Somehow still going leftism from who knows where. || "We live in a world ruled by fictions of every kind - mass-merchandizing, advertising, politics conducted as a branch of advertising, the pre-empting of any original response to experience by the television screen. We live inside an enormous novel. It is now less and less necessary for the writer to invent the fictional content of his novel. The fiction is already there. The writer's task is to invent the reality." -- JG Ballard.
Friday, July 31, 2009
Scum-watch: The hypocrisy machine.
The Sun's exclusive on Theresa Winters, the woman from Luton who has had all thirteen of her children taken into care and is now pregnant with her fourteenth, ticks all the paper's buttons. Broken Britain, scrounging feckless layabouts and of course the bourgeois journalists working for a "working class" newspaper sneering at their own target market. It doesn't really make much difference that I can't think of anything less feckless than being perpetually pregnant, and that yet again the paper is pushing for benefit reform by finding the most extreme case it can, regardless of how the kind of reform it demands would punish those who are deserving as well as those who "aren't". Combine this with the casual dehumanisation which infects all such stories, with Winters described as the "Baby Machine", leeches and slobs and you have a classic example of a newspaper providing its readers with a target they can hate without feeling bad about doing so.
The ire directed at the couple is based around how they've cost the taxpayer "millions" with their selfish ways, and of course how the benefit system encourages such behaviour (it doesn't; they've just abused it, but never mind). Yet when the BBC's Look East went round to their flat in an attempt to get their own interview, they were informed that they'd signed an exclusive contract with a national newspaper which prevented them from giving one. I can't obviously comment on whether such a contract involved the couple being paid for being abused and used as scapegoats by the Sun, but it seems doubtful that they would have done so unless their was something in it for them. Rather then than it being we have an underclass because we "fund it with handouts", which only someone who occupies an ivory tower from which they can't even begin to see the tops of the houses from could believe, it seems that the Winters will be able to rely on income from a national newspaper should she decide to go for baby fifteen. Encouraging and abetting such selfish behaviour? The Sun? Never!
The law has long needed to be clarified, if only to make it abundantly clear that only in extreme circumstances would any prosecution be attempted, as already seems to be the case. Surely the most likely example of when prosecution might well have been attempted was in the Daniel James case last year. James, a 23-year-old who was paralysed from the chest down after a scrum collapsed on him while playing rugby, was not terminally ill, as most seeking to die at Dignitas are. He had however attempted suicide before, and his parents, respecting his clear choice that he wanted to die, accompanied him to Switzerland. The CPS however decided that although a crime may well have been committed that there was not a public interest in prosecuting them.
All this though is still skirting around the issue. The terminally ill here that want to end their life shouldn't have to travel to Switzerland or anywhere else to do so; they should have the choice to do so in this country. The two things that are holding back a change in the law, which is still surely eventually inevitable, is that politicians are scared rigid of an issue which is both incredibly difficult and which there is no party political advantage to be gained from, quite possibly the opposite in fact. The other is the campaigners that obfuscate and deny the right of others in a similar position to them to even have the ability to say that they don't want to carry on. The likes of Lady Campbell seem to imagine that doctors who have repeatedly made clear they'd prefer not to put in such a position are just waiting to get the ability to stick a needle in the terminally ill and disabled and put them out of their misery. They also imagine that giving a person of sound mind the right to choose to die will somehow put pressure on all of those in a similar position to do the same, even though the safeguards that would be put in place would almost certainly prevent any such thing happening. It's much the same mentality which denies women the right to choose, that those making such a decision need to be talked out of it, that they themselves cannot possibly be in the right frame of mind to be able to make such a choice for themselves, hence they should be denied it entirely. Just like you will never stop those desperate for one from ending their pregnancy, you will never stop those who want to die from getting their way; as with everything else, it's the regulation and safeguards that are the key.
The right to die campaign is only going to grow as the world population inexorably ages. It seems likely that it will finally become as important a right as the right to life itself. The sooner we recognise that the sooner we'll end the stream of those that see the indignity of Dignitas as their only remaining option.
The Blair comparison is apposite, because as Jamie also quotes, we know full well that many of the highest Cameroons, and the other architects of "change" within the Conservatives also deeply admired Blair. They admired him because he won elections, because he wasn't beholden to his party, and because for a time he meant all things to all people. He was Teflon Tony. They even adored his wars, and still do to an extent, especially the true believers like Michael Gove, who share what you can either call his neo-conservative leanings, or his "liberal interventionism", which in the case of both Afghanistan and Iraq was nothing of the sort. The Labour party became so desperate, so the orthodoxy goes, that it turned to someone who was never a natural Labour politician to lead them to victory. The Conservatives, also desperate for victory, have equally turned to someone, who although has an unimpeachable Tory background, doesn't have the natural Tory face, who can do the compassion which Thatcher never had, and who isn't (yet) a laughing stock as John Major became.
As Dave Osler points out though, the Toryism which Simon Heffer yearns for only came into existence in the late 70s, being constantly built upon during the 80s. Whether you call it Thatcherism, Reaganonomics, neo-liberalism, the belief in supply-side economics and the associated trickle down theory, this was what truly made the break from the One Nation Toryism which the post-war party had up till then espoused. The real success of Thatcherism etc is that everyone in the West has pretty much adopted it, or at least the economic side of it. Even now that the ultimate conclusion to Thatcherism has been reached, with the worst recession since the great depression, and when those bastions of neo-liberalism, the banks, have had to be bailed out and either nationalised or nationalised in all but name, all still worship it, as the feeble attempts at reforming regulation shows.
