Wednesday, September 30, 2009 

Scum-watch: Don't know what you've got till it's gone.

They must have known it was coming, but the defection of the Sun back to the Tories after 12 years of "supporting" Labour has still quite clearly shook Labour. While the paper's representatives claim that it was yesterday's speech that finally confirmed they could no longer support the party, it's been obvious that the switch has been coming ever since last year's Conservative conference, when it gave David Cameron the sort of positive coverage he must have dreamed of. Since then the paper has been overwhelmingly anti-Labour without necessarily being anti-Brown. Some of the signs have been slight: calling Cameron "prime minister" when he was invited onto the paper's recently launched piss-poor online radio show was one, but the demand for an immediate general election earlier in the year was far less guarded.

The final nail in Brown's coffin was more than likely David Cameron's decision during his speech on quangos to focus almost solely on Ofcom, the regulator which is currently investigating whether Sky has an unfair stranglehold on the pay-TV market. With Cameron's culture secretary making menacing noises towards the BBC, which the Murdochs have all but declared war on due to the fact that their news websites simply can't compete with the far superior corporation offerings, it's clear that the Murdochs can now trust Cameron not to hurt their businesses just as they once trusted Tony Blair not to. That's the first condition of Murdochian support filled; the second is that you're going to win, and few are willing to bet anything other than a Conservative victory come next year.

It's still curious then that the paper has come out so decisively for the Tories when there is still plenty of time for anything to happen. The paper, after all, didn't swap sides until March in 97, when the Labour victory was already in the bag. As unlikely as it currently seems that there could yet be a fourth Labour term, it's not the first time that Murdoch's papers have got it wrong recently: the New York Post endorsed McCain last year. As a comfort, it's unlikely to warm the hearts of the Labour leadership.

More likely to do so is that the Sun is no longer the behemoth that it once was. While gaining the support of the Sun has always been second to gaining the support of Rupert Murdoch, the other major reason why Blair and Alastair Campbell entered into the original pact with the devil was, as Campbell said himself, he was never going to allow the Labour leader's head to be in a light-bulb on the front page on voting day again. While actual support for a political party from a newspaper on voting day has little to no impact whatsoever on the votes cast, it was the constant demonisation, undermining and ridicule which Kinnock was subject to, especially in the tabloid press, that helped to ensure he never became prime minister. The key difference today is that the Sun is no longer the attack dog it once was; while the paper ostensibly supported the Tories up until March 97, Kelvin MacKenzie famously told John Major after Black Wednesday that he had a bucket of shit and that the next morning he was going to pour it all over his head. MacKenzie might still be a columnist, and the likes of Bob Ainsworth might now be the person having a bucket of shit thrown over him repeatedly, but unlike back in 97, the media has now diversified to such an extent that the paper doesn't have the hold it once did. If anything, the paper has overplayed both its hand and its influence: it is still feared and respected mainly because of its former reputation rather than because of what it currently is.

One of the many repeated myths spouted today by those who deal in clichés is that the Sun follows its readers rather than getting its readers to follow it. Perhaps at times they get surprised by the strength of reaction, but this is a newspaper that wraps itself in what it thinks its readers want as defence against criticism, as a reassurance that it's what they want, and finally to tell them that because they're saying they want it, then it must be true. If anything the Sun is probably one of those newspapers which has the least loyal readership: the circulation of the broads, while falling, has not changed hugely since the advent of the internet; the tabloids, with the exception of the Mail and the Daily Star, have seen theirs fall massively. At one point the Sun dropped below the 3 million sales mark, triggering an almost panic-stricken price cut. Even with its lower circulation, the Daily Mail now almost certainly sets the agenda far more often than the Sun does.

This didn't of course stop the love affair between Blair and the paper, which remained to the advantage of both. For Blair, always determined to annoy the left of his party while reaching out to the cherished middle Britain, it served a double purpose. For the paper, it meant exclusives of even the most banal significance: Piers Morgan in his diaries was furious on a number of occasions about the access which the Sun got while the Mirror was shut out, most famously when someone (probably Cherie herself) told Rebekah Wade that the Blairs were having another baby, a story which Morgan believed was to be a Mirror exclusive. It meant obscene cooperation between the two, including policy stitch-ups involving asylum seekers. While New Labour and the Sun's politics may not look close at first examination, both shared, indeed share a contempt for civil liberties and an unaccountable lust for social authoritarianism, even if Blair could never come close to putting the paper's demands into action. On foreign policy, the two were inseparable: the Sun has always believed that might is right, and the fact that Blair dressed up his wars in the language of "liberal interventionism" only made them even more attractive.

Arguably, there have only been two occasions when Labour genuinely needed the support of the Murdoch press. Without the unstinting loyalty of all Murdoch's organs between the Iraq war and up to the end of the Hutton inquiry, there was still a possibility that Blair could have been forced out. In 2005 the paper all but abandoned the party except over Blair's wars. The real reason why remains Murdoch's certainty that the war was going to lead to oil at $20 a barrel, something that has not even come close to reality. The other occasion, is, well, now. Just when the party needs support, it loses it. This was the especially brutal part of the Sun's sudden but long in coming decision, knowing full well that it was not just kicking someone while they were down, it was the equivalent of a desecration of a corpse. Any hope that there might be the slightest boost from Brown's speech has been neutralised. David Cameron really must be delighted with the outcome, and again, this only highlights exactly why he's installed Andy Coulson as his very own Alastair Campbell.

As for the Sun's actual supposed reasons and dossier of "Labour failure", they're mostly so flimsy as to be not even worth bothering with. The dossier puts together often completely irrelevant data, and when it doesn't, it naturally cherry picks the information it relies on. On justice the paper absurdly highlights the cost of legal aid, as if the giving those who can't afford it access to briefs was a bad thing. It highlights the rise in alcohol tax receipts since 97 without pointing out this might be something to do with err, the rise in tax on it and not just increased sales. It compares the spending on police with the rise in deaths by stabbings, without mentioning that last year saw the lowest number of murders since the 80s. It also uses the 2007 figures rather than the 2008 ones, which saw a fall from 270 fatal stabbings to 252. Their data even directly contradicts some of the claims made in the leader, such as here:

But they FAILED on law and order, their mantra "tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime" becoming a national joke. Knife murders are soaring.

Their dossier shows that knife murders between 2006 and 2007 soared by, err, 1. In 2005 they were down to 219, then leapt in 2006 to 269, only two more than there were in 2002. As pointed out above, fatal stabbings were down to 252 in 2008, hence proving the editorial completely wrong. The weapon used should be irrelevant: it's that there are murders, not that one particular weapon is used. The idiocy continues:

Smirking criminals routinely walk free in the name of political correctness, while decent people live in a virtual police state of snooping cameras and petty officials empowered to spy and to punish.

