lower, that the abyss can't simply go any further down, they come up with something so underhand that it takes the breath away. Paying a Polish couple to drive their car around London and break the law was a case in point. An article that goes beyond even that has just been published. First though, the continuing attacks on Colin Stagg, which even now are continuing.

To give just a smidgen of balance to proceedings, Stagg really ought to know by now that talking to any tabloid is just giving them material to attempt to justify, even if they don't go into the facts of the case and their involvement, their personal pursuit of him for over 10 years. Perhaps the Mail paid him. Who knows. Either way, this was still a hatchet job. The article opens with:


As a mental patient is charged with killing Rachel Nickell, a disturbing admission from the man whose name will be forever linked with hers...

And just what is this disturbing admission? We don't find out until almost right at the end:

"I don't feel anything about Rachel Nickell. She doesn't mean anything to me," he says, when I first ask about his feelings towards her.

It's a bizarre thing to say, given that their names have been so linked.

Only after being pressed does he express any sorrow for the young mother.

"Of course I'm sorry about what happened to her, but in the same way I'm sorry when I hear about murders on TV.

"That's the thing: someone was murdered and it was all very tragic, but murders happen.

"They don't affect your life. Unless you knew the person, of course."


What did the Mail expect, or indeed want? Did they want him to break down and cry crocodile tears about the woman who if she hadn't been murdered wouldn't have ruined his life? Put yourself for a moment in Stagg's shoes. You've been hounded for a decade because the police and then the media decided that you'd committed a heinous murder that you in fact had nothing to do with. Finally, the review of the forensic evidence finds definitively that you had no involvement in the murder. Despite that, neither the police nor the media even have the decency to offer you a formal apology, although they will pay compensation. They've been living off your despair and misery, inflicting it upon you, in the cases of Keith Pedder selling books calling for you to be tried again, with Nickell's partner also calling for the rule on double jeopardy to be abolished so you can be put before a different courtroom, and they expect you after all that time to still show some empathy towards the woman who was brutally murdered by a man they should have caught first time round? Call me insensitive, be I don't think I'd be particularly sorry either. After 15 years, Stagg has more or less the same attitude that a distinct proportion of the country would have upon hearing the news of anyone's death that they didn't know. This, for the Mail, makes for a "disturbing admission".


It wouldn't be the Mail if it simply ended there. No, Stagg's still the "weirdo" and "oddball", it would seem:

His attitude to women is, however, more than a little unsettling.

In the infamous letters to the undercover policewoman, he admitted to violent sexual fantasies, and at one point confessed he was aroused by the thought of Nickell's murder (though crucially, he never admitted to the killing).


The Mail doesn't think to mention that he admitted to those "violent sexual fantasies" because, as other evidence not presented showed, he desperately wanted the relationship with the female officer who approached and entrapped him to work,
saying anything that he thought might make her stay or think more of him. As the judge described it, it was the "most vivid illustration of shaping the accused's mind." There's still more:

He appears to blame all women for his social failings.

"You women don't realise how much power you have to hurt men," he says.

"Women always go for good-looking blokes, even if they treat them terribly. The geeks like me never get a look-in."


Which is far from being a unique statement, nor is it any proof whatsoever that he blames women for his "social failings". It's just someone embittered by loneliness and years of attacks looking inward. The Mail talks about his relationship with a woman which started in prison ending in her selling her story to the media, and it expects him not to be slightly rueful about the pain he's suffered? It says more about the journalist and the story she's written or been expected to pen than it does about Stagg.


These two paragraphs more than sum up the sheer chutzpah on the part of the Mail:

Even in the aftermath of his acquittal, there were many - certainly among the police, and consequently Rachel's family - who never wavered in their conviction that Stagg got away with murder.

Perhaps now the murder charge brought against Robert Napper will mean that whatever becomes of this new case, the public perception of Stagg will change.


The Mail naturally doesn't mention its own or the media's role in demonising Stagg. Why would it break the habit of a lifetime?

"The only difference is that now, people are also coming up and saying sorry for thinking the worst of me.

"But there's still a lot of people that need to say sorry.

"I have been terribly wronged."

That much is clear.


Around the only decent sentence in the whole article. Will the Daily Mail now say sorry too? The above more than demonstrates what it still really thinks.


Just to prove the Mail hasn't learned a single thing from Stagg's innocence, up pops the most vile Daily Mail article I think I have ever read.

Amanda Knox - accused of killing Meredith Kercher - has been portrayed as a blameless girl led astray when she moved to Italy. But as this investigation reveals, she already had a dangerous appetite for drink, drugs and sex ...

After which commences the most despicable, disgusting, moralistic, prurient, based on hearsay hatchet job on a young woman yet to be charged with any crime and who can't defend herself you're ever likely to read. It's not even worth the slightest perusal of its numerous claims about "Foxy Knoxy" - you know you're in trouble when the tabloids start calling you by your supposed nickname - but this final paragraph gives an example of what you can expect:

And a British family is left to mourn the brutal death of their beautiful daughter, who, it seems, died for no other reason than that she had the terrible misfortune to find herself sharing an apartment with 'Foxy' Knoxy.

The "journalist" responsible for this is Andrew Malone. A click on "more by this author" leads you to other choice pieces, such as Why Portugal is a haven for paedophiles - the disturbing backcloth to the Madeleine case, Inside feral Britain: A blood-chilling journey into the heart of our teenage gang culture and finally Brutality or justice? The truth behind the tarred and feathered drug dealer, which contains this apologia for vigilante attacks:

This show of "community justice" may have happened in Northern Ireland, but the professed reasons behind it may strike a chord with millions of law-abiding people in communities across the UK - where the police and courts are each day failing countless victims of violent crime.

Nothing, surely, can excuse such horrific savagery on our streets - and such casual contempt for the basic principles of justice. Yet, many people in areas across Britain will recognise the sense of impotence felt by the people of Taughmonagh, a rugged, working-class estate with the Union Jack hanging from virtually every house. There is a real sense of community in the area.

Welcome to Daily Mail land. Enjoy your stay.

Update: Please accept my apologies. I quite forgot for a while there that Richard Littlejohn late last year informed us that the deaths of the five prostitutes murdered in Ipswich was "no great loss". Make the "Foxy Knoxy" smear second most vile Mail article.

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Incredible.

In more general terms, I confirm that it is Home Office policy to remove political dissidents to Uzbekistan

To me, this damns this government far more than anything that has currently emerged over the David Abrahams affair.

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Enduring news values.

