Thursday, April 30, 2009 

Scum-watch: It's all thanks to us!

There's a quite extraordinary leader in today's Sun (url will change). Extraordinary in that it is utterly shameless in claiming credit for two campaigns, one that it did indeed lead, and which has had negative consequences which will almost certainly affect social services for years to come, and another which it only jumped on on Monday. The paper of course doesn't personally claim credit; it instead claims that its readers are responsible, as it has in the past. This might be the case in the Baby P campaign, but is certainly not in the case of the Gurkhas. In any case:

WHO said people power was dead?

In one amazing day, TWO Sun campaigns result in triumphs for our readers.

GURKHAS win a crucial Commons victory against Government plans to deport them.

And BABY P social workers finally pay the price for their incompetence and arrogance.

Incredibly, the Sun can't even get the campaign concerning the Gurkhas right. The government has no plans to deport them; retired Gurkhas instead want the right to settle here. One would have thought that if the Sun had been covering the Gurkhas campaign since the beginning, it might have been able to get the key facts straight.

First, the Gurkhas...

Labour’s humiliation at Westminster over its shabby treatment of these brave men is a triumph for decency and democracy.

The Sun is proud to have led the crusade to let the Gurkhas settle here.

Gordon Brown has only himself to blame for his bloody nose.


Led the crusade? Prior to last Saturday, only Jon Gaunt had so much as mentioned the Gurkhas' campaign in the paper this year. Last year the paper made 38 mentions of Gurkhas: just once did it make the Sun's leader column, and then it was regarded as the least important issue of the day, below some completely inaccurate nonsense about the European Union and yet more woe from Helen Newlove. To be fair to the paper, Gaunt has at least repeatedly wrote about the Gurkhas, but one columnist does not make a paper leading the "crusade". Notable by their absence from this leader are the far more important individuals who genuinely did lead the campaign, namely Joanna Lumley and Nick Clegg, who obviously come second to the paper's noble leadership and the readers who did much to put down the motion which led to the government being defeated.

And why did it take Haringey Council so long to appreciate anger over their failure to sack those who betrayed Baby P?

I don't know; maybe they were following proper procedure rather than just deciding to instantly sack people based on what was written in Sun leader columns?

Four went yesterday without compensation, including social worker Maria Ward, her superior Gillie Christou and two bosses.

That would be the same Maria Ward who was driven to the edge of suicide by the Sun's targeting of her. Before the Sun shut down comments on its Baby P reports, readers had commented on the Sun's article daring her to do it. The paper had also demanded that another social worker, Sylvia Henry, be sacked. The council found that she had no case to answer. Doubtless she too suffered similar treatment to that which Sharon Shoesmith and Ward were subjected; if she was hoping for an apology, she'll be waiting a long time.

It’s good to see that public opinion can still count in national life.

As long as that public opinion corresponds with the Sun's views, naturally.

Labels: , , , , , ,

Share |

Wednesday, April 29, 2009 

How to tackle the BNP effectively.

Every few years, without fail, there is a scare regarding the possibility of the British National Party making a major breakthrough. By major breakthrough, this generally means winning the odd council seat, putting in an above average performance in an area where racial tension has been running at a high after some particular incident, or not losing their deposit when it comes to contesting seats during a general election. Compared to far right parties in other countries in Europe, some of which either share power, hold substantial seats in their respective parliaments or in the notorious case of 2002 in France, when Jean Marie Le Pen contested the French presidency against Jacques Chirac, come as close to seizing complete control as can be feasibly imagined, our rank of out and proud racists and fascists are a mostly feeble bunch.

This time round, the scare is probably as close to being justified as it has ever been. The BNP, despite having its membership list published online at the end of last year, is finally getting its shit together. Helped along by the economic situation, a backlash against "uncontrolled" immigration which has never been properly explained to the public, let alone the economic and political case argued for, the feeling of victimhood which followed the glee with which the leaked members list was greeted in some quarters, and the old grievances which the party preys upon, namely the immigrants/ethnics are talking all the jobs/houses/women then twists and fabricates further, support for the party seems to be growing exponentially. 800,000 apparently voted for them at the last European elections, while 238,000 crossed their box in the 2006 local elections. According to the email missives which regularly land in my inbox, after I signed up on the BNP website to argue with a knuckledragger who was linking here, BNP supporters have raised £300,000 for the European campaign, enabling them to send a flyer to every home in the country, as well as preparing a backroom staff more associated with the "major" parties. That's still £100,000 less than the Fuhrer himself, Nick Griffin, called for, but is hardly a figure to be sniffed at.

The latest to sound the alarm, as it always seems to be, is a Labour politician, even if Peter Hain has a well-established pedigree when it comes to battling against the far right. He worries that the BNP could win up to six seats at the European elections, which while hardly transforming British politics overnight, would mean that the party could claim up to £2 million in funding from the EU. That sort of money definitely would transform the party. At the moment, the BNP is restricted to running a mainly internet based insurgency: like organisations which, ironically, defend Israel, such as GIYUS, threads and comment pieces dealing with racism or mentioning the party are swiftly set upon, further giving the impression that there is a groundswell of opinion heading the party's way. Emails are sent out asking supporters and members to complain to newspapers which run articles the party decides are either inaccurate or which it simply decides cannot be allowed to stand unchallenged; one recent such campaign against the Independent resulted in the Press Complaints Commission receiving the most ever complaints about a single press article. The latest send out concerned the fear that the News Shopper was about to blame what even the BNP described as "major carnage" in Old Bexley on St George's Day on the party, which naturally, the party assures its subscribers "is utterly ridiculous and completely unfounded". According to this forum thread, the "carnage" occurred outside a known BNP pub, but was between football fans. In the event, the newspaper's article did not place the blame on the BNP.

While Hain is right to be concerned, he ought to know by now that members of the ruling party can only make things worse by writing such articles. Admittedly, the whole tackling the BNP policy is fraught with conundrums: does "no platform" mean that you don't just refuse to argue with them, but also completely deny that they even exist? However, this doesn't apply when it comes to the Labour party, and especially either ministers or former ministers. The example of what not to do was set by Margaret Hodge a couple of years back: don't predict the BNP is about to make a breakthrough, not only because such prophecies can become self-fulfilling, but because they alert the media to the idea, who descend upon said area, and even further potentially alienate the local population, especially if cack-handed idiots start asking whether they think they're racist as they're contemplating voting for the party. All it does is result in further publicity for the party.