The idea that criminals walk free in the name of political correctness is so ludicrous as to be not worth dealing with, while if there is a virtual police state, it was the Sun that helped create it. When has it ever opposed more CCTV cameras or more state powers? Answer: never.

Most disgracefully of all, Labour FAILED our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, leaving them to die through chronic under-funding and the shambolic leadership of dismal Defence Secretaries like Bob Ainsworth.

Again, their dossier shows that spending on defence has risen year on year. The real people who failed our troops in Iraq were those who demanded they be sent in in the first place, but the Sun has never pointed its finger at itself. It wasn't those fighting them that left them to die, but then it also clearly wasn't Baby P's parents that killed him. It was instead the system:

Billions blown employing a useless layer of public service middle-managers like those who condemned Baby P to die.

Everything about this leader is backward looking, trying to turn the country back to halcyon days which never existed. Murdoch, despite his Australian-American citizenship, is a nationalist wherever his newspapers are. Loyal in China, neo-conservative in America and anti-Europe here, he somehow imagines that if only we were to spend more on defence and give the troops what they "need", they'd instantly "win". This doesn't of course apply to anyone else, but this is the kind of outlook we're dealing with. The leader concludes with:

If elected, Cameron must use the same energy and determination with which he reinvigorated the Tory Party to breathe new life into Britain.

That means genuine, radical change to encourage self-improvers, not wasting time on internal party wrangling or pandering to the forces of political correctness. It also means an honesty and transparency of Government that we have not seen for years.

We are still a great people and, put to the test, will respond to the challenges we face.

The Sun believes - and prays - that the Conservative leadership can put the great back into Great Britain.

Sub-Churchillian jingoism which turns the stomach. This is the relationship which Labour is crying and angry about losing today, to such an extent that it seems to have almost made Gordon Brown walk out on an interview. Labour never needed the Sun, but now it doesn't know what it had.

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Farce, then tragedy.

Last year, when Sarah Brown, clearly nervous, stood up in front of the Labour conference and introduced her husband's address, what was clearly an attempt to deflect criticism was viewed sympathetically, mainly as it was still by no means certain that he would be in the job for much longer after it. As it turned out, the speech, probably now best remembered for his put down of both Cameron and Miliband by saying it was "no time for a novice" was just about good enough to secure his leadership, at least until the disastrous local and European election results earlier this year where another major wobble took place.

This year, Sarah Brown's appearance before Brown's speech, far from performing the role it was meant to, simply exaggerated the extended tragedy which has been his reign. What other response could there possibly be to her description of Gordon as "her hero"? Again, she was intended to act as a prophylactic, protecting him from scathing criticism. You can get away with doing this once; do it twice and you start to look cowardly, and this from the man trying to ram books about "courage" down our necks.

You can though understand why they wanted history to repeat. If last year's speech by Brown did just enough, then this year's didn't even come close. You can't deny that Brown delivered it with plenty of brio, hardly falling into the stereotype of someone so depressed and flailing that he needs to be on archaic, strong medication, but it was the content that so bitterly let him down. To call it a speech would, like Nick Clegg's effort last week, probably be insulting the medium itself. There was no theme, no connection. One of the first things you're taught when it comes to writing essays is that they must have an introduction, a middle and a conclusion, something which applies equally to public speaking. The latest innovation it seems when it comes to speeches by political leaders is to throw such outdated notions out of the window: no one other than wonks is going to listen to or read the things in full anyway, so you might as well just talk about one thing after the other, regardless of any connection between them until you've finished. Brown goes from the economy to attacking the Conservatives to the greatness of those ubiquitous "hard-working families" to the public services to back to attacking the Conservatives again, all of it wholly unconvincing.

This conference, if it is about anything, seems to be a collective gnashing of teeth that they have ever saw fit to defenestrate Tony Blair. Yesterday we saw the party finally falling in love with Mandelson, the nearest it now has to the great man himself. Brown, knowing that the last thing he can be is Blair, instead decided to emulate his policies. All those things we thought we'd seen the last of, such as the pointless counter-productive populism on "anti-social behaviour" are suddenly back as if they never went away. Sure, there were a few bones here thrown in an attempt to buy off those who had hoped that Brown would lead the party left-wards, the most obvious and also best example being the great believer in free markets suddenly deciding that the "right wing fundamentalism that says you just leave everything to the market and says that free markets should not just be free but values free" was wrong, but no one believes for a second that Brown intends to act on what he says in this area. Most disturbing was what some have already monikered as "gulags for slags", the shared housing for pregnant 16 and 17-year-olds, rather than putting them up in a council flat. Not only does this buy into a myth, that all you need to do is get pregnant while a teenager and you'll be set up for a life, but that also accidentally becoming pregnant when you're over the age of consent but not yet 18 is something that you should be punished for, not to mention considered to be too stupid or feckless to be able to look after the child either on your own or with the help of your own family without the state barging in. This sense of false victimhood and resentment against those "who will talk about their rights, but never accept their responsibilities" permeated an entire section of the speech. This just illustrates how successful the tabloids have been as painting Labour as friends only of immigrants and single mothers, and how the incredible idea that it's now the white middle classes who are the most discriminated against has become mainstream.

If the idea of "gulags for slags" is chilling, in much the same way was Brown's declaration that "whenever and wherever there is antisocial behaviour, we will be there to fight it." It's worth remembering that the main indicator for so-called antisocial behaviour is not shouting at people on the street or the kind of low-level thuggery over an extended period which the Pilkingtons suffered, but teenagers daring to congregate together in public, doing nothing other than talking to each other. In some senses we've regressed past the Victorian dictum that children should be seen and not heard; now we don't want them even to be seen. Yet this war on childhood in general is, we are told, incredibly popular in focus groups, hence why it's back on the agenda. It doesn't matter that if you focus grouped bringing back capital punishment or permanently chipping sex offenders you'd also doubtless get an immensely favourable response, if a representative sample of the hoi polloi wants it, they'll get it. Or rather, they'll be told they're getting it, as that seems to be just as good as getting it.