College student named Emily Sander goes missing. Either media finds out or close friend blabs that she led a "secret life" as an "internet porn star" (the definition of which in this case appears to be that she had her own private site and posed naked, might have done "girl on girl" stuff). Emily Sander is discovered to go online by her alter ego of "Zoey Zane". Internet almost collapses under the strain of one-handed fiends Googling said nom de guerre. Sander's body is discovered. Police make clear that the huge interest in the case because Sander did a few nude shoots is "literally crippling our investigation." Google News currently tracks 1,671 articles containing "Zoey Zane". "David Abrahams" churns out 1,228.

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Thursday, November 29, 2007 

Warning: includes swearing.

There's always a sense of satisfaction when the underdog triumphs over the giant, and there are few more surprise victories, considering the decision of the local council last week, than the rejection by the Aberdeenshire Council's infrastructure committee of Donald Trump's monstrosity known as a golf course.

Couldn't of happened to a nicer cunt.

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Us? Demonise Colin Stagg? We're innocent!

Look, he's got a shitty tattoo! He must be weird!

Not a single word. Not a single fucking word. For ten years they vilified him, haunted him and demanded that the law on double jeopardy be repealed so that he could be tried again. In his own words, he was, as the Sun and Daily Mail happily quote, "a national hate figure. I had to endure every form of vilification. I was insulted, attacked, spat upon. My home was attacked and so was I." They made sure of the fact that despite having the case against him thrown out, with the judge describing the way the police went about entrapping him as "a substantial attempt to incriminate a suspect by positive and deceptive conduct of the grossest kind" that it was instead seen as being as a result of a technicality. There was no other evidence against him of any sort, only that he, through the attempts by the young, attractive police officer to entrap him, had came to fit the profile which the psychologist Paul Britton had drawn up for who he thought the murderer was. The only thing he was guilty of was being a lonely, outsider type figure: flattered, and desperate for his relationship with the undercover police woman to continue, his innocence ought to have been obvious from one of his taped conversations:

"Please explain, as I live a quiet life. If I have disappointed you, please don't dump me. Nothing like this has happened to me before."

Colin Stagg will be used to the treatment still today being meted out to him by the tabloids. Of the three that continued to pursue him over 10 years, not a single one can bring itself to admit its own role in the vilification, abuse and hatred which they helped spread towards an innocent man. In the world of the tabloids, you shouldn't expect a mea culpa unless you resort to the likes of Schillings or manage to get a complaint adjudicated by the supine and toothless Press Complaints Commission. You would hope however that they might feel the odd pang of guilt themselves over how they ruthlessly ruined a man's life and made him into both a pariah and a untouchable, perhaps amounting to a small amount of hand-wringing or a mealy-mouthed half admittance that they got it horribly wrong.

Not a bit of it. If anything, the Daily Mail, Stagg's chief persecutor, is still treating what happened to Stagg as a personal "claim":

Mr Stagg claims the CPS, the Met and a Cracker-style criminal profiler were wrong to target him during the first probe.

A leaked internal CPS report on the collapse of the trial made an astonishing attack on Mr Justice Ognall, the judge who threw out the case against Mr Stagg after criticising the honey-trap operation involving a blonde undercover policewoman known as Lizzie James.

Mr Justice Ognall told the Old Bailey the tactic was 'a substantial attempt to incriminate a suspect by positive and deceptive conduct of the grossest kind'.

But the CPS report said the judge had an unfairly 'disciplinary approach' towards the police and, after hearing how they gathered their evidence, was 'determined to stop the prosecution'.


The judge has of course been proved to be absolutely right in his assessment of the prosecution case against Stagg. While not quite of the same order, other recent cases where those on trial have been somewhat entrapped include the Victoria Beckham kidnap plot that never was, as well as the "red mercury" trial, both of which were orchestrated by Mazher Mahmood for the News of the World, and found wanting in almost every way. Instead of accepting that Stagg's "claims" are not exactly what happened, the Mail quotes the CPS's self-serving refusal to countenance that the Met investigation and general incompetence in fact enabled the real killer to quite possibly murder again.

The Sun's coverage is, if anything, even worse. It similarly quotes Stagg's interview given, but even after all this time it still refuses to describe Stagg as anything other than a "weirdo":

Local oddball Colin Stagg was charged with her murder following a honeypot sting by police using an undercover policewoman who tried to coax details from him.

Ah yes, the local "oddball", so often the easy person to pin an unsolved and difficult case to crack on. It happened with Barry George, and it'll happen again. The difference is that almost no one believed that George did it, apart from the police and Nick Ross, while Stagg endured years of torment because the police were more effective in convincing the media that he was the one who'd got away because of the judge's bias against the prosecution.

The Express is the only newspaper not to go out of its way to either still paint Stagg as weird or go above the board of duty to give the benefit of the doubt to the police's original case. It does though quote a laughable Scotland Yard spokesman:

“The investigation into the murder of Rachel Nickell has always remained open and subject to ongoing reviews."

Someone ought to tell that to Paul Condon, who as head of the Met made clear that they weren't looking for anyone else, despite the case against Stagg being thrown out.

None of the papers managed to find any space to quote in full the interview that Stagg gave to yesterday's ITV News. While he seems to have found it within himself to forgive the police, he showed no such compassion towards the media, who it was clear he holds responsible for his treatment since the case was thrown out at the trial. And who could possibly blame him? When it was announced that he would be receiving compensation, rather than admit they'd got it wrong, both the Mail and the Sun ran articles comparing his likely pay-out to that given to Rachel Nickell's 2-year-old son, with the Sun condemning it in a leader column. Never was it admitted that if they hadn't so demonised the man that the payout might not have been so high.

Such is the nature of our tabloid media. Their bread and butter is the high profile crime stories, the more sensational the better. Yesterday saw the conviction of the killer of Laila Rezk, who was battered to death in her home a year to today. Both the Sun and the Mail described the likely killer as a "deranged, stalking maniac", with the Sun the next day breathlessly reporting that "THE killer of glamorous mum-of-two Laila Rezk is a twisted sex beast." The reality was rather different. Rezk's murderer was an 19-year-old burglar on an electronic tag, who apparently picked Rezk's home at random to rob, found her at home and beat her to death, altering her clothing to leave the impression of a sexual motive. He had shown no previous inclination towards being capable of the horrific violence used on that day, with him today sentenced to life, to serve a minimum of 18 years. It's hardly the first time the tabloids have got it so horribly wrong; something the families of Rochelle Holness
and Janet Hossain can testify to. Apologies, if any are issued, get completely buried, while the hurt and continuing pain at losing a loved one is only exacerbated by such egregious mistakes. At least in those cases the families themselves are not the actual target; Stagg was never able to prove his innocence against such a backdrop of media prejudice.