The challenge in fighting the BNP has, instead, to be left to the grassroots and those who cannot be linked back directly to the Labour government. While the BNP seems likely to pick up some votes at the European elections from UKIP, whose vote seems likely to collapse, or at least plummet, Labour has to face up to the fact that the most defections will come from their supporters. This is not because, as some right-wingers love to argue, that the BNP is left-wing, and QED that means that fascists are also lefties, but because the BNP more than any of the other parties are prepared to get down and dirty with the actual voters themselves, reassure them that their concerns are not prejudices and that they will fight for them personally rather than the "outsiders". This is politics of the old school, in all senses, and it's what the other parties have increasingly abandoned. The white working class, for various reasons, feels this abandonment most acutely. In fact, the working class as a whole, regardless of colour distinctions, feels much the same. Labour promised them much and has not delivered sufficiently, and now they're the ones suffering the most while the others who benefited have far more resilience. The argument against the BNP then has to be made not just on policy grounds and on exposing their true, still disgustingly racist views, as shown by last week's party leaflet, but on the other facts: that the BNP make for the most part dreadful councillors and politicians, as the record conclusively shows. They also have to be personally argued against: the no platform policy has completely failed, and is now not principled, it's simply cowardly.

All this said, the BNP probably won't get those six seats, and if they do they'll only get them because of the European parliament's PR system, the same reason why the Greens will also win seats, and why many who would normally vote for the main three parties will switch their support. The BNP is not about to win parliamentary seats, which really would be a breakthrough. The party will remain one of the least successful relative far-right forces in Europe, and this country will also remain one of the most tolerant, least racist and least prejudiced in Europe. All of that should be remembered before we throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Labels: , , , ,

Share |

Tuesday, April 28, 2009 

Now for something completely different...

In lieu of an actual post, here are some completely random facts:

According to today's Graun, the Japanese Communist Party has over 400,000 members. The Labour party only had a similar number back in 2007, and now has less than 200,000.

The 1975 referendum on whether the UK should stay in the European Economic Community had a turnout of 64.5%, despite the fact that the previous year had seen two general elections. In contrast, the turnouts at the 2001 and 2005 general elections were 59% and 61% respectively. Interestingly, the only major newspaper to call for a "no" vote in the referendum was the Morning Star. How times change. As for whether the general election of 2010 will have a turnout higher than 65% remains to be seen.

Oh, and if you want something else to read, Rachel on the acquittal of the 7/7 "accomplices", Chris on the "Evil Poor" problem and Dave on the atrophy of the left are all worth a gander.

Labels: , , , ,

Share |

Monday, April 27, 2009 

Immigration and the Gurkhas.

Causes don't come much more righteous than the campaign for retired Gurkhas to be allowed to settle in this country. Following Friday's derisory if not downright insulting decision from the Home Office that would at most allow only 100 to emigrate here, the Sun and doubtless other papers are preparing campaigns, or in the Sun's case, a rather inaptly named "crusade" for their right to live here. Even the British National Party, which only last week talked of how other immigrants could never be considered British because they are of "foreign stock", supports their cause.

As could have been expected, the Gurkhas and their rights are being compared unfavourably with those who have also settled here in recent years who have not been welcomed with such open arms. The Sun lists, variously, those who slip in here to sponge off the taxpayer (mostly a myth), students granted visas to bogus colleges, the Afghan hijackers, and those who smuggle themselves in from France. The Sun, it should be noted, seems to have been rather kinder to the eastern Europeans who have entered the country to work since 2004 than the other tabloids, mainly perhaps due to it directly appealing to them in specially published papers. Nonetheless, no one could confuse the Sun with a paper that supports fully open borders, like say, the Guardian or the Independent.

The problem with the emphasis on the Gurkhas is that it means even less attention for those already here that are suffering under the vagaries of our asylum and immigration system. Almost everyone agrees that not allowing those who are awaiting the decision over their status, as well as those who are designated to be "failed" asylum seekers to work is a ridiculous situation which impoverishes all involved while contributing to the "black" economy and so robs the exchequer of tax revenue. Then there's today's little short of horrifying, if not in the least bit surprising report from the children's commissioner regarding the detention of children at Yarl's Wood (PDF). Mark Easton provides a summary:

What sort of country sends a dozen uniformed officers to haul innocent sleeping children out of their beds; gives them just a few minutes to pack what belongings they can grab; pushes them into stinking caged vans; drives them for hours while refusing them the chance to go to the lavatory so that they wet themselves and locks them up sometimes for weeks or months without the prospect of release and without adequate health services?

It highlights how we have completely different attitudes when it comes to outsiders. Even though we have one of the highest child incarceration rates in Europe, we would still regard the locking up of those charged with or convicted of no crime as being abhorrent. Yet this does not stop us from doing it to those whom, in the vast majority of cases, were genuinely fleeing oppression and then find their families experiencing much the same in a so-called civilised country. Undoubtedly, some are out to take advantage of our hospitality, and some are simply economic migrants claiming asylum, but even then their children are not complicit in or responsible for their actions. There has to be an alternative.

To get some sense of perspective, the number of Gurkhas that might take advantage of the full right to settle here is estimated at around 36,000. The Sun uses the word "just" before that number. The number that sought asylum here in 2007, by comparison, was 23,430. You can't imagine for a moment any tabloid newspaper using "just" before reporting that figure. Indeed, the hysteria at the beginning of the decade, when asylum applications hit a high of over 100,000 a year was such that the clampdowns which are now in effect were introduced, with targets for how many "failed" asylum seekers would be deported each year the main innovation. Such targets make no allowance for the personal situations of those who are abitrarily decided to be the next to go, including the likes of Ama Sumani, who was sent back to Ghana regardless of the fact she could not receive treatment for her cancer there. She was dead within two months. The Lancet called it "atrocious barbarism", and it's hard to disagree. Not treating with respect those who fought for this country might be described similarly, but surely we also owe a debt to those who come here seeking sanctuary to at least treat them with more than an ounce of humanity.