We should however be clear that there was an almost Faustian pact between New Labour and the City. The banks and the hyper-economy provided the tax revenues which overwhelmingly funded the surge in spending on the NHS and education, as well as the sly, feeble attempts at redistribution that made some headway, then failed. Business could do business with Labour, and in return they funded their spending, even if they complained and tried every trick in the book at avoiding the taxman as much as they could. At the last election this philosophy had triumphed so successfully that the Tories were quibbling about amounts of money that Boris Johnson would describe as "chicken-feed". It was on other things, such as immigration and crime on which they was something resembling a difference between the two parties, although doubtless if Michael Howard had won there may well have been a drift from the manifesto, written by someone called David Cameron.
Now we're faced with much the same situation but in reverse. Whoever wins, cuts will have to be made, it's just where and how deep that the argument is over, even if Gordon Brown and others try to deny it. The Tories' promise that both health and international aid will be protected, with possibly education and maybe defence also joining the party. The other promises made were that inheritance tax would be raised from its current threshold to £1 million, and that marriage would be recognised in the tax system, helping to fix our "broken society", but even those now look uncertain, with Cameron maintaining it might well be difficult to achieve. Both of those things are naturally Conservative policies which the left would and should oppose, especially the former when inheritance tax ought to be one of the weapons used in bringing down the deficit. Dave Osler notes that the "Chloe" generation of New Tories tend to defend the NHS in its current state, and there's little to suggest otherwise from a survey the Guardian conducted with 66 prospective candidates in September last year, although it's slightly out of date due to the economic crisis then not being fully developed. What is noticeable though is their social Conservatism: while it has always been Labour that has led social liberalisation, whether it be on abortion, the legalisation of homosexuality etc, the Conservatives have come to accept the changes over time.
What exactly are we facing then, come next June perhaps? To begin with, there probably won't be much difference. They might, as suggested, have an emergency budget with 40 days and bring in cuts quicker than Labour would. What does begin to chill the blood however though is the promise of "austerity", as used by George Osborne, which only brings echoes of the post-war years and the early 50s. Why it should chill is because you know full well that Osborne and Cameron will not be those experiencing their "austerity", just as they have never experienced it before. Secretly, it's difficult not to feel that the Tories are gleeful at getting the opportunity to take a sword to public spending. Like with New Labour, they're unlikely to really hammer away for the first couple of years, but after that it's anyone's guess as to what they'll do, let alone if they get a second term. On crime and law and order, Chris Grayling's recent "nick their sim card and bike" gimmickry reminded everyone of New Labour's similar ideas which were derided. With welfare, they've promised much the same as Labour's plans again, except with bells on. We shouldn't imagine that we're going to return to Victorian values or back to basics, but what we are going to experience is new Blairism, as argued before. The Labour party was there to try to contain Blair's worst excesses, even if it failed miserably most of the time. With Cameron, and with a media already licking its lips in anticipation at the Tories returning, there will be no constraints upon Cameron. With Blair, we had an "ethical" foreign policy, a sop to "wets" like Robin Cook. William Hague has already made clear that they intend to return to realpolitik, and relegate human rights somewhat in their dealings with the likes of the Saudis and China, and with Liam Fox and Michael Gove in tow, it's difficult not to imagine that neo-conservatism proper won't rear its ugly head. We've already seen that Cameron has joined up with homophobes from Poland and other assorted oddballs in the European parliament; if that doesn't embarrass him, what will?
Heffer then is wrong. Cameron and his party will be Conservatives, but then we've had much the same under Brown and Blair. Cameron and co will just turn everything up a notch. It probably won't please the hardline Tory faithful, but they'll get used to it, just as Labour supporters hoping for a turn left did. The challenge will be for the left to create a truly alternative vision, which does offer a difference, something which for now is nowhere in sight, even as the best opportunity ever to make the case for it has appeared and also now seemingly, disappeared just as quickly.
The silly season, in case you haven't already noticed, has begun in earnest. Not that newspapers and news sites aren't normally stocked fully with churnalism, but it just becomes instantly more evident when there's next to no real news around.
In case then you wondering, the Wookey Hole witch is a publicity stunt. Even if they are paying the winner £50,000, that's nothing as to the free advertising they've received and will receive, especially when compared to how much it would cost to take out adverts on the same pages and same size as the stories themselves will appear. Likewise, the BBC story that "Swedes miss Capri after GPS gaffe" is almost certainly a similar piece of churnalism. It's plausible, as anyone could accidentally make a typo on their system and be guided to Carpi instead of Capri, but like the Wookey Hole story it makes for excellent publicity, even if it isn't as unbelievable as the benchmark, the "Cab, innit", girl. Not directly publicity seeking churnalism, but also designed to fill up the pages, is the Coca Cola carbonated milk launch, which is only happening in the US. Why then do we care over here? Because we haven't much choice.
It's difficult to know whether to laugh or cry at the hailing of the first stage of Operation Panther's Claw as a success, not just because of the 11 deaths so far, but also because of the lessons which seem to remaining unlearnt from Iraq. Part of the reason might be due to the fact that it was the US army that made the similar mistakes time and again, but there can't be any excuse for us not to have recognised how the insurgents in Afghanistan are using exactly the same tactics as the Sunni insurgency in Iraq did.