Some often doubt the power of the media or the idea that half of the stuff printed in the tabloids is ever believed by anyone. Polls showing trust in tabloid journalists lower than in that of estate agents suggest that such views are more than warranted. The hounding of Colin Stagg, as well as that of Maxine Carr, which has led to the vaguest of lookalikes themselves being subjected to hate and being in fear of their lives at the hands of baying mobs, not to mention the notorious Portsmouth anti-paedophile protests in the aftermath of the News of the World's name and shame campaign shows that tabloid editors are more than aware of the way their words can lead to actions that might not have intended, but could more than imagine might well happen as a result. I'm most certainly not suggesting that tabloids should moderate their language; far from it, although I will continue to criticise the ridiculous caricaturing of all those convicted of crimes as "villains". They should however when they get things so horribly and unforgivably wrong apologise about it, own up to it, and make clear that they will not repeat such things in the future, or carry apologism for doing so. They have the power to ruin lives, and they need more than ever to be accountable. At the moment they, like so many others, appear to reject that they have such responsibility as a whole to society.

Related posts:
Rhetorically Speaking - Pride of Fleet Street
Enemies of Reason - The Stagg Hunt is Over

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Wednesday, November 28, 2007 

Mendelsohn becomes Mandelson.

If Gordon Brown has ever looked as impotent as he did at today's prime ministers questions, it was a long time ago. Faced with the barracking from David Cameron and the Tory benches, he employed the Tony Blair defense: say as little as possible in response to what the opposition leader is actually questioning you about, then go on the attack about all their shortcomings from the dawn of time. It made for exasperating viewing, but it got Blair through similar showdowns relatively unscathed. For Brown it simply didn't work: the Tories scented blood, and while one side of the Commons fell about laughing at Vince Cable's relatively weak joke about the prime minister going from Stalin to Mr Bean in record time, the Labour benches were united in gloom.

We then again face the prospect of a police inquiry, and also presumably the possibility of the prime minister's chief fundraiser feeling the long arm of the law in a similar redux. Newsnight couldn't have believed its luck at David Abrahams phoning the BBC minutes after Geoff "Buff" Hoon had denied that Jon Mendelsohn had any knowledge about his donations; Abrahams contradicting his claims and reading out a letter from the very same Jon Mendelsohn he had received earlier in the day that, if anything, suggested he wished to meet Abrahams with a view to further donations was dynamite. Mendelsohn's attempt at an explanation today only raises as many questions as it answers: if Watt had told Mendelsohn about the donations, why didn't he raise the alarm about their illegality instead of meekly accepting Watt's "belief" that they were above board when he apparently wasn't happy about the situation? When was Mendelsohn told? (Newsnight just said it was late September.) Why does the letter, if it was written with an eye to meeting Abrahams and explaining that the system he had set-up was inappropriate, not to say illegal, was it not completely open about that being the reason for the tete-a-tete? Why is there a discrepancy between Abrahams claiming the letter is handwritten and dated 24th of November when Mendelsohn said it was typed and dated the 22nd?

Jack Dromey's position as the Labour party treasurer is looking similarly questionable. Some Blairites, embittered that Dromey made clear he had been bypassed over the loans for peerages scandal and put Blair in the soup, asked whether he ought to have been more questioning in his dealings rather than performing a reprise of Manuel. That now looks more reasonable as once again Dromey is left stating that the donations were "completely concealed". His role seems to extend to looking at the accounts as placed in front of him, signing them off, and err, that's it. Being married to Harriet Harman, performing a similar act after accepting a hidden donation from Abrahams while Brown and Benn had the sense to inquire into the background behind it only strengthens the sentiment that it's time he went.

Unity to an extent tries to put the case for Labour over at Liberal Conspiracy, pointing out that the Tories had recent similar problems with the Midlands Industrial Council being used as a front for donations, and it's also true that the Lib Dems' biggest donor to date is currently in prison for perjury, while even UKIP had to recently forfeit a donation when it turned out the donor had inadvertently been removed from the electoral register, but the there's a "pox on all their houses" argument doesn't really cut it any longer, especially when it's Labour that brought in the current rules which have been so flagrantly breached. As the Guardian leader puts it, "What bit of doing things by the rules does the Labour party not understand?" If there is to be a police investigation, quite apart from the increasing political damage, then Labour has no one but itself to blame.

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Rachel Nickell, the media and the increasing chance of more miscarriages of justice.

Colin Stagg.

Only 15 years after Rachel Nickell was murdered, the CPS today announced that Robert Napper, long suspected to have been her murderer, has been charged in connection with her death. Napper is being held indefinitely in Broadmoor for the murder of Samantha Bissett and her two-year-old daughter Jazmine in 1993, while he is also suspected of being the "Green Chain rapist", a long series of sexual assaults and attacks on women which took place along the Thames-side path known as the "Green Chain walk", which abruptly stopped in 1994 after Napper's arrest.

Although Keith Pedder, the detective in charge of the investigation has said Napper was at one point considered a suspect, it was at the time that Colin Stagg was awaiting trial for Nickell's murder, and that "there was nothing to tie him to the Rachel Nickell murder." Apart from the similarities in the way both Nickell and Bissett were brutally attacked and mutilated, obviously, even if in Nickell's case her son was not killed as Bisset's daughter was. In reality, Napper was a far more likely suspect that Stagg ever was, but the police had decided that Stagg was guilty and that all they needed was to, err, find the evidence to prove it. In the mean time, Napper, who had been arrested over the "Green Chain rapes" but had been released without charge after the police realised he was significantly taller than 5 foot 5 as they believed the perpetrator was, without bothering to take a DNA sample even though Napper offered one, went on to murder Bissett. It's also not as if the media didn't take an interest in Napper: the Daily Mail, which was instrumental in pursuing Stagg for over a decade, asked on its front page the day after he was convicted of the Bissett murder "DID HE KILL RACHEL TOO?". The late Paul Foot also wrote in Private Eye at the time about the suspicions of Napper's involvement.

Stagg meanwhile, despite the case against him being thrown out by the judge who called the honey trap set-up by the police as the "most vivid illustration of shaping the accused's mind," endured years of baiting by the tabloids and the media. He passed a lie detector test organised by the Cook Report, but that wasn't good enough for the producers, who wanted him to take a "truth drug" as well; he declined. Keith Pedder has written at least two books, now likely to either be pulped or highly revised, both of which make clear his belief that Rachel's son has been denied justice. Stagg has not only not received a formal apology from the police, he's also never experienced even the slightest mea culpa from the numerous journalists and others who wrote that he should be tried again. The Sun still persisted when he was finally cleared of any involvement in Nickell's murder through the new forensic evidence which has led to Napper being charged in referring to him as "an oddball", and that Nickell's son deserved more compensation than he did.