On everything other than bringing back the Blair agenda, it was the tiniest most pathetic gestures which were the order of the day. ID cards won't then be made compulsory over the next parliament; MPs guilty of gross misconduct will be able to be recalled; and there'll be a commitment in the manifesto for a referendum on the alternative vote, the most piss-poor non-proportional system of voting other than first past the post. There was no vision here, no adjustment to the world as it is now is, just a repetition of past glories which the electorate are supposed to bask in and so reach the conclusion that the Conservatives would only mess it all up. This was exactly the stance they took in 1997: New Labour, New Danger, you can only be sure with the Conservatives. They were already doomed, but it doomed them even further. In line with that year, tomorrow the Sun declares that Labour has blown it, just as it switched support from the Tories back then. Marx it seems had it backwards: in this instance history is repeating itself, but as tragedy after farce.

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Monday, September 28, 2009 

The spirit as weak as the flesh in Brighton

Far be it from me, an inhabitant of a concrete hell which culture seems to have passed by, to suggest that this nation's seaside towns tend to be inclement at best and downright depressing at worst during the autumn and winter months, but perhaps the weather in Brighton, especially at night, is in tune with the Labour party's collective mood. This is, after all, according to no less a person than Alistair Darling, a party that seems to have lost the will to live, which no longer has the fire in its belly, and for which everyone from the top to the bottom, has a responsibility.

This theme, that the party is sleepwalking to a defeat next year which could finish it as an electoral force, has become so familiar that it's almost beginning to border on the cliche, and it's one which this blog has not exactly challenged. It is one however that the opinion polls are hardly contradicting, the latest showing Labour equal pegging with the Liberal Democrats on a shockingly low 23%. It's still worth remembering that Labour took 27% of the vote in 1983, the year incidentally in which both Blair and Brown were elected to parliament. The "longest suicide note in history", although one which deserves reappraisal, delivered a higher percentage of support than Labour would currently receive. Only those most in loathe with the last 12 years would suggest that's all that the party currently deserves.

No one seriously expects that Labour will be fighting with the Liberal Democrats for third largest party status in 12 months time. The threat is however that the party could be reduced to its long established bases of support, but even these, on an extremely pessimistic reading of the runes, seem to be in trouble. Wales, the historic bedrock of Labour support, seems to be within the grasp of the Conservatives. According to a Financial Times poll last week, the Tories have a 4 point lead in the north, while in Scotland the party is instead struggling with a Scottish National Party that despite the al-Megrahi backlash only seems to be growing stronger. This is coupled with as Dave Osler has identified, the party's loss of a generation. Amazing and frightening as it seems, those children and only just teenagers who were marching against the Iraq war alongside those of us who had only just gained the right to vote in 2003 will next year themselves be taking part in their first general election, and if they fight off the apathy, it seems doubtful they'll be putting an x in the box alongside the Labour candidate, nor will they in the years to come. Just as we promised ourselves we would never vote for the Tories, so they will have promised never to vote Labour. This poses a challenge which no one in either the Conservatives or Labour has even began to consider, let alone broach.

Looking at the hall in Brighton, many of the seats empty, even during Alistair Darling's speech (although that perhaps might be half the reason), the clapping lukewarm at best, it's hard not to infer that many don't have the stomach to even turn up, like at a Christmas party for a company that's shutting down in the new year. Then again, when the best that Darling could pull out of his hat was a "Fiscal Responsibility Act", designed to put in legal terms how the government intends to reduce the deficit, you do wonder whether involuntary euthanasia wouldn't be kinder for all involved. It really does sum New Labour up: its mania for legislation where none is necessary, that it is so shorn of trust that it has to do so to make sure that the public believes what it says while also no doubt being an attempt to tie the Tories' hands should they want to put certain areas of spending off limits.

Just when you think that things can't get any more absurd, up pops the former Prince of Darkness, who could now more appropriately be known as the Grand Wizard of Sunlight. Mandelson does not have a natural charisma, but what he does have, along with the self-regard, is the ability to reassure, which is what his role was today. In a way, his speech was about precisely nothing, even though he did announce an extension to the car scrappage scheme, but rather about enthusing those resigned with the unannounced theme of the conference, fighting back. Mandelson might have made the most ultimate of comebacks, but even his bounce back ability is hardly likely to infect the party as a whole. He has though made Brown's task tomorrow even more difficult. Brown's speech of 2003, his "Real Labour" opus, is now little more than the tiniest of memories. To go by the leaks, that Brown intends to go on the attack on crime and promises that most piss-weak of political battles, a live debate or debates with Cameron prior to the election, it seems that even Brown and his speech writers have given up the ghost. No longer is even the spirit willing, seeming to be just as weak as the flesh.

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Saturday, September 26, 2009 

Weekend links.

A fairly slow weekend considering the start of the Labour conference and the news concerning Iran. The Daily (Maybe) has some thoughts on the latter while Harpymarx examines Labour's descent into the sewer. Paul Linford is still wondering what their conference leaves the Lib Dems standing for, 5CC notes the month long plight of London assembly BNPer Richard Barnbrook for lying about murders, Justin remembers John Prescott as the feminist he has always strived to be, Dave Osler reflects on lessons from Northern Ireland, Paulie is perhaps a little too hopeful that the Tory reign won't last for long, Tom Freeman sees what passes for truth in broadcasting, Claude reviews the last Dispatches and the Third Estate does Chris Harman's Zombie Capitalism.

In the papers, or at least their sites, Matthew Parris thinks he knows why the Lib Dem "mansion tax" would be doomed to failure or revolt, Marina Hyde knows that the special relationship is only so to us, both Andrew Grice and Steve Richards preview the week coming in Brighton, Peter Oborne says the Lady Scotland debacle shows that Labour is incapable of cleaning up politics, and A.N. Wilson (yes, him) writes an actually humane piece on euthanasia. Polly Toynbee also drafts Gordon Brown's resignation speech for him, which the Heresiarch responds to.

As for the worst tabloid article, the only real contender this week is the usual, Amanda Platell, and by her standards she's not that bad this week. Just her bitchiness about what Miriam Clegg(?) was wearing, as well as someone nonsense about the BBC "banning" the word "gipsy" (surely gypsy, the word the tabloids avoid because of its protection under the Race Relations Act?):

Cleggs's divine wife Miriam arrived at conference in a masculine, sheer, white shirt and floppy black braces that kept slipping off her slim shoulders. Fashion faux pas or a blatant appeal to the lucrative lesbian vote?

Platell would of course know all about the "lucrative lesbian vote".

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Friday, September 25, 2009 

Patrick Mercer has some questions to answer.

The response of Patrick Mercer to Tim Ireland's publishing of an email showing that his office was still working with Glen Jenvey almost two months after the "TERROR TARGET SUGAR" story was shown to be entirely his own work is a classic example of a politician in a hole not knowing when to stop digging. After previously stating to the Guardian that his office had never worked with him, about as blatant a lie as it was possible to come up with, he's now arguing semantics over exactly what "working with his office" entailed.