It's even more worrying when the tactics are so alarmingly simple. Whenever the US would launch a "major" offensive, aimed at ridding a certain area of the various fighters both allied and non-allied fighting against them, only the hard core tended to stay to fight. The rest simply left, and then either returned once the soldiers had moved on, or instead engaged in classic guerilla tactics, planting IEDs at night, ambushes etc. This pattern only ceased once the tribal elders and other insurgent groups grew tired of al-Qaida and the other Salafis' brutal tactics and launched the salvation councils/Awakening groups, which along with the "surge" helped to bring the casualties, both of Iraqi civilians and of American troops down. Even then and even now pockets of resistance remain, and Mosul, as well as parts of Diyala province, remain highly dangerous.
The change of tactics in Helmand, from clearing areas of insurgents to now attempting to hold the ground, with the help of the Americans, is a partial recognition that the past policy has failed badly. The insurgents just waited until the troops left and then came back. The problem is that unlike in Iraq, there is no real support from the civilians or other groups to help with the holding of ground. Poll after poll shows that the Afghans prefer the international presence to the Taliban, but on the ground that doesn't turn into enthusiasm for it, let alone armed support. There are no Awakening councils to be formed, and the presence of the coalition, which will undoubtedly increase the risk to civilians, who got out along with the insurgents when Panther's Claw was launched, will exacerbate the problems. Already one soldier has died in the "holding" phase: hitting and running, along with the ubiquitous IEDs, is now likely to be the order of the day.
As Conor Foley points out and as David Miliband today recognised, to imagine that in our present shape we can militarily defeat the Taliban is madness. Up to 80% of those fighting are not the religiously motivated, but either criminal groupings or other insurgents not linked to the Taliban or al-Qaida. Some of these can be either dealt with or bought off: the ceasefire with the "Taliban" in Badghis is encouraging, but whether it will last or not is another matter. The other problem with such deals was shown in Pakistan, when the truce in Swat with the imposition of Sharia law led to the Pakistani Taliban moving to within 100 miles of Islamabad. What has to be dropped is the repeated rhetoric that what "Our Boys" are doing in Helmand is helping to "break" the "chain of terror", an idea that is utterly fatuous and which may well spectacularly backfire. Ministers still though, despite David Miliband's attempt at honesty today, find it difficult to defend a war which they know full well if anything only increases the threat to us, not decreases. Until they come straight, support is only likely, quite rightly, to keep going down.
As for the worst tabloid article prize, I really may as well rename it the weekly Amanda Platell prize. This time she's outraged that the Church of England is giving its blessing to families who've had children outside marriage (the fiends!), that Chloe Smith, winner of Norwich North, is nothing more than a Dave Dolly with no experience whatsoever, that Tony Blair has dared to show his face when our brave boys are dying in Afghanistan, and that Kate Middleton can't hold down a proper job. Oh, and that Ulrika Jonsson is looking stunning, hence she must have had a face lift along with surgery on her breasts. If you've spotted a pattern here, you're not the only one. Surely it can't be that dear old Amanda is jealous of the looks of the elegant Smith, leggy brunette Middleton and blonde Jonsson while her own are falling apart? And of course, writing a weekly column that puts Glenda Slagg to shame is obviously a "proper job". and
The Liberal Democrats especially must be bitterly disappointed and wonder what they did wrong. There were no real scandals among their expenses, they could claim to be the true heirs to Gibson's politics and punish Labour for getting rid of their popular incumbent, and yet they lost close to 3,000 votes, mainly to the Greens and possibly Craig Murray, but also probably to the Tories.
As for the Greens, the claims that they could win the seat turned out be hot air, although ordinarily a vote of 3,350 would be a cause for celebration. In truth their main target is Norwich South, which they hope to win next year along with Brighton and Hove. If they do, they'll be overthrowing Charles Clarke, which will be an extra cause for breaking out the (organic) champagne. Similarly, UKIP must be ecstatic with their performance, which must surely be one of their best parliamentary results in terms of votes, if not the best, getting an impressive 4,068. Likewise, although Craig Murray is disappointed with his result, 953 votes is a spectacular result for an independent, especially one who was completely ignored by the media, and to beat the BNP into 7th place is no mean feat. Most amusing though is the Libertarians, who received a grand total of 36 votes, behind the Monster Raving Loonies. Who knew that turning the country into an Ayn Rand style fantasy isn't popular?
It seems fairly pointless to try extrapolating anything from this result, as the chances of it being repeated next year seem doubtful. Voters that won't have bothered turning out for a by-election most likely will make the effort come the general election, and the parties outside the main three will almost certainly be squeezed except in their strongholds, especially as the fury over the MPs expenses is slowly forgotten. The question remains just how badly Labour is going to do, rather than how well the Conservatives will - whether it becomes a 97 style wipeout, or a result which the party can recover quicker from. Frankly, it both deserves and needs a 97 style wipeout for it to come to its senses, but the pain that will cause is still difficult to imagine.
Quite why Desmond brought what was such a trivial claim for libel against Tom Bower remains unclear. Bower's QC, Ronald Thwaites, who has somewhat acquitted himself after his disgraceful performance representing the Met at the Jean Charles de Menezes health and safety prosecution, said in court that the real reason was because Desmond's ego couldn't allow him to described as a wimp, "ground into the dust" by Black, even if it was in a book that was unlikely to be read by many in a passage that was hardly remarkable. Others however believe the real reason was to ensure that Bower never had a chance of publishing a supposedly finished manuscript on Desmond himself, provisionally titled Rogue Trader. If it's as damning as Bower's other works, and when you have such a target it's hardly likely not to be, Desmond has far more to fear from that than from claims that Conrad Black had "ground him into the dust".