Doubtlessly, few of the papers that were so vociferous in shadowing Stagg will be wringing their hands tonight. The blame will be laid squarely at the feet of the police, while their role in encouraging the belief that Stagg had escaped justice will be subtly airbrushed out of history. This comes at a time however when legal aid is being cut back, the criminal justice system is complaining of being stretched to the limit, and compensation to those wrongly convicted is also being lowered, while surveys show increasing numbers think that access to solicitors ought to be further curtailed. The media, far from scaling back and re-examining their coverage of crime is in fact dedicating ever more space to it while the amount of potentially prejudicial material being published also seems to grow. In the last year alone we've seen the rampant voyeurism over the disappearance of Madeleine McCann, still continuing more than six months after she vanished, the lurid salaciousness and delighting in the gory and sexual details surrounding the death of Meredith Kercher, the leaks to the press before the arrests over the Birmingham "beheading" plot had even taken place, and last December the publishing on the front page of the Sun of a photograph of the man charged with the murder of 5 prostitutes in Ipswich, pretending to strangle his ex-wife. The climate seems right for a new wave of miscarriages of justice, aided and abetted by a news atmosphere driven by the lowest common denominator.

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Tuesday, November 27, 2007 

Abrahams sacrifices Labour.

To misquote Lady Bracknell, to get caught out over improper donations once is unfortunate, to get caught twice seems like carelessness. To be strictly accurate, it isn't even the second time the Labour party has been caught out: it's more like the fourth, coming after the Ecclestone and Mittal affairs in the earlier days of Blair's reign. Gordon Brown and the government at large must be wondering what on earth is going to go tits up next: perhaps Ruth Kelly will be exposed as having a second life as this generation's Miss Whiplash?

More damaging than the accusations and the returning of the money to David Abrahams might well be the very bringing back of the sobriquet "sleaze", especially screaming out from the front page of the Daily Mail, the paper that Brown has done so much to attempt to woo. If Blair's position prior to the whole loans for peerages debacle was highly damaged, the impact of the police investigation was terminal. Brown's attempt to draw a line under all of that through his widely parodied "Age of Change" has hit the buffers even sooner than after Peter Mandelson commented that New Labour was "intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich."

As so often with this government, when it gets caught out it acts like a child caught with his hands in his mother's purse, except not many children would then appoint a Lord to investigate what actually led up to the shutting of fingers in the clasp. No one, it would seem, apart from Peter Watt and perhaps his predecessors as general secretary of the Labour party knew that Abrahams was donating money through up to four intermediaries, even though both Gordon Brown himself and Hilary Benn declined to receive donations from Janet Kidd for their respective campaigns for leader and deputy leader, having inquired into her background as she wasn't known to either. Benn subsequently did accept a donation from Abrahams once he personally signed the cheque, but Harriet Harman wasn't as inquisitive, accepting a donation for £5,000 at face value. Her position really ought to be untenable, especially if the Tories are correct in alleging she didn't actually take it until 2 weeks after the campaign had ended.

In fairness to Brown, he did all that could reasonably be expected of him at this morning's press conference. He apologised, admitted that the donations were unlawful and that they would be returned, said that he might well have met Abrahams at some point, although he "couldn't remember" talking about donations at any of those meetings and that changes would be needed. Thing is, we've heard it all before over so many other matters. The talks about changes to the party funding regime have been mooted on previous occasions, and the most recent attempt failed after the Tories attempted to cut the links between Labour and the unions, with all the other matters also falling by the wayside. When the Tories have Lord Ashcroft pouring money into the marginal constituencies, even though he himself has questions to answer about his tax status (Private Eye in the latest issue suggested he might be one of an increasing number of businessmen who in effect pay no tax whatsoever thanks to their offshore interests) they have much to gain and little to lose from the collapse of the talks, especially when the right-wing press has such a loathing of Labour's union links.

Doubtless, numerous hacks will now be scrutinising David Abrahams' movements over the last few years. His explanation that he passed his donations through others so that he wouldn't be treated like a criminal for donating to a political party would stand up rather more if he hadn't in the words of Nick Robinson "used different names, different ages, been deselected as a parliamentary candidate and been involved in rows about the planning system." The one saving grace for Labour is that so far there has been no evidence presented to suggest that Abrahams has personally gained from his donations; unlike with cash for peerages, where it was always incredulous that all those that had given secret loans had been been recommended for peerages and that the two things weren't connected, this at the moment appears to be a general secretary taking the money and not asking any questions. Where it will change into serious sleaze is if it turns out that there was far wider recognition of where the donations really were coming from - and at the moment the photograph of Blair at his constituency with Abrahams in close proxomity is the nearest thing to a smoking gun. If a similar photograph of Brown turns up, despite his admittance that he might of met him, then it will become very serious indeed.

The most astonishing thing is that it's been allowed to happen. At what point does a breaking of the law, even if we believe Watt's story that he simply didn't check, become less serious than another breach? Few will disagree with David Cameron's observation that despite all the safeguards that the government has meant to have setup, it seems itself to routinely breach them. With faith in politics at such a low, and Brown the latest leader to declare that he would be different, this just once again reinforces the belief that "they're all the same." While the last week has seen many comparisons with the slow death of the Major government, it hasn't been widely acknowledged that it wasn't just Black Wednesday but also what happened after then that destroyed it and gradually turned it into a laughing stock, with the sleaze allegations, then uncovered by the Guardian being denied and challenged by the Tories. This time round it's the Mail on Sunday and with Labour owning up, but the effect remains the same. It's the image of a government not being in control of events, and constantly on the back foot. The only consolation is that the Tories are still not making the huge gains you would expect, Labour instead just falling behind. It's not yet critical, but any more unexpected disasters and Brown might well be permanently tainted.

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Can we have some more sanity, please?

There's very little to add to the account of MB Jefferies on CiF, a colleague of Gillian Gibbons, the woman charged with blasphemously defaming the Prophet by naming a teddy bear Muhammad - or, rather using the name voted upon by the children in her class.

The Scum though can't help but insist on turning this into an issue for Muslims in this country:

THE West is routinely condemned for demonising Muslims.

But it’s hard to sympathise with a faith that demands 40 lashes for calling a teddy bear Mohammed.

Every perceived slight seems punishable by violence or even death.