Tim has now posted 10 questions for Mercer, ones which he seems unlikely to get an answer to:

1. Sometimes Jenvey's information checked out, and sometimes it didn't. Did you 'check out' the SUGAR IS TERROR REVENGE TARGET story of 7 January 2009 by looking at the evidence before The Sun published?

2. Did you 'check out' the SUGAR IS TERROR REVENGE TARGET story of 7 January 2009 by looking at the evidence published at Bloggerheads.com (after The Sun had published)?

3. Regardless of the perceived reliability of that evidence, did you then and do you now hold the view expressed by The Sun to the PCC that "sending polite letters" is "obviously a euphemism" for something far more sinister if/when published on Ummah.com (on the basis that it is a "fanatics website")?

4. At what stage (and on which date) did you first realise that Jenvey had indeed fabricated the evidence used by The Sun to allege the presence of extremism at Ummah.com, and the active targeting of named celebrities?

5. What was it that finally caused your office to part company with Jenvey? Was it the above discovery, you becoming personally aware of Glen Jenvey's false claim that his accuser was a convicted paedophile, or something else?

6. Was there ever any stage after you regarded your professional relationship to be over that your office continued working with Glen Jenvey (i.e. in a manner akin to the recently-released email to The People newspaper), but without your knowledge?

7. What disciplinary action (if any) was taken against the staff members who (maybe) worked with Jenvey against your wishes, (perhaps) did not show you relevant 'Sugar' evidence or (definitely) did not alert you to Jenvey's false accusations of paedophilia? What corrective measures (if any) were made to your procedures to avoid a similar compromising breakdown of communication?

8. You appear to be claiming that the quote used by The Sun in their letter to the PCC is now at least two years old. How old was it when The Sun used it (on 27 January 2009)?

9. Did The Sun check with you before using that quote in their letter to the PCC?

10. While they do conflict, you have released public statements about the severing of your relationship with Glen Jenvey. However, there is no statement on record about you severing links with another former associate and amateur 'terror expert' Dominic Wightman, and he appears to be suggesting that still support him. If you no longer have a professional/working relationship with Dominic Wightman, on what date did you sever links with him, and why was this decision taken?


All while this has been going on Tim has been the victim of a smear campaign, first by Jenvey himself, and now by Dominic Wightman, as well as by others who have been touting his home address around Twitter. You might well want to let your own MP know about what some high profile Tories have been involved in.

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Thursday, September 24, 2009 

A very underwhelming conference.

As conferences go, the Liberal Democrats' visit to Bournemouth was not exactly a resounding success. To be sure, as Martin Kettle suggests, anything that brings the party to wider public attention, however fleeting, helps. When 60% don't know who Nick Clegg is, according to a Newsnight poll, a figure which probably suits him down to the ground, you have to hope instead that it's your policies rather than your personality that makes the waves.

It was those policies, naturally, which came just as unstuck as both Clegg and Vince Cable did over the week. It's understandable when we're still either eight or nine months away from the election and when the political theme of the moment is how to get the deficit down with the smallest amount of pain, but surely Clegg and co realised that talking of "savage cuts" to the Guardian wasn't going to go down well? To then increase the pain by taking the sacred cow of abolishing tuition fees and downgrading it to an "aspiration" was surely asking for trouble, or as much trouble as the staid bunch of yellowshirts can manage, which, predictably, was a letter to the self-same Graun.

The standard defence of this rather amicable difference of opinion within the party is that the Liberals are the only remaining of the main three parties which actually decides its policies at conference democratically. This doesn't however explain the bewildering failure of either Clegg or Cable to inform Julia Goldsworthy of the new "mansion tax" policy, despite it firmly being her turf, nor does it then help us to understand why the party didn't know how it was actually meant to work. This wouldn't perhaps be unusual when it comes to either the government or the opposition, responding to a headline with a policy drawn up on the back of the proverbial cigarette packet or dinner napkin, with the details to follow later, but this was the party that usually has it all worked out in advance.

Part of the reason seems to be down to Clegg and Cable thinking that they can run the party as their own fiefdom, buoyed by their overwhelming popularity. You can hardly blame dear old Vince for some of the hype going to his head, but Clegg has hardly done anything to justify such delusions of grandeur. Last year Clegg's closing speech was underwhelming; this year it was completely dismal. To call it a speech might even be awarding it an adjective it doesn't deserve, as Clegg seemed to take the very worst tendencies which overwhelmed the utterances of Tony Blair, such as beginning a new paragraph when he was only starting the next sentence as well as the vacuity of the seemingly endless statements of facts and pseudo-beliefs, and combining it with the personal feel that David Cameron attempts to emulate and dismally fails to. Hence Nick wants to be prime minister, not like the Tories because they believe that they're entitled to it as their time has come again, but because he's on our side, not the side of the "others". When it comes to platitudes made to seem inspiring, wanting to be on the side of the weak rather than the strong is not exactly stirring stuff.

When attacking Labour, especially accusing them of betraying the best hopes of a generation, there was some power in amongst the placidness, but it was few and far between. Easily the worst combination, already being much mocked, was Clegg's espousal of a "progressive austerity". When Cameron and Osborne talk of austerity, it sticks in the craw because you know that not once in their entire lives have they had to experience anything approaching "austerity", yet they delight and seem almost excited at imposing it upon the country. Clegg somehow imagines that by cloaking this austerity in the verbiage of wonky ideology that we won't notice that he in fact seems to be telling us that he was to makes things, err, progressively worse. It's perhaps not the greatest example, but an Alastair Campbell would have seen that nonsense on stilts in the text and sliced it out in a second. Clegg instead just ended up looking like a flatulent prat.

This has less to do with the Liberal Democrats not being a serious alternative, and more to do with the electoral reality which makes them look not a serious alternative. Yet this week should have helped to cement the deal with those flirting with the party, while those paying attention will have likely only been further confused. We used to know what the Lib Dems stood for, just as we used to know what Labour and the Conservatives stand for; no longer. They remain the best, most viable alternative to the apparent foregone conclusion which is a Conservative electoral victory, but they seem to be going out of their way to lose votes rather than win them.

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Wednesday, September 23, 2009 

Scum-watch: Going "soft" on perverts.

If there was ever a chance that Dominic Mohan would be less overbearing compared to his predecessor when it comes to the protection of children, then that's gone out the window with today's "exclusive" claim that a "[Q]uarter of pervs go free", as alluded to on the front page. The actual article, by Brian Flynn, has to be one of the least illuminating and most lazy examples of supposed investigative journalism in quite some time:

THE Sun can today reveal how Britain's soft justice system allows hundreds of child sex fiends to escape court action.