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Share |

Saturday, April 25, 2009 

Weekend links.

A slow weekend, apart from the news that we're all shortly to die of pig flu. Oh, and Nadine Dorries, showing once again what an utterly revolting, hypocritical, shameless coward she is.

On the blogs then, Lenin comes up with a simple solution to the huge deficit we will shortly have, Craig Murray, blogging more than ever, has pieces on Hillary Clinton and Pakistan, as well as one person's evidence that waterboarding was specifically used by the US in an attempt to get intelligence linking al-Qaida to Iraq, Paul Linford thinks it's all over bar the shouting for Labour, Shiraz Socialist attacks the idea that we're a totalitarian politically correct state, rhetorically speaking deals with Paul Dacre's hilarious claim that the Daily Mail was never against the MMR vaccine, Laurie Penny responds to the Orwell prize winning blogger's post on the "Evil Poor", and finally the Daily Quail does his rather good Littledick impression.

In the papers, Matthew Parris rightly calls for some more definition from Cameron, Peter Oborne decides he was wrong about Gordon Brown, Sarfraz Manzoor wonders what Muslims have to do not to be all tarred with the same brush, Janice Turner thinks the rich are complaining too much, Andrew Grice also believes Labour are doomed, and Patrick Cockburn, another Orwell prize winner, discusses how well the Iraq war was reported.

Lastly, a clear winner in the worst tabloid article of the weekend award, which simply has to go to Lorraine Kelly for putting pen to paper and stating that you don't need diet pills, you just don't have to eat junk and regularly exercise. Thank you so much for that insight, Ms Kelly.

Labels: , ,

Share |

Friday, April 24, 2009 

The budget aftermath.

As always happens with budgets, regardless of the party or the individual who delivers them, within hours they begin to unravel. No can genuinely envy Alistair Darling his task, except perhaps for Ed Balls, and there is much to be said for Darling's apparent calmness and unflappable nature, one of the very few to be around since 97 to not have become in some way tarnished by the travails of office. Such were the constraints on what any chancellor could have done given the circumstances, he did pretty much all he could, knowing full well that extensive cuts or extensive tax rises would doom his party to certain defeat. In perhaps the only comment that might be remembered, apart from the 50p rise in income tax for those earning over £150,000, he was clear that you cannot cut your way out of a recession. That much is obvious.

Likewise, his predictions that the economy would shrink by 3.5% this year, recovering to 1.25% growth next year and then growing at 3% plus afterwards were marked not so much by their infeasibility, but that he had to be optimistic for political reasons. Surely, for Labour to have any chance whatsoever of winning a fourth term next June, the economy needs to have began to recover by the turn of the year, at which point the government can say that they were right to be optimistic, to not have to wielded huge cuts so quickly, instead waiting to see if the fiscal measures taken had begun to work and that even though they may have wrong about many things, they were right when it really mattered. For there to be any chance whatsoever of this fantasy scenario becoming reality, today's GDP figures needed to be bang on the predicted 1.5%, or even better lower, reflecting the slight encouraging signs which some have suggested have started to become evident. Instead the drop was 1.9%, which means that it only needs a further drop of 1.6% in the second quarter, certainly not out of the question, for Darling's predictions to be already ruined.

Those figures, it should be noted, are provisional, and based only on the first two months' activity, meaning they could be revised both downwards or upwards, as the last quarter of 2008's were. Nevertheless, we have to go back to the third quarter of 1979 for worse figures. For all the hyperbolic, ridiculous talk of returning to the 70s this week, on this measure the analogy is undeniable. Add into the mix that the Institute for Fiscal Studies believes there's a £45bn hole in the budget, almost certainly to be filled by savage cuts to spending rather than tax rises, again the most severe since the dreaded decade, and the bleakness seems to be all enveloping.

For all the accusations flying Darling and Labour's way regarding dishonesty, as usual they cut both ways. No one can begin to pretend that Wednesday's budget was inspiring; it was rather all that could have been expected. Although putting off the real pain until after the election is pure politics, it's also the right thing to do. The same is the case with the 50p top rate of tax: it won't raise much, but it is equally absurd to call it a "return to class war", and not just because under Thatcher for a long period the rate was even higher. It is undeniable that an over reliance on the City, the laissez-faire attitude towards financial regulation, and New Labour's sickening sycophancy towards the filthy rich are the main causes of the current crisis. The public sector did not create this disaster; the private sector did. True, if Brown hadn't borrowed so much during the good times, we would not currently be facing such a monumental deficit, but we would almost certainly be facing a recession regardless, probably one only slightly less severe than the one we're experiencing. Things could be even worse if the Tories were in power and had carried out their promises to even further slash regulation, and as Stephanie Flanders points out, the last election was fought over little more than £12bn in public spending. That's a drop in the ocean to the amounts we are now boggling over. Even if it is purely a symbol, as Shuggy and Chris agree, the 50p rate is perhaps what the country wants to hear right now. You can argue about the unfairness of that, or the precedent it sets, but not the motivation.

For all the impressive rhetoric delivered by both David Cameron and George Osborne, and even if you revile the politics behind it, Cameron's response on Wednesday was probably one of his best moments as Tory leader, their plans for how to deal with the economy should they enter government next year are even more hollow than Labour's. All they have told us is that they would be making cuts now; they refuse to illustrate where, and how harsh they would be. Again, the politics behind this are obvious: no opposition party is going to present their own budget a year before they are actually going to deliver it, but they have to at least give some idea of what their intentions are. All we know is that they're not going to step into the trap of promising to repeal the 50p rate, and that somehow and incredibly, they're still going to find the money from somewhere to raise the inheritance tax threshold to £1m. As Chris again suggests, now would be the time to be taking a larger proportion of unearned wealth, not less.

Similarly, the claims that this budget means the final death of New Labour are also wide of the mark, and based on a misreading of what New Labour was about. The thing about New Labour is that there has never been an ideology behind it; instead it has always been about pure populist opportunism. This has not always tallied into truly populist policies, otherwise they would have slammed the door on east European migrants being able to come and work here, but on almost every other measure they have followed not their actual supporters' values, but those which they believe are both popular and superior. Sometimes they have relied on newspaper headlines and the demands of tabloid editors and their shadowy backers, but they have also relied extensively on focus grouping, which sometimes offers different results, such as the 50p top rate of tax, opposed by the right-wing rags they usually obey, but supported by the public at large. To now introduce such a popular measure is fully in keeping with what they have repeatedly done. Meanwhile, nothing will change whatsoever as regards to triangulating, the thinking behind the policy making that truly defined New Labour. New Labour's true demise might be only a year away, but the living dead are not yet fully exhausted.