Surely the only thing that ensured Desmond had anything approaching a chance of victory was our ridiculous and damaging libel laws, where the defendant has to prove their case rather than the accuser theirs. Everyone in the media world knows how Desmond operates: he is a bully, a born liar and someone who surrounds himself only with sycophants and those he has total trust in. Only someone with a personality like Desmond, where the slightest insult can result in a feud lasting for years, could be thin-skinned enough to take offence at being described as a pornographer. Desmond made his money in softcore pornographic magazines, having obtained the licence to publish Penthouse in the UK in 1983. From there he built an empire thanks to his diversifying into most of the more acceptable fetishes, with among his more famous titles the likes of Asian Babes and Skin and Wriggly. This led inevitably to satellite and cable channels broadcasting much the same content, although his channels show the softcore variants of the produced smut; whether he actually owns the companies which produce the hardcore versions is unclear.
For a man who yearns for respectability and to take his rightful place amongst the establishment, owning wank rags and jazz channels is usually a no-no. While decidedly last century, one way to acquire that sort of status is to purchase a newspaper, and while the Daily Star is hardly what most would describe as an educational read, and the Daily Express has been in decline for half a century, his purchase of both ensured that he had finally entered the world of not just business but also political power. Some of course at the time questioned whether such a man should own a newspaper which used to be the biggest seller in the world; happily, a donation by Desmond of £100,000 to the Labour party ensured that no obstacles were placed in his way.
Most modern proprietors of newspapers, like Desmond, deny that they would ever influence anything which their employees write, let alone tell them what to. In court, Desmond's QC Ian Winter said that it was "difficult to think of a more defamatory allegation to make". Most proprietors of course don't have to tell their journalists what to write, for the simple fact that they already know how they think, what their interests are and how to defend them, as Rupert Murdoch's editors do, although Murdoch at least admits that the Sun and News of the World's editorial line is directly influenced by him. Desmond, while also using that kind of influence in the newsroom, is both more brutal and direct. David Hellier, a former media editor on the Sunday Express, described how Desmond was seen in the newsroom "virtually every day between five and seven o'clock" and would regularly demand editorial changes. Any casual reader of Private Eye will have noted down the years Desmond's regular appearances in the Street of Shame, often ordering journalists around and insulting them on their appearance. One more memorable episode was when Desmond apparently told Express editor Peter Hill that his current front page was "fucking shit". Hill, fed up with Desmond's constant interference, finally lost his temper and left, leaving the deputy to redo the paper. Most notoriously, Desmond punched the Express's then night editor, Ted Young, in the stomach after his failure to run an article on the death of an obscure 60's musician. Desmond settled with Young the day before the case was due to go to an industrial tribunal for a six figure sum. Young was prevented from giving evidence in the High Court by Justice Eady, but thankfully his testimony was not needed.
Perhaps the most damning evidence however was given by the person who wrote the offending article which led Black to sue Desmond and consequently "ground him into the dust". Anil Bhoyrul, one of the former Mirror journalists involved in the Viglen shares debacle which was another stain on Piers Morgan's character, wrote the "Media Uncovered" column in the Sunday Express between 2001 and 2003 under the pseudonym Frank Daly. Despite supposedly being a witness for Desmond, Bhoyrul made clear that he was directly influenced in what he wrote by what Desmond "liked and disliked", which was made clear to him by the editor Martin Townsend in phone calls on a Tuesday. Bhoyrul boasted of how he "got a pretty good feel for who, you know, to be positive about and who to be negative about. The impression I got over time was that Conrad Black and Richard Desmond were not the best of friends." Bhoyrul was hardly exaggerating: he wrote around 27 hostile pieces about Black, and attacked the owner of the Independent, Tony O'Reilly, in much the same fashion when Desmond was in dispute with him.
Then there was just the sort of in the public domain knowledge which made Desmond look like an idiot. Three days after Desmond had threatened a business contact down the phone, telling him "[he'd] be the worst fucking enemy you'll ever have", the Sunday Express ran a defamatory article about the contact and his hedge fund, Pentagon Capital Management. When Desmond had to settle the libel claim from Pentagon, a statement was read out in open court that "Mr Desmond accepts that it was his comments in the presence of Sunday Express journalists that prompted the Sunday Express to publish the article." Yet Desmond denied when questioned by Thwaites that he had complained to the editor about his predicament, or in front of the journalists. Unless Desmond was committing perjury, he presumably only agreed to that statement in the libel settlement to get it over with.
Whether in the long run much will come of Desmond's humiliation, apart from the possible publication of Bower's biography, is difficult to tell. Undoubtedly his enemies at the Mail will tomorrow have a field day, as will the others that despise Desmond, but readers of his own papers would never know that he had even lost his claim. The article in the Express doesn't so much as mention it, merely setting out that Desmond "set the record straight", while even more mindboggling is his claim to that it was "worth it to stand up in court". Certainly, the estimated costs of the action, £1.25m, is only about a week's wages to Desmond, but to someone with his sensitivity to criticism and determination to be seen as a honest, generous, philanthropic businessman, he must be secretly devastated. Most damaging to Desmond though is certainly Roy Greenslade's conclusion that he is an even worse newspaper owner than Robert Maxwell was. Greenslade should know: he was Mirror editor under Maxwell (His book, Press Gang, is also a fine post-war history of the British press). Although Desmond has clearly not defrauded the Express in the way which Maxwell did Mirror group, he has stripped it of assets in a similar fashion. The Guardian describes how while Greenslade was giving his evidence, Desmond gripped the table in front of him tightly, while his wife asked whether he was OK. That might yet be nothing on what he does tomorrow when the papers quote Greenslade in an approving fashion.
(Other sources for this apart from the links include the latest Private Eye, 1241, and its report on the trial on page 9.)