In a special investigation, we found more than a quarter of child abusers are let off with a caution by cops.

The shock figures emerged in responses by 33 police forces to Freedom of Information demands by The Sun.


This then is a method which has been previously pioneered by the mid-market tabloids, where they submit FoI requests to the country's police forces, not all of which reply, with an article to write already in mind. Both the Express and the Mail have used this to supposedly show how many "foreigners" are either committing murders or rapes in this country, and has been dealt with in the past by 5CC. Those requests though have been much narrower in scope to this one, and also far better defined and explained. The Sun's request, presumably, as it is never properly outlined, is for the numbers of individuals who have been charged and cautioned with "sexual and physical abuse offences against kids", their best description, not mine. This understandably covers a whole multitude of sins, some, but which by no means all, are covered in this document explaining the changes which came in under the Sexual Offences Act 2003.

To start off with, only 33 forces have responded when there are 44 in total, so the statistics are by no means complete. Here though are the shock figures:

In total, 8,043 people who committed sexual and physical abuse offences against kids were charged in the year to April, while 2,764 were given a caution.

Just to illustrate that these 2,764 given a caution hardly cover the most serious offences, the paper then gives the only breakdown in actual offences in the entire piece:

Even beasts who rape under-age children can get just a ticking off. The statistics included 20 who raped girls under 16 and eight who attacked young boys.

So only 28 who admitted to rape were given a caution. For someone to only be given a caution for such a serious crime, especially against a child, there has to be significant mitigating circumstances. One of these is explained in the above document on the Sexual Offences Act 2003: since the act was passed, anyone under 12, regardless of whether they consented to sex or not, is considered to have been raped if they take part in any sexual activity involving penetration. This still applies even if the person they have sex with is 13 or below the age of consent themselves. Since it's hardly in the public interest to prosecute to the full extent of the law young children for such serious offences, a caution will often be the best option. The changes in the law were additionally not meant to be used when, for example, a 15-year-old consents to sex with a 17-year-old, unless there was abuse or exploitation involved, but this is not always the case, hence a caution will again sometimes be given. Other examples of where a caution will be considered the better option will be where the offence involved a member of the family of the victim, which the SOA expanded to include step-family members and others. The Sun also adds its own explanations as to why a caution rather than a prosecution will sometimes be best option:

Legal sources said reasons for the caution option include victims not wanting to go through a court process, perhaps if the attacker was a family member.

Evidence could also be flimsy, meaning a fiend could get off whereas under a caution guilt is assured. But one source said: "It must always be a last option."


Well, precisely, and the Sun has provided no evidence whatsoever that suggests this isn't the case. All it has done is present some out of context figures with no information whatsoever as to what offences have actually been committed, which would help us to ascertain whether a caution is a reasonable end result to the offence or not. It's also provided no comparison figures as to whether the number of cautions has actually gone up or down year on year, which would further help to show whether or not this is a change in policy and genuine further evidence of it being a mockery of Labour "being tough on crime". In short, it's a typical piece of tabloid journalism, so flimsy that as soon as you look at it in any detail you notice that it's coming apart at the seams. It's an example of doing the very bare minimum as an attempt to prove an already held hypothesis.

This is without even considering the Sun's leader column on the subject:

SHOCKING figures show one in four proven child abusers - including child rapists -- get off with a caution. That means almost 3,000 known paedophiles are on the loose - many of them likely to re-offend.

The Sun presents nothing whatsoever that justifies calling those given a caution paedophiles, and it also hasn't the slightest basis for claiming that "many of them" are likely to re-offend. This is just base scaremongering using the terms which are most likely to cause fear in both children and adults.

Raping girls under 16 - or even gang-raping a boy - goes virtually unpunished.

Except the article shows that only 28 cases of rape out of a total of 10,807 offences were concluded with a caution - we can't even tell how many cases of rape were prosecuted as the Sun doesn't provide us with those figures. That's hardly going virtually unpunished. The Sun does however have an explanation:
But there is a culture of idle incompetence at the very top - with both politicians and police chiefs. The message from on high is: Jails are full so turn a blind eye.

This is abject nonsense. The jails being full has very little to no influence whatsoever on the CPS deciding who to prosecute and who to not. The courts and judges may indeed be influenced by lack of space when it comes to passing sentence, but the CPS simply decides on the merits and circumstances of the case. The possibility of prison doesn't enter into it.

This stunning failure of justice is a crime in itself.

And innocent children pay the price.


As will innocent children and adults who believe the fearmongering which the Sun fails to even begin to back up.

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Well, that's that then.

A to scale approximation of the apology compared to the original story.

Another week, another "apology" from the Sun over their disastrous in retrospect "TERROR TARGET SUGAR" story:

OUR story on January 7 about a 'hit list' of top British Jews on the website Ummah.com was based on claims by Glen Jenvey who last week confessed to duping several newspapers and Tory MP Patrick Mercer by fabricating stories about Islamic fundamentalism.Following Mr Jenvey's confession, we apologise to Ummah.com for the article which we now accept was inaccurate.

In the pantheon of apologies, this is hardly the most contrite or convincing of ones. It also gives next to no context: what in the article was inaccurate about Ummah.com? The nearest suggestion we get is that Islamic fundamentalism was involved. Anyone wanting to know more would have to search or go to the Press Complaints Commission's site to find out what the actual complaint was about:

A representative of www.ummah.com complained that an article had inaccurately suggested that the website was a forum for Islamic extremists. The story was based largely on the views of a ‘terror expert' named Glen Jenvey who expressed serious concerns about the website. The piece quoted a number of comments posted on ummah.com and suggested that extremists were seeking to ‘target' well-known British Jews. The complainant said that Mr Jenvey's claims were unfounded and that there was, in fact, some evidence that he himself had posted the quoted comments in order to create the story.

Resolution:

The PCC's investigation, launched in January 2009, had to be placed on hold for a period of time because of a concurrent, related legal action. However, on 13 September, Glen Jenvey confessed publicly that he had, indeed, posted the comments on ummah.com which became the basis for the Sun's story. He admitted having deceived various media outlets, individuals and organisations. Mr Jenvey's confession was reported by the Sun on 15 September. In light of this development, the PCC re-opened its enquiries into the complaint from the representative of ummah.com. The complaint was resolved on 23 September when the Sun published the following apology under the heading ‘Ummah.com':

OUR story on January 7 about a ‘hit list' of top British Jews on the website Ummah.com was based on claims by Glen Jenvey who last week confessed to duping several newspapers and Tory MP Patrick Mercer by fabricating stories about Islamic fundamentalism. Following Mr Jenvey's confession, we apologise to Ummah.com for the article which we now accept was inaccurate.