Labels: , , , , , ,

Share |

Thursday, April 23, 2009 

Iraq, the insurgency, and the capture of Omar al-Baghdadi.

There have been many false dawns in Iraq since the 2003 invasion, none more so than the killing of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qaida in Iraq, although the group was more properly known as the Mujahideen Shura Council at the time. Although the insurgency in Iraq was always far more varied than just involving Zarqawi's group, which was renamed al-Qaida in Iraq after he pledged allegiance to Osama bin Laden, having formerly dreamt of building his own rival terror organisation, over-the-top media coverage and Zarqawi's brutal tactics, especially the beheading of foreign hostages, some of which he supposedly carried out himself, meant that his death was given far more significance than it was probably due. Reports of the capture of al-Zarqawi's self-proclaimed successor, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, do little other than suggest that there will still be life in the Iraqi insurgency for some time yet.

Like with Zarqawi and with the other man who may well be the real leader of the self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq, Abu Hamza al-Muhajir, Baghdadi has been presumed both dead and captured before, but for now it does seem as if he has been arrested. This itself may come as a surprise to some within the US army, who have claimed repeatedly that Baghdadi does not actually exist, instead a phantom that gives an Iraqi leadership to a group which has always been regarded by others in the insurgency as being of foreign origin, but photographs of the man have supposedly previously emerged, showing someone who looks to be suffering from pattern baldness.

How much influence or control Baghdadi actually had over the organisation is impossible to know. Apart from irregular audio messages issued as videos, none of which Baghdadi has formally appeared in, unlike the gregarious al-Zarqawi, all of which give credence to the idea that he is simply a puppet to the formal "Minister for War" al-Muhajir, he doesn't seem to have done anything other than contribute to the war of words which ultimately led to the split between the insurgent groups and with it the rise of the Awakening councils, almost completely composed of former insurgents, although few were members of al-Qaida, or the ISI. The recent rise in violence in the country, although nowhere near the levels of 2004 to mid-2007, attributed by some to the dissolution of the Awakening councils in certain areas, reflects the difficulty with which those who have been ostensibly fighting for the last six years will be reintegrated into Iraqi society. Contributing to the problems is that a Shia government is simply not trusted by the Sunni fighters; their sudden dissolution threatens to be a repeat of the disbanding of the Iraqi army, almost certainly the biggest factor behind the rise of the insurgency.

From controlling almost all of the so-called "Sunni Triangle" at one point, the Islamic State of Iraq has been pushed back into the provinces of Diyala and Mosul, where the Salafist jihadist groups, which also includes Ansar al-Islam, are still reasonably strong. It's difficult to know just how much of an effect al-Baghdadi's arrest might have on the groups and their supporters, especially considering how unknown his power has been, and while al-Zarqawi's death was actively mourned by jihadists, it will still be some sort of a setback to the group. The suicide bombings today, which are almost certainly coincidences rather than the group striking back, show that the ISI still has the capability to carry out devastating attacks, but on a far reduced scale. The insurgency in general, which has been in decline since its high point at the heighth of the civil war which al-Qaida in Iraq did much to foment, seems to be shifting up a gear, if the number of videos released by the groups is a measure to go by. The real problem in Iraq though remains reconciliation between the Sunni and Shia, which despite some reasonably encouraging results in the recent elections, where secularists appeared to win out against the religious parties, seems as far away as ever. Al-Baghdadi's arrest will do nothing whatsoever to alter that.

Labels: , , , , , ,

Share |

Wednesday, April 22, 2009 

The government should be in terror, not the people.

3 years ago, after the police had conspicuously failed to find anything more dangerous in the Kamal family's house in Forest Gate than a bottle of aspirin, a "senior police source" told the Graun that "[T]he public may have to get used to this sort of incident, with the police having to be safe rather than sorry." For the most part since then, most of the major anti-terrorist raids, while scooping up some innocents along the way, have resulted in prosecutions rather than the authorities emerging with egg on their faces. Instead, the most objectionable thing that has characterised the arrests has been the febrile briefing of the media with the most outlandish and potentially prejudicial, as well as exaggerated, accounts of the carnage which would have taken place had the attacks not been foiled. These leaks, despite the self-righteousness of former Met chief anti-terror officer Peter Clarke over the stories which appeared in the press concerning the plot to behead a Muslim soldier, appear to have came from all sides, with the police, security services and the government all involved.

Along with the leaks, we have become wearily accustomed to politicians commenting on what are after all, criminal operations, with no apparent concern for whether their remarks might subsequently influence a jury. The apogee was reached when John Reid famously said that the disruption of the "liquid bomb" plot had prevented "loss of life on an unprecendented scale", something that the jury in the first trial decided not to agree with. Their second trial is still on-going. I can't recall however any politician making similar comments to that which both Gordon Brown and Jacqui Smith did about the raids in Manchester and the north-west two weeks ago where those arrested were subsequently released without charge. Politicians may have defended the police after the Forest Gate raids, but at no point did they appear to specifically say that a "very big plot" had been disrupted as the result of the police's actions. In the case of the ricin plot where there was no ricin, much which was inflammatory was spoken by politicians and the police, but in that instance Kamel Bourgass was at least guilty of murder, as well as stupidity in that his ideas for using the ricin that he wouldn't have been able to produce would have failed to poison anyone.

The only reason why there doesn't seem to far more deserved criticism of this latest fiasco is that it's been overshadowed completely by the budget. From getting off to one of the most inauspicious starts imaginable, things have in actuality got worse. If we were to believe the media's initial reports, if the men arrested had not been taken off the streets, there would now presumably be hundreds if not thousands dead, up to six places of varying interest and importance would have been badly damaged if not destroyed, and new anti-terrorist legislation would almost certainly be back on the agenda. Instead, 11 Pakistani students are going home far sooner than they would have anticipated, and no one can explain adequately how the position changed from there being an attack imminently prepared to there being not even the slightest evidence that there was anything beyond the murmurings of one.