Until Muslim leaders speak out publicly against such barbarity, East and West will never come to understand one another.


There is no sign in the Sun's report that it bothered to actually contact anyone to ask them for their views. If they had, they would have found that the Muslim Council of Britain for instance has called for her immediate release, even though it could have done so in more forceful terms.

It shouldn't however though even be an issue. Why should British Muslims have to denounce every apparent injustice which takes place in another country under its own individual law system? They weren't for instance called upon to express their horror at the recent Saudi case of a woman sentenced to 200 lashes after she was gang-raped for being in the company of a man, carried out under a similar system of Sharia law, but that was presumably because it didn't involve a British woman in a foreign country, or, if you were being more conspiratorially minded, that it involved the Saudis who we shouldn't upset (The Sun doesn't seem to have ran an article on it). Muslims cannot be held responsible for every transgression committed by those who share their faith, and to demand that they do so only encourages the belief that there is a clash of civilisations or religions, rather than a common sharing of basic humanity, as shown by the children in Gibbons' class now also calling for her to be released.

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Monday, November 26, 2007 

It just gets worse.

I'll probably write more on this tomorrow, but there's at least one more than convincing fact that suggests that no one apart from Peter Watt knew about David Abrahams' hidden donations to Labour: he isn't a Lord.


Yet.

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The fear of freedom of speech.

There's something truly depressing about witnessing the massive hoo-hah over Nick Griffin and David Irving being invited to address the Oxford Union, especially when much of the noise is being made by those supposedly on the left. One is a discredited and ignorant politician; the other is a discredited and prejudiced historian who has in the past offered something towards the historical debate, whilst also grossly exaggerating that which he has submitted. There ought to be very little that either could offer up that could convince a child, let alone a debating society of students.

Instead then we have according to the Guardian the usual braindead anti-fascists, the same ones no doubt that protested outside the National Theatre back in January over the
"BNP ballerina" gatecrashing the event and making their opinions heard. There's the usual nonsense about fears for the safety of students, when it seems if anything that the protesters and media presence will impose more on those wanting to go out than any BNP thugs.

The whole situation only highlights the hypocrisy at the very centre of the "no platform" orthodoxy. Both Griffin and Irving claim to be stifled by political correctness and those who deny them the opportunity to put their views across; the solution to which is to do the very thing that they most want. The BNP and Holocaust deniers feed off their victim and outsider status, making their message to those it does appeal to only more attractive, and their fundamental supporters only more embittered and angry. If their views were truly beyond the pale it would be more palatable, yet Griffin's racism is far toned down from that which previously fired the National Front, even if the foot-soldiers are still as knuckle-dragging and Hitler obsessed as ever, while Irving admits the Holocaust happened but like many others of a similar ilk disputes the figures. Both of their positions are eminently spurious, and also easy to attack and defeat through open argument. Even if the Oxford Union's reasons are publicity seeking and looking for controversy for the sake of it, to take on their views ought to be one of the obligations of any generally democratic society.


My admiration for
Evan Harris, the Liberal Democrat MP who unlike others has said he will stand up and debate both then only grows, especially after his demolition of the scientific illiteracy of Nadine Dorries and the faith-based prejudices of those who gave evidence to the parliamentary committee on abortion. Trevor Phillips, on the other hand, who for a head of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission has said some questionable things himself, bizarrely invokes those who died for freedom of speech while suggesting that they didn't do so for the sake of a "silly parlour game", as though debating two prominent figures, even if controversial ones was somehow akin to playing charades.

The most obvious question which arises is: what on earth are they so scared of? Anyone would think that Griffin and Irving's oratory and rhetoric was so revelatory and convincing that those who so much as heard it would be straight off to Germany to buy some jackboots. The opposite is nearer the truth. At best, the majority of the anti-fascist left and their no platform ideology are doing the far-right's work for them, while at worst they're evoking the McCarthyism of 50s in America in their virulence in denying fascists any speaking engagements, and in some cases even work. You could almost accept it if the far-right were in a position of strength: yet even in an age of unprecedented immigration their incompetence once in council seats shines through, and although the vagaries of the electoral system count against them as it does the far left, they can't so much as come near winning a single seat in parliament. Compared to movements in mainland Europe, the BNP is a grim rump of true believers.


It is a cliche, but Voltaire's famous quote,
which he naturally never actually wrote or said, sums up the attitude that ought to taken to almost all figures as long as they're not advocating imminent violence: "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." The cowardice displayed by those who pulled out of tonight, and those stopping the event from going ahead, even if highly principled, makes a mockery of a sentiment that should be at the centre of our stance on freedom of speech.

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The Blair Years part two.

There's very little point in writing an extended review (except I seem to have done anyway. Hurr.) of the second part of the Blair Years, a documentary so lacking in any real rigour that if anything it leaves you with less insight that that which you had prior to sitting through its vainglorious hour-length.

If there was to be a part of the series that made an effort to be critical, this would have been the one. Evaluating the inexorable march to war in Iraq, so many different mistakes were made that you could compare them to the photographs we've grown used to over the last few years of bodies littering the ground, wrapped ready for burial, surrounded by weeping relatives and friends. The errors and lies of the period are similarly tossed aside on the ground, but Blair and his acolytes from the time are most certainly not crying. Jeremy Greenstock, our man at the UN who attempted to write a book about his experiences only to be blocked by Downing Street, more or less admitted straight out that he had lied along with the rest of the government about Jacques Chirac's interview where he said that France would vote no, used endlessly to justify abandoning the attempt at a second resolution, but seemed to have little to no regrets about his mendacity and its consequences.

So many of the issues were skirted over or simply ignored, the things you wanted to ask Blair about, but which David Aaronovitch would never have considered embarrassing his ally with. There was then no agreement to invade Iraq whatever the consequences from talks with President Bush, despite the evidence to the contrary in the Downing Street memos. Blair most certainly didn't mislead parliament, let alone lie. He now thinks that they should have published the JIC briefing document in full rather than let Alastair Campbell sex it up, as if that would have made any difference. The "sexing up" itself didn't make up any sort of imposition on the proceedings, Blair giving it the only mention when he disingenuously said the Hutton inquiry had been setup for the reason of investigating the way the intelligence had been presented. Dr David Kelly it seems has been airbrushed from the historical record, or at least this one.