The apology also appeared on the Sun's website.


In a way it's a shame that Ummah.com has accepted the Sun's apology, as the PCC will now consider the matter closed. Not accepting it and forcing the PCC to adjudicate and therefore comment further on the Sun's complete abandonment of normal journalistic practice, with the resulting adjudication then needing to be published in full by the paper would have been preferable, but it's understandable that Ummah.com didn't want to take it any further. One of the arguments that Graham Dudman used in his original letter to the PCC which completely defended the story was that Ummah.com in fact was, by anyone's standards, a "fanatics website", with a few select out of context quotes chosen to back up his allegation. Knowing the lack of backbone which the PCC repeatedly displays, they could well of taken this as a mitigating factor, even though the story turned out to be a tissue of lies and that all of Glen Jenvey's supposed credentials, which Dudman lists, were worthless.

The whole incident is though instructive of how the tabloids deal with such complaints. Even when an article which appeared on the front page and made such startling accusations and claims is shown to have been completely inaccurate, the only thing the paper has had to do in any form of reparation is publish the pathetic "clarification" at the top of this post, which was printed in the paper itself on page 12. Any casual reader would think that the Sun was the victim of Jenvey as much as Ummah.com was, when this could not be further from the actuality.

It remains to be seen where Alan Sugar's legal action against the paper will take us, although considering that they have now accepted that the "article was inaccurate", a settlement seems to be the most likely result. As for the others involved at the periphery, such as Conservative MP Patrick Mercer, Tim has just revealed information which shows despite Mercer's subsequent denials, his office had worked and was still working with Jenvey over a month and a half after the Sun's story was shown to most likely be Jenvey's own invention, this time attempting to get his handiwork into the People. The fallout from a front page tabloid newspaper story in early January seems likely to continue for some time yet.

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Tuesday, September 22, 2009 

Self-defence.

According to Mark Hughes, this is Craig Bellamy acting in "self-defence":


Arsene Wenger often gets criticised for being suspiciously myopic when it comes to incidents involving his players, but at least he doesn't see something completely different to what everyone else does.

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Monday, September 21, 2009 

The more things change, the more they stay the same, Liberal Democrat style.

It's a theme or cliché I've depended upon in the past, but sometimes the more things change the more they stay the same. A year ago some optimistic sorts thought that the banking crisis might lead to either the downfall of capitalism entirely or at least a softening of its edges; instead we've decided that socialism for the rich is here to stay, while the public sector and poor taking the pain is the order of the day. Likewise, some thought it was a historic opportunity for the left, the long-awaited crash which so many had predicted; instead the right is in the ascendant everywhere, with the exception perhaps of America where "change" came and went rather swiftly. Earlier in the year with the expenses scandal a few talked and hoped of a "new politics"; instead we're entering conference season and even though the theme of across the board cuts might be new, everything else is as tattered and torn always.

Hence I looked back at what I wrote last year about the Liberal Democrat conference. With a few slight edits and changes I could post it back up and I doubt anyone would be the wiser, not least because no one reads this toss anyway. The main difference is that Nick Clegg seems to want to establish his own motif of the times; he thinks, bless him, that this is a "liberal moment", although whether that's liberal with a lowercase or capital is not clear. A look at the polls suggests that this is in fact a begrudging Conservative with a capital C moment, with Cameron and pals now enjoying a 17-point lead over Labour. Last year I wrote that the Lib Dems were flat-lining at under 20% in the polls, and lo and behold, the Lib Dems are still flat-lining at under 20% in the polls a year later.

Politics, probably even more than life itself, isn't fair. If it was, then surely the Liberals would be doing better. Even if this isn't a "liberal moment", Vince Cable still shines as brightly as he did a year ago, and Clegg himself, while still hardly Charlie Kennedy, is making a much better fist as leader than previously. While the other parties bicker about what is to be cut, and don't even begin to broach the even more toxic topic of what taxes are going to have to rise, Cable and Clegg have set out to be both radical and upfront, something you would never accuse either Brown or Cameron of being. That doesn't however necessarily make them right, or even popular within their own party: while Clegg waxes lyrical to the Graun about how "savage" cuts are going to be necessary, the party's base is the one which is most resistant out of the three to those very cuts, instead preferring tax rises.

This not knowing the party's own support, or even directly attempting to alienate it seems puzzling at best. Ask someone with a little politics knowledge what the Lib Dems' three main policies are or were, and they'd probably tell you a 50p in the pound tax on those earning over £100,000 a year, the abolition of tuition fees and opposition to the Iraq war. The first is now long gone, the second is to be "delayed", and the party doesn't seem to know what to do over Afghanistan. Clegg's article with Paddy Ashdown in last week's Graun on the subject was a worthy effort, but "just a little more time and a desperately needed change in strategy" is hardly a vote winner. While locally the Liberal Democrats can trade on being themselves, nationally they are overly dependent, in England at least, on student populations which were more than easy to rally on both fees and Iraq. With the party now unclear on just what it will do on the former and equally opaque on foreign policy, they might have to trade on the fact that they're simply a better prospect than either Labour or the Tories, not the worst reason to vote for them, but not exactly a intellectual position.

The result seems to be that they're trying to please everyone, with the predictable result that everyone is instead slightly annoyed. Why after all should public sector workers have to suffer a pay freeze because of the failures of the private sector (the armed forces will apparently be exempt, interestingly, while they claim that only the pay total will be frozen, meaning that they'll be some redistribution presumably)? Why, just because the private sector is abandoning final salary pension schemes because they're only interested in the short-term, share prices and dividends (while the bosses of course still sit pretty) should the public sector have to follow suit? The idea that everyone should have to share the pain is repugnant. Then there's, much unlike the Liberal Democrats generally, the apparently not thought through at all "mansion tax", which although superficially attractive will undoubtedly breed resentment just as inheritance tax does, and also doubtless further prompt those who can to abandon their pads here and become non-doms rather than pay up. If the Lib Dems have in the past served as a place where policies are first thought up and then stolen by either Labour or the Tories, this one seems destined to be left well alone.