As might have been expected, Private Eye (1241) has some additional information on the phone hacking scandal:
"... There was, however, one bit of evidence he [Nick Davies, at the Graun's appearance before the Culture committee last week] omitted. A file seized by the Information Committee from private investigator Steve Whittamore in 2003, which was later obtained by lawyers for Professional Footballers' Association boss Gordon Taylor, included a personal request for Whittamore to trace someone's address via his phone number. The request came from Rebekah Wade when she was editor of the News of the Screws.
Davies was asked to keep quiet about this by the man who accompanied him to the committee hearing, Grauniad editor Alan Rusbridger, who feared that the skirmishes between the Grauniad and News International would turn into all-out war if there were any mention of the flame-haired weirdo who has now become NI's chief executive.
This may also be why the Guardian has yet to reveal that the secret payment of £700,000 in damages and costs to buy the silence of Gordon Taylor was not a mere executive order. It was decided by the directors of News Group Newspapers Ltd, the NI subsidary which owns the Sun and the Screws, at their board meeting on 10 June last year. If their involvement were revealed, it could cause grave embarrassment for the directors of News Group Newspapers Ltd - not least one James Murdoch."
The latter more or less came out yesterday, when we learned that James Murdoch had known about the settlement and agreed with it. The Wade revelation is though entirely new, and while there is no indication that Wade was using Whittamore for anything specifically illegal, it is an example that editors at the Screws knew about the "dark arts" and even personally used them. That makes it all the more ridiculous that both Andy Coulson and Tom Crone were so ignorant about what was happening all around them. It's also surprising that Wade herself was so tenacious in accusing the Graun of being "deliberately misleading" when they had such information on her; either she knew they wouldn't dare use it, as PE suggests, or she decided to try to tough it out. Either that, or she didn't know.
By far the best comment on yesterday's reprise of Manuel from Fawlty Towers was from Peter Burden, who also interpreted their body language.
The News of the World stance appears to have now changed three times. First it was to deny nothing; then it was to deny everything; now it seems to be know nothing. The four men were remarkable reticent, or remarkably ill-informed, perhaps deliberately. The only real fire came when first Tom Crone objected to Tom Watson's presence on the committee (under the "hated" Human Rights Act!), as he's currently taking legal action against the Sun, then Kuttner objected to Philip Davies, as he had connected Kuttner's resignation with the Guardian's revelations.
Predictably, all involved denied knowing anything about the phone hacking; all could be blamed on those who had since left, or those who are still at the paper strangely don't seem to be able to remember anything about it. The junior reporter who wrote the email which Davies revealed last week couldn't remember much about it, and was currently in Peru, Neville Thurlbeck couldn't remember receiving it, and there was no trace of the email on the NotW email system. The more cynical might imagine that was all very convenient. Thurlbeck was only supposed to be involved in the Taylor story with a view to door-stepping Taylor to confirm it. Coulson, later on, confirmed that he couldn't remember anything about a story involving Taylor.
Alongside the denials and non-denials, new information that did come out was that both Mulcaire and Goodman received payments along with their dismissals. You would have thought that being convicted of criminal offences while doing their job would have enabled them to be fired for gross misconduct, but apparently the payments were made in line with employment law and certainly not to buy their silence. James Murdoch, if not Murdoch himself, knew about the settlement with Gordon Taylor. Adam Price, who had discovered a story in the paper by-lined as by Goodman and Thurlbeck had a direct line that could only have come from Prince William's voicemail. Coulson of course couldn't remember the story, and Crone doesn't remember "page 7" stories, while Goodman's lawyer said in court nothing was ever published as a result of the voicemail hacking.
Some of the denials though were just ridiculous. Crone claims that he hadn't even heard of Mulcaire until Goodman was arrested, had never heard of phones being hacked and had never heard of payments for illegal activity. He seems to have been the only other person in Fleet Street, along with Andy Coulson, to have been so ignorant, who also had never met Mulcaire or spoke to him.
The frustrating thing about the whole story and investigation is that the suspicion is everything the Guardian has alleged is true and more besides, but it's simply impossible to prove. The police investigation seems to have based purely on getting a conviction on the count of hacking the royals, despite also looking into, if not prosecuting the other allegations and suggestions that numerous others were also hacked, or at least looked into the possibility of being hacked. Goodman and Mulcaire have been the fall guys for what was almost certainly a culture of contempt for the law in the News of the World newsroom. The ends justified the means, and through the silence and paying off of all involved, it's impossible to prove beyond what we already know. Coulson looks certain to survive, and the damage done to him seems to have been only slight. Tabloid culture also seems likely to remain unchanged, as ever.
It probably says something about the mounting cynicism concerning the war in Afghanistan that even the Sun, by far the most ardent supporter of our presence in Helmand province, has been moved to commission a justificatory article on the "chain of terror". As you might have expected though, to call the arguments made piss poor, utterly confused and easy to rebut would be an understatement.
To begin with, Oliver Harvey seems to be confused exactly where it is and who it is we're at war with. It is Afghanistan or Pakistan? Is it the Taliban or is it the Pakistani Taliban, who for the most part are entirely separate? This extends to Harvey's geographical knowledge: he claims that Malakand is near to the Afghanistan/Pakistan border when it is in fact quite some distance from it. This is an attempt to link Mohammad Sidique Khan and Omar Khyam to the war in Afghanistan and the Taliban; the problem here is that there is no link. Khan and Khyam, if trained by any particular grouping, were most likely trained by individuals with links to al-Qaida. Khan might well have left for Pakistan with the intention of fighting in Afghanistan; he left behind a video for his daughter which made clear he wasn't expecting to return. The fact that he did rather undermines any links he had with the Taliban, who are fighting only in Afghanistan and Pakistan rather than having worldwide ambitions.