Like the previous installment, the only real new information was implanted by the talking heads, in this case Bill Clinton, Kofi Annan and Dubya himself. Clinton, who had his own previous completely unjustified face off with Saddam when the pressure over Monica Lewinsky was getting too great, appears to have tried to persuade Blair to see the true face of the Bush administration, but to no avail, probably because Blair had long already thrown his lot in with them. Annan rightly simply couldn't understand how Blair had got himself caught up in the whole mess, and how the tyrannical nature of the "special relationship" led to us being tethered to the biggest foreign policy disaster of recent times. Bush enhanced slightly our knowledge of how America offered Blair a way out, the well-known Rumsfeld press conference where he said that the US could do it alone apparently based on the conversations where Bush had made it clear to Blair that it wasn't worth losing his government over, with Blair's stubbornness declining the offer. Perhaps it was for the best: we might still be stuck with the bastard if he had taken it.

Most overwhelming though was the burning moral certainty that still lies behind both Blair and Bush's war. The number of times that Blair referenced either "the struggle", or "what we're fighting", or the notions of good and bad, at one point even evil, descending into open caricature, only making clear that Blair still very much believes in what he did. Aaronovitch as gently as possible poked him with the piles of bodies, quoting "75,000 Iraqi dead by the most conservative estimate", lest he dare acknowledge in the face of the former leader the more much likely higher toll, yet even in the face of torrents of blood his belief never wavered. As for the planning, it wasn't that there wasn't any, it was that "they" had dared to resist that was the cause of all the problems, rather than the chaos and corruption of the first year of occupation that was the catalyst for it.

As the world divides into ever more shades of grey, to Blair and Bush the landscape is still only black and white. Hilariously, Bush even dared to mention in his justification for the carnage unleashed that America was fighting for human rights. Even now, Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib, extraordinary rendition and Fallujah are all things that the United States is fighting against, even as it perpetuates them. If Blair had wanted the Blair Years to try and put the record straight, or to show him in a different light, it has so far been a failure of the most crushing kind, with the second show casting him back into his most accomplished role, that of the ever faithful poodle.

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Melanie Phillips: the story of her journey into madness.

My previous thesis that Melanie Phillips's trajectory from seeming sanity into abject, gibbering, foaming at the mouth and straining at the strait-jacket madness will become a case-study for psychology students is sadly for Mel herself looking increasingly accurate. It's a source of wonderment for the reason that when she finds herself sitting on the Question Time panel or on the Moral Maze she can somehow summon the strength to usually acquit herself without coming across as completely and utterly barking mad; is it a case of Dr Jekyll and Ms Hyde, or is it all an act, able to turn her fire on and off with will?

Perhaps it's all down to what happens when she sits down in front of her computer screen. While her pieces for the Daily Mail are somewhat staid, it's the entries for her blog, and now, following her move to the Spectator, on their group blog that show her in a light that she only lets those most acquainted with the more "radical" side of her work examine and imbibe in full.

Take for instance her views on the dismissal of John Howard from office in Australia:

It was Howard who was the staunchest Prime Minister in the world against the jihad and who alone seemed to grasp its full dimensions.

...

Whatever now happens, the fact that he [Kevin Rudd] ran on a platform of pulling troops out of Iraq and endorsing the ludicrous scam of man-made global warming are enough in themselves to tell the jihadis that Australia has now lost its (one-man) nerve. Australia just made itself (and the rest of us) a whole lot less safe.

For Mel, the obsession with jihadist takfirists has now reached such a proportion that any election anywhere is somehow influenced by "the threat", and the very fact that Australia booted out Howard and installed Rudd means that the jihadists have just won another victory without having to lift a finger. It makes no difference to Mel that Howard was widely loathed for the very reason that she so supported him; Australia, a nation which due to its location and size has very little to nothing to fear from anyone, but due to Howard's belligerence was led into the Iraq adventure anyway, was also dragged into an era of mistrust, dislike and even paranoia thanks to the hardline stance on outsiders and refugees that he took. There's a rich irony and hypocrisy in nations of immigrants shutting the door to the next generation, but to Mel that was just another sign of his strength. Even that though isn't enough; Australia's stupidity in changing prime ministers somehow, in Mel's twisted and frankly bizarre logic, has made both them and us less safe. It's a statement jaw-dropping in its full frontal lunacy, one that she'd most likely not repeat in her Mail column even, but she feels secure in doing so on the comfort of the Spectator's blog.

Amazingly, as Matt points out, the above isn't even the most deranged post from Mel yesterday. She stretches historical analogies so far beyond breaking point to back up her perverse reasoning on the Annapolis "peace" conference that it's a miracle the static electricity generated from her furious pounding of the keyboard hasn't set fire to her hair:

Whatever actually happens at Annapolis, what is blindingly obvious right now is the extent of America’s betrayal of the Jewish people and, in the process, of its own supposed core doctrine post 9/11...Annapolis is America’s Munich — and Israel is the new Czechoslovakia.

This is despite almost unanimous agreement that the Annapolis meeting, which isn't even being played up as a summit for goodness sake, will achieve precisely nought, for the simple reason that Israel isn't prepared to deal and Mahmoud Abbas, thanks to the infighting between Hamas and Fatah, doesn't have the strength to agree to anything approaching what would be considered a just settlement. Somehow, Mel believes a simple peace meeting will amount to such an act of treachery that history will repeat itself. Never mind that the Palestinians could never, even in the most fevered, deluded imagination play the role of an all-powerful, rearmed and vengeful Germany led by a dictator playing on the weaknesses of his opponents, with Bush betraying the Czechs to their fate, but to compare what Israel will eventually have to give up if it seriously decides it wants peace, namely the settlements built illegally on occupied, impoverished, Palestinian territory, to the industrial heart of the Sudetenland is so ahistorical that it makes you wonder whether Mel, so preoccupied with the Holocaust as she is, doesn't really know her history leading up to the second world war. But she does, which is surely the point. No one with even an ounce of intellectual honesty would contemplate comparing the two, let alone setting it out as an established fact, but Mel, without the slightest trace of embarrassment, displays her handiwork for all to see.

Then again, why shouldn't she? She basks in adulation on the Spectator blog, so heavily moderated that only the odd critical comment is allowed through. (Korova from Mask of Anarchy managed to get through, somehow.) On the first piece, she's variously praised:

Absolutely! As an Australian, I am distraught. All of what you say is true, and more.

You have hit the nail on the head, Melanie.

Dhimmi kangaroo down, sport!

As always, Melanie Phillips talks a lot of sense..

And the second:

Absolutely!!! As a long standing supporter and admirer of George Bush and Condi Rice I'm having my breath taking away!

Thank, you, Melanie...for validating my intuition.


Perhaps madness really is infectious. Either way, Melanie Phillips now increasingly resembles a lift where the mechanism has well and truly snapped, with the only thing remaining an ever accelerating descent before the eventual crash.