Not that anyone from the very beginning even managed to get the facts straight. Variously the targets were meant to be two shopping centres, a nightclub and St Ann's Square, or Liverpool and Manchester United's stadiums. Then there were no targets, as the planning had not reached that stage, then they were photographs found of the places previously briefed, the only real piece of circumstantial evidence which seems to have been recovered and then finally there was no plot at all. Depending on who you believe, the men had either been under surveillance for some time, or the intelligence had only came in very recently. Like with the claims that the men arrested at Forest Gate had been under surveillance for up to two months, it reflects rather badly on the police/security services if the case is the former. Having hoped to find something more explosive than bags of table sugar, the police turned to desperately searching the suspects' computers and mobile phones. After nothing incriminating enough to bring any sort of charge was found on those, they seem to have declared defeat. We should be glad for the small mercy that the police seem not to have tried to string out their detention for the full 28 days allowed.

That will of course not be any sort of comfort for those who now find themselves in the custody of the Borders Agency, their studies disrupted for no good apparent reason. The BBC is suggesting that their cases will be considered by the Special Immigration Appeals Commission, which meets in secret and hears evidence which is inadmissible in the normal court system. Presumably this means that the very intelligence which resulted in their arrests, despite being proved either downright wrong or speculatory at the least, will be used against them. It also happily means that none of the men can talk directly to the media about their experience, something which in the past has led to embarrassment all round, whether it was the person released without charge who described this country as a "police state for Muslims", or Hicham Yezza and Rizwaan Sabir, both arrested after Yezza had printed out an al-Qaida manual for his student, which he had downloaded from a US government website, with the intention that Sabir was to use it to write his MA dissertation. In a bizarre reversal of fortune, after Gordon Brown had lectured Pakistan on how it had to do more to combat the terrorist threat, it's now the Pakistan High Commissioner who's doing the honourable thing, offering legal assistance to the men so they can continue with their studies. As Jamie says, it takes some nerve to call Pakistan the failed state in all this.

As previously noted, it was from the outset strange that such a imminent threat should emerge considering the way that the head of MI5 and the government had begun to downplay the threat for the first time since 9/11. When you bear in mind how the previous head of MI5 scaremongered about "the evil in our midst" just three years ago, it instantly suggested that something substantial had changed. It's not unknown for surprises to be sprung, but this one seemed to be too outlandish to be accurate. That within 48 hours it was already becoming clear that no attack had genuinely been disrupted should have rung alarm bells then in the minds of the media, but still they kept with the fallacy for the most part that something would turn up. Only now that it hasn't will questions be asked.

It has to be kept in mind that intelligence work is not an exact science. It often turns out to be wrong, or just too unreliable to be used to carry out the sort of arrests which we saw two weeks ago. As the senior police source didn't quite say, it is better to be safe than sorry, but this is beginning to become a habit. At the very least, if such raids are to be carried out, then politicians should keep their mouths closed and the media should not be used to put completely unsubstantiated rumours into circulation which then can colour a person for the rest of their life. We have however said these things before, and no notice whatsoever has been taken. After the incompetence of the patio gas canister attacks, both Smith and Brown seemed to be keeping to their word not to exaggerate things in the same way as their predecessors so copiously did. The irony of this is that as politicians continue to use security threats as a way to justify their serial dilutions of civil liberties and the imposition of ID cards and databases, the public themselves become ever more cynical when these threats turn out to be nothing more than hyperbole with a motive. It also surely isn't coincidence that today of all days MI5 shows the Sun their brilliant invention that can stop a "suicide truck bomb" in its tracks, as long as the driver keeps the speed below 40. That terrorists have shown no inclination whatsoever to use such bombs in this country, when explosives are incredibly difficult to obtain and where the next best thing, such as TATP, is even more difficult to produce in such quantities is neither here nor there. This we are advised will be part of the government's "Fortress Great Britain" counter-terrorism strategy, where more or less every public building may well be reinforced in case it becomes a target. This is not just a colossal waste of time and money, it's a colossal waste of time and money with the intention of scaring people. The quote goes that governments should be scared of the people, not people of the government. Despite its almost certain imminent electoral demise, this one doesn't seem to be. That may be what needs to change the most.

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

Share |

Tuesday, April 21, 2009 

Spinning and kicking while down.

One of the things that newspapers specialise in is kicking people when they're down, usually after they were the ones that were primarily responsible for building them up in the first place. A recent case in point was the sudden deflating of James Corden and Mathew Horne, having been ridiculously over praised for the middling Gavin and Stacey, who were little less than assaulted over their film, Lesbian Vampire Killers, their piss-poor eponymous BBC3 sketch show, and a charity appearance which was deemed to be little better.

More pertinently politics wise is the way that Damian McBride has been set about since the "smeargate" emails emerged of him batting about ideas for a blog in which Tories had their private and personal lives appraised for gossip value. The latest example is in today's Graun, where McBride is linked to an "infamous incident" back in 2004, so infamous that this self-confessed politics nerd has no recollection whatsoever of it. More astonishing than the fact that McBride was fingered as the person responsible for leaking details of the meeting to the Sunday Times is that a "secret investigation" was launched in which phone records and presumably security assets were used to find the culprit. It says more about Downing Street's paranoia and fury at the slightest criticism at the time than it does about how much of a "wrong 'un" McBride always was.

Peter Wilby pointed out yesterday that prior to the last two weeks McBride had hardly been mentioned in the papers, his existence and apparently his dark arts of no interest to anyone when both sides were profiting from his dripping of poison. In 2004 the Graun mentioned McBride but once - and that was in a City diary. Even last year, at the apparent height of McBride's operations, he was only mentioned in dispatches 34 times, and 5 of those were in the little read online lobby column by "Bill Blanko", the rest mainly coming from reports concerning the defenestration of Ruth Kelly. As spin doctors go, you can hardly get more visible than Alastair Campbell, while it seems you can hardly get less visible than McBride was. Only once he had fallen on his sword did we learn about his work in the shadows, mainly briefing Tory newspapers, the ones so outraged by the smears which would never have emerged and seemingly never have been used if someone hadn't hacked Derek Draper's email account, with venom about under performing ministers. Almost every whisper about plotting by various pretenders to Brown's throne seems to have originated with McBride - either that or he's just a handy receptacle to now blame.