Next we have just the word of Gordon Brown and Barack Obama to convince us that somehow British troops in Afghanistan do make us safer:
Gordon Brown made his remarks last week as the war in Afghanistan entered a particularly grim phase, with 17 British soldiers killed already this month.
The PM argued the sacrifice made by our troops - 186 have died since operations began in Afghanistan - was vital and that to stop fighting the Taliban would make the UK "less safe".
Justifying the UK military presence in Helmand, he said: "It comes back to terrorism on the streets of Britain.
"There is a chain of terror that links what's happening in Afghanistan and Pakistan to the streets of Britain.
"If we were to allow the Taliban to be back in power in Afghanistan, and al-Qaeda then to have the freedom of manoeuvre it had before 2001, we would be less safe as a country."
US President Barack Obama agreed, insisting: "The mission in Afghanistan is one that the Europeans have as much, if not more, of a stake in than we do.
"The likelihood of a terrorist attack in London is at least as high, if not higher, than it is in the United States."
Government officials state around three quarters of the most advanced plots monitored by MI5 have Pakistani links.
They said the security service is aware of around 30 serious plots at any given moment, suggesting that at least 21 of them are tied to Pakistani groups.
Again, we're meant to take it that Afghanistan and Pakistan are inseparable. Yet we have no military presence in Pakistan, and nor does the United States. The only thing that comes closest to it is the incessant drone strikes on alleged high profile militant targets. Afghanistan and Pakistan might be connected, but our military offensive is not, despite the recent AfPak change in emphasis by the Americans. The fact remains the al-Qaida doesn't need the freedom of manoeuvre it had in Afghanistan up to October 2001, both because it has something approaching that freedom in Pakistan and because its ideology has gone global, just as it hoped it would. 9/11 was mostly planned in Germany, having been first proposed years before by Khalid Sheikh Mohamed, just as 7/7 was mostly planned in this country. While attending a training camp is still integral to those who go on to become terrorists, most information can now be found and accessed through the internet. Furthermore, the fact that so many of these plots have roots in Pakistan is not always to do with how they can be linked back to the Taliban or al-Qaida there, but simply because so many of the Muslims in this country originate from Pakistan and have support or themselves support relatives back there.
And Afghanistan provides the bulk of the heroin on Britain's streets - with the profits funding Taliban guerrillas.
A staggering 93 per cent of the world's heroin comes from Afghanistan - two thirds of it from Helmand, where British troops are fighting and dying.
Taliban chiefs often "tax" narcotics gangs ten per cent for providing security.
Afghan police chief Lt Col Abdul Qader Zaheer, 45, told me last year: "If it wasn't for heroin there wouldn't be a war here. It pays for Taliban guns."
Of course, this omits the fact that the Taliban themselves first almost eradicated the poppy crop. They only turned to it once they needed to. It also fails to acknowledge that solutions to the poppy crop, such as buying it to be turned into medicines have been ignored or rejected. That the Sun also objects to even the most timid moves towards liberalisation of the drug laws also means that the opportunities that legislation offers are completely off the table. Heroin itself though has nothing to do with our presence in Helmand - we're not fighting a war against drugs in Afghanistan - this is just another distraction.
The tentacles of jihad linking Britain and Afghanistan begin on the Helmand frontline.
One dead Taliban fighter was found with an Aston Villa tattoo. The discovery suggested the insurgent was from the UK and followed news that RAF radio spies picked up Brummie accents while listening in on Taliban "chatter" over the airwaves.
These UK-born fighters arrive through the mountainous and sieve-like border from Pakistan - the same desolate, lawless region where Khyam and Khan received their bomb-making masterclass.
We've dealt with these same, unconfirmedand impossible to verify claims before. There probably are some Brits fighting in Afghanistan, but if there weren't fighting there, they probably would be somewhere else. In a way, this actually gives some credence to the claim that we're safer due to our presence in Afghanistan - fight those jihadists who want to do battle with their own countrymen outside the actual country rather than here. This isn't though the government's case - their case is that through defeating the Taliban and preventing al-Qaida from returning they're making us safer, which was dealt with somewhat above.
It is believed Khan filmed his "martyrdom" video in Pakistan. In it, he glares at the camera with his hatred of the West clearly evident and declares icily: "We are at war and I am a soldier."
Pakistan is the next link in the chain of terror. British jihadis receive not only weapons training there but are also further radicalised by preachers of hate at madrassas or religious schools.
Khan's fellow 7/7 murderer, Shehzad Tanweer, is said to have worshipped at Islamabad's notorious Red Mosque.
This is more nonsense - the idea that jihadists go to Pakistan to be "further radicalised" is specious. They wouldn't have gone in the first place if they weren't already somewhat committed to the cause. If anything, this further undermines the case for presence in Afghanistan: if all the radicalisation, training and hatred is going on in Pakistan, why are we in Helmand province? How does being there make us safer than stopping what goes on in Pakistan would?
We're then treated to some boilerplate rabble-rousing from a cleric whom Harvey had the privilege to meet:
The Islamist radicals in Afghanistan and Pakistan make no effort to disguise their aim to introduce Sharia law to Britain. In the dusty Pakistani town of Kahuta, a cleric was happy to tell me last year of his desire to bring beheadings and stonings to our shores.
Imam Qari Hifzur Rehamn, 60 said of Britain: "Non-believers must be converted to Islam. Morals in your society, with women wearing revealing clothes, have gone wrong.