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Scum-watch: More apologising.

One in a continuing series eyeballing the Scum's embarrassing apologies:

In “The Sun Says” column on July 24th we said that during a hearing concerning IVF doctor, Mohammed Taranissi, the License Committee of the Human Fertilisation and Embryo Authority (HFEA) came close to branding Angela McNab, the HFEA’s former chief executive “a liar whose evidence could not be taken at face value”.

We now accept that the Committee did not come close to calling her a liar or cast doubt on her evidence and regret the error.


P.S.

In a puff piece for MurdochSpace's "new section dedicated to charities and social causes" there is naturally no mention that MySpace and the Scum share an owner.

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Saturday, November 24, 2007 

Murdoch in his own words.

On occasion, stories which prove much of what you argue about just sail straight out into the open:

The media mogul Rupert Murdoch has said he wants Sky News to become more like his rightwing US network Fox News, and revealed the extent of his editorial grip on his British newspapers to a House of Lords committee.

The communications committee, chaired by Lord Fowler, toured the US in September to meet media executives, regulators and consumer groups as part of an inquiry into media ownership. Their conversations were made public yesterday in detailed minutes.


The minutes, available in this .doc file, are mostly full of the usual self-aggrandising bullshit from Murdoch about how wonderful his companies are and how, despite all the evidence to the contrary, he doesn't interfere with editorial independence, except when it comes to the Scum and News of the Screws.

Most amusing are the following claims:

They [the regulatory authorities] kept investigating his purchases on the grounds of plurality but he had invested in plurality by keeping the Times alive and putting 200 extra channels on the air through Sky.

Ah yes, keeping the Times afloat, meaning that his own politics are given the necessary veneer of "centrist" broadsheet gloss, is a sure sign of plurality. Thank the Lord for Rupert: he's given us 200 more channels of pure unadulterated shit.

He stated that “the BBC has a unique place in British life”. People were very hostile to any challenge to the BBC.

Which certainly hasn't stopped him from bashing the corporation at every opportunity in both the Sun and the Times. The reporting from both during the Hutton inquiry was a case in point: the government had done very little to nothing wrong while the BBC were the true villains of the piece, guilty before they had even stepped inside the court. The leaking of the final report to the Scum the night before it was published only highlighted how deep inside Number 10's rectum the paper was. The reporting from the Sun over the BBC fakery "scandals" was gleeful, gloating and delirious at being able to shoot into an open goal; when ITV's far more serious defrauding through its phone lines was exposed the coverage was cut to the bone and nowhere near as condemnatory.

News Corp was the first organisation to bring proper football coverage to the UK. Their investment led to better football grounds and other benefits. However it had been a real struggle.

Or you could of course argue that Murdoch's money and its effects have never been more apparent than following Wednesday's catastrophe. Murdoch created the "golden generation", the "bling generation" or whatever you want to call it, and has poured money in while the real football fans themselves have never been so priced out of the game.

He believed that Sky News would be more popular if it were more like the Fox News Channel. Then it would be “a proper alternative to the BBC”.

How true. You could watch the BBC's best efforts to be impartial, or you could watch open propaganda for Murdoch's politics on Sky News.

Mr Murdoch stated that Sky News could become more like Fox without a change to the impartiality rules in the UK. For example Sky had not yet made the presentational progress that Fox News had. He stated that the only reason that Sky News was not more like Fox news was that “nobody at Sky listens to me”.

This is also completely untrue. Sky News gave Richard Littlejohn two chances to make the "presentational progress" that Fox News had, one before Fox News had even been set-up in 1994 and then again in 2003. Both were miserable failures, with Littlejohn the first time complaining that the impartiality regulations were the reason.

Mr Murdoch believed that the role of the media is “to inform”. Reporters are there to find out what is going on and editors are there to invest in those investigations if they uncover something.

You can more than make up your own mind on what Murdoch's real view of journalism is by the example set by Fox News and by our own Sun.

He distinguishes between The Times and The Sunday Times and The Sun and the News of the World (and makes the same distinction between the New York Post and the Wall Street Journal). For The Sun and News of the World he explained that he is a “traditional proprietor”. He exercises editorial control on major issues – like which Party to back in a general election or policy on Europe.

It is of course then just a coincidence that the Sun and Times share the exact same view on both Europe and which party they backed at the last election. The reality of Murdoch's editorial control over the Times and Sunday Times is far more complicated. As what happened when Murdoch first gained control of the Times showed, he made the same platitudes he does now at the Wall Street Journal over editorial independence, only for Harold Evans to resign within a year because of Murdoch's constant meddling and disagreements with him. Andrew Neil, most certainly not a left-winger, and a former Murdoch editor has for instance also said:

Rupert Murdoch was an enormous presence in my life. Even when he wasn't there he was this sort of looming presence....I think that's how he does control things. He leaves you in no doubt that if he's not there in person he's there in spirit and he's watching what you are up to and you've got to stick to the parameters. The idea that he doesn't interfere is nonsense.

Neil hits the nail right on the head. Murdoch editors know full well what is expected of them. If they deviate from his well-known line, they get sacked. As a result, they don't, and so there's no need for him to leave huge calling cards which would make clear his gross editorial interference. Why else would every single Murdoch owned major newspaper around the world have supported the Iraq war?

Mr Murdoch insisted that there was no cross promotion between his different businesses. He stated that The Times was slow to publish listings for Sky programmes. He also stated that his own papers often give poor reviews of his programmes.

Any reader of Private Eye will be more than aware of the numerous puffs and cross-promotions that frequently feature in both the Times and Sun for his other media interests.

Of course, if you were looking for a report of Murdoch's evidence in his own papers, you'd be searching for a long time. Neither the Sun (which has only mentioned its owner 10 times this year) or the Times have published any article on the Communications Committee's release of the notes of the meeting. Then again, how could he possibly tell Sun readers that what they're consuming every day is exactly what he wants them to?

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Lord Guthrie treats Telegraph readers like fools.

Charles (Lord) Guthrie today authors a comment piece for the Telegraph:

Since I voiced my criticisms of government policy towards our Armed Forces during Thursday's defence debate in the Lords, many people have asked whether the five former defence chiefs who stood up were taking part in a planned ambush against the Government. They seem to think we all met up at Starbucks and plotted to give everyone in it a bloody nose.

In fact, the opposite happened. Far from being a co-ordinated plot, this was a spontaneous eruption from a group of people who find themselves at the end of their tether regarding the treatment of our Armed Forces.