There is something in the argument made by various bloggers that the journalistic lobby at Westminster, because it is complicit in the spinning, cannot be trusted to tell us the whole truth about what goes on there. At the same time, the idea that blogs can be trusted to do just that is equally spurious, if not more so. However much bloggers denounce the MSM, the two are inseparable because they cannot operate without each other. Guido had to sell the emails to Sunday newspapers because they would have not gained the same coverage that they would have on his site, however much he and Iain Dale boast about their visitor figures. Gossip is well suited to the web because it requires few resources: just a few indiscreet individuals. Genuine investigative journalism however, such as that which brought down Jonathan Aitken, or more recently exposed the rendition programme or the Saudi slush funds needs constant backing up and funding. Even when it comes to videos which expose the truth, such as the one showing Ian Tomlinson being pushed over by a police officer, it requires the reach of a paper like the Guardian for it to truly spread quickly: if it had simply been sent up to YouTube or a blog like the dozens of others of the G20 protests, it would have taken days for it to reach critical mass.

Perhaps the biggest reason for the pique and faux outrage which followed McBride's resignation then is that it wasn't a blast against the spin culture, which after all cannot operate without the media's connivance, even as they decry it, but rather because one of their finest sources for muck had been forced outside of the circle. The motto was and remains, "don't get fucking caught". That applies to journalists and spin doctors equally.

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

Share |

 

The plague has nothing on Blair.

Via Liberal Conspiracy, I come across the thoughts of the Independent's John Rentoul, one of the very few Blair-fanciers left on the face of the planet:

Just to prove my utter devotion to the finest peace-time prime minister, I confess my reaction when I read that the Tony Blair Faith Foundation Facebook page had been defaced with, among others, this comment:

"Tony Blair was about as good for Britain as the bubonic plague."

My recollection of medieval economic history is that the bubonic plague was good for Britain. By reducing the population, it increased wealth per head in a relatively stable society and forced it to improve agricultural productivity.

It was not just good for Britain, it was the basis of the economic pre-revolution that laid the foundations for this country to become the leading economic and military power of the world.

Just as, in a few centuries, Blair's creation of academy schools will again.

It's an interesting point. The analogy isn't quite apposite, as during Blair's tenure we didn't have to bury the diseased bodies of our brethren in mass graves, although we did have to do that to the bodies of millions of livestock, which rather than improving agricultural productivity instead decimated our farmers when vaccination against foot and mouth was another option which was rejected. No, Blair instead decided that the Iraqis, having already had recent experience with burying thousands of bodies were the best people to get back in the mood of the middle ages, and you have to admit, Blair succeeded on that score beyond even his wildest dreams.

You can't really argue with Rentoul's logic in any case. That he completely sidesteps the intended meaning of the barb, and then regardless decides to suggest that the plague was in fact good for Britain, if not so wonderful for the entire villages which were decimated, almost makes it seem as if he secretly accepts that Blair wasn't the greatest thing since sliced bread. Instead, as David Blunkett said, we can't seem to appreciate a prophet in our country; it'll only be in 200 years, when you and I will have long since turned to dust, that Blair will be truly feted. That unpleasantness in Iraq will be thoroughly overshadowed by Blair's fabulous constitutional reforms and the introduction of academy schools, turning out an entire nation equipped with the skills to function as call centre operators. Perhaps in 2209, when these septic isles are no longer known as the United Kingdom but instead Offshore Telephony Solutions #1 and #2, they'll truly admire the sage that we refused to acknowledge.

Labels: , , , ,

Share |

Monday, April 20, 2009 

I love the smell of propaganda in the morning...

If it's on the Sun's front page on a Monday, it's probably propaganda. This seems to be a rule of thumb which is well worth following. Previous examples have included claims that al-Qaida fighters in Algeria had contracted the plague (they hadn't) and that Nimrod aircraft flying over Afghanistan had heard Taliban fighters talking in "Brummie and Yorkshire" accents (unconfirmed, possible). Today's, also authored by John Kay, is more easy to trace direct back to source: the MoD have the exact same story up on their website. It's also a hoary old tale which while possibly true, is equally likely not to be:

MIRACLE soldier Leon Wilson told last night how a high-velocity Taliban bullet hit his helmet and missed his head by two millimetres — the thickness of a beer mat.

The Sun further embellishes the story by adding some extraneous detail:

Travelling at 1,000 metres a second, the bullet pierced the left side of his combat helmet, ripped through a forehead pad inside and exited the front without touching him.

At 1,000 metres a second! Not 999 metres a second, or 1,001 metres a second, but an exact 1,000! That's impressive!

A typical tale of derring-do follows on, tedious in its evocation of such heroism and bravery. There are two things that do cast a dampener on the story though.

Firstly, if we are to believe this isn't just an MoD stunt, desperate for some good news from Afghanistan, it isn't as rare as is being made out. Only last July a highly similar story was reported, without apparent MoD involvement, the soldier in that example being David Poderis, also shot through the helmet without being harmed. Secondly, another previous case, reported back in 2003 in Iraq, involving a soldier supposedly shot four times in the helmet and surviving, subsequently turned out to be a prank or hoax, depending on which you prefer, the Sun proudly reporting the soldiers' ingenuity. The author? One John Kay. Is history repeating itself? You decide...

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

Share |

Saturday, April 18, 2009 

Weekend links.

(I forgot to mention, but yesterday's post was, believe it or not, this blog's 2,000th. I'm a very, very sad man.)

Another weekend, and another really bad one for the Labour party. Not that the leadership or the Blairites will care one jot about Alice Mahon resigning from the party she's been a member of for 50 years, but it might just help jolt the consciences of some that remain members themselves of just how far the modern party has deviated from its origins. If that doesn't, perhaps the almost certain selection of Georgina Gould, daughter of Lord Gould and all of 22 years of age as the Labour candidate for the safe seat of Erith and Thamesmead, where there have been continual accusations of foul play will. It's quite clear what the remaining Blairites are intent on doing: rebuilding the party entirely in their image. As the old lefties of the Campaign group gradually give up their seats or retire, in will come the safe, new school of right-on dead centrists, without even the slightest interest in the party's history or what it once stood for. With it will of course also come the complete removal of the already minimal differences with the Conservative party, except for cosmetic ones, and the lack of choice between the two will even further diminish democracy as a whole. That, it seems, will be New Labour's true legacy. David Semple and Bob Piper expand on both the latter and the former.