The main criticism which can be levelled against the Lib Dems in general though is that they seem to have no overall view of society as a whole. This seems to be less to do with woolly liberalism and more to do with how the party has concentrated for so long, first on tax and spend and Iraq, to now economics in general, with home affairs and the "spiritual" health of the nation taking a back seat as well as how they've been "embarrassed" in the past about conference debates on reducing the age at which you can buy pornography. For better or worse, we know that the Tories supposedly believe that society is broken, even though their solutions would probably atomise it even further. As far as I can recall the Lib Dems have made little to no response or criticism of this view, even when they are by far the best placed to do so. The Liberator, as noted by John Harris, summarises this beautifully:

"What is missing is a distinctive vision of the good society. This is a prerequisite for any successful political strategy. And it is imperative at an historic turning point such as now."

In fairness, such a vision is notoriously difficult to perfect. Thatcher managed it, even if she didn't create one or believe in it. Blair managed it. Brown has failed to, while Cameron is making an attempt. If Clegg and the Liberal Democrats could start to define one and then proselytise it effectively, they might able to paper over all the over cracks in their facade. They still remain the party which deserves to be given a chance, even as the spectre of a hung parliament begins to fade.

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Saturday, September 19, 2009 

Weekend links.

Back to the usual hodge-podge format this week. Lenin recalls the massacres of Sabra and Shatila, Dave Semple and Shiraz Socialist comment on the TUC's passing of a motion supporting certain actions against Israel, Bob Piper is fed up at getting Iain Dale's magazine through his door every month, Jamie also doubts whether the Tories will be better when it comes to civil liberties, Next Left defends Daniel Hannan while Dave Semple (again) distrusts the motives of Hannan and Douglas Carswell. Finally, Third Estate argues against capital punishment whilst also dismissing its opponents.

In the papers, or at least their sites, both Matthew Parris and Peter Oborne are a bit presumptuous regarding the rise and fall and then rise again of George Osborne, while in a Lib Dem special considering it's their conference, David Howarth claims only they will safeguard civil liberties, Polly Toynbee thinks it could be their moment if they go for Labour's jugular, and Andrew Grice says only well-defined policies can win them support, which I don't think has made much difference in the past. John Kampfner calls for the left to reclaim civil liberties, as if the genuine left (or at least the libertarian left) hasn't always opposed Labour's authoritarianism, while Mark Thompson himself makes an excellent riposte to James Murdoch's speech of a few weeks' ago, and about damn time the BBC defended itself. Lastly, I was amazed to think I was going to agree with Tim Worstall on something other than civil liberties or drug legalisation in his piece on pursuing the great possible happiness, until his remedy is a flat tax of 30% on incomes above £15,000, which just happens to be the policy pursued by err, UKIP.

The Mark Thompson speech and article is probably why the Sun has gone to war over the incredibly consequential scheduling of Strictly Come Dancing and The X-Factor at the same time, which the BBC simply must have done deliberately to ruin the biggest TV night of the week, as we move onto the worst tabloid piece contenders. We aren't treated to Simon Cowell's thoughts on the matter online, but it's strange no one is suggesting the obvious: record one and then watch it after the other's finished, or watch Strictly on the iPlayer later. Simples, right? Not in Murdoch land, where it is verboten to point out that BSkyB (prop. R Murdoch) owns a 17.9% share in err, ITV, not to mention News International's interest in seeing the BBC cut down to a husk which can then be abolished entirely later once support has fully dripped away. This is also happening at the same time as BT and Virgin are counter-attacking Sky over their "unfair pricing" and "manipulation" of the distribution of sports and movie channels. Sky defending its monopoly while demanding that the BBC's online activities be cut down to size so News International's piss-poor websites can make a profit? No hypocrisy there.

That isn't the worst though, as that instead comes in the Sun proper, with a simply delightful article on Vikki Thorne, the police officer sentenced to a despicable 15 months in prison because she spent her time while not on the beat moving to a quite different one as an escort, in a Daily Mail type report on how a respectable middle class girl should have known better. Quite how the judge justified the sentence on public interest grounds, let alone knowing full well what she is doubtless in for as ex-filth inside is naturally not considered, but every other aspect of her time is. There's also this clearly invented quote:

A close friend told The Sun last night: "It was a clear-cut case of greed coupled with a seedier side of Vikki's personality, which had obviously been lurking under the surface.

"You don't get rich working for the police and suddenly a TV programme showed her the way to do just that."


Yes, I'm certain that a close friend said that. The sort of article which doesn't make you feel dirty because of the topic being discussed, but because of the sheer relish (sex mad, yeah, I bet she was) with which the hack tells it, without even an ounce of sympathy.

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Friday, September 18, 2009 

A response to the Heresiarch on the Conservatives and liberty.

(Apologies for the crap blogging of the last couple of days. Hopefully will be better next week.)

Left as a comment on the Heresiarch's post, but felt was reasonable enough to dedicate a post to as well:

I think you're being far too credulous. You're talking almost rapturously about a party that only recently was advocating a "21st century clip round the ear", i.e. the police "confiscating" mobile phones or bikes off teenagers summarily, almost exactly like the very worst proposals made under Blair. A party that thought David Davis at best an eccentric when he resigned, and at worst a lunatic. And just what exactly was the Conservative response to the police riot at the G20 protests? There wasn't one, mainly because when it's the police beating up crusties, hippies, greens and lefties the Tories couldn't care less and even cheer it on.

A lot of people seem to make the mistake that the current strain of authoritarianism began in 1997. It didn't. It can instead be linked back almost certainly to the murder of James Bulger, and while Labour made the most out of it, the Tories were no slouches either, as Michael Howard's record as Home Sec testifies. It was after all he who first proposed ID cards, even if they're nothing like the ones we may soon have to get used to.

I don't deny that on some things the Tories may well be better, and I expect they'll keep to their promises on the various databases, mainly because they'll be one of the easiest things to cut and shut down. I don't believe for a second though that as soon as the Sun starts screaming about the latest moral panic that they'll ignore it or argue against instant measures which must be introduced right now; after all, why bother getting an ex-tabloid editor as your spin doctor if you're not intending to govern with a firm eye on the tabloids? It might not quite be New Labour MKII but it probably won't be far off . That "principled opposition" to extending detention without charge will be forgotten in an instant if we get another 7/7 or worse. And as for that "British" bill of rights, well, it either won't thankfully happen or we'll have the HRA repealed and one of the very few excellent pieces of Labour legislation will be gone. Then there's the apparent Tory intention to further politicise the police, likely to make things even worse, not better, and Kit Malthouse's claim that the Mayor's the real one in charge of Scotland Yard is probably just the start.

All that said, there are some Tory policies which show promise - such as the recent green paper on prisons, which if implemented could do a lot of good, but I'm not exactly going to be holding my breath. To be not as beyond redemption as Labour isn't going to be difficult; to actually be better might well be.