"We want Islamic law for all Pakistan and then the world.
"We would like to do this by preaching. But if not then we would use force."
The Imam of the town's religious school, where kids as young as nine are taught jihad or holy war, added: "Adulterers should be buried in earth to the waist and stoned to death.
"Thieves should have their hands cut off. Women should remain indoors and films and pop music should be banned.
"Homosexuals must be killed - it's the only way to stop them spreading. It should be by beheading or stoning, which the general public can do."
Again, this fails to even begin to back up the case for our presence in Afghanistan. If Harvey had met this imam in that country perhaps he might have a point - but he didn't. The idea that those taught similar things are suddenly going to be any sort of threat to this country except as an irritant is ludicrous - if they can't even begin to impose their beliefs on Pakistan, how are they meant to do it in a country thousands of miles away?
But the US-led coalition has vowed to stop the radicals from governing the desperately poor nation again and fermenting an ideology of holy war against the West.
The final link in the jihadi chain is a return to Britain.
Khan slipped back into the UK in February 2005. Just five months later he detonated his rucksack bomb at Edgware Road Tube station, murdering six people.
On the sun-baked plains and river valleys of Helmand today, our forces - some just 18 - are locked in deadly combat with a resilient Taliban army.
The prize in this bloody war, and the legacy for those brave soldiers who have returned here to heroes' funerals, is to snap the chain of terror for good.
Except there is no such thing as a Taliban "army", just as there is no such thing as one Taliban. This so-called "chain of terror" cannot be snapped by an army based in just one province, with just less than 10,000 soldiers on the ground, in a country which has been at war for almost 30 years. It would require an army at least 10 times that size to have even the slightest chance of controlling the whole of Afghanistan, let alone Pakistan, which this piece invokes repeatedly. The Soviets had over 100,000 units on the ground post-1980 and they couldn't manage it. How can such a fragmented coalition as Nato currently is even begin to?
The article doesn't even begin to consider any alternatives, let alone any counter-arguments. It can be argued that our very presence in Afghanistan in fact makes us less safe: it makes us a target for reprisals whereas if we were not involved we would not be. 9/11 and 7/7 did not occur in vacuums; they did not happen simply because "they hate us". The chain of terror would have breaks in it if we did not involve ourselves in battles in which we have no dog in. It would not completely remove the threat, but it would decrease it exponentially. That the Sun doesn't even start to imagine the opposing side even exists speaks volumes.
Thanks to my glorious religious upbringing, an upbringing so successful that instead of inculcating the fear of God in me it instead made me a God mocker, I can't approach the "terror threat level-o-meter" without thinking of Revelation. It brings to mind the four horsemen, the seven seals, the pouring of bowls, the moon turning to blood, the whore of Babylon and the 1,000 year reign. There are, of course, dozens of different interpretations of Revelation, as well as those that dismiss it as either the hallucinations of a madman or drug-inspired similar visions. I, belonging to a well-known sect which preach expressly that the end is nigh, was only taught the strictly literal interpretation; indeed, there is an entire book dedicated to "understanding" Revelation, which was relatively recently updated to take account of "changes" to the interpretation. Also connected in is the "King of the North and King of the South", both of which are mentioned in Daniel, and also taken literally. During the Cold War the King of the North was Russia, while the South was the United States, or rather the "Anglo-American" world power; since the Soviet Union's collapse they have hedged their bets and said they don't yet know who the King of the North will be.
Some of the more independently theorising members (something which itself is not often encouraged) believe that the King of the North may yet turn out to be radical Islam. This fits in with the belief that the Wild Beast of Revelation 13:1-18 is the United Nations, and that at some point in the near future the United Nations, probably prompted by war between the South and North, will attempt to eradicate all religion except for the chosen sect, which will then be turned on once all other belief has been stamped out, heralding the beginning of Armageddon proper. That this entire utterly bizarre interpretation gives the United Nations the sort of power which some of its members could only dream of, and that members of the UN keep attempting to get it recognise religious defamation as well as the other varieties makes no difference to the true believers: it's simply going to happen.
Waiting for the apocalypse and for the four horsemen to appear is much like the sort of belief required to think that the brown trousers-o-meter actually means something. In a long predicted move, the level of threat has been lowered from "severe" to "substantial", although why has not been explained. In fact, those making the decision have gone out of their way to say that there'll be no change in actual resources being used to ensure that the level doesn't have to rise, and that rather gives the impression that they're doing it simply because you can't in a democracy where there hasn't been an attack in four years forever keep up the impression that exploding Muslims are just around the corner or over the hill. Even politicians and terrorism "experts" eventually get weary of maintaining that the sky is perpetually dark, and that death, famine, war and conquest will soon be clippity-clopping along the High St.
You can't however not notice that it still is a step change from the last few years, where scaremongering was the order of the day and where there was talk of 30 plots and 2,000 individuals ready to heed their own call of duty. What's happened to those 30 plots and those 2,000 individuals? Few of those plots have been publicly broken up, as we're sure to have heard about them had they been, and while the courts have been relatively busy dealing with those charged with terrorism "offences", the numbers don't come close to the magic round number which was pushed around. It might simply be that like the intelligence which suggested that Pakistani students were ready to go with their own attack, it was wrong; it might be that the security services are telling lies, having enjoyed years of plenty after their own years of famine which were the mid-90s; or a cynical "expert" on the BBC suggests it might be to underline just how fabulously the troops in Afghanistan are doing in protecting us from terrorists here, yet not even the politicians themselves believe their own lie, and Gordon Brown has after all said himself that the crucible of terrorism is Pakistan, not Afghanistan.