Elsewhere, the Torygraph has a profile of Guido Fawkes/Paul Staines which the man himself has called a hatchet job, which more or less means that everything in it is factually correct, and therefore well worth a browse, Flying Rodent looks at Staines also puffing himself up in the Times, while Paul Linford has an excellent all round post on "Smeargate", as does Dave Osler. Dave Cole covers the Derek Draper side of things additionally. Other blog posts worth browsing are Neil Robertson's take on the torture memos, the Heresiarch on the sad death of Marilyn Chambers, and John B taking on a CiF commenter's more out there views on how Labour has restricted civil liberties.

In the papers, "Smeargate" still dominates, with Matthew Parris, Peter Oborne, Michael Portillo, Geoffrey Wheatcroft and John Harris all following it up in various ways, while Shami Chakrabarti and the Indie's leader column focus more on the aftermath of Damian Green predictably not being charged with any offence, with Tom Freeman also providing something of a riposte to the Indie leader. Other newspaper comment comes from Robert Fisk, on the morphing of the Taliban into al-Qaida, Christina Patterson on getting old, Mark Lawson on those vile grassing up posters, Paul Kingsnorth on the downfall of Englishness, Phillipe Sands on the torture memos, and Hassan Juma'a rejoicing at the coming end of the occupation of Basra.

As for worst tabloid article, we have a straight fight between the two usual contenders, Amanda Platell and Lorraine Kelly. Such a straight fight in fact that we'll mark it up as a draw. Platell takes first honours, hilariously declaring that Brown's attack dogs hate women, when anyone reading her columns will quickly notice that Platell herself also appears to loathe her sisters, adding to the humour by further remarking on how "honourable" Nadine Dorries is, whilst Lorraine Kelly, equally without the slightest self-awareness, asks in the Sun why it took 96 people to die before football fans were treated with respect. They didn't of course instantly get respect: they first had to be smeared by Kelly's newspaper and accused of urinating on police officers and picking the pockets of the dead before that happened. Still, why bring up unfortunate occurrences like that when there's people you can suck up to 20 years later?

Labels: , ,

Share |

Friday, April 17, 2009 

Torturers justifying to themselves that they are not torturers.

It turns out that I did perhaps speak slightly too soon in being disappointed that the Obama administration hadn't opened up the books on the Bush regime's involvement in both rendition and torture. Although the release of the four memos sent between the CIA and two different deputy attorney generals was "required by the rule of law", that certainly wouldn't have stopped the prior administration or some individuals within Obama's from doing the exact opposite.

It's been clear since the first allegations emerged of mistreatment of detainees that just like all the other regimes which subsequently fell, with their secrets and misdemeanours exposed through documents, the Bush administration didn't just discuss what it was doing in secret and on a need to know basis: it left behind a distinct paper trail, of which these memos are just the latest example. The most notorious was perhaps the stress techniques which Donald Rumsfeld signed off with the pithy justification that considering he stood for 8-10 hours a day, why couldn't the detainees be forced to stand for longer than 4 hours? This sort of thinking and a general complete lack of concern at what they were ordering others to do is evident throughout the documents and memos that have so far been released.

The key document of the four released, although the others also have significant sections, is the August the 1st 2002 memo from Jay S. Bybee, then assistant attorney general to John Rizzo, the acting general counsel for the CIA. Rizzo was specifically asking whether 10 "techniques", including the most notorious, "waterboarding", would violate the prohibition against torture "found at Section 2340A of title 18 of the United States Code", as the CIA intended to use them against Abu Zubaydah, at that point the most senior alleged al-Qaida leader to be captured. The document, which recounts in minute detail just how the "enhanced techniques" would be used, is chilling. Of these, the most disturbing is the blithe way in which Bybee recounts that Rizzo had previously informed him that they would not deprive Zubaydah of sleep for more than 11 days, having already kept him awake for more than 72 hours, of how they wished to confine Zubaydah in a box, in which an insect would be placed, Zubaydah apparently having a fear of such creatures, while not informing him that the insect would be completely harmless, and finally of how they would waterboard him, where the simulated drowning would not last longer than 20 minutes, and sessions as a whole would last 2 hours.

Quite why Bybee doesn't just say immediately that he completely agrees that what Rizzo is proposing doesn't amount to torture is unclear, as the arguments he then details are simply pitiful. These amount to little more than the fact that soldiers that were trained in SERE techniques did for the most part not suffer any long-term side-effects as a result of being treated in the same way as they were proposing to deal with Zubaydah. This is akin to comparing apples to oranges: there is a world of difference between undergoing these techniques once or twice with friends and professionals that you trust so that if you are captured you both know what to expect and how to deal with it, and instead having them repeatedly used on you, by people you neither trust and who you quite reasonably believe have the intention and the means to harm you if you don't co-operate with them, despite not being able to comply with their demands.

This finally culminates in Bybee admitting that waterboarding constitutes a threat of imminent death, which directly breaches Section 2340A. This however is not a problem, as Bybee decides that "prolonged mental harm must nonetheless result to violate the statutory prohibition", and, judging by Rizzo's authoritative and extensive research into the long-term effects of such procedures on SERE students, no such mental harm has been recognised. If things were not already Orwellian enough, Bybee then continues onward, concluding that additionally, there has to be "specific intent to inflict severe pain or suffering" for there to be a breach of the prohibition. Despite the fact that the CIA would be using such measures on Zubaydah deliberately in order to get him to talk, because of how they are using these methods in "good faith", and restricting themselves so that they are not abused beyond acceptable limits, there would be no such specific intent. This is no more and no less than torturers justifying to themselves that they are not torturers. It's the sort of thing which dictatorships indulge in; this is the land of the free and the home of the brave resorting to such methods after 9/11 swifter than the likes of Soviet Russia did.