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Thursday, September 17, 2009 

Surrender and cowardice on welfare.

You can't really help but read this and weep, as well as also knowing this was exactly the sort of response Laurie Penny was always going to get from James Purnell:

At some point during the meeting, I got tired of the equivocation. So I decided to tell him the truth and see if I couldn't make him listen. Very quietly, and mindful of how ridiculous I might sound, I said* -

"Look, James. You know and I know that the damage has already been done. There are hundreds of thousands of young people and people with disabilities out there whose lives have been entirely scuppered by a batting team of the recession and your damn stupid benefit policies. Sure, you're trying to guarantee jobs for one in ten of them now - but that's not enough, and we both know that. I'm not here to shout at you or to tell you how angry I am with you, and I'm not here to point out the massive hypocrisy in your personal behaviour over the expenses scandal -there wouldn't be a lot of point in that. I'm here to ask you, please, to listen.

"People are hurting, right now; people like my partner and my former housemates are in desperate situations and they are hurting. You're a highly ambitious, brilliant politician. There's not a small chance that by the time you're leader of the Labour Party or Prime Minister of Britain [note: neither Purnell nor his aide moved to correct me at this point] we will still be hurting, still be desperate, and some of us might still be unemployed. I want you to remember, please, that you owe us a voice. I want you to remember that our votes count, too, and that we are people just as much as people who are lucky enough to be employed. It's too late for some of us now; but we're good, bright young men and women who just want to earn our way, and our votes count as much as anyone's. So when you're powerful again, please remember us, and remember that you owe us. And that's all I have to say."

At which point, Purnell said, "Thank you. That seems like a good point on which to end the meeting".

It's probably instructive that it's the likes of Iain Duncan Smith's Centre for Social Justice that are now making the running when it comes to welfare reform, such has been the intellectual cowardice and surrender shown by those on the left. Smith's report is undoubtedly wrong-headed and hardly practical with its suggestion that you can somehow turn 51 benefits into just two, but it genuinely does seem to believe in help without dangling a tiny carrot while also wielding a dirty great big stick. We've all laughed at the Conservatives pretending that they're the "new progressives", a term which is so devalued to be worthless in any case, but wouldn't it be the biggest irony of all if actually turned out to be true?

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Wednesday, September 16, 2009 

Falling for Columbine.

When a jury manages to see through a court case that lasted for two weeks within 45 minutes, it's only natural to wonder whether it should have ever been brought. When it involves two teenagers who had previously never been in trouble with the police and their being kept on remand in a young offender's institution and Strangeways respectively for 6 months, it becomes a necessity.

Both Ross McKnight (the son of a police officer, no less) and Matthew Swift were found not guilty of conspiracy to murder and conspiracy to cause explosions, their plans for a supposed massacre at a school in Manchester as well as the bombing of a shopping centre on the 10th anniversary of the Columbine massacre ripped to shreds both by the defence, McKnight's father, who seemed to have sealed the verdict when he talked of his son's many "harebrained" schemes and finally by the jury. What really seems to have gone on here is nothing more than teenage angst and alienation being taken slightly too far up the scale. The rants the pair wrote in diaries are hardly out of the ordinary: the only real surprise might be that they didn't post them on a social networking site or somewhere else where they were even more easily accessible. The other slight indication that this went any further than just two friends messing around and engaging in fantasies was that they had "plans" of the school, although whether these were just simple sketches of outlines which they made themselves or genuine plans we don't seem to know.

It's easy to make presumptions, but you can't help but feel that if they hadn't mentioned Columbine or supposedly fetishised the two murderers who carried out that most notorious of school shootings, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, or were meant to have planned to carry it out on the anniversary of their assault, that this "plot" wouldn't have got anywhere near the court system. There is indeed perhaps some cause for concern in this area: it's quite true that some teenagers, especially those who feel themselves outsiders or not accepted by their peers, not to mention those who are bullied, can engage in the kind of fantasies which these two boys were meant to have, and while such feelings of striking out at those that have harmed them are natural and are very rarely acted upon, they do need to be nipped in the bud. Some of those at the very extreme end of this type of thinking do indeed idolise the likes of Harris and Klebold; Seung-Hui Cho in his claim of responsibility for the Virigina Tech massacre referred to both as martyrs, and there is a strain of thinking surrounding such spree-killers that all such attacks are in fact copy-cat crimes, a view that I'm partial to. The vast majority though who dream or fantasise about doing violence to their tormentors never do; hell, I can even remember at one point during my early teenage years writing a list of those that I'd kill if I had the chance. As far as I'm aware I never carried through on my written promise.

Undoubtedly the female friend that reported McKnight's drunken referral to the supposed attack was right to let the authorities know of her concerns. That was though surely as far as it should have gone. Dave Osler compares the case to that of the "lyrical terrorist", Samina Malik, but if anything a far wider comparison to terrorism is equally applicable. Just as in cases like that involving Dhiren Barot, neither McKnight or Swift had the guns or explosives necessary to carry out their plans, nor the funds to get hold of them but they did have ideas or nous which suggested they could have done. As it happens, Barot's ideas were even more fantastical than the teenage pair's were, whether it involved destroying builders by filling limos with gas canisters, a plan thoroughly debunked by the Glasgow airport idiots, exploding a bomb on the Underground which would somehow penetrate the tunnel and cause the Thames to flood in, or constructing a dirty bomb out of smoke alarms by placing the americium he harvested from them in a coke can. He however was sentenced to 30 years in prison, more on the fact that he had been trained and probably had connections with al-Qaida, even if his ideas were even more harebrained that McKnight's. Interesting here is that Swift had a copy of the Anarchist Cookbook, a book which another teenager was previously prosecuted for possessing, despite it being freely available, as well as also a gun which could fire ball bearings. You can bet that if someone with links to extremist Islam had either that they would have also been indicted on similar charges.

The terrorist trials where the prosecution have tried and almost always convinced juries that that extremists were only days or weeks away from mass murder or horrific casualties are perhaps the significant precursor to both the police and the Crown Prosecution Service imagining that they could do much the same in this instance. It does though have to be asked, did they genuinely believe their own case, or rather did those unlucky enough to prosecute it believe it? It certainly doesn't seem, for instance, that the headmaster of the school believed it. There is of course a very fine line between caution and a potential tragedy, but in this instance what just seems to have been very normal teenage ennui could have been criminalised, and if they weren't bitter and depressed prior to their time on remand, McKnight and Swift very well may be now.

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