As I wrote yesterday, all five of the Lords who spoke up in the debate on Thursday are either patrons or vice-presidents of the United Kingdom National Defence Association (a full list of its patrons, vice-presidents and policy board members is available from their website in a PDF).

I cannot of course prove that all five Lords did actively conspire to do what they did in the Lords on Thursday, or that it was, in Guthrie's words, anything other than a "spontaneous eruption," and so in these litigious times cannot come right out and call Guthrie a liar. He doesn't however deign to mention in his article the existence of the UKNDA, his patronship of it, or that all five of his fellow former chiefs of defence staff belong to it in their various guises. You can however make your own minds up about his less than honest disclosure.

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Friday, November 23, 2007 

God help us.

The latest musical terrorism to be foisted upon us is Adele Adkins, yet another vulnerable, troubled, earnest, talented, insert bullshit adjective here female singer-songwriter who made her name on MurdochSpace. Talking to the Grauniad today, she says:

She laughs: "The Daily Mail? I'm in the posh papers! I read the Sun."

If anyone would like to submit their in-depth plans for how they would like to kill me so that I don't have to suffer any longer, I'll be more than happy to receive them.

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The UK National Defence Association and snouts in the trough.

If the way that five former chiefs of the defense staff stood up in the Lords yesterday and condemned the government for its failure to "adequately" fund the armed forces smacked of a campaign being got under way, then you'd most certainly be right. What few of the reports of their speeches has made clear is that all five Lords, Boyce, Guthrie, Craig, Bramall and Inge also share something else in common - all are either patrons or vice-presidents of the recently formed United Kingdom National Defence Association.

On why such an organisation is needed, the UKNDA's website explains:

The fundamental problem to be addressed is that for many years now:
  1. Defence has been, and still is, too low in the nation’s list of priorities. and therefore

  2. The Armed Forces are under funded for the tasks they are set and consequently over-stretched.

Which is fair enough, as it goes. You could of course argue that in actual fact, especially since 9/11, rather than defence being too low in the list of priorities, war itself has been far too high in the list of priorities, but it is undoubtedly true that those forces that had no choice in being sent to Afghanistan and Iraq were poorly-equipped, on some occasions fatally so, are being curmudgeonly compensated when they are injured, and are currently living in completely inadequate accommodation while back here.

I do however think that it is thoroughly disingenuous for the UKNDA to be comparing the military spending of 1984 to now, as it goes on to do. Whatever your thoughts on the cold war as it entered its last ebb, we then knew who the "enemy" was meant to be, and it was a monolithic Soviet Union that had eastern Europe in its grasp and came right up to the Berlin wall. The situation now is wholly different, and will especially be once we eventually fully withdraw from Iraq: the only country where we will actually be involved in a war is one in which there clearly isn't a military solution, and the military themselves are coming around to that fact. The main emphasis for the military will most likely remain to be peace-keeping, outside of Afghanistan, crossing fingers that we won't be involving ourselves in the madness of an attack on Iran if such a thing happens. The current defence budget still stands at roughly £30bn a year; that's a third of what we spend, again roughly, on the NHS. Robert Fox on CiF provides a pessimistic counter-argument.

It's surely right though that we ask whether the grandees of this new organisation have any personal interest in an increase in defence spending. As the latest issue (1198) of Private Eye sets out, Lord Guthrie is for instance a director of Colt Defense, which supplies the US military with a number of rifles and weapons. Lord Boyce is a director of the VT group, currently a subcontractor on the T45 destroyer, which is over two years' late and £635m over budget. He's also a director with consultants WS Atkins, who on their website boast:

In the defence and aerospace sector we turnover around £150m per year in supporting the definition and delivery of many of the largest defence and aerospace programmes in the UK.

Lord Owen, who didn't speak yesterday but who is one of the UKNDA's patrons, is a paid adviser to Terra Firma Capital, whom the Eye points out bought the MoD's married quarters in 1996 in a deal the National Audit Office said lost the MoD £139million. Since then, it's leased the homes back to the MoD, but refuses like all other normal landlords to take responsibility for repairs, meaning the MoD has to pay others to do something that TFC should be doing themselves. Lord Inge, who did speak yesterday and who's on the vice-presidents' list (PDF), is the chairman of Aegis, the private security firm set-up by Tim Spicer and which was previously exposed in two videos posted online which showed civilian vehicles in Iraq being fired on for no apparent reason. He's also an adviser to ICX Technologies and a consultant to OWR AG, who provide decontamination systems. Moving down onto the "civilian" list, of the MPs signed up, Patrick Mercer does consultancy work for Blue Hackle, another private security firm (the ones we used to call mercenaries) while Nicholas "Fatty" Soames is a director with Aegis.

It's also just ever so slightly opportunistic for the Conservatives, who have previously never mentioned how Des Browne combining being both defence secretary and Scottish secretary was a problem, upon hearing Guthrie claim that it amounts to an insult set about parroting that it was exactly that. The claims that Brown is the one that has shown contempt are also surprising; it was only back in January that Blair showed how patronising he could be in a speech on HMS Albion by demanding that the military accept that conflict and casualty "may be part of what they are called upon to face," as if they didn't already know what was expected of them after taking them into a war which will rightly become known as his and his only. All those in the cabinet and parliament who voted for it are culpable, including Gordon Brown who was, as Vince Cable points out, the man who signed the cheques, but the ultimate responsibility lies with Blair. The way the attack has been personalised, especially in a week when the government has rightly been under intense pressure, is also hardly going to encourage the ministers under fierce criticism to feel anything but incredible anger at the way the UKNDA campaign has been orchestrated.

As Private Eye in its piece elucidates, it's not just how much money is being spent on the armed forces, it's also how that money is being spent. Additionally this week we've seen how QinetiQ, the government's defence research arm was allowed to be partially sold off, with the private equity group Carlyle able to make a profit of £300m just 3 years after buying a stake for just £42m, with the chairman and chief executive able to turn investments of £129,000 and £108,000 into assets worth £22m and £18m when QinteQ was floated last year. Unlike with the above, the Treasury under Brown's paws is all over this. None of the Lords who spoke up yesterday though had anything to say about it, but that might have had something to do with three of them potentially able to make plenty themselves out of how the defence budget is spent. Lord Gilbert and Bruce George MP both criticised the deal and are vice-presidents of the UKNDA, but neither has any financial dealings with defence firms. Gilbert is an adviser to ABS, which manufactures hovercraft, but is unpaid. It's one thing to stand up for the troops who are in the thick of it and more then fed up, it's quite another to be sticking your snout in the same trough which feeds them while doing so.

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