The results of Zubaydah's torture were worryingly predictable. Differences remain between those who claim he was a significant member of al-Qaida and those that instead claim that he was on the periphery, but what is beyond doubt is that in response to his treatment he told his interrogators anything and everything, including details of numerous false plots and individuals, all of which came to nothing. Likewise, the far more senior Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who became so adept at being waterboarded that he impressed and gained the respect of his interrogators, talked himself into being possibly the most dastardly terrorist in history, the only detail missing from his claims being that he wasn't the one who fired the second shot from the grassy knoll. Even if you completely disagree with the argument that you shouldn't abuse the detainees you capture for moral reasons, the reason to oppose torture is that it simply doesn't work, illustrated perfectly by Zubaydah.

There is one other key passage in one of the other memos which perfectly sums up the hypocrisy and contempt that the Bush administration had when it came to international obligations regarding torture:
In other words: we know full well what we're doing is torture, but the fact that we condemn others for doing exactly what we are isn't going to stop us from continuing with it.

Obama released the documents saying that there would be no prosecutions of those responsible, and this should be a time for "reflection, not retribution". That's fair enough where it concerns those that actually carried out the mistreatment, although post-Nuremberg and indeed, post-Bush, it should be no excuse to say that you were only following orders. Those who should be held accountable however are the ones that wrote these documents, the ones above them that were the ones really pulling the strings, and especially those who both then and now continue to defend the use of such methods. Those who first proposed these techniques are those responsible for them being used routinely, as we saw at Abu Ghraib. As before though, it seems likely that once again it will be the little people that serve the jail sentences while the real war criminals can write their memoirs and parade around the lecture circuit.

Labels: , , , ,

Share |

Thursday, April 16, 2009 

Damian Green and the state of the nation.

For what was meant to be an apology for the ultimate conclusion of spin, Gordon Brown's mealy-mouthed "sorry" was remarkably like a piece of spin in itself. While the press and the Conservatives have been whipping themselves up into a frenzy over something that Brown almost certainly knew nothing about, the decision not to charge Damian Green has been pushed down the news agenda, helped by Brown's sudden decision to express contrition to a camera.

It's a shame, as the Green case is far more indicative of where the nation is going as opposed to where the state of politics is descending. It's the combination of everything which New Labour has ultimately been building towards, encouraged by the pliant tabloid media which demands ever harsher authoritarian crime polices and by their flexible friends in the police, where national security and anti-terrorism supplant everything else, used opportunistically as the excuse for every little abuse of power and every little act of authorised bullying.

Some might question the link between the arrest of 114 climate change protesters before they had so much as thought of carrying out their plans for peaceful demonstrations, the deletion of a tourist's photographs on the grounds that you can't shoot any building, structure or vehicle involved in London's transportation system, the brutality shown towards some G20 protesters and Damian Green's arrest, but they are all representative of one thing: of an overbearing state which continues to grow in power while the individual continues to be diminished and patronised, with their complaints ignored or whitewashed. The key difference in the latter case was that both the police and government overestimated their power and overstepped themselves in imagining that they could arrest someone who was themselves in a position of power, diminished as it was, and not outrage that person's colleagues and as a result the media. A similar thing almost happened a couple of years earlier, except to the actual party of government with the arrest of Ruth Turner, but that was soon forgotten by those who themselves felt that they were still invulnerable.

Not a single person imagined for a second that Damian Green would be charged with anything. Members of parliament don't get charged when it comes to leaks; their stringers and the other little people involved are the ones that usually have to take one for the team. More surprising was that the Home Affairs Select Committee, especially one chaired by a loyalist like Keith Vaz, noted that despite the claims by the Cabinet Office and Home Office, none of the material leaked even approached breaching national security, something confirmed by the head of the CPS, an organisation which seems to be bucking the trend in remaining fiercely independent, first with Ken Macdonald and now with Kier Starmer at the helm. Notable also was that the police's actions were compared to the Keystone Cops, which isn't quite apposite, for the reason that Keystone Cops were meant to be laughed at. No one is laughing at what the police increasingly seem to be getting up to, as incompetent as their actions at times are.

Whether Jacqui Smith did or did not know that Green was personally going to be arrested, and despite my initial thoughts that I believed it was unlikely, I've now changed my mind somewhat, it's still indicative of how the Home Office has changed under Labour. Undoubtedly the change can be linked right back to the James Bulger murder and the consensus which emerged between the political parties that prison works, but the succession of ridiculously hardline politicians made home secretary began with David Blunkett and has continued since. In turn, each has been more ludicrous and more certain of themselves in succession, and all of them have also shared one political characteristic: they have all been Blairites. All have been dismissive in the traditional Blairite way of established procedure, whether it be populist in nature as it was when John Reid declared that his department was "not fit for purpose" or with Smith not apparently caring one jot that she to all intents and purposes wasted police time, still today defending that calling in Inspector Knacker was the right thing to do. None of her predecessors though were so completely hopeless at their job, so thoroughly discredited and as weak as she has become, thanks both to her expenses claims and other piling up failures. That she is still in her position itself is a miracle, and it is surely one which will not survive any coming reshuffle, although as in the past, she will undoubtedly be replaced by someone just as bad and just as opportunist; the job seems to now require those characteristics.

Few will disagree with Damian Green's statement that he could not think "of a better symbol of an out of touch, authoritarian, failing government that has been in power for too long". The Conservatives however offer no alternative whatsoever on the authoritarian front. If anything, they might well turn out be worse on that score when it comes to crime, and their promise to increase the police's powers of surveillance suggests that despite the clamour which is beginning to build regarding the casual dilution of civil liberties, they still don't understand that there has to be a step change in the relationship between the individual and the state. That it took the arrest of one of their own for them to begin to finally grasp that was an indictment of their own failure to read that mood was changing, and it's even harder to believe that once in power they will be any different to Labour in responding to the anguished cries of the latest tabloid headline. One of the things they could do which might encourage the belief that they will seriously examine just how powerful and unaccountable the police have become is to propose a royal commission into their tactics, as first argued by Martin Kettle. If they seriously want the public to believe they will not be as political as New Labour has been, and the signs from Boris Johnson are that they might even be more so, then it's the absolute least they will have to do.

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Share |

About

  • This is septicisle
profile

Links

Powered by Blogger
and Blogger Templates