Whatever the reason, it's one we should embrace, even if the "threat level", then not publicly declared, was similarly lowered before 7/7 occurred. Now that the threat isn't so severe, any further legislation on terrorism should be even more rigorously opposed, and the target should be set on repealing control orders, bringing the detention limit back to 14 days, lifting the Kafkaesque ban on some "suspects" not being informed of the evidence against them, and campaigning for investigations into our role in rendition and the potential "outsourcing" of torture. Fear, whether it's of the end of the world or of terrorism, is what makes numerous individual worlds go round.
As for the worst comment piece, we are spoilt for choice. There's Toby Young, who doesn't think much of Bruno, and who fails to realise that it's not just satire, but also spoof (Brass Eye's paedophile special comes to mind, which the lacking in humour also were disgusted with), the Sun's leader comment, which is at its scaremongering and Muslim-bashing best even when it's praising them:
Who could possibly have portrayed all Muslims as fanatics, I wonder?
Winner though yet again has to be Amanda Platell, who can't help but compare the stiff upper lip of two mourning women with that of our politicians, cowardly spineless bastards who are leaving our brave boys to die by penny-pinching, and then also declares that Iain Duncan Smith has proved that marriage is the be all and end all, and anyone that disagrees is simply biased. Oh, and then there's her "hilarious" gag that she didn't realise that Hazel Blears had left the country (the smallest bird, geddit?) before finally ending by ridiculing Harriet Harman. Also be interesting to know how much Platell gets for her dirges, considering she criticises Boris Johnson for getting £250,000 for his column.
All of which is remarkably sane when compared to his previous activities within the UK section of the 9/11 Truth Movement, where he wasn't just someone who believed that it was an inside job, but that there weren't any planes involved at all:
It's that time of year again when the press, politicians and fools like me with too much time on their hands try to make sense of the 195 page Crime in England and Wales document (PDF), which contains both the results of the British Crime Survey and the police's own records. For those unfamiliar, the two compliment each other: the BCS ensures that offences not reported to the police are still recognised, while the police's figures are especially authoritative when it comes to the most serious crimes, as well as providing a snapshot, in these New Labour days of targets, of what they're currently being ordered to focus on.
Both the BCS and police figures, predictably then, show a decline. Violent crime fell by 4% on the BCS, although it was not statistically significant, while it fell by a further 6% according to the police figures, accelerating the falls of last year. As for those all important knife crime figures, apart from a statistically insignificant rise of 1% on the BCS where knives were used in violent incidents, it fell again on all the main measures with one further exception, as it did last year, despite the media coverage which gave the impression that every teenager walking the streets was tooled up and waiting to shank the first person they came across. Murders involving knives declined from 270 to 252, although attempted murders went up slightly from 245 to 271. Robberies involving knives similarly declined from 17,058 to 16,701. Admissions to hospital as a result of assault by sharp object, recorded by the NHS, also fell by 8%. Likewise, gun crime also declined, according to the police figures, by 17%. Firearm injuries also fell by 46%.
Crime as a whole, depending on which you prefer, has either remained stable, according to the BCS, or declined by 5% according to the police's figures. The most interesting differences, and perhaps most revealing, are on burglaries, theft from the person and robbery. Most presumed as a result of the recession that such "property" crime was likely to rise, with those who were previously just making ends meet perhaps being forced into far more desperate measures. Instead, if you were to rely just on the police figures, the only very slight confirmation of that "known known" was that burglaries rose by a not statistically significant 1%, although across the country the figures vary massively. The BCS however, while confirming that burglaries remained stable over the past year, found that there was a 25% rise in theft from the person, compared to a 12% decline in the police's figures, with robbery also down by 5%. The figures on bicycle theft perhaps explain the difference: the BCS saw a 22% rise, while the police figure remained stable. It seems that most no longer expect the police to do anything about the theft of a bike, and that they'll also expect they'll never see it again regardless, hence they don't bother to report it. Other explanations are that some don't report the likes of pickpocketing because they're too embarrassed to do so, or by the time they realise they've been robbed think there isn't a point in doing so. Clearly however this is a cause for concern: it's these life affecting sort of thefts that most influence a person's view of crime, and if people don't believe the police can do anything about them their entire faith in the system is liable to break down.
As last year, the impression of the public when it comes to crime is hugely at odds with the statistics. 75% this year believed that crime had increased nationally, while only 36% thought that it had increased locally. Similarly, 51% thought that they lived in an area with lower than average crime, 39% thought they were about average while only 11% thought the crime in their area was higher than nationally. Even more striking were the figures when it came to knife and gun crime: 93% thought the former had gone up nationally, incredibly unsurprisingly, while 86% believed the latter had. In fact, as we have seen, both had fallen, but you can hardly blame anyone for thinking the opposite when there was so much attention on the number of youth murders in London, which now seem to have been a blip (although the schools only break up this week), however distressing and troubling a blip.
All of this just reinforces the fact that when tabloids, especially the likes of the Sun portray the country and especially the cities as places where the "yob" is in charge or "mob rule" pervades, all they do is make people ever more fearful for no good reason. The chances of becoming a victim of crime remain historically low, even though it increased this year from the lowest since the BCS began of 22% to 23%, down from 40% at its peak. While we shouldn't be complacent, it remains the case that unless we want even more radical policies, either liberalisation (i.e. drug decriminalisation) or an increase in draconian punishments, the crime rate now looks likely to have stabilised, and the scaremongering accordingly ought to be brought into